Thursday, May 31, 2007

Potato, Potahto, Tomato, Tomahto. Let's Call The Whole Thing Off (?)

Apropos our discussion of marriage, here a story of an evangelical marriage that is lasting, and even doing pretty well, albeit with a twist . . .

What happens when the leader of an anti-Mormon ministry is married to a Mormon? Not what you'd probably think.

Read the article from the St Petersburg (FL) Times here. It's too long to paste in this entry, but it's worth the read.

Although I'd strongly discourage a follower of Christ from marrying someone who isn't (and that's what I believe the Bible teaches, as well), it appears that this was a case of two nonbelievers marrying, then one of them later coming to faith in Christ. The article doesn't state that explicitly, but that's the way it looks to me. In which case, this article portrays a "mixed" marriage that's actually pretty attractive. Check out the husband's comment about what he considers his role in the marriage to be. No wonder they get along.
(You might also want to check out the husband's web site: . You can learn some good things about Mormon beliefs there.)
(And the lyrics in the title come from George and Ira Gershwin's song here. If you haven't heard the version recorded by Ella and Louis, your life isn't complete: Disc 2, Track 5.)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

More "Lite" on the Subject

Rather than move on to something new, I'd like to continue yesterday's theme. Yesterday's post resulted in excellent comments from Gene and Ron. Please take a look at them - anything you'd like to add?

I'm especially interested in your thoughts about why evangelicals don't seem to do any better on divorce stats and the like than the rest of the population.

And finally, here's a link from yesterday's Leadership Journal blog that has a pastor discussing issues related to this discussion - in particular, "consumer Christianity."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"You Are The 'Lite' Of The World" - The Church As 98-Pound Weakling

I don't put all that much original content on this blog, because others often express my thoughts better than I can, myself. Here's a good example from a book critical of American evangelicalism. I haven't read the book, and I don't know what "solutions" the author (Dick Staub) offers, but his diagnosis in this excerpt is pretty good, don't you think?

You can read a longer excerpt here.

The sobering contrast between historic Christianity and Christianity-Lite is illustrated by my recent experience in China. There, I heard the testimony of an underground church leader who had spent eighteen grueling years in prison, where he was beaten, chained, and subjected to physical torture and psychological torment, all because of his profession of faith in Jesus Christ. His captors lied to him, fabricated stories about infidelity on the part of his wife and a suicide attempt on the part of his son, offering to release him if he would just denounce Jesus Christ as Lord. He showed us the purple grooves in his wrist where the chains had penetrated his rotting, infected flesh, rubbing it down to the bones.

He wept as he told us of how close he had come to denying his faith so that he could avoid the escalating torture and be reunited with his family. Yet he resisted betraying his faith by concentrating on the example of Jesus, who, as the Apostle Paul said, "emptied himself, took upon himself the form of a servant and made himself obedient even to his own death" (Philippians 2:7-8). Though severely tempted, the Chinese Christian could not turn his back on Jesus, who had suffered so much for him. In China, the house church movement has grown, despite persecution, because of the deep faith of Christians like this man, who view their suffering for their faith as normative, not heroic.

The day I returned to the United States, I found at the top of my stack of mail a postcard from a new seeker-sensitive church. It pictured a convict in black and white striped prison garb, a ball and chain attached to his ankle. I flipped the card over to read the message on the back: "Does going to church feel like going to prison? Not anymore!" The card went on to offer the seeker comfortable, stadium-style seating at a local cineplex, complete with popcorn, face painting and other fun and games for the kids, and, best of all, no preaching—just multimedia presentations and an inspirational talk designed to lead to greater success in life!

Is the gospel offered by this seeker-sensitive church the same as the gospel preached in China but adapted to our very different cultural milieu, or is this a completely different gospel? Is this simply a strategic accommodation that will produce a vibrant local church with the same kind of spiritual depth and maturity that I witnessed among Christians in China? The answer seems obvious. Christians are called to be light of the world, not the lite of the world.

What kind of culture is today's popularized Christianity producing? Again, the answer seems obvious. Instead of creating a robust, authentic culture, Christianity-Lite simply imitates the broader popular culture's aesthetic in form and content. A friend of mine who was departing the pastorate after twenty years told me, "I embrace evangelical doctrine; I just can't stomach its culture." My friend Ralph Mattson once put it this way to me: "If Christians were going to create a subculture, why did they have to create one that is so boring, imitative, and uninspiring?"

Vibrant faith involves understanding Scripture, employing reason, benefiting from the lessons of tradition, and engaging in a profound personal experience of God. From this kind of spiritual intensity flows cultural transformation. I once heard a seminary professor summarize historian T. R. Glover's explanation about the influence of early Christians on culture this way: the early Christians out-thought, outlived, and out-died their pagan counterparts. This certainly cannot be said of pop Christians.


Within evangelicalism, many thoughtful people are troubled about the price we have paid for our "success." Some believe that in our quest for numeric growth, we have grown big but are shallow, producing an American Christianity three thousand miles wide but two inches deep. Others observe that our apparent success has been accomplished by conforming to American culture rather than transforming it, pointing out, as Alan Wolfe observed, that instead of theological, it is therapeutic; instead of intellectual, it is emotional and revivalist; instead of emphasizing a serving community, it is consumeristic and individualistic; instead of producing spiritual growth and depth, it is satisfied with entrepreneurialism and numeric growth. Instead of being a moral and spiritual beacon, evangelicalism is viewed as an important political and economic niche.


Dallas Willard reminds us of something anyone who reads the New Testament knows, Jesus never called anyone to be a Christian; he only called people to be disciples, individuals who would learn from him and obey all that he commanded. In place of Jesus' call to self-denial and promise of persecution and sacrifice, today's consumer-oriented, commoditized Christianity offers heaven in the future and fulfillment of the American dream now.

