A low-profile confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill this week raised eyebrows when the questioning turned to theology — specifically, damnation.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont pressed Russell Vought, nominated by President Trump to be deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, about his beliefs.
“Do you think that people who are not Christians are condemned?” Sanders repeatedly asked, challenging that belief as Islamophobic.
Christian organizations have denounced Sanders’ questioning as amounting to a religious test for public office — one that would disqualify millions of people.
Polls show about half of all Christians in the U.S. believe that some non-Christians can go to heaven. But particularly among evangelicals, the traditional view of damnation remains widespread.
A confirmation showdown rooted in college dispute
How did hellfire come up in a confirmation hearing in the first place?
In 2015, an evangelical Christian college suspended a tenured professor who said that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. That’s a belief shared by many Christians, but not all; Wheaton College said it contradicted the school’s statement of faith.
Vought, an alumnus of Wheaton, wrote a blog post last year expressing support for his alma mater. He quoted a theologian who said non-Christians have a “deficient” theology but could have a meaningful relationship with God. Vought disagreed.
“Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology,” Vought wrote. “They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned. ”
Ahead of Vought’s confirmation hearing, that quote was picked up by advocacy groups concerned about whether Vought could serve all Americans fairly.
Sanders brought up the passage, again and again, in the hearing. He asked Vought if he thought his statement was Islamophobic.
“Absolutely not, senator,” Vought said
“Do you believe people in the Muslim religion stand condemned?” Sanders asked. “What about Jews? Do they stand condemned, too?”
“I’m a Christian,” Vought repeatedly responded.
“I understand you are a Christian,” Sanders said, raising his voice. The senator is Jewish and has said he’s not particularly religious. “But there are other people who have different religions in this country and around the world. In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?”
“I believe that all individuals are made in the image of God and are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their religious beliefs,” Vought said, while also emphasizing “the centrality of Jesus Christ in salvation.”
“This nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about,” Sanders said, announcing that he’d vote against him.
Did focus on a nominee’s faith cross a line?
Sanders was criticized almost immediately for focusing on a nominee’s religious principles instead of qualifications or behavior. His office has defended the senator’s questions.
“The question at hand is not about Mr. Vought’s freedom to hold certain religious beliefs,” a spokesman for Sanders said. The spokesman said Vought’s post expressed his views in an “inflammatory way” and said Sanders is concerned if Vought can “carry out the duties of his office in a way that treats all Americans equally.”
Many news outlets — religious, conservative and mainstream — highlighted the exchange as a possible application of a religious test, which is prohibited under the Constitution. U.S. News & World Report spoke to legal experts who say Sanders is on solid legal ground. “Senators can vote against nominees for any reason or no reason at all,” one law professor told the magazine. “It may be atrocious, but it’s not unconstitutional,” another said
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, called Sanders’ comments “breathtakingly audacious and shockingly ignorant,” and deeply troubling even if they are legal.
“This is not some arcane or obscure private opinion being held by this one individual,” Moore told NPR. “The language that Sen. Sanders, finds so disturbing — ‘stands condemned’ — is language right out of the New Testament.”
Moore says there’s nothing hostile about Vought’s comments. “In Christian theology, no one is righteous before God,” he said. “[Evangelical] Christians don’t believe that good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell. Christians believe that all of humanity is fallen.”
And Moore argues there’s a fundamental misunderstanding at play: Secular people often assume that beliefs are “just ideas and opinions” that can shift. But for religious people, he says, “we don’t believe that we are constructing our faith. We believe that it’s been handed to us by God.”
A question of belief, or a question of behavior?
Scott Simpson, public advocacy director for Muslim Advocates, defended Sanders’ questions and said it’s important to keep Vought’s comments in context — both his original post and the broader political climate. “This isn’t some personal expression of how he feels in his heart about theology,” Simpson said. “This is the type of speech that was being used against somebody” to argue a professor should lose her job.
