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Friday, July 20, 2007

Democrats and Religion

Time wrote a story titled, "How the Democrats Got Religion." It appears that this will be a theme of the 2008 campaign. Will the Democrats be able to use religious people in '08 as effectively as the Republicans did in '00 & '04.

First, I really hope that the Democratic Party and various faith communities are able to open a dialog about shared goals such as promoting human dignity, protecting the environment, working for peace, and addressing poverty. This is not about liberal or conservative Christians (or other faiths, although I really don't know much about liberal/conservative Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, etc.). These are values that all Christians share.

Second, I hope the Liberals who are Christians [FN1] learn a lesson from our conservative brothers and sisters. The Church, like the prophets, should always be critical of government. It should never become the arm of one party or another. That is an easy way to become irrelevant, losing both our moral authority and our influence.

Third, I hope Liberal Christians recognize the tremendous evangelism opportunity working toward these goals can have. Many people believe that to be Christian you have to think narrowly about political and spiritual issues. And a weirdo they want to college or law school with who happens to break the mold wont change that. However, when a whole church is working with unchurched people to oppose torture, promote recycling, encourage peace, and feed the hungry, it is an opportunity to open a conduit of communication. It may convince someone listen long enough to be surprised so many Christians don't take it as an article of faith that gays are damned; or that so many question doctrines like virgin birth; or that so many find a spiritual fulfillment that is more than accepting things unseen.

I'm connected to movements that emphasize each of these, but my passion is with the third.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Death Penalty

I asked a while ago, "When is it right for one person to kill another person." We talked a fair amount about self defense. But another controversial example is a state authorized execution.

Arizona has recently had a special role in American death penalty jurisprudence. Specifically, Ring v. Arizona [syllabus]was the case that said juries, not judges, had to find the factual justifications for making a defendant eligible for the death penalty. The named defendant, the opinion affected several others, just recently accepted a life sentence. Although, it appears he has some more appealing in mind, perhaps asserting that he was in fact innocent. [story] The story does a pretty nice job of summarizing things, except I didn't know any defense attorneys who thought this was going to be good for defendants.

The Hebrews had some rules about putting people to death. Exodus 21 contains the list of offenses. (If you pull up the link, notice that in Exodus 21:22 our translators think the offense is causing the woman to have a premature birth; but the note tells you maybe it means miscarriage. I think the causing the baby to come out of her almost certainly means miscarriage, but that translation interfers with pro-life position so it finds its way into the footnote.)

Exodus 22-23 have some interesting stuff about property rights and cultural laws. Here is a bit about mercy and warning against wrongful conviction. Here are verses 6-7:
Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.

Seems like the Hebrews, after much reflection on their relationship to God and their place in the world, came to a pretty similar conclusion as Americans on this topic. There are some things that merit the death penalty, but man you better be very careful in handing it out, and it better not matter what your social class is in making the determination.

I think there are probably people who deserve to die (whatever that means) but I think it is too hard to do it right in our huge anonymous society.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Prophets & History

I don't have a lot of time this morning, but I thought it would be interesting to demonstrate how the Biblical histories and prophesies interact. Note, although one does not achieve "levels" of Christianity, one can be a more or less serious Biblical scholar. I am a decidedly amateur Biblical scholar. So, the most interesting part of what I am giving you is the citations to the text to consider.

Both the myths and the histories are often told multiple times with a different spin on them. I've written about the creation stories quite a bit, but here is an example of a historical story coming from two places. It is a story about the LORD saving the people of Judah from an attacking army because King Hezekiah had faith in God. You can read about it at 2 Kings 18:17-19:37 or 2 Chronicles 32:1-22.

These accounts are just from different traditions. They have some variations. The story is also told in the book of Isaiah in chapters 36 & 37. Generally speaking, the book of Isaiah will contain more about the prophet trying to convince the kings or the people to adhere to the teachings of God and be faithful. But it this case, it really is very similar to the story in Kings. And, Kings contains Isaiah's prophesy.

Do you suppose people know that the Bible is put together this way? I was an adult before I really understood it, and I went to church all of the time. I would doubt that my friend who attended a Baptist military academy had such things pointed out to him, although, I don't know for sure. I does seem to put to rest the notion that God wrote the Bible in the most literal sense.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Nuclear Stuff

Some scary stuff from a couple of nuclear reactors in Japan. Story Following the earthquake a couple of things happened. "The earthquake triggered a fire in an electrical transformer," and the earthquake "caused a leak of radioactive water . . . ." Specifically, 315 gallons of water from a tank found its way into the ocean.

I'm very pro nuclear power because it produces no greenhouse gasses, it produces a miniscule amount of waste that must quarantined from the environment, and it has the capacity to power modern civilization.

That said, this story is why we have to be super cautuous with nuclear power.

For the purpose of general education, the water is almost certainly not a big deal. I don't know what tank the water came from, but I would guess it is drainage waiting to be purified and returned to the reactor. Even if it came right from cooling the fuel, the water (coolant) is not very radioactive unless there is a problem with the fuel. The uranium fuel is encased in steel and doesn't fail unless it is uncovered, or there are dramatic power spikes or something to that effect. (Which happened in Cherynobyl.)

Which leads to the electrical fire. That is by far and away the most scary of the two reported problems. That is because losing electric power can result in preventing the plant from safely shutting down. Thus, you have a chance of keeping power too high with too little coolant flow.

"All the reactors were either already shut down or automatically switched off by the quake." This is good, and BTW didn't really happen at Chernobyl where operators used overrides to prevent automatic shutdowns. Three Mile Island also involved operators preventing automatic actions. Even after the reactor is shutdown cooling is required and that is why the electric power is so important.

It sounds to me like nothing terrible happened with this. I hope that is the case. I know that reactors regulated by the NRC have many redundant systems to ensure there is sufficient electric power available for a safe shutdown. But these things are really scary for multiple reasons.