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CULTURE DIGEST: Congressional investigation finds Smithsonian guilty of discrimination in ID incident; …

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A Congressional investigation has revealed that the Smithsonian’s top officials permitted the demotion and harassment of a research associate at the National Museum of Natural History for allowing an article supporting Intelligent Design to appear in the institution’s peer-reviewed scientific journal.

The article by Stephen Meyer, a fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, laid out the evidential case for Intelligent Design by citing mainstream scientists from schools like the University of Chicago, Yale, Cambridge and Oxford. A rift over the article first surfaced in national media reports in January 2005.

The House committee on government reform released a report on the investigation Dec. 11, concluding that “Congress should consider statutory language that would protect the free speech rights regarding evolution of scientists in the Smithsonian and other federally-funded institutions.”

Among the findings of the committee is that officials at the Smithsonian created a hostile work environment intended to force Richard Sternberg to resign his position as a research associate in violation of his free speech and civil rights.

“Clearly, the NMNH management was trying to make Dr. Sternberg’s life at the Museum as difficult as possible and encourage him to leave, since they knew they had no legal grounds to dismiss him,” the report said.

Also, the committee analyzed e-mail exchanges among Smithsonian officials to determine that “scientists who are known to be skeptical of Darwinian theory, whatever their qualifications or research record, cannot expect to receive equal treatment or consideration by NMNH officials.”

The committee further concluded there was a strong religious and political component to the actions taken by officials, including questioning whether Sternberg “was religious,” “was a Republican,” “was a fundamentalist,” and whether “he was a conservative.”

“Would similar expressions of disparagement have been tolerated by Smithsonian officials if directed at a racial minority?” the committee asked.

NMNH officials “conspired with a special interest group on government time and using government emails to publicly smear Dr. Sternberg,” the committee said, referring to collaboration with the National Center for Science Education, a pro-evolution group.

“Since the treatment of Dr. Sternberg came to light in early 2005, evidence has accumulated of widespread discrimination against other qualified scientists who dissent from Darwinian theory, making further violations by federal agencies likely,” the report said. “While the majority of scientists embrace Darwinian theory, it is important that neither federal funds nor federal power be used to punish or retaliate against otherwise qualified scientists merely because they dissent from the majority view.”

‘LEFT BEHIND’ VIDEO GAME CAUSES STIR — It has been endorsed by Focus on the Family and other conservative groups, but liberal Christian organizations are calling “Left Behind: Eternal Forces” a video game that is too violent, intolerant and divisive to be called Christian, the Los Angeles Times reported Dec. 17.

“It’s essentially a training video for faith-based killing, marketed to children,” Tim Simpson, a Presbyterian pastor in Florida and interim president of Christian Alliance for Progress, told the Times.

An offshoot of the popular novel series dealing with the end times, the video game released in November challenges players to evangelize and care for the people of New York City while the enemy attempts to gain control.

“You start out with a few people (units) in your control, send them out to gather resources (money and real estate) and train them up to become musicians, builders, nurses, pastors, disciples and soldiers, each with his or her own function for the community and impact on the world,” Bob Hoose explains in a review for Focus on the Family’s Plugged In Online.

“I can’t think of anything more antithetical to the Gospel of Christ,” Simpson said. “The message is that God intends for everyone who doesn’t share your faith to be whacked.”

Hoose, though, said players are offered sniper rifles, gun turrets, tanks and helicopters to destroy the enemy, but there is no gore because people who are killed simply fade away. The player soon learns violence isn’t the way to win.

“It quickly becomes clear that the strongest weapons in your arsenal are your top-level missionaries and worship leaders,” Hoose wrote. “It’s easier to convert a group of enemies than it is to shoot them.”

Eternal Forces is a game parents can play with their kids, Hoose said, and the production company behind it is pushing it as an evangelism tool for teens. The game raises questions about the end of the world that can lead to theological discussions, but its approach doesn’t require a seminary education, he added.

“I want to show that thinking about what may happen when you die can be as fun as being in an Indiana Jones film,” Troy Lyndon, the game’s creator, told the Times. “It’s an adventure.”

‘CHURCH ATM’ FOR TITHING — In an effort to keep up with the culture, a church in Georgia has developed a type of ATM, which it calls an “automatic tithe machine,” to facilitate monetary donations each week through the use of a credit or debit card.

“We’re just trying to connect with the culture,” Marty Baker, pastor of Stevens Creek Community Church in Martinez, told the Associated Press. “And that’s how the culture does business. It’s more than an ATM for Jesus. It’s about erasing barriers.”

People can swipe a card, choose a fund in which to deposit their donation, enter an amount and get a receipt.

Baker told AP he developed the idea when he realized that so many people these days rarely carry cash in their wallets and rely on plastic cards instead. Since installing the machines in his 1,100-member church, he has seen an 18 percent increase in giving and the average gift through the machines exceeds $100, AP said.

Even so, the ATMs account for only one-fifth of the church’s income.

Amy Forrest, a 31-year-old churchgoer at Stevens Creek, said the ATMs make it much easier for her to give her $40 donation each week.

“This church gets how I live,” she told AP.

Some, though, say the machine leads people to ignore the principal of sacrificial giving from the heart as a form of worship.

    About the Author

  • Erin Roach