He also says the Trump administration has a “pattern of appointments” of people with anti-Muslim views and rhetoric. “We’re very sensitive to the concept of religious liberty, because Muslims’ religious liberty is under attack every day,” Simpson said. “But we’re talking about something very specific. … When a nominee calls the faith of millions of Americans deficient, that is something that should be questioned. That is what hearings are for.”
Meanwhile, James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, said the belief that vast swaths of people are damned might, in fact, be inherently problematic for certain government positions. “If [someone] believe these people are to be condemned … is that the person who ought to be making budgetary decisions for the country as a whole?” asked Zogby, who is a Maronite Catholic. “Can you be a fair adjudicator of decisions?” he asked.
Hussein Rashid, founder of the religious literacy consultancy Islamicate L3C, doesn’t agree that the belief itself is a problem.
“I think we have to accept that there are theologies that are what I would call exclusionary, that only certain people will go to heaven and certain people will go to hell. They are not inherently Islamophobic or anti-Semitic,” Rashid said. “It’s when it turns into action that we start getting worried. ”
He, like Moore, emphasized that these beliefs are not particularly unusual.
“Exclusionary theologies are far more prevalent than I think we realize,” Rashid said, noting many Americans’ reticence to talk about religion in public. A substantial number of Christians believe Catholics are going to hell, he noted.
Belief in hell is widespread, but views differ on who is damned
Different Christian sects, and individuals, have varying interpretations of damnation. The traditionalist view is that eternal suffering awaits all who do not accept Christ; on the other end of the spectrum is the universalist belief that everyone will be saved. And then there are disagreements about what hell actually is.
In short, it’s hard to pin down exactly how many Americans believe non-Christians are going to hell — but polling data suggests a strong minority.
The Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study in 2014 polled more than 35,000 adults.
The Pew Research Center recently found that nearly 60 percent of Americans surveyed believe in hell. And among Christians, 48 percent of Protestants and 56 percent of evangelicals believe Christianity is the only path to eternal life. (Catholics and mainline Protestants were far more likely to believe that other faiths can get into heaven.)
A LifeWay Research survey, conducted online with a much smaller sample, found that 40 percent of Americans believe those who do not accept Jesus are bound for hell. But it’s complicated: Some of those people appear to also believe other faiths can attain salvation.
At any rate, Vought’s belief is not a fringe view. “Most conservative evangelical churches believe that faith in Christ is necessarily for salvation,” Moore says.
And it’s not unique to evangelicalism or Christianity. The Quran is quite clear that there is a hell, says Mohammad Hassan Khalil, a professor of religious studies at Michigan State University and author of Islam and the Fate of Others. The general view is that those who reject the message of Muhammad are damned, he says, but just like in Christianity, there’s a vast spectrum of beliefs.
You’ll see “a popular preacher who has many YouTube hits saying that all non-Muslims go to hell,” he says, and at the same time, “you’ll get other people who say there are multiple paths to heaven.”
Khalil says belief in hell does not have a clear-cut implication for behavior on Earth. “If I believe all non-Muslims go to hell … it can lead me to look down upon them, see them as just fuel for hell, and not really take them too seriously. Or I could be motivated to want to save them,” he says, “and be unusually kind and nice to them in the hopes that they will convert.”
NPR asked Sanders’ office if the senator would have challenged a devout Muslim who believed non-Muslims are condemned to hell, in the same way he challenged Vought. Sanders’ spokesman said yes.
Moore of the Southern Baptist Conference says Sanders confronting a Muslim would be equally problematic.
“We’ve been working for religious freedom for everyone,” said Moore, who has spoken up in defense of mosques. Rejecting a nominee for their religious doctrine is “a troubling trend, and if this were the direction that American public officials were to go this would be very dangerous for American democracy,” he said.
“We’ve seen what happens when the state sets itself up as a theological referee.”
‘Wonder Woman’ wins by being feminist without bashing men
Warner Bros.’ “Wonder Woman” continues to break records as the most successful female-led superhero action movie ever — with New York packing theaters along with the rest of the country.
So what, exactly, is winning everyone over?
What is it about this film that seems to be bringing together both men and women from all backgrounds and critics in praise?
