Then & Now

Religious historians take on the present

On Sunday, after a tragic week of race-related killings in Dallas, Minneapolis, and Baton Rouge, I took a seat in my white evangelical middle-class megachurch in central Pennsylvania. I didn’t know what to expect, but as the sermon began I found myself pleasantly surprised. My pastor used his scheduled sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37) to address the issue of race in America.
July 12, 2016
The concept of race headlines many discussions in America. If you are talking about education, then you must address the achievement gap between white and black students. If you are talking about poverty, then you must talk about the disproportionate number of people of color who consume social services. If the conversation is about crime, you are pressed to mention the high number of African American male inmates. It’s the fog of race: prejudice and discrimination applied to pigmentation-neutral topics.
July 5, 2016
We are living in a time of nativism around the globe. Britain just voted to leave the European Union based on Euroscepticism. The Alternative for Germany movement aims to do the same for the EU’s largest remaining nation, while France’s National Front Party and Italy’s Northern League have grown in power over the last decade. And in the U.S., the Republican Party has nominated a candidate whose platform includes building a giant wall on the border.
June 28, 2016
Imagine Jennifer Doudna working in the lab overnight, her eyes sore, her head pulsing, and her mind swirling with an existential crisis. Utilizing a bacterial cell’s self-defense mechanism, the geneticist has mastered the ability to reproduce and guide gene-editing technology, otherwise known as CRISPR-Cas9. This technology could save countless lives, cure genetic diseases, and reverse the effects of cancer. But it could also advance efforts at human enhancement, leading to a revival of modern eugenics. In December, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine held a three-day summit on CRISPR technology.
June 14, 2016
Conservative religious people decry what they see as a liberal media unsympathetic to their worldview. Liberal Protestants and Catholics wonder why the media deploys the umbrella term “Christians” but seems to mean mostly people who sound nothing like them. People of other faiths may wonder why they rarely appear in the news except to represent extremism of some form. It seems as if the media aids rather than ameliorates the growing polarization of the American populace. Eighty-nine years ago an interfaith group of activists and religious and political leaders aimed to use the nascent radio and movie industries to bring people of different faiths, races, and ethnicities together. 
June 7, 2016
Gregory the Great, pope from 590-604 AD, wrote the Pastoral Rule to strengthen the office of the episcopacy following the fall of Rome. Widely read throughout Europe by bishops and laypeople, this treatise describes how bishops should lead, teach, live their lives, and govern others. The Pastoral Rule was intended to reshape and empower bishops following the spiritual, cultural, and economic deterioration of the Roman Empire.
May 31, 2016
A 2006 study in American Sociological Review shows that, while both divisions among American Christians and negative perceptions between people of different faiths are eroding, there is still one group that Americans don’t trust: those who choose to remain outside of communities of belief. Further research shows that atheists are perceived about as favorably as Muslims. Not believing in God constitutes a social mōs on par with one of the most maligned religious groups in the current American zeitgeist. (At least one op-ed has called for a political alliance between Muslims and atheists on the grounds that much of the current vitriol in American politics is aimed at these two groups.) The most fascinating question here falls outside of quantitative analysis: what does an atheist look like?
May 24, 2016
The question of American identity has historically been both complex and contested. What’s more, it often yields mythic notions rooted in exceptionalist dogmas like election, commission, moral regeneracy, sacred land, and innocent past. Embedded in religious American exceptionalism is the American Dream: if an individual works hard, perseveres, and is a good citizen, there is no limit to how far she can advance. 
May 17, 2016
Analyzing the relationship between faith and the political left—its history and present condition—reveals a century filled with antagonisms. But there are also affinities and technologies for continuing rapprochement. Historically there has been an undeniable antagonism between religion and communism.
May 10, 2016
Roughly 94 percent of black voters now vote for a candidate from the Democratic Party. This high number at the national level may be due in part to President Obama’s racial identity. In 2008 Obama surpassed even the solidification of black votes for Lyndon Baines Johnson that occurred in 1964. Has the United States moved closer to a post-racial society? 
May 3, 2016
As this campaign season reels recklessly, leaving a wake of increasing intolerance, those holding differing opinions can find little common ground. Past seasons of “come, let us reason together” have disappeared; unreasoned assertions from the chronically ignorant now dominate the increasingly purchased airwaves. Little from any side appears balanced or fair. We craft dollar-driven hegemonies of self-satisfied ignorance, cultures of the titillated and thoughtless. Where we once enshrined the ideals of freedom, we now erect a golden calf of contempt atop a tower of babble. Call it the gospel according to the uninformed. When creed gives way to screed, who speaks into our opinionated age with a staid voice of wisdom?
April 19, 2016
Maybe it’s because I’m Japanese-American that I feel skeptical reading Western political philosophy. When were we ever born as free individuals into a state of nature, as Locke and Rousseau asserted? I’ve always believed that we’re born into families, with binding ties, benefits, and obligations. The Bible affirms that relationships are not merely social constructs for us to make and break as we choose.
April 12, 2016