Archive for November, 2010

Hijacking Holidays

November 30, 2010
Before going any further, read this.  It is President Abraham Lincoln’s official proclamation of a fixed national day of Thanksgiving.  If you  are tired of thinking about Thanksgiving, you can come back and read this next year, if you promise not to forget.  
Because everything I write is of vital importance to every single person on this earth.  Truly.  Italics would not lie.

By various sooper sekret pathways this article came to my attention last week.  It seemed ludicrous enough without any real further investigation, but it’s stuck in the back of my brain and I decided to address it this week after a little poking and prodding.  It’s an essay that decries the celebration of Thanksgiving as fraudulent and misplaced.  

This is the sort of stuff that is regularly pushed about in certain circles as truth or history or fact or reality.  Pieces of history and facts rearranged into an order that pleases the person and supports their hypothesis or assertion.  Yes, history is a discipline of interpretation in many respects – but there are more and less faithful attempts at that interpretation.  This essay is a less faithful one, and I’d like to spend a few minutes breaking down why, since at an emotional level this might appeal to people and ring of truth.
First off, the author’s bias is so blatant that he feels the need to go ahead and state it outright in the first three paragraphs.  He’s not right-wing, nor even centrist.  Anyone who so casually dismisses moderates and centrists right off the bat is going to be suspicious in my book, regardless of which end of the spectrum they prefer to situate themselves.  Not that there is inherent accuracy or truthfulness or honesty in being a centrist or a moderate, but because I’m likely to suspect them of less ideological goofiness that anyone on either extreme end of the ideological spectrum.
Paragraph three is where the historical inaccuracies begin.  The assertion is that liberals are capable and willing to admit that Thanksgiving is based on mythological events or even conscious untruths – of the “European invaders coming in peace to the “New World”, eager to cooperate with indigenous peoples”.  
I don’t see anything in President Lincoln’s proclamation that pertains specifically to invaders, peace, or indigenous peoples.  So to accuse the Thanksgiving holiday of perpetrating a myth is achievable only by asserting another basis for the holiday in lieu of the actual one.  The actual one is gratefulness for the undeserved gifts & blessings of God.  Despite the fact that there is no peace, but in fact is a raging Civil War going on at the moment.  Despite the fact that cooperation even with our own kind was trampled.  
Thanksgiving is based on the historically accepted idea that having just barely survived their first winter in America – and only then by the grace of the peaceful indigenous peoples around them – Pilgrim settlers from Holland joined in a meal with their indigenous neighbors in celebration of the fact that 50 of the 100 travelers were still alive.  I don’t think the meal was much of a political ploy.  It’s not as though they were trying to lure the Native Americans into a sense of peace before slaughtering them when the reinforcements arrived.  I’m pretty positive that the local tribes understood that these people were alive only by their benevolence and kindness.  Both sides undoubtedly couldn’t fully appreciate how history was going to unfold over the next 300 years or so, but at that moment, on that day, there was genuine gratitude by the Pilgrims, both to the local tribes as well as to God.  
In the next paragraph the author decries the rewriting of “the collective, cultural definition of Thanksgiving” in favor of personal interpretation.  He ironically is attempting to describe those who celebrate traditional Thanksgiving, but it more accurately describes his own efforts to turn Thanksgiving into some misguided celebration of overall ethnic tolerance and peace.  The remainder of this paragraph in the essay devolves into a lambast against capitalist ideology.  Hardly the time or place, but a further indication of where the author is coming from.  Thanksgiving is hardly the main issue this person takes umbrage with – it’s rather one aspect of a larger fish attempting to be fried.
Next we have fallacious generalism or oversimplification.  Yes, there were times when settlers – even the American government – resorted to extremely immoral efforts to dislodge or destroy native populations.  This is deplorable.  Period.  However to characterize all European and American interaction with native populations as part and parcel with these other situations and occurences is dishonest and inaccurate.  However, to acknowledge that the first Thanksgiving was, in and of itself without any consideration of what happened afterwards – a day or moment of genuine gratitude and fraternal kinship would pretty much destroy this guy’s argument, so that has to be ignored.  We must also ignore that some of the issues that play into the author’s assertions of genocide were also quite unintentioned – if also perhaps unavoidable.  Illnesses and diseases that were unknown in the New World but routine and non-lethal in Europe were unleashed amongst the native populations with devastating effects.  This was – at least initially – certainly not part of some pre-planned effort to kill off the indigenous population.  It simply happened.  Biology was at play long before ideology entered the process, one could reasonably argue.  Again, this is an awful set of events – but at least initially it was as big a surprise to the settlers as it undoubtedly was to the native populations and modern historians.
