Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ten propositions on Karl Barth: theologian

by Kim Fabricius

1. Karl Barth was a Reformed theologian. Sounds like a no-brainer. And, yes, fundamental motifs of Barth’s theology have a definite Reformed pedigree – e.g., the glory, majesty, and grace of God; the primacy of the Word in Holy Scripture; the polemic against idolatry; the doctrine of election; the relationship between gospel and law; sanctification. But for Barth, the Reformed tradition was not so much a body of doctrine as a habit of mind. Observe that Barth got himself up to speed with Reformed dogmatics only after he had become famous for his two editions of Romans and taken up a lectureship at Göttingen. His was a theologia reformata only as it was also a theologia semper reformanda. His conversations with his Reformed forefathers, while deferential, were always critical. And the doctrines he inherited he always re-worked with daring and imagination.

2. Karl Barth was an ecumenical theologian. While recognising that theology is always confessional – there is no Archimedean point, you’ve got to stand and start somewhere – Barth insisted that the intentio theologiae must be catholic. His net was broad, its mesh tight, and he cast it far and wide: the magisterial Reformers, of course, but also the Fathers West and East, the medieval schoolmen, the Protestant scholastics, the nineteenth century liberals. Barth had a vibrant belief in the communio sanctorum, and could echo Faulkner: “The past is not dead. It is not even past.” The universal church was Barth’s oyster, and he found pearls (as well as grit!) throughout its history. His Catholic colleague at Basel Hans Urs von Balthasar paid Barth the ultimate compliment when he said that his friend was “a theologian and not a reformer.”

3. Karl Barth was an ecclesial theologian. When Barth began his writing and teaching career, theology was in captivity to the university. His teacher Adolf Harnack was aghast at his student’s cavalier attitude to the academically respectable historical-critical method, and his liberal peers dismayed by their colleague’s hostility to apologetics. However, for Barth, theology is the servant of the church, “called to perform the simple task of being the place where the church evaluates its own proclamation against its given norm, revelation” (John Webster). Hence Barth’s mature theology settled into the form of Church Dogmatics. The German title is Die kirchliche Dogmatik, which (George Hunsinger observes) might just as accurately be rendered Ecclesial Theology. And as the heart of the church is worship, so the soul of theology is prayer. For Barth, we can only talk about God because and as we talk to God.

4. Karl Barth was an exegetical theologian. Barth’s theology began in preaching; it is a homiletical theology. Indeed William Willimon suggests that no one “should venture to interpret Barth who is not a preacher.” And while Barth said that “preaching is exposition, not exegesis,” it certainly begins in exegesis, which he understood as the prayerful attentiveness to “the strange new world of the Bible.” Although Barth moved from the pulpit in Safenwil to the lectern in Göttingen, Münster, Bonn, and finally Basel, and preached very little until the end of his career, exegesis lay at the heart of his dogmatic enterprise. It is not surprising, therefore, that some readers of CD skip the large print altogether and go for the fine print of Barth’s close yet creative readings of scripture. Barth would be horrified at the widespread biblical illiteracy in today’s church, and were he suddenly to appear in our midst, his first words to us would no doubt be his last words to his students at Bonn before he departed for Basel in 1935: “Exegesis, exegesis, and yet more exegesis!”

5. Karl Barth was a moral theologian. For Barth, the imperative of ethics is inextricably connected to the indicative of dogmatics. In announcing who he is, God tells us what to do. But for Barth the moral life is not rule-based, nor even biblicist: dogmatically mediated and contextually located, it is, above all, a matter of prayerful and thoughtful discernment. Nor is obedience a burden, indeed it is perfect freedom: it is gospel precisely as law. And it begins in gratitude: “Grace,” Barth said, “evokes gratitude like the voice of an echo. Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning.” Barth would have agreed with Blake: “The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.” He would also have had some sympathy with Blake’s radical politics! For Barth there was no such thing as a purely personal ethics; as a moral theologian he was, ipso facto, a political theologian. The author of the Barmen Declaration declared: “A silent community, merely observing the events of the time, would not be a Christian community.” And while the “Red pastor” of Safenwil knew that the left often gets it wrong, he mischievously suggested that conservatives rarely get it right.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Where Can You Find Serious Theological Reflection?

