Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Greg Boyd Reviews Eben Alexander's "Proof of Heaven"

Greg Boyd gives an excellent review of Harvard neurosurgeon Eben Alexander's Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife.

Greg affirms a number of things, and then, as a theologian, gives five concerns. For example, Alexander says he was given, in his afterlife experience, three messages which he is to communicate to the world: “You are loved and cherished;” “You have nothing to fear;” and “There is nothing you can do wrong.” Greg responds:

"For obvious reasons, the third one concerns me. Indeed, it strikes me as utterly absurd. I have trouble believing that Alexander believes that if someone raped his child, for example, it wouldn’t be “wrong.” But though I’ve tried to think of ways to interpret this statement such that it wouldn’t imply this, I have so far failed. If a divine agent gave this teaching to Alexander with the meaning that there is no such thing as evil and sin, then I have no choice but to conclude that this agent was demonic."

Multitasking Is the Road to Mediocrity

One leaf among billions in my backyard

In my seminary and ministry school Spiritual Formation classes, and my college Philosophy classes, I teach mono-tasking. Mono-tasking is focusing on one thing for the sake of learning it to excellence. To achieve excellence in most things requires this.

I started playing guitar when I was five. I taught in a music studio in my 20s. I practiced like a monomaniac! I was so focused on this for years that my parents had a hard time interrupting me to do my homework. To learn to play an instrument well requires an undivided heart. To do anything well, this is needed.

Working on my Ph.D, I needed to isolate myself, hunker down in my bunker, set the book before me and attend. I was all eyes and all ears towards one thing. I remember, for example, taking a class at Northwestern on the phenomenologist Edmund Husserl. Sam Todes was my professor. Our text was Husserl's Experience and Judgment. Each of us in the class had to teach one chapter out of this book. In preparing to do this I studied my face off. In this studying I isolated myself from all distractions and honed in on the text. For me this was hard work that could not by multitasked.

Multitasking, the ability to do multiple things simultaneously, is valuable when attending to many things is required by life's circumstances. Yet the chronic, neurally determined multitasker becomes, at best, average at many things. One will never really learn Philosophy, or brain surgery, or golf, or baking this way. Nor will one succeed in relationships, to include the God-relationship. Linda and I go out on weekly dates and mono-task; we both get alone with God and focus our hearts and minds and strength and souls solely on Him.

Jesus said, multiple times, "Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear." (Mark 4:9; et. al.) Multitasked distractedness subverts real listening. Other than this it is the road to shallowness and mediocrity.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Deconstruction and Différance

Butterfly on my front porch

Here's a nice little piece on the meaning of "deconstruction," a la Jacques Derrida. It's about différance. Andy Martin writes that deconstruction is about seeing different possibilities simultaneously (seeing the other and the self concurrently). Martin writes:

"The différance lies in not being able to square them or finally make sense of the totality. Deconstruction is the quantum physics of philosophy. Just as Schrödinger's cat is both alive and dead, so Plato's pharmakon is both medicine and poison. Meanings are superposed in an aporia - not 'either/or', but 'and/and'. To be and not to be. Derrida did us the service, in verbal terms, of taking what we thought of as fairly solid tables and chairs and pointing out that, apart from a few stray particles of sense whirling about, they were mainly made up of sheer nothingness. He was bound to annoy the but-hold-on-a-second-I'm-sitting-on-it-aren't-I party (otherwise known as logocentrists)."

Actress Mira Sorvino Writes About NightLight

Academy Award-winning actress Mira Sorvino writes about her visit to Bangkok and NightLight here. Sorvino is an activist against human sex trafficking.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

God Is Now Taking Charge

My backyard

My Christian background taught me that the main message of Jesus was how to escape hell and get to heaven. Over the years, after studying and knowing Jesus and his words, I'm more in line with what N.T. Wright, in Simply Jesus, writes:

"It will not do to suppose that Jesus came to teach people `how to get to heaven.' That view has been immensely popular in Western Christianity for many generations, but it simply won't do. The whole point of Jesus's public career was not to tell people that God was in heaven and that, at death, they could leave "earth" behind and go to be with him there. It was to tell them that God was now taking charge, right here on `earth.'"

Wright is right. This is good news!

Vote for Jesus

Friday, October 26, 2012

Society Is Becoming More Psychopathic

My backyard

"Psychopathic" - Relating to or affected with an antisocial personality disorder that is usually characterized by aggressive, perverted, criminal, or amoral behavior. (See here.)

