Sunday, November 16, 2014

Full Armor of God

I remember studying this verse when I was younger and not seeing anything beyond a vague idea that armor was good to have in battle and these things were good to have in the Christian life. But studying this passage recently I felt I really got it this time and that makes me so excited.
By Sheldon Martin
[CC-BY-2.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons
Ephesians 6:10-18 (NASB)
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints

Girdle of Truth: This is your strong core, the keeps you steady in intention among the tug and shove, it holds your position together and maintains your integrity, have a good word to world fit. think of it as a weight lifting belt. It’s easy to think that a little lie will make the conversation more pleasant or help everyone to get along or let you win an argument. But always sticking to the truth is what gives you integrity It’s what holds your witness and your life together.

Breastplate of Righteousness: You have done wrong in the past but once these things are repented and confessed, they no longer affect your moral standing, or your standing with God, AT ALL. even with the things you still struggle with, the check to clear them is already in your hand. With this standing the damages and hooks of evel can’t penetrate to your heart or your guts. Repent and confess where needed but then don’t be ashamed of anything because you are relying not on your own righteousness but on Christ’s.

Feet Shod with the Preparation of the Gospel of Peace: Gospel literally means good news but in the greek world of the New Testament it also had an additional meaning of a royal announcement, especially the proclamation of a new King or a new Emperor. Jesus is the true king and God has ordained the temporary power, the decisions of the temporary power can be important but they aren’t ultimate, we can afford to be calm because what we’re really concerned with is already decided, at the same time we can step into any area because Jesus is Lord of all. We should be continually prepared to take our standing from that truth and no other.

Shield of Faith: It can seem like the enemy is about to burn up all your accomplishment, but it’s your sins that will be burned up on judgment day, what you do for God is seen and remembered, and when, by faith, you see that you can put out the threat. You won’t be overcome with worry or anxiety if you can interpose Faith. You won’t be overwhelmed by defeats in worldly matters because you know your have treasures in heaven. And you won’t be dismayed by obstacles or seeming setbacks to kingdom work because you know Jesus will triumph in the end.

Helmet of salvation: God has saved you once for all, by His strength, not yours, nor by what a good before and after story you can tell, don’t let the enemy get into your head with doubts. Evil wants us turned around and confused, worrying about ourselves and always looking inward rather than outward. Having made a decision for salvation let it wrap around your thoughts and hold your inquiries and your reasoning in stability.

Sword of the spirit: God has communicated His character to us in the Bible, the commands Jesus have given should be on our lips, and the Holy Spirit should be controlling and energizing our application of God’s guidance. Scripture allows us to slice through spiritual confusions and disguises. It allows us to laid powers and principles bear and drive back that which is evil.

    We are going to be dealing with the corruption of sin and the destruction it scatters all around this world. We can’t just close our eyes and turn our backs, that will only leave us vulnerable. We need to take the protection god has given us and defend ourselves.  And how do we get this armor and make sure it is in good repair? With prayer and more prayer.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Matter of Faith, Part 1

    I imagine the scene: All I have to do is sign on the line and pay my $100 co-pay and they will drug me, deliberately give me hypothermia, crack open my skull, stop my heart, drain a bunch of blood from my body and stick a knife in my brain. I’d have to be crazy to decide to have that done to me right? But I can see making that decision under certain circumstances. I can see making it on behalf of a loved one or a child. Because, I just have that much faith in science.  

In case you didn’t catch the word ‘co-pay’ this describes a medical procedure. For certain rare cerebral aneurysms doctors know that letting them go untreated they will kill the person who has it sooner or later. But if doctors try to operate on it with the heart pulsing blood through the area it will kill immediately. So to operate they have to stop the blood flow, and they have found that hypothermia will allow someone to survive a short period of having their blood flow stopped. It’s been demonstrated that patients can live through this type of operation.
Really, though, I don’t trust science all that much. I know that science has come to a lot of faulty conclusions that it has had to revise over the years. A when you are talking about dealing with situations where there are uncontrollable variables, like medicine is, science can’t confidently predict the outcome of a specific case. In fact before I consented to the above surgery I would probably have to sign a paper saying I understood there was some risk of death from that surgery.