Monday, May 28, 2007

News You May Have Missed: The Einstein Award Goes To . . .

You may have guessed from my gun post that I'm no particular fan of firearms. But today I was sobered to read that even if all guns were confiscated, that wouldn't stop the carnage. Read on . . .

LAKE LUZERNE, New York (AP) -- A young man shot himself without using a gun.

Damion M. Mosher, who put bullets in a vise and whacked them with a hammer to empty the brass shell casings, was hit in the abdomen by one of the shots, authorities said.

Warren County deputies said they were called to Mosher's home in Lake Luzerne on Saturday afternoon after one bullet went about a half-inch into his abdomen. He was treated at Glens Falls Hospital and was released. No charges were filed.

Mosher, 18, told authorities he was trying to empty the .223-caliber rounds to collect the brass casings for scrap.

Sheriff Larry Cleveland said about 100 other rounds that Mosher hit had "fizzled," but one was somehow sent with more force. It was unclear if the bullet ricocheted or hit him directly.

An employee of an Albany scrap metal company told The Post-Star of Glens Falls that the business pays $1.70 a pound for scrap brass shell casings.

Cleveland said Mosher's shells amounted to just a few pounds.

Lake Luzerne, at the southeastern edge of the Adirondacks, is 45 miles north of Albany.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Why All Theologies are Limited (Though Some Are Useful)

"It is impossible for theology to have precisely the same 'emphasis' as Scripture does. To do that, theology would have to simply repeat Scripture from Genesis to

  • John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, p. 182

Friday, May 25, 2007

Noted and Quoted: Dummheit Genug

Man soll keine Dummheit zweimal begehen, die Auswahl ist doch gross genug.
  • - Verfasser Unbekannt
(No need to repeat a dumb mistake; the selection is plenty large.)
  • - (Anonymous)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Beethoven Wasn't Aborted . . . But Rostropovich Almost Was


Mstislav Rostropovich.


Well, OK, he's not exactly a household name - in most households, anyway - but in classical music circles he was pretty well known. Rostropovich was a Russian, born in Azerbaijan, who became the best-known living cellist and was also director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. He died on April 27, age 80.

Sometimes in the abortion debate, the pro-lifers will say something like, "What if Beethoven had been aborted? We would never have had his music!" Which is true, but I've never used the argument, myself; I'm not quite prepared to say that aborting a Beethoven is worse than aborting a sheet metal worker or even a used car salesman. Our worth derives from our fact of existence, not from our utility.

Nevertheless, it was interesting to me to read a reminiscence in the Wall Street Journal that was published shortly after Rostropovich's death [May 5 issue, available online only to subscribers]. The author recounted an interview he once had with the muscian, in which he discussed the circumstances of the latter's birth:

In a 2002 interview in New York, he told me in his idiosyncratic, richly accented English that his mother, a peripatetic pianist and conservatory professor, had tried to abort him because she felt that a second child would be too great a burden. "Like confession," Rostropovich said, "my mother tell me one day, 'Excuse me, my son, but I'm sorry.' She asked very famous gynecology professor not for operation, but something liquid to get rid of me from inside. But I stay in there!"

In fact Rostropovich's mother carried him for 10 months, and years later he used to joke with her, "Mother, you had me for extra month. Why not make for me a beautiful face?" And Mother always smile and say, 'My son, I was too busy making you beautiful hands!'"

I guess she was glad the potion didn't work.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

News You May Have Missed: 737 Lands on Mumbai Sidewalk

An earlier blog referenced the precarious commute to work in Mumbai, India. Now, it appears that even airplanes get stuck in Mumbai's famed traffic. Read this linked article for details.

My favorite part of the article is where it says, "No one is clear about its owner, its destination and the reason why it is parked there but the young ones are having a field day. Not only them, but some homeless men even found the cargo hold of the plane good enough to be used as a makeshift kitchen. And some even strung a clothesline where the plane's wings once were."

Walt Disney may think it's a small world, after all, but some parts of it are clearly very, very different.

(The BBC's version of the story is here. It's best if you read the quotes with your "Indian accent.")

Monday, May 21, 2007

Why American Newsmagazines Suck

The May 21 issue of Newsweek has an article (review?) pertaining to the Pope's new book, Jesus of Nazareth. It's pretty disgusting - the review, that is, not the book. It reads more like a piece of advocacy than as anything designed to inform. And, of course, it calls into question every aspect of orthodox Christian belief it possibly can.

I don't subscribe to Newsweek, but I do subscribe to U.S. News & World Report. Since they have a reputation for being more conservative than Time or Newsweek, you might think they'd be more sympathetic to those who hold to orthodox beliefs. But no. Their religion articles are so bad I read through them as quickly as I can - hoping, as when visiting an outhouse, to get in and out before the stench becomes overwhelming.
OK, I overstated that. But I do like the word picture.

In any case, the moral of the story is this: Do not expect to learn anything about religion when reading an American newsmagazine. Do expect the magazines to turn over every rock to find some crackpot who can deny any Christian belief mentioned in the article, and expect that person's position to be presented as respectable, even if he's the only person who holds to it. has a worthy diatribe against Newsweek's "review." Please read it; it'll give you a better understanding of what I'm ranting about, with several specific examples.
(You can read Newsweek's full book review/article here. And you can read an excerpt from the Pope's book here. That Pope guy has some good thoughts. Maybe we should invite him to preach at my church, some time.)
And lest you think this post is a "minority report," here's a first person account (found here) from a professor at Notre Dame who was contacted for the Newsweek article. Very enlightening . . .

