Monday, February 23, 2009

Mississippi, Wesley, and Lent

I was surfing the net this evening and a number of items listed on the United Methodist Reporter site struck me as somewhat odd. First was a report that Mississippi was the "most religious state" in the U.S. While not surprising, it's sad. It's sad because I fairly certain that I could come with with a index of tolerance that would likely find Mississippi among the least tolerant states in the U.S. When I mean tolerant, I'm referring to racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. The next logical step is to correlate the two indices and that certainly would show that the most religious states would also be the least tolerant. What exactly does that say about religion? Of course that correlation is a two-way street, the most tolerant societies are the least religious. Mississippi usually ranks among the bottom five in education, what does that say? (editorial note: when it comes to creationism I think it says a great deal!) I think there's some pretty interesting conclusions one could draw from such a study. Perhaps in another lifetime I'll take a look at this more closely.

The other alarming aspect of this study is that it relates church-going to religion. In short, you aren't considered religious if you don't attend or belong to a church. Details like this make it very important to take surveys and "best of" ratings with a large, very large, grain of salt. It reminds me of a book that came out a year or so ago (it was horrible so I'm not going to even give a mention here) that said conservatives gave more than their liberal counterparts. The book's premise was that if we didn't have to pay taxes we could give more to charities who are more capable of handing out money than the government. Of course giving to a church was included in their definition of charitable giving. I don't consider churches or clergy charity cases. The fact that most of a given church budget goes to salaries and building operations makes donating money to churches anything but charity. Now, giving to an organization like local missions, UMCOR or Catholic Charities, that's a different story. But the book didn't paint that picture. In fact if you eliminated church giving, conservatives gave less than 2/3 than liberals. Again, it's all in how you present and manipulate the data.

Back to the umportal. There's a great deal of discussion on the Wesley Study Bible going on in the "methosphere" these days. I chimed in a few weeks ago on this. I still like the bible and it has come in very useful lately. What interested me the most in these discussions are how people have interpreted John Wesley's theology and the ensuing debates over the results of those interpretations. There's a lot of "John Wesley meant this" and "No, John Wesley mean this" out there. It has strengthened my desire to take a class in Wesleyan theology, but at the same time it makes me think that perhaps we Weslyan's are a bit idolatrous.

Finally, as Lent approaches I've been toying with the idea of doing a daily posting as I did last year. Last year's postings were related to the events in the natural world that were unfolding as we moved towards spring. I also included a number of writings related to Aldo Leopold. I'm not sure I'll be able to do the daily posting this year, but we'll see. It will certainly take a different format than last year. Ideas?

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