What My Faith Means to People Like Me

We seem to live in a time of religious change and polarization. In the US, as in Western Europe, secularization marches steadily on, as highlighted by the recent Pew poll. A large number of young Americans have disaffiliated themselves from religious institutions; “nones,” or people with no religious affiliation, now make about about one fifth of the US population. On the other hand, fundamentalist Christians, Muslims, and Hindus (and even Buddhists, in places like Burma) seem to be on the march. Not to be outdone, the anti-theist movement usually described…

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Nationalist Delusions Poison History

Recently Rahel and I visited the House of Terror Museum in Budapest, Hungary. This museum was spearheaded by Viktor Orbán (Orbán Viktor), who is currently the Prime Minister of Hungary and leader of Fidesz (a nationalist political party which holds a solid majority in the Hungarian parliament), a fact the importance of which will quickly become apparent. This museum is ostensibly dedicated to the two “terror regimes” to which Hungary was subject in the 20th century, the Nazi regime and the communist regime. However, it concentrates primarily on communist atrocities—…

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No Surfeit of Slums in the Hearts of the Poor

Ezra Taft Benson, the 13th president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church) and Secretary of Agriculture under Eisenhower, was a good and well-intentioned man who had an almost preternatural gift for getting things wrong. He did do a few exceptionally good things, including reviving Latter-day Saint interest in the Book of Mormon (unintentionally bringing grace back to Mormonism) and delivering a memorable and thoughtful talk about pride. However, he was wrong when he claimed that women could not be trusted with positions of responsibility,…

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Technocracy Now!

Most American conservatives now believe that any statistic more sophisticated that the arithmetic mean is witchcraft and comes from the devil. This is problematic because we live in a world which has been deeply shaped by sophisticated statistics, probability theory, and other related mathematical subfields. Google works because of statistical methods. The annoying messages from your credit card company warning you of possibly fraudulent transactions work because of statistical methods. Even the input method on your smart phone is based on statistical methods. Much more importantly, scientific research—in the…

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Appomattox

Today marks the sesquicentennial of Robert E. Lee's surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia and the effective end of the US Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression, if you stubbornly cling to a past that never was). I am proud that the Union won the war (though my own home state of Utah, then a territory, was ambivalent in its loyalties and was legally a slave territory). Many Southerners also claim to be proud of their heritage with regard to the war, though I am not…

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