There’s a new pair of socially responsible shoes in town. Every time you buy a pair of these shoes with a one syllable name, a pair is donated to a child in an impoverished part of the world. The canvas slip-style shoes come in a variety of colors and patterns. Of course, I’m talking about BOBS.

Sound familiar? Obviously BOBS, produced by the exceptionally creative people at Skechers, is a blatant rip-off of the wildly successful TOMS shoes and their “One for One” business model. When TOMS was introduced to the world, the shoes and their noble business proposition helped usher in a new business model, one that married good deeds with good business sense. What BOBS threatens to usher in is a business era where corporations promote a desire to help others while, in reality, hoping to exploit people’s better natures in order to make a profit.

But is Skechers the only company that has ever added a good cause to their product for less-than-philanthropic reasons? It would be naïve to think that over the last few years multiple companies suddenly decided to become more socially responsible of their own accord. They were simply responding to a market of consumers who wanted a charitable cause with their purchase. The “invisible hand” of the free market was pushing companies toward doing some good while keeping their stockholders happy.

Was it pure altruism that prompted Pepsi to forgo advertising in the Super Bowl this year and invest that money in charitable causes throughout the country instead? Unlikely. The $20 million social media campaign garnered more votes than the last presidential election, according to Mashable.com. That’s pretty good PR considering that money would have otherwise gone toward advertising. In this case, Pepsi gains a reputation as a “do-gooder” while helping millions across the country do charitable work that might not otherwise be possible. Everybody wins. The wonderful thing about this new compassionate side of capitalism is both producer and consumer get what they want in addition to doing some good along the way.

Also encouraging about the free market as a force for good is the fact that the same free market principle which perhaps spurred Skechers to produce the ridiculous BOBS may also have contributed to its demise. As of Oct. 15 BOBS were no longer to be found on Skechers’ website. Perhaps after an understandable backlash from the blogosphere and twitterverse, the marketing gurus at Skechers removed BOBS from their line of shoes altogether. Maybe they needed time to rename the shoes something catchier, like TODS or JONS.

It appears as though the creative people at Skechers thought they knew what their consumers wanted, a socially responsible product, however blatantly ripped-off from the successful TOMS. What BOBS lacks, however, is something that all the angry bloggers and loyal fans of TOMS apparently want with their socially responsible products – authenticity.

Is Blake Mycoskie enjoying financial success after he introduced the world to TOMS? Yes. Have the folks who came up with Pepsi’s Refresh Project likely earned themselves a rather handsome bonus? Sure. We realize this (or should). We also realize that at some level, these companies have a genuine desire to do good in the world, and that’s what makes their products so appealing. When corporate social responsibility is done correctly, doing good and making a profit don’t have to be mutually exclusive. When done poorly, well, ask the marketing genius behind BOBS, and the answer probably won’t be pretty.

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The SAT is useless. Chances are that if you are a student on this campus, you have taken the dreaded SAT. In fact, the initials themselves most likely conjure up memories of anxiety and dread that afflicted you during your final year of high school. The SAT strikes fear into the hearts of many because it has a profound impact on your plans for college. On closer examination, however, the importance of the SAT is completely unwarranted.

In 2001, the University of California – one of the largest users of the SAT – proposed abandoning the SAT altogether. The university conducted a study that gathered the transcripts of 78,000 college freshman over three years and looked at “predictive validity”, a measure of how well a student will do as a college freshmen based on his or her performance on a test. The results: the SAT is a pitiful indicator of success in college. According to Charles Murray, Harvard graduate and former proponent of the SAT, “the SAT’s independent role in predicting freshman grade point turned out to be so small that knowing the SAT score added next to nothing to an admissions officer’s ability to forecast how an applicant will do in college.”

Why then is the SAT so highly esteemed? For decades it has long been believed that the SAT measures “innate ability,” which helps create a level playing field for students who may not have attended quality high schools but were still academically gifted. That also appears to be a false belief. The UC study revealed that, “after controlling for parental income and education, the independent role of the SAT in predicting freshman grade point disappeared altogether,” according to “The American.”

