Building a Life Story

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey.

The first time I wrote in my journal was in the days immediately after my baptism when I was 8 years old. I still have the pages somewhere in a box, including the hand-drawn map of the different routes I could take when I walked back and forth from school.

I have started and stopped journals countless times since then because it’s one of those things that, as Elder Groberg reminded us in Writing Your Personal and Family History, good Mormons are supposed to do.

As much as I enjoy writing, there’s always been one big thing inhibiting me from keeping a journal more reliably, and it is this: I don’t know what the real story is. This isn’t some weird post-modern hang-up, so much as it is (as far as I can tell) a weird psychological hang-up. I never know how I feel about things. Interrogating my true feelings about the things that are going on in my life is like collecting mist with a butterfly net. I can record the brute facts of my life—I can draw the map and label the streets—but I can’t tell you what those facts mean. Not even, and perhaps most especially, to me.

My inner life is an optical illusion. It is a collection of lines that looks like the inside of a cube one moment or the outside of a cube the next. It is a picture of a rabbit for a blink, and then it is a picture of a duck. It is two faces; it is a chalice. It is an old lady; it is a young woman.

This is why I spend almost no time at all thinking about my past. My friends and family all remember so much more of the things that I’ve been through than I do. For me, the past is like a crime scene, and I am afraid to contaminate the evidence. I have a superstitious belief that there is a true story, an objective reality, and I’m afraid that if I try to hard to find it then I will only erase it.

I have a couple of binders somewhere that contain all the letters that I sent home while I was serving my mission in Hungary and all of the letters that people sent to me. I think the binders were a gift when I got home, but I’m not sure. I’ve never opened them. I’m not sure where they are. I don’t even like to look at the binders, let alone consider reading the pages inside. Because my mission was the one time in my life when I acted like I knew what was going on and when I told everyone how I felt about things, and I’m afraid that it was all lies. It was the hardest time of my young life, and I have vague recollections of writing relentlessly optimistic and happy letters despite feeling so depressed that it felt like physical pain on most days. The whole thing is wildly embarrassing to me. I acted like I knew what was going on. I had no idea. I have lived almost as many years after my mission as I lived before it, and I still have no idea what was going on or why it was so hard for me.

If writing a journal is about writing the real story of my feelings, then I can’t write a journal for the simple reason that I don’t know my own story.

And yet, I should. Write a journal, that is. Like Elder Groberg says, writing a journal “helps immeasurably in gaining a true, eternal perspective of life” and “should be a great motivation to do what is right.” I know that’s accurate: the reflection of writing about my life has helped me put things into perspective.

Maybe that’s the point?

I’m teaching the Old Testament in Gospel Doctrine this year, and it’s a mess. We just made the transition from Joshua to Judges, and I taught about how all the mass slaughter that supposedly happened in Joshua is pretty flatly contradicted by Judges. On the bright side: you don’t have to believe in a genocidal God.  On the downside: it’s hard to make sense of all the contradictions. In Deuteronomy, we’re told a Moabite will never enter the assembly of the Lord until the 10th generation. Ruth, the hero of the Book of Ruth, is Moabite and that makes King David 1/8th Moabite. And, while we’re on the topic, how do we reconcile the apparent gap between the miracle-laden Exodus story and the miracle-free story of Ruth and Boaz?

The one encouraging thing is that, as I read Elder Groberg’s talk, I realize that the Old Testament is a mess in a lot of the same ways that my own life story is a mess.

There may be one, true, ultimate truth about everything. Not just the objective facts of life, but the subjective ones as well. Maybe there is an absolutely true narrative. But if there is, we will never know it in this life. In this life, stories are things we make up. Fictional stories are based on imaginary facts. And real stories—including history—is made up based on true facts. But they are both made up.

I’m not sure if I have that right or not, but it sounds promising. At the very least, it’s worth giving a shot. I’m going to try writing in my journal again, and this time I’m not going to try and find a life story. I’m going to use the raw materials of my experiences to build one.

Check out the other posts from the General Conference Odyssey this week and join our Facebook group to follow along!

The DR Book Collection: Catch-Up #5

This is part of the DR Book Collection.

