Friday, May 29, 2009

It's Official: Georgia is (Almost) the Worst

I like being able to drive at NASCAR-like speeds in my adopted state of Georgia, but overall I have little respect for my roadmates. I don't have to be on the road for long before I see swerving, wrong speeds (too slow/too fast for conditions), running red lights, stopping at flashing yellows, no headlights in the rain, not using turn signals...whatever signs of incompetence you can imagine, you get to see them every day on Atlanta's roads.

Now there's confirmation: it's not just my perception that drivers here are incompetent. GMAC Insurance has administered something called the National Drivers Test in all 50 states and DC. The test is designed to measure knowledge of basic driving laws, and Georgia ranks 47 out of 51. Only California, Hawaii, New Jersey, and New York score lower.

The state where I grew up and took driver's ed, Oregon, ties for 8th place, and that seems about right.

You can read more about the test results and see how your own state scored here.

And if you like, you can take the National Drivers Test, yourself, here.

I took the test. My score? 95%...and the one question they say I got wrong, I know is correct in some states. So I'll take a gentleman's 100%.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mother Nature Doesn't Exist. Say Hello to Sister Nature.

The November 2008 issue of First Things included an essay by Ralph Wood marking the 100th anniversary of the publication of G.K. Chesterton's classic book, Orthodoxy.
Among other subjects, Wood looks at Chesterton's skeptical view of rationalism, materialism, physicalism, and several other -isms, all of them views that end up elevating man beyond where he should be and minimizing God or dismissing Him altogether.
Wood has this to say in his essay, including a quote from Chesterton:

There are good reasons for being responsible stewards of the environment, but they cannot be derived from the environment itself. Chesterton insists, in fact, that no real ethics can be abstracted from the physical world. It cancels all that it seems to affirm. While democracy declares all men to be worthy, for example, and aristocracy designates some men as worthier, “nature makes no remark on the subject.” Supernatural revelation is required to take a sane view of nature:

The essence of all pantheism, evolutionism, and modern cosmic religion is really this proposition: that Nature is our mother. Unfortunately, if you regard Nature as a mother, you discover that she is a step-mother. The main point of Christianity [is] this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire but not to imitate. This gives to the typically Christian pleasure in this earth a strange touch of lightness that is almost frivolity. . . . Nature was a solemn mother to Wordsworth and Emerson. But nature is not solemn to Francis of Assisi or to George Herbert. To St. Francis, Nature is a sister, and even a younger sister, to be laughed at as well as loved.

I see the thought process here as having relevance to the tyranny of certain environmentalist views. We are not here to serve the earth, but to serve our Heavenly Father. The earth is here for the very same reason, though obviously without the moral responsibility that humans bear. We are called to be worshipers of God, not idolators of the earth.

But I'll admit, there's something to be said for taking care of your little sister.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Catholics Are Smarter Than Protestants

At, the Boston Globe points out a startling fact or two or three regarding yesterday's Supreme Court nomination:

Judge Sonia Sotomayor has much to distinguish her, but one element of her biography stands out in the world of those interested in religion and the public square: she is Catholic, and, if approved as a Supreme Court justice, she will be the sixth Catholic on the nine-member court. That is a remarkable accomplishment for American Catholics, who make up 23 percent of the nation's population, and will now potentially hold 67 percent of the high court's seats. Two of the justices are Jewish; the resignation of Justice David Souter, who is an Episcopalian, will leave, amazingly given the history of this nation, just one Protestant on the Supreme Court, 89-year-old Justice John Paul Stevens.

What does this work out to?
  • Catholics represent 2/3 of the Supreme Court seats, but 23% of the population, for a representation ratio of 2.9:1.
  • Jews are 17% of the Court but 2.1% of the population, for a ratio of 8.1:1.
  • And Protestants bring up a very small rear: 8% of the Court but something like 50% of the population, for a ratio of 0.16:1.

What of that lone Protestant? Apparently, he leaves it at that, naming no denomination in particular.

To make the equation even more fascinating, of the 103 Justices in the history of the Supreme Court, only 3 have belonged to a denomination that might be called evangelical: they were Baptists. Maybe you could count Huguenots, too, which were sort of evangelical, weren't they? There was one of those (Gabriel Duval, 1811-1835).

So this begets the question: Aside from Jews being so "overrepresented," what is it about Catholics that makes them better Supreme Court material than Protestants? Any why are evangelicals only slightly better represented than Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims (those three all at zero)?

