Discover Magazine: Grandma’s Experiences Leave Epigenetic Mark on Your Genes (Dan Hurley)
Before the 1970s, genes were the fixed limits of life. With DNA as boss and RNA the secretary, combinations of genes produced a certain physiological outcome and it wasn’t clear what made one gene express and another not. But over the last 40 years, through independent research as well as massive collaborations like the Human Genome Project, we’ve learned the number, location, and functions of more than 20,000 genes and the hormones and processes that trigger them.
Now that the HGP is over, more scientists are looking at how experiences shape gene expression during the life cycle and across generations. That’s what the hybrid field of epigenetics is all about. This article from the pop science magazine Discover takes a closer look at two leading epigeneticists and the methylation of DNA—how methyl and aceytl molecules adjacent to DNA strands influences selective protein development, how something as simple as a regular gym practice can change the DNA a person was born with, and which traumas and bonding experiences can trigger epigenetic change.
Like silt deposited on the cogs of a finely tuned machine after the seawater of a tsunami recedes, our experiences, and those of our forebears, are never gone, even if they have been forgotten. They become a part of us, a molecular residue holding fast to our genetic scaffolding… The mechanisms of behavioral epigenetics underlie not only deficits and weaknesses but strengths and resiliencies, too. —Dan Hurley
Beguine Again: Of Dead-Weasel Toupees And Homophobia (James R. Cowles)
If you object to the series of public service discrimination laws recently proposed in four US states and vetoed in a fifth, why? What’s your legal basis? Does it matter to you whether a citizen’s attributes are chosen?
Jim Cowles argues that a completely different question—objective harm—provides a more stable legal basis for evaluating competing rights and the merits, if any, of discrimination against an entire class. The SCOTUS-level reviews of Proposition 8 and DOMA during 2012-2013 also focused on objective harms rather than choice.
As I said to Jim: “I was raised in a particular religious tradition and didn’t have any influence on that environment. But I remain with that tradition by choice, not mandate. I could abandon it; I could choose another tradition; and whether I did or not would still not validate discrimination against me on the grounds of my religion.”
Religion is a protected category in this country, but what if it wasn’t? It would still be to our collective advantage not to use individual choice as the basis for validating whole-class discrimination.
Related: Comicbook Bin: Nightcrawler and the Demonization of Homosexuality (J. Skyler) #LongRead
J. Skyler, a #qfaith participant, shared this essay with the group this week. It’s a long read that’s worth the effort, and fills out some of the rhetorical moves behind recent anti-LGBTI legislation. If you’re unfamiliar with the content, you’ll see plenty to research on your own.
Blind devotion to cultural misconceptions is a plague unto itself.”
Faith, freedom, religious schools, and value conflicts
Religions News Service: Leadership changes at Cedarville University point to conservative direction (Sarah Pulliam Bailey)
Anthony B Susan: I will not suffer a woman (Sarah Jones)
Christian Post: Christian College Solidifies Complementarian Stance (Ruth Moon)
The RNS report updates readers on how one North Carolina university has handled value diversity within its faculty, among its students, and from its off-campus stakeholders: the Southern Baptist constituency has replaced Cedarville University’s senior administration and the new president has begun making course-level changes. I referenced Cedarville in a series on faith and freedom on this site last quarter.
Religious colleges and universities sometimes struggle to host respectful campus conversations about controversial beliefs without resorting to “Agree or Resign.” I think this struggle intensifies when schools can operate as if isolated from the world around them. Legally, of course, religious institutions have a lot of latitude to self-govern based on governance statements and denominational requirements. At the same time, off-campus publicity can and sometimes does motivate institutions to act according to their highest ethics rather than just the most expedient ones.
Wall Street Journal: Success Outside the Dress Code (Shirley S. Wang)
Wang sums up some research on group dynamics: how nonconformists mark their difference through clothing selections or language variations, and how other group members interpret these differences. An interesting finding: if group members think someone varies from a norm by accident, the nonconformist gets no status points. Only variations perceived as deliberate are read as additive status markers.
People veer from what’s expected after they’ve built up enough trust within a group. [But] acting differently risks losing the benefits that come with conforming, such as shared group identity and automatic group trust…
Willingness to deviate can be useful for groups as well, particularly when it comes to decision-making… The person who brings up alternative points of view to make sure the group has sufficiently examined all options can help the group reach a better decision. If the group trusts the individual’s intentions, this perspective will be considered seriously and the individual will still be considered part of the group.
I was most intrigued by this finding on trust. It’s trust that allows a group to reap the benefits of nonconformity, but if a group distrusts people who vary from its norms, it won’t accept what they contribute and won’t reap benefits from them.
Framing nonconformists as disloyal to the group undermines trust. So does exclusion.
Exercising One’s Moral Imagination
Temple of the Future (Patheos): How to check your privilege in 5 excruciating steps (James Croft)
I cannot stress how important the development of the moral imagination is for all aspects of ethical discourse and discernment, particularly in cases where you are making ethical judgments regarding experiences you have never had, and never will have.” —James Croft
This is a read-and-reflect kind of article. I look forward to hearing what my network has to say about it.
One of the things that’s missing from much of the moral-ethical discussion in my denomination at the moment is a strong sense of particularity: that we are, as individuals and as members of a larger culture, grounded in a specific body, time, and place, and that this temporal-spatial location constrains what we see in the world and how we interpret what we see.
The insight of particularity is 40-50 years old in social science research, but only just being attended to in evangelical-fundamentalist theological circles. I think it’s one reason why we’ve preferred to pronounce our opinions than listen to the experiences of others.
Taking a Literary Break
Schomburg Center: Between the Lines: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie with Zadie Smith
Adichie and Smith offer a wonderful conversation about identity and writing and womanhood in this video (uncaptioned). I resonate with both women: Smith because of our common UK-Jamaican heritage and experience, and Adichie because of her insights into the Black immigrant’s insider-outsider view of the United States and America’s continuing challenge with the Other.
The Schomburg Center’s recording device lost signal at around the 37 min mark, but hang in there for about 40 seconds and it does resume.