Most of the rest of the article is devoted to rather stunning suggestions of how we undue the damage of Thanksgiving, including land redistribution and wealth redistribution.  Depending on how these terms are defined, I could understand and support them to a certain sense.  However, he doesn’t bother to define the terms, let alone examine the huge problems that these solutions would undoubtedly create for everyone involved, problems that would hardly end up being the solutions he appears to envision. 
Then he creates an analogy using the Nazis.  You can imagine how things go from there.  Or maybe you read it for yourself.
In any event, his basic premise in this article is that Thanksgiving is about intercultural peace and love and happiness, and unfortunately his whole argument ultimately fails – regardless of the noteworthiness of some of it’s isolated sentiments – because of this false premise.  Intercultural peace is not the foundational cultural element of Thanksgiving.  While the initial event which is the historical anchor for Thanksgiving involved a moment of intercultural peace, this is not the crux of Thanksgiving – as a national collective understanding or otherwise.  If it were, I’m sure we would be celebrating Intercultural Joy day or something like that.  No, the crux of Thanksgiving and the historical event that underlies it and is reflected in Lincoln’s proclamation of a national holiday is on something the author ignores completely – giving thanks.  
Not giving thanks specifically for intercultural peace and understanding, though that’s a laudable and desirable goa
l.  Not giving thanks for the good things that we have done or are doing or will do.  Not giving thanks because we deserve what we have.  Not giving thanks because we have or haven’t made appropriate reparations to the people we have wronged, either nationally or individually.
The core of the historical event and the presidential proclamation is giving thanks to God.  For the blessings of life itself, regardless of the fact that we routinely abuse this blessing and take it for granted and spend our time trying to deprive one another of these blessings.  For the fact that our loving God continues to pour out His blessings on His creation.  Not because we deserve them or have earned them or are particularly wonderful, but because He loves us.  And why could God love a people that defraud one another and hurt one another and kill one another in order to hoard up these blessings for themselves?
Only because of our intercessor, Jesus Christ.  Because God – knowing we are incapable of improving ourselves and doing the right things, whether those things are what the author of this article suggests or otherwise – sent His Son to atone for us.  To obey where we cannot, to suffer what we deserve, to die as we all ought to die, to be separated from true righteousness and justice and mercy which is God Himself as we ought to be separated from Him for being son unrighteous, so unjust, and so unmerciful.  God can and does love us because of Jesus Christ.  
You want something to focus on for Thanksgiving, focus on Him.  Focus on the only true example of righteousness and justice and mercy the world has ever and will ever know – Jesus Christ.  Focus on what we did to him, how we handled that message and that reality.  We killed him.  And now ponder anew the meaning of righteous and just and merciful, that God knew this would happen, and that in happening, we are freed.  We are saved.  We are reconciled.  Not fully and not completely – yet.  But the process has begun.  The only process whereby the justice and mercy and righteousness that the author of this article would like to see will ever be achieved – and will be achieved.  Not on his terms, which are imperfect at best and hurtful at best, but on God’s terms which can be trusted to be perfect and right, always.
Hopefully Mr. Jensen could raise a drumstick to this reality on Thanksgiving, just as the pilgrims did.  Just as President Lincoln did.  And just as you and I ought to.  
And that message is of vital importance to every person on this earth.  The italics don’t lie.
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How Much Rope Do We Give Them?

November 27, 2010

A flurry of news stories today about the arrest of a 19-year old would-be terrorist in Oregon, of all places.  A Somail-born, naturalized US citizen is charged with attempting to detonate by cell-phone what he believed to be a van packed full of explosives that he parked near a Christmas Tree lighting ceremony in Portland.

