Sunday, September 13, 2009

Matthew II

Reading through Matthew, again. I noticed right there at the beginning that the Angel never speaks to Mary, only to Joseph. The angels only appear in dreams, as well.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Just finished reading the Gospel according to Matthew as a stand alone book. A few surprises, as advertised: The Son of God references never seem to imply divine status, just David-style Messiahship.

The one place that nearly got me is where the disciples "worship" Jesus after He walks on water in Matt 14:33. The Greek word translated here as "worship" is the same as that used to describe how Nathan approached David. Perhaps "prostrate" would be a better fit. This raises a few questions. First off, without a knowledge of Greek, can you ever hope to understand the Bibles we read? Second, did the translators here pull a fast one? Did they chose the translation that fit the accepted theology at the cost of losing Matthew's message? Lastly, have I become a complete shill for Bart Ehrman?! (The Triple - the mark of fine comedy. Watch for it)

I am still trying to pull together exactly what Matt 27:62 means when it says (NRSV) "The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation..." Is John's placement of Jesus crucifixion on the day of Preparation for Passover messing me up here with regards to preparation day before the sabbath?

Lastly, Matt 28:2 has an angel flying down, throwing open the tomb and showing that there is no body in there: Ta Dah! If Jesus were bodily risen from the grave, it must have been in one of those nifty glorified bodies that can walk through walls, obfuscate its visage and disappear. You know, like the one He wears in John's post-resurrection appearances.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Company You Keep

[Sanford spiritual advisor, Warren "Cubby" Culbertson] thinks Sanford was simply caught off guard by "the power of darkness."
"I would consider him a spiritual giant," Sanford said, breathing heavily to stifle his sobs. "And an incredibly dear friend."
When Sanford cited the example of King David's infidelity and fall during a meeting with his cabinet on Friday, he was also drawing on the Culbertsons' sessions.

If this is the kind of advise Gov Sanford is getting it's no wonder this guy is in trouble. Comparing himself to David? Nice ego.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Wait 'Til Your Abba Gets Home

This is amusing!

If true this says volumes about the mis-education of the American Christian.
It is traditional that I bring up the common myth that the Aramaic word "abba" means "daddy" around this time of year, but I must admit that this is the first year in a long time that sightings of that anecdote among the blogs are few. (So either, there isn't as much interest this year, or people are actually doing their research. :-) )

Steve Caruso

Oops! He Did It Again

My minister once preached a sermon in which he explained thoroughly that we don't really know what happened to the disciples - specifically that the stories of their individual martyrdoms were likely legendary. Then he preached a sermon on the martyrdom of the disciples!

This time, he preached on Matthew 17:14
When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. "Lord, have mercy on my son," he said. "He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him."

"O unbelieving and perverse generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me." Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment.

Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, "Why couldn't we drive it out?"

He replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."
The minister very carefully and explicitly pointed out that the additional verse
"But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting"
is not found in our best manuscripts; experts believe it not to be original; blah blah blah - essentially that this verse is spurious...

...wait for it...

... and then preached an entire sermon on this very verse!!!!

I heard Dr Bart Erhman shift some of the blame for this disconnect between what seminarians learn about the nature of the Bible and what is actually taught to the congregations but I am coming to the conclusion that this misinformation is taught willfully. Our pastor is a very well educated, highly intelligent man. Why would he pull stunts like this? Is it that the the message is more important than the 'truth"? What about the people in the pews? Is it that the congregation is too dense to notice the switcheroo? Given the quality of Sunday School teaching perhaps it really does just go over their heads. Or is it that they just don't give a rip?

I harbor a slender hope that one young person, maybe even 19 or twenty, will hear these side comments a?." Then she will pick up a book by Burton Mack or, *gasp*, Bart Erhman and who knows what might happen next ...

Sunday School Theology

Sunday School Theology! Arrrrrggghhhhh!

Our Sunday school heeded the invitation of another class to share their lesson. In the course of the lesson we learned that Righteousness is the same as Innocence! Huh?!?!?!

Then we were treated to a discussion of the work of Walter Wink in which offering the other cheek is an act of social defiance...

Well at least the perpetrator of the second point had read something and challenged themselves (although I suspect he was attracted to this interpretation by his existing views). I swear the former made it up or is reading some really bad sh*t. Churches routinely hand adult education over to those who should be on the receiving end of the lesson. Certainly, seminary graduates can not be found to teach every class and at least avoid the howlers. What are we to do? Allow the vast majority of the congregation to wallow in the theological mud?

