Tuesday, November 30, 2010

iTunes Pulls "Manhattan Declaration" for Being "Anti-Gay", "Anti-Woman" and "Anti-Abortion"

We see more political hardball being played by Apple's iTunes ... this report is from The Christian Post:
App Store Pulls Manhattan Declaration

Apparently there's not an app for the 400,000+ signature declaration....

Trevor Persaud
Apple's iTunes App Store has removed a program for the Manhattan Declaration after critics decried the declaration as "anti-gay" and "anti-woman."  The app, which went online in October, enabled users to sign the declaration, visit the website, and take a survey relating to the declaration. Change.org posted a petition--which picked up over 7,000 signers in a few days--asking that Apple remove the "anti-gay and anti-choice" application.

Defining itself as "A Call of Christian Conscience," the 4700-word declaration announces its signatories' intention "to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense" of principles that include "sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife, and the freedom of conscience and religion." Released in 2009, the declaration has picked up over 400,000 signers, including drafters Charles Colson, Robert George, and Timothy George. (CT's editor-in-chief David Neff also signed the declaration.)

At some point in the last few days, the declaration app unobtrusively vanished from the App Store.  Observers have long puzzled over Apple's criteria for accepting and rejecting apps; in fact many people accused Apple of a double standard when they rejected a number of apps designed specifically for the gay community. The company said they rejected the apps for objectionable content, though many say that the cited content was no worse than that available in apps the company has accepted (like the one promoting the recent movie Bruno).

Apple has yet to explain its reasons for removing the declaration's app, which they originally rated "4+" for "No objectionable material." Supporters of the declaration, however, are definitely making their opinions known about the anti-app campaign.

"I am one of the 150 or so original signers of the Manhattan Declaration—I urge readers here to sign it—and I don’t hate gay people," wrote Tom Gilson on First Things's Evangel blog. "That’s an unjust and intolerant tag that a minority opposition group has fixed upon me for rhetorical effect. It’s wrong and it’s extremely judgmental."

"To a radicalized blog dedicated to promoting abortion, denigrating the dignity of women and the unborn, and supporting unnatural unions, this application is the scourge of human existence," writes Billy Atwell on the Manhattan Declaration's own blog. "What does that tell me? It tells me that we’re doing something right "
More reactions to come.
Interesting how Apple puts The Manhattan Declaration on a parallel with these other apps it pulled or rejected earlier:

- In February it was reported that Apple would pull sexually explicit apps, although curious how I still frequently run across them as I hunt for apps for my iPhone and iPad

- dreadful games such as "Baby Shaker" in which the user can quiet a crying baby by vigorously shaking the iPod or iPhone, or AMP's "Before You Score" game which gave young males tips for scoring and then sharing their exploits on Twitter or Facebook

- the app "I Am Rich" that people spent an outragous sum for ($1,000) simply to show off their wealth

- various political apps, such as Trampoline which uses the iPod's accelerometer to bounch political figures or iSinglePlayer that was rejected for daring to educate the public on the single-payer option of health care

Here's Brian Chen's take on Apple's predicament with his article "A Call for Transparency in Apple's App Store":
The issue is poised to grow as more iPads sell. To understand, you have to consider the logistics of embracing a new publishing medium such as the iPad. Media operations must integrate digital tablet production into their infrastructure, and it’s neither easy nor inexpensive to obtain the software developers, designers and content creators to make such a transition. And if advertisers invest more money in the iPad version of a publication, that pressures publishers to give priority to resources allocated to the iPad.

Given Apple’s lead in mobile, the rate at which Apple and the App Store are growing and the wild enthusiasm among advertisers lining up for the iPad opportunity, it seems inevitable that Apple will to some extent have influence over the content that publishers produce.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Evangelizing A Christian Nation

Being a public school teacher and having done many years as a youth group leader at church, I found the following report by R. Albert Mohler, Jr. at The Christian Post a bit disturbing ...

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism--the New American Religion

When Christian Smith and his fellow researchers with the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took a close look at the religious beliefs held by American teenagers, they found that the faith held and described by most adolescents came down to something the researchers identified as "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism."

As described by Smith and his team, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these: 1. "A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth." 2. "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions." 3. "The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself." 4. "God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem." 5. "Good people go to heaven when they die."

That, in sum, is the creed to which much adolescent faith can be reduced. After conducting more than 3,000 interviews with American adolescents, the researchers reported that, when it came to the most crucial questions of faith and beliefs, many adolescents responded with a shrug and "whatever."

