A LOVE SUPREME
If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
And Yahweh hurled a great wind upon the sea and there was a great storm on the sea and the ship threatened to break apart. And the sailors were intensely afraid and each man cried out to his own god and they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten the ship.
But Jonah had descended to the lowest recesses of the ship, laid down and fallen fast asleep. And the captain approached him and said, "How are you sleeping so soundly!? Get up! Cry out to your god! Perhaps your god will be concerned for us and we will not die."
Then each man said to the other, "Let us cast lots to know which one of us is responsible for this evil that has struck!" And when they cast lots the lot fell to Jonah. So they said to him, "Tell us! Who is responsible for bringing this evil upon us?! What is your occupation? And from where do you come? What is your country? And from what people are you?
So he replied to them, "I am a Hebrew, and I fear Yahweh, God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land."
Then the men were griped with fear and they said to Jonah, "What have you done?!" For now the men knew Jonah was running from the presence of Yahweh, for Jonah had told them.
Guess whos living here
With the great undead
This paint by numbers life is fucking with my head
Life is good and I feel great
cause mother says I was
A great mistake
Novocaine for the soul
You better give me something
To fill the hole
Before I sputter out
"Novocaine for the soul"
The storm is wicked! The waves and breakers are tossing the ship about as though it were a play toy in the hands of a restless and rambunctious little boy. The superstitious sailors are desperately and passionately pleading to their gods for salvation from the vicious elements. All hope seems lost. But in the midst of the chaos steps a prophet of Yahweh - the god of heaven and dry land, the God of gods. This prophet of the true God is the savior. Like Superman to the rescue...well, not exactly.....
Jonah is not the superhero prophet that he could have been. In fact, he is asleep in the bottom of the boat. How is he in such a deep sleep? Good question. Stuart suggests depression as the cause (457-58). That Jonah would have suffered some state of depression seems entirely consistent with the previous events. He has resigned his post as prophet of Yahweh. He has left his family and friends and possessions and has hoped a ship to who-knows-where; anywhere but Nineveh. He has denied his calling, disobeyed his God, and fled the presence and face of Yahweh. Any surprise that depression would set in?
Maybe this is a depression from self-pity. Or maybe it is just a depression brought on by his isolation. Or perhaps there is a spiritual isolation. Jonah has fled the presence of God, he has cut off his line of fellowship with God. As such he seems to have retreated farther and farther inward. He announces to the sailors that he "fears" the God of heaven, but what does that mean? For the jittery sailors it throws them into even more of a state of terror than they thought possible. There is an irony at work here, I think. The sailors are the ones who seem to be truly afraid of Yahweh. They fear for their lives! But Jonah's declaration strikes me as simply apathetic and routine. He has just been awakened from a deep sleep. Probably a sleep brought on by a depressive state. He has renounced his calling and his God. And yet he announces the superiority of Yahweh and declares his "fear." (See Wolff 111-12, 116)
The contrast between Jonah and the sailors is stark, and it is important. The narrative is contrasting a prophet who should have feared Yahweh, but in reality is fleeing his presence with the heathen sailors who actually do fear Yahweh. These are superstitious sailors who belong to a polytheistic and syncretistic culture. A culture not entirely unlike our own in its relativistic and pluralistic approach to religion and spirituality. On September 11, 2001 we heard a similar call as those made by the sailors: "Everyone cry out to your own god!"
In the time of distress Jonah sleeps. He is apathetic, lonely, depressed, and asleep. The narrative reveals sailors that are desperate, fervent, and feverishly working for their salvation. Wolff puts it this way:
Here Jonah's fear is far removed from the acknowledgment of the sailors in v. 5: there is no trace here of that elemental dread of destruction. He certainly "fears" Yahweh, but without any of the reverence which repents of the attempt at flight, and acknowledges his guilt before his God. He has still turned away from Yahweh's face, in spite of what he knows about God - indeed in spite of his experience of helplessness on his flight. (Wolff 116)
Sasson puts Jonah's situation very simply: "Heathens remind him of his mission, of the land and of the people he left behind in his rush to avoid his duty" (Sasson 126)
God's storm and the frenzy of the heathen sailors jolt Jonah out of his apathy. Or at least it should. We will see in the verses to follow how Jonah responds.
What does it look like when we flee from the presence of God? Are we reduced to a sleep-like, spiritual existence? Do we take on isolation, unconcerned with the world around us? Are we apathetic even to our own survival and welfare?
Do we miss our calling and our impact in the world around us? Do we, like Jonah, find ourselves in the ironic position of bringing the true God to those who do not know him while we, ourselves want nothing to do with him? Affirm him to the world and denying him as a reality in our own soul.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
A few miscellaneous items as the super bowl approaches:
First, if you are the Colts and you win the toss do you elect to receive or to kick off? The Super Bowl is the biggest single sporting event on the planet - well, with the exception perhaps being the World Cup....But nonetheless the point is that as big as this event is there is bound to be a great deal of nerves and jitters on the opening drive, right? The first offense to take the field has to deal with a lot of nervous energy. So, perhaps kicking off would be best. Then the Colts get the ball to start the second half. Taking the second half kickoff will allow them to begin to execute their second half game plan.
The only downside I see here is if the Bears take the opening kickoff and establish a solid running game effectively keeping Peyton Manning out of the game for a while. If they were to establish the run and get an opening score I think this would go a long way to getting Rex Grossman's confidence going. And what if the Bears' dangerous special teams unit managed to run back the opening kick for a touchdown??? Hhhhmmmm.....probably best to kick it deep into the endzone, then, eh???
Ok, second note - and certainly the most important decision of the superbowl: What is the super bowl spread looking like this year? I don't mean the Vegas betting line (Colts -7), I'm talking about the food....What to eat, what to eat....That's still a work in progress for me....These kind of decisions cannot be rushed.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Greg Koukl from Stand to Reason came to our neck o' the woods tonight. He had a lecture at Grace College and Seminary (I attend the Seminary) on the topic of postmodernism and the emergent/emerging church.
Much of Koukl's presentation was based on truth. He was particularly concerned to defend the correspondence theory of truth. There were a few points at which he came very close to saying that the correspondence theory of truth is the only biblical theory of truth. He didn't actually say that, but came very close. Doug Groothuis, however, states this view quite poignantly in his book Truth Decay that:
"The correspondence view of truth is not simply one of many options for Christians. It is the only biblically and logically grounded view of truth available and allowable." (110)
This view is something that has particularly bothered me for quite some time. The view that the correspondence theory of truth is the only biblical view spurred me on to do serious biblical exegetical research on the concept of truth. I am certainly intrigued by the philosophical questions raised by discussions on truth, but for me what is most concerning is whether or not the correspondence theory is, in fact, "the only" biblical position available.
Towards the end of Greg's lecture tonight there was a Question-and-Answer session. So, I questioned Greg about the issue of whether or not the correspondence theory is really and actually the only biblical theory available. His response was interesting. Although Greg acknowledged that there were different nuances to the biblical view of truth he nevertheless seemed to side with Groothuis. Furthermore, he also stated that the correspondence theory of truth was presupposed even when it was not explicitly stated. (I believe this is also a position of Groothuis.)
Greg and I had a brief and cordial exchange and that was the end of it. He was very gracious to entertain my challenges and I appreciated the opportunity to bring this issue to the forefront of discussion.
