(Hat tip to Ms. Jacoby.) The author was a missionary to India.

Hast Thou No Scar?
Amy Carmichael

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land;
I hear them hail thy bright, ascendant star.
Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?
Yet I was wounded by the archers; spent,
Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned.
Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar?
Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,
And piercèd are the feet that follow Me.
But thine are whole; can he have followed far
Who hast no wound or scar?
And an adaptation of a passage from a book written by James Francis:
"He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.

He never had a family or owned a home. He never set foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never wrote a book, or held an office. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness.

While He was still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him. His friends deserted Him. He was turned over to His enemies, and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While He was dying, His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had - His coat.

When He was dead, He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave.

Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today He is the central figure for much of the human race. All the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever sailed, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as this one solitary life."


Timon and Pumbaa on Stars

My favorite line in the whole movie.


Timon, ever wonder what those sparkly dots are up there?


Pumbaa, I don't wonder; I know.


Oh. What are they?


They're fireflies. Fireflies that, uh... got stuck up in that big bluish-black thing.


Oh, gee. I always thought they were balls of gas burning billions of miles away.


Pumbaa, with you, everything's gas.


Jesus' Mirth

From Chesterton's Orthodoxy:
"Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian. And as I close this chaotic volume, I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation. The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed his tears; he showed them plainly on his open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of his native city. Yet he concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained his anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the temple and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of hell. Yet he restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that he hid from all men when he went up a mountain to pray. There was something that he covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when he walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was his mirth."


Some Hopefully Non-Partisan Thoughts on Abortion

(Note that I will not here attempt to demonstrate that life, or "personhood," begins at conception or at birth. Obviously, the question of when "personhood" begins is the crux of this issue - and I won't directly address it. Nor will I address at all the issue of reproductive rights. That is why I hope this is "non-partisan." All I am trying to counter is the notion that people who believe life begins before birth cannot fight for that belief in the political arena. America, as a democracy, should allow all voices to be heard.)

A lot of the abortion debate doesn't really make sense to me.

Consider this professor's take on Sarah Palin's pro-life views: "...I object strongly when anyone (and especially anyone with political power) tries to take their theology out in public, to inflict those private religious (or sexual) views on other people."

As far as I can tell, what she is saying is not, technically, that Sarah Palin's belief that life begins before birth is wrong; she never addresses or refutes any claim of that kind. Rather, she disapproves of anyone who would impose a religious view upon someone else.

The conclusion that I must draw is that Professor Doniger believes Sarah Palin and other "pro-lifers" should not attempt to ban abortion, even if they think aborting fœtuses is wrong. This conclusion is not unique; in fact, it is echoed by many who personally believe abortion to be wrong but do not wish to impose upon the will of others.

Joe Biden summarizes the reasoning well: "I'm prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception. But that is my judgment. For me to impose that judgment on everyone else who is equally and maybe even more devout than I am seems to me is inappropriate in a pluralistic society."

I find this reasoning to be terribly flawed.

Let us assume that I am walking down the street and see a murder taking place. The person being "murdered" is actually not a person at all, but a life-size doll. I, unfortunately, am unaware of that important fact. Should I deter the alleged murderer?

If I believe I am witnessing a murder - even if there is, in fact, no murder taking place - it is not only my "right" to "impose my will" upon the murderer by stopping him; it is my responsibility. You can argue, of course, with my assertion that a murder is actually taking place - but can you argue with my duty to prevent everything I believe to be murder?

If you cannot argue with that duty, I do not see how you can argue with the duty of those who believe personhood begins before birth to fight for the "unborn" - whether or not you agree with them.

It is true that "pro-choicers" believe "pro-lifers" are imposing their views upon women - and they are - but "pro-choicers" are themselves imposing their views upon millions of fœtuses. Clearly, imposition of will is not the problem. In fact, all law can be construed as an imposition of will. After all, we regularly impose our will upon would-be murderers, rapists, and thieves, because we believe murder, rape, and thievery are wrong.

But abortion is different, many say - because opposition to abortion is religious.

That is generally (but not necessarily) true. (One counterexample is Nat Hentoff, an atheist who is very critical of abortion.)

(Of course, it was also generally true of those who opposed slavery. In the 1800's, mostly Christian abolitionists mercilessly imposed their will on slaveholders, who saw it as their fundamental right to do whatever they wanted with their property.)

However, let us assume it is necessarily true; that is, let us assume that all opposition to abortion is religious. Then, the argument is that political opposition to abortion is groundless because it is religiously based.

Nowhere in the Constitution do I see anything which prohibits the influence of religious beliefs on public policy. Obviously, there are limitations on religion's influence on public policy - but, in this instance, no one is imposing religious beliefs on anyone else. Abortion is not a religious issue, but an ethical and social issue profoundly influenced by religion; the distinction is huge. No one is forcing anyone else to go to mass or to pray to Mecca five times a day. This is a far, far cry from "respecting an establishment of religion."

The Supreme Court itself had this to say in Harris v. McRae:
"Although neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally 'pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another'...it does not follow that a statute violates the Establishment Clause because it 'happens to coincide or harmonize with the tenets of some or all religions.' That the Judæo-Christian religions oppose stealing does not mean that a State or the Federal Government may not, consistent with the Establishment Clause, enact laws prohibiting larceny. The Hyde Amendment [an amendment banning the use of federal funds to pay for abortions], as the District Court noted, is as much a reflection of 'traditionalist' values towards abortion, as it is an embodiment of the views of any particular religion."
Supreme Court Justice David Souter, in an opinion of his concerning the First Amendment, stated that "government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion." Most people would agree with his assessment. So let me ask this question: If government is religiously "neutral," is it fair to privilege secular opinions on abortion over religious opinions? Should Sarah Palin's opinion be excluded simply because it is founded on religious belief? Can that be reconciled with Souter's statement?

I think not.

It is anyone's right to disagree with "pro-lifers" and to vote for the expansion or protection of reproductive rights. But to demand that those opposed to abortion recuse themselves from the political discussion, as Doniger does, seems unfair to me.


The Two Tax Plans

McCain's economists think McCain has the better tax plan.

So do Obama's.

(Online, of course, you can find criticisms of both tax plans.)

My question is this: If the economists can't agree on the economy, how can we?

(Tentative answer: Differences in economic goals - normative economics - are at least partially responsible for the deviation. Therefore, as a general rule, we can listen to the economists with whose normative judgments we agree.)

But seriously, the debt our government is racking up could be "catastrophic" - and I've seen non-partisan articles (which I can't find anymore) suggesting that either candidate would increase our deficit by trillions.

Mo' gov'ment, mo' problems.


The Irony God

"If God exists and Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is true."

Most people would agree with that statement, as a general rule.

But I wouldn't.

For it is entirely possible that God conceived Christianity (and humanity) as nothing more than a practical joke, a hoax, a lengthy absurdity which we have (futilely) worshiped as profound - that God is, as Voltaire said, "a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh." It is entirely possible that we will come to Judgment Day and be told that Life was merely a spectacle, a game. (In our postmodern society, many of us wouldn't be that surprised.) It is entirely possible that God is a liar and charlatan Whose "love" for us was actually nothing more than depraved knavery. This metaphysic I cannot disprove.

The point of this hypothetical "Irony God" (whom we almost never acknowledge or consider) is not to mock God or Christianity.

Let us consider the nature of the proposition. I am positing a theistic God who gave us the Bible and then allowed Jesus to be raised from the dead. In other words, I am positing what all Christian apologists try to defend.

