I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Sunday, December 30, 2007


For the last several days I have been in the process of preparing my new house (I use the term "new" rather loosely) for the move.

I purchased a small, old house in a very ideal location, and there is much work to be done. I have never done construction, but I have some good friends who have expertise in fix-it-up work.

The two main rooms that we are working on are the living room and a side bedroom. In the side bedroom all things have been ripped down; at one point we could see up through to the roof! There was paneling and a cheap, lowered ceiling that were all ripped out of both rooms.

Lots of demolition. But, as the Good Book says, "There is a time to build up, and a time to tear down." Our time to build up has arrived. Today we work on drywall and patching work.

I never realized that construction was so much fun! (Matt, why didn't you tell me??!!) It's hard work, but very rewarding to see some of the old crap get broken down and taken out. We are transforming a house that had seen a bit of decay and lots of neglect over the years into something new and beautiful again.

Also of interest to me is the people who are helping me. Without their insights and spare hands, I wouldn't even begin. I have obviously very grateful; however, more than just thankfulness is the sense that my house is not just my house. That is, if there are people give their time and knowledge to make this project happen, then it isn't just my project and it isn't just my house.

I think of the old days (and the Amish of the present day) when members of a rural community would all converge on a property for a barn raising. The barn raising involves the whole community who, within a mere day, can construct an entire barn--no small task! But if it is your fellow friends and family whose time and labor have constructed the barn, then there is a sense in which it is both your barn and also a barn that belongs to your friends a family. So, in this sense there is individual rights and individual ownership, but there is still a strong sense that a person is not an island to himself but a part of a greater whole upon which he is dependent and into which he will invest his energies to help the community prosper. (From a philosophical perspective this is some of how the discussion proceeds as it relates to the economy of the gift.)

This sense of dependency is what we have no need of in America. Imagine if I had decided to pursue the accounting/business profession with all of my energy. At this point in life if I were buying a house, I would not waste time purchasing a fixer upper, and any needed repair work would be done by a hired professional, perhaps someone that I knew had a good professional reputation but certainly not a friend. My money would buy work needed to be done, I would have not part in it, and once the transaction is completed I would have no need for the workers and the workers would have no need for me. This is capitalism that creates distance.

In my current situation there is a reciprocity at work: I receive the gift of others and in turn I reciprocate this to others who might need something similar in the future. If one does not need to receive a gift, then one is less likely to give. Mutual dependency creates a sense of responsibility. It also connects us in a deeper way. In current American society, we have lost this. It is part of a larger way of life in which we have lost connectedness with each other and have become fragmented and isolated.

On another miscellaneous note....I told my family and friends that I was not doing Xmas this year. I got some cheers and some jeers. One of my brothers said I was right on and that Xmas was a crock. The other brother said was going to get me a gift, anyway; on Friday I received a FedEx from him that contained a lump of coal. (Actually, it was charcoal briquets that I will use this summer for cookout on the deck that I need to build!)

Photos will follow showing the various steps of de/re/construction. I am keeping something of a photo journal of this whole process.

Well, I must get back to work.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Artificial Place

I recently watched The Island (2005) with Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson. It was a good film, definitely worth seeing if you enjoy sci-fi that is of the Aldous Huxley variety. There was certainly nothing that was entirely original in The Island, but I thought that the movie was well put together and the narrative and characters were compelling.

The setting for the film is in an artificial world. There are a group of people who have been rescued from the toxic poison of the outside world and now live in a safe, artificial environment. All things in this world are sterile and white. But this world is not the real world. Two of these people (McGregor and Johansson) eventually escape and discover that there is another world outside of the artificial one. The couple also finds that they are clones who have been purchased for their body parts. Those who paid for their cloning have no idea that real people (i.e. withe real consciousness) are being manufactured as products. The clones are brainwashed with talk of "You are special...You have a very special purpose..."

For my purposes in this post, the interesting thing is that the world of the clones is an artificial one. The Place is manufactured and synthetic. If they escape, they find a sharp contrast between the artificial and the real. The artificial world is manipulated by standards and norms that are implemented for specific purposes: To produce homogeneous human beings. These are people who basically have the same identity and purpose in life and who behave in a regimented way so as to be used for the purposes of their creators. They are people, yes. But they are people who are manipulated by their environment so as to be useful for their ultimate purpose. Genuine self discovery and authentic sense of self is denied.

The Place is not authentic. The Place is artificial.

The idea of Place is important in relation to the church. Things like atmosphere, culture, norms (spoken or especially unspoken), forums for teaching/preaching/discussion, et al are very important. Place within the context of the church determines what kind of community that believers can become and the extent to which they can explore their faith or be indoctrinated (or brainwashed, as the case may be).

Question: Can the church become an artificial place?

Of course it can.

A church that becomes artificial is disconnected from the realities of the outside world. Just like in The Island, many church buildings in America teem with religiously minded folk who together create a kind of bubble from the world. Regardless of how bad you have screwed up in the past week, you can always exit the real world of struggle, go down the rabbit hole, and enter into the wonderland of church on a Sunday morning. Here you do not need to face the reality of your life, or, if you choose to introspect and examine yourself, you can repent and promise in your heart that you will try harder and do better. Along with your resolve comes a sense of having received God's grace. (Grace, of course, is never given by God unless we promise him that we will try harder, or, translated into spiritual-speak, that we will "rely on God more to help us overcome the flesh.")

The problem is that it is all artificial. We all exit the church doors and proceed to make the same screwups and live the same lives. In many ways, I think the problem has to do with Place. There can be no genuine or authentic change within the artificial world of church.

Another problem with creating an artificial church environment is that it renders the personal exploration of faith nearly impossible, except in very rare instances. This is one of the reasons why real life-change does not take place.

The current Place of church comes out of the mindset of mass marketing. Faith is something pre-packaged for the masses. It is similar to a McDonald's in that we can all come to church, get our spiritual fast food and be on our way.

One of the things that I have previously mentioned on this blog is that words mean things. What words mean has to do with how they are used. As such, I suggest that the word "Church" is, by definition, an artificial Place. Church is associated with a synthetic environment: a building, a budget, a way of smiling and saying, "Hi, how are you, I'm fine thank-you-very-much," and going through the motions of religiosity. This is true, I believe, as much for the "good" conservative Bible believin' churches as much as for the "evil" liberal or postmodern churches.

What is very rare (oh, so rare!) in Christian circles is an authentic Place.

Only in an authentic place can there be authentic expressions, experiences, and explorations on the part of the faithful. But it all starts with Place. If you have an environment manufactured for the masses, then do not expect substantive lives of faith. Having an authentic Place does not ensure that there will be people of faith; this is a given. But without an authentic Place real faith simply does not exist.

This all begs the question: Like the heroes of The Island, should we who are serious about faith all make a break for it and try to escape?!!? That's when it gets really scary, because the real world is never safe, and we are only human, after all, we would rather be safe than real; artificial people in our artificial worlds.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Yearly Depression

I am in the midst of packing my junk for the big move. Although I am not a sold-out suburbanite, I still have what I believe is an excess of useless crap. Because I have a few weeks of downtime before I must move, I am making it my goal to throw out all things unnecessary or unhelpful and to organize all of the rest.

Bank statements.

The past few years have been rather hectic. Therefore, this particular former-accountant has not kept his own personal records very organized. My bank statements were basically all in a pile in no discernible order. The solution for me is to sort them (as I have done) and to put them in manila folders in a file cabinet. Each year shall have its own manila folder.

Next comes the existential moment.

I was labeling the years of each manila folder. I then thought to myself, "Hhhhmmm....perhaps you should label several folders going out several years so that your manila folders will be good and ready for each new year." Ah, I thought to myself (now switching back to my dominant personality), that's a good idea. The manila folders have tabs in different places (left side, center, and right side), so it would be nice to have them all organized and ready for each year.

So, I began to label them, but as I was labeling the new year (2008) and the years beyond I found myself with a sinking feeling of despair. Each year became more difficult to write and the sense of depression deepened; it was painful to write out the future years. I could only label through 2010 because going into the next decade was just too depressing.

Why is this?

Why a sense of depression over the upcoming years? I thought I had a lot to look forward to. In fact, I really do. I have goals, a direction for my life, and I feel more authentically me than I ever have at any time previously. I have a great job as an editor and am doing something I love. I've got great friends - even better than I deserve.

Why depression about the future? I am looking forward to it. It quite possibly may be the best years of my life. But I don't want 2010 to come. I don't want 2009 to arrive. Heck, I don't even want to see 2008, even though it is only weeks away.