Yet a few of my concerns remain:
1) Is there really one and only one "biblical view" of truth?
From my study of the Gospel of John I find a very developed and thoughtful view of truth. Aletheia for John is a very key concept that is tied in with some very important theological themes. But the way that John uses this term differs from the way that Paul uses aletheia. Furthermore, the use of emeth in the Hebrew conception of truth is also different from the above two Scripture writers. So, I wonder if it is even wise to speak of one, biblical view. The topic is misguided from the start. We must clarify more specifically in which context a biblical writer is using this term, otherwise we risk talking over each other's heads.
2) Could there be more than one form of truth?
In digging around in the Gospel of John one finds that truth has many diverse and rich nuances. While it is certainly the case that at some times the correspondence view of truth is clearly in view (e.g. the Samaritan woman of chapter four) there are other times where aletheia definitely takes on a form that hardly resembles the correspondence theory of truth. For example, in chapter three we read about those who "do truth." Can truth be an action? In chapter eight we find that for the devil "there is no truth in him." But the devil certainly had knowledge of some truth propositions. So, in a propositional sense he had truth. But because the devil stands in such stark opposition to God, the author of truth, no matter how many true propositions the devil may know he still "has no truth in him."
I am a staunch believer in the need to stand firmly for a correspondence theory of truth. (Philosophically speaking I tend to find a lot of common ground with Common Sense Realism.) But the above two examples, amongst a few others, have caused me to lean towards thinking that truth may take on more forms than just the correspondence theory. The correspondence theory is necessary on biblical ground, but is it sufficient to capture all that we mean when we as Christians talk about truth.
3) Do Greg Koukl and Doug Groothuis take too narrow of a view on truth?
In the Gospel of John I find something truly compelling: A holistic call of commitment. There is a call to surrender the whole person. John's development of aletheia leaves no part of the person untouched: Truth is correspondence with reality, but it is also a life of truth. Truth is a proposition but it is also a situation: Truth is how we stand in relationship to Christ. (14:6) John's Gospel is Christological, and how we react to the Son determines where we stand in relationship to truth.
While some may be uneasy in speaking of "many forms" of truth it is important to qualify that for John these forms all collide upon the person of Christ. Hence to speak of many forms of truth does not imply a free-for-all or any kind of a relativism. The Christ demands something from us - complete surrender. This does not allow us the option to determine truth for ourselves. Only when we come to Christ in desperation and obedience can we begin to open up all that truth and life has to offer. I think that this is one of the primary messages of the Fourth Gospel: What will you do with Jesus? It's an all or nothing demand. A high calling. Higher than anything we could cook up in and of our own selves.
The above are a few questions I had in walking away from tonight's session. As always I am interested in hearing your thoughts and comments.
For further reading:
If you are interested in a very detailed essay on my view of aletheia in the Gospel of John see "The Use of Aletheia in the Gospel of John." This essay focuses on exegesis and meaning of John's formulation of aletheia and explains more about what it means that truth takes many forms ("polymorphous"):
I tackled the issue of the correspondence theory of truth in relationship to the Gospel of John in "Aletheia and the Correspondence Theory of Truth." In this essay I define the correspondence theory of truth and find that it is necessary but not sufficient to capture John's development of truth:
There are more essays and thoughts on truth in my Aletheia Project:
So, I'm running along last night a mere 3/4 of a mile into a regular old run-of-the-mill run with my ipod playing some Soundgarden or some other such music that came from the early nineties "Seattle Grunge" movement and I am perfectly content with my nice and easy pace for a nice and easy 4 miles.
But then I spot the trails.
I must admit that I could not resist the temptation to run through the trails in Winona Lake. The thing is, that it is night, so I can't see very well. And also there is snow covering the trails. So, I am subject to some kind of threatening terrain. I had a blast running through the trails in the white snow in the woods. Lots of fun. Trail running is good times.
I did take a few bad steps, however - stepped on my ankle once. However, I am happy to report that the next day I do not appear to have any major joint issues. Thankfully, my knees haven't gotten too sore!
What did I think of last night's speech? In a word: irrelevant. That's just my initial, gut reaction.
On domestic issues President Bush talked about the usual suspects: Balanced budget, Social Security/Medicare, Better education, Health insurance woes, and Energy. But these things have been talked about for years since Bush came into office and nothing has really been done about them. What has been done mostly has gone against the Conservative core, i.e. letting Ted Kennedy take the reigns on education and screw things up even more! To be honest, if Washington is grid-locked on the above domestic issues it might just be the best thing.
Regarding the war in Iraq I think the speech was also somewhat irrelevant. President Bush will do what he wants (after all he is the Commander in Chief - that's what he is suppossed to do!), and if it succeeds then he will be the hero and we will finish the job, which I believe will result in a more stabilized Iraq and a more stabilized middle east. If he does not succeed then I think that the Congress will probably start fighting to pull out troops. Of course by that time President Bush will be in his final months as a lame duck and most people will be focussed on the next Presidential candidates and what they will do if elected.
Perhaps the war talk was not entirely irrelevant, however, because it gives the President one last push in Iraq and builds a now-or-never attitude towards Iraq. We either go forward or go backward. I'm not sure that's the best move, but it is a good one for the psychology of the country - it makes us feel like we are moving in a direction.
Here are a few key paragraphs from the speech on the war issue. They basically reiterate the President's ideology and position on the war that he has had since the beginning:
If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. We could expect an epic battle between Shia extremists backed by Iran, and Sunni extremists aided by al Qaeda and supporters of the old regime. A contagion of violence could spill out across the country – and in time the entire region could be drawn into the conflict.
For America, this is a nightmare scenario. For the enemy, this is the objective. Chaos is their greatest ally in this struggle. And out of chaos in Iraq, would emerge an emboldened enemy with new safe havens... new recruits ... new resources ... and an even greater determination to harm America. To allow this to happen would be to ignore the lessons of September 11th and invite tragedy. And ladies and gentlemen, nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East ... to succeed in Iraq ... and to spare the American people from this danger.
This is where matters stand tonight, in the here and now. I have spoken with many of you in person. I respect you and the arguments you have made. We went into this largely united – in our assumptions, and in our convictions. And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure. Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq – and I ask you to give it a chance to work. And I ask you to support our troops in the field – and those on their way.
The war on terror we fight today is a generational struggle that will continue long after you and I have turned our duties over to others. That is why it is important to work together so our Nation can see this great effort through. Both parties and both branches should work in close consultation. And this is why I propose to establish a special advisory council on the war on terror, made up of leaders in Congress from both political parties. We will share ideas for how to position America to meet every challenge that confronts us. And we will show our enemies abroad that we are united in the goal of victory.
One of the first steps we can take together is to add to the ranks of our military – so that the American Armed Forces are ready for all the challenges ahead. Tonight I ask the Congress to authorize an increase in the size of our active Army and Marine Corps by 92,000 in the next five years. A second task we can take on together is to design and establish a volunteer Civilian Reserve Corps. Such a corps would function much like our military reserve. It would ease the burden on the Armed Forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when America needs them. And it would give people across America who do not wear the uniform a chance to serve in the defining struggle of our time.
Taken from: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6970491
Monday, January 22, 2007
And the word of Yahweh came to Jonah, son of Amittai saying, “Go, immediately to the great city, Ninevah, and cry out against it; because their wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah rose up to flee to the sea from the presence of Yahweh and he went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to sea and paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to the sea - away from the presence of Yahweh.
