Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Burden of Responsibility

For as long as humans have walked the Earth, it is certain that there have been many who would prefer to not shoulder responsibility for all of their actions. As a matter of fact, it isn't a stretch of the imagination that everyone reading this essay and everyone not reading it, and the person who wrote it, have all tried to hide or run from their own sin at some time or another. It's the human condition, like it or not, and whether or not you think it started in the Garden of Eden is irrelevant.

I was recently treated to a video featuring Bart Ehrman, and he was presented to me as a person who is quite well versed in the Bible, and yet no longer a card carrying believer. While Ehrman's anti-suffering apologetic runs on just shy of an hour in the video, I can much more quickly address the errors in his approach.

"How the Bible Explains Suffering with Bart Ehrman."

Ehrman's objections are much older than Ehrman, and greater minds than his have addressed the "problem" with far more "satisfying" results.

Ehrman even mentions "twelve line emails" he's received that explain the problem of suffering, but conveniently leaves them out of his talk as his preferred approach is to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the God in the Bible by pointing at starving mothers and babies and saying, "See here? This is a problem!"

Ehrman starts with the the question of theodicy, and the tired logical problem of 1) God is all powerful, 2) God is all loving 3) There is suffering, therefore there has to exist contradiction in there somewhere.

Ehrman proceeds to politely dismiss the reasonable and learned explanations from other self-proclaimed experts via his all-purpose filter of how "satisfying" (or not satisfying) a solution is.

"These traditions were taken quite seriously by many people in ancient Israel..."

Ehrman refers to Biblical texts as "traditions" as opposed to merely referencing them. For example the historical activities that manifested as 400 years of slavery, the birth of a savior Moses, the performing of ten miracles by Moses, the drowning of the pursuing Egyptian soldiers, the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai and the reward of the Promised Land... this is referred to as an "Exodus Tradition," thus already casting it as storytelling instead of history.

"The Prophetic Answer"

Ehrman points out an example of the prophets' explanation of suffering in the book of Amos. The level of sarcasm while Ehrman reads the verses is palpable. This is a man who is clearly bitter and resentful of something he finds "unsatisfying."

The idea that a loving God would not hurt anyone is a very attractive idea, especially in the 21st century, where developed nations are full of individuals who just want to do their own thing, and would rather not be made to feel like they are lacking an acceptable moral compass. People tend to avoid anything that contradicts the ethos of the modern: "If it feels good and doesn't hurt anyone, what's wrong with it?"

The problem with that approach is it makes many assumptions about life that the Bible sharply contradicts, and this creates conflict in the minds of those who think they want what's best for humanity and the Earth, but upon closer scrutiny, they just seek freedom from responsibility to the God that gave them life.

Like it or not, right there at 20:22 in the video, Ehrman recites the Biblical answer to suffering: "Why is it that Israel is suffering? Because God wants them to turn back to Him, they refuse, and so the punishment continues."

Ehrman disdains the so-called Prophetic Answer with several minutes of dismissive enumeration, including a deliberately controversial anecdote of a mother who believed her 12 year old daughter died of a brain tumor because the mother promised God she would quit smoking and hadn't followed through.

His examples to demonstrate his objection are delivered with vehemence that underscores his agenda, and are: Adam and Eve are told not to eat the fruit, they eat the fruit, they get punished; the whole world becomes wicked, and God destroys everyone but Noah and his family. Sin, punish, sin, punish, sin, punish.

Ehrman continues:

"One might ask whether this is acceptable at all as an understanding of why people suffer. In our own context, for example. Is it really true that suffering comes because God is punishing people?"

When Ehrman utters the phrase "in our own context," he commits the same mistake that all those who scoff at "Bronze Age Sheep Herders" make: that somehow humanity then and humanity now are fundamentally different. I'll save you some time...they're not.

"Is this really true? Is it true that every five seconds a child dies of starvation because God's trying to punish somebody? Or that every minute twenty five people die from drinking unclean drinking water?"

"Every hour in our world, seven hundred people die of malaria. Is this because God's punishing people? Is this why tsunamis hit the Indian Ocean and kill three hundred thousand people overnight? Or why a holocaust happens that kills six million Jews? Or a purging in Cambodia that kills two million Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge?"

With the possible exception of the tsunami, all Ehrman's examples are of human evil, which falls under the column of personal responsibility to our fellow human beings. Therefore questioning why they happen is pointless in a world where we make it however we want it to be. Perhaps the tsunami and other devastating natural disasters are a reaction to widespread inhumanity? Oh no! That's just too big of a pink elephant in the room for most of us to consider.

