Archive for May, 2010

Three Months Gone

May 28, 2010

Today begins our fourth month as nomads.

I’ve struggled to determine how best to talk about this experience.  My default approach has been not to.  Or at least, not as I’m naturally inclined to.   Rather, I’ve blogged separately about our travels, mostly just documenting the who/what/where/when/why/how of each day of our travel, with pictures.
Once upon a time it was fashionable for the well-to-do to embark on a continental voyage when they reached a certain age or station in life.  Often it was religious in nature – at least ostensibly.  Visits to shrines, pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, that sort of thing.  There is a corpus of writings that deal with these sorts of travels.  Some of them focus simply on the daily routines and destinations – today we did this and saw that.  Other times the writings were more reflective on the journey and experience as a whole.  
I’ve opted mostly for the first.  And yet there seems like so much that ought to be said.  So much that rattles around the insides of my head as I fall asleep each night – often on a different bed or piece of ground than the night or week before.  The cities begin to blur together.  Where am I driving around again?  What day is this?  Where are we headed next?  What is the impact of spending a quarter of a year on the road?  What should I be learning other than patience on the road and with my family?  What is this preparing me for, and if I don’t know what I’m being prepared for, how can I know how to focus myself?
We’ve seen or stayed with almost 20 different sets of family or friends spread out from one coast to the other and back again.  I can’t describe the joy and excitement of hearing my children squeal out loud “We’ve been there!  We’ve seen that!”  when an image of the White House, or the Capital Building, or the Statue of Liberty flashes on a screen.  I get dismayed at times to think how much of what I’ve seen I won’t remember.  How much of the little details will get lost in the blur of just keeping organized.  
This is the nature of life – we forget how much we have, how much we’ve had.  The blessings heap up into mounds that bury us until we forget what it might be like were they not there.  We hold on as tightly as we can and most things slip out the cracks between our fingers. 
Perhaps the lesson lies in simply being.  Being present.  Being ready.  Being open.  Being thankful.  Being watchful.  So much of our life is focused on the future and what we hope will happen and what we fear will happen.  So much of the moment falls away unnoticed.  I’m still very guilty of the former.  I still wonder and dream and pray about any number of possible futures.  But I hope I’ve learned at least a smidgen more about how to be.  Here and now, and later there and then.  Regardless of where there is and when then is.  

Justin Roberts Article

May 18, 2010

I recently mentioned recently mentioned Justin Roberts and how much my family and I enjoy his music.

He recently had a very nice write-up in the New York Times .  I stumbled across the article the day it came out, which was while we were in New Hampshire.  I happened to be in a bar in the middle of nowhere New Hampshire awaiting a take-out order of food when I picked up a copy of the NYT they had laying around.  Lo and behold, there was Mr. Roberts.  Funny how serendipitous little events like that work out sometimes.   If you’re interested in learning a little more about him and some of his refreshingly unconventional children’s music, this is a nice article.  You can also check out samples of his tunes at his website.
I’d tell you to tell him I sent you, but he’d have no idea who you were talking about or why.  So don’t bother

Psychotic Tendencies

May 18, 2010

Here’s a somewhat convoluted article about the current status of scientific thought regarding our free will – or lack thereof .

Are we able to make choices regarding our behavior, or are we really just along for the ride of whatever our genomes, hormones, and other sundry physiological qualities decide is the best course of action?  Some scientists are tilting towards the idea that we don’t really have any free will.  We do what we do because of everything that has happened before in our lives and before we were even born.  We truly are cogs in a vast biological machine.
The article brings up some interesting points, however.
Note that the verbiage of the article definitely paints the reality of “evil”, even using that term in describing Hitler and his actions.  However if we’re all preprogrammed, can anything be truly said to be evil?  At best, wouldn’t we just call it unfortunate, or unpleasant, or not preferable?  Evil indicates a sense of moral agency and permanency that the biological argument for determinism pretty much attempts (or inevitably winds up trying) to castrate.  Evil is one end of a spectrum, the other end of which is ‘good’.  If what we do can’t really be honestly described as evil, then we can’t really call anything that we do well or correctly or right, good?