I anticipate and embrace the future, and yet the thought that it will occur depresses me.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bearing the Cross of Fame and Immortality

Follow up video from our current discussion on the desire of suicide shooters to gain immortality via the fame of the media. I see this as indicative of our American culture's current obsession with fame.

I had a brief conversation with co-worker/internet legend James Spinti on the issue. One thing that came up in the conversation is that it seems as though our culture has lost a sense of Self that we then supplement through fame: we have YouTube ("broadcast yourself"), Myspace/Facebook, American Idol, and other variants of these trends that are avenues for the Self to be noticed and to rise above the Herd (Nietzsche). We are lost in the Crowd (Kierkegaard). With no inherent sense of self-worth and Identity our only recourse is mass recognition. But it is all a mirage. Puddle of Mudd says,
Be careful what you wish for
Hope that its everything that you dreamed
When everythings falling apart at the seams
And I know that you never believed in me
Don't ever let them fuck with your dreams


In light of this situation, my question is this: Is the church really all that different? We typically create institutions and cultures with our own pop stars: Pastors, Speakers, Preachers, Teachers, Worship Leaders, Worship Band Members, Elders, Deacons, Counselors, Famous Authors, etc. We put people on pedestals and create hierarchies. Since we lack intimate relationships in the Body it becomes difficult to cultivate the Self in a genuine and authentic way. (The Self always needs to be cultivated within genuine relationship with others.) Without a true sense of Self, we revert to the same avenues as our peers to develop Identity: Become one of the Christian pop stars. Be known in my church as someone who is one of the best Christians in the bunch.

In my opinion, then, the deception within church is then worse than the culture at large because we can spiritualize it. We can act as though spiritual stardom is our cross to bear and that pride is our thorn in the flesh. But maybe spiritual pop stardom was never God's idea to begin with. Maybe it is a product of our own fantasy and the recontextualization of the culture's values into the context of church.

(This video is kind of generic w/ pictures of the band. Maybe when the real video makes it on to Youtube I can replace this one. Ironic, isn't it, that a band's song bashing fame will increase their fame???)

Interesting reflections by Puddle of Mudd on generating drama for the sake of writing "passionate" lyrics:
“Have you ever heard those lyrics by Nine Inch Nails: ‘I just made you up to hurt myself'?” he continues, laughing. “That's kinda how it is for songwriters I think: you almost create drama in your life just to get some good inspiration! Anything that irks you a little bit, for some weird and unknown reason, is good for really passionate songs. I write a lot of the stuff, but it's like a team – everybody's got their inspiration that they put into it.” [from the band's Myspace page 12/10/07]

Friday, December 07, 2007

Richard Hawkins and Media Immortality

I was watching an interview on Fox yesterday evening as I was peddling on the spin machine (pun intended) at the Grace College Rec Center. Fox was interviewing a psychologist (or psychiatrist) in an attempt to understand why the nineteen year-old Robert Hawkins opened fire in an Omaha shopping mall before blowing himself to bits shortly after he began. The psyche expert mentioned two things that interested me.

First, he said that the psychology field tends to lean on meds for its treatment, rather than on therapy. He said that there is a general trend to rely on meds as a quick and easy option. Whether or not that is true is something I do not know. To me, this seems like a rather convenient scapegoat, but it may very well be the case.

Second, and most interesting to me, was that he drew a parallel between the mindset of a suicide shooter like Hawkins and the motivation of an Al-Qaeda-type suicide bomber.

The common denominator? Both seek immortality.

The Religious Extremist enters instant immortality after a jihad suicide bombing: Eternity awaits with virgins and other joys and blessings. For Hawkins, immortality awaits via his lasting fame. In this information/media age, Immortality = Fame.

There is a new "cyber fame" that doesn't seem possible in any other age. If you open fire in a small town or community anywhere in the U.S., your name and face are instantly uploaded to billions of computer screens and television sets across the globe. But it isn't just your name that endures: it's your story. All the pain/anger/hurt/rage/etc. that you feel inside can be communicated to countless billions for all ages, preserved on blogs, youtube videos, and websites for all eternity. This is something of a virtual immortality.

Cho Seung-Hui, the recent gunman at the Virginia Tech shootings, was explicit in his desire to communicate a message to the world, and now even his obscure and poorly written play, Richard McBeef, will be analyzed and taken seriously. Cho was transformed from being a disturbed reject of society to being a disturbed reject who now has something to say to society. He sacrificed his life for sake of his message.

It is interesting to consider the history of media in relation to sensationalizing murder. This from Wikipedia on Jack the Ripper:

The Ripper murders mark an important watershed in modern British life. Whilst not the first serial killer, Jack the Ripper's case was the first to create a worldwide media frenzy. Reforms to the Stamp Act in 1855 had enabled the publication of inexpensive newspapers with wider circulation. These mushroomed later in the Victorian era to include mass-circulation newspapers as cheap as a halfpenny, along with popular magazines such as the Illustrated Police News, making the Ripper the beneficiary of previously unparalleled publicity. This, combined with the fact that no one was ever convicted of the murders, created a legend that cast a shadow over later serial killers.

Some believe that the killer's nickname was invented by newspapermen to make for a more interesting story that could sell more papers. This became standard media practice with examples such as the Boston Strangler, the Green River Killer, the Axeman of New Orleans, the Beltway Sniper, and the Hillside Strangler, besides the derivative Yorkshire Ripper almost a hundred years later and the unnamed perpetrator of the "Thames Nude Murders" of the 1960s, whom the press dubbed Jack the Stripper....

...To date more than 200 works of non-fiction have been published which deal exclusively with the Jack the Ripper murders, making it one of the most written-about true-crime subjects of the past century. Philip Sugden's The Complete History of Jack the Ripper is widely considered the best general overview of the case. Six periodicals about Jack the Ripper have been introduced since the early 1990s: Ripperana (1992-present), Ripperologist (1994-present, electronic format only since 2005), the Whitechapel Journal (1997–2000), Ripper Notes (1999-present), Ripperoo (2000–2003), and the The Whitechapel Society Journal (2005-present).

The point of this post is not to blame the media for school and mall shootings and suicide bombings. But neither can we be naive. The fact remains that our 21st century ability to proliferate information is an indispensable element in granting meaning and significance to these murders. The media guarantees the preservation of the angst. In other words, the media is immortality. And "media" is no longer a group of elites. "Media" is me and "media" is you.

Imagine that a suicide killing had occurred in a small town or an isolated community in the United States some 200 years ago. News of such a killing would not spread far. The general populace would never know. On recounting the event, the locals would likely grimace, shake their heads, and looking down at the ground say, "What a senseless, senseless murder. So pointless."

We can't say this anymore, though. We know the point. It is to proliferate pain, spread one's message, and preserve one's story. The media provides the content for the meaningless to become meaningful.

So, there arises a new cult of suicide shooters in the United States; a twisted brotherhood of suburban terrorists. It is a counter-cultural movement of troubled youths who sacrifice their lives so that their face can be uploaded to your computer screen and so that their messages can be spread across the cable news channels and preserved on Wikipedia.

I only wonder if perhaps there will arise so many of these suicide shooters that their names will become lost in a myriad of suburban terrorists and their acts will ultimately become banal and uninteresting to the public. For example, there is no national publicity if an inner city child is gunned down in the projects. Mall shootings concern suburbia because it hits too close to home.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Taking the Christ out of Christmas or Why Jesus is not the reason for the season

For my part, I know what I’m going to do about the people who are trying to suppress the “J” and “C” words. I’m not going to shop at their silly businesses, and I’m going to blast everyone I see with a full, loud, and uncensored, “Merry Christmas!” I might even start shouting at them, “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” [from "Killing Christmas: Taking The Christ Out Of Christmas"]

About this time during the holiday season we hear a good deal of "Christ" and Christmas. Conservative Christians go to great pains to stress the importance of keeping the "Christ" in Christmas. Christmas, they say, is about Christ; it is about the birth of Christ and celebrating God's gift of his Son to mankind. We conservative Christians seem to feel that it our duty to put the "Christ" back into Christmas because "the world" (the most misused of all Xtian terms) has taken Christ out of Christmas. As the above quote illustrates, all of this can get rather political and emotional. Some respond rather strongly when they see businesses, government agencies, or whatnot use "Xmas" rather than "Christmas." "Put the Christ back in Christmas," we say! If not, then we shall not buy your goods and services!

