Friday, October 27, 2006

Prayer Before Class

I'd like your thoughts. I'm about to begin teaching (undergraduate level) and I want a prayer with which to begin every class that includes vocational elements. I would like some feedback about theology, flow, language, etc.
O God and Father of our Lord and Teacher, Jesus Christ, grant us diligence and attention to our vocations as students and teacher that our knowledge and wisdom may increase to the blessing of our neighbor, through the same, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
I wanted the idea of Christ the Teacher as the attribute of God that leads to the Petition. I don't know whether it comes through cleanly enough.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

More thoughts on the Baylor Religion Survey

Baylor has not answered my polite request for details about which items loaded on the dimensions of Belief in God's Anger and Belief in God's Engagement. The raw data is not available on the American Religious Data Archive either. So, I will post a couple more observations about the initial report of the results, American Piety in the 21st Century.

According to the random sample of 1,721 individuals, Evangelicals make up 33.6% of the population. Let's take a look at how the authors group folks:

The authors define Evangelical Protestant as:
"Protestant groups that emphasize the authority of the Bible, salvation through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, personal piety, and the need to share the "Good News" of Jesus Christ with others (i.e., to evangelize). A long list of theologically conservative denominations define this tradition, such as Anabaptist, Assemblies of God, Bible Church, Brethren, Christian Church, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Christian Reformed, Church of Christ, Church of God, Church of the Nazarene, Free Methodist, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Mennonite, Pentecostal, Presbyterian Church in America, Seventh-day Adventist, and Southern Baptist."
Further, they define Mainline Protestant as follows:
"Historic Protestant denominations that are more accommodating of mainstream culture, including American Baptist, Congregational, Disciples of Christ, Episcopal/Anglican, Evangelical Lutheran Church, Presbyterian Church USA, Quaker, Reformed Church of America, United Methodist, and United Church of Christ."
According to this breakdown we in the LCMS have more in common with Pentecostals than with the ELCA. Rather than grouping the denominations a priori
based on supposed theological conservativeness, it would be interesting to do a cluster analysis to see if denominations do indeed fall into these groupings. Interestingly, those who are grouped as Evangelical Protestants identified themselves as "Bible Believing" (68%) much more frequently than they described themselves as "Evangelical" (32%). [Note: these categories were not mutually exclusive, you said yes or no to whether or not each describes your beliefs.] Only 27% of people categorized as Evangelical Protestants endorsed "Theologically Conservative" as a descriptor of their religious identity, despite the fact that the authors use "theologically conservative" to define the denominations included in this category.

When Evangelicals are asked which term best describes them, only 3.1% say "Evangelical", 7.6% say "Mainline Christian", 41.8% say "Born Again" and 27.3% say "Bible Believing." In fact, a larger percentage of Mainline Protestants say that "Evangelical" best describes them (4.6%) than do Evangelicals (3.1%). Clearly the a priori categorization does not jive with people's self-description. There are interesting differences observed between these groups on other variables (political and other beliefs), but it would be interesting to see how the data itself groups these denominations. Not a single Black Protestant self-categorized as "Evangelical".

Other categories were examined: Black Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Other and Unaffiliated. The "Other" category includes both smaller Christian groups (Orthodox [n=7]) as well as non-Christian groups (Mormon [n=22], Christian Science [n=2], Muslim [n=3], etc.) This "garbage can" category comprised only 4.9% of the sample, so obviously no conclusions can be drawn from it.

34% of Catholics define themselves as "Mainline Christian" indicating a fundamentally different definition from that of the author's. Also, only 5% of Catholics define themselves as "Born Again" - clearly reflecting a reaction against the popular definition of the term, rather than an ancient understanding of rebirth in baptism.

Attitudes toward the Scriptures were measured with the following question: "Which one statement comes closest to your personal beliefs about the Bible?"

  1. The Bible means exactly what it says. It should be taken literally, word-for-word, on all subjects.
  2. The Bible is perfectly true, but it should not be taken literally, word-for-word. We must interpret its meaning.
  3. The Bible contains some human error.
  4. The Bible is an ancient book of history and legends.
  5. I don’t know
So, which do you endorse? I'd endorse something between numbers 1 and 2. Number 2 seems to lose it at "we must interpret its meaning" and doesn't talk about genre. The authors contrast the first response with the fourth, but it is unclear what they did with the second and third response options. Again, I'll know more when they release the raw data.

A Potpourri of other interesting things:
  • 9.6% of Jewish people endorse "Jesus is the Son of God" - Given that the Jewish sample was 47 people, this constitutes just four and a half people (there must have been some Jewish people who were excluded from calculation). Is this a "all people are sons and daughters of God" or are these Jewish Christians? Must have raw data...
  • Not a single person under the age of 30 reports having read Dianetics.
  • Evangelicals spend the most on religious stuff.
  • Not a single African American respondent purported to be an atheist.
  • "Region of the country is significantly related to the four types of God. Easterners disproportionately tend towards belief in a Critical God. Southerners tend towards an Authoritarian God. Midwesterners tend towards a Benevolent God and West Coasters tend towards belief in a Distant God." (p. 28) - However, I don't know that this would be true after controlling for denomination. Denominations tend to be regional, although there could be a zeitgeist effect from the dominant denominatinos leaking into others in the area.
  • "Nearly one fifth of Americans thought that God does favor the United States in worldly affairs." (p. 39)
  • A question about reading habits included only these response options: Any book in the Left Behind series, The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield, Any book about Dianetics, God’s Politics by Jim Wallis, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren, Any book by James Dobson (Focus on the Family)
  • Similarly, the question about viewing habits included only the following: The Passion of the Christ, This Is Your Day with Benny Hinn, Joan of Arcadia, Any VeggieTales movies or videos, 7th Heaven and Touched by an Angel

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Reformation Day Pumpkins

Can you name all of the "Reformers" carved in pumpkins below?
(Black and white templates of numbers 2-5 available upon request for your Reformation Day party needs.)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

I'm all for beer metaphors.

From Opus Dei: An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controberial Force in the Catholic Church by John L. Allen, Jr. (2005 - Doubleday: NY)
If you want a guiding metaphor for Opus Dei, the spiritual organization founded in Spain in 1928 by Saint Josemaria Escriva that has become the most controversial force in Roman Catholicism, think of it as a Guinness Extra Stout of the Catholic Church. It's a stong brew, definitely an acquired taste, and clearly not for everyone.(p.1)
"Skip a bit, brother"
In an era when the beer market is crowded with "diet" this and "lite" that, Guinness Extra Stout cuts the other way. It makes no apologies for either its many calories or its high alcohol content. It packs a frothy, bitter taste that has been compared by some wags to drinking motor oil with a head. Precisely because it resists faddishness, it enjoys a cult following among purists who respect it because it never wavers. Of course, if you think it tastes awful, its consistency may not be its greatest selling point. Yet while Extra Stout may never dominate the market, it will always have a loyal constituency.
He then goes on to talk about how Vatican II was an attempt to brew a Lite version of Catholicism and that Opus Dei offers a "robustly classical alternative" (p. 2).

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Happy Stevie Ray Vaughan Day!

Since 1991, October 3 has been celebrated by Texans as Stevie Ray Vaughan Day (okay, only by a few enlightened Texans). I would fly my Texas flag today, but we have a huge (10' wide) Blackwell for Governor sign in our yard and it might send a bizarre message to have the Texas flag flying over the next Ohio governor's sign. Join me in celebrating by listening to SRV at obscene levels today and having a Shiner or two (if you are of appropriate drinking age, are not pregnant, and it violateth not thy conscience.)