The defendant thought he was in contact with terrorists in Pakistan who were providing him with assistance and direction.  In fact, he was in contact the entire time with FBI agents who posed as terrorists.  As such, while the teen may have thought that he was part of a larger terrorist plot and organization, in reality he was acting alone, without aid or direction from anyone other than the FBI.
It’s an awful story that very easily could have turned out tragically, but as is often the case, it got me thinking.
The FBI indicated that they were monitoring the young man already, and when his attempt to contact people in Pakistan failed, they saw the opportunity to jump in and pose as the people he was trying to contact, providing him with support in his plans.  
What would have happened if, instead, the FBI had posed as those same terrorists, but had come up with a way of dissuading Mohamed Osman Mohamud from going further in his plans?  What if they had attempted to tell him that his plan wouldn’t work, that they didn’t have the resources to pursue his idea?  What if Mr. Mohamud had hit a brick wall instead of agents interested in helping him with his plan?
One possibility is that Mr. Mohamud would not have been dissuaded, and would have continued to seek to make contacts or pursue plans of his own to carry out a terrorist attack.  The FBI was already monitoring him, and I’m assuming that they would have continued to do so.  Odds are very good that the ending would have been very similar – they would have foiled his efforts, and he would be in the same custody that he is now.
The other possibility, however, is that Mr. Mohamud might have changed his mind.  He might have interpreted the dissuading comments of his alleged terrorist comments as evidence that he needed to stop.  The NY Times article seems to indicate that he is a man of some level of faith (because he is alleged to have questioned the depth of his faith), as does his repetition of Allahu akbar (‘God is great’ in Aramaic) when he was arrested.  What if his dead-ends had driven him to a spiritual epiphany that this is the wrong course of action?  The NY Times article indicates that FBI officials claim they offered him several non-lethal ways of being involved in a terrorist plot, including prayer.  
I don’t mean to sound Pollyanna-ish.  I am well aware that there are plenty of very mean and violent people out there fully capable of doing what Mr. Mohamud desired – and attempted – to do.  But at least some of those people I also believe never carry out their actions.  They never have the right opportunity.  They may wander through their lives as angry, bitter people.  But there’s nothing illegal about being angry and bitter.  At least not yet.  
Obviously Federal officials believed Mr. Mohamud to be a credible threat, and this belief certainly seems to have been on target.  But it was on target in at least partly if not in large part because Mr. Mohamud received the spiritual, emotional and material support to act on his anger and hatred.  I just wonder if he had been dissuaded more forcefully, if he might have changed his mind and lived out his life in a very different manner.  It would seem that there wouldn’t be any harm in at least attempting this course of action.  This would be very different than talking up plans for a terrorist act with someone and then questioning whether or not they have the guts or desire to go through with them, offering them less fanatical options for dealing with their frustrations or anger or hatred.  
I’m glad either way that Mr. Mohamud did not succeed.  I am thankful for the work of our government in stopping such threats from actualizing themselves.  I just wonder at times if there aren’t more options to choose from in dealing with these threats.

He Said It Better.

November 25, 2010

Succinctness is not my spiritual gift.

I said this.
He said this.
I guess that’s another reason I’m not a  Pope.  
Busted Halo is the website co-operated by Mike Hayes, the author of the Googling God book I reviewed here a few weeks back, and who stopped by to comment on my review.  Check out he website if you like.  Mostly I like it for some of the quotes it posts.  Most of the content is specifically Roman Catholic and is oriented towards younger adults.  Doesn’t mean it isn’t sometimes really on target, just an FYI.  

Feeling a Little Stuffed?

November 25, 2010

Before you decide to make a run to the emergency room for some help in removing some of that Thanksgiving excess, you may want to consider this.  Beware that this link leads to a hefty-sized PDF.  An AOL summary of the report is here.  

The upshot is that there are 15,000 deaths a year that are directly attributable to errors and mistakes made in hospitals.  And that 13.5% of Medicare patients experience an adverse event while in the hospital.  
I’m very grateful to the men and women who dedicate to their lives to medicine and attempting to cure and treat the rest of us.  But I also feel that hospitals are places where these men and women are overworked to the point of exhaustion, which leads to mistakes and errors, which are sometimes very dangerous to the people they are attempting to heal.  
I wish this was a part of the health care reform debate.