In this post, I am going to make a rather radical suggestion. But it is not based on my emotions, rather it is purely a suggestion of reason. I am going to go against the conservative Christians and suggest that we should, in fact, take "Christ" out of Christmas. From here forward, I am going to use "Xmas" in my blog rather than "Christmas."

Please follow these simple points to my argument:
1) Words mean things.
2) The meaning of words is best found in how we use the words.
3) The word "Christmas" in America means: A holiday celebrating how much we can all afford to spend on stuff we don't need and that other people really don't want, all in hopes of keeping the economy afloat b/c most of our excessive buying is done during this time of year and all in all we want all of us to be happy and filled with good feelings. In short, the term "Christmas" denotes the religious worship of Consumerism.
4) The above meaning is the true meaning of Christmas. (True = how we actually do it)
5) The true meaning of Christmas has nothing to do with "Christ."
6) We should all acknowledge #5 and call the holiday "Xmas."
7) The "X" in Xmas can be whatever you want it to be.
8) For most of us, the "X" stands for a variable measuring the gross quantity of goods, products, and food we can consume.

The conclusion here is that "Christ" really should come out of "Christmas" This is in due respect to Christ and what he stood for. The holiday typically called "Christmas" is not about Christ, and I don't care if you go to a service, read the "Christmas story," light Jesus candles, make a donation to the United Way, or watch It's A Wonderful Life thirty times. All of these activities are good, and I can appreciate them; however, the reality is that these are side shows. We do our good deeds in order to allow ourselves the license to overindulge.

In short, Jesus is not the reason for the season....I'm going to make some bumper stickers!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day for December 04, 2007 is:
rambunctious \ram-BUNK-shuss\ adjective

: marked by uncontrollable exuberance : unruly

Example Sentence:
By the time she finally got the three rambunctious children to bed, the babysitter was exhausted.

Did you know?
"Rambunctious" first appeared in print in 1830, at a time when the fast-growing United States was forging its identity and indulging in a fashion for colorful new coinages suggestive of the young nation's optimism and exuberance. "Rip-roaring," "scalawag," "hornswoggle," and "skedaddle" are other examples of the lively language of that era. Did Americans alter the largely British "rumbustious" because it sounded, well, British? That could be. "Rumbustious," which first appeared in Britain in the late 1700s, was probably based on "robustious," a much older adjective that meant both "robust" and "boisterous."

Where's Waldo????

The 2007 Eisenbrauns staff.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Human - all too human

I haven't blogged much on college football this year, but it has been an incredible year. Yesterday's action typified, mystified, and stupified the college football world, as it has been the case all season long. Both the #1 and #2 teams lost on the last day of the pre-bowl college football season. West Virginia (#2) lost an absolutely stunning game to Pittsburgh, who carried a losing record into the game. But this kind of upset occurs nearly every week, and the #2 team in the nation seems to be particularly prone to deflowering. In fact, the 2007 college football season is the year of the #2 curse.

So, I'm watching Lou Holtz, Mark May, and Chris Fowler discuss the situation this morning. Ohio State will sneak in to the #1 position. But who gets the #2 spot? This is where the debate touches on a philosophical issue: Who decides the #2 and how? Does the computer calculate the statistics and make the purely rational, objective decision? Lou Holtz was asked who should be #2. Lou answered by quickly whipping himself up into something of an emotional frenzy and made a call for those who vote for the #2 team to vote "from the heart." The computers don't watch the game, Holtz said, and the human element is necessary. This drew a pointed criticism from Mark May (which is a rather regular occurrence) who sarcastically suggested that one should not use their brain when voting. The discussion continued as to whether rational/objective measures should be used, or whether the undefined human element should be the ultimate standard for determining the college football rankings.

In some ways this is a debate we will continue to have as the lines blur between "reality" and "virtual reality." College football currently uses something of a hybrid method. The rankings are based both on human voting and also complex mathematical formulas based upon statistics; however, the so-called human element is favored. There are three elements to a BCS ranking: The AP Poll (human voting), the Coaches Poll (human voting), and the Computer Averages. The computer averages are a combination of 6 different computer rankings systems based on objective, mathematical statistics. The BCS tries to take something of an average of these various computer ranking systems to calculate the non-human element.

Why a preference for the human element? Why not just split it down the middle? Or, better yet, just let the computer decide. This is a philosophical question of great importance. As human beings we cannot ultimately choose a purely objective or mathematical means of ranking our college football teams. We still believe that there is a subjective and undefinable element that human beings possess that a computer cannot simulate. Given the choice of which college football team is "the best," we will favor a "human" choice over an objective choice. Most of us relate to Lou Holtz. We want those who cast the votes to choose "from the heart." For the majority, there is something about football that is essentially human and un-quantifiable.

College football rankings are just one of many areas of life where we must question the role of the subjective human being in relation to the objective computer system. Where it gets really interesting is when computers generate virtual realities that simulate the so-called "human element." What happens when we can no longer distinguish a difference between the "virtual world" and the "real world"? I blogged about this in relation to Warcraft and a South Park episode a while back. If one spends their lives in their mother's basement battling in an online video game of Warcraft, then what is more "real"? The virtual world of the game or the world outside mother's basement.

Another intriguing issue regarding the virtual and real world is that of sexuality. If sexual fantasies can be indulged in the virtual world with greater satisfaction than in the real world, then what are the moral implications? In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul says, "The body is not meant for sexual immorality....Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body?....All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body." If there is no other "real" person involved, and just virtual stimulation, where is the sin? Is it a "virtual sin"? Is it a lesser sin to engage in cyber sex rather than to find a hooker on the street? If most of us are being realistic, we would generally say that cyber sex is not as bad as real sex.

The virtual world is becoming the real world, and the real world is becoming the virtual world. It is increasingly becoming difficult to tell the difference.

The virtual/real overlap is also seen in Spielberg's movie A.I., the brainchild of Stanley Kubrick. In the movie, there is a moral dilemma regarding how to treat "mechas." A mecha is an artificial life form. The movie opens with a discussion of the moral implications of creating mechas that can love. There is a sequence of dialog that I have always loved. "Hobby" is giving what appears to be a lecture at a Corporation sometime in the future regarding a new virtual person (robot) that looks just like a real human. In fact, they have even equipped it with the capacity to love. A female team member raises a few questions that are intriguing:

You know, it occurs to me... um...with all this animus existing against mechas today, it isn't simply a question of creating a robot who can love, but isn't the real conundrum - can you get a human to love them back?

Ours will be a perfect child caught in a freeze-frame - always loving, never ill, never changing. With all the childless couples yearning in vain for a license, our little mecha would not only open an entirely new market, it will fill a great human need.

But you haven't answered my question. If a robot could genuinely love a person, what responsibility does that person hold toward that mecha in return?
It's a moral question, isn't it?

The oldest one of all. But in the beginning, didn't God create Adam to love him?
[Taken from http://www.moviescriptplace.com/main/movie/501]

Trailer for A.I.:

In this extended A.I. clip, David, the robot boy who is made to love (played by Haley Joel Osment) meets up with Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) and they search for the Blue Fairy (recall Pinocchio) so that David can win his mother's love. Gigolo Joe makes several, very interesting comments relevant to our discussion here on cyber sex. Also intriguing is at the very end of this clip when Joe and David combine "Fact" with "Fairy Tale" in order to find the real existence of the fairy tale character, Blue Fairy.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

How the Grinch went online and bought Xmas

I just heard this morning on the radio that recent online sales numbers are through the roof.

I predicted in college (while we were still in the 1900s) that the brick-and-mortar store would be nearly obsolete in the course of time. I think there will always be a place for touching and feeling our stuff before we buy, but it is interesting to contemplate the effects of virtual shopping: The personal merchant is a thing of the past. Relationship no longer has any place in the market. The market square is gone. Now commerce is increasingly becoming a capitalistic control mechanism: We only buy stuff that is priced the lowest. In other words, the human element has been replaced by a virtual market place where supply and demand is always in perfect balance.

This further separates human beings from one another....this is certainly has negative consequences.....on the other hand, maybe if we don't ever see each other we won't fight as much. After all, aren't all conflicts economical in nature???

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

And awaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay we go!

Despite my best efforts, friends, I got carried away. I was swept along in the tidal waves of materialism. Bit I did try. I wasn't planning on buying anything, and I held out for the whole day on Black Friday. Saturday got me, though. Good sales. Stuff I needed. (But is there really anything I really need???) Sometimes you can hold down the fort for a few attacks, but then eventually they find the weak points in the wall and the enemy over runs the camp.