I’m once again behind on my book reviews, so here’s a list of the books I’ve read recently, their descriptions, and accompanying videos.

Image result for a universe from nothingLawrence M. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing (Free Press, 2012): “Bestselling author and acclaimed physicist Lawrence Krauss offers a paradigm-shifting view of how everything that exists came to be in the first place. “Where did the universe come from? What was there before it? What will the future bring? And finally, why is there something rather than nothing?” One of the few prominent scientists today to have crossed the chasm between science and popular culture, Krauss describes the staggeringly beautiful experimental observations and mind-bending new theories that demonstrate not only can something arise from nothing, something will always arise from nothing. With a new preface about the significance of the discovery of the Higgs particle, A Universe from Nothing uses Krauss’s characteristic wry humor and wonderfully clear explanations to take us back to the beginning of the beginning, presenting the most recent evidence for how our universe evolved—and the implications for how it’s going to end. Provocative, challenging, and delightfully readable, this is a game-changing look at the most basic underpinning of existence and a powerful antidote to outmoded philosophical, religious, and scientific thinking” (Amazon).

Image result for alive at workDaniel M. Cable, Alive at Work: The Neuroscience of Helping Your People Love What They Do (Harvard Business Review Press, 2018): “In this bold, enlightening book, social psychologist and professor Daniel M. Cable takes leaders into the minds of workers and reveals the surprising secret to restoring their zest for work. Disengagement isn’t a motivational problem, it’s a biological one. Humans aren’t built for routine and repetition. We’re designed to crave exploration, experimentation, and learning–in fact, there’s a part of our brains, which scientists have coined “the seeking system,” that rewards us for taking part in these activities. But the way organizations are run prevents many of us from following our innate impulses. As a result, we shut down. Things need to change. More than ever before, employee creativity and engagement are needed to win. Fortunately, it won’t take an extensive overhaul of your organizational culture to get started. With small nudges, you can personally help people reach their fullest potential. Alive at Work reveals:

  • How to encourage people to bring their best selves to work and use their greatest strengths to help your organization flourish
  • How to build creative environments that motivate people to share ideas, work smarter, and embrace change
  • How to enhance people’s connection to their work and your customers
  • How to create personalized experiences that help people feel a deeper sense of purpose

Filled with fascinating stories from the author’s extensive research, Alive at Work is the inspirational guide that you need to tap into the passion, creativity, and purpose fizzing beneath the surface of every person who falls under your leadership” (Amazon).

Image result for saints slaves and blacksNewell G. Bringhurst, Saints, Slaves, & Blacks: The Changing Place of Black People Within Mormonism, 2nd ed. (Greg Kofford Books, 2018): “Originally published shortly after the LDS Church lifted its priesthood and temple restriction on black Latter-day Saints, Newell G. Bringhurst’s landmark work remains ever-relevant as both the first comprehensive study on race within the Mormon religion and the basis by which contemporary discussions on race and Mormonism have since been framed. Approaching the topic from a social history perspective, with a keen understanding of antebellum and post-bellum religious shifts, Saints, Slaves, and Blacks examines both early Mormonism in the context of early American attitudes towards slavery and race, and the inherited racial traditions it maintained for over a century. While Mormons may have drawn from a distinct theology to support and defend racial views, their attitudes towards blacks were deeply-embedded in the national contestation over slavery and anticipation of the last days. This second edition of Saints, Slaves, and Blacks offers an updated edit, as well as an additional foreword and postscripts by Edward J. Blum, W. Paul Reeve, and Darron T. Smith. Bringhurst further adds a new preface and appendix detailing his experience publishing Saints, Slaves, and Blacks at a time when many Mormons felt the rescinded ban was best left ignored, and reflecting on the wealth of research done on this topic since its publication” (Greg Kofford).

