Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Interpreting Sacrifice

April 11, 2017

Kudos to this pastor for taking a stab at arguably one of the most difficult passages in the Bible – Abraham’s call to sacrifice his son Isaac in Genesis 22.  I don’t know who this pastor is as his blog site has no personal data.  And I thank him for his post because he helped me to clarify some of my own struggles and responses to this passage, and together, we hopefully can help make sense of what God is doing.

Firstly, I think it’s important to clarify a few points of order.  Genesis 22 begins with the clear word to the reader/hearer that this is a test.  The reader/hearer is never under the assumption that what transpires in the following chapter is a directive of any kind from God regarding human sacrifice.  Nowhere in the Bible does God demand or even permit human sacrifice or child sacrifice.  There are plenty of passages that speak to this implicitly and explicitly (Leviticus 18:21, 27:28-29; Deuteronomy 12:31, 18:10, 2 Kings 3:27, 21:6; Jeremiah 7:31).

Secondly, though God does not want child sacrifice, we have nothing in Scripture that clearly indicates Abraham’s spiritual background.  In other words, it would be reasonable to assume that Abraham was not a lifelong follower of the Biblical God.  As such, Abraham would have been very familiar with neighboring religious practices that made use of child or human sacrifice.  The Bible indicates it was a practice among the Ammonites who worshiped Molech.  Scholars have argued that Phoenician Carthage practiced human sacrifice.  The deities from this area have been found in carved sculptures in northern Israel (Hazor), which means that possibly child sacrifice was practiced in those regions by followers of the deities Tanit and Baal Hammon.

A.R.W. Green researched this topic and reported evidence of human sacrifice throughout the Ancient Near East, including  Mesopotamia, Egypt and Syro-Palestine.  In other words, while we today would gasp in horror at this test, it would not have necessarily been such an uncommon test for Abraham.  In other words, Abraham would have been familiar with deities who demanded such things.  So this would actually be a real test – would Abraham be willing to actually give what he actually believed God might actually ask of him?  Or would He refuse?

This test would not have worked in Moses’ day – just a few hundred years later.  Thus the clear indication at the beginning of Genesis 22 that this was only a test.  Moses’ hearers would have been just as aghast and confused at God’s request as you and I, so Moses clearly prefaces the episode with the disclaimer that this is just a test.  Scripture makes it clear that God does not permit or desire such sacrifices, and therefore we don’t need to be concerned that He might ask us to do so.  Even if the “sky opened up and God’s voice boomed down”, we would do right to say no.  It’s clear that such a voice could not be God’s voice.  God might test us in other ways, but not in this one because we already know his clear will in this regard.  I would be far more concerned about the sky opening and the voice of God demanding that I give my entire IRA to someone in need.  That’s not necessarily an impossible (unBiblical) demand.  I can only pray that I would have the faith of Abraham to obey.

There is a confusion about midway in the essay as to the nature of God and his relationship to his rules.  The issue – though not raised this way in the Lutheran Pastor’s essay – centers on what makes something good, and how is God (or the gods) bound in this regard?  It’s an issue that Plato records Socrates dealing with in Euthyphro.  Is good an abstract absolute that the gods must obey, or is good something that the gods determine, and therefore subject to change at the discretion of the gods?  It seems like quite the conundrum.  The Biblical answer to this issue is that neither option is correct.  Good is not an objective absolute – a pre-existing condition to which God is bound.  Nothing pre-exists the Biblical God.  But by the same token, good is not an arbitrarily defined thing.  God doesn’t decide today that the color pink is good and the color green is evil, but then decide thousands of years later to change this.  God doesn’t have to decide what is good because God is good.  It is the definition of God himself.  God could no more command something that was evil than He could create a rock so big He couldn’t lift it.  It’s a matter of philosophical categories and not confusing them.

So God didn’t arbitrarily decide that human sacrifice was demanded of Abraham and then change his mind later.  The preface to Genesis 22 makes it clear that God never intended for Abraham to actually sacrifice Isaac to him.  But Abraham didn’t know that about God yet.

I like the way the author wraps up his essay.  He acknowledges that most of us have a limit to our faithfulness.  Would I really cash out my IRA and give it to someone else because I thought God was asking me to?  That would require a lot of faith.  I’d like to think that if I was convinced that this was definitely God speaking to me, that I would trust him enough to obey.  That’s the goal, of course.