The first three verses are simple and to the point: God tells Jonah to go, and Jonah says, "No." Well, he doesn't speak the words, of course. Rather, he just turns around and heads the other direction effectively ending his career as a prophet. This isn't the gig for Jonah. Not anymore.
What was so threatening about God's call? Jonah is called to the "great" city of Nineveh. Great because of size and/or because of importance. Most of our modern day prophets would jump at the chance to hold some revival meetings at the prominent city of the day. Think of the high-status of the converts! Think of the cash flow! This is Jonah's shot at the big time.
God isn't asking Jonah to do anything except preach and rail against the city. The text literally reads that Jonah is to "cry out against" Nineveh. Sounds like street preaching. It also sounds like it might be right up Jonah's alley. As we continue on in our drama we will see that Jonah has some pent up bitterness against the Assyrians - against Nineveh, and for good reason. So, why not take that negative energy and channel it into some hell-fire-and-brimstone preachin'? Who better to proclaim the doom of Nineveh than a prophet with a chip on his shoulder?
But Jonah is not just any old prophet with attitude. He has some very deeply rooted anger. And this, of course, is one of the central issues of the book which leads to a showdown with God later on. But notice that for Jonah to skip town implies to me that he is ready to effectively resign his post as a prophet. (Stuart WBC 452-53) He is ready to hang it all up because this is a task that he is not up for.
And think of the things that God's prophets have had to do throughout the years? Hosea, for example, had to marry a whore to illustrate in a vivid way the spiritual adultery that his nation had committed against God. And then when his whore wife left him to go back to prostitution Hosea had to humiliate himself by purchasing his wife from her pimp. Given the choice between Jonah and Hosea's situation I think I would opt with Jonah's job description.
God had given his prophets some absolutely absurd tasks - some difficult messages to preach, but consider: None of them said no. They might agonize, debate or otherwise grumble - but they didn't flat out run. Jonah ran. Jonah effectively slapped the face of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The mighty Elohim. (Stuart 453)
In the opening verses of Jonah it is easy to read through them quickly and miss the critical significance of Jonah's action. He is saying no to Yahweh, and this is no light thing. There is no precedence for it. What compels Jonah to act in this extreme? What drives him to resign his prophetic post and flee from his land and people and God? What is it about Jonah and his calling that makes it a worse fate than Hosea?
Stuart puts it this way:
Jonah represents an anomaly. He actually disobeyed God's word, so deep was his hatred for a nation whom God loved, and his resentment that God would do something good for a people who had done so much that was bad. (453)
What we are introduced to in this passage is Jonah's hate. But also catch the subtle point here in these first three verses. Even though God had called Jonah to "cry out against" the city of Nineveh there was an implication that God would show mercy and forgiveness if the city of Nineveh turns to Yahweh for forgiveness. God sent a prophet to warn the city. This warning was an extension of God's hand of mercy. A plea to turn or to face destruction. And it is this act of love that Jonah could have no part of. Send another prophet! There were plenty of others around. This was a golden age for prophets. (Stuart 453) But don't send me.
Jonah was on the run. Out to sea. Anywhere to get away from this call. Did he feel safe when he boarded the outgoing vessel? Did he have a second thought? A sentimental longing to stay in his homeland? For the ones that he loved? Or perhaps he was so driven by hate that a cold, harsh sea journey with cold and hardened seamen was a welcomed relief. Did he feel a sense of relief? Perhaps a bit of peace in knowing that he had eluded this task. As much as he may have feared the unknown, his trepidation was nothing compared to the dread of holding out the possibility of salvation to the city of Nineveh.
We end in verse 3 with the focus on Jonah and Yahweh. This book is, after all, a showdown between the two. Jonah is fleeing from the presence of Yahweh. The calling is too much to bear - so much so that Jonah would sacrifice the presence of his God to get away. The split has occurred. The relationship is fractured. Anger and hate of this kind must be protected and nurtured, at any cost. For Jonah the cost was literally everything he had.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Ok, fine. I am begrudgingly playing the tag game even though I am diametrically opposed to the whole tagging game!
1. What’s the most fun work you’ve ever done, and why? (two sentences max)
My brother works for Google, which was recently ranked the #1 best place to work in the whole wide world. My point to him was this: If you're having fun, then it ain't work.
2. Name one thing you did in the past that you no longer do but wish you did? (one sentence max)
Honestly. I'm blankin' here.
3. Name one thing you’ve always wanted to do but keep putting it off? (one sentence max)
Travel abroad for an extended stay...but I've got France in my sites...(Watch out, Doyle, here I come!)
4. What two things would you most like to learn or be better at, and why? (two sentences max)
I continue to work on developing my intuition.
5. If you could take a class/workshop/apprentice from anyone in the world living or dead, who would it be and what would you hope to learn? (two more sentences, max)
I think at this point I would want to hang out with Qohelet - the Teacher from the book of Ecclesiastes. (I would say, "Jesus!" like any good Christian, however, Jesus has a way of just completely breaking people down, disrupting their paradigm, and driving them out of their comfort zone....and I don't need any of that in my life!)
6. What three words might your best friends or family use to describe you?
Funny but not.
7. Now list two more words you wish described you…
8. What are your top three passions? (can be current or past, work, hobbies, or causes– three sentences max)
Biblical studies, blogging, and love.
9. Write–and answer–one more question that YOU would ask someone (with answer in three sentences max)
Are you sure about that?
How I would answer:
Hhhhmmmmmmm, well now that you mention it.....
So, I get to tag two people:
The person of Jonah and his personal experience are central to the message of the book that bears his name, as contrasted to, for example, Samuel or Amos; the book is written about Jonah biographically, rather than reflecting primarily the message he preached. (Stuart WBC 431)
The book of Jonah is a biography. It is a drama about a man and his deeply rooted resentment of a people, a race of people and a nation of people. The drama explores the spiritual and psychological being of a man whose resentment and thirst for vengeance cannot be quenched. Amazingly, this man is a prophet. A spokesman for God. Delivered from the wrath of the ocean he nonetheless cannot accept the fact that Yahweh would similarly deliver Ninevah. Hence, we have a drama about the Other - the ones who deserve resentment.
When one considers the grand event surrounding the drama it is amazing that any one person's gripes and complaints should be entertained. Consider. The preaching of a prophet brings about the repentance of an entire city. And not an ordinary city, but a great city. A prominent city. An important city. The prophets of our day and age would surely find a way to capitalize on such success! A marketing and fund raising campaign would result in bankrolling the prophet and his successors for generations to come. Followers would flock for decades if only to walk in the footsteps of a genuine revival - never mind the fact that Yahweh had long abandoned the premises.
But maybe that is part of the intrigue. Despite such a large-scale work of God we are drawn into a personal show-down between Yahweh and His prophet. We explore the resentment that fuels vengeance that has only blood as its object. But isn't God a just God? And isn't Israel God's chosen people? There is not apology or repentance that can satisfy Jonah. And so we witness the stand off.
The prophet doesn't budge.
Will we budge?
Should we budge?
What does it mean to budge?
Let's blog through the drama of Jonah. No. Better yet, let's slog through it. Take our time and explore.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
Firstly, the game of highest interest to me:
Colts finally get over the hump and make it to the super bowl.
