Sunday, December 14, 2008

Our Dis-informed Electorate, Post election study

Our dis-informed Electorate.
Annenberg Post-Election Poll
Newsweek, December 18, 2008

More than half of U.S. adults (52 percent) said the claim that Sen. Barack Obama's tax plan would raise taxes on most small businesses is truthful, when in fact only a small percentage would see any increase.

More than two in five (42.3 percent) found truth in the claim that Sen. John McCain planned to "cut more than 800 billion dollars in Medicare payments and cut benefits," even though McCain made clear he had no intent to cut benefits.

The first falsehood was peddled to voters by McCain throughout his campaign, and the second was made in a pair of ads run heavily in the final weeks of the campaign by Obama.

These aren't isolated examples. One in four (25.6 percent) of those who earned too little to have seen any tax increase under Obama's plan nevertheless believed that he intended to "increase your own federal income taxes," accepting McCain's repeated claims that "painful" tax hikes were being proposed on "families." Nearly two in five (39.8 percent) thought McCain had said he would keep troops in combat in Iraq for up to 100 years, though he'd actually spoken of a peacetime presence such as that in Japan or South Korea. Close to one in three (31 percent) believed widely disseminated claims that Obama would give Social Security or health care benefits to illegal immigrants, when in fact he would do neither.

We're not surprised. As we wrote in "unSpun: finding facts in a world of disinformation," the same thing happened in 2004 when majorities of voters believed untrue things that had been fed to them by the Bush and Kerry campaigns.

One reason is obvious: Political ads run thousands of times and reach far more people than articles on On our best day, we were read by 462,678 visitors. By contrast, the Obama campaign aired two ads claiming that McCain planned to cut Medicare benefits a total of 17,614 times at a cost estimated to be more than $7 million – which is several times more than's entire annual budget.

There are deeper reasons as well. We humans all have a basic disposition to embrace our side's arguments and reject or ignore those offered by an opponent. Our polling reflects that. After taking differences in age, race, gender and education into account, Republicans were still 4.4 times more likely than Democrats to believe that Obama would raise taxes on most small businesses, and Democrats were 3.2 times more likely than Republicans to believe that McCain would cut Medicare benefits. Simply put, partisanship trumps evidence.

This also helps explain why so many people accept the most preposterous claims circulated by chain e-mail messages and ignorant or irresponsible bloggers. Our poll found nearly one in five (19 percent) falsely think Obama is a Muslim, and even more (22 percent) find truth in the claim that he's nearly half Arab. Republicans were 2.8 times more likely than Democrats to buy the Muslim claim, and just over twice as likely to swallow the half-Arab notion.

This is "group think" in action. We humans tend to marry, date, befriend and talk with people who already agree with us, and hence are less likely to say, "Wait a minute – that's just not true."

Consultants also dupe us by exploiting our partisan preconceptions. People tend to believe Democrats are more likely than Republicans to raise taxes, so McCain was pushing on an open door when he repeatedly claimed Obama would raise taxes on ordinary voters, and not just the most affluent. By the same token, Obama found it easy to sell his bogus claim that McCain planned to cut Medicare benefits by 22 percent, because Republicans have a reputation as opponents of social programs.

Voters aren't highly knowledgeable about government to begin with. Our poll shows that nearly one in three (31 percent) think Congress or the president, not the Supreme Court, have the final call on whether laws are constitutional. Nearly one in 10 (9.9 percent) think Republicans still control the House of Representatives, even though they've had two years to catch up on results of the 2006 elections.

And voters, once deceived, tend to stay that way despite all evidence. Nearly half in our poll (46 percent) agreed that Saddam Hussein played a role in the attacks of September 11, even though no solid evidence has ever emerged to support this notion.

None of this bodes well for the future, in our view. Spending hundreds of millions of dollars on campaigns that systematically disinform the public can only make the task of governing harder for the eventual winner. But are we discouraged that our efforts didn't prevent this? Not at all. If we hadn't tried, it might have been worse.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson is director of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center. Brooks Jackson is director of the APPC project They are co-authors of "unSpun, finding facts in a world of disinformation."

The Annenberg post-election poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, which interviewed 3,008 adults in the continental United States by telephone from Nov. 5 through Nov. 18, 2008. The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data is ±2.3 percent.

© 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Priesthood in the early faith community

A Return to Liturgical Celebration of the early Church

During the years following the ascension of Jesus,

the model of community worship by the early Christians

was that of the house Church.

The followers of Christ would gather in small groups

in the home of one of the Christian believers

and celebrate a memorial service of Our Lord's last supper.

The community of believers would call forth one of its members

to preside at this memorial service.

This person could be either man or woman, married or single.

This person was a baptized member of the early Christian community

with no special designation except being chosen or called forth

to leadership by the community.

Priesthood in the house churches of the early Christian community

did not come into existence until after the year 200 A.D.

For most of Christianity's first two hundred years

there was no perceived need for a formal clerical hierarchy,

or a centralized organization to define and enforce orthodoxy.

Each gathering of Christians was nearly autonomous,

and the various communities elected one (or several) of their members

to act as spiritual leader(s) in ministering the locally interpreted teachings of Jesus.

The Eucharistic celebration that the early Christian community celebrated

was a memorial service of the last supper.

The celebration of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist

was the result of the presence of Christ in the Community.

The community members were the concelebrants

and the leader was the presider.