But we all fail at times as well, so we need to focus first and foremost on what God has sacrificed in his Son Jesus, and that this sacrifice is not a moral example for me to follow, it’s actually atonement for my inability to obediently follow God’s directives in my life.  Maybe I’d be willing to cash in my IRA.  But am I willing and able to allow God to dictate my thoughts and actions every moment of the day?  Hardly.  So rather than debate about whether I could be faithful in the big things, I need to recognize that I’m not even faithful in the little things.  I don’t simply need help to be faithful in epic proportions, I need to be saved from the sin that is so much a part of me that I’m blinded to it.

So if you hear a voice from heaven telling you to sacrifice your child, don’t.  Period.  But if you hear a voice from heaven telling you to sell your house and go to a strange land?  Well, do some serious praying and talk with some brothers and sisters in the faith that you really trust.  If you really believe it’s God calling you to this, and if it doesn’t require you to abandon the vocations He’s already given you (spouse, child, etc.), then I pray you’ll have the faith to follow.  And just as importantly, that I would.



Deceptive Smugness

February 9, 2017

History has always fascinated me.  While that makes me marginally useful in trivia battles, it also (hopefully) provides me with valuable perspectives on life today and how we see ourselves.  The habit of looking at people in the past ought to condition how we look at ourselves.

As such,  I found this essay from Scientific American interesting initially because of the historical trivia.  But what I found ultimately more interesting is his philosophical application of the trivia.  He mocks doctors from 140 years ago for rejecting a new scientific idea circulating at the time which attributed infections to bacteria in the air and elsewhere which could only be seen under a microscope.  Of course today, when this has been well-proven it is easy to laugh at someone 140 years ago who doubted the novel assertion.

Germ theory is generally claimed to have emerged in the 1860’s or later. One of the doctors being mocked in the essay, Frank Hastings, graduated from medical school in 1835. The other, Alfred Loomis, graduated in 1852.  They can reasonably be excused for being suspicious of a new theory of infections.  But the author of the essay uses their initial disregard of germ theory as an example of how we shouldn’t miss opportunities to become smarter.  He then applies this to current politics and observes that “we insist on staying stupid when becoming smarter is an option.”

I don’t know many people who willfully remain stupid.  I know a lot of people who, like Loomis and Hastings, are skeptical about wholeheartedly endorsing whatever the latest scientific fashion or hypothesis is, particularly when we live in an age of information overload and so much of what we are told one day is seemingly reversed and contradicted the next.  Depending on who funds the study and what their perceived bias’ might be. Historically speaking, becoming smarter is a decidedly difficult thing to do properly.

Our country continues in the throes of violent (physically as well as verbally) disagreement over the trajectory of our nation’s policies.  The status quo – tacitly agreed to by both political parties – has been thrown off course somewhat by an unexpected President who  holds little regard for either political party and is attempting to implement some rather massive changes to the political system.  He doesn’t appear to have any major reason not to push for changes he actually thinks would be helpful.  He’s quite successful personally and isn’t reliant on political connections to further himself personally now or after his term ends.  He appoints outsiders and people who haven’t been part of the system to head major agencies.

This infuriates those who disagree with him, who are unable to understand how and why anyone without relevant experience in a given area, or with experience that is deemed undesirable in an area should be placed in charge of a government agency.  They seem convinced that the system is just fine.  In need of some tweaks and fine tuning, perhaps, but essentially functioning properly.  In the case of education, this means decrying the appointment of someone from outside of the teacher’s unions and without relevant bureaucratic experience as Education Secretary.  Despite the fact that a long string of far more qualified people have failed to improve substantively the quality of public education as a whole.

We could be in the middle of a difficult and surprising transition, an opportunity to become smarter despite the prevailing wisdom which is grounded in ideas and policies of the past.  How shocked many people would be to look back in five or ten or twenty years and recognize that the major changes suggested by an unpopular and inexperienced administration could actually be smarter than the advocacy of staying the course or doing things the way they’ve been done for years!  I imagine that critics today, confronted with their obstinance at some point in the future, would defend themselves by saying that there was no way that anyone could have known that such changes were actually smarter than prevailing wisdom, just as Loomis and Hastings undoubtedly would say in their own defense today.