I'm scared because I think that Tom Brady is going to have an incredible game. Brady is a gamer and I predict that he comes ready to play and that this week the Colts defense will not fair as well as last week. I think they play well, but I think Brady has a great game.
But look for Peyton to also have a good game. He has the most to prove.
I predict that Peyton and Brady both play well and that it ends up being an offensive shoot out. In the end Peyton and Brady play to a virtual draw and the Colts win on a field goal by Adam Vinatieri - a poetic end to the jinx that has been on the Colts and ushering in a new era in the rivalry between the Colts and Pats.
Final Score: 40-38
In the other conference I am going to go against conventional wisdom and the media pundits and pick the Bears to win. And I'm going to pick the Bears to win big - by two touchdowns. Final score: 34-20.
If the Colts and Bears both win it is going to be mega excitment level in my neck of the woods. I live almost two and a half hours from both Chicago and Indianapolis - right in the middle. So, there are many Bears and Colts fans in these here parts. It would make for a really energetic super bowl sunday!
Friday, January 19, 2007
If you are interested on some of my current thoughts on the war in Iraq or if you want to join an interesting discussion between someone who supports the war (myself) and someone who, well, doesn't support it all that much here is a link:
(And, yes, we are all playing nice. It is a civil discussion....at least so far...)
The war in Iraq.
The nation is polarized into two camps: Pro-war and Anti-war. Should we continue the war in Iraq and maintain a presence or should we pull out? If we continue should we escalate? If we pull out how soon should we leave? But the heart of the question just might go to the justness of the war: Is it a just war or is it an unjust war?
What is a "just war"? This is a moral statement. It is about right and wrong. In a given situation if a nation has the "right" reasons to go to war then the war is just. I guess a good example of this is if some bully nation decides to pick on you and wants to take your land, your women and all your stuff. You defend yourself and fight back. Bingo! You have all the right reasons. Hence you have a just war. We might even say that you have a righteous war.
But that's for a nation on the defensive. Are there just reasons to go on the offensive and take the initiative for war? In World War II the Japanese bombed the bageezees out of us at Pearl Harbor. So, we declare war and send some of our boys over to the French beaches. That seems like another rather simple scenario. The US was threatened by the Axis alliance so they threw their lot in with Brittain & Co. and kept Europe from becoming a German speaking continent. Simple, right. Well, it is only simple if the simple scenario holds. If things are really that clear cut then the moral choice is certainly easier. But the question always centers on whether or not things are as they seem because there are things that we are told and there are things that are actually happening.
Here's the difference: The government puts out their story on why they are going to war. 10 times out of 10 the story they put out is a pretty good one. It inspires us to a greater good. It moves us to action. We want to fight because we want to make the world a better place. Average Johnny American will go to war and support a war if it is for a higher calling. We can endure a great deal of suffering, pain, and sacrifice if we are doing it to protect our families or to set someone free or for the greater glory of God, etc. So, a nations leadership has a vested interest in inspiring its people for the greater good. That's what they are going to sell. The question is this: Are they selling the real deal?
The information we receive is filtered. I listen to Rush Limbaugh. He's funny and, by and large, we share the same point of view. I know my info. is going to be filtered, so why not get it filtered through someone I like and agree with? You like the New York Times - fine. You just choose a different filter. But we both probably try to get our news from a variety of sources just to try to get the whole picture. But that's the question: Can we ever really get the whole picture??? How do we ever know if our nation's motives in going to war are just? How do we know that our leadership is pure as the wind driven snow? Unspotted and untainted by evil? Isn't there always things going on behind the scenes? Aren't there always invisible hands moving and manipulating events? Do we ever know the full story? Do we ever see all the cards?
Here's the point: We can conceive of a just war. We can talk theoretically of the right reasons to fight. However, it seems to me that a realistic person will acknowledge that a just war is really only a theory. There may be some completely just wars throughout human history, and there may be some completely unjust wars. But most wars seem to be some sort of mixture of the two - some good motivations and some bad. Some just reasons and some unjust reasons. Most war seems to fall between the two extremes of "righteous" and "unrighteous."
So, what do we know about Iraq? Well, by this point you probably know most of what I know, and I know most of what you know. Is it just, unjust, or somewhere in between? Well, as you probably can imagine by now I think it is somewhere in the middle. Where it falls exactly is what we debate. How do we debate? Well, we take the facts. We do our homework. But where do we get our facts? We choose our filters wisely. Do we ever know the whole story? Probably not. But the Johnny and Janie Americans do the best we can with the information we have. And then we hash things out at the coffee shops, in the classrooms, and on the blogs.
What is it good for?
Good question. Let's talk.
I really hope that this is a joke:
28-year-old Jennifer Strange of Rancho Cardova, CA was found dead inside her home on Friday afternoon after competing in a radio station-sponsored competition which pitted hopefuls against one another for the prize of Nintendo's latest and greatest. Instead of competing on the playing fields of Wii sports or the Japanese streets of Red Steel, however, contestants gathered inside the studios of Sacramento's KDND The End to see who could drink the most water without urinating. The ridiculously-titled "Hold Your Wee for a Wii" contest had entrants imbibe eight ounces of water every fifteen minutes for 90 minutes, after which they were given larger portions until a winner emerged. Ms. Strange -- who did not win -- left the studio in tears, and she was last heard from by her employers at Radiological Associates of Sacramento complaining of a terrible headache. Autopsy results released yesterday showed signs of water intoxication, wherein the body's electrolyte levels are dangerously unbalanced due to a rapid intake of the seemingly harmless liquid. A spokesperson from The End came out with the usual sob story following news of Strange's death, but at least one of her coworkers thinks the station should have done more to prevent this tragedy; it's probably a pretty safe bet that a lawsuit is forthcoming.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Dammit it’s cold. And where the hell is he?
He had been standing at the street corner for who knows how long. How long?
He shifted and felt a chill run through his jacket.
A jacket. Not a coat. He needed a coat tonight.
Shifting about always causes you to feel the chill. That aggravating chill that served to remind him that he should have been here by now.
Of course movement causes your blood to flow better. And that’s what keeps you warm. It’s the circulation. Or so he had been told. Or so he had learned. Or so he had been told. Does it even matter? These are stupid thoughts.
The point is that he’s running late. And it’s cold. It’s a cold night.
A short, deliberate, but strong exhale.
He did it again. Only softer this time.
He exhaled the first time to let his breath go. He exhaled the second time just to watch the warm air that left his mouth form a vaporous white cloud.
Like a cigarette, he thought to himself.
He laughed without actually laughing: He didn’t smoke.
Where in the hell is he?
He checked his watch again. Or maybe he didn’t have a watch.
It was so dark.
It was a typical night on this street corner. Or so it seemed. He didn’t really know this street corner. It was familiar, but he had never been there.
He glanced upward at the street light on the corner.
It was so dark. Just the street light and him. And some occasional, nameless and faceless faces. Bustling by to get somewhere worthwhile. To get somewhere warm. Not so cold. To get somewhere, anyway.
He shifted and shrugged his shoulders and felt that aggravating chill again. So cold. He shifted again and let out some kind of a noise. A growl? Whatever it was it made him feel warmer.
So late. Where was he? What was he doing?
Why was he late? Didn’t he know that he was waiting?
Doesn’t he know how cold I am? It’s almost more than I can stand.
Two quick breaths. White vaporous clouds. They quickly vanish.
They provided that least bit of entertainment.
