Friday, April 29, 2011

CC--Christianese 14h: God is a Trinity (part 8 of 8)

--As we talked about yesterday, the reason Christians take issues of marriage and family and gender and sexuality so seriously is because the very image of God is at stake in how we do these things.
--But this is only one implication of the Trinity as community concept. The interdependence and interconnectivity and mutual service and sacrifice of the Trinity shows up in at least one other massively significant place: the church.
--Just as family images God when functioning properly, the church with its mutual devotion and love does so as well. This is why Jesus says they shall know we are His disciples by our love one for another. It’s also why the notion of doing Christianity by yourself isn’t just a mistake or unbiblical. It’s blasphemous because you are denying the communal nature of the Trinity which we are meant to embody in our congregations.
--It’s not that they will know we aren’t His disciples by our hate, but rather by our indifference and disconnectedness to others who also truly love God. That’s another way in which the doctrine of the Trinity matters tremendously.
--And the most vivid place we see this imaging going on in the Bible is in the Book of Acts where everyone is devoting themselves to each other and sharing every aspect of their lives with each other eagerly, not out of obligation, but out of love.
--What we see there is that the early church looked very much like the Trinity in the way they all interacted with each other.
--And so the question for us when looking at that example is to ask whether we look like the Trinity or whether we just look like a loose affiliation of individuals.
--Are we connected tightly enough to really be a beautiful Bride for God or not?
--When Paul talks about us (plural) being the Temple of the Holy Spirit, this is what he’s talking about. He’s not saying (or at least not primarily saying) that each of us individually are, but that the community of believers all loving each other (just as the Father and Son love each other) become the indwelling place of the Holy Spirit.
--When Paul talks about us as being built together and joined, this is what he means.
--When he talks about the various parts of the body, this is what he means.
--These unions of diversity show by their loving function that they are pointing gloriously to the God who made them, a Trinity represented in our devoted community of believers.

2+3+4 Eschatology in England

I wasn’t sure whether I was going to watch the royal wedding. I didn’t know who William was, and I had never heard of Kate. Since I don’t really believe in royalty, I had no philosophical interest in them. They’re just people, with lungs and hands like I have, too. So when I heard that 2 billion people might watch, I reacted with something like bafflement verging on contempt.

But then I started thinking about what sort of opportunity this might be to reveal to the world the glorious mystery of why we have weddings at all. And I realized that the draw for people to watch a royal one like this might in some way be the innate yearning we all have for that day when Christ marries His Church. So, rather than looking down on people for being captivated by this event, I decided to believe that when we’re captivated by these things, it’s because we’re wanting that glorious event. And perhaps our fascination with royal weddings has something to do with this, which would mean that my own indifference to it might actually be a deficiency rather than a virtue. So I decided to watch it, and I was very pleasantly surprised. It was everything I could have hoped for and more as a Christian.

I really loved the comment that all weddings are royal weddings because we are both made in the image of the one true God and King of us all and because all weddings both remind us of and point forward to that glorious day when Jesus Christ, the Divine Bridegroom will be united forever and fully in unity and devotion to His Bride, the Church.

And I loved to have such a repeated emphasis on this theologically rich symbolic value of all weddings on such a worldwide platform for at least some form of global evangelism. As if to say, “You think this is magnificent? You haven’t seen anything yet. And whereas you are only able to be outsiders looking in via cameras and microphones at this spectacular event, you can be participants in that one. You enjoy watching a commoner become a princess? You are the commoner and if you accept the proposal of the true Lord and King, you can become His Princess for all of eternity. You can be in that other Wedding, and it will be far more glorious than this one.” I think that’s what they were saying, and saying it really well!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cross International

Cross International, one of my favorite charities, which my wife and I love to personally support. They are an interdenominational Christian relief and development organization working through local churches in more than two dozen countries in the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and Latin America to assist the poorest of the poor, including Haiti, Guyana, Mozambique, Vietnam and Zambia. By working together with pastors, missionaries and churches, they ensure that the aid is reaching those who need it the most. Today, the focus is on Mozambique, where local families are interested in taking AIDS orphans into their homes to care for them and raise them in a Christian environment. For $68 as a one-time gift, a child is rescued from the slums of Mozambique for an entire year. To rescue a child, call 1-888-515-2005 or visit Cross International on the web.

