Friday, April 25, 2008

Like-Minded, Living Nearby

BOOK REVIEW of "The Big Sort" By Bill Bishop. "Like flocks with like" rediscovered. "Diversity" unpopular

The more diverse America becomes, the more homogeneous it becomes. No, that's not a misprint; it is the thesis of "The Big Sort," Bill Bishop's rich and challenging book about the ways in which the citizens of this country have, in the past generation, rearranged themselves into discrete enclaves that have little to say to one another and little incentive to bother trying. "As Americans have moved over the past three decades," Mr. Bishop proclaims, "they have clustered in communities of sameness, among people with similar ways of life, beliefs and in the end, politics."

It is an idea that has all but obsessed Mr. Bishop since he began thinking about it years ago in his hometown of Austin, Texas. In his Austin neighborhood, he observed, there were virtually no Republicans. In another community of similar size nearby there were very few Democrats. Thirty years earlier, he was willing to bet, nothing like that uniformity would have been possible. Values, ideology and partisanship would have mingled more variously in even the most compact neighborhood, ward or district.

This hunch and others led Mr. Bishop to write a series of widely discussed newspaper articles, and now, finally, a full-length presentation of the argument. I have always been skeptical about the clustering thesis myself, but there is one simple statistic, rightly seized on by Mr. Bishop, that is difficult to explain away. It is this: In 1976, less than a quarter of the American people lived in so-called "landslide counties" - that is, counties in which the spread between the two major presidential candidates was 20 percentage points or more. By 2004, nearly half of us lived in this kind of politically tilted territory.

How could this be? Well, we know one thing: It isn't gerrymandering. Nobody redraws the boundaries of a county every 10 years; they often stay the same for a century. Nor does it have much to do with natural population increase, which might push one group or another into a new proportional dominance within a certain geographical area. As it happens, there has been relatively little population growth in most parts of the country. The longer one thinks about it, the more seriously one has to consider Mr. Bishop's claim: that the local landslide effect has been largely the result of demographic resorting.

Why in recent years and not before? In Mr. Bishop's view, resorting is what happens when individuals in a society become more affluent, better educated and freer to make their own personal and political choices. But he also believes that the Big Sort has been a form of escape. As the country attracts more and more immigrants, and as large metropolitan areas become multiracial and multilingual, people feel a strong desire to retreat to the safety of smaller communities where they can live among those who look, think and behave like themselves.

"Americans," Mr. Bishop writes, "lost their sense of a nation by accident in the sweeping economic and cultural shifts that took place after the mid-1960s. And by instinct they have sought out modern-day recreations of the 19th-century 'island communities' in where and how they live." Not red and blue states, he is quick to insist; he calls that clich‚ an illusion. The reality is red and blue wards and precincts, suburbs and counties.

To be sure, a few obstacles confront anyone who wishes to accept this argument in toto. Research by the political scientist Morris Fiorina, for example, shows that, on most important issues, one doesn't find a wide ideological division according to geography. Counties do differ in their attitudes toward Iraq, abortion and foreign trade but not by nearly as much as Mr. Bishop's Big Sort would suggest. Mr. Fiorina argues that it's the political parties and their leadership that are fomenting political culture wars, not rank-and-file voters.

I accept the validity of this research, but I don't think it necessarily undermines Mr. Bishop's thesis. What if voters looked at the candidates in 2004 and decided - in clusters - that one of the nominees was the kind of person that they would like to have as neighbor, tennis partner or fellow-parishioner - and the other one simply wasn't? This is how Mr. Bishop explains the results in 2004, and he makes a decent case.

Certainly it is a case that the two major parties have come to accept. Soon after the 2000 election, Bush pollster Matthew Dowd reported to Karl Rove that there wasn't much point in focusing any campaign on independents or moderate voters anymore. The country was too polarized, essentially along the cultural lines that Mr. Bishop lays out. "If you drive a Volvo and do yoga, you are pretty much a Democrat," Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman said in 2004. "If you drive a Lincoln or a BMW and you own a gun, you're voting for Bush." Mr. Bishop would agree. He would simply add that the yoga people have clustered in one set of culturally segregated enclaves and the gun owners in another.