Vaporous clouds vanish as quickly as they appear. A moment of glory. A moment of pleasure. And then gone.
He let a long, slow breath escape from his mouth. He did it just to watch the clouds.
It looked like a cigarette. He wanted a cigarette.
He laughed again without actually laughing.
He didn’t smoke. Never had.
When he was a kid he pretended that his warm exhale on a cold day was cigarette smoke. But he wasn’t allowed to smoke. So, he always felt this little bit of guilt for having smoked. But he didn’t smoke – he was only pretending. Why pretending? Yes, probably pretending to smoke because he knew he wasn’t allowed – that’s what gave him the kick. It was fun to pretend to smoke when you knew you weren’t allowed. Besides, it was fun to watch the cloud.
Where the hell is he? He should have been there by now. It’s not polite to keep someone waiting at a street corner this long.
He should really get going. But he didn’t have anywhere to go.
So damn cold. He really wasn’t dressed for this. If he had only worn something a little heavier.
Another layer. A heavier shirt.
His legs were cold, too. Jeans really didn’t keep you all that warm. Not really.
And his toes were freezing. He had to keep them moving. They were feeling a little bit stiff.
Had to keep the blood circulating. Circulating to keep me warm. It’s uncomfortable and cold.
He should really get going. But he didn’t.
To get going you need somewhere to go. But he didn’t have anywhere to go. This is what he was supposed to do. Wait for him.
So, he waited.
But it was cold. He glanced upwards. At the light above. It was kind of hazy and cloudy looking.
All of a sudden he blinked. And then blinked again. And then just as quickly he closed his eyes and pressed them together.
He felt the moisture that had built up on his eyelashes.
He kept blinking and pressing his eyes together. He was aggravated. Where the hell was he?
At the same time it was something to do. It was a cool and invigorating feeling.
His eyes were tired and sore. The wet stuff that had accumulated on his eyelashes suddenly brought him out of his sleepy, zombie state and made him feel just a bit more awake.
Why was he late?
Was he usually late? He really didn’t seem to remember.
Was it like him to be late? He really couldn’t remember that, either.
No matter. It was important to keep the blood circulating. Important to keep moving about every once in a while. It’s not good for the toes, especially. To let them get so cold and stiff.
And so he felt that chill run down his body again. It seemed like the whole dark night was pressing in on him. The cold winter air pressing against his inner being with no regard for those few layers of clothing he had on. Those few layers that really weren’t thick enough for a cold night like this.
There it was, again. A breath. That vaporous cloud. Here and then gone.
A little bit of moisture left on his eyelashes. Helped wake him up.
Gotta keep moving around to make sure the blood was circulated.
The light overhead was cloudy and kind of hazy.
Where the hell was he?
He really ought to be more considerate. How long had he been out here waiting? It had to have been for some time know. Hours? Or not. Not really sure.
Another breath. Vapor cloud.
I’m sure he will be here soon. But then again he may not be.
Maybe he should get moving. Of course, he could be here anytime now.
In any case it’s important to keep moving. Blood circulation.
Was he usually late? Think. What is his track record? Does he even care about time?
It’s so frustrating.
He felt a bit of panic. Just for a millisecond.
And then he shook his head and breathed.
He felt his heart beating faster. That’s not good – for the heart to beat faster. The cold air isn’t good for the heart. His heart was good, though. So, it wasn’t so bad. But it’s just not good on the heart. Being out in the cold air for so long. How long?
Ok, think. He always shows up. Doesn’t he? Even if he might be late. Or does he?
Shake the head. Clear the mind. Take a breath.
Vapor cloud again.
Again. He usually isn’t late. Or is he? But he will show up.
What time is it?
Keep moving. Circulation.
It is irresponsible to be so late. But even so, it is important to shift around ever so often. Even if it is chilly and cold.
Shrug the shoulders. Shift the legs. Flex the muscles in the body. It was cold, but it had to be done. You have to try to keep yourself as warm as possible while you are waiting. Especially when you aren’t well prepared.
Dammit. Why didn’t he wear a thick sweatshirt. Maybe a cotton tee shirt and another long tee shirt and then a heavy sweatshirt. That would have been good. And then the heavy coat. The winter coat that always kept him warm. Hhhmmm. For some reason he couldn’t remember which coat he had in mind. No matter. For the time being he was cold.
There weren’t many people out at this time of night. Or were there any? No matter.
Had he forgot about my hands?
He had been moving those too. Kind of without really thinking about it.
The hands are just like the toes. Got to keep moving them. Circulating the blood. That’s what keeps you warm. On a dark night when it is cold. And you have to wait.
What if he doesn’t come?
That thought was accompanied by that ever so slight moment of panic. It was so late. Wasn’t it?
He should really check his watch to see what time it is? Maybe he should get moving. Get going. Leave.
Nowhere to go. Better to wait. That’s what he was here for.
Was it like him to make people wait like this? In the cold, no less?
He was starring below at the pavement. At the place where the street met the sidewalk. The curb.
That’s when he stopped short and his mind was attentive on this one thought.
The thought occurred to him suddenly and made him feel panicky.
He starred intently ahead, and had to wait for a moment as the thought sunk in.
He felt his heart beating.
He felt all of his other thoughts stop as this one revelation occurred to him.
It made him scared.
He looked about, but didn’t look at anything in particular.
He looked this way and that. Flashing glances.
He was definitely scared by the thought.
This is not good. It isn’t good at all.
Who was he waiting on?
Who was he waiting for?
What was his name?
Dammit. Wake up and think. What is his name?
Who the hell was he?
He covered his face with his hands and blew warm air into them warming his hands and face.
It felt good.
He stuffed his hands back in his pockets.
Keep the hands moving. Feet and toes, too.
Keep the blood circulating.
He took a breath and watched the vapor appear and then disappear so suddenly.
He took another breath just to watch it again.
He paused. Calm again.
It was like when he was a kid. He kind of smiled as he thought about it.
It looked like cigarette smoke.
Monday, January 15, 2007
That's my reaction. The Season Premier ends with a 9/11-type moment: A nuke explodes in the city. Jack watches from a distance as the mushroom cloud forms. Only minutes earlier Jack was forced into a wretched decision: Allow a former terrorist-turned-diplomat die or shoot his own friend. The former terrorist must live in order to save lives. Instinct takes over. Jack kills his friend.
Staggering mindlessly away from the scene Jack vomits and loses his footing. The emotional force of the moment cannot stop a cell phone in this digital era and Jack finds himself speaking to his superior at the Counter Terrorism Unit. Jack says he is out. Jack says he is done. But then Jack sees the nuke explode.
Jack is in. And there's going to be hell to pay.
As usual it was an incredible start to the next season of 24.
Sunday, January 14, 2007
A haggard and broken Jack descends from the plane. After 20 months of torture he didn't crack. Didn't speak. The President has paid a huge price, he is told, for his release. He must feel some honor. Some sense of privilege that finally, after all these months and all that pain, he is valued. But rather than be granted a hero's welcome he is ushered into a dark hanger at the airport and told that he is going to be traded for a much needed terrorist. Traded. From one merciless torturer to another. Traded. By those who knew him - by his friends.
How did he make it through those 20 months: "I didn't want to die for nothing." A man can endure much if there is meaning to his suffering. And so Jack stands in front of a mirror and views his long, scraggly beard. His tired eyes and beaten face. His back bears the scars and stripes of his torture.
