Tuesday, November 30

A Modest (Christian) Proposal

Our fair land (the USA) is founded on (among other things) a principle of freedom of worship and separation of State and Church. This refers to the States influences on the Church. The reverse is not true, there is not a founding principle in Christianity insisting on such separation. In fact, seeing as Christ said, "Render unto Caesar", the contrary is the case. For it would seem in a democratic or republican society, one thing we as a people are asked to render is our advice (or at least our vote). Now I have argued in the past, that even if the Christian plurality in this country indeed had a single will and the power to control the three branches of government, that it is not obvious how to proceed. That is, besides perhaps anti-abortion legislation, what other sorts of laws might Christians wish enacted to further their vision of how society should be shaped. For example, take the Christian virtue Charity. It is not obvious how to create legislation or shape society in a way in which Charity as a personal virtue should be inculcated. I would in fact argue that governmental contributions to charity in our society decrease not increase personal inclinations to themselves take on charity as a personal responsibility. Thus the charitable acts foisted on us by our well meaning officials have an effect which is the reverse of what is intended. I would also point out that government being one of the least efficient means of effecting any result, should even further reduce the impulse to support municipal charities.

However, all is not lost reflecting further on thoughts of Christian government.

I hit upon one idea with respect to how our Christian virtues can be better effected in our society. In fact, it might even be sold in a secular fashion to our secular peers. Our educational system in this country for good or ill, has been assumed to be a role for our local government to administer. In fact our state and federal governments can't keep their hands off the education of our children (much less other facet of our lives) and seems bound to regulate and micro-manage our schools as well. Recently I argued, that the content of the curriculum might be irrelevant to the education of our children especially at the elementary and even into the high school levels for their future career. To summarize the argument, I had maintained that a student who has achieved proficiency in memorization, reasoning, diligence, and perseverance will excel in his chosen career not matter what he has been taught prior to making his career choice. This is what I meant when I said curriculum doesn't matter. If that student became proficient in those four skills, then even his prior education left him tabular rasa with respect to his chosen concentration, he would quickly close ground (and surpass) his peers who may have previous knowledge in that field, but were not as skilled at learning.

To make a concrete example, let us imagine a student having completed K-12 in a fundamental Christian theological education. He learns Latin, Greek, Hebrew, reads the Bible, Augustine, Aquinas, Aristotle, Plato and perhaps even Homer. He memorizes the Psalms and spends hours in prayer. He learns rhetoric and to discern and argue fine points of theology. Then he goes to a liberal University. I claim, although there is much his peers know which he does not know at the start, he will probably make up the lost ground quickly, having better study habits and learning skills.

Now, examining the "four" virtues of of a good education, one of them, we as Christians certainly can claim to know how to teach. Finally, we have a practical suggestion which we Christians can provide. For St. Paul tells us in Romans 5:3-4: ..., because we know suffering produces
perseverance, perseverance character; and character hope.
that suffering teaches perseverance which leads to character. So let us tell our schools boards that perseverance must be taught to our children for them to succeed for it is certainly true. And further, tell them how to teach it. And if our schools don't take it up, we as parents must in their stead.

This is a hard lesson for us parents in today's society. But if we read history, it is a lesson not often learned by the our forebears. How often do we read of great men, after striving and achieving much, had it lost because their sons and daughters, growing up in the luxury afforded by the success of their sire so often failed to measure up. Look at our lives. Even the poorest in America often live lives of luxury not often equaled by even the Roman Imperial family. How can we teach, or ourselves learn perseverance? I think that we as Christian parents should seek out ways for ourselves and our children to find worthwhile endeavors which are not always comfortable, perhaps even involving a little sacrifice. Dare I say suffering? These endeavors in fact, could be made part of our children's schooling, we need not limit them to Christian children, for in fact, all children (or people) can learn perseverance through suffering. And the "lost time" to the three R's and the "facts" which must be learned are not needed as dearly as the establishment might believe.

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Monday, November 29

Still Stuck in the Mud

Well, I'm almost finished with blogging my way through Romans and still haven't answered one of my key questions for St. Paul. The question I have in mind is as a Gentile, what ethic must I follow as a Christian. Romans, I read, is one of the key texts for answering this question. I glossed a little over chapters 9-11 and I think I will have to return to it and the earlier chapters before I move on to the next Epistle. I don't have time to work through more tonight, so I'm just going to share a few random thoughts, you know, blog a little. :)

In my ignorance, I had asked the following of Christian ethics:
To do good, I must then love my neighbor. What then is love? For if by loving him, I must do what is good for my neighbor, then we are back to square one. For my nowhere have I been instructed as to what is good.
St. Paul in Romans gives a lot of careful instruction on Law (as given by the Torah) and its relationship to Christ, his message, the Jew and the Gentile.

So far I think that St. Paul has told me, that I as a Gentile am not bound by the law. But in being reborn in Christ, through my rebirth in the Spirit, am bound more firmly to the spirit if not the letter of that Law. But, as I said, I need to read it more carefully to decide if that is a good approximation.

Finally, I'm sorry that I'm light on blogging tonight, but Mrs Pseudo-Polymath and I set up our two little Pseudo-Polymath girls up with Tae kwan-do classes tonight and it took longer than we anticipated. They are quite enthusiastic and the instructors and environment seems very good. I think there will be some future blogs about the moral philosophy of Tae kwan-do and Christian ethics.

Blogging will be light tomorrow until the evening as well. I'll try to get a lunchtime post in, but I am going to be traveling downstate for the next two days. On the other hand, tomorrow night I have to put together my post for the Christian Carnival, so check back later on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning to beat the "rush" ;-). Cut off is usually late Tuesday, so I'll have to have it done by then.

So now, on to the bike.

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Modern Novels Worth a Revisit

Hugh Hewitt has asked the blogosphere, "what modern novels do we think are worth re-reading?"
Here's my short list:
  • Ilium by Dan Simmons, which will make you pull out the original (get this one, the translation is really good.
  • Sunne in Splendor, When Christ and his Saints Slept, Falls the Shadow, and Time and Chance all by Sharon Kay Penman. All are great historical fiction. Watch out, you'll be stuck in the same trap I got caught in and read everything Ms Penman has ever published.
  • Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa.
  • The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton, may be modern, just depends on your perspective.
Update: I forgot the Iliad link, I added it.

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Sunday, November 28

Pauline Epistles: Romans
(chapter 8-11, essay 6)

Continuing on in Romans. I have to detour a little. I just brought back from Church, a commentary on Romans and Mrs Pseudo-Polymath let me know that some Amazon books had come in, two books by Mr Wright, one of which The Climax of the Covenant has much to say about Romans. Alas, for the latter book, much of the discussion hinges on the finer points of translating Greek. There is a reason, the "Pseudo" is attached to the title of my blog. I'm not a real Polymath, I just play one on the Internet ;). If I really knew some Greek, I might be able to drop it the prefix, but I've only studied about 4 chapters of an introduction to Greek with my #1 daughter two summers ago, a far cry from fluency indeed. I still plan to get back to it, but the current project has taken priority. At any rate, it is at least as opaque as the text.

The other book, from our parish library, is from the "Daily Study Bible Series", The Letter to the Romans by William Barclay. I'm not going to use it in much depth tonight, but will certainly read the relevant sections prior to writing my commentary in the future. So with no further ado, on to the text.

Chapter 8 continues with his discussion of how Law impacts Christians. He tells us that the Law has no power over the followers of Christ. Those who live according to their sinful natures, have their minds set on natural desires, but those who live for the spirit have their mind set on what the spirit desires, e.g., life and peace. We have an obligation to the spirit, to not live according to our sinful nature. Creation itself awaits the return of Christ. We do not know of ourselves how to pray. It is the Spirit himself who intercedes for us. As with Jeremiah, God knew before who would be saved, justified, and glorified. And finally,
If God is for us, who can be against us? ... Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? ... For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, now any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Now wiser men than I have argued about omniscience, free will, predestination and all that. As I have said earlier, I think these are peripheral issues, that is to say, things we discuss after we have decided exactly how to interpret questions relating to Christian ethics. The ethical considerations here hinge on Paul's discourse about Law. I'm (as is my wont) going to defer my my 2 cents on this matter for a later essay.

Now the next three chapters (9-11) go into a short digression on the Hebrew nation and their relationship to God, salvation, the Law, and Christ. From Israel (and the patriarchs) we trace the descent of (the human ancestry) of Christ. God has made promises to them, but many of them, do not believe (that is become followers of Christ). It was by their transgression from the Law that salvation has come to (them and to) the Greek and non-Greek. Do not be arrogant, because Jews have fallen away from the Law and required Christ to come to save us, but be grateful.