Mr. Bishop has drawn a painstaking, and in my view, accurate picture of the first eight years of this century - certainly of its politics. Whether he has described the next eight years is not so clear. George Bush has been a deeply polarizing political leader. John McCain doesn't seem to be one; Barack Obama is determined not to be one; and Hillary Clinton has spent much of the past six months looking for ways to cast herself as a less polarizing figure than she has been in the past. If any one of them succeeds in campaigning and governing on such terms, "The Big Sort" may turn out to be a captivating account of recent history rather than an enduring explanation of American social life.


Leftists don't need facts

In his upcoming biography of Jesus, "Basic Instinct" director Paul Verhoeven will make the shocking claim that Christ probably was the son of Mary and a Roman soldier who raped her during the Jewish uprising in Galilee. An Amsterdam publishing house said Wednesday it will publish the Dutch filmmaker's biography of Jesus, "Jesus of Nazareth: A Realistic Portrait," in September. It will be translated into English in 2009, Marianna Sterk of the publishing house J.M. Meulenhoff said. Verhoeven hopes it will be a springboard for him to raise interest in making a film along the same lines, she said.

The 69-year-old director, who also directed "Showgirls" - starring Elizabeth Berkley in one of the most panned films of the '90s - and sci-fi action hits like "Total Recall" and "RoboCop," as well as the sci-fi bust "Starship Troopers," claims he and co-biographer Rob van Scheers have written the most realistic portrayal of Jesus ever published. In addition to suggesting that the Virgin Mary may have been a rape victim, the book will also say that Christ was not betrayed by Judas Iscariot, one of the 12 original apostles of Jesus, as the New Testament states.

Catholic League President Bill Donohue called Verhoeven's claim about Mary "laughable." "Here we go again with idle speculation grounded in absolutely nothing," Donohue told "He has no empirical evidence to support his claim, which is why they say 'may have.'" Donohue also mocked the fact that Verhoeven - best known for directing the famous Sharon Stone crotch scene in "Basic Instinct" - reportedly worked on the book for 20 years, only to come up with a "probably."

"He's been working 20 years trying to sell this argument and hasn't come up with anything," Donohue said. "This won't make a dent with Christians, nor with scholars somewhat wary of the biblical account. "It's a European version of Hollywood. He should go back to Sharon Stone's legs."

Kirk Bingaman, director of the pastoral counseling program at Fordham University's Graduate School of Religion, said the idea that Mary was raped and that the rapist was Jesus' father is not new. "The idea goes back to ancient sources from the 1st or 2nd century; I personally don't put a lot of stock in it. How would we ever know? We don't have any empirical proof. I subscribe to the Apostles' Creed that Jesus was conceived of the Virgin Mary," he said.

Over the years, Verhoeven, who is Catholic and holds a doctorate in mathematics and physics from the University of Leiden, was a regular attendee of the Jesus Seminar, which was co-founded by the late religion scholar Robert W. Funk. The seminar called into question miracles and statements attributed to Jesus. "The Jesus Seminar was big in the '80s and somewhat in the '90s," Donohue said. "They have been very controversial in challenging the accepted biblical account of Jesus. The goal is to question the divinity of Christ - to say he was nothing but a happy carpenter who worked at Lowe's or Home Depot."


Blessing vs. Damning America

"I've spoken of the shining city all my political life.... [I]n my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed...." - President Ronald Reagan, Farewell Address, January 11, 1989

"'God Bless America?' No, no, no, God d--- America.... God d--- America.... God d--- America!!" - Jeremiah Wright, pastor to Barack Obama for two decades
The spiritual mentors of Ronald Reagan shaped his understanding and vision of America's role in the world. Why would anyone assume the same does not hold true for Barack Obama?

Americans have always been a religious people, with the vast majority believing in God and a consistent majority attending religious services -- from the founding to today. The so-called worldview and even politics of many Americans are frequently shaped, guided, or reinforced by what they hear week after week from behind the pulpit, from the person of God they respect and usually admire as their pastor. A pastor leads the flock. A good pastor reads and applies Scripture to the times -- to the events of the day. Pastors hold an immense responsibility, as they can very well mold a citizen, leader, and even that rarest of congregants who have the extraordinary potential to become president of the United States.