QOD - John Hodgmans

There is talk in some states of even decriminalizing evolution

John Hodgman - Radio & TV Dinner 2009

Friday, June 19, 2009

QOD - Michael Spencer

Increasingly, the only theology that matters is the kind we cook up to justify whatever circus we are trying next.

Michael Spencer at iMonk

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Belated Book Meme

Here is the imfamous Book Meme

The rules: boldface the books on this list that you've read, and italicize books you started but never finished. (My score: 28 out of 100, 23 of my own volition)

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (on tape)
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte~
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee~
6 The Bible - God
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte~
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens~
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare - Oh, come on. How many people have read "Two Gentlemen of Verona?"
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks - dude, I've never even heard of this!
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot~
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald~
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Unknown Unknowns

Bart Ehrman was not the first to point this out: the Bible as we know it has been altered, purposefully. The woman taken in adultery did not always sit at John 7:53. In fact, it is well known that this pericope was not originally in the last gospel. The same applies to the ending of Mark. No one knows what the original ending was, if there was one at all. These issues are not controversial. When approached on this conservative Christian apologists will nod their heads and try to change the subject with an argument like, "No point of teaching is affected by these minor changes." Minor changes? I would not consider adding a guarantee that believers can safely handle poisonous snakes a minor change but maybe that is just me.

So, Biblical Inerrancy (whatever that means these days) is defended by claiming that "minor" changes do not affect the Faith. Then we have this from good ol' Ken Schenck:
The NIV is a wonderful example of the "say one thing, do another" dynamic I see necessary for this hermeneutic to sustain itself.

Say: We are listening to the Bible. Our interpretations come from the plain sense of the text. We are under the authority of the text and not letting the Church have a higher authority.

Do: Let's translate "form of God" as "very nature God" so the full divinity of Christ is not in question (Phil. 2:6)--is "shape" really the same as "very nature"?! Let's translate "firstborn of creation" with "firstborn over creation" (Col. 1:15) so there is no question of whether Jesus is created or not. Let's add a word out of nowhere to "did not give" so it reads "did not just give" (Jer. 7:22), even though there is no such word in the Hebrew--we don't want to leave any question about whether Leviticus was written at the time of the exodus. Let's add another word out of the blue so that "to the dead" reads "to those now dead" so there is no room for the dead being saved (1 Pet. 4:6)--Protestants don't believe such Catholic ideas. Again, let's add another word that isn't there in the original so that "is not concerned" reads "is not just concerned" so we give no room for allegorical interpretation in 1 Cor 9:9-10.

Most of these moves have no clear basis in the text and seems in each case to be motivated overwhelmingly to maintain the perspective of the neo-evangelical tradition, thus deconstructing the fundamental claims of this hermeneutic. When push comes to shove, those of the Chicago Statement approach consistently trump the most obvious meaning of the Bible with evangelical tradition, in my opinion.
Today's translator has taken the place of the ancient copiest. In Ken's example only very "minor" changes are being introduced but with an eye to shore up a specific theological stance to protect readers of the original text. Who, without access to the original manuscripts (here the sources used for the NIV), would notice these "fixes?" Now, if the authors of the NIV made idealogically driven changes to the clear reading of the text that are almost impossible for the uninformed to detect, why assume that similar, lexically small yet significant changes [don't] exist in our extant manuscripts that shut down interpretations that would be plausible in the original manuscript.

That is the essential point of those of us who look at the known alterations and wonder about the ones we can't know. Conservatives are forced to take an odd position: "I acknowledge those little, itsy, bitsy changes over there, put those are the only ones. There can't possibly be any others!"

update: Fixed a spelling error and a missing "don't" in the second to last paragraph...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Holy Crap!

From the Washington Post
An al-Qaeda associate captured by the CIA and subjected to harsh interrogation techniques said his jailers later told him they had mistakenly thought he was the No. 3 man in the organization's hierarchy and a partner of Osama bin Laden, according to newly released excerpts from a 2007 hearing.

"They told me, 'Sorry, we discover that you are not Number 3, not a partner, not even a fighter,' " said Abu Zubaida, speaking in broken English, according to the new transcript of a Combatant Status Review Tribunal held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

We waterboarded this man 83 TIMES! This is the man for whose torture we were not supposed to feel remorse because he was the worst of the worst, a dangerous terrorist mastermind who knew where the "ticking timebombs" were. Turns out they've known for some time he was nothing of the sort.