photo by Sibeaster, via Wikimedia Commons

I have much greater faith in God than in science. But in the post I would fail Abraham's test Rachel Held Evans scolds me for being ready to put as much faith in God as I would put in science. When Abraham heard heaven in Genesis 22, it didn’t just "sound like" God’s voice. Abraham had heard God before and knew from experience this was His voice. God had proven Himself faithful over the years. And in particular, God had worked miracles before in protection of the promise of His blessing to the bloodline of Abraham and Sarah. When God says “Take now your son, your only son,” I don’t think He is forgetting Ismael, I think He is alluding to the fact that Isaac is the only son of promise, the promise that God has proven Himself faithful to.
I don’t think Abraham was being any more immoral in trusting that God had a plan to preserve the promise of Isaac and make things right than we are if we trust our children's lives to a medical doctor, or an airplane pilot. Our minds have to stretch further to trust that which is beyond human comprehension, and our hearts much expand to encompass that fullness, and yet will still overflow, but there is no moral difference. I believe and hope that I would pass Abraham’s test.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Burden of the Law

I was reading the blog post Unburdened about how hard it can feel to keep god’s commands. And I was struck by this statement: “the commandments are indeed burdensome, that burden has been laid on the shoulders of [Jesus]. … That same weight that threatens to break our backs actually did crush our savior.” not because I agree with it but because I think it indicates a fundamental mis-understand of the law and our relation to it.
By Pavel Ryčl (,
 via Wikimedia Commons
          I don’t think Jesus felt the law as a crushing burden during His ministry here on earth. I think he felt more the challenge of a supreme athlete performing at the height of His powers. Perhaps like a gymnast performing a world class routine that was supremely choreographed to perfectly fit his talents and style. It was a task that demanded strength, balance, focus and effort. But it was also a task that created joy and exhilaration not heaviness and distaste.
         I remember when I was 20, slim and health. Lost in my own imagination, thoughts of exciting adventure would spur me to run, and I would feel the joy of exertion and skillful balance and the a speed that could make still air a breeze. Now that I’m forty and fat, running doesn’t feel the same at all. It’s something I do out of duty rather than desire. It’s something that feels awkward and unnatural, something that quickly becomes tiring and painful, something that can remind me how un-fun a bit of asthma is. The requirements of running haven't changed, my body has. It’s no longer fit for running. But I’d like to keep running to get at least a little of that fitness back. If I’m dedicated I might be able to lose some of the weight. But I’ll never have body I had at 20 again. No amount of exercise will actually reverse the wear and tear of time.
          Without salvation our efforts to follow the law are like me trying to make myself 20 again by discipline and effort. I might get back to that weight, I might put on more mussel than I had then, I might develop more skill in some athletic discipline. But I’ll need actually roll back the years by working out harder. In the same way following the law in our own strength without the redeeming work of the cross is futile. We might manage to look better to other humans, we might manage conform better to certain outward forms, but we would never get back to that pristine innocence
          And this is what Jesus meant by his burden being light. Choosing to follow Him doesn’t change God’s commandments or the requirements of holiness. It changes how we relate to it and where we will end up in relation to it. Redemption changes our struggle with sin from one that is like growing older where we inevitably lose ground feats athleticism sooner or later, to one that is like growing up, where we naturally gain strength and coordination over time and where the destined result is a coordinated and stable adult body.
        The promise of the Father, the life of the Son, and the seal of the Holy Spirit are out guaranty that no matter what awkward and gangly stages we go through here in this life, in the world to come Jesus will bring his work to completion and we will display full maturity there. Jesus assumes the consequences of all the bumps and scrapes, all the wear and tear, all the mistakes, so that even if we spend our time here in the moral equivalent of curling out on the couch and eating ice-cream, never learning how to throw a ball or ride a bike, He will still present us fit for his Father’s presence.
And that was what was as a crushing burden, bearing all our sins on the cross. This was an unimaginable weight, which was born only through God’s infinite strength. Jesus took all our awful decisions, our rebellious stunts, our misunderstandings and ingrained bad habits to the cross. He felt the impact of all those deforming shapers of character and still He submitted his spirit into the hands of a Father who He could no longer feel. He was buried under the consequences of all our unholiness and rejection of God’s law.
So we don’t have our bad choices deforming our character anymore. While we are still in this world we still feel their ghost in the scares and dents they have left on or bodies and brains. We are still sense the reverberations from the God dishonoring actions of other humans. We don’t have the spiritual body that can perform the perfect and glorious dance of praise to our King that is obedience. But we can practice the steps in the sure knowledge that one day we will be conformed you our resent Lord and therefore be able to join in that performance of perfect beauty and grace.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

What if someone thinks you're stupid?