Social media and blogs are fine, but it's in serious local communities where ideas are sorted out and tested in the spirit via a biblical tradition, Fitch observes. (Photo: Nicolás Pérez/Wikimedia Commons)
More than 3.5 million books are published in the world every year while around 500,000 people complete a marathon.
This means it's seven times easier for somebody to publish a book than to run a marathon. It's even easier to start a blog.
If you're skillful in using Twitter, it's not hard to gain a large following. If you can write, you can publish books, influence thousands and make money for publishers.
In the religious realm, the resultant pop theology that emerges forms hundreds of thousands of the younger generations.
This is not entirely negative, as social media opens up exchanges of all kinds for theological banter. Yet I wonder where is the place for serious theological reflection?
I remember when Brian McLaren came out with "A New Kind of Christian," which made space safe for the kind of conversations everybody wanted to have. Shortly thereafter, came a series of his books that were widely discussed.
I recall having several conversations with teachers of theology within academia who were shocked at McLaren's success and the speed by which his ideas were being hailed as revolutionary.
To them, his work appeared to be using categories established prior to Karl Barth and World War II.
They asked, "How could something so old gain such popularity as if it's new?" In the words of a friend, it was Adolf Harnack without the footnotes.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

David Simon: 'There are now two Americas. My country is a horror show'

The creator of The Wire, David Simon, delivered an impromptu speech about the divide between rich and poor in America at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney, and how capitalism has lost sight of its social compact. This is an edited extract

The Wire creator David Simon in Baltimore
David Simon, creator of The Wire, near his office in Baltimore. Photograph: Stephen Voss/Redux / eyevine

There's no barbed wire around West Baltimore or around East Baltimore, around Pimlico, the areas in my city that have been utterly divorced from the American experience that I know. But there might as well be. We've somehow managed to march on to two separate futures and I think you're seeing this more and more in the west. I don't think it's unique to America.            

I think we've perfected a lot of the tragedy and we're getting there faster than a lot of other places that may be a little more reasoned, but my dangerous idea kind of involves this fellow who got left by the wayside in the 20th century and seemed to be almost the butt end of the joke of the 20th century; a fellow named Karl Marx.

I'm not a Marxist in the sense that I don't think Marxism has a very specific clinical answer to what ails us economically. I think Marx was a much better diagnostician than he was a clinician. He was good at figuring out what was wrong or what could be wrong with capitalism if it wasn't attended to and much less credible when it comes to how you might solve that.


Suffering and the Wildness of God

[A version of the following piece was published in The Living Church after the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. It's still my best attempt at making some sense of such things.]

The earthquake in Nepal raises with fresh urgency the perennial question of belief in God in the shadow of suffering. The magnitude tragedy and its seeming randomness is awe-inspiring and dumbfounding. What can one say to make sense of such a catastrophes? Where is God in all of this and what kind of God would allow such things?

Christians should be wary of nice and tidy answers to such questions. But, it is also unsatisfactory to allow ourselves to slip into a speechless agnosticism. What, with due caution and humility, can we say?

Among other things, it is good to remember that removing God from the equation does not resolve the mystery of suffering. The flipside of the question, “How can there be a good God when there is so much suffering in the world?” are the questions, “If there is no God and no meaning, why do I care about the suffering in the world?” and “Why should I?” Indeed, if there is no God, reality is indifferent to all suffering. And there is no real reason for us not to be indifferent. Our inclination otherwise is only conditioned sentimentalism. If there is no God, we can only conclude that we have evolved into an existential cul-de-sac in which we have now come to see the emptiness of the belief in meaning and human worth that helped us evolve this far but are still stuck with the deep vestigial instinct for meaning and worth.