Is Dick Cheney even capable of shame? I suppose he says to himself, "Well, he could have been a terrorist." So could Colin Powell. Wait a minute, Cheney probably already bugged his phone...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Historical Dynamics

"History teaches that global economic order is difficult to establish and maintain in the absence of a dominant economic power. The interwar period, which suffered from a similar crisis of leadership, produced not only a collapse of globalization, but a devastating armed conflict on a global scale.

So the stakes in righting the world economy could not be higher. Mismanage the process, and the consequences could be unimaginable."

Dani Rodrik

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Ask, Tell

According to a Gallup poll, 69% of Americans favor allowing openly gay men and women to serve in the US military.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

JOD - Joke of the Day


You have just received the Amish Virus!

Since we do not have electricity nor computers, you are on the honor system.

Please delete all of your files.

Thank thee.

Episcopal Humor and Christian Jokes

QOD - Gustave Flaubert

The whole dream of democracy is to raise the proletarian to the level of stupidity attained by the bourgeois.
- Gustave Flaubert

Monday, June 1, 2009

SJOD - Sermon Joke of the Day

I'm sure this is a classic:
A United Methodist minister is in the middle of his sermon when one of his parishioners keels over. The paramedics arrive and carry out 50 people before they find the dead man.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Things that make you go Hmmm

Nicholas Kristoff reports that conservatives are more likely to report being disgusted by something than a liberal.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Management Ego

Ever notice how management operates under the assumption that any Sally, Tom or Rajesh can take over your cubicle without any meaningful loss in productivity - but THEY are indispensable?

Friday, May 15, 2009

QOD - Eric Hoffer

Absolute faith corrupts as absolutely as absolute power.

Eric Hoffer

Thursday, May 14, 2009


I have refrained from commenting on the Lost series, ever so popular in Blogistan. I have reserved judgment because I sensed that the philosophical themes that everyone raves about were baked in from the beginning and therefore may prove well-thought out. Inspite of being disappointed by every movie or TV show featuring time-travel I held out hope that Lost might transcend the rabble. After all, a number of people whom I consider thoughful and discriminating follow the show.

Well, I am refraining no more. Posts here and here relate the details of the finale of the penultimate season, setting up the last season in which all will be revealed. First, let me state that until proven otherwise, mathematically, time-travel always ruins a plot. Lost shows no sign of overturning this axiom. Characters are bouncing around changing the past in order to "save" the present. This always leads to arbitrary plot twists that sound interesting to philosophers but make poor story telling. The nail inthe coffin for Lost is, however, the revelation that one of the characters actually died and is being impersonated by someone else who is attempting to manipulate events. So now we have, essentially, an Evil Twin, that bugaboo of really bad who-dun-its.

Of course, I should have seen the signs. When they name the characters John Locke and Christian Shepherd one shouldn't expect subtilty or cleverness. Hell, they slapping you in the face with the names! It was all a little too clever - like the Matrix with out the gratuitous violence.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Saw The Star Trek Prequel

Saw The Star Trek Prequel and didn't care for it much.

Aside from the gratuitous summer movie scenes, I found the bad-guy uninteresting and the time travel uninspired. I was really looking forward to some background on the crew and what did I get? Parallel Universe. Like time travel, this provided the writers a science fiction hack that allowed them to arbitrarily tinker with the plot and characters. At some point it stops being the Kirk and Spock and starts being "something else." For crying out loud, it ain't Star Trek if Uhura and Spock are snogging on the transporter pad!!!!

The biggest disappointment was having the supposed tension between Kirk and Spock resolved by having Future-Spock (tm) inform Kirk that they are supposed to be friends instead of having the bond develop organically. Like I said, ruined by time travel.

I admit that the characters were pretty good - if over the top in a first-in-the-series sort of way. Bones was brilliant., Spock was good. Not sure about how Scottie came across but I would be willing to see how that goes(if this weren't an alternate reality, of course, where there is no expectation that he will develope into the James Doohan character!) Even Kirk seemed to a have a spark of what the REAL James T Kirk showed in later life.

My wife and sister-in-law really liked this movie. Once again I am alone in all the Federation in feeling let down by a movie that everyone else raves about.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Have We All Been Fools?

