Russell and Duenes

Archive for February 2010

podcast: Who is the freethinker?

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In this three minute podcast, I discuss and read from the ever-insightful and wildly amusing G.K. Chesterton who helps us consider who the true “freethinkers” are. Give it a listen here. (Be sure to click on the word “pod” to start listening).



Written by Michael Duenes

February 26, 2010 at 4:38 am

Posted in Podcasts

Meryl streep on “who would jesus bomb”

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One of my students referred me to this interview that Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep and Jonathan Deeme did with Katie Couric back in 2004 when “The Manchurian Candidate” remake came out. It was a bit volatile, as you will see, but I post it here for the interchange between Streep and Washington. Streep makes a point about Jesus and war that I don’t think many “man-on-the-street” Christians have a good answer to. And I don’t think Denzel, a Christian, answered it very well here. We pick up the interview with Deeme talking about the political situation in our country back in ’04.

Deeme: “With all this stuff going on, I kept hoping that we’d be one step ahead of the game when our picture came out, and I feel like we’re just barely competing with what we’re reading about in the papers nowadays. So, I don’t think we’re all that farfetched. I think we’re a lot more fun than the real world.”

But lately, it seems the worlds of Hollywood and politics have collided, due in large part to Michael Moore’s controversial “Fahrenheit 9/11” and the lengthy list of luminaries who attended that recent fundraiser for Sen. John Kerry.

Streep: “Oh, I was there.”

Couric: “I know you were there. And in fact, I read your quote. You said — you talked about President Bush and his invocation of religion and you said—”

Streep: “No, of Jesus.”

Couric: “Of Jesus, sorry. ‘Through the shock and awe, I wondered which of the megaton bombs Jesus, our president’s personal savior, would have personally dropped on the sleeping families in Baghdad.’”

Streep: “It was a question about when you put Jesus on the campaign bus to stump for you, you have to really listen to what he says, because he says, ‘If a man smite thee on the cheek, let you turn the other that he may smite it also.’ And he says, ‘He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.’ And he says, ‘Love thine enemy.’ Jesus could have raised an army against the people that persecuted him. He didn’t. So that’s what I was pointing out in my speech, and I couldn’t really imagine Jesus, like I couldn’t imagine how Jesus would vote. Jesus was the Prince of Peace. Would the Prince of Peace vote for a war President?”

Washington: “And it’s open to interpretation. Jesus also went into the temple and kicked everybody out.”

Streep: “That’s kicking the money-changers out of the temple.”

Washington: “Well, you’re right. So—”

Streep: “The money-changers should get out of Congress, I agree. And I agree, but he didn’t—”

Washington: “He didn’t. He didn’t only say turn the other cheek though. You’ve got to read the whole book.  That’s not what all he said.”

Streep: “Oh, I do read the whole book.”

Washington: “I do too. And that’s not all he said.”

Streep: “What does he say that said ‘pick up a stick and kill somebody?'”

Washington: “Like I said, he did go into the temple and cleared the place well—”

Streep: “Of money, yeah.”

Washington: “Okay, well, we’re all—”

Streep: “Money’s bad.”

Washington: “We all make money. So does that make us bad? Maybe he’s talking about us?”

Streep: “Well, yeah, maybe.”

I’m not sure who is “reading the whole book.” Interestingly, there’s no video to be found of this interview. You can read the entire transcript here.


Written by Michael Duenes

February 23, 2010 at 9:29 pm

Posted in Duenes, Theology

From the ivory tower: rodney stark – discovering god: introduction

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From my days as a Sociology major at UCLA, it has been abundantly clear to me that, like any other field that purports to be a “science,” sociology/ anthropology in the academy suffers from an unwarranted a priori materialism; meaning that, by definition, God(s) and any kind of supernatural reality are excluded from discussion before any evidence is weighed. Science, so we’re told, must be based only upon naturalistic assumptions and explanations. Fortunately, Rodney Stark is the kind of scholar who is unwilling to abide by such unfounded, presuppositional bias against spiritual explanations. He shows a willingness to consider evidence that challenges his own paradigm, and his views on the origins and evolution of religion have certainly shifted over the years through the light of such new evidence.  His introduction rightly critiques many “with respectable credentials” in the sociology-anthropology fields for failing to “entertain the possibility that the common source of religious culture might be spiritual” (3). He writes, “Instead, the dominating scholarly perspective regards all revelations as purely psychological events and assumes that the answer to where God was prior to Abraham’s generation is that Yahweh hadn’t been invented yet” (3). Emile Durkheim and his followers reduced all questions of religion to ritual. As Stark says,

Many modern social scientists would say, why all the bother about God? Surely religion is a matter of ritual, not of divinity, so why waste time on images of God? Such views reflect the fact that for much of the twentieth century, the social-scientific study of religion was essentially a Godless field. Not only because so many practitioners were nonbelievers, but because God was banished from definitions of religion and was ignored in both research and theorizing…But Durkheim and his disciples were not even content to claim that people worship illusions, for then they would have had to restore the Gods, illusory or not, to the core of religion. Instead, they even dismissed illusory Gods, thereby proposing, at least by implication, that people knowingly pray to and worship the empty void (13-14).

To which Stark replies, “It requires a great deal of sophisticated social-scientific training for a person to accept such nonsense. People pray to something! To something above and beyond the material world. To something having the ability to hear prayers and having the supernatural powers needed to influence nature and events. Real or not, such ‘somethings’ are Gods” (15). It is gratifying to see Stark standing against the “scientistic” tide from the get-go, being willing to consider that God or gods might actually exist and might have been revealing himself/ herself/ themselves to us in some way over the course of history.