I remember the first time I took the SAT (I try to forget). I got a score within 10-20 points of a friend of mine. It was a decent score, but not anything that would get me a full ride. My friend took the test again a few months later after taking an SAT prep course, and boosted her score 150 points. Her “innate ability” must have increased significantly in those few months; either that or the only thing the SAT really tests is your ability to take tests.

Although college admission is usually based on many factors, not just SAT scores, the difference of a few hundred points could mean the difference in thousands of dollars in scholarships. The amount of financial aid received has a huge impact on one’s decision to attend a certain college. Your decision of which college to attend will significantly affect your life after college, and so on. So much is dependent upon those SAT scores.

It hardly seems fair for so much to ride on a test that seems to measure nothing more than how well you can take the SAT. But I really don’t have time to complain. I’m too busy studying for another aptitude test – the dreaded GRE.

How about you? What has been your experience with the SAT? Do you feel it should be thrown out?

Glenn Beck is on a mission. This past Saturday, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his famous “ I Have A Dream Speech,” Glenn Beck spoke to a crowd of over 100,000 people to promote his show on Fox News – I mean, to “restore honor” to America. Unlike the man who stood on those steps 47 years ago to promote civil rights, Beck’s actions seem to be more about showmanship than substance.

When addressing the listeners of his wildly popular radio show, he proclaimed, “Your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them . . . are going to come under the ropes in the next year.” Really? As if the Supreme Court and the American public would ever let that happen.

But Beck didn’t stop there. Warning his followers about signs of the end times, he pleaded, “I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church website. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”

I’ve heard the words “social justice” here at ACU on several occasions. Perhaps I need to start thinking about transferring to a place that hasn’t fallen into the sinister plot of the “progressives.” I had always figured “social justice” was a code word for “helping the poor and aiding the oppressed.”

Beck does not hold any advanced degrees in theology, yet he speaks on matters of faith and spirituality as if he has authority. He holds no law degree nor does he have any experience in politics, yet he speaks as if he has the remedy for all that ails the American political process. All Glenn Beck has is a high school diploma and a flair for the dramatic. In the minds of many (including Beck), that somehow makes him an expert on everything from economics to religion.

The same man who told the crowd, “We must look to God and look to love. We must defend those we disagree with,” not too long ago called the president of the United States “a racist” and compared Al Gore’s efforts to stop global warming to what Hitler did when he had scientists justify the Holocaust using eugenics. The same man who brands himself a populist “everyman” earned $32 million in the past year alone and currently plans to sell his 8,000 square foot home for $4 million.

Beck should not be regarded as a spiritual leader, and he is certainly not a political expert. Beck is not a modern day Martin Luther King, Jr., who endured nights in jail, death threats against his family and severe criticism from his fellow preachers – all to bring about what is right and good. Beck is an entertainer. He is in the business of fear-mongering and preying on people’s emotions to gain higher ratings and sell more books. And unfortunately for many of us, it appears business is good.

Imagine in the coming days the media reporting that current U.S. President Barack Obama reads from a bible that he has dissected, edited and altered to his liking. The President does not feel that much of the Bible is factually true nor God-breathed and in fact believes many parts, such as Jesus’ miracles, are fabricated ideas created by Evangelicals. In order to create a Bible that better suited his worldview, he cut and pasted the verses he liked and threw out the rest. The virgin birth, the resurrection and a host of other miracles were discarded and only 990 verses make the final cut. (1).

Can you imagine? The American public would never stand for it. The idea of U.S. President having the audacity to revise the Bible to his liking flies directly in the face of the idea of Christianity and Biblical principles being the foundation for America’s core values. Yet, that is exactly what Thomas Jefferson, founding father, author of the Declaration of Independence and third president of the United States did.

