Thursday, January 29, 2015

Birth rates, prosperity, and over population - Part 1

I still remember reading a selection from An Essay on the Principle of Population by the Rev. Thomas Malthus, an Anglican cleric, in the first economics course that I took, my first semester of college. Malthus argued that population multiplies geometrically while food production increases arithmetically. From his late eighteenth century, pre-birth control vantage point, human over population seemed inevitable. Malthus, for whom I as an Anglican cleric and student of economics feel a particular affinity, was the first person known to have identified and written about the potential threat of human over population.

Around the time that I read Malthus, books such as David Brower and Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb (published in 1968) and Donna H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and William W. Behrens' Club of Rome report, The Limits of Growth (published in 1972), generated considerable furor on related issues. For example, one of three possible scenarios sketched in the latter volume forecast over population and global economic collapse by the mid-twenty first century. In spite of widespread access to birth control and efforts to limit population growth, over population remains a threat. The Limits of Growth merits a quick look because of its prescience in identifying the challenges of meeting demands generated by an exponentially increasing global population through geometrically increasing means of production and static resources. The book, for example, questions how much we can increase carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere without irreversibly harming the global climate.

Conversely, articles have recently appeared in a variety of periodicals suggesting that the next global financial crisis may begin in Japan. Not only has Japan suffered from over two decades of deflation and stagnation, but Japan's population is also aging and declining. The changes are apparent in population data as well as the growing disinterest of young Japanese men and women in sex, childbearing, and marriage. Something similar is happening in the US as the millennial generation chooses education over having children and marriage. (If these ideas are unfamiliar, you may want to read: Peter Boone and Simon Johnson, "The Next Panic," The Atlantic, September 19, 2012; Max Fisher, "Japan’s sexual apathy is endangering the global economy," Washington Post, October 22, 2013; and Siri Srinivas, "The new American dream: high school-educated millennials pursue individualism rather than marriage," The Guardian, January 5, 2015).

How large a human population can the earth sustain? Is population growth essential for sustained economic prosperity? Last month, an Ethical Musings' reader inquired whether the US has enough people to support healthcare and other benefit programs for its aging population. Since then, I've given those questions some thought. My reflections on those issues will appear in my next two Ethical Musings posts.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Losing the Church or gaining new life?

In college and seminary in the 1970s, I was taught that stasis was theologically superior to dynamism. For example, course content emphasized that God – unlike humans – is immutable, unchanging, and unchangeable. I was taught that revelation ended when the canon closed. Yes, God still spoke to individuals, but God had no fresh message, revelation, or scripture to give to God's people. My professors openly disdained groups such as the Mormons and Pentecostals who believed in God's ongoing revelation.

For reasons I could not clearly specify at the time, I was not convinced that stasis was superior to dynamism. Illustratively, the Bible appeared to describe God changing God's mind, though my professors were quick to point out the Biblical basis for believing that God is unchanging. Conceptualizing heaven as eternal bliss seemed more like an endless punishment: without change, what would be new? What would bring fresh excitement or joy? Intentionally using caricature, I scoffed at the notion of anyone finding drifting on a cloud, wearing a halo, and plucking a harp eternally satisfying. I pondered the dissonance between Christianity's emphasis on stasis and Buddhism's emphasis on the transitory nature of existence.

Post seminary, I began to perceive more clearly that the cosmos, in its entirety and in its individual particulars, is dynamic. At a quantum level, nothing is static. We humans are dynamic. Most of our cells live seven years or less. Brain physiology constantly changes as new synapses form, ions shift locations, and new patterns supplant old ones. Indeed, existence of an enduring self is largely illusory, consisting of consciousness continually reemerging from an ever-changing physiology. The scientific description of the cosmos seemed at odds with the description implicit in much of the theology I had been taught. Furthermore, why is it unreasonable to expect that human knowledge of the divine will increase over time, even as human knowledge of the cosmos increased over time? Why is it unreasonable to speculate that a changing cosmos changes God?

Although introduced to process thought in college (never in seminary!), I began to read process thought again, discovering philosophy and theology that emphasized dynamism instead of stasis. This reading accelerated when I was privileged to study under Marjorie Suchocki during my DMin program. Every moment, and every entity, perishes.