Society is becoming more psychopathic, writes Cambridge University research psychologist Kevin Dutton in The Chronicle of Higher Education ("Psychopathy's Double Edge"). The bullets, with commentary, are:

  • "There's stuff going on nowadays that we wouldn't have seen 20, even 10 years ago. Kids are becoming anesthetized to normal sexual behavior by early exposure to pornography on the Internet. Rent-a-friend sites are getting more popular on the Web, because folks are either too busy or too techy to make real ones."
  • "The new millennium has seemingly ushered in a wave of corporate criminality like no other. Investment scams, conflicts of interest, lapses of judgment, and those evergreen entrepreneurial party tricks of good old fraud and embezzlement are now utterly unprecedented in magnitude."
  • Psychopaths exhibit the following callous behaviors, in this order: 1) kicks; 2) spur-of-the-moment impulses; 3) status; and 4) financial gain.
  • The University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research "has found that college students' self-reported empathy levels... have been in steady decline over the past three decades—since the inauguration of the scale, in fact, back in 1979. A particularly pronounced slump has been observed over the past 10 years. College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago."
  • During the same period "students' self-reported narcissism levels have shot through the roof. "Many people see the current group of college students, sometimes called 'Generation Me,' " [University of Michigan's Sara] Konrath continues, "as one of the most self-centered, narcissistic, competitive, confident, and individualistic in recent history.""
  • Now watch this: "Precisely why this downturn in social values has come about is not entirely clear. A complex concatenation of environment, role models, and education is, as usual, under suspicion." A suggestion: relate the increase in narcissism levels to the decrease in Jesus-values such as compassion and love and (!!!) servanthood. See the ongoing work of Notre Dame's Christian Smith, especially his writing on the prevailing adolescent religion of non-choice - Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. (MTD)
  • Meanwhile, while Smith and I explore the connections of MTD with America's bloated psychopathic narcissism, others are conducting brain studies. Reading, for example, can help defeat psychopathic narcissism. "Reading a book carves brand-new neural pathways into the ancient cortical bedrock of our brains. It transforms the way we see the world—makes us, as Nicholas Carr puts it in his recent essay, "The Dreams of Readers," "more alert to the inner lives of others." We become vampires without being bitten—in other words, more empathic. Books make us see in a way that casual immersion in the Internet, and the quicksilver virtual world it offers, doesn't."
  • Ahhh... but there's a problem. No one reads books anymore. "Which is worrisome, to say the least, given the current slump in reading habits."
  • Dutton briefly notes that certain psychopathic traits can be constructive. And then he submits to a neural test using something called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) to simulate the experience of being psychopathic. I found this section interesting but not helpful. We just enter (maybe) into a psychopath's brain and experience. OK.
Dutton tells us how bad things are, compassion-wise. Then he tries to show us, internally, what that feels like. And leaves us with no answers except "read some books."

Where Is This in Monroe?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

I Don't Set Goals for Myself

Our backyard

Recently someone asked me about goal-setting. "How do I go about setting goals for my life?" I found this question, and my response to it, so interesting. It gave me a new way to think of my life, the choices I make, and the direction I am heading in.

I said, "I don't set goals for myself. I haven't set goals for decades!" Instead, I am led by the One whose goals are redemptive and salvific. God is on a mission; I am his missional servant. God is my Shepherd; I am one of his sheep. Sheep don't set goals; instead, they are led.

There is, however, one sort of "goal" that makes sense to me. It looks like this. When God leads, obey and follow. Within the act of obedience there can be "goals." Call these "intra-obedience goals." For example, when God called me to teach in Kenya, I began to prepare physically, spiritually, and intellectually. Within the obedience I had a "goal" of getting the appropriate vaccinations. This was part of my "to do" list.

Intra-obedience goals are not things one brainstorms about. God has already given us purpose. God is the One who figures out our lives. Within God's purposes and calling we plan and administrate.

Redeemer Young Adults - This Friday Night

Redeemer Young Adults - there will be a prayer and worship get-together Friday night.
Where: RMS House - 418 W. 8th
When: 7 PM
Led by: Tom White and RMS students

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

31 Days with Jesus (An Invitation to Join Me)

Maple Tree, in Monroe, MI
(Note: If you have sent me an e-mail and plan on joining me for this I'll be sending you information when the time comes.)

“Not one of the adults we interviewed said that their goal in life was to be a committed follower of Jesus Christ or to make disciples.”
- George Barna, Growing True Disciples, 3

Since converting from a life of practical atheism and weak (uninformed) deism 42 years ago my life, both experientially and academically, has been a long, exhilarating Christological adventure. I was truly captured by Christ, and was freed from a life of drug and alcohol abuse.

I began to study Him, about Him, and what it meant to follow after Him. Importantly for me, one of my doctoral qualifying exams was on ancient Christology, so even during my Ph.D studies in philosophical theology I was able to invest deeply in ongoing Jesus-studies.

Today, years later, Christ remains central to my life and being. I invest much time in knowing about Him and knowing Him. During this Christmas season I'm going to ramp it up and invite you to join me for "31 Days with Jesus."

During this Christmas season I am going to focus on Jesus, in my studies and in my prayer & devotional life. I am inviting you to join me this 31-day experience. It will begin with an 1 ½ hour meeting on Sunday night, Nov. 25, 6 PM; it will end on Christmas Day.

During the 31 days I will send a daily post that I write on Jesus that will take you deeper into a knowledge of Him. I’ll be posting more detailed information on my website (

If you want to join me please let me know (talk with me personally or send me an e-mail). I am praying that this Christmas will be more meaningful than ever as we focus together on the Real Jesus!

