Tuesday, February 28, 2006

What Humans Want

You remember that song, One Is the Loneliest Number? Boy, there’s an earth-shattering observation. Because, I was confused about which number was lonelier, one or 4,539. Isn’t part of the definition of “lonely” simply being singular? I mean, how many numbers are singular? Exactly.

Loneliness, however, is more than merely being alone. I can be surrounded by people, even those who care about me, and still feel the pangs of relational emptiness. Community, if perhaps the opposite of loneliness, is more than numbers. It is love.

Trudging over to the refrigerator in What Women Want, a heart-sick Mel Gibson opens it, only to declare, “She’s not in here!” Oh, how often the vacuous discomfort we feel in lonely times propels us to seek comfort in food, drink, or other forms of medication and escapism. I am so guilty of this. What we really want is not to “feel good fast” as Larry Crabb puts it. We want love, intimacy, soul-food.

G.K. Chesterton opines so insightfully, “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.” This is what, or who, we really want: God, and his representatives here on earth, also known as friends. Why is this so hard to see, in those hours of acute loneliness?

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters and you who have no money come, buy and eat.
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
Help me, O God, to recognize my hunger for what it truly is – a hunger for love, so that I might not fill my self with things that do not satisfy.

What Are My Chances of Dying?

"Be straight with me, doc. What are my chances?"

"Not good. But I just read a new study that claims eating chocolate may cut your risk of dying in half!"

"That's great news! Maybe if I eat twice as much as they did in the study, I can live forever!"

Funny. I always thought that my chances of dying were 1 in 1.

(HT to Thinking Christian)
Monday, February 27, 2006

A Generous Orthodoxy

McLaren is undeniably generous, but can’t generosity and rationality be friends? I sure hope so.

Once again, McLaren has charmed me with his humility, his graceful writing and insightful anecdotes. How can I be angry with a man who is so self-effacing? And that teddy bear face! I enjoyed the book and found myself agreeing with about 90% of his ideas (this surprised me). Am I emergent?

McLaren attempted, near the end of the book, to recount the genesis of the “emergent” locution, which was quite eye-opening for me. Consider an analogy. Hydrogen and oxygen molecules display neither “wetness” nor “liquidity.” However, fuse them together and voila!, you have something altogether new – a new whole that does not resemble the parts. “Wetness” and “liquidity” emerge, as it were, from the constitution of this new substance. Some say that consciousness emerged at some point in the evolution of homo sapiens – a completely new phenomena that could not have been predicted simply given a mass of neurons and electrical charge.

The word-picture of choice for McLaren is that of a tree. Cut away a cross-section and you can inspect the concentric rings that reveal a tree’s age. Each ring represents an emergent layer that is unique and different from the previous ones. It encompasses the inner rings, but it represents something new. The tree continually emerges, growing and changing over the eons. In this way, McLaren claims a kind of continuity with the past traditions and doctrines of the church. Emergence is natural, not revolutionary. The snake who sheds her skin is the same snake that emerged from the egg a year ago.

Unfortunately, this illustration reveals the fatal flaw in McLaren’s thought. The emergent movement, or at least his Generous Orthodoxy, fails to share the roots of the ancient church and its theologians. Specifically, McLaren sees little significance in debates over doctrine and rational arguments. His apparent epistemological humility, however, is a thin veneer over the skepticism of post-modernity. Like the prodigal son, he has walked away from the hearth of objective truth and reason that has given light and warmth to the church since the beginning. Paul, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Augustine, Athanasius, Anselm, Aquinas – all of them were raised on the knees of love and truth. Their writings overflow with passionate argument, vilification of heresy, and dexterous use of logic and reason. The existence of objective truth is assumed, not questioned – but with humility, love and an overarching desire for the glory of God.

The movement embodied by A Generous Orthodoxy, is not a new ring on the tree. It is a sapling, sprouted nearby from a seed of the ancient tree, but quite separate.
Sunday, February 26, 2006

Sammy Sinner & Matthew Moral

Still looking for more comments on this one. Follow the link above.

