Archive for August, 2010

Frequency Redux

August 31, 2010

I goofed up.  In my post the other day I tore apart what I thought was an incredibly inarticulate editorial from Christianity Today.  My apologies to Mr. Moore and CT – I failed to notice that the link I had pursued was the second page of a two page editorial.  I discovered that error today, so I’m reviewing the article again in it’s entirety.  It makes a lot more sense this way, oddly enough ;-\

And in the future I’ll try to figure out whether I’ve read something entirely before critiquing it!  My apologies for my confusion.
While the article makes more sense, I still have some difficulties with it.
Yes, Beck is Mormon.  No, Mormonism is not Biblical Christianity despite heavy marketing to the contrary.  Yes, Americans are willing to seize on anything or anyone that seems even close to the values they think they hold.  Yes, American Christianity has entered a quagmire of the mediocre.  Yes, we sell our souls too easily for physical economic comfort.  No, nationalism or a Christianized nationalism is not the answer to the problems that beset us.  Yes, only the Gospel can save us – always eternally and sometimes temporally.
The problem Beck represents is not so much Beck himself, or Christians themselves, but the churches that these Christians attend – either sporadically or regularly.  The problem is that these people don’t hear the Gospel.  Don’t see it applied to their lives.  Are not equipped to think critically about the issues that confront them.  Don’t have their entrenched secular values and ways of thinking challenged or contradicted.  They follow along the milquetoast path of Jesus loves you and grip their Get-Out-of-Hell-Free-Card, as all too many pastors pat them on the head and send them home to be inundated with messages that completely contradict and negate the importance of what little of the Word they heard Sunday morning.
People flock to Beck because he is the only one saying things that appear close to what they believe or understand to be true – both about their country and about their faith.  Where are the Christian leaders on a national or international stage that are representative of Biblical Christianity?  Who have not sold out their message for private jets and luxury homes and cars?  Who have not been conquered by their own demons and personal battles?  Who articulate the faith that many pastors and Christian leaders are apparently no longer able or willing to articulate to their own people?  
We can deride Beck as a Christian poser and as a demagogue as Mr. Moore clearly wishes to do – and not without reason.  But it is inadequate and dishonest to stop there.  Unless we take a hard look in the mirror to see how we as Christians take the easy road all too often, or fail to hold our own congregational leaders accountable for preaching the hard words of Scripture as well as the beautiful Word of Grace, our hostility is rather posed as well.  If we aren’t willing to spend the time in prayer, in study of the Word, in Christian fellowship, and in grappling with the very hard and very real problems that beset our homes, our congregations, our towns, and our nation and world, we should be cautious in pointing the finger to decry someone else.  
Not because that person may not deserve being denounced, but because we have four more fingers accusing us of our own lack of responsibility.  Matthew 7:1-5 is very instructive here.  All too often, Christians use this passage to avoid judging, rather than driving us to seriously examine the log in our own eye.  

Know Your Source

August 31, 2010

I’m linking to this article on the 9/11 mosque cleric, but I’m not really wanting to talk about (in this post, at least), the article’s main topic.  Rather, I’d like to direct your attention to paragraph four.