The remainder of his introduction is fairly straightforward. He lays out some of the foundational questions that have led him into the study of religious evolution in the first place. He then suggests how God might reveal himself if, in fact, he does so. He believes that if God (or gods) has revealed himself to us, he has accommodated his revelations to our “current capacity…to comprehend.” He’s willing to entertain the hypothesis that revelations from God don’t actually occur, but he is rightfully certain that it is “well beyond credibility to argue that all religions are to any significant extent true” (8).

Stark then gives a preliminary sketch of the evolving conceptions of God(s) in human history. Human beliefs about divine realities have evolved over time, a point which no one disputes. How or toward what end they evolve is the subject of the book. Stark does offer his hypotheses about the kind of God or gods human cultures will tend to adopt over time. They will “prefer Gods to unconscious divine essences” (10), will “progress from those having smaller [scope] to those having greater scope” (10) – which is to say, from local deities to all-encompassing ones – and “will prefer an image of God(s) as rational and loving” (11). Gods must be rational for their to be coherent religion, and the ultimate “theology” toward which all religions evolve is “dualistic monotheism” (12).

Stark adds an overview of what he hopes to cover in each chapter of the book, laying out a few more cherished socio-historical assumptions about religions (to take but one example: Europe’s churches are empty due to the influence of modernism) that he hopes to challenge along the way. He ends his Intro by returning to what he considers the essential questions: “Have we discovered God? Or have we invented him? Are there so many similarities among the great religions because God is really the product of universal wish fulfillment? Did humans everywhere create supernatural beings out of their need for comfort in the face of existential tragedy and to find purpose and significance in life? Or have people in many places, to a greater or lesser degree, actually gained glimpses of God?” (20) I’m looking forward to his discussion.


Written by Michael Duenes

February 22, 2010 at 5:46 am

Posted in Duenes, History, Literature

Top 6: TV Programs I cannot stand that I would rather watch instead of the Winter Olympics

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1. The Rachael Ray Show– Rachael Ray is an abomination to the medium of television, but at least her show ends in an hour.

2. Trinity Broadcasting Networks (TBN) Praise-a-thon – It would be much more palatable to watch Dwight Thompson dab at his brow sweat with a holy hanky or see what new purple sequined Nehru Jacket Benny Hinn has chosen to wear than watch 1 minute of tandem Ice Skating.

3. The George Lopez Show– Mad-cap hilarity, even when it is appallingly unfunny, is somehow more genuine than Al Michaels holding down front desk anchor duties.

4. The Ghost Whisperer– Let’s face it, Jennifer Love Hewitt is an annoying three name celebrity, but not nearly as annoying as Apolo Anton Ohno.

5. The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric– I cannot believe I am writing this, but Katie Couric is more insightful about world affairs than Jim Lampley or Tom Hammond is about Curling.

6. Any Golf Tournament– Because I have been known to sleep through any golf tournament.


Written by Michael Duenes

February 21, 2010 at 7:30 pm

from the ivory tower: “discovering god,” by Rodney Stark

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My good friend and world historian, Charles Weller, recently recommended Discovering God, by Baylor University Social Science professor, Rodney Stark. I can’t begin to describe the joy I experienced back in the late 90’s when Charles was mentoring me a bit, giving me superb books to read and discuss with him. Charles has a keen historical mind, a PhD from Kazak National University in Kazakhstan (probably the only American to have such a degree), and a wealth of cross-cultural experience in Central Asia and Japan. Though we are now separated by thousands of miles, I still look forward to fruitful discussion with him through my reading of this book. With that in mind, I intend to blog my way through it so as to set my thoughts about it in order. Should you find my reflections interesting, great. If not, no worries. Here’s the editorial review on Amazon, if that helps pique your interest:

Skeptics such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett have just lost their monopoly on the topic of religious evolution. Only a believer, Stark asserts, can fathom the origins and subsequent unfolding of the world’s great faiths. In this wide-ranging investigation, Stark detects sacred reality—not pious deception—at the heart of transcendent beliefs shared by Aborigines and Anglicans. In their myths of the high gods, Stark contends, early tribal peoples glimpsed divine truths obscured in later civilizations when pharaohs and emperors lent government support to temple priesthoods more interested in maintaining a comfortable lifestyle than in serving God. The eventual emergence of a religious marketplace in ancient Rome opened a wide range of metaphysical options. Yet in a culture of religious pluralism, the insistent claims of tightly knit communities of Jews and Christians appeared threatening to Roman leaders, who defended the status quo by persecuting adherents to these unsettlingly intense faiths. Yet it is in these revelatory faiths—and not the meditative religions of Eastern Asia—that Stark discerns the fullest manifestation of God. Some readers will resist Stark’s comparative judgments; others will dispute his religious interpretation of modern science. But serious students of religion will recognize this as an essential sourcebook. Christensen, Bryce

Table of Contents:

Introduction: Revelation and Cultural Revolution

1. Gods in Primitive Societies

2. Temple Religions of Ancient Civilizations

3. Rome: An Ancient Religious Marketplace

4. The “Rebirth” of Monotheism

5. Indian Inspirations

6. Chinese Gods and “Godless” Faiths

7. The Rise of Christianity

8. Islam: God and State

Conclusion: Discovering God?


Written by Michael Duenes

February 21, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Posted in Duenes, History