       Some time ago I was in a discussion and my conversation partner vigorously objected to a line of argumentation I was pursuing. Part of the objection was to the obstreperous style I was employing. But what has stuck in my mind was the complaint about the substance of the argument: “It feels like you think I’m stupid.”
          I didn’t precisely feel that she was stupid in any global sense. But I did feel that the argument she was using, (the idea that you can take an anti-judgmental stance and then judge someone else for being judgemental,) was stupid. Not only is it a tell that you’ve realized you are not going to win the argument on the facts, it’s self contradictory and so self-evidently wrong. Useing it is the logical equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot. It’s evidence of at least having been dumb in this particular instance.
       But my conversation partner felt that someone knowing that they were perceived as dumb was beyond the bounds of civil discussion. That’ been percolating in the back of my mind. How could any sort of politics or any sort of civilization carry on if no one could be allowed to find out that sometimes other people thought her ideas were dumb.  Without open and honest admission of when you think someone else is being dumb, there is no discussion, just empty flattery.
       Then I read Dave Pascoe’s post about the prevalence of hate in our public discourse, and I connected up this rejection of honesty with the human tendency to generalize from the evaluation of a specific believe or act to a global evaluation of the person. The tenancy is rooted in practical reality. If I meet an anonymous stranger and observe them using a bad argument , all that I’ve learned about them is the in a small isolated instance that did something dumb. But on the other hand that’s ALL I know about him; it can’t help but influence my global evaluation of him.
       Our tolerant society has made this problem worse. In our effort to combat bias we are taught not to have expectations based what people wear, their social standing, their profession, or any other category they are apart of. So instead of having a template based on the influences that might have shaped them, a template that could be quite nuanced, each new person is practically a blank slate. Any evaluation of their behaviors during an encounter will be the only legitimately considered data in the global evaluation of a person.
        Now my conversation partner, from the top of this post, and I have known each other for a great many years and I’ve observed her being smart in many circumstances. There is a certain carry over from the more general situation based on habit. But I think there is something deeper there: a significant connection to our societies developing a tendency towards hating.
       In our eagerness to be nice and not hurt anyone, broad sections of our society have made it a social crime to express disapproval of any fundamental character trait, deeply held belief, or sincerely felt emotion. The only way it’s acceptable to experse a truly negative opinion is when it’s about those classed as outside the bounds of acceptable society. You have to excoriate a person as so lost to reason and good feeling that no right thinking person could have a friendly fellowship with them, before it feels right to disparage an opinion they are championing. I’ve sometimes gotten the impression that I’ve expected to be openly affirming of everything about a person or I’m seen as not really recognizing their humanity, much less being friendly.

        Of course this is a self reinforcing loop the more disapproval is expressed only of those beyond the pail, the more it’s a dehumanizing insult to let slip disapproval of anyone who hasn’t already been cast out. And when any negative evaluation can’t be brought out into the light and put into a rational and just perspective the more it will fester and turn into irrational hate.  I think this is already bringing a lot of fracturing between different groups and is going to bring more in the coming years.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Causes of Racism

I started this post a couple of weeks ago but put it aside because I wasn’t sure if this was really an appropriate topic to discuss in public. But the events in Ferguson this last week made me decide to go ahead and finish this up. Though part of the problem in Ferguson was undoubtedly the over militarization of the police and an arrogance caused by them being treated as a separate class, a big part of the issue was also obvious the pervasive problem of racism that whole chains of cause and effect.
© Nevit Dilmen CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
    Any way this article in the NY Times about the Data of Hate is what I want to respond directly to. We know there are some people that identify openly as racists. The article exemplifies that there doesn’t seem to be a feeling that we understand why anyone would. So I want to explain the factors that I think would lead someone in this direction.