As a matter of fact, the researchers, whose report is summarized in Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Eyes of American Teenagers by Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton, found that American teenagers are incredibly inarticulate about their religious beliefs, and most are virtually unable to offer any serious theological understanding. As Smith reports, "To the extent that the teens we interviewed did manage to articulate what they understood and believed religiously, it became clear that most religious teenagers either do not really comprehend what their own religious traditions say they are supposed to believe, or they do understand it and simply do not care to believe it. Either way, it is apparent that most religiously affiliated U.S. teens are not particularly interested in espousing and upholding the beliefs of their faith traditions, or that their communities of faith are failing in attempts to educate their youth, or both."

As the researchers explained, "For most teens, nobody has to do anything in life, including anything to do with religion. 'Whatever' is just fine, if that's what a person wants."

The casual "whatever" that marks so much of the American moral and theological landscapes--adolescent and otherwise--is a substitute for serious and responsible thinking. More importantly, it is a verbal cover for an embrace of relativism. Accordingly, "most religious teenager's opinions and views--one can hardly call them worldviews--are vague, limited, and often quite at variance with the actual teachings of their own religion."

The kind of responses found among many teenagers indicates a vast emptiness at the heart of their understanding. When a teenager says, "I believe there is a God and stuff," this hardly represents a profound theological commitment.

Amazingly, teenagers are not inarticulate in general. As the researchers found, "Many teenagers know abundant details about the lives of favorite musicians and television stars or about what it takes to get into a good college, but most are not very clear on who Moses and Jesus were." The obvious conclusion: "This suggests that a strong, visible, salient, or intentional faith is not operating in the foreground of most teenager's lives."

One other aspect of this study deserves attention at this point. The researchers, who conducted thousands of hours of interviews with a carefully identified spectrum of teenagers, discovered that for many of these teens, the interview itself was the first time they had ever discussed a theological question with an adult. What does this say about our churches? What does this say about this generation of parents?

In the end, this study indicates that American teenagers are heavily influenced by the ideology of individualism that has so profoundly shaped the larger culture. This bleeds over into a reflexive non-judgmentalism and a reluctance to suggest that anyone might actually be wrong in matters of faith and belief. Yet, these teenagers are unable to live with a full-blown relativism ...

The "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" that these researchers identify as the most fundamental faith posture and belief system of American teenagers appears, in a larger sense, to reflect the culture as a whole. Clearly, this generalized conception of a belief system is what appears to characterize the beliefs of vast millions of Americans, both young and old.

This is an important missiological observation--a point of analysis that goes far beyond sociology. As Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton explained, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism "is about inculcating a moralistic approach to life. It teaches that central to living a good and happy life is being a good, moral person. That means being nice, kind, pleasant, respectful, responsible, at work on self-improvement, taking care of one's health, and doing one's best to be successful." In a very real sense, that appears to be true of the faith commitment, insofar as this can be described as a faith commitment, held by a large percentage of Americans. These individuals, whatever their age, believe that religion should be centered in being "nice"--a posture that many believe is directly violated by assertions of strong theological conviction.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is also "about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherents." As the researchers explained, "This is not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of sovereign divinity, of steadfastly saying one's prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering, of basking in God's love and grace, of spending oneself in gratitude and love for the cause of social justice, et cetera. Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people."

In addition, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism presents a unique understanding of God. As Smith explains, this amorphous faith "is about belief in a particular kind of God: one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in one's affairs--especially affairs in which one would prefer not to have God involved. Most of the time, the God of this faith keeps a safe distance."

Smith and his colleagues recognize that the deity behind Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is very much like the deistic God of the 18th-century philosophers. This is not the God who thunders from the mountain, nor a God who will serve as judge. This undemanding deity is more interested in solving our problems and in making people happy. "In short, God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process."

Obviously, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is not an organized faith. This belief system has no denominational headquarters and no mailing address. Nevertheless, it has millions and millions of devotees across the United States and other advanced cultures, where subtle cultural shifts have produced a context in which belief in such an undemanding deity makes sense. Furthermore, this deity does not challenge the most basic self-centered assumptions of our postmodern age. Particularly when it comes to so-called "lifestyle" issues, this God is exceedingly tolerant and this religion is radically undemanding.

As sociologists, Smith and his team suggest that this Moralistic Therapeutic Deism may now constitute something like a dominant civil religion that constitutes the belief system for the culture at large. Thus, this basic conception may be analogous to what other researchers have identified as "lived religion" as experienced by the mainstream culture.

Moving to even deeper issues, these researches claim that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is "colonizing" Christianity itself, as this new civil religion seduces converts who never have to leave their congregations and Christian identification as they embrace this new faith and all of its undemanding dimensions.