The film’s well made, sure, with dazzling special effects and vivid scenes (see the 3-D version if you can) that create a striking contrast between worlds: from a breathtaking, female-only island where Amazons live in a fiercely athletic and secluded harmony, to the merciless front lines of World War I, where man’s inhumanity to man wrought great destruction and suffering.
The film features Israeli actress Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, whose dark eyes sparkle with mischief, mirth and, yes, wonder, and whose compassion and determination infuse her character with a depth beyond Hollywood’s standard spirited heroines’.
At New York City theaters this week, many girls and women said they turned out because the character of Wonder Woman has been a personal inspiration in their lives, and they wanted to support the film’s director, Patty Jenkins.
“It’s nice to see a woman director given a big-budget action film, not just a rom-com,” said Mariel Conway, 30, media manager for Discovery Studios TV network, who was visiting New York from Los Angeles and attended a daytime showing at a Kips Bay theater.
Conway said that in tapping a female director, Warner Bros. is not, in Conway’s view, pandering to women but choosing the individual whom they believe to be best skilled to bring Wonder Woman to the big screen, because the company “is staking its future on the DC Comics universe.”
But the film was also striking, some noted, for what was missing: the man-hating grievance politics that sometimes accompanies a projection of female empowerment.
“It’s not a negative film, not against men, but shows women and men working together,” said Elizabeth Liumbruno, 30, an architect from Forest Hills after an evening screening in Union Square.
“Her leadership style seemed more collaborative than the typical superhero’s,” said Ellie Bastani, 33, of Morningside Heights, an assistant dean at Columbia University. “It was more about working together . . . than one person being this hero.”
“Usually you see females in supporting roles or just as sex symbols [in action films], so it’s really important for little girls to see a female in the lead,” said Bhumika Dyal, 20, a student at FIT from Ozone Park, Queens.
The film resonated with women and girls of all ages. “She did what she believed and didn’t just follow her mom,” said Chelsea Brooks, 8, of the Lower East Side, adding: “She wasn’t actually fighting, because she did want to help.”
“I loved her determination, her strength, and her compassion,” said Josie Lawrence, a retiree in Murray Hill. “I thought, ‘Yay!’ when she crossed No Man’s Land.” Lawrence added that the film is a reminder that “being a hero is not male or female.”
The film’s workmanlike plot provides sufficient momentum to carry the viewer through charming scenes in which our heroine encounters a man for the first time (Chris Pine, who plays British spy Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman’s partner in the fight to save humankind), tries on dresses in early-20th-century London and uses both her superpowers and what appears to be krav maga to fight German spies and soldiers.
But what really distinguishes the story is its heroine’s idealism, and its suggestion that the good and evil that exist in human nature cross all divides, including gender (one of the film’s chief antagonists, the sociopathic scientist Dr. Poison, is a female).
“You don’t think I wish I could tell you it’s one bad guy to blame?” Steve Trevor pleads with Wonder Woman toward the end of the movie. “We are all to blame.”
We’re facing a time when political polarization threatens civil discourse, dehumanization of one side by another cuts both ways and culture wars have recently brought millions of Americans, women prominently among them, to the streets in protest.
Perhaps the resurrection of “Wonder Woman” — an icon of female strength whose righteous anger is driven, and tempered, by compassion and love for the world — is offering little girls and women a role model for cooperative leadership, and a positive vision of empowerment they’re not seeing enough of in the real world.
Heather Robinson New York Post
Federal prosecutors say investigators found a journal in the home of suspected NSA leaker Reality Leigh Winner in which it appears she wrote, “I want to burn the White House Down.”
The revelation came at a hearing in U.S. District Court in Augusta, Ga., on Thursday in which a federal judge ordered Winner held without bail. Earlier this week, she was charged with leaking classified U.S. intelligence documents to the website The Intercept.
Winner allegedly wrote “I want to burn the White House Down … find somewhere in Kurdistan to live. Ha-ha!” assistant U.S. attorney Jennifer Solari told a federal judge.