Based on evidence alone, the Irony God is just as plausible as the Christian God. In other words, when it comes to rational inquiry, to the empirical Pursuit of Truth, we are left at an unseemly dead end. Reason cannot give us an answer; what can?


Christianity asks us not just to believe in God, but to trust in Him. At some point, it asks us to stop treating God as an interesting hypothesis and to start treating Him as a Father.

What I was positing before isn't Christianity at all. Christianity says that God loves us and cares for us, as a father would. (And how many children have doubted their fathers' love?) This claim cannot be directly verified or proved. It is, in fact, an intensely personal claim.

It comes as no surprise to me that many people who analyze Christianity "objectively" often reject it - not because Christianity is incompatible with objective analysis, but because we cannot even begin to comprehend Christianity's claims without first seeking to understand its heart. Christianity is so bold as to say that rational inquiry is not and cannot be enough; can it then come as a surprise that those who would reduce it to rational terms deny it?

People are Christians, not (mainly) on the basis of philosophy or science, but ultimately on the basis of trust. They trust God, not as a theory, but as a person.

God does not ask us to prove His existence (although, from my own philosophical perspective, I do not see how He can be denied); He asks us only to trust Him.
"Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And do not rely on your own understanding.
Acknowledge Him in all your ways,
And He will make your paths straight."

- Proverbs 3:5-6 (NET)
This, of course, just begs the question: Why should we trust God?

We must answer that question for ourselves.


Biblical Inerrancy?

Pretty much every argument between a non-believer and Christian concerning the Bible could be reduced to this:

[Some Scripture] is a [contradiction or error] in the Bible. The Bible's obviously not the Word of God.


That's not a [contradiction or error], because of [some reason].
And on and on it goes.

The fundamental assumption, left unspoken and unchallenged in this debate, is simple: If there is an error in the Bible, then the Bible is not the Word of God.

(Interesting side note: This line of reasoning itself conflates the Bible and the "Word of God," treating them as synonymous and identical entities. In other words, it assumes that everything within the Bible is the Word of God, and everything without the Bible is not the Word of God. Although most orthodox Christians would probably agree with that, I suspect it might be overly simplistic. After all, John 1 says Jesus is the Word of God! Hopefully, I will be able to discuss thia in further detail later on.)

Given that fundamental assumption, it comes as no surprise that the standard modus operandi of Christian apologists is to demonstrate there are no errors in the Bible. Whether or not they have succeeded is debatable. (I imagine that, in most cases, the committed skeptics will detract from apologists' explanations and the committed believers will rationalize any alleged flaws. However, I should mention that, even if it is not inerrant, the Bible is the most reliable historical and scientific document of antiquity. Most - but not all - of the arguments critics present are laughably easy to refute.)

But let us consider the question: What if there is an error in the Bible? What would the implications of such an error be?

(In my mind, there are two separate issues here. One is whether the authors of the Bible were honest, deceitful, or deluded. The other is whether or not inerrancy is necessary to demonstrate reliability. I am addressing the second issue here, not the first.)

The implications would depend on many things. Which Bibles are the Word of God? Are only the autographs (original manuscripts) inspired? Are the Old and New Testaments inspired in the same manner? In what sense (if any) is the Bible the "Word of God"? Belief that the Bible is the Word of God does not (for example) signify belief that God physically wrote the Bible; to my knowledge, all Christians accept that men physically wrote (or transmitted) the Bible. In what manner did these men transmit the Bible? Were they possessed by the Spirit?

And what is the nature of the error? Is it scientific, historical, or theological? Is it an internal inconsistency? If so, of what kind?

All of these are important questions. But the most important questions, I think, are different:

What was God's purpose for His written Word?

Does the alleged error undermine this purpose?

What does the Bible say about the Word of God? (Note that the Bible says nothing about "the Bible"; it technically does not mention itself. This is important.)

What is (and was) man's role in communicating God's message?

On a fundamental level, God intended to communicate something with His word. But what did He intend to communicate? That much is obvious: the message of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18); the message of grace (Acts 14:3); the message of love (1 John 3:11). It is a simple, but powerful, message - a message not directly contingent upon the inerrancy of the Bible.

The Bible, though it may be inspired by God, was written by men for men. I see this as an interesting parallel with the nature of Jesus, who is the Word (John 1); Jesus, just slike the Bible, is both human and divine. (If God entrusted Himself to us, could He not also have entrusted His Word to us?)

From the perspective of apologetics, scientific and historical accuracy in the Bible are important because they reinforce the reliability of the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life. They demonstrate that the Bible is more than "cleverly concocted fables" (2 Peter 1:16, NET). Internal consistency is important for the same reason, especially theological and moral consistency. (Of course, orthodox Christianity is paradoxical by nature - Jesus is fully man and fully God, God is One and Trinity, etc. - and so I expect conundra to arise in Christian theology.)

Christian apologists have sought to defend that which is most difficult to prove or believe: flawlessness. I am convinced that the Word of God is flawless; I do not know whether or not the Bible, our collection of a certain sixty-six books, is.

I believe it necessary that we examine this topic more closely.


Economic Freedom and Power

I don't think people understand how closely political economics is tied to freedom.

When taxes are raised and government is allowed to expand, individual Americans effectively cede a portion of their liberty. In certain situations, this is vital and unavoidable. A good example is our nationalized police force; no one wants public order to be maintained solely by private corporations.

Unfortunately, history has taught us that government constantly abuses and increases its power when given the chance. This trend is painfully obvious in the United States, where the national government now controls a great many things it was never originally intended to control.

In the past hundred years, the ideologies of socialism, communism, and fascism have advocated governmental dominion over the economy. Modern power does not exist in military might, but in economic strength; therefore, socialist, communist, and fascist governments who controlled their nations' economies have almost always been totalitarian. The great atrocities of modern times have been perpetrated by governments such as these. There are too many examples to list.

Conversely, in a true capitalist society, private individuals would have more power than they have ever had. (Note that an economy controlled by corporate conglomerates and monopolies is not at all capitalistic. It is oligarchic.) In a capitalist society, government cannot control the people; it can only defend and protect them. Power is diffused, rather than concentrated; it truly belongs to individuals. A capitalist society is not only stronger, but freer.

Americans are (understandably) wary of "Big Brother" when it comes to wiretaps and surveillance, but the much more real peril to our freedom lies in Uncle Sam's increasing control over the economy. We prostitute our economic power and freedom for governmental promises of comfort and welfare. The promises are rarely kept, and the power is rarely returned to the people. Does our government deserve the increasing power with which we are entrusting it?

Recently, Democrats in Congress advocated nationalizing the oil industry. (It'd be funny if it weren't true. And what does Maxine Waters, a former teacher, know about the economy?) Apparently, they haven't heard of Hugo Chávez.

Barack Obama, of course, is no different (and neither is McCain, essentially). According to the Wall Street Journal, "Sen. Obama cited new economic forces to explain what appears like a return to an older-style big-government Democratic platform skeptical of market forces. 'Globalization and technology and automation all weaken the position of workers,' he said, and a strong government hand is needed to assure that wealth is distributed more equitably. He spoke aboard his campaign bus, where a big-screen TV was tuned to the final holes of the U.S. Open golf tournament." (For the record, a strong government hand is not needed to "assure that wealth is distributed more equally." I think there are much better ways to do that.)

Consider this: any power given to the government is not only given to the "good" politicians, but also to the "bad" ones. Liberals, do you really want men like George Bush to run the economy? Conservatives, do you really want the Bill Clintons of the world in control of your economy? Wouldn't it make more sense to let the people control the economy?