You can do this online with me. My Nov. 25 teaching will be available online (my 1-hour teaching on Basic Christology.

If you are a pastor or Christian leader I'd love to have your church or group join me in this, and make Jesus the center of your Christmas discussions.


PERSONAL COST: Your commitment to invest in "31 Days with Jesus."

Monday, October 22, 2012

New Blog on the Historical Jesus

Wilberforce, Ohio

I just picked up Friends and Enemies: A Historical and Literary Introduction to Jesus in the Gospels, by the great New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado and NT scholar Chris Keith.

I also discovered The Jesus Blog, by NT scholars Keith and Anthony Le Donne. This is a weblog dedicated to historical Jesus research.  

Reviews for the Hurtado-Keith book from the back cover:

"Time and time again in this innovative book we are taken to the Gospels themselves to see how the narratives shape our understanding of Jesus. It is the breadth of the testimony of these narratives that makes this book sparkle."
--Scot McKnight, North Park University

"The recipe for this book is brilliantly simple: get to know Jesus through those who knew him. Seek out both friends and enemies. Interview family and foreigners, disciples and detractors, men and women. Confer not only with secret allies but also with public opponents, with loyalists as well as traitors. Find out what drew each group toward Jesus or scared them away. Into this mix stir what modern scholars are saying about the impressions Jesus left on the Romans and Jews of his day and about the most responsible ways to read the Gospels. Simmer. Season with clear prose. Serve. Jesus among Friends and Enemies is a great read, a rich introduction to Jesus and his world, and a fresh addition to the often-bland menu of Jesus studies."
--Bruce Fisk, Westmont College

"An outstanding teaching resource. Though Jesus and the New Testament Gospels are the primary focus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, non-Christian discussions of Jesus, writings associated with apocalyptic Judaism, and noncanonical Gospel traditions are also addressed, providing readers with a rich store of comparative data."
--Jennifer Knust, Boston University

"This book covers it all, providing clear and robust historical and literary examinations of Jesus from our knowledge of John the Baptist, Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus, Caiaphas, Pilate, Judas Iscariot, and more. This book will inspire classes."
--April DeConick, Rice University; author, Holy Misogyny: Why the Sex and Gender Conflicts in the Early Church Still Matter
"The essays in this volume bring a fresh approach to the question, Who was Jesus? by combining the best elements of historical research and narrative criticism. The content of the discussion will be of interest to scholars, while the accessible presentation will make this book a valuable resource for students."
--Tom Thatcher, Cincinnati Christian University

A Night of Intercessory Prayer

Linda and I and our Worship Arts Ministry will be in Redeemer's sanctuary this Wednesday, October 24, 7 PM, to lead in an evening of intercessory prayer.

All are invited to join us.

To "intercede," in prayer, is to appeal to God on behalf of other people, families, communities, churches, and nations. Biblically, intercession is sometimes viewed as an "agonizing struggle." We see this in Colossians 2:1, where Paul writes to the Colossian Jesus-followers that, even though he has never met them, he "struggles" before God on their behalf.

The word "struggle: here is the Greek word agon. We get our English cognates "agony" and "agonizing" from this word. Sam Storms, in commenting on this verse, writes: “Intercession [praying for someone else, before God] is a battle, an agonizing war that demands concentration, effort, and sustained devotion.”

If you have a request you would like us to intercede for this Wednesday please submit it to me by e-mail -

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Multiverse Is Philosophy and Not Science

I enjoyed reading theoretical physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson's review of Jim Holt's Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story. (Dyson, "What Can You Really Know?") I read Holt's book this summer and made some multiple posts on it herehere, here, here, and here.

Dyson's remarks on his personal experience as a student at Cambridge with Ludwig Wittgenstein are interesting. Wittgenstein was a brilliant but troubled person.

Dyson thinks "the multiverse is philosophy and not science." He writes: "Science is about facts that can be tested and mysteries that can be explored, and I see no way of testing hypotheses of the multiverse." I laughed when I read "the multiverse has its place in philosophy and in literature." It was a Scandinavian-Finnish laugh, which is indiscernible to anyone nearby.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Porn Addicts Are Like Caged Rats

(I've been reading The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations.)

"The men at their computers [addicted to] looking at porn [are] uncannily like the rats in the cages of the NIH, pressing the bar to get a shot of dopamine or its equivalent. Though they [don’t] know it, they [have] been seduced into pornographic training sessions that [meet] all the conditions required for plastic change of brain maps."

- By Layden, Mary Anne ; Eberstadt, Mary; Kindle Locations 275-278. The Witherspoon Institute.

Redeemer's Worship Arts Ministry Website

Redeemer's Worship Arts Ministry has begun a website!

It's in development - much more to come.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

I Get Nervous Before I Preach

Every time I preach at Redeemer, or other places, I feel nervous. I feel nervous before every class I teach at our community college. I rarely perform musically anymore, but every time I did I felt nervous before stepping onto the stage. I see this as a gift, not a hindrance.

My nervousness tells me I am not taking the opportunity to speak, before others, for granted. I do not think I am God's gift to people. I need to get out of the way so God's Spirit can bring his gifts. I am confident but not overconfident.