Over the years, listening to people describe their journeys to me, I realized that yearning for stasis or permanency often expresses a desire or an attempt to avoid loss in one of its many forms, e.g., death, a relationship ending, diminished capacity due to age or illness, termination of a job or career aspirations, etc. Yearning for stasis or permanency can also be a coping strategy after a loss. Alternatively, I discovered that an awareness of life's transitoriness – although it can cause fear or anxiety – could also help a person to savor each moment and to cope with the inevitability of loss.

The Episcopal Church is living through a time of great loss. Membership is declining substantially. In many places, parish buildings are becoming liabilities instead of assets. Institutional structures at the diocesan and national levels that once provided vital and vigorous ministries are increasingly perceived as burdens and unnecessary overhead. A model of being the Church – the incarnate body of Christ – that served reasonably well for centuries now feels ever more antiquated. No longer do we live in Christendom, nor can we even pretend to do so (if one is honest, Christendom has always been more myth than fact).

Yet, many of us cling to the Church that we love and that has given us life, light, and love. I sense a widespread yearning for stasis among Episcopalians fearful of change. The motives for resisting ecclesial change, when change is both inevitable and endemic to the cosmos, deserve reflection. These motives may include a misplaced allegiance to a place or building, selfish efforts to preserve power accumulated through current structures and systems, or desperate attempts to sustain an illusion of spiritual and emotional stability in a world that is changing too rapidly for comfort.

What would happen if we embrace the changes as signs of God's continuing activity in the world? First, instead of fearing the changes, we might recognize that through the loss of buildings, structure, and influence God is cutting our attachment to idols and drawing us more firmly into God's love. Shifting our theological paradigms would also end our futile expenditure of intellectual and emotional energy in vain attempts to preserve the illusion of stasis.

Second, we might find that dynamic patterns of being God's people are more exciting, fulfilling, and life giving. A ritualized form of a communal meal becomes a real meal sacramentally shared. People, not physical or organizational structures, again become the Church's basic elements. Living as a faithful remnant can also increase our awareness of God's presence, more dramatically transforming our lives and accentuating our witness in the world.

Third, new wineskins for this new age might further multiply the effects. Crowdsourcing might replace assessments and complex budgetary processes. Direct democracy might replace our current representative form of democracy. (Incidentally, a US labor union is allowing its 15,000 members to vote directly via the internet to ratify or reject a proposed contract; Episcopalians can surely likewise vote on diocesan and national agendas).

Communications already flow unimpeded across the Church; why not allow money and power to do the same? Being a large connectional Church in prior generations required hierarchy and representational processes, but technology can now make both superfluous. A new model would take seriously Paul's comments to the Corinthians that no part of the body is worthy of more honor than another; the body has equal need of all of its parts. Additionally, by decreasing institutional maintenance requirements, these changes would effectively expand resources available for mission.

In losing – letting go of that which we once considered gains – we can win.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The wealth effect

$ £ € ₩ ₨ ₱

What is the effect of wealth on happiness and living the abundant life?

Wealth can corrode one's spirit and morality.

A recent study suggests that wealth makes a person more dishonest and selfish (cf. Michael Lewis, "What wealth does to your soul," The New Republic, January 2, 2015). This how University of California Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner explained the result:

If I have $100,000 in my bank account, winning $50 alters my personal wealth in trivial fashion. It just isn't that big of a deal. If I have $84 in my bank account, winning $50 not only changes my personal wealth significantly, it matters in terms of the quality of my life — the extra $50 changes what bill I might be able to pay, what I might put in my refrigerator at the end of the month, the kind of date I would go out on, or whether or not I could buy a beer for a friend. The value of winning $50 is greater for the poor, and, by implication, the incentive for lying in our study greater. Yet it was our wealthy participants who were far more likely to lie for the chance of winning fifty bucks.

Wealth can erode communal trust and civic participation.

Another study shows that wealth makes Americans more likely to vote and to trust the government (Jana Kasperkevic, "Poor Americans are less likely to vote and more likely to distrust government, study shows, " The Guardian, January 9, 2015). Those conclusions make intuitive sense. People who vote are logically more likely to trust a government that they helped to elect or that is part of a political system in which they are personally invested. Conversely, one might reasonably expect governments to be most responsive to those citizens who are most engaged with the political process, i.e., voters and campaign contributors.

Greater wealth and income, beyond a certain level, do assure greater happiness or more abundant living.

Previous Ethical Musings posts have noted that beyond a certain income level, increasing one's income does not proportionately increase happiness. In other words, earning more money to increase one's wealth (or becoming wealthy in what is known as the "old-fashioned way" by inheriting it) is no guarantee of happiness or an abundant life, especially as one's annual income moves above $80,000.