Only 47% of Americans oppose nationalizing the oil industry. In my opinion, that Democrats (and some Republicans) would even suggest policies such as these under the guise of capitalism is completely duplicitous.

America, meet Socialism.


Sartre on God

Interesting quote from Sartre (of all people):
"I do not feel that I am the product of chance, a speck of dust in the universe, but someone who was expected, prepared, prefigured. In short, a being whom only a Creator could put here; and this idea of a creating hand refers to God."
Obviously, he didn't convert on his deathbed or anything...but still, for him to say this is kind of a big deal.



In a recent discussion about apologetics with a (non-Christian) friend of mine, I referenced a few Christian books written about the history of Christianity. His response to me was that the authors were irreparably biased, because they were themselves Christian.

My friend does have a point; Christian writers will display a bias toward Christianity.

But is that not also true of atheists, or deists, or Muslims, or Hindus, or...anyone? Capitalists, communists, Republicans, Democrats? Who isn't biased? No one. Can anyone find books written in support of certain positions whose authors do not themselves support those positions?

Of course, the solution is not to discard all human knowledge as ideologically tainted, but to seek the truth honestly and from multiple sources.

The problem, however, is not that my friend sought to discard all human knowledge, but that he saw only "religious" knowledge as tainted. In other words, those opposed to Christianity could be objective, but those supporting it could not.

This seems absurd to me.

First of all, everyone is "religious," in the sense that everyone has beliefs about metaphysics. Atheism and agnosticism are each religions of their own. Or, if you prefer to construe "religion" as meaning "traditional ritualized belief systems," I could say that everyone has a belief system of some sort.

The objection is raised (and, in a way, should be raised) that those religious people who choose to defend and write about Christianity are extremely passionate, emotionally invested, and (therefore) invariably biased. The implicit assumption is that atheists and other non-religious people are "rational" and "free-thinking" - objective.

Of course, this ignores the fact that men have hated religion as much as they have loved it. Just as not all religious people are fervently religious, not all non-religious people are God-hating maniacs - but many of the leading atheists sure seem to be.

Sam Harris, one of the most famous modern critics of religion, said, "If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of either rape or religion I would not hesitate to get rid of religion." Does that sound objective to anyone? Richard Dawkins' recent bestseller was entitled The God Delusion, implying that the vast majority of the world's population (along with a long list of some of the modern world's greatest thinkers and people such as Aristotle) was deluded in its religious thinking.

Does this sound reasonable or objective? To me, it does not. As Voltaire said, "Le doute n'est pas une condition agréable, mais la certitude est absurde." (Look it up! And yes, it cuts both ways.) I would argue that Dawkins and Harris are just as emotionally invested in their positions as any Christian I know; in fact, it is probably just as impossible for them to remain objective as it would be for me.

(Criticism of Dawkins, Harris, and other prominent atheists do not come only from their philosophical opponents. Michael Ruse, a philosopher at Florida State University, said, "The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist." Scott Atran, in response to a presentation Harris made, used similar words: "It makes me embarrassed to be a scientist and atheist.")

Of course, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins do not speak for the mass of non-religious people, and they could just as easily point to inflammatory comments made by theists. The problem is that Christianity has a moderate voice, but anti-Christianity seems to have none (or a very quiet one.)

Finally, we must distinguish between authors and the arguments they make. A child who says he cannot breathe underwater is just as correct in his assessment as the biologist who makes the same claim; in other words, the validity of a certain claim (such as "I cannot breathe underwater" or "God exists") is independent of the person making the claim. We can disagree with conclusions, but we cannot dismiss conclusions merely because we disagree with those who make them.

In the end, Harris' and Dawkins' belligerence does them and their arguments disservice.


Scalia's Dissent

I like it.


Leibnizian Cosmological Arguments

When I wrote this, I didn't realize that Leibniz had already thought of it.

I also didn't realize that Alexander Pruss had written about and basically blown me out of the water.

This is what he has to say.


When Gas Prices Get Too High...

...This happens.

Hat tip to the Fool for this one.


An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything

A friend showed me this article yesterday, and I was basically stunned.

Whether or not this guy's theory is true (the LHC will hopefully be able to test it), it demonstrates a few very interesting things (and I'm not even talking about the "surfer dude" angle).

First off, it's extremely elegant - or, in its author's words, "exceptionally simple." (That might be a bit of an overstatement, unless you're conversant in Lie algebras. But the title of the theory is actually a pun, because E8 is technically a "simple" and "exceptional" Lie group.)

In fact, elegance is the main thing it has going for it; even though some people criticize its scientific merits, a lot of people seem enamored with its beauty. One professor said, "Some incredibly beautiful stuff falls out of Lisi's theory, I think that this must be more than coincidence and he really is touching on something profound." Doesn't it sound like he's talking about a work of art instead of a scientific theory?

Paul Dirac
(an atheist) said, "God used beautiful mathematics in creating the world." What he meant was that he thought the fundamental physical and mathematical laws governing our reality were rational, simple, and elegant - beautiful.

I've often noticed this mystical (and even religious) devotion scientists and mathematicians have to their respective fields, and how they expect logical and elegant solutions to their problems. They expect the Theory of Everything to make sense, and even to be mathematically perfect. Notice what Lisi says about his theory: "This is an all-or-nothing kind of theory - it's either going to be exactly right, or spectacularly wrong. I'm the first to admit this is a long shot. But it ain't over till the LHC sings."

Why is it "all-or-nothing"? Because if it's off, just by a little, even if it explains gravity, it loses its symmetry. It loses its elegance. It ceases to be beautiful - and as Dirac noted, only beautiful mathematics were used in the creation of the world.

I wonder if he ever asked why this is the case...


Exploding Pigs

Because nothing says environmental responsibility like exploding pigs...

And yes, my friend was able to get a negative life span. Which is amazing for a variety of reasons.

And yes, the TV network producing the Flash game is state-sponsored.

And yes, the game violates the network's own code of practice.

And yes, some people are angry.

And yes...I should stop starting my sentences with "And yes."



Some good blog posts here, here, here (and, in fact, all of the "Inerrancy" posts), and here.

And We're Not Even in a Recession Yet...

The problem here is that this media coverage negatively affects consumer confidence...which negatively affects the economy.


The Myth of the Anthropomorphic God

The Baron of Montesquieu wrote, "If triangles had a god, he would have three sides."

This aphorism implicitly reverses classical theology: We are the creators, and we made God in our image. It also approaches the psychology of religion tangentially; man made God in his image. Man-made gods and religions are, after all, exactly what we would expect from superstitious homo sapiens.

(While I accept Montesquieu's statement as true, its converse is also true: If there were a three-sided god, he would create triangles. God is not anthropomorphic; humans are theomorphic.)

When it comes to orthodox Christianity, the accusation of anthropomorphism is easy to refute. After all, God is Love, God is Light, God is Spirit (cf. 1 John 4:8, 1 John 1:5, John 4:24). (Although these scriptures do not address the issue directly, but they are exemplary of broader Christian thought on the subject.) Despite artistic depictions to the contrary, and despite the human nature Jesus undertook on Earth, the Godhead itself was generally thought of as existing beyond nature, and thus beyond human characteristics. (Interestingly, this article suggests that ancient rabbis did conceive of God as anthropomorphic. Some Latter-Day Saint scriptures also hint at God's corporeality.)

But I don't think the anthropomorphic criticism is truly criticizing the idea of a corporeal God. I think the true, underlying problem people have is with the idea of a personal God. Their reservations are largely removed when they consider abstract entities, higher orders, and life forces.