Finally, please keep the people of the Ukraine in your prayers.

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A Point on Iraq

In Iraq, we have heard of hundreds of thousands of tons of explosives being destroyed. In Falluja in the wake of their offensive, the Marines have uncovered great caches of weapons and materiel. This is a points to a feature of the fracas that is not being talked about, in fact it is contrary to what the MSM/left believes. In our Revolutionary War, our forefathers struggled as poor colonists with a dearth of equipment, food, and supplies. In Iraq the insurgents, whom the MSM would like to paint as the revolutionaries when in fact they are the remnants of the Baathist regime (which is to say, the former oppressors), do not suffer the same fate. They do not lack for arms and materiel. They lack for men. What does this mean? This means, they lack recruits to their side. It is gospel for those in opposition of this war, that Iraq is a "breeding ground" for our opposition in the Global Effort against Terror. If they can't recruit, this is a sign their cause is not quite as inspiring as the detractors of our efforts would like to believe.

This is good news for the good guys (as a reminder to liberal readers looking in on my blog, that would be us).

That's all.

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Saturday, November 27

Pauline Epistles: Romans
(chapter 7 (mostly), essay 5)

Well, a few quick points overall before we get started. Perhaps for a while now, an overall pattern will settle with respect to bloggin the Epistles. It may find me returning to some leftover question(s) from the last blog, then blogging about what I read, mentioning some question or three that I don't understand, deferring them to the next time. Also, if I ever manage get a few posts ahead of myself (in the can so to speak), Mrs Polymath wants to get back to proofing my text. We will all benefit from that. Last night I was tired, my apologies, for the typos in the last post. So, then, onward to the text.

Speaking of using "I was tired as an excuse". The phrase that stumped me last night, was when I had been reading along in Chapter 5, and got to "hope does not disappoint us". The reason why hope doesn't disappoint had not been what I had expected. The reason our "hope of the Glory of God" will be fulfilled, was "because God has poured out his love into our hearts". Well, after a night's sleep, possibly it is the translation. That translation I had read was the NIV (New International Version). The King James (in the adjoining column in my text) has "the hope of God makes us not ashamed, because of the love of God is shed into our hearts". Glancing at the Greek I find it was more literally followed by the older translation. However, as I learned before, again shame for the Roman Christian has much to do with how Christ died (crucifixion). I've got to keep in mind as I'm doing this, I have three translations in front of me. Look at them, when I have questions (doh!).

Moving on, we had gotten through Chapter 6. Mr Wright (remember that essay I mentioned (linked!) back in my first posting) warns us that 5-8 make for the core of the Epistle (the engine that drives the rest of the letter), so it will do us in good stead to heed his warning and "stay sharp".

In Chapter 7, Paul starts by making an analogy to our re-birth in Christ and our relationship with the Law with marriage. In marriage, death of a spouse frees the other to re-marry without committing adultery. In Christ, we died to the Law and are reborn. Then he goes on to make points about the relationship between sin and the Law. One point is that knowing the Law exists, tempts us with the lure of the forbidden. It was sin, seizing on this opportunity opened by the commandment of the Law that brought us to sin. But that increase in my temptation is not the fault of the Law. We all find ourselves wrestling with sin. We do what we know we should not. Who will rescue us? Christ.

It's late, I'm going to post this for now. No burning questions seem left over (so much for my pattern). I'll be on to Chapter 8 on the morrow.

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On Education, Society, and Romans 5:3-4

Our modern educational system thinks that self-esteem needs to be taught. In our modern schools, self-esteem is taught, not the old fashioned way, by through mastery of difficult skills, but by always rewarding success or failure with praise. This is a part our character development teaching in our schools. There are a number of flaws in this assumption which may go far to explain some directions our society has been heading.

We all want our children to have "character". The question is, how to achieve this? Paul tells us (Romans 5:3-4):
..., because we know suffering produces
perseverance, perseverance character; and character hope.
Is this how our schools teach character. Well, no. But it is how the Marine Corp teaches it for example. It is how our forefathers got it. Our modern American society has a dearth of suffering, for we are rarely hungry, cold, or in pain. We should not be surprised that our modern culture lacks demonstrates such a shallow nature.

On a related issue, lack of character and not understanding its source explains why the liberal half of society, feels strongly that abstinence programs won't work. They're right if the people they give their message to don't have much in the way of character. After all, if you've never denied yourself anything in other sectors of you life (except if perchance you can't afford it), why should sex be any different. And after all, sex is free (and if think abortion is ok, it doesn't even have consequences). However, that just underlines the need to teach character to our youth. Now we just have to come up with some good ways how to accomplish these ends, and start pushing for them.

How then, would we want our schools (if indeed we want character lessons to be taught in school at all) to teach character, which as we have learned, requires discomfort (suffering). Actually, how indeed should we as parents put our children into such situations with the end goal of inculcating character? Now much as I dislike lambasting modern culture without suggesting an alternative I have none to offer now.

I think this question will have to be deferred to a later post. However, if you gentle reader have any good ideas, drop a comment. I'll collect, comment, and put them into that later post.

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An Error in Aesthetic

An aesthetic is a method by which we decide art is good or drek. Mr Stone's new movie Alexander has been panned by Ann Althouse and Larry Ribstein, among others. Mr Stone, beginning to anticipate that his film isn't the hit he might have hoped, is assigning its failure to a shift in morals in the masses (of flyoverland). However, he errs. It takes more than a "good message" (which point is debatable) to make art. You also need to make good art. And if Mr Stone, had succeeded in his artistic endeavor, his message wouldn't helped (or hindered) the success of his film.

This error is prevalent in much of Modern Art. Artists will claim, "you have to understand" what the artist is doing in order "to appreciate" it. Good art, be it literature, movies, paintings, or music must also be captivating on first viewing. It has to be appealing to the uninitiated. Artists will complain, that is hard to make it pleasing because it's so complicated. Well, excuse my ignorance, but I think that is a poor apology for not possessing genius. That is, in fact, the point of the exercise! To make a work that resonates with our sense of the beautiful. I don't care if I have to study you work for half an age, to "appreciate" it. If I don't like it the first time, I won't be very likely to give it a second chance. If you want to tack on a "important" message, that is well and good, but please remember the message isn't what makes it Art. The message is politics, philosophy, or theology.

(Hat Tip: Professor Bainbridge)

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Friday, November 26

Pauline Epistles: Romans
(chapter 4-6, essay 4)

At the end of the last essay we had left off with a distinction made between the Gentiles not aware of the Law, but sometimes obeying it, and Jews, who new the Law, but fail to obey it. Both can be saved by Christ. But where does the Law come in? How does faith? So we continue, but ponder these questions as we proceed.

Can man be justified by works? Paul examines one important patriarch, Abraham. Why? Well, it turns out Paul uses this to examine whether righteousness requires either obedience to the Law (for example circumcision). It turns out, Abraham was declared righteous because of his faith before he was circumcised. This is an important message for Gentiles (Romans). Those who live by the law, and have no faith, this way is "wrath" (v 15). I think "where there is no law there is no transgression" is speaking specifically about circumcision (and perhaps dietary laws). The Roman had no such laws, and as such, should not be faulted for breaking them. The faithful then are not in conflict with God (via the Law) since we have been justified by faith. We rejoice in our hope of the glory of God. We (do or should) rejoice in our suffering. As suffering => perseverance => character => hope. And hope doesn't disappoint because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit,whom he has given us (Rom 5v5). I tripped over that thought. I had expected Paul to say, hope would not be disappointed because of somesuch like "because it is God we are counting on". But no, it is because we have love in our hearts. I'm going to have to get back to that thought.

Going gaily on (so to speak), Just as sin entered the world via Adam, we were saved by one, Christ. But since Christ has justified our sin, should we do ahead and sin away? Heck no (duh)! We should count ourselves dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ Jesus, but become slaves to become slaves of righteousness.

How about the questions I asked before I started? Well, I think both questions were answered quite well. That means at some level I'm in synch with what Paul is trying to say, in that I'm responding to his prompting and asking the questions he is intending to answer.

I'll continue this tomorrow. It was a busy day today. I'll get back to Chapter 5v5 and continue on.

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Musing about Education

Everyone has an opinion about what is wrong with our educational system these days. In the past before my blogging days, I thought there were two main faults to lay on our system. Now I find I there may be a third. One popular topic of discussion educators and the society at large around them like to discuss is curriculum. Alas, this topic I think is largely irrelevant to preparing a good student to take on the real world, at least at the elementary level and possibly through high school.

