Monday, May 23, 2011

Failed Prophesy and a Mirror

I was pleased as punch when my Sunday school class didn't have me burned at the stake for suggesting that one of the first failed prophesies concerning The Rapture (tm) was that of Tars Tarkas Paul of Tarsus. He spends a good deal of time explaining why one shouldn't get married or treat your spouse in a manner other than how you would a sibling - Jesus is comin'.

With all the gleeful mocking by more sensible Christians of Harold Camping's May 21 prediction for The Second Coming (tm), it is easy to forget that Jesus made a similar, if slightly less specific, prediction in Matt 24:33-34:
33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. 34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
And Matt 16:28:
Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.
As James McGrath bravely points out, it has been two thousand years. Maybe it's time to stop looking for a guy in sandals to fly in and hit the reset button. Any number of bloggers chimed in with all the standard predictions of May 22 rationalizations and pity for Camping's followers. And yet many of them claim that to expect that God's judgment could happen any day now. Do they really fail to see the millenia of post-failure rationalization?
  • A thousand days is like a single day to God (2 Peter)?
  • God's time is not man's time?
  • There was a spiritual Second Coming?
  • It all happened in 70 ce (Preterism)?
  • It happened at the Ascension?
  • When Jesus said "generation" he meant "race" (Jerome)?
  • God changed his mind - you passed the test (Shepherd of Hermas)?
The excuses pile up until the "reasonable" Christian just ignores the issue while continuing to insist that belief in the Second Coming is essential to Christian belief.

It all reminds me of the defense offered by the religious against being called a cult, "My religion has been around for thousands of years." Essentially, a failed prophecy stops being a failed prophecy once it has failed long enough.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Klieg Lights of Imaginative Failure Edition

There has always been something unidentifiable about The Lord of the Rings that I found less and less as I read other fantasy novels. It was something that Ursula LeGuin's novels maintained but I did not feel in David Eddings The Belgariad series or The Sword of Shanara (forgive me, honey!) .

I abandoned fantasy and science fiction when I sensed that the author's were trying to impress me with the little world they had created. Long monologues on the origins of this or that feature choke the narratives and expose all to the harsh klieg lights of imaginative failure. RingWorld seems just too impressed with itself. Ender's Game is so contrived that I could never place higher than the lesser original Star Trek episodes. To me these genres, if they could anymore be considered separate, had played themselves out.

Expressing the depth of my feelings on the subject has been difficult. Certainly in J R R Tolkien, one never loses the sense that there is so much more than you are being shown. In LOTR, he resists explaining every little detail of, say, the origins of the barrow downs or Tom Bombadil. Middle Earth keeps her secrets. Each wondrous revelation carries within it further mysteries that we can smell but will never be allowed to taste.

Now, in a wonderful piece in Slate relating the stages of grief for a Star Wars Fan,
Star Wars, in its heyday, seemed like more than just a bunch of movies. As Mike Leigh would have said, the characters really did go around corners: When a bit-player like Admiral Ackbar left the screen, you could believe that he was going off to have his own adventure. Only the original series could do that for me.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Book Titles if There Really Were a God

Emily Yoffe's suggestion for the title of the children's book that Newt Gingrich's (third) wife is releasing in the fall:
Mommy, Who’s that Blonde Lady Standing So Close to Daddy?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Playing the Un-Godwin-Card: Torture Edition

Attributed to "A former high-level CIA officer (Philip Giraldi)":
Many governments that have routinely tortured to obtain information have abandoned the practice when they discovered that other approaches actually worked better for extracting information. Israel prohibited torturing Palestinian terrorist suspects in 1999. Even the German Gestapo stopped torturing French resistance captives when it determined that treating prisoners well actually produced more and better intelligence. [emphasis added]
When even the Gestapo decides that yourtechniques are too cruel to be useful, you need to do some serious soul searching - I'm talking to you George, Dick and America!

Monday, May 9, 2011

As Long as We are Talking About Education Reform...

Keep Bill Gates away from your children:
If there’s some other magic way to reduce the dropout rate, we’re all ears.
Apparantly Bill Gates can sweep in and fix America's schools with his magic wand. This kind of simplistic thinking (choose one: School Size, Merit Pay, Charter Schools, Vouchers) needs to be kicked to the curb so that real analysis can be brought to bear on a complex issue

KIPP Fails Science Test

The Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, network of charter schools has announced that one third of the students from two of its middle schools who graduated at least ten years ago have completed a four year degree. The report breathlessly notes (emphasis in the original!):
KIPP’s college completion rate is four times the rate of comparable students from low-income communities across the country.
As Jeffrey Henig, a professor of political science in education at Teachers College, Columbia University notes:
"There is good reason to think that KIPP families, even if they are low-income, are atypical in their interest and concern about education," said Henig in a phone interview today. He said that since the report is based on data from the first two KIPP schools, it's likely that the parents of students at those schools were especially highly motivated. "They may be atypical in that as soon as they heard about this option for KIPP schools, they were first in the door and were unusually interested and concerned about their kids' education."

Henig observed that studies that compare students who were selected for the lottery of a charter school and those who weren't selected provide a better comparison. "Then you are effectively comparing motivated families to motivated families."
So, the people who are claiming to have revolutionized education don't know what a valid scientific or statistical study looks like.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

On Theology

I was reading Jason Boyett's entry in Rachel Held Evans' Rally to Restore Unity series when I came across this passage:
But I can share with them my simple theology:

This world is broken, full of sin and sickness and pain and trouble and evil. That all that bad stuff keeps us from having a relationship with God, a relationship He desires.
I suppose that belief in The Fall and the Garden of Eden are not absolutely necessary to be a Christian but they fill a hole without which it would be impossible. In order to maintain all the feel-good bits of being Christian, one has to deal with a world that is not cooperating in colaborating your beliefs. Your assumptions about what God has to be like in order for you to believe in him run up against the solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short lives we all live. So you just make stuff up. You invent Theology. Subjected to the outsider test, the idea that God created a perfect world that humans damaged, either by eating an apple or by excercising free will - it doesn't matter which - appears laughable and narcessitic.

Henceforth let Theology be defined as follows:

(1) Those improbable scenarios invented to justify believing in a God who could not possibly exist given the world in which we live

(2) That which "we cook up to justify whatever circus we are trying next." (Bill Kinnon)