Rebellion against authority –
    These days we hear the racism is bad from schools, from the government, from law enforcement, from the church, from bosses at work. Think about it. Today’s young people are hearing that racism is bad from all the same sources that are tell them that drugs, sex, and violent video games are bad for them. When they decide that some of these things are really fun they may think why not consider racism too. In a culture where ‘question authority’ gained considerable traction as a mantra, all the authority figures are united in a chorus of anti-racism. I don’t think western culture’s ascetic of youthful rebellion will necessarily manifest in rebellion against anti-racism. But this factor does mean that have more authority figures yell louder does not work without other supports. We’re not a society where authority is never questioned so we can’t control people’s thoughts and emotions by fiat.     

Self fulfilling prophesy -
    On the other hand we are still humans and humans have a tendency to follow group norms. It has been one of the many ways this country has fought racism for the last forty years. But if someone does get the impression that racism is normal and expected for them, then they will conform to that too. If we give the impression that all Nazi skinhead with swastika tattoos are racist or all people who join Stormfront are racist, it’s both a true generalization and targeted at a fairly small group. However, sometimes activists, politicians, the media, and even ordinary people can tell stories in such a way as to imply that we should expect or assume a rich white or a poor white, or a redneck, or a political conservative to be racist. These are broad categories of people. If members of these groups start to believe deep down that racism is normal for their group there will be an increased tendency to conform to that norm. I think it is an important part of combatting racism not to use hyperbole about how common racism is. I think sometimes politicians and activists use the accusation by assumption of group racism to motivate people to “prove it false” by doing something the politician or activist wants. They need to realize that while this may give them short term gains it is also spreading a meme that is destructive to their long term interests. The cumulative effect of implications like ‘he was southern, so of course he was a racist’ can be very dangerous and we need to watch out for adding to it.     

Fire together wire together -
    This is all the more dangerous because the truth is, we are all a little bit racist. Implicit Association tests show that most people have a subconscious tendency to associate positive words more with white faces and negative words more with African American faces. This is true even of some African Americans. It is certainly the case the people can show this implicit bias and seem perfectly sincere in their conscious professions of disapproval for racism, in some case being anti-racism activists. I don’t think this contradiction is coming from a conflict in what these people want, but rather from the underlying neurology. Part of the fundamental nature of how our brains work is the it automatically builds in associations between things that commonly occur together or in very close sequence. This is sometimes called fire together wire together. This type of chemical and biological fact is just the type of thing an Implicit Association test would pick up. This is not the type of condition you can harrage someone out of. In fact if the “education” is a negative emotional experience about interacting with another ethnic group, then it will likely increase the problem.  It’s important to encourage society and media to show other ethnicities in positive lights. But we need to make sure that the campaigning for these does not itself induce a negative experience. We also need to be sensitive to the possibility that for some a story about the horrible and inhumane thing that were done to African Americans does not engender an unconscious association between African Americans and horrible and inhuman.

Dilution of the term -
    The statement that implicit associations mean we’re all a little bit racist points to another problem, the dilution of what it means to call someone a racist. Some one who participates in ethnic lynchings, who puts of discriminatory signs, who yells racial epitaphs is clearly an active moral agent who deserves to be called evil for his or her evil acts. But who has a neurological default imposed on them by experience is a much more tricky case. Yet we use the same word for both cases. I’ve even seen it applied to the behavior of someone who is overcompensating for implicit assumption bias by being awkwardly over friendly to an African American. Calling this racist has a lot of shock value. And it does draw attention to how uncomfortable or alienating it can be to the target of these behaviors. But the thing about shock value is that we become numb to it with repeated exposure. Pretty soon everyone has had the experience of being called on a racist reaction or of having someone they are close to called racist and going, ‘oh, I didn’t realize I was making that assumption.’ or “oopsie, should have thought about the phrasing more carefully.’ And then they have the experience of going on as a normal member of society, not much morally better or worse than average. This make the visceral revulsion at the term racist go away. It would be better if we could use a different word for the involuntary and unavoidable type of prejudice so that the word racism could only stand for something that is beyond the pail.   