The first two faults are that the educators forget why they are teaching and that the overhead is way too high. What I mean by "they don't know why they are teaching" is that I feel many teachers lose sight of the forest for the trees. They forget that the reason for schooling is to prepare us for not being in school. It is not to get the kid past their standardized tests, or teach him the subject matter covered by his syllabus, or to the college of their choice. The reason of school is simple. Look, if I like my job, my life will be so much more rewarding than if I don't. One way of looking at school that it is an forum for the student assisting him in his search for what he finds the most rewarding, and then preparing him so that he is good enough at that activity to be paid for doing just that. As for the latter (by high overhead), I mean something like managing the logistical tail problem that armies face. For armies, this means trying to minimize the extraneous costs, people, and materials not related to the getting guys in the field with the bad attitudes and right sharp pointy implements. For school, this means minimizing the extraneous costs, people, and bureaucratic fluff not related to keeping the best teachers in front of undistracted students.

However, in a recent discussion about evolution, creation, and all that with an evolutionarily minded gadfly (DarkSyd this means you) the following thought occurred to me. Curriculum choice is far less important than we think. Especially much less than today's educational establishment thinks, even before "No Child Left Behind". Here is what I think we really need to learn from school (before college):
  1. A minimal set of skills to survive.
  2. diligence and how to study.
  3. How to reason
  4. memorization. (This skill gets a bad rap today, quite unfairly.)
  5. Attention.
  6. perseverance

What the actual subject matter is being studied is unimportant. If a student is good at these skills, if they spent their elementary years learning anything it wouldn't matter because if they learnt the skills listed above well, they will excel at whatever profession they choose. In fact, so much that is shoehorned in by people who believe the kids should learn this that or the other thing (computer "skills", evolution, the metric system, or whatever comes down the pike next) is a distraction. And today that many school programs have decided memorization is not a required (or useful) skill for the modern man. This assumptions is false. I also think that many teachers implicitly if not explicitly believe that ability in attention, memorization, and perseverance are inborn and cannot be improved. This too is false. While a student not talented by upbringing or birth at paying attention (memorization, diligence, or perseverance) can get better at it. And any student who excels at all of them will do well at whatever field of study he undertakes and more importantly, if he is "behind" his peers in learning some of the basic facts of a new field, will quickly outstrip them if he is better at those skills.

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Thursday, November 25

A Giving of Thanks

Well, after a quick peek around after getting back from the familial gathering, I see posting is light all over. Life is good for many of us bloggers.

I missed our church's Thanksgiving service. But I thought I'd close my Thanksgiving post with this (Joel 2 vv 21-27):

Fear not, O soil, rejoice and be glad;
For the Lord has wrought great deeds.
Fear not, O beasts of the field,
For the pastures in the wilderness
Are clothed with grass.
The trees have borne their fruit;
Fig tree and vine
Have yielded their strength.
O children of Zion be glad,
Rejoice in the Lord you God.
For He has given you the early rain in kindness,
Now He makes the rain fall as formerly ---
The early rain and the late --
And the threshing floors shall be piled with grain,
And the vats shall overflow with wine and new oil.

"I will repay you for the years
Consumed by swarms and hoppers,
By grubs and locusts,
The great army I let loose against you.
And you shall eat your fill
And praise the name of the Lord your God
Who dealt so wondrously with you ---
My people shall be shamed no more.
And you shall know
That I am in the midst of Israel;
That I the Lord am your God
And there is no other.
And my people shall be shamed no more.

Grace and Peace to all through Christ our Lord, and may the Lord Bless our Nation.

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Wednesday, November 24

On the Ukraine

I am completely unqualified and uninformed. But this post (and links) looks worthwhile.
That's it for tonight (and this post).

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Pauline Epistles: Romans
(chapter 1-3, essay 3)

Continuing on. And I'd like to highlight points I received from a very good comment I got on the last Romans post. I was trying too hard to read meaning into the Greek/non-Greek/wise/fool construction. This take on the more obvious meaning of being obligated to teach by all he has learned from everyone else. And, the final phrase the question which sort of passed on was what Paul might be ashamed of, turns out to be the crucifixion, not the most elegant end for ones Savior perhaps?

Anyhow, moving forward, and perhaps a little faster now that we have worked over the beginning. For the next bit, I'm going to block out verses and summarize their contents. Then, I'll end with a summary of the arc of the argument which I have just covered.

  1. Chapter 1 vv 18-32: Here Paul goes into a litany of things that pagan cultures have done which are wicked. The root sin is in ignoring god, they made pagan idols and worshipped them more than God. As a result, God gave them up unto all manner of unrighteousness (drunkenness, covetousness, sexual perversions, murder, debate (?!), gossip, pride, and so on. And not only that, but they approve of those who participate in such behavior.
  2. Chapter 2 vv 1-11: Then Paul notes, that those who pass judgment on other's who sin, as mere men, are likely sinning as well. Because at judgment God will reward each according to what he has done, one would do well to "persist in doing good".
  3. Chapter 2 vv 12-16: Paul then writes of the Law (here speaking I think of the Law passed down from the Torah). Sinning apart from the Law or under the Law is wrong. Just hearing the Law won't pass muster. If you haven't heard the Law, but act justly, the Law of their conscience will be judged.
  4. Chapter 2 vv. 17-28: For the Hebrews as well, outwardly obeying the forms of the Law (circumcision or not worshipping idols) means nothing if you steal or commit adultery.
    A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly
  5. Chapter 3 vv 1-8: And just because our unjust behavior increases the distance between us and God. This doesn't make it a good idea, that is glorifying God in making raising him even higher from us. This idea must have been a issue of the day. I don't see anyone trying that argument on their own today.
  6. Chapter 3 vv 9-15: But no one is righteous before the Lord.
  7. Chapter 3 vv 16-31: But we get to the finish of this segment:
    For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

So what just transpired? Well, Paul tells us that the Gentiles and the Jews are sinners and he lists some of the transgressions common to both groups. But, neither group gets a pass, all are sinners. But all sinners are saved through faith in Jesus Christ.

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Giving Thanks

Our 1st President

George Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted' for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have show kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d dy of October, A.D. 1789.

(signed) G. Washington

(hat tip: The American Thinker)
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The Great Wasteland that is Radio

Joe Carter and Jeremy Pierce have both come out today with a blog entry on NPR and Talk Radio. Joe has some weak praise for NPR radio and strong condemnation for just about everything else on the (non-XM) radio dial. Jeremy opines that NPR while good, does seem to treat us in flyoverland (and our culture) as anthropological curiosities.
I have two small points to add to the mix.

I'd like to point out that we have at least one radio gem here in Chicago (and anywhere if you're on the internet as it is webcast). Milt Rosenberg's Extension 720 is a great radio show. It's an evening show (9-11pm weekdays) but the topics and discussions are great. Whenever I'm driving and it's after 9 (and no damn baseball game is being broadcast), that's where my radio dial is tuned.

Finally, for the long drive and possibly for the commute,although to be honest my commute either is short or long and on a bike, I would recommend going to the dreaded public library and checking out books on tape. The odd thing, I found about books on tape, is that my tastes are different. When I read for pleasure, I tend to read very different material than what I find I can listen to while driving. The combination of being a captive audience (stuck in a car for an n-hour drive (where n is a number bigger than I might prefer) and the fact that my attention is a little distracted by the act of driving might be the cause. For me, I found most interesting were long histories and biographies. Long books on Gaudalcanal, Iwo Jima, Stalingrad, and the John Adams biography are all books that are ordinarily not on the top of my reading list. But put me in a car, and that list changes shape.

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Tuesday, November 23

Pauline Epistles: Romans 1 (chapter 1, essay 2

Well, last night I started blogging (slogging, "close reading") my way through St Paul's Epistles. Lacking a better way to do it, I'm going in the order given by the canon, hence Romans. And given what little I've learned about trying to read text carefully, I'm going extra slow at the start. Hopefully, things will pick up as we go.
I had been working my way through the first few verses. I wanted to try to figure out what to think about vs 14-15 and 16-18. Then I'll recap and gird my loins (so to speak) as the introduction is about to abruptly end at this point when we get on with the rest of the chapter.

I am a debtor to both the Greeks and the non-Greek (barbarois); both to the wise and the foolish. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.

