Saturday, September 15, 2012

D. G. Hart has a talent for asking annoyed rhetorical questions about a "transformational" view of religion and culture

I don’t like to pull the expertise card, but I do know a little bit about the history of Protestantism and the record is never as stellar as the whoopers claim. Some good things happened here and there. But some good things happen in my home from time to time. Does that mean that Christianity has the wonder-working powers that Doster claims? And what about the times after the good times? What about America after Witherspoon, England after Wilberforce, Scotland after Chalmers, the Netherlands after Kuyper (not to mention Ephesus after Paul)?

At some point, dreamy accounts like this are going to need to show their homework. Until then, critics of the transformationalists will counter with articles like, “Knowledge: Why Christians Must be Informed.” 

One comment stuck out both for its length and for its content:

Jed Paschall

Posted September 14, 2012 at 2:38 am | Permalink


The question of historiography is an important one, and I am not so sure that those in the modern day that are transformationally inclined have a balanced outlook on Christian political and social activism in the past, and what impact this might have for social and political change in the future. For instance, if we look to one of the examples that transformationalists like to tout as a model of how Christianity wields a good influence on the culture at large in the abolition of slavery in both Brittan and the US, I think it is fair to say that to a certain measure, abolitionists motivated by their convictions attained some important accomplishments in their societies. However, even in the absence of slavery, Great Brittan did not cease to be brutal in its colonial exploits – all one needs to do is examine the histories of areas such as India, China, and Africa in the 18th and19th centuries to see that while society may have improved to a degree when Wilberforce finally saw slavery put to an end in Brittan to see that the savage impulse of imperialism coursed through the empire. [emphasis added]

In America, understood by some to be the “City Set on a Hill”, this semi-eschatological self understanding of the US as the ushering in a new, and brighter epoch in world history, worked well for the WASP majority. [all emphases added] However, during the time after abolition and the Civil War, the US western expansion displayed similar impulses to empire as Brittan as they crushed the Native American populations, exposing the Indians to all sorts of inhumane treatment. Heck, the brutal mistreatment and exploitation of the Native Americans (who weren’t always innocent themselves) continued during and after the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Great Awakening – which makes one wonder if societal transformation for good (in the US at least) couldn’t at least be translated into the good of WASP’s, who suddenly got religion; because I am not sure if the Huron tribes were as affected by the 1GA as New Englanders were. Hitler himself conceded that the American model of the Reservation was highly influential upon the Nazi conception of the concentration camp. So it is not as if, even if abolition was the pinnacle of Christian activism in society, that society was somehow transformed into something more Christian.

Some of the aims of Christian transformationalists aren’t bad things. However, a little sobriety in evaluating the accomplishments of past Christian social activism might do some good. Heck, I would love to see a Christian activist just come out and say, “You know, the world’s always going to be a mixed bag of changes for good and the persistence of evil – but I feel like I can make a positive contribution in this cause, even if the whole world isn’t changed as a result.” Something like that would be easier to take than the triumphal reading of history and rosy vision of the future.

I've highlighted a few details that stand out.  It may be the easiest thing in the world for WASPs who have benefited the most in terms of influence or who have an incentive to trade on a transformational mythology of a "Christian history" to talk on and on about how they are going to "redeem" or "transform" culture.  Can we be sure that there isn't any stink of entitlement residing within this kind of mythology?

Another comment proposed was that Christians who insist on the transformationalist paradigm have a conundrum on their hands if the people who transform culture happen to be atheists.  I suppose at that point one could make an appeal to what is often called "common grace" but then it's no longer really in the domain of what Christians are proposed to be or need to be doing to transform culture.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Henri has become aware that some mock his French ... his French is perfect

Part 3 is up, for those who haven't spotted it already.  Henri's fate just looks bleaker and bleaker, does it not?

"The Morrisey of cats" might well sum things up.

