Rev. Giles Fraser Catches Out Richard Dawkins in Dispute about Christianity in Britain


On Tuesday, BBC 4 hosted an occasionally heated exchange between Richard Dawkins and Rev. Giles Fraser. In their exchange, Fraser takes exception to the design of a survey conducted by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. He suggests that the survey, which purports to establish that Christianity is rare in Britain, shows no such thing. The Dawkins survey revealed that nearly two out of three who consider themselves Christians were unable to name the first book of the New Testament. (The correct answer is supposed to be the Gospel According to St. Matthew, but that depends on what you mean by “first”!) Fraser put the Dawkins test to work on Dawkins himself and asked if he could name the full title of The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin. Though he said he could, Dawkins stumbled when trying to quote the full title of his own secular Bible. Some British journalists are having laugh at Dawkins’s expense.

For audio of the interview (less than 7 minutes) click here. The story is reported at the Huff Post, with a transcript of the embarrassing bit, here.

Many, no doubt, will remark with glee on the embarrassing incident. But this isn’t quite fair, in my opinion. True, Dawkins should know the full title of Darwin’s seminal work. Dawkins is, after all, a former Oxford University professor who has published extensively in defense of Darwinian evolution. He is also the author of a 23-page Introduction to the Everyman’s Library edition of The Origin of Species and the Voyage of the Beagle, published by Alfred A. Knopf. But it surely is a sad commentary on the state of literacy in Britain that so few who call themselves Christians can name the book that appears first in most copies of the New Testament.

There is a larger point that should not be missed. There was a time when knowing that sort of thing was widespread among believers and non-believers alike. But the fund of “common knowledge” has been compressed to the dimensions of a thimble so that now what counts as literacy is up for grabs. Christian or not, shouldn’t a literate person know enough about the world’s great literature to be able to declare with confidence the name of the first Gospel of the New Testament?

Political Quote for the Day: Dick Morris on Obama & the Republicans


“A Democratic president cannot sustain popular support for a war by relying on Republicans.”Dick Morris

Who can disagree? In his March 23 blog, Morris notes that the President’s action in Libya enjoys support from only 51% of Democrats. He then outlines what he believes is a good explanation for Obama’s decision-making and strategy. Morris believes that Hillary Clinton played an important role. You can read his blog for details. (Morris knows both Clintons from his advisory role during Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign and subsequent presidency. His book Rewriting History is an alleged exposé of assorted factual claims made in Hillary Clinton’s memoir Living History, and a discourse on Hillary’s political aspirations and temperament.)

Morris goes on to describe a scenario under which Obama is faced with a primary challenge from Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. The theory is that Kucinich can cut deeply into Obama’s left-wing base and seriously injure his chances of being re-elected in 2012. The Kucinich play will be to stress that President Obama made a grave mistake in going to war in Libya.

Dennis Kucinich has been rattling his saber during the past few days, and he’s campaigned for the presidency before. Morris is pretty good at reading the political tea leaves and he may be right. In a separate blog from today, he ticks off a list of difficulties facing the President and judges that Obama is now “the hostage of events.” He concludes, “Not a good place for a president facing re-election to be.”

Agreed. But what about the rest of us? With all that’s at stake, we have to hope that our President will not be making politically motivated decisions.

Thomas Barnett Decodes Obama’s Speech Defending His Libya “Policy”


Americans have been pleading with the President to explain his rationale for engaging our military in fighting action in Libya. Yesterday, March 28, President Obama gave the speech that was supposed to sell us on the decisions he’s been making, and to prepare us for decisions he’ll continue to make.

Obama must be afflicted with misgivings, hearing as he no doubt has, that people from across the political spectrum are less than impressed with his leadership.

To hear the President’s speech, and to hear it decoded, feel free to visit Thomas P. M. Barnett’s post for Esquire‘s “The Politics Blog.” Barnett revisits the President’s speech and offers a line-for-line translation of what Obama actually said. It would be hard to find a more plausible interpretation than Barnett’s.

Notes:

Is Donald Trump a “Birther”?


Donald Trump has been making a very publicly visible appeal to President Obama to settle the matter once and for all and make his birth certificate public. Does this make Trump a “birther”?

First, keep in mind that the term “birther” has been used by the media to stigmatize a portion of the American electorate as right-wing kooks. Some media outlets seem to have calculated that by calling these American citizens by this epithet it will eventually embarrass and silence them, or at least contain their influence.

This appears to be a clear effort to defend the President. But defend him from what? Apparently, the President’s stubborn refusal to publish his birth certificate is viewed even by his defenders as a posture that is worthy of media defense. But why?

