Friday, September 30, 2005

Roberts sworn in as chief justice


Chief Justice John Roberts

A rare event in American history happened yesterday: we have a new Supreme Court Chief Justice: John Roberts.

Justice Roberts made a very strong, positive impression on my during his confirmation hearings. I feel very confident that he will be an excellent Chief Justice.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Random Acts of Poetry

Now here is an interesting idea: reading poetry to complete strangers:

The second annual Random Acts of Poetry week is a Canadian initiative that promotes poetry, poets and literacy in a fresh way to everyday people in their everyday lives. This year, 27 poets from across Canada will be joined by 10 poets from England, Scotland and Ireland, making the event truly international after only one year. Watch for local poets from your community reading poems to people on the street, at bus stops, schools, libraries, hair salons and in local schools.

I'd love to here the after-action report from those involved...

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Vatican set to ban gay men joining priesthood

Looks like the pope is finally going to shut the door on gay men joining the priesthood. Unlike some of it's protestant counterparts, the church has never recognized homosexuality as being normal, though it has allowed many homosexuals to become priests.

From the article:
HOMOSEXUALS, even those who are celibate, will be barred from becoming Roman Catholic priests under stricter rules soon to be released, according to reports yesterday.

A Church official "with authoritative knowledge of the new rules" was quoted as saying the question was not "if it will be published, but when", referring to the new ruling about homosexuality in Catholic seminaries.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Only from the mind of Minolta...


Minolta X-570 35mm SLR Camera

Well, just call me old-fashioned.

I stared out the 21st century by selling all my old Minolta 35mm equipment and going with a brand-new Olympus D450 digital camera, with a whopping 1.3 megapixel resolution, and a 3x optical zoom. I've used that for the past five years with no problems, other than the limitations imposed by a digital range-finder type camera. While the Olympus was easy to use, and took some very fine pictures, the loss of creativity as compared with my previous 35mm SLR's was too much too take.

The Olympus was a good "people" camera--if you just wanted to take pictures of your friends or relatives. But if you wanted to do any sort of nature photography, or action shooting, the Olympus was just not up to the task.

So now here in the middle of 2005, I find myself going back to 35mm SLR photography, and back to Minolta for cameras and lenses.

But I'm not buying a Minolta MAXXUM 35mm SLR with auto-focusing lenses....that would be too easy...rather I've aquired an old Minolta X-570 35mm SLR with manual focus technology (your hand turns a specially crafted focusing ring on the camera lens). Since Minolta doesn't make manual focus cameras anymore, I've been aquiring old Minlota equipment from family, friends and even eBay. I've also purchased an old Minolta SRT-101 35mm SLR, considered by many to be the best made 35mm camera of all-time. It features completely manual controls....you have to set the film speed, f-stop, shutter speed and focus the lens every time you take a picture. (Although film-speed usually needs to be set only once, when you initially load the camera with a roll of film.)

While I've currently accumulated an eclectic hodge-podge of lenses and accessories for the Minoltas, I've come up with a "core" group of lenses and accessories I would like to have for my main kit. The selection of lenses and accessories are designed to take advantage of the features of the X-570 camera in particular. Here's the list:

LENSES:
Minolta 28mm f2.8 wide-angle
Minolta 50mm f2.0 standard
Minolta 50mm f1.4 standard (for low-light situations)
Minolta 200mm f4.0 telephoto
Vivitar 500mm f8.0 telephoto-mirror lens with a dedicated 2X tele-converter
Minolta 35-70mm f3.5 zoom
Minolta 300-S 2X tele-converter

ACCESSORIES:
Minolta 280PX Flash Unit (designed especially for "X" series cameras)
Minolta Power Winder G autowinder
miscelaneous Hoya filters

With this simple assortment of lens and accessories, I can fullfill most of my photography needs. I might get a Minolta 135mm f2.8 telephoto as well, simply because it is a useful small telephoto with sharp optics.

My strategy is to use my Minolta and Vivitar teleconverters to "fill-in" those places where I need a telephoto lens of a particular focal-length. With the teleconverters, my available "lenses" are as follows:

1. 28mm f2.8 wide-angle
2. 50mm f2.0 standard
3. 50mm f1.4 standard (for low-light situations)
4. 100mm f4.0 tele-photo (50mm f2.0 with tele-converter)
5. 200mm f4.0 telephoto
6. 400mm f6.0 telephoto (200mm f4.0 with tele-converter)
7. 500mm f8.0 telephoto-mirror
8. 1000mm f10.0 telephoto-mirror (500mm with dedicated tele-converter)
9. 35-70mm f3.5 zoom
10. 70-140mm f5.5 tele-photo zoom (35-70mm with tele-converter)

As you can see, the tele-converters allows me the flexibility to have additional focal-lengths that I don't have to purchase. The 500mm Vivitar lens has a 10X magnification factor, but with it's dedicated teleconverter, it becomes a 1000mm 20x monster telephoto! 500mm and longer lenses are wonderful for nature photography, especially when taking pictures of birds and small mamals.

So why didn't I go with a digital SLR instead of going back to film? Simple: cost. While the new digital SLR's are wonders to behold, they are also very, very expensive, usually starting around $800 US for a camera and a lens, then going up from there.

Going back to film allows me to save lots of $$$ on equipment, especially when making use of eBay auctions! Here's a price comparison between a brand-new Konica-Minolta Maxxum 7D digital SLR and what I've been paying for the older equipment:

Konica-Minolta Maxxum 7D digital SLR with 28-100 AF zoom lens
$1,200.00 US - Amazon.com

Minolta SRT-101 with Kiron 28-85 zoom lens and a Minolta 50mm f1.4 standard lens
$42.00 US - eBay

You can buy and develop a LOT of film for the $1,100 in savings...a lot of film....plus the SRT-101 with it's lenes and proper film can easily out-perform the Maxxum 7D in the place where it matters most: quality images.

In case your wondering, the price I paid for the X-570 is $0. That's right, it was FREE! My father gave it to me after he decided to go with a Pentax *ist digital SLR.

But don't think one has to give up have digital images just because they own a 35mm film SLR. With an inexpensive flatbed scanner and/or film scanner, all those film pictures can easily be digitized, if need be.

The only big difference is do you want to fill up shoe-boxes with pictures and negatives, or fill up hard-drives and CD-ROM's?

But I haven't given up on digital entirely, as I also own a new Kodak D7590 5 mega-pixel digital camera with a 10X optical zoom. For just random picture taking, the $350 US (Walmart.com) D7590 is a decent camera. But my old Minoltas still kick it's butt in terms of image quality.

Photo of Minolta X-570 from the MinMan website, dedicated to Minolta manual focus cameras and equipment.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Salt of the Earth



Pope Benedict XVI seems to see very clearly what is in store for the future of Christianity. The following quote is from his interview with Peter Seewald, which can be found in the book Salt of the Earth:
Peter Seewald: "At the end of the second millennium," remarked John Paul II, "the Church has once more become a Church of martyrs." You, Your Eminence, have summed up the situation in similar terms: "If we do not recover a bit of our Christian identity, we will not withstand the challenge of this hour."

Pope Benedict XVI (as Cardinal Ratzinger): The Church, too, as we have already said, will assume different forms. She will be less identified with the great societies, more a minority Church; she will live in small, vital circles of really convinced believers who live their faith. But precisely in this way she will, biblically speaking, become the salt of the earth again. In this upheaval, constancy--keeping what is essential to man from being destroyed--is once again more important, and the powers of preservation that can sustain him in his hummanity are even more necessary.

The Church therefore needs, on the one hand, the flexibility to accept changed attitudes and laws in society and to be able to detach herself from the inter-connections with society that have existed until now. On the other hand, she has all the greater need for fidelity in order to preserve what enables man to be man, what enables him to survive, what perserves his dignity. She has to hold fast to this and keep him open toward what is above, toward God; for only from there can the power of peace come into this world.
Ratzinger, Cardinal Joseph, Salt of the Earth. San Francisco: Ignatius, 1996.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

NASA - Deep Impact

A real life "Deep Impact" mission to a commet can be found here: NASA - Deep Impact. Unlike the Hollywood movie by the same name, where Robert Duvall pilots a modified space shuttle full of astronauts to a commet on a collision course with earth, the "Deep Impact" mission will make contact with the comet on the Fourth of July, and will be made up of unmanned space craft.

Also unlike the movie, which attempted to blow-up a comet using nuclear warheads, the NASA Deep Impact space craft will simply collide with the commet at a speed of approx. 6 miles per second. Though there are no explosive charges on the space craft, NASA believe it might make a crater as large as a sports stadium.

Very interesting....