On another page in one of the notebooks found by investigators, prosecutors said, Winner listed the names of several Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Her writings also included plans to travel to Afghanistan.
Prosecutors added Winner, 25, might try to flee the U.S. if she were released on bail. “She would undoubtedly be a target of recruitment from our adversaries,” Solari told Judge Brian Epps, according to NBC News.
The former Air Force linguist, who was working as a government contractor for Pluribus International Corp., is accused of leaking classified documents that the website The Intercept used to publish a report claiming Russian military intelligence hacked a Florida voting software company and attempted to gain access to voter information by sending a “spear-fishing” email to more than 100 local election officials shortly before the November election.
Winner has pleaded not guilty to one count of “willful retention and transmission of national defense information.” If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in prison.
She allegedly accessed the classified documents, printed them and mailed the information to the news organization.
Solari also said a laptop belonging to Winner and seized by federal agents contained software that could enable her to access online black-markets and buy items — such as a fake ID or passport — without revealing her identity or location. In addition to the notebooks and laptops, investigators seized a Defense Department-issued country book on Iran, several electronic devices and a U.S. passport belonging to Winner, according to a search warrant.
“We don’t know how much more she knows and how much more she remembers,” Solari said during the hearing, according to the Associated Press. “But we do know she’s very intelligent. So she’s got a lot of valuable information in her head.”
“Kindness is a luxury on the battlefield, where survival takes priority over everything else,” says Richard Fernandez at PJ Media, and “the UK is running low on counter-terror resources,” with not enough police to watch the reported “23,000 jihadist extremists living in Britain.”
Indeed, all “Europe is beginning to admit it doesn’t have enough hard force to deal with the new threats” — hence “the reliance on candles, tweets, dimmed lights,” and so on. But “when the candles stop working, they will be forced to Plan B” — “making the descent from the Marquess of Queensberry Rules to street fighting inevitable.” In the end, “an unsustainable program of political correctness killed the very thing it swore to protect.”
Before he was a “humble Puerto Rican grandfather,” Oscar López Rivera was the grandaddy of terror.
López Rivera — who Thursday declined to be honored in the Puerto Rican Day Parade and instead said he would march as “humble Puerto Rican and grandfather” — plotted to kill guards and blow up government buildings in an escape scheme from a federal prison where he was doing time for trying to overthrow the US government, according to a 1999 report from the House Government Reform Committee.
First locked up in 1981, Lopez Rivera spent more than two years masterminding a violent plot to escape Kansas’ Leavenworth Penitentiary along with several other members of his Puerto Rican terrorist group FALN.
While imprisoned, López Rivera gave a fellow inmate with connections to weapons smugglers a shopping list that included “fragmentation grenades, smoke grenades, phosphorous grenades, eight M-16 rifles, two silencers, 50 pounds of plastic C-4 explosives, eight bulletproof vests, 10 blasting caps to use with plastic explosives, and 100 30-shot clips for use with automatic weapons,” according to the report.
The plan called for FALN members to shoot guards and lob grenades at guard towers while members on the outside airlifted prisoners out with a helicopter.
Former President Barack Obama in January freed López Rivera, 74.
By Yoav Gonen and Max Jaeger – New York Post
In the Spring of 1989, the Chinese people came together in Tiananmen Square and in cities across China to demand an end to corruption and a start at democratic reform. In the early hours of June 4th, the Chinese Communist Party responded by sending in the People’s Liberation Army to enact a military crackdown and a massacre.
Today, the CCP has banned any mention of what happened that day. But the people of China and the world cannot forget the Party’s decision to murder peaceful and unarmed protesters, many of them students.
In the course of raising three children with his wife, Melissa, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska saw a “coming-of-age crisis” among the nation’s youth, which he sets out to fix with his new book, “The Vanishing American Adult” (St. Martin’s). In this excerpt from the book, he looks at how the concept of work has changed over the generations and why kids today need to experience and embrace “work pain” in order to fully grow up …
My grandmother Elda Krebs Sasse was a giant, though she stood barely 4 feet, 11 inches and probably never tipped the scales at a full 100 pounds. She never raised her voice — except to break into what her six sisters called her infectious “cackle-laughing” — yet her personality always found a way to dominate the room.