The second idea here is that there is the recognition that people who believe they are helpless to affect their actions tend to act less desirably – as defined from the communal perspective.  They’re less compassionate, less honest, less caring.  In other words, when there’s no expectation that they can overcome their evil impulses, they give in to them more frequently.  The result is a person who is more anti-social, to use the term the article & study use.  Good and evil become redefined simply as what is best or not best for the majority.  A person who doesn’t act in the best interests of the collective is not bad or evil or troubled or dangerous, they are anti-social.  Interesting.  
What are we to do with these people?  Can we punish them?  It’s clear that people who understand and accept deterministic theories are less inclined to feel as though these people should be judged or punished.  They sympathize with them because they realize that they themselves could just as easily find themselves in the other person’s shoes – if not for a slightly different set of biological and social variables in their background.  
This is interesting, because it oddly enough sort of matches the Biblical emphasis on mercy.  Granted, it does this by gutting the Biblical concepts of good and evil and judgment – which is problematic (as the scientists involve readily grant – though for different reasons than the theologian).  But the net result is a sort of perverse empathy – not with the best in another person necessarily, but with the worst.  The Bible calls for us to consider those around us, to love them even as we love ourselves.  Not the worst in others, but in other people as creations of the same heavenly Father.  Creations who may be wounded or damaged or wronged and in need of love and the promise of recreation found in the life and death of Jesus the Christ.
The disturbing thing that this article raises without knowing it though, is the idea that some people will understand how things ‘really’ work, and they will then determine what the masses can or can’t handle.  We don’t want the masses becoming more anti-social, so we have to carefully filter what we tell them and how we tell it to them.  What this does though is create another class of people – those who know the truth, who have that knowledge affecting them in anti-social ways, but who deem themselves as the best determiners of what others ought to know.  People who by their own studies and observations would seem to be less concerned about other people become the ones to whom the lives of other people become entrusted.  They will guide the policies and decisions at the highest levels of education and politics and social policy – while they are the ones who also will be the least desirable to make such decisions, based on their anti-social tendencies as caused by their knowledge of our deterministic helplessness.
That makes me a bit nervous.  How about you?
Biblically, we have a significant variation on this.  We are told that we are broken and that we cannot fix ourselves.  That aspect of us is very much determined. We have no ability to modify this in any way.  It’s built into us from conception.  This explanation of reality explains why we almost universally understand concepts of good and evil, and recognize that we ourselves ought to be better, yet we are never able to clear the bar we set for ourselves.  We continue to hold out this expectation of how we ought to be, and we never achieve it.  We are broken creatures with a dim awareness that reality as we know it and experience it is not how things were supposed to be, that we ourselves are not as we were intended to be.  
Into this deterministic mix is thrown the monkey wrench of the incarnate Son of God.  Our determinism is not in isolation.  There is a power beyond us and greater than us who created the original ‘us’ – and created us good.  While our ancestors screwed that creation pretty good, their messing up of creation did not – could not – affect the Creator.  The Creator remains untainted by our brokenness, and is in the unique position to offer us a solution, to throw us a rescue line, to do what we cannot do ourselves – make us whole and complete and good once again.  
We’d be pretty hopeless if this Creator was not inclined to do so, or was so impersonal as to notice.  But we’re told in Scripture that the personal God who created us as personal beings remains personally involved in creation, and has indeed crafted a rescue strategy.  That strategy is God Himself coming into creation as part of creation – the Son of God coming into the world as a man.  Through this synthesis of the divine and the human, through this merging of Creator and creation in a unique way, a plan is set in motion to redeem creation.  The ‘new man’ in the divine, the human hybrid known as Jesus of Nazareth does what the first man Adam could not – He remains obedient and good.  Through that human obedience combined with his divine identity, a restoration of creation is set in motion.  We are offered through faith worked by the Spirit of God who first moved over the primal nothingness, and through this acceptance and recognition of what God has done, is doing, and will do, our own recreation begins.  
As moral but sinful, broken creatures we have the limited ability to resist evil in specific instances.  As redeemed creatures through faith in Jesus Christ, we transcend that struggle in some ways.  We still seek to resist evil, and we still fail.  But we profess that we are now something that we weren’t before.  Rescued.  The process of restoration is beginning within us.  We see our choices more clearly, and in gratitude for the rescue already underway, we strive with renewed and reinforced strength to live like rescued people.  
Finally, the hypothetical situation posed by this article reveals precisely what we are and aren’t able to do.  We aren’t able to know the future.  We aren’t able to know for certain what will happen.  What is morally determined in terms of our brokenness does not naturally result in deterministic behavior.  We proclaim that no one is beyond the reach of God’s grace, and that salvation and rescue can come at the least likely moment and in the most improbable way.  So we aren’t able to write off someone as being unsave-able, or unworthy of rescue.  If we are about our business as Christians of loving our neighbors as ourselves (very social behavior, I’m sure, by scientific standards), then we are part of the influencing of our neighbor.  We become part of the equation that could alter that person’s future in ways we never know – even to the point of working with the Holy Spirit to alter that person’s eternal future.  Our roles become not those of enforcers and preventers, but encouragers and advocates.  By constantly seeking to see the image of God in our fellow man, no matter how broken or battered, God may work through us in ways we never see, understand, or recognize to change the life of that other person.  
As Christians we are fundamentally concerned not with controlling others, but freeing them.  This is something that efforts to control legislation often fail to recognize.  With God, all things are possible.  With only man – even the best and most well-intentioned of mankind – we are constantly faced with our own limitations, and our efforts are quickly reduced to controlling and mitigating.  