Mail Online is the digital companion to the Daily Mail, the United Kingdom’s second most widely circulated daily newspaper.  What interests me is that the writer felt compelled to indicate that the cleric’s comments had been featured recently on a “conservative American blog“.
I’m curious to the impact, both intended and unintended, to providing that simple piece of information.
Postmoderns are strident in their assertions that no one is unbiased.  Objectivity, in the strictest definitions of the word, is literally impossible because everyone is formed and shaped in how they view – in literally how they are able to view – and think about the world.  As a budding history student, it was drilled into me that history is not objective.  It may be correct, it may describe accurately an event that happened, but it is never completely objective.  What was the vantage point of the witness?  What sources did the editor select – and therefore which ones did they not select – to demonstrate a point or conclusion?  At the very least, remember that history is written primarily by the winners.  Everything is suspect.  
As a postmodern myself, I’ve bought into this.  But even postmoderns need to discern when the issue of objectivity isn’t really the issue.  So, back to the article.
A postmodern would read this line, and I suspect have a train of thought that might look something like this.
Conservative ahhh…those conservatives are at it again.  Good work!/Bunch of jerks (depending on how the reader considers his or her own political leanings).  Here’s more grist for the mill/here’s something I don’t need to bother thinking about.  The designation of a political ideology seems to have the effect of eclipsing the data being reported and providing the reader with an immediate filter by which they can either pay closer attention or ignore it completely.  
American ahhhh…those Americans.  In this case, it will likely trigger the reader (if they are not triggered by key words in the first paragraph) to remember that this is a big issue for Yanks right now.  The reader may wander off into personal opinions about Americans, and again away from the topic nominally being reported on.  Or the reader may (if they aren’t American) decide that this isn’t something they need to pay attention to.  Again, another filter that will trigger responses in the reader.
Blog – Everybody blogs these days.  Truly.  I can assure you that there is not one single person in the entire world that does not blog or has not blogged or doesn’t secretly want to blog.  Cross my heart.  How does one feel about the reliability or credibility of a blog?  Some people see them as the next evolution in news reporting.  Others see them as the rantings of self-obsessed nincompoops.  Another filter.  
What would the article be like without paragraph four?  Does paragraph four matter in this article?  I don’t think so.  
The comments were made publicly.  This is not a leak, or any form of deceptive or shady dealings.  A certain person said these certain words on a certain date in a certain context.  We might wish to examine any one of these four aspects in more detail.  Would a broader context change our understanding of the quoted excerpts or not?  If we could read the full speech, would that alter the impact of the words in isolation?
What doesn’t matter is how this was reported, or by whom.  Again, assuming that the text was made publicly and recorded publicly, and was recorded properly, then it doesn’t matter who brings it up.  If a liberal British news anchor made the report, it wouldn’t change the content of the report.  It might change how it was reported – the context in which the comments are situated, or even which comments are highlighted.  It might change the commentary.  But it wouldn’t change the actual detail that a certain person said these certain words on a certain date in a certain context.  
The only thing that focusing on the reporter of these words does is to activate a set of filters in the reader which may well determine if they believe the report, or grant it any credibility, or ignore it as irrelevant to their point of view on the topic.  Paragraph four changes the entire tone of the article, and I would guess for many readers, drives them away from the point of the article, from the point of the conservative American blogger who brought them to public attention again, and even away from the point of the man who originally made the statement.  
And that’s never healthy.

What’s the Frequency, Russell?

August 31, 2010

A friend posted a link to this editorial through his Facebook page today.  I’m not sure what to make of it, and rather than comment on his link (which might come off as a bit adversarial when I’m really just looking for enlightenment), I decided to blog on it here.

This editorial confused me a little bit.  What is at issue here?
* Glenn Beck?
* Mormonism?
* Greed?
* Conservative politics?
* The recent rally?
* The need for Gospel-centered churches?
There aren’t’ specific references to the rally to indicate what the author finds particularly “scandalous”.  I didn’t watch (or attend) the rally, so I’m not sure what his beef is, exactly.  
I agree with his call for Gospel-grounded churches.  However he himself sees this as only part of the solution (it’s “included” in the solution, which leads me to think that he seems to think there is more to the solution, but he doesn’t identify what it is).  Is it the solution or is it only part of the solution?  If it’s only part of the solution, what is/are the remaining part/parts?  And why was the rally not part of the solution, in his opinion?
I agree as well that Mormonism is not at all compatible with Biblical Christianity and that confusion of this is detrimental, as is the confusion of any heresy.  But was Beck preaching Mormonism at the rally?  Based on the prominence of this in the article, it seems as though the author feels that he was, somehow.  Is anything a Mormon says or espouses voided by the fact that they are a Mormon?  Is that what he’s getting at?
The author clearly has issues.  Beck.  Mormonism.  Heresy.  Churches not fulfilling their vocation.  Sectarianism.  He just completely fails to connect the dots, leaving the reader to fill them in for themselves, which seems as dangerous a sectarian activity (and one that is likely prone to heresy as well) as any the author fears.  It just reads as though Christianity Today wanted desperately to make some sort of negative comment on the rally, and didn’t have time to think through what it wanted to say very well.  I don’t care if it agrees or disagrees with the rally, it’s just pathetic that a publication of its prominence could sanction – even online – such a poorly written and thought out editorial.  