Readers may be interested in this bit of background to the risible article by Ms Miller. The person who is acknowledged as helping with the article called me a few weeks before this article appeared doing “research.” She wanted the names of famous books on Jesus and a description of their contents beginning with Reimarus. When I told her gently that the history of the “higher” criticism was a tad complicated she soldiered on asking about Schweitzer (the only name she seems to know) and then, jumping ahead nearly a century, something about the Jesus Seminar. When I told her about some sources she might consult she said that she was on “deadline.” Not to put too fine a point on it: she did not have a clue. Lesson to be learned: read these articles in the popular press with a shovel full of salt. As for the Miller piece itself: patronizing and snarky about sums it up. Oh, how I miss the days when Ken Woodward (Notre Dame - Class of 57) wrote on religion.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Lessons for the Inhibited

Guys: If you, like me, grew up in a "no contact" family, you'll find the following lesson to be of great benefit. I can't wait to practice it. (Thanks, David, for pointing this one out. I owe you a hug.)

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Noted and Quoted: High Crimes

"There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them."

Friday, May 18, 2007

Proof That Calvinists Have a Sense of Humor (OK, it's the only proof there is, but take what you can get)

(Of Unknown Origin)


Since I managed to criticize our fair country regarding guns, why not continue to do the same on other subjects, too?

I found this intro in US News & World Report (3/26/07 issue) to be interesting. More people want to move to the U.S. than anywhere else, but that doesn't mean we have nothing to learn from anywhere else. Read on for some examples. And if you'd like to read in detail the "30 lessons we can learn from other countries," you can click on this link.

How They Do It Better
By Susan Headden
Posted 3/18/07
We have the biggest GDP, the finest universities, the highest ownership of color TVs, and the greatest number of Nobel Prize winners. So how come the Danes are the happiest people in the world? Living in the dark, no less. Schoolchildren in New Zealand are cleaning our clocks in math and science. Teachers are better paid and more respected in Japan. Our highways are choked with traffic, but we can't manage to build a train that goes more than 150 mph.

Our eating habits? Please. Just compare our average portion with a meal in Japan, and you'll understand why our adult obesity rate is 32 percent, compared with only 3.6 percent for the Japanese. The French, likewise, are slim and well fed-and they offer world-class dinner conversation to boot. Their secret: They don't want to know what you did yesterday; they want to engage you in a lively discussion of ideas.

But our shortcomings are bigger than dining and discourse. Remarkably, the United States is nowhere to be found on the Economist's global index of lowest infant mortality. At the other end, our average life expectancy, at 77.9, puts us 40th in the world- after Costa Rica and Cuba. As for our treatment of the planet, we're down at No. 28 on the global index of environmental performance, a value based on six measurements of environmental health. Meanwhile, Denmark manages to get 20 percent of its energy from the wind. And in Singapore, tossing a candy wrapper on the sidewalk will set you back a thousand bucks.

On a grimmer index, America has more people in prison-2,135,900-than any other country in the world. And the highest rate of gun-related homicides of all industrialized nations. If we followed Europe's example of treating drug addicts rather than jailing them, would the numbers go down? It's a complex and controversial question. But Holland's experience shows that treatment of drug
abuse is at least vastly cheaper than the alternative.

In the following pages, we offer 30 lessons we can learn from other countries. The list is admittedly unscientific and decidedly incomplete. We're not even saying that all of these practices would work here; if Americans wanted free day care and government-funded maternity leave, after all, they'd have to pay Norway-size

What follow are simply practices that intrigued us: the Germans retraining prostitutes to care for the elderly, the Brazilian buses that are so clean and efficient that even the rich people ride them, and the Japanese toilets that deodorize the room and put the seat down when you're done.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Noted and Quoted: Good Advice for All Blog Writers

"I was learning that one writes for a reader. Writing is too often described as self-expression. But writing is the art of making a story that will engage and hold and satisfy the interest of the reader. I typed a slogan and pinned it over my typewriter: Nobody Owes You A Reading."

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Don't Shoot, I'm Only the Blogger

The April 21 issue of The Economist provided some interesting statistics (and other information) about guns in the U.S.A. Together, they tell a story:

Number of guns in America: ~240 million
Number of adults in America: Less than that.

Murders with guns, 2005: 14,000
Suicides by firearm, 2004: 16,000
Fatal firearm accidents, 2004: 650
Children killed by guns, 2004: 400

In the last 45 years, more Americans have died by gunfire than were killed on foreign battlefields in the last 100 years.

President who signed bills banning assault weapons (semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity handgun magazines) and requiring background checks before gun sales: Bill Clinton
President in office when assault weapons ban expired: George Bush

Households with guns, 1977: 54%
Households with guns, 2007: 33%

On-line price of an AK-47: $379.99

I have nothing original to add. To my knowledge, we are the most violent "developed" society on earth. I defy anyone in my VAST readership to tell me why any person (except the police and military) should be able to buy assault weapons, armor-piercing bullets, and the like. Idiocy in the defense of freedom is still idiocy.

(You can read the entire article here, but you might need a subscription to do so.)

Monday, May 14, 2007

When Whales Make Waves: A Meditation on Grace

Jenell Paris teaches English at Bethel College. You might appreciate a recent entry (May 5), from her blog, about demonstrating grace to others. I know I did.

I was swimming laps the other day, hatefully. An Asian woman, much smaller than me, did slow breaststrokes in the lane to my right. Along with everyone else in the lockerroom, I had overheard her the day before shouting over her hairdryer, "I never struggle with weight. Never! I just try to stay toned." But that wasn't what I hated. A size-regular white man swam crawl strokes in the lane to my left. Every single move he made, especially approaches and turns, created waves. I think they were about four feet high, and probably surfable.