A familiarity with history should ultimately lead us towards humility, rather than smugness.  One constant of history is that people have been surprised by major shifts in nearly every aspect of life.  It hasn’t been a steady progression of getting smarter, but often the raucous in-breaking of an outsider’s ideas that have made all the difference.  We’re grateful for their contributions in hindsight, but at the time they were nuisances or written off as charlatans, persecuted and mocked.

In the sciences as well as in every field, we need to train our young people to retain a bit of humility regardless of how  advanced their studies, how many degrees they accumulate, or how many articles they publish.  They may be critical of new ideas and have many good supporting reasons, but they should also be open to the possibility that they’re wrong.  That they’re only human and therefore blind to an opportunity to become smarter.  Not because they’re bad people, but just because they are limited in what they can know. The bleeding edge of becoming smarter is a pretty exciting place to imagine yourself, but odds are that a lot fewer of us are actually on that edge than imagine ourselves to be.

Funding the Wrong Fight

February 1, 2017

Our country is anecdotally being torn apart at the moment over the issue of immigration and refugees.  It’s not as though anybody is doing much on the issue other than screaming at the other side, however.  I don’t see people running out to offer refugees and immigrants a place to live in their own home.  Nor do I see much in terms of actions against immigrants and refugees other than headlines and social media storms.  There’s much room for discussion on this issue, but little substantive discussion seems to be occurring.   And I’ve yet to hear anyone honestly try to grapple with coming up with a solution that would be satisfactory (if not delightful) to both sides.

The issue of sanctuary is one way this fight is playing out on the ground.  Cities have been fond of insisting that they are places of sanctuary – where Federal immigration laws will not be enforced and nobody will be deported from their precincts.  While this issue has gotten attention because of a couple of illegal immigrants who perpetrated violent crimes in the past couple of years, I think that’s ultimately a red herring.  There are dangerous and violent immigrants and refugees just like there are dangerous and violent citizens and people born legally in this country.  Violence is always lamentable but it is a distraction from dealing with the issue at hand – how do we control who comes into our country?  Arguing that we must enforce immigration law because of the possibility of violent people entering our borders, or arguing that such cases are very rare and therefore we should not enforce our immigration laws is a sideshow.  The main issue is our immigration laws.  Either they work or they don’t.  Either they reflect what we as a nation want or they don’t.  If they don’t, we should work to amend or replace them.  If they do, we need to enforce them regardless of whether the people involved are violent or not.

Sanctuary cities are coming under fire from the Federal government, which under President Trump has indicated that it won’t hesitate to cut Federal funding and subsidies to cities that openly violate or refuse to enforce Federal law.  This makes sense to me.  We don’t get to pick and choose which laws we obey or we don’t obey.  Private citizens can’t do this so I don’t see why cities should be able to.  Some cities have reversed their sanctuary stance pretty quickly.  Understandably so.  Talk is a lot less expensive than losing money you need to fund your projects for your citizens.

However, in my progressive state, this attempt to draw cities into line with Federal law is being met with increased resistance, to the point that now the entire state of California could become a ‘sanctuary state’, funded by tax-payer dollars.  SB 6 as I understand it would allow the use of county and city tax monies to provide legal representation to people illegally in our country and state, to prevent them from being deported as per Federal immigration laws.  While this has always been an option through non-profit organizations (which I have no problem with and hope they do their jobs well), the change is that now public tax dollars would be made available for such legal defenses.  I have a huge problem with this.

We’re constantly being told that there isn’t enough money to fund infrastructure projects or education or health care or any number of other important matters.  We’re constantly being subjected to new taxes and bonds in order to pay for these things.  Yet now cities and counties can take the money I pay them in taxes in order to defend people who are breaking the law?

I understand that immigration is complicated.  I understand that people sometimes get caught up in unfortunate situations.  I understand that families are threatened by deportation. I do not like any of these realities.