Quote of the Week 2/26/06

"We're asking God to get us over that little hump so we can save ourselves . . . It doesn't occur to us that we're looking for something besides Jesus to save us."

~ Rev. Tim Keller,
Redeemer Presbyterian Church

(The NY Times has an excellent article on Rev. Keller and Redeemer Pres. )
Saturday, February 25, 2006

Mr. True-Temp

An intriguing philosophical puzzle from Keith Lehrer:

Suppose a person, whom we shall name Mr. Truetemp, undergoes brain surgery by an experimental surgeon who invents a small device which is both a very accurate thermometer and a computational device capable of generating thoughts. The device, call it a tempucomp, is implanted in Truetemp’s head so that the very tip of the device, no larger than the head of a pin, sits unnoticed on his scalp and acts as a sensor to transmit information about the temperature to the computational system of his brain. This device, in turn, sends a message to his brain causing him to think of the temperature recorded by the external sensor. Assume that the tempucomp is very reliable, and so his thoughts are correct temperature thoughts. All told, this is a reliable belief-forming process. Now imagine, finally, that he has no idea that the tempucomp has been inserted in his brain, is only slightly puzzled about why he thinks so obsessively about the temperature, but never checks a thermometer to determine whether these thoughts about the temperature are correct. He accepts them unreflectively, another effect of the tempucomp. Thus, he thinks and accepts that the temperature is 104 degrees. It is. Does he know that it is?

(Keith Lehrer, Theory of Knowledge, (Westview Press, 1990): pp. 163-164.)

(Here's a grossly over-simplified explanation.)
The puzzle is intended to question a certain understanding of knowledge called externalism. Knowledge is usually taken to be justified-true-belief, but the question is, what makes a belief justified? Internalists will say that you need reasons to be justified (these are internal to your mind). Externalists will say that you are justified if your beliefs were formed in the right way (i.e., a cause and effect story, which is external to your mind). Now, if your belief has been formed in the correct way, especially a reliable way, then the externalist will say that you have knowledge. But Mr. Truetemp, whose beliefs about the temperature are formed in a perfectly reliable way, doesn't seem to have knowledge, because he has no idea why he believes these things. This is a difficulty for the externalist.

Makes you want to be a philosophy major, doesn't it?

Friday, February 24, 2006

Doing a Little Research . . .

I would really appreciate comments on this particular post -- it's for research. Check it out if you missed it! (Sammy Sinner & Matthew Moral)

Help! Where's the Dramamine?

If you've ever wondered what sea-sickness is like, click here.

Bored With War

We are weary of the War on Terror. It seems never-ending. Why are we there, anyway?

Watch this slide show to remember.

I visited Ground Zero last spring, and I never would have believed that the world's tallest buildings used to be there.

(Hat Tip to McRyanMac)
Thursday, February 23, 2006

Aristotle & Parenting

Aristotle helps me understand my children. My 5-year old son had hit his 6-year old sister, and both were crying. "Why did you hit your sister?," I asked. "Because she said she hated me." Ah, I thought. That was the efficient cause. His hitting was provoked by her cruel invective.

But that provided only half the answer. "You wanted to hurt her, didn't you?," I asked. "Yes." That was the final cause. He hit her in order to hurt her, or because his goal was to cause her pain, just as her words had cause him pain.

The second idea stands out as the most important in my mind. What provokes me to sin is not nearly as significant as my desire or intention to sin, which springs from the dark places of my own heart. It is not what goes into a man that defiles him, but what proceeds out of a man. For the things that proceed out of a man come from the heart, and those defile the man. (Matt. 15:11-20)
Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Sammy Sinner and Matthew Moral

Here's Sammy Sinner. His life is a mess. He grew up in a non-church going home and began using drugs in his early teens. His late teens were filled with sexual promicuity and heavy partying. He's a slacker -- lazy and hopelessly addicted to video games. He has had a few part-time jobs, but keeps getting fired. He's been getting into heavier drugs and alcohol lately, and is feeling his life spin out of control. Even his friends don't seem to want to be around him. In spite of doing terribly in school, he has somehow managed to get into the local State University.

