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Templeton Project: Do we understand each other?

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Do we understand each other?.”

See also:

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Respect for the other in dialogue or debate requires careful listening. But, listening to another does not come easily to anyone.  It requires discipline, self-control, and humility.  Why humility?  This virtue reminds us that we are not the only ones who have something important and beneficial to say.  In fact, it teaches us that on some occasions we have nothing important and beneficial to say and, therefore, should listen to what others have to say.  Our silence can contribute to the discussion.

While apparently listening, we should listen.  That is, we should not be thinking of the next thing we are going to say while we tune out the one who is speaking.  I must admit that I often do this.  When I do, I am compelled to ask what the other person just said–rather embarrassing.  Good listening requires an attentive, clear, uncluttered, focussed mind.  Body language should indicate an attentive mind.  To listen to another is one expression of the love of one’s neighbor.

Effective communication, whether there are two or more in conversation, requires everyone to have a commitment to attentiveness.  When one of the parties does not understand, he should ask for clarification.  Always remember to put pride aside so that you are not afraid to ask for the definition of terms and words you do not understand.

When in the conversation an important fact to the discussion is not known, make a commitment to research it.  Never defend an idea without the facts.  By the way, there is no such thing as a “true fact.”  By its very definition a fact is true.  “False facts” do not exist. If they do, they exist in another universe, not this one.  False information does exist in this galaxy and universe

A counselling technique I learned in seminary is to repeat what the other person has said both to insure you have it right and to further the discussion.  We use this technique in everyday conversation.

When we are speaking, we need to be as clear as we can.  We should define the terms and words we use if we think it necessary to clarify without being patronizing.  We need to admit mistakes when we are aware that we have taken a misstep.  We should avoid attempts at manipulation or deception.  We should manifest our beliefs and commitments, that is, our world view. We are to speak only the truth to the extent that we know it.  When challenged, we are to keep our patience.  When ridiculed, we are to keep our love.  When we witness our goals are understanding and conversion.

Today there exists in our country a great divide in understanding.  Several reasons account for this situation.

  1.  Ideologies that people hold are widely divergent, e.g.  secular materialism and Christian faith.  A Civil (or Uncivil) War is being fought over ideas and world views.  May this logomachy (war of words) never become a hot war among our people.
  2. People are often talking over each other and not listening first before their turn, e.g. on the news channels, all of which promote uncivil speech and rudeness. The media has produced a new type of gladiator.  Outrageous speech is a relatively new sort of entertainment. My thumb is down, not on the people, but on the modern circus that coarsens our lives.
  3. Little effort is expended on compromise where an issue does not involve an essential belief or a known fact.  In some cases, compromise can bring about fresh insights and new solutions to problems.
  4. Reputations are at stake.  One does not want to lose one’s standing so does not admit false or harmful ideas when such are obvious.
  5. Hatred of other groups (race, nation, ethnic group, religion) remains a constant human factor and greatly distorts our conversations. The new tolerance is ironically intolerant, contributing nothing to civil discourse and, in fact, inhibiting it. One can add it to the list of prejudices.
  6. Political power is sought at the expense of truth.
  7. Ideologies sometimes make little room for the truth, because the truth may threaten the ideology’s credibility.
  8. The internet and other technologies make it easy for an individual to be rude and obnoxious without looking at one’s opponent eye to eye.
  9. American values are focussed on the old idols–power, fame, and money. Hypocrisy about what our values really are adds to the misery of the situation. All good things are sacrificed to them.
  10. No common ground exists on what is truth.

We need to remember that none of us is the center of the universe.  We are not God or a god.  We must unlearn what we have learned about self-esteem and enter the real world of people where relationships require a mutuality that self-centeredness and narcissism destroy.  Our schools need a much more compelling foundation than self-esteem. What this would be without religion, I do not know. (See Neil Postman’s The End of Education. A good book that more effectively presents the problem than the solution).  Education is not to be a godmaker.  It is the church that prepares people for living the divine life in heaven and for serving others in this life.

Much greater commitment is required to increase civil discourse in America.  At this time, little effort is expended on this most important requirement necessary for civil amity.  The Church must promote respect both intramurally and extramurally.

We must continue to ask, do we understand one another?  And, we must keep making the effort to understand.

Michael G. Tavella

September 9, 2019

Joe Arcieri Songs: Heaven (Nelly)

Joe Arcieri is a friend of mine who I worked with for many years during my ten years working for Acme Markets.  Joe, when not stocking milk or saving lives as a nurse, is an excellent guitar player.  I have had the privilege, from time to time, of (badly) plunking my bass guitar with Joe as he melts a face or two with a great solo.