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Merton on happiness

Thomas Merton on happiness, from the book No Man Is An Island:
Each one of us has some kind of vocation. We are all called by God to share in His life and in His Kingdom. Each one of us is called to a special place in the Kingdom. If we find that place we will be happy. If we do not find it, we can never be completely happy. For each one of us, there is only one thing necessary: to fulfill our own destiny, according to God's will, to be what God wants us to be.
Merton, Thomas. No Man Is An Island. San Diego: Harcourt, 1955.

Merton: "no man can serve two masters"

This meditation on love is from the Thomas Merton book No Man Is An Island:
It would be a sin to place any limit upon our hope in God. We must love Him without measure. All sin is rooted in the failure of love. All sin is a withdrawal of love from God, in order to love something else. Sin sets boundaries to our hope, and locks our love in prsion. If we place our last end in something limited, we have withdrawn our hearts entirely from the service of the living God. If we continue to love Him as our end, but place our hope in something else together with Him, our love and our hope are not what they should be, for no man can serve two masters.
Merton, Thomas. No Man Is An Island. San Diego: Harcourt, 1955.

Two Masters

Lately I've been meditating on the parables in Luke 16. Here's the one about the shrewd manager:
“There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’

And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’

So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’

The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

--Luke 16:1-13 ESV

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Plato on Morality

Plato on Morality, as summarized by Tom Griffith:
For Plato, the answer to the question 'How should we live?' was given by his friend and mentor Socrates, who, for all his protestations that he did not know anything, had an unshakable conviction that there were moral truths and moral realities. Of these truths, two were of overriding importance. The first, which found it's way into Christianity 400 years later, and has been immensely influential ever since, was that we are never justified in harming anyone (the prevailing view being that we should help our friends and harm our enemies). The second was that goodness and knowledge are the same thing, that people do wrong simply because they fail to understand what is good and what is bad. Few people these days would accept this as a moral truth, perhaps, but for Socrates and Plato it was fundamental.
Griffith, Tom. Introduction. Plato: Selections from Protagoras, Republic, Phaedrus, Gorgias. By Plato. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2004. 9.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Bob Jones has a dream...

Bob Jones (no relation to the university by the same name) is a true prophet of God, who has some unique and powerful insights into Christianity. The following is a prophetic word he had recently told to Paul Keith Davis entitled "I Have a Dream"

I Have A Dream

In one of his prophetic encounters, Bob was told that the enemy is vigorously working to steal the 'dreams' of God's people. Primarily, the dreams consist of hopes and aspirations birthed in the spirit of Christians that motivate them in prayer and set them on their prophetic journey.

In the experience, the Lord expressed that it was acceptable for His people to contemplate great and lofty things that He is capable of doing through them. That is the admonition to us in Ephesians 3:20-21---
Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
If our dreams become exaggerated beyond the parameters of His promise, then He will make adjustments in us that keep it from becoming vain imaginations. With the vision that is being imparted to saints, there is a corresponding faith that is birthed to see it become reality. Our adversary is attempting to bring opposition to those dreams and visions with the anticipated result of birthing hopelessness and depression in its place.

Psalms 126 was given as an outline for this admonition. Those who dream in the greatness and hopeful expectation of God's restoration are filled with joy. Correspondingly, without vision, people perish in discouragement and confusion and are led into captivity.

We cannot give up the dream and aspiration of being used mightily by the Holy Spirit in the blueprint of Heaven presently being unfolded. We must also continue to dream for our children to be handed a rich spiritual inheritance."

Friday, May 27, 2005

Churchianity Today

Chip Brogden has written a very devastating, and very accurate article on the current state of Christianity in America. If you want something to really challenge you out of mediocracy, then look no further than here: " Churchianity Today"

Highly recommended. Thanks to Marc Van Der Woude (and his blog!) for alerting me to this article.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Entropy, Evolution, Matter and Spiritual Direction

Last week I visited a quaint little Catholic bookstore in a town just north of me. It is run as a ministry, not a business, and because of this it almost completely unknown outside of the people in it's parish.

While browsing their small but very interesting selection of books, I found one with a title that intrigued me immediately: "The Way of Spiritual Direction." So I bought it, brought it home, and began reading it immediately.

Upon reading the first few chapters, I encountered something I had never, ever read before in a Christian book of any type: a theology of spiritual direction that includes evolution, entropy, and matter! I could not believe what I was reading! I knew someone, somewhere must have done something like this, but how strange it is that I should come across this while only recently debating these things on the Free Republic web site.

Here are two short excerpts from the book I found most intriguing:

EVOLUTION AND ENTROPY (pp 29-30)


There exists two contradictory, all-pervasive forces within creation: entropy and evolution.


Entropy turns creation in upon itself and tries to reverse its spiritual development. Entropy is innately "fleshy." It is regression into matter, scatteredness, the multiple. In the human sphere, entropy is selfishness, self-centeredness, the sin of the world. (Jn 1:29) [Like a black hole! -Ronzo]


Evolution, on the other hand, is specifically the aspect of becoming within creation. It is from God and to him. God's creative activity is the very core of evolution. In the human sphere this energy is none other than love, the gift of self.


Theoretically at least, evolution could proceed in a variety of possible directions. As a matter of fact, however, there is only one direction of evolution: towards the point of ultimate consummation -- Christ, Omega. Thus, evolution is in genesis (from the Greek ginomai: to become). The Word became flesh and bestowed upon us the power to become children of God (Jn 1:14, 12), so that in him we become a new creation (2 Co 5:17).


In more technical terminology, we say that the evolution of the world--cosmogenesis--is in fact Christogenesis. For Christ himself, God, is becoming "all in all" (Col 3:11; 1Co 15:28). And since God is Spirit (Jn 4:24) we are becoming spirit, spiritual, spirified ( 1 Co 15:44). Because of Christ, therefore, evolution has only one direction: spiritual.


Evolution, or genesis, proceeds by way of a dialectical process. [Hello Hegel! -Rz] Each threshold in our personal lives as well as each threshold of evolution as a whole comprises three elements: divergence, convergence, emergence. Divergence is the expression of the inner need within genesis to search out in every possible direction those avenues which are compatible with our becoming properly the persons we are called to become. After certain experiences, however, we realize through a process of elimination [Natural selection? - Rz] that only certain avenues are in fact compatible with our development [state vector colapse? -Rz] Things begin to converge. Finally, these converging avenues reach such an intensity of concentration that we emerge through a threshold to a more mature and interiorized state of being than previously existed. At this point, the dialectic begins all over again, but always towards heightened being becoming.


MATTER AS MATRIX (pp 30-31)


Matter is the matrix of the spirit. Matter for each of us is that complex of energies, influences, persons and things which surround us inasmuch as they are palpable, sensible and "natural." Matter is the concrete milieu in which our becoming is effected and affected.

As such, matter has two faces. On the one hand, it burdens. It fetters. Matter is a prime source of pain and sin. It weighs us down. It wounds us, tempts us, makes us grow old. Who will deliver us from this body doomed to death (Rm 7:24)? But on the other hand, matter is physical exuberence, ennobling contact, virile effort, the joy of growth. It attracts, renews, unites, blossoms. In matter we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Who will bestow on us this spiritual body (1 Co 15:44)?

Matter can be likened to the mountain up whose slope a climber scales. At any given point along the way, space is divided into two zones: the summit which lies ahead and the abyss below. Only the person moves up or down. Matter provides the support for the movement. The person is drawn irresistibly toward the goal, regardless of obstacles or difficulties.

Thus, matter for each of us has two conflicting meanings: the burden of the flesh and the matrix of the spirit. Matter is the womb out of which spirit evolves. Matter does not produce spirit. Only the Spirit can cause spiritualization. But it is produced out of matter, not just in the sense that a glass holds the water which is poured from it, but rather in the sense that matter itself is transformed by the Spirit into spirit. Spirit is the spiritual form of matter. Thus, spiritualization is not anti-matter, or extra-matter, but trans-matter.


From the book The Way of Spiritual Direction; By Fr. Francis Kelly Nemeck, O.M.I. and Marie Theresa Coombs, Hermit; A Michael Glazier Book, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN
ISBN=0-8146-5447-9

Saturday, May 07, 2005

The Purpose of Life

Finnally, I now understand the purpose of life:


The entire purpose of life is for a man to use his God given talents to bring happiness and joy into his life, and then to bring it to others.


Of course, the means by which a man might be able to bring happiness and joy into his life, is by relieving other's suffering (bringing them joy and happiness!)


Isn't that simple?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Vision

Marc Van Der Woude posted a wonderful prayer/poem/prophecy by Peter Greig on his blog. The title is simply "The Vision" Here are the first few stanzas:
The vision is JESUS:
obsessively, dangerously, undeniably Jesus.

The vision is an army of young people.
You see bones?
I see an army.

