Archive for June, 2011

Shepherd’s Chapel, Gravette, AK

June 30, 2011 4 comments

I have been traveling for work lately and I’ve been facing some work-related deadlines, and between those and the chore of reading the Rob Bell books I haven’t had much to post here lately.

I have however been spending some time in Iowa, in the broadcast range of KFXB in Dubuque. This is one of the two K-callsign affiliates of Christian Television Network (CTN) [link], a relatively small network with its flagship station in Largo, Florida. About them more later, but not today.

I’ve also caught a couple of episodes of The Shepherd’s Chapel [link], a show hosted by Arnold Murray, that is broadcast on 200 or so affiliates and originates in Gravette, Arkansas, a town near the AK/OK/MO tri-corner. This show also appears early in the morning on a couple of Albuquerque-area stations, but when I’m home I’m too busy in the mornings to watch television at all, much less sit and watch Arnold Murray.

The format is fairly simple: a man, at a desk, with a Bible open in front of him, and a flag on a stand behind him, offering some sort of exposition on a text. When I’ve had a chance to watch Murray his teaching seems fairly familiar: Dispensationalist, probably Baptist, fairly fundamentalist.

He occasionally gets pegged by online discernment types for having said odd things about the Trinity, the “Kenites,” and other doctrines; he’s posted an omnibus reply [link]. It would take some digging to match up the responses with the accusations and the accusations with archival footage. Murray hasn’t done that; he responds to his critics generally and topically, and I have no idea how fairly either he or his critics represent the underlying facts.

Shepherd's Chapel Church image

Shepherd's Chapel Church sign

I would be more inclined to ding Murray for a couple of things, however: one is that his ministry does not apparently have a street address, just a post office box in Gravette. He occasionally shows footage of a steel frame building and what appears to be a sign for the “Shepherd’s Chapel Church,” but I haven’t been able to track down an address for this building or this church. And in his broadcasts and on his website I’ve never seen any invitation to stop by the church on say a Sunday or a Wednesday, etc.

It’s noteworthy that his son Dennis Murray occasionally sits in for his father; I hadn’t seen this before, but Dennis was holding down the fort during the broadcast I saw a couple of weeks ago. He seems to be cut from the same cloth as his father: odd hair, a serious if conversational approach to interpreting Scripture, and the occasional oddball doctrine. I was surprised to learn from Dennis that the Beast in the Revelation is Satan himself, and not a man. That was one I hadn’t heard before.

I have no idea how much money the Murrays are handling here; it can’t be cheap to keep programming on 225 stations, but I can’t guess what the numbers would be. I’d just be concerned about any “church” that doesn’t have a street address, doesn’t advertise an affiliation with any external body, doesn’t make available audited financial statements or the names of its board, and apparently has a father-son succession plan.


Noah’s flood, Taos, NM

A few weeks ago school ended and we had family visiting, and we took them about an hour and a half north to visit Taos, NM, home of the Taos Hum [link], some of the scenes in Easy Rider (1969), and KTAO, which has the largest broadcast area of any solar-powered radio station in the world [link]. Taos is also situated in the Southern Rockies mining area, and Chevron still has an active facility north of Questa on what is locally called The Enchanted Circle.

We were passing through a canyon near the Chevron facility when one of the visitors announced that the buckled strata we could see in the road cut was “clear evidence of The Flood,” by which he meant Noah’s Flood. We were then treated to a recitation of the ways in which a collapsing water canopy along with the rupture of underground water features could have produced the broken striations we saw in the rock faces around us.

I couldn’t bring myself to point out that while a flood may have produced some of the features we could see in the rocks there was no reason to believe that it was a particular flood, let alone Noah’s flood. It is my understanding that there’s evidence that New Mexico has been under water multiple times [link]; there are even mountains down south made mostly of coral. I have no idea how this sort of thing gets sorted out, and how people know when they’re correct, but I’d be willing to wager that there’s no good reason to point to a particular rock cleft and say it has any definite connection to Noah.