As great musicians do, Joe has written some of his own songs and keeps a soundcloud site to post them.  When I have opportunity, I will post his music here as well.

Here is his composition called “Heaven (Nelly)” which you can find here.

Here are the links to the previously posted songs by Joe:

New Harvard Research Says U.S. Christianity Is Not Shrinking, But Growing Stronger

By can be found here.
Is churchgoing and religious adherence really in ‘widespread decline’ so much so that conservative believers should suffer ‘growing anxiety’? Absolutely not.

“Meanwhile, a widespread decline in churchgoing and religious affiliation had contributed to a growing anxiety among conservative believers.” Statements like this are uttered with such confidence and frequency that most Americans accept them as uncontested truisms. This one emerged just this month in an exceedingly silly article in The Atlantic on Vice President Mike Pence.

Religious faith in America is going the way of the Yellow Pages and travel maps, we keep hearing. It’s just a matter of time until Christianity’s total and happy extinction, chortle our cultural elites. Is this true? Is churchgoing and religious adherence really in “widespread decline” so much so that conservative believers should suffer “growing anxiety”?

New research published late last year by scholars at Harvard University and Indiana University Bloomington is just the latest to reveal the myth. This research questioned the “secularization thesis,” which holds that the United States is following most advanced industrial nations in the death of their once vibrant faith culture. Churches becoming mere landmarks, dance halls, boutique hotels, museums, and all that.

Not only did their examination find no support for this secularization in terms of actual practice and belief, the researchers proclaim that religion continues to enjoy “persistent and exceptional intensity” in America. These researchers hold our nation “remains an exceptional outlier and potential counter example to the secularization thesis.”

What Accounts for the Difference in Perceptions?

How can their findings appear so contrary to what we have been hearing from so many seemingly informed voices? It comes down primarily to what kind of faith one is talking about. Not the belief system itself, per se, but the intensity and seriousness with which people hold and practice that faith.

The percentage of Americans who attend church more than once a week, pray daily, and accept the Bible as wholly reliable and deeply instructive to their lives has remained absolutely, steel-bar constant for the last 50 years or more, right up to today. These authors describe this continuity as “patently persistent.”

The percentage of such people is also not small. One in three Americans prays multiple times a day, while one in 15 do so in other countries on average. Attending services more than once a week continues to be twice as high among Americans compared to the next highest-attending industrial country, and three times higher than the average comparable nation.

One-third of Americans hold that the Bible is the actual word of God. Fewer than 10 percent believe so in similar countries. The United States “clearly stands out as exceptional,” and this exceptionalism has not been decreasing over time. In fact, these scholars determine that the percentages of Americans who are the most vibrant and serious in their faith is actually increasing a bit, “which is making the United States even more exceptional over time.”

These Are Not Isolated Findings

The findings of these scholars are not outliers. There has been a growing gulf between the faithful and the dabblers for quite some time, with the first group growing more numerous. Think about the church you attend, relative to its belief system. It is extremely likely that if your church teaches the Bible with seriousness, calls its people to real discipleship, and encourages daily intimacy with God, it has multiple services to handle the coming crowds.

Most decent-size American cities have a treasure trove of such churches for believers to choose from. This shows no sign of changing. If, however, your church is theologically liberal or merely lukewarm, it’s likely laying off staff and wondering how to pay this month’s light bill. People are navigating toward substantive Christianity.

The folks at Pew have been reporting for years that while the mainline churches are in drastic free fall, the group that “shows the most significant growth is the nondenominational family.” Of course, these nondenominational churches are 99.9 percent thorough-blooded evangelical. Pew also notes that “evangelical Protestantism and the historically black Protestant tradition have been more stable” over the years, with even a slight uptick in the last decade because many congregants leaving the mainline churches are migrating to evangelical churches that hold fast to the fundamentals of the Christian faith.

The Other Key Factor: Faithful People Grow More Children

There is another factor at work here beyond orthodox belief. The University of London’s Eric Kaufmann explains in his important book “Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?” (he says yes) that the sustaining vitality, and even significant per capita growth, of serious Christian belief is as firmly rooted in fertility as it is in faithful teaching and evangelism. Globally, he says that the more robust baby-making practices of orthodox Jews and Christians, as opposed to the baby-limiting practices of liberals, create many more seriously religious people than a secular agenda can keep up with.