Swimming is precious alone time. Oliver and Wesley go to the health club child center, and Max stays at home with dad. I have between 100-180 minutes between nursings, and driving takes about 12 minutes, car seat strapping 3 minutes, child center check-in 4 minutes, etcetera, and the pool gets about 20 turns of the clock. The other day, I wasted most of them plotting the death of the man to my left. Given that I weigh less than him, could I drown him? Would I have time to wait by his car, quickly eliminate him, and still get home in time to nurse my newborn? Why did God create such a monster (him, not me)?

I was graceless, and am again today with respect to a person much more important to me than the wave-maker. Grace requires understanding - the man is just swimming, for heaven's sake, and wasn't I already wet? And might my postpartum flapping belly have been creating waves toward the small woman to my right? People do what they do for good reasons, and understanding those reasons yields compassion.

Which is more real - my belief in grace, or my practice of gracelessness? The truth is that I'm really tired. I haven't slept more than 3 hours at a time since April 6. Most days are fine, but the difficult ones leave me without strength to extend a friendly hand toward any other human. Perhaps I'm not a bad person, or quickly becoming a bad person - I'm just temporarily underrested. It's inevitable that, when swimming with others, you'll get splashed. And besides, I was already wet. Same goes for living in the world with people. They'll splash you, snap at you, offer insults barely disguised as compliments, mistreat your children and your pets...and those are your family members who love you the most. But they have their reasons, and when I'm not so tired, I can find some compassion by understanding the wounds that motivate the bullshit. And besides, I do all of those things, too.

But today I am so tired, so there. Grace, for me, means taking my husband's help, minimizing my workload (just feed the baby and then lie down!), and going to bed as soon as possible. Perhaps just accepting that much today will help me give some tomorrow.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

News You May Have Missed: Mickey Mouse is a Terrorist

It's not the Christian theocrats we need to fear, despite all the hype. I can't imagine that Jesus Camp has anything on this video, courtesy of Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist organization (yes, they're Islamists).

In case you missed the news story, you can read about it here (and in about 1,000 other places if you just Google "Mickey Mouse Hamas"). "Enjoy."

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Noted and Quoted: One Man, Two Faces

"No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true."

  • Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)

Friday, May 11, 2007

King Kong vs. Godzilla

The big boys have come out to play. Doug Wilson and Christopher Hitchens are conducting a web debate/exchange over the course of this month around the question, "Is Christianity Good For The World?" The first two installments show that this has the potential to be interesting, indeed. It certainly shows promise of being a juicier engagement than my own attempts on the Evolution Blog.

(I've talked about both Wilson and Hitchens in previous posts. If you want to see where, click on the labels at the bottom of this post.)

Part 1 of the debate is here, which will provide you a link to Part 2 - and, presumably, all subsequent installments. I don't know how many "rounds" there will be when all is said and done.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Bible, Bach, and . . . Well, I Guess That's All You Need

Did you hear the story on NPR's "All Things Considered" last night? It was a feature on the annual Bach festival in Bethlehem, PA. It's worth a listen to this 8-minute piece, which you can do here, or you can access it at this link, which provides additional info and sound samples.

I got tears in my eyes toward the end of the story. But then, I'm a sensitive guy, as all my friends know. Anyone who can listen to this and think that Bach is boring, stuffy, or irrelevant is either a cretin or dead. No, I take it back. Only cretins think that - the dead know how great Bach is, because he provides the music in Heaven (with Robert Shaw as assistant conductor, but that's another story).

OK, I exaggerate (slightly). Nevertheless, I hope you'll take the time to listen to the story. Maybe it'll increase your desire to hear more Bach. Take especial note of the lady who says of Bach's music, "It's there to help us when we have times in our life when we need comfort, or when you just want to burst for joy. It's all there for me, it really is." Maybe that's idolatry, but there are worse ways to sin.

Comments Received: Murder Rate Hits 90%

I've received some good (and provocative) comments to yesterday's post on eugenic abortion and Down's Syndrome (including my first ever from someone I don't know). Take a look.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

News You May Have Missed: Murder Rate Hits 90% in U.S.

I've been reading lately about abortion practices in India and China, where it's a well-known practice to abort baby girls (er, female fetuses), because parents are constrained by law or economics to have only one child, and boys are more valuable to the family. Girls are merely money pits. This practice is technically illegal, but it happens, it's no big secret, sonogram manufacturers knowingly provide the equipment for it, and nobody ever seems to be prosecuted for it.

India and China didn't invent eugenic abortion, however. The Nazis didn't either, but during their Reich it was public policy, not something done in secret, to eliminate imbeciles and cripples. The picture you see here, which I found on Wikipedia, is from that time period. It promotes a forced euthanasia program; clearly, the regime would have supported eugenic abortion, as well. Translated, the poster says, "This person suffering from hereditary defects costs the community 60,000 Reichsmark during his lifetime. Fellow Germans, that is your money, too." Why waste money on worthless persons? Eliminate them for the benefit of all.

Peter Singer at Princeton is (in)famous for advocating something similar, but I've always considered him to be a fringe idiot, not someone in the vanguard of public thought.

Maybe I was wrong.

In today's NY Times on-line, I read the following:

Sarah Itoh, a self-described “almost-eleven-and-a-half,” betrayed no trace of nervousness as she told a roomful of genetic counselors and obstetricians about herself one recent afternoon.

She likes to read, she said. Math used to be hard, but it is getting easier. She plays clarinet in her school band. She is a junior girl scout and an aunt, and she likes to organize, so her room is very clean. Last year, she won three medals in the Special Olympics.

I am so lucky I get to do so many things,” she concluded. “I just want you to know, even though I have Down syndrome, it is O.K.”

Sarah’s appearance at Henry Ford Hospital here is part of an unusual campaign being undertaken by parents of children with Down syndrome who worry about their future in the face of broader prenatal testing that could sharply reduce the number of those born with the genetic condition.