Disguised as an Angel of Light

November 22, 2010

Moral issues are not always easy things.  Easy in terms of simplicity.  Easy in terms of doing the right thing regardless of personal cost in very real and raw terms.  Morality insists that some things are right and some things are wrong.  And morality rarely spends much time on the very real fact that doing right rather than wrong can be very hard and difficult.  

Case in point.  We can sympathize with this man.  We can and we should.  But our sympathy needs to stop short of affirming his final act for his wife.  We can understand his motives.  We should understand them.  But we can’t call them moral.  However that’s exactly what people will do.  The comments on the article already show that.  And it may be that this becomes another banner for those who advocate that we have the right to determine not only when we ourselves should die, but when someone else should die.  

Yet the very nature of morality also demands that we trust in what is right and avoid what is wrong, understanding that the cost is worth it.  That there is a point to the goodness we do or the evil we avoid.  This is at the heart of Biblical Christian morality – the idea that when we are called to do good and to suffer for doing good, there is a time and a place where that suffering will end, and there is a time and a place where that suffering will be replaced with joy.  As much as secular moralists may wish to insist that one can be good without God, being good without God is simply suffering without a point or without a purpose.  It’s suffering arbitrarily because the dictates of a secularized, human-centered morality are fleeting and without grounding.  They have no basis for being the way they are.  They indeed may very well change some day, rendering pointless the suffering of all those who came before and suffered for a morality that has eventually been reversed or altered.
My heart goes out to this man and his family.  His decision to end his wife’s life is wrong, and he will suffer the consequences for that.  Not because of an arbitrary national law or a secular approach to morality.  Rather, it’s wrong because we are not to exercise the authority and duty of God.  Our sympathy is not adequate rationale to become executioner, no matter how merciful it might seem to the one we kill, or to the one who is freed from a hard and difficult role.  Mercy killing is something we have to be terribly, terribly careful about, because mercy is a slippery word, much more subject to our own definitions and interpretations – definitions and interpretations which are subject to change and morph at the whim of an expert or a doctor or a lawyer or a family member.
We are called by Scripture not to murder, and I believe this is in large part precisely because murder can look so beautiful.  Boundaries have been set to help us avoid the slippery slope into rationalizations that quickly move out of the realm of mercy and into the realm of horror – the type of horror that we sought to run from through mercy and murder in the first place.  
Pray for this man and his family.  Great pain drove him to this action.  Great pain is going to result from it.  It has to be that way because even greater pain will come if it doesn’t.  

For Goodness’ Sake

November 20, 2010

There’s been some publicity about the simultaneous actions of multiple non-theistic groups this Thanksgiving and Christmas season.  Namely, that several groups are launching or stepping up advertising campaigns to spread the idea that you can be moral without God.  