And they are FREE from materialism -
they laugh at 9-5 little prisons.
They could eat caviar on Monday and crusts on Tuesday. They wouldn't even notice.
They know the meaning of the Matrix,
the way the West was won."

Autocatakinetics, Evolution, and the Law of Maximum Entropy Production.

In an online forum at the Free Republic web site, we are having an ongoing discussion/debate about the nature of reality and evolution. One of the members of the forum, "betty boop" (not her real name!) posted an article by R. Swenson that deals with evolution from a cosmological standpoint, and also discusses the false dichotomy of the Cartesian split.


In our discussion about how the Second Law of Entropy plays into this problem, "betty" helped me to better understand how life itself is an expression of the 2nd Law, not a contridiction of it. Here is what she has to say in full:


Oh, so that's the big deal with entropy...we living creatures so badly wanting to avoid it! We are living contradictions to the 2nd Law.

Actually Ronzo, I think Dennett had it all wrong to speculate that living systems somehow contradict the second law, that they have some way to "beat" its application to themselves, by maybe "paying the entropy tab." I rather think that we living creatures are in a certain way the fulfillment of the second law. Consciousness (sentience, awareness, self-consciousness) is the key that turns this lock.

But in order for this insight to be valid, Boltzmann's model would need to be recognized for the restrictive view that it is. Boltzmann himself recognized that his analysis pertained to "perfect gases" only; extrapolating from there to living organisms is fraught with peril, cosmologically speaking. :^) Or so it seems to me.

Swenson writes (in "Thermodynamics, Evolution, and Behavior," 1997):

"In Clausius' (1865) words, the two laws thus became: "The energy of the world remains constant [first law of thermodynamics]. The entropy of the world strives to a maximum [second law]," and with this understanding, in sharp contrast to the "dead" mechanical world of Descartes and Newton, the nomological basis for a world that is instead active, and end-directed was identified. Entropy maximization as Planck first recognized provides a final cause, in Aristotle's typology, of all natural processes, "the end to which everything strives and which everything serves" or "the end of every motive or generative process" (Bunge, 1979). … The active, macroscopic nature of the second law presented a profound blow to the mechanical world view which Boltzmann attempted to save by reducing the second law to the stochastic collisions of mechanical particles, or a law of probability."

I am so struck (awestruck is more like it) by the profound resonances of these two laws to Heraclitus' (c. 500 B.C.) philosophy. Swenson writes [ibid.]:

"The first and second laws of thermodynamics are not ordinary laws of physics. Because the first law, the law of energy conservation, in effect, unifies all real-world processes, it is thus a law on which all other laws depend. In more technical terms, it expresses the time-translation symmetry of the laws of physics themselves. With respect to the second law, Eddington (1929) has argued that it holds the supreme position among all the laws of nature because it not only governs the ordinary laws of physics but the first law as well. If the first law expresses the underlying symmetry principle of the natural world (that which remains the same) the second law expresses the broken symmetry (that which changes). It is with the second law that a basic nomological understanding of end-directedness, and time itself, the ordinary experience of then and now, of the flow of things, came into the world. The search for a conserved quantity and active principle is found as early as the work of Thales and the Milesian physicists (c. 630-524 B.C.) and is thus co-existent with the beginnings of recorded science, although it is Heraclitus (c. 536 B.C.) with his insistence on the relation between persistence and change who could well be argued to hold the top position among the earliest progenitors of the field that would become thermodynamics. Of modern scholars it was Leibniz who first argued that there must be something which is conserved (later the first law) and something which changes (later the second law)."

Heraclitus, sometimes called the “Riddler,” could say: “The unapparent connection is more powerful than the apparent one” [Fragment 54]; for “Nature loves to hide” [Fragment 123].

A. Grandpierre’s observation [2005, WIP] that, “the realm of the Finite [existence] cannot exist without the realm of Infinity, since the Finite can change only by its connection with Infinity, and it can maintain itself only through continuously changing” is a profound recapitulation of Heraclitus’ central insight about the Universe: That it is a One that can maintain itself and “evolve” only by undergoing a process of ceaseless change.

Grandpierre refers to what we might call the “cybernetic concept of Life”: “Life is the basic activity of the Universe that continuously sews together the existing universe with the universe of possibilities. Life sews together the actualized possibilities and generates a much larger set of new possibilities.”

Entropy maximization is the universal process that connects existent reality to the non-existent (not yet manifested, but potentially manifestible) "realm of possibilities." And thus the universe has a "future" to evolve into (so to speak). I have a deep suspicion that biological self-organizing processes -- which are seemingly informative or information-based processes -- have a critical role to play in universal entropy maximization.

Just some thoughts....

Thanks so much for writing, Ronzo!

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

W more conservative than John Paul II

Is President Bush more conservative than Pope John Paul II? According to David S. Oderberg in his article Teaching Tradition, President Bush's philosophy and theology are more consistent with traditional Catholic thinking than that of John Paul II!!! Here is an excerpt from the article:
"Opposition to abortion and euthanasia on the one hand, and support for just war and the death penalty on the other, are not conceptual enemies. They aren't even uneasy bedfellows. They belong together, and in a way each side justifies the other. Together they provide the traditional ethics at the heart of all mainstream moral thinking until the 1960s cultural revolution. It is clear that George W. Bush has made that thinking his own. It is the late pontiff, on the other hand, who struck off in a novel direction. When it comes to applying tradition to life-and-death moral issues, Bush 43 wins hands down over John Paul II."

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Wiccans and Christians: Some Mutual Challenges

This article is a MUST read: Wiccans and Christians: Some Mutual Challenges. The author, Phillip S. Johnson, shows how Christian can dialogue with Wiccans in a way that is very constructive and non-condemning. This is important, as most Wiccans come out of Christian households...


Stanley Kurtz on Christians and the Left

Excellent article by Stanley Kurtz about the left's escalation of the cultural wars: the current tactic is to equate conservative Christians with German Nazi's. And no, I'm not exagerating. Here is an excerpt from the article:
"Harper's Magazine's May cover stories about "The Christian Right's War On America," frightened me, although not the way Harper's meant them to. I fear these stories could mark the beginning of a systematic campaign of hatred directed at traditional Christians. Whether this is what Harper's intends, I cannot say. But regardless of the intention, the effect seems clear."

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Book Review: If Grace Is True




IF GRACE IS TRUE
Phillip Gulley and James Mulholland


As I read the book If Grace Is True, a well-known old bromide kept coming to mind: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” This book may be the ultimate and most ironic example of the truth of that saying.

This book is based on a simple premise: if grace (God’s unmerited favor) is true, then literally everyone will go to heaven, no matter their religion or behavior.

Those who are familiar with orthodox Christian doctrine will immediately realize there is a problem with this premise: there is nothing in all of Christianity that supports it. As a matter of fact, this very doctrine, which the authors correctly point out originated with Origen, was considered heresy by the Second Council of Constantinople in 553. For the past 1,500 years, their has been nearly unanimous agreement amongst Christian theologians that universalism is false.

Yet despite its condemnation, the doctrine of universal salvation, also known by the technical term apocatastasis, has popped up from time to time, and in modern times has found it’s most fertile soil in the United States and Britain. It is no surprise then that both Gulley and Mulholland are Americans.

To fully understand why Gulley and Mulholland champion a doctrine that has no basis in orthodox Christian theology, you must first understand all their underlying premises, which they willingly supply to the reader. Here then, is the foundation upon which they build their case:

1. Universalism is true because God “whispered in my ear.” i.e. special revelation.

2. Personal experience is the ultimate barometer of truth, especially when concerning things of God. However, this is not Cartesian philosophy that’s being advocated, but more like the statement “anything outside my realm of personal experience is false.”

2. The Bible is neither inerrant nor authoritative, except for those verses and passages that can be ripped out of their context to support universalism.

3. Jesus is not God, nor is there a Trinity. God is just God; one person.

4. The doctrine of atonement is false. There is no need of atonement from sin.

5. God’s love and mercy will not allow him to send someone to eternal punishment. It is not in his character to ever harm anyone, except for their ultimate benefit.

Given these premises then of course universalism is true, for they immediately nullify any reasonable rebuttal. Most of the book is a further explanation and defense of these premises, with supporting scriptures, quotes, and experiences provided.

However, the orthodox Christian will immediately realize that all these premises are heresy. When you remove the authority of the Word of God, deny the Trinity, and deny the need for atonement, then you are no longer talking about Christianity. Gulley and Mulholland insist that there is Jesus, a Bible, and salvation, but these are mere forms, their substance has been carefully and systematically removed or redefined.