CC--Christianese 14g: God is a Trinity (part 7 of 8)

--Yesterday, we learned that the single best analogy for the Trinity is the one God Himself chose: humanity in marriages and families.
--And it’s important to grasp that this particular way of rightly representing God is our ultimate purpose in this world.
--We Christians all know that the purpose of anything is to bring glory to God.
--Thus, when God creates every aspect of the world, He declares it good in Genesis 1. But in the middle of creating mankind, God suddenly stops and says, “it is NOT GOOD for man to be alone.”
--When we read this, we often think, “Well, that’s because loneliness is bad. People need spouses or friends, you know.” That is a totally human-centered understanding of things, a humanistic reading if you will. The real reason it was “not good” for Adam to be alone was because humanity (intended to glorify God) would become a sort of lie or blasphemy of God’s Triune nature if left alone. A single man declares mere monotheism. And yet multiple independent people would declare polytheism.
--So what does God do? They make male AND female AND marriage AND sexual union AND reproduction. Only then does God proclaim man not merely good, but “very good.” Why very good? Because finally there is something here in this created world that more fully than anything else represents God’s Nature and can bring glory to Him: a family of married man and woman.
--And this is why Christians have historically taken the notions of marriage and divorce and family and sexuality so seriously. The function of family isn’t merely to bring us happiness or give us a project in parenting. The much more fundamental function of marriage and family is to represent God’s nature here on earth.
--When we tinker with those, we distort how we represent God.

--And one of God’s neatest gifts, even to those families that aren’t Christian, so long as they involve marriage and children is that they have the privilege of representing and glorifying a God they may not even believe in or know about.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

CC--Christianese 14f: God is a Trinity (part 6 of 7)

--For two days, I’ve been giving you limited or flawed analogies for the Trinitarian nature of God. And in a way this is fitting, since God Himself found every pointer to Him in nature to be flawed in some way.
--So, let’s look at another analogy, the one which God Himself chose to use to reveal His Nature to us: us.
--We are individual beings who are nevertheless created so intimately in community with others that we have special words to describe those communities: marriage and family.
--We are each individual persons, but we are all (at least supposed to be) united with other individuals in such tight bonds that we really are one thing as a marriage or a family. (Note the sharing of name as indicator of this).
--And in Genesis, God creates us for marriage and family (It’s not good for man to be alone) to declare His Nature to us, literally through our very bodies and relationships.
--A husband/father is so connected to his wife and children that they cannot be separated without doing true destruction to all of them. Likewise the others.
--This is why divorce is really such a horrific violation of the symbolic value that the family and marriage serve in pointing to God’s Trinitarian nature and His unity as three Persons.
--It’s also why we describe marriage as “holy matrimony” and say things like “what God hath joined, let no man put asunder.”
--And to take things one step farther, it is at the moment of maximum unity between a man and his wife that the imaging of God’s Nature is so powerful that it literally brings forth another life in their child. Where all other analogies falter, this one is indeed awesome.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Theological Tuesday: How do you “know” Christianity is true?

All who call themselves Christians would (presumably) claim not merely that Christianity is true, but that they “know” it is true. For philosophers, this is a very involved topic; the difference between believing something and knowing it. So, tonight, I’m interested in hearing from you about what you would say to someone who asked you this question. At what point in your personal history would you say you finally “knew” Christianity was true? What caused you to know it? Do you remember a time when you didn’t yet know it? What changed? And if someone asked you whether you could be mistaken about your faith, how would you answer?

CC--Christianese 14e: God is a Trinity (part 5 of ?)

--As we noticed yesterday, many analogies for the Trinity are useful, but also limited because they tend to err either toward modalism on the one hand or polytheism on the other hand.
--Nevertheless, seeing where they point and also where they fail is helpful for getting closer to the real thing.
--And in reality, this difficulty shouldn’t surprise us since God’s very Nature one would not expect to be a simple thing to grasp.
--A fourth analogy people sometimes use is that God is like an apple, with skin, meat, and seeds all being necessary ingredients in what makes an apple. It’s fine as far as it goes, since it’s true that an apple with no skin or meat or seeds is something other than a complete apple. And yet, it is possible to separate the meat or skin away without thereby destroying the other parts. God is not like this. Their interconnectedness is so constitutive that separating them would destroy them. Understanding this is what makes the three hours of Jesus’s separation from the community of God on the Cross so baffling and terrifying a thing to contemplate.
--Fifth, God is like a three-leaf clover, where one cannot tell any one leaf’s departure from its fellows and yet they display as three separate leaves. The problem here is that the leaves don’t need each other the way the Trinity needs its Persons, so the interdependence is underemphasized. Also, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are in fact separate Persons, and so the idea that they all somehow “grew” from some original single thing is a mistake. They are eternally distinct while being eternally united.
--So yet again, we have imperfect analogies. But is there a good one?
--I promise I’ll have one for you tomorrow.