Working Girl

August 31, 2010

I always get a little nervous when talking about issues like this one, because it’s such a hot topic of contention for so many people.

Let me begin by saying that I know it is necessary for many families to have both the father and the mother working.  In some situations, there are choices that could be made or could have been made that might have alleviated this need, but not in all cases.  There are situations where mothers need – for a variety of reasons  – to work outside the home in some fashion regardless of the particular economics of their family.  
While these are family decisions, I also think it’s remiss to act as though these sorts of decisions are without possible ramifications, or that there aren’t better options (assuming that economics allow for these options to be considered).  I find it amazing that we’ve reached a point where to say what research frequently validates – that mothers are more naturally inclined/equipped to stay at home to raise their children than fathers are – is tantamount to blasphemy.  
This commentary isn’t meant to denigrate women who are doing what is necessary by working part or full time in order to support their families, nor to insist that in every situation, the mother is the one who ought to stay home with her baby.  However research like what is alluded to in this article worries me.  It makes me sick because it claims one set of conclusions based on a completely different set of conclusions.  It could be that the article is just poorly written and the research it references is more solid.  The actual research is here, but I can’t access it.  Yet.  
Basically, this article states that the impact on children of their mothers going back to work when they are very, very young is not as adverse as multiple other studies have indicated over the years.  This article quotes researcher Jane Waldfogel as stating that this single study “disproves” multiple earlier studies that indicate that there are risks and downsides for children whose mothers start working within months of giving birth.  
How does it disprove these other studies – which attempted to measure the actual effects on the child?
By asking different questions and creating a whole new way of looking at the issue that doesn’t just focus on the child, but on the child and the mother together.  This study factors in additional issues such as the mother’s well-being (not sure what this means) and higher levels of  income.  And of course, with better income, better child-care can be obtained for the child.  Because the mother is working, rather than staying home to care for the child herself.  All of which will undoubtedly grant greater peace of mind to mothers returning to the work force, the article notes.  And for those who must return to work, peace of mind is definitely a bonus.  It’s clear that to Waldfogel, this is important to US as well as British mothers who don’t receive very generous maternity leaves (compared to some European countries).  
But there are nagging questions in even this overly-simplified article reporting on the study.  If the effect is so negligible, why suggest part-time rather than full-time work?  By the logic suggested, shouldn’t more excellent child care benefit the child more than some excellent child care?  No word about that.  And the article asserts the need for mothers to do something “just for them”.  I couldn’t agree more, but clearly the researchers feel that this means working outside the home 30 hours or so a week.  Or more.  In other words, if you want to do something for yourself, get a job, because then you’re productive.  Pretty convenient reasoning in economies that rely on production and consumption.  No word about a hobby, or about volunteer work, or about the many, many other ways that you can benefit yourself without necessarily going into the workforce.  
And absolutely no word at all about the impact on fathers one way or the other.  It would seem they effectively don’t exist in this study. 
To the women who work to support their family and children, I have the utmost respect for you.  That being said, I believe there is a good argument to be made that this is not the ideal situation.  New mothers need a lot of support for the heavy responsibility of caring for a baby.  I don’t concur with the author’s apparent viewpoint that a job is the best form of support for either the mother or the child.  It may be a necessity, but I don’t think it’s very wise to pretend that there aren’t repercussions in the choices we make.  

Say What?

August 28, 2010

An interesting little foray into the world of First Amendment legal battles.

A man is convicted of lying about his military record (violating the Stolen Valor Act), claiming to have received various medals of honor in order to gain contracts from the US government.  He fights his conviction and wins.  The judge rules that the Stolen Valor Act is a violation of the First Amendment.  
I’m with the article commenters on this one – if lying about one’s credentials is illegal in some situations (doctors, police, etc.), then why not in others?  I’m guessing because lying about being a doctor or policeman could put another person at risk, while lying about one’s military service is not likely to pose a direct threat or harm to anyone.  So fraud is legal?