And what exactly is a birther? You’re definitely supposed to be a birther if you actually believe that Obama was not born in the United States. There are people in this country who believe this. So they have the clearest claim to the epithet. And maybe some of these “true believers” wear the epithet with pride.

Are you a birther if you are genuinely concerned about the possibility that Obama was not born in this country, and would simply like for him to step up and prove that he was? I wouldn’t say so. And this seems to be Donald Trump’s attitude. Trump, as far as I can tell, is not a birther. He has said that he hopes Obama was born in this country. Would a real birther hope for this?

With Trump’s recent appeal to Obama to take the very simple step of proving his citizenship, I’ve thought about the issue a bit more than in the past. It now seems to me that Obama has repudiated an opportunity to demonstrate good will toward all Americans, including those who would like to have clarity about this matter. What possible harm can there be in accommodating a reasonable request for such information? What past American President would refuse to make his birth certificate public if there was such a broad interest in seeing his American citizenship demonstrated?

Many who are not generally considered birthers have enjoined Obama to produce his certificate. In response, challengers often say, “Do you believe that Obama was not born in the United States?” And if the answer is, “No,” then challengers think it’s stupid to ask the President for his birth certificate. But it isn’t stupid. If there is enough concern among the American people to see this demonstrated, then that should be reason enough for the President to accommodate them.

That’s my view, then. Without believing that Obama was born outside the United States, I do believe he very simply ought to make his birth certificate public. I believe this because his refusal to do so has revealed a stubbornness that is unbecoming of the leader of our nation. There’s some reason why he does not wish to give satisfaction to those who have called for it. Those reasons create suspicion and escalate discord about the matter. Why not “bring the country together” on such a small point?

Trump alleges that Obama has spent quite a bit of money to ensure that his birth certificate does not come to light. If that’s true, I’d like to know why. Does it lead me to believe that Obama was not born in the U.S.? No.

Others have said that media outlets are so thorough in their scrutiny of a presidential candidate that if Obama was not born in the United States, then this would have been exposed during Obama’s candidacy. But doesn’t this argument cut the other way just as well? Doesn’t it stand to reason that if Obama was born in the United States—given the huge controversy concerning the President’s citizenship—compelling evidence that he was born in the U.S. would have come to light via media scrutiny? The evidence, apparently, hasn’t been conclusive either way.

The issue hasn’t subsided and there’s reason to think it will haunt the President in the future. It’s looking now like Obama will be confronted with this issue again as he campaigns for a second term. Will the pressure be great enough this time round for him to capitulate and make his birth certificate public? Who can say? If the President was not born in the U.S., then, by Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution, Obama is not the legitimate President of the United States. That would provide motive for refusing to go public. But if that’s true, how long can the truth be suppressed? I imagine that sooner or later, even if Obama is elected for a second term, actual dissembling about his citizenship would come to light eventually. And that would not be good for Obama.

Here’s something to consider. There’s a good chance that the history books will note the issue and document Obama’s determination not to publicize his birth certificate. Readers will not have the benefit of observing his charisma and judge his likeability. If the President isn’t eventually forthcoming, perhaps a majority of Americans a couple generations from now will be birthers. That would not be good for Obama, either. What President would wish to go down in history as very possibly the only “American President” who was never really a legitimate President? The only way for Obama to ensure that that never happens is for him to produce his birth certificate.

Notes:

  • FactCheck.com concluded that an alleged digital copy of the certificate, released by the Obama 2008 Campaign, is of an authentic certificate for Obama from Hawaii. The story features a foto with the caption “The Obama birth certificate, held by FactCheck writer Joe Miller.”
  • Snopes.com also has written in defense of this perspective.
  • See Wikipedia articles on conspiracy theories about the Obama birth certificate and about Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution.
  • Donald Trump appears to be testing the water for a run at the presidency in 2012. Could this be why he has re-introduced the topic of Obama’s birth certificate into the national discussion?
  • Chester Arthur, 21st President of the U.S., has gone down in history with doubts about his citizenship still lingering. Vice President Arthur succeeded President James Garfield after Garfield died of gunshot wounds caused by an assassin.

Related Post:

Doug Interviewed by the Religious News Service about God’s Role in Japan’s Earthquake and Tsunami


Tuesday, March 22, I was interviewed by Nicole Neroulias about God’s role in Japan’s earthquake and tsunami. Neroulias blogs for Beliefnet and writes for Religion News Service. She is a graduate of Cornell University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and she has written for The New York Times and other media.

