SciFi Weekend: Outlander Finale; Game of Thrones Diverging From The Books; Legends of Tomorrow; Tron; Community; Orphan Black; Twin Peaks; Jon Hamm; Netflix; Serial

Outlander Season 1 Finale

Outlander ended the first season like ending a book, moving on to new things but without a television cliff hanger.  Note that even though it was divided, everything which aired so far is considered the first season, based upon the first book in the series. The episode concluded the arc with Jaime’s capture and rape by Jack. Jack even demanded that Jaime “Say my name!” I half expected Jaime to respond with “Heisenberg.” The topic of changing time did come up in the finale, and it will be interesting to see how this plays out as Outlander is a totally different type of time travel story compared to shows such as 12 Monkeys.

Ron Moore spoke with Deadline about the season finale of Outlander and the plans for next season. The comparison to the recent rape scene on Game of Thrones was also noted:

DEADLINE: The May 17 episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones featured a rape of the Sansa Stark character that erupted into controversy for a show already drenched in sex and violence. Airing so close to that, how do you think what happened there will impact reaction to the Outlander finale?

MOORE: Obviously we wrote the finale, shoot it, and put in the can a long time ago and the rape of Jamie by Jack Randall was always a part of this story. Suddenly I’m talking about our show and we’re stepping into a cultural moment where that Game of Thrones scene has suddenly grabbed everybody’s attention.

To be honest, I still haven’t even seen it. I’m behind in my Game of Thrones and I have yet to catch up on it so I keep sort of defying comparisons as a result. But I will say, it’s just one of those things you can’t control. You never know exactly what pop cultural moment a show is going to step into. Sometimes it happens and there’s nothing else around it, sometimes you’re sort of moving into the stream where something has caused a wake and that’s kind of where we are at this moment.

DEADLINE: While you haven’t seen the Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken episode of Game Of Thrones with the rape, having seen the sandstorm of a controversy it blew up into, did you think of toning down the finale?

MOORE: I’ve never even thought that for a second. This is our show. We stand by it. I stand by it. We made our decision. We’re ready to show it to the audience and we’ll see what happens, but no I never even thought about that…

DEADLINE: The season ended on what is basically the end of the first book in Diana Gabaldon’s series – is that going to be the strategy for each season going forward?

MOORE: The general plan is probably to try to do a book a season. Some of the books are bigger than others so we’ve definitely had conversations about, “well, you know, at some point we made need to split a book into two seasons,” but right now we’re not there yet so the plan is to do Dragonfly In Amber for Season 2.

DEADLINE: Are we going to see more changes from that book for Season 2 of the show?

MOORE: There will be twists and turns that aren’t in the book. The second book is more complex than the first book is. It’s a little tougher challenge to adapt it. It takes place in France and it deals with the Jacobite Rebellion. It’s much more political, it weaves in and out of actual historical events. There’s more complexity, just in terms of how Diana structured the story in Paris, in particular, as Jamie and Claire try to change history.

DEADLINE: What’s going to be different?

MOORE: It’s an urban setting and you’re dealing with aristocracy and the court of Louis XV so it’s a whole different thing. It’s not going to look anything like Season 1, so you’re really kind of prepping and shooting a whole new TV show into the second year. It has a lot of, you know, “oh my God, what can we do,” those kind of moments to it…

DEADLINE: You’ve worked on and led a number of shows, now that the first season is over on this one, how has Outlander been different for you from a creative standpoint?

MOORE: Well, it’s a very different experience, you know? Galactica was something where I took the old show and then decided to revamp it and reinvent it. But it was kind of something that I was making up in the writers room as we went along and I literally didn’t know where it was going season to season. It was a process of invention and discovery all the way along the road right up until the end. This project is different, it’s an adaptation so there is a roadmap – this is where we’re going. The challenges are very different. It’s the first time I’ve done an adaptation like this.

Just from a strictly producing standpoint, it’s been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. The story aspect and the writing aspect has just been a very different game from what I’ve done before. It’s trying to maintain the spirit of the book, it’s trying to keep these characters, trying to maintain this story and making changes along the way because you have to make changes along the way. It’s trying to get back to that, and hopefully you’re able to serve two masters, the fans of the books and those who’ve discovered the story through the show.