Image result for out of poverty powellBenjamin Powell, Out of Poverty: Sweatshops in the Global Economy (Cambridge University Press, 2014): “This book provides a comprehensive defense of third-world sweatshops. It explains how these sweatshops provide the best available opportunity to workers and how they play an important role in the process of development that eventually leads to better wages and working conditions. Using economic theory, the author argues that much of what the anti-sweatshop movement has agitated for would actually harm the very workers they intend to help by creating less desirable alternatives and undermining the process of development. Nowhere does this book put ‘profits’ or ‘economic efficiency’ above people. Improving the welfare of poorer citizens of third world countries is the goal, and the book explores which methods best achieve that goal. Out of Poverty will help readers understand how activists and policy makers can help third world workers” (Amazon).

Does Economic Marginalization Breed Radicals?

Image result for islamic radical

A few years ago, I linked to a Wall Street Journal op-ed by economist Hernando de Soto that declared “economic hope” to be “the only way to win the battle for the constituencies on which terrorist groups feed.” A couple years later, I discussed the possibility that strict labor laws–and the unemployment it produces–was a major contributor to radicalization in Europe. In short, the lack of economic opportunity breeds extremism.

Recent evidence appears to support this hunch.

Many point to U.S. drone strikes as a causal factor in Islamic radicalization. However, a brand new study argues the contrary, concluding,

Although U.S. drone strikes in Muslim countries might play a role in the radicalization or violent extremism of co-religionists around the world, the available evidence does not support the assertion that drones are “fueling the fires of homegrown radicalization” in Western societies or that these unmanned aerial vehicles are the new Guantánamo.

…The radicalization of individuals in the Somali diaspora, especially in the state of Minnesota, illustrates the role of U.S. policies targeting Muslim communities at home; personal factors, such as conflicted identities among young Somali Americans; and their nationalist desire to evict foreign troops from Somalia, a desire that recruiters from the al-Qaida affiliate al-Shabaab have been able to exploit. My brief examination of the social science literature on the drivers of Islamist militancy among Muslims in European countries similarly points to domestic factors such as an identity crisis among some young Muslims, state policies of marginalization and discrimination, and the role of radical preachers and terrorist recruiters who leverage these vulnerabilities for recruitment (pg. 83-84; emphasis mine).

This is further confirmed by a recent World Bank paper:

Exploiting individual-level education information for these fighters, we link the size of a contingent of fighters to the economic conditions faced by workers in their countries of residence who have the same level of education, by distinguishing primary, secondary and tertiary education. Beginning non-parametrically, we document a correlation between the within-country relative unemployment rate faced by workers from a specific country and education level and the corresponding relative number of recruits. We then conduct panel regressions in which we estimate the impact of unemployment on the propensity to join the terrorist group, controlling for country and education-level fixed effects. The estimated coefficients indicate that higher unemployment rates are a push factor towards radicalization, especially for countries at a shorter distance to Syria, with an elasticity of 0.25; a one percentage point increase in the unemployment rate leads to 42 additional Daesh recruits. The elasticity steeply decreases further away from Syria and becomes both economically and statistically insignificant past the average distance of 2,500 km. The results are robust to the inclusion of education-specific wage rates, strengthening the case for a causal interpretation of these results (pg. 1-2).

I’m reminded of the famous quote by Nobel laureate Robert Lucas: “The consequences for human welfare involved in questions [of economic growth] are simply staggering: Once one starts to think about them, it is hard to think about anything else” (pg. 5).

Are Americans Becoming Less Religious?

Pew Research Center has a new study out on American’s religious beliefs. Their previous research on the rise of the “nones” (i.e., the unchurched or religiously unaffiliated) received a lot of press with many claiming that religious belief was on the decline. Sociologist Rodney Stark has been calling out the misleading nature of these numbers, pointing out that a lack of religious affiliation does not say much about the person’s beliefs. His criticisms are based on his detailed, large-scale survey of Americans’ beliefs and practices as well as his analysis of cross-country data. And now, Pew’s recent research seems to indicate that Stark had a point:

A new Pew Research Center survey of more than 4,700 U.S. adults finds that one-third of Americans say they do not believe in the God of the Bible, but that they do believe there is some other higher power or spiritual force in the universe. A slim majority of Americans (56%) say they believe in God “as described in the Bible.” And one-in-ten do not believe in any higher power or spiritual force.

