Sunday, August 31, 2008

Michael Moore's "Gustav Proof" That God Exists



Moviemaker Michael Moore has given us another proof for the existence of God. Moore said:

“I was just thinking, this Gustav is proof that there is a God in heaven. To have it planned at the same time – that it would actually be on its way to New Orleans for day one of the Republican Convention, up in the Twin Cities – at the top of the Mississippi River.”

Moore's argument can be stated as follows:

1. The Republican Convention is being held this week at the "top" of the Mississippi River.

2. At the same time Hurricane Gustav is going to blast New Orleans at the "bottom" of the Mississippi River.

3. The timing of these two events is not a coincidence.

4. Therefore there must be a God who is sending this human catastrophe to divert attention from the Republican Convention.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

My MCCC Courses


(Monre County Community College)
I’m in my 8th or 9th year (I don’t know!) teaching philosophy at Monroe County Community College. I am so thankful for the opportunity to do this. I’ve spent a lot of time in academia, both as a student and as a professor. I think our community college is a tremendous deal, with a good facility that’s getting better, a wonderful location, and a lot of very, very good professors who are dedicated to teaching students. (Note: at major universities there are professors who are not so dedicated to teaching students but spend their time on grants used to further their own research and publishing. A number of them are not so student-oriented, because in the unversity it’s “publish or perish.”)

This fall I’m teaching Introduction to Logic and Philosophy of Religion.

What’s Intro to Logic about? Logic is the area of philosophy that evaluates arguments. Philosophers are interested in issues concerning meaning and truth. A major way to arrive at truth is by using logic. Persons make arguments to explain or persuade or convince others of the truth of some statement. The philosopher then asks – is the argument “logical?” For many philosophers if the argument is not logical, then it need not be believed. Personally I think this is too narrow an approach to truth, but that’s the approach I teach becaise it’s a logic class.

What’s Philosophy of Religion about?
The study of the philosophy of religion concerns philosophical ideas and concepts that are brought to bear on religious issues. The purposes of this course include:
1) To introduce the student to basic issues in the academic discipline of the philosophy of religion.
2) To enable the student first of all to understand these issues and then, secondly, to enable the student to evaluate the issues.
3) To engage the student in dialogue about major issues in the philosophy of religion.
4) Students will have learned some new ways of thinking about some of life’s most important issues.
Areas we especially look at include:
- Classic and contemporary arguments for the existence of God
The Ontological Argument
The Teleological Argument
The Anthropic Teleological Argument
The Cosmological Argument
The Kalam Cosmological Argument
- Classic and contemporary refutations of the above arguments
- Classic and contemporary arguments against the existence of God
The Argument from Evil
- The hermeneutics of suspicion – Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche
- Philosophical issues in the comparative religions – especially regarding the idea of God or gods or lack thereof, and regarding the problem of evil as understood in each of the great world religions.
Hinduism
Buddhism
Islam
Judaism
Christianity
I love the beginning of the school year and the opportunity to meet new students and teach them things I am passionate about.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Dead Sea Scrolls to Be on Internet




Today’s nytimes.com says that “Israel [Is] To Display Dead Sea Scrolls on the Internet.”


“The 2,000-year-old scrolls, found in the late 1940s in caves near the Dead Sea east of Jerusalem, contain the earliest known copies of every book of the Hebrew Bible (missing only the Book of Esther), as well as apocryphal texts and descriptions of rituals of a Jewish sect at the time of Jesus. The texts, most of them on parchment but some on papyrus, date from the third century B.C. to the first century A.D.”


Note: The Dead Sea Scrolls say nothing about Jesus but tell us about the Qumran community known as the Essenes. They give us valuable historical background to a type of Jewish life at the time of Jesus.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Rawls' Rejection of Utilitarianism



I found this article on John Rawls' interesting, especially regarding his attack on utilitarianism.

The pre-Rawls preference was utilitarianism, which seeks to answer the question: how can we maximize people's preferences. How can we achieve the most satisfaction possible for everyone. But utilitarian theory "has some odd consequences." Why, e.g., is rape "wrong?" The article states: "A utilitarian would have to answer that the pain to the victim outweighs the pleasure to the rapist. Surely, though, this is not why rape is wrong; the pleasure the rapist gets shouldn’t be counted at all, and the whole thing sounds ridiculous. (By the way, Judge Richard Posner, who might be called Jeremy Bentham redivivus, accepts just this view of rape in his Sex and Reason.)"

Consider this. Executing a few Danish cartoonists may bring pleasure to a Muslim mob, giving them pleasure. Doing this would achieve greater satisfaction for a greater number of people. "A utilitarian would have to endorse the execution." Herein lies the problem. "As Rawls says, “there is a sense in which classical utilitarianism fails to take seriously the distinction between persons.”"