Low Motivation

May 15, 2010

Motivation is low today.  But I thought I’d share this post from another blog site this post from another blog site that I think provides a very honest and intelligent argument for why it makes sense to be Christian.  I hope you enjoy, and that I find some motivation soon.

John 5:1-9

May 14, 2010

A friend of mine had asked me earlier last week if I had any thoughts to contribute to his sermon preparation on the Gospel lesson of John 5:1-9.  We talked about some of the fascinating aspects of this passage.  For example, some translations do not include verse 4, which is not found in some of the reliable manuscript copies.  This is an interesting verse that claims that due to angelic activity, healings occurred from time to time at the pool of Bethesda.  Although verse 4 is not included in all translations, it is referred to in verse 7, which isn’t questioned as being valid.

The net result is an apparent belief in the waters having healing characteristics when the water is “stirred up”.  Jesus picks this individual out of all the others that were undoubtedly gathered there in hopes of being healed.  The pastor at the church we attended this past Sunday commented on how surprising it is that no mention is made of the response of the other ill or disabled that would be at the pool after the invalid is healed.  You’d think there would have been an explosion of activity, clamors for healing from the others around him.  But no mention is made.  I find this interesting.
However, this led me into other lines of thought.  It seems like a good description of our situation as the Church, as Christians, as individual and collective human beings.  
We gather together as the faithful.  Ostensibly we believe that part of our gathering in Spirit or in person is to uplift our brothers and sisters in faith.  To seek their good through prayer and tangible acts of service and love, just as we receive the love of Christ through the sacraments (baptism, communion) and through the fellowship of the believers around us.  Some churches place the emphasis on this solidarity, on this lifting up of one another and bearing one another’s burdens.  This is a good thing – because as John writes, the world will in part determine whose we are by observing how we love one another (John 13:35).  
But it’s easy to really emphasize this to a dangerous extent – as though we can truly love one another the way we ought.  As though if we just try a little harder, work a little more diligently, struggle a little more honestly, we’ll break through and reach that place where we really do love one another with that Biblical, sacrificial love that we see in Jesus.  The article I analyzed last week falls into this category.  Man up and do what you’re supposed to be doing.  
I’m all for manning up, and I’m all for encouraging others and myself to each day strive and struggle and try to live the way we are called to, the way that has been demonstrated for us.  The way that Jesus showed us how to live.  But every day, no matter how hard we try and struggle and strive, we will fail.  Miserably.  Like the compatriots of the invalid in John 5.  Men and women who probably lived most of their lives huddled around that pool, waiting for the waters to stir in hopes of being healed.  What sort of camaraderie they must have shared!  How much they must have known about one another’s lives.  How they must have shared and struggled on behalf of one another.  On how many occasions must one of them have said to the invalid – next time the waters stir, I’ll help you in.  Next time is your turn!  
And on how many occasions over 38 years, when the waters were stirred and hopes were stirred – was selfishness stirred also, so that those who had vowed to help one another suddenly fought one another to be the first one in?  How many times had the invalid himself struggled to keep someone else out so that he could get in first?  Good intentions evaporate when there’s the very real chance of our lives being changed by seizing an opportunity right in front of us.  I don’t think that the others around that pool were bad people – no worse than you and I.  And because of that, this man remained an invalid for 38 years until the Son of God appears in his life and asks him if he really wishes to be healed.  
We may go to Church for many reasons.  But the only reason that we ultimately are there is to be reminded that we are broken and sinful, that we aren’t nearly as good or safe or even good enough.  To have the rationalizations of the past week and the past hour demolished with the clearness of God’s law that none of us can possibly fulfill.  And then to be assured that by the same Son of God who healed the invalid by the pool, we too are healed.  We too are forgiven.  We are told to stand up instead of lounging around in our complacency or our rationalizations or our guilt.  To get up and walk.  And note Jesus’ admonitions to the man later in verse 14.  A reminder that those who receive much are called to much.  
We should not imagine that we or the Church can accomplish what God alone can, or that we are so good and so wise and so perfect as to always be and do that which is expected of us.  We all need that forgiveness.  We all need to be reminded of just how much that forgiveness has changed our lives, and how foolish it would be of us to continue lying on our mats, now that we have been given legs.  