Jack is traded to the enemy for the enemy. But Jack soon finds out that the trade is a scam and he is about to die for nothing. And that ushers in the first I-can't-believe-they-showed-that-on-tv-moment: Jack uses his teeth to bite through the neck vein of one of his captors and kill him. With blood on his mouth he escapes. Suddenly Jack is back. And we are in for another roller coaster season of 24.
But wait. Has Jack softened? He begins to torture a man and then stops. Why? Sympathy is written all over his face. This is a Jack who "doesn't know how to do this anymore."
Interesting political and ethical note (and there were/are many of them): A young, naive America is represented by a suburbian teenage youth who defends a middle eastern young man who is being harassed by his neighbors simply because of his ethnicity. The American teenage youth is apologetic. He is also idealistic. His moral scruples demand he stand up for the middle eastern young man. One problem: The middle eastern young man is a terrorist. From an idealistic perspective the teenage youth is right. However, the reality is that he is aiding a terrorist. Ethical Question: Would you rather be an idealist who is harboring a terrorist or a would you rather be stopping terror???
Friday, January 12, 2007
Jack is back and I'm here to talk about it!
Due to popular demand I will be blogging on 24...Perhaps not during the show as all of my energy will probably be focused on watching the show and eating from the buffet of junk food that I am planning to have on hand. However, make sure you stop by the blog sometime after the season premier this Sunday and weigh in on the discussion.
Rumor has it.....that in the first four episodes (airing on Sunday and Monday night) there are four moments that will leave you saying, "I can't believe they just showed that on tv!"
Wayne Palmer is President??? Bill Buchanan and Karen Hayes are married??? I can't hardly wait....
Thursday, January 11, 2007
I've been reading through Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning" and I'm through the first half, which chronicles Frankl's time in a German concentration camps during WWII. The conditions were, from my point of view, unbearable. The amount of work and the shortage and irregularity of food rations (maybe one piece of bread a day, and perhaps some watered down soup) make it hard to believe that any human being could live through it. Oh, and add to that the fact that they lived under the constant threat of death if they showed that they were becoming frail or if they upset an officer.
And yet Frankl and others were able to somehow survive.
Frankl makes the point that those who made it through had some future objective and hope before them. They also were able to find meaning in their suffering. Their pain had to have purpose. The abuse and suffering was so great that if it was perceived as being senseless or without purpose and if the prisoner had no hope for the future then the prisoner would give up and allow himself to die.
Meaning is critical to enduring extreme circumstances that push us past our physical/biological, emotional, and psychological limits. What are the consequences of those who do not have extreme circumstances? For those of us Americans who have relatively easy lives: Flavored lattes, multistory houses, state of the art stereo systems, Comfy SUVs, etc., etc., etc. Is meaning and purpose even important when you do not suffer?
Or do we find ways to suffer? Do we have to invent suffering? Do we now give the label of "suffering" to trivial things: Waiting in line for my coffee, paying a little more property taxes, dealing with a neighbor who doesn't take care of their lawn, having a chair that is not ergonomically correct, losing a few hours of sleep, etc.
What does it mean for our generation to "suffer"??? Do we really and truly find meaning in our suffering? Do we suffer for a higher purpose or for a greater calling?
I wonder if there are any really thoughtful works that develop theological thoughts on sexuality. I am thinking particularly from a conservative Christian position. To clarify, I am not talking about easy reading stuff that repeats the same old belief systems with a few biblical proof texts thrown in for good measure. I mean someone who has engaged with Scripture, contemporary psychology, sociology, and especially culture (pop culture and sub-cultures) and has developed accute and insightful thoughts that wind up still being conservatives. (Conservatives tend to write masses and masses of books, but many times if a conservative "deals with" a topic like sexuality they all just basically say the same thing and its stuff we all already know anyway....)
Where would one begin on such a topic?
In our American culture there are many very relevant issues and questions. The most obvious is the homosexuality issue. But this, as far as the greater culture is concerned, is already settled over and against the conservative perspective.
There are, of course, other issues that hit closer to home. For example, why not experiment with sex before marriage? Why not have live-in relationships with a serious boy/girlfriend? What is the real harm of an extra-marital fling if its all in good fun? How can there be any real moral consequences to getting some (or all) sexual needs fulfilled in cyberspace? It seems so perfectly harmless, right? Just a boy and his computer? Just a girl and a screen?
Are there really sexual norms that apply to all people at all times? Or is sexual im/morality tied to culture and changes over time? If we believe there are rights and wrongs that apply to all then what about instances of polygamy? Multiple wives by King David? Abraham sending Haggar away?
Where would one begin in developing a theology of sexuality? Something that engages the biblical texts in a serious and honest way. Something that is equally engaging with the current culture as well as with some of the stuff being put out by psychology and sociology, and even philosophy....
Where would one begin in developing a theology of sexuality?
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
A couple of insightful hermeneutical posts by Cynthia Nielsen where Yours Truly has provided some extremely dis/interesting commentary....
Cynthia explores Benson Benson's analogy between hermeneutics and the improvisation found in music:
Here is the article by Cynthia on her blog discussing Echeverria's article on Gadamer:
Is Gadamer a Relativist?
Monday, January 08, 2007
Saturday, January 06, 2007
I'm sitting here on a Saturday night watching Fiddler on the Roof. An interesting quote at the beginning of the movie:
Because of our traditions everyone of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.
What are the consequences of living in a pluralistic society and culture where traditions are virtually non-existent? Or, perhaps traditions exist, but their meaning is far less significant than it used to be. After all, traditions are more of an interesting curiosity, not something that is so deeply meaningful that we invest in them our self-identity.
With the loss of tradition does that throw the self in flux? Do we no longer know who we are? Do we no longer know what God expects? Do we know longer have a stable idea of who God is? Do we lack a center - a loose composition of fragments of meaning strewn together to form a self?
Traditions provide stability. But don't take my word for it....
Without our traditions our lives would be as shaky as.....as a fiddler on the roof!
Friday, January 05, 2007
I would like to begin by way of a personal example. I have over the past few years began to seriously question whether or not “biblical interpretation” should be taught. I have a small Bible study discussion group that meets on Sunday mornings at our church. I have thought, on several occasions, that it would be good to teach a class on interpretation. And yet as I contemplated this I realized that each time we opened our Bibles on Sunday morning to study we were conducting a biblical interpretations class – and we were doing it quite well! Without even realizing it we were all becoming better interpreters of the Bible because we were all doing interpretation. Furthermore, upon reflecting upon Benson’s piece I believe it may be possible to stifle the process of biblical interpretation by putting in place rules and regulations, which unnecessarily burden the sincere seeker. There must be room for imagination in interpretation. Or, as Benson puts it, “improvisation.”