Epistemology Matters

August 27, 2010

I dislike blogging excessively about politics, but it’s certainly a showcase for major differences in ideology and world view.  I grow weary with the rhetoric on all sides that reduces every issue to two sides: us and them, right and wrong.  Rather than work towards solutions, we work to show how the other guys are wrong, and therefore (whether we have a solution or not) we need to get/stay in power.  The primary concern is control, not solving problems.  It’s winning elections, not unifying ourselves around dealing with very real and important issues.  Both sides do this.  Both sides are wrong.  I just can’t figure out why people don’t insist on another option and force both parties to quit focusing on control.

It struck me the other morning that how you view the world and man’s place in it has very real implications for how you approach living your life and dealing with other people – particularly those who disagree with you or hold contrary positions and viewpoints.  No, this isn’t the first time I’ve been struck by the importance of epistemology, but it was a good reminder (to me, at least) that those who wish to divorce matters of faith from matters of practice are dangerously misguided.  
As a Biblical Christian, I see man as a creation.  As part of being a creature, I see our capabilities (intellectually and otherwise) as finite.  Furthermore, I understand us to be broken and fundamentally damaged creations.  Even at our best, we aren’t capable of what we were created to be and to do.  Part of this results in ideas that are fundamentally flawed, though potentially very attractive because they placate or interact very well with the flawed aspects of our creature-hood.
If someone holds a wildly divergent view from my own, I can see that person (and myself) in this light.  I can first of all acknowledge that there is a very real chance I could be mistaken about my viewpoint.  I can assume that I am subject to flaw and error, and that I need to be open to that in a real way which means I need to hear what the opposing viewpoint is and seek to understand it as best I can rather than dismiss it immediately.  Secondly, if after understanding the opposing view as best as I feel I can, I can see the other person as mistaken.  It might be honestly – they might not be able to clearly understand my position because I can’t express it clearly enough.  They might hear and understand me and still be committed to what I see as a fundamentally flawed direction.  At which point, I can remember that they (like myself) are broken.  Flawed.  We are all bound to be blinded in error at some point or another, on one topic or another.  None of us sees clearly.  If I’m firmly convinced that I’m right on something and someone else is wrong, I can pray that God enlighten us both, and help us to see truth.  
For someone who does not hold that there is a God who created us and that we’re fundamentally flawed, options in disagreement seem quite different.  If they’re wise, they might assume that as an organic creature we are subject to error on any number of levels, and that this might apply to themselves.  But they might also be convinced that – in this particular situation – they are not in error.  The facts or data or preponderance of common sense makes that unlikely or irrational to assume.  At which point, after they have exhausted every effort to communicate what they see to be truth to the opposition, and the opposition continues to oppose them, what options do they have?
It seems they have two – they can view the opposition as either stupid or bad.  The opposition either is incapable and/or unwilling to embrace the data/facts/evidence that makes someone firm in their resolution, or the opposition is capable but unwilling – they are simply bad people intent on bad ends for reasons that are largely irrelevant.  I hear this rhetoric more and more – people who disagree are “stupid”.  I hear this most frequently from the liberal camp, but I’m not convinced that it’s strictly or broadly a more liberal rhetorical device.  Logically (in the way I’ve sorted this out logically, at least), it should come from the camp with the latter epistemology, one that sees opposition as error or lack of ability or deliberate wrongheadedness.
But the implications are very important.  People who are stupid need to be cared for.  They can’t be trusted to make their own decisions, and so others need to act on their behalf and for their benefit – even if the behalf and benefit is in direct contradiction to what the stupid person wants.  Bad people – people who should understand truth but refuse to – they need to be eliminated from power and control.  They need to be prevented from hurting themselves and others.   
And while these things are true in the broader sense – there are some people we act on behalf of and others that we don’t allow to gain certain types of power and control – just how broadly this is applied depends heavily on your epistemology.  Certainly within the camp of the militant atheists such as Richard Dawkins, this sort of talk is being used to propose that parents be prohibited from passing on a faith (usually Christian but it could apply equally to Buddhism) to their children.  I hear the same type of labeling used by some who favor building a mosque at Ground Zero.  The tactic isn’t to engage a difference of opinion, but to delegitimize anyone who disagrees with your opinion.  It seeks to avoid the necessity of argument by painting the opposition as incapable or unworthy of arguing with.
And when that language begins to permeate more frequently, watch out for some very dangerous, dangerous initiatives.