I haven't really thought out the philosophical implications of a personal (as opposed to an impersonal) creator, but I do know that this aspect of God - personality - is the one which leads to such emotional reactions and thinking on both sides.

Of course, I still can't think of a better explanation for consciousness than a personal God...


Range Voting

Anyone have a reason this shouldn't be how we vote?


Oh Wait, They All Lie!

Obama lies, McCain lies, and Hillary lies. Is anyone surprised?


The Beginning of the Canon?

A lot of people, both Christians and non-Christians, share the misconception that the biblical canon was not developed until hundreds of years after Jesus died. (The more cynical among these think it was a power ploy to stamp out opposing books and doctrines.) Regardless of when the canon was formalized, the idea that certain post-Christ writings were considered sacred can be traced to the New Testament itself:
And regard the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as also our dear brother Paul wrote to you, according to the wisdom given to him, speaking of these things in all his letters. Some things in these letters are hard to understand, things the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they also do to the rest of the scriptures. (2 Peter 3:15-16, NET)
This does not answer the question of which writings of Paul (and which other works) are canonical. However, it demonstrates that the apostles (and by extension, most if not all earliest Christians) had a clear conception of "the Scriptures," a compilation of writings that included apostolic texts.

[Update: JLH points me to a similar case in 1 Timothy 5:18.]



This scares me.

We're neutering ourselves.

Rice Christians

Here's a very powerful essay. As dc Talk said, "The greatest source of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips but deny Him by their lifestyles. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable."


Bad Religion?

There is a common misconception that religion is not merely one cause of society's ills, but the main cause, a relic of a bloodier past that is bloodying up the present as well. With visceral pleasure, people list the Crusades, the Inquisition, and (most obviously) today's Islamic terrorists as examples of the evils of religion. The implication, as always, is that (organized) religion is a man-made tool used to perpetrate violence.

The insipidity of this argument is rather startling.

First of all, there is no entity named "Religion" for us to scapegoat. Different religions and different branches of religions, in different places and times, operate quite independently of each other, and to blame each individual denomination for the sins of completely different people and belief systems is ridiculous. Examples of Christian violence, for example, do not detract from the claims of Islam, and vice versa.

More importantly, examples of Christian violence do not detract from the claims of Christianity. It would literally be impossible to justify either the Crusades or the Inquisition from the New Testament. The first Christians were some of the first pacifists, at a time when Roman society was extremely militarized. Origen, one of the leaders of the early Christian church, wrote, "Nowhere does He teach that it is right for His own disciples to offer violence to anyone, however wicked. For He deemed the killing of any individual to be against His laws, which were divine in origin. If Christians had owed their origins to a rebellion, they would not have adopted laws of so exceedingly a mild character... [These laws] do not even allow them on any occasion to resist their persecutors, even when they are called to be slaughtered as sheep [emphasis added]."

But weren't the Crusaders religious zealots? A lot of them were. They were also human, greedy, belligerent, and stupid. They were severely, severely misguided. The fact that certain people use religion as a tool does not mean that religion is only a tool. People will misuse and abuse anything they can.

(And please, please, let's not pretend that the Crusaders would have been happy, peace-loving flower children if it weren't for Christianity. The Crusaders would have been pillaging, raping barbarians if it weren't for Christianity - and a lot of them were pillaging, raping barbarians in spite of Christianity.)

If we were to dismiss religion because of the actions of the worst religious people, we would also have to dismiss every other good thing. The main perpetrator of large-scale war, after all, is not religion, but technology. Science led to nuclear bombs; should we throw out all of science? No! Do we blame all Muslims for Osama bin Laden? No! Do we blame Martin Luther King, Jr. for the Black Panthers? No! Then why, why in the world do we continue to castigate any and all conceptions of God because of what some asinine Europeans did centuries ago? The vast majority of the world's population is religious; is it really surprising that they're not all picture-perfect people?

If all that weren't enough, there is one final, fatal flaw in this argument: Anti-religionists in the past two hundred years have killed millions more people than all the religious throughout history ever did.

Castro. Stalin. Lenin. Trotsky. Mao. Robespierre. Milošević. Combined, they slaughtered millions of people. Is it a coincidence that all these men were either atheists or anti-religionists? Is it a coincidence that Karl Marx, one of their main influences, called religion "the opiate of the masses"? Is it a coincidence that Stalin effectively banned Christianity in the Soviet Union while he ruled, or that China still does not allow Christians their religious freedom? Is it a coincidence that the main German opposition to Hitler came from Christians such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the members of die Weiße Rose? Is it a coincidence that Gandhi's major influence was Tolstoy, whose pacifist writings were inspired by his devout Christianity?

In a word: No.


The Myth of Freethought

(Just remember: The problem isn't thinking for yourself, but thinking that your thoughts are somehow special or better than everyone else's.)

I recently saw an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit that greatly amused me. The episode's name was "Authority," and it focused largely on a sound engineer who was campaigning against conformity and submission to authority under the slogan "No Sheep!". During the episode, he holds a rally in Manhattan that (predictably) attracts a huge crowd. The entire mass of people, goaded on by his exhortations, begins to chant, "No more sheep! No more sheep!" The irony of the situation is completely lost upon them.

Oftentimes, people operating under the guise of individualism, uniqueness, and anti-authoritarianism are the most unoriginal people you will meet. By striving to reject society's standards, they define themselves by society's standards. They tend to cluster around people who think the same way - just like everyone else does.

This phenomenon would be relatively harmless if it restricted itself to bad art, fashion, and music. (All three are prime media through which people distinguish themselves in the most superficial form possible.)

However, recently, this counter-cultural sentiment has gained such popularity that it has itself become the culture. Modern Western culture might be more individualistic than any other culture in history. (The roots of this cultural trend lie in the Enlightenment, during which intellectuals proposed a new chief principle of morality and politics: individual freedom.) We say things like "Be yourself!" or "Find the real you!", quoting Thoreau and other "freethinkers" (yes, pot-smoking transcendentalists count) in an absurdly shallow attempt to find meaning in life. I am reminded of Margaret Mead's quip, "Always remember you're unique...just like everybody else." The vast majority of today's self-styled individualists or non-conformists are deceiving themselves.

Of course, any exaggeration assertion of self-empowerment and individualism comes at the expense of traditional culture, thought, and morality. Individualism has penetrated past its inchoate aesthetic manifestations to worldviews and philosophies; postmodernism, deconstructionism, and other systems of thought all spring from its same tainted fountainhead.

The influence is most apparent in what is called "freethought," the proponents of which we call "freethinkers." The implicit assumption is that freethinkers have liberated themselves from the shackles of convention and tradition which so encumber the rest of us poor saps. (This is evidence, in my opinion, that religion's modern-day trials can be much better ascribed to a rejection of collectivism than anything else.)

People are wary and weary of organized religion, of being told what to do or what to think. (Of course, blindly submitting to authority - groupthink - is never a good thing, and religion, like any good thing, can be manipulated by individuals to their own gain.) Today, "religious" is a dirty word; "spiritual" is much better. When Nietzsche said God was dead, he really meant God was old-fashioned.

(Incidentally, the idea that organized religion is not personal may be selectively true, but it is by no means universally true. For true practitioners, I would think religion is an intensely personal experience.)

But the label "freethinker" is a complete misnomer. Freethinkers are generally just as influenced by their individualistic society as the pious are by their religious upbringing. Neither group can claim any greater objectivity, rationality, or "freedom of thought"; neither worldview is unique in any way.