1982 marked the end of a 16 year, secular bear market, which saw the Dow finally get over 1,000 on a permanent basis. It kissed that level in 1966, and again a few more times prior to breaching that level for good. 16 year nominal returns were zero, but on a real (inflation adjusted) basis buy & hold investors lost nearly 90% of the purchasing power. [emphasis added]

Barry Ritholz, The Big Picture - Market Rally: 1974 or 1982?
Have we all been fools? I personally remember being told by some 401K salesman that the market always makes money over X number of years. Of course I reealized that they always choose values for X that obfuscate periods like that above (or now?) but I don't remember it being 16 years - closer to 10. Of course, these salesmen also calculate their averages starting in the depths of the Depression instead of in early 1929. Lies and damn lies.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Why is flu season in winter?

Because the virus is more stable and stays airborne longer when it's cold. Cells infected with flu virus are coated in a fatty material that hardens and protects them in low temperatures. (When you inhale a flu particle, that coating melts in the respiratory tract, releasing the virus.) Viruses also stay in the air more easily when the air is cold and dry. When it's humid, by contrast, flu-carrying vapor droplets get heavier and fall to the ground.

Temperature makes a huge difference in transmission rates. In a study published in 2007, flu researchers exposed guinea pigs to a virus at various temperatures. They found that transmission levels were high at 41 degrees Fahrenheit but declined at increased temperatures. At 86 degrees, the virus did not transmit at all. (Slate's Andy Bowers tackled this question for NPR in 2003.)

Slate Magazine


Next to being shot at and missed, nothing is really quite as satisfying as an income tax refund.
I would have to disagree. Being reminded that there are bullets flying around is somewhat less than reassuring.

QOD - April DeConick

The claim to the miraculous is not the same as the claim to the unexplainable. Something might happen to me that I can't explain (in fact things happen to me quite often that I don't have a ready explanation for), but it doesn't become a miracle until I make it a miracle, a manifestation of the supernatural, by my interpretation of the event.
The Forbidden Gospels Blog

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Daddy's Little Girl?

More than 1,400 purity balls, where young girls pledge their virginity to their fathers at a promlike event, were held in 2006 Jessica Valenti - The Purity Myth
This is just plain creepy.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Rereading John's Gospel

Rereading John's Gospel.

I simply love all the parentheticals! The oddest one so far, though, has been John 11:2 (NIV)
This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.
The weird thing is that she doesn't do this until 12:3
Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair.
The very first flash-forward scene?

Over all I am wondering if John's style - which is maddeningly repetitive - is some sort of High Greek Classical style. I know barely anything about ancient Greek literature but I know someone out there does...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Iñigo Montoya, is that you?

William Willimon, United Methodist Bishop, wrote a review of Bart Erhman's God's Problem in The Christian Century. Good lord, this man is a crank. While complaining that Bart Erhman is a narcissist, the Bishop - a man elevated as an example of Christian behavior - heaps such scorn on the man that I almost couldn't finish the review. His disdain is breathtaking. Apparently Erhman "assumes a position of moral and intellectual superiority" to which Willimon is immune. Questions of suffering seem universal but Willimon considers the honest questioning of young adults "puerile theodicy." Such humility!

This is not my first encounter with Bishop Willimon, having read his "United Methodist Beliefs." In that work he occasionally lets slip a curmudgeonly snark about how deluded and idiotic non-believers must be. I got news for ya, Guv. We are doin' just fine.

The maddening thing is that his own sense of superiority is not so deserved as he seems to hold it. In his review he waves away the whole of the theodicy issue first by scolding anyone who might notice suffering and then drops this bit of sarcasm:
It's just too confusing to imagine that God's alleged omnipotence might be something other than what we think of as omnipotence or that God's love might be other than what we conceive of as love.
So God's love is something other than what we think of as love? Then it isn't love!! It is something else that apparently we humans can't understand. In other words, God's love appears to humans as indifference but don't worry it
really is love. Follow up with this bit of reasoning:
Trouble is, ambiguity, dissonance and conflict are the usual way that scripture presents its peculiar truth.
So truth doesn't mean what you think it means either.

This is a practice N T Wright indulges in as well, using normal, descriptive language as if it doesn't have it's usual meaning, hardly any meaning for that matter, and then infusing the whole argument with a knowing appeal to mystery. Some intellectuals relish their ability to hold two contradictory notions in their head at the same time. Unfortunately theologians have mistaken this for argument
and now routinely spread their contradictions on the table and then reach for the chips as if the matter was settled rather rephrased and obfuscated.