3+4PM USPS issues eco-stamps.

In the most recent offering of stamps, the USPS (not to be outgreened by anyone) has offered a series of fifteen stamps with environmental suggestions for little old you to do to help the big world. Among the suggestions: Now the funny thing about these 15 stamps is that they come in a sheet with sixteen squares, but the last square is just the title page, so to speak, not an actual stamp. So, they pretty obviously were one idea short of filling the page. Ironically missing from the list of suggestions is the fairly obvious eco-friendly suggestion, “Use email instead of sending a letter.”

But it also really hits on a fantastic bit of psychology recently uncovered in a few different stories I’ve read. People don’t do environmentalism so much because it’s just right, they do it because being seen as being green is both a great way to gain social approval and also atone for other moral failures. Yeah, people don’t just use recyclable bags because it’s “good.” They do it to be seen doing it. What other explanation could there be for the especially visible green totes? And it’s not as though stamps like this are likely to change behaviors. The real purpose? To show others that you support the cause, even with your stamps, or at least to feel yourself to be “doing something” when you put them on your letter. It’s such a wonderful example of “fad morality” in practice. I’m fascinated to watch it. If you dare, try telling someone at the organic grocery store that you think recycling is foolish. Just don’t tell them I said so.

2PM Royal wedding collectible trash

As one might expect, the proliferation of royal-wedding-related memorabilia has begun in earnest. The sales pitch goes, “Buy now and make a mint later when you sell these high-quality collectibles.” The problem is that anyone who is likely to ever want such an item will also be buying it right now, and there are millions of them being made in places like China. It’s a classic example of exuberance overwhelming rationality. Things that “everyone” thinks are good investments today by definition aren’t. If everyone’s buying them, their time for purchase (if it ever existed) is past. My grandfather collected stamps when everyone else was collecting stamps, and I collected comic books when everyone was collecting comic books. Investors in America have a funny habit of investing in the former great missed opportunity. And sometimes there never was. In the case of Di and Charles memorabilia, they still aren’t worth anything 30 years later. If you want something for yourself, buy it for that reason. For goodness sakes don’t buy it thinking you’ll make money later.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ethics: The Obama Doctrine

America’s foreign policy has had to evolve with developments in world politics. Der. But when 9/11 happened, there was a suddenly new world of threats that no former doctrine could quite contend with. Thus evolved the Bush Doctrine. Naturally not everyone agreed with it. With the changing of the Presidency and the clarifying test of real military action, we are now able to start to see the Obama Doctrine in effect in Libya. What are the key elements of it, and how do they square with traditional Just War Theory? Well, we’ll talk about it.

Obama's Peace Prize Acceptance Speech December 2009

Obama's speech on Libya March 2011

CC--Christianese 14d: God is a Trinity (part 4 of ?)

--Again, the basic doctrine of the Trinity is that God is fully both a single entity (being) and a triple community of persons. He’s neither more fundamentally a singularity nor more fundamentally a plurality.
--And the terrible difficulty of expressing this concept is shown by the fact that almost all analogies people give err too much to one side or the other of this most important fact at the center of the nature of the universe.

--But it’s still useful to see some of the more well-known attempts, because even if they fail, understanding how they fail may yet get us closer to seeing the reality.

--First, God is like a man who is a father to his children, a husband to his wife, and a son to his parents. Alright, this is a good one to start with because it’s actually the heresy of modalism. This analogy denies the distinctness of the three Persons, saying they are merely manifestations of a single Person in different relationships or contexts.

--Second, God is like the Sun, in which heat, light, and global shape of the star. This is a little better, since they are all different manifestations, and yet they really are all just the various attributes of a single thing, not truly separate things themselves. So, it errs toward modalism again.