Outlander Finale Rape

More on next season at TVLINE:

TVLINE | Claire and Jamie are off to France for Season 2. Talk to me about how the show will look next season.
They’re going to Paris, and they’re going to be dealing with the French aristocracy. So you’re already in a completely different planet than where we were with Season 1. Scotland is about heavy stone, rough wood, dark tabletops, smoke and candlelit rooms, and now you’re in world of gilt, fine China, glassware and costumes that are made of silks and bright colors.

It’s going to be a whole different tone, a whole different…playing the story as much more political. We’re dealing with the Jacobite Rebellion. It’s much more about deception, and lies within lies, and the gossips and the surroundings of Paris. And dinner parties, and going to the court of Louis the XV — and if you know those books, there’s St. Germain, and there’s Master Raymond, and there’s more of an occult feeling to a lot of that stuff. [Plus], she’s pregnant, and he’s got the aftermath of Jack Randall.

In probably every which way you can think of, it’s going to be different than Season 1 was, which I think is one of the strengths of the series overall: its continuing evolution.

TVLINE | What can you tell me about how Jamie and Claire will navigate that world?
In a lot of ways, [Parisian society] is more familiar to him in certain ways than you would anticipate, because he is a laird in his own life, and he has lived in France, and he speaks the French language. It is a somewhat familiar culture to him. He does know his cousin, Jared, who runs a wine business, and he’s been to this place. Claire also speaks French, and she’s adapting in a different way, but she still struggles with the roles woman in these times, even in French society.

TVLINE | Do Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan speak French?
Caitriona definitely does, because she spent quite a bit of time in Paris, and Sam is learning French. I just heard him at the table read the other day, and I was pretty surprised. He did quite well.

TVLINE | Can you speak to whether Season 2 won’t be quite as true to the structure of the novel Dragonfly in Amber as Season 1 was to its source material?
It’s just a complicated process of adaptation… The Paris section [of Dragonfly in Amber], the plot is not as clean and simple as the plot was in Book 1. Book 1, for a big chunk of it, is Claire going back in time and trying to get home, and then she’s trying to find Jamie, and those are very clean narratives.

The Paris section of Book 2 is just more complex. It’s about many more ideas, other characters coming and going. They’re involved in something that’s more complex Diana [Gabaldon] shifted points of view, herself, in Book 2. So that alone just makes it a more complicated task to make the adaptation. So, yeah, we’re still struggling with the same things, with trying to be as true to the book as we possibly can while making it a television series. We always just try to do our best.

Game of Thrones Sparrows

Last week’s episode of Games of Thrones had a couple of major events, including Cersei finding that a religious movement now has more power than she does. George R.R. Martin discussed his inspiration for The Sparrows in The Game of Thrones with Entertainment Weekly:

“The Sparrows are my version of the medieval Catholic Church, with its own fantasy twist,” Martin told EW. “If you look at the history of the church in the Middle Ages, you had periods where you had very worldly and corrupt popes and bishops. People who were not spiritual, but were politicians. They were playing their own version of the game of thrones, and they were in bed with the kings and the lords. But you also had periods of religious revival or reform—the greatest of them being the Protestant Reformation, which led to the splitting of the church—where there were two or three rival popes each denouncing the other as legitimate. That’s what you’re seeing here in Westeros. The two previous High Septons we’ve seen, the first was very corrupt in his own way, and he was torn apart by the mob during the food riots [in season 2]. The one Tyrion appoints in his stead is less corrupt but is ineffectual and doesn’t make any waves. Cersei distrusts him because Tyrion appointed him. So now she has to deal with a militant and aggressive Protestant Reformation, if you will, that’s determined to resurrect a faith that was destroyed centuries ago by the Targaryens.”

And there are other, more direct influences as well between Catholic Church and the Faith of the Seven as well, Martin pointed out. “Instead of the Trinity of the Catholic Church, you have the Seven, where there is one god with seven aspects. In Catholicism, you have three aspects—the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. I remember as a kid, I was always confused by that. ‘So there are three gods?’ No, one god, but with three aspects. I was still confused: ‘So he’s his own father and own son?’”