My nervousness tells me I don't know what is going to happen. I do not repeat sermons at Redeemer, at funerals, at weddings, or, for by far the most part, anywhere. Every message for me is new, like preparing a meal I've never cooked before. I don't know how it's going to turn out.

My nervousness tells me I am expecting God to show up. I want more than anything to discern correctly, to get the God-moments right. I want to listen correctly. From my tiny POV I cannot predict what things will look like when God makes his moves.

My nervousness tells me that I have faith in God. Every time I preach I feel like I'm jumping off a high cliff and trusting that God will catch me.

My nervousness tells me I have an awareness of what is at stake. The issues for me are nothing less than life and death. At every wedding. At every funeral. On every Sunday morning.

Thank you, God, for the gift of nervousness.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Monday, October 15, 2012


Redeemer sanctuary (10/14/12)

Pastors Teach Their People to Do 2 Things

My neighbor Dave allows me to
harvest from his fruit garden.

My life as a pastor keeps narrowing. After four decades (!) of doing this I see that, pastorally, just two things need to be done. I am doing them, and I am teaching them, at Redeemer.

As a pastor, I am to:
  1. Teach my people how to live in the presence of God (AKA, from the NT POV, how to "abide in Christ").
  2. Teach my people how to pray.
I have seen, in my own life and in the lives of others I have been privileged to instruct, that if a Jesus-follower engages in these two things and heart-learns them, their lives will be "fruitful."

Now, today, this very week, in my Redeemer context, many in my Jesus-community (= "church") are doing 1 & 2. As this is happening, much fruit is being born.

A pastor is a fruit planter and a fruit tender. Behold the fruit of the Spirit. Continue sowing the fruit seeds of 1 and 2.

(BTW - evangelism is part of the fruit of abiding in Christ. Teach your people first, as Jesus did, how to abide in Him. This brings the overflowing life, and inexorably leads to authentic, non-programmatic evangelism.)

Fireless Administration Quenches Passion for Jesus.

The River Raisin, from our backyard

George Barna wrote this in 2001. Leaders for Jesus take note.

Barna believes the church should “ignite people’s passion for God and get out of their way.” 

Yes. There is an over-administration happening in much of the American Church. Build structure where there is life. When God calls you to build, then build with excellence. That's where the spiritual gift of administration kicks in.  But don't fire up this gift when there's no calling from God.

It's precisely when people's passion for God is ignited that some pastors become afraid and, out of their fear, controlling. That is not good.

Barna continues: "If the congregation is passionate about God, then the issues of entertaining the masses in church, making every time frame convenient for them to attend and constantly being concerned about the financial state of the church would go away. There would be a tremendous renewal movement in the church."

Yes, zeal without knowledge can lead to a train wreck. But, given the choice, I'll take zeal over knowledge anytime. Wild horses can be broken and worked with. Knowledgeable people who have no inner fire for Jesus gravitate towards administration. Fireless administration quenches passion for Jesus.

Barna asks, what is the problem with the American Church? He writes: “Not one of the adults we interviewed said that their goal in life was to be a committed follower of Jesus Christ or to make disciples.” George Barna, Growing True Disciples, p. 3.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Worship as Warfare

I took this photo of worship at Redeemer this morning and solarized it.
Click on it to get better view.

Say Farewell to the "Mythicist Jesus"

Redeemer sanctuary

The "mythicist" position is that Jesus of Nazareth never existed. I've written about this small idea previously.

Ben Witherington cites an excellent post NT scholar Larry Hurtado in response to this. See Witherington, The Importance of Actual Data in the Did Jesus Exist Debate.

Intercessory Prayer as Agonizing Battle

This morning at Redeemer I put out a call for a week of intercessory prayer. God led me to do it this way.

Before we began to worship I asked people to raise their hands if they wanted to write a prayer request on a 3X5 card. I walked through the congregation, passing out cards to many raised hands. During worship I kept walking through our church family, gathering the prayer requests.

Then I preached out of Colossians 2:1-6, focusing on intercessory prayer as a means of battling for and on behalf of the souls of others. When Paul writes, in Colossians 2:1, that he was "struggling" for the Colossian Jesus-followers, the Greek word he used was agon. We get "agony," and "agonizing," from this. This is intercessory prayer as agony. Sam Storms writes:

“Intercession is a battle, an agonizing war that demands concentration, effort, and sustained devotion.” (Storms, The Hope of Glory: 100 Daily Meditations on Colossians)

"Is there anyone here this morning who will take one of these 3X5 card prayer requests," I asked, "and contend for it?" I estimate that 80-100 came forward. I anointed each one with oil and gave them one of the prayer cards.

This is a week, one week, of struggling, agonizing, battling intercessory prayer at Redeemer. I was able to take pictures of about half of these pray-ers. (Sorry if you were there and I missed you. I almost forgot to do this!)

My church is a praying church, and I thank God for this!




Looking for True Disciples

Great Blue Heron

I like, and I don't like (because it's so true), this quote from George Barna (which I pull up and read occasionally lest I lose my sanity).