Matthew Moral walks the straight and narrow. His family faithfully attends a mainline church every Sunday, including Sunday School. He's been taught from an early age to work hard, be disciplined, and do his best in school. Handsome and a skilled athlete, he has always been popular with other kids. Not surprisingly, he's a nice guy -- a kind and generous soul. He's a leader in his youth group and president of the Honor Society. Stellar grades in school land him a scholarship at the local State University.

Sammy and Matthew somehow both end up on the same floor of a dorm, where an upperclassman is leading a small Bible study. Matthew comes because he's supposed to. Sammy comes because he's tried everything else. Within a few weeks, both of them come to understand the gospel for the first time. They both give their lives to God through faith in Christ.

So, the question is this: In terms of living the Christian life, who is better off? Sammy or Matthew?

Taco Town

(Hat Tip to Dave at Church of the Little Apple)

The Choice

Imagine a wealthy celebrity who has every material advantage imaginable. His life is permeated with pleasure, adventure, excitement and romantic escapades. He enjoys the finest foods, wines, clothes, cars, and homes.

Now imagine a young girl, an orphan, who has inoperable, terminal brain cancer. She lives out her life in mild but chronic discomfort, in a hospital with no family or friends save hospital staff members who have befriended her.

The orphan is the brightest, kindest, most generous, most compassionate, most courageous, most enjoyable person you have ever met. The celebrity is the most cruel, impatient, unkind, crude, and lascivious person you have ever met.

Which person would you rather be?
Monday, February 20, 2006

My Johari Window

I hope this isn't too narcissistic, but I thought this might be a fun way to invite a little friendly, constructive input. Check out my johari window and pick a few words that describe me. Maybe I'll learn something new about myself! (If you're wondering what a johari window is, click here.)

(Hat Tip to Johnny-Dee)

The Evil of Gift Certificates

No one buys real gifts anymore. We give cash, gift certificates, or we let the recipient pick it out herself, and in some cases even buy and (gasp) wrap it herself.

Why is this? Well I have a theory. It is a consequence of the break down of community. No one knows anyone else well enough to buy a thoughful gift.

Is it just me, or is anyone else bothered by this?
Sunday, February 19, 2006

Quote of the Week 2/19/06

"When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance, let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion."

~ David Hume, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding
(In case the irony escapes you, this very text should have burst into flames beneth his pen.)
Friday, February 17, 2006

Am I A Brain in A Vat?

I posed this scenario to my class today, eloquently portrayed by philosopher Jonathan Dancy:
"You do not know that you are not a brain, suspended in a vat full of
liquid in a laboratory, and wired to a computer which is feeding you your
current experiences under the control of some ingenious technician scientist
(benevolent or malevolent according to taste). For if you were such a brain,
then, provided that the scientist is successful, nothing in your experience
could possibly reveal that you were; for your experience is ex hypothesi
identical with that of something which is not a brain in a vat. Since you have
only your own experience to appeal to, and that experience is the same in either
situation, nothing can reveal to you which situation is the actual one."
(Introduction to Contemporary Epistemology, 10)

I asked them how they would respond to such a claim. "Hoe do you know you're not a brain in a vat right now?" They were a little mystified.

One solution to this is Richard Swinburne's principle of credulity. It is simply this -- your beliefs about the world around you are innocent until proven guilty. If the world seems real, it probably is. The skeptic is the one who has something to prove.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Going Cosmic

R.S. Nokes over at Unlocked Wordhoard has a great post on what should probably be dubbed the latest informal fallacy: going cosmic. The classic example cited by Nokes is Pilate's artful dodge -- "What is truth?"


And just to join in the fun of the latest blogging phenomenon, I'll put the word 'brrreeeport' in my blog. Those who are curious, can click here.

"Behold, I Stand At the Door and Knock"

This could be a Calvinist representation of the infamous Rev. 3:20 passage. In case the humor escapes you, Calvinists generally accept the idea of "irresistable grace," which means, "when Jesus comes a'knockin, don't bother lockin' (the door)."

(Hat Tip to Paul Scheele)
Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Lost Virtue of Temperance

A student asked in class today, "Is there such a thing as too much sex?"