The Founding Fathers

Thomas Jefferson was a deist, along with Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Paine, John Adams and several other founding fathers (1)(2). Deists view God as a supreme being who simply created the world yet does not intervene in human affairs and reject miracles and the inerrancy of scripture. The founding fathers were men of the Age of Enlightenment and many were members of the Freemasons which may have shaped the founding beliefs surrounding religion much more than Christianity ever did.

The founding fathers themselves made it very clear that America was not founded on a Christian or even religious basis. Article XI of the 1796 Treaty with Tripoli clearly states that, “the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” (3)

John Adams, founding father and second president of the United States of America wrote in A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America,

“Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known … It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.” (4)

Colonial America

According to God is Back by The Economists’ John Micklethwait and Adrian Woodridge, “Church members never made up more than a third of the adult population of New England before the revolution, and may never have climbed as high as 17 percent in the southern colonies.”

Although many of the original settlers organized their laws around adherence to scripture and a belief in God, much of that zeal fell to the wayside as the colonies grew. By 1683, for example, 83 percent of taxpayers in Salem reported no religious affiliation (5).

Creating the Myth

In 1800 Mason Lock Weems published the first ever biography of George Washington titled: Life of George Washington; with Curious Anecdotes, Equally Honorable to Himself, and Exemplary to His Young Countrymen. Besides having an unnecessarily long title, the book also included many fabrications about Washington’s life. One of the more famous stories tells of how the future president at a young age chopped down a cherry tree and then when questioned by his father replied, “I can’t tell a lie, Pa; you know I can’t tell a lie.” Upon hearing this, his father, overjoyed, exclaimed, “Glad am I, George, that you killed my tree, for you have paid me for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son is worth more than a thousand trees, though blossomed with silver and their fruits of purest gold.” (6)

Weems was an ordained pastor and bookseller who combined both passions in order to create a portrait of Washington as a deeply religious man whom Americans could look to as a role-model of faithful living. As David Wallechinsky states in his Footnote People in U.S. History,
“The cherry tree escapade is but one of the tales in Weems’s Life of George Washington; with Curious Anecdotes, Equally Honorable to Himself, and Exemplary to His Young Countrymen, a largely fictitious, or at least lavishly embellished, account of our 1st President’s life and times. To say that the good parson had a flair for exaggeration would surely be an understatement, but what he did have was an eye for what the reading public thrived on, and what would sell a book.” (6)

Weem’s biography of Washington became his second best seller (next to the Bible) and he peddled the book throughout the country. The historically inaccurate biography became a popular bestseller in early America and was published into eighty-two known editions, including translations into French and German.

Many Americans also point to phrases such as “In God We Trust” and “One Nation Under God” as evidence of America’s religious founding. The phrase, “One Nation Under God” was inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance by a joint resolution of Congress in 1954 at the urging of President Eisenhower. (7) Similiarly, “In God We Trust” was not made a mandatory addition to United States currency until 1955 (8), over a century after our founding fathers were dead and buried.

(Thanks to Tony Godfrey for bringing this fact to my attention)

Conclusion

Human beings have always had a tendency to alter the truth when it comes to history. Stories get told and retold by those who, through their own worldview, lace the story with their perceptions of what happened. With each nuanced version diverting more from the truth than the last, legends and myths are created from what was once a historical record. It was perhaps this realization that made some of the founding fathers view the Bible, with its talk of miracles and resurrections, with suspicion.

Somewhere along the way the story of the birth of America was turned into the birth of an inherently Christian nation whose founding fathers might be viewed as the original board of directors for Focus on the Family. The founding fathers made it clear from the beginning that they did not want to replicate what they had fled from in Europe, a government so intertwined with the Church that the two were indistinguishable. America was not born a Christian nation, it grew into one.

America’s religiosity grew out of a system that valued free speech and an open society. America was perhaps the first time the marketplace of ideas was able to be implemented on a grand scale. It was this division of church and state, the freedom of expression towards religious practice, that made way for Christianity to flourish across America the way it has. To say that America’s Christianity is tied to the placement or displacement of phrases such as “One Nation Under God” or “In God We Trust” is to confuse cause for effect.