Now if Paul had just said the first, I would have just gone on blithely, as I would have understood it to refer to his education having Greek and Hebrew roots (perhaps). But pairing it in parallel with wise and foolish, makes me pause. Are the Greeks wise and non-Greek foolish? Was this a saying back then, sort of common wisdom, "learning from the wise and foolish?" One can indeed learn from the foolish as from the wise, in that fools can often provide excellent bad examples. I will leave off with one thought as to what is going on here. Mr Wright indicates in these passages, Paul often makes a subtle challenge or dig at pagan Rome. Perhaps the parallel structure is chiastic in structure, i.e., Greek (and by association Roman) is paired with the foolish (outer pair) and Hebrew (non-Greek) is paired with the Wise. This might be confirmed by the next verse, which indicates that is why he is eager to come to visit and teach in Roma.

The next verses continue:
  • For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ
  • it is the power of God for the salvation of every one that believes
  • to the Jew
  • to the Greek
  • Thus is the righteousness of God revealed ...
  • thus it is written
  • The just shall live by faith

For me, breaking that into stutter steps helped. The final two verses for tonight, almost make sense on a second reading. What I don't understand is the "not ashamed". Why shame, which possibly hearkens back to Genesis 2? But these verses (from what I saw from my skimming the text to come) will be echoed many times as we compare the role and message for the Gentile and the Jew.

Ok. So we've gotten 17 verses in. Let's recap. We are starting a long letter to the Romans, non-Hebrew (some Greek) citizens of Rome who are Christian. Paul is writing to them and is going to instruct them in the faith of Christ crucified and he is here telling us what he is writing about. I think those first 4 verses will come back to us a lot, as I had remarked on reading them the first time they summarize a lot of our faith in a few short phrases.

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light posting

Posting may be light tonight, besides working out, school conferences are tonight so I may not have time. If I do post, it'll likely be late.

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Towards a Better Minority Policy

Recently I wrote a short essay "Stupid or Evil, Pick One" complaining about current affirmative action policies. It was intentionally provocative, however I did fail in one important regard, that is I merely tore down policies without suggesting a constructive alternative. John Adams had the same complaint with respect to Mr Paine, it's easy to cut down others ideas and policies, but more difficult to build.

However this issue is not particulary complex. It is seems clear to me that preferentially favouring one class of people over another (or handicapping them by not offering opportinities) are both damaging practices. What should be done is to aggressively go after all forms of discrmination (positive and negative).

To restate:
  • Favouring one class causes resentment and provides disincentives for hard work. It is wrong in principle and practice.
  • Repressing one class over another is bad because it causes resentment and provides direct disadvantages. This is also as clearly wrong in principle and practice.

The only alternative you have left is to to try to ensure fair play. If you feel race is an issue in our society therfore I claim you should agressively attack all policies which exhibit any racial preference.

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Monday, November 22

Paul Epistles: Romans 1 (chapter 1, essay 1)

As I said in a recent post, I'm becoming more and more sharply aware of my ignorance of Scripture. I haven't re-read (or read) much since my teen years. Thanks to Mr Chesterton and the work of the Holy Spirit, I've got a whole new reading list and you, gentle reader via the wonder of the internet and the advent of blogging, get to watch rocks grow get to nudge me in the right direction when I stray or at least learn from my mistakes. :)

Well, I assume we can all find the text, Romans. I plan to work my way through the whole epistle (indeed all of them), but from what little I've learned from Mr Kass (The Beginning of Wisdom) and Augustine (Confessions) about "close reading" is that beginnings are the most important. When you start to read something taking a little more care in reading at the beginning pays off, it helps frame your project and lets you get some scope on where you are going. My second step, concomitant, will be to quickly skim through the whole letter to see if I can get a "big picture" view.

The translation(s) I will be using for the text, is this.

OK, I finished the "big picture" pass, I'm not really going to comment on my thoughts on that, however, because (a) I haven't digested it yet and (b) it was really just to get me grounded as I get started, i.e., chapter 1. And I guess I've already not done what I set out to do, that is to work harder on the first chapter before skimming the rest. But alas, skimming is my "gift" when it comes to reading, i.e., what I do best. This close reading stuff is not my forte.

Now, I am very grateful to a commenter on last night's blog entry which pointed out this essay, which I dutifully (again skimmed) during my lunch break at work today. That essay is entitled Paul and Caesar: A New Reading of Romans. For the most part, it approaches this epistle at a more abstract level than I am willing to admit on the first pass. Rev. Wright has clearly been studying St. Paul enough that, the key points he is making are to try to teach other experts of their errors, not the initial impact of the Gospel. But as with much else, expert teaching is better than poor, because even if you can't avail oneself of all the subtlety, at least you won't be led astray.

The two lessons I'm going to abstract for today from Mr Wright's essay, is that (1) St. Paul is putting his little "cult" up to challenge Caesar and (2) the Roman church he was writing to had a diffident relationship with their ex-Jewish brethren. In Rome at the time, the Jews had been expelled from Rome previously, but were now returning. The Hebrew Christians often evidenced, as the chosen people, some superiority over their pagan Christian brethren. More on this later as the epistle unfolds (see skimming it did do some good).

Ok ok already, to the text...

Well, he says a lot in the first sentence, the letter is from Paul,
  • He is a servant (literally slave) of Christ.
  • And an apostle called and set apart for the gospel of God.
  • This gospel was promised via prophecies in Scripture regarding his Son.
  • Descended from David (humanly) and spiritually the Son of God through the workings of the Holy Spirit
  • and by his resurrection from the dead.
whew! That would almost do to replace the creed. Mr Wright would add that this also is something of a challenge to Caesar in that the term Gospel (good news) was used to refer to the imperial birthdays and ascension. By repeating the term Gospel several times, to a Roman audience who wouldn't miss the connection (even if we do today).

He then goes on to say that he is called to give this message to those of all nations. Those receiving this letter number amongst that group. Addressing them directly, he tells them
Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
He then says he wishes to visit them but hasn't had the chance yet (he made plans, but we all know how that goes) and has heard much good about their church/faith community.

Two more passages to puzzle over, "I am obligated (debtor) to the Greeks and to the non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish" and "I am not ashamed of the Gospel".

Next post, I'll try to work through those two phrases, finish off the first chapter, and recap what this means as far as "beginnings".

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Stupid or Evil? Pick one

Do you support affirmative action. If so, which are you?

Discussions about affirmative action has been in the wind recently. Both at the Volokh Conspiracy and Parableman discussing a recent survey. Instead of commenting on studies and statistics and policy I'm going to submit some general observations.
  • In parenting, when my child is failing to meet goals, do I respond by lowering my standards and telling her that she is doing good enough, or do I not lower any standards and encourage her to rise to the challenge. In fact, whenever you children do meet your goals the normal response is after congratulations are given is to raise ever higher standards. Consider the effect of lowering my standards.
  • In the "Airmen" the black pilots being trained are forced to meet the strictest possible standards in a misguided attempt to force them out. What was done in effect, little did the trainers realize, was an elite squadron was formed. Perhaps the lesson to be learned here is that if you really want to do a social experiment fully, affirmative action should be reversed 100%, that is making access to "things" much harder for minorities. In a half generation, minorities will be sought out because they will be the elite, the best of the best.
  • Just one more point along these lines, if you have a military unit with low performance and moral. How does one proceed? Will they improve if you lower standards? Or raise them?
  • This of course ignores all aspects of "equal under the law" and the Constitutionality of the whole affirmative action programme.
So here's my main point putting it baldly, supporters of affirmative action are either stupid or evil. Stupid, if they support it and ignore the point that their actions will have the opposite effect that they intend and that after being in place for over 30 years, you'd think it would have started working by now. Evil, if they understand it will have the opposite effect as the stated intent but still support it.

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Sunday, November 21

A Simple Evolution Question

K Chesterton in The Everlasting Man, pointed out
It is useless to begin by saying that everything was slow and smooth and a mere matter of development and degree. For in the plain matter like the pictures there is in fact not a trace of any such development or degree. Monkeys did not begin pictures and men finish them; Pithecanthropus did not draw a reindeer badly and Homo Sapiens draw it well. The higher animals did not draw better and better portraits; the dog did not paint better in his best period than in his early bad manner as a jackal; the wild horse was not an Impressionist and the race horse a Post-Impressionist. All we can say of this notion of reproducing things in shadow or representative shape is that it exists nowhere in nature except in man; and that we cannot even talk about it without treating man as something separate from nature. In other words, every sane sort of history must begin with man as man, a thing standing absolute and alone.

My question is similar. Is there any evidence for the evolution of those things distinctively human, like for example aesthetic appreciation for the arts, creativity, or philosophical questioning? Or is this just one of the questions evolution doesn't answer for us.

To be honest, I think the biggest disservice that the IDC/Creationist crowd has done to the science of evolution is to cause them to circle the wagons and stop questioning their own premises.