The church should “ignite people’s passion for God and get out of their way.”

If the congregation is passionate about God, then the issues of entertaining the masses in church, making every time frame convenient for them to attend and constantly being concerned about the financial state of the church would go away. There would be a tremendous renewal movement in the church.

So what’s the problem? “Not one of the adults we interviewed said that their goal in life was to be a committed follower of Jesus Christ or to make disciples.”"
- Barna, Growing True Disciples, 3.

Porn Viewers Develop New Maps In Their Brains

Every state of affairs has an effect. Some of these effects are social. The effects can either be good or bad.

Internet pornography, as a state of affairs that now obtains, has social effects. There are sociologists and psychologists who are scholars who are now studying the rise of pornography. From my limited point of view I am always meeting Christians who look at internet porn. For them, the effect is spiritually, emotionally, and relationally negative. 

To see a current report on pornography and its societal effects see The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations. To quote, e.g.:

"Pornography, by offering an endless harem of sexual objects, hyper-activates the appetitive system. Porn viewers develop new maps in their brains, based on the photos and videos they see. Because it is a use-it-or-lose-it brain, when we develop a map area, we long to keep it activated. Just as our muscles become impatient for exercise if we’ve been sitting all day, so too our senses hunger to be stimulated.

The men at their computers [addicted to] looking at porn [are] uncannily like the rats in the cages of the NIH, pressing the bar to get a shot of dopamine or its equivalent. Though they [don’t] know it, they [have] been seduced into pornographic training sessions that [meet] all the conditions required for plastic change of brain maps."

Quote from N. Doidge, The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science (New York: Viking, 2007), p. 108. In Layden, Mary Anne ; Eberstadt, Mary. The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations, Kindle Locations 272-278). The Witherspoon Institute.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Harvard Neurosurgeon Comes to Belief in Life After Death

In 2008 Harvard neurosurgeon Eben Alexander contracted a form of meningitis and lay in a coma for 7 days. His entire cortex had shut down. He writes: "For seven days I lay in a deep coma, my body unresponsive, my higher-order brain functions totally offline."

This week Alexander is on the cover of Newsweek. He is a Christian, and mostly was one in name only. He writes:

"Although I considered myself a faithful Christian, I was so more in name than in actual belief. I didn’t begrudge those who wanted to believe that Jesus was more than simply a good man who had suffered at the hands of the world. I sympathized deeply with those who wanted to believe that there was a God somewhere out there who loved us unconditionally. In fact, I envied such people the security that those beliefs no doubt provided. But as a scientist, I simply knew better than to believe them myself."

But then something happened that changed his mind and his life.

"In the fall of 2008, however, after seven days in a coma during which the human part of my brain, the neocortex, was inactivated, I experienced something so profound that it gave me a scientific reason to believe in consciousness after death.
I know how pronouncements like mine sound to skeptics, so I will tell my story with the logic and language of the scientist I am."

You can read his story here - "Heaven Is Real: A Doctor’s Experience With the Afterlife."

On Oct. 23 his book on this event will be published - Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife.  


28,258 Porn Viewers Every Second

I've been reading The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations

"Every second, there are approximately 28,258 internet users viewing pornography. Every day, there are approximately 116,000 online searches for child pornography."
Layden, Mary Anne ; Eberstadt, Mary. 
The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations
Kindle Locations 204-206
The Witherspoon Institute. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

When Self Meets God

Solitude with God, getting alone with God, is, for many people, threatening. Solitude-fearers avoid facing their own selves and live inauthentic lives that cover the self up, keeping themselves busy with things like money, sex, power, and multitasking. God is viewed as Someone who will discover them, and then punish them for what He finds.

Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio
It's true that God is the Great Discoverer, the Great Uncoverer. In my times of conversing with God alone I have been brought to face my own self. This is very, very good. This is required if one is to mature and live an authentic, meaning-filled life.

"Knowing thyself," argued Socrates, is a virtue, a good thing. Kierkegaard screamed against the many people, to include the "Christians" of his time, who melted into a face-hiding metaphysical unity with "the herd." And Jesus often went to "a lonely place" to be alone with God and pray. We are told this was his "custom," his habit. It is good for every Jesus-follower to do the same.

Henri Nouwen is one who discovered the self within, in all its imago dei-ness, in all its corruption. Will Hernandez explains Nouwen's experience when self meets God. Hernandez writes:

"Just what do we contend with when we delve into our interiority, into our so-called inner sanctuary? What can we realistically expect to face if we dare to enter into solitude with ourselves and God? Nouwen speaks plainly in revealing what awaits us there. He says, “In solitude we meet our demons, our addictions, our feelings of lust and anger, and our immense need for recognition and approval” Yet he hastens to add, “But if we do not run away, we will meet there also the One who says, ‘Do not be afraid. I am with you, and I will guide you through the valley of darkness’” (BJ:Ibid.). No wonder Nouwen identifies solitude elsewhere as “the place of the great struggle and the great encounter— the struggle against the compulsion of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self.”" (Hernandez, Will, Henri Nouwen and Spiritual Polarities: A Life of Tension, Kindle Locations 560-567.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

More Porn Damage

“A panel of clinicians and researchers concluded that pornography does stimulate attitudes and behavior that lead to gravely negative consequences for individuals and for society and that these outcomes impair the mental, emotional, and physical health of children and adults.”
From the 1987 Report of the Surgeon General’s Workshop
on Pornography and Public Health.
Quoted in:
Layden, Mary Anne ; Eberstadt, Mary;
The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations, Kindle Locations 963-965.
The Witherspoon Institute.