It is frustrating that many people’s perception of history is based upon misinformation and ultimately myths. The myth that America was founded on religious principles was created slowly over time yet was and is today perpetuated by many who seek to recreate history to fit their worldview. To edit, alter and ultimately rewrite history to better fit one’s liking sounds strikingly familiar to the dissecting of the Bible at the hands of a founding father.

Sources
1. HowStuffWorks.com
2. Founding Father’s Quotes on Religion
3. U.S. Treaty with Tripoli Article XI
4. “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” p. 13
5. God is Back, John Micklethwait and Adrian Woodridge
6. (Excerpts taken from “Footnote People in U.S. History”, People’s Almanac, David Wallechinsky, N.Y: Doubleday & Co, pp. 113-114).
7. How the Pledge Got God – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
8. The United States’ Mint

You all remember Al Gore. After losing a vicious battle for the presidency, the former vice president became one of the most ardent supporters of the green movement. His constant presence on television and Capitol Hill, along with his provocative documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, helped change the way we think about conservation and helped spur a global movement toward reducing our impact on the earth. Because of his life’s work, Al Gore is now the owner of an Oscar, a Nobel Peace Prize and a 10,000-square-foot mansion which consumes about 12 times more energy than the typical American home, according to the Associated Press.

Why does there seem to be such an obvious disconnect between the message and the messenger? A 2009 study in Psychological Science may have the answer. As David DiSalvo of Scientific American Mind explains, we are all victims of “riding the moral seesaw.” Our moral behavior can act as a bank account in which charitable acts make deposits toward our moral self-esteem and negative acts make withdrawals. Depending on the size of that bank account, we may feel the need to make more deposits or that we can afford to make withdrawals, acting immorally out of a surplus of moral self-worth.

The danger in this thinking, inherent in human nature, is that morality is viewed as a zero-sum game, in which acting rightly is really just a means to fill a quota. Christians may use good acts to offset sinful acts, rather than striving to do good simply because it is the right thing to do. As long as you have your quota filled, you can behave in whatever way you feel like. At least until your moral bank account runs low, which causes you to put in a few more hours at a shelter or donate money toward a noble cause.

This explains a lot about the inconsistencies in human nature. It explains why some celebrity activists will board gas-guzzling private jets to fly across the country in order to denounce SUV owners for wasting fuel. It explains why waiters can usually expect to receive the worst tips Sunday afternoons from the after-church crowd. It explains why sometimes Christians who do a lot of good through charities and mission work can sometimes be incredibly indifferent toward others they see every day.

In Al Gore’s case, the rationale behind his extravagant energy consumption was that he offsets his home’s energy usage by buying “green power” from a utility program that sells blocks of green energy from renewable sources, which allows him to offset 100 percent of his energy usage. It’s complicated, but the basic premise is that Gore is able to “buy” renewable energy while still enjoying a heated pool, gas lanterns and an electric gate so on paper his carbon footprint is zero.

You can’t offset carbon emissions any more than you can offset immoral behavior. In the same way that Gore still causes air pollution and consumes energy, acting wrongly still means you acted wrongly. Immoral behavior is canceled through grace and forgiveness. You cannot cover your immoral behavior with good actions; you have to stop the behavior altogether. Moral pollution is moral pollution; it is simply an inconvenient truth.

Ray Barone just cannot seem to do anything right. To be fair, neither can Jim Belushi, Tim Taylor or most of the fathers in sitcoms and advertising today. None of these men or their cartoon counterparts, like Homer Simpson or Peter Griffin, ever seem to be able fulfill their fatherly duties without making a huge mess of things – a mess their wives always have to clean up.

We’ve come a long way since the days of The Brady Bunch or The Cosby Show where fathers were productive members of their families. In the early days of sitcoms, the woman of the family was the helpless one whose sole duty was to mind the kitchen and look good for her husband. She was pretty one-dimensional. Thankfully, those days are over, and women are portrayed in a much more positive light. However, one has to wonder whether the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction.

Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor was perhaps the first father figure who just couldn’t figure it out. Most who watched the show could pick up a predictable pattern. Tim would do something to upset Jill, either on his hit cable show, Tool Time, or at home. Confused, Tim would proceed to the backyard where his sagelike next-door neighbor, Wilson, would dispense advice. Then, after a comical back-and-forth session with his clad-in-plaid assistant, Al, he would come to a better understanding of his error and make amends.

So Tim might have been lovably slow at times. But at least he had plenty of redeeming qualities.

First, he actually went to work and was productive around the house. Most men in sitcoms today seem capable only of occupying the recliner in front of the TV while their wives handle the kids, the housework and whatever mess their incompetent husbands have gotten themselves into (see According to Jim; King of Queens; Yes, Dear; Everybody Loves Raymond; Still Standing; etc.). Nowadays, it seems all men are portrayed as overweight couch potatoes who somehow managed to marry much more attractive and independent women with much higher IQs than their husbands.

Whenever Tim Taylor messed up, which was often, he was at least surrounded by other men who were competent and understanding (Wilson) or emotionally intelligent (Al). Where can Ray Barone or Tim Griffin turn but to their equally confused and dull-witted peers?

Interspersed between these sitcoms is advertising that sends the same message: Men are incapable of taking care of themselves or their families. While these comedic portrayals of men can be entertaining, they can also be quite damaging.

According to Gender Issues in Advertising Language, “Television portrayals that help create or reinforce negative stereotypes can lead to problems with self-image, self-concept, and personal aspirations. Young men learn that they are expected to screw up, that women will have the brains to their brawn, and that childcare is over their heads.”

Negative portrayals can be especially damaging to children who grow up without fathers because these children will grow up with a distorted view of what men and fathers are really like.

The Brady Bunch and the earliest sitcoms may not have been the most realistic depiction of the typical American family life, but as far as depicting men as fathers, they were much better than what we have today. Men are smarter than that. I hope television networks will figure that out, but for now that seems as likely as Ray Barone figuring out how to take on his fair share of fatherly duties.

Dear Winter,

It pains me to say this, especially since you have been an annual part of my life for more than two decades, but you need to go. It is time to move on. The winter wonderland that once made me think of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer now conjures up images of The Shining.

I don’t mean to be overdramatic, but I would probably equate walking to work down Washington Boulevard every morning to that episode of Man vs. Wild where Bear Grylls treks across Siberia. It really is that bad. Perhaps that is an exaggeration, but I really would appreciate some warmer weather.

I’m not saying months (many, many months) from now you won’t be welcomed back into our lives with gratitude. But it’s now March, and I’m tired of paying high energy bills. I’m tired of being behind on my Tuesday/Thursday classes. I’m tired of going to Google images just to remind myself what the sun looks like. You really need to think about moving on.

You are like the relative or old best friend that comes into town to visit for an extended period of time but doesn’t know when to leave. Having you around is great at first. Everyone remembers the last time we all got together and how fun that was; it seems like forever since we last saw each other. Then it gets old. After awhile it appears you don’t know when you have worn out your welcome. Let me clear up any confusion – it’s time to go.

The thing is – I miss spring. He is not scheduled to arrive until March 20, but I don’t think keeping things miserably cold until he arrives is going to make anyone miss you when you finally leave (whenever that may be, I hope soon). Remember when the average range of temperatures this time of year was mid 40s to high 60s? I miss those days.

I fully acknowledge I cannot control the weather. There is not much I can do to influence you one way or the other as far as the weekly forecast is concerned. Countless ancient peoples have had to learn this over the centuries, and I am certainly not about to perform a rain dance or kidnap a groundhog to prevent six more weeks of winter. I just thought if on the off chance you are an avid reader of the Optimist, then maybe I could persuade you to move things along. If not, maybe spring will decide to edge you out – I’m certainly a bigger fan of his at the moment.