But, that is a dry and weary land where no water is. And humans cannot live there. However much the logic of our minds, absent God, might say that there is no meaning, our hearts cry out in contradiction, “No!” Our hearts insist that there is meaning. It’s not a matter of indifference. We do not believe that the offense and sorrow we feel in the wake of the devastation of the earthquake is just an offense against our personal preferences, but an offense against the very fabric of reality.

Still, the questions remain. Where is God in all of this? What kind of God allows such things? These are questions that beg answers. And so, we create answers. Whether to protect God or to bring tragedy under control, we invent ways to explain the suffering that befalls us and others.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Knowing the Things That Make For Peace


Last week I wrote about preterism and the work of N.T. Wright.

Specifically, we discussed how when Jesus speaks about a coming judgment, especially in his Olivet Discourse (Mark 13, Matthew 24, Luke 21), he wasn't talking about an otherworldly hell but about the destruction of Jerusalem. As N.T. Wright has observed, "in those famous passages in the Gospels, Jesus is talking not about the end of the world but about the fall of Jerusalem."

In a comment to that post a reader asked the following question:

"If Jesus was simply telling people not to rebel against Rome, how is that relevant to us today? Or should we not try to find personal relevance in the words of Jesus?"

That's a great question, one I wrote about last year:

Again, as scholars like N.T. Wright have pointed out Jesus seemed acutely aware that his people were on a lethal collision course with Rome. If Israel did not repent, if Israel did not listen, she was going to revisit the catastrophe when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. It was all going to happen again, Jesus prophesied. History was repeating itself.

Only this time it would be Rome dropping the hammer.


Did Temple Prostitution Exist?

April 27, 2015 J. R. Daniel Kirk

What was the sexual climate of the first century Mediterranean, and how does that help us to understand what the New Testament is talking about?

That’s a question that runs right through the middle of many conversations about sexuality in the church, and about homosexuality in the church in particular.

One line of argument is represented in Ken Wilson’s book, A Letter to My Congregation, which I’m reading alongside other people at church. His summary represents an important cluster of arguments that we find across both academic and popular discussions.

His version of it is this: the kind of sexual activity that Paul was concerned about when he talked about male same-sex coupling was activity that was exploitative, and that any of us would oppose as well. Specifically, he lists pederasty, temple prostitution, and sex with slaves.

A week or two ago I raised a question about pederasty. Romans were disdainful of this practice which was celebrated by Greeks. So that might not have been as large a looming issue in the first century Roman world (though some of my readers raised some good points on the other side).

But what about temple prostitution? It is widely assumed that in Corinth, at least, the loose sexual mores of the port city were fueled by the Aphrodite cult and a number of sacred prostitutes numbering over one thousand.

It’s worth a closer look at what some of the sources say.

First, take a look at this quote from The Biblical World in Pictures that I found on the web:

A famous temple to Aphrodite had stood on the summit of Acrocorinth in the Classical Age… It had fallen into ruins by Paul’s time, but successors to its 1,000 cult prostitutes continued to ply their profession in the city below.

To begin with, there is the reiteration of the widespread belief that there were abundant sacred prostitutes for this temple.

Then, the citation indicates that the temple was in ruins by the time Paul would have been writing Romans from Corinth.
Temple of Apollo, Acrocorinth in the BackgroundTemple of Apollo, Acrocorinth in the Background

Finally, despite this recognition that the temple had long been destroyed, the paragraph nonetheless links on-going prostitution in Corinth with the sacral prostitution that was presumed to have occurred previously. Even though the author knows better than to say that sacred prostitution per se was continuing in this place, he nonetheless creates the impression on the reader that sacral prostitution might still be rampant in Paul’s day.