Fix Me Upper

August 24, 2010

At first blush, it seems amazing the lengths people will go to for a sense of peace.  Then again, if you’ve ever been without peace, you know how desperate you can become to find it.

It reminds me of an Old Testament story – 2 Kings 5 and the story of Naaman.  He too, went a long way for healing – to another country as well.  And he nearly missed out on it because it seemed too easy.  I wonder how many folks traveling to Peru have had the opportunity to hear about Jesus?  I wonder how many of them thought that was too easy, too familiar, insultingly accessible?  A reminder of how much need there is for prayer and for people willing to share with others about the peace they’ve found in Jesus. 

The Debate Continues

August 23, 2010

It’s a shame that the debate over the mosque at Ground Zero continues.  And it’s a shame to see so much blatant effort to rally support for it despite an overwhelming rejection of the idea from Americans.  Scanning headlines, it’s difficult to find articles that are willing to address how Americans feel (here’s one on how New Yorkers feel).  But given the number of headlines dedicated to touting whatreligious leaders support it, or why Christians ought to support it, it seems clear that the understanding is that the ‘average’ American doesn’t support it.

Not surprisingly, Muslims across the world don’t understand the uproar, and are offended.  I find it interesting that much of the debate has shifted to the definition of the word mosque.  Note how the aforementioned article carefully avoids using the word mosque.  Instead, it refers to the proposed building as “a sort of Muslim YMCA with a pool and a prayer room“.  Fascinating.  There’s a word that Muslims use all the time to describe their prayer rooms.  Know what that word is?
Mosque .
I find it fascinating that the argument is being made that we should not object to this building project because it would represent religious bias, and yet every effort is being made to distance the appropriate and accurate terminology from the discussion.  
If it’s not a place of worship, is it then a persecution of a specific religion?  If it’s a place of worship, then why not use the appropriate terminology?  
Would we even give it a second thought if someone wanted to erect a Timothy McVeigh memorial on the grounds of the former Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City?  Would it be even necessary to have this conversation?  The idea would be crushed overwhelmingly.  On what grounds?  On it being illegal to build such a thing?  Of course not.  It would be perfectly legal to do so.  So on what grounds would it be quashed?  On the grounds that it is in monumentally poor taste.  That it is an affront and an insult to those that lost their lives in that attack.  On the grounds that the place to mount a defense is not in the same place where the offense was committed.  
The same is true of a mosque at Ground Zero.  It’s not about whether it’s legal or not.  It’s about whether it’s appropriate.  Why would we hold ourselves to a different standard of appropriateness than some would like us to hold (or not hold) others to?  

Well, That’s a Relief

August 20, 2010

What a great report!  It’s good to know that if my children decide someday to start having sex in high school, it won’t affect their grades.

Ignore the legality of the issue, or the morality of it.  Let’s just focus on the positive, since we all know there’s absolutely nothing that can be done to instill in children the importance of abstinence until marriage.  
Thanks goodness for such good news.  I particularly like the stunning comment towards the end of the article from a professor of public health. 
The study dispels the notion that all teen sex is bad, said Marie Harvey, professor of public health at Oregon State University.
No, it doesn’t.  It simply indicates that certain types of sexual relationships don’t negatively impact studies.  That’s hardly a surprise. It’s just amazing to see how far our culture has come so quickly in encouraging kids to have sex ‘safely’.  There are far more important aspects of a teen’s life than just their studies.  It’s not as though the abstinence promoted by all three major Western religions is built around creating better scholars.
And is it me, or does this article nowhere differentiate between teens who can legally engage in sexual activity, as opposed to minors for whom it is a criminal offense?  Does this article basically just state that teens – legal or otherwise – just need to be having safe sex and all is well?  

Yes, I Do Care

August 19, 2010

If this brief article wishes an answer, that’s mine.  I do care.

