Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Theological Limericks

Coming back to theology this week. I am sharing some of the limericks I wrote sometime last year for the poetry contest at Garrett.

Milbank was writing a book on 'RO.'
Which hoped for a chruch long ago,
so, with the help of Aquinas,
and his wit and his slyness,
he changed the church status-quo.

There once was a man who praised God.
Thinking Him worthy to worship and laud,
but after hearing it said
that God was found dead,
He cast down his head and he bawled.

Long v. Young
(Young asked,)"Does God on His own ever suffer?"
(Long said,)"No! Oh my no! He's much tougher!"
But He's all passion and love?
No. Hes the power all of!
And oh how theology did suffer.

In researching a doctoral exegesis,
a girl wanted an original thesis,
but all the ideas had been done,
so she turned into a nun,
and began a spiritual askesis.

There once was a god named Khali.
Who's presence started a rally.
The students screamed, "burn!"
And the profs grew in concern,
so they baptized her as a finale.

Monday, December 10, 2007

What's in a Poll?

A Justification to End Democracy

The recently released New York Times/CBS national poll was blandly covered by reporters suggesting that Democrats like their presidential candidates and Republicans don’t. A national poll wasn’t needed for anyone to know that.

However, there was something surprising that the poll revealed: Americans are dumb.

After downloading the entire poll and the historical trends that correspond to the polling it was quite clear Americans are stupid. I often try to shy away from the incendiary, but it just cannot be helped. Hopefully on a few examples can make this position clear:

1) Americans are inherently pessimistic (and oblivious) about the economy.

The national poll has for decades asked Americans: “Do you think the economy is getting better, getting worse, or staying about the same?” The most recent report was the most pessimistic since the oil supply crisis in the late seventies; only 5% believed the economy was getting better, 53% thought it getting worse, 40% it was staying the same. However, with the recent stocks fluctuations, the drop in the dollar (and strengthen Euro), and subprime mortgage bust this isn’t a woefully pessimistic outlook.

Yet, looking over the past thirty years a different picture emerges. In the past thirty years only a six times have over 30% of Americans responded that the economy was getting better!

However in the past thirty years there have been only five recessions (a recession being two consecutive quarters of stagnant GDP growth. The recession lasted a total of 17 quarters (since 1971) out of last 144 quarters (up to 2007, 09), according to the St. Louis' Federal Reserve Website. The economy, almost as a rule, is always getting better. This reminds me of some unfortunate souls in my classroom who swear that 'the capitalist machine' shall break down and begin rusting within the decade. Thank God we didn't allow the Central Bank reps to be electable positions.

This indicator (public perception of the economy) is even less helpful, because it is often called a ‘lagging’ indicator, meaning only after the (economic) fact does the public realize that there has been a shift in the economy (compared to inflation or interest rate changes, which are usually considered ‘leading’ indicators.

2) The second concern is in what is specifically drawing voters to candidates, for republicans and democrats alike.

Under the question: What specifically is it about [CANDIDATES NAME] that makes you want to support him/her. Then it is followed by a number of attributes or possibly relevant associations.

4% of democrats and 5% of all republicans who were polled, answered, “I like him/her.” Which of course is important if one is voting for a new friend into their life, but not so much for a president.

6% of democrats surveyed admirably answered, “smart/intelligent.’ However, another 13% of democrats answered, “Married to Bill Clinton.” Which is a staggeringly stupid answer; no matter how much someone liked Clinton’s two term presidency. Republicans dis not fare much better. Not even a single republican answered that “smart/intelligent” was a characteristic of a candidate that made them want to support them.

3) Americans are (or at least think they) are racist & sexist.

Some of the final questions gave me the jeepers (and reminded me of the time David Duke ran for office (now I'll get people googling "David Duke" into this site, which is even scarier). Because the polls suggest that Americans are ether racist and sexist, or just think most of the people they know are racist and sexist. Each scenario does not bode well for US citizens: they are either mostly bigots or mostly paranoid, or some large combination of both.

The first question reads, “Do you think most people you know would vote for a presidential candidate who is a woman, or not?
49 would, 40 would not, 12 dk/na.

The second question reads, “Do you think most people you know would vote for a presidential candidate who is black, or not?
60 would, 25 would not, 15 dk/na.

Besides the acute fear I feel that many of my friends may be secretly misogynists, these questions also place clearly into perspective how black men got the vote before women. The Amiercan electorate scare me.

So, besides the AP picking up the new tracking numbers and mundanely reporting that Huckabee’s support continues to steadily increase, they should have instead reported that Americans are both blind and stupid… and recommend they be politically muted.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Seminarians and the Good Samaritan

My good parisian friend threw the ethical gauntlet down during a recent note. He spoke of the 1973 study by John Darley and Daniel Batson entitled, "From Jerusalem to Jericho: A study of situational and dispositional variables in helping behavior." The study was to see if seminarians, crudely if you will, 'practiced what they preached.'

Richard Beck's blog, "Experimental Theology" summarizes the study well.

The study involved seminarians preparing for the ministry. The seminarians were randomly split into two groups. The first group was asked to prepare a sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan. The second group prepared a sermon on a non-helping religious subject. The seminarians were then scheduled to deliver this sermon at an appointed time and place.

Upon arriving at the place the seminarians were told that the location has been changed at the last minute and that they were to go to a new location. At this point, the seminarians were split into three groups. A third of the seminarians were put under strong time pressure, told that they needed to get to the new venue in a hurry (high hurry). A third was put under moderate time pressure (intermediate hurry). And finally, the third group was told that they could take their time getting to the new venue (low hurry). After this hurry manipulation the seminarians were pointed to the exit and directed to proceed to the next venue.

Now, along the route (an alleyway) to the next venue Darley and Batson had placed a person who showed signs of distress. Specifically, they were sitting slumped against the wall, head down and eyes closed. As the subject passed, the confederate would cough twice and groan. Basically, they showed signs of abdominal pain. As the seminarians passed the key variable was recorded: Would they stop to check on the groaning person?

The findings were less than what romantic seminarians and seminaries would like to find.

Of the 40 subjects, 16 (40%) offered some form of direct or indirect aid to the victim, 24 (60%) did not. The percentages of subjects who offered aid by situational variable were, for low hurry, 63% offered help, intermediate hurry 45%, and high hurry 10%; for helping-relevant message 53%, task-relevant message 29%.

What does this say of ethics? Nothing which shouldn't surprise us. Christians too feel constraints when confronted with deadlines. Christians too are sometimes unresponsive to concrete and tangible social problems.

As the study indicates that ethical choices might be strongly correlated to the context of the ethical decision, it should be no surprise that Christians should take seriously what type of environment they want to intentionally root themselves in. (Perhaps, Amish have something here)?

Also, I agree with my friend that ethics can often play a public role outside of individuated decision making. Christian ethicists have a great task in helping develop social policies and suggest the adoption or proscription of certain social mores.

I also agree with Richard Beck that it also is a clarion call for Christians to slow down: a chance to smell the roses while also considering the ethical quandaries that surround us. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the celebration of the Mass seems a perfect place to start.

Yet, for all of these other reasons, one principle reason Christians may not properly respond to morally atomized situations is that we live in a legal not virtue driven society. I hope to take up this issues after finals.