We were discussing Plato's tripartite model of the soul. He proposed that there are three parts -- Reason (the rational mind), Spirit (the emotions), and Appetite (the basic physical desires). Plato's also likens the soul to a chariot, where the driver is Reason, and the two horses are Spirit and Appetite. Reason directs and restrains the two drives, keeping the soul in harmony.

I asked the class, "Does anyone know what temperance means?" Silence.

This may explain the question, I thought.

The idea of temperance, or the intentional moderation of some activity or indulgence, was foreign to them. They couldn't fathom how intemperance might affect the soul. They understood the concept in relation to physical health, but beyond that, they were at a loss. The metaphysical realm had no meaning to them, no significance. Eating too much was clearly a bad idea, but anything that didn't have immediate, visible, physical consequences seemed harmless.

One cannot offer empirical, "scientific" proof of such claims as, "Reading too many romance novels will corrupt your soul." The effects are insidious, protracted and invisible. The tradition of Wisdom is our authority in such matters, and this counts for little with today's youth. Only Bible-thumping Christians will submit to metaphysical prohibitions, but little is gained because little is understood. It ends up being simple, blind compliance.

My prayer is that my students will begin to see the value of ancient Wisdom.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006

OCD Valentine Poems

The scary thing is, I understand them.

Happy Valentine's Day from "The Office"

It's not too late! You can send a customized Valentine from NBC's The Office. Click here.

What Would You Do for Love?

Two Nazarene Christians killed a man to stay in the church. In a day when we hear about religiously-motivated killings every day, this case is a little unusual. Ironic even.

Mark Mangelsdorf, one-time student body president of MidAmerica Nazarene University, pleaded guilty to mudering the husband of a school secretary while a student there in 1982. Prosecutors claim that Mangelsdorf and the secretary, Melinda Raisch, were romantincally involved and plotted to kill her husband (David Harmon) because the church would not allow a divorce.

OK -- do you see the irony here?
Mangelsdorf: Melinda, I love you, but the church won't let you get divorced. What can we do?
Raisch: There must be some way to stay faithful to church doctrine, and still be together.
Mangelsdorf: I've got it! We could kill David! Then you'd be a widow, and we could marry!
Raisch: And we could still have our wedding at the Nazarene church!
Mangelsdorf: Praise the Lord!

Apparently, Mangelsdorf beat Harmon to death with a crowbar. (Read about it here.)

It's all a little surreal.

What does this say about the Christian Church in America?

Happy St. Valentine's Day
Monday, February 13, 2006

Beautiful Mind, Repulsive Life

After watching this film again, I am struck by the attempt to portray Nash's life as a "happily ever after" story. His mind may have won him the Nobel prize, but his life wins him the Ignoble Prize.

It's not so much Nash that bothers me -- it's how the screen writers portray him. We should sympathize with Nash because he was mentally ill -- something beyond his control. In fact, the only reason Nash didn't live out his days rocking back and forth in a padded room was because of a loving wife who believed in him and a persistent psychaiatrist who medicated him.

But what of John's early days? When he arrived at Princeton for graduate school, he was so obsessed with academic achievement that it certainly contributed to his psychological deterioration. When he later began the road to recovery, he couldn't even comprehend a life outside of work. Somehow, John had gotten the message from an early age -- "the only thing that justifies your existence on this planet is your mathematical achievement, and by the way, you have to be the best." His story is pathetic, even without the psychosis.

And what of John's dark side? From what I understand, it was far more stygian than the filmmakers would have us realize. Of course, he comes around in the end, realizing that life is more than numbers, realizing that the most important thing in his life is his family, especially his wife. Thank God for that. I can only imagine though, that in her heart of hearts, his wife was saying, "Too little, too late, Johnny-boy."
Sunday, February 12, 2006

Window Shopping at Horse Mart

“A horse is a false hope for victory; Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.”

What is your “horse?” I pondered over Psalm 33:17 the other day, and I realized that my horse has always been my mind. If I’m going to be happy in this life, I’m going to achieve it by being smart. Sadly, this strategy hasn’t worked out so well for me. First of all, only intimacy with God brings happiness. Second, if I’m going to do this without God, I might want to find a better horse.