--Third, for contrast, consider the idea that God is like an atom, in which proton and neutron form the nucleus and the electron circles at the periphery. This better captures the distinctness of the parts and their close connection, but now you’ve started to slip towards polytheism since atoms can be split apart and interchanged into other things.
--Also, one small additional problem is that isn’t actually any known element with just one proton, neutron, and electron (Hydrogen has one proton and electron but no neutrons, and Helium has two of everything).

--So if these are all flawed, are there any good analogies? We’ll see tomorrow.

2+3+4PM “Church sucks” signs stir controversy

According to Christian Post, Disciple’s Church in Folsom, CA has caught some new attention for its local signs proclaiming “” as a tease for the current sermon series on what church should really look like. According to the website, “You probably saw our signs … and thought ‘What’s Church Sucks?’ The sad fact is that sometimes church does suck. It sucks when people are made to feel like outsiders, or when power gets abused. It sucks when leaders don’t serve. When people are selfish, when we give up on people, or when talking trumps listening, church sucks!”

What’s interesting about this is that I can see how some people would be bothered by the seeming vulgarity of it. But others would be bothered by the negative portrayal of something they love. Even I, someone who usually tolerates a pretty high level of vulgarity, find myself a little taken aback with this use of language to describe God’s Holy Church. But I realize it isn’t intended for me, or other church-goers at all. It’s intended for the people who already think this way and might only be willing to attend a church that seems to take their concerns seriously. The reality is that this viewpoint is a very common one, both by non-church-attendees and even by many who go. And until we can admit that at least some of the time church is done very badly, we won’t be able to diagnose and solve the things that keep it from what it should be: heaven in advance here on Earth.

And the particular messages this church is offering that church should not make you feel like an outsider or make you feel oppressed are not merely true concerns but truly heart of Jesus’s preaching concerns. Jesus was the most frustrated with the way the religious leaders of His day were failing to properly represent Him and love people, and we embrace disaster (forget just flirting with it) when we forget just how easily His criticisms of them can become criticisms of us if we aren’t very careful to avoid them.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Various Current Events

China rounds up underground worshippers (Telegraph)
Brewer vetoes tax credit expansion (EVT)

CC--Christianese 14c: God is a Trinity (part 3 of ?)

--As I mentioned yesterday, one bit of extremely common confusion many Christians have is that our view of God is the same as or compatible with the view of God held by Jews.
--Because Christians have had such a historical tie to Jews and also felt ourselves to be primarily battling paganism and polytheism, we have often allowed our way of talking about God to sound compatible with either “mere” monotheism or even modalism of God just seeming to be three different persons.
--But we do not believe in what I call “mere” monotheism.
--If we did, we wouldn’t be Trinitarians.
--And in fact the incompatibility of our view and theirs shouldn’t come as a really big surprise to anyone who has read the Bible since everyone knows that one of the main reasons the Jewish theologians wanted to kill Jesus was because of His claims to be God.
--Being a prophet or a teacher wouldn’t have been an issue. It was His claims of Divinity and all the behaviors of Godliness that made them kill him for blasphemy.
--Another way of saying this is that Jesus was murdered precisely because He was advocating Trinitarianism rather than mere monotheism. And so, even as we acknowledge the heritage we share with Jews, if we ever find ourselves forgetting that our two views of God are substantially incompatible, we put ourselves in the uncomfortable position of denying that Jesus and the Pharisees were really disagreeing about anything significant.
--In contrast with this, the early Christians also found themselves in trouble with the Roman polytheists not because they claimed that Jesus was God, but precisely because they claimed that God was the only God.
--So the Jews persecuted the Christians for denying “mere” monotheism, and the Romans persecuted them for denying “mere” polytheism.
--And so, these days, finding that you offend everyone is almost a reassuring sign.
--The short version is this. If Jews and Muslims are uncomfortable with the way you describe God’s Threeness, that’s a good sign. And if Hindus and Chinese folk religionists are uncomfortable with the way you talk about God’s Oneness, that’s a good sign.
--If both monotheists and polytheists think you’re wrong, you’ve probably got the Trinity right.

4PM Is good journalism dead?

