Sunday, August 26, 2007

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Where Am I ?

Three business trips in three weeks. Slammed or out of town on the weekends. Add it all together, and we get a paucity of postings.
I'll be back . . .

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Need Advice? Ask the Imam.

The Internet has ushered many wonders into our lives, not the least of which is the opportunity to obtain advice on the thorny issues of life.

Check out these three websites for inquiring Muslims. You can learn a lot about their faith, in particular how incredibly legalistic it is. The Pharisees had nothing on these guys. (Sample question: If I burp while fasting and then swallow what I burp up, have I broken the fast? Answer: If it only made it to the throat and not the mouth, you have not broken the fast.)

I'm thankful to the true God that I don't have to live in constant fear of making a misstep and ticking Him off. I'm thankful that my ability to obey depends on more than willpower. And I'm thankful that in the form of Jesus, God came "to rescue us from the hand of our enemies and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days" (Luke 1.74, 75).

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Noted & Quoted: Yes, Please

"God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy."

- George MacDonald (1824-1905)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

What's Up

OK, architecture fans. Check out this site to see a beautiful comparison of skyscrapers that are now being built around the world. Tellingly, most of them are located in China and the Middle East. The one you see here is already the tallest in the world at 1700+ feet; when completed next year, it'll be something like 2600 feet tall - the exact height is still a secret. It's in Dubai.
By comparison, the Sears Tower (the tallest in the U.S.) is 1720 feet tall.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Why The Constitution Prohibits The Teaching of Darwinism in Public Schools

An interesting excerpt from today's First Things blog:

The physicist Steve Barr tells the story of a lecture Daniel Dennett gave last year at the University of Delaware, in which he claimed that Darwin had shredded the credibility of religion and was, indeed, the very “destroyer” of God.

In the question session, a philosophy professor named Jeff Jordan suggested to Dennett: “If Darwinism is inherently atheistic, as you say, then obviously it can’t be taught in public schools.” “And why is that?” inquired Dennett, incredulous.

“Because,” said Jordan, “the Supreme Court has held that the Constitution guarantees government neutrality between religion and irreligion.”

Dennett, looking as if he’d been sucker-punched, leaned back against the wall and said, after a few moments of silence, “clever.” After another silence, he came up with a reply: He had not meant to say that evolution logically entails atheism, merely that it undercuts religion.

Barr notes that Jordan’s question reveals how the self-appointed defenders of the scientific method are trying to have it both ways. Don’t allow religious philosophy to intrude into biology classrooms and texts, they say, for that is to soil the sacred precincts of science, which must be reserved for hypotheses that can be rigorously tested and confronted with data. The next minute they are going around claiming that anti-religious philosophy is part and parcel of the scientific viewpoint.

There’s a kind of old-fashioned animus in it all, an Enlightenment claim of a sort of—oh, I don’t know—enlightenedness about our escape from the dark ages of religion....

But there are other pieces of the puzzle that are worth noticing. The tides of book publishing shouldn’t be discounted. The flood of atheism books over past two years followed the flood of theocracy books over the previous two years—and for much the same cause: Because publishers are sheep, they follow in droves, and they want their new books to be like their previously successful books. If Sam Harris’ End of Faith had not made the bestseller list, Christopher Hitchens would not have written his atheism book now, however atheistical he happens to be.

Still, there are reasons Sam Harris started the flood. The attacks of September 11 fit in here somewhere: the sudden unavoidable awareness of Jihadism and radical Islam put a weapon in the hands of opponents of religion. Here are crazies announcing they want to kill us in the name of God, and thus—by the logical fallacy known as illicit conversion—everyone who believes in God must be a murderous lunatic. Here are neo-fascists who are creating theocratic states across the Middle East; and, by that same illicit conversion, America’s evangelicals and Catholics—and Orthodox Jews, for that matter—must want to build Gilead in Harvard Yard.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Callous - (Or Is There A Better Word For It?)


Function: adjective. Etymology: Middle English, from Latin callosus, from callum, callus callous skin

1 a : being hardened and thickened b : having calluses

2 a : feeling no emotion b : feeling or showing no sympathy for others : HARD-HEARTED

AJC reprinted an article from the Boston Globe about abortion providers who make sure the fetus is good and dead before extracting it during an abortion - this is to avoid running afoul of the partial birth abortion law. Under the circumstances, I guess the procedure, and the article for that matter, shouldn't be surprising.
But what left me agape was the callous manner in which the whole situation is discussed. For some reason, it brings to mind my visit to Auschwitz (or was it one of the other Nazi concentration camps?), where I saw lampshades the camp "doctors" made of human skin - tanned, stretched, and trimmed. Whether the skin was gained from conscious prisoners, unconscious prisoners, or corpses makes a difference to the "donors," I suppose, but modifies only by an irrelevant degree an act which is inherently, irreducibly barbarous.