Game of Thrones has diverged from the books this season. The show runners discussed one of the changes seen in last week’s episode  which I think makes a lot of sense to move the story along–moving up the meeting between Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen:

Showrunner David Benioff said pairing these two characters—played by Emmy winner Peter Dinklage and Emmy nominee Emilia Clarke—was one of the twists the producers most eagerly anticipated this season. “We’re really excited to see these two characters we love so much finally set eyes on each other,” Benioff said. “Creatively it made sense to us, because we wanted it to happen. They’re two of the best characters of the show. To have them come so close together this season then have them not meet felt incredibly frustrating. Also, we’re on a relatively fast pace. We don’t want to do a 10-year adaptation of the books, we don’t want to do a nine-year adaptation. We’re not going to spend four seasons in Meereen. It’s time for these two to get together. It’s hard to come up with a more eloquent explanation, but this just felt right. [Varys] puts Tyrion’s mission out there [in the season premiere] and the mission ends in Meereen.”

Tyrion and Daenerys have not yet met in George R.R. Martin’s novels upon which the series is based. But as is increasingly the case on the show, the producers opted to progress the story beyond the characters’ stopping point in Martin’s most recent book, A Dance with Dragons, in order to maintain an intense TV-friendly pace. Benioff and his fellow showrunner Dan Weiss have previously pointed out they prefer to cap the series around seven seasons.

“There will always be some fans who will think it’s blasphemy,” Benioff noted. “But we can’t not do something because we’re afraid of the reaction. I like to think we’ve always done what’s in the best interest of the show and we hope most people agree.”

The first real conversation between Daenerys and Tyrion, which occurs on tonight’s episode, should be interesting.

Game of Thrones The Gift

Both Ron Moore and George R.R. Martin have dealt with questions of the television works they are involved with differing from the books. Martin recently addressed fans who have been upset with events on the television show which differ from the books, such as the rape of Sansa, on his blog:

How many children did Scarlett O’Hara have? Three, in the novel. One, in the movie. None, in real life: she was a fictional character, she never existed. The show is the show, the books are the books; two different tellings of the same story.

There have been differences between the novels and the television show since the first episode of season one. And for just as long, I have been talking about the butterfly effect. Small changes lead to larger changes lead to huge changes. HBO is more than forty hours into the impossible and demanding task of adapting my lengthy (extremely) and complex (exceedingly) novels, with their layers of plots and subplots, their twists and contradictions and unreliable narrators, viewpoint shifts and ambiguities, and a cast of characters in the hundreds.

There has seldom been any TV series as faithful to its source material, by and large (if you doubt that, talk to the Harry Dresden fans, or readers of the Sookie Stackhouse novels, or the fans of the original WALKING DEAD comic books)… but the longer the show goes on, the bigger the butterflies become. And now we have reached the point where the beat of butterfly wings is stirring up storms, like the one presently engulfing my email.

Prose and television have different strengths, different weaknesses, different requirements.

David and Dan and Bryan and HBO are trying to make the best television series that they can.

And over here I am trying to write the best novels that I can.

And yes, more and more, they differ. Two roads diverging in the dark of the woods, I suppose… but all of us are still intending that at the end we will arrive at the same place.S

The video above has interviews with the cast of Legends of Tomorrow, and the first few seconds shows them in uniform. This includes Caity Lotz returning as The White Canary, and a scene showing The Atom shrinking.

Disney has announced they have discontinued plans for Tron 3. While some fans are complaining, I don’t mind. I see the Tron series as something out of the past which which we have moved beyond and no longer need–like another Clinton or Bush running for president. Besides, with Disney owning the movie rights to Marvel and Star Wars they have much better genre properties to develop into movies, such as we have much better politicians to consider for the presidency.

The Community sixth season finale will be on Yahoo this upcoming week. Yvette Nicole Brown will return to reprise her role as Shirley. Then is is six seasons and a movie?

Orphan Black Mexico

Orphan Black did not advance the overall story very much this week. We don’t even know if anyone survived Paul’s grenade, but it was confirmed that the military installation was in Mexico. The highlight was another case of one clone impersonating another, in this case Cosima as Alison. Next it is the time for the suburban drug deals to play host family for Helena.