One of nine kids born to a second-generation immigrant family in windy, rural Diller, Neb. (population 327), Grandma grew up poor, working the family farm during the Great Depression. It was at home — and thus work — that she met my grandfather, who was hired as a farm boy by her dad in the 1930s. They were married in May 1941, him at age 22 and her 21.
Their first leased home had no indoor plumbing or running water. Their plot of land was north of town on Commercial Road, where they planned to start their own corn and bean farm. Just as they were settling down, World War II started up, and Grandpa was on his way to Europe. He would serve for over three years, with stops in Germany and England, as a wartime “mayor” of a regional factory town in the latter.
Grandma had just given birth to their first baby, my uncle Roger. With Elmer in Europe, she had no choice but to run the farm they had just leased. Though she’d grown up on a farm, she’d never driven a tractor. Fall was coming, and no one else was coming to do the work. So she jerry-rigged a way to attach the baby’s bassinet to the side of the lumbering old John Deere as she taught herself to harvest.
Elda regarded this fact as 100 percent uninteresting. “It was simply what needed to be done.” I know this story not because she ever thought to offer it but because I was always interrogating my grandparents for war stories as a child.
There was a matter-of-factness about them that, in fact, wasn’t extraordinary for much of their generation. This nose-to-the-grindstone, get-it-done attitude can still be heard today in conversations about work and callings with many aging members of the Greatest Generation I encounter.
Americans long regarded work differently than the rest of the world, but that difference is slipping away. Our national forebears had an almost compulsive preference for productivity over passivity.
“There is probably no people on earth with whom business constitutes pleasure, and industry amusement, in an equal degree with the inhabitants of the United States of America,” observed the Englishman Francis Grund in the mid-1830s. “Active occupation is not only the principal source of their happiness and the foundation of their national greatness, but they are absolutely wretched without it.”
The Puritan work ethic — and its cousins “Yankee ingenuity” and later “rugged individualism,” which would be truly achieved only when America had worked through its original sin of slavery — helped form a shared identity for the American people. It was an almost liturgical touchstone that all Americans, across geography, race, gender and denomination, came to esteem together.
Our ancestors’ suspicion of leisure endured until the dawn of the 20th century, when the Industrial Revolution delivered vast wealth and efficiencies along with a growing middle class that didn’t need to work as hard to subsist. The change wasn’t just that material surplus can breed materialism and sloth. It is also that material abundance and economies of scale, despite all their benefits, also often make our work less meaningful and more disconnected and robotic. Industrial life is fundamentally different from the neighborly work of the village.
Matthew Crawford wrote about this in his 2009 book “Shop Class as Soulcraft,” arguing that a cultural shift away from teaching “the trades” — the sort of skilled labor people go to vocational school or community college to learn — has made people more passive and dependent, less aware of the satisfaction of completing any manual task well. “What ordinary people once made, they now buy; and what they once fixed for themselves, they replace entirely or hire an expert to repair, whose expert fix often involves replacing an entire system because some minute component has failed.” Our global systems of production have radically reduced the prices of almost everything, but they have also come at the cost of promoting a new mentality that everything is disposable.
“If the modern personality is being reorganized on a predicate of passive consumption,” Crawford writes, “this is bound to affect our political culture.” It’s also bound to erode Americans’ desire and ability to work hard, to atrophy our drive toward larger, common projects.
In the summer of 2016, the hashtag #firstsevenjobs began trending on Twitter. People from all walks of life started listing and celebrating their first seven jobs: “Assembly-line worker; dishwasher; truck driver; editor; think-tank fellow; author; professor.” Another: “Burger King cashier; waitress at Poppin’ Fresh Pies; filing clerk; cold caller for a stock broker; banker; director of credit; CFO.”
I am a “first jobs” nerd. I ask friends and strangers, candidates interviewing for jobs and random Nebraskans at sporting events: What was your first job? What was the first hard thing you completed? What is the single hardest thing you’ve ever done?