And this is one of the difficulties of growing up fundamentalist and becoming some sort of modern. There’s great value in having a simple faith, in prizing simplicity itself as a virtue, but I’m not sure this is what the Scriptures are meant to do, namely, to provide us with easy answers and to give us fixed opinions about things we otherwise know nothing about.

This is more or less what James White was talking about during a recent episode of The Dividing Line [link] regarding “being of two minds,” except he was dealing with the question from the other side, suggesting that science doesn’t offer answers to particular kinds of questions regarding purpose and meaning in the face of natural disasters. I’d encourage readers to give the episode a listen: I don’t think he asks the right questions, so as a result I can’t say he comes to the right answers.

As somebody who lives more or less with one foot in each world (a premodern world and a modern world) I think I have to argue that the Scriptures as we understand them answer one kind of question and Science as we understand it offers us answers to a different kind of question, and on close examination the two don’t really meet as neatly as we’d like. I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask the scientific method to produce answers to e.g. moral questions, and I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask the Bible to tell us why a road cut looks the way it does. And of course that’s just scratching the surface; there are plenty of questions left even if we have answers for those.


Power: A Problem From Hell

I first heard about Samantha Power when the United States took part in bombing Libya; turns out she was part of the Obama 2008 campaign, got in some trouble for calling then-Senator Hillary Clinton “a monster,” was part of the Obama transition team, and has served in the Obama White House as a Special Assistant [link]. I first read about her in an article in the New York Times, where she was described as being someone who shuns the spotlight because she tends to speak her mind and is always afraid of upstaging or front-running the President.

Turns out she’s also a former war correspondent and one-time Pulitzer Prize winner for her 2002 book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide [link], the subject of this post.

This is a thoroughly depressing book, as it starts with the Armenian genocide, briefly discusses the Holocaust, and then deals with the struggles of Raphael Lemkin, the man who coined the term “genocide,” gave it its legal definition and formulated the official definition eventually ratified by the United Nations. There are chapters about post-Lemkin genocides in Cambodia, Iraq (Kurds), and Rwanda, but more than a third of the book is about the breakdown of the former Yugoslavia and the various campaigns by Serb forces to kill all the Muslims and Albanians in various Serb-controlled areas. What glimmers of hope Power offers are presented at the end, when she discusses the legal proceedings by various international courts against perpetrators in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and how that related to the efforts by Lemkin. Power, after all, is a multilateralist and a firm believer in the rightness of international organizations in dealing with problems like these, despite their obvious and even admitted failings.

Power repeatedly returns to a couple of themes: one is that the United States tends to deal with genocide poorly because politicians who could do something tend to choose not to, citing the lack of obvious American interests. The other is that the people who end particular genocides fit no particular pattern, and often come from unexpected places.

I was interested to note how little difference conservative Christians make in Power’s narrative. Various church leaders are mentioned in the chapter on the Armenian genocide, but then disappear from the narrative and do not resurface in the subsequent ninety or so years. It may or may not be a coincidence that the victims in only that once case were clearly Christian. I’m not sure.

What’s disturbing about this is that it suggests that Christians either do not really have much of a voice in American foreign policy where moral issues are concerned; or that we put our economic interests first, foremost, and nearly only. Or that we don’t care if the victims aren’t Christians; or if they’re not particularly our kind of Christians. It’s as if we have no foreign policy unless it pertains to whether Israel should return to its pre-1967 borders, and no moral voice on any subject but abortion.

I am inclined to take Power’s discussion as an indictment of modernity itself; the genocides she covers are noteworthy in that they all occur in the modern era and use (with the possible exception of the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia) uniquely modern technology and exploit the vulnerabilities of the modern nation-state, and the remedy proposed may put a stop to the genocide itself, but doesn’t result in anything that resembles justice. Unfortunately when the Church doesn’t take modernity to task for these failings it’s hard to suggest it can offer any real answers.