Showtime has doubled the length of the planned Twin Peaks reboot from nine to eighteen episodes.

Jon Hamm should walk away with the Emmy this year for his work on Mad Men.  Hamm has also showed other acting talent doing comedy work such  as on 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Next he has a more dramatic movie role, string in a political thriller, High Wire Act. From The Hollywood Reporter:

Jon Hamm has signed on to star in the Tony Gilroy-penned political action-thriller High Wire Act. Brad Anderson is directing the film for Radar Pictures.

Set in 1980s Beirut, Hamm plays a former U.S. diplomat who is called back into service to save a former colleague from the group possibly responsible for his own family’s death.

Netflix has renewed another show well worth watching, Grace and Frankie, for a second season. Netflix, incidentally, accounted for 37 percent of internet bandwidth during peak hours in North America in March. According to  Variety, “YouTube accounted for 15.6% of downstream Internet traffic, web browsing was 6%, Facebook was 2.7%, Amazon Instant Video was 2.0% and Hulu was 1.9%.”

In addition to increased viewing of television from streaming sources. podcasts are becoming more popular, with Serial one of the biggest. It has been announced that Serial will have at least three seasons, with the second season coming this fall.

Halt and Catch Fire starts its second season on AMC tonight. Reviewers are saying it has fixed many of its first season problems and the second season sounds worth watching.

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Our Muslim Socialist President Cannot Be A Christian If He Speaks The Truth About Christian History

Obama National Prayer Breakfast

With the possible exception of Brian Williams telling tall tales about his adventures in Iraq, the most controversial statement this week appears to be Barack Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast. Obama said:

So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities – the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends?

Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ…. So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.

The right wing blogosphere is very upset–so upset that Erick Erickson writes that, “Barack Obama is not, in any meaningful way, a Christian…” Considering that many on the far right have thought for a long time that Obama is a Muslim socialist from Kenya, this is hardly anything surprising from them.

Despite this outrage, it is hard to see anything all that shocking in what Obama said. Steve Benen writes, ” that the president’s critics aren’t really outraged, but instead are playing a cynical little game in the name of partisan theater. It must be the latest in an endless series of manufactured outrages, because the alternative – that the right is genuinely disgusted – is literally hard to believe.” As he points out, “No faith tradition has a monopoly on virtue or peace; none of the world’s major religions can look back in history and not find chapters they now regret.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates isn’t at all subtle in his contempt for the right wing response with a post entitled The Foolish, Historically Illiterate, Incredible Response to Obama’s Prayer Breakfast Speech. Ignorant, but what should we expect from extremists who include people with views such as that the United States was created as a Christian nation, rigging the system to transfer wealth from the middle class to the ultra-wealthy will help the economy, global warming is a hoax, and that intelligent design is a valid alternative to evolution?

Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig writes that Obama Was Right to Compare Christianity’s Violent Past to the Islamic State:

By limiting his criticism of Christian violence to the Crusades and Inquisition, Obama kept his critique of Christian horrors to centuries past. But one need not look back so far to find more recent Christians behaving terribly in the name of Christ. The atrocities of the Bosnian War, including the systematic rape of women and girls, was perpetrated largely by Christians against Muslims; meanwhile, many of the Christian churches of Rwanda were intimately involved in the politicking that produced the genocide of 1994, with some clergy even reported to have participated in the violence.

The degree to which, in retrospect, we are willing to condemn violent perversions of faith often has to do with their proximity to us. Most will now admit, however grudgingly, that the Crusades and Inquisition were efforts to carry out some construal of God’s will, however mistaken and otherwise motivated. With more recent conflicts, such as Bosnia and Rwanda, we are more apt to see Christianity as a single thread in a web of ethnic and political tensions that was ultimately only one cause among the many that ultimately culminated in brutality. And this analysis is probably right.