CTCR Review – The Creator’s Tapestry: Scriptural Perspectives on Man-Woman Relationships in Marriage and the Church

May 11, 2010

In my particular denomination (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) has a commission that works on putting out theological statements/stands/defenses/explanations on behalf of our denomination.  The commission is made up of lay people (non-pastors), pastors, and academics.  This commission is the Commission on Theology and Church Relations Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR).

When we had our mail forwarded to us recently, included was the CTCR’s most recent publication entitled The Creator’s Tapestry: Scriptural Perspectives on Man-Woman Relationships in Marriage and the Church.  If you want to read it, you can access the PDF here.  
It’s a timely topic, though rather ironic that it has been 15 years in the making.  At the end of the booklet they publish the 1995 motion that requested the CTCR to address this issue.  While I believe there have been intermediate, related publications, it’s still funny to me that it takes 15 years to put out a response.  Fortunately, the topic hasn’t gotten any less pertinent in the last 15 years.  Unfortunately, while I think this document is good, I think it might have risked being a bit more specific to give help to people where they live.  
The document examines several passages of Scripture that are traditionally viewed as descriptive and prescriptive of man-woman relations in the Bible.  These are organized by the three traditional roles of God as interpreted through the three Ecumenical Creeds – God as creator, God as redeemer, and God as renewer or sanctifier.  The texts that are examined are the first three chapters of Genesis, Ephesians 5, 1Corinthians 7 & 11 & 14, 1 Peter 3, and 1 Timothy 2.   
This document describes itself as foundational (page 3) – in other words, it knows that it isn’t addressing everything it could, and it’s ok with that.  And the document does a good job at laying out the basic theology for the above-mentioned passages.  If you haven’t looked at this before, I’d definitely recommend reading through.  
Some of my issues with it are nitpicking.  On page 18, for instance, they cite God’s conversation with Adam as the first indication of the rift between man and woman caused by sin.  I’d have pointed out the makeshift clothing they found suddenly necessary after eating the forbidden fruit.  Very piddly issue.   I thought the explication and exegesis of 1Corinthians 14 could have been more thorough.  This is a passage that causes a lot of confusion, and I feel that the explanation provided – while theologically good – was also too brief.  Spending some more time fleshing out what this means would have been much more helpful, particularly since this particular passage applies to some of the later conclusions that are drawn in defense of certain actions and stances the LCMS has taken.    
Perhaps my biggest concern with the document is that it often feels as though in attempting to not offend women, it spends more time criticizing men.  I’m sure that this is in part a way of compensating for the fact that the Scriptural issue of women and submissiveness is a tough one to hear in our day and age.  This document talks in broad theological terms about what that means.  As it ought to, the document deals with issues critical to both men and women in relationship with one another and the world around them.  But it seems lopsided as well.  For example, on page 54, there is a strong denunciation of men who abuse their leadership.  It is described as “an affront to Christ and the Word of God” – which it is.  This is then linked to the defense of why some women are unable to respect or submit as they are Scripturally enjoined to do, which I have no doubt is sometimes the case.  I wonder that it doesn’t bother to point out that the problems can flow the other direction as well, with women who demand the leadership role leaving men unwilling or unable to fulfill their proper role within the Christian family.  And finally, when discussing the unwillingness to be submissive in general, this is warned against on the grounds causing the Church’s witness to Christ to suffer.  Certainly, if the failure of men to properly live out their Scriptural roles properly is ultimately an “affront to Christ”, so is the failure of women to properly live out their Scriptural roles properly.
These are complex issues, and this foundational document doesn’t deal with them in the depth I would have hoped.  But it does do a good job at laying the ground work Scripturally and theologically for how those issues should be approached in concrete issues and decision making.  