The logical errors the authors make, and the contradictions that are abundant throughout this book make it a far more useful tool for the denial of universalism than it’s proof! For example, if every person is saved, then it is no longer God’s grace that is in operation; grace is completely nullified. Heaven no longer needs God’s grace for admittance, since it is now an entitlement, an inaliable right. Whether we get there through grace, contempt, or guilt is ultimately meaningless.

If the Bible is neither authorative nor inerrant, then it’s frivolous and inaccurate. In other words, you can’t go and cherry pick your favorite verses from an unauthoritative document then imply that they are authoritative! Yet that’s exactly what Gulley and Mulholland attempt with their examples of scriptures that allegedly support their position! This is what is normally known as hypocrisy.

But the most grievous error of all is how universalism ultimately nullifies itself. For instance, let’s assume that every Christian church and denomination; Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox, all decide that universalism is the real deal, and proclaim universal salvation to all people, whether or not they are Christian, whether or not they behave in accordance with Christian tradition. What would be the net result of such a thing?

Well, no one in his right mind would ever walk through a church door, for if there is no need of the church for salvation, then it is completely irrelevant. And since you are saved regardless of behavior or ethics, there is certainly no need to teach Christian morality and ethics anymore. Jesus, the Bible, grace, love, and all everything else becomes ultimately irrelevant, since we are all going to be in heaven anyway, whether or not we have even heard of such a place.

And since there is no need to adhere to any code of conduct to get to heaven, then there is no need to act in the fashion of a Mother Teresa. The reward for being the greatest saint is the same for the most evil sinner: eternal life and happiness. So why bother with self-denial and self-sacrifice? Goodness is no more ultimately rewarded than blatant evil and selfishness.

It is easy to see where I’m going with this: if universal salvation were fully believed and accepted, it would be the precursor to the greatest hell on earth the world has ever known! Those of you who think I exaggerate, take a look at the various godless utopian ideals that have been tried over the centuries, only to fall apart under the weight of their own corruptness.

The law of non-contradiction states that a proposition cannot be true that is it’s own nullification. Yet universalism is exactly that: a nullification of itself, or at least of the underlying forms that are used to support it.

THEIR MOTIVE FOR WRITING

Obviously Gulley & Mulholland’s argument is not a logical nor theological one, as it fails miserably to convince on those levels. So one is left wondering what their prime motivation is for embracing a doctrine--universal salvation--that has been deemed heresy for more than 1,500 years? There seems to be two motives: the rigidity and gracelessness of the modern evangelical/fundamentalist church and a slight misunderstanding as to what God wants to do in comparison to what he will do.

Let me state that I believe God does want every person to be saved; He certainly takes no delight what-so-ever in the condemnation and punishment of the wicked, as is demonstrated very well in the story of Jonah. However, it’s one thing to believe in what God wants to happen as opposed to what will happen. Gulley and Mulholland, not quite understanding the kindness and the severity of God, have decided that He will save everyone no-matter-what.

So why embrace a position that has no scriptural or theological support? The authors seem to think fundamentalist/evangelical Christianity places far too many restrictions on salvation. In order to compensate for the perceived stinginess of the evangelical community, Gulley and Mulholland have fallen off the other side of the narrow road, and have proclaimed that God will, absolutely, save everyone. In many places throughout their book, the authors point out many, many places where the evangelical community has taken far too narrow a view of God, the Bible, and Christianity; and as a result they have created a Christian “clique” that is more interested in removing oneself from the world rather than saving it. In a self-revealing passage, the authors state:
So many people enter churches persuaded God is lurking in ambush. They come expecting fire and brimstone, and we’ve been all too willing to heap it on. We’ve slandered God’s character too long. I regret the times I manipulated and coerced other with sermons designed to shame and frighten rather than celebrate the love of God. I failed to appreciate the depth of God’s love. (pg. 68)
Certainly churches exists like those the authors were apart of. However, this type of severity is not true of all churches, not even all evangelical churches. I have found several conservative churches that spend far more time preaching on the love and mercy of God then they do on eternal condemnation and the fires of hell, if they preach on those subjects at all! So it is obvious that Gulley and Mulholland are painting a select picture of fundamentalist Christianity using a very broad brush.

The authors are correct to state that God’s love and grace must be the primary teaching of the Christian church; with that I have no problem. But God’s unconditional love doesn’t mean that we are all going to escape the fires of hell! It is explicit throughout scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation, that we must take responsibility for our own actions, and God will reward or punish those actions in a fair and balanced way. Yet God often does not punish us nearly as severely as we deserve! But still a constant theme of punishment unto death exists throughout the Bible, and especially in the parables and teachings of Jesus. Also there are times where Jesus explicitly states that punishment is eternal; but it is also made very clear that the ultimate decision concerning one’s eternal destination is made by ourselves, not God! Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has opened the door of eternal salvation, and there are constant reminders telling us that we must walk through that door.

While I do not agree with Gulley and Mulholland’s solution to the problem of gracelessnes in some churches, I do agree with their criticisms. It is my belief that every church should extend as much love and grace as possible, and then go beyond even that! Those churches more interested in your sins than your salvation only create pride and triumphalism, along with false expectations no one can live up to.

God’s unconditional love for us does not automatically translate into our unconditional salvation. Definite conditions are placed on our salvation in both the Old and New Testaments, and those who are wise will heed these conditions. They are not difficult nor are they unreasonable, but they are conditions none-the-less. The first condition is to love God as He loves you, and this is demonstrated by us through obedience to His commandments. The second is to love everyone just as you are loved, and to show them the grace and forgiveness that God has shown you. And that’s about it. The rest of the Bible deals with particular applications of these conditions, and the punishment that awaits those who do not follow them.

But I do not blame Gulley and Mulholland for being blind to conditional salvation, as most of the evangelical church is blind to it as well! There is a subtext of “once saved, always saved” that permeates the evangelical community, especially those who are of the reformed theological tradition. Yet the Bible does not guarantee anyone’s salvation, unless the above conditions are met and lived out on a daily basis. Evangelicals often think people are “saved” if they say a prayer of repentance and are dunked in water; but this is not the biblical standard as salvation is only promised to those who walk as Jesus did. In other words, people need to LIVE the Christian life, not just pledge allegiance to it.

I really wish universal salvation were true, and most Christian I know would have no problem with that if it were Biblical. But if universal salvation is true, there could be no individual accountability for evil, and so a grave injustice would be done on a cosmic scale. The Bible often warns us that it is evil to reward the guilty and to punish those who are innocent; I don’t anticipate God is willing to ignore a standard that He expects us to live by.

For a very scholarly and in depth critique of universalism and similar systems, I highly recommend the book Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment published by Zondervan.

OTHER REVIEWS OF THE BOOK:

The Theology of Wishful Thinking (Crosswalk.com)
A Distorted Predestination (Christianity Today)

Ron's Theory of Knowledge

There are only two kinds of "knowledge" for me personally:

1. Realized knowledge | the information which I've gained throughout all the experiences of my life, through whatever means: sensory, intuition, etc.

2. Potential knowledge | all that I have yet to experience.

Estimated Ratio of potential to realized knowledge in my life: 99.999999 : 0.000001

Notice that I don't give any valuations at all for either group. That's because I automatically consider almost all information/experience to be basically true, good & beautiful. (The exception would be when the source is a liberal…but then we're talking knowledge here…) Of course not all information/experience is ultimately true, good and beautiful.

So how do I know what in this great mess of information/experiences needs to be valued, and what needs to be discarded? Well, to be quite honest, it really depends upon how I feel about the information/experience.

At this point let me state that for me there is a significant difference between emotions and feelings. I would define emotions as they would be commonly understood, the agitations of our being that often have physical manifestations like crying, laughing, and so on. But feelings I define more like awareness or consciousness; there is a definite link to emotions, but from my perspective, emotions proceed forth out of feelings, not vice versa.

I cannot help but notice that almost all information/experiences have an impact on my feelings. The impact is either positive (pleasurable), neutral, or negative (painful).

Information/experiences that I value are those that bring forth pleasure of some sort. Information/experiences that I would rather forget have brought forth feelings of pain or suffering. And then there's a whole lot of stuff that is somewhere in between, neither all that painful nor pleasurable.

Of course, this is all entirely subjective. I can communicate my feelings to someone else, but I certainly can't force someone to feel the way I do. Nor can I prove my feelings using math, logic, or anything else. They just are. Whether or not anyone else perceives my particular feelings is ultimately meaningless; for I can certainly perceive my own feelings, and to a certain extent even measure their intensity. But don't ask me to explain it to your understanding or prove it to you, it's simply not possible. At best I can communicate my feelings, often imperfectly, and hope that the receptor has the ability to properly interpret what it is I'm communicating. (Amazingly enough, this isn't so hard as it seems, assuming the receptor also has feelings!)