In a universe with a God and an afterlife, death can be more merciful than life when the evil of human beings exceeds an acceptable degree. Ultimately we are clay, dust. That we have an ability to think and be self-aware is a gift most people take for granted. It does not follow that we automatically qualify to judge our Creator by virtue of our self-awareness.

Ehrman, in his academic, secular and humanist buttressed empowerment, clearly has decided that God does not punish humanity for its widespread and ubiquitous sin. What he should make clear at the beginning of his presentations is that he doesn't believe God exists, therefore anything that doesn't sound good to Ehrman's Benjamin Spock ideology must be primitive, ignorant and wrong.

"The Apocalyptic Response"


Erhman lists the Book of Daniel as the only canonized book in the Old Testament that provides this answer. The other two sources overlap, as he cites the Jewish Apocrypha and the Dead Sea Scrolls, which Ehrman neglects to mention contained portions of that Apocrypha, thereby making the reference redundant.

In apocalyptic view, sin isn't entirely the responsibility of the sinner, but is instigated by the influence of evil cosmic forces.

Ehrman says the Apocalyptic answer "takes evil seriously." He cites a few examples to make his point, which oddly contradict his earlier assertion that personal responsibility to God doesn't take evil seriously by contrast. His first example illustrates my point: he mentions how, through the lens of the Apocalyptic answer, the Holocaust becomes bigger than the individuals who made it happen, thus suffering is caused by something greater than individual sin.

The only problem with that statement is that the same assertion can be made via the Prophetic answer, because God's behavior in terms of punishing human beings could be easily explained by observing that the sin problem itself has much further reaching effects in the universe God created than just the actions of one person on his or her neighbor. Ehrman apparently prefers to view the Prophetic answer as God running around and slapping individuals upside the head for every misstep.

Ehrman suggests that the Apocalyptic answer engenders complacency regarding evil. Basically, the assumption is: if things are going to just get worse, and there's nothing we can do about it, why do anything to fight evil? This is a typical objection not of a person "well-versed" in the Bible, but of an atheist who feeds himself or herself on the myriad spiritual dreck available for anyone seeking to avoid a God who expects more than they are willing to give.

The truth is that fighting the good fight is the least any of us can do. Some are called to do more. If one actually reads the Bible, one finds that both the Prophetic and Apocalyptic answers are supported.

Ehrman makes two strong statements with nothing more than his own opinion for support:

"What's the point of working for justice? Why worry about homelessness and poverty? Why worry about hunger? Why worry about countries that are falling apart and destabilizing? Why worry about any of that, if in fact it's only going to become better when God intervenes. This Apocalyptic view *can* and *has* led to moral complacency, and I think that's a problem."

That's erroneous opinion number one.

Here's erroneous opinion number two, which follows immediately after:

"The other problem is, I think, sort of the obvious problem, is that this view is based on a belief, a false belief, in the imminent end of all things."

The sole example Ehrman gives to back up that second opinion is the false predictions of a charlatan trying to sell doomsday books in 1988 and 1989. Not exactly the most solid guarantee that the world does not have an imminent end, but apparently it's enough for Ehrman.

Ehrman prefers the Ecclesiastical approach, and yet feels the need to sarcastically enlighten everyone that "King Solomon, the 'wisest' man on Earth" was not actually the writer of Ecclesiastes, but a nameless dude a couple of hundred years later. A dude who allegedly found some sort of glory in giving the credit for his clearly exceptional wisdom to a king he never knew.

Ehrman touts Ecclesiastes as a book that encourages us to live life to the fullest, and get whatever we can out of it. He conveniently and completely leaves out the numerous admonitions from Solomon regarding being circumspect with our choices while enjoying our lives. For Ehrman, those warnings are not as important as his embrace of the Y.O.L.O. philosophy.

At the 44:34 mark, Ehrman comes clean and admits he has no answer, thereby making the video up to this point a waste of the viewers time, except perhaps for Ehrman's family members.

He then proceeds to list the many things we could do to make sure the entire world can enjoy life as Solomon suggested, and what he says in the remainder of the video is no different from a Christian call to good works for one's fellow human beings.

The Q and A immediately following Ehrman's presentation, in fact the very first question, exposes the premise from which Ehrman's entire argument is built from: atheism.

Other than the amusing irony of an atheist (who refers to himself as an agnostic to cover unpleasant contingencies) that teaches Biblical history at a University, Ehrman stands as just another example of someone who lost his way and has convinced himself that his eternal destination is not underscored by his guilt, but instead he is released from responsibility to a God he disagrees with by his own declaration that there is no God.

The power of subjectivity cuts both ways.