Your Dog Doesn’t Need Communion

May 10, 2010

We’ll keep this response as brief as the source news release.

  1. Your dog (or any other animal) does not need to go to church.
‘Nuff said.

Let Me Show You How It’s Done

May 10, 2010

I’m always fascinated with understanding what I could do to make myself better in some regard.  Constructive criticism is always welcome (even if I may not agree with your critique!).  And Christians are on the receiving end these days of a lot of pointed advice about how they could be doing a better job as Christians.

Case in point, this article from the Huffington Post .  
However, remember I may not always agree with your critique.  Let’s take a closer look at this one.
1.  This is a popular one, and not without some warrant.  Some Christians have grown very wealthy off the credulity of the faithful.  The lavish lifestyles of televangelists have been the well-warranted fodder of anger and frustration both among the faithful as well as from non-Christians for decades.  But let’s look at the quotes the author of this article has selected to prove his point.  
  • Luke 12:33 – This sounds dead-on and pretty non-negotiable until you read the surrounding verses.  What is Jesus talking about in Luke 12:22-34?  Worry.  Jesus is exhorting His followers not to worry.  How unworried should you be?  You should be so unworried that you sell off possessions and give them to the poor.  Because your wealth is bad?  Not necessarily – here it’s an act of faith, a demonstration of how un-worried you are because you trust the Lord for your provision.
  • Matthew 19:16-30 – Again – what could be more clear?  Except that once again, context is important.  Is Jesus issuing a general ultimatum?  No.  He’s asking one particular man – who was wealthy – to give it up as demonstration of his commitment to following Jesus.  Jesus knows the man’s heart, knows his attachment to wealth and, loving the man, wants to help him free himself from this attachment.  Not a general call to a life of poverty specifically, but certainly a warning to Christians about how attractive wealth is, and how hard it is to think of life without it.
  • Matthew 6:19-24 – This one is far more on target.  Jesus is clearly warning about the dangers that money holds, and how we are inclined to make it into an idol that we treat far better than the God who has rescued us from our sin.  More Christians definitely need to keep this verse in mind as they determine what their goals are in life, what their hopes and dreams are, and how they choose to go about fulfilling them.
Overall, Mr. Shore’s argument here is weak.  Jesus does not prohibit wealth, but He warns us very seriously about the dangers it can pose.  
2.  I have to agree completely with Mr. Shore here.  So much of popular Christianity in America today is bound up in preaching how God loves us so much and wants to give us all the desires of our hearts.  This seems rather unlikely given the sinful nature of our hearts in the first place (see point #1 above!).  We properly are awed and respond more readily in gratitude and humility when God’s love for us is contextualized by how little we deserve that love.
3.  To a certain degree I can agree with this, but probably not in the way Mr. Shore would prefer me to.  Theologians have debated for centuries some of Jesus’ words.  But generally speaking, the debates on how certain things the Bible says should be interpreted are an in-house debate on small details that don’t affect the big picture.  For instance, when Jesus told His disciples that “take and eat, this is my body”  (Matthew 26:26), is he literally suggesting (the traditional understanding) that the bread He is giving them to eat is in some mystical way also His body?  Or is He speaking figuratively?  This issue continues to separate Christians today.  Other things that the Bible says are rather clear cut, and speak rather pointedly against the decisions that some would like to make – and some Christians would like to justify by muddying the Bible’s words on those matters.  The particular verse that Mr. Shore makes reference to here is a quote from Isaiah, and it *can* be understood, if not by Mr. Shore.
4.  Well, this is a convenient suggestion if we wish Christians to shut up and get out of the way.  However it’s not a Biblical suggestion.  A read through the book of Acts in the New Testament shows the Holy Spirit, the Apostles, and the early church very much in action.  Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28 is a call to action, not passivity.  Matthew 9:36-38 is another call to action:  “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.”  Both the prayer and the subject of the prayer are very action oriented.  A healthy Christian life of faith includes both prayerful meditation on God’s Word and seeking the Lord’s leading, as well as acting as we are led.  
5.  Ugh.  I feel like a broken record here.  Mr. Shore seems to have recalled only part of the issue here.  A better familiarity with the founding fathers of our country and some of the associated documents – like the Declaration of Independence – would pretty quickly thwart this common and misguided assertion.  
6.  Well, Jesus seemed to feel pretty confident that we ought to be sharing our faith.  Again, the Great Commission, Mr. Shore?  How about Jesus’ commands to some of the people who benefited directly from his miracles?  How about reading Mark 5:1-18.  What does Jesus tell the man he has cast the demons out of to do?  Go home and shut up and not talk to anyone?  No – Jesus tells the man (who wants to become one of Jesus’ followers) to go back to his home “family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”  I wonder why Jesus would tell him to do that if there’s no point in sharing our faith with others?
7.  Mr. Shore’s example of circular reasoning here or begging the question is slightly off.  Christians can confidently assert certain things about the nature of right and wrong and God because of the Bible, and because the Bible is the authoritative Word of God.  This is not a fallacious argument – though I agree it isn’t particularly compelling (without some additional details) to most skeptics (and frankly a lot of Christians as well).  What would be illogical is the statement that we know the Bible is the Word of God because the Bible tells us it’s the Word of God.  That would be a better example of circular reasoning.  
8.  I’d like to quit having to focus on this as well, but unfortunately now is a critical time when we can’t remain silent.   
9.  Agreed completely.  Hanging out in St. Louis, the home-base for my denomination, has reminded me again of how insular Christian culture can be – and how dangerous and wrong that is on so many levels.  Not because we want to throw fun parties, necessarily.  Nice way to completely denigrate – once again – the importance of evangelism and talking with others about our faith.  It’s pretty clear you aren’t interested in doing that, Mr. Shore.  
10.  Agreed completely.  Going to Sunday morning worship is not the extent of our duties as a Christian.  And in addition to being very action oriented, meeting and hanging out with people who aren’t Christian and sharing our faith with them, we need to be in serious study of the Word.  Bible studies, studies about the Bible – there is so much to learn, and once you’re aware of some of it, you find your faith and confidence in the Gospel so totally invigorated and affirmed that it’s amazing.  Know your stuff, and never give up studying and learning more!