Consider:
Last year’s campaign.
Articles about the plan this year here and here and here.    And of course statements from at least one horse’s mouth here.  
How do we make sense of these assertions?  Is it possible to be good without believing in God?  Is the morality being advocated by these groups the same morality as Biblical Christianity?  
Let’s go in reverse order.  One of two things is generally afoot with these organizations.  Either morality or good is intended to be understood as synonymous with traditional Biblical Christian usages of these terms, or it is not.  If the terms are being used in a synonymous way (which isn’t usually the case, in my experience), then the argument that you can be good without God doesn’t make nearly the rational sense they expect it should if they just want to appropriate God’s  definition of moral or good.  And this isn’t even dealing with the issue that Biblical Christian ideas about goodness and morality state that nothing can be good or moral apart from God.  So these groups can’t be simply saying that they believe the same things that Christians believe are good, and we don’t need to thank God for those definitions of goodness.  
More often, these groups are attempting to switch terms.  They want to use terms like goodness and morality that people tend to think of in concrete terms.  Murder is not good or moral, for instance, and everyone seems to agree with that.  Most people would also agree that adultery is not good or moral.  But while utilizing the very general terms goodness and morality, these groups want to substitute new definitions of these things.  There are aspects of the Biblical Christian definition of moral or good that they object to, most notably being the assertion that there is a God who has created us and that morality and goodness consist exclusively of obedience and worship of this God.  
Now comes the tricky part.  They want to discard God’s idea of morality and goodness, and posit their own.  However, the Biblical definition of morality and goodness is grounded.  Meaning, that definition isn’t subject to change or alteration.  What God has deemed good and moral remains good and moral always, even if we disagree with it or don’t like it.  In any argument about goodness or morality, the Christian points to the Bible and says here is where those terms find meaning and fullness.  Someone else may choose to posit another definition of goodness and morality, but where does that definition come from?  How is it grounded?
It’s not.  Either it’s a relative definition of these terms that dictates that the individual decides what is moral or good for themselves, or some other individual or group will dictate the new definition of moral and good.  Personal relative morality obviously can’t function unless you’re locked in a room alone, because the first time you decide to utilize your own personal morality or idea of goodness on someone else who disagrees, you run into a shock.  What you believe is good or moral is irrelevant, because there are larger definitions for these terms.  Do you believe that it’s moral for you to drink and drive?  Surprise!  Our society has said that it isn’t.  And that larger definition trumps your individual definition.  Too bad for you!
But where does society get it’s definitions of morality and goodness?  We either get them from God (the Biblical response), or we get them from ourselves.  And if we get them from ourselves, then they aren’t really solid definitions any more, are they?  Suddenly, they can shift and alter and change.  Good can become bad, and something we’ve always been taught to be bad can suddenly be dictated to be good.  Why?  Because whomever we have ceded authority to make these decisions on our behalf has said so.  
Does the government create and define morality and goodness?  No.  Our Declaration of Independence stresses that government exists to protect the rights provided by our Creator.  By God.  Our State acknowledges that it can’t be the source of those rights, because any time a political entity has claimed to have that power, it has resulted not in greater good or morality, but in severe immorality, persecution, the abuse and rescinding of human rights, and badness on a scale that can’t really be denied by anyone – secular or otherwise.  
If God is not the source of our definitions of good or moral, then we have no definitions beyond whatever is suitable to whomever holds power at the moment.  When a new group ascends to power, they redefine the terms to suit themselves unless those terms are grounded in something bigger and larger than themselves. Which means that secularists themselves can’t define the terms with any lasting meaning – they can only attempt to redefine for the moment, until someone else gains power.  
The last question is whether or not one can be good or moral without faith in God.  We’ve already said that the ultimate test of goodness or morality from a Biblical standpoint is obedience to God.  So clearly it isn’t possible to be good or moral from a Biblical definition without belief in the God of the Bible.  But from the secular point of view, is it possible to be a good person as defined by how we treat others and function within our community and society?  

Sure.  Biblical Christianity would say that this is only possible because of the grace of God, that all existence is contingent upon God’s grace, and that this grace permits even the non-believer to be a good neighbor.  The atheist who decides not to murder his neighbors, or to give money or food to the needy, or who doesn’t drive drunk is being good and moral as defined in terms of our relationship to others.  I pray that if my neighbor is an atheist, she acts in these ways.  It is a blessing to me – even if it doesn’t change the very real spiritual danger she is in.  
So it is possible to be good or moral as a non-believer.  But these terms don’t mean the same thing in these two contexts.  There’s a relatively narrow area of overlap that deals with how we treat one another.  It may be possible to act in a moral or good way, but that overlap will grow thinner as these terms are continually redefined to be farther afield from their grounding in Scripture.  Eventually, it is very possible that what we consider to be patently bad right now will be professed to be good.  What seems unthinkable today may one day be considered normal.  
And then the narrow overlap will be gone.  

What a Long, Strange Trip (It Ain’t Gonna Be)

November 19, 2010

California recently rejected a proposal to legalize growing, possessing, and using small amounts of marijuana.  While this is heartening, it’s hardly the end of the story.  Everyone knows that these days if you don’t like the outcome of a vote, you either try to overturn it in court or force another vote.  Eventually, people win by apathy and wearing down their opponents.  Ain’t democracy beautiful?

While I’m not sure that many people really believe those who argue that marijuana should be legalized specifically because of the medicinal benefits it seems to have, there’s a new twist in this quasi-legitimate front of the marijuana legalization war.  A scientist is researching how to utilize the medicinal qualities of the marijuana plant while removing the psychoactive elements.  The goal would be to provide weed that helps medicinally but doesn’t make you high.
One would think that this would be hailed as a great step forward by the medical marijuana supporters.  That remains to be seen, though the initial comments on the story above are rather telling.  As is this editorial in the same publication.  Trust me – I’m no fan of pharmaceutical companies, and I generally endorse a natural approach to health and life.  Except where it requires legalization of a gateway drug.  