The growth of serious Christian belief is as firmly rooted in fertility as it is in faithful teaching and evangelism.

Fertility determines who influences the future in many important ways. He puts it bluntly, “The secular West and East Asia are aging and their share of the world population declining. This means the world is getting more religious even as people in the rich world shed their faith.”

Fertility is as important as fidelity for Christianity and Judaism’s triumph from generation to generation. Kaufmann contends, “Put high fertility and [faith] retention rates together with general population decline and you have a potent formula for change.”

It comes down to this: God laughs at the social Darwinists. Their theory is absolutely true, but just not in the way they think. Those who have the babies and raise and educate them well tend to direct the future of humanity. Serious Christians are doing this. Those redefining the faith and reality itself are not.

This why Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart proclaimed in First Things, long before the proposal of the Benedict Option, that the most “subversive and effective strategy we might undertake [to counter the culture] would be one of militant fecundity: abundant, relentless, exuberant, and defiant childbearing.” The future rests in the hands of the fertile.

What About All the Millennial Ex-Christians?

But what about our young people? We are constantly hearing that young people are “leaving the church in droves,” followed by wildly disturbing statistics. This also requires a closer look at who is actually leaving and from where. Pew reports that of young adults who left their faith, only 11 percent said they had a strong faith in childhood while 89 percent said they came from a home that had a very weak faith in belief and practice.

It’s not a news flash that kids don’t tend to hang onto what they never had in the first place. Leading sociologist of religion Christopher Smith has found through his workthat most emerging adults “report little change in how religious they have been in the previous five years.” He surprisingly also found that those who do report a change say they have been more religious, not less. This certainly does not mean there is a major revival going on among young adults, but nor does it mean the sky is falling.

Add to this Rodney Stark’s warning that we should not confuse leaving the faith with attending less often. He and other scholars report that young adults begin to attend church less often in their “independent years” and have always done so for as long back as such data has been collected. It’s part of the nature of emerging adulthood. Just as sure as these young people do other things on Sunday morning, the leading sociologists of religion find they return to church when they get married, have children, and start to live a real adult life. It’s like clockwork and always has been. However, the increasing delay among young adults in entering marriage and family is likely lengthening this gap today.

More Americans Attend Church Now Than At the Founding

What is really counter-intuitive is what Stark and his colleagues at the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion found when looking at U.S. church attendance numbers going back to the days of our nation’s founding. They found that the percentage of church-attending Americans relative to overall population is more than four times greater today than it was in 1776. The number of attendees has continued to rise each and every decade over our nation’s history right up until the present day.

The number of church attendees has continued to rise each and every decade over our nation’s history right up until the present day.

People are making theological statements with their feet, shuffling to certain churches because they offer what people come seeking: clear, faithful, practical teaching of the scriptures, help in living intimately with and obediently to God, and making friends with people who will challenge and encourage them in their faith. To paraphrase the great Southern novelist Flannery O’Connor, if your church isn’t going to believe and practice actual Christianity, then “to hell with it.” This is what people are saying with their choices.

Or as Eric Kaufmann asserts, “Once secularism rears its head and fundamentalism responds with a clear alternative, moderate religion strikes many as redundant. Either you believe the stuff or you don’t. If you do, it makes sense to go for the real thing, which takes a firm stand against godlessness.”

If your Christianity is reconstituted to the day’s fashion, don’t be surprised if people lose interest in it. Few are seeking 2 Percent Christianity. They want the genuine deal, and the demographics on religion of the last few decades unmistakably support the fact.

Debunking Complaints Against Lawyers

I frequently receive calls from potential clients complaining about other lawyers who represent them, have represented them, or they have called to represent them.  Below are some of my favorite call topics, and my responses to them.

Comment:  “I have called or e mailed many lawyers and no one but you have returned my calls or e mails.”

Response:  A lawyer does not want to talk to someone who is fishing around for free advice, and calls 15-20 lawyers or more in the process. A short inquiry is fine, but some callers want to spend a large amount of time discussing their situation. Lawyers generally only need specific information to determine if callers have a viable case, so please be respectful of their time and the questions you ask of them. A general e mail is even worse, because it is unclear how many lawyers have been contacted via one e mail. I have had many e mails sent to me via websites which are addressed to lawyers with different names. The inquirer did not even take the time to change the name. Why would a lawyer even respond to such an e mail?  There are also many scam e mails lawyers receive from all over the world, and it is difficult to tell which are legitimate.