The principal piece of data for the idea that the temple was associated (at least, once upon a time) with sacral prostitution appears to be this from Strabo:

The temple of Aphrodite was so rich that it employed more than a thousand hetairas,whom both men and women had given to the goddess. Many people visited the town on account of them, and thus these hetairas contributed to the riches of the town: for the ship captains frivolously spent their money there, hence the saying: ‘The voyage to Corinth is not for every man’. (As cited on Wikipedia).

Before moving on, I want to underscore something: this is the site which has probably the singularly most well-attested claim for being a location of sacral prostitution, and it had been in ruins since the Romans razed Corinth in 146 B.C.–some 200 years before Paul is writing his letters.

I should note as well that the evidence I have seen (and, admittedly, I probably haven’t seen the bulk of it) points in the direction of female attendants, not male.

There have been a few voices crying out in the scholarly wilderness that there never was such a thing as sacral prostitution in Corinth or elsewhere in the Ancient Mediterranean.


What Are Human Beings? Perspectives from Science and Scripture

Joel Green

What does it mean to be human? This is not the sort of question that occupies much of our thinking—at least not at an explicit, conscious level. Coffee shop conversations rarely turn to such speculative questions. Nevertheless, we carry out much of our lives with implicit answers to this question. Budget discussions—whether in Washington, D.C., or in our families—often parade different views of what it means to be human. “Feed the Soul or Feed the Hungry?”—this was the headline for a report on budget negotiations in a city council,1 but could just as easily summarize a congregation’s struggle to allocate its mission dollars. Either way, it divulges certain assumptions about humanity. Slogans sometimes capture deeply held views: “I think, therefore I am.” “She’s only human.” Some toss around the language of “unalienable rights” and “equality,” demonstrating that they have strong (even if not fully developed) views about human beings. The criteria by which we measure success or encourage happiness or contemplate health care decisions—these are all grounded in our commitments regarding what it means to be human. We may not think much about what it means to be human, but our thoughts and actions regularly put into play our default assumptions and beliefs about what this entails.

If coffeehouse conversations do not turn regularly to the nature of the human person, the same cannot be said of literature and film. In the nineteenth century, those who encountered Mary Shelley’s monster, that “hideous phantasm of a man,” the creation of Victor Frankenstein, might have wondered if humans were no more than the sum of their body parts, animated by a powerful electrical charge. Readers of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot may recall “the three laws of robotics,” a code of ethics governing robotic behavior. Asimov goes so far as to introduce a robot that claims, “I, myself, exist, because I think,” and practices worship of the creator. The 1999 movie Bicentennial Man, inspired by Asimov, narrates the two-hundred-year-long quest of robot Model NDR114 (a.k.a. “Andrew,” played by Robin Williams) to be recognized as a human. His (Its?) evolutionary stages manifest creativity, curiosity, friendship, emotional responses, financial independence, ownership of property, appreciation of beauty, and finally participation in the human condition of frailty and finitude.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Once Again, the Problem of War in the Old Testament: Some Wisdom from the Late Peter Craigie (Part 3)

Once again, I belatedly return to my series on the late Peter Craigie on the problem of war in the Old Testament. The first part was an introduction to Cragie's work on this subject from his book, The Problem of War in the Old Testament. The second part of my series dealt with the first of three problems to be addressed-- the problem of God's character in these narratives.

Quotes from Craigie's book will be presented in italics. My own comments are in parentheses in standard block type.

Today's post highlights the second difficulty-- the problem of revelation (pp. 97-100).. Craigie begins the discussion:

A part of the problem of revelation has already been examined... God revealed himself to his chosen people through warfare.. But a further problem remains; granted that much of ancient history is characterized by warfare, why is it that so much of the literature of war has been included in the canonical books of the Old Testament as a revealed book, the contents of which appear to be full to excess with martial material. (Actually, I wonder why such warfare would be excluded? If the God of the Bible is a God involved with his people in history, to exclude warfare would be odd since it was so much a part of this ancient world.)In dealing with this problem an initial warning is necessary. In certain matters the Old Testament must be read and understood as a whole if its message is to be understood; this approach is particularly important with respect to the theme of war. The warning concerns the danger implicit, for example, in reading parts of the Old Testament, such as the "conquest narratives," and understanding them without the benefit of the latter part of the story, the "defeat narratives." (The danger here can lead to one of two misunderstandings that we see by progressives and conservatives. On the progressive end, since these passages are rejected as revelatory, why should we accept the later Scriptures that deal with Israel's defeats and exile as revelatory of a God working patiently with his people to understand that as God's people they were reminded they are not like the other nations in which violence is the solution? On the conservative end, without the defeat narratives, the conquest narratives can easily be misconstrued as a justification for violence... indeed, a crusade with God going before us into war. Both options simply do not work.)

But if the material on war in the Old Testament may be read as a kind of parable (rooted in historical reality), what are the lessons which emerge from it? (I think this comment is very instructive. Those on the conservative side tend to look at these texts non-critically, that is, taking them at face value without questioning to what extent these accounts might be embellished to make a larger theological point. It thus makes it difficult to resist using these texts as justification for violence today. On the progressive end, some are quick to point out that the archaeological evidence strongly suggests that there was no major conquest and conflagration on the large scale reported in Joshua. That does not mean nothing happened. Perhaps the "conquest" was much smaller and resembled more of a gradual occupation with "brush wars" breaking out in various places west of the Jordan River. What is interesting is how some progressives use this as a way to dismiss these texts as somehow revelatory of the character of God. Since it didn't happen the way Joshua reports, we don't have to deal with the difficulties of Yahweh as a warrior who fights for Israel. The irony here should not be missed. Progressive readers of Scripture are most often the first persons who insist that whether or not something actually happened in the Bible is much less important than what the story means. Yet, here since the story didn't actually happen the way it was reported means it can be dismissed.)


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Ken Wilson on Christian Community (part 2)

On Sunday Ken Wilson gave a sermon at City Church San Francisco called “The Unique Tenacity of Christian Community.” A friend of mine called it, “Best sermon ever on LGBT inclusion without mentioning LGBT once.” You can listen and judge for yourself.
Yesterday I interacted with one part of the sermon that resonated deeply with a theme that I have been developing here for a couple of years: knowing what we think about an issue (and the LGBTQ issue in particular) does not automatically provide us with an immediate knowledge of what we should do about it.
Today’s there’s another, related thread I want to trace.
This one is closer to what I blogged about on Sunday: our “believe thats” can get in the way of the dangerous business of entrusting ourselves to the God we profess to “believe in.”
To put it differently, knowing we are right about something can give us a kind of confidence that impels us to greatness in spite of ourselves. Or, it can make us into a most insufferable band of self-righteous hypocrites.
Knowing that we are right can, as Wilson put it, make the world a more dangerous place.


What Will Pass for Mercy

April 21, 2015 by Guest Contributor 0 Comments

By Brian Volck

2986260634_9a443c432e_m“Do not say God is just. Justice has not been evident in God’s dealings with you.”
—Isaac of Syria

Among the habits I’ve lately tried living without are reading online comment boxes (Good Letters being an exception) and making predictions. I bypass comments because I encounter enough wrath, ridicule, and unreason without wallowing in still more online. As for prophecy, my ability to predict the future isn’t what it used to be.

Parents routinely ask me, a pediatrician, what’s in store for their children. I offer probabilities and guesses. Harder still to predict “the fate of the nation.” I don’t know where the United States, with an armada of oncoming problems and a conspicuous dearth of creative proposals in response, is heading.

Maybe it’s just a passing foul mood, a temporary crisis of confidence, but decline—perhaps precipitous—in America’s global economic and political influence seems likely. Who knows what shape that may take?

I leave it to academics, technocrats and politicians to identify causes, propose solutions, and assign blame, respectively. I’m more interested in how Americans, particularly those calling themselves Christian, might respond to involuntary limits, diminished expectations, and smaller horizons.