Probably I've said this before, but I wonder if people will talk about our times 150 years from now like we do about slavery today: "Of course, it was wrong and immoral. How could anyone have defended it?" At least "religion" or "Christianity" won't be the scapegoat this time. We are on the side of protecting innocent nascent life from the death it has done nothing to deserve.

Here is most of the article, edited for brevity, and with certain parts highlighted by me for emphasis - feel free to add your own sarcastic rejoinders as you read. And if you wish, you can find the whole unadulterated article here.

In response to the Supreme Court decision upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, many abortion providers around the country have adopted a defensive tactic. To avoid any chance of partially delivering a live fetus, they are injecting fetuses with lethal drugs before procedures.

That clinical shift in late-term abortions goes against the grain, some doctors say: It poses a slight risk to the woman and offers her no medical benefit.

"We do not believe that our patients should take a risk for which the only clear benefit is a legal one to the physician," Dr. Philip D. Darney, chief of obstetrics at San Francisco General Hospital, wrote in an e-mail. He has chosen not to use the injections.

But others, although they do not perform the banned procedure, say they feel compelled to do all they can to protect themselves and their staffs from the possibility of being accused. Upheld in April, the federal ban is broadly written, does not specify an age for the fetus and carries a two-year prison sentence.
In Boston, three major Harvard-affiliated hospitals —- Massachusetts General, Brigham and Women's, and Beth Israel Deaconess —- have responded to the ban by making the injections the new standard procedure for abortions beginning at around 20 weeks' gestation, said Dr. Michael F. Greene, director of obstetrics at Mass. General.

"No physician even wants to be accused of stumbling into accidentally doing one of these procedures," Greene said.

Boston Medical Center, too, has begun using injections for later surgical abortions, said Dr. Phillip Stubblefield, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Boston University Medical School. The decision came "after a lot of anguish about what to do," he said.

The banned method involves partially delivering a live fetus, then intentionally causing its death. Even before it was banned, the procedure was rare, accounting for a fraction of 1 percent of all abortions.

Instead, doctors typically cause the fetus' death surgically while it is still inside the womb and then remove it.

But now, if the fetus is not dead as it begins to emerge, a provider may be accused of violating the law. So lethal injections beforehand, carefully documented, preclude an accusation and prosecution.

Greene said that in the experienced hands of hospital staff, the injections add no risk and are "trivially simple," compared with other obstetrical procedures. The main downside, he said, is that "it is yet another procedure that the patient has to endure."

Patients have not objected to the injections, he said.

"They all are appreciative of what we do for them and understand the circumstances under which we work," Greene said.

The injections are generally done in abortions after 18 or 20 weeks gestation. Medical staff inject either the heart drug digoxin or potassium chloride, a potentially poisonous salt also used in state executions.
San Francisco's Darney and colleagues have studied both chemicals and concluded that digoxin was safe but offered no advantages in the actual abortion procedures. They found no safety record for potassium chloride, but a few case reports suggested that it could be dangerous if accidentally injected into the woman instead of the fetus.

They decided that whether to have an injection should be up to the patient; some are comforted by the idea that the fetus has died before it is removed.


Dr. Mark Nichols, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Oregon Health & Science University, ... respects Darney and his point of view, Nichols said, "but at the same time I guess I'm a little bit more concerned about the risk for the faculty and staff here."


Well, you get the idea.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Having a Sikh Hair Day

This is Major Singh wearing a major turban - purported to be the biggest in the world at 30kg and 400 meters of cloth. He hopes it will be a source of inspiration to young Sikh boys who are opting for having their hair cut rather than covering it.

Find more fun facts about Sikh turbans on the Faith Central blog.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Would You Vote for a Mormon?

I have no affection for the Mormon church. I think Mormonism is a false religion, and assuredly not Christian.

Which leaves me no fan of Mitt Romney. And thinking there's no way I'd vote for him for president. But a recent opinion piece by Michael Gerson in the Washington Post has set me to thinking: maybe my aversion to Romney is misplaced. Here's an excerpt from Gerson:

There is a long tradition of American leaders who believe that religion is so personal it shouldn't even affect their private lives. But this rigid separation between religious conviction and public policy lies outside the main current of American history. Abraham Lincoln's theology, while hardly orthodox, was not his "own private affair." "Nothing stamped with the divine image and likeness," he asserted, "was sent into the world to be trodden on." Martin Luther King Jr. claimed that to find the source of our rights, "it is necessary to move back behind the dim mist of eternity, for they are God-given."