The Damage Porn Does

“Overall, the body of research on pornography reveals a number of negative attitudes and behaviors that are connected with its use. It functions as a teacher, a permission-giver, and a trigger of these negative behaviors and attitudes. The damage is seen in men, women, and children, and to both married and single adults. It involves pathological behaviors, illegal behaviors, and some behaviors that are both illegal and pathological.”
- Mary Anne Layden
Director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program Center for Cognitive Therapy Department of Psychiatry
University of Pennsylvania
(In Layden, Mary Anne ; Eberstadt, Mary; The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations, Kindle Locations 94-103;
The Witherspoon Institute)

The Identity That Makes You Free

Our inner, spiritual freedom is a function of our anchorage. The more we are attached (addicted; French attache) to the affirmation and rejection of other people, the less free we are. I know this too well from personal experience. I have been too attached, too connected, to what other people think of me. This attachment has prevented me from thinking of other people, without conditions. Which is how Jesus thought and thinks about us.

The way out of this inner bondage is to discover your true self, who you are and what you are intended to be. Which is: a child of God, forgiven, loved, and restored to community with God. You are the beloved of God. The more this truth has descended from my mind into my heart and has become my very being, my core identity, the more I experience the freedom Christ has called us to. Included in this freedom is: freedom to love others as God loves them. One sign of this true experiential freedom is: compassion towards others.

I love the way Henri Nouwen expresses this. He writes: "The identity that makes you free is anchored beyond all human praise and blame. (Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love, 70)

The love of God transcends all earthly loves.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

For Lovers of Detroit


I like Detroit. Linda and I go into the city often to eat, attend the phenomenal jazz festival, walk on the riverfront, see the Tigers play, or just find a bench and sit and talk and read.

Detroit-lovers should appreciate today's New York Times' essay "Amid Newfound Glory, Echoes of Old Detroit."  (The Tigers are roaring. The Big Three are back and hiring.)

20% of Americans Are Affliated with No Religious Group

My backyard

See Survey: One in five Americans has no religion - CNN's article on a survey released Thursday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Note: none of this should be surprising. It's not to me. In my little world of community college teaching over the last 13 years this data rings true. A growing number of students are religiously unaffliliated.

"Thirty-three million Americans now have no religious affiliation, with 13 million in that group identifying as either atheist or agnostic, according to the new survey.

Pew found that those who are religiously unaffiliated are strikingly less religious than the public at large. They attend church infrequently, if at all, are largely not seeking out religion and say that the lack of it in their lives is of little importance."

Yes, many in this group are not actively seeking out religion. But when exposed to it, as they are in my philosophy of religion classes (which are mostly filled with a waiting list), they are extremely interested. It's like they are hearing information they have never been exposed to. They stay after class to talk. They call me and contact me and want to get together. Some even check out my church.

The article goes on to say: "And yet Pew found that 68% of the religiously unaffiliated say they believe in God, while 37% describe themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious.” One in five said that they even pray every day."

Among the 20% who identify themselves as religiously unaffiliated, 42% of that group self-identify as "atheist" or "agnostic." I think that, among that group, many self-refer as atheist or agnostic but, when asked for reasons why they are, cannot give any. At least, they can't formulate reasons for their atheistic or agnostic faith. I assume similiar things can be said of many who self-identify as "Christian."

Religious unaffiliation is one thing. Religiosity is another thing. Answers to the important matters of value and meaning and truth cannot be found - at all - in the currently prevailing and mostly-unreflected scientism (as a God-substitute).

The Big Questions won't be going away.

Click on the chart to enlarge.


Monday, October 08, 2012

GM hiring 1,500 for computer center near Detroit

Detroit - the Motor City
GM hiring 1,500 for computer center near Detroit

Monday, October 8, 2012

DETROIT — General Motors plans to hire up to 1,500 workers to staff a new computer technology center outside Detroit.
It is part of a move to bring 90 percent of information technology in-house, which GM believes will make the company more nimble and efficient. The carmaker plans to hire 10,000 people at four new technology centers in the next three to five years. The centers will help get breakthrough ideas into the company’s cars and trucks, GM says...

...The company is recruiting on college campuses and local information technology job fairs. It’s looking for people to fill jobs in software development, database management, project management and business analysis.
New Chief Information Officer Randy Mott wants more people in the company working on development and innovation, and integrating the tasks into GM’s day-to-day business, Huston-Rough said.

The new computer center in Michigan will be housed on the grounds of GM’s technical center in Warren, north of Detroit.