But if that is what we are concerned about, then we need to spend our money to come up with an immigration policy that works.  Simply throwing taxpayer money down a literally bottomless hole of legislation and legal proceedings on behalf of illegal immigrants will not change policy.  It will not protect the people it alleges to protect, because they will still be at risk of needing such legal representation because the immigration laws don’t change.  At best, this is a delay tactic, a waiting game in hopes that the next president won’t enforce immigration laws.  At worst, it’s a flagrant misuse of taxpayer money that enriches nobody other than the lawyers taking the cases.  Nothing changes, nothing improves, and the problems simply grow and grow and grow.

This is not a new problem.  We’ve been dealing with it for decades.  We still don’t have a good solution.  I should not have to pay more taxes in order to support sanctuary policies that don’t change or improve the situation at all.  This is irresponsible partisan grandstanding.  Both sides are guilty of it, because both sides claim to be unhappy in our current immigration system but are opposed to working in a bi-partisan manner to come up with a solution.  Neither the solution of let everybody/anybody in or keep everybody/anybody out is tenable, nor is it actually desirable by either side, regardless of the polemical headlines.  What we need is a sensible policy that deals with future immigrants while taking into account people who, because of our convoluted policy and enforcement issues, have built their lives in this country.

Discussing vs. Teaching

January 17, 2017

By many accounts, we have a crisis of communication in American society today where people are unable to interact with people who hold diverging opinions and ideas from their own.  Being able to discuss things without taking it personally is an important skill to have, so I was curious when I saw the headline for this article.  Of course knowing the source, I assumed it would be hostile in some regard to a person of faith, but it was almost humorous how the author decides to start out.

By immediately dismissing as ridiculous a set of opinions and ideas on a number of hot-topic issues in American society today.  Not by discussing the actual facts or examining the other position, but simply by dismissing those ideas as obviously wrong and ridiculous and chalking them up to something other than possible alternate interpretations of data.

Admittedly, world-view shapes how we interpret data.  My world-view leads one person to assume that we all evolved from simpler organisms and there should be a fossil trail of some sort that shows that, so that ever fossil has to be fit into an evolutionary spectrum.  I don’t assume that this is how we got here, so I’m not forced to place fossils into such a spectrum.  My world view causes me to assume that scientists are just as prone to sinfulness – or to being exploited by other sinful people – as anyone else, so that companies based on science like pharmaceutical companies shouldn’t be presumed to be error or criminal free simply because they employ scientists.  I don’t doubt the reality of global warming because my understanding is that our planet has gone through plenty of cycles of warming and cooling over time.  But I may doubt that mankind is the cause of this particular warming cycle, and I may doubt the notion that we can actually reverse such a cycle.

What Mr. Shermer doesn’t seem to recognize is that world-view contributes to how everyone interprets data to create facts.   His world-view leads him to discard opposing view-points, and the data that might support them – as erroneous.  He exhibits firm faith in a certain understanding of things despite the fact that evidence is hardly conclusive and exhaustive.  And while I’m no fan of conspiracy theories as a rule, the idea that something sounds conspiratorial is not in and of itself grounds for dismissing the idea out of hand.  The melting point of steel is a scientific matter, is it not?  While I don’t hold to a conspiracy theory on the 9/11 attacks, it seems odd to dismiss such a piece of data or fact as minutiae  as I’m sure that such data contributed not just to the creation of those steel girders, but their selection for use in the building of the Twin Towers in the first place.

The good news is that his advice for dealing with those irrational people who disagree with him actually works in reverse as well.  And if  both sides are willing to abide by these as a means towards deeper conversation, there’s a chance that useful conversation might be had – useful conversation that might ultimately lead one or the other to change their ideas, if not their world-view.  In a surprising turn of events, I’m actually optimistic that such respectful dialogues are the hope of moving towards answering questions and away from demonizing people who disagree with us.

This Just In…

December 24, 2016

In a shocking turn of events, it has been discovered that Jesus’ virgin birth was actually miraculous.  So miraculous, in fact, that many have a hard time accepting that it could also be true.

Yes folks, it’s Christmas and that means time for articles once again doubting the legitimacy of Scripture in regards to the birth of Jesus.  Which, by implication, casts doubt and aspersions on every other aspect of Jesus’ ministry as recorded in Scripture.  But, since it’s Christmas, we’ll be nice and just focus on the virgin birth.  Very thoughtful.