If I were Catholic, I'd be crowing right now, claiming that the Catholic intellectual tradition is obviously superior to that of the Protestants. I would also say that the anti-intellectualism of contemporary evangelicalism has borne the fruit it deserves.

But I'm Protestant, and evangelical at that, so I'll ask, instead: Where are the brilliant evangelical jurists? Or is such a term a necessary oxymoron?

(An interesting site from which I got many of my statistics is

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How to Avoid Jesus

The boy didn't need to hear it. There was already a deep black wordless conviction in him that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin.

In her 1952 novel, Wise Blood, Flannery O'Connor provides this description of the protagonist, Hazel (Haze) Motes. In the course of the novel, Motes does everything he can think of to get away from Jesus. In the end, Jesus wins, though it's not entirely clear whether Motes does.
Regardless of what's going on with Motes, himself, I find the quote above insightful. During Jesus' ministry years, the Pharisees had convinced themselves of their functional sinlessness through observing a set of laws and procedures. As long as they followed those rules, they figured they were OK and didn't need anyone to save them from anything (John 8.33-41). Of course, the temple sacrifices reminded them of sin, but they were always getting forgiveness because they correctly followed all the procedures that were required of them.
To them, and to us, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Sick people who know they're sick go to the doctor for help. Sinners who know they're sinners go to the Savior for true restoration and forgiveness.
Hazel Motes tried to avoid Jesus by living a perfect, moral life. When that didn't work for him, he tried denying Jesus' existence altogether. Denying he was sick didn't work, but neither did denying there was a doctor who could detect sickness.
The best way to avoid Jesus is to avoid sin. As deluded as Motes was, at least he knew he fell short. We, on the other hand, sit in our church pews and sing our cheesy worship songs and delude ourselves into thinking everything's alright...all the time giving nary a thought to the falling short that we do every day in every way, and nary a thought to our inability ever to make it right.
[My friend David just posted his own blog entry about Flannery O'Connor. Check it out.]
Photo: Brad Dourif as Hazel Motes in John Huston's 1979 adaptation of "Wise Blood".


Thursday, May 21, 2009

When Good Questions Beg

Language changes. I realize that. For example, "nice" used to mean stupid and foolish; now it's a term of praise. Check out this entry from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

c.1290, "foolish, stupid, senseless," from O.Fr. nice "silly, foolish," from L. nescius "ignorant," lit. "not-knowing," from ne- "not" (see
un-) + stem of scire "to know."

"The sense development has been extraordinary, even for an adj." [Weekley] -- from "timid" (pre-1300); to "fussy, fastidious" (c.1380); to "dainty, delicate" (c.1405); to "precise, careful" (1500s, preserved in such terms as a nice distinction and nice and early); to "agreeable, delightful" (1769); to "kind, thoughtful" (1830). In 16c.-17c. it is often difficult to determine exactly what is meant when a writer uses this word. By 1926, it was pronounced "too great a favorite with the ladies, who have charmed out of it all its individuality and converted it into a mere diffuser of vague and mild agreeableness." [Fowler]

"I am sure," cried Catherine, "I did not mean to say anything wrong; but it is a nice book, and why should I not call it so?" "Very true," said Henry, "and this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk; and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh! It is a very nice word indeed! It does for everything." [Jane Austen, "Northanger Abbey"]

So, words change. Definitions change. I understand that. Sometimes it's nice. Nevertheless, I still get heartburn over what I see happening to the hapless term, "beg the question." We've now reached the point at which even NPR reporters use the term incorrectly.
What does "beg the question" mean? It means to provide an answer that fails to answer the question which was asked. The means of failure is a lapse in logic, whereby the answer is based on a premise that needs as much proof as the conclusion. For example, if someone said the following, I'd say he's begging the question:
"The right thing to do is to close Guantanamo. Why? Because no self-respecting country would operate such a place. Moving on to my next point, ..."
Begging the question is very close to circular reasoning. In daily use, we might say someone is begging the question if he fails to substantiate an opinion by stating an equally unsubstantiated position:
"Arminians are heretics."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because they don't believe what the Bible says, and that makes them heretics."
You get the idea. Or maybe you don't. Because if you're like almost everyone I hear - whether in person or over the airwaves - you may be thinking that "beg the question" means "to beget a question," that is, "to raise a question." You might think this is correct usage:
"He said Guantanamo should be closed, which begs the question: What do we do with all the prisoners?"
Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. It pains me every time I hear such a usage (use?), the moreso when it comes from intelligent persons who ought to know better.
Can this phrase be rescued?
(As you might expect, Wikipedia has an informative entry regarding this phrase.)
(And yes, I'm well aware of the danger of positioning oneself as a grammar expert. Chances are, I've made three grammatical errors in this blog entry, thereby voiding my credibility. Oh well, as the Germans say, "C'est la vie.")