Illogical arguments-
The authority figures don’t just declare racism to be wrong. They get reason, but other behavior often undercuts these arguments and renders them illogical in the context of society's actions in general. The first is that it’s never right to treat someone differently for something they can’ help, they didn’t choose how they were born. But then we turn around and do treat people differently this very same basis with affirmative action and similar programs. I think the best thing to do would be avoid undercutting our argument and not do this at all. If We aren’t going to do that I think the next best thing would be to do it very openly and definitely, with a limited time frame and a definite and disclosed amount of preference. We could treat this as the exception that proved the rule. But this vague furtive preference that we often give out makes the whole premise look hypocritical and illogical and I wish we could get away from this.
The other argument we usually use is that there is no real fundamental difference between people of different faces and if you use a stereotype you are letting yourself be mislead into a logical mistake. This works well in a one on one situation where  you get to evaluate someone as an individual. You will find all sorts of ways people you know don’t conform to a stereotype. The problem is that when you are talking about large groups there is going to be a difference in probabilities and averages.  There are various possible explanations for this, but the pressure not to talk about the possibility of several of them  makes it the whole  conversation seem less legitimate. When you’re making policy that deals with groups or complaining about average outcomes, if you don’t acknowledge that the situation is more complicated than with an individual, you delegitimize the entire argument a little bit.     

Impact on population segments -
        One of the big problem with affirmative action is that it doesn’t impact all whites and other disfavored ethnic groups evenly, it’s negative impact is concentrated on those who are already poor or marginal in some way. They are people who already have a lot of stress and frustration in their life who have to deal with this extra slice of rejection. And then don't have any socially acceptable way to talk about this. The fact that they often can’t prove or even tell for sure if they were passed over for preference because of their race just makes them more frustrated, the same way it does for African Americans who often situation where they suspect prejudice but can't get objective proof.

The fact that is really does hurt -
          Shouting a racial slur can make someone feel the impact of your hate the few other words can. For someone who is weak and powerless  being racist can be one of the few things that makes them feel like they are in control over something, even if it’s just there own thoughts or feelings, they know this is the opposite of what someone else wants from them. You can make people flinch with racism, you can see yourself  impacting the world around you. Unless you see for yourself why racism is wrong, the fact it has a damaging impact can be as much of a lure as a disincentive.

I think in the end it comes down to the fact that we need to examine the basis that our rejection of racism is built on.
          My reasons for opposing racism is that all humans are alike descended from Adam, alike made in the image of God, alike  fallen into sin. and alike can be redeemed through the death and resurrection of Christ.  If they are a Christian then they are my brother or my sister in a way that is more fundamental and more meaningful than any tie of blood. If they are not a Christian than my first duty towards them is to invite them to become one. Next to this commonality I have with them any slight differences in average talents or propensities they might have received from nature or nurture are insignificant.
         Of course this argument only works for people with a theology somewhat similar to mine. It might have been true 50 years ago that  most people would have had agreed with the premises of this argument. But today America is no longer an unambiguously Christian country. So we need to talk about what it means to be human and how we value that humanity.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Selecting our History

I was listening to a panel about using history in fiction. There was a discussion of  different views of history and when the gentleman raised in England was asked what he had been taught in school about George Washington, he jokingly answered “Washington Who?”  He went on to talk about the fact that for British school children the American revolution was not a big focus and that other events in British political history were emphasized instead.
        There seemed to be a feeling on the panel  that this was indicative of some sort of flaw. That is was somehow not quite ideal that in different countries basic education in history should be radically different in what parts of history were emphasized or even covered. I do agree that contradictory facts being taught do indicated that there is a problem somewhere. But I don’t think this is what is being referenced in regards to the difference between American and British education.
         Teaching children history does not only have one goal. It’s not only to provide an abstract sampling of how humans and human societies have reacted in the past. It is also to show the child where he or she fits into the world in a broads sense. History should illuminate to context the child is going to have to function in by explaining it’s roots and development.  
         In America, as in many countries, the state takes a role in providing children with education. This connects in my mind to an article by Ta-Nehisi Coates called The Case for Reparations. The article is fairly long so here are a few quotes that relate to the point I want to make:
“ The last slaveholder has been dead for a very long time. The last soldier to endure Valley Forge has been dead much longer. To proudly claim the veteran and disown the slaveholder is patriotism à la carte. A nation outlives its generations. ... If Thomas Jefferson’s genius matters, then so does his taking of Sally Hemings’s body. If George Washington crossing the Delaware matters, so must his ruthless pursuit of the runagate Oney Judge.”