The decision to adopt a particular religion can be just as personal and independent as the decision to be a "freethinker." There have been "freethinkers" for millennia, and most of them have thought along very similar lines. "Freethought" is just a new word for pride.

By all means, be fair and honest in intellectual pursuits - but don't pretend that your thoughts are better than other people's thoughts, or that new thoughts are better than old thoughts. (Chances are, the "new" thought has already been proposed and discussed centuries ago.) Rejecting, not acccepting, those assumptions is the true sign of intellectual freedom.


Russell's Teapot

So Bertrand Russell is a smart guy, but I really think this argument is a bit silly:
"If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time."
The reasoning is deceptively simple...but there's a major omission in Russell's logic.

Let me put it in layman's terms: The existence of a universe demands a frickin' explanation.

Why does that matter? Atheism, scientism, physicalism, and their other variants are at a complete loss (in my opinion) to explain the universe's existence. As Martin Rees, a renowned physicist (and agnostic), said, "The preeminent mystery is why anything exists at all. What breathes life into the equations of physics, and actualized them in a real cosmos? Such questions lie beyond science..." It is entirely more reasonable to believe a teapot created the universe than to believe the universe created itself. Furthermore, I can think of no candidate more apt for creating the universe than a timeless, omnipotent being.

Unfortunately, Russell's unavailable for comments.


Jürgen Habermas on Christianity

What Jürgen Habermas, renowned atheist and sociopolitical theorist, has to say about Christianity's cultural legacy:
"Christianity has functioned for the normative self-understanding of modernity as more than a mere precursor or a catalyst. Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and social solidarity, of an autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, of the individual morality of conscience, human rights, and democracy, is the direct heir to the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in the light of the current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage. Everything else is just idle postmodern talk."
I personally think our continual secularization of the public sphere and repudiation of Judæo-Christian values will eventually disintegrate our society.

Weekly Review: April 29


Only in Brazil

My question is how he couldn't tell...



If this is at all true...God has a sense of humor.

Weekly Review: April 22


Weekly Review: April 15

Why Conservatives Dislike Obama

Some articles explaining Obama's putative downsides:

  1. http://www.townhall.com/columnists/GeorgeWill/2008/04/15/barack_obamas_bitter_liberalism
  2. http://www.townhall.com/columnists/ThomasSowell/2008/04/15/a_living_lie?page=1
  3. http://www.townhall.com/columnists/RichLowry/2008/04/14/the_underside_of_hope
(#2, you will notice, is written by an African-American.)

And, just for good measure, another article:
  1. http://www.townhall.com/columnists/DennisPrager/2008/04/15/how_liberals_lost_a_liberal?page=1

Brain Scanners and Free Will

So apparently we don't have free will anymore.

Right? I mean, how else can you interpret the data? Your brain fires up seven seconds before you consciously make a decision! How could you possibly have any control?

Unfortunately for all the die-hard monists out there, the reality is a little more complicated.

(And yes, I know the article never explicitly states that we have no free will, but since that conclusion seems foregone to the researchers mentioned, I will contest it.)

I am also, by the way, completely ignoring the fact that the predictive quality of the brain imaging data maxed out at 60%. Does that sound conclusive?

What the experiment proves - at most - is that our subconscious triggers simple, essentially random decisions (like the ones in the article) before they are consciously made.

But let's consider an even broader scope. Let's imagine neuroscientists had proved all mental processes - decisions, thoughts, feelings - were formulated subconsciously before they were formulated consciously. What would that say about free will?

Here is the underlying logical framework:
  1. Brain imaging techniques allow scientists to determine how a choice is made.
  2. These imaging techniques demonstrate that some choices are made subconsciously, not consciously.
  3. Therefore, the subconscious is in fact the originator of choice and, by extension, will.
  4. Therefore, there is no soul, free will, etc.
I don't have any lasting problem with #1-3. The dicey conclusion is #4, which links the Freudian idea of consciousness with the theological concept of the soul and with the philosophical concept of free will.

Who first linked these together? Descartes. In fact, the idea that the conscious is in fact a spiritual or non-material manifestation of the soul which controls the corporeal body is the main tenet of what is called (appropriately) Cartesian dualism.

Cartesian dualism, as you might expect, has come under severe criticism in modern times, especially from the field of neuroscience. In fact, to the modern educated layperson, Descartes' belief (derided as the "Ghost in the Machine") that the mind controlled the body can seem nonsensical.

I am not here to defend Cartesian dualism (nor do I subscribe to it). I am here, however, to point out what I think is a rather obvious but ignored fact: Descartes's dualism is not the only dualism.

Consider again claim #3, that the subconscious, not the conscious, chooses. Fine - but do we know anything about why the subconscious chose what it chose? Does the article say anything about why some people choose left and some people choose right? No.

So perhaps our free will allowed our subconscious to choose rather than our conscious. That is not too complicated an idea to consider - and yet no one seems to have considered it.

I wish they would.


Pearls Before Breakfast

This depresses me.


Fides et Scientia: Part 1

It is an objection I often hear: Can you prove God exists?

I often wonder what exactly that means. The word "proof," despite all its connotations of absolute certainty, has subtly different shades of meaning.

In mathematics or logic, for example, a proof is (ironically) fullproof - if you accept the initial postulates, which cannot themselves be proved. In law, however, "proof" is merely a measure of how convinced a judge or jury is of a certain charge. The phrase "beyond a reasonable doubt" comes to mind (begging the question of who, exactly, is reasonable).

So can we prove God exists? Probably not in the former, purely logical sense of the word; God is far too abstract, and logic far too indefinite. (I would argue, however, that there are very strong arguments for the existence of God set in a logical setting.)

There are also difficulties with the latter, "legal" sense of the word. Whether or not someone is convinced of God's existence will very much depend on how they weigh and evaluate the "evidence," which will very much depend on their emotional reactions to the idea of God. Brilliant men have both worshiped and rejected God, based much more on their predispositions than on any empirical evaluation. As Pascal said, "People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive." (That being said, after reading extensively on this issue, I have never seen any useful alternative to God proposed that was not itself God in some form. We all eventually must worship something.)

In short, there is no clean, magical proof that will supersede a person's desire not to believe in God. The Will to Disbelieve (to reference William James), as it were, can be just as powerful as any religious devotion. It is, in fact, itself a religious devotion.

But is a formal proof necessary to believe in God? Do we require formal proofs for all the propositions we accept? Not at all!

Consider this question: "Can I (Speaker for the Dead) prove that my father is not a murderer?" My response: "How could I?" When I am at school, my father could hypothetically be anywhere; when I am asleep, my father could hypothetically do anything. (If this were insufficient, he lived thirty years before I was even born!) The simple truth is that I cannot.

Does this mean I believe my father is a murderer? Does it mean that I remain "agnostic" on the issue, saying I can never know? Not at all. What it means is that absolute certainty - proof - is not necessary to accept a proposition. (If it were, we could not accept anything.)

(The argument could be made that my belief in my father's innocence is based more in emotion than in reason. But the mere fact that we are emotionally prone to accept certain ideas says nothing about the actual validity of those ideas. The truth is that we can never extricate emotion from our reasoning process, try as we might. Though it may be true that belief in God is "wishful thinking," it is also true that many non-theists "wish" God did not exist.)

Likewise, the idea of God - encompassing morality, aesthetics, metaphysics, human emotion, spirituality, fate, and many other sensitive topics - cannot be treated as a mathematical syllogism which can only be accepted if empirically proved.

Am I lowering the standards for belief? If proof is not required, can we not then believe anything?

No. That proof is unnecessary does not imply that evidence is unnecessary (or nonexistent).