So, awaaaaaaaaaaaaay we go. It's the beginning of another commercial season. There is much that hangs in the balance. Retail stores typically do at least 50% of their sales during this time of year, which means Xmas can make or break the P&L for a corporation. Marketing and advertising plans are in place. They've been working all year on how to stimulate the consumer to buy. A failed holiday season means that heads will role. People will be fired. Retail workers will be laid off. All if you, the Almighty Consumer, fail to consume up to your true potential.

Oh, but that's not all. Our whole economy depends on how much we consume. You have probably already heard a news outlet talk about whether or not economic forecasts were met for the after-Thanksgiving gross sales. The government watches these numbers anxiously. Investors watch these numbers anxiously. Political candidates, rounding the bend for a run at the White House are anxiously watching these numbers. Hell, even the show salesman that talked me into those new Skechers is anxiously watching these numbers. "We blew the projections out of the water," he said, after I asked him how Macy's did on the day-after.

The weight of the world is on our shoulders! We must shop! We must consume! I'm serious! (Hence the overuse of exclamation points!!!) Jobs and careers are on the line, people! This Xmas thing is serious business! I mean it!

You are the consumer. And during this holiday season we need you more than ever. It is your patriotic, American duty. Preserve your country.

Repeat our national slogan after me. Are you ready??? Ok, all together now: Shop till you drop.

Shoes: $35

Shirt and sweater: $24.99

Feeling nauseated because you support the machine of Consumerism that now dominates our sense of purpose and meaning: Well, that's free of charge. Oh, and it's priceless.

There are some things money can't buy. For everything else, there's Master Card.

Twain of the Day

We have the best government that money can buy
- Mark Twain

Monday, November 26, 2007

Like dog, like owner

A few, odd post-Thanksgiving observations:
Dogs take on the personality of their owners.
Married couples begin to look alike after several years of marriage. (Not to mention that they think and act alike.)
Dogs and their owners tend to look alike.
When co-workers have to read each other's handwriting on a regular basis, after several years their handwriting will begin to look the same.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit it and read it are old women over their tea.
- Henry David Thoreau

Monday, November 19, 2007

Imagine if you can

This from Harper's:

"For at least two decades, our political landscape has been dominated by consultants; but there is no presidential campaign this year whose success or failure so will depend on media managers, marketing strategists, and political gurus as that of Mitt Romney. Unlike his chief competitors for the Republican nomination, he started out with a fairly low national profile and hence has needed to be introduced and marketed to a national audience. And the task of reformulating and repackaging the Romney brand - from the moderate Republican governor of the most liberal state in the Union to a red-meat social conservative and heir to Reagan - has been entrusted to an army of consultants far larger than that of any of his challengers. Campaign disclosure records are convoluted and poorly categorized, so it's difficult to make a precise inventory. But based on filings with the Federal Election Commission, as of this summer, Romney's campaign has employed more than a hundred different consultants, making combined payments to them of at least $11 million - roughly three times the amount spent by John McCain or Rudy Giuliani. Much of that money paid for the creation and placement of TV ads through Romney's media consultant and chief strategist Alex Castellanos, but the campaign also spent heavily on polling, political strategy, and voter mobilization." (p. 34 Harper's magazine, November 2007 "Making Mitt Romney: How to Fabricate a Conservative" Ken Silverstein)

First, do any of us really believe that "there is no presidential campaign this year whose success or failure" will depend on media/marketing/political gurus as Mitt Romney? This suggestion strikes me as incredibly naive. Politics is media/marketing/political gurus. That's all there is. It's called "spin." Spin wins. The best spin wins the prize of power. Is there really any one of us that believes that any one candidate depends on spin more than any other? In American politics perception is reality; truth is what you can get away with. The politician creates their own world: It's called image. And image is everthing, as we all have known since the Canon Andre Agassi commercials in the 1980s.

The interesting thing about Mitt and other contemporary politicians is that they risk losing a clear identity in the mass of images. Image is everything, but too many images that go too many different directions will direct the collective minds of the American people in too many different directions. As such, the people will think that the politician is "not genuine." Of course, smart people on this blog know that there is no such thing as a genuine politician; there is only the politician who can imagine himself as genuine.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

PoMo and Metanarrative Class - 1

Part of my reason for posting on Biblical Metanarrative last Thursday was to get some feedback in preparation for leading a discussion on Postmodernism for a Christian apologetics class at Grace today and this Thursday.

In class today we started with the question, "What is Postmodernism?" My position was that there is no such thing. Rather than thinking of "postmodernism" as a "philosophy" or "worldview," it is better to examine the very diverse strands of postmodern thought. I suggested that putting together a particular "postmodern philosophy" was a little like going around to a bunch of different houses and taking one piece of furniture from each and putting them all in a different room. Instead, each room must be appreciated, examined, and understood in its own setting and on its own terms. Similarly, it can be counterproductive to cut-and-paste a conglomerate group of very diverse and eclectic beliefs and assume that this is what "postmodern" thinking is all about.

Someone raised the question about whether there is talk of "postmodernism" on secular University campuses. A transfer student said that he was at a secular institution, and that he had never heard "postmodernism" discussed until he transfered to Grace. This is an interesting point. Are Christians simply wasting time on a debate on the validity of a "postmodern perspective" that does not exist?

So, we next transitioned into discussing the idea of "metanarrative." We started with Lyotard (referred to as "that guy" due to my inability to pronounce the French!), and then narrowed "metanarrative" down to usable definition - something that reflected contemporary usage. The general idea we settled on was that a metanarrative was a theory that explains all experience. A metanarrative has explanatory scope: It is totalizing. It is a framework used as a reference for interpreting our reality and the world around us.

One aspect of metanarrative that seems to be important is that a metanarrative is a theory that is expressly known. That is, it is something that we are consciously aware of. A person can say, "I am a Marxist," or "I am a Christian" and in saying so they understand that there is a theoretical framework that explains all stories and all narratives.

One of the trends of thinking in this postmodern age is to be incredulous (skeptical, suspicious) toward metanarratives. I suggested that it may no longer be incredulity (which implies that there may be something of a negative reaction); rather, I wonder if it may be a simple disinterest in metanarrative. Who, anymore, is really all that concerned with a theoretical framework that explains all aspects of reality???

That a metanarrative is something that is consciously constructed seems to differentiate it from a worldview. The term "worldview" grows out of German thinking (Weltanschauung). As I understand it, a worldview includes both the ideas and theories and values that we consciously hold, but also a variety of values, fears, hopes, dreams, etc. that we hold on a subconscious level. A worldview includes both the things we are aware of and the things we are not aware of.

What is next on the agenda for Thursday are two things:
1) Does the Bible teach a metanarrative. (We discussed this at Biblical Metanarrative.)
2) If it is true that in the postmodern era many are disinterested in metanarratives, then what are the implications for Christian apologetics? Is it necessary to appeal to a biblical or Christian metanarrative when discussing issues of faith with a non-Christian?

Here is a link to the outline I handed out in class:

I scanned the notes I took in to class:

Monday, November 12, 2007

Dating Hot Girl

I have recently realized that I'm kind of scared to use the new ipod Nano. Even though I have had it for a few weeks, I have only run with it once. But my new ipod and I are not off to a great start. For one thing, my old arm band (that set me back thirty bucks) is not shaped for the new, 3rd generation ipods. There is an arm band that I could buy, but I'm not excited to shell out another $30 and I'm not convinced that it is a very good arm band.

My experiences with my ipod Nano's over the last year have made me think. I believe that the emotions that I have experienced in my relationship with the ipod Nanos is analogous to dating the hot girl. The hot girl (like the ipod Nano and the Nike+ running system) is very sexy. She makes you think, "Dude, I want that." And when you date the hot girl everyone thinks you're cool and assumes you've got the goods. So, heck, you naturally think you are cool as well because, after all, 100% of the people can't be wrong! Hence a boost to the self-esteem.

But there are certain disadvantages to dating the hot girl, and these disadvantages also mirror my experience with the ipod Nano. The hot girl may be sexy but she usually isn't reliable. She can get what she wants and always monopolizes the attention of other guys. As such, you are never quite sure where you stand with her. Is she going to jump ship and date a better guy with a better car or more money or better looks? Similarly, the ipod is sexy, but it just hasn't been there for me: Is it going to work on this run? Reliability is a problem.