“And so we must imagine a new country. Reparations—by which I mean the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences—is the price we must pay to see ourselves squarely. The recovering alcoholic may well have to live with his illness for the rest of his life. But at least he is not living a drunken lie. Reparations beckons us to reject the intoxication of hubris and see America as it is—the work of fallible humans.”

“What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal. Reparations would mean the end of scarfing hot dogs on the Fourth of July while denying the facts of our heritage. Reparations would mean the end of yelling “patriotism” while waving a Confederate flag. Reparations would mean a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history.”

          Sometimes in history a state has been defined by the rule of a royal family, regardless of whether there was any other relationship between various territories they controlled, or by a certain land area regardless of who was living on it or governing over it. But America aspires to be a Nation-State, defied be a national identity that is more than the sum of its parts.
from US army photo Essay
          Individuals, laws, government bureaucracy, land areas, these are all things out there in the world that have in various ways a substance independent of anyone’s beliefs. But what ties these disparate things together is a nation. A nation is something that functions because  we all make-believe really hard that it is actually real. It’s true that in some cases a nation mostly overlaps with a sort of meta-tribe, where shared ancestry, shared food, shared language, shared social expectations create a sort of kinship, the feeling that other members are distant relatives, of one extended family, leavened by only a few outsiders who have identified with the family and been adopted. But America is too large and too diverse for a sense of blood relation to serve as an anchor for national identity. Our nationhood can only have and much power as our shared commitment to pretending can give it.
          That’s what national identity is really about. A shared set of beliefs about what it means to be an American. A set of values and historical presidents that we claim as defining. The act of taking parts of history and saying this is our story makes us one people who can then act in continuation of the themes of that story
An alcoholic is bound by the facts of physical and biological reality to the events of his past. If some of those facts are negative or disreputable, that doesn’t threaten his self identification. Steps he takes to acknowledge and repair past mistakes can only strengthen his integrity.
National identity is something different. There are going to be bad things and things no longer approved of in every nation’s past. And these should not’ be denied as facts of history nor their consequences ignored. But if the bad things are primarily the stories we choose to tell ourselves about who we are, if the mistakes are not relegated to dark corners but put on center stage and emphasized, if past crimes and failure are what we choose as defining moments for our nation, there can be only two results.
First individuals can cease to identify as part of a nation. They can lose all enthusiasm for exercising, and working and fighting to make America stronger and better. Inhibitions against damaging the nation and depriving future generations can be lowered. In this case government taxes and other requirements come to be seen not as contribution to a common community but as an imposition to an evil organization foreign to this individual. Government benefits cease to be seen as a gesture of solidarity that ties us together but instead seen as an appropriation of the Other that deserves to be taken for a sucker.
The other option is even worse. Individuals can choose to identify with the nation but re-interpret those stories as good. They can take stories meant to be cautionary tales and instead use them as models of praiseworthy behavior. We could end up with people who shout ‘patriotism’ and  waive symbols of racism all the more fervently  on the basis of this logic: I’m proud t be an American, Americans are racist, therefore I’m proud to be racist.
We need to avoid both these outcomes. We need a national self image that is truly positive and that can inspire individuals to good acts. We need to bind ourselves together as a community of good moral character with momentum towards accomplishing good ends. And this brings me back to how we select which parts of history to teach in our schools.
While it is good to include a few cautionary tales of weaknesses we can fall into, the overwhelming majority of teach to the very young and proclaim most loudly to the world, should be positive tales. We should be putting the emphasis on times we showed the character we want to continue to embody. We should select from history, to tell first and repeat most often, those incidents that reflect what we aspire to be. When we are forming coming generations, we should be focusing the majority of our teaching on those parts of the past that we want to form the pattern of our future.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

good or no, these things must be built

         Men’s souls are crooked and unsound things, not good materials out of which to build friendships, families, households, cities, civilizations. But good or no, these things must be built, and we must craft them with the materials at hand, and make as strong and stubborn redoubt as we make, lest the horrors of the Night should triumph over us, not in some distant age to come, but now.”    
                   -John C. Wright    in Awake in the Night

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Importance of Impossible Standards

