Thursday, March 30, 2006

Jayber Crow

I just finished a novel by Wendell Berry entitled, Jayber Crow. I loved it. I don't read much fiction (I really should read more), so it was extremely refreshing.

I was deeply affected by his agrarian, small town sensibilities. The idea of the slow, patient, life, entirely lacking ambition or competitiveness, is a balm to a modern soul. At times, and perhaps still, it was difficult to understand, given the saturation of my mind with TV and high-speed internet, fast-food and microwave ovens.

I had a conversation today with a friend who virtually balked at my suggestion that some technological advancements have not been good for humans. It seems that we are no more likely to stop and consider the acceptance of newer and faster machines and computers than we are to stop and consider the acceptance of the lottery jackpot if we were to win. When we are presented with something that will allegedly increase pleasure, convenience, or efficiency, there is no hesitation. Our arms and mouths are open wide.

It has been said that the devil's doctrine is this: whatever can be done, should be done.

I'm no Ted Kaczynski, but I think it should at least be an open question whether technology is helping or harming our humanity.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Psychopath Test

This is not a trick question. It is as it reads. No one I know has given the correct answer.

A woman, while at the funeral of her own mother, met a guy whom she did not know. She thought this guy was amazing. She believed him to be her dream guy so much, that she fell in love with him right there, but never asked for his number and could not find him. A few days later she killed her sister.

Question: What is her motive for killing her sister?

I'll post the answer after I get a few responses.
Sunday, March 26, 2006

Pleasure as God

This was perhaps my favorite painting at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. It is by Caravaggio, and is entitled Bacchus. You may know that Bacchus was the mythological god of wine and revelry, but here he is portrayed as an inebriated teenager, rather than the idealized god more common in Renaissance painting. As if to signify the vanity of trying to find meaning merely in sensual pleasure, Caravaggio includes several unusual details: the rotting fruit, the grubby nails, the rosy cheeks of a half-drunk youth. Even the facial expression conveys more boredom than rapture.

If I were to hang this in my office, I think most people would imagine I was glorifying the god of pleasure. But with a closer look, they might see that it is quite the opposite. When pleasure is sought for its own sake (as an idol), rather than as a gift from God to be enjoyed in moderation, it leads to emptiness, defilement and waste.
Thursday, March 23, 2006

These People Were Real!

Their bones were yards away. Peter, who walked with Jesus. Mark, who wrote one of the gospels. Francis, who preached to the birds. We visited all their tombs. It really brings the Bible and the history of the church to life. Peter's bones are in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, Mark's are in St. Mark's in Venice, and Francis' are in St. Francis' Basilica in Assisi (each cathedral being appropriately named). It was almost beyond belief to think that the remains of these men, who lived so long ago, were resting before us. St. Francis' tomb was especially moving, since it was not surrounded by the same splendor as the others -- just a dark, candle-lit crypt. Praise God for these men and the lives they lived!
Monday, March 20, 2006

In Italy This Week

Sorry I won't be blogging much this week. My wife and I are celebrating our 10 year anniversary with a trip to Italy!! The first two days in Rome were overwhelming. Our respect for artists lke Bernini, Caravaggio and Michelangelo grow expoentially with every work of art we view. The sistine chapel (painted by Michelangelo) was so good, that Raphael, after seeing it, went back to his famous School of Athens (also in the Vatican Museum) and painted Michelangelo into it. (He's in the foreground, sitting on the steps -- painted in classic Michelangelo style.) I assume this is a compliment.
Thursday, March 16, 2006

Plantinga Weighs In

Alvin Plantinga expresses criticism of Judge Jones' decision in the Dover case on Intelligent Design.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A Revealing Question

I asked a friend (who is a Christian) recently, "Why don't you believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation?" (This is roughly the idea that the communion bread and wine actually transform into the literal body and blood of Christ.) His answer? Because he distrusts Catholic theology. Why? Because it is superstitious and has been proven false on numerous occasions by science.

This answer reveals something critical about his worldview. Any guesses as to what I'm talking about?
Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Aristotle says . . .

