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."

Rhymes With Orange

According to this article, Libya, a new member of the UN Security Council, wasn't sure whether or not killing seminary students counted as an act of terrorism.

Are you kidding me? Libya is on the UN Security Council?


Weekly Review: March 4


From the Mouths of Babes

It's not even that I agree with this article (which I don't...completely). It's just priceless - especially the comments.