Consider the commonly held proposition that all life evolved from ancient simple organisms (a keystone of Darwinism). This proposition is not merely a scientific one, but a historical one; it is a statement about past events. To prove it empirically would be impossible, requiring knowledge of every genotypic mutation of every species - ever. Nevertheless, it is almost universally accepted within the scientific community, because the extant set of data (which falls far below the standard of "proof") is sufficient for them.

Why should God's existence be held to a higher standard?

(Here, I have not addressed evidence for or against God's existence. My thesis is only that no empirical, absolute proof is required to believe in God. Such a standard, in my opinion, merely evidences the personal need of some to avoid God at any cost.)

Weekly Review: April 8

Weekly Review: April 1

Weekly Review: March 25


The Monty Hall Problem

Think about it.

The key is that the host's choice is not independent of your choice.


Obama on Babies

The quote from Obama:

"Look, I got two daughters — 9 years old and 6 years old,” he said. “I am going to teach them first about values and morals, but if they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby. I don’t want them punished with an STD at age 16, so it doesn’t make sense to not give them information."
I really can't avoid this one.
  1. First of all, is it so bad for people to be "punished" for their "mistakes"? Isn't that how they learn? Moral accountability seems nonexistent in this case. Barack Obama is basically saying, "It would be a shame if my daughters did make a mistake, but I would never hold it against them."
  2. Some people look at babies as the miracle of life. Not Obama.
  3. Barack Obama's worldview is not that of a Christian, but of a progressive humanist. His church, by focusing on issues of race and "social justice," is also very humanistic.
  4. For the record, it's not like I think McCain is a saint...

Kids Plot the Darndest Things

Should I have given this a "Humor" label?


Good News?

"The best marriages are those where women marry men who are less attractive than themselves, research has found.

Psychologists who studied newlyweds found men who were better-looking than their wives were more likely to be unhappy and have negative feelings about their marriage."
If I think this is good news, does that make me ugly?

Facts and Friction of Easter

Great article. A few noteworthy quotes:
"For while mainstream scholars disagree on many things about the life of Jesus, there is a very strong consensus that the basic narrative of the Gospels is historically sound."
"Take the question of Jesus' existence. Dawkins may have his reservations; so might Onfray and Hitchens. But no one who is actually doing ancient history does. I contacted three eminent ancient history professors this week and asked if they knew of any professional historian who argued that Jesus never lived. They did not."
"Vermes is a leading biblical historian and committed Jew. He explained what virtually everyone in the field today considers beyond doubt: Jesus did things which friend and foe alike thought were supernatural. What those things were the historian cannot say. All we know with near certainty is that Jesus' contemporaries found them extraordinary."
"Few biblical historians accept all of the details of the Gospel accounts - to the chagrin of some Christians - but most, whether Jewish, Christian or agnostic, agree that these writings have preserved a reliable core of information about the tumultuous final days of Jesus' life...."
"What most scholars do affirm is more modest, though not without significance: Jesus' tomb was empty shortly after his crucifixion and significant numbers of men and women experienced what they believed to be appearances of the risen Jesus. These are the historical facts of Easter Sunday: an empty tomb and resurrection experiences. They are accepted not only by serious Christian scholars but also by leading Jewish historians such as Vermes and self-confessed agnostics such as Professor Ed Sanders of Duke University, who once wrote: 'That Jesus' followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know.' This is typical of the responsible historian's approach to Easter: whatever the explanation, something extraordinary happened."
"This is where history leads us - and leaves us. How we go on from here to interpret the historical evidence involves our other beliefs about the world."

Scapegoating Wikipedia (Whom I Love)

From Wikipedia's article on Islamic terrorism:
"This form of terrorism is an outgrowth of political conviction, which the perpetrator believes to be a religious duty, owing to a wrong interpretation of Islam."
Um, how is it that a supposedly neutral encyclopedia is telling us which interpretation of a certain religion is correct?

For that matter, why is it that millions of Americans who know nothing about Islam swear it is a religion of peace?

I'm not saying that Osama bin Laden is interpreting Islam correctly (the Qur'an specifically forbids suicide, so I personally think he's out of luck). But people shouldn't make sweeping pronouncements about religions without first seeking to understand them. And the vast majority of people who say Islam is a religion of peace don't even know what a hadith is.

Ironically, this same ignorance also leads to an irrational fear of Islam in some segments of the American population.

Imagine if Wikipedia's article about Catholicism said Catholicism was the "wrong interpretation" of Christianity. This isn't much different.

And before we make sweeping statements about Islam (or any other religious tradition), we should probably take some time to learn about it. Because knowledge is power!


Lessons From Monk

There's a great sequence in this one episode of the show Monk.

Monk, a former detective (who happens to be extremely OCD), has been hunting for his wife's murderer. After many years, he finally finds the man (Tennyson) who made the car bomb that killed his wife Trudy.

Tennyson, who is dying of some disease (I forget), is in a hospital bed. He asks Monk for forgiveness.

Monk turns off Tennyson's morphine drip and says, "This is me, turning off your morphine." After a few agonizing seconds, he turns it back on and says, "This is Trudy, the woman you killed, turning it back on."

What a great analogy for God's forgiveness.

Generation NeXt Goes to Work: Issues in Workplace Readiness and Performance

Interesting article about our generation.


The Long War

Dirk Willems

(A planned college essay that never made it. Dirk Willems is my homeboy. I'm putting it here to contrast ironically with some other posts of mine...)

On May 16, 1569, seven judges sentenced Dirk Willems to be “executed with fire” – burned at the stake. Condemned for his religious beliefs, Willems suffered an excruciating, “lingering death.” According to witnesses, he cried out over seventy times over the course of his passing; an easterly wind fanned the smoldering flames away from his upper body and prolonged his demise significantly. He died mere miles from his birthplace of Asperen, Netherlands.

Unfortunately, none of these facts, in and of themselves, distinguish Dirk Willems significantly. In fact, historians estimate the third Duke of Alba (who ruled the Spanish Netherlands from 1567-1573) slaughtered six thousand Dutchmen over the course of his rule, including Willems; his death, though unjust, was not by any means uncommon. What distinguishes him, then, is something much more powerful and profound: Dirk Willems saved his pursuer.

Imprisoned for his Anabaptist faith, Willems managed to escape successfully; using a rope of knotted rags, he lowered himself onto the frozen moat surrounding the prison and ran. Pursued by a guard who witnessed the episode, he fled across an icy pond (the “Hondegat”) in an abortive chase to freedom. When the guard attempted the same traversal, he collapsed through the thin, waning ice, forcing upon Willems a fatal decision between the guard’s life and his own.

I imagine the brilliant intensity of the moment when Dirk Willems realized his pursuer had fallen. I imagine the commingling of despair and relief as the impossible choice between freedom and surrender suddenly presented itself in stark resolution. I imagine the crisp wintry air, the bitter and desolate wind, the exhilarating dread as Willems slowly turned to face his foe – turning, as he well knew, from life to death. Life foists upon few of us moments such as these, moments that define the entirety of our being, moments of hollow passion and bittersweet release. And so, I imagine, because I cannot see what Dirk Willems saw that day; I imagine, because no one will ever know with what resolve, with what courage, or with what spirit Dirk Willems plunged his hand into the thrashing waters to save the man who would murder him.

Countless men would die for their countries, families, friends or neighbors; humanity has been blessed with an incredible devotion to its kin. But there are only a precious few who would sacrifice themselves for an enemy; they are rare who would die for their oppressors. Yet these blessed few are the peacemakers, the brave, selfless men who we must become if we ever hope to save our foes and ourselves. We can battle for all eternity, we can rage till world’s end, but if we cannot act as Willems did – without regard to self – we will merely war forever.