There are weaknesses and un-explained mysteries left for the evolutionary scientist to answer. If their weren't, then there would be nothing left to study in that field. The existence of evolutionary biologists disproves that hypothesis. My (unsolicited) advice for the evolutionary biology crowd would be to mostly ignore the IDC/creationist school entirely. Let's face it, the young student firmly believing in the Biblical account of creation isn't going to suddenly "wake up" and become the next Stephen Jay Gould or whomever else might be an eminent evolutionary biologist (Mr Gould being the only one I've read in print). And after a short discussion recently with some evolutionary proponents, it seems the only possibilities proposed that would be "lost" if a person might believe in creation instead of evolution are quite weak. They were
  1. If we fail to believe in evolution we might mistakenly think that the oxygen levels present are not biological in nature. Well, rest easy my secular children, for that Creation believing boy also believes man is God's appointed steward of the planet and it his task to care for the well being of the world as well. Environmental causes are also Christian causes. You are allies for this fight.
  2. The second proposed "fact of nature" possibly missed by the Creationist would be the development of resistance to antibiotics by bacteria. Well, again you can all rest easy, there is no indication that after God created the universe and was done, that Scripture indicates that the world is then held in some sort of stasis with respect to the species in existence.
If you know any other "practical" objections to how a failure to believe in evolution would hinder one's ability to cope in the modern world, please let me know.

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My Next Reading Projects

Dear Gentle Readers,
Well, yesterday I finished with the Augustine's Confessions and today I'm deciding what to start reading next. I have a number of other Early Christian Father series books (6-8 of them), two other Augustine titles (Expositions on the Psalms 26-50 and the Enchiridon), stuff to pick out of the parish library, and lots of Genesis material. However, what I thought I'd do, is start reading/blogging/essaying (whatever! geesh ... ok ) working, my way through some of the New Testament. I flipped a coin, and Paul won. I'm going to start blogging my way through the Epistles of St Paul. I've been hearing them in pieces most of my life. As with the rest of the Bible and Theological matters, I haven't seriously considered them since I became an adult.

If anyone has any better ideas, I'll consider it (or at least put it in queue).

And if anybody wants to suggest good commentaries, I am all ears err, eyes, uhm will heed your suggestions.
Thanks all.

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Saturday, November 20

On the Falluja Marine/Slate/Insurgent Kerfuffle

This isn't exactly new news. But I thought I'd put my 2 cents in the ring.

  • There are consequences for actions. The al-Qaeda and Baathist extremists,

    1. use holy places to cache weapons

    2. don't wear uniforms

    3. booby trap their injured

    4. and behead and torture civilians (Iraqi and foreign)

    Guess what. When you do that, it gets harder for your wounded to be cared for and to surrender safely. Duh. And when you squeak about the Geneva Convention not being followed we'll just remind you, it doesn't apply to those how do the things in the above list.

  • The terrorist in question hadn't surrendered and was not a POW

  • The Corp is investigating and likely would have if the whole brouhaha hadn't erupted

  • The marine is a US soldier. Let's give him at least as much slack than we give the enemy. After all, we are all rooting for the same side here, but sometimes these media cretins just make you wonder.

  • Guess what, this is war. War is not pretty. War is not clean. War is not planned. War is not organized. War isn't scheduled. There is a saying, "War is Hell". Remember that.

That's all.

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On the Modern Christian Ascetic Movement

Or the complete lack thereof. This really is the question. In early Christian times, a strong ascetic movement developed. Between Saint Paul's writings praising celibacy, and Christ's admonitions to poverty, the early Church through to the Renaissance had a strong ascetic culture. Additionally, the early Christian ascetic movement was a reaction to the sensual culture of pagan Rome.

Well as for that ascetic feeling, it's gone today. Today, we have Episcopal Bishops getting consecrated espousing a culture of "actualizing your sexuality" and Evangelical Televangelists telling people if they worship God their money problems will be over teaching "Get God, Get Rich". Where oh where did the hair shirts go?

I asked this question once before, and had no answer. Today I'm going to try to propose some of the reasons.

Cultural reasons

These reasons include both the culture surrounding the church and the culture and practices that have grown up inside the church.
  • Popular secular culture is perhaps as sensual as the pagan Roman society was at the time. However, the modern popular culture arose (slowly) out of the ruins of the monolithic Roman Church post reformation. It is easier to react to something that is a pre-existing (bad) thing. But harder if it comes to life alongside you. Asceticism is one possible reaction, but since we're not really reacting, hair shirt manufacturing isn't a growth industry.

    1. Modern technology gives the secular culture wings. Internet, TV, newspapers, magazines, and radio all wing their way into our life in a way which is unique to the modern world. Via these channels, the pagan secular world beams its way directly into our life. It is much harder to ignore. Odysseus put wax in his ears to prevent the siren call. That's not so easy these days.

    2. We are rich. Modern technology has given us so much wealth today compared to earlier eras. It has always been hard for the rich and pampered to give up what they have. When even the poor are rich, it gets even harder.

  • Christian cultural reasons

    1. We have no good examples. No (or few) church leaders are providing a good example. Our church leaders are wealthy, but unlike St. Thomas a' Beckett, they don't wear hair shirts under their finery (to the best of my knowledge).

    2. The ecclessial culture of denial is almost non-existent. Granted in medieval times, it got out of hand. But moderation in denial may be better than abstinence.

    3. It's hard. As Augustine said, grant me continence and chastity, but not yet.

    4. Ignorance. Especially in many of the mainline churches, Scripture is not read by the laity very much or very carefully. This tradition perhaps goes back to an age when few of the laity could read. But the leaders aren't leading us towards asceticism, and the laity isn't asking why... err, I'm asking why? but I'm a really really really small voice. Saint Paul certainly writes and espouses asceticism, but if nobody but the leaders read it (and ignore it because it's not the message of the day), nobody will miss it.

Theological Reasons

These reasons tie to how scripture and theology are interpreted. Athanasius, Augustine, and Saint Anthony's voices are not heard in today's church. Modern theological movements, liberation theology, feminist theology and post-modern theological movements have a louder voices.

Philosophical Reasons

Between humanism and post-modernism, the idea that we should sacrifice our personal well- being to glorify God has no traction. In fact, you have to read carefully of the early Christian fathers to begin to understand the reasons for it. I certainly am still in the "not yet" crowd. But, I'm trying to understand it anyhow.

So What?

That's enough for now. For the next essay(s) on this topic, I think I should start delving into an inquiry as to whether asceticism might be a good idea.

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Bike Racing 101

Bike racing is my hobby and my passion. But bike racing, in America at least, is a fringe sport. People all have heard of Lance Armstrong, but know little about the sport itself. So since my race reports are still many months away (it being the off-season and all), I thought I'd try to pen a few essays in the manner of a primer to shed some light on the sport. Bike racing is divided up into three main categories, road, track, and mountain. I will be writing only about the first, road racing, because that is what I know.

Bike racing at the core is a fusion of endurance, strength, tactics, and technology.
  • First and foremost cycling is an endurance sport. Even at the beginning amateur levels, a bike race lasts more than 1/2 hour. Many road races can last over 2. At the top levels, races like the Grand Tour's (like the Tour de France) last 3 weeks with only two rest days.
  • Strength is required, both when sprinting for a finish line, attacking to create a gap, or to race the bike up a 18% grade
  • Tactics are a part of bike racing least appreciated by the novice (fan and racer). In all bike races (except time trials) drafting forces tactics on the riders. The rider drafting behind one or two riders in front of you uses 20 to 30% less energy than the riders "in the wind". If one rider can force, because of tactical considerations, a stronger rider to "do the work" (pulling in the wind). Then that weaker rider will often be fresher by the time race is over. Time trials, individual or team efforts, on those funky aero-bar funny bikes, also have a tactical aspect. You have to learn to gauge your effort so that you use all your strength on the course. Go out too hard, and you fade which loses time. Go out to easy, and you end up losing time, because you could of gone faster.
  • Finally bike racing is a high-tech sport. Cycle computers can measure speed, heart rate, and via strain gauges the force you exert. This data can all be collected for later analysis. Additionally, bikes today are crafted using space-age materials, pushing weight/strength ratios to the limits in order to shave weight and improve performance. Pro riders in the off season rent time in wind tunnels to work on their time trial on-bike position help beat the wind.