It was the conscious expression of the faith by the whole community

that brought about the presence of Christ in the elements of the Eucharist.

Speaking the words of consecration was not the exclusive right of anyone

but rather belonged to the whole congregation.

The presence of Christ in the community

precedes the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Karl Rahner has said that the presence of Christ in the community gathered

precedes the possibility of the presence of Christ in the Eucharistic elements.

Only after we probe the presence of Christ in the community

will we find the deepest meaning of the real presence in the sacred elements.

Edward Schillebeeckx stresses the importance of seeing Christ's presence

as ultimately directed not toward the bread and wine,

but toward the community.

If participants want to understand the Eucharist as sacrament,

they should understand themselves first as the Body of Christ.

The bottom line and conclusion of all this

is that in the house church of the first two hundred years

it was first in the Christian Community

where the presence of Christ was to be found

and it was the Christian Community

that brought the presence of Christ into the Eucharistic Celebration.

In view of the many closing of parish communities because of the lack of celibate priests,

the lesson for the Christian community or house churches of the 21st century

is that as Our Lord has told us:

Where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am present among you.

Like the house church of the first two hundred years,

it is the community of believers who can concelebrate

and bring about the presence of Christ in the Eucharistic Celebration.

Let us embark on the journey as a community of believers

in the modern day house Church.

Let us be true Traditionalists.

Love, John Chuchman

Saturday, December 06, 2008

December 7, 2008
Idea Lab
Who Wrote the Koran?

New York Times Magazine, December 7, 2008

For more than two decades, Abdulkarim Soroush has been Iran’s leading public intellectual. Deeply versed in Islamic theology and mysticism, he was chosen by Ayatollah Khomeini to “Islamicize” Iran’s universities, only to eventually turn against the theocratic state. He paid a price for his dissidence. Vigilantes and other government-supported elements disrupted his widely attended lectures in Iran, beat him and reportedly nearly assassinated him. In a country where intellectuals are often treated like rock stars, Soroush has been venerated and reviled for his outspoken support of religious pluralism and democracy. Now he has taken one crucial step further. Shuttling from university to university in Europe and the U.S., Soroush is sending shock waves through Iran’s clerical establishment.

The recent controversy began about eight months ago, after Soroush spoke with a Dutch reporter about one of Islam’s most sensitive issues: the divine origin of the Koran. Muslims have long believed that their holy book was transmitted word for word by God through the Prophet Muhammad. In the interview, however, Soroush made explicit his alternative belief that the Koran was a “prophetic experience.” He told me that the prophet “was at the same time the receiver and the producer of the Koran or, if you will, the subject and the object of the revelation.” Soroush said that “when you read the Koran, you have to feel that a human being is speaking to you, i.e. the words, images, rules and regulations and the like all are coming from a human mind.” He added, “This mind, of course, is special in the sense that it is imbued with divinity and inspired by God.”

As Soroush’s words spread thanks to the Internet, Iran’s grand ayatollahs entered the battlefield. In their rebuttal, the clerics pointed to the Koranic verses that state “this is a book we have sent down to you (O Muhammad).” They ask, Don’t these verses imply that God is the revealer and Muhammad the receiver? They also point out that there were times when Muhammad waited impatiently for the revelation to come to him and that in more than 300 cases the prophet is commanded to tell his people to do one thing or another. This demonstrates, the argument goes, that the commands are coming from elsewhere rather than from the heart or the mind of the prophet himself.

Soroush, in turn, responds by saying that the prophet was no parrot. Rather, Soroush told me, he was like a bee who produces honey itself, even though the mechanism for making the honey is placed in him by God. This is “the example the Koran itself sets,” says Soroush, citing the Koran: “And your Lord inspired to the bee: take for yourself among the mountains, houses . . . then eat from all the fruits . . . there emerges from their bellies a drink . . . in which there is healing for people.”

Soroush has been described as a Muslim Luther, but unlike the Protestant reformer, he is no literalist about holy books. His work more closely resembles that of the 19th-century German scholars who tried to understand the Bible in its original context. Case in point: when a verse in the Koran or a saying attributed to Muhammad refers to cutting off a thief’s hand or stoning to death for adultery, it only tells us the working rules and regulations of the prophet’s era. Today’s Muslims are not obliged to follow in these footsteps if they have more humane means at their disposal.

Soroush’s latest views have not endeared him to the powerful conservative wing of Iran’s establishment. Some have accused him of heresy, which is punishable by death. There have been demonstrations by clerics in Qom, the religious capital of Iran, against his recent work. But Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, unexpectedly warned against feeding the controversy. He said those who are employing “philosophy or pseudo-philosophy” to “pervert the nation’s mind” should not be dealt with “by declaring apostasy and anger” but rather countered with the “religious truths” that will falsify their arguments.

In Iran today, many opponents of the government advocate the creation of a secular state. Soroush himself supports the separation of mosque and state, but for the sake of religion. He seeks freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. Thus he speaks for a different — and potentially more effective — agenda. The medieval Islamic mystic Rumi once wrote that “an old love may only be dissolved by a new one.” In a deeply religious society, whose leaders have justified their hold on power as a divine duty, it may take a religious counterargument to push the society toward pluralism and democracy. Soroush challenges those who claim to speak for Islam, and does so on their own terms.

Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar is an adjunct lecturer at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University.