Rawls, thus, rejects utilitarianism, and puts forth his own theory in his famous book A Theory of Justice. The rest of this essay presents Rawls' theory and objections to it.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Obama’s Pay Grade Is Not Above Answering the Question About the Beginning of Human Life

In his interview with Barack Obama Pastor Rick Warren asked him the question, “At what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?” Obama replied: “Whether you are looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity is above my pay grade. ”

Well, it’s not above my pay grade, so here’s my answer. For some years now I’ve agreed with Baylor University professor Francis Beckwith. Here’s Beckwith’s argument against abortion, with the answer to Warren’s question in premise 1. Note: Beckwith’s pay grade is surely lower than Obama’s.

1. The unborn entity, from the moment of conception, is a full-fledged member of the human community.
2. It is prima facie morally wrong to kill any member of that community.
3. Every successful abortion kills an unborn entity, a full-fledged member of the human community.
4. Therefore, every successful abortion is prima facie morally wrong. (In Francis Beckwith, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice, p. xii.)

Beckwith’s book is brilliant, and i think his argument is powerful. In the book he argues strongly for premise 1.

I now submit the following argument, which I think is understandable by people way below my pay grade:

1. Barack Obama’s pay grade is higher than my pay grade.
2. I can understand Beckwith’s argument that the unborn entity, from the moment of conception, is a full-fledged member of the human community and therefore gets all the rights of the human community.
3. Therefore answering the question “When does a baby get human rights” is not above Obama’s pay grade.

And, by the way, the question as to when a baby gets human rights, or when personhood begins, cannot be answered scientifically.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

D'Souza on Pascal's Wager: Part III



D’Souza has so far argued for the truth of these three statements:

1. Noumenal reality exists.
2. Miracles are possible.
3. A Wittgensteinian approach to noumenal reality is epistemically superior to Dawkinsian claims about noumenal reality such as “There is no life after death.”

Next, D’Souza argues for an additional claim, which is:


4. Religious faith is not in opposition to reason.


Again, he cites Wittgenstein, who wrote: “Even if all possible scientific questions are answered, the problems of life have still not been touched on at all.” (105)

With that, I agree. The questions “Why am I here? What should I love? What should I live for?” lie outside the realm of the phenomenal, therefore outside of science. So, for D’Souza, we now can see the reasonable place of faith. “Faith is an attempt to reach beyond the empirical realm and illuminate those questions. Both Kant and Wittgenstein say this is impossible, but they mean it is impossible as a project of reason alone. Perhaps there is another way.” (195)

At this point the agnostic might say “It can’t be done. There is no other way.” But D’Souza says he can’t critique the believer who tries “a new path to reach the summit.” And that new path is “faith.”

More about this in a future post…

Thursday, August 21, 2008

D'Souza on Pascal's Wager: Part II

(Wittgenstein)

D'Souza uses Kant and Pascal to argue that it’s reasonable and very good to have faith, especially faith in God. God and the things of God are not accessible to science; thus faith-things are neither proven by science nor can they be critiqued by science, since noumenal reality is, Kant-like, beyond phenomenal reality. D’Souza writes: “Empirical evidence is unavailable because the senses cannot penetrate a realm beyond experience.” (194)

I pause here to note that I am interested in but not so sure of where D’Souza is heading. From my Christian viewpoint there is an empirical ground to my faith; viz., in the Jesus story. And, I am personally influenced by arguments for God’s existence such as, e.g., the fine-tuning argument. Re. such arguments they only have inductive probability, and so can be doubted.

With that in mind D’Souza brings in Wittgensteinian fideism. Wittgenstein wrote, famously, that “we don’t get to the bottom of things, but reach a point here we can go no further, where we cannot ask further questions.” So, when asked what happens when we die, “Wittgenstein refused to answer one way or the other.” (194) For D’Souza this is significant in that Wittgenstein did not and would not give the answer, as would Dawkins and Sam Harris, “There is nothing.” Wittgenstein “couldn’t say this because he didn’t know.” (194)

Pause again. That’s a good point to make, is it not? Consider:

1. Noumenal reality exists. (True, acc. to D'Souza)
2. Miracles are possible. (True, acc. to D'Souza)
3. Science can say nothing about noumenal reality. (True, acc. to D'Souza)
4. Therefore science can say nothing about life after death.