The world's great religious traditions are correct to insist that wealth is at best a tool and never a goal to be sought for its own sake.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Seeking God's will

How can we discern God's will for our lives? Why do some people (e.g., violent religious extremists) go so wrong in their efforts to discern God's will? I address those questions in my most recent sermon, available here.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Mormons excommunicate dissidents

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormons, is in the process of excommunicating two high profile dissidents. One of these dissidents is Kate Kelly from the group, Ordain Women, which is an interest group within the Mormon Church that supports the ordination of women. The other dissident is John Dehlin, a blogger prominent among Mormons for his support of women's ordination and same-sex marriage. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints opposes both the ordination of women and same-sex marriage.

One the one hand, boundaries are essential for group identity. In the Episcopal Church, as remains true in the Church of England, confirmation was required to receive Holy Communion. That policy shifted to welcome all of the baptized to Holy Communion. Supporters rightly argued that refusing Holy Communion to the Baptized made no sense because in Holy Baptism an individual becomes a full member of the body of Christ.

I'm opposed to current moves to welcome anyone, regardless of baptism, to Holy Communion. That move eliminates the last boundary defining who is and who is not a member of the Church.

One the other hand, I strongly support both the ordination of women and same-sex marriage, views with which Ethical Musings' have repeatedly seen affirmed in this blog. However, protesters should expect to pay a price. Protest without price is akin to cheap grace, i.e., almost worthless. I first learned this lesson when in high school when I wanted to join an anti-Vietnam war protest in lieu of attending a social studies class. When several of us queried the teacher, she replied that protesters unwilling to pay a price for their actions could not change the world. The US and India would both be very different countries today if thousands of people in both had not been willing to pay the price of protest. When people protest injustice, then the arc of history bends inexorably in support of their protest and reactionary defense of injustice will eventually prove futile.

Both of the Mormon dissidents, Kate Kelly and John Dehlin, have stood fast, not abandoning their views in the face of Mormon threats of excommunication. Change will come to the Mormons. May the examples of Kelly and Dehlin on this weekend before the annual commemoration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., inspire us to similarly stand for justice, regardless of personal cost.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Keystone XL pipeline debate

The Keystone XL pipeline debate seems to me to be much ado about nothing (or at least very little).

On the one hand, the major environmental issue is that extracting oil from the Arctic tar sands has severe adverse environmental consequences because of the release of harmful gases into the atmosphere. Not building the pipeline will not stop development of the tar sands. The pipeline question is really one of the safest, most environmentally responsible means of transporting what the oil. US citizens can protest, but banning the extraction is really a Canadian issue.

At the right price, the oil is worth extracting. Wells for extracting oil from tar sands usually have a productive life of 30-40 years, during which oil producers expect oil's price to fluctuate considerably. If US consumers dramatically reduced their oil consumption (e.g., reduce miles drive per year to 5,000 per person and only buy vehicles that have an estimated miles per gallon in excess of 40), global demand for petroleum products might drop substantially. Then oil companies would have far less of an incentive (perhaps no incentive!) to develop costly sources of oil, such as the Artic tar sands. Changes in US lifestyles might ripple around the world, given both the US's influence on many other cultures and the profitability of selling gas efficient vehicles in multiple markets.

On the other hand, the major economic issue related to the Keystone XL pipeline appears to be creation of a few thousand short-term jobs, mostly for construction workers (Glen Kessler, "Will Keystone XL pipeline create 42,000 ‘new’ jobs?" Washington Post, January 6, 2015). This project is too small to be a lasting catalyst for economic revival. The project's effects are likely to be similar to those of the Alaskan pipeline, which provided a similar, short-term economic boost to the Alaskan economy but did not have significant long-term consequences for the state (NB: I'm discussing the pipeline and not the exploitation of Arctic oil fields!).

Consequently, I found Ryan Lizza's suggestion in The New Yorker that the Keystone XL pipeline represented an opportunity for Obama to make a deal with the Republican controlled Congress Intriguing. Lizza suggested that a deal might allow the Republicans to claim an economic victory in terms of job creation and Obama to claim an environmental victory by trading the pipeline for Congress approving a much more significant environmental issue such as EPA guidelines for carbon emissions. His article is worth reading ("The Keystone XL Test: Can Obama Make a Deal?" The New Yorker, January 9, 2015) and an idea Obama and our Senators and Representatives in DC should support.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The worrying rise of radical Islam in the West

The recent attack on the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo (cf. my Ethical Musings' post on the subject) is indicative of a growing problem in both European nations and the United States. Radical Islam is on the rise among Muslims citizens.