Until this year, only pregnant women 35 and older were routinely tested to see if their fetuses had the extra chromosome that causes Down syndrome. As a result many couples were given the diagnosis only at birth. But under a new recommendation from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, doctors have begun to offer a new, safer screening procedure to all pregnant women, regardless of age.

About 90 percent of pregnant women who are given a Down syndrome diagnosis have chosen to have an abortion.

Would you have guessed 90%? I'm flabbergasted. . . Particularly because this statistic comes from the NY Times, which is not exactly known for its pro-life advocacy. Elsewhere in the article we read such tidbits as:

Genetic counselors, who often give test results to prospective parents, say they need to respect patients who may have already made up their minds to terminate their pregnancy. Suggesting that they read a flyer or spend a day with a family [to learn what Down syndrome children are really like], they say, can unnecessarily complicate what is for many a painful and time-pressured decision.
So once again, the value of a human life comes down to the degree upon which it impinges on my own. We wouldn't want to "complicate" a "time-pressured" decision, would we? Somebody might have to miss a concert or a party or a business trip if forced to read a flyer or learn something more about the life they're considering terminating. How intrusive.
I don't have kids and probably never will. But you don't have to have kids to know that something about killing people to improve the gene pool and personal convenience is very, very wrong.
I encourage you to read the entire NY Times article (you can register for free). There's actually a positive spin to what's happening, in the form of parents with Down Syndrome kids getting the word out that these are human beings worthy of love. I'm just sorry it's come to this.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Blogs, Blogs, Blogs: Bible Girl

So many things to post, so little time . . .

I recently discovered "Bible Girl," who writes for the Dallas Observer. The only way to subscribe to her blog appears to be subscribing to ALL the Observer blogs, which is a bit of a pain, but I'll manage.

The Observer is a "secular" newspaper, apparently similar to Atlanta's Creative Loafing, and Bible Girl is a Pentecostal. That alone should tell you something. She's also an engaging writer with a conversational, "take no prisoners" writing style. Check out her recent (May 4) column on race relations in the church, here. (I'd reprint it here, but the formatting gets all messed up, and I don't want to spend 30 minutes making something pretty that you can find on you own in 0.3 seconds.)
And here's a link to her collected essays for the Observer. Enjoy. (Be careful what links on that page you click on, or you'll be reading something that's not by Bible Girl and thinking it is. The Observer could get a bit more organized, methinks.)

Monday, May 7, 2007

Can You Have an Intelligent Philosophical Discussion With an Atheist?

Well, you can try. Evolutionblog is apparently one of the more popular atheist blogs, and the author isn't reluctant to attack the faults and idiosyncrasies he sees in religions (Christianity in particular, of course). But Jason Rosenhouse and his commenters seem to be at their best when "preaching to the choir." Maybe we're all that way.

Rosenhouse authored a blog about the Virginia Tech shootings and focused on Franklin Graham's comments about the sad event. He's not impressed with what Graham had to say, nor with the comments of a group called Answers in Genesis (AiG). If you'd like to read his entire entry and everyone's comments, click here. For the express version, read my comments to him, below, and the responses I received (very lightly edited for clarity):

I'm confused.
You say AiG is totally stupid when they claim the atheist has no basis to call anything good or evil. Then you quote Dawkins who says that in the universe there is, at bottom, no evil and no good. Am I missing something, or are you contradicting yourself?
Posted by: AFB April 18, 2007 03:20 PM

No, I'm not contradicting myself. The part of the AiG statement that is stupid is the part where they argue that a belief in God provides an objective foundation for morality, whereas lack of belief does not provide such a foundation. The fact is that regardless of the source of your sense of morality, you will ultimately have to base that belief on some foundation that you simply accept without trying to prove it in terms of something simpler. For the theist, that foundation rests in certain assumptions about the existence and attributes of God. For the atheist it typically lies in some sense of what constitute basic human rights.
The point of Dawkins' statement is that morality is something humans create, and not something that is discovered in nature. That is true regardelss of whether you are a theist or an atheist.
Posted by: Jason Rosenhouse April 18, 2007 03:35 PM

Jason -
Thanks for the clarification. But it leads to another question (which you've probably addressed before, but I'm a new reader): If morality is something humans create, and not discovered in nature or revealed by God, is morality then determined by majority vote, or by something else? And if by something else, why should THAT be determinative?
Posted by: AFB April 18, 2007 04:38 PM

morality is the result of many many years of (drumroll please)evolution! yes. humans are social animals. basic trends in moral thinking such as no stealing, don't boff your friend's babe unless he invites you, don't kill your elders because they just might know something...these trends came out because they tended to improve the survival chances of the race.
Now of course there are exceptions, but they play to the rule too, I mean the Nazis had it good for a while, and my friends don't generally think that they were moral, but look what happened in the end. they pissed a lot of people off and were eventually defeated.
human interactions set the rules for morality. also in the past it was much more tribal than today. It used to be actively encouraged to steal from people who were not like you and bring the stuff back to people who were like you. sort of helps the cause if you get what I mean.
Now, even when I put on pirate regalia and sail the seas with my men, I argue that honest trade will gain us more gold than robbing and killing.
Posted by: Kevin April 18, 2007 04:51 PM