In the newest Time magazine cover story, “Is Hell Dead?” Jon Meacham writes about the controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins.” Unfortunately for Meacham’s readers, what is mostly a pretty fair description of the book and the controversy suddenly drives off the pier of journalistic integrity when he decides to casually inject the following paragraph:

“Like the Bible — a document that often contradicts itself and from which one can construct sharply different arguments — theology is the product of human hands and hearts. What many believers in the 21st century accept as immutable doctrine was first formulated in the fog and confusion of the 1st century, a time when the followers of Jesus were baffled and overwhelmed by their experience of losing their Lord; many had expected their Messiah to be a Davidic military leader, not an atoning human sacrifice.“

Now, it’s certainly true that some people view the Bible as an often self-contradictory document, just as it’s certainly true that some people believe that theology is the product of (read flawed/limited) human hands and hearts. But this is neither the only view nor even the dominant view among the people for whom Rob Bell’s book is controversial. And if Jon wants to take a position in the discussion, it would be more honest to do it by stating that he sides explicitly with Biblical liberals and endorses “their view” that the Bible is contradictory and humanly flawed or limited. But to pretend to be reporting on a story and to then include as almost an aside such a biased insertion really betrays the useful function of journalism to inform rather than to proselytize. I don’t know which is more troubling: that Jon holds this view or that he thinks it so normative that he wouldn’t even flinch at stating it so unassumingly. I know I shouldn’t be surprised to find this in Time, but my na├»ve expectation for any major publication is that they might be capable of avoiding this sort of error.

2PM Book exploring widely held stereotypes

Women Can’t Park, Men Can’t Pack: The Psychology of Stereotypes” is a book by Geoff Rolls that investigates the psychology behind why we have certain beliefs about groups of people (blondes are dumb, left-handed people are artistic) and whether there is any statistical or scientific basis to the stereotype. The thing I find most fascinating about a book like this, which is sort of a for prejudice rather than for urban legends, is whether the book can even be successful at what it wants to do. Presumably, he wants to disabuse people of wrong prejudices and give them confidence in the ones that may contain truth. But it may be that a book just doesn’t have enough social power to do this, partially for how few people are likely to read it, but also for the psychology of how we remember things. Everyone having read the book will likely remember it dealt with blonde intelligence, but they are far less likely to remember the particular conclusion on that one. Trying to debunk something often actually raises credence in it only because of the weird ways our brains work. We can remember the stereotype (easily) and the fact that some expert analyzed it (less easily), but can we remember the analysis or conclusions that might upset or affirm it? I’m not so sure. Even denial can be a form of affirmation sometimes.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

CC--Christianese 14b: God is a Trinity (part 2 of ?)

--The Trinity is probably the most challenging doctrine of Christianity for most people, and that’s the reason that many reject it and that many others who think they accept it actually hold to a version of it that isn’t correct.
--Again, the basic idea is that God is one Being and three Persons. God is not more one or three, but fully both, and the way we go wrong is in erring to one or the other of these simultaneous truths.
--For example, some people (like Mormons) reject the Oneness of God by making the community into three separate Beings. This is the error of polytheism.
--Others (like Oneness Pentecostals) deny the distinctness of the Persons and say they are all just manifestations of a single Person in different contexts (or modalities, as theologians say). This is the error of modalism.
--But both of these errors are really just attempts to come up with a simpler view of the Divine than Scripture permits. And they aren’t really all that unique historically. Granted, at least Mormons and Oneness Pentecostals (not to be confused with other Pentecostals who do affirm the Trinity) acknowledge Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They just get Their Nature and Relationship wrong.
--But in history, every religion other than orthodox Christianity has taken one or the other of these sides. Hindus, Egyptians, Chinese, Romans, Greeks, and Scandinavians, for example, believed in a pantheon of gods.
--Much less common until fairly recently was the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic rejection of polytheism for monotheism, the belief in one God. But “mere” monotheism of the Jewish and Islamic variety is also a rejection of the Trinity.

Wacky Wednesday--Pastors Should Be Single/Celibate

Note: Before reading the following arguments, please understand that they are not what I believe. On Wednesdays, I deliberately argue for wrong ideas, challenging my listeners to call and defend the obvious right answer, which is usually far harder than one would expect. This is a summary of what Wacky Andrew will be arguing, not a representation of what real Andrew believes.

--Renounce marriage for the kingdom of heaven is an endorsement of the value of marriage.

--Forbidding marriage is one thing, freely taking a vow of chastity is another.