Another problem is high maintenance. Hot girls are usually very demanding, each in their own way. Because you know she can go out and get a better guy at any time she chooses, it is imperative to cater to her whims. Similarly, the ipod requires maintenance. It is important to keep it in prime condition or it may just conk out on you at anytime.

Such has been my experiences in dating the hot girl and in owning an ipod Nano.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Cold ain't so bad

I have never been one to enjoy the cold. I have always liked to be warm and toasty. Turn up the heat, layer up with sweats, and enjoy hot cocoa. In fact, I have not only wanted to be warm, but I have despised the cold.

However, last winter I began to make some changes. I embarked upon a mission to convince myself that I enjoy the cold; to transform myself from a warm person into a cold person. I kept the house a bit cooler than normal (saving heating $$$), and I ran year-round last year, even running during a blizzard. (It's not so bad, as long as you layer.)

Gradually, I think that I am convincing myself to become a cold person - to enjoy the changing of seasons. Embrace the cold, love the cold, and the cold will love you. The only problem is now people are complaining about coming over to my house because it is too cold....hhhhmmmm....I may have to nix having guests over to the house until next spring!

Biblical Metanarrative

The question is: Does the Bible contain or advocate a specific metanarrative?

We begin by asking, What is a metanarrative?

Jean-Francois Lyotard in his classic postmodern text of 1979, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, said, "I will use the term modern to designate any science that legitimates itself with reference to a metadiscourse of this kind making an explicit appeal to some grand narrative, such as the dialectics of Spirit, the hermeneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the rational or working subject, or the creation of wealth." (xxiii) Conversely, he defines postmodernism as follows: "Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodernism as incredulity toward metanarratives." (xxiv, emphasis added)

We might say that a metanarrative is a grand narrative that has explanatory power. It is a reference point into which one fits their own story. We see this at work in the contemporary situation as the United States and other western nations seek to spread freedom, democracy, and capitalism worldwide. We are working under the assumption that these things have a universal explanatory scope that can bring prosperity and meaning to other countries; that if these other countries would only use the American story as their own metanarrative then they, too, can find life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

One thing that Lyotard does in his text is to compare and contrast science with narrative, saying, "Science has always been in conflict with narratives." (xxiii) What is "Modern," then, is any science that legitimates itself in reference to a "metadiscourse," as we noted above: "I will use the term modern to designate any science that legitimates itself with reference to a metadiscourse of this kind making an explicit appeal to some grand narrative, such as the dialectics of Spirit, the hermeneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the rational or working subject, or the creation of wealth." (xxiii)

A "metadiscourse" is that which legitimates the pursuit of science, while we might suggest that a "metanarrative" is some theory that explains and legitimates all the narratives/stories/lives of a society or culture. Perhaps we might say that as Americans we explain and legitimate our pursuit of the "American Dream" by virtue of referencing the metanarrative provided through capitalism and democracy. But metanarratives are also static, absolute, and universal. They have an explanatory power that extends across boundaries. They are totalizing.

We continue with Lyotard as he describes a "narrative" culture - a culture deriving its meaning from stories. Lyotard discusses “popular stories” where the “successes or failures” of the hero “either bestow legitimacy upon social institutions (the function of myths), or represent positive or negative models (the successful or unsuccessful hero) of integration into established institutions (legends and tales). Thus the narratives allow the society in which they are told, on the one hand, to define its criteria of competence and, on the other, to evaluate according to those criteria what is performed or can be performed within it." (20)

But Lyotard makes an interesting point here. In such a culture, narratives do not have their power in reference to the past, but in the very act of repeating the narrative and telling the story by the simple fact that they do what they do: "Narratives, as we have seen, determine criteria of competence and/or illustrate how they are to be applied. They thus define what has the right to be said and done in the culture in question, and since they are themselves a part of that culture, they are legitimated by the simple fact that they do what they do." (23) The reference is not to the past, as much as it is to the act of recitation, drawing the rather startling conclusion that a narrative culture has no need to remember its past: "By way of simplifying fiction, we can hypothesize that, against all expectations, a collectivity that takes narrative as its key form of competence has no need to remember its past. It finds the raw material for its social bond not only in the meaning of the narratives it recounts, but also in the act of reciting them. The narratives’ reference may seem to belong to the past, but in reality it is always contemporaneous with the act of recitation." (22, emphasis added)

Perhaps a good biblical example of a narrative culture might be the Israelites of the Old Testament who had been emancipated from the slavery of Egypt. They journeyed into the Promised Land with explicit reference to their story of God's deliverance through Moses. They were encouraged to "remember" this story. (Deut 5:15) Later, Joshua takes over and directs the Israelites according to their frame of reference. When he is old and ready to move on he passes along the same imperative to "remember." (Joshua 23) As we know from even a cursory reading of the Old Testament the people of Israel often "forgot" to reference the stories of their past. This happened, for example, soon after Joshua passes from the seen. (Judges 8:34) In Psalm 95:8 we find a reference to avoid the hardening of the heart that occurred by many in the past, "do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert."

So, what was the problem of the Israelites? Was it the fact that they did not cognitively recall the stories? Did they, in fact, "forget" the narrative or allow the story to slip from their collective minds? Or perhaps we might suggest that the stories were used to justify the institution and the actions of the community, while the moral of the story itself was lost. The failure of the Israelites, then, was not in failing to recall but in failing to recontextualize. They settled for a narrative community where the reciting of the story was sufficient, while the God of the story slipped away. As such, the critique is not necessarily that they did not "remember," but that they did not remember in such a way as to affect the current context. The past was the past. The past belonged to the work of God, but the present belonged to them.

From the above, it seems quite clear that the Bible contains stories and narrative, but this brings us back to the question of a biblical metanarrative.

First, we might ask, can we live life without a metanarrative? Some believers suggest that everyone has a metanarrative, even if they do not know it. Everyone, they suggest, lives their lives in reference to a totalizing explanation of reality that fits their life into that grand plan.

I am not going to spend a great deal time on this, although it certainly makes for a good discussion - but I will merely register my disagreement. It appears to me rather self-evident that the postmodern condition is, as Lyotard says, "an incredulity toward metanarratives." (xxiv) Lyotard even suggests (remember that this is back in 1979) that narrative has been lost as well: "The narrative function is losing its functors, its great hero, its great dangers, its great voyages, its great goal. It is being dispersed in clouds of narrative language elements—narrative, but also denotative, prescriptive, descriptive, and so on." (xxiv) In the postmodern world that Lyotard sees, humanity has even lost the nostalgia for narrative, "Most people have lost the nostalgia for the lost narrative. It in no way follows that they are reduced to barbarity. What saves them from it is their knowledge that legitimation can only spring from their own linguistic practice and communicational interaction. Science 'smiling into its beard' at every other belief has taught them the hash austerity of realism." (41)

What replaced both narrative and metanarrative? Briefly, it is localized language games. Lyotard borrows Wittgenstein's idea of language games to speak of the diverse ways in which we communicate with each other. The implication, I believe, is that we gain meaning by connecting with others via language in its various forms. This occurs at a very localized level. Simply put, we develop little narratives: "little narrative remains the quintessential form of imaginative invention." (60)

We do not reference a grand, totalizing scheme, nor are we strictly a narrative culture. We live out our individual stories through a variety of intriguing language games. I think this is even more the case 30 years after Lyotard wrote The Postmodern Condition as it was back in 1979. The technological explosions have occurred, in large part, in the area of communication and networks of communication that engage us in countless language games on a daily basis.

More can be said on the way we communicate and find meaning via our language games, but we must return to the question of whether there is a "biblical" metanarrative. Does the Bible teach or hand us a metanarrative?

In our very brief examination of the Israelites we found that they likely fit more of a description of a "narrative" culture, rather than a culture that made reference to a grand narrative or metanarrative. I think this necessarily gives us a reason to be suspicious about the existence of any "biblical metanarrative." If Lyotard is even somewhat correct, then the idea of a "metanarrative" is something that is unique to Modern thought and as such it would have been a foreign concept to the mind of an ancient Israelite.

I have heard some believers defend the idea of a biblical metanarrative on grounds that the Bible presents us with the overarching theme of Fall and Redemption. This Fall-Redemption is a metanarrative that explains all of reality. Contained within it is the fact that humanity is in sin, that we cannot redeem ourselves, Christ came to redeem humanity, and we must place our trust in Christ for our redemption. There may be variations of the Fall-Redemption theme, but the argument for a biblical metanarrative generally comes back to these recurring key ideas.