Road racing consists of three types of races.
  • The Criterium Criterium's are the most common type of race in the US. Literally they are short course races (the race course is officially less than 4 miles) usually between 1/2 to 1 mile in length. These races are the most exciting type of bike race for the bystander because the whole race comes past every few minutes. A bicycle does not have to brake when cornering and the speeds in these races are surprisingly high. At the amateur levels I race, Criterium speeds can be 28 mph if the pack is large and motivated. They are rarely slower than 25 mph. The sprint finishes usually top 40 mph.

  • The Time Trial Also known as the "race of truth" because there is no team tactics involved here. In a time trial, the racers typically start at 30 second or 1 minute intervals. Drafting is prohibited (if a racer drafts another he can be penalized in time or disqualified). This type of racing is very much a physical and mental exercise. When time trialing if your concentration wanders, you slow down. Your effort very shortly causes your body to start "complaining". You must focus past this and on your effort, constantly monitoring your race computer (to make sure your effort is right), your gearing, the road, and how you feel.

  • The Road Race Road races can be long circuit races, one big loop, or a point to point race. In the US, point to point races are rare at the amateur level. Depending on the region, terrain can have a big effect on the race tactics.

In future posts, I will expand on this introduction expanding on these short descriptions of the three types of road races.

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Tyro that I am

Well, one more milestone. Last night, my site meter crossed (drum roll please) ... 1000. I observe that Professor Bainbridge (here) noticed he crossed 1,000,000. Well, look out, here ... I ... (grunt) ... come (as snickers resound in the background). :-)

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Friday, November 19

Augustine: Confessions Book 13

Augustine's Book 13 and conclusions. This may be briefer than intended. I was rash, and allowed blogger errors to dash two copies of this post into the bit bucket.

The Companion for this Book is Robert MacMahon. Mr MacMahon is a Professor of English at LSU. Mr MacMahon is an expert in renaissance and medieval comparative literature. He has written a book, Augustine's Prayerful Ascent: An Essay on the Literary Form of the Confessions.

Mr MacMahon pointed out (for me) three key features of Book 13. One is that this book represents movement, in that the pace picks up in many ways. This book continues recounting an exegesis of Genesis 1. In the last two books, we have progressed through two verses. Now, we move through the rest of the Creation story. This acceleration, perhaps driven by or representative of his new inspiration is displayed in other ways as well. The quantity of Scriptral quotations gets far more dense, making the text somewhat more difficult to parse. It also increases in confidence. Augustine is no longer groping.

Mr MacMahon also points out that this Book, in its recounting of the Creation story repeats for us allegorically the first nine books in the Creation acts of Genesis (7 days plus an extra act of creation on days 3 and 6 make 9). Mr MacMahon for reasons of space, only undergoes this exercise for Books one, five, and nine.

Finally, Mr MacMahon points out as we read this book, we should be cognizant of the fact that their are two distinct Augustines before us. Augustine the narrator and Augustine the author. Each has a different voice and message. We should be careful to distinguish, which Augustine we are hearing when as we read.

For me, between admittedly a little fatigue with my schedule this week and the fact that this book is perhaps made a little more difficult by Augustines increased amount of Scriptural quotes, I got less from this book. Perhaps also, I might have wished that my guide had been more concerned with the theological and philosophical content than the literary forms. At any rate, the one thing I did carry from my reading of this book is that the idea of viewing your life through the lens of Scripture is an exersize I had never considered, not just for myself, but at all.

Finally, here is the full index to the Augustine Confessions posts.
  1. Book 1. part 1 2 and 3.
  2. Book 2
  3. Book 3.
  4. Book 4
  5. Book 5
  6. Book 6
  7. Book 7
  8. Book 8
  9. Book 9
  10. Book 10 and part 2.
  11. Book 11
  12. Book 12
For one explanation of what the heck this is all about and why I'm doing this, go here.

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Christian Dad's Movie Review:
SpongeBob Squarepants

Well, I have kids and I'd heard good things about SpongeBob so we went. I will also admit that while I've heard of many adults, who watch SpongeBob with their children, I don't have cable. Thus although my children have seen one or two episodes of Mr SpongeBob, I had not.

But I have mixed feelings about this movie. While there is nothing offensive that I noted so it certainly is safe viewing, it also offered nothing to chew on. The Incredibles let us ponder heroism. Bulletproof brought a host of other issues. SpongeBob is fun. SpongeBob alas is merely fun.

That being said, SpongeBob is very inventive. It keeps a manic pace up, and the characters are endearing. Mr Hasselhoff was a weird addition to the movie. However, the non-sequitur seems to be a recurring comic element in the SpongeBob repeater. As a comic method, the non-sequitur is often hit or miss. Some worked, like the initial pirate gags). Some didn't, like Mr Hasselhoff as a living jet-ski.

The final victory over the villain, Mr Plankton, was an unmotivated deus ex-machina, but again, the non-sequitur seems a theme so perhaps that is how it was motivated.

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Unreasonable Christians

This post owes much to Mr Chesterton's Orthodoxy, which a co-worker lent me last winter. I'm drawing this from memory, so I'm also going to apologize in advance.
Christianity and Christians are completely unreasonable. Just notice that at the same time,
  • We are accused of being too pacifistic and being war mongers.

  • That Christ was a "great philosopher" for his teaching and "completely loony" for claiming he was the Son of God.

  • Are against scientific inquiry and promote understanding of the Univsers

  • God as Creator of all wouldn't care about humans but why hasn't God done a better job of making himself known to us humans.

and so on (read Chesterton's book, I don't do his discussions any justice).

Anyhow, I'm going to try to address one more "complaint" against the unreasonable nature of Christianity, that its claims are "untestable".

This is exactly correct. It is precisely the claim of Christianity that by no act of your reason or will on your own can you decide to "become" Christian. It takes God, via the Holy Spirit, entering into your heart in order to do the "trick". You should of course "test" the claims Christianity makes about the nature of the human heart.

That's all for this post.
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Science and Christianity

As I have mentioned before, I was trained as a scientist. I began to actively studying theological matters quite recently. However, habits built up over a lifetime do not just go away. As a result, I bring, perhaps, a different outlook on Scripture than many others who study it.
As I read and learn, some questions that seem "burning" issues (or at least fun to discuss) just don't strike a chord with me. For example questions like,
  • how to interpret the Creation stories (literal, figurative, parable?)
  • What does it mean that God is omniscient? How does free will figure in with respect to his Omniscience. How can I have free will, if God already knows what I will do.
  • What sort of eschatological prediction of the end is the correct interpretation of scripture?
Why are these questions not important to me. Well, in short, because whatever the answer might be, I don't see how one's behavior (thoughts and actions) would be altered by that decision.

for example
  • Creation. Are the stories parables, or are they a true description of what occurred? For me however the answer leads, I see no difference in how my faith guides my actions and thoughts. I suppose if I were a practicing Cosmologist, it may change my viewpoint of the validity of the anthropic principle, but I'm not.
  • God is Omniscient, or to take the OVT (ht: Joe Carter) stance, i.e., God is as Omniscient as physically possible. Other theological arguments and philosophical straining resounds around the questions regarding God's Omniscient nature and man's free will. But how can my conclusions about free will and its relationship to God change my actions? Now quite possibly the construction of my ethical framework would entail a concept of free will, but only if I decide that a lack of free will abrogates my personal responsibility for my actions. Since I don't think that is the case no matter how the free will question plays out, I think answers in this realm are of secondary import.

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Thursday, November 18

Miss Rice, Racism, and Political Cartoons

There has been a certain amount of bother recently centered on political cartoons and their authors with respect their representations of Miss Rice, especially now that she is the Secretary of State nominee. The charge is that these cartoons are racist in nature.
I think two points can be made with respect to these charges.
  1. These cartoons may or may not be racist in origin, but perceiving them as such indicates an sensitivity to race which itself may be a form or racism. If it our goal to be colorblind shouldn't we try to act that way?
  2. Imagine for a moment, the furor if those cartoons had been drawn with depicting a highly respected minority female who is not a Republican.
I think my first point needs some explanation.
Examine for a moment, political cartoons over the last 300 years. Please demonstrate a time in their caricatures of the opposition, they didn't draw them in the worst conceivable way. Let's face it the political cartoon has ever been quite low in the realm of the acceptable and decent.

Next imagine a world without racism. You have a political appointee which is being opposed by the "loyal opposition", although in the light of some of the War coverage I'd quibble with the term "loyal". Anyhow, in such a world, then all stops would be pulled and the portrayal of Miss Rice would be quite abominable. Note that indeed that is what is occurring. This is why I wonder if the racist claims are undeserved on the face of it. Perhaps we have arrived at a place where we can say whatever we want, because race isn't an issue.