--Celibacy is often defined in terms of what it gives up instead of what it embraces.
--Earthly marriages are not eternal. (Luke 20:35)

--Going straight to marriage to Christ is skipping the temporal sign and embracing the eternal directly.
--Better to marry than to burn, but better to not burn at all.
--Jeremiah was told not to marry. (Jer 16:1-2)
--The strain that being married puts on the family is tremendous. Why do you think that “pastor’s kids” have such a reputation. It’s precisely because true pastors cannot effectively do all the things required of a leader of God’s people and of a leader of a Godly family. --Celibacy by priests is an excellent model for all those unmarried persons who struggle with sexual expression.
--Which ministry is more needed: married to counsel marrieds or celibate to counsel non-marrieds?
--Jesus was never married. --Paul was never married.
--John the Baptist was never married.--John the Evangelist was never married.--Honors the beauty of virginity.
--Singleness simplifies life to sharpen its focus. Families and wives are a distraction.
--Singleness gives pastor more time.Celibacy builds discipline. How difficult would it be for you to give up sex for lent?

--Makes sure you only get serious applicants to the pastorate.

--Celibacy invites an unencumbered relationship with God by practicing self-denial.
--Celibacy combined with a vow of poverty makes ministers cheaper to afford, which helps the economics of the church (how much of the tithe goes to salary!) and also again makes sure that only the most serious go into the pastorate.
--What better way to remind everyone that as good a thing as marriage is, it’s not the ultimate thing but only a pointer toward that ultimate thing?

2+3+4PM Why are pecans so pricey?

In case you haven’t noticed, pecan prices have been soaring in the past few years. The reason? China has a newfound love of pecans. Whereas we used to mostly eat them all right here where they are grown, now we’re exporting tons to China, which means the demand is driving up prices, and it takes 8-10 years for new pecan trees to produce a crop. So the short term problem is that pecan pies now cost too much for me to make them anymore. I’ve never been much for export tariffs, but if it means the difference between Thanksgiving pecan pie and being forced to make only pumpkin, well consider me a situational isolationist! I don’t care if China buys our bonds. Just leave my pecans alone and go back to eating walnuts!

It’s also an interesting part of the story that one of the reasons pecans have been suffering this effect but not other nuts as much is because most nuts are grown in local regions and controlled by grower cartels, but pecans are grown across regions in the US, and so there’s just this open market for them and no controls. Who knew I’d grow up to be a cartelist as well? Please protect the almonds, people! I can go without pecans, but I need my almonds.

The great news buried deep in the story is that pecans make up 27% of the weight of an average fruitcake, and if prices of pecans keep rising, it can only mean a reduction in the pestilence of global fruitcakes (the semi-edible kind, not the burn-a-Quran-in-my-Florida-cult kind). Then again, perhaps it will mean the same amount of aggregate fruitcake manufacture, but with less pecans, the one thing worth eating in them.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Theological Tuesday: Is God A Mystery To Himself?

Recently writing about the knowability and the mysteriousness of God, I worked myself into what is either a dangerous corner or a really interesting insight into God’s nature. In describing the mystery of God, I began to realize that God’s mysteriousness isn’t just a matter of us not knowing enough about Him, it’s an infinite capacity to amaze and wonder and be deeper than we think. Well, this led me to think that part of the joy of being in the Trinity must be the eternal and never-ceasing mutual exploration of this endless capacity to amaze each other. It’s certainly something that I’ve seen in my own marriage and with my kids, and if that’s given as a sign or symbol of God’s own nature, I suspect this should be even more true of God. But this leads to a clear concern. How can we say God knows everything while also saying that one member of the Trinity doesn’t even fully know the other members or even, perhaps Himself? So, what do you think?

Is God a mystery to Himself?

Recently writing about the knowability and the mysteriousness of God, I worked myself into what is either a dangerous corner or a really interesting insight into God’s nature. In describing the mystery of God, I began to realize that God’s mysteriousness isn’t just a matter of us not knowing enough about Him, it’s an infinite capacity to amaze and wonder and be deeper than we think. Well, this led me to think that part of the joy of being in the Trinity must be the eternal and never-ceasing mutual exploration of this endless capacity to amaze each other. It’s certainly something that I’ve seen in my own marriage and with my kids, and if that’s given as a sign or symbol of God’s own nature, I suspect this should be even more true of God. But this leads to a clear concern. How can we say God knows everything while also saying that one member of the Trinity doesn’t even fully know the other members or even, perhaps Himself? So, what do you think?

CC--Christianese 14a: God is a Trinity (part 1 of ?)