Benson’s essay, "The Improvisation of Hermeneutics" is the opening act in Part 4 of Hermeneutics at the Crossroads. He specifically addresses some of the ethical concerns of hermeneutics. Benson states in the conclusion: “My concern here is a deeply ethical one. If the author should not die so that the reader may live, then neither should the reader have to die so that the author may live…As interpreters, we owe much to authors and their texts. But authors and texts are – if not equally – at least clearly dependent upon interpreters and interpretive communities.” (205) This quote echoes Benson’s refusal to give a privilege to either author, text, or interpreter in the hermeneutical process. Rather, what interpretation is is the result of an improvisational moment similar to that of a jazz performance: “The typical way in which jazz pieces are performed is that the “head” or melody is stated, then succeeding choruses improvise upon it, and then the performance concludes with a restatement of that melody…The further one can go – and still remain in touch with the piece’s structure – the better the improviser one is.” (206)
An improvisational model of hermeneutics, as Benson develops it, would seek to do justice to both the author, the text, and the interpretive community. (194) This is not merely a license for play on the part of the reader. For example, Benson comments on a Scriptural hermeneutic: “A pastor is not allowed to ‘improvise’ on 1 Corinthians for a sermon in the same way that Paul was ‘allowed’ to improvise on Old Testament and early Christian texts in composing 1 Corinthians. There are ways in which an improvisation can be deemed ‘faithful’ to a text and ways in which it can be deemed ‘unfaithful.’” (205) As such, it is improvisation “all the way down” including on the part of the author. Benson puts the author and reader alike in a process of improvisation. In fact, “It is safe to say that in jazz the roles of composer and performer are so clearly interwoven that a clear distinction between the two is significantly complicated – even though there is still a distinction.” (197) Hence in jazz improvisation is actually the intention of the composer. (198) In my view these thoughts of Benson’s go to an essential hermeneutical point: Interpretation can never be strictly defined in advance. Interpretation must always make room for revision. This goes back to my point in the opening paragraph regarding the learning of hermeneutics. Rules are helpful for learning hermeneutics, but they must always be held with an open hand. This is true even in the case of Scriptural interpretation. One might think that after all of these years of interpretation we would finally have the correct interpretation, and many in Christian circles would make this claim, but each community and even each individual must make an interpretive decision, and this is a decision that can only be relevant if it is actually made in a moment of decision and not simply a moment of rote repetition. And this only become a conscious and relevant decision if it is one that an individual has learned to make by the actual doing of interpretation.
Regarding these last few thoughts Benson actually echoes this on pages 202-03 and brings in Derrida (and then Hirsch): “Attempting to determine what ‘the piece has to say’ or ‘the text has to say’ is not merely a matter of playing the ‘right’ notes or reading the words…Earlier we mentioned Derrida’s conception of a ‘doubling commentary’ that acts as a ‘guardrail’ for the text. While Derrida clearly thinks such a commentary is important, he also thinks that this ‘doubling’ is possible only to a limited extent. For even in doubling there is already an improvisatory moment.” (202) So, improvisation is required even if we want to be most true to the author and the text: “Even when we try to be mere ‘imitators’ or provide ‘literal’ translations of texts, those imitations and translations invariably go beyond the text.” (203)
Finally, I would like to highlight a question that Benson raises regarding the relationship between “improvisation” and the text itself. For Benson the relationship is not one that is simply stated. His view seems to be the last of three options: “Performance practice actually affects the very identity of the piece, not in the weak sense of bringing out possibilities but in the strong sens of actually ‘creating’ (or, rather, improvising) them.” (204) Admittedly, this “complicates” things a bit. Specifically, it complicates the identity of the piece/text. “The piece becomes in effect a historical entity that is affected by subsequent interpretations. On this account, the identity of the piece may subtly change over time, even though its identity would still be continuous. In such a case, its identity would be similar to many other historical entities, such as human persons, who retain their identity despite mental and physical changes.” (204) Benson points to a dramatic example of this in the composition of Round Midnight, which was composed and altered by several performers, including Thelonious Monk, Cootie Williams, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. (204, 196-97)
For many of us talk about a text changing over time causes us to cringe a bit. However, this is a good cringe, I think. It goes to the importance of preserving the integrity of the text and of the responsibility readers have to the text and the author. However, what I appreciate about Benson’s perspective is the refusal to oversimplify the interpretive process. Benson’s insightful essay effectively utilizes analogies from the improvisation in jazz to provide a very general model and goal for hermeneutics – a process of creativity that continually re-evaluates itself in order to carefully preserve the rights of the author, text, and reader and act in an ethical and just way to all of those who are shareholders in the hermeneutical moment.
Citation: Bruce Ellis Benson, “The Improvisation of Hermeneutics” in Hermeneutics at the Crossroads, ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, James K.A. Smith, and Bruce Ellis Benson (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2006).
Other essays reviewed in Hermeneutics at the Crossroads:
Bruce Ellis Benson "The Improvisation of Hermeneutics"
James K.A. Smith "Limited Inc/arnation"
Kevin Vanhoozer "Discourse on Matter"
Nicholas Wolterstorff "Resuscitating the Author"
(Double click the picture to see the cat thing better. Also notice that my eyes are orange on purpose to match my sweatshirt.)
Hangin' out with a random statue guy at one of the hotels. There are lots of cool statue guys and girls hanging out around the casinos and outside the casinos. Everything is kind of like a carnival. There are themes for each hotel. It's a fun place to be - lots of excitement....Yes I am wearing my Notre Dame sweatshirt - and still proud of it despite the whooping by LSU =(
I post this because it just goes to show you that we can never escape the long, cruel grasp of Abercrombie and Fitch....maybe someday we can rid the world of A&F and usher in the Kingdom!
Yesterday I asked "Do we need God to be good?" I and others seemed to form a general conclusion that, "yes" we can be good without God, and that we can even be good without reference to a universal moral law. For example, why do I need a universal moral law to tell me that I shouldn't take things that don't belong to me? Or that it is wrong to kill someone for no good reason? This discussion deals with motivation. And I don't know that I need God or a moral law to motivate me to do some of these basic good things and to avoid doing other basically bad things.
But the discussion of my personal motivation for "playing nice" with others quickly becomes a discussion of how we get others to play nice with us. Consider this paraphrase of Kant's famous Categorical Imperative: Only do those things that, at the same time, you would will to become a universal moral law. There are striking similarities here with the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
But what if someone rejects these very basic rules? What if someone decides that it is ok for them to kill someone for no good reason? Or what if they decide it really isn't wrong to take other people's stuff? There are those who reject the Golden Rule, and society must punish these reprobates. After all, to not address these people would risk complete societal collapse. How could someone open a fruit stand and sell produce if people were allowed to steal apples whenever they wanted with no consequences???
Ok, fine. So, we need to punish those who steal apples and kill for no good reason. That's clear enough, and it seems rather obvious and self-evident. But as soon as we start to impose a punishment on people who steal we are also, at the same time, imposing our idea of right and wrong. And if a society imposes their idea of right and wrong on someone else they are imposing a moral law that applies universally. In other words, if we punish the apple thief then the statement "Stealing apples is wrong" applies to more than just ourselves. We might not reference a universal moral law, but we are putting it into action, and it would be disingenuous to say that we don't believe in a universal, moral law if we are imposing our sense of morality on others.
The alternative to this, of course, is to simply say that "might makes right." In this case, we simply acknowledge that whoever has the power to enforce their moral standards is the one who is right. To return to our example of the apple thief we might say to him, "Sucks to be you", i.e. since we are in control of enforcing the rules we get to make them and it is too bad if you don't agree. But this opens the door for some rather difficult scenarios. For example, was Stalin right just because he had the muscle to enforce his ideas? Is it ok to send a particular race to the gas chambers just because we've got the power and we don't like them? These scenarios beg for a recourse for the minority. The excluded groups must have a higher moral standard to appeal to: A standard that transcends the ideas of the group in power. At some point we sympathize with an oppressed minority that cries out for justice. Ah, but what is justice??? Is it not some appeal to a higher standard?