So I can communicate my information/experiences to someone else, perhaps even "prove" them to a certain extent, but so what? Some people will believe anything with no proofs what-so-ever, other won't believe anything no matter how many "proofs" you give them. It's not that people are irrational, it's just that if someone feels good about your explanation, they'll buy it. If they don't feel good about it, then they aren't going to be convinced no matter what. We are not just a bunch of ultra-rational computers testing each and every bit of data that comes are way: our feelings often seem to be the only real test thjat we actually use.

Another problem is that my feelings may or may not lead me to ultimate truth. Yet, I don't really believe that I'm going to find ultimate truth in this life anyway. I can easily settle for approximate truth for a vast majority of my purposes (apologies to Kierkegaard). I don't need to know the biology of the coffee plant or the inner workings of the coffee industry to enjoy my cup of java in the morning.

RATIONAL THOUGHT

As for rational thought, I find it to be most useful as a means of categorizing all my various information/experiences. My rational thought process (what little there is of it) simply makes some quick little logical determinations about the knowledge/experience, then stores them away for later processing. Most of this happens in the background, unconsciously. Again, for a vast majority of my purposes, this background processing is all that is needed.

My rational mind also serves to test & process particular types of information/experience depending upon my feeling that further analysis is necessary. The rational mind then works the problem until it feels right. Then the problem & solution gets placed back in their little pigeon-hole somewhere in my memory, often only to be eventually forgotten--erased from memory. So the very core of my being is nothing more than a lump of feelings, or awareness. All the rational-minded stuff is actually in service to my feelings, not vice-versa. And I have a feeling that this is true for more people than just me, no matter how much they trumpet their superior rationality, as if they were the very incarnation of Mr. Spock.

And speaking of Star Trek analogies, I find my rational thought process is often most fully engaged when having to deal with other people, whether it is through personal contact, books, lectures, or whatever. Then I used my rational processes like the shields on the starship Enterprise: they guard my feelings by filtering all the garbage that often comes forth from human beings, and categorizing it appropriately a priori, before it gets to the core feeling level. The information/experiences deemed worthy is then passed on to my feeling mechanism (believe it or not, I have read such a thing does actually exist in the brain!) And then it's my feelings which ultimately decide what to do with the information/experience. Of course, there are times when I don't want my rational mind to get involved with my experiences at all, because the experiences might be bringing me quite a bit of pleasure! At that point, logical analysis only gets in the way.

Come to think of it, a huge chunk of my daily living needs little to no rational analysis. Normally it only comes into play when another of my fellow human being says they've found THE TRUTH, and that's when the real fun begins...

THE BIG QUANDRY

Now here is the biggest problem I face: the information/experience that I find the most valuable of all, that which I'm willing to die for, is almost entirely subjective. I cannot "prove" it to someone else. Of course I've proven the value of this information to myself, and have no doubts about it what-so-ever. I can even say I'm completely certain that it's true, good, wonderful, etc. Yet, because it is somewhat beyond the scope of the five senses to study and observe, regular, physical proofs are impossible.

It's like going to Florida, and then explaining to your friend in North Dakota what Florida is like. You can tell him everything about it in great detail, but you cannot really "prove" there is a Florida until your friend has experienced the place for himself.

That brings up the interesting problem of just how much of our "knowledge" is really just the belief in other's testimonies. How can we really "know" something until we ourselves have experienced it? Just how much of that which we hold dear is just what "feels" right? I think many people would be very embarrassed at how much of their "knowledge" is based on nothing more than good feelings, or even bad feelings!

Well, since there are no right or wrong answers, there you have it! And of course you can neither prove or disprove anything I've just posted, since it's all just my subjective musings anyway…

Monday, April 04, 2005

If A Tree Falls in the Forest....

IF A TREE FALLS IN THE FOREST

The indivisible link between existence and consciousness.

MAIN ARGUMENT:

An old rhetorical question goes: "If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?" Well, the correct answer is "no." Since "sound" is only possible given the following conditions:

1.) That there is a listener who has the ability to hear…his ears function normally.

2.) The listener knows what the definition of "sound" is, and can correctly identify a "sound" when he hears one.

If there is no "listener" then there is no sound. Sound is only given substance by a listener who can perceive sound.

Now, let's go one step further: can something exist (object) if no one exists (subject) who is aware of it's existence?

In order to answer that question, we must understand there is a strong relationship between consciousness and existence, they cannot be easily separated, if at all.

Our human sensory perception and our instrumentality is very, very limited; it is simply impossible for a single person to know of everything that exists. Nor is it possible for mankind, collectively, to know of everything that exists, and I'm speaking of just those things that are possible to detect given our limitations.

Nor can we say that we are the only conscious beings in this universe with absolute certainty, for we are simply incapable of perfect knowledge of this universe. Sadly, we are stuck, no matter how far we advance in our instrumentality, with limitations that we simply do not have the means to overcome.

But there is something we can be sure of: if we perceive that a being exists, it exists, even if that being is ourselves. Hence Descartes' axiom: "I think, there for I am." Or more accurately stated: I am conscious that I exist; I know what it means to exist (rationality); therefore I exist.

The only way we can know, for sure, that something exists is through our sense perceptions. But we already know that there are beings who's existence is not dependent upon our ability to perceive them. Most of us would not argue with the statement that "there are lions in Africa." Yet how many people reading this text are in Africa, in place where they are able to look up and see lions? You believe there are lions in Africa because perhaps you were in Africa once, and you saw lions when you were there. Or maybe you saw a television show or movie with lions, and were told that the location was somewhere in Africa. Or perhaps you saw lions at the local zoo, and the sign on the display stated that they came from Africa…

We, as human beings, rely very, very much on the testimony of others, and not on our own direct sensory perceptions. For some odd reason, we think this good enough, and it often is.

Now, back to the material world….

Imagine a non-conscious being that is completely impossible to perceive with our senses, could such a being exist? The answer is no. A non-conscious being's existence is very much dependent on it's ability to be perceived by a conscious, rational being. Why so? Because "existence" is only a concept in the mind of a conscious, rational being, and in order for existence to have any meaning what-so-ever, it is completely dependent upon the rational ability of a conscious being to think it and perceive it. Existence does not exist apart from consciousness.

Now imagine a non-conscious being that exists (object) without any conscious, rational being existing to perceive it (subject); can such a being exist? The answer is no. If there is no conscious rational being to perceive a non-conscious being, then it is not possible for that being to exist, it is a logical contradiction. The only way we can imagine a non-conscious being existing without ever being perceived by a conscious being is by our own rational consciousness. And if we are using our rational consciousness to perceive a non-conscious being, then that being is being perceived, if only in our mind's eye.

Existence only has meaning if there is a conscious, rational being who understands what "existence" means and can identify "existence" when he sees it. Surprisingly, without a rational, conscious being to perceive existence, then there is no such concept as existence! A statement like "imagine a universe where there are no conscious beings to perceive it's existence" is a logical contradiction. The only way such a universe can exist is if there is a rational, conscious being that can perceive it--if only through thinking--that such a thing exists!

This seems counter-intuitive, but it is a logical fact that existence is entirely dependent upon consciousness. However, it is not necessicarly dependent upon human consciousness. It is possible and logical to assume other rational, conscious beings that are able to perceive things, but who we ourselves, as humans, are unable to perceive, given our tremendous limitations in sensory perception. As a matter of fact, such beings may, in fact, be a logical necessity.

For instance, we are often told that our earth, sun, and stars have existed for billions of years before the first conscious, rational human being ever perceived them. If we assume that humans are the only rational, conscious beings in this universe (which is a logical assumption given that we know of no other rational, conscious beings similar to ourselves), then we are faced with a bizarre dilemma: the earth, the sun, and even the stars never existed before the first conscious, rational human being! They literally did not exist. Why couldn't they exist before the first human? Because existence and consciousness are bound together, and cannot be logically separated.

But what about the fossil record, radio-metric dating, geological dating, and all those other measurements that point to the fact that the earth, sun, and stars were here long before us? Well, if human beings are the only conscious, rational beings in this universe, then all those measurements are utterly meaningless.

But it's not only the history of the universe that becomes suspect, but even human history! I've been told that there was once this person named George Washington who existed, but no longer does. Can I used any of my sensory perceptions to verify that George Washington existed? No I can not, because my sensory perceptions are bound to time, and George Washington, I am told, existed before I did. Hence, my only recourse is to believe the testimony of others, whether it be through their words or their art. Even if someone were to show me George Washington's bones, I could only believe it were George Washington through someone's testimony, not being able to go back in time and watch George decay for myself.