--Probably the single most baffling doctrine in Christianity is the doctrine of the Trinity.
--It’s also fair to say that most Christians don’t really understand it and, therefore, don’t really understand why our view of God is so completely different from that of every other religion.
--The doctrine of the Trinity says that God is both Three Persons (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost) and yet One Being.
--This can be described by coming at it from either direction.
--God is a community of Persons which are so tightly knit together that They literally form one Being.
--God is a single Being which is so inherently vibrant and diverse that He is actually Three different Persons.
--The big key to not getting this doctrine wrong (which is sometimes easier than actually getting it right) is to remember that God is both Three and One at the same time, but in different ways. And He is neither primarily One nor primarily Three. He/They are simultaneously and fully both, neither more united than distinct nor more distinct than united.
--Of course, our minds usually prefer to think of God more as One or more as Three because it’s challenging to hold both simultaneously.

4PM Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. blames iPad for killing jobs

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL, Chicago) on the House floor Friday, said, "A few short weeks ago I came to the House floor after having purchased an iPad and said that I happened to believe, Mr. Speaker, that at some point in time this new device, which is now probably responsible for eliminating thousands of American jobs. Now Borders is closing stores because, why do you need to go to Borders anymore? Why do you need to go to Barnes & Noble? Buy an iPad and download your newspaper, download your book, download your magazine." While he is exactly right that new technology often causes unemployment, what he doesn’t seem to understand, tragically, is that this is a very good thing for the overall quality of life of the people in the society because it means the work which previously required people to do it. When we like these effects, we call it “labor-saving.” When we dislike these effects, we call it “causing unemployment.” Indoor plumbing eliminated water-carrier jobs. CDs eliminated record-making jobs. And all sorts of blacksmiths lost jobs when automobiles displaced horses (not to mention horses). As he so rightly grasps, Americans aren’t getting less information because Borders is closing stores. They’re just getting it differently (and more efficiently, if you ask them). This is an improvement in overall quality of life for the society. And now the challenge is to find something else productive for all the people whose labor technology has rendered unnecessary.

3PM Food companies reducing contents but not package size.

The new trick in the last few years is for food companies to keep the external package of some food item (like ice cream or cereal) the same, but to reduce the actual contents inside and keep the price the same so that the price-per-ounce goes up but the overall price of the object stays the same. In some cases, the container does change, and it feels a little weird, but in other cases the only way you’d notice is by paying attention to the actual numbers on the package. What they’re counting on, of course, is that you’re used to paying $3 (for instance) for a tub of ice cream and that you won’t notice that you’re now only getting 1.75 quarts instead of 2. And I must admit, I’m used to knowing the prices of things not by the ounce cost but by the object cost, which I suspect is true of most other people. So it’s a plausible deception to pull off. And whenever I discover this, I always have the same reaction. “Man! I caught you trying to deceive me. Why can’t you just tell me the truth?” Just imagine how you’d react to find that the “gallon” size jug of milk was actually 120 ounces of milk inside instead of 128. I guess it’s true what my social studies teacher always taught us: caveat emptor. But it does seem quite sad. It’s a law that requires per unit pricing on labels (I think). I wonder if this new practice will lead to other legislative solutions, perhaps where per unit pricing will become the prominent figure like for gasoline.

2PM British navy auctioning off aircraft carrier

On the military version of E-Bay run by the British government, you can currently place bids on the aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal. The only requirement (other than financial, etc.) is that you have to tell them your intentions for the vessel. Well, cruising for chicks obviously! I want one, even if it doesn’t come with a squadron of Harriers. How cool would it be to just show up at a party in your aircraft carrier? By far my favorite element of the website is the button you can click to “add to wishlist!” And how. There are three destroyers also available. All I know is that I want one. I don’t have a good plan for where to park it, but such details can wait. I’d carry a picture of it around and show people, “Hey, you wanna look at my aircraft carrier?” What would you do with one? However, you should know that you aren’t the only one. They already sold the sister ship, HMS Invincible. Viewings are May 3 and 4 if you’re interested.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Ethics: Tax Day Grab Bag

Various questions regarding taxes come to mind:

--Should we go to a flat tax?

--What’s a fair rate of taxation?
--What’s a fair system of taxation?
--Should states pay taxes instead of individuals?
--Is there anything wrong with paying as little tax as possible?