D’Souza then states that, for a religious person such as myself, this is something I can embrace. He cites Hebrews 11:1 which states that faith is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” D’Souza writes: “Faith says that even though I don’t know something with certainty, I believe it to be true.” (195)

Then, to the surprise of many atheists (I’m not so sure of this; but surely village atheists), and even a few Christians, one affirms that: “doubt is the proper habit of mind for the religious believer.” (194) D’Souza writes: “The Christian has faith even though he is not sure, while the unbeliever refuses to believe because he is not sure. But they agree in being unsure. The skeptical habit of mind is as natural to Christianity as it is to unbelief.” (195)

I suspect Christian fundamentalists would disagree with D’Souza here, but I affirm it. Maybe, because I’ve been a musician since age 5, the idea of “mystery” is not problematic for me. In this regard I remember, e.g., years ago reading B.F. Skinner’s Beyond Freedom and Dignity. Skinner wrote that the purpose of science is to reduce all mystery to knowledge. To which I thought, at that time, what a truly futile purpose. Skinner had a scientistic paradigm in which mystery had no place. I did not believe Skinner then, nor do I now.

Next D’Souza states that “religious faith is not in opposition to reason.” I’ll begin my next D'Souza post with that.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tumor Healed after Prayer and Laying on of Hands



I believe there is a God. This God who made the universe can also heal people. I've seen, personally, a number of people healed over the last few years. So when I see a story like the one below I am not shocked but encouraged and strengthened in faith.

*****

Tumor Healed after Prayer and Laying on of Hands

Teresa Neumann (August 9, 2008)

"He said it's got to be a mistake, it has to be. We are going to schedule another test, there is no way its just gone and just the whole time he is stuttering and there is just this look on his face like I don't understand. I don't know. We did another one and it was gone and his words were it was truly a miracle, this has to be the act of God."

(Tyler, Texas)—KLTV News reports that 11-year-old Kayla Knight has received a miraculous healing after an MRI showed a tumor that was covering nearly one-fourth of her brain.

"We prayed," said her mother Amy, who described the severe headaches her daughter had been experiencing.

"We both hit our knees and we were praying. That was actually on a Wednesday so when we got to church we had a good 30 people or more lay hands on her and it just.... you could feel God. I can't say we prayed as much before. I mean we did...but not like this. Not like we do now."

brain with tumor and brain withoutTwo days later, doctors sent Kayla to Baylor Hospital in Dallas where she had another MRI. Kayla's mother said the doctor told her the tumor had disappeared. (Photo: KLTV 7 News)

"He said it's got to be a mistake, it has to be. We are going to schedule another test, there is no way its just gone and just the whole time he is stuttering and there is just this look on his face like 'I don't understand. I don't know.' We did another one and it was gone and his words were it was truly a miracle, this has to be the act of God," said Amy.

The single mother added, "I have never been as comfortable in my faith as I am right now. The best way to describe it, I was a mediocre Christian. To be honest. I mean I went to church, the mundane thing. You do this and you do that and you think, 'Okay, I'm going to Heaven.' Looking back now, I don't know that I would have. I know I will now. I know this has opened my eyes and I think maybe God used that to make us better Believers. To make us fully depend on Him."

The link is right here.

It’s Not Enough to Just Give Thanks For What You Have

My passion is to know Jesus and make Jesus known to others. And by “Jesus” I’m not interested in some “cultural Jesus” or some “American Jesus.” Jesus, remember, was not born in Monroe.

I recently preached on Jesus’ story about a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. In the story the rich man is outrageously, hideously rich, and Lazarus is phenomenally rock-bottomly poor. Lazarus wears Armani suits, eats every day at Carl’s Chop House, and lives in a gated community. Lazarus wears open, oozing sores, would like to eat the rich man’s table scraps, and his home is on the ground outside the rich man’s gate.

The rich man sees Lazarus everyday or, better, steps over Lazarus on his way to shop at Neiman Marcus. He’s dressed in fine purple linen imported from Egypt. He doesn’t even see the dogs who lick Lazarus’s open sores after they’ve been dining on dead carcasses.

There’s a huge gap, a monstrous abyss, between the world of the rich man and the world of Lazarus even though physically they are very close.

As the Pharisees hear Jesus tell this story it must have outraged them because Jesus has just identified them as lovers of money.

Then, Mr Rich Man dies. He has a funeral unlike the funeral you and I will ever have. And Lazarus dies too, only he gets no funeral or burial. But, in the story Jesus tells, he does get the greatest funeral procession ever recorded as angels carry him away to sit at the Great Banquet next to the Big Three - Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (as well as the prophets of God).

The rich, self-aggrandizing guy sits on the other rim of what looks to him like the Grand Canyon, and sees Lazarus… sitting at the BIGGEST FOOD-THING ever known. Still thinking he’s in his gated community replete with servants who wait on him, he asks Abraham to send lowly, slavish, disgusting Lazarus over and give him some water because he’s parched. Abraham says, sorry… this gap is now fixed.