The punning reference to Morris is a nice touch, too. :)

Monday, September 10, 2012

now this isn't a very subtle transition was it? Phoenix Preacher P&P with Ecclesiastes 3 reference

but here were go, a prayer by Walter Brueggemann derived from none other than Ecclesiastes 3

Practical Theology for Women: Put on your own air mask first

As axioms and contemporary proverbs go I think this is a good example to consider.  A fool thinks that a proverb or axiom must apply in every possible case while a wise person can recognize that a proverb must be understood with at least some context.  I'm willing to go on a limb and propose that Wendy's case study is a positive example of how a proverbial observation can develop and how it is grounded in an observation of the world at large.  We're not done blogging through Ecclesiastes and Martin Shields' commentary on the book just yet but it's worth mentioning that many proverbs developed through observation of the world.  More, perhaps, on this stuff later as adventures in Ecclesiastes moves on.

Children in success, cognition and motivation book excerpt in Slate

The stuff about altering the motivation of children using candy as a reward is interesting, not particularly surprising, but interesting.

The M&M studies were a major blow to the conventional wisdom about intelligence, which held that IQ tests measured something real and permanent—something that couldn’t be changed drastically with a few candy-covered chocolates. They also raised an important and puzzling question about the supposedly low-IQ children: Did they actually have low IQs or not? Which number was the true measure of their intelligence: 79 or 97?


But as every middle-school teacher knows, convincing students of that logic is a lot harder than it seems. Motivation, it turns out, is quite complex, and rewards sometimes backfire. In their book Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner recount the story of a study researchers undertook in the 1970s to see if giving blood donors a small financial stipend might increase blood donations. The result was actually that fewer people gave blood, not more.

And a few more things.

And while the M&M test suggests that giving kids material incentives to succeed should make a big difference, in practice, it often doesn’t work that way. In recent years, the Harvard economist Roland Fryer has essentially tried to extend the M&M experiment to the scale of a metropolitan school system. He tested several different incentive programs in public schools—offering bonuses to teachers if they improved their classes’ test results; offering incentives like cellphone minutes to students if they improved their own test results; offering families financial incentives if their children did better. The experiments were painstaking and carefully run—and the results have been almost uniformly disappointing. There are a couple of bright spots in the data—in Dallas, a program that paid young kids for each book they read seems to have contributed to better reading scores for English-speaking students. But for the most part, the programs were a bust. The biggest experiment, which offered incentives to teachers in New York City, cost $75 million and took three years to conduct. And in the spring of 2011, Fryer reported that it had produced no positive results at all.

This is the problem with trying to motivate people: No one really knows how to do it well. It is precisely why we have such a booming industry in inspirational posters and self-help books and motivational speakers: What motivates us is often hard to explain and hard to measure.

I'm going to skip a lot of material and get to the closing paragraph.  By now, I hope, you've had enough motivation to read the article for yourself. ;-)

But what Segal’s experiment suggests is that it was actually their first score, the 79, that was more relevant to their future prospects. That was their equivalent of the coding-test score, the low-stakes, low-reward test that predicts how well someone is going to do in life. They may not have been low in IQ, but they were low in whatever quality it is that makes a person try hard on an IQ test without any obvious incentive. And what Segal’s research shows is that that is a very valuable quality to possess. [emphasis added]

That's something to mull over, the possibility that the low-stakes, low-reward tests may say the most about where we end up. Many a proverb has been forged on millenia of this sort of observation. Time and chance do happen to us all but it may still prove generally true that whoever is faithful with little will be faithful with much.  The big failures of willpower and discipline happen one tiny decision at a time, it seems.  A life of mediocrity and faceless non-achievement is attained by deciding that the small stuff where there's no obvious reward for putting in extra effort isn't worth bothering with. While I agree with blogging friends about the dangers of a prosperity gospel lite if we appreciate the limited aim of wisdom literature we can appreciate that it does not necessarily promise prosperity so much as it warns us that life is full of small decisions that matter, cumulatively, more than we are able to imagine. There is a time and a place for understanding a proverb and an axiom, after all.  As a certain passage in a certain book so famously put it, to everything there is a season, and a time and a purpose for everything under the sun. 

Memos indicate United States covered up knowledge of Soviet atrocities against Poles in early 1940s