Archives for April 2012

A Visit to Monkey Town

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William Crawley | 10:40 UK time, Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan chat in court during the Scopes Trial.

I've been reading about the Scopes "Monkey Trial" for years, but today I got to sit in the judges chair in the courtroom that was the venue for "The Trial of the Century". In 1925, Tennessee passed a law, the "Butler Act", which banned the teaching of evolution in the state's public schools. Soon, a young schoolteacher in Dayton, Tennessee, was on trial for breaking that law, and the world descended on this small town to see a courtroom battle between a legal Titan, Clarence Darrow (who defended Scopes) and a political giant of his day, William Jennings Bryan (who aided the prosecution).

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American Exceptionalism

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William Crawley | 10:32 UK time, Sunday, 15 April 2012

I spent a few hours yesterday with Dr Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and author of The Divided States of America. You know you're in a room with Richard Land, he's a big man with a big personality and enumerates his ideas on public policy with unqualified confidence. He has represented the views of evangelicals to congress and in The White House and is a frequent guest on television news and political discussion programmes. Someone once told me that Nashville is "the Baptist Vatican", and, having spent a few days here, I've no reason to doubt that. Which would make Richard Land a senior cardinal -- at least.

Land believes the media in the US, with the exception of Fox News, is Left-leaning and biased in favour of Obama. He regards the President as a "statist", indeed a "socialist"' who has massively expanded the federal government. He explains: since the end of World War II, the US federal government's spending has averaged about 20 per cent of GDP. When George W Bush left office, it was 20.8 per cent. Under Obama, it's 25.6. Moreover, under Obama the US national debt increased by 50 per cent in four years -- from $10 trillion to $15 trillion. This isn't just an economic issue for Land, it's also a moral concern. He regards that scale of debt as a form of "generational theft". That's why he believes this next presidential election will be the most important for the US since Lincoln's election in 1860.

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The Politics of Religion

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William Crawley | 11:45 UK time, Friday, 13 April 2012

Rep. Pete Stark, America's first openly-atheist congressman

American politicians know how important it is to chase the religious vote, especially during a presidential election year. Of the 535 members sitting in the US House of Representatives, only one claims, in public at least, to be an atheist (Pete Stark, a Democrat from California) and polling suggests that American voters are more likely to vote for a Muslim president than for an atheist or agnostic candidate (and they're extremely unlikely to vote for a Muslim).

Religion is politically important in the US because this is a society with high levels of religiosity, at least by European standards. When asked how important religion is to them, 56 per cent of Americans say it's very important. The British figure is only 17 per cent. It would, however, be a mistake to conclude from this that America is unusually religious. By global standards, religiosity in the US Is mid-range; secularisation in Europe is the exception to the general pattern across the world.

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The Changing Face of American Evangelicalism

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William Crawley | 10:27 UK time, Wednesday, 11 April 2012

It would be a mistake to assume that American Christians speak with only one voice -- on any issue. I spent today attending the 5th annual Q conference at the Mellon Auditorium, just a few blocks away from The White House. I was amongst hundreds of mostly evangelical Christians -- pastors, thinkers and activists -- and an emerging transformation in evangelical identity was very evident. This new generation of Christians have a very different approach to the role of religion in public life. Different, that is, to their parents' generation.

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Travelling with Eisenhower

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William Crawley | 08:32 UK time, Sunday, 8 April 2012

I'm writing this blog entry from Philadelphia, at the start of an eight-week tour of the United States that will see me visit New York, Boston, Washington DC, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other locations in the mid-west including Kentucky and Tennesee. Let me explain why I'm here. I've been selected as one of twenty-one international Eisenhower Fellows, which will enable me to criss-cross the US meeting some significant American leaders to explore a bespoke focused project. For the next two months, I'll be examining some key "culture war" debates in this presidential election year. I'll be meeting politicians, lobbyists, academics, religious leaders and hearing from other influential voices. I'll be posting about some of those meetings and sharing some of what I learn on the way.

This week, I've been meeting the other Fellows here in Philadelphia and attending briefings on American politics, foreign policy and learning more about the meetings that have been scheduled for me during my visit to the US. A highlight so far was our off-the-record seminar with Ambassador William J Burns, who is the US Deputy Secretary of State. A career foreign service official, Ambassador Burns walked us through US foreign policy in various global regions in an extraordinarily insightful session. He took questions and offered us an impressive descriptive analysis of America's place in the world today.

We continue our briefings tomorrow at City Hall: we'll be meeting local councillors, state representatives and federal level politicians, including a current senatorial candidate. Please suggest any questions or topics you think I can helpfully explore in my many meetings, or indeed suggest anyone you recommend I should meet. I'll be recording some interviews as I go for eventual broadcast.

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