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
    - Matthew 5:48(HCSB)

           Why is Jesus saying this? Surely He knows that no natural human is ever going to perfect? Yes, He does:

           If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say, “We don’t have any sin,” we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.       -1 John 1:8-10 (HCSB)

            Yes, Jesus knows that to be perfect as God is perfect is an impossible standard. And I think that is why He set it as a standard.
            It’s human nature to want to meet the standard of essential goodness, and that’s a good thing. Where it can become a problem is when we are tempted to turn from amending our attitudes and action to amending the standard. And if we think the standard ought to be meetable we will naturally be temped. First we’ll care off anything which is “obviously impossible” and then “Impossible for all practical purposes” then “impossible while living a normal life” by which we will actually mean significantly inconvenient to us.
            We’ll end up with a self created standard of righteousness that fits just fine into the life we were already living and are able to pat ourselves on the back at how well we’re doing. We can bask in the warm glow of our own moral accomplishments. And we get to look down on those lives that don’t match our carefully trimmed version of righteousness as well the the exact life it was trimmed for.

           We’ll make a pro forma statement that of course we’re not perfect. But implicitly we reject perfection as inhuman and undesirable. We position ourselves as like the littlest bear’s bowl of porridge, not too cold and too hot, but just right. We slip into the feeling that we’re perfect by the standard that should really apply.
           When I hear people railing against impossible standards, it makes me suspicious that they want to boast in their own works. I’ve found that the frustration of an impossible standard is because I want to check that box, put the trophy on the shelf, and get on with the fun stuff I really want to do.
But that’s going to take my focus away from a perfect God and direct my effort to lesser things. And as much as my sinful nature want to strive for something easier, seeking after God is really the best thing I can do with my life. So I accept the call to be perfect, I embrace the impossible standard. I accept that I’m not going to meet that standard but that’s my problem, a fault in my character, not a problem with the standard.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Review: Throne of Bones

                On his blog Vox Day has a very black and white combative style. He’s very logical and interested in facts, but there is no graciously presenting his opponents’ argument in the best light or giving the benefit of the doubt when someone says something incoherent. If you make a misstep in an argument with Day he’ll nail for it mercilessly. I don’t always agree with him but I enjoy reading the blog. It has the same sort of high energy, no holds barred, feel that watching WWF does.
                I wasn’t sure I would enjoy the same style translated to a novel so I didn’t pick up Summa Elvectica until it went on sale. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that in fiction Day is one of
the best authors I’ve ever read at showing different sides of a question. I was also very amused to find that while most authors, many theoretically enamored of a pacifistic ideal, need an epic battle to create an epic fantasy novel, here was an author who embraced confrontation and managed to magnificently pull off an epic fantasy where there was no battle but instead the plot revolved around scholarly debate of philosophical issues. And he managed to make that thrilling, intriguing and believable.
            Throne ofBones if set in the same world and includes some of the same characters. But the story also widens its scope to include many more characters and countries. The basic plot is more the standard Epic fantasy dark-forces-threaten-the-world. One of the things that first struck me was how standardized and predictable most fantasy is as this book shattered expectation after expectation. Throne of Bones has the grand sweep, the magical feel, and the sense of walking with legends that I look for in fantasy novels. It is also intricately and complexly three dimensional in a way that I didn’t realize I was missing in other works.
            Instead of just a “this is the way this world works” world building, each culture, and sometimes each character has a slightly different vision of how the world of Selenoth works. You can see them interlocking is areas of shared experience and sometimes conflicting in areas where one or both cultures lack concrete experiences. There are intriguing nooks that invite speculation on which way the world will actually work in practice. We get to share in the adrenaline as characters get their mental world expanded as they learn new bits of lore.
            Throne of Bones uses clearly identifiable historical patterns. But there isn’t the sense that a chunk of plot has been lifted out and is playing on autopilot against a different background. The historical presidents set the stage and then the interactions with different challenges are allowed to play out to their own end. For example Amorr is clearly inspired by ancient Rome, however it isn’t the Rome of and particular sequence of events. The impulses of later Christian Rome and the impulses of earlier republican Rome are allowed to blend and integrate with each other. The questions of whether citizenship should be expanded and whether preserving the republic and the real power of the senate is worth any cost, are one again lie issues and there isn’t a clear answer because the history hasn’t been written yet.
            The exact threat to Selenoth and its root cause are also complex and continue to surprise. Exactly how the protagonists should respond to the various subsidiary threats is presented as grounds for legitimate differences of opinion. My own evaluations of some of the characters often when through several revisions (even as the characters stayed consistent) as I saw them against the backgrounds of different issues and problems. I changed my mind several times on the goal the characters should be pursuing as they dug more deeply and discovered more of the problem they were facing. There were conflicting goals among the characters that changed and compromised so that which characters were truly irreconcilable and which allies was not set in stone.
            But what I most admired was that with all the things that were shone as relative and changeable the book still maintained a sense of right and wrong. None of the characters was perfect. All of them had at least some fault, not just of skill and knowledge but of moral fiber. I had to think about the moral dilemmas that came up, not just automatically agree with the “good” characters. The characters struggled with questions of the right thing to do very realistically but the book still managed to project very strongly that there was a morally right thing to do. It showed that choosing that was satisfying and good in itself, even as there were times when the results of doing the right thing didn’t seem fully satisfactory.
            This wasn’t a quick, easy read for me. There were passages where I felt a little battered by the reverse and alarms the characters were going through. I was challenged to think beyond what I’m used to in a fantasy novel. But I feel I’ve been stimulated to new understanding and new ideas. The story arch didn’t reach a complete conclusion in this book, and I’m not entirely certain where it will end up going. I’m looking forward, with trepidation as well as excitement, to reading the next book when it comes out.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Fruits of Postmodernism