These were theological arguments, not merely rhetorical adornments. But they were also carefully limited.

American political leaders have generally not talked about soteriology -- how the individual soul is saved. In Christian theology, these choices are fundamentally private, and government attempts to influence them are both doomed and tyrannical. American leaders have also wisely avoided the topic of eschatology -- inherently speculative theories about the end or culmination of history.

But religious convictions on the topic of anthropology-- the nature and value of men and women -- have profoundly and positively influenced American history. Many of the greatest advances toward the protection of minority rights, from the abolition of slavery to the civil rights movement, came in part because people of faith pushed for them. And religious men and women made those efforts because they were convinced that all human beings -- not just all believers -- are created in God's image.

So what does this mean for Romney? Many Christians have serious problems with Mormon theology on personal salvation and the nature of history -- disputes that go much deeper than those between, say, Baptists and Presbyterians. These disagreements are theologically important. But they are not politically important, because they are unrelated to governing.

Romney, however, should not make [John F.] Kennedy's mistake and assert that all religious beliefs are unrelated to politics. What Mormonism shares with other religious traditions is a strong commitment to the value and dignity of human beings, including the unborn, the disabled and the poor. This conviction is unavoidably political, because it leads men and women to act in the cause of justice, not in order to impose their religion, but to protect the weak.

Given this common ground, evangelicals and other religious conservatives should not disqualify Romney from the outset. There may be other reasons to oppose him for president, but his belief about the destiny of the soul is not one of them.

What do you think?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Some Interesting Religious Stats

I lifted the following from the Faith Central blog. Sorry for the funky formatting:

1. Islam: Growth rate 1.84 per cent* with 1.3 billion followers worldwide
2. Baha'i faith: Growth rate 1.70 per cent with 7.7 million followers worldwide
3. Sikhism: Growth rate 1.62 per cent with 25.8 million followers worldwide
4. Jainism: Growth rate 1.57 per cent with 5.9 million followers worldwide
5. Hinduism: Growth rate 1.52 per cent with 870 million followers worldwide
6. Christianity: Growth rate 1.38 per cent with 2.2 billion followers worldwide
*rate of change of adherants to this religion between 2000-2005 as a percentage per year
Atheism is growing at a rate of 1.39 per cent and Afghanistan has the fastest growing population of Atheists.

Where are faiths growing fastest?

Faith Where is it growing fastest?
Baha'i faith Qatar
Buddhism New Zealand
Chinese Universalism Finland
Protestantism Afghanistan
Roman Catholicism Sierra Leone
Confucianism Northern Mariana Islands
Ethnoreligion Afghanistan
Hinduism United Arab Emirates
Jainism Uganda
Jewish Uganda
Islam Soloman Island (followed by Norway)
Neo Religionism United Arab Emirates
Shintoism Singapore
Sikhism United Arab Emirates
Taoism Laos
Zoaroastrian Netherlands

Figures taken from the World Christian Database

Monday, August 6, 2007

Noted & Quoted: Charles Spurgeon on Worthiness

“And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, from doing them good.” - Jeremiah 32.40

You remind me of their unworthiness. Yes, but observe that when he began to do them good they were as unworthy as they could possibly be. He began to do them good when they were "dead in trespasses and sins." He began to do them good when they were enemies, rebels, and under condemnation. When first the sinner feels the movement of divine love upon his heart, he is in no commendable state. In some cases the man is a drunkard, a swearer, a liar, or a profane person. In certain cases the man has been a persecutor like Manasseh or Saul. If God left off blessing us because he could see no good in us, why did he begin to do us good when we were without desire towards him? We were a mass of misery, a pit of wants, and a dunghill of sins when he began to do us good. Whatever we may be now, we are not otherwise than we were when first he revealed his love towards us. The same motive which led him to begin leads him to continue; and that motive is nothing but his grace.

(From a sermon in 1889)

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Albums That Didn't Go Platinum (#9 in a Series)

I've heard organists with two hands who could have used a miracle or two, themselves.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Peggy Noonan Does it Again

I like Peggy Noonan's writing. She has a big heart and a pragmatic mind and much skill at connecting the two in her Wall Street Journal essays.