Thursday, December 13, 2018

The long view of societal disruption

While most of us comfortably tell ourselves that the Socialist Party movement and identity politics that are inflaming our country are just minor antics of the fringe, there has been a long term and steady, slow but effective, decades-long push toward vilifying conservative thought and removing traditional values such as God and family from their esteemed positions.

As only one example from the numerous assorted progressive groups, how many of you out there know about the following quotes from the radical feminist contingent:

“Since marriage constitutes slavery for women, it is clear that the women’s movement must concentrate on attacking this institution. Freedom for women cannot be won without the abolition of marriage.”  --radical feminist leader Sheila Cronan

“Marriage has existed for the benefit of men; and has been a legally sanctioned method of control over women… We must work to destroy it. The end of the institution of marriage is a necessary condition for the liberation of women. Therefore it is important for us to encourage women to leave their husbands and not to live individually with men… All of history must be re-written in terms of oppression of women. We must go back to ancient female religions like witchcraft.” --from “The Declaration of Feminism,” November 1971

“Being a housewife is an illegitimate profession… The choice to serve and be protected and plan towards being a family-maker is a choice that shouldn’t be. The heart of radical feminism is to change that.” --Vivian Gornick, feminist author, University of Illinois, “The Daily Illini,” April 25, 1981

“The simple fact is that every woman must be willing to be identified as a lesbian to be fully feminist.” --National NOW Times, Jan.1988

“Overthrowing capitalism is too small for us. We must overthrow the whole #@*! patriarch!” --Gloria Steinem, radical feminist leader, editor of ‘MS’ magazine

“Let’s forget about the mythical Jesus and look for encouragement, solace and inspiration from real women… Two thousand years of patriarchal rule under the shadow of the cross ought to be enough to turn women toward the feminist ‘salvation’ of this world.” --Annie Laurie Gaylor, “Feminist Salvation,” “The Humanist”, July/August 1988, p.37

“In order to raise children with equality, we must take them away from families and communally raise them.” --Dr. Mary Jo Bane, feminist and assistant professor of education at Wellesley College and associate director of the school’s Center for Research on Women

“By the year 2000 we will, I hope, raise our children to believe in human potential, not God.” --Gloria Steinem

“I consider the Chinese government’s policy among the most intelligent in the world.” --Molly Yard, feminist activist and NOW's eighth president, when she was asked about China’s policy of compulsory abortion after the first child

“The most merciful thing a large family can do to one of its infant members is to kill it.” --Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, in “Women and the New Rage,” p.67

The same Margaret Sanger, by the way, who is a personal hero of Hillary Clinton.

----------------------------------

Do all women agree with these quotes? Of course not. In terms of some of them, very few women agree. Most of these comments are from the extreme Left, and they (as yet) do not fully describe our reality.

The true danger lies in the effect of desensitization. The reason why our political and social landscape is so drastically different from the first half of the twentieth century isn't because we're evolving naturally, but because within every society, there will be those who, as the Edgar Allan Poe essay suggests, inexplicably seek to deconstruct the foundations of society by provocative actions or words, simply because they want to see it all burn.

This isn't conspiracy theory, it's a human element forever present all throughout history. Even someone as marginalized as Theodore Kaczynski was able to accurately capture the Left's identity politics and victim zeitgeist in his short story, "Ship Of Fools," although Kaczynski's focus was on the dangers of technology, not just the manifestations of societal disruption.

Which place do you wish to live? One where any angry group can, via legal threats and social media mob pressure, generate legislation that you are forced to obey in violation of your constitutional rights or moral compass? Or would you rather live in a truly democratic republic where the majority's will is respected in the interest of succeeding as a unified whole?

"Silence is equal to consent" is anathema to the #MeToo creed, but it still rings true regarding those who decline to fight the wave of political absurdities that one day may drown us all.



Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Tom Green just doesn't get it

Tom Green just can't help himself. Like the hapless, would-be Lothario who has spinach stuck on his front teeth and just can't seem to remove it, Green endlessly chases a video around the Internet and demands to have it taken down.

Poor Tom Green, he's witnessing the manifestation of parental warnings for decades: be careful, because digital is forever.

The incident in question is initially described here, and then followed up here, and now of course, with this blog entry. In a nutshell, Jesse James Dupree did his chainsaw shtick on Green's wooden desk, and Green couldn't hold back his mean streak in response.

Here is the latest location for Green and his Damage Control Task Force to censor:

https://www.liveleak.com/view?i=76d_1427237232

This one unfortunately doesn't show the entire video, and also leaves out the commercial break return where Tom breaks Dupree's CD in a childish attempt to belittle Dupree's accomplishments.