…The survey questions that mention the Bible do not specify any particular verses or translations, leaving that up to each respondent’s understanding. But it is clear from questions elsewhere in the survey that Americans who say they believe in God “as described in the Bible” generally envision an all-powerful, all-knowing, loving deity who determines most or all of what happens in their lives. By contrast, people who say they believe in a “higher power or spiritual force” – but not in God as described in the Bible – are much less likely to believe in a deity who is omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent and active in human affairs.

And what of the so-called “nones”?:

Compared with Christians, Jews and people with no religious affiliation are much more likely to say they do not believe in God or a higher power of any kind. Still, big majorities in both groups do believe in a deity (89% among Jews, 72% among religious “nones”), including 56% of Jews and 53% of the religiously unaffiliated who say they do not believe in the God of the Bible but do believe in some other higher power of spiritual force in the universe. (The survey did not include enough interviews with Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or respondents from other minority religious groups in the United States to permit separate analysis of their beliefs.)

As Stark writes,

The world is more religious than it has ever been. Around the globe, four out of every five people claim to belong to an organized faith, and many of the rest say they attend worship services. In Latin American, Pentecostal Protestant churches have converted tens of millions, and Catholics are going to Mass in unprecedented numbers. There are more churchgoing Christians in Sub-Saharan African than anywhere else on earth, and China may soon become home of the most Christians. Meanwhile, although not growing as rapidly as Christianity, Islam enjoys far higher levels of member commitment than it has for many centuries, and the same is true for Hinduism. In fact, of all the great world religions, only Buddhism may not be growing…[D]espite [the] confident proclamations about the decline of religion, Pew’s findings were certainly misleading and probably wrong. Consider only one fact: the overwhelming majority of Americans who say they have no religious affiliation pray and believe in angels! How irreligious is that?

Furthermore,

The [Pew] findings would seem to be clear: the number of Americans who say their religious affiliation is “none” has increased from about 8 percent in 1990 to about 22 percent in 2014. But what this means is not so obvious, for, during this same period, church attendance did not decline and the number of atheists did not increase. Indeed, the percentage of atheists in America has stayed stead at about 4 percent since a question about belief in God was first asked in 1944. In addition, except for atheists, most of the other “nones” are religious in the sense that they pray (some pray very often) and believe in angels, in heaven, and even in ghosts. Some are also rather deeply involved in “New Age” mysticisms.

So who are these “nones,” and why is their number increasing–if it is? Back in 1990 most Americans who seldom or never attended church still claimed a religious affiliation when asked to do so. Today, when asked their religious preference, instead of saying Methodist or Catholic, now a larger proportion of nonattenders say “none,” by which most seem to mean “no actual membership.” The entire change has take place within the nonattending group, and the nonattending group has not grown.

In other words, this change marks a decrease only in nominal affiliation, not an increase in irreligion. So whatever else it may reflect, the change does not support claims for increased secularization, let alone a decrease in the number of Christians. It may not even reflect an increase in those who say they are “nones.” The reason has to do with response rates and the accuracy of surveys.

“The Ugly Coded Critique of Chick-Fil-A’s Christianity”

Stephen Carter at Bloomberg suggests the secular Left doesn’t realize who it’s mocking. Key points:

  • Women are more likely than men to be Christian.
  • PoC are more likely than white people to be Christian, and particularly more likely to be Christian traditionalists.
  • White Christians are aging while Christians of color are youthening.
  • Among Latinos and Asians, Christians are overwhelmingly first generation immigrants.

Read the full article here.

DR Editor in BYU Studies Quarterly: “Ye Are No More Strangers and Foreigners”

I’m excited to announce that my article “”Ye Are No More Strangers and Foreigners”: Theological and Economic Perspectives on the LDS Church and Immigration” has been published in the latest issue of BYU Studies Quarterly. From the abstract:

Issue 57:1 CoverImmigration policy is controversial topic in 2018. In response to refugee crises and legal situations that can break up families, the LDS Church announced its “I Was a Stranger” relief effort and released a statement encouraging solutions that strengthens families, keeps them together, and extends compassion to those seeking a better life. This article seeks to shed light on a correct understanding of immigration and its effects. Walker Wright gives a brief scriptural overview of migration, explores the public’s attitudes toward immigration, and reviews the empirical economic literature, which shows that (1) fears about immigration are often overblown or fueled by misinformation and (2) liberalizing immigration restrictions would have positive economic effects.