Monday, May 11, 2009

Calvin on The Paradox of Faith

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

(Hebrews 11.1)

‘Grace has always the appearance of contradiction. The foundation is faith. For faith is the pillar and possession upon which we are able to plant our feet. But what, in fact, do we possess? Not things that are present, but what is set far distant under our feet – nay more, what is beyond the comprehension of our spirit. Faith is therefore named the evidence of things not seen. But evidence means that things emerge into appearance, and is applicable only to what concerns our senses. In the realm of faith the two apparent opposites – evidence and things not seen – struggle with one another and are united. It is precisely the hidden things, inaccessible to sensible perception, that are displayed by the Spirit of God. He promises eternal life – to those who are dead. He speaks of the blessedness of resurrection – to those who are compassed about with corruption. He pronounces those in whom sin dwells – to be righteous. He calls those oppressed with ceaseless tribulation – blessed. He promises abundance of riches – to those abounding only in hunger and thirst. God cries out to us that He is coming quickly to our aid – and yet He seems deaf to every human cry for help. What, then, would be our fate, were we not powerful in hope, were we not hurrying through the darkness of the world along the road which is enlightened by the Spirit and by the Word of God?’

- John Calvin, as quoted in Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, pp. 19-20

Friday, May 8, 2009

My Ambiguous Ethnicity

I was filling out an on-line questionnaire from a London arts center the other day. I haven't been to Britain for a few years, but I bought my concert ticket on-line, so they still had my contact info.
When I got to the end of the questionnaire, they asked the usual demographic questions about age, race, and the like. But I was taken aback somewhat by the list of ethnicity choices. It says something interesting about the difference between Britain and the U.S.
Here's the list:

Which ethnic group would you describe yourself as being in?

  • White British
  • White Irish
  • White Other
  • White & Black Caribbean
  • White & Black African
  • White & Asian
  • Other mixed background
  • Asian British
  • Indian
  • Pakistani
  • Bangladeshi
  • Other Asian background
  • Black British
  • Black Caribbean
  • Black African
  • Other Black background
  • Chinese
  • Other ethnic group
  • Prefer not to say
For the first time ever when filling out a questionnaire, I didn't know what race I was. I finally settled on "White Other," which seemingly could leave me Hispanic, Icelandic, or Italian.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Enjoy Yourself

A song from Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians (vocal by Kenny Gardner and the Lombardo Trio) - circa 1950? See below for lyrics and some thoughts...

You work and work for years and years, you're always on the go
You never take a minute off, too busy makin' dough
Someday, you say, you'll have your fun, when you're a millionaire
Imagine all the fun you'll have in your old rockin' chair

Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think
Enjoy yourself, while you're still in the pink
The years go by, as quickly as a wink
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it's later than you think

You're gonna take that ocean trip, no matter, come what may
You've got your reservations made, but you just can't get away
Next year for sure, you'll see the world, you'll really get around
But how far can you travel when you're six feet underground?

Your heart of hearts, your dream of dreams, your ravishing brunette
She's left you and she's now become somebody else's pet
Lay down that gun, don't try, my friend, to reach the great beyond
You'll have more fun by reaching for a redhead or a blonde

You never go to nightclubs, and you just don't care to dance
You don't have time for silly things like moonlight and romance
You only think of dollar bills tied neatly in a stack
But when you kiss a dollar bill it doesn't kiss you back

Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think
Enjoy yourself, while you're still in the pink
The years go by, as quickly as a wink
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it's later than you think

It's true that this song pretty much espouses the philosophy of "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die," (Isaiah 22.13; 1 Cor. 15.32). It doesn't exactly have an eternal perspective. Nevertheless, it seems to embody a Scriptural truth: enjoyment is God's idea.

  • Nehemiah said, "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." (Nehemiah 8.10)
  • Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God. (Ecclesiastes 5.19)
  • Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6.17)

The word "enjoy" appears 55 times in the NIV Bible, and almost always in a positive sense. I think God wants us to enjoy life. Of course, enjoyment isn't the only desire He has for us, nor do I think it's the highest, but it clearly seems to be a part of what He has in store for us.

So when you partake of your bowl of yummy pasta, your glass of wine or beer, your cup of coffee, and your cigar, pipe, or hookah, be sure to thank the Giver for the ability He gives us to enjoy them.