1. Sarah Palin this week let loose another of the brand of comments she’s known for – offensive or courageous or whatever, depending on your politics. The exact line was something along the lines of, “If I were in charge they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.” It would be a mistake to blame Palin too much; it’s hard to win primaries as a moderate these days, right or left. The more sobering news comes from the world of Stats: reporting on Palin’s comments, The Dish noted the following:

[The best recent research] reveals that vast swathes of American Christianity are objectively anti-Christian, even pagan, in their support for this barbarism. Rod should know this by now. In the best recent polling on the question, 62 percent of white evangelical “Christians” back torture as often or sometimes justified, with only 16 percent holding the orthodox position that it is never justified. Now compare those numbers with Americans who are unaffiliated with any religion: the number in that demographic is 40 percent in favor in some or many cases, and 26 percent against it in all circumstances. Is this a function of wayward and uncommitted Christians? Nope. Support for torture is highest among those who attend church at least weekly and lowest for those who rarely or never go to church.



(via Pew)

We’ve noted before that America tends to lock up more people for longer than other developed, rich, liberal democracies. And it wouldn’t be surprising if support for harsher sentencing, too, showed correlation with Christian devotion. All of which to say, contra many talking heads on religion, the moral universe of Christianity ultimately exerts more allure than its claim that all are sinful, and there’s little we can do about that. The issue here, that is to say, isn’t necessarily the justifiability or lack thereof of torture – I’m not really qualified to speak on that – but what the aforementioned data say about the contours of American Christianity. The Dish article rightly quotes Joe Carter on The Gospel Coalition:

The truly Christian position is to never forget that evil comes not just from the actions of “terrorists” or “enemies” but from the heart of fallen, sacred yet degraded, human beings. If we are to preserve our own humanity we must not forget that our enemy differs from us in degree, not in kind. Like us, our enemies need to accept Jesus and to be baptized by water and the Spirit.

2. A nice pairing for the torture article comes from The Daily Beast, which asked on Sunday, “Is American Christianity Becoming a Workout Cult?” Unsurprisingly, the answer is “yes”, ht CB:

Xian varFirmbelieverThese critics do have a point: CrossFit gyms—called boxes—tend to nurture the kind of close-knit communities more commonly associated with desert-bound Mormon sects. CrossFitters work out in groups, moving to the demands of a benevolent taskmaster. They pepper their conversations with a strange, clubby lingo—the Yiddish of fitness…

Still, religious groups may be catching up. The fascinating thing about CrossFit is not that it looks vaguely religious. It’s that religion in the United States—in particular, certain strains of Protestant Christianity—is starting to look a lot like CrossFit. “Across the country, congregations are whipping members into shape with highly marketed, faith-based health programs,” wrote Leslie Leyland Fields in a Christianity Today feature last year. Churches are adding weight rooms and launching weight-loss programs. There’s even a consulting firm that specializes in helping churches open gyms…

One problem with the article – faith isn’t converging to CrossFit; CrossFit was perhaps religious to begin with, as the Mormon sect analogy suggests. Faith has fragmented, and as Christian pundits warn, the void left by the recession of religion leaves a lack of purpose that must, inevitably, be filled with such ‘henotheistic’ (H.R. Niebuhr) immanent religions as CrossFit. When health thus becomes a moral imperative (as it clearly is), Christian churches swoop in to colonize another arena of self-help, ironically one which first received its ethical vector in part from the decline of religion. Anyway, that’s all way too cynical. The Law must come before the Gospel, and CrossFit – like self-help heavy Christianities – may ultimately serve as an effective recruiting tool for churches more focused on one-way love.

3. Rounding out the church front, an old Lutheran Satire video came to our attention this week. Among various ways to get young people into the pews, it turns out a Gilbert and Sullivan mass may just do the trick, ht BSOP:

4. The whole “This fragment of parchment proves Jesus had a wife” thing had short-lived hype when released by Harvard Divinity School professor Karen King about a year and a half ago. The sensational announcement was followed by widespread academic skepticism, and the Harvard Theological Review held off on publishing her paper until further testing for authenticity could be done. Testing has failed to prove it was a forgery, so the paper was finally published last month. The fragment of papyrus should be prominent in the news, reminiscent of the Da Vinci Code days. For a good skeptical response, go here. To give the short version, non-falsifiability doesn’t equal authenticity.