From the editors:

Walker Wright’s article on religious and economic perspectives about immigration, strangers, and refugees is marvelously timely. He approaches the debate over immigration through a double lens: the Church’s official statements and scholarly research on the economic effects of immigration. He demonstrates that the Church’s accommodating approach is overwhelmingly supported by the research. Migration is often impelled by external pressures, but it is ultimately the voluntary response of those fleeing to improve their lives. Immigrants come unassigned, so people can reach out to them without needing to be asked (pg. 5).

The article is divided into the following sections:

  • “I Was a Stranger”
  • Migration in Scripture and Sacred History
  • Strangers, the Sin of Sodom, and Zion
  • Public Opinion on Immigration
  • The Economy as a Whole
  • Global Poverty
  • Refugees
  • Common Objections to Immigration
    • “Stealing” Jobs
    • Depressed Wages
    • Culture and Institutions
    • Fiscal Burden and Welfare Cost
    • Terrorism and Crime

Check it out. You can also access it on my Academia.edu page.

 

The Bridge that Spans the Chasm

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey.

This is my first post in the GCO in a long, long time and it feels great to be writing again. I really hope to stick with it this time. I plan on working my way through the entire backlog of posts I’ve missed (I don’t even know how many there are at this point. 10? 20? 30?) But my first priority will be keeping apace with the current ones. I’ll fill the backlog in as I can.

I have so many thoughts about the April 2018 GC that just concluded. First and foremost: a temple in Richmond, VA? I thought that the day would never come. With the huge DC temple so close by (relatively speaking) I didn’t even dare to hope. We had lots of friends over at our house watching the session, and we all went nuts when they made the announcement!

Friends and family react to the announcement of the Richmond, VA temple.

What I decided to write about—before then—was a pair of talks from the Saturday morning session. The two talks are Am I a Child of God by Elder Brian K. Taylor and Even as Christ Forgives You, So Also Do Ye by Elder Larry J. Echo Hawk.

In his talk, Elder Taylor talked about the experience of a friend of his who—when she was a teenager—caused a car accident that took the life of the other driver. “Someone lost their mom,” he quotes her as saying, “and it was my fault.” It was a strong talk about the power of learning to hold onto our identity as children of God even when we feel terrible about our own mistakes, but part of me couldn’t help thinking: Yeah, it was tough for her. What about the children of the mom that died?

That was still in the back of my mind when I heard Elder Echo Hawk begin a story in his talk:

On a December night in 1982, my wife Terry and I were awakened by a phone call to our home… As I answered the phone, I heard only sobbing. Finally, my sister’s struggling voice said, “Tommy is dead.”

Elder Echo Hawk went on to describe how his family, with the help of Christ, was able to open their hearts to the family of the drunk driver who killed his brother.

These talks were not about the exact same accident, but I was incredibly struck by the fact that here we had two talks—back to back—about fatal car accidents. One from the perspective of a person who had caused a fatal car accident and survived, and one from the perspective of the family of a man killed by a car accident caused by someone else.

This is what forgiveness looks like: it has two sides.

One of the hardest things to learn about Christianity is that ultimately there are no bad guys. We’re not really wired for that, and it’s a radical and explosive perspective to take. But—in the end—it is the perspective of a God who loves all of His children.

It doesn’t mean that all of our mistakes cancel out. That would be trivializing. The perspective is hard precisely because they don’t. Because mistakes so often have the sinner on one hand and the sinned on the other, and that creates a divide that can seem unbridgeable.

We are not taught to pretend the sin didn’t happen. Nor—it should go without saying—are we taught to subject ourselves to ongoing abuse. But we are taught to forgive the one who has wronged us and, when we are truly penitent and have done all we can, we are taught to forgive ourselves.

Both aspects are hard. Both aspects are necessary. And ultimately, none of us are strong enough to bridge that chasm alone. It is Christ—His example and the power of His atonement—that allow us to cross the divide between the wrong-doer and the wrong-sufferer.

