Volume 3.7 (February 10-16)

Pick of the Week– There Are No Religious Objects to Treating People with Dignity (Michael Austin, IVN)– “Ultimately, though, the idea of a religious objection to providing a service to a same-sex couple does not even make sense on religious grounds. When someone is asked to provide such a service, the question being asked is not, “do you agree with people of the same gender forming a state-sanctioned contract?” It is, “do you agree that people should be treated with dignity?” And fortunately, this is a very easy question to answer from the religious point of view.”


Can Wendy Davis Have it All? (Robert Draper, NYT)

Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex? (Lori Gottlieb, NYT)


Catholic confession’s steep price (Toby Lester, Boston Globe)– “Cornwell thinks it’s time to reform confession again, in large part because he sees it as a key—and underappreciated—enabler of the recent sex-abuse scandals that have rocked the church. ”


There Is No Demand for Higher Education (John Warner, Inside Higher Ed)– “It seems to me the most important part of the “traditional” educational experience is the people you will meet. The social capital earned has greater influence on the lives that graduates will ultimately lead than the credential itself.”


A Closer Look: Three Golden Ages of Journalism? (Paul Steiger, ProPublica)

Local Papers Shine Lights in Society’s Dark Corners (David Carr, NYT)– “Lots of eyes and talent are focused on big national news in Washington, but there are far fewer boots on the ground in states, counties and towns, which is where services are actually delivered and where much of the money is spent. According to the Pew Research Center’s State of the News Media 2013 annual report, newspaper staffs have lost 30 percent of their reporters since the peak in 2000.”


What’s the Point If We Can’t Have Fun? (David Graeber, The Baffler)– “Why do animals play? Well, why shouldn’t they? The real question is: Why does the existence of action carried out for the sheer pleasure of acting, the exertion of powers for the sheer pleasure of exerting them, strike us as mysterious? What does it tell us about ourselves that we instinctively assume that it is?”

Neuromarketing: Capitalism’s mindfuck. Maybe (Zachary Siegel, Critical Theory)


A Former Bishop’s Doctrinal Dilemmas (Ganesh Cherian, KiwiMormon)– “Though I haven’t left the church, this shift to more transparency is a challenge for me as well.  Not because I don’t welcome these revisions.  They seem very fair and thoroughly researched.  But like my fellow high priests, I too used these now discarded explanations and doctrines throughout my leadership to teach – and now I’m left to wonder.”

Leaving a Changed Magazine Behind (Russell Arben Fox, By Common Consent)– “My wife and I have subscribed to the church magazines–The Ensign, for our tweens and teen-agers The New Era, and for our younger children The Friend–for all of our married life, more than 20 years. But this year, after some discussion, we simply decided that we were giving up on them entirely. No more subscribing. We’ve saved ourselves $26.”

Gatekeepers and Keymasters (Steve Evans, By Common Consent)– “These are not farfetched examples by any stretch, but they highlight the dilemma placed upon people by demanding righteous worship as a condition to secular benefits. But keep in mind there are two equally harmful dynamics going on here: the first is the incentive for the sinner to conceal their sin, and the second is for the ecclesiastical leader to provide information regarding the sinner to the administration. The first is a natural reaction to potentially devastating results, but the second is a structure that we have deliberately established. We have purposefully set up bishops as judges in Israel, but the modern form of that judgment is now a sentence largely carried out with punishment outside chapel walls. The irony here is that the people most in need of a bishop’s counsel and spiritual intervention are those with the greatest incentives to never, ever trust their bishop with that information. What of the sinner at BYU? There is little hope for them.”

What is the Moral Lesson of Genesis? (TT, Faith Promoting Rumor)– “If there is to be a moral lesson from these texts, it is not about parenting tips or other modern morality we wrest from the scriptures.   If we take them seriously, we also discover that honesty about our shortcomings is part of the story here.  The accounts of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their wives are not given because these figures are paragons of virtue, but because God covenants with these figures in spite of their imperfections.  The lesson is about God’s faithfulness to his promises with full knowledge of the brokenness of those with whom he makes covenants.”

Traditional Marriage: What are we speaking about? An anthropological view (Walter van Beek, Times and Seasons)– “Throughout, one issue must be clear: marriage is a social phenomenon and a social construct, it became a religious one much later. I personally have no doubt that God smiles on marriage, but then He does so in many forms and settings. Religious ceremonies might or might not be part of the union, more often than people realize, they are not. For instance, many African cultures have no wedding rituals; the bride just moving in with the groom is defined as the establishment of their recognized union, thus as a marriage. The absence of ritual in no way detracts from the validity of the marriage, nor from the rights and duties pertaining to the institution. Here the USA is an interesting experiment, as the civil rights to establish a marital union have to a large degree been devolved to denominations, so the ritual of wedding has become quite dominant as a defining part of marriage. Whether this is a successful experiment, is debatable, especially at this moment of history. Anyway, no society has been found without a recognizable system of marriage, and anthropologists doubt whether any society ever will. Marriage is not a threatened institution, in fact this never could be the case. What is threatened is the exclusive definition of marriage as lifelong heterosexual monogamy, or a religious monopoly on defining marriage.”