See also the Detroit News - GM to add 2,000 jobs in Michigan.

Here's from GM's website - GM Opens New IT Innovation Center in Michigan.

Jesus Chose the Way of the Poor

Monroe county

Wherever you see religious leaders ego-basking in the spotlight you can be assured that this is not the real thing when it comes to Christianity. The Jesus Way is to choose:
- poverty over wealth (Jesus never says "Blessed are the rich," right?)
- powerlessness over power
- humble service over popularity
- quiet fruitfulness over loud acclaim (from Henri Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing, 64)

Henri Nouwen writes: "Jesus consistently refuses the way of success, power, influence, and celebrity. Always, he chooses the way of weakness, powerlessness, compassion, and obscurity - the way of the poor..." (Ib.)

Jesus exercises a preferential option for the poor. He loves even the rich, but earthly riches mean nothing to Jesus except that their meaning lies in their idolatrous opposition to God.

Isn't all this "poverty talk" extreme? Well..., Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John are extreme. The love of God, exemplified in Jesus the Son, is extreme. The Real Jesus is downwardly mobile as he comes for the least of these (Matthew 25).

If, as Jesus said, the poor are blessed, then choose poverty, and begin to understand what this means. (I'm still learning...)

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Christopher Hitchens and Nietzsche, Mencken, and Chesterton

Sunflower, in my neighbor's backyard

I felt sad when atheist Christopher Hitchens died. But why, since I am a Christian theist? Because every Christian theist should feel the sadness God feels when anyone dies, to include anyone who did not come to believe in God. Nobody's death is a happy occasion when seen from the perspective of heaven.

I admired Hitchens for some things, to include his debates with professional philosophers like William Lane Craig. Craig intellectually bludgeoned Hitchens. I can't help but believe Hitchens knew this would happen, yet he bravely debated anyway.

I just read Hitchens's wife Carol Blue's "Christopher Hitchens: an impossible act to follow." Neat the end of his life, when he was intubated and could not talk, she gave him pieces of paper to write on. One of his requests intrigued me, and makes me want to extrapolate the data and write a speculative novel on him. Blue writes:

"Slightly down the page he wrote what he wanted me to bring him from our guesthouse in Houston:

'Nietzsche, Mencken and Chesterton books.'"

I find this so interesting. Were I to pick one atheistic writer to read it would be, and by the way it has been, Nietzsche. Had I only one choice of a Christian theist to read, Chesterton would suffice. Many years ago I was mesmerized by the literary fireworks, brilliance, cleverness and wit of Chesterton's The Everlasting Man and Orthodoxy. Chesterton wrote a lot. Were these books the ones Hitchens requested? I am certain he respected Chesterton as one of England's greatest writers. I bet he saw Chesterton as a literary sparring partner who was more than his equal.

In between lies atheist H.L. Mencken. I have read nothing he has written.

Two atheists and a theist at the bedside of of Christopher Hitchens as he lay dying.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Allan Bloom, the Irrationality of Cultural Relativism, & the Opportunity of Philosophic Ascent

Weed, in my backyard

To think in terms of cultural relativism is a logical fallacy, an error in reasoning. Logically speaking, cultural relativism (along with its little brother subjective relativism) is irrational.

Using Lewis Vaughn's The Power of Critical Thinking as our text, when we come to that place in Chapter 2 that explains and then dismisses relativistic thinking as illogical and a hindrance to critical thinking, my students struggle. Sometimes a head shakes in disagreement, or a face expresses unbelief and even disdain. I tell them that, even though Vaughn is an atheist and I am a theist, we agree on the nature of logic (I chose Vaughn's critical thinking text for my MCCC Logic classes).

Truth is not subjective or culturally relative, but objective. Consider the statement The lights in this room are on. That statement, if true, is objective; that is, it is true for everyone; that is, the state of affairs the statement refers to obtains. While it may be difficult to ascertain the truth of a statement, that statement's truth or falsity is true for everyone.

But isn't it true that one person's truth can be "for them" but not for me? For example, Linda likes pepsi better than coke. That statement, with 'Linda' referring to my wife Linda, is true. For everybody. That is, it's truth is objective. Even if John likes coke better than pepsi.

Here's an example where cultural relativism doesn't cut it. Hindus believe there are 330,000,000 gods. Let's say, for the sake of example, that this statement is true. (It may not be - see here, for example.) That statement, if true, is true for everyone past, present, and future, independently of whatever culture people come from. If it is true, its truth is objective. Which would mean atheists and theists are wrong. The atheist truth claim is: No gods exist. If that is true than Hindus and theists are wrong. The theist claim is: God exists. So I, as a theist, believe Hindus and atheists are wrong.

Such is the nature of objective truth. If a statement is true it is true for everyone. This is the sort of thing Western scientists are after. The scientist's claim that Drug X cures disease Y, if true, applies to everyone. Scientists are not Postmodernists.