The most common explanations point either to the teachings of Islam or to the influence of radical Islamist groups such as al Qaeda. Both of those explanations have just enough substance to be half-truths that mislead and deflect attention from the real problem.

Islam is a religion of peace that teaches tolerance. His contemporaries repeatedly subjected the prophet Mohammed to ridicule and abuse. Yet he never condemned those critics nor did he attempt to punish them. Indeed, the Koran (unlike the Jewish and Christian scriptures!) does not include any punishment for blasphemy. Hadiths (the compilation of sayings, actions, and traditions that are associated with Mohammed) do condemn blasphemy and provide the basis for laws in many Islamic nations (e.g., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) against ridiculing the prophet and blasphemy. Illustratively, Saudi Arabia this week sentenced a liberal blogger to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison for criticizing that state's version of Islam.

In sum, an extreme interpretation of the Hadiths has contributed to engendering an extreme intolerance among radical Islamists. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack, the leader of at least one Islamist group, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah of Lebanon's Hezbollah has declared that the attackers have insulted Islam and the Mohammed more than did the satirical cartoons.

The problem with half-truths is that they contain some truth. One can interpret the Koran, as can be done with any religious scripture, in many ways; some of those interpretations will strongly support violent acts, even though the preponderance of adherents strongly decries both the interpretation and the violence. If that were the whole story, then religiously motivated violence by Muslims would remain as sporadic as it is among Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and others.

Similarly, al Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups do exert some influence in their local areas of operation and among Western Muslims. If that were the whole story, then those groups would exert no more influence than does a radical group such as the Christian anti-abortion terror group, Operation Rescue. France has a population of 66 million. Approximately 1000 of them – about 0.0015%, or 1 in 66,000 people – has gone to Syria to fight with one of the Islamists groups there. Analyses of historical patterns of fighters returning home from Afghanistan and elsewhere suggest that fewer than 10% of the 1000 are likely to return to France to continue jihad there (for details analysis, cf. the conclusion of my book, Just Counterterrorism). In other words, the much-hyped threat that the influence of foreign groups poses an existential threat is another half-truth, i.e., has just enough substance to be credible but actually misconstrues the real problem.

The larger cause of Westerners becoming Islamic extremists is Western intolerance toward, and lack of respect for, immigrants who happen to be Muslims. Secular France is notorious for its haughty unacceptance of strangers, an attitude heightened when the immigrants are people of color who are neither secular nor Christian. Similar dynamics are operative, though perhaps more subtly, in the United States and other European nations.

Most immigrants leave their country of origin hoping to make a new life for themselves in their adopted country, finding there a security and prosperity impossible in their country of origin. The full integration of immigrants into the receiving country's population can often require several generations and rarely is easy. However, when integration occurs at a glacial pace, and when the host nation and its people not only fail to respect immigrants but view them as either a source of low cost labor or parasites, then resentment develops among the immigrants' grandchildren and great-grandchildren (and occasionally the children).

In Islam, unlike some other religious traditions, economic and political discontent has a long history of finding its most effective expression in religious language. That is, people frame their protests in terms of how the state (or other forces of oppression) is violating Islam's teachings. From this perspective, the attack on Charlie Hebdo for blasphemy is really a protest – albeit an unethical one because of the violence and killing – against France's lack of respect for immigrants who happen to be Muslim. Violent attacks of this type will increase and further polarize populations until we address its root cause – the widespread lack of respect and equal opportunity that many European and US immigrants routinely experience.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Attack on Charlie Hebdo

Two days ago, French terrorists attacked the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a weekly newspaper of satire and political commentary published in Paris. The terrorists who attacked the paper were deeply offended by cartoons of the prophet Mohammed that the paper had published. The attack occurred after the paper persisted in publishing similar cartoons, ignoring warnings not to do so.

You can see the cartoons online, e.g., here and here. They do not appeal to me. However, Charlie Hebdo should have the legal right to publish those cartoons – or any other cartoons they desire to publish. In the past, Charlie Hebdo has also heavily satirized Christianity, Judaism, other religions, and most major institutions in France. Free speech, of which a free press is a very important expression, is an essential of a healthy, free, pluralistic society.