He is the bridge that spans the chasm.

Check out the other posts from the General Conference Odyssey this week and join our Facebook group to follow along!

Wright vs. Hart: Which Translation is Better?

Translating the N. T. Wright and David Bentley Hart Tussle

I’m a big fan of both Anglican New Testament scholar N.T. Wright and Eastern Orthodox theologian David B. Hart and have read a number of books by both. A few years ago, Wright published his translation of the New Testament. Hart recently published his own translation through Yale University. And apparently, the two have been sparring over Hart’s translation. According to Christianity Today,

One notable scholar who does not appear to be particularly impressed by Hart’s translation is Wright, who is probably the closest thing current New Testament scholarship comes to having a celebrity. His review of Hart’s New Testament, published January 15 in The Christian Century, details a lengthy list of disagreements with Hart’s translation choices, and ends with the backhanded compliment that Hart’s translation is “as idiosyncratic as it is bold.”

Wright’s primary concern seems to be Hart’s understanding and use of language—both Greek and English. Hart claims his translation will in many parts be “an almost pitilessly literal translation,” intending to “make the original text visible through as thin a layer of translation as I can contrive to superimpose upon it.”

While Wright seems to respect what Hart is trying to accomplish, he nevertheless argues that instead of making the original text visible, Hart may actually be obscuring it by trying to render Greek syntax and idioms in English. “Greek and English, as Hart knows well, do not work the same way,” Wright argues. “… The strange English here has nothing to do with a cultural clash between the first Christians and ourselves.”

Hart didn’t waste any time in his response:

Hart’s rejoinder is, like Wright’s initial review, full of zingers and jabs and worth a full read. Hart grants Wright a few basic premises, then wades right into the details of Wright’s critique—meeting him point for point, and then some. Hart notes in the comments on the blog post that he was “annoyed … that Wright wrote any review at all … because he has a competing version out there [published in 2011], and it’s an old rule that one doesn’t write reviews—especially caustic reviews—of competing books.”

Hart characterizes Wright’s review as a “catalogue of complaints,” and thinks that Wright’s own work “suffers from a dangerous combination of the conventional and the idiosyncratic, with a few significant historical misconceptions mixed in … imposing meanings on the text that best conform to his own convictions, plausible or not.” Hart concludes one particular point about how to translate a noun in Greek that lacks an article by saying, “Here I am right and Wright is wrong,” but it would not be a stretch to say that this statement characterizes much of Hart’s response.

So what’s the heart of the issue? The article concludes,

Where Wright is trying to translate the Greek of the New Testament (replete with its Greco-Roman and Second Temple Jewish valences) into modern English, Hart instead is attempting to translate the Greek of the New Testament (in all of its original “mysteries and uncertainties and surprises”) in modern English.

For Hart, the focus is communicating the “strangeness” of the Greek words and phrases themselves, which occasionally requires dips into esoteric vocabulary in order to find just the right word and a willingness to forgo normal syntax in order to allow the “Greekness” to come through. By contrast, for Wright the focus is communicating the strangeness of what those Greek words were conveying, meaning removing as many barriers to receiving and understanding the difference between a first-century viewpoint and our contemporary one.

They are both aiming at very similar goals, but their methods are starkly different. They both want the original to shine through as much as possible, to give, as Wright puts it, “a first-hand … understanding of what the New Testament said in its own world.” For Hart, this means making English say things as “Greekly” as he can manage; for Wright, it means making English mean Greek things as much as he can.

The translations of both of these scholars are impressive achievements, and both deserve praise and appreciation for their careful and dedicated work to produce them. Neither is necessarily “better” or “more faithful” than the other; they are simply aimed at different things (as their acrimonious repartee displays). Likewise, as both scholars attest in their introductions, neither of these translations is intended nor fit for regular use in church or for devotion. Rather, they both serve as valuable and faithful opportunities to encounter the text of the Bible anew and afresh.

Read the whole thing.

The DR Book Collection: Catch-Up #3

This is part of the DR Book Collection.