Many inquirers do not seem to realize that “a lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade”, a saying that is usually attributed to Abraham Lincoln.  Let’s do the math. If a lawyer gets 20 calls a day from prospective clients and spends an average of 15 minutes on each call, they have spent 5 hours on the phone and they haven’t earned a dime if all of those callers are trolling around for free advice. They have businesses to run and expenses to meet. These same callers would not dream of taking up another professional’s time free of charge.

Comment: “My lawyer didn’t do anything, or didn’t say anything in court.”

Response:  Although this may be the case, in my many years of experience I find this is rare. Lawyers often do much of their work behind the scenes, and do not communicate every single thing they do to their client, as this would be even more time-consuming, especially to clients who pay hourly, and who would not appreciate being charged for this service.  Clients need to trust that their lawyers are putting in the necessary time to assist them, and in contingency fee cases, lawyers don’t get paid if they don’t settle or win a case, so why would they not do the work to ensure success? Lawyers also cannot guarantee the results of any case.

Lawyers who appear in court have to measure what they say. They don’t often want to raise numerous objections which may offend the judge and delay the proceedings; they may determine from the judge’s mood or nature of the case that saying less would be better; and they may decide to play the good layer and let the opposing lawyer rant and rave to their client’s detriment. Clients don’t always understand these nuances and think that the lawyer who rants and raves is the better lawyer. They probably get this impression from television, but a real courtroom experience is very different from a televised courtroom experience.

Comment: “Many other lawyers have told me what you said, but I don’t believe it and I want to take my chances that I can convince the judge of my case on my own.”

Response:  I often say to clients, would you perform brain surgery on yourself, and if not, why do you think you know more about the law and courtroom procedure than a lawyer? Do not mistake your ability to file a case in court as a pro se litigant with the certainty that you can represent yourself successfully.  The law and the rules surrounding it are extremely complex and vary from court to court and county to county. Of course there are some people who represent themselves successfully, but this is a very rare outcome in a complex case in a court other than a first level court.

Comment: “It isn’t fair, where is justice?”

Response: Life in general isn’t fair, and justice depends on many things. A soup to nuts lawsuit on certain matters costs a minimum of $75,000-$100,000 and upwards for a lawyer’s time, plus thousands of dollars in court. If one can afford to pay a lawyer that amount, that is great. If one can find a firm to accept the case on a contingency fee basis (usually in serious injury or death cases), that is great, but for the vast majority of others, their path to fairness and justice in the legal system will be seriously limited by what they can afford to spend.

Comment:  “I spent all of my money (fill in the amount, but it is usually into the many thousands of dollars) on a lawyer and now I have no money left, so can you take my case on a contingency fee basis?”

Response:  I love these calls, and wonder, why wasn’t I the one they had thousands of dollars to pay? It is not a lawyer’s responsibility to pick up a case free of charge after another lawyer/s have worked on a case and gotten paid. Oftentimes the cases at issue are those in which a lawyer can’t possibly make money (although the callers assure the lawyer will make millions from the free publicity), such as custody or support cases, or which are so far along in the legal process, or so many mistakes have already been made, that it is a losing case.

My final comment is please be respectful of a lawyer’s time and advice, as it is their stock in trade, and should not be wasted. 

By: Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire on her blog “Toughlawyerlady”

Valentine’s Day is NOT Pagan

As seems to be common, there are a lot of misconceptions over the origin of the traditions that surround Christian holidays.

As shown here and here respectively, the traditions of Christmas and Easter are not derived from paganism, despite the apparent general popular beliefs to the contrary.

The same goes for St. Valentine’s Day as well.  To that end, here is a great video on this subject.  Check it out!

Joe Arcieri Songs: Cool

Joe Arcieri is a friend of mine who I worked with for many years during my ten years working for Acme Markets.  Joe, when not stocking milk or saving lives as a nurse, is an excellent guitar player.  I have had the privilege, from time to time, of (badly) plunking my bass guitar with Joe as he melts a face or two with a great solo.

As great musicians do, Joe has written some of his own songs and keeps a soundcloud site to post them.  When I have opportunity, I will post his music here as well.

Here is his composition called “Cool” which you can find here.

Here are the links to the previously posted songs by Joe:

The Rise of VICTIMHOOD Culture on Campus – Seeing People as GOOD or EVIL – Jonathan Haidt

I thought this video by Jonathan Haidt was extremely insightful and worth putting up on this blog.  Check it out:

 

“Hot” Disability Issues

A hot issue currently is an employee’s ability to keep their job when they have to take time off due to an illness or disability and the duty of an employer to accommodate them while maintaining a productive workplace. Although the Americans with Disability Act (“Act”) has been in effect for some years, its provisions became muddled and diminished through various court decisions.  As a result of the confusion, and what many people considered to be a deliberate attempt to undermine the spirit of the Act, Amendments to that Act (“Amendments”) passed by Congress became effective on January 1, 2009, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “EEOC”) issued final resolutions on how to implement the Amendments in May 2011.