Applying to various PhD. programs in philosophy this past year has made me poignantly aware of my misplaced faith. What is my hope? That someone will think I’m smart enough for their program. That my horse will win.

But suddenly, I realized that God had a deeper lesson for me. It wasn’t that I was trusting in my horse instead of in Him. The truth is, I don’t have much of a horse. The real tragedy is this – that my heart’s desire was not for Him, but rather for a stronger horse. Instead of coming to God in my weakness, I’ve been window shopping at the Horse Mart.

What God spoke into my heart, so gently, was that no matter how smart I am or ever could be, it would never bring me what I desire – deep, lasting happiness. In fact, I could be dumber than a bag of hammers and be a lot happier than I am now. Only one thing is necessary. Lord, help me to choose it.

Quote of the Week 2/12/06

None can love freedom heartily but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license.
This is especially relevant given the cartoon controversy. A recent headline I found especially odd was, "Cartoon Causes 3 More Deaths."
(Hat Tip to Joe Carter at The Evangelical Outpost)
Saturday, February 11, 2006

Josh Confronts the Code

This movie is going to be huge. The church needs to be ready with an intelligent, gracious response. Read about the Josh McDowell book and the Campus Crusade response plan here. I think it's on the right track.

George Clooney New Head of Hamas

Maybe now we can acheive peace in the middle-east.
Friday, February 10, 2006

Trends in Spirituality

Quick – who does this list describe?
  • They are opposed to any strict form of orthodoxy
  • They are people who are turned off by consumer culture, mass marketed religion, & TV preachers
  • They want the freedom to define spirituality on their own terms
  • They embrace eclecticism
  • They yearn for a simpler time
  • They desire a greater connection to ancient practices and rituals
  • They strive for authenticity
  • They have a more communal mindset

You’re probably thinking “the Emerging Church.” You may be right, but this list was taken more or less from an interview with journalist Catherine Edward Sanders about her new book, Wicca’s Charm. Scary, isn’t it – the similarity?

Wikipedia contains a helpful entry on the Emerging Church here. Click on the section entitled “2. Structure and Commonality.” The comparison is quite interesting.

After reading this and another recent post, you’re probably thinking, “Chris is really down on the emerging church movement.” That isn’t entirely true. To recall a medical analogy, I think the “doctors” of the EMC have correctly identified the symptoms of a sick church. The ultimate diagnosis and prescription, however, are wide of the mark. The disaster of Modernity is not its penchant for objective truth. The disaster of Modernity is a neurotic obsession with the truth. The disaster of Modernity is a tragic neglect of mercy.

I appreciate many aspects of the EMC and there are a number of emergent churches I would even consider joining if I lived near enough. I am a huge fan of Dallas Willard & Richard Foster -- a pleasant commonality with emerging folks. I simply think many emergent believers have thrown the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. In any case, I think the peculiar parallels between the EMC and the recent “emergence” of Wiccan spirituality should give pause to any sober Christian.

If I haven’t entirely alienated you, I can seal the deal by sending you to a few of my previous posts on Brian McLaren, postmodernism and truth.

Just for laughs, here’s a link to a humorous essay, “Why I Am Not Emergent,” by Michael Lee at Addison Road. It’s strictly tongue-in-cheek.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

If you're having trouble quitting . . .

You Might Be Emerging If . . .

If you know anything about the emerging/emergent church, you will probably find this funny. I fit about two-thirds of the criteria. I don't qualify for the other third because I'm not young enough, not hip enough, or not brain-dead enough.

OK, so I just ticked off a lot of emergent folks. Complaints and counter-arguments welcome. You might want to get a little help with the logic part, though.

Sorry, I did it again. It's all in love. Peace-out.

(Hat Tip to Intelligent Faith.)