Consider this remarkable assessment: "Other more accomplished scholars in these areas will have to examine and evaluate these possibilities in greater depth. But we can say here that we have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually [only] tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but is rather substantially morphed into Christianity's misbegotten step-cousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." ...

Does this mean that America is becoming more secularized? Not necessarily. These researchers assert that Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith.

This radical transformation of Christian theology and Christian belief replaces the sovereignty of God with the sovereignty of the self. In this therapeutic age, human problems are reduced to pathologies in need of a treatment plan. Sin is simply excluded from the picture, and doctrines as central as the wrath and justice of God are discarded as out of step with the times and unhelpful to the project of self-actualization.
Sadly, this causes me to recall a conversation I had with a minister about the need for increased biblical literacy.  His response was one of annoyed apathy.  "But, Pastor, you work among Christians all day long.  I work among people who are openly hostile to Christianity, not just questioning.  How do we equip our young people before they go off the college, where they will be greatly tested?"   He failed to see a need to educate our youth beyond the basics of confirmation.

It is sad when our churches are complicit in the spreading of "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Church of the Rhythmically Impaired

I am embarrassed at my occasions of music snobbery ... times when I think I'm "all that and a bag of chips" when it comes to music.  Sometimes my head gets a bit too big for my own good, eventhough I struggle to remain humble.  Yes, there is some musical ability in my genes, but not enough to permit me to quit my day job ... my "square job."  But, the Lord, in His inimitable way, has such subtle and yet powerful ways of humbling me.

Year ago, I first used the term "The Church of the Rhythmically Impaired" during a time when my old church choir was preparing for special music for upcoming Sunday.  Two guests had flown in from Chicago to help us middle-aged to elderly, White, raised-on-snoozer-hymns hymnals learn some Black gospel songs.  We were struggling ... some more than others ... at the right chords, timbre, rhythm and dynamics of the new songs.  When the guests suggested that we clap our hands and shift side to side in beat with the music, my hopes were dashed as I witnessed several individuals with perhaps the WORST sense of rhythm I had ever seen!  One lady in particular really labored at the beat in the row ahead of me, her hands coming together at odd intervals in complete incongruence to the beat.  It took all my strength not to reach around her, grab her hands, and clap them together for her.  I fretted a bit the rest of the day, worrying how we would sound the next day for Sunday worship.  Much to my amazement, on the first note of the song as we opened our mouths and burst forth with our first syllable, the sound was AMAZING!  I immediately got the little "crown of goosebumps" on my scalp, and it was then that I knew we would make it ... make musical history for our meek church.  We were divinely directed to a higher level of performance that day.

Over the course of the past few years, I have dived head long into the world of Black gospel music, richly drinking in the beauty of the melodies and harmonies ... and thrilling at that "crown of goosebumps" when I hear a gospel song swell with the spirits of the singers in divine communion with God.  I've tried to imitate the sound, both alone and with other singers.  Whether traditional, blues, or modern urban, there is a true "soul" (for want of a better word) I sense unmatched in other music genres ... except maybe Handel's "The Messiah."

I've recently left my old church and have been visiting another church.  My music snobbery has reared its ugly head on occasion as I listen to the new congregation's renditions of contemporary Christian music.  But, God gives me a good tug on my bridle as I notice the faces of the choir members.  One day, the children's choir was singing a special number.  Their faces were adorable, and I enjoyed studying their expressions: some were intense, others appeared to be thinking about their coming lunch or soccer game, a few seemed to be dazed and confused and appeared to wonder why they were there.  But, then my eyes lighted upon one particular little cherub's face: the face of a boy with Down syndrome.  He sang with such exuberance and joy that his face outshown the others' ... and his parents were beaming just as much.  He sang with purity of joy and intent.  I sing sometimes with arrogance and showmanship. 

Another time, as an adult choir was singing, I noticed an elderly gentleman whom I had seen earlier in the hallway as he slowly and awkwardly made his way to a classroom.  His spine was very misshapened.   I noticed as he sang, his mouth contorted in odd shapes like that of a person experiencing facial paralysis following a stroke.  He sang with love and gratitude ... gratitude for being able to make it to church and be an active and involved member.  Perhaps he sang not in spite of his disability but because of it. 

Both singers reminded me of a popular song written by Darlene Zschech, "Shout to the Lord" ...
Shout to the Lord all the earth, let us sing
Power and majesty, praise to the King
Mountains bow down the seas will roar
at the sound of Your name

I sing for joy at the work of Your hands
forever I'll love You, forever I'll stand
nothing compares to the promise I have in You
Lord: Teach me to sing purely -- pure in intention, pure in motivation, pure in purpose.  Teach me to sing with gratitude ... not attitude! ... or, should I say "CAT-titude?"