Dirk Willems died over four hundred years ago; today, his name is largely forgotten. But as long as I can, I will remember him, in the hope that I will someday choose the life of my fellow man over my own.

Casuistry and Culpability: Raskolnikov and Utilitarianism

(An English essay I wrote, but I think the critique of utilitarianism is useful. All the page numbers are from Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. If you haven't read the book, you should, but you probably won't understand this essay.)

Casuistry and Culpability: Raskolnikov and Utilitarianism

Simple arithmetic. Thus a student in a bar explains his rationalization of murdering Alyona Ivanovna – “simple arithmetic” (68). He says, “Kill her, take her money and with the help of it devote oneself to the service of humanity and the good of all. What do you think, would not one tiny crime be wiped out by thousands of good deeds?” (68) Raskolnikov himself states “an extraordinary man has the right…to decide in his own conscience to overstep…certain obstacles” (260). These moral justifications are formulated upon the ethical doctrine of utilitarianism, whose major premise is that morality depends solely upon the consequences of an action (summarized colloquially as “the ends justify the means”). Superficially, this argument appears tantalizingly seductive, yet as Dostoevsky eloquently illustrates in Crime and Punishment, the “simple arithmetic” of Raskolnikov’s theories is egregiously flawed. No tortuous ethical legerdemain can justify the brutal murder of two women.

The initial and fatal flaw in Raskolnikov’s proto-Nietzschean ethic is the artificial and arbitrary distinction between ordinary and (allegedly) extraordinary men. Although Raskolnikov claims that extraordinary men are “extremely few in number” – going so far as to say that “the man of genius is one of millions” – and that there is a “definite law” which separates them from the ordinary (263), he seems perfectly content to categorize himself as an extraordinary man. Nevertheless, throughout the novel, Raskolnikov displays no extraordinary qualities besides depression, nightmares, paranoia, pride, rage, hypochondria, indolence, and delirium. He conjectures that crimes fail because “almost every criminal is subject to a failure of will and reasoning power by a childish and phenomenal heedlessness” (74), and then commits incredibly asinine blunders during the murders, culminating in his unplanned execution of Lizaveta. For the majority of the novel, then, Raskolnikov is no ordinary individual, but an extraordinarily perturbed one; to grant him the authority to arbitrate morality unilaterally is patently insane.

Perhaps the more subjective and debatable issue is whether or not Raskolnikov’s intentions validated his legal transgressions. Indeed, even after he is convicted, Raskolnikov finds “no particularly terrible fault in his past, except a simple blunder which might happen to anyone” (535). When he confesses the murders to his sister, he is even more adamant; after his sister protests that he shed blood, Raskolnikov cries, “Which all men shed…which flows, and has always flowed in streams, which is spilt like champagne, and for which mean are crowned in the Capitol and are called afterwards benefactors of mankind….I too wanted to do good to men…” (513) Nevertheless, Raskolnikov’s impassioned words belie his stolid and senseless actions following the murder. In fact, during his trial, the judges note that he makes no use of the trinkets he steals either for himself or for others (527). Indeed, the most obvious result of Raskolnikov’s scheme to murder Alyona is the second murder of the (supposedly) more innocent Lizaveta, highlighting the pitfalls of his utilitarian barbarism. Either Raskolnikov suffers from amnesia, or he was not truly motivated by altruism. Raskolnikov himself admits his true impetus to his sister: “…I only wanted to put myself into an independent position, to take the first step, to obtain means, and then everything would have been smoothed over by benefits immeasurable in comparison…” (513) No matter how he attempts to couch his theory in philanthropic language, Raskolnikov cannot perpetually conceal from himself his true desire to authenticate his theory and thus establish himself as an extraordinary man.

In the end, however, Raskolnikov’s own conscience convicts him. Raskolnikov is tormented constantly by his guilt, though he refuses to acknowledge it as such. When Sonia looks at him, she knows only that he is “terribly, infinitely unhappy” (328). He even dreams of a dystopia of (in essence) extraordinary men who “each thought that he alone had the truth….Men killed each other in a sort of senseless spite” (539). Dostoevsky clearly intends to portray his protagonist as a man not merely physically, but spiritually and emotionally ill.

Finally, Dostoevsky indicates Raskolnikov’s guilt by his repentance and regeneration at the conclusion of the novel. After months of nonsensical agony, Raskolnikov finally collapses before Sonia and cries; Dostoevsky writes that he has “risen again” (541). Only the truly guilty are capable of such marked rebirth.


Weekly Review: March 18

Wright's Theology

(Disclaimer: For the record, I don't think Obama is a racist.)

Obama apologists are saying that he agrees with Reverend Wright only religiously, not politically; Wright is his spiritual, but not political, advisor. He chose Trinity United Church of Christ because he accepts its interpretation of Christianity.

The church's website makes its devotion to black liberation theology abundantly clear, and Wright himself has admitted he draws his worldview from the writings of James Hal Cone, considered the founder of black liberation theology.

Let's hear what Cone has to say about the subject.
"Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community... Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy. What we need is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love."
"To be Christian is to be one of those whom God has chosen. God has chosen black people."
"While it is true that blacks do hate whites, black hatred is not racism."
"All white men are responsible for white oppression."
"Theologically, Malcolm X was not far wrong when he called the white man 'the devil.'"
"If there is any contemporary meaning of the Antichrist, the white church seems to be a manifestation of it."
Now that we've all heard the gospel's message of love, hope, and unity...

(The irony, of course, is that Barack Obama is half-white...)

Exactly what kind of spiritual advice is Barack Obama getting? Why did he choose a church whose theology is grounded in statements such as these? He's stated quite clearly he disagrees with Wright's political stances; does he agree with Wright's religious stances?

I'm not sure we'll get a straight answer to that.

Smerdyakov's Question

"God created light on the first day, and the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day. Where did the light come from on the first day?"

- Smerdyakov, The Brothers Karamazov
Convenient that Moses predicted the Big Bang, isn't it?

"Fiat lux." (Genesis 1:3, Vul.)


The Truth of El Mozote



It's only fair I mention this article.

According to a statement released to the media by Trinity United Church of Christ, "Reverend Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.’s character is being assassinated in the public sphere because he has preached a social gospel on behalf of oppressed women, children and men in America and around the globe."

While I wouldn't say that's why his character is being "assassinated" (controversy doesn't generally surround advocating for oppressed children), we should at least respect the positive impact Trinity United Church of Christ has had in its community.

That being said, I have to point out one ironic statement.

Otis Moss, III (no idea why, but there's a comma after his last name), the current pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ, said this about the Wright controversy:
"The African American Church community continues to face bomb threats, death threats, and their ministers’ characters are assassinated because they teach and preach prophetic social concerns for social justice. Sunday is still the most segregated hour in America.”
Um...Sunday is a day, not an hour. And if you're worried about segregation on Sunday, should you really be talking about the "African American Church community"?

(Don't get me wrong, I know there's a racist "white church community," and its existence is deplorable. But it's on the fringe and on the out.)

Weekly Review: March 11



So this is what Barack Obama's former pastor thinks is appropriate for Christmas Day service...

For good measure, he also said (screamed), "God D--- America."