What’s happened is that the gap in the rich man’s heart between him and Lazarus, and also between him and God, becomes an eternal reality. He gets the desires of his heart, which is to be apart from the true heart of God.

The prophets, says Abraham, told you all about this. Remember Amos 5? You failed to have compassion on the poor. You failed to act. You failed to pro-actively attend to Lazarus and his likes. You built your own little earthly kingdom on the backs of the poor, stepping over them with your Guccis on your way to the spa.

So…? What’s Jesus saying here? I think Jesus, the Real One, is telling us that to occasionally or even often say “Thank you God that I have so much!!” but NOT use what we have been given to help the poor is far, far from the heart of God. To thank God for what we’ve been given and not to spend our money and resources on eternal things and the things Jesus is passionate about (= the poor) is scandalous. At least, according to my Bible, and Matthew-Mark-Luke-and John.

Monday, August 18, 2008

China's Evil Repression of Religion

There’s an article today on cnn.com about four Christians who were bringing 300 Bibles into China to give to Chinese Christians. The Bibles were confiscated, because according to Chinese law it’s illegal to bring religious literature into China unless it’s just enough (= one Bible) for personal use.

Last fall I stayed at the home of a friend who’s been sneaking Bibles into China for years. He told me that maybe one day I’ll visit China with him, and added, “Of course you’ll have to bring a suitcase of Bibles into the country, too. There’s such a need for them, so we use every opportunity to bring them in.”

I also teach at a Chinese seminary in New York City, and at a large Chinese church there. I’ve talked with many Chinese, some who recently feld the country because they were Christians. They have told me firsthand about religious repression and persecution.

For all the beauty of the Olympics before us China remains a very dark place for people who want to worship as they choose. The idea that churches can freely worship if they are registered with the government is a repressive joke. In spite of this there is a flourishing, growing, underground church happening in China right now as I type this. I have photos, e.g., of a church that literally meets underground in a cavern carved out by hands located below a village.

Pray for these real followers of Jesus who dare to follow him in the midst of a nation that wants to repress them.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Oxford U. Re-examines the Shroud of Turin



Every once in a while the "Shroud of Turin" thing raises its head. In today's Chicago Tribune there's an article on Oxford University's agreement to re-examine the ST.

Christopher Ramsey, head of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, says: "There is a lot of other evidence that suggests to many that the shroud is older than the radiocarbon dates allow, and so further research is certainly needed. Only by doing this will people be able to arrive at a coherent history of the shroud which takes into account and explains all of the available scientific and historical information."


For me, this is interesting, but finally irrelevant to my following of Jesus. If the ST is the real thing, cool. It fits within my paradigm. If not, it makes no difference to me.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

D'Souza on Pascal's Wager: Part I



Pascal’s wager is often mocked by atheists. In light of this I admit to much enjoying D’Souza’s chapter “A Skeptic’s Wager: Pascal and the Reasonableness of Faith.” Here’s D’Souza’s reasoning as I see it, with my comments.

D’Souza believes he has demonstrated, using Kant, that noumenal reality exists, and that science therefore cannot in principle grasp all of reality since it only deals with phenomenal reality.

Next, D’Souza thinks he has shown that miracles are possible.

Now, he wants to show, using Pascal, that faith is reasonable. “Faith is the smart bet. It makes sense to have faith.” (191) Contrast this to folks like Dawkins, who writes: “Faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness.” (In D’Souza, 192)

But faith is necessary in life. For example, “I express a lot of faith in air traffic control and the skill of the pilot every time I board an airplane.” (192) A response to this might be, “But it works. The airplane gets me from point A to point B.” But faith in a God strikes Dawkins et. al. like faith in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. That seems a lot different than faith in airplanes, that the Battle of Waterloo happened, and so on.

D’Souza responds that “this is no argument against religious faith because, for the believer, faith also delivers the goods.” D’Souza cites William James as supporting the idea that “faith in God, for the millions who have it, is routinely vindicated in everyday life.” (193) To this, personally, I would agree. My coming to faith in God has worked to change my life for the better. I could reasonably be dead by now given the drug-filled life I was living before I came to believe in a God who loved me and made a choice to seek God and follow God. Note: this is not insignificant, to me. It may not be others’ experience, but it is my experience, so it would be unreasonable for me to deny it.

But for D’Souza, as for me, it’s not enough to say that faith in God has changed my life for the better. I also want to know: is it true; viz., is an argument like this sound:

1. At age 21 my life took a radically turn for the better. (True)
2. This turn began at the moment I came to believe in God and place my trust in God. (True)
3. For me, scientific/genetic/psychological/cultural explanations do not suffice to explain my experience. (True)
4. Therefore, there is a God who effected this change in me. (???)