Hence, there must be something beyond our rational, conscious sense perceptions if all these historical accounts have any truth to them. This something must necessarily even be beyond a collective human consciousness. Otherwise, we face the dilemma proposed by the famous Bertrand Russell thought experiment: suppose everything we perceive were just created five minutes ago, including our perception that we've been here much longer; can we prove such a proposition wrong? The answer is no. The problem is due to our limitations as creatures of time.

In order for history to be true, in order for the earth to have existed before we did, then there must be rational, conscious beings who are able to perceive things beyond our own very limited perceptions. Such beings must necessarily live outside of the constraints of time and must be capable of perfect knowledge of everything in our universe. In fact, they would have to live beyond the constraints of our universe, as it seems our physical laws would impair their ability to know our universe perfectly. It is logical and possible to propose that their exists "something" beyond our own universe, a place where our universe can be perfectly perceived but not be bound to our laws and limitations.

These beings must necessarily be rational (capable of logic) and conscious, for beings that do not have the properties of rationality and consciousness can not possibly exist without some conscious, rational being to perceive them. It is a logical impossibility.

The reason why these beings must necessarily exist is because consciousness and existence are logically bound together, and our own world and it's history could not logically exist unless there are rational, conscious beings who are, in effect, perceiving it for us! In other words, their perception of our existence (and our universe) allows our universe to exist, and to even have a past and future. Our very limited consciousness and knowledge does not allow us to sustain our own universe.

It is also necessary for these beings to be complete in themselves: they do not need yet another set of beings beyond them to perceive them, but the are capable of perfectly perceiving each other, there universe, and our universe. Otherwise, we are just begging the question.

Surprisingly, it might be necessary for there to be more than one of these beings, otherwise a lone being, living outside of time and before our universe (or any universe), would have nothing to perceive but himself, which is a possible logical contradiction. Can a being be conscious of just itself, or must there must be something beyond yourself to perceive, even if it is just another being?

It is necessary that these beings always existed, and have never not existed. While that is seemingly impossible given our limitations, it does not violate any laws of logic.

One cannot speak of existence existing before consciousness. If there is no consciousness, there can be no existence of any kind. Surprisingly, you cannot even speak of "nothing existing", for that is a logical contradiction, for the only way "nothing" can exist is for a consciousness to perceive it, hence a consciousness would exist, therefore something exists. You either have existence or you do not.

One also cannot speak of consciousness existing before existence, since if consciousness exists, then so must existence.

And, most surprisingly, rationality must co-exist simultaneously with existence and with consciousness, and not precede nor come after them. In order for a being to know it exists and know it is conscious, it must necessarily be able to understand non-existence and non-consciousness, even if it is impossible for it to have those traits! For instance, if two of these beings co-exist, they would know there are two, and not three, or one, or twelve million. (It may even be necessary for there to be more than two of these beings, perhaps at least three or more, for if there were just two you might have a bizarre situation where the one being, seeing the other, thinks he is perceiving himself! Having three or more would eliminate that problem.)

To summarize:

1. Existence and consciousness cannot be logically divided, they are necessarily bound together due to the laws of logic.

2. Surprisingly, rationality, often described as a property of consciousness, cannot be logically separated from consciousness and existence, for you cannot even know what existence and consciousness is without being aware of non-existence and non-consciousness.

3. Since our own ability to perceive our universe is extremely limited, we, as human beings, do not have the ability to sustain our universe's existence through our own consciousness and rationality. If everything that exists must, by logical necessity, be perceived and known, then there must be a rational, conscious set of beings who are able to perfectly know our universe for our benefit. This would include both tangible (i.e. material) and intangible (i.e. laws of logic) elements.

4. Since our physical laws and limitations of our universe make it highly unlikely (if not impossible) for these beings to exist within our universe, they must necessarily exist outside of it, not bound by our limitations.

5. Since they exist outside of our limitation of time, they have always existed and have never not existed.

6. And since it is a possible contradiction for a single being to have a consciousness awareness of only himself, there might be a multiplicity of these beings.

7. Assuming our universe had a beginning, these beings must act as our "witnesses" to sustain our universe's existence. It could be rightly said that their perfect knowledge of our universe is the foundation that allows our universe to exist!

8. Whether or not these beings created this universe of ours, or even want us to know who they are, is beyond the scope of this argument. However, there is an implied causality, and if there is an effect (our existence as humans), it is logical to assume a cause.

The most important point to remember is this: consciousness and existence are inseparable, but since our knowledge as human beings of all that exists is very limited, then there must be other beings who are perfect in knowledge, and who act as the means by which our universe exists.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

He Lived the Splendor of Truth



My farvorite recent picture of the pope, trying hard to chase away some white doves from his papal apartment! He was truly a man of peace, and will be greatly missed.

In a fine tribue to the pope, Thomas Hibbs wrote an article entitled He Lived the Splendor of Truth. Highly recommended.

Pope John Paul II
May 18, 1920 - April 2, 2005

Friday, April 01, 2005

Rebuild.


Rebuild these towers

What is the best possible memorial for those who perished in the awful events of September 11th, 2001? How about rebuilding the World Trade Center towers as they were, with a few safety enhancements?

The picture displayed with this post is NOT the WTC that once stood, but a NEW design for almost identical towers! Now that's the kind of memorial that needs to be built.

It seems there a lot of other people who think that way. Visit the World Trade Center Restoration Movement web site for lots of links to petitions and information concerning the rebuilding of the Twin Towers.

Doing anything else OTHER than rebuilding the towers as they were, would be criminal.

Killed by Euphemisms

A very thoughtful and intelligent editorial about the whole Terri Schiavo affari can be found here:"Killed by Euphemisms"

The editors at National Review correctly point out that the only reason why so many people found the legally sanctioned murder of Terri Schiavo to be such a non-event is the use of so many intentionally misleading euphenisms, espceically the "official" diagnosis of her "persistant vegetative state (PVS)" In other words, Terri was brain-dead, not brain-damaged.

The real lesson I learned from this case is the same lesson I learned from the O.J. Simpson trail: justice can be bought. Acutally, this is nothing new, as the sale of justice has been going on ever since their were judges. However, this may be the very first time in history where a court was willingly corrupted to the extent of ordering someone's murder. Now that is something to be truly shocked by.

Kierkegaard on Individuality

I was waiting on my computer to do some stupid thing, and flipped open my copy of Provocations just to have something to do. My eyes immediately fell upon this passage, which, for some odd reason, I find to be most insightful:
True individuality is measured by this: how long or how far one can endure being alone without the understanding of others. The person who can endure being alone is poles apart from the social mixer. He is miles apart from the man-pleaser., the one who manages successfully with everyone--he who possesses no sharp edges. God never uses such people. The true individual, anyone who is going to be directly involved with God, will not and cannot avoid the human bite. He will be thoroughly mis-understood. God is no friend of cozy human gathering.
It is important to understand what Kierkegaard is NOT saying here, as well as what he is saying. He's not saying that those who are socially inept and loud-mouthed bores are the people who God uses. Rather, it is those people who are more concerned with what God thinks of them in contrast to what their friends, family and neighbors think.

For proof, I cite all four Gospels in the New Testament. Here we see Jesus far more concerned with truth and honesty than making friends and just getting along. He called it going about his Father's business. The Pharisees called it blasphemy. Even with the very real threat of death, Jesus does not sway from the course set by his Father, but stays obedient to the Lord's will to the very end. Certainly Jesus was a victim of the "human bite."

Kierkegaard on Systematic Theology

It seems that the Danish writer/philospher Soren Kierkegaard and I are on the same page when it comes to that insidious evil known only as "systematic theology." Here's a quote from the introduction of the book Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard:
Kierkegaard stands against every form of thinking that bypasses the individual or enables the individual to escape his responsibility before God. He also made an absolute demand that "idea" should be translated into existence (being and doing), which is exactly what his contemporaries, in his opinion, failed to do: "Most systematizers stand in the same relation to their systems as the man who builds a great castle and lives in an adjoining shack; they do not live in their great systematic structure. But in spiritual matters this will always be a crucial objection. Metaphorically speaking, a person's ideas must be the building he lives in--otherwise there is something terribly wrong."

Kierkegaard on Father Abraham

I found the following quote from Soren Kierkegaard in the introduction of the book Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard, which, as the title indicates, is a collection of his writings:
"To illustrate the difference between the ethical and religious spheres, Kierkegaard cites Abraham, the "father of all those who believe." Abraham, a righteous man, is the paragon of faith because instead of heeding the moral law--"Thou shall not kill" -- he heeded God's command to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham acted as a true individual because his relationship to God, not to the moral law, was primarey in his life. He did not meerly percieve God through morality or reduce God to the moral law. As a man of faith, Abraham subjected everything, including his ethical actions, to God. he was willing to sacrifice Isaac for the sake of his own relationship to God. He acted because God commanded him to act. He stood before God, answering to no one but God."