So in order to remain logically consistent, it would behoove the left to either denounce the cartoons and continue claiming race as a burning issue or drop it as an issue and also stop playing the race card. But logical consistency never has seemed to be a strong point of either party these days, so I won't hold my breath.

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Comments on the Unbelievers Opinions about God

I just had a few thoughts for the "reality-based" crew out there who feels the existence of God is so unbelievable.

Two main "memes" drive this thought pattern. The non-existence of "concrete" proof of the existence of the Creator, i.e. God and the unlikelihood of God being born a man, i.e., Christ.

The secular humanist feels it is superstitious to believe in a God. How then,
  • When he sees a beautiful sunset, mountain vista, or any one of a million amazing things in the world can he be so sure that a Creator is an impossibility.

  • How is it when he feels moved by beauty, music, or art that he is convinced that his aesthetic sensibilities are an evolved facet of his being, not inspired by a Creator. That such a notion is just beyond any sort of rational thought.

  • Take Water, how many things fit just right for this wonderful chemical so that we can exist. For that matter take all the many odd things that fit together to make our world. Perhaps God did say, "it is good", eh? And by "Good", meant it fit together like a incredibly cool puzzle or the snazziest machine ever beheld.

Now a common response of the secular humanist is to reply that it is just too absurd to believe that God (that powerful creator) bothered to communicate to an atavistic tribe of nomadic herders in the Middle East, or that he would have come in the manner that Christ did.
Again, this so many other wonderful odd things we find when we study God's Creation. For instance,

  • Take this years Physics Nobel winners. Who would have thought Asymptotic Freedom was a probable of nature,

  • Take quantum mechanics in general for that matter.

  • Take the "standard model". If that isn't odd, I don't know what odd means anymore.

Anyway, the point that having granted the possibility of God's existence, why do you insist on him making himself known in "probable" or "reasonable" fashion, when his Creation is so improbably and unreasonably surprising in how it put together.

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Light posting again

I'm again out of town. I should be able to post tonight, but it might be late.

end of post.
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Wednesday, November 17

Christian Carnival is up

Carnival XLIV is up here. I've got an entry in. Tomorrow, I'll read as many as I can and suggest my humble opinion about what caught my interest.

PS: One of them is mine.

That's all
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The Modern Pelagian

Now I will admit that I have heard of Pelagian and anti-Pelagian points of view but never really knew exactly what that meant. I looked it up the other day and found out what it really means at least in part (more later).

Here's my rash over-generalization: The Red-Staters are anti-Pelagian and the Blue-Staters are Pelagian. Now in truth, I know I am stretching this a little in directly associating those secular believers in the Goodness of man, and calling them Pelagian, but the general idea still fits. If you think man is basically good, lots of the left wing, blue stater ideologies make sense, especially if you note that left wingers more often think that government (made up of good men) is a good thing.

And if you don't think men (or government) is good, you tend to be more conservative.

From "Wikipedia"

Pelagianism is a belief that original sin did not taint human nature (which, being created from God, was divine), and that mortal will is still capable of choosing good or evil with no Divine aid whatesoever. Thus, Adam's sin was "to set a bad example" for his progeny, but his actions did not have the other consequences imputed to Original Sin. Pelagianism views the role of Jesus Christ as "setting a good example" for the rest of us (thus counteracting Adam's bad example). In short, humanity has full control, and thus full responsibility, for its own salvation in addition to full responsibility for every sin (the latter insisted upon by both proponents and opponents of Pelagianism).is a belief that original sin did not taint human nature (which, being created from God, was divine), and that mortal will is still capable of choosing good or evil with no Divine aid whatesoever. Thus, Adam's sin was "to set a bad example" for his progeny, but his actions did not have the other consequences imputed to Original Sin. Pelagianism views the role of Jesus Christ as "setting a good example" for the rest of us (thus counteracting Adam's bad example). In short, humanity has full control, and thus full responsibility, for its own salvation in addition to full responsibility for every sin (the latter insisted upon by both proponents and opponents of Pelagianism).
Lets examine this idea in the light of the "hot-button" few issues that light the fire between the two camps these days:
  • Homosexuality and SSM. The "Pelagian" stance is that men are created good. Homsexuality is genetic. Therefore homosexuality is good. Anti-"Pelagian" stance is men are sinners and homosexuality is just another sin which tempts some men (and women) more than others.
  • Abortion. My argument here is perhaps weaker. But the "Pelagian" argument hinges on human choice being fundamentally good whereas the anti-"Pelagian" tact would be that God's choice is what we should seek.
One thing this leads one back to is Augustine. Augustine fought against the Manichees and the Pelagians (among other heresies) in his time. Pelagian and Manichean thought (or parallels) can be drawn with much of modern liberal secular thought (and with respect to the Pelagian heresy with liberal non-secular thought). Augustine is certainly coming to have more relevance than I would have suspected.

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The Hubris of our Age

One thing that bugs me about modern culture is that so many people think that because they are part of our modern world, they are far smarter and wiser than all the peoples who came before them. We think, because we have mastered technology, and such a high percentage of us are literate, we are wiser and smarter. This conceit, of course, is patently false. In fact I think the opposite to be more likely the case.
There are a number of reasons we think we are so much wiser than our forebears.
  • Because modern man is just so damn busy. We are too busy to spend any time (for most of us anyhow) thinking about the big questions that frame our world. Heck most of us are too busy to think about anything but what we are presently doing and the 99 other things we forgot to do (or promised to do but, have to turf until we get a round "tuit"). Some people used that time to think about the meaning of their existence.
  • We confuse our technological prowess with wisdom. Socrates noted that he wandered around and talked to experts in lots of different fields. He found having achieved expertise in a field, almost always got the owner of that knowledge the preconception he was an expert at other matters as well, which was usually not the case. The Delphic Oracle suggested to him that he was the wisest of men, because he knew he was truly ignorant. I'm suggesting that most of us, are ignorant because we mistake our technology (and the wealth it brings) for wisdom.
  • We inherently believe in evolution of thought and that evolution means progress. Philosophical, moral, and theological thought has changed though the ages. Change means different. Different does not always mean better. In fact, because we spend less time thinking, today's changes probably mean worse, not better. For example, compare the thought and writings of our founding fathers with the politicians today. Which do you think are better educated or have thought about the matters of state more deeply? I know my answer to that question. I'll take Adams, Jefferson, and Madison over Daschle, Frist, or Pelosi without a moments hesitation.
  • Life was nasty, short, and brutish in the "bad old days". In truly ancient times, people often had a hard short life. But they probably had more time to sit around a fire and talk and think about God, Man, and the Big Questions. I'll concede that many of the un-educated ignorant people of the past ages, probably spent very little time thinking about abstract concepts. But neither has the average beer-swilling TV-entranced American. At the same time, some few of those in the days gone by did not have to struggle their whole life. Some were singled out because of their clarity of thought and those thoughts have survived the test of ages to reach us. Those ideas probably have more merit than what you hear on Oprah or stated by any other popular cultural figure.

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I'm on a job working on-site. Light blogging (none) till tonight.
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Tuesday, November 16

Augustine: Confessions Book 12

Two more books to go. Both about Genesis 1. Go here for past posts on the previous books.

Our guide for this book is Thomas F. Martin O.S.A.(?). Mr Martin is Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Villlanova University. His particular concentration is the biblical and spiritual thought of Augustine. He has published a book on Augustine.

Mr Martin points draws out for us the journey that Augustine has taken us through. From the start of the book, Augustine has used scripture liberally throughout. In his story he has related to us that Augustine, drawn to a seeking for wisdom by Cicero turned to the Bible and discarded it for its poor use of language and rhetoric. It was further lessened in his regard by the teaching of the Manichees. Finally, with Ambrose, the vistas of the spiritual teaching in scripture are laid out before him. Scripture is no longer crude literature, but an "alluring mystery". Mr Martin then places Augustine's Confessions in a historical context. Augustine was dealing at the time of the writing with two heresies, the Manichees and the Donatists. Much of his discussion in this book is written to counter these. The Manichees believed (among other things) that the Old Testament was corrupt (again here we find there is modern echoes of this in today's liberal cant against scripture especially the Old Testament). The Donatists issues with the Roman Church dealt largely with Biblical matters. One problem was that it had been a period of expansion of the Church and the clergy did not always "know their bible", and as a result neither did their laity. Claims against Augustine himself were countered by his conversion and Baptism by Ambrose and the Confessions themselves, the success of which is "proof" that the Holy Spirit is present with Augustine.

This book Mr Martin tells us is about, "Heaven and Earth" and Charity.