I seem to be having trouble coming to my point and I apologize. I suppose I am still trying to articulate what is serious flaw in high-end apologetics. Perhaps some day my thoughts will crystallize. Let me attempt a paraphrase. If God's ways are so transacendant or whatever that his creation can not understand them ot that any attempt to explain them ends in contradiction what justification do we have in believing that we will be okay in the end of things?
Christopher Wright explicitly suggests that if God's purposes are served than any colateral damage is justified. Give me the opportunity to sacrifice for a worthy end but if this is Divine Love imposed, than you would have to be daft to worship its God.

Update: The word I was looking for to describe the Bishop Willimon's attitude in his book review: Self-Righteous.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

100 Treatments

In dealing with other medical problems, like the common cold, I've always annoyed medication-seeking parents by pointing out the obvious: If there is any illness for which 100 treatments are available, you can be sure that none of them works.

Monday, March 30, 2009

You Know You're Famous When...

An obituary appeared in the Anderson Independent for Lou Saban who passed away on Sunday. Lou had a great career in sports
Saban played football at Indiana University and for the Cleveland Browns of the NFL before embarking on an unmatched head coaching career that included stops with the Boston Patriots and Buffalo Bills of the old American Football League and the Denver Broncos and Bills after the AFL merged with the NFL in 1970, along with college jobs at Miami, Army, Northwestern and Maryland.

Saban, who was 95-99-7 in 16 seasons of pro football, also was president of the New York Yankees from 1981-82 and coached high school football from 1987-89.
I hope his life was as full as it sounds. However, the fame of another man named Saban is so great that it will not allow Lou to rest in peace without intruding itself into his passing:
Saban shared the last name of another prominent football coach, Alabama's Nick Saban. Joyce Saban said the two men might have been second cousins, but said the families weren't exactly sure whether they were related. [emphasis added]
This was placed in paragraph six in a nineteen graph obit.

Friday, March 27, 2009

On Selective Interpretation

Matthew 18:9 And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

It is kind of funny that we would take the Hell portion of these verses literally, but not the dismemberment part. Some of us don't think it's too much for Jesus to be describing a place of eternal torment, but we do think it's too much for him to actually mean we should cut off our limbs. There's something backwards in that.

terri at Wheat Among Tares

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Liberal vs Conservative

Liberal: A person whose goal is to use government to make it as if Free Markets never existed.

Conservative: a person whose goal is to create a world glorifying a Free Market that never existed in the first place.*

*- one without monopolies, information asymmetries, irrational behavior or serendipity driven success.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Faith vs. Evidence

For that reason, Bill’s four pieces of evidence are completely irrelevant. There cannot be historical probability for an event that defies probability, even if the event did happen. The resurrection has to be taken on faith, not on the basis of proof. [emphasis added]

Bart Ehrman - Debate vs William Craig 2006


Friday, March 13, 2009

Why Obstacles Will Remain to Switching Jobs

American firms will actually lose profitability if health insurance is taken from their greedy grimy clutches. At present people are working 45-60 (or even 70) hour weeks for the base pay that is supposed to be compensation for a 40 hour week. They do these extra hours for the same pay because they fear losing health care coverage as they lose their jobs.
Blog Comment
Anything that increases employees ability to move bewteen jobs (IOW, improve economic efficiency) is going to be opposed by business. The conflict between the interest of the worker and those of the employer have not disappeared nor will they. I have worked for too many companies that tried to game the system - hiring two employees for the same position and firing one after a few months, trying to track exempt employees hours and dock their pay if hours slip for a given week. Consider the ferociousness of efforts to prevent employees from sharing salary information.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Quote of the Day

If common sense were a reliable guide, we wouldn't need science in the first place.
Amanda Gefter - How to spot a hidden religious agenda

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Scariest Thing I have Read in a Long time

"The largest Asian central banks have gone on record that they are curbing their purchases of US debt. And they are also diversifying their huge reserves, steadily moving away from the dollar. The risks have simply become too many and too serious."
—W. Joseph StroupeEditor, Global Events

ht The Big Picture

Hubris Watch II

Bankers should have noted that very small changes in their underlying assumptions could result in very large changes in the correlation number.