Thursday, January 04, 2007
There was an interesting discussion over at Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed blog that spilled over to Ktismatics. It was a discussion on God and being good. Here is the link:
From VanSkaamper the Theist:
My point, however, was that without that Creator as the locus of an objective morality, your sense of good is only your own…mine is mine, and Stalin’s is Stalin’s…and they’re all equally valid. If Stalin thinks it’s better for his group to kill your group, you really have no means to argue with him about it. Your sense of good, the value that you ascribe to “a positive outcome for the group at large” is subjective, not objective. Stalin’s value of himself and his power at the expense of you and your group is equally subjective, and equally valid. Bang, you’re dead, and there’s no objective right or wrong about it.
My point, Ivan, is that while I agree with and affirm your desire for world peace, global harmony, etc., atheism provides no means to objectively affirm and advocate such a morality. The reason why Neitzche is your prophet is that he saw this clearly, and the will to power (i.e., might makes right) is what will determine what’s valuable in a world without God, nothing else, no matter how we try to package or rationalize it.
From Ivan the Atheist:
Van, we have wars now about whose invisible friend is the biggest? The insanity of religion drives decent men to achieve great evil. History is replete with the murderous terrorism of the Inquisitions, The slaughter of the Mayans, The industrial slaughter of Jews. etc etc. All in the name of one God or another. I see that science has provided the world with a new enlightment a new quality a new hope that only comes from abundant food and energy. We argue on here because you have a protein full stomach, a warm room and a computer to type. All the benefits of living in a scientific age. I don’t want to go all star trekky on you, but eventually, if world religions were to be phased out, my suspicion is humanity may have a fighting chance of losing barbarism to its history. We might even live for the day, we might even smile more and live that little bit better knowing that the eternal rewards are right here not some enthral notion of afterlife. We just disagree.
Here is my quick thought:
If we want to be good, then we should be good for goodness sake. There is no pragmatic need to affirm God for sake of morality. If living a good life is the goal, then goodness should be lived for its own sake. If virtue and goodness is an end in and of itself then there is no need to posit "god" or "gods" in order to achieve it. Don't wait for a theoretical reason just live for the pursuit and establishment of goodness. To borrow the Nike phrase, "Just Do It"!
Not only do you not need a god to be good, but you don't even need a higher moral law - at least as far as I can see. Just live for goodness as it plays out in everyday life. When you have the opportunity to help an old lady across the street, don't wait for a higher moral law that tells you it is good - just do it! And do you really need to be told that it is wrong to kill someone for no good reason?? Do you really need to be told that it isn't right to take someone else's stuff if it doesn't belong to you?
But then we have a new question: There may not be any pragmatic ground for being good, but what are the best theoretical grounds for morality? A moral law and a moral law giver would be the best, as far as I can see. But talking about "best" or "better" grounds is really only a discussion of probability. And just because something is probable does not mean that it is true. In a similar way just because something is improbable does not necessitate that it is untrue.
This brings us full circle to the question: Do we need God to be good?
NEW ORLEANS - JaMarcus Russell thoroughly outperformed Brady Quinn and sent Notre Dame to another postseason meltdown, leading No. 4 LSU to a 41-14 rout of college football's most storied program Wednesday night.
Alls I gots to say is "Ouch!" Time to face the music and the ridicule at work....Touchdown Jesus didn't show up for the Irish last night!
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Everybody's heard the saying "What goes on in Vegas stays in Vegas." Basically this saying means that a stay in Vegas gives you a license for vice. For the duration of your stay you can do whatever you please, whenever you want, and however often you want to do it. Gambling, gluttony, and sex are a few of the obvious vices that you can start off with - and that's just the stuff you see in the bright lights of the strip. For me it all begs the question of how and why Vegas is so sinful. I've always been a small town, country boy from northern Indiana. My hometown of Winona Lake, Indiana would never earn a nickname like "Sin City." Why do we call some cities "Sin City" or "Sodom and Gomorrah"? What separates the Las Vegas' and Sodom and Gomorrah's from the small towns of Winona Lake?
We might start by noticing that Winona Lake, IN is not short on vices of its own. My community has a heritage of strong religious and Christian conviction. This is particularly true of Winona Lake in that it is here that the Reverend Billy Sunday hails from. Any small community has its share of depravity. In fact, it may very well be that a little town will harbor more sin per capita than Las Vegas, despite the fact that it maintains a pristine and pious reputation. Jesus called the Pharisees in his day "white washed tombs" because they painted a pretty exterior, but on the inside they were spiritually and morally dead and rotting corpses. So, we don't want to say that a small town is any better or worse then Las Vegas. Vegas is certainly more in your face with sin, but small town America may harbor its own sins, even if they are beneath the surface.
Of course we still really haven't answered our question. Why does Las Vegas get the tag "Sin City"?? There seems to be something more that separates Vegas from Winona Lake.
It isn't necessarily the percentage of depravity that occurs, I think it has more to do with a certain set of expectations - an atmosphere and culture. And I think at this point it will be interesting to cross reference the book of Romans, particularly the first chapter. The first chapter of Romans is one of the primary chapters used by theologians to discuss human depravity and the knowledge of God. To the casual observer it often seems rather harsh. The apostle Paul seems to be going to some extremes here to paint a worst-case-scenario of human life. Verses 28-31 (of chapter 1) go as follows:
Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
Why does Paul paint with such broadstrokes? Realistically speaking there are very few people that are really that bad. We all have our vices, but how many of us are really as bad as Paul describes? How many of us are really Romans one bad? But Paul's point here is not to say that everyone of us possess all of these sins in the extreme. His point is that as a collective whole of humanity we are prone to develop this depravity as a collective whole. In verses 18-21 Paul seems to be pointing to a suppression of truth by the individual. But in verses 22 and following he seems to be expanding his thoughts to show how the seeds of evil in the individual human heart can bloom and grow into a community of depravity in which all kinds of evil vices flourish. And that, of course, brings us back to Vegas...
Vegas is Sin City because the city creates an atmosphere and environment for depravity. It is a community of vice. As individuals we are capable of sin and vice, but as a collective whole we are capable of so much more. This is also seen in the Tower of Babel incident (Genesis 11:1-9) where God sees that the collective will of humanity is strong enough to accomplish whatever it sets itself to do. In the case of the Tower of Babel the collective will was bent on evil and, as such, God interjected.
So, what is it? The collective will as a group, or the sinful depravity of the individual heart? Hard to say, as far as I can see. Without the depravity of the individual it is difficult to see how vice could grow into a monstrous culture of evil. On the other hand, it seems evident from the Tower of Babel, Vegas, and other such examples that groups can accomplish more vice than the individual on his or her own. It is like an avalanche effect: Once the ball gets rolling it is hard to resist from cascading down the mountain with the rest of culture. The stronger the current is the more difficult it is to resist and the farther downstream we get carried when we allow ourselves to go with the flow.
Perhaps the most relevant question is how to reverse the trends of sin cities. If negative energy can build up to a frenzy and carry individuals to the lowest depths of depravity doesn't it also seem possible that something similar could happen in the other direction? A movement of goodness, mercy, and love? I think history has played out this way. But what does it take to effect real change? To change the force and energy of sin cities and usher in the city of God?