This was an unpleasant read but at 500+ pages it went surprisingly quickly. I’d recommend reading it and asking yourself if your Christianity offers anything more in the way of meaningful analysis than a shallow “well, what do you expect from a fallen world?”


Paul: Pornified

Here’s a quick breakdown of Pamela Paul’s 2005 book Pornified: How Pornography is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Familes by chapter:

  1. Why Men Look at Porn
  2. Pornography Market Segments, etc.
  3. How Pornography Affects Men
  4. How Women See Pornography
  5. How Porn Affects Relationships
  6. Pornography and Children
  7. Pornography Compulsion
  8. The Way Forward: Censorship, etc.

Those are a mix of chapter subtitles and summaries of chapters; I found Paul’s word choices a bit cutesy sometimes and not especially helpful.

There is a basic narrative here that goes like this: men who look at pornography on a regular basis or as a matter of habit tend to think and behave a particular way. There’s of course a spectrum of behavior, and on one end there’s substantial dysfunction and criminal behavior; elsewhere are men who go to strip clubs, etc. This latter group may be at one end of the spectrum or they may be in the middle. All of Paul’s case studies of men who look at pornography were men who showed obvious signs of arrested development or worse. She doesn’t really address the question of whether there are men who occasionally look at pornography but are otherwise healthy contributing members of society, or whatever.

She offers results from a couple of studies showing that people who look at pornography have substantially different opinions regarding what is acceptable or typical sexual behavior when compared to a control group, and studies showing that people who look at particularly violent pornography are more likely to be lenient toward people who commit sex crimes. I think some of this affirms or confirms the talking points that were current in the late Eighties circa the Moral Majority Southland Corporation boycott; just in different language. It’s no longer “pornography causes violence” but rather “people who look at violent pornography tend to have a more lenient attitude toward violent sexual behavior” or words to that effect. Not exactly the basis for a change in public policy, but more useful for affirming conventional wisdom.

Paul notes that the idea that pornography constitutes some sort of advance guard for free speech is still current among middle class liberals; and she takes pains to note men with pornography habits who are self-identifying feminists or religious types. I don’t know what to make of this; all of these things are hard to quantify, tend to have soft numbers when quantified, etc.

Likewise her characterization of pornography as a whole as becoming more extreme (more violent; more degrading; more criminal) over time. I really have no idea how one would go about quantifying something like this. I guess you’d have to pick a particular act or scene and look for its incidence in commercially-available pornography over time. And who wants to do that?

To be frank I found this book difficult and unpleasant reading. On more than a handful of occasions it turned my stomach, and I wished I could “un-read” what I’d just read. I feel like I’m more informed about the social impact of pornography, at least on men who consume pornography and the people who love and trust them, but I don’t know that the information is going to do me any good.

Paul closes the book with a chapter on social responses to pornography; I found most of them unrealistic to unworkable. I don’t think pornography is going to lose its appeal any time soon, and the government controls that would be necessary to rein in Web distribution of pornography would be heavy-handed and open to administrative abuse. And of course as I’ve suggested before any solution that doesn’t ask serious questions about the exploitation implicit in the production of pornography is more likely to just tweak the economics of pornography rather than changing its culture fundamentally.

This is another topic that I have to admit is important, but where I don’t see anything resembling an effective response from conservative Christians. It seems like it’s just not on our radar, and we either don’t know what to do or just flat don’t care.