I’m once again behind on my book reviews, so here’s a list of the books I’ve read recently, their descriptions, and accompanying videos.

Image result for religious literacyStephen Prothero, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know–And Doesn’t (HarperCollins, 2007): “The United States is one of the most religious places on earth, but it is also a nation of shocking religious illiteracy.

  • Only 10 percent of American teenagers can name all five major world religions and 15 percent cannot name any.
  • Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that the Bible holds the answers to all or most of life’s basic questions, yet only half of American adults can name even one of the four gospels and most Americans cannot name the first book of the Bible.

Despite this lack of basic knowledge, politicians and pundits continue to root public policy arguments in religious rhetoric whose meanings are missed—or misinterpreted—by the vast majority of Americans. “We have a major civic problem on our hands,” says religion scholar Stephen Prothero. He makes the provocative case that to remedy this problem, we should return to teaching religion in the public schools. Alongside “reading, writing, and arithmetic,” religion ought to become the “Fourth R” of American education. Many believe that America’s descent into religious illiteracy was the doing of activist judges and secularists hell-bent on banishing religion from the public square. Prothero reveals that this is a profound misunderstanding. “In one of the great ironies of American religious history,” Prothero writes, “it was the nation’s most fervent people of faith who steered us down the road to religious illiteracy. Just how that happened is one of the stories this book has to tell.” Prothero avoids the trap of religious relativism by addressing both the core tenets of the world’s major religions and the real differences among them. Complete with a dictionary of the key beliefs, characters, and stories of Christianity, Islam, and other religions, Religious Literacy reveals what every American needs to know in order to confront the domestic and foreign challenges facing this country today” (Amazon).

Image result for the 16 strivings for godSteven Reiss, The 16 Strivings for God: The New Psychology of Religious Experience (Mercer University Press, 2015): “This ground-breaking work will change the way we understand religion. Period. Previous scholars such as Freud, James, Durkheim, and Maslow did not successfully identify the essence of religion as fear of death, mysticism, sacredness, communal bonding, magic, or peak experiences because religion has no single essence. Religion is about the values motivated by the sixteen basic desires of human nature. It has mass appeal because it accommodates the values of people with opposite personality traits. This is the first comprehensive theory of the psychology of religion that can be scientifically verified. Reiss proposes a peer-reviewed, original theory of mysticism, asceticism, spiritual personality, and hundreds of religious beliefs and practices. Written for serious readers and anyone interested in psychology and religion (especially their own), this eminently readable book will revolutionize the psychology of religious experience by exploring the motivations and characteristics of the individual in their religious life” (Amazon).

Image result for free meleAlfred R. Mele, Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will (Oxford University Press, 2014): “Does free will exist? The question has fueled heated debates spanning from philosophy to psychology and religion. The answer has major implications, and the stakes are high. To put it in the simple terms that have come to dominate these debates, if we are free to make our own decisions, we are accountable for what we do, and if we aren’t free, we’re off the hook. There are neuroscientists who claim that our decisions are made unconsciously and are therefore outside of our control and social psychologists who argue that myriad imperceptible factors influence even our minor decisions to the extent that there is no room for free will. According to philosopher Alfred R. Mele, what they point to as hard and fast evidence that free will cannot exist actually leaves much room for doubt. If we look more closely at the major experiments that free will deniers cite, we can see large gaps where the light of possibility shines through. In Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will, Mele lays out his opponents’ experiments simply and clearly, and proceeds to debunk their supposed findings, one by one, explaining how the experiments don’t provide the solid evidence for which they have been touted. There is powerful evidence that conscious decisions play an important role in our lives, and knowledge about situational influences can allow people to respond to those influences rationally rather than with blind obedience. Mele also explores the meaning and ramifications of free will. What, exactly, does it mean to have free will — is it a state of our soul, or an undefinable openness to alternative decisions? Is it something natural and practical that is closely tied to moral responsibility? Since evidence suggests that denying the existence of free will actually encourages bad behavior, we have a duty to give it a fair chance” (Amazon).