Friday, March 25, 2005

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Oh my goodness, Andrew McCarthy writes the first intelligent, well-reasoned article on why it's a BAD IDEA to have a CIVIL court order someone to DIE! Of course we are talking about the Terri Schaivo case, and it's ramifications. Here is the article:
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: ""

Friday, March 18, 2005

A Meditation on Father Abraham

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about "Father Abraham." I realized something about him that I never fully appreciated before: the incredible simplicity of his faith and relationship with God. Theologians and scholars have taken apart poor Abraham and have examined every aspect of his life minute, technical detail, wringing every last drop of meaning from every single word of his story in Genesis. While it is very important to understand and appreciate what Abraham represents in terms of our knowledge of the workings of God, we lose sight of the simplicity of his relationship with the LORD.

Here is a man, despite his human failings, who had a powerful, intimate relationship with the Creator of the Universe. And what is truly amazing about Abraham is that he had and maintained this relationship despite a complete lack of the all that we deem essential to sustain our own relationship with God.

Here is a man who had no Bible (still several centuries away from the first word being written); he had no "fellowship of believers" (except for those in his own family); there were no services to attend; either church or synagogue; no accountability groups (though this might have helped him in a few instances!); no cute little bookstores to buy inspirational books. It seems that his major source for knowing and understanding God's will and purposes was God himself!

But there is one thing, one "spiritual discipline," that Abraham certainly seemed to understand and appreciate: prayer.

If there's one practical lesson we can take away from Abraham's life, it is the essential centrality of prayer in the life of a believer. One can do away with everything else, even the Bible, but prayer is as vital to relationship with God as is breathing is necessary to live.

I think of the early monastic movements, how believers in the first few centuries of the Church would move out into the desert; away from family, friends and city life; just so they could deepen their relationship with the Creator. We laugh and ridicule those early monastics for being such extremists, but their stories are still told well over a thousand years later. Perhaps they were on to something--and rather than extremism, perhaps it was a deep, powerful devotion that led them to do what they did....

But amongst those early Desert Fathers, one thing is common in all their stories: the centrality of prayer in their lives of solitude. Having given up many of the other trappings of Christianity, the discipline of prayer remained essential.

So that's what I've learned from Father Abraham.

Announcing Free Republic's MARCH for JUSTICE II, April 7, 2005, Washington, D.C.!!

A Theodicy Public Service Announcement for all interested parites:

Announcing Free Republic's MARCH for JUSTICE II, April 7, 2005, Washington, D.C.!!

Posted on 03/15/2005 10:03:13 PM PST by Jim Robinson

In October 1998, Free Republic marched on Washington demanding the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Thanks to our efforts, Clinton was impeached less than two months later.

Then, as now, our country stood at a Constitutional crossroad. This year we stand at the crossroad of what kind of judiciary we will have: One that is restrained by the Constitution, or one that abridges our rights by making it up as they go along.

President Bush and the Republicans in the Senate are gearing up for a showdown with the Democrats over his judicial nominees. The Democrats have used the filibuster in an unprecedented way to block judicial nominees from getting an up or down vote. Republicans, led by Majority Leader Bill Frist are getting ready to employ the Constitutional option--most likely in mid-April.

A simple majority is needed to implement the Constitutional option. However, even with a 55 vote majority, a victory by the Republicans is in doubt. Democrats, unswayed by their ever-diminishing numbers in the Senate, have threatened to almost totally shut down the Senate if the Republicans succeed.

The Democrats are desperate because the judiciary is their last hope to force their liberal, unconstitutional agenda on the American people. If the filibuster is broken, they know that President Bush will be able to nominate and get confirmed Supreme Court justices in the mold of Scalia and Thomas. If the filibuster holds, we'll get justices like Anthony Kennedy who look to foreign law and opinion to support their unconstitutional rulings.

Therefore, in order to support President Bush's judicial nominees, and to put the Senate and the courts on notice that We the People demand the Constitution be respected and maintained, we will march on Washington on Thursday, April 7, 2005.

We will rally at Upper Senate Park, directly across the Capitol between Constitution Avenue and Union Station, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Immediately after the rally, we will march on the offices of all 100 senators in groups of state citizens to impress upon them the seriousness of our cause.

We will be working to bring other conservative groups in to co-sponsor the rally. Speakers and co-sponsors will be announced as they confirm.

We will need to raise funds for the rally. The estimated cost is $8,000. Capitol Police rules do not allow us to seek donations at the rally, so we will have to raise the funds before. Click here to help out.

Lord willing, I'll be making the trip from California to D.C. for the rally. It's short notice, but this is too important to stand back. Our rights are at stake. Defend them now, or watch a justice like Anthony Kennedy look to foreign law and opinion one day to take away your Second Amendment and other rights.

Monday, March 14, 2005

No getting stoned in new Bible

Interesting article from the Observer (UK) about the new TNIV revision of the NIV Bible: No getting stoned in new Bible.
"Overall, around seven per cent of the original New International Version Bible has been altered in a bid to bring clarity to a new generation of readers. Some of the changes appear trivial. For example, Matthew's use of the word 'tunic' becomes 'shirt' and his phrase 'with child' becomes 'pregnant'. However, some changes are more profound. Use of the word 'Christ', which was popular with Greek-speaking churches, has been replaced by the Hebrew title 'Messiah'. "

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Ramesh Ponnuru on The Passion of the Christ on National Review Online

An excellent article appears on National Review Online from Ramesh Ponnuru. It first appeared a year ago, but the editors at NRO, obviously realizing that Easter is approaching, felt it necessary to re-post it. The article is actually a review and meditation of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ." It is entitled "
A Movie and Its Meaning.." Here is a sample quote:
"Leaving an advance screening of the movie, I ran into a college classmate I had not seen in years. She works for a mass-market pop-culture magazine. 'It's hard to get beyond the ultraviolence,' she said. 'It's obscene.' I nodded. She was right. That's the point: What we did to Christ was obscene."

Thursday, March 10, 2005

"I'm a Christian. Get me out of here!"

More information about the church survey in the UK: "'I'm a Christian. Get me out of here!'

Very interesting article, highly recommended!

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Huge UK Church Survey says Pews Emptying Because Christianity no Longer Preached

An amazing article from the "LifeSite" web site out of Toronto, Canada: "Huge UK Church Survey says Pews Emptying Because Christianity no Longer Preached"


The reason Christianity is going downhill in the UK? The chuches are adopting to the prevailing liberal culture, rather than be an agent of counter-culture.

Here is a quote that pretty much sums up the article:

91% of responses followed a uniform theme that the decline in traditional Christian moral and doctrinal teaching has caused the outflux of congregations. They listed the lack of apologetics, the reasoned defence and explanation of Christian doctrine, as one of the main reasons for the collapse. “It’s a myth today that the people of this country have rejected Christianity; they simply haven’t been told enough about it to either accept or reject it,” wrote one respondent.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Governors Work to Improve H.S. Education

Click here to read an interesting article: Governors Work to Improve H.S. Education

Here is a quote from Bill Gates that appears in the article:

The most blunt assessment came from Microsoft chief Bill Gates, who has put more than $700 million into reducing the size of high school classes through the foundation formed by him and his wife, Melinda. He said high schools must be redesigned to prepare every student for college, with classes that are rigorous and relevant to kids and with supportive relationships for children.

"America's high schools are obsolete," Gates said. "By obsolete, I don't just mean that they're broken, flawed or underfunded, though a case could be made for every one of those points. By obsolete, I mean our high schools-- even when they're working as designed--cannot teach all our students what they need to know today."

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Why Ayn Rand Matters

An excellent article by Elaine Sternberg exists on "The Social Affairs Unit" blog: Why Ayn Rand Matters: Metaphysics, Morals and Liberty. Highly Recommended.

Ayn Rand, in a very real way, is the 20th century's anti-philosopher. She was quite the contrarian, and is hated amongst the 'elite' philosophical establishment to this day.

What did she say that pissed so many people off? Well, here is a simple listing of premises she held:
1. Reality is objectively real. (i.e. relativism is false)
2. Liberty must exist for man to reach his fullest potential.
3. Capitalism is the only truly humane economic system.
4. Attempts to mitigate other's sufferings by economic redistribution ultimately makes everyone worst off, even those on the recieving end.

In a nutshell, Rand was ripping the foundation out from underneath modern liberalism. Having lived in Soviet Russia during the revolution and its aftermath, she saw first hand the evil that is unleashed when liberal thought is taken to its logical conclusion, and realised that the premises of liberalism were demonstrably false.

No wonder she has so many enemies...