I remain rather unimpressed by the attempt. The Bible may be used as a metanarrative - that I will not deny. In fact, I would even suggest that during the Modern era the Bible may have been put to good use as a metanarrative in competition with other metanarratives. I think that it was also misused as a metanarrative, but I allow God to use his Word in reaction to contemporary culture to accomplish whatever God wishes to accomplish. But ultimately I agree with Lyotard in the sense that metanarrative is a distinctly Modern development. I also agree that our culture is not currently either Modern or pre-Modern in the sense that we are not concerned with metanarrative nor are we nostalgic for narrative. We live in a rather strange time. Interesting, but strange.

Another concern I have with the idea of a biblical metanarrative is that we cannot escape the fact that what we call "the biblical metanarrative" is still a matter of interpretation. There is no one verse that states: This is the metanarrative that ye must use as a totalizing scheme and a vast explanatory theory. Instead, we must look at the various stories within Scripture and the various doctrines and even poetry and wisdom literature and somehow pull from that a metanarrative. But have we learned nothing from Modern Theology? Do we need to dust off the systematic theology texts once again? It is the interpreter who makes the decision as to what are the "grand themes" of the Bible. For Calvin it was the sovereignty of God. But not all agree. In fact, there are as many "grand themes" as there are theologians. This is because we are all interpreters. When we read the Bible we interpret.

Our interpretations are diverse. They are the product both of interacting with the text, but also of bringing our own presuppostions, questions and concerns to the text. But this is not a bad thing. This is a necessary aspect of interpretation. When we read the text the text impacts us, but we also impact the text. This is not a defense of absolute relativism. It is simply to suggest that as we interact with the biblical text it speaks not only of God's past work but also of the work of God in the present.

Nothing illustrates this better than a study of the hermeneutics of the book of Hebrews. In the book of Hebrews we find a dynamic interaction between the Old Testament text and the issues of the contemporary church. Christ had come. The paradigm had changed. As such, what was said to the Israelites was recontextualized based on what God was now doing through the Body of Christ.

Earlier I cited Psalm 95. In Hebrews 3 and 4 the warnings to Israel to pay attention to the past are recontextualized so that the believing community would not develop a hardened heart, but that they would encourage each other as long as it is called "Today." Additionally, believers are encouraged to "enter the Sabbath rest" by seizing the opportunities afforded by each "Today."

The recontextualizations are sometimes in close continuity with their original Old Testament context, while at other times they are very fluid and demonstrate a great deal of discontinuity with their original context. But what we see on display is that interpretation of the Word of God is never strictly a matter of reciting the past narrative but is simultaneously an appropriation and application of its meaning for the present. The Word of God is "Living and Active." (4:12)

There is s similar lesson here for the idea of a biblical metanarrative: We must always allow for dynamic interpretation. A metanarrative is a static idea. It is something that gains its Modern charm by totalizing and absolutizing our interpretation of reality. But this can be counter productive for faith, because faith must understand itself anew in each generation. Faith that grows static is complacency and has no place in the Bible. Hebrews 12 tells us that we are surrounded by a "great cloud of witnesses." This represents the work of God in the past. It is an example for reference, but I do not believe that this necessarily implies that it must be used as a metanarrative that can be extrapolated and locked down in a static system. There is more more to the passage: We are to run the race with perseverance. This means that there is more to the story; there is the story of dynamic faith that must be recontextualized for every person in every moment of their life.

I want to reiterate that a so-called "biblical metanarrative" might be useful for some people and for some generations. However, I want to suggest that it is not a necessary ingredient for the Christian faith, and it is certainly not sufficient to produce faith.

For a perspective that favors the idea of a biblical metanarrative, see The Biblical Metanarrative. Also see Andrew's post at Open Source Theology for what one might call an "emerging" perspective on the issue.

Monday, November 05, 2007


There are many ways in which McDonald's represents America in the 20th century. One might say that it has been a fundamental institution for our society. Growing out of the Industrial Age, it was birthed from our need for speed - a turbo-charged culture with no more time for substantive meals. If you don't have time to dedicate to food, eat McFood. After all, it tastes great, its cheap, and its always ready when you want it. Food is the ultimate consumptive item in our culture of Consumerism. We can hardly think of it in any other way - it is merely a product to be desired or a means to an end. McFood is stimulating, fun, and you can eat while you are doing any number of things.

One thing that Qohelet (the voice in the book of Ecclesiastes) is concerned with is eating and drinking and finding pleasure in living out these very organic facets of life. (i.e. 2:24) The life well-lived is one where a person attains contentment with the simple life and with the very basic and rudimentary tasks of getting along. This, of course, is not a concept that fit well in our society. Eating and drinking is too mundane: We must do it faster; we must do it with more stimulating tastes; we must see the lights of the golden arches and be stimulated by ads for the latest tasty product.

Church leaders in America (particularly of the conservative stripe) often lament the fact that American Christians do the "church hop," as it is called. Church hopping is America's Consumeristic approach to religion. We shop for a product we like, and once we find the satisfying product we are willing to give them our time and a bit of our money.

But who is at fault for the church hopping religious consumers?

When I go to McDonald's I do not approach the restaurant with anything but a consumeristic frame of mind. McDonald's has set themselves up as a place to get your food and go. They have no expectations that I will invest anything into the company. It is a business transaction: I pay them money and they give me the food, fast.

But isn't church set up much like a McDonald's? Do we not operate on the basis of giving people some spirituality (via the form of a sermon and/or a worship experience) in small bites and then sending them on their merry way? The more I examine the nature of the American church the more I see significant parallels between church and McDonald's. This is what makes me think of church as "McChurch." We have marketed our spirituality for mass consumption.

Think I'm joking about all of this???? Let me give you the raw stats, baby. After all, this is still the age of science!

How much time do you spend getting your food from McDonald's and consuming your meal? Well, you've got to pull up to a drive-through, wait a minute or two, place your order, wait another minute and BAMO, you've got your McFood. Then, of course, you eat and go about your business. So, how much time? Maybe, like, 20 minutes? That sounds about right for a start-to-finish time frame. If there are 1,440 minutes in a day, then this means that a 20 minute investment in a McMeal at McDonald's takes up 1.389% of your day. How significant is that 1.389%? Probably not very. McDonald's is marketed for a fast experience, not a meaningful one.

And none of us really expect that spending 1.389% of our day on a meal is going to have a profound experience on our day. If we did expect that, then our expectations would be unreasonable and poorly placed.

But not things get very interesting. How much time do we spend in "church" each week? Well, all things considered, probably 2 or 3: We drive to service, listen to the message, maybe catch a sunday school, and then drive back home. Let's be generous and say 3 hours. There are 168 hours in a week, which results in christians spending 1.786% of their week doing the church thing. We beat out our McDonald's run by .4%, but we are still under 2% of our time spent in church.

So, let's ask a question: Can we really expect something to impact our lives if we spend less than 2% of our time on it??? We don't expect much from a McFood meal from McDonald's, so why should we expect anything more from a McService at our local McChurch?

To be perfectly honest, I think I am at the point where I applaud the church hop. Let people keep hoping in and out of our McChurches. If we run them like a McDonald's, then why should the Consumer have his or her own choice? We don't criticize people for choosing Burger King or Taco Bell and hoping around to other fast food restaurants, so why do we expect that McChurching would be any different?

Most pastors minister like they were managers at a local McDonald's. They give spiritual fast food for the masses. Until they begin offering substance, and until they stop emphasizing a sunday morning service as the ultimate solution to all of our spiritual woes, then people will keep church hoping, and for good reason. Keep hoping. Maybe someday the leaders will understand: the church hop is your fault.

And this is not just a polemic against the "evil, non-biblical" churches. The same McChurch approach permeates even the "good Bible believin'" churches as well. The only difference is that we think that a good Bible sermon each week is the basis of spiritual growth. But it isn't. This is still spiritual fast food.

I close with an appropriate story. And, believe it or not, it is actually true:

A teacher was working with children in a school to help them pronounce the "ch" sound. She was looking for words that would help he children say, "ch." So, the teacher said, "Ok, where do you go on Sunday mornings to worship God?" The response? One little guy pipes up and enthusiastically shouts out, "McDonald's!!!"