Image result for human capitalismBrink Lindsey, Human Capitalism: How Economic Growth Has Made Us Smarter–and More Unequal (Princeton University Press, 2013): “What explains the growing class divide between the well educated and everybody else? Noted author Brink Lindsey, a senior scholar at the Kauffman Foundation, argues that it’s because economic expansion is creating an increasingly complex world in which only a minority with the right knowledge and skills–the right “human capital”–reap the majority of the economic rewards. The complexity of today’s economy is not only making these lucky elites richer–it is also making them smarter. As the economy makes ever-greater demands on their minds, the successful are making ever-greater investments in education and other ways of increasing their human capital, expanding their cognitive skills and leading them to still higher levels of success. But unfortunately, even as the rich are securely riding this virtuous cycle, the poor are trapped in a vicious one, as a lack of human capital leads to family breakdown, unemployment, dysfunction, and further erosion of knowledge and skills. In this brief, clear, and forthright eBook original, Lindsey shows how economic growth is creating unprecedented levels of human capital–and suggests how the huge benefits of this development can be spread beyond those who are already enjoying its rewards” (Amazon).

Image result for better than beforeGretchen Rubin, Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits–to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life (Broadway Books, 2015): “How do we change? Gretchen Rubin’s answer: through habits. Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life. It takes work to make a habit, but once that habit is set, we can harness the energy of habits to build happier, stronger, more productive lives. So if habits are a key to change, then what we really need to know is: How do we change our habitsBetter than Before answers that question. It presents a practical, concrete framework to allow readers to understand their habits—and to change them for good. Infused with Rubin’s compelling voice, rigorous research, and easy humor, and packed with vivid stories of lives transformed, Better than Before explains the (sometimes counter-intuitive) core principles of habit formation. Along the way, Rubin uses herself as guinea pig, tests her theories on family and friends, and answers readers’ most pressing questions—oddly, questions that other writers and researchers tend to ignore:

• Why do I find it tough to create a habit for something I love to do?
• Sometimes I can change a habit overnight, and sometimes I can’t change a habit, no matter how hard I try. Why?
• How quickly can I change a habit?
• What can I do to make sure I stick to a new habit?
• How can I help someone else change a habit?
• Why can I keep habits that benefit others, but can’t make habits that are just for me?

Whether readers want to get more sleep, stop checking their devices, maintain a healthy weight, or finish an important project, habits make change possible. Reading just a few chapters of Better Than Before will make readers eager to start work on their own habits—even before they’ve finished the book” (Amazon).

Image result for the hikeDrew Magary, The Hike: A Novel (Penguin, 2016): “When Ben, a suburban family man, takes a business trip to rural Pennsylvania, he decides to spend the afternoon before his dinner meeting on a short hike. Once he sets out into the woods behind his hotel, he quickly comes to realize that the path he has chosen cannot be given up easily. With no choice but to move forward, Ben finds himself falling deeper and deeper into a world of man-eating giants, bizarre demons, and colossal insects. On a quest of epic, life-or-death proportions, Ben finds help comes in some of the most unexpected forms, including a profane crustacean and a variety of magical objects, tools, and potions. Desperate to return to his family, Ben is determined to track down the “Producer,” the creator of the world in which he is being held hostage and the only one who can free him from the path. At once bitingly funny and emotionally absorbing, Magary’s novel is a remarkably unique addition to the contemporary fantasy genre, one that draws as easily from the world of classic folk tales as it does from video games. In The Hike, Magary takes readers on a daring odyssey away from our day-to-day grind and transports them into an enthralling world propelled by heart, imagination, and survival” (Amazon).

Trump’s Approval Ratings Among Religions

Well, this is disappointing:

President Donald Trump received well-above-average job approval ratings in 2017 from Mormons and Protestants, and well-below-average ratings from those who identify with a non-Christian faith, including Muslims and Jews, and from those who have no formal religious identity. Catholics’ approval of Trump roughly matched the national average.

  • Mormon: 61%
  • Protestant/Other Christian: 48%
  • National adults: 39%
  • Catholic: 38%
  • Jewish: 26%
  • None/Atheist/Agnostic: 23%
  • Other non-Christian religion: 22%
  • Muslim: 18%

The hell people?