Kevin -
Thanks for the clarification. So if I understand you right, morality is whatever tends to improve the survival chances of the race. But that raises some tricky questions, such as how do we define race? As all humans? Whites? Americans? People who went to my college? My nuclear family? Your answer seems to support tribalism in one sense ("bring the stuff to people like you") and discourage tribalism in another sense (the defeat of the Nazi Aryans).
Also, there seem to be some significant public policy disconnects between the goal of perpetuation and what we actually do. For example, abortion is as anti-perpetuation as you can get, and yet (to oversimplify greatly) it seems it's only the Christians who are vocal in their opposition to it. Isn't this somehow backwards?
I'm also left wondering how we get from "is" to "ought." Do we simply calculate which course of action will yield the greatest number of humans in the long run? Is "ought" therefore determined purely empirically, or are there other considerations that come into play?
Finally (for now), the answer to the whole question of morality seems inevitably reductionistic or tautological. What I mean is, the Christians say something along the lines of, "Because God says so," and the atheists say something like, "because it perpetuates the race." But how do you go about proving or disproving either one? Both sides will find plenty of anecdotes to support whichever side they're committed to. And the agnostics, perhaps, just don't want to think about it at all.
Posted by: AFB April 19, 2007 11:24 AM

AFB :"Do we simply calculate which course of action will yield the greatest number of humans in the long run"does not work like that. we act in our own immediate interest, reproductive and otherwise, and over time, by these choices traits and behaviors evolve and become common, IF they "yield the greatest number." if not maybe humans just die out. no one calcs it.
Posted by: Kevin April 23, 2007 09:26 PM

Kevin -
Your response misses the point of the paragraph in which I asked that question. For that matter, it misses the other questions in my post as well.

But even just sticking with that one paragraph, I repeat its first sentence: "How do we get from 'is' to 'ought'"? If it's not the accretion of human beings, then what is it? And if my "own immediate interest" conflicts with yours, who should prevail?
Posted by: AFB April 24, 2007 08:50 PM

"But even just sticking with that one paragraph, I repeat its first sentence: a) "How do we get from 'is' to 'ought'"? b) If it's not the accretion of human beings, then what is it? c) And if my "own immediate interest" conflicts with yours, who should prevail?"
OK let me try again, and I don't know anything or have any special knowledge to be sure....
a) there is NO ought, there is only what is.
b) its the accretion of MY dna
c) there is NO should. its whatever does prevail that counts.
Posted by: Kevin April 25, 2007 12:08 AM

Hi Kevin -
Thanks for clarifying. But I must admit I don't like your answer. It seems to leave no space for me to be opposed to someone raping my wife, molesting my children, stealing my car, and poisoning my dog. It also makes it OK to fly airplanes into towers, to gas Jews in concentration camps and then make lamp shades out of their skin, and to torture prisoners at will. What's mine is mine, and what's yours is mine if I can beat it out of you. The strongest will prevail, and that's just the way it is.
If that's really what you think, then I don't think you're going to win a lot of converts for atheism - or at least your strain of it.
Posted by: AFB April 28, 2007 01:45 AM

"seems to leave no space for me to be opposed to someone raping my wife, molesting my children, stealing my car, and poisoning my dog"
I don't know how you got that. Why can't you oppose such action? by yourself or in concert with others, others who also don't want that to happen to them. It's not that the offender "ought" not to do it for a supernatural "moral" reason its because you, and/or society collectively, prevents the offender from acting. and this social construct takes on the flavor of morality and is taught as an "ought". or shalt as in the ten commandments thingy.
"The strongest will prevail, and that's just the way it is." That happens under the color of religion anyway. except where the weak are collectively stronger. Even in situations where the weak appear to win (welfare, free housing, free bread) the strong are only acting in there own interests.
and aetheists are not the only ones bonking people over the head for cash so I don't know why you think that's an aetheist position. seems like most religions are designed to separate the ignorant from their money.
as for me I said ten days ago:
"Now, even when I put on pirate regalia and sail the seas with my men, I argue that honest trade will gain us more gold than robbing and killing."
so I'm NOT advocating pillaging your town. and I enjoy the discussion.
Posted by: Kevin April 28, 2007 11:30 AM

Hi Kevin -
Sorry for my slow response. Busy weekend.
I appreciate your answers, but something still doesn't sit right. Your original response (April 18) suggested to me that morality was determined by whatever most effectively increases the "race." But now it sounds like you're back to saying it's majority rule. I'm not trying to "catch" you, as there is no doubt inconsistency in my own thinking.
But let's take your latest response. Most people in my community would agree that no one should steal my car, so stealing is wrong. But there are parts of town where the number of people who think differently is large enough that I'd be in peril. Does that mean that stealing my car is wrong in my neighborhood, but OK in someone else's?
Or take your pirate illustration. If robbing and killing yielded more gold than honest trade, would you then endorse robbing and killing?
So maybe (just maybe) we can simplify it this way. Option 1: Things are right or wrong because of the ends they yield. Option 2: Things are right or wrong because the majority says they are. Option 3: Things are right or wrong because there is some transcultural, transtemporal standard of what "is because it is." Does this seem like a fair summary of the possible approaches to determining right and wrong? If so, what's your choice?
(I'm tempted to call Option 1 the "teleological" option and Option 3 the "ontological" option, but I'm not sure that's the right use of the terms. I like the sound of it, though!)
Posted by: AFB April 29, 2007 08:29 PM