Thursday, November 01, 2007

English as our official language

I received the following forwarded email from a truly beloved family member:

33 Senators Voted Against English as America 's Official Language June 6, 2007

On Wed, 6 June 2007 23:35:23 -0500, "Colonel Harry Riley USA ret" wrote:


Your vote against an amendment to the Immigration Bill 1348, to make English America's official language is astounding. On D-Day no less when we honor those that sacrificed in order to secure the bedrock character and principles of America . I can only surmise your vote reflects a loyalty to illegal aliens.

I don't much care where you come from, what your religion is, whether you're black, white or some other color, male or female, democrat, republican or independent, but I do care when you're a United States Senator, representing citizens of America and vote against English as the official language of the United States

Your vote reflects betrayal, political surrender, violates your pledge of allegiance, dishonors historical principle, rejects patriotism, borders on traitorous action and, in my opinion, makes you unfit to serve as a United States Senator... impeachment, recall, or other appropriate action is warranted.

Worse, 4 of you voting against English as America 's official language are presidential candidates: Senator Biden, Senator Clinton, Senator Dodd, and Senator Obama.

Those 4 Senators vying to lead America but won't, or don't have the courage, to cast a vote in favor of English as America's official language when 91% of American citizens want English officially designated as our language.

This is the second time in the last several months this list of Senators have disgraced themselves as political hacks... unworthy as Senators and certainly unqualified to serve as President of the United States.

If America is as angry as I am, you will realize a back-lash so stunning it will literally rock you out of your panties... and preferably, totally out of the United States Senate.

The entire immigration bill is a farce... your action only confirms this really isn't about America ; it's about self-serving politics... despicable at best.

Never argue with an idiot; they'll drag you down to their level and beat you with experience." ~ anonymous

The following senators voted against making English the official language of America: Akaka (D-HI) Bayh (D-IN) Biden (D-DE) Wants to be President? Bingaman (D-NM) Boxer (D-CA) Cantwell (D-WA) Clinton (D-NY) Wants to be President? Dayton (D-MN) Dodd (D-CT) Wants to be President? Domenici (R-NM) Coward, protecting his Senate seat...Durbin (D-IL) Feingold (D-WI) Not unusual for him Feinstein (D-CA) Harkin (D-IA) Inouye (D-HI) Jeffords (I-VT) Kennedy (D-MA) Kerry (D-MA) Wanted to be President Kohl (D-WI) Lautenberg (D-NJ) Leahy (D-VT) Levin (D-MI) Lieberman (D-CT) Disappointment here.....Menendez (D-NJ) Mikulski (D-MD) Murray (D-WA) Obama (D-IL) Wants to be President? Reed (D-RI) Reid (D-NV) Senate Majority Leader Salazar (D-CO) Sarbanes (D-MD) Schumer (D-NY) Stabenow (D-M)

"Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale, and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled or hanged."
- President Abraham Lincoln

First of all, I'm a bit confused. If there is 91% American support for this, then the politically expedient thing to do would be to vote for the bill. Right? So, how is it politically beneficial for any Senator to vote against it?

Next, For those who are pro-American, just keep this in mind: the English Language is from England. (Hence the name, "English" language.) There is no "American" language. We have "American English," perhaps, but even in that case you can't get away from those danged Brits!

I don't know that I am in favor of passing any language as an Official Language. America is a melting pot, so let everyone speak how he or she chooses to speak. Let freedom and diversity reign from sea to shining sea.

Why do people get so steamed about this issue????

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Shoot me

A few years back, Dr. Dave Plaster, a professor of mine, relayed a story to our class of a time when he was at Dallas Seminary working on his Ph.D. several years back. Dr. Plaster is a Grace Brethren and a pacifist. That was a bit of a problem because he was in a classroom full of non-pacifists and his wily Professor who was a bit antagonistic toward pacifists. The Professor assigned topics for a research assignment that included defending one's thesis in the classroom. Naturally, the wily Professor assigned Dr. Plaster the topic of pacifism. When it was Dr. Plaster's turn to defend, he presented his case for pacifism and then the floor was open for fellow students to open fire, if you will, on his case against war. The Professor was first to interject and embarked upon a lengthy polemic against the points presented, expounding every jot and tittle whereby Dr. Plaster (and other pacifists) were so clearly mistaken.

Dr. Plaster absorbed the barrage and responded with a scenario and a question: Let's say that my country is at war, and that I am a soldier. Let us further suppose that I have the enemy in my sites, and that all I must do is pull the trigger and effectively eliminate the enemy's life. This, of course, is my job as a soldier and my duty to my country. But now let's suppose that the enemy is a fellow brother in Christ. Are you telling me that I am obligated to pull the trigger and kill my fellow brother in Christ?????

The Professor gathered together his few things, rose from his seat, and exited the classroom.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius
Ray Monk
My Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

The entry on Ludwig Wittgenstein by The Shorter Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (and by "shorter" we mean a mere 1,077 pages of small-type, double-column entries) states the following, "His writings have aroused great devotion because of the honesty and depth which many find in them. But it is important not to treat them with superstitious reverence. Rather they should be read in the spirit in which he intended, namely as an invitation to explore with as much integrity as possible one's own perplexities and what would resolve them."

Reading the above gave me pause. Why would a reputable philosophical encyclopedia feel compelled to provide a disclaimer against "superstitious reverence" toward a past philosopher? I can only imply that the author is concerned about a cult-following around the person and work of Wittgenstein. But doesn't this strike us as extremely odd? That at the end of the 20th century and as we embark on the 21st there are intelligent students of philosophy religiously devoting themselves to a philosopher not yet 50 years after his death? Admittedly, philosophy students are typically devoted to teachers and professors and even to philosophers of the past who write with the force of logic and truth. And yet I find no similar disclaimer in the Routledge entry on Plato, Locke, Kant, Hegel, or Russell. What is it about Wittgenstein that inspires such "superstitious reverence"?

The answer, I believer, is not simply to be found in the work of Wittgenstein but more so in his life. And this is where the Monk biography comes in. It bridges the gap between philosophy and life: "By describing the life and the work in the one narrative, I hope to make it clear how this work came from this man, to show - what many who read Wittgenstein's work instinctively feel - the unity of his philosophical concerns with his emotional and spiritual life." (xviii)

After reading Monk's biography I can understand why the philosophical establishment would see themselves obliged to disclaim any sense of religious devotion to Wittgenstein. Such devotion is simply the mirror reflection of a man completely dedicated to the questions of life that perplexed him, even tortured him. "Philosophy, one might say, came to him, not he to philosophy. Its dilemmas were experienced by him as unwelcome intrusions, unable to get on with everyday life until he could dispel them with a satisfactory solution." (3) Wittgenstein's ultimate solution to the problems of philosophy was to suggest that philosophy, itself, could not solve them. Or, at the very least, that philosophy has limits and parameters that it should not push beyond.

"What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence." (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, section 7)

In brief, the life of Wittgenstein was one of passion and complete dedication to pursue the deepest and most meaningful questions of life. He was religious, deeply committed to his own ethical purity, and above all things he was a man who brought a relentless intensity to everything that he deemed important enough to warrant investigation. For example, Wittgenstein would engage the most brilliant philosophical minds of his day and simply wear them down. He had the mental, physical and emotional capacity to sustain the pursuit of a line of thought for hours and hours on end. In many cases, philosophers like Bertrand Russell would simply not have the capacity (or even the desire in some cases) to follow Wittgenstein until he was satisfied to conclude.

How many philosophers inspire "superstitious devotion"? How many thinkers are truly worthy of the dedication of their followers? When compared to Wittgenstein, most philosophers appear to approach philosophy as though it were a mere hobby. Wittgenstein's life displayed a sheer force of intellectual passion.

Rather than attempt to review the life and work, exhaustively, I will pick and choose a few interesting portions of Monk's biography that I found particularly intriguing.

Here I highlight a comment by Wittgenstein on belief in God and its relation to science and proof:
"Wittgenstein did not wish to see God or to find reasons for His existence. He thought that if he could overcome himself - if a day came when his whole nature 'bowed down in humble resignation in the dust' - then God would, as it were, come to him; he would then be saved....Both the atheist, who scorns religion because he has found no evidence for its tenets, and the believer, who attempts to prove the existence of God, have fallen victim to the 'other' - to the idol-worship of the scientific style of thinking. Religious beliefs are not analogous to scientific theories, and should not be accepted or rejected using the same evidential criteria." (410)

The above line of thought is intriguing in its own right, and certainly a matter that has come under a great deal of debate over the years. But, aside from the substance of what Wittgenstein says, what is particularly interesting to me is the context within which Wittgenstein developed these ideas. He was working at Cambridge in the early 20th century, where a scientific approach was presumed (in some form or another) by virtually all serious thinkers. To our "postmodern" ears the above statements seem less radical and a matter to be taken seriously for thought and discussion. I don't know that we can appreciate the degree to which these thoughts would have deviated from the philosophical orthodoxy of the day. Of course, deviating from philosophical orthodoxy was the least of Wittgenstein's concerns!