2+3+4PM Pakistani Muslim tries to avenge Quran burning by destroying Bible

Every media outlet paid attention when Terry Jones (the nut in Florida) wanted to burn a Quran at his religious location. He eventually called it off. But just a few weeks ago, he suddenly decided to have a trial of the Quran, find it guilty, and burn it. This time, nobody paid any attention, and kudos to them for ignoring it. However, he uploaded the video to YouTube, and it got to the Middle East, where riots ensued killing as many as 30 people in Afghanistan. But in Pakistan, a man was so agitated that he tried to force his way into a Catholic church to burn a Bible to “avenge” what was done to the Quran. When he was stopped from entering, he proceeded to rip up the Bible outside and was promptly arrested for violating Pakistani law.

Pakistan’s Penal Code Section 295-A states: “Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the 'religious feelings of any class of the citizens of Pakistan, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations insults the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, or with fine, or with both.”

It’s interesting because they live in a society where no one is allowed to desecrate another religion, which is at least in this case being enforced against a Muslim on behalf of Christianity. But obviously, his behavior in America would be protected by the First Amendment. So, this is what happens without freedom of speech and religion. I wonder which is better?

Of course the most interesting part of all this is the idea that somehow his religion has been harmed by Terry Jones and must be “avenged” to make the world right. Now at first, I think we have trouble understanding this and just chalk it up to, “Well, he’s a loon.” But the real issue is what things we take as sacred. For us, things like the flag or children are sacred. So when people threaten or desecrate them, we become furious, but even here our reactions have lost some of their fury over the years. So, to get a sense of it, imagine someone kidnapping a school full of children and then killing them. Even mentioning it is so outrageous that it’s offensive, right? Well, they take the Quran to be that holy and sacred, and to see someone treat it so objectionably is to them what that would be to us. Now obviously, we and they have different ideas about what matters, but rather than simply disparage such devotion, it behooves us to at least understand it so that we wisely proceed in how to interact with people who do in fact hold such a view. Also, keep in mind that this view of the Scriptures wouldn’t be all that unusual to a Jew or even to a Christian until fairly recently, at least in terms of the seriousness of defiling or desecrating them.

See, what we want to say instinctively is, “How in the world can you compare human life to a book!” But think about it for a moment. The Quran isn’t just “a” holy book to them. It’s literally the verbatim (in Arabic) words of Allah. And so the Quran perfectly represents God for them. Thus burning it is blasphemy of the highest sort (much like any depiction of Mohammed, God’s one true prophet). But another way to say this is that they believe the Quran is written in God’s Image, much like we believe that people are made in God’s Image, which is the ultimate theological reason that we consider them sacred. So, yes, the two views wind up looking very different in practice, but that’s because of which things each of us takes to be holy. And it also explains why we react so differently to the opposite things. We look at this guy trying to “avenge” the Koran by defacing a Bible and just laugh at the foolishness of it. And they look at us trying to hard to avoid killing civilians and just laugh at the foolishness of it.

Friday, April 15, 2011

CC--Christianese 13b: God is Knowable (part 2 of 2)

--Despite the unfathomable mystery of God, He is also a Being who wants to be known by us and who has made Himself knowable by us with our faculties.
--Yesterday, we said that part of this revelation is through the artwork of the world around us, natural laws, and even our bodies themselves.
--In addition, we have the Scriptures which are predicated on the notion that God both can be known and wants to be known. God chooses to use language to communicate with us, a mystery reinforced by the Bible’s own description of Jesus as The Word.
--And in the Bible, we have a God who reveals Himself through actions and poetry and symbols and miracles and declarations and even rules which He issues. All of this is a tremendous source of knowledge.
--And what’s interesting about this compendium of God is that it all points to the single greatest event in all of history: the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, an endless treasure trove of revelation about the nature of God.
--But one final piece of the knowability of God is well worth mentioning: personal experience. Precisely because God is a personal Being who wants relationship with each of us, we must always be paying attention to the ways God uniquely reveals Himself to us through our ideas and our experiences.
--And sometimes this is scary to people because it means that some people will know things about God through their subjective experience of him that others won’t have access to, but this is part and parcel of the idea of having a personal relationship: uniqueness. Those who want Him to be only objective inadvertently turn Him into a non-mystery. And so rather than a threat to the objective truth of God, personal experience is actually a reinforcement of both His knowability and His mystery.
--We will never know all there is to be known about God, but we should always be making progress. And even if the progression is infinite, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t real progress.