The Amendments greatly broaden the scope of what employers are expected to do in order to accommodate persons who allege they have a disability. Employers may question whether an employee is truly disabled, but the Amendments have broadened what is considered to be a disability, and will apply even if an employee doesn’t allege a disability, but the employer “perceives” there may be a disability because the employee has certain work restrictions or requires leave.

It is important for an employer not to take a firm stance and insist that if the employee can’t work at the same pace as before, or can’t lift the same amount, etc., that they will automatically be terminated. An employer is now required, moreso than in the original Act, to determine if there can be something done to reasonable accommodate the employee.  Also, while an employee is out on leave, is not the time to document a case against them regarding poor performance, if the issue has not arisen previously.

The issue of distinguishing between employees who have been injured at work versus those that haven’t may also be narrowing, if this results in some type of inequitable situation.  Also, if a union contract permits an employee to take medical leave for an extended period of time, and a non-union employee is denied this leave, it may be difficult for an employer to argue that granting leave to one employee and not another makes it difficult for an employer to conduct its business.

Employers are being encouraged by the EEOC to become more flexible in their leave policies. In recent years policies which have been struck down through lawsuits or through settlements with employers include:

  • An employee injured on the job must return to work within 12 months;
  • An employee out on medical leave is required to return to full duty without restrictions;
  • An employee is penalized for being absent even if they were out on a disability;
  • An employee is prevented from working a reduced schedule if they have a disability.

The burden is being placed on employers to develop policies which evaluate disabilities, determine whether the job requirements of an employee can be accommodated in some way, and actively notify an employee of their rights to accommodated. Some of these policies conflict with the general requirements that employees must request an accommodation, or an employer’s attempt to establish  policies that are clear cut and consistent, giving employees instruction on how to proceed with leave issues. These policies often interact with the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), and just because leave time under the FMLA has been exhausted, doesn’t necessarily mean that an employee can be terminated.

In conclusion, employers are being encouraged, and in some cases required, to be more flexible with their leave policies; individual analysis is required for each employee requesting leave; all leave policies should be coordinated so they don’t conflict with each other; and there should be an ongoing dialogue with employees, human resources personnel, unions, etc. regarding leave policies.

An interactive process with open lines of communication is required. Supervisors and managers should be instructed on how to deal with these issues, or who to report them to.

I have represented numerous clients who have been terminated when they should have been accommodated, or who require our Firm to intervene on their behalf in attempting to navigate, and often, even locate, their employers’ leave policies. If it takes a lawyer to get this information, and a lawyer must spend time interpreting the policies because they are vague or confusing or they conflict with each other, than that or those policies are far too confusing for an average employee to understand and need to be clarified.

By: Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire on her blog “Toughlawyerlady”

6th Circuit: Non-Recognition Substantially Burdened Christian Identity Inmates

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Fox v. Washington, (6th Cir., Feb, 6, 2020), the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the trial court had misapplied RLUIPA in upholding Michigan’s refusal to recognize prison inmates’ Christian Identity, white separatist religion. The prison system denied Christian Identity adherents the right to group worship and full immersion baptism. The court said in part:

… [P]laintiffs have met their burden ,,, to show that the Department has imposed a substantial burden on their religious exercise with respect to group worship for the Sabbath and holidays….

At step three of RLUIPA, the burden shifts to the Department to make two showings. First, it must prove that the imposition of the substantial burden on plaintiffs’ religious exercise was “in  furtherance of a compelling governmental interest.” … Second, the Department must establish that it used “the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”… The district court made no such rulings, and the record is not well developed on these issues. “As ‘a court of review, not of first view,’ we will remand the case to the district court to resolve the point in the first instance.”

You can learn more about this issue here.

YesSource: 2/5/18, Live on the Cruise to the Edge

Here are my latest uploads to YesSource, my Yes rarities youtube page (about which you can read here).  This post is another addition to my series of Yes music posts and a collection of all my Yes-related posts is here.  Yes, of course, is a, if not the, premier progressive rock band, and I am an enormous fan of it.

You can see all of my Yessource uploads here.

My latest YesSource uploads can be found here:

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