Academics who study religion and politics talk about "civil religion." Jean Jacques Rousseau maintained that no state had ever been founded without a religious basis, nor could it survive without appealing to its citizens through some form of religion, or, as he put it, through some form of "civil religion." Citizens need a transcendent cause, something larger in which to believe. For most typical states, civil religion is understood as an infusion of sacred principles drawn from a nation's own civil traditions and from those of a conventional, organized religion -- a kind of mixture of political allegiance and religious sentiment.

America itself is a good illustration of this. In American history, civil religion has been associated with positives images -- America as a promised land and new Jerusalem, Americans as a chosen people, to name just two. In fact, many left-leaning academics do not like how this fusing of the political and the religious has led, in their view, to excessive patriotism, in which America is seen as possessing a dangerous notion of divine mandate that can err on the side of self-righteousness and imperialism. And of course, that's a balance that any American leader needs to be careful to keep in mind. Nonetheless, overall, this sort of civil religion perceives America positively.

To the contrary, there is another admixture of faith and politics that strays in the other direction -- a kind of un-civil religion, I suppose. This brand draws from America's worst sins, real and imagined, and employs them to construct a terrible America, one that has been a force for hell and havoc in this world -- so bad that it deserves the worst calamities that befall it, like everyday business people being ignited into flames and violently dislodged from atop the World Trade Center buildings on September 11, 2001. Rather than an image of America whose first leader knelt in the snow of Valley Forge to seek the counsel of Divine Providence, here's an America whose men in charge border the demonic, heading to the lab to manufacture everything from crack cocaine to the AIDS virus so they can kill black Americans.

This view of America is the one, of course, perpetuated by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, pastor to Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination and quite possibly the next president of the United States. It is a toxic brew that we can only hope and pray has not sunk deep into the marrow of the bones of Senator Obama. That hateful view of an insidious, malevolent America might be contrasted with the kind of America that President Ronald Reagan -- regularly ranked as one of our most beloved presidents -- learned about from the pulpit:

Reagan was heavily influenced by his pastor in Dixon, Illinois, a man named Ben Cleaver, who was a father figure to the young Reagan. Cleaver had attended the University of Chicago, near Obama and Wright's church, and learned to read Hebrew and classical Greek. He was well read and curious, intellectual, and patriotic, harboring a faith in the American founders, given to invoking the likes of Washington and Lincoln. On one such speech to the local American Legion in February 1927, Cleaver spoke of the decidedly different upbringings of the two presidents, emphasizing that neither man's background, whether rich or poor, stopped him from making his mark on history.

Cleaver, a member of the Disciples of Christ denomination, was influenced by church leaders like Alexander Campbell. For Campbell and other 19th century Disciples, America's destiny was often prophetically interpreted, and the nation had a democratic mission to save the world from autocrats. Campbell believed the world's fate rested on America. In July 1830, Campbell declared the world "must look" to America "for its emancipation from the most heartless spiritual despotism ever." "This is our special mission in the world as a nation and a people," said Campbell, "and for this purpose the Ruler of nations has raised us up and made us the wonder and the admiration of the world." Campbell confidently predicted the "speedy overthrow" of "false religion [and] oppressive governments." He spoke of America as a "beacon," a "light unto the nations."

This was the kind of instruction that Ronald Reagan got from his church and the pulpit of Rev. Ben Cleaver, not to mention similarly uplifting messages from additional pastors, like the Rev. Cleveland Kleihauer, who pastored Reagan's church in Hollywood when Reagan was at an age comparable to Barack Obama during his time with Rev. Wright.

From his religious instruction and own reading, Ronald Reagan came to view America as "A Shining City Upon a Hill," which he anchored in his understanding of the Old and New Testament and from his knowledge of what John Winthrop had proclaimed aboard the Arabella off the Massachusetts coast in 1630, the latter of which Reagan recited by heart. The message Reagan took from Matthew 5:14-16 (New Testament) is especially telling. The passage reads:
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men....
A nation that reflects God is not a nation to be hidden under a bowl, Reagan held, just as one would not light a lamp and then cover it with a bowl, not shining its light and extinguishing itself in the process. There's no point to lighting a lamp merely to cover it. Likewise, there's no point to a nation that's a beacon hiding itself. The faithful are not to harness the light only for themselves and their own warmth, but to share and spread it. One must bring that light to where it is needed -- to cast it upon the darkness. For Reagan, that would mean (especially) upon the Soviet Union - an empire he called "evil," and a land he dubbed "the heart of darkness."