Here are some transcripts.
  1. Despite Wright's assertion that Barack Obama "ain't rich," Barack Obama makes over a million dollars a year. Does that count as rich?
  2. Despite Wright's assertion that Barack Obama "ain't white," he is half-white; his mother is from Kansas. Furthermore, his father, Barack Obama, Sr., is actually of Arab descent. So Barack Obama ain't black, either.
  3. Does Rev. Wright truly think it appropriate to compare one of his parishioners to Jesus?
  4. Could Rev. Wright not find a better topic for his Christmas service than Barack Obama? Like, I don't know, Jesus?
  5. Barack Obama has attended Rev. Wright's church (which, amid its "struggle" to end racism in the United States, has ironically chosen for its logo a cross superimposed over Africa) for twenty years. He says he strongly disagrees with Rev. Wright's statements. Then why attend his church? Are there no other churches in Chicago for Senator Obama to attend? Why choose the one in which people applaud when the pastor says "God Damn America"?
  6. This man married Barack and Michelle Obama. Do people normally choose insane bigots with whom they "strongly disagree" to marry them?
  7. Does Rev. Wright seriously think Hillary Clinton (who, by all accounts, is female) "fits the mold"? Is he completely unaware of the women's rights movement?
  8. Rev. Wright, if you dislike America so much, why not move to Liberia?
  9. Rev. Wright, is it necessary to use phrases like "ridin' dirty" in your sermons?
  10. Rev. Wright, do you really think the government created AIDS to kill black people?
  11. Jesus is black? Has the reverend ever seen a Jewish person before? Would he like Jesus as much if he were white and born rich?
  12. Pearl Harbor was made up by the government, too?
  13. The "US of KKKA." Um...which century does he think this is?
  14. Does Louis Farrakhan really need a lifetime achievement award from you?
This truly frustrates me.


Lying Rewarded?

So I read the following passage in Exodus:
The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiprah and the other Puah, "When you assist the Hebrew women in childbirth, observe at the delivery: If it is a son, kill him, but if it is a daughter, she may live." But the midwives feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them; they let the boys live.

Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, "Why have you done this and let the boys live?" The midwives said to Pharaoh, "Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women - for the Hebrew women are vigorous; they give birth before the midwife gets to them!" So God treated the midwives well, and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he made households for them. (Exodus 1:15-21, NET)
Why is this interesting? The way I read it, the midwives lied to the Pharaoh. They deliberately misstated their true intentions in allowing the boys to live. Granted, they were acting out of "fear for God" (another interesting concept) - but their actions directly contravened God's command not to lie.

Obviously, the conclusion here is not that they transgressed against God, because God rewarded them abundantly for their faith. So what is the conclusion?

I'm not sure; my first thought was that this was a direct rebuttal of deontological ethics. But, at the very least, any extremely legalistic view of the law must be flawed in some way. I'll think about it.


Only in Brazil

Let My Love a Martyr Be

It kind of switches between trochaic and iambic meter...

Let My Love a Martyr Be

Let my Love a martyr be.
Tho' She must die, yet let Her suffer
Swiftly Her ignominy.
If Love must then be snatched from me,

Thrash Her 'pon the stagger'd rocks,
Her doom, to shatter instantly,
Not to drown in placid waters
Chok'd by the deceptive sleep.

Oh! I may smile and be content
If ends be quick and quickly rent,
Or ardent, bright, and brilliant-wrought –
That Love be lost, but not forgot.

But Love, I fear Thy last demise
Shall softly swoop in grim attire,
In noiseless dark and secrecy.
Thou'll never boast of starréd skies

To hail Thee at Thy final hour!
Nay, Love, when come the dying days,
Thy bearers shall unlearn Thy art
And dooméd men forsake Thy ways.

Whence this awful, ghastly price?
Was Death too bleak to bravely win
Or Life too sweet to sacrifice
For Love, snow-white and free from sin?

Yet ours is not to die for Thee,
Dear Love, but is to watch instead
As Thou are slowly crucified –
To gaze upon Thy sacred head.

So I pray to God and Fate:
Grant not Love a silent Death!
Leave Her desp'rate, bold and proud!
Meet Her at the final breath!

For Death and Time are twain and sure
And silence is their last domain.
But Love, thy Death-cry, sweet and pure,
May pierce and vanquish e'en their reign...


Malcolm Muggeridge Quotes

These mostly come from Wikiquote, so I can't be certain about their authenticity...but they're good quotes anyway.
"It is only possible to succeed at second-rate pursuits - like becoming a millionaire or a prime minister, winning a war, seducing beautiful women, flying through the stratosphere or landing on the moon. First-rate pursuits - involving, as they must, trying to understand what life is about and trying to convey that understanding - inevitably result in a sense of failure. A Napoleon, a Churchill, a Roosevelt can feel themselves to be successful, but never a Socrates, a Pascal, a Blake. Understanding is for ever unattainable. Therein lies the inevitability of failure in embarking upon its quest, which is none the less the only one worthy of serious attention."
"I wonder whether, in the history of all the civilisations that have ever been, a more insanely optimistic notion has ever been entertained than that you and I, mortal, puny creatures, may yet aspire, with God’s grace and Christ’s help, to be reborn into what St. Paul calls the glorious liberty of the children of God. Or if there was ever a more abysmally pessimistic one than that we, who reach out with our minds and our aspirations to the stars and beyond, should be able so to arrange our lives, so to eat and drink and fornicate and learn and frolic, that our brief span in this world fulfils all our hopes and desires."
"The only ultimate disaster that can befall us, I have come to realize, is to feel ourselves at home here on earth."
"The first thing I remember about the world…is that I was a stranger in it. This feeling, which is at once the glory and desolation of homo sapiens, provides the only thread of consistency that I can detect in my life."
"Animistic savages prostrating themselves before a painted stone have always seemed to me to be nearer the truth than any Einstein or Bertrand Russell."
"There is something ridiculous and even quite indecent in an individual claiming to be happy. Still more a people or a nation making such a claim. The pursuit of happiness…is without any question the most fatuous which could possibly be undertaken. This lamentable phrase 'the pursuit of happiness' is responsible for a good part of the ills and miseries of the modern world."
"We look back on history and what do we see? Empires rising and falling, revolutions and counter-revolutions, wealth accumulating and wealth dispersed, one nation dominant and then another. Shakespeare speaks of 'the rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon.'

In one lifetime I have seen my own fellow countrymen ruling over a quarter of the world, the great majority of them convinced, in the words of what is still a favorite song, that, 'God who's made the mighty would make them mightier yet.' I've heard a crazed, cracked Austrian proclaim to the world the establishment of a German Reich that would last a thousand years; an Italian clown announce that he would restart the calendar to begin his own assumption of power. I've heard a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin acclaimed by the intellectual elite of the world as a wiser than Solomon, more enlightened than Ashoka, more humane than Marcus Aurelius. I've seen America wealthier and in terms of weaponry, more powerful than the rest of the world put together, so that Americans, had they so wished, could have outdone an Alexander or a Julius Caesar in the range and scale of their conquests.

All in one little lifetime. All gone with the wind. England part of a tiny island off the coast of Europe, threatened with dismemberment and even bankruptcy. Hitler and Mussolini dead, remembered only in infamy. Stalin a forbidden name in the regime he helped found and dominate for some three decades. America haunted by fears of running out of those precious fluids that keep her motorways roaring, and the smog settling, with troubled memories of a disastrous campaign in Vietnam, and the victories of the Don Quixotes of the media as they charged the windmills of Watergate.

All in one lifetime, all gone. Gone with the wind. Behind the debris of these self-styled, sullen supermen and imperial diplomatists, there stands the gigantic figure of one person, because of whom, by whom, in whom, and through whom alone mankind might still have hope. The person of Jesus Christ."