Take a look at this blog post I just saw on facebook. It’s a professor who has served on a jury and seen a poor black couple who don’t have a mental framework that allows them to interact successfully with the court system.
This is what post modernism does to it’s weakest. It degrades and humiliates those who can’t defend themselves against it.
This is the attitude I see demonstrated in this article:

    I have this system of civilization that uses knowable truth, and the justice of equality before the law, and respect for authority. I don’t believe in truth, or blind justice, or authority. Or at least I don’t think they are worth defending as true virtues. But the system works well enough, and we don’t have anything that might be better. So by pragmatism we keep using this system.
    I keep pushing buttons and pulling levers in this system even though they don’t have any real meaning for me. This works for me because my cultural programming tells me what buttons to push and what levers to pull, but I don’t believe in any overriding principle that distinguishes moves with an abstract value from the ones that are purely cultural. In fact it makes me feel uncomfortable and like I have to defend myself against a charge of insensitivity to even glancing mention the pattern behind which behaviors that are practically useful.
    So I’ll retreat from that uncomfortable feeling. I’ll keep promoting nihilistic epistemology and moral relativism in the name social justice and multiculturalism. I’ll let it flow down hill until it arrives, striped edifying allusions and cushioning academic detachment, among the poor and the socially disconnected.
    bounty from your champions on high: the process of taking the identity “helpless victim” labeled as empowerment; substituting faceless and undefeatable enemies for practical problems labeled as constructive action. pounding on the table without reference to either facts or law labeled as meaningful communication.
And when I see the poisoned lives and blighted hopes. I’ll recognize that all post modernism has to say is tut-tut, so sad, not my job. And I’ll recognize the inadequacy, but I won't have anything else to offer.
Pounding on the table from Hucksters
I don’t know if the professor that wrote this particular blog post is personally postmodernist or just subconsciously infected by its meme floating around academia. And yes, I’ve pounded on that table a little myself here. But I do think there is a real fact at issue here. A philosophy that denies any legitimate judgment between different “ways of knowing” or different “ways of experiencing reality” is helpless to explain, and therefore can teach, why some stories must be both internally consistent and externally congruent with reality. When someone is caught by a fact check in a legal or professional situation, all postmodernists can do is shudder as the social solecism and turn their backs on the unfortunate faux pas. They can’t put up warning signs ahead of time. So to the extent postmodernism has infected our education system under the guise of cultural sensitivity, it is making social mobility very hard and causing the currently excluded a lot of pain.     
A can’t do much by myself but I can tell friends the truth rather than the common lies that make that make them feel good so that we can all feel good about each other. And I can recommend other to do the same, because a little honesty now could save a friend a lot of pain later.