While I can empirically verify that the Battle of Waterloo happened, I cannot, according to D’Souza and Kant, empirically verify that “there is a God in heaven who seeks to be eternally united with us.” (193) D’Souza writes: “These things are outside the bounds of experience, and therefore they are outside the power of human beings to check out. As Kant showed, they are beyond the reach of reason itself.” (193) But that does not mean Kant thought religious faith was unreasonable. This is because “outside the phenomenal world… these criteria do not apply, just as the laws of physics apply only to our universe and not to any other universe.” (193)

Hitchens, therefore, makes what philosopher Gilbert Ryle might call a “category mistake” when he says that “what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.” (D’Souza, 194) The category mistake is to apply scientific empirical criteria to noumenal reality.

Note what D’Souza is doing so far:

1. Noumenal reality exists.
2. Science only applies to phenomenal reality and cannot speak to the issue of noumenal reality.
3. Therefore, to use empirical reasoning to think about noumenal reality is to be fundamentally misguided. It is to commit a Ryle-ian category mistake.

(I’ll continue this in a future post.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

D'Souza Agrees That Science "Works" But...

D'Souza has argued Kant's position that science cannot access noumenal reality to prove that there is noumenal reality, or reality essentially undetectable by the 5 senses. If that is so then it follows that empiricism is not capable of judging that non-empirical reality does not exist.


D'Souza then asks about those who say something like "So what - science works!" He quotes astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson: "Science's biggest success rests on the fact that it works." (What's So Great About Christianity, 186) D'Souza explains: "If science did not accurately describe the world, then airplanes would not fly and people who undergo medical treatments would not be cured... Better to fly in an airplane constructed by the laws of physics, Tyson scornfully says, than to board one "constructed by the rules of Vedic astrology." (186)


OK. D'Souza agrees that science works. "But it doesn't follow that scientific laws are known to be true in all cases." (187) D'Souza then proceeds to show how, in a Kuhnian way, the history of science is the history of error. For example, Newton's laws of physics worked for many years, only to have Einstein's theories of relativity contradict Newton. And one day Einstein's may be equally contradicted.


Examples like this caused Karl Popper to conclude "that no scientific law can, in a positive sense, claim to prove anything at all. Science cannot verify theories, it can merely falsify them." (187)


D'Souza's point is that what "works" today in science may be refuted in the future, thus leaving us skeptical of science's claims to special epistemic access to reality. And science qua science proves nothing, if we mean by "proof" absolute certainty. Science gives us "best guesses" about the world. "What we call laws are nothing more than observed patterns and sequences. We think the world works in this way until future experience proves the contrary."

A final note. Imagine X sees a truck coming at them, jumps out of the way, and saves their life. In this case their 5 senses seem to "work." OK. But such utilitarianism cannot provide us with a theory of truth except for: "truth" = what works. I don't see how one could argue for the truth of consequentialist theories.

1) It "works" to save my life when I see a truck coming at me.

2) Therefore, my senses are properly informing me.

I don't think so.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Finland's Genetic Disconnect from Europe



Today's nytimes.com has an interesting article called "The Genetic Map of Europe." Of particular interest to me is the genetic distance between Finland and the rest of Europe. My ancestors on both parents' sides are Finnish.

The article says: "The map... identifies the existence of two genetic barriers within Europe. One is between the Finns (light blue, upper right) and other Europeans. It arose because the Finnish population was at one time very small and then expanded, bearing the atypical genetics of its few founders.

The other is between Italians (yellow, bottom center) and the rest. This may reflect the role of the Alps in impeding free flow of people between Italy and the rest of Europe."

See blue Finand on the left-hand "genetic map?" As a Finn, words come to me now like... isolation, alone-ness, a liitle bit of Derrida-ean "differAnce," "ek-sistence," the need for "sisu"...

Monday, August 11, 2008

My 35th Wedding Anniversary!



Today is my 35th wedding anniversary with Linda, the love of my life. We’re going to spend part it at Maumee Bay State Park sitting in beach chairs soaking up sun reading books and talking.

Last night we kicked off our 2-day celebration by going to the Monroe Jazz Festival (picture).

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Isaiah Scroll Moves People to Tears



(I took this shot of the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem last February)

"Some Israelis have described being moved almost to tears by a rare viewing of the Great Isaiah Scroll, the best preserved and most complete Dead Sea biblical scroll, on special exhibit this summer at the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum for the first time in 40 years."