Writers Into Saints (Tim Parks, NYRB)– “I deeply admire the work of all these writers. I have no desire to run them down. On the contrary. What I find odd is that biographers apparently feel a need to depict their subjects as especially admirable human beings, something that in the end makes their lives less rather than more interesting and harder rather than easier to relate to their writing. It is so much clearer why the books were written and why they had to be the way they are if the life is given without this constant positive spin.”

On the Killing of Jordan Davis by Michael Dunn (Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic)– “We cannot protect our children because racism in America is not merely a belief system but a heritage, and the inability of black parents to protect their children is an ancient tradition.”

The NFL Will Never Be ‘Ready’ for an Openly Gay Player (Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic)– “Powerful interests are rarely “ready” for change, so much as they are assaulted by it. We refer to barriers being “broken” for a reason. The reason is not because great powers generally like to unbar the gates and hold a picnic in the honor of the previously excluded. The NFL has no moral right to be ‘ready’ for a gay player, which is to say it has no right to discriminate against gay men at its leisure which anyone is bound to respect. ”


The myth of maximizing shareholder value (Harold Meyerson, WaPo)– “If we think, as Wales apparently does, that our own form of capitalism is required by the legal obligations on corporations, we’re sadly misinformed. Shareholder capitalism is sustained not by law but by an institutional edifice of greed. The U.S. economy will not work again for the American people until they tear down that edifice.”

The Big Picture

Whatever Happened to ‘Every Man a King’? (Thomas Edsall, NYT)– “Most significantly, the Blasi-Freeman-Kruse proposal stands apart from alternate policy initiatives designed to address growing inequality because it directly addresses the concentration of wealth and political power at the top.For that reason alone, the idea of expanding employee ownership deserves serious consideration. The proposal does not resolve the question of how to give workers a sufficiently large share of capital to materially impact their economic status. Still, there are not that many viable options available to those who are committed to improving the disadvantaged position of labor versus capital. ”

The Left Fights Back (Dahlia Lithwick, Slate)– “As discomfiting as it may be to hear the Bible quoted alongside the Federalist Papers, the truth remains that for most people of most faiths, kicking the poorest and most vulnerable citizens when they are down is sinful. Stealing food and medical care from the weakest Americans is ethically corrupt. And the decadeslong political wisdom that only Republicans get to define sin and morality is not just tactically wrong for Democrats. It’s also just wrong. This is a lesson progressives are slowly learning from nuns and the new pope. When we talk of cutting food stamps or gutting education for our poorest citizens, we shouldn’t just call it greed. We should call it what it is: a sin.”

Redefining Work (Charles Frase, In These Times)– “Allowing people to opt out of labor is a far more uncertain, potentially destabilizing thing than simply reducing the length of the waged work week. But that is what makes it so important. What we need is not just less work—though we do need that—but a rethinking of the substantive content of work beyond the abstraction of wage labor. That will mean both surfacing invisible unpaid labor and devaluing certain kinds of destructive waged work. But merely saying that we should improve the quality of existing work and reduce its duration doesn’t allow us to raise the question of whether the work needs to exist at all.”

Fight Over Minimum Wage Illustrates Web of Industry Ties (Eric Lipton, NYT)

How Credit Card Debt Can Help the Poor (Shaila Dewan, NYT)– “It’s time that Americans learn how to save. Last year, we saved an average of 4.5 percent of household income — about half the historic rate — and most of that was concentrated among wealthier households. So it’s understandable that a number of groups are fixated on teaching the poor to save money. But a growing number of them are recognizing that to enter the economic mainstream, people also need good credit. ”

Liberals, Conservatives and the Meaning of Work (Paul Waldman, The American Prospect)– “I’d modify that to say that while most conservatives may view lives devoted to non-money-making endeavors as frivolous, it’s only when certain people take advantage of the kind of freedom we’re talking about that they get genuinely perturbed. They aren’t campaigning for a higher estate tax so the Paris Hiltons of the world will be forced to get jobs and contribute meaningfully to society instead of laying about all day spending their forebears’ money. It’s the idea of someone of modest means having the ability to organize their lives to work less that they find morally intolerable.”

Foreign Affairs

Use Force to Save Starving Syrians (Danny Postel and Nader Hashemi, NYT)– “We should invoke the Responsibility to Protect, the principle that if a state fails to protect its populations from mass atrocities — or is in fact the perpetrator of such crimes — the international community must step in to protect the victims, with the collective use of force authorized by the Security Council. And if a multinational force cannot be assembled, then at least some countries should step up and organize Syria’s democratically oriented rebel groups to provide the necessary force on the ground, with air cover from participating nations.”

Britain’s Welfare Queen (Kenan Malik, NYT)– “On this basis, Republic estimates the total cost of the monarchy to the taxpayer is more than £200 million a year.”

How to Build a Perfect Refugee Camp (Mac McClelland , NYT)– “When I asked the administrator why the camp took the amenities this far, he said: ‘We just put ourselves in the Syrians’ shoes. We need Internet. We need barbershops. We need workshops. We need art. What we need as Turks, we give them.’ He shrugged as though this were totally obvious. ‘We’re humans.'”


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