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Liberty “Foundations of Law” reading list

The required reading list for the course “Foundations of Law” (LAW 501) at the Liberty University Law School has been making the rounds lately [link, link]. The law school is in summer session now, and the course isn’t being taught over the summer; the required reading list for the 2011 term is not yet available, and a quick browse at the Liberty Barnes & Noble store [link] was inconclusive, but the Internet Wayback Machine cached copy [link] has the following list:

Foundations of Law I (Law 501) –Professors Lindevaldsen & Dunbar
Required Texts:
Rousas Rushdoony, This Independent Republic (Ross House Books) ISBN: 1879998246

Frederic Bastiat, The Law (Foundation for Economic Freedom) ISBN: 9781572462144

Greg L. Bahnsen, By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today (American Vision) ISBN: 0915815842

CS Lewis, Mere Christianity (Zondervan Publishing House) any edition is acceptable

Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto (Crossway Publishers) any edition is acceptable

David Barton, Original Intent: The Courts, the Constitution, & Religion (Paperback) (5th ed., 2008 WallBuilders) ISBN: 9781932225631

I’m completely at a loss here; I have no idea what is a typical reading list for an introductory first-year law class, nor what a Foundations of Law course is supposed to do, exactly. But I’m disturbed to see that there are exactly zero lawyers among these authors.

And of course there’s the presence of  Barton and Rushdoony, both Reconstructionists, and Bahnsen, an Orthodox Presbyterian (but for different reasons). Regarding the former I have to say I don’t remember these guys being cited with approval when I was a student there twenty-hmm years ago; regarding the latter, I suppose the accusations that Liberty is Arminian pure and simple may be a bit overstated.

Regardless, I’d be tempted to take this list as Exhibit A in the case that Liberty has drifted to the right, politically speaking, since its Moral Majority days. Go figure.

Paul: Pornified

So I have to admit that Pamela Paul’s 2005 book Pornified: How Pornography is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families [link] is not deep into the bulls-eye either of my normal reading nor of what’s typically appropriate for this blog, but this is a topic I’ve been interested in for a while and didn’t know how to become informed about.

I think my interest started a couple of years ago when I heard pornography and its impact on evangelical marriages discussed on the Family Life Radio morning show. The discussion was both earnest and vague: there was an element of the story that went something like “pornography (nearly) ruined my marriage” but it wasn’t entirely clear how; there was an element to the story that suggested that God’s redemptive work in somebody’s life had somehow been important; and finally the solution seemed to have involved the husband being accountable to his wife in a way that sounded foreign to me as someone who comes from a background where families are defined in terms of authority, in particular male headship, and the very idea of a man being accountable to his wife in any way shape or form is anathema.

And then stories surfaced about a family friend and how pornography helped ruin his marriage. He had a job that required a fair amount of driving, so he rented a post office box in a town on his route, subscribed to some magazines, and was able to keep his wife from finding out about them. However, he gradually drew distant from his wife, started asking her to do things in the bedroom that she had no interest in doing, eventually asked her to do things that were described to me as “immoral,” and finally left her because he felt he was missing out on something and didn’t want to be a grandfather.

So when I read Paul’s book (remember that? This is a post about that.) it turned out that the story above more or less fits in with the case studies she describes of men who are described as having a porn problem: secret habits, neglect and mistreatment of girlfriends or family members, and some sort of crisis leading to easily recognizable sexual sin (e.g. fornication or adultery).

This sort of case study serves as the backbone of Paul’s book, with some variations. I’ll cover more of these in a later post. The problem with this perspective is that it focuses entirely on hazards to the consumer and ignores the harm done by the production of pornography. I don’t think this is surprising: as conservatives we tend to focus primarily on individual responsibility to the exclusion of cultural or structural problems; and frankly we don’t have a social conscience that would give us a way to talk about e.g. human trafficking.

Paul’s method is appropriate for the social sciences: anecdotes, case studies, surveys of same, opinion polls, and the dreaded social sciences experiments. She revisits some of the arguments that will be familiar to students of Moral Majority era conservative Christian social activism: i.e. pornography causes violence. She doesn’t look much at the exploitation of women in the pornography industry; I am guessing this is because there’s not much existing data, acquiring good data would be difficult and expensive, and she’s able to make persuasive arguments using the methods she uses and focusing primarily on the demand side of the industry.

Next: a rundown of the book itself. Stay tuned.