About a month ago, I called your attention to an immigration essay she had written. Now there's another, this one from the July 7-8 edition of the WSJ. In this newer essay, she once again proclaims her love of immigration, but then goes on to explain why we really need to be an "English only" society.

Here's the first half of her essay:

It is late afternoon in Manhattan on the Fourth of July, and I'm walking along on Lexington and 59th, in front of Bloomingdale's. Suddenly in my sight there's a young woman standing on a street grate. She is short, about 5 feet tall, and stocky, with a broad brown face. She is, I think, Latin American, maybe of Indian blood. She has a big pile of advertisements in her hand, and puts one toward me. "MENS SUITS NEW YORK--40% to 60% Off Sale!--Armani, Canali, Hugo Boss, DKNY, Zegna. TAILOR ON PREMISES. EXCELLENT SERVICE LARGE SELECTION." Then the address and phone number.

You might have seen this person before. She's one of a small army of advertisement giver-outers in New York. Which means her life right now consists of standing in whatever weather and trying to give passersby a thing most of them don't want. If this is her regular job, she spends most of her time being rebuffed or ignored by busy people blurring by. You should always take an advertisement, or 10, from the advertisement giver-outers, just to give them a break, because once they give out all the ads, they can go back and get paid. So I took the ad and thanked her and walked on.

And then, half a block later, I turned around. I thought of a woman I'd met recently who had gone through various reverses in life and now had a new job, as a clerk in the back room of a store. She was happy to have it, a new beginning. But there was this thing: They didn't want to pay for air conditioning, so she sweltered all day. This made her want to weep, just talking about it. Ever since that conversation, I have been so grateful for my air conditioning. I had forgotten long ago to be grateful for it.

Anyway, I look back at the woman on the street grate. It's summer and she's in heavy jeans and a black sweatshirt with a hood. On top of that, literally, she's wearing a sandwich board--MENS SUITS NEW YORK. Her hair is long and heavy, her ponytail limp on her shoulders. She's out here on a day when everybody else, as she well knows--the streets are not crowded--is at a ballgame or the beach. Everyone else is off.

So I turned around and went back. I wanted to say something--I don't know what, find out where she was from, encourage her. I said hello, and she looked at me and I patted her arm and said, "Happy Fourth of July, my friend." She was startled and then shy, and she smiled and made a sound, and I realized: She doesn't speak English. "God bless you," I said, because a little while in America and you know the word God just as 10 minutes in Mexico and you learn the word Dios. And we both smiled and nodded and I left.

I went into Bloomingdale's and wrote these words: "We must speak the same language so we can hearten each other."

Please read the rest of the essay here, in which she lays out the case for speaking English in America. Hardly a novel position, but expressed well.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Another Reason Not to Let the Kids Watch TV

Remember my May 13 post about Mickey Mouse being a terrorist? Terrorist was, of course, my term, and certainly not that of his Hamas creators. Nor is he named Mickey Mouse, but rather Farfur.
In any case, according to Hamas TV, Farfur has now been killed by an Israeli Jew. You can read about it here, or just go watch the short video here.

There's something criminal about what these people are teaching their children. I wouldn't want to be in their shoes when they stand before God. (I don't want to be in my shoes, either, but that's a different story!)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Most Surreal Country on Earth?

Surreal to me. But not to those who have to live there. Zimbabwe is run by a lunatic with a Hitler moustache, and things just keep getting worse and worse.

Take this article, for example:

IMF warns Zim inflation could hit 100 000%

August 01 2007 at 12:04AM

Prices in Zimbabwe could be 1 000 times higher at the end of this year than they were at the beginning, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted on Tuesday.

Once the breadbasket of southern Africa, Zimbabwe's economy is crippled by acute food, fuel and foreign currency shortages.

"If recent monthly trends continue, IMF staff projects that year-on-year inflation could well exceed 100 000 percent by year-end," Abdoulaye Bio Tchane, director of the IMF's Africa department, said in an interview in Maputo.

Zimbabwe already has the world's highest inflation rate, now officially running above 4 500 percent, although analysts believe the figure to be double that. Critics blame the policies of President Robert Mugabe, including the seizure of thousands of white-owned farms.

Hundreds of business people and traders in Zimbabwe have been arrested and fined for overcharging or failing to display prices, but the price blitz has worsened shortages of most basic goods such as the staple maize-meal, cooking oil, meat and sugar.

Mugabe's African peers have largely refused to intervene or even criticize him as things have gone from worse to worse over the last several years. The Organization of African Unity is practicing the wrong kind of unity.