Wittgenstein began his Philosophical Investigations by engaging the Confessions of St Augustine. Says Monk, "For Wittgenstein, all philosophy, in so far as it is pursued honestly and decently, begins with a confession. He often remarked that the problem of writing good philosophy and of thinking well about philosophical problems was one of the will more than of the intellect - the will to resist the temptation to misunderstand, the will to resist superficiality. What gets in the way of genuine understandings often not one's lack of intelligence, but the presence of one's pride." (366)

Monk continues on this line of thought and cites Wittgenstein, himself:
"If anyone is unwilling to descend into himself, because this is too painful, he will remain superficial in his writing: Lying to oneself, deceiving yourself about the pretence in your own state of will, must have a harmful influence on [one's] style; for the result will be that you cannot tell what is genuine in the style and what is false....If you are unwilling to know what you are, your writing is a form of deceit. (366-67)

The Liar Paradox is a problem that develops when someone says, "I am lying." Is the statement true or is it false. If it is true, then it is necessarily false. If it is false, then the person has told the truth. It is a simple little game of logic, but it creates great problems for various theories of propositions. Personally, I have wondered whether or not such paradoxes do not reveal a fundamental flaw in ascribing truth value to propositions, that perhaps this implies that truth is a matter greater than propositions. Or perhaps it is simply a manifestation of the absurdities of the universe. In any event, here is Wittgenstein on the issue:

"It is very queer in a way that this should have puzzled anyone - much more extraordinary than you might think: that this should be the thing to worry human beings. Because the thing works like this: if a man says 'I am lying' we say that it follows that he is not lying, from which it follows that he is lying and so on. Well, so what? You can go on like that until you are black in the face. Why not? It doesn't matter." (420)

For Wittgenstein, then, the issue was really a non-issue. But why? Monk says that it is because what needs to be explained is also why the question matters. In other words, justification is needed for the theoretical constructs that demand an answer to the question. "His [Wittgenstein's] point was rather that a contradiction cannot lead one astray because it leads nowhere at all. One cannot calculate wrongly with a contradiction, because one simply cannot use it to calculate. One can do nothing with contradictions, except waste time puzzling over them." (421)

Wittgenstein was also interested in Freud and dream interpretation. "It was the idea that dream symbols form a kind of language that interested him - the fact that we naturally think that dreams mean something, even if we do not know what they mean." (448) Monk continues, "What puzzles us about a dream is not its causality but its significance. We want the kind of explanation which 'changes the aspect' under which we see the images of a dream, so that they now make sense. Freud's idea that dreams are wish fulfilments is important because it 'points to the sort of interpretation that is wanted', but it is too general." (449)

Says Wittgenstein, "Freud very commonly gives what we might call a sexual interpretation. But it is interesting that among all the reports of dreams which he gives, there is not a single example of a straightforward sexual dream. yet these are as common as rain." (449) Monk continues summarizing Wittgenstein: "This again is connected to Freud's determination to provide a single pattern for all dreams: all dreams must be, for him, expressions of longing, rather than, for example, expressions of fear. Freud, like philosophical theorists, had been seduced by the method of science and the 'craving for generality.'" (449)

This next statement in regard to Freud is interesting to me: "There is not one type of dream, and neither is there one way to interpret the symbols in a dream. Dream symbols to mean something - 'Obviously there are certain similarities with language' - but to understand them requires no some general theory of dreams, but the kind of multi-faceted skill that is involved, say, in the understanding of a piece of music." (449)

The above reflections in relation to Freud and dreams are in line with Wittgenstein's approach of going to the particular thing rather than the general. Furthermore, Wittgenstein does not necessarily go to the particular thing with the intent of using it to develop overarching theories, perhaps what we might call a "metanarrative" - an overarching explanation for all things. This simply wasn't Wittgenstein's primary concern, and as such I think he is able to demonstrate insight into the "skill" required to interpret dreams.

More on Wittgenstein's religious outlook. Monk cites W:
"An honest religious thinker is like a tightrope walker. He almost looks as though he were walking on nothing but air. His support is the slederest imaginable. And yet it really is possible to walk on it." Says Monk, "Though he had the greatest admiration for those who could achieve this balancing act, Wittgenstein did not regard himself as one of them. He could not, for example, bring himself to believe in the literal truth of reported miracles:
'A miracle is, as it were, a gesture which God makes. As a man sits quietly and then makes an impressive gesture, God lets the world run on smoothly and then accompanies the words of a saint by a symbolic occurrence, a gesture of nature. It would be an instance if, when a saint has spoken, the trees around him bowed, as if in reverence. Now, do I believe this happens? I don't. The only way for me to believe in a miracle in this sense would be to be impressed by an occurrence in this particular way. So that I should say e.g.: "It was impossible to see these trees and not to feel that they were responding to the words." Just as I might say "It is impossible to see the face of this god and not to see that he is alert and full of attention to what his master is doing." And I can imagine that the mere report of the words and life of a saint can make someone believe the reports that the tree bowed. But I am not so impressed.'" (464)

The above can be a bit confusing in several places, but I added bold/italics to the second to last sentence because it seems to emphasize the main point of Wittgenstein's approach to miracle, namely, that the event may not necessarily occurred, but the religious significance of those involved impressed them to the point that it was as though it had actually happened.

Monk continues and notes that Wittgenstein's belief in God "did not take the form of subscribing to the truth of any particular doctrine, but rather that of adopting a religious attitude of life. As he once put it to Drury: 'I am not a religious man but I cannot help seeing every problem from a religious point of view.'" (464)

Can one "sum up" Wittgenstein's philosophy? Likely not! However, this one sentence, perhaps might be a start in understanding Wittgenstein's reflections as they relate to his contemporaries: "Partly under Wittgenstein's influence, the Theory of Knowledge had been subordinated to the analysis of meaning." (472) So, in this sense, the study of theories of epistemology eclipse into analyzing meaning: meanings of words and meanings of objects and the meanings of anything that we encounter in life that yields meaning. In this sense we are talking about a focus on interpretation. Interpretation was also the occupation of Heidegger and Gadamer in their own ways, and from there, philosophical thought (and even non-philosophical thought) seems to take of in a variety of directions.

In Zettel, Wittgenstein states, "Only in the stream of thought and life do words have meaning." For Wittgenstein, Monk notes, "Practice gives the words their sense." (573) This is a comment on context. Here, Monk comments on this idea of context and follows this by citing Wittgenstein: "The thrust of Wittgenstein's remarks is to focus the attention of philosophers away from words, from sentences, and on to the occasions in which we use them, the contexts which give them their sense:
'Am In not getting closer and closer to saying that in the end logic cannot be described? You must look at the practice of language, then you will see it.'" (578-79)

The above goes to the idea of a "framework" for thinking and interpreting. Monk states Wittgenstein as follows: "A framework itself cannot be justified or proven correct; it provides the limits within which justification and proof take place....We cannot make sense of anything without some sort of framework, and with any particular framework there has to be a distinction between propositions that, using that framework, describe the world, and those that describe the framework itself, though this distinction is not fixed at the same place for ever." (571) This reminds me of Gadamer's insistence that "tradition" and "prejudice," far from being things we should despise are the very preconditions under which all thought takes place. Interesting that for Wittgenstein we need to distinguish the propositions within the framework from those that describe the framework, and yet this cannot ever be "fixed." Monk cites an analogy that Wittgenstein uses for this point: "...the river-bed of thoughts may shift. But I distinguish between the movements of the waters on the river-bed and the shift of the bed itself; though there is not a sharp division of the one from the other." (571)

The life and philosophy of Wittgenstein is intense. His works, though short in length and few in words, are dense. Monk's biography, however, is highly readable and comes highly recommended. It traces Wittgenstein's philosophy as it relates to his contemporaries, however, it is not simply a portrait of the development of philosophy. Monk skillfully combines life and thought in such a way that one cannot help but be impressed by the person. This biography is helpful for its philosophical reflections, but it is fascinating for the portrait of the person - a person whose life and works have inspired a "superstitious reverence" that should make all establishment philosophers wary!

All that philosophy can do is to destroy idols.