I first found this article detailing the firestorm that has erupted around a noted preacher’s comment that the virgin birth may not be required as an article of the Christian faith.  Someone might be a Christian without believing this, in other words.  It is unclear – and I don’t have the time or inclination to listen and find out – if the context is someone who knows what the Bible says and chooses to deny or ignore it, or someone who has come to faith in Christ without yet discovering what the Bible has to say on this issue.  That’s a big difference.

Then it was on to this essay, which questions the necessity of the Virgin birth as part of a cohesive Christian faith.  After all, the author knew somebody who was a very Christian person yet didn’t believe this, and therefore it must not be necessary, right?  Of course, as this other interview demonstrates, the author really questions pretty much all of the miraculous aspects of Jesus, not just the Virgin birth.  That demonstrates at the very least a logical consistency – it makes no sense to deny the Virgin birth but accept the Resurrection.  Or to deny the Virgin birth but accept that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.  Almost everything attributed to Jesus in the form of miracles is just that, miraculous, and so if you have a problem with one of them, you logically ought to have a problem with all of them.

As Keller notes in his interview with Kristof, just like any system of thought or belief, there are parameters which define – at least broadly – who does or does not hold that belief system or follow that system of thought.  Wanting to call yourself a Christian while denying core elements of the faith that have been professed for nearly 2000 years is problematic, certainly no less problematic than a PETA representative stating that they personally think that killing baby seals is just fine.  To assert that you can call yourself something without actually believing or following what you call yourself either demonstrates you to be intellectually dishonest or empties what you believe or follow of any and all value.

Finally, this essay does a good job of stating some of what I’ve summarized above.  If the Bible is lying about the Virgin birth, what else might it be lying about?  Removing the Virgin birth does not make belief in Jesus as a source of hope and joy and promise any easier, it actually makes it more difficult.

I regularly talk with people who struggle to come to grips with the miraculous elements of Scripture.  I don’t denigrate them because they’re honestly searching.  But what I explain is this – we have been trained and educated to think that miraculous and supernatural are both impossible terms.  We have been taught that we live in an impermeable snow globe, a closed system where everything and anything that happens can and ultimately will be explainable.  The means for this is science.  If you’re going to have faith, have faith in science.  Science may not have the answers today, but have faith that science *will* have the answers someday.

This philosophy requires faith – the faith that says there cannot be a God, cannot be a power greater than ourselves who is capable and interested in working within creation in ways that are exceptional and inexplicable by science and logic.  I admire such faith, because it means that the person should be just as able to have faith in God and the miraculous.  But they don’t (yet).  So I encourage them to consider that.  How is it that you can have faith that everything that ever has happened must have a naturalistic explanation, and anything that defies such explanations – Virgin births, Resurrections, miraculous healings – must be an example of bad data?  The only way you could make such a categorical statement would be to possess an absolutely perfect and all-inclusive knowledge of everything that has ever happened.  Only then can you rule out the divine, the miraculous.  Of course, we can’t do this.  Science can’t do this.  Science deals in samples, and is unable to collect a perfectly comprehensive set of data and observations of every moment in all of existence.

I understand that much of what the Bible says is difficult to believe, and impossible to reconcile with the secular, scientific insistence on the absolute impossibility of miracles.  I would point out all the other areas in which Biblical statements have been validated – about people and places and events.  I find it interesting that a book that proves to be so accurate in so many non-theological areas should be dismissed entirely whenever it says anything about a Divine.

So yes, the Virgin birth is miraculous and hard to believe.  If it were easy to believe, if it happened all the time, it wouldn’t be a big deal.  And if it didn’t happen at all, what assurance do I have that the Resurrection happened?  And if the Resurrection didn’t happen, I don’t actually have the Christian faith, regardless of how I’d like to think that I do.  What I have is something else.  Something stripped of all the power and beauty and purpose and promise of Christianity.

Hardly something worth celebrating.


Standing Together in the Wrong Place

December 22, 2016

I’m all for unity.  I dislike conflict.  I dislike exclusion and hate-filled rhetoric.  I may disagree with someone passionately, but I hope to never demonize that person, but rather to take issue with the issue, not the person.  I won’t be perfect in this, but I take that goal seriously in every interaction.

With the exception of ranting at idiot drivers.  God has a loooooooot of work to do on me in that area still.