Badly, I fear—however delighted I’d be if proven wrong.

The church is a mess, to be sure, obsessively straining at gnats while swallowing camels. Christians produce slogans, manifestos, and mission statements enough to inspire a dozen worlds with messages running the gamut from spineless sentimentality to brutal moralism. If verbiage is the one needful thing, we’re set.

But traditional Christian formation includes schooling in certain practices—prayer, fasting, almsgiving, hospitality, and so forth—not for the goods they bring, but because they are good in themselves, forming and reforming us by doing them over and again.

Perhaps it was always a minority who assumed these challenges, but I fear the mass of American Christians now lead lives of loud consumption. When formative habits and the rich practical wisdom accompanying them are lost, how are they recovered? If consumer goods suddenly grow scarce, for example, how will once-rich Christians relearn the practice of hospitality?

And what of mercy, that unseemly virtue whose name appears more conspicuously in the New Testament than sexual morality and freedom, thereby eliciting jeers from the right, or justice and the poor, prompting catcalls from the left? In an era that celebrates snark, Schadenfreude, and online rage, what will school a forgetful people in mercy’s covenantal empathy, identifying with fellow suffering not by acknowledging “There but for the grace of God go I,” but rather, “There by the grace of God go I”?

Just who is that fellow sufferer? The illegal immigrant or the border vigilante? The pregnant teen or the clinic protestor? On which side of my burning social concerns will I recognize human pain? Who merits mercy? Who is lost? What shape will mercy take?

Sacrifice and the Death of Christ – John Goldingay

When Christians think about sacrifice, they commonly make two assumptions. One is that sacrifice is essentially a way of dealing with the problem of sin. The other is that it deals with sin by causing God to stop being angry with us. Neither Old Testament nor New Testament supports these two assumptions. Sacrifice does sometimes have something to do with sin, but dealing with sin is not its main object. God does get angry, but sacrifice does not relate to God’s anger.

The Meaning of Sacrifice

The New Testament speaks of sacrifice in a number of connections apart from seeing Jesus’ death as a sacrifice that deals with sin. For instance, when we give ourselves to God in response to God’s giving himself to us, it is an act of sacrifice (Romans 12). Paul talks about being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of the Philippians’ faith and of the Philippians’ gifts to him as an offering to God (Phil 2:17; 4:18). When we testify to what God has done, it is a sacrifice of praise (Heb 13:15).

The New Testament’s way of thinking coheres with the Old Testament’s way of thinking in this respect. In the Old Testament there are a number of reasons for offering a sacrifice; the most systematic account of them comes in Leviticus 1–7. First, there is the whole burnt offering, when people sacrifice a whole animal to God. They give up the entire animal. It really is a sacrifice. Second, there is the grain offering, which accompanies other sacrifices. Third, there is a sacrifice that the New International Version (NIV) calls a “fellowship offering,” the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) calls a “sacrifice of well-being” and the Common English Bible (CEB) calls a “communal sacrifice of well-being.” While it is hard to find the right title in English, in general terms the sacrifice’s significance is clear. Its distinctive feature is that God and the offerers share the sacrifice. Some is burnt and given directly to God; some is eaten by the family that makes the offering. There are three slightly different reasons why people might offer this sacrifice. One is that God has done something for them and they want to express their gratitude—maybe (for instance) they have a new baby in the family. Another is that they had promised to bring an offering in connection with asking God to do something, and God has done it—again, maybe they had prayed for a baby and they now have one. Another is simply that they want to be able to give something to God—a freewill offering (that expression comes from the name of this sacrifice).

These first three sacrifices are expressions of worship and fellowship between people and God and one another. After these, Leviticus comes to two other forms of sacrifice that do have to do with solving problems (as one might put it). The CEB uses the terms “purification offering” and “compensation offering,” which bring out their significance. The purification offering deals with situations when people have become “unclean” or “taboo.” They may have had to bury a family member and thus have been in contact with death, or they may have made a promise that they accidentally failed to keep. The purification offering puts one aspect of that problem right. The compensation offering puts the other aspect right, in making some restitution for what they did wrong. In addition, once a year on the Day of Atonement there were special purification offerings to deal with the various ways in which the people might have been affected by uncleanness of which they might be unaware. These special purification offerings made it possible for the community to clean its slate for the new year.