Our conversation of about 40 minutes focused on a poll just conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service. The institute and news service polled Americans for beliefs about God’s role in natural disasters. Neroulias recounted the results of the poll for me and asked for my reaction. Today her story went online here. Portions of our interview are summarized near the end of her article.

We discussed far more than could be included in her story. So I may be posting further about this interesting and important topic.

I welcome your reaction to the poll and comments on the article by Neroulias.

Notes & Updates:

  • Nicole Neroulias can be followed on twitter here.
  • The Religion News Service claims to be “the only secular news and photo service devoted to unbiased coverage of religion and ethics.”
  • The poll has also been noticed by CNN here.
  • Neroulias has also posted at Beliefnet here.
  • The Huffington Post is carrying the story by Neroulias here.

How Families Can Support Japan and Its People


Smart donors with deep pockets have a practice of matching donors’ gifts dollar-for-dollar. This is something parents can do with their children, no matter the ages of their children. If you have kids, they probably know about recent events in Japan. And they probably are concerned about the trials people are suffering. But is there anything they can do about it?

There is!

Young kids have great attitudes. They don’t often worry that their efforts, however small, are insignificant. This should inspire parents. And parents can build on the charitable inclinations of their kids. They can talk about concrete needs and specific organizations that are in the best position to assist with those needs. They can support their kids’ desire to help by offering to match their contributions by some multiple of every dollar they give or raise for charitable support.

Two organizations impress me as most worthy because they are best organized, most experienced, and most fiscally responsible and efficient. They are Samaritan’s Purse and the American Red Cross. So one option is for parents to invite their children to consider what they can give and tell them that whatever they give will be matched by five or ten or twenty or a hundred additional dollars.

If you have a seven-year-old who is prepared to sacrifice $5.00 he’s saved for something else, then you might offer to match it with $100 for each dollar. Explain to him how each dollar he donates creates an additional $100 of support to meet needs in Japan. This can sound a little abstract if you don’t illustrate with concrete goods that will be supplied or numbers of people who will be helped. So you’ll need to do your homework. Try to determine what your $100 will cover and communicate this to your kids in ways that will make sense to them.

Challenge your older children to give more. You may have to match their contributions with fewer dollars because of your budget.

Here’s another idea. Begin setting a portion of your charitable giving aside for emergencies that arise. Place this portion in a fund that will accrue interest or in a stock portfolio. As emergencies arise, you will already have available a measure of money designated for giving in times of emergency.

Fidelity Investments, for example, has a Charitable Gift Fund. You can open a Charitable Gift account, select the type of portfolio you wish to contribute to, then make deposits to this account according to your own schedule. The funds you deposit will rise and fall with the vagaries of the market and the portfolio you adopt. Your tax deduction for charitable giving is for the year in which you make the deposit. Once the money is deposited, it cannot be withdrawn. At the time of your choice, you decide whom to support and for how much. You then authorize Fidelity to post a check to the designee, charging your Charitable Gift account for the amount you have designated. It’s pretty simple and a great way to apportion your giving for special needs, whatever they may be.

Of course, you can combine this idea with the matching idea, and get your children involved in regular giving. They can help you decide when it’s time to give to a particular cause. And they will, no doubt, be sensitive to needs that aren’t on your radar.

If you have other ideas about how families can join in efforts to assist with emergency needs, especially during this time of trial for people in Japan, I welcome your suggestions.

By the way—I think this is also a way to inculcate your values into your family culture. Love, self-sacrifice, patriotism, and other values can be reinforced with careful attention to the motives that lie behind our concern for others less fortunate or differently blessed than ourselves.

Dick Morris Reports Popular Support for Controversial Governors


Events in Japan have caused a nearly total news blackout on everything else. But things continue to happen elsewhere in the world. For instance, in Wisconsin, the Republican Governor Scott Walker is still threatened by angry Democrat leaders, and a few Republican state senators are being challenged with recall efforts by Democrat senators who boycotted passage of a bill they didn’t like by leaving the state.

Dick Morris, a very smart political strategist, has polled Americans for their attitudes about these happenings. The strong more popular support for bold challenges to public employee unions surprised me.

One of the most interesting sections of Morris’s report says this:

Absentee State Legislators

Voters reacted strongly against state legislators who boycott their legislatures to stop the passage of labor legislation. By 25-61 they rejected the idea that it is “necessary” for Democrats to boycott the legislature so as to deny the majority a quorum “to stop legislation restricting unions from being passed.” The majority agreed that the legislators “should return to the legislature and respect the decisions the voters have made in the last election.”

See the full report here.

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