Saturday, December 8, 2018

First Reformed succeeds where Mother! completely failed

Once again, just like in "Mother!", some of the critics who are paid to review movies didn't quite get the gist. However, where "First Reformed" is definitely not like Mother!, is in its ultimately uplifting transcendent message. Mother! missed that boat in favor of self-indulgent humanity-bashing.

The top negative and positive viewer reviews on Amazon for First Reformed also fell short. The negative ones talked about the movie being boring with a terrible ending, and the positive reviews talked about how the movie was so "relevant" and "important" regarding current issues, those being climate change, pollution, and other man-based ravages of the planet.

First Reformed is actually a dark and brooding slow burn that at the last moment reveals the power of love. Far from boring, the writing contains profundity within nearly every scene. The cinematography and direction, in particular, were perfect for the subject matter. The acting was also commendable for the task of such a monumental statement about spiritual crisis.

This film was ultimately about how only love can save the world, which everyone who has ever read the Bible from cover to cover can confirm. If you watch to the end (no spoilers here, I promise) you will notice something Toller does that is a last minute epiphany regarding the horribly misguided and wrongheaded path he had taken.

Despair can come in many different forms, and clearly Toller was a tortured soul from the moment his son died, and in his desperate search for meaning, he mistakenly took on an evil quest that was contrary to his own personal beliefs.

First Reformed is aptly named. Toller's grace arrived not by making a radical statement, but in taking an outstretched hand... and that is always the first step toward redemption. Even the song being sung during the final scene underscores this message.

There are many hints in the film that my interpretation is appropriate, such as the young pregnant widow named Mary, the friend named Esther who attempts to foil the tragedy of Toller's self-neglect, and the child that the biological father thought was going to be a daughter turned out to be a son instead. I get the feeling after one viewing that there were a lot more allegories involved than I happened to notice.

In a limited sense, Toller is comparable to Job, as his apparent suffering and outcome is similar in what he lost compared to what he gained. This was God once again working in mysterious ways, and the glory of the transition is easy to miss if one gets too wrapped up in the dark and controversial aspects of the story.

Some choleric environmentalists may prefer to interpret this movie as a testimony to mankind's destruction of the planet, but in fact that detail is merely a convenient plot device. There are more important things in life than deciding to believe that the world will be in shambles by the year 2050.





Thursday, December 6, 2018

The silence of the humble

The older I get, the more of life I witness, the more experience I gather, one common theme seems to repeat over and over:

I am not good.

I've had many conversations with others about 'big picture' or 'deep' subjects. I've read many books on these subjects. I've watched many YouTube videos made by various people with various positions on these subjects.

What does that say about me? If it were mere curiosity, it would manifest itself in personal wisdom that I may or may not share with others. But instead, too many times I have found myself in a spirit of contention based on what I felt was my correct perception about what God wants or God approves of, etc.

Even in concerted attempts to exercise humility, I have found myself making personal judgments and interpretations regarding the mysteries of God. A pastor I listened to recently reminded me of one of my favorite passages, in a way that hit home:

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."--Isaiah 55:8-9

Even the most sincere attempts to understand the mind of God are not going to be reliable. God is at a level of understanding that, despite how bruising it is to the human ego, is so far beyond us that when we make assumptions about what true justice is, or fairness, or some such concept, we're like toddlers dealing with calculus.

This isn't to say that we can't understand the basic principles. That's likely the purpose of the Ten Commandments. A short, direct list from God that gives us what we need to know in order to live in a way that pleases our Creator.

I can think of no one, including Richard Dawkins et al, who can honestly claim that any of the Ten Commandments could result in anything negative for humanity. They may disagree with the concept for multiple reasons, but the actual commandments themselves would produce nothing more than positive results if practiced consistently.

But back to the point.

There's a reason why at the end of Ecclesiastes  the following admonishment is made:

"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man." --Ecclesiastes 12:13.

We can all belabor the deep subjects with all sorts of personal interpretation. But at the end of the day, what does any of my personal philosophy matter if I'm yelling at my wife or my son?

As I said, I am not good. I'm not entirely evil either, of course, but most human beings realize that life does not rest in a binary slot.

Sure, I've done many good things, in public and in secret. But these things alone do not completely define me, as they don't define others. We'd all like to think we're doing great spiritually, or at least that our characters are strong and virtuous. But the ugly truth is, we all have difficulty being that person we know we should be.

In conclusion of this somewhat ambiguous essay, let me say this:

I understand why the wisest people I know tend to talk the least.


Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Ad Hominem Platform

It's no longer enough to do what's best economically and protectively for the citizens of a country. Now in the new age of thin-skinned fear mongering, one must also whisper sweet little nothings so none of the toddlers who are old enough to vote will make a poo poo in their politically correct diapers.

Rewind to the day before Donald J. Trump announced his bid for president of the United States. What was the public assessment of Trump?

Certainly there were people who didn't like him, for either being a brash billionaire real estate developer, or being a man who married more than once, or even for being the star of a show that featured rude tag lines like "You're fired!"

But in general, people didn't find him reprehensible. He was just another personality that you could take or leave.

After his announcement however, there was a decidedly polarized view of the man, and the divided assessment grew more and more contentious as time passed.

On the one side, you have the Trump supporters, or "deplorables" as Hillary Clinton infamously described them. These are people who believe in stronger military, stronger police departments across the nation, stronger borders and immigration policies, improved economic status in terms of GDP and low unemployment, and stronger foreign policy that doesn't make us look weak to the rest of the world.

In essence, those who support Trump understand that in the real world, the best way to remain safe and peaceful is through a show of strength, because when there are dangerous rulers, dangerous political movements in the global landscape, or just plain dangerous individuals on the street, those entities will not be stopped by polished speaking, pacifist language, hand shakes and gentle therapy.

On the other side, you have those who hate Trump. These are the people who hungrily consume the media's incessant narrative of Trump as evil. They are the ones who think that even though the country is doing better economically, including minorities who are enjoying record employment numbers, that means nothing at all because they believe Trump is a racist.

They are the ones who think Trump is evil for building a protective wall. They think Trump is evil for calling MS-13 gang members animals, due to the heinously violent acts they commit against innocent citizens.

They are the ones who often can't even name what Trump has done to actually hurt America since taking office, but they just know in their hearts that Trump is evil and needs to be impeached, or in some cases, beheaded... all because they think Trump is the Anti-Christ for combative tweets.

They are the ones who shout about Trump's influence on the incivility problem this country is knee-deep in, and at the same time casually utter disgusting expletives to describe him to like-minded cronies.

They are the ones who believe it is better to hate someone based on fear-mongering media coverage than to take a moment and truly consider all the facts. They are the ones who insist there's no such thing as a mob, only protesters who righteously incite and commit aggression in the name of... well, I don't think anyone's really sure what it's in the name of, other than a nebulous desire to deconstruct our country for some bizarre vision of a future Utopia where everything is free and those damn rich people better pay for it.

They are the progressive acolytes of the Ad Hominem platform.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Convenient Multiverse

A video from PragerU by an astrophysicist:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymajOjVQPm4

The Multiverse Theory takes advantage of the same convenient logic that Evolution by Natural Selection does: given enough time, anything is possible. Except in this case, instead of time, we are presented with infinite universes to address the impossible odds that had to be overcome to produce the life we know here on Earth.

I have always found it unsettling that a theory with no physical evidence could be so popular and accepted by the scientific community. The convenience it affords those seeking any explanation sans God is obvious. Those same scientists might claim that Intelligent Design is poppycock, but in truth ID is no more or less valid than any other interpretation of the evidence, and that includes Darwin's.

In my opinion, be it correct or not, the glaring dearth of transitional fossils after 159 years should be cause for reasonable skepticism if scientists truly relied on falsification procedures to establish scientific truth. To this, the evolutionary biologists respond by pointing out that it's only been 159 years (!) and that there are plenty of examples of transitional fossils. What they leave out is how Darwin himself elucidated that based on his theory of incremental changes, there would have to be a panoply of fossils that demonstrated limbs growing or disappearing, for example. If Darwin were alive today and saw the conspicuous absence of most of these fossils, he would likely withdraw his theory, and pronounce it sufficiently falsified by lack of physical evidence.

But the Darwinian narrative has gone on so long and is so firmly entrenched that I suspect it will take much longer than 40 years (the length of time necessary to accept the Big Bang) to finally abandon the theory. Although many scientists love to deny it, most people recognize that Darwin's theory, and now also the Multiverse theory, give powerful fuel to the engine of atheism. Richard Dawkins himself admitted it in his now famous quote, "Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist."

Origin of life research has not been able to sufficiently prove an evolutionary explanation for life, and it's been many decades since Miller and Urey's experiments. I find it fascinating that evolutionary biologists will loudly insist that evolution by natural selection says nothing about the beginning of life on this planet, as though the same theory that allegedly explains the billions (perhaps trillions) of biological structures and processes we know of today is somehow magically allowed to take a pass on proof of how the first cell came about.

Either all life in the universe is a result of mindless, random chance events, or it is not. People need to get real.