Reagan both privatized and nationalized -- and even internationalized -- Matthew 5:14-16. He spoke of the "city on a hill" in this passage as a "Shining City Upon a Hill," as a "beacon." This is what Reagan wanted America to be: a model for all others, a guiding light . He saw America as divinely blessed and chosen to lead the world to freedom. "I've always believed that this blessed land was set apart in a special way," Reagan said literally innumerable times, "that some divine plan placed this great continent here between the two oceans." It was a divine edict to bring freedom to the world-one that Reagan sought to fulfill. As he summed up in his Farewell Address from the Oval Office on January 11, 1989: "We stood, again, for freedom.... We meant to change a nation, and instead, we changed a world." In short, Reagan's optimistic view of America would compel him to lead a positive America to create a better world. Reagan looked at America and saw freedom, not slavery.

And that's the kind of thinking that Ronald Reagan took from his religious instruction, beginning with the pulpit of Ben Cleaver. It is not the view of America that Barack Obama has taken from his pulpit of choice. In Obama's case, we can only hope he wasn't ever listening to Pastor Jeremiah Wright's deranged, angry sermons, or that these rants somehow managed to have no effect whatsoever on the senator, his wife, and his children. What are the chances of that?

In a July 1983 speech, Ronald Reagan noted that "two visions of the world remain locked in dispute." One was the American vision, said Reagan, which "believes all men are created equal by a loving God who has blessed us with freedom." The other vision was the Soviet one. Here today, we have two visions of America locked in dispute, and poised to produce very different fruit. I prefer the image of a blessed Shining City over the view of an America that is deservedly damned.


Who Says You Can't Whip City Hall?

City attacks Christian church -- loses

In these times, there is gloom and doom in almost every article that comes from the pen of conservatives, religionists, political pundits of all stripes including Dem's, GOP's and all the rest of the political parties. Then throw in the global warming crowd and their fellow tree hugging snail darting bunch along with all of the other isms, asms and spasms. Frankly, who even wants to get out of bed in the morning? You've got an Egg McMuffin ulcer before you leave McDonald's now, because they even have TeeVee's in the dining area. And yet, in the midst of all of this defeatism, a small church in Indianapolis with less than thirty members took on the largest city in the State of Indiana with a population of one million, and with the help of the Phoenix based Alliance Defense Fund whupped up on the home of the 500 Mile Race big time. In Biblical language, what they did comes right from those powerful words found in the great hall of faith chapter of Hebrews where it says, "and by faith they subdued kingdoms."

The City of Indianapolis didn't want much from the little congregation. The city fathers just wanted them to bow down and recognize them as little tin horn gods and get a zoning variance or be fined $2500 per day. Pastor Anthony Digrugilliers said "No way," stood on his First Amendment grounds, and won the day for Christ and Religious liberty. The following article by Pat Stegman, Associate Editor of The Trumpet Newsletter, tells the whole thrilling story in detail. Read it, and give thanks to the God of the Bible, the men who gave us the First Amendment, and those like Pastor Digrugilliers and the ADF who are still believe in it and are willing to fight for it.

"Victory Upon Victory": Judge Barker Forced to Reverse Ruling

Pastor Anthony "Toby" Digrugilliers called it a "victory upon a victory" when his church won a zoning case brought against the City of Indianapolis. The US Court of Appeals for the 7th District remanded the case back to the U.S. District Court for reversal, giving Digrugillier and his congregation the right to assemble and worship in their existing location without the burden of applying for a zoning variance.

The Baptist Church of the Westside, a satellite of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple, has been leasing a small house located in a commercially-zoned neighborhood since July 2005. In February 2006, Indianapolis city officials sent a letter saying that the "religious use" of the property violated the city's zoning code. In order to meet at that location, officials explained, they would have to obtain special permission. The city indicated that they would pursue legal action against the church, which could result in an injunction preventing them from worshipping in addition to fines up to $2,500 a day.