Separate And Unequal

May 8, 2010

I find it funny when people who obviously consider themselves to be deeply intelligent – more so than most other folks for sure – expose the depths of their own ignorance, bias, and foolishness.  For your consideration on this topic, you might enjoy reading this editorial published on Discover Magazine’s web site.

“Demonstrably wrong”?  Interesting idea.  Good thing you’re so confident of your assertion that you don’t bother to even explain it or qualify it.  Abstinence only education is ineffective and foolish?  Perhaps he needs to be aware of some interesting recent findings that might make his arrogant dismissal look a tad foolish.  
So forgive me for being skeptical of the main thrust of his essay, which is that the founding fathers of our nation just used religious language to coax and control the stupid masses, while they privately held no qualms about denying the role of religion in the political realm.  The author asserts that since the quotes come from private correspondence, they more accurately represent the true feelings of these individuals.  The goal is to continue the erroneous assertion that America is not in any sense a Christian nation.
America was not founded as a Christian nation.  In other words, Christianity was not made the state religion or in any other way publicly endorsed over other religions.  At least, not any more than any other Western European-educated folks would be inclined to think and talk, which to our ears sounds amazingly pro-religion and pro-Christianity.  But in one sense those redefining the separation of church and state are right – we were not founded to be an officially Christian nation.
In another sense though, they’re dead wrong.  The Declaration of Independence and ultimately the Constitution reflect a deep and abiding understanding and acceptance of the primary tenets of Christianity, and these are used as the basis for our revolution with Great Britain, and are incorporated tacitly into the fabric of our understandings of how a government should interact with it’s constituents.  
The rights that we hold are not granted by the government, but by our “Creator”.    The government’s job is to protect these rights from abuse and usurpation.  All men are created equal (something that it took a long time for people to come to grips with even after affirming it in the late 18th century), and it is precisely this Christian understanding that has allowed people of all backgrounds and beliefs to come to this nation and find a home.  It is ultimately this Christian understanding of freedom and human rights that allows people to launch an attack on Christianity as the source of these concepts.  They’re free to do this, but in the process they sow the seeds of their own eventual demise.  As a plethora of high-profile atheist states have demonstrated, removing Christian concepts from the socio-political fabric does not result in greater freedom, but in some of the most severe and brutal revocations of freedom the modern world has ever experienced.  
So in this sense, yes Virginia, America is a Christian nation.  Not that we’re all Christians here, or all have to pretend to be, or that Christians receive preferential treatment of any kind.  But Christian in the sense that our freedoms and rights are based and steeped not in Constitutional Law, ultimately, but in the Fount and Source of even that law – our Creator.  When we unravel that connection ostensibly in the name of greater freedom and equality, be prepared to lose the freedoms and equality you now enjoy.  
But back to the narrower issue at hand in the essay.  
The problem is that the Freedom From Religion Foundation is doing something that non-theists are fond of accusing Christians and others of – cherry-picking quotes that support their position while ignoring other quotes that call their conclusions into question.  
The Library of Congress has some interesting resources on this topic.  For starters, you may want to read through this page, which includes quotes from John Adams (and in so doing, also provides a context in which to understand the quote that the FFRO is using).  Another interesting collection of quotes can be found here.   
Political rhetoric is at times known for being excessive.  It can also be said at times to be a collection of blatant lies and panderings.  But it does not have to be so, and in the case of our founding fathers at least, does not appear to be the case at all.  What a refreshing change.