But it is also probably true of the terrorism perpetrated by ISIS, which has been roundly denounced as contrary to the principles of Islam by a host of Muslim leaders and clerics, most recently after the murder of Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh. Like war crimes and individual acts of brutality committed within the Christian world, the pattern of tensions that has produced ISIS, in all its unthinkable cruelty, seems to be broader and deeper than its self-proclaimed religious convictions. For those not searching for a source of personal offense, this is the only point Obama’s remarks on the religious violence enacted by Christians really conveys.

And it is, at last, a hopeful point: If we in the Christian world are capable of owning the monstrosities of our past, identifying their sources as multivalent and contrary to our faith, and holding one another accountable for the behavior we exhibit moving forward, then so are the members of the faiths we live alongside in the world. But accountability requires honesty, and pretending that Christians have never attributed violence to the cause of Christ is a disservice to modern peacemaking and to the victims of the past. Obama was right to take a clear-eyed view of the years that have come before, and to look hopefully to what we can do together as a multi-faith nation in the years to come.

Ed Kilgore first responded to the right wing attacks here, and then had a follow-up post responding specifically to Erick Erickson:

I also hate to break it to ol’ Erick, but there’s pretty ample scriptural support for the idea that Jesus Christ was a bit of a “moral relativist” himself—you know, the beam and the mote , “Judge Not That Ye Be Not Judged,” “the Sabbath is for man,” the woman by the well, the good Samaritan, the Two Great Commandments, etc. etc. I don’t think Erickson’s disposition has been improved by his recent matriculation at a conservative Calvinist seminary. But then again, I’m not denying the authenticity of his faith, he’s denying the authenticity of mine—and Barack Obama’s.

This likely does fall under the category of attacking anything that Barack Obama says. I’m still waiting for the conservative response should Obama every tell them not to eat yellow snow. In reality, conservatives have far more to worry about than Barack Obama making some quite obvious comments in an era when even the Pope is now taking the opposite position on several issues.

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Gallup Finds Increase In Self-Described Liberals

Gallup Liberals

In a poll of limited significance, Gallup has found an increase in the number of self-described liberals:

Conservatives continued to outnumber moderates and liberals in the U.S. population in 2014, as they have since 2009. However, their 14-percentage-point edge over liberals last year, 38% vs. 24%, is the smallest in Gallup’s trends since 1992. The percentage of U.S. adults identifying themselves as politically conservative in 2014 was unchanged from 2013, as was the percentage of moderates, at 34%, while the percentage considering themselves liberal rose a percentage point for the third straight year.

While not a huge number, this might contradict the idea that the Republican midterm victory was a sign of greater support for conservative views.

I find this to be of limited significance as people tend to take more liberal positions on polls than would be expected if self-described labels had a real bearing on political positions. I have generally seen this poll to be more a measure of the demonization of the word liberal by the right wing noise machine than a measure of ideological beliefs, and perhaps this trend shows that conservatives are having less success in demonizing liberals.

Besides polling on issues, I find the recent Pew survey on religious affiliation to be more meaningful than this poll. Among their findings which might be of significance in speculating on political trends, Pew found that “Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.”

Another finding of interest is that, while 70 percent of Republicans label themselves conservative, only 44 percent of Democrats label themselves liberal. Is this due to a majority of Democrats not being liberal, or again due to people simply avoiding the term liberal? I suspect it is a combination of each, with the Democratic Party being a more centrist party, but also with many Democrats supporting liberal positions without using the liberal label.

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Fox Twitter Hashtag Backfires

On Tuesday Fox & Friends asked Twitter users to post things they were over with the hashtag #OverIt2014. They started with Fake Journalist Barbie tweeting, “I’m over attacks against Christianity.” This worked out about how you might expect.  Gawker reported some of the snarky responses, and far more are now up:

You get the idea. The responses are continuing to come in at a rapid rate.

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Conservative Activist Court Rules That Employers Can Impose Their Religious Views On Employees In Hobby Lobby Case

Republicans have long claimed that Roe v. Wade was an act of an activist court to impose liberal views upon them, energizing many religious conservatives to turn out to vote for them. Today’s Supreme Court decision allowing come companies to avoid the requirements in the Affordable Care Act to include contraception on religious grounds might do the opposite. This decision will undoubtedly anger many women who will see this as meaning that their access to contraception coverage is dependent upon their employer, while the Affordable Care Act was intended to free them of this limitation and provide access to affordable contraception. It also highlights what has been clear for years that the agenda of the religious right is to block not only abortion but contraception.