Recall back in Book 1. Augustine had an unusual relationship with scripture. He was writing his biographical faith-journey. And he started with a discussion of God and Creation. Augustine is teaching us that Scripture is a lens though which we can view our life. The structure of the text he has engaged throughout these books has in the nature of a dialogue. The ancient reader of this text would have been somewhat dismayed on realizing that the partner for Augustine's dialog is God. God addresses Augustine via quoted scripture. Augustine responds with word and prayer.

Mr Martin also points out to us that this book contains frequent references to Moses because at the time Moses was believed to be the author of the Torah (or Pentateuch). His dialog with the text (and Moses) is to counter the Manichean attacks on the Old Testament mentioned above.

Turning to the text, I find, alas, I have nothing really to add. It is indeed a fascinating discussion of Genesis 1 verse 1. It is an instructive exercise in biblical exegesis. We should all try to view our life through the lens of scripture.

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On Faith and Government

Over on Joe Carter's site several times now, the subject of faith and government has come up in the comment threads. One of the bones of contentions of the secular individuals posting comments is that "faith-based" arguments should be used by our legislators when they are at their business, i.e., lawmaking. Now I claim this argument has several fallacies.

The first fallacy is that, how do we decide if an ethical argument is based on "faith". It would seem obvious to me, that all systems of ethics at the root are based in faith. Let's face it any system requires assumptions. Those assumptions are taken on faith. Just because one persons assumptions are derived in the Torah, the Gospels, or in the Ramayana/Bhagavad Gita, doesn't make those assumptions different in principle from those written down by Rousseau, Kant, or Sartre. To argue that ethical assumptions/arguments from anything resembling one of the great religions smacks (to me) of just as religious a principle as requiring it.

The second fallacy is assuming the best strategy for a religious legislator is to argue based on his faith. He may refer to it, to indicate to those who share his beliefs where he is coming from, but to get a plurality he must convince the rest of those who don't share his beliefs. If they are largely secular, in order to convince them, his arguments must be couched in a secular fashion in order to persuade. Likewise, the secular legislator may refer briefly about the secular origin's of an argument, but in order to persuade the religious "opposition", religious arguments would seem more persuasive to the religious person.

Thus we are struck with the seeming paradox in that the religious legislator will be led in the main part to argue in a secular fashion and the secular legislator just the reverse.

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Christianity's Dirty Little Secret

There is lot of noise and rubbish these days about faith. Brought to a fever pitch in some circles, in their post-election blues, many secular pundits have been going on about the "emotional, dogmatic, and blah blah blah" of the faithful Christians of the nation. Intelligent secular bloggers comment muse about how this faith stuff and scripture, doesn't make sense. "It is all irrational". And on and on.

Well, the "secret", which isn't really a secret but at any rate is a point often missed, is that no Christian "chooses" to believe. This is in fact a subtle point. A person cannot choose belief. It can't be forced by human action. One can only choose not to believe. To believe requires God, i.e., the Holy Spirit entering in to your heart. Saint Anselm pointed out (in the 11th century) that:
The unbelievers strive to understand because they do not believe; we, on the contrary, strive to understand because we believe. They and we have the same object in view; but inasmuch as they do not believe, they cannot arrive at their goal, which is to understand the dogma. The unbelieving will never understand.
Guess what? We haven't changed much since then. And this goes against the experience of the secular student who thinks, study and expertise are all of human origin. And all that is required for understanding is study and intelligence. This fact also explains some of the secular frustration with the faithful. They feel they are missing out (and they are), and further that they, by act of will can either convince us of our folly, or understand on their own what they are missing.

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Monday, November 15

Augustine Confessions Book 11

We are getting to the end of the Confessions. For my "essays/posts" on the first 8 books (of 13) here are the links:
  1. Book 1. part 1 2 and 3.
  2. Book 2
  3. Book 3.
  4. Book 4
  5. Book 5
  6. Book 6
  7. Book 7
  8. Book 8
  9. Book 9
  10. Book 10 and part 2.
For one explanation of what the heck this is all about and why I'm doing this, go here.

Our guide from the Companion for this Book is Robert P. Kennedy. Mr Kennedy is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. He recieved his doctorate at Notre Dame in 1997. His thesis was The Ethics of Language: An Augustinian Critique of Modern Approaches to the Morality of Lying.

His title for his disussion Book 11 is "The Confessions as Eschatological Narrative". Augustine in this book is exploring the tension between an eternal god and a finite (temporal) Augustine, or "... how to reconcile his eternal existance in God with his created existence in time". Augustine tackles the concept of time in this book to bring this off. Time he holds is a simple concept, which when examined in detail fails to resolve itself in any easy fashion. Mr Kennedy identifies (following another commentator Roland Teske) three paradoxes concerning time which Augustine considers.
  1. Time is the present extended in the mind. Augustine notes that the past and future have no existance (the past is done and the future isn't here yet). However, we measure long and short times, so it does have some meaning. So he focuses on how we measure time. Here he gets a little stuck. He supposes the problem is in language. So he is lead to the mind and memory as the key to understanding time.
  2. The mind as the measure of time. But time clearly existed before man came to be. He still repeats that the nonexistance of things in the past and future. So he is then led to ....
  3. Time as a reflection of God's image. Augustine claims we don't measure time as it passes but the duration of transient events. Time is the product of our attention, an activity of our soul. Along with all the other finite (temporal creatures) we transcend this by being able to tell "our own story". Through language, dare I say blogging :), we transcend our ephemeral nature. In fact all creative acts do this. However, we should be reminded that all created meaning apart from God is false.
I found Mr Kennedy's conclusion striking so I'll quote it here:
Book Eleven explores the significance of human existance, in tension between God's gift of the way to the heavenly Jerusalem in the incarnation of the Word, and the full realization of that gift at the end of time. From the eschatological tension of Christian life there flows the basic moral tension between affirming the goodness of creation, especially ourselves, and not forgetting that the source and goal of all goodness is God. In his yearning to attain that final test, Augustine reminds himself and his readers both of their difference from God and of their intrinsic dignity. Because of its orientation to completion in God, there is a distinctively Christian temptation to denigrate temporal exsitence. Augustine's meditation on time counters this tendancey by affirming that God created us with the abilty to find stabilty and meaning in our lives by organizing sounds into words, words into sentences, and sentences into narratives. These narratives, in turn, give shape to our lives.

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Homspun Symposium: On The Electoral College

Over at Homespun Bloggers a symposium is in the offing. This is supposed to be a weekly venture. I'm going to propose a brief entry. The question:
Is it time for the U.S. to end the Electoral College? If so, in favor of what alternative system? If not, why is it still relevant and beneficial to the nation?

Well I'm in favor of the College. Let's quickly examine some pro's and con's with a brief discussion of each point.
  • It's been in place for over 200 years and hasn't failed us yet. There is something to be said for the conservative impulse, i.e., if it ain't broke don't fix it. Unintended consequences usually have a bigger impact than your intentional consequences.
  • One of the reasons for the College, which weights state influences by combining House and Senate member counts, is that it prevents an active minority in a populous minority from dominating national politics. This was not a factor in the past election, but if political passions as a whole waned (and people became a little apathetic) one might imagine a time when in a "popular vote system" a small minority who could get their vote out might get themselves elected. I believe Mr Hitler got himself elected in similar circumstances. That turned out really well didn't it?
  • Voter fraud and close races are limited in scope to one or two states. In 2000 Mr Gore decided to take the low road and hotly contest the election results in the courts. If a future election (in the absence of the College) was relatively close. Those hanging chad complaints and lawsuits would spread over the whole nation.
  • We don't live in a democracy. But for some reason, kids get taught that we are. We are a representative republic. It was felt by our founders that is a superior system. At about the same time historically there was a big experiment in democracy. It was later called the Terror. Unrestrained democracy is not a good idea. We call it "mob rule". It doesn't have a good reputation for good reason. See this for more on that.
  • The College comes with a plethora of ways to break up close elections. There are umpteen different tie breaker scenarios laid out in the Constitution. We already know going in what to do in case of a tie. In a popular vote scenario, close elections will be worse than the Florida tussle. Only the lawyers will in win that fight.
  • Somebody might win the election but lose in the popular vote tally. Uh like, so what? It's not like all parties to the election don't know the rules going in. It's pretty clear from campaigning strategies, both candidates know how the system works and run their campaigns based on that. Presumably if popular vote was what it took to win, since all the campaigning would be done differently, a differently result is likely to have been the result.
  • Every vote should be of equal weight. Why? Nothing else in life is distributed equally. Again, you know the rules. If you want your vote to count more, move.

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