France has responded to the attack exactly as I recommend in my book, Just Counterterrorism:

  • With courage: people have persevered in their daily lives and taken to the streets of Paris to demonstrate their public support for the paper's right to publish the materials of its choice;
  • With prudence: France has place in a terror threat warning system similar to that in the US, encouraging people to take effective measures to reduce their vulnerability;
  • With justice: the French have not condemned all Muslims, indeed French Muslims have declared their support for Charlie Hebdo's right to publish the cartoons; the French have also pursued the terror suspects relying upon law enforcement personnel and standard protocols;
  • With temperance: though shaken by the attack, the French have responded with confident assurance, knowing that the attack, horrendous though it was, did not jeopardize their nation or way of life.

Ironically, the attack has further the aims of Charlie Hebdo in a way probably unimaginable to the publisher even a week ago. Few people outside of France were aware of Charlie Hebdo, with its small circulation of about 100,000 copies per week, before the attack. A significant number of people aware of Charlie Hebdo disagreed with its politics or found its satire crude if not objectionable. Today, Charlie Hebdo has become a cause célèbre and probably millions of people have seen the cartoons that the attackers found offensive.

Counterterrorism authorities are uncertain if the attackers acted as a small group or as part of a larger organization, such as al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Initial assessments are that the latter appears unlikely. Most probably, propaganda on the internet from a group such as AQAP inspired the three men, all of whom are thought to be French nationals, though of Algerian heritage. If that is correct, then the attack demonstrates more of what I argue in Just Counterterrorism. That is, that a small group (e.g., 3 men) may conduct a serious attack but cannot pose an existential threat to a state. Additionally, terror groups, to have any chance of success, must espouse a cause that resonates with their intended enabling constituency. The overwhelming condemnation of the attack by Muslims internationally, and especially within France, underscores that these criminals lack that support.

No state can completely avoid terror attacks by lone individuals or small groups.

However, this attack also underscores that no terror group inherently poses an intractable, unsolvable problem. The Just Counterterrorism Model proposed in Just Counterterrorism provides an approach to counterterrorism that is ethical, flexible, effective, and comprehensive.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Was Jesus married?

Photo: Karen L. King/Harvard/AP
Papyrus fragment of a lost gospel that supports claims Jesus was married.

Was Jesus married?

My answer to that question has shifted dramatically over the years, moving from a firm negative, to a tentative affirmative, and then to a confident affirmative. The shift reflects a broader shift in my thinking about Jesus, the Bible, and theology.

In seminary, and the years immediately following, I accepted much of traditional Christian theology, and the biblical interpretations upon which it rests, at face value. This resulted in an often uneasy, unacknowledged contradiction between that theology and some of my thinking, e.g., with respect to Christian exclusivity. Over the years, I've struggled to reconcile a growing appreciation of genuine pluralism, science, and Christianity. The result has diminished my acceptance of traditional Christian theology; I increasingly appreciate theology's dynamic rather than static nature and regard revelation in relationally rather than propositionally.

Traditionally, Christianity has asserted that Jesus never married. No evidence supports this assertion. The New Testament's silence on the subject is no help: arguments based upon silence have little if any logical force. Instead, the assertion that Jesus never married was a necessary correlate of the orthodox formulation of Jesus' ontological identity as fully human and fully divine. If Jesus had married, would his children have been fully (or even partially) divine, sharing both Jesus' dual nature and his wife's humanity? Furthermore, Christianity from its early days adopted a very negative attitude toward sex and procreation. How could a sinless Jesus engage in sexual intercourse? Jesus' bachelorhood also provides the most important basis for a celibate clergy, men who emulate Jesus by remaining single as in the Roman Catholic Church.

More recently, I've concluded that the stories of Jesus' divinity represent attempts by early Christians to talk in a meaningful, historically and culturally appropriate way about their experience of God's life-giving, liberating love in their encounter with the person and story of Jesus. Twenty-first century Christians still experience God's life-giving, liberating love in their encounter with Jesus' story, but find the concepts of a fully human/fully divine being incomprehensible and incompatible with modern scientific thought. In other words, those stories invite us into the mystery of ultimate reality and transformative power even though the metaphors and myths through which people attempt to communicate that reality have become increasingly anachronistic.