Felix Salmon - Wired magizine
Isn't this the technical definition of Chaos - assumptions being the butterfly and correlation numbers being the hurricanes?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Quality of Christian Scholarship

Reviews of the book, The God I Don't Understand, by Christopher Wright have been making the rounds in the blogosphere. It is an intriguing title. More intriguing is the promise of new insight into the conquest of the Canaanites and God's justice.

Let me set the scene: God has issued the following order:

Deuteronomy 20:16-17(NIV)
16 However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the LORD your God has commanded you

Is this genocide or not? Is this God's barbarity on display? Naturally, Christians are not too comfortable with suggestions that God is a murderous crank and the author admits his own discomfort.

If the reviews are to be taken seriously (I have no intention of spending time or treasure reading every apologetic book that comes along - I have kids!) , Mr. Wright's "frameworks" for addressing these questions are as follows:

(from BloodBought)
The Framework of The Old Testament Story:

There is a culture and a rhetoric of warfare for the Israelites that we are not famaliar with today. The conquest of Canaan did not include a complete removal of them from the land, but only a subduing of them so that Israel can take the land. Something else important to consider is that this is a unique and historical event, not something to be a model for a way of life.

So if God only orders genocide on occasion, it's okay. "I'm not a monster. I only only eat the occasional baby."

The Framework of God’s Sovereign Justice

“The conquest was not human genocide. It was divine judgment” This is seen by the fact that it wasn’t an unconditional wiping out of all Canaanites. For Canaanites who repented and followed Yahweh, like Rahab, they were spared. This does not imply that Israel is more righteous, we even see God imposing the same judgment on them.

Ahem. Look at the passage above. In verse 10, God offers to spare any city that allows the Israelites to seize them as slaves. Short of "repentance" God demands the destruction of all male inhabitants but still allows the women and children to be kept as slaves. Unfortunately this treatment is reserved for cities "on the way" to the promised land. Sparing even women and children is specifically forbidden with regards to the peoples listed in verse 17. So an argument that the repentant Canaanite would be spared doesn't fit the text. Perhaps Rahab's story was a case of special consideration or was just made up to make a good read. In any case, the above defense only makes sense if we are making up the things we want to believe or not take the Bible as accurate.

The Framework of God’s Whole Plan of Salvation:

The conquest of Canaan, is not the ultimate end, it is part of God’s plan of having Israel being His special and chosen people from which the Messiah will come. The mission of Israel is to be a nation from which peace to God is made available and all nations comes to praise Him. The conquest of Canaan might seem contradictory to this but, Wright states “The overall thrust of the Old Testament is not Israel against the nations, but Israel for the sake of the nations…What we need to see is that the Bible feels no contradiction between the ultimate goal of universal blessing and historical acts of particular judgment.”

Ah yes. Defend every word when you agree and appeal to the "overall thrust" when you get in trouble. Anyway, as long as it leads to the Resurrection, it's okay. God can't be expected to make an omelet without breaking some eggs. It's not like He is omnipotent or anything. I'm sure the young Canaanite mother with her baby clutched to her breast who was cut down by Joshuas soldiers was comforted in her last moments that this would all lead to the salvation of people hundreds of years in the future. After all, she and her child are guilty of all the sins of the Canaanite nation, right?

Essentially what we have here is the common Christian attempt to wish away the parts of their holy book that conflict with what they want to believe. Even their most highly regarded thinkers fall into this trap. All they can offer is obfuscation and reassurance. I wish this were a rare example of such shoddy "scholarship" but I have read N T Wright.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Company You Keep!

Indeed, college students and macaques seem equally able to roughly sum up sets of objects without actually counting them.

A spokesmonkey for the macaques has called a press conference and is expected to demand an apology.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sunday School Lesson

I am doing a Sunday School lesson on the Synoptic Problem. The class is a mix of the studious and casual but I would like to provide an introduction and overview.

If anyone is out there, can you suggest materials for such a class - I have about three weeks to prepare.

Thanks in advance

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

And They Laugh About It Afterward...

Human hair found in prehistoric hyena poop
P.S.: Or should the title have been: "Does this clown taste funny to you?" ;)

Grace for the Goose is Grace for the Gander

I sometimes hear Christians say that observant Jews cannot be saved by the law of Moses because it is humanly impossible to keep all the laws. On the other hand we have widespread acceptance of Total Depravity, the believe that no human has the capacity to save himself or even the capacity to turn to God for assistance. Arminians, like the United Methodists, teach that God provides prevenient grace ahead of time to allow us to be saved and even move toward perfection. The good ol' Calvinists tell us that God will save whom he pleases and nothing you do can change it one wayt or the other.