So begins the nytimes article on the Isaiah scroll display happening this summer in Jerusalem. When I was there in February we visited this phenomenal museum. The "Shrine of the Book" is designed to represent the cover of the canisters that contained the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The nytimes article especially talks about the concern some Jews have about the growing disconnect modern Hebrew and ancient, biblical Hebrew. "In a country suffused with religious and historical symbolism, the linguistic link to the past has always evoked feelings of national identity, vindication and pride. Any erosion is bound to stir unease. “The Bible,” said [Hebrew language expert Ruvik] Rosenthal, “is first of all our connection to the land.”"




Thursday, August 07, 2008

Think About Death



(I took this picture of an Orthodox priest walking down a Jersusalem street.)

N.T. Wright, in Suprised By Hope, writes: “From Plato to Hegel and beyond, some of the greatest philosophers declared that what you think about death, and life beyond it, is the key to thinking seriously about everything else - and, indeed, that it provides one of the main reasons for thinking seriously about anything at all. This is something a Christian theologian should heartily endorse.” (6)

I agree. Answer the question “What happens after I die?” and you have answered the question “What is the meaning of my life.”

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Darrell Bock Essay on The Kingdom of God

I ran across this essay by Darrell Bock called "The Kingdom of God in New Testament Theology: The Battle, The Christ, The Spirit-Bearer, and Returning Son of Man."

The KG is now and will be the dominant teaching theme in my church for the next year and beyond, including in our new Ministry School.

America's Worship of (All-too-human) Superheroes



Vanity Fair has an interesting essay written by Julian Sancton called "Why America Worships Superheroes."

Currently superheroes are big. Nytimes film critic A. O. Scott calls it the "superhero surge." Why the surge?

For one reason, says Sancton, we humans can relate to them. Sancton writes: "the heroes themselves have become more, well, complex. The films still pit good against evil, but with character actors like Robert Downey Jr. and Heath Ledger taking more risks, good has gotten more ambiguous and evil more unsettling."
Further, just as we are struggling economically and politically and globally, so are our superheroes. "Hancock’s a drunk, Tony Stark’s a war-profiteer, and Bruce Wayne’s a rich jerk. Wouldn’t you be messed up if you were fighting, respectively, L.A. crime, the Taliban, and Al Qaeda in clown makeup?"

And then there's Hellboy. "Hellboy’s inner demon is that he’s an outer demon. O.K., that’s not quite as easy to relate to, but he’s nonetheless an irritable, cynical hero, and audiences like that."
Superheroes portray the ethos of the time. When Superman arrived to help us the world was simpler and black and white. Good was good and evil was evil. Now, there's a lot more ambiguity and complexity. And this I believe is true. As we Jesus-followers like to say it's a post-Christian world that we live in. The spiritual "air we breathe" is highly polluted.

But what about the whole superhero thing anyway, in itself? Sancton's observation is that we need them. Quoting Hellboy's director Guillermo del Toro: "There is still a longing for mythos, for a spiritual Pantheon. And in an era where we have enshrined materialism to such a degree and we have killed off every conceit that seems to be weak and based on religion—New Age, all those types of things—the only sort of acceptable mythology, I think, is superhero mythology.”

In short - superheroes are our gods and goddesses. It's not that people actually believe Hellboy exists or that the Joker is around the corner and we'd better hope the psychologically struggling Batman sees the bat-signal we throw up and is in an emotional state to respond to it. It's that most of us, arguably all, have this deep, inner need for someone or something more to come to our rescue. For me, it's the Jesus-story, with the main difference being Jesus actually came to deliver the oppressed. Perhaps, as C.S. Lewis thought, the superhero stories, and even his own Narnia books and his friend Tolkien's trilogy, were reflections of a hope God placed in each of us and responded to in history.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Persecuted Church in China - Live Tonight


Tonight at 8 PM Voice of the Martyrs and Charisma Magazine will be talking with Bob Fu, a Chinese pastor who experienced persecution himself inside China, and now leads a group helping the persecuted church in China.

You can watch, listen, and join the discussion here.

Monday, August 04, 2008

EPS's Blog

The Evangelical Philosophical Society has a blog.

Antony Flew's Thinking Is Actually In "There Is a God"

After Antony Flew wrote There Is a God he was criticized by some who thought Flew didn't actually write the book, but his co-author Roy Varghese did. Here's Flew rebuttal of this accusation.

"I have rebutted these criticisms in the following statement: “My name is on the book and it represents exactly my opinions. I would not have a book issued in my name that I do not 100 per cent agree with. I needed someone to do the actual writing because I’m 84 and that was Roy Varghese’s role. The idea that someone manipulated me because I’m old is exactly wrong. I may be old but it is hard to manipulate me. That is my book and it represents my thinking.”"

Clifford Orwin's (& Hitchens) Misunderstanding of Christian "Compassion"




Clifford Orwin's essay on "compassion" troubles me because it misrepresents the Christian take on compassion.

