Signs and Wonders: Freethinking Frogs, Lincoln’s faith, puzzling Paul vote, Bernanke eases markets
Newsworthy | Warren Cole Smith
A little froggy. When I went to a Texas Christian University football game a couple of years ago, I learned that the mascot for the school is the horned frog. I also learned the school has a billion dollar endowment, buildings of a distinctive beaux-arts architectural style, and very little of its Christian heritage still alive. TCU’s Brite Divinity School, for example, notes it is “proudly open and affirming of all people regardless of … sexual orientation/sexual identity [and] gender identity/presentation.” Given this environment, it’s no surprise that an atheist group recently formed there, and it’s seeking official recognition. The “Freethinking Frogs” is the brainchild of 32-year-old transfer student Alexis Lohse, who says she wants to create a club that is agnostic and secular, where students can have a place to challenge religion. “I saw that there wasn’t any support system for students who don’t have a particular faith,” she said. “And that’s in stark contrast to the vast number of religiously affiliated organizations available to students. So I thought it might be a good group to set up.” TCU already has approximately 20 groups on campus, which range from Protestant and Catholic clubs to Jewish and Muslim organizations. University officials have acknowledged receipt of Freethinking Frogs’ application for official recognition and say they will soon make a decision on the matter. (For more, see La Shawn Barber’s "Why not change the name to Texas Whatever You Believe or Not Believe University?")
Was Lincoln a Christian? That’s the question theologian Jim Denison asked when he heard Daniel Day-Lewis accept an Oscar for his portrayal of the 16th president of the United States. Lewis paid tribute to the “mysteriously beautiful mind, body, and spirit of Abraham Lincoln.” That caused Denison to wonder: What was the nature of Lincoln’s spiritual life? “Lincoln’s early law partner, William Herndon, wrote a biography of the president … in which he branded Lincoln an ‘infidel,’” wrote Denison, who also acknowledged, “Lincoln never joined a church. He read Voltaire and Thomas Paine as a young man and participated in a debating society in which he often took positions counter to orthodox faith.” Denison said, though, that a severe depression in 1841 led to a more personal faith: “After his son died in 1850, he turned to the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Illinois, whose writings led him to say, ‘[I] am now convinced of the truth of the Christian religion.’ After another son died in 1862, he came to believe even more fully in the providence of God.” We cannot, this side of heaven, resolve the question, but I find the discussion stimulating, and it interesting that a movie has elevated the question to the national conversation.
Rand Paul’s strange vote. First Sen. Rand Paul voted against confirming Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense. Then he voted for him. If you think these votes need some explaining, you’re not alone. Here’s part of the explanation: Republicans had been holding up the appointment of Hagel in order to get additional information they felt was vital to the decision-making process. When it came time to close the debate (cloture), Paul voted against cloture. That move was widely seen as a setback to the Hagel nomination—a vote against Hagel. But, on Tuesday, the vote happened anyway, and the Senate confirmed Hagel 58-41. Among only four Republicans voting for Hagel was Paul. Did he flip-flop? Paul says no. He supported the filibuster, he said, “Because I wanted more information and I think that part of what the Senate does is try to get information about the nominees.” Paul voted to confirm Hagel because “I’ve said all along that I give the president some prerogative in choosing his political appointees. There are many things I disagree with Chuck Hagel on, there are many things I disagree with John Kerry on, there are very few things I agree with the president on, but the president gets to choose political appointees.”
Bernanke speaks. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke spoke to Congress yesterday, and he gave a full-throated defense of his strategy of printing money to buy more than $80 billion a month’s worth of bonds. Lots of conservatives think the strategy, called “quantitative easing,” is a bad one, but the markets responded favorably to his pronouncements, not because they like the strategy, but because the stock markets hate uncertainty, and Bernanke took some of the uncertainty out of the Fed’s behavior for the foreseeable future. I should note, though, that the gold market also spoke. The price of gold rose 1.8 percent yesterday, the largest one-day price rise this year. Most analysts believe the gold spike was another signal that Bernanke’s strategy will inevitably lead to inflation, and the only way to protect against it will be to own assets that hold their value regardless of the value of the U.S. dollar.
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