We are now, epistemically, swimming in the irrational waters of subjective and cultural relativism. It is the air people breathe. I see it in my students. These relativistic waters were spotted in 1987 by University of Chicago political philosopher Allan Bloom. Bloom's rock-star selling book The Closing of the American Mind became the book everyone bought, hardly anyone read, except for scholars who were rocked by it. I bought it, read it, and thought: Yes. I'm reminded of it today in an article I just read by U. of Notre Dame's Patrick Deneen -  Who Closed the American Mind? Bloom, says Deneen, was right about relativism, but didn't realize how bad it would get.

Deneen writes:

"Bloom made an altogether different argument: American youth were increasingly raised to believe that nothing was True, that every belief was merely the expression of an opinion or preference. Americans were raised to be “cultural relativists,” with a default attitude of non-judgmentalism. Not only all other traditions but even one’s own (whatever that might be) were simply views that happened to be held by some people and could not be judged inferior or superior to any other. He bemoaned particularly the decline of household and community religious upbringing in which the worldviews of children were shaped by a comprehensive vision of the good and the true. In one arresting passage, he waxed nostalgic for the days when people cared: “It was not necessarily the best of times in America when Catholic and Protestants were suspicious of and hated one another; but at least they were taking their beliefs seriously…”

He lamented the decline of such true belief not because he personally held any religious or cultural tradition to be true—while Bloom was raised as a Jew, he was at least a skeptic, if not a committed atheist—but because he believed that such inherited belief was the source from which a deeper and more profound philosophic longing arose. It wasn’t “cultural literacy” he wanted, but rather the possibility of that liberating excitement among college-age youth that can come from realizing that one’s own inherited tradition might not be true. From that harrowing of belief can come the ultimate philosophic quest—the effort to replace mere prejudice with the quest for knowledge of the True."

I love that! I'm trying to get my students to critically evaluate their belief systems, and introduce them to "the quest for knowledge of the True."

Bloom "was above all concerned that students, in being deprived of the experience of living in their own version of Plato’s cave, would never know or experience the opportunity of philosophic ascent."

Today, writes Deneen, we live in an age of indifference, something Bloom predicted and feared. "Institutions of higher learning have almost completely abandoned even a residual belief that there are some books and authors that an educated person should encounter...  Academia is committed to teaching “critical thinking” and willing to allow nearly any avenue in the training of that amorphous activity, but eschews any belief that the content of what is taught will or ought to influence how a person lives."

"Today, in the name of choice, non-judgmentalism, and toleration, institutions prefer to offer the greatest possible expanse of options, in the implicit belief that every 18- to 22-year-old can responsibly fashion his or her own character unaided."

After 14 years of teaching philosophy at our county community college, I have found that students, overwhelmingly so, are captivated by the idea that there is such a thing as truth that is objective. I've had many express their confusion over this new idea, and their concomitant interest in it. To me, that's a good sign. There's a ember glowing in Plato's cave.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Can Reason Never Rule When it Comes to Morality?

The River Raisin in our backyard

Last year I read Nobel Prize-winner Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow. Many thought it to be 2011's book of the year. For Kahneman "fast thinking" is something we do all the time. It can't be turned off. Fast thinking generates first impressions, intuitions, intentions and feelings. Kahneman calls this "System 1." "Slow thinking," on the other hand, is something that can be turned on and off. This is reflective thinking, deliberate reasoning. Kahneman calls this "System 2." System 2 can check system 1 for errors.  However, activating system 2 requires a substantial amount of mental effort. For Kahneman "reason" (System 2) can and does rule, but not for the most part and with considerable effort.

Jonathan Haidt, in his The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, also claims that persons are mostly about System 1 and rarely about System 2. His language is different, but the outcome is in the same ballpark as Kahneman. Notre Dame philosopher Gary Gutting writes:

Haidt's view is that  "“we should not expect individuals to produce good, open-minded, truth-seeking reasoning, particularly when self-interest or reputational concerns are in play.” Nevertheless, he adds, “if you put individuals together in the right way … you can create a group that ends up producing good reasoning as an emergent product of the social system.” Haidt’s view here is plausible, especially since, if reason could never rule, we couldn’t trust even Haidt’s own impressive line of rational argument from scientific evidence." (Gutting, "Haidt's Problem with Plato")

Haidt rightly sees, says Gutting, that snap-judgment decisions rule most of every person's moral decision-making. Ethics is more based on intuition rather than moral reasoning. Here Gutting critiques Haidt's analysis of Plato.

Gutting: "Plato’s intuitions are not like the snap judgments of everyday life, driven by genes and social conditioning. But nor are they the insights of individuals meditating in isolation. Plato’s intuitions derive from a long and complex process of physical, emotional and intellectual formation in a supportive social system. (This is what Plato means by the “education” of his philosopher-rulers.) These intuitions are what — given sufficient experience, maturity and, especially, responsible intellectual engagement with others — we hope will replace the snap-judgment intuitions Haidt rightly sees as underlying so much of our moral life."

Haidt's and Kahneman's work is important in understanding how "decision-making" actually works. For them it's mostly non-rational and non-logical in the sense of not forming premises that infer conclusions. Yet rationality (reflexive moral consciousness) is needed to argue for the truth of moral propositions.