P.S. I'm not hip enough to drive one of these, but I did grow up riding in one exactly like this, but without the luggage rack.
Monday, February 06, 2006

A Little Perspective

"Secret Worlds: The Universe Within"
This is definitely worth a look. (From my beloved Alma Mater, The Florida State University)

The Carpenter and the Mathematician

I have often floundered in attempts to explain the essential difference between philosophy and the hard sciences. Today, Aristotle provided an eloquent and simple solution.
“The carpenter and the geometer both look for the right angle, but
in different ways: the former only wants such an approximation to it as his work
requires, but the latter wants to know what constitutes a right angle, or what
is its special quality; his aim is to find out the truth.”
(The Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1, Chap. 7, para. 19.)

Another way I have heard it put is this – the scientist wants to know what is probably true, while the philosopher seeks what is necessarily true. Modern science only wants to know what works. They aren’t so much concerned with pure theories, unless they produce mathematical tools for experimentation. Who cares if quanta do or do not have both location and momentum? As those of the Copenhagen school of physics might say, “Shut up and do the equations!”

Philosophers do care about such things. Logic is our tool, and like the master woodworker, we use it to painstakingly carve away what simply cannot be true, until we are left with a final work of rational art. Does it give us technology or generate practical, control-over-nature utility? No. Shut up and do the logic.

It could be said that the philosopher aims at a higher goal than the scientist, but I won’t say it. It might appear arrogant. It is at least a different goal. We study the right angle, but we want to know what it is, ein sich. We aren’t concerned with particulars, but with universals.

I have a feeling that my hard-science friends won’t find this at all persuasive.
Sunday, February 05, 2006

Freewill & Tares

My brain formed a new neuro-connection today. That's lingo for "I don't know jack about neuroscience." I was listening to a sermon in church on the parable of the wheat and the tares. Suddenly, a link materialized between this concept and Plantinga's Freewill Defense. I felt like John Nash, only without the psychosis.

My pastor made what I thought was a lucid and insightful application of this parable to the problem of evil. But I think it could go even further, yielding greater illumination -- that's where Plantinga comes in. In the parable, in order to eliminate evil prematurely, the land owner would have to damage the wheat. Similarly, in Plantinga's argument, the present eradication of evil requires the loss of our humanity, viz., our freedom of will. I'll have to explore this further at a later date.

My pastor also made a skillful association between this parable and St. Peter's second letter (2Peter 3:9). God tarries in bringing all things and all people to justice because he is waiting -- waiting for those who would still believe. Again, honoring what I consider to be an essential part of the imago dei -- freedom of the will.

Sorry about all that, Reformed friends.
Saturday, February 04, 2006

Quote of the Week

"A woman has got to be able to say, and not feel guilty, `Who am I, and what do I want out of life?' She mustn't feel selfish and neurotic if she wants goals of her own, outside of husband and children."
~ Feminist and Author, Betty Friedan (1921-2006)

What do you think? Was Friedan a liberator and heroine, or was she the family's most nefarious enemy?
Friday, February 03, 2006

Bono the Prophet

[amended 2/15/06 -- fixed link to Bono's speech.]

This is really worth a listen. Paul "Bono" Hewson addresses the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. yesterday (Feb. 2, 2006). He challenges the U.S. to increase foreign relief for AIDS by 1% of the federal budget. The speech/sermon is about 21 minutes.

I hesitate to make anyone a hero, but, I can't help it. I've looked up to Bono for his passion and desire to make a difference in the world since before I was a Christian. He's been a significant figure for me since the early 80's. His faith has matured, as has mine, and my heart resonates with so much of what he says.

And, oh yeah, he's got a band that is pretty good.
Thursday, February 02, 2006

Muslim Humor

Last year I was preparing for a presentation on World Religions on campus, and I needed a few jokes to intersperse throughout the lengthy descriptions of the various faiths.

Christian jokes -- check
Jewish jokes -- check
Hindu jokes -- check
Buddhist jokes -- check
Muslim jokes -- ?

I had a very difficult time finding any truly Muslim jokes. I came across a few retreads, but I was surprised to see how scarce they were. It was then I realized that Muslims do not have a sense of humor about their religion.

This helps to explain the violent uproar over the Mohammed cartoons in Europe. One could argue that the cartoons weren't meant to be funny, but still, should we really be shocked when infidels mock religious beliefs? Isn't that why they're infidels?