Consider Jason Ronsehouse's intitial take on it: "If the morality of the atheist is arbitrary and relative, that is no less true for the morality of the religious believer. Moral assertions do not suddenly become objectively true or false when you base them on your perception of God's will. "
and my initital comment: "morality is the result of many many years of (drumroll please)evolution!"
by morality I meant the attitude that people have toward taking certain actions toward other people. I am not attempting to consider all such actions, or the differing motivations of people in various societies.
your questions and my attempts at an answer (again I have to state that I have no special knowledge or training to actually provide a good or suitable answer)
"Your original response (April 18) suggested to me that morality was determined by whatever most effectively increases the "race."" I did say race; I should have said something like "the group" or the "clan" I quess the "race" would fit in there somewhere but I consider that too big a population.
"But now it sounds like you're back to saying it's majority rule." There is no contradiction there. If the majority bands together to enforce certain rules, competition for resources within the group should be lessened and competition for resources outside the group should be more effective.
"Most people in my community would agree that no one should steal my car, so stealing is wrong." - what does this word "wrong" mean? and you THINK : "would agree that no one should steal my car" but I think rather they are more concerned with THEIR OWN CAR and really do not care about you and your car (unless related to you by clan or blood ties) In people's quest to protect their OWN private property it often is the case that EVERYONE's has to be protected.
But there are parts of town where the number of people who think differently is large enough that I'd be in peril. Does that mean that stealing my car is wrong in my neighborhood, but OK in someone else's? - again what does this word "wrong" mean? You park your car in a neighbor hood that has no jobs, food or money and everyone is starving. A brave young man of the community takes your car, drives it to another town, sells it and buys food, pampers, baby formula and malt liquor and then CARRIES it all on his back for miles to bring it in and SAVES his family and friends.
DO you mean that kind of wrong?
"Or take your pirate illustration. If robbing and killing yielded more gold than honest trade, would you then endorse robbing and killing?" well, as a pirate I would have to do so. But I really don't like the killing part because then we can't come back and rob them again.
"So maybe (just maybe) we can simplify it this way. . . . right or wrong . . .right or wrong . . . right or wrong "
I think we would need a working definition of right or wrong in order to proceed down those lines of inquiry. That may or may not be productive. I don't think in terms of "ought"
"But even just sticking with that one paragraph, I repeat its first sentence: a) "How do we get from 'is' to 'ought'"? b) If it's not the accretion of human beings, then what is it? c) And if my "own immediate interest" conflicts with yours, who should prevail?Posted by: AFB April 24, 2007 08:50 PM "
"a) there is NO ought, there is only what is.b) its the accretion of MY dnac) there is NO should. its whatever does prevail that counts.Posted by: Kevin April 25, 2007 12:08 AM "
Posted by: Kevin April 29, 2007 09:41 PM

Hi Kevin -
Well, we may be stuck in an endless loop. I don't think "right" and "wrong" need specialized definitions for the discussion we've been having. It might be as simple as, "what you would teach your children about how to live," or "how you think others ought to behave," or "how you think YOU ought to behave."
We all have standards of behavior, and we project those onto other people all the time. When my neighbors let their dog bark for an hour and don't bring it in, I say (and I'd guess you would, too), "That's wrong. It's inconsiderate and not nice. They should bring the dog in." Well, on what basis can I legitimately say such a thing? Or can I? A barking dog doesn't seem to harm my DNA, nor help theirs. If, as you say, "it's whatever does prevail that counts," then if the dog continues to bark, then the dog continues to bark. If I kill the dog, then I kill the dog. The two are equivalent, because (according to you), "there is NO ought, there is only what is." But I don't really believe that the two are equivalent, I'm certain the dog's owners wouldn't believe that, and I'm fairly confident that even you wouldn't believe that.
We do lots of things that don't lead to accretion of our DNA. Sending money to help stop the genocide in Darfur or to rebuild houses destroyed in the Asian tsunami does nothing for my DNA, unless one argues in the tortured logic of the butterfly that causes the hurricane (or whatever it is). Mother Teresa didn't do much for her DNA by founding a hospice for dying street people. And so on.
So I'm left with the idea that there is something innate, something inherent, that tells us right and wrong (and that drives altruism even at the expense of the tribe/race/group). Not that everyone agrees on all the details of what is right and wrong - far from it - and not that everyone lives consistently according to the innate knowledge (I know I don't). But the similarities of right and wrong are strikingly similar across time and culture, and within our own culture, and those similarities hold even when the differences and variations are acknowledged.
Is all this similarity of morality due to biological determinism, or something else? I think it's got to be something else.
Posted by: AFB May 2, 2007 10:15 AM

So I'm left with the idea that there is something innate, something inherent, that tells us right and wrong (and that drives altruism even at the expense of the tribe/race/group).
Well, good luck with that.....
Posted by: Kevin May 2, 2007 10:58 AM

Hmmm. Maybe he figured out I believe in God or something.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Seen on Church Signs

This weekend, while driving through North Carolina and Georgia, I saw the following two church signs . . . always a good bit of entertainment.

  • "3 Saved" [Everyone else in our church is going to hell.]
  • "Ask About Our Pray as You Go Plan" [Makes sense. I suppose "pray without ceasing" would include my time on the toilet, too.]

Friday, May 4, 2007

Are You a Tourist, or a Traveler?

When you travel to foreign lands, are you a tourist or a traveler? Do you like the tour bus, the five-star hotel or resort, the Michelin-rated restaurants? Or do you check out the public transport, sleep where you have to carry your own bags to the room, and eat more like the average locals?
There's something to be said for both, I suppose. But if your trip consists mainly of snapping photos through the tour bus window, why not just stay home and watch the Travel Channel?

One of the most memorable hotels I've stayed in was in Istanbul, across the plaza from the Blue Mosque. The shower flooded the toilet, my friend and I had to share a bed, and we were jolted awake every morning at 5:00 by the call to prayer. Memorable bus trips include a city-to-city bus in Cote d'Ivoire with the African music blaring at ear-splitting decibels, another bus in Cameroon which was so packed I could barely move for 3+ hours (and my friend couldn't move even his foot), and a "city" bus in Zanzibar that was a pickup with benches and a canvas roof (and a freshly-caught stingray on the roof). Then there was the memorable ferry ride in Tanzania where they handed out barf bags before departure and a goodly number of the passengers actually had to use them. The airplane flight in Nepal where the lady threw up on me. The open-air, streetside restaurant in Cairo with fresh-grilled meats, local families chilling, and cats milling about our feet hoping for leftovers. The accidental concerts where I poked my head into a church and somebody was rehearsing (or getting married).