So none of these sacrifices dealt with real sin. Sacrifice was not designed to deal with real sin. If you had worshiped another God or set fire to someone’s grain, you could not solve the problem by offering a sacrifice. You simply had to repent and cast yourself on God’s mercy. You knew that God was a God of love and compassion and you just had to plead for God’s forgiveness. You would offer the appropriate purification offering and compensation offering as well, but the more basic resolution of the problem lay in repentance and forgiveness. As the Old Testament sometimes puts it, you would ask God to make expiation for your wrongdoing. That idea is paradoxical—expiation is, by nature, something an offender is responsible for. But the only person who can put the situation right when you have done wrong is God. It is God who pays the price for keeping the relationship going by being willing to forgive. And this is what God does in Jesus.
The New Testament uses the practice of sacrifice as a metaphor to help people understand what Christ was doing in being willing to sacrifice himself for us, but that is what it is doing—using a metaphor, using the imagery of sacrifice in a way that does not correspond to its original meaning. As is often the case with the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament, it is adapting as well as adopting its way of speaking.

Anger and Sacrifice

Christians often assume there is a link between sacrifice and the assuaging of God’s anger. It is certainly the case that the Old Testament and New Testament talk a lot about God’s anger as well as about sacrifice. But they never bring these two together.


The Shunning of Ryan T. Anderson: When Support for Gay Marriage Gets Ugly

Damon Linker
(Illustration by Lauren Hansen | Images courtesy iStock)
When a school learns that one of its alums has achieved great things, the institution will usually seek to promote those accomplishments. But there are exceptions. If it's discovered, for example, that the former student also happens to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan, or a neo-Nazi, or a convicted felon, then the school will naturally seek to downplay the connection — and to sever any explicit ties between them.
To this list of offenses — normally reserved only for bigots and criminals — we can now apparently add opposing same-sex marriage.

Consider the recent experience of Ryan T. Anderson.

A graduate of the Quaker Friends School of Baltimore, Anderson has achieved far more than most 33-year-olds. He completed his undergraduate education at Princeton and earned a Ph.D. from Notre Dame. He has been cited by a Supreme Court justice (Samuel A. Alito, Jr., in his dissent from the majority opinion in United States v. Windsor, which struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act). He was recently named the William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow in American Principles and Public Policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation. And last week he was profiled fairly and respectfully in The Washington Post. (Headline: "The right finds a fresh voice on same-sex marriage.")

No wonder someone thought it made sense to post a link to the profile on the school's website.
 Read more at  


Monday, April 20, 2015

The Machines Are Coming


Zeynep Tufekci
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — THE machine hums along, quietly scanning the slides, generating Pap smear diagnostics, just the way a college-educated, well-compensated lab technician might.
A robot with emotion-detection software interviews visitors to the United States at the border. In field tests, this eerily named “embodied avatar kiosk” does much better than humans in catching those with invalid documentation. Emotional-processing software has gotten so good that ad companies are looking into “mood-targeted” advertising, and the government of Dubai wants to use it to scan all its closed-circuit TV feeds.
Yes, the machines are getting smarter, and they’re coming for more and more jobs.
Not just low-wage jobs, either.
Today, machines can process regular spoken language and not only recognize human faces, but also read their expressions. They can classify personality types, and have started being able to carry out conversations with appropriate emotional tenor.
Machines are getting better than humans at figuring out who to hire, who’s in a mood to pay a little more for that sweater, and who needs a coupon to nudge them toward a sale. In applications around the world, software is being used to predict whether people are lying, how they feel and whom they’ll vote for.