Orwin says that compassion is an emotion. Orwin writes: "As even or precisely those who take compassion for a virtue acknowledge, it is an emotion. Can an emotion be a virtue? Yes, if the keynote of virtue is naturalness in the sense of spontaneity or authenticity. No, if what defines virtue is the perfection of our nature through the triumph of reason over passion." Orwin seems to say that "compassion" is the human default setting. Greek rationalism corrupted this.

Ancient Greek rationalism (esp. Plato and Aristotle) viewed any emotion as inferior to reason. Plato, e.g., saw passion and feeling as positively misleading when it came to the issue of truth. Orwin writes, correctly: "the classical view was that the virtuous must master their pity even as they do their other passions, indulging it only insofar as it is just and reasonable to do so (Republic 516c, 539a, 589e, 620a). Reverence for pity there was none."

Moving swiftly, Orwin writes that paganism then submitted to Christianity, and the result was an even further move away from natural human compassion. He says, "it would be mistaken to suppose that what Christianity taught was compassion."

Here's where my troubles begin. Jesus often looked on people"with compassion." What happened then is that some (not all) forms of "Christianity" submitted to Platonic otherworldliness. It's incorrect to say, as Orwin does, that "Christianity" did not teach compassion. Keep this in mind as you read on.

Orwin writes: "A single and omnipotent God who, having become flesh, suffered all that flesh can suffer; a morality that begins in the contemplation of the Passion of this God-man, an injunction to universal charity as the supreme virtue — this was far indeed from the humanistic and aristocratic rationalism of the pagan philosophers. At the same time, Christian charity was also far from what we mean by compassion, so far, in fact, that the latter emerged only by way of a profound critique of it."

What does Orwin mean by this? He goes on to explain.

"Charity, then, was not a (merely) natural virtue such as those taught by the ancients, but a “theological” or “infused” one. As such, moreover, it necessarily aimed not only or even primarily at the relief of our neighbor’s earthly suffering but at his eternal salvation. Salvation alone was the good (and damnation the evil) beside which all others paled. [I.e., Platonic other-worldliness.]

So while Christianity may indeed have multiplied soup kitchens, it never confused happiness with the absence of hunger pains. Truer to say that while modern compassion seeks to eliminate suffering, Christianity, recognizing its inevitability for mortal and sinful beings, sought to make it meaningful. It sought to teach us to grasp it as that suffering in and with Christ on which salvation ultimately depends. When, then, Christopher Hitchens excoriated the late Mother Teresa for not being a true “humanitarian” at all, he was perfectly correct: she could not be a mere humanitarian because (as she made no secret) she strove to be a true Christian. compassion."

Orwin reasons:

a. Compassion is a natural human disposition; Christian "love" is not. It's "theological" or "infused." [I.e., Platonic/Aristotelian.]

b. Christian "love" has as its aim, not relief of hunger or suffering, but a person's "eternal salvation." [Platonic other-worldliness]

c. For Orwin, compassion seeks to eliminate suffering; Christian charity does not. More than that, Christian charity makes human suffering a virtue in that, as Christ suffered, we ourselves suffer and that's a Christ-like thing.

It's true that certain realms of Christian theology made suffering a virtue and defined "salvation" as a Platonized future-only thing. But it's untrue that such a theology describes actual Christianity. I think it's not, as Orwin claims, that "paganism submitted to Christianity," but that certain elements of Christianity submitted to paganism. This is essentialy where his reasoning goes wrong, and why it's essentailly false for him to claim that "Christianity does not teach compassion."

Conisder the Christian idea of "salvation." There's an abundance of recent non-Platonic Christological material that argues for the meaning of "salvation" as including release and rescue for the poor and needy and sick and marginalized. Salvation has an inextricably social component. Here it's precisely the influence of Greek rationalism that got mixed with theology and created the dispassionate, other-worldly view of salvation. See, e.g., N.T. Wright's Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church; and the stuff by "Red Letter Christians" such as Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, and Shane Claiborne. And see especially Donald E. Miller's Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement for examples of many current examples of Jesus-followers who do not have Platonic views of salvation, and for whom "salvation" is holistic.

As for Hitchens, he famously has written that Mother Teresa "was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction." Mother Teresa was, says Hitchens, a "fraud." This, written from a man who, as far as I know, hasn't given his real life over to helping the poor but who was recently faux-waterboarded to experience being tortured.[Did we really need Hitchens to do this so: 1) we would know waterboarding was torture {as if we didn't already know this}; and he could write about it in Vanity Fair?]