Monday, February 07, 2005

Victor Davis Hanson: The Global Throng

An outstanding (even by the usual standards) essay by Victor David Hanson appears on National Reivew Online. The essay is entitled: "The Global Throng: Why the world's elite gnash their teeth." Highly recommeneded reading.

Here is a sample:
"Perhaps the result of this frustration is that European intellectuals damn the United States for action in Iraq, but lament that they could do nothing in the Balkans. Democrats at home talk of the need for idealism abroad, but fear the dirty road of war that sometimes is part of that bargain thus the retreat into 'democracy is good, BUT...' So here we have the global throng that focuses on one purported American crime to the next, as it simmers in the luxury of its privilege, education, and sophistication and exhibits little power, new ideas, intellectual seriousness, or relevance."

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Medal of Honor Recipiant: Sgt Paul Smith


Sgt. Paul Smith

For the first time since 1993, a Congressional Medal of Honor winner has been announced, honoring a soldier who fought in Iraq.

Sgt. Paul Smith died defending his 16 men, keeping them safe from being overrun by Iraqi forces by manning a .50 machine gun on a nearby abondoned APC.

He gave his life so that other might live.

I encourage to visit a web site set up in his honor by the St. Petersburg Times: The Last Full Measure of Devotion.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Bible Breaks at Public Schools Face Challenges in Rural Virginia (washingtonpost.com)

A recent article in the Washington Post tells of a controversy in rural Virginia where a handful of schools allow children to leave school during the middle of the day to attend a voluntary weekly Bible school, that takes about 30 minutes a day. (Children who don't attend engage in that most celebrated right of childhood: recess!)

But some of the parents of the children who don't attend are angry with the school for allowing the others to attend Bible class. The reason? "Bible study hinders efforts to meet state and national standards for test scores."

Here is a quote from the article:

"For 65 years, weekday Bible classes have been part of the fabric of growing up in this town of 24,000 in Augusta County and in a score of other small towns and hamlets in rural Virginia. It is such an accepted tradition that 80 to 85 percent of the first-, second- and third-graders in Staunton participate.


But now, the practice is being challenged by a group of parents who have asked the School Board to end or modify weekday religious education. Not only do they fear that their children are stigmatized for not attending, but in a decidedly 21st-century twist, they also argue that interrupting class for Bible study hinders efforts to meet state and national standards for test scores. "

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Abortion, Race, Gender, and Christ

Speaking of John Piper (in the bottom of my last post...)

At the Desiring God web site, there is a wonderful sermon by John Piper entitled Abortion, Race, Gender, and Christ.

His thesis, which he backs up with hard data, is that abortion is often both racist and sexist. It is sexist in that abortion is often used as a method of sex selection in China and India (guess which sex is often prefered...) and racist in that is it practiced in disproportionately high numbers by minorities, especially blacks.

The biblical basis for this sermon is Exodus 1:1-22, where Pharoh orders the destruction of all male Jewish babies. Even in ancient times, abortion (infanticide) was all about race (Jews) and sex (boys).

Holy Bible: English Standard Version




Lately I've been working on a massive bible study of the book of Galatians. As part of that study, I'm making use of every single modern English language version of the Bible I can get my hands on, plus the old reliable King James Version. Since the "English Standard Version" (ESV for short) is a new translation, I included it.

Now you must realize that my main study and reading Bible for the past 20+ years is the extremely popular New International Version from Zondervan. I purchased the very first NIV Study Bible back in 1985, and have used various versions of the NIV ever since.

Recently, though still extremely happy with the NIV, I have encountered some small (very small) flaws with the way it translates a few of the underlying Greek and Hebrew texts. Of course these flaws have been known about for years, and serious students of the bible usually use a more literal translation like the New American Standard Bible (NASB).

But I really don't like the NASB. While it may pride itself on it's literalness, it makes use of very awkwardly phrased English to bring forth the Good News. Often I find myself have to re-translate the NASB's English into something I can understand, something I never have to do with the NIV.

Well, I think I've found a literal translation that combines the literalness of the NASB with the fluidity of the NIV. With the likes of J.I. Packer and Wayne Grudem guiding the translation process, one can be sure that the English Standard Version is true to the underlying Greek and Hebrew texts as well as being very theologically accurate.

But one of the best characteristics of the English Standard Version is it's pedigree. The ESV is the latest in a long line of outstanding English language translations that goes all the way back to William Tyndale. The most recent revision in this lineage is the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of 1946. Until the advent of the NIV, the RSV was truly the best English language translation one could get. But unfortunately it was widely rejected by the evangelical Christian community because the scholars who did the translation "under translated" key texts that dealt with certain key doctrines of Christianity, including the virgin birth and propitiation. But despite these flaws (and they were really very minor), the RSV was an outstanding update of the King James Bible, and is still highly regarded by many conservative scholars, despite it's minor flaws. It is, in many ways, a much better translation than the NIV in terms of it's ability to accurately translate the underlying texts and it's use of modern English in a fluid, readable fashion.

The liberal (theologically, socially, and politically) organization known as the National Council of Churches bought the copyright to the RSV and came out with their own update, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). This is, for the most part, an very good update except for one major problem: it's politically correct. The translators removed any and all references to the use of male gender nouns and pronouns when they were being used in a generic fashion. For instance, this famous passage from Matthew 7 in the ESV reads:

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
(Matthew 7:3-5)
But the NRSV translators decided to make it gender inclusive:
Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
(Matthew 7:3-5)
The underlying Greek shows that Jesus was using the Greek word for "brother," not "neighbor." But in order not to offend militant feminists, the NRSV translators removed the male gender reference. This is one example of literally thousands! Any place where a generic male example was used in any biblical book, it was neutered--literally.

The ESV is also a "New Revised Standard Version" but without all the politically correct gender-neutral revisions. One might say the ESV is "evangelically correct!" Now there are some places where a gender neutral rendering is the correct way to go, so it's not as if the practice has to be completely rejected, but one must be careful to match the rendering to the underlying context.

During a recent visit to a local Christian bookstore I found a very nice leather bound ESV Bible for 50% off. The discount was due to a personal name that was imprinted incorrectly on the Bible! Once a name is imprinted on a leather cover, it cannot be removed or changed. So the store owner had to get another copy of the ESV and re-do the imprint, and regulated his mistake to the bargain bin. So now I have my own leather-bound copy of the ESV, with someone else's name on it.

The more I read the ESV the more impressed I am with it. I'm not sure it will replace my NIV any time soon, but I certainly plan to read more from the ESV in the near future.

Well known pastor and theologian John Piper has switched to the ESV. You can read his reasons why here .

Monday, January 24, 2005

Bad Christian Books

Most Christians I know who take their faith seriously also take book reading seriously. The reason is simple: many of the greatest insights into the Christian faith are contained in books, and those who wish to deepen their faith desire to find out what the great masters had to say on any given subject. There are some fantastic books out there, some of which I've listed on the sidebar to the right. (scroll down to see all the books, and be aware that some are just interesting non-fiction books that don't necessarily have a Christian theme!)

One thing I've realized through the years is that there may be many "inspirational" books out there, but not all inspirational books are created equal; and some are quite a bit less equal than others.

One such example is the book Disciplines of a Godly Man by R. Kent Hughes, pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois. I bought this book because I'm very interested in the concept of spiritual disciplines. While it does have some spiritual disciplines in it, it is really much more about sin management. In other words, it just a bunch of do's and don'ts categorized by type. Of course there are a lot of do's and don'ts listed, far too many for any sane person to keep track of.

In my many years of being a Christian, I have discovered that there are many Christians and Christian leaders who seem to think that the most important element to a victorious life in Christ is the near complete total removal of sin. While I am certainly no fan of sin, I find that excessive focus on "right" and "wrong" living does nothing but breed spiritual pride and triumphalism. Not only that, but those who are having a truly difficult time struggling with sin and temptation dare not mention it! And if one should decide to talk about it, you will usually get pat answers concerning verse memorization, accountability, prayer, and so forth. For all the time many Christians spend discussing sin and sin avoidance strategies, they really don't have a clue what the real cause of sin is. This seems to be especially true of those most steeped in a Calvinist tradition, for with Calvinism everyone is just a totally depraved loser from the start. There's nothing to understand about sin, it's just wrong. Of course this attitude is found even beyond Reformed churches; other traditions are equally clueless about the origins of sin. (And no, I'm not talking about the Garden of Eden…)

Most inspirational, "Christian Living" type books at the local Christian bookstore are just like Hughes' book: everything you ever wanted to know about avoiding sin and living a righteous life. But there are precious few books--if you can find any at all--on the subject of intimacy with Christ. In my many years as a Christian, I've found that focusing on greater intimacy with Jesus is the best "sin management" program of them all. And the best disciplines are those that bring you closer to God.