So it strikes me at one level as sort of a no-brainer that various faith communities would work together to minimize and eliminate hateful discourse, and this example of such a commitment is, at that level, wonderful.  But it’s such a no-brainer that it really seems superfluous.  There are no particular action items.  Nothing tangible.  Just a vague assertion that hateful talk is bad.  Which it is.  Depending on how you define hateful, of course.  And if that’s all this included, I wouldn’t have much of an issue with it one way or the other.

My concern is in the last paragraph before the signatures.  That’s where it moves from a warm-fuzzy statement by people of various faith backgrounds, some with extremely different understandings of the universe, to a statement of intent and purpose.

Namely, this:  We pray for a society based on love, acceptance and respect for all humanity. As we work for that day…

I’m not working for the day when we create a utopian society based on arbitrary, self-defined concepts of love, acceptance, respect, etc.  I can’t work for it, because I’m part of the problem and will continue to be the fly in the ointment until the day I die.  I need a Savior to create this utopian paradise for me, and He creates it by killing me and raising me to life again.  Unless He does this in me and for me, I won’t ever be a part of a utopian society because I won’t fit in.  I’ll insist on defining things on my terms, and my terms are flawed and even my commitment to my flawed definitions is subversive and self-seeking.  And in case you think that this is my problem and that the rest of you are going to be very happy in your self-defined utopia, I’d encourage you to review human history to see how close we haven’t gotten to anything even resembling a utopia.  It’s not just me that would be standing on the outside looking in.  You would be too.  All of you.

This video has a  Christian comedian appearing on a Christian show.  At about the 1:20 mark, he summarizes what he thinks the work of the Christian church is – “behavioral alteration”.  Getting people to act better.

This is not the work of the Church.

The Church’s work is to point out to people that they are dead and in need of life, and pointing them to the Son of God incarnate, Jesus the Christ – the only one who makes this very thing possible.  It is not the work of the Church to alter behavior, or to create a utopian society.  Because those things are not humanly possible.  It is the Church’s job to remind people of this.  Not soas to dissuade them from being better people, but so they never mistake what they think of as moral or ethical progress for being killed and made alive again through baptism and faith in what the Son of God, Jesus the Christ, promises.

There are plenty of people and ideologies that claim to want to create a utopian society as described (vaguely) above.  It’s ironic that the one ideology which holds at a foundational level that this is impossible to do, is the one ideology single-handedly responsible for some of the greatest implementations of mercy and love and care in all the world and human history.  Ironic that the religion that insists the world will not be a completely better place until it is conquered by the God who created it, is the one religion that has sought to better the world as it is here and now more than any other.

Without any need for a multi-faith statement of purpose.  By, in fact, rejecting all other faiths as incorrect or misguided (just as they, logically, reject Christianity on the same grounds).


The fundamental problem that this group wants to confront isn’t a matter of behavioral modification.  It’s not a matter of better education or healthcare or all of the issues we can and should deal with as people of faith.  It’s about who we are at our core.  We can teach people to act better, and there is limited value in that.  But unless there is a solution for what bubbles underneath, sin,  it remains only that, an act.  And eventually, the veneer or the self-discipline wears off and all hell breaks loose.


Thinking Provocatively

December 6, 2016

It isn’t what you think it is, you cheeky monkey, you.

Here’s an amazing interview/article with an intelligent man who is infuriating those who see freedom of speech as a dangerous and unfair thing.  Beware of a few obscene words here and there, but beyond a shadow of a doubt it is his counter-cultural stance that many will find most obscene.  He does an admirable job of defending something we used to take for granted – freedom of speech even when we disagreed with what was being said.  For this, his job is likely on the line, and perhaps eventually, if he refused to change his tune, his freedom.

Meanwhile, in the Netherlands…

October 3, 2016

…they’re killing babies if they don’t think the babies will enjoy some arbitrarily defined idea of  a good or meaningful life.  This is not aborting pregnancies before they come to term – this is lethally injecting babies after they’re born.  This is nothing new, but the desire is to legitimize it fully and remove any stigma from it.  And it isn’t just a European aberration.  It’s an idea that is touted here in the United States by certain intellectuals.