While I appreciate the article beginning with a reminder of our Constitutional attitude towards the religion of an individual, it is also misleading.
Article VI of the Constitution deals with a hodge-podge of issues.  The first paragraph assures our partners and supporters internationally that we would not default on our debt through the technicality of saying that the debt was acquired under one government, but now we were effectively a different government, and therefore the debt did not need to be repaid.  Pretty important if you’re hoping for continued assistance from other countries.  The second paragraph stipulates that the Constitution is the highest law in the land.  This assured individual states that they would not be outmanuevered or tricked by other states.  Everyone knew what they were getting into up front.  The third paragraph makes it clear that no public servant can violate the Constitution or hold themselves as exempt or above it in any respect.  Coming out of a monarchial government, our Founding Fathers were keen to ensure that everyone understood that nobody was exempt from or above the law – a tradition of the English monarchy in law if not always in practice since a little gathering at Runnymede a few hundred years earlier. 
And because even in the late 18th century at the dawn of our nation, we were a diverse group of people in terms of religious beliefs (Jews, Catholics, Protestants, etc.), this article assures everyone that the government is not going to impose religious requirements on public officials.  There would be none of the religious feuding that had decimated England and continental Europe due to the tug of war between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.  People would not fear for their jobs or lives with the change of an administration, as they often had in England with the change of a monarch.  It was not the government’s right or responsibility to determine the religious affiliation of an individual, or to require a particular one – or any one.
This doesn’t mean that we as citizens shouldn’t take an interest in the religious views – or lack thereof – of any person exercising public authority.   And I’m inclined to think that the author – by citing this and only this section of the Constitution – is hoping to influence people to think otherwise.
The confusion of what the State is authorized or required to do, and what ought to be done or considered by citizens of the State seems pervasive and dangerous.  There’s a difference between saying that the government should not mandate certain things, and saying that these things are therefore completely open to interpretation or aren’t important.  The State is not the final measure of all things, as my repeated references to the Declaration of Independence ought to remind us.  But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that are vitally important that individuals must concern themselves with.  The intent of the Constitution was in great part to show what things the State couldn’t do.  Based on the backgrounds of our Founding Fathers, the main concern was to limit the authority – and therefore the potential for abuse – of the State.  As such, many things are limited, such as the right of the State to require a religious examination of any public official.  But that doesn’t mean that we as citizens shouldn’t interest ourselves in these things.  
So yes, it matters to me what beliefs my President holds, because these beliefs – if they are any kind of belief at all – will guide and direct the President in making crucial decisions.  What religious views a President does or does not hold should be of interest to every single American citizen, regardless of what religion a citizen happens to be, or whether they profess any religion at all.  If beliefs are linked to how we think and act, then they matter.
It matters to me whether my President subscribes to the Tanakh, the Bible, the Quran , the Bhagavad Gita,  another sacred text, or no sacred text at all.  Each of these sacred texts describes a very different sort of world – how we got here, what we’re supposed to be doing while we’re here, what happens to us when we die, etc.  These assertions about the nature of the world and our role in it ought to heavily influence the thinking and acting of every adherent.  If your thinking and acting aren’t affected, do you really believe?
To suggest that this shouldn’t matter to people is foolishness, but the type of foolishness that is all too commonly touted as wisdom today.  As a Christian, I may acknowledge that a President could be an atheist, or a Muslim, or a Buddhist, and still be very qualified to lead our country.  But I would also be uneasy knowing that my President didn’t necessarily share my core beliefs and values.  Since all religions are not equivalent, (another veiled implication in how this article is structured), of course it matters to me what someone else believes – on any number of levels.
If I believe that my religion is true, I’m concerned at an individual level for that other person, President or otherwise.  I want them to know and benefit from truth as I know and experience it.  I don’t want them to live a life that lacks this Truth, because I want them to be happy and fulfilled (at least, if that’s what my religious beliefs tell me is how things work in the world.  A Buddhist might not worry so much at an individual level since they believe the other person will have another life time to make progress towards truth.).  And then I’m concerned for that individual at the public level.  How will their beliefs find expression in how they carry out their duties?  If there is no expression, then they’re probably not a very devout believer, and that worries me.  If there is expression, I’m going to be wondering what form and shape that will take.  
It isn’t whether or not it should matter to every citizen what belief our elected officials hold.  It should.  And the urgency of that concern should be directly proportional to the level of responsibility and authority that comes with the office in question.  It may not be a big deal to me that my local sanitation official doesn’t believe the same things I do.  But it should matter a great deal to me who has their hand on the Button and who is guiding the relationships between my country and the rest of the world.  It may not determine who I vote for, but it should be something that I consider in that process, and afterwards.