5. In humor, The Onion‘s offers its take on leaving the ninety-nine for the one lost sheep:

VATICAN CITY—Numerous onlookers confirmed that His Holiness Pope Francis could be seen Thursday sprinting along the Holy See’s rooftops, darting between the chimneys and marble sculptures of the apostles atop St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel as he attempted to chase down a suspected sinner. After deftly scaling an exterior fire escape on the Apostolic Library, the pontiff is said to have raced across the pitched roof of the Vatican Museums while closely trailing the fleeing commandment violator, who according to eyewitnesses looked back over his shoulder multiple times during the pursuit to find the white-clad Vicar of Christ just a dozen paces behind him…


At press time, Pope Francis had reportedly taken a shortcut around the Tower of Nicholas V and tackled the unnamed blasphemer from behind, sending them both crashing through a 15th-century stained glass window and directly into a confessional booth below.

Also in humor, The Onion strikes again with a Haidt-esque article on disagreement from its “Local” section – generally a goldmine for anthropology, ht DZ:

While engaged in a casual conversation about their favorite bands Thursday, sources confirmed local resident Nick Saccia, 29, summarily abandoned one of his most strongly held convictions after sensing that his friend half-heartedly disagreed with it. “No, no, I totally hear that,” said Saccia, instantaneously caving to his acquaintance’s slight divergence of opinion and practically tripping over himself to calibrate a response that would bury his well-thought-out beliefs about a subject he has long felt passionately about. “I mean, yeah, that’s a great point. I never thought they were that great or anything—they’re just okay. Absolutely.”

And if that didn’t quite give enough Onion-y deflation of human nature, one more this week – they’ve had a good one over there. As America’s Finest News Source reports, “Man Hoping People Notice How Many Folding Chairs He’s Carrying At Once” – ht BJ:


Looking visibly flushed as he hurried across the gymnasium floor, local teacher Greg Tollefson reportedly hoped that everyone helping to clean up after Thursday morning’s assembly at Mangrove Hills High School would notice how many folding chairs he was carrying at once. “You can just leave those there—I’ll come back and get the rest,” said Tollefson, hoping that his addition of a fourth folding chair to the three already secured under each of his arms would be seen and admired by all. “Yeah, I got it. You guys can focus on packing up the AV equipment.” At press time, sources confirmed that Tollefson was fairly certain that at least a few people had noticed he had chosen the heavier metal chairs over the plastic stackable ones.

6. Over at the New York Times, Ross Douthat explains TV fandom by political affiliation, managing to parse some of the self-justifying dynamics behind demography and the small screen:

Likewise with an archetype of Southern manhood like Marty Hart in “True Detective” — viewed from a certain ideological perspective he’s the show’s “real monster”; viewed from the bad fan’s vantage point he’s a heroic guy with an unforgiving, castrating wife; but for many viewers, especially viewers who share his background, he’s presumably something in between, with qualities that are worth defending in part if not entirely.

Then along with this phenomenon of partial identification, in which the “red state” viewer (broadly defined) relates to the “red state” anti-hero without going the full bad fan, you also have a “forbidden fruit” phenomenon, in which the liberal blue state viewer is attracted, against his or her better judgment, to the red state Beast in all its dirty, sexy glory. This kind of bad fandom is a more highbrow form of, say, laughing along with the misognyist and ethnic jokes in Seth MacFarlane’s “Ted” (a huge blue-state hit): It’s a safe form of rebellion against the norms of Bobo-dom, a way of stepping into a right-wing fantasy world (or what you think is a right-wing fantasy world!) while telling yourself that it’s just a TV show, no big deal, and why can’t all those feminist scolds just lighten up …?


This is clearly part of the appeal of a show like “Mad Men,” in which “red America” is the past rather than provinces, and where part of the thrill of watching (especially in the early seasons; less so now) is a kind of anti-P.C. escapism, into a world where men are Real Men, cars don’t have seatbelts, and everything seems so much sexier than in our more egalitarian and hygienic world. This thrill coexists with a smug present-ist judgment, of course, but that’s part of the show’s power as well: By slumming and judging all at once, liberal viewers get to have their enlightened post-1960s Whole Foods carry-out and dine on Oysters Rockefeller too.

7. In other news, Slate profiles the music of L Ron Hubbard (Scientology’s founder). Safe to say, it’s a model for how not to do religion in album form. And Mbird-favorite Christian Wiman gave an interview at Commonweal Magazine – a couple highlights (among many others) below:

The great enemy for all of us is the “I” we interpose between ourselves and experience, the self we mistake for our soul. Nothing but difficulty destroys that “I.”…

The thing is, we are always going to feel God’s absence more than his presence. We are always going to feel the imprint and onslaught of necessity, which is the crucifixion, more than we feel the release and freedom of pure joy, which is the resurrection. The first we experience; the second, even when it emerges out of experience, we believe. In that tiny gap of grammar is an abyss of difference. Suffering we know and share intimately with Christ (it’s how we bear it). Faith and hope are always imaginative—that is to say, projective—acts: “Tomorrow I shall wake to welcome him.”

Pretty brilliant Tinder spoof webseries – some explicit sexual language – ht SB: