Friday, May 29, 2009

Reflections on the church/state issue

On facebook recently i was asked to join two groups.  One was to "remind President Obama that we are a Christian nation".  The other one was to put Christ back in our schools.  This mentality is frustrating and disturbing for me.  It is rooted in a mindset of the majority.  We only think this is an appropriate move because we consider Christians to be in the majority and any kind of suppression of Christian activity or knock against Judeo-Christian ethics feels like an attack. 

But my perspective is different, in part, because i have lived as a follower of Jesus in place where Christianity is in a minority.  Everything in society operates in connection to the majority faith.  There is prayer in schools, but i would not want my kids to go to those schools.  In fact, Christian families have little choice but to send their kids to private Christian schools so that their kids aren't subjected to prayer and religious teaching (even kids aren't forced to participate, the peer pressure from other kids is difficult for children).  Is this what we want for children of families that adhere to a different faith?  What is more, what about townships and counties where Christians are not in the majority?  The prayers in those schools would naturally be different. 

Unfortunately, the issue is larger than prayer in schools.  There is a tendency for the majority to presume privilege and power, and this is something evidenced throughout history and throughout the world, regardless of the majority faith or ideology.  It is a subtle transition that the majority faith presumes their practices and ethics as normal.

Just today someone alerted me to an article about a Bible study in a private home in San Diego, California.  Reportedly, they have been told that it is illegal for them to continue to meet in their home for religious purposes.  If you are like me, your first reaction is incensed anger.  A private gathering of a few people practicing their spirituality quietly in their private home should not be illegal.  As you can expect, there were a lot comments, most of which expressed their displeasure over this event.  But the reasoning often cited was disturbing to me.  There were comments about our "Christian" founding fathers and the United States being a Christian nation.  These comments betray a mindset that a Christian majority deserves privileges that others may not deserve.  I would have much preferred the reasoning to be applicable to all citizens of the United States, that people have the right to practice their spirituality as long as it doesn't infringe on other people's rights.  While some argued their point in this way, I was discouraged to see so many appealing to a Christendom that still controls the nation.

Another reaction to the event as reported in the article is that the minority faiths and ideologies are not so minor anymore and are somewhat bitter about how Christendom behaved as the majority.  This is to be expected.  We must admit that we, as Christians, have not always treated those unlike ourselves with the love and perpetual forgiveness modeled by Christ.  Too many examples come to mind to even begin listing the offenses we have caused to others in our nation.

The bottom line in this is that we need to reevaluate what it means to be both a citizen of God's kingdom and a citizen of the United States.  Which one takes precedence?  Are these two citizenships compatible?  What are our obligations as citizens of each? 

But what we need to be absolutely clear about is they are not the same thing and our language needs to reflect that distinction. 

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Change in Thinking

I wonder if this isn't true today, particularly in the Christian community:

"Scholasticism, with which the theology of the Church had been closely associated, was decaying. It still dominated the universities and the monastic orders, including the Franciscans and Dominicans, but the main new currents of intellectual life were flowing in other channels. This seemed to augur ill of Christianity and the Church." (Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity: Volume I, 604)

What are the channels of intellectual life today?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Free citation and bibliographic program

I have been looking at different software to help me manage all of my bibliographic references and sort them by topic when needed.  Most of the programs out there are kinda pricey.  Then I found Zotero.  Zotero is connected with Mozilla Firefox web browser does this service for absolutely free!  It is a pretty cool program that will automatically pull down bibliographic information from a website, coded PDF file or most published books.  It does not seem to be able to do all that some of those expensive programs can do.  But it is free!  If you are connected to the academic world, check it out.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Observations from a UN Report on Urbanization

The following observations are from "An Overview of Urbanization, Internal Migration, Population Distribution and Development in the World," from the UN Population Division. WARNING: Lots of boring statistics ahead!

Noteworthy (to me) observations:

  • Urbanization followed industrialization. Thus rates of industrialization in a region also show the rates of urbanization. (3)
  • Most commerce happens in the cities. 80% of the world's GDP is produced by urban areas. (3)
  • Urbanization resulted from both a push and pull effect. Increased job opportunities have pulled people to the cities. Mechanization of the agricultural industry has reduced the labor market in rural settings. (3)
  • Most R&D happens in the cities. 81% of patents are filed by urban dwellers in OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries. (3)
  • Urbanization linked to development- "Countries that have undergone long periods of poor economic performance tend to be the least urbanized." (4) "All the evidence indicates that people benefit from living in urban areas. Average urban incomes are generally higher than those in rural areas. Urban dwellers also have better access to a variety of services, including education, health, transportation, communication, water supply, sanitation and waste management. Because of economies of scale, it is more efficient and cheaper to provide such services to large and geographically concentrated populations than to populations scattered over large rural areas. Furthermore, access to services tends to be better in larger urban agglomerations than in small cities or towns." (4) "Thus, urbanization plays a positive role in overall poverty reduction mostly by contributing to aggregate economic growth." (23)
  • Urbanization's downside- Urban infrastructures are struggling to keep pace with population growth, thus cities suffer from traffic congestion, inadequate sanitation, and over-concentration of industries. "Cities also tend to make demands on land, water and natural resources that are disproportionately high in relation to their land area or their population, whose high average income results in high consumption." (4) The poor tend to suffer the most in the cities, not benefiting from the services of the economically empowered. The urban poor continue to increase. In 2005, 840 million people lived in slums. (4) 37% of the urban population of developing nations. (26)
  • Yet, "in most developing countries, rural populations have worse living conditions and fare worse in terms of health and mortality than slum dwellers." (5)
  • The urbanization rate exceeds the population growth rate. (5)
  • Migrants to the cities generally do better than those that remain in rural areas (5)
  • Development requires urban and rural focus- "strategies to improve the living standards of all must combine policies to promote rural development with those to improve the lot of poor urban dwellers by improving service provision, raising their educational levels, improving transportation, improving access to health services and family planning, strengthening the regulation of land use and facilitating the acquisition of land titles." (5)
  • The world population is projected to be 70% urban by 2050. "At that time, most of the urban population will be concentrated in Asia (54 per cent) and Africa (19 per cent)." (6)
  • "China, India and the United States of America accounted for 35 per cent of the world's urban population." (9)
  • Small cities (under 100,000 residents) are growing rapidly- "48 per cent of the increase in the world urban population was accounted for by the rise in the population of small cities." (14) They have less access to basic services than larger cities. (26)
  • Cities are growing rapidly as a result of the rural-urban migration. (16)
  • "Among the few countries where migration and reclassification account for most of urban growth, two stand out: China and Indonesia." (17) In other words these countries have very high rates of migration from rural to urban.
  • "Urban-origin migrants are more likely to move to urban areas than rural-origin migrants." (18)
  • Urban areas have lower dependency ratios than rural areas, that is the number of dependents for per one hundred adults. "A lower dependency ratio is potentially beneficial because it makes it easier for a society to save and invest. Because urban areas are characterized by lower dependency ratios, they are in a better position to leverage the benefits of economic development." (21)
  • Slum households defined- UN Habitat defines them as "urban households lacking one or more of the following: durable housing; sufficient living area; access to an improved water source; access to improved sanitation, or secure tenure." (26)
  • Cities beyond a certain size decrease in efficiency and productivity. Thus, many nations have urban-urban relocation programs attempting to more evenly distribute the urban population. This is particularly true in nations that have a primate city. Some countries have even created new capitals for this reason. (30)
  • Main point- "Urbanization is a process intrinsically related to development that must be managed in ways that maximize its potential benefits and prevent its negative consequences." (32)
  • Needed- "The development of local databases that reflect local realities and inform policy, planning and investment decisions at the local level is urgently needed." (32)

Critiques of the report:

  • This report nowhere defines what is considered "urban". In a report which focuses on urban migration and compared with rural migration, this is a crucial weakness and makes the statistics less valuable.
  • The often used development markers of $1/day and $2/day only provide a superficial picture of living standards around the world. The two primary flaws are: 1) the dollar, as with all currency, fluctuates. In longevity analysis, a comparison of the number of people making less than a dollar a day does not usually consider the rate of inflation of the time period. Thus, a statistic illustrating less people making less than a dollar than five years ago does not necessarily illustrate the improvement of that population's welfare. 2) differences in buying power in different contexts are significant. Even within a single province of a developing nation prices of basic necessities vary radically depending on the availability of the necessities and the basic infrastructure in transporting the necessities. In many places, $2 a day is enough to live on. But in other places, especially larger cities, it is not. Thus the following statement is rendered a meaningless measure of economic improvement: "Overall, the percentage of poor at under $1 a day in urban areas declined from 14 per cent in 1993 to 13 per cent in 2002…" (23)
  • Discussion of access to basic services is far too simple. Percentages of those with access to electricity is only helpful if those with access have a consistent source of electricity. But when the electricity only runs have the day and is inconsistent when it is on and off, it is more damaging to the economic infrastructure because small business owner dependent on electricity suffer terribly.

United Nations Population Division. "An Overview of Urbanization, Internal Migration, Population Distribution and Development in the World." United Nations Expert Group Meeting on Population Distribution, Urbanization, Internal Migration and Development. January 18, 2008. Accessed May 4, 2009.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A lesson in church planting from Greek city development

Plato, Aristotle, and ancient Greek society in general had very specific ideals for utopian society. As such, they were not willing for their cities to grow haphazardly. They felt strongly that the size of the city does not dictate its worth or contribution, in fact they limited the size based on the need for intimacy and communication and then multiplied cities. Lewis Mumford describes this:
The good life, as they understood it and practised it, depended upon intimacy and small numbers. When the polis sent out a colony, it made no effort, it would seem, to extend either its territorial or its economic dominion: it sought only to reproduce conditions similar to those of the mother city. As between growth by accretion, which became socially inorganic and ultimately led to disintegration, and growth by colonization, which maintained integrity and purpose, the Greeks chose colonization, as the little towns of New England did in the seventeenth century. They had mastered the art of reproducing cities. (Mumford, The City in History, 216-17)

In order to preserve their understanding of the ideal city, they chose to intentionally multiply themselves. Turning now towards church planting the benefits are manifold:
  • Intimacy and small numbers are invaluable to church life.
  • Intentionally reproducing quality church communities with good DNA is vital the health of the mother church and the daughter church.
  • The new churches are started with the purpose of being fully mature, autonomous churches and not controlled by the mother church.
  • Growth through multiplication helps maintain integrity and purpose.
So many churches have not given much thought either to giving birth to new churches or to how they can be ideally structured to be the ideal, maximally functioning church of Christ. Aristotle noted that Babylon had grown so large that the city had been taken for three days before some neighborhoods of the city even knew about it. (Mumford, The City in History, 216) Many churches operate this way. Major events occur (even crises) within the life of the church and yet parts of the body don't even know about it. Intentionality is key.