Pastor Digrugilliers, on behalf of the church, moved for a preliminary injunction to keep the city from shutting the church down while they proceeded with a court case based on the city's violation of the Constitution and a federal law known as RLUIPA. RLUIPA, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, forbids a local government to "impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that . . . . treats a religious assembly or institution on less than equal terms with a nonreligious assembly or institution." Since comparable secular uses within that zoning area, such as senior citizen centers, assembly halls, and civic groups, would not require a zoning variance, neither should a religious use.

David Langdon, an attorney associated with the Alliance Defense Fund, handled the church's legal appeals. He contended that the city's actions violate the Constitution because they do not require nonreligious groups to obtain special permission. "They treat religious uses much more onerously than they treat other very similar uses," he asserts. "For example, any kind of assembly hall or any place where people might gather to discuss politics or [hold a meeting such as] Kiwanis, [are] permitted to meet in most places in the city," Langdon explains. "Whereas a church, no matter where it is - whether it's a residential district, a commercial district, anywhere in the city - they have to get special permission."

The Lord must have been waiting for this one. In His great wisdom, the case came before none other than Sarah Evans Barker, Chief Federal Judge of the Southern District, Indianapolis - the same judge whose ruling against the Indianapolis Baptist Temple resulted in the 2001 seizure of the church. Barker refused to halt enforcement of the zoning ordinance, basing her decision in part on her contention that allowing a church to locate in that zoning area could therefore interfere with other land uses - specifically, if a liquor or pornography establishment decided to take up residence within 200 feet of the Westside Baptist Church.

She also relied - erroneously, according to the Circuit Court of Appeals - on a court case called Civil Liberties for Urban Believers ("CLUB") v City of Chicago. Digrugilliers noted that "this case does not apply, because the city of Chicago required everyone - secular or religious - to get a variance. In our case, Indianapolis only required a religious variance."

Digrugilliers appealed to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. "The fact of the matter is," he emphasized, "that the City of Indianapolis did discriminate against our Church on the grounds of religious content and speech."

An unexpected ally showed up when the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department filed an Amicus ("friend of the court") brief in April 2007, arguing that Indianapolis had violated the RLUIPA by refusing to permit religious assemblies in a commercial area while allowing similar secular uses. The Justice Department stated, "The District court erroneously concluded that the Church's RLUIPA and Constitutional claims were identical and the District Court erred when it concluded that the zoning ordinances treated religious groups on equal terms with non-religious groups." They further stated that the denial of the Preliminary Injunction should be vacated by Judge Barker.

The Biblical Law Center (BLC), founded by Al Cunningham, worked with David Langdon's law firm handling this case in Indianapolis. "The BLC was consulted regularly and made known the fact that the caption on the case was wrong," commented Barbara Ketay, BLC's Legal Associate. "There was a Declaration of Trust in place, and the caption on the case had to reflect Pastor Digrugillier's position pursuant to the Declaration. It was amended and filed, and the position of the Pastor before the Court was perfected."

When the church's lease came up for renewal, Judge Barker noticed that the lease did not reflect the Declaration of Trust, and ordered that it be drawn according to the parameters set forth in the Declaration. In the Indianapolis Baptist Temple case in 2002, Barker totally ignored the Declaration of Trust of the IBT, ruling in favor of the government. In this case, the same judge was made to recognize the importance of the very Declaration of Trust that she had ignored in the IBT case. The Circuit Court did not merely make a favorable ruling, but actually sent Barker's ruling back to her court for reversal.

As a result of the court case, Indianapolis changed the ordinance to comply with RLUIPA and removed the onerous restrictions for religious use. Another concern for Westside was parking restrictions, but a city councilman came to their aid and threw those restrictions out of the ordinance as well.

Throughout their ordeal, the congregation continued to meet at the church building. "Our landlords have been wonderful," said Digrugilliers. "During the winter months, they reduced our rent so we could stay."

"This ruling is beneficial to anyone that's in a similarly zoned area," noted Digrugilliers. "When churches realize the far-reaching implications of this, they can go back and force their local governments to rescind the requirements for a zoning variance." As for the little church known as the Baptist Church of the Westside, the case confirmed what they knew all along: "God is good. All the time."



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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