Ethics & Ownership

May 6, 2010
I just wrapped up teaching a course in Ethics.  It was an eye-opening experience in a variety of regards, which I’ll be posting a series on in the near future.  But on a side note, we got into a discussion about the nature of property, property rights, intellectual property, copyright, file sharing and illegal download options, and the Internet.
Having come of age along with the personal computer, I expected that most of my students would be pretty comfortable with the idea of swapping and sharing their software, illegally downloading music or applications, and other such practices.  I wasn’t surprised in that respect.  What I was surprised with was how difficult the vast majority of my students found it to make a strong statement about the ethics of this topic and then link that to an internalized behavior pattern.
For instance, one student argued very vociferously that there was no such thing as theft since what was being ‘stolen’ (in terms of digital media) is not really being stolen but rather copied, and even then the copy is only a bunch of digital 1’s and 0’s, as opposed to some sort of tangible work that could be considered private property.  It sounds like an interesting argument on the surface.  But it breaks down pretty quickly.  Yes, you’re not technically stealing the digital bits from someone when you download it (legally or illegally).  You’re copying those digital bits.  And yes, you’re copying a bunch of 1’s and 0’s that your computer is capable of interpreting.  
But those 1’s and 0’s are being copied (illegally or legally) because when your computer interprets them, the result is a movie, or a song, or an application.  Very definitely a tangible product, even if that product can be replicated infinitely without degradation of the product.  The fact remains that someone worked hard to assemble those digital 1’s and 0’s into just such an order so that, when interpreted by your computer, they equate to something much larger than merely the sum of their parts.  
Most of the rest of the students seemed to recognize that illegally downloading music or movies was wrong, but most readily admitted that they had in  the past or still engage in the practice now.  For them, the issue was enforceability.  Since there was practically no chance that they would be caught or punished for their behavior, they felt it unreasonable to expect people to act on their beliefs.  They might believe that what they were doing was wrong or unethical, but without the threat of arrest or punishment of some sort, they felt no need to police themselves.  For them, ethics ultimately boiled down to some sort of equation of what was permissible and what they could get away with in terms of a reasonable level of risk.  Ethics (despite their insistence that ethics are individually formulated – more on that in a later post) is really an externally imposed pattern of behavior.
While this may not make much of a difference in the realm of digital downloading (though I’m sure artists and others who suffer actual loss of income from digital piracy would be quick to say it makes a difference here as well), it certainly can have massive implications in other areas of ethical behavior.  Is murder only impermissible because you could get caught and punished?  Is lying really only problematic if you become known as a liar?  Is illicit behavior justified by a certain level of skill that keeps you from getting caught?  
A lot of interesting questions, and ones that are traditionally pretty clear cut to people.  If something is wrong you ought not engage in it regardless of how unlikely it is that you will be discovered.  Ethics was once upon a time something internalized (not internally created, as our relativistic, post-modern culture insists), but rather internalized.  It seems that for some young people, what is now internalized is just a desire to avoid negative repercussions.  But if these repercussions can be safely avoided, then many more avenues of behavior become available to them.
Does that make anyone else nervous?