Now, if a person can not even accept Christ and salvation without God's direct intervention, why do these people assume that the Law fails because it is humanly impossible to obey it strictly? Why isn't it assumed that God can intervene and give a Jew the power to live in the Law? (I assume some Jewish theologians assume this aid is available.) The Almighty is universal in His grace, in the Arminian view, but incapable of it with regards to his chosen people?

Let's think before we make these kinds of arguments.

This has been an public service announcement on behalf of the International Brotherhood of Theologians, Local 777

Friday, February 6, 2009

American Tragedy

A co-worker delights in sharing the plot lines of a show called "The Intervention" in which families and friends attempt to intervene in the lives of people caught in horrible addictions and situations. The latest episode seems to involve a childhood rape survivor who will not swallow any food (or saliva!) and is feed only through some sort of feeding tube. My observation was that the show will have to resort to more and more bizarre scenarios in order to keep its audience. I suspect the reason someone would watch this would be to achieve some sort of catharsis. I feel the same thing about "Super Nanny", that wife swapping show, etc ...

The sense that the culture is degrading feels more urgent with every new "reality" TV show. But, if people are benefiting from these gross shows, we shouldn't complain, right? After all, the Greeks did this all the time. Read Oedipus Rex.

What if all those Greek tragedies (and Shakespearean one's? or am I being unfair?) became popular during times when their own contemporary cultures were in periods of "cultural decline?" If western civilization experiences four generation cycles, do these "coarsening" events occur in the same phase of the cycle?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Question about Lessons Not Learned

I have to ask myself, with regards to the population-winning tactic cited here and here:
  • If the same tactics were used on the generals, presidents and prime ministers who green light this kind of strategy, would they buckle and turn their backs on their battered armies?
  • Would Americans become despondent and plead for mercy from Osama Bin Laden if he managed to destroy a major landmark or government building?
  • Did none of these men and women ever watch Red Dawn?
The only explanation I can think of is that they view their adversaries with such contempt that Cheney and those like him have convinced themselves that Palestinians and Iraqis are subhuman, incapable of the kind of masculine resolve that would allow them to withstand our Shock-and-Awe (tm). The sad thing is, they are invariably wrong.

March on folly.

The Never Learned Lesson

You don't win over the population by bombing them.
"The Rafatis do not consider themselves Hamas supporters and say they voted for Fatah in the January 2006 election. But in the future, they say, they will support anyone who helps them rebuild their home and their lives."

Things That Make You Go Hmmmm

Actual Headline:
Gates warns ethics rules could hurt Pentagon recruiting

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On Penal Substitution

"If the U.S., failing to apprehend Osama bin Laden, claimed that it had nonetheless accomplished its mission because they executed some other innocent individual in his place, I doubt if anyone would be happy with this as a resolution of the matter."

Exploring Our Matrix - Dr. James McGrath

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Very Model of a Modern Miracle Maven

I know this doesn't even count as secondary source but on his blog, Robert Price reviews some apologists' book and includes this line:
Bultmann freely admits that Jesus did what he and his contemporaries regarded as miracles, both of healing and of exorcism. Whatever you may want to make of them, Bultmann said, you have to admit they might have happened because such things, such scenes, occur today.
Whether or not Bultman said this, it is true. We do see faith healings and exorcisms today. Granted James Randi's ilk have shown that they prove illusary or fraudulant upon closer examination but would your average witness/audience member know this at the time? Or later when he is describing the event to a friend?

P.S.: Apologies to the estates of Misters Gilbert and Sullivan

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Smarter Teachers?

From the blog, Stumbling and Mumbling
What’s more, it is only higher ability pupils who benefit from higher-GPA male teachers. Lower-ability pupils actually suffer.
This suggests that assigning “better teachers” to bad schools might, in a sense, exacerbate educational inequalities, by worsening the performance of low-ability pupils.

You might object that this is just one study, using a very limited measure of teacher ability. Here, then, is another study(pdf) - from North Carolina - which reaches a similar conclusion. It finds that a teacher’s experience is correlated with better pupil results - but mostly for pupils with higher ability or from richer families.
This no big surprise, I suppose but still. Smart kids will be more engaged by smart teachers while less smart kids will feel intimidated/excluded/who-knows.