What is promoted as an act of selfless mercy is ultimately an appeal to very selfish utilitarian principles and ideas.  What is often at issue is not the merciful ending of a life of pain, but rather the limiting of the costs – emotional, financial, and otherwise that caring for those with serious conditions requires.  In which case, who is being given mercy, the infant being killed or the state that is being spared from a lifetime of care and cost?  Who gets to make that decision and on what basis?  The insurance company?  The hospital?  The government?  How short a path is it from offering infanticide as an option to requiring it as a matter of policy?

And how is it that people can be so comfortable with the idea of killing people?  Oh wait – that’s right.  We’ve been primed for this already through the promotion of abortion.

You Don’t Say?

June 21, 2016

The link to the actual report is broken, but this summary is hilarious – particularly in the conclusions he draws.

The study apparently studies the transmission link of certain ideologies between father and son (yet finds no such link between fathers and daughters).  The person summarizing the report dutifully notes that the results of the study should clearly cause people who hold these certain ideologies to question their reliability, since the reliability of their parents is hardly certain.

He conveniently ignores the reality that the same rates of transmission are likely there for people of opposite ideological positions.  He also ignores the fact that the reliability of a particular parent is not indicative of the relative helpfulness or propriety of a certain ideology.  You can have a parent who is terrible at math who still manages to convey a sound mathematical principle.

The author then helpfully extrapolates further to apply the study’s rationale to religious beliefs.  Again, if your religious beliefs are influenced strongly by your parents, you can’t trust those beliefs and certainly can’t argue for their validity against a belief system promulgated by someone else’s parents.  Once again, the reliability of the parents does not in and of itself invalidate the truthfulness of their religious beliefs.  One evaluates religious beliefs not on the caliber of the parent who instructed us in them, but in the actual content of the belief.  How does it match reality?  Do I have any means of validating the truth-claims set forth by that belief system?

Furthermore, the logic of the author of the summary could be extended further to teachers, professors, and other influential persons in a child’s life.  How is it that what is transmitted through these sources is necessarily more reliable or accurate than what is learned from parents?  Some interesting presumed bias!  The assumption seems to be that there would be alternate, better sources of influence on children besides the parents, sources that would not be prone to bias of any sort.


Book Review – Heschel

May 16, 2016

A two-for-one book review today:

The Prophets: An Introduction (Volume 1) , by Abraham J. Heschel

Maimonides, by Abraham J. Heschel

The first book was one of my wife’s texts from Bible college.  It caught my eye because some time ago I read Heschel’s The Sabbath and found it beautiful.  The Prophets is also beautifully written, full of Heschel’s poetic voice that at times rivals another favorite Jewish author of mine, Chaim Potok.  Heschel made me think about the prophets as human beings, rather than as passive mouthpieces for God.  He made me wonder more about these men and the lives they lived.  He helped them become more human to me.

I disagree with some of his theology, and at times I think he credits too much to the prophets, as though they are somehow part and parcel of God’s message – their own emotions and ideas about things being used and bound up with God’s words.  But overall I appreciate his affectation for the human alongside the divine, something that is profoundly pertinent to Christians as we contemplate the divine made human in Jesus.

The second book I stole from friends I was staying with in St. Louis a few weeks ago.  To be fair (and so I don’t squash any chances of future stays with any of you!), I did let them know I stole it, and offered to return it.  My hunch was that they picked it up somewhere on the cheap and were keeping it in their guest room rather than reading it themselves.  I am glad my hunch was accurate, and they let me keep the book.

I first learned of Maimonides when I returned to complete my undergraduate degree after nearly a decade hiatus.  I was required to take this course on medieval philosophers that was supposed to teach me to write a research project.  I couldn’t take the capstone course for my degree until I took this course, and I couldn’t take them concurrently, so profoundly necessary were the skills this course purported to give me.

Needless to say, the instructor never once taught us anything about how to write a research paper, but I had the opportunity to read a variety of fascinating philosophers, Maimonides being the most interesting to me.

Heschel’s book only deepened my interest in this man and the monumental accomplishments that he achieved theologically and philosophically.  Of course I don’t agree with all of his theology, but I have great respect for his intellectual abilities.  In that college class, we read his Guide for the Perplexed, (or at least we were supposed to – I’m sure I didn’t read all of it!), and I’m tempted to pick up a copy of that.  Even more interesting to me is his theological writing.  There isn’t enough time to read everything I want to!