Once a Hippie…

November 18, 2010

…you’re always looking for something new to light up.

Or so I’m led to understand by this brief news article about an ill-fated hybrid car conversion and a warehouse full of memorabilia, all owned by Neil Young.  
Really, what else more could I say here?

…Like ham in beef chow mein…

November 18, 2010

I'd never cry if I did find
A blue whale in my soup...
Nor would I mind a porcupine
Inside a chicken coop.
Yes life is fine when things combine,
Like ham in beef chow mein...
But lord, this time I think I mind,
They've put acid in my rain.
--- Milo Bloom

(from the mind of Berkeley Breathed, author of the beloved Bloom County comic strip)
Not necessarily acid in my rain, but a sneaky new version of the New International Version (NIV) Bible in place of the traditional NIV normally served.  
To begin with, I’m a fan of the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible.  It works hard to maintain textual integrity/faithfulness to the literal wording of the original Hebrew and Greek, while also making efforts to be readable in English.  It’s considered to be more textually faithful than the NIV.  For additional information on the usefulness/accuracy of the ESV, you can refer to this somewhat lengthier document.  
But I use the NIV oftentimes for quick reference.  Particularly, I’m fond of using the popular Bible site www.biblegateway.com for  quick reference or use as I’m working on Bible studies.  Thanks to Gene Veith’s blog  for letting me know that the NIV at this site – and soon to be all NIV sites and prints – has been changed.  
The NIV was originally published in 1978 and revised in 1984.  There was an effort in the early part of the new millenia to update the NIV again in a form known as Today’s NIV (TNIV).  There was a fair amount of controversy about this translation because it utilized gender-inclusive language as opposed to the original masculine pronouns in many parts of the translation.  I’m not a fan of gender-inclusive language unless it’s appropriate or intended.  Changing how we translate a document as important as the Bible simply because of sensitivity (misplaced, in my opinion) that the Bible is somehow gender-offensive is dangerous precedent.  Beyond the philosophical level, there are other very good reasons to be careful how the Bible is translated in light of modern sensibilities.  For a very brief but very helpful analysis of this, this article  by Wayne Grudem is extremely useful.  
In any event, the TNIV did not enjoy a very widespread adoption.  I assume this means that people didn’t buy many copies, which is always disappointing to a publisher as well as the group that has funded the research for the translation.  It’s probably also disappointing to people who have an agenda of furthering the reach of gender-inclusive language.
The NIV is scheduled to be replaced completely  in 2011, with the traditional NIV and the TNIV no longer being published or made available.  If you like the NIV, I suggest you hold on to your copies of it because you won’t be able to buy a new one after next year.  And, you won’t necessarily know that there’s a difference because despite there being some pretty substantial changes, it’s going to continue to be called the NIV.   So unless you’re very careful, you may be already referencing the new NIV when you’re using online Bible sites.  I was very surprised by this, and very disappointed that there wasn’t some effort made to indicate that there was a change.  
I’m sure that part of my concern is also driven by personal preference.  In some ways, it’s not much different than those who grew up with the King James Version.  It’s not a matter of accuracy, but a matter of familiarity and comfort.  An argument could be made that the gender-inclusive language is not a crucial issue.  However, it’s a change based on a very recent cultural (and mostly Western culture) issue regarding feminism and language.  I don’t see how the issues of a comparatively small percentage of people worldwide ought to dictate or influence the way one of the most widely known translations of the Bible is updated and made available.   I am also suspicious that this is an effort to push people to buy more Bibles, and the thought of marketing playing a part in all of this just sickens me.  
Whatever the reasons, and whatever your stance on those reasons, the most important thing is to be informed so you can make good decisions.  Hopefully this helps!

Sequels

November 18, 2010

Totally unrelated, but here is a link to an apparent trailer for the sequel to Pixar’s Cars.  I’m skeptical, but hasn’t turned in a bad film yet, so I’ll suspend judgment for now.

Click HERE to view.  

*NOTE: I’ve updated the link so that it should work now.  Sorry about the confusion my millions of readers undoubtedly suffered when they breathlessly accessed this newest entry*