OK, I admit that I prefer a clean, quiet hotel room with facilities, and I don't cotton to being barfed on while flying or compressed and roasted on a bus. But I agree with the sentiments below, expressed by Arthur Frommer, founder of the Frommer's tour books. We learn more as travelers than we do as tourists.

Here's an excerpt from the interview with Frommer, or you can read the whole interview here:

Q: Why did you focus on budget travel?
AF: As a soldier traveling in Europe on a Pfc's pay, I discovered that not only was budget travel possible but that it was preferable; that it was a better form of travel. It enabled you to enjoy the authentic aspects of the cities you were visiting and to remove yourself from the artificial world of tourism.

There was a day in Paris when I was traveling on my own, before I did the GI's Guide, and I was sitting in a sidewalk café writing letters home, nursing a little glass of wine for several hours -- to enable me to keep sitting at that café. I looked up and saw a motor coach of forty or so American tourists passing by with everyone's noses pressed to the glass looking out at the life of Paris from the inside of the bus. At that moment, I realized that the difference between them and me was that they had money and I had no money -- and because I had no money, I was having the time of my life. That if I'd had any money, I would not be sitting at an exotic cafe, meeting Parisians and involving myself in the life of Paris ... I would be in that bus, having a second-rate experience.

I suddenly realized that when you travel, the less you spend, the more you enjoy. The experience is better. And I held onto that lesson and will go to my grave still advocating it. That's the love for budget travel which underlies Europe on 5 Dollars a Day.

Q: What was the biggest challenge travelers faced around the time that Europe on 5 Dollars a Day was published?
AF: It was overcoming the advice given to the American traveler, that Europe was a "once in a lifetime" visit that had to be accomplished in the grand manner. The idea that you took several suitcases, you went there for a lengthy trip, you lived only in first class hotels, that you could not possibly hazard staying in a hotel of second-class quality. The idea that you would be eaten up alive by bedbugs in war-torn Europe. People were being told at that time by the entire American travel industry that there was only one way to travel in Europe and that was first-class.

Q: What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing travelers today?
AF: The biggest challenge is keeping travel authentic. Getting away from the tourist mill. Returning to the basic elements of travel and tourism. Going like a traveler, not like a tourist. Not bringing the United States with you, but remaining open to new ideas, new surroundings, new lifestyles, and new approaches to life. Listening instead of talking.

The biggest problem today is that whole vast areas of travel have been taken over by people who have commercialized the activity and made it more and more difficult to experience the authentic aspects of the travel experience.

Q: In the fifty years you've been involved in travel publishing, what has been your biggest surprise?
AF: It has been the invasion of an intellectual activity by people who regard travel as a trivial recreation and not as a learning experience. The great majority of the professional travel industry -- the tour operators, the hotels, the cruises -- treat travel as simply a form of entertainment. I have always believed that travel is the best form of learning and that it affects the mind in a way that no other activity -- even that of widespread reading -- can possibly do, and that, therefore, it has become an essential part of a civilized life.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Jesus is Not Your Cute Boyfriend

I really should save that title for a diatribe against today's inane "worship" music in churches. But it is a quote from the article you're about to read, so I'll use it now.
Anthony Esolen is a professor of English at Providence College in Rhode Island. He was interviewed on the subject of true masculinity (manhood), and I find his thoughts to be not only provocative, but also much healthier than those of John Eldredge (whose Wild at Heart book I despise, as you no doubt already know). Instead of self-indulgent narcissism and the pursuit of vapid "dreams," Esolen speaks of self-sacrifice, the refusal to let feelings turn one from duty, and serving others by leading them or by following loyally. He also encourages us to take another look at the maleness and the leadership qualities of Jesus. And more. You can read the article here. Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Context Matters

This linked article from The Washington Post is way too long; the reporter needed a better editor. But the article does raise a valuable point. Context matters.

Here's what happened: Joshua Bell played his violin in a Washington, DC subway station. Joshua Bell is not your standard street musician, however. He's one of the world's most famous violinists. He sells out concert halls where seats go for $100 a pop. His Stradivarius violin was made in 1713 and is valued at $3.5 million+. He gets paid as much as $1,000 a minute for his performances.

He played for 43 minutes. During that time, 1,097 people walked by. How many people stopped to listen for at least one minute? Seven. How much money did the passersby drop into his violin case? $32.17. How many people recognized him? One. How many clapped at the end of each piece he played? None.

Context matters.

We see what we look for, and we accept what we're prepared for. In the process, we shortchange others, and we get shortchanged, ourselves. The implications of this (sociological, anthropological, theological, cultural, relational, . . . ) are endless. Here's just one:
"He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
He came to that which was his own,
but his own did not receive him."
(Isaiah 53.2b-3; John 1.11)
He wasn't recognized. He was out of context. Where do we fail to see him today?

(You can read the complete Joshua Bell story here. The article also contains some good video.)

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Calvin Stirs Things Up

In case you missed it, my posts on "Calvin's 'P'" stirred up quite a flurry of discussion. Perseverance of the saints ("once saved, always saved"), Catholicism, transubstantiation, . . . the comments and interaction covered quite a bit of ground, and may not be over yet. Thanks to the contributors for their thoughtful replies and their courteousness to each other. You can learn a lot by reading what they wrote.

The orginal post is here (with 4 comments following). The second post - which engendered 27 comments so far - is here.

(The caption of the picture here isn't too ecumenical - sorry about that, Boethius! According to my loose translation, it says something like, "Johan Hus converted the Bohemians, and Luther taught the Germans. In like manner has this Calvin brought the faith to France; by doing so, he murdered the Antichrist, who, like the devil, won't be heard from again." If only.)