Mother Jones has gathered eight of the best lines in Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent in the Hobby Lobby case:

  • Ginsburg wrote that her five male colleagues, “in a decision of startling breadth,” would allow corporations to opt out of almost any law that they find “incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
  • “The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would…deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage”
  • “Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community.”
  • “Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby’s or Conestoga’s plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the woman’s autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults.”
  • “It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month’s full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage.”
  • “Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.”
  • “Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be ‘perceived as favoring one religion over another,’ the very ‘risk the [Constitution’s] Establishment Clause was designed to preclude.”
  • “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

Think Progress pointed out how this is not a victory for religious freedom and hurts people of faith:

But while conservatives would have the American public believe that protecting Hobby Lobby is about protecting all religious people, the reality is that today’s ruling actually hurts people of faith. In fact, a Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) survey conducted in early June found that a substantial majority of almost every major U.S. Christian group support the idea that publicly-held corporations and privately-owned corporations should be required to provide employees with healthcare plans that cover contraception and birth control at no cost. This is likely why so many progressive Christian leaders have vocally opposed Hobby Lobby in the press, why Americans United for the Separation of Church and State submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court opposing Hobby Lobby on behalf of nearly 30 religious organizations, and why both the Jewish Social Policy Action Network and the American Jewish Committee submitted their own amicus briefs decrying the corporation’s position.

And while white evangelicals were an outlier in the PRRI poll — only 40 percent of evangelical respondents supported the ACA’s contraception mandate for privately-owned corporations — a sizable cadre of conservative Christians have publicly articulated nuanced, faith-based opposition to the case in recent months, drawing attention to the fact that Hobby Lobby only speaks for a small minority of people of faith in America. David Gushee, an evangelical Christian professor of Christian Ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University, offered an extensive treatment of the case in the Associated Baptist Press in April. He examined the issue from the perspective of a Christian theologian, noting that any attempt to broaden the legal status of businesses to include religious exemptions — however well-intentioned — is inconsistent, dangerous, and unfair to other religious Americans.

“One way to look at it is this: The whole point of establishing a corporation is to create an entity separate from oneself to limit legal liability,” he writes. “Therefore, Hobby Lobby is asking for special protections/liability limits that only a corporation can get on the one hand, and special protections that only individuals, churches and religious organizations get, on the other. It seems awfully dangerous to allow corporations to have it both ways.“

In addition to fearing the social implications of a pro-Hobby Lobby ruling, other evangelical Christians take umbrage with the theological premise undergirding their case — namely, that opposing the ACA mandate is somehow an extension of a pro-life position. Richard Cizik, former Vice President for Governmental Affairs for the National Association of evangelicals, wrote in the Huffington Post this weekend that evangelicals who support Hobby Lobby “are not actually being pro-religious freedom or pro-life.” Similarly, Julia K. Stronks, evangelical Christian and political science professor at Whitworth University, teamed up with Jeffrey F. Peipert, a Jewish family-planning physician, to pen an op-ed for Roll Call earlier this month in which they argue that granting Hobby Lobby religious exemption will actually lead to more abortions. They write:

Although the owners of these for-profit corporations oppose the contraceptive requirement because of their pro-life religious beliefs, the requirement they oppose will dramatically reduce abortions. … Imagine a million fewer unintended pregnancies. Imagine healthier babies, moms and families. Imagine up to 800,000 fewer abortions. No matter your faith or political beliefs, our hunch is that we can all agree that fewer unplanned pregnancies and fewer abortions would be a blessing.

Jonathan Merritt, an evangelical Christian writer and blogger for the Religion News Service, went even further in his theological challenge to the case, arguing that conservative evangelicals shouldn’t call businesses “Christian” in the first place.

“The New Testament never—not one time—applies the ‘Christian’ label to a business or even a government,” he writes. “The tag is applied only to individuals. If the Bible is your ultimate guide, the only organization one might rightly term ‘Christian’ is a church. And this is only because a church in the New Testament is not a building or a business, but a collection of Christian individuals who have repented, believed on Christ, and are pursuing a life of holiness.”