I suggest reading Red-letter Christian Shane Claiborne, who spent time as an intern in Calcutta with Mother Teresa. You can read about Shane's views of MT in his The Irresistible Revolution. Claiborne looks at her life, not her theological reflections on that life.

I don't think Mother Teresa was a great theologian. She tried to make Christian sense of the suffering she sought to eradicate. To critique her for this and call her fraudulent is absurd. She inherited a pagan-tinged Christian theology. It would be like critiqueing Hitchens for being an atheist and still trying to find meaning in this life.

Orwin's error is that he only critiques a certain Platonic "Christian" theology of suffering and conflates this to "Christianity." All Orwin can see is what he calls "Christian otherworldliness." This causes him to fail to see the many visceral acts of true compassion happening through followers of Jesus.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

I Ate a Big Brownie Today!



(Linda and I, experiencing joy after we ate the Big Brownie)

Today is Linda's birthday! I took her and Del and Josh after church to eat at Mongolian BBQ in Ann Arbor. For dessert I split a "Big Brownie" with her. But I want you to know I only did this because I felt God tell me to eat a Big Brownie. Here's how this happened.

After church I was talking with some of our young guys. I told them where I was taking Linda, and IMMEDIATELY Tom White said "You should get a Big Brownie!" OK. It definitely sounded good to me, but in no way did I think God was speaking to me.

Then, a bit later, I was in the office area talking with Jen Newman and Sugeily Pinero-Soto. I told them where I was taking Linda and IMMEDIATELY Jen said "You should get a Big Brownie!" Now this really got my attention. Could it be that I was supposed to eat a Big Brownie today? So I put out a "fleece" in front of Jen and Sugeily. I said, "That's two people today who told me I should eat a Big Brownie. If a third person, such as Sugeily, should tell me the same thing then I'll take this as a sign that I'm supposed to do it." And then (I'm not exaggerating) IMMEDIATELY Sugeily said "You should get a Big Brownie!"

Well, that was it for me. I may at times be dense, but it was now clear that I was supposed to do this. So we went to M BBQ [the "BB" in "Mongolian BBQ" refers to "Big Brownie]. I decided to pass on the salad bar to make room for the BB. Planning ahead. I had only one bowl of food to keep room for the BB. Then, at just the right time, I said to Linda, "Would you like to split a Big Brownie with me?" She said... "Yes." She said yes!!!

It was huge, cold, creamy, sugary, chocolaty, big (as the name indicates), brown (again, the name), delicious. Now I'm sitting on our back deck with my birthday wife realizing I hear another voice that tells me "You are to eat nothing else until tomorrow morning." I know that's true. But the BB was worth it, and I'm glad I obeyed the signs that led me to it.

My Wife Linda's Birthday Is Today!



(Linda, in Korazin, Israel, Feb 2008)

Today Linda is 59 years old. I’m also 59 - last April! We’re not ashamed to say this. Our hearts and spirits are growing newer and younger every day!

Linda is the most beautiful 59-year-old I have ever seen. And her beauty is not only physical. Linda is a deeply spiritual person, a phenomenal listener, a non-judgmental, loving, imperfect (she’ll admit to this), passionate, real Jesus-follower. That God gave her to be my life companion astounds me. On August 11 we’ll have been married 35 years.

Last night we went for a date to walk around Levis Commons in Perrysburg - very cool! A beautiful evening, a good meal, some Starbuck’s for me and a little chocolate for her, then sitting on a bench on the grassy traffic island listening to music and talking and feeling the cool, low humidity breeze. Linda said, “This is just a perfect summer night!”

Perfect for me because God gave me Linda to share my life with. Happy birthday to my friend, sister, lover.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Don't Pay Full Price for College Textbooks



I went into our college's bookstore yesterday and checked out the prices for the texts I'll be teaching from. For my Intro to Logic class I use Hurley. For my purposes it's the best logic text I can find. And, in our bookstore, it costs $120. THAT... IS OUTRAGEOUS!!! The book is also in a new edition. New editions of college textbooks come out every year like the grass turns green, except that in this case the "green" is in $$$$$. New editions of my logic text mean the bookstore won't be stocking old editions. I've gone through several editions of Hurley and the changes made are so miniscule that I could easily use the edition I began with several years ago. THAT'S OUTRAGEOUS TOO!!!!

So - Don't buy your books full price if you don 't have to. Here's a few suggestions.

1. Wait until the first class to see exactly what books you will really need. OR - call your professor and ask them if he/she will actually be using all the books on their list.

2. Will the teachers use the entire book? If not - you can probably get it at your local library (here in Monroe County, Michigan, through our state-wide library lending system - Go here.) You can keep these books for three weeks. If the professor is only using a few chapters you can xerox them.

3. Buy them used. Begin here.