My first seven jobs were:
· Bean walker
· Lemonade sales
· Stadium pop sales
· Corn detasseler
· Bike buyer-seller
· Roguing (corn, again)
· Lifeguard/swim lesson
Most kids who have detasseled will tell you it’s the hardest job they’ve ever done. I remember days when I’d come inside in the afternoon, fall asleep and sleep straight through until the next morning when the alarm went off at 4:30 again. But, despite the suffering, the money was great for a 13-year-old: minimum wage plus a retroactive bonus of 15 cents an hour if you never missed a day.
Melissa and I think it’s important for our kids to learn how to suffer. Some might hear that phrase as unloving but it is actually the opposite. Neither our children nor your children will grow up to be free, independent, self-respecting adults if we hand them everything without the expectation of something in return.
Our friend helped us find a place where an earthy old rancher and his wife and three grown children and a new grandbaby lived and worked. We left her with little advice other than to make us proud by working hard, to ask for coaching and to never let her overseers hear her complain.
March in Nebraska is calving season. That’s when heifers give birth. It’s one of the busiest times of a rancher’s year — and a perfect time for a young girl to learn the ropes and add some genuine value.
Once she settled in, she would send me regular text messages about what she had done that day. Because many of her texts were funny, I began to tweet some of them out (my Twitter account is @bensasse) with #FromTheRanch. One of the recurring lessons was that calving is dirty, smelly and wet work.
Got an orphaned heifer to take her whole bottle. (Also got tons of nose slime & snot on my jeans.)
My day: Learned to coil barbwire; backed trailer w/ 4wheeler; & dropped 2 cows for slaughter.
To the cows we left for slaughter in Wausa I said: ‘We are done feeding you. Now it’s your turn to feed us.’
As the month wore on, my impromptu #FromTheRanch tweets attracted attention. As I traveled Nebraska over the next couple months, just about everyone I met wanted to talk about my daughter’s experiences on the ranch.
Parents wanted to know how they could make their kids suffer, too. I found this unexpected but repeated questioning strangely comforting. Parent after parent wanted advice: How could their kid get a similar wake-up-call experience?
The huddles of these anxious parents convinced me that there is a deep desire for a broader conversation about the cultural challenges of passing a meaningful work ethic on to the rising generation.
Many of our young people remain overachievers, of course. In his 2014 book “Excellent Sheep,” retiring Yale professor William Deresiewicz describes students at America’s elite schools as “smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost.”
He suggests that although many adolescents can fill page after page of a résumé, they have “little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.”
So much of our culture works against this intentional embrace of work.
In our effort to develop our kids’ talents, to provide them with a set of extracurricular experiences even more impressive than our own to help them stand out from the rest of the college-bound crowd, many of us might be unintentionally displacing lifelong “eulogy virtues” in favor of mere “résumé virtues.”
Yet, unwittingly, so much of our culture works against this intentional embrace of work. Soon after my retweets about Corrie’s time at the ranch appeared, multiple lawyers contacted me to let me know that we had probably violated labor laws by allowing our 14-year-old to work on that cattle ranch.
My wife and I hadn’t thought for a moment that we might be running afoul of any Department of Labor edicts and mandates — nor had the ranchers or their grown children who have worked with cattle for decades. But upon further digging, it turns out that some existing state and federal laws make it very difficult for teens to develop good work habits and the beginner skills needed in the marketplace.
In effect, the laws exist to do everything possible to prevent 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds from working, whether it’s limiting shifts to four hours or capping a teen’s work week at three nonconsecutive days. Government policies presume the centrality — and almost exclusivity — of schooling in the upbringing of our adolescents.
These well-meaning rules can thus unhelpfully exacerbate the challenge of intentional parenting by foreclosing the options available to parents and kids who aim to build character and hone their self-discipline through productive work experiences. Please do not misunderstand: I’m not in favor of repealing child-labor laws. But the older American ethic — of teaching kids why good work rather than the absence of work will make them happy — must be recovered in order to serve our kids better.
By Ben Sasse New York Post