Sadly, the shift in my thinking was slow. Theologians and biblical scholars began arguing for those positions at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. Bishops like John A.T. Robinson in the Church of England and John Spong in the Episcopal Church (e.g., cf. his book, Born of a Woman) started popularizing those views in the mid-twentieth century.

If one accepts the validity of these updated perspectives, then Jesus was a first century Jewish peasant who lived in Galilee. It's almost inconceivable that he, like all of his peers, did not enter as a teenager into an arranged marriage. Most likely, that marriage resulted in children. Nothing factual is known of his children or spouse. Controversies about recently discovered documents lend credence to the supposition that Jesus was married (cf. Paul Wilkinson, "Lost Gospel? 'Deepest bilge' say historians," Church Times, Nov. 14, 2014; Joel Baden and Candida Moss, "The Curious Case of Jesus's Wife," The Atlantic, Nov. 17, 2014)

Speculation that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' wife originated in Christianity's early years and continues to attract considerable speculation, e.g., in Dan Brown's bestseller, The Da Vinci Code. If Mary Magdalene were Jesus' wife, it might explain why legend links her romantically with Jesus (legend most times has some historical basis) and why Christians have often condemned her as a prostitute (i.e., because to admit that she was Jesus' wife would be to introduce sexual pollution into the sinless Jesus).

Presuming that Jesus was married paints a picture of a human Jesus, a person who faced a life similar to mine and yet who embodied both a radical obedience to God and a radical love for others. This is the Jesus I want to know; this is the Jesus whom I want to emulate.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Predictions for 2015

Predicting the future is an interesting exercise for anyone without a crystal ball or psychic powers. I want to recognize my hopes for what they are. I would like to see the advent of world peace, yet I know that world peace in 2015 is a dream. Similarly, I try to ignore aspirational goals that depend upon me to achieve them, e.g., I want to move to Hawaii but recognize that whether I relocate to Hawaii in 2015 depends entirely upon choices that my partner and I make. The best prognostications entail identifying present trends likely to continue into the future. Readers may thus find some of my predictions obvious. Their value, for me, is in formulating the predictions I ponder what our world will be like in the year ahead.

Here, arranged by topic, are my predictions for 2015:

  • World affairs
    • Syrian President Assad will remain in power, Iraq will move closer to fragmenting, the Islamic State will consolidate its hold on parts of Syria and the current Iraq, and Israel will not make peace with the Palestinians. The US will block the Palestinian's bid for recognition as a state by the United Nations. In short, 2015 will not see major changes in the Middle East.
    • Although terror attacks will continue, no nation will experience a terror attack on the scale of the 9/11 attacks.
    • Regardless of the outcome of talks intended to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, neither the US nor Israel will attack Iran.
    • Afghanistan will continue to disintegrate.
    • Global climate change will continue to worsen, indicated by an increase in the number of major storms and other unusual weather phenomena, and few nation states or multi-national corporations will implement major initiatives to reverse those changes.
    • The Ebola epidemic will worsen and then lessen after development of an effective vaccine and of improved treatment for those with the virus.
  • Economics
    • The price of oil will drop to $40 (or lower) per barrel before rebounding, but it will not hit $80 by year's end (OPEC appears committed to keeping production high; increased US production will more than offset any disruptions to Russian oil and gas production).
    • US stocks will have another good year (up maybe 10%), primarily because of a lack of good alternative investments (bonds will perform poorly – see my next prediction).
    • Interest rates will rise slowly in the US, starting sometime in the second half of the year.
    • The US housing market will continue its slow recovery in spite of a rising cost of mortgages (because of an increase in interest rates).
    • Europe will continue to totter on the brink of another recession, experiencing what is at best an anemic recovery.
  • Social and cultural
    • The US Supreme Court will hear a case about the legality of same sex marriage and rule in favor of it.
    • The US Congress and President will remain at odds, stalemating most legislation, but somehow avoiding another government shutdown.
    • The following trends will continue unabated: increased secularism, diminished religiosity, increased utilization of wireless devices in spite of continuing government surveillance, and the widening gap between affluent and poor (i.e., the middle class will continue to disappear).
    • Tensions between whites and blacks will erupt into open conflict one or more times in the US. This will underscore what the events of 2014 demonstrated so graphically: race relations may have improved, but still are far from Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision of a society in which people are judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.
    • The Episcopal Church will not elect a white male as its next Presiding Bishop.

What are your predictions for 2015? If you're willing, I'd be delighted if you will share them with Ethical Musings' readers.
Happy New Year!