These voices represent the majority of religious Americans who insist that today’s pro-Hobby Lobby decision isn’t about protecting “religious liberty.” Instead, it’s just a victory for one kind of religion, specifically the (usually conservative) faith of those privileged enough to own and operate massive corporations. That might be good news for the wealthy private business owners like the heads of Hobby Lobby, but for millions of religious Americans sitting in the pews — not to mention thousands working in Hobby Lobby stores — their sacred and constitutional right to religious freedom just became compromised.

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David Brat’s Views On Economics And Religion

brat_cantor

The surprising defeat of Eric Cantor last night appears to be largely due to the personal faults on Cantor’s part along with possible preference for the more extremist views of David Brat, despite Cantor’s dishonest ads calling him a liberal college professor. It does not appear that cross over Democratic voters had a meaningful impact on the results. Cantor’s problems appear more cultural than strict ideology as pointed out at The New York Times.

David Wasserman, a House political analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said another, more local factor has to be acknowledged: Mr. Cantor, who dreamed of becoming the first Jewish speaker of the House, was culturally out of step with a redrawn district that was more rural, more gun-oriented and more conservative.

“Part of this plays into his religion,” Mr. Wasserman said. “You can’t ignore the elephant in the room.”

The New York Times does go overboard in calling Cantor’s loss a bad omen for moderates. While Brat is more extreme in opposing immigration reform and raising the debt ceiling to meet our financial obligations, Cantor is hardly a moderate. As Steve Benen pointed out, “He has a 95% lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, for goodness’ sake.”

Brat has been called a follower of Ayn Rand, and his victory could be seen as a loss for crony capitalism. Whenever I hear that a Republican is a follower of Ayn Rand I wonder if they are aware of or acknowledge Rand’s atheism and strong hostility towards religion. Brat’s economic writings have shown a view of religion which Ayn Rand would never accept. The Wall Street Journal writes:

In the paper, titled “Is Growth Exogenous? Taking Bernanke Seriously (But How Can a Fed Guy Forget the Institutions)”, Mr. Brat waded into a debate among economists over the determinants of long-term growth with this conclusion: Mr. Bernanke’s work on economic growth overlooked the role that religious institutions–particularly Protestant ones–play in driving a country’s growth rates.

In his argument against Mr. Bernanke, Mr. Brat draws on previous research titled “Economic Growth and Institutions: The Rise and Fall of the Protestant Ethic?” a 2004 paper in which he wrote that Protestantism “provides an efficient set of property rights and encourages a modern set of economic incentives” so “one might anticipate positive economic performance.”

“Give me a country in 1600 that had a Protestant led contest for religious and political power and I will show you a country that is rich today,” he wrote.

On the other hand, another article in The Wall Street Journal suggests he does not accept the agenda of the religious right:

Can Christians force others to follow their ethical teachings on social issues? Note that consistency is lacking on all sides of this issue. The political Right likes to champion individual rights and individual liberty, but it has also worked to enforce morality in relation to abortion, gambling, and homosexuality. The Left likes to think of itself as the bulwark of progressive liberal individualism, and yet it seeks to progressively coerce others to fund every social program under the sun via majority rule. Houston, we have a problem. Coercion is on the rise. What is the root word for liberalism? (Answer: Liberty)

It is of course a straw man argument to claim that the left seeks to fund every social program under the sun. Unless he means the cost of established and highly successful programs such as Medicare and Social Security, the spending advocated by most liberals on social programs is far less than Republicans have coerced others to pay, such as on the Iraq War. Bush’s policies, including both his spending and tax cuts for the wealthy have had far more impact on the deficit that liberal social programs. Despite his acceptance of these rather naive right wing talking points, it is encouraging that Brat has opposed the Republican use of government to enforce the social views of the religious right. It remains to be seen if he will buck the Republicans on such issues when voting in Congress.

Update: Mother Jones takes a look at Brat’s libertarian views, including slashing spending on Medicare,  Social Security, and education. What happens when you cut funding on education? A lack of understanding of science, leading to people falling for denial of climate change.

Update II: There has been considerable speculation that Brat won due to Cantor’s views on immigration. It is not clear that this was the reason for Brat’s victory. A survey from Public Policy Polling showed that there was not widespread opposition to Cantor’s views on immigration in his district but it is possible that those turning out in a Republican primary held stronger anti-immigration views than the general population. Both blogs on the left (such as Mother Jones) and right (such as Hot Air) have questioned if immigration was the reason Cantor lost.

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Twenty-Eight Percent Of Americans Believe Bible Is The Literal Word Of God

Gallup Bible Word of God

I recently cited a Gallup poll which showed that 42 percent of Americans believe in creationism. With that in mind, I imagine it is a good thing that a lower number, 28 percent, believe that the Bible is the literal word of God. Gallup reports that this is below the 38 percent to 40 percent seen in the late 1970s, and near the all-time lows of 27 percent seen in 2001 and 2009. However, “half of Americans continue to say the Bible is the inspired word of God, not to be taken literally — meaning a combined 75% believe the Bible is in some way connected to God.” Gallup also found that 21 percent see the Bible as  “ancient fables, legends, history, and precepts written by man.” While discouragingly low, at least this is up from only 13 percent in 1976.

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Threats To Republican Dogma From Same Sex Marriage To The Environment And Economy

Gallup Same Sex Marriagew

Gallup has found that support for legalization of same sex marriage has reached a new high at 55 percent. The upward trend is supported by both changing views among all age groups and increased support among the young. Support for gay marriage by those between the ages of 18 and 29 has increased to 78 percent suggesting that the overall trend will continue.

There is considerable weakening of support for the agenda of the religious right, and Republicans cannot count on support for their agenda from all religious groups. Pope Francis contradicted right wing views on the environment and climate change waring that, “if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us!” Earlier in the month he contradicted Republican economic dogma by calling for “the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the state, as well as indispensable cooperation between the private sector and civil society.”

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Another Study Showing No Medical Benefits From Prayer

Periodically there have been reports in which someone actually bothered to compare medical outcomes with and without prayer. As expected, no benefit was found from situations in which someone was praying for someone else without their knowledge (to remove any psychological benefits). Irregular Times has reported on another study:

Does prayer really work wonders? Not according to epidemiologst Maria Inês da Rosa.

Da Rosa and her research team published results of a double-blind randomized trial in the Brazilian Journal of Science and Public Health last year. Half of the more than five hundred pregnant women in the trial had their health prayed for from a distance by a prayer team. The other half received no such prayers. When Da Rosa’s team measured the apgar scores, type of delivery and birth weight of the two groups, there was no difference in pregnancy outcomes.

A few years ago, intercessory prayer researchers were promising a golden age in which they would supposedly prove the effectiveness of their religion. That’s not happening. Careful science is establishing the opposite.

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John Hagee Sees Russian Invasion Of Ukraine As Fulfillment Of Biblical Prophesy On The End Times

There is a tendency in any crisis to find analogies to similar events. It is inevitable that the Russian invasion of Ukraine will bring back memories of previous wars in Europe, especially the Cold War and Nazi Germany. While still not how we want borders drawn in the 21st century, and a clear violation of international law, even if Russia were to annex Crimea on the pretext of a popular vote, this would not be the same as the Soviet Union invading Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. There are certainly some comparisons which could be made, but Hillary Clinton was right to walk back her comparison to Nazi Germany.

Commentary on the Ukrainian crisis has varied. I have previously linked to some of the better commentary here and here. We have hysterical Republicans trying to place the blame on Obama, as they do with everything which happens in the world. Politico is more reasonable today in pointing out Why the Cold War isn’t back. Among the nuttiest commentary came from John Hagee (video above) who has for a long time found Biblical references to the Soviet Union and now Russia. He sees the Russian invasion of Ukraine as fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and that we are now in the End Times. Hagee has previously seen events including the 9/11 attack, the 2008 financial breakdown and Katrina as part of God’s judgment.  Hagee also believes that God created the United States and the Constitution, views recently repeated by Tom DeLay.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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