Have you ever heard the saying, "You would worry a lot less about what other people think of you if you realized how seldom they do?" We think that we need the opinion of everyone else in order to know what kind of person we are. The opinions of others become our collective reality, as opposed to who we really are.

Aristotle says, "Honor depends more upon the people who pay it than upon the person to whom it is paid."

Do you crave the approval of others?
Monday, March 13, 2006

The "Other" Blog

Read a post I made recently on the blog of Academic Initiative. It may sound familiar.

Qualified To Think?

I just have to post a few of these "Funny Philosophy Stories" that I found here.
I ran into one of my friends shortly after getting into grad school. He
asked how the applications were going. "Great. I'm in." He responds: "Dude,
that's awesome. You're going to have a PhD in philosophy. You're going to be
like, qualified to think about anything."
Sunday, March 12, 2006

Marriage A Mistake? (Quote of the Week)

"Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes," J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote his son Michael, "in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the real soul-mate is the one you are actually married to."

That is a profound statement. Agree? Disagree? How does this view harmonize with the sovereignty of God?

(The quote comes from an essay entitled, "Austen's Powers, " by Jennifer Ferrara, featured in Touchstone magazine, March 2006. I'm not sure of the Tolkien quote's origin.)

Stunning 3-D Sidewalk Art

Click here, scroll down and be amazed.

(Hat Tip to McRyanMac)
Friday, March 10, 2006

"Hoth 2014"

The latest installment in my "Too Much Free Time" series . . .

Shane Igoe has launched a campaign to make Hoth the host planet for the 2014 Winter Olympics. The mock effort comes complete with a Website,, an online petition, and, in a twist, a serious intent. Visit the site here.

(Hat Tip to McRyanMac)
Thursday, March 09, 2006

Religious Nomenclature

My friend Charlie keeps giving me ideas for new posts. He wants know the difference between fundamentalists, evangelicals and the religious right.

Fundamentalist -- Fundamentalism was a movement among conservative Christians in the late 19th and early 20th century that served as a reaction against theological liberalism in the church. Fundamentalists unswervingly adhered to what they considered the "fundamentals" of the faith -- the Trinity, incarnation, virgin birth, resurrection, salvation by grace through personal faith, the inerrancy of Scripture, etc. But it was also a social movement that was highly suspicious of science, rejected the "social gospel" of the liberals and considered charity work to be of low priority. They were somewhat seclusionist and had a Christ-against-culture perspective. The movement was not anti-intellectual, being led by great theologians like B.B.Warfield and A.A. Hodge of Princeton, but spawned an anti-intellectualism that formed later. Today, only the most conservative Christians would self-identify as fundamentalist. They would not only hold these theological tenets, but would endorse multiple prohibitions against things like alcohol, movies, dancing, etc. See this essay for more detail.

Evangelical -- the word comes from the Greek, meaning "of the good news," or "of the gospel." Simply put, evangelicals are those who emphasize the gospel, namely, that Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay for sin, and that every person can be forgiven through personal faith in Him. They are also evangelical in the sense that they promote evangelism, or proselytizing, since Christ is the only means of salvation. Fundamentalists could be seen as a sub-category of evangelicals. Usually, evangelicals also emphasize the inerrancy of Scripture. The Evangelical Theological Society has this statement: "The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory." Here is the statement of faith for the National Alliance of Evangelicals. For an excellent evangelical blog, go here.

Religious Right -- This would be a political category, and could contain evangelicals, Catholics, fundamentalists, mormons, Jews, etc. These are politically conservative people who not only have a particular Judeo-Christian belief set, but have strong beliefs about how those views should affect the state, and ally themselves for political purposes.

For my readers, any additions or deletions?
Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Don't Judge A Book . . .

The name of a biblical book is not a great indicator of its subject matter. For instance, Daniel is not about Daniel any more than Mark is about Mark. If there is a protagonist in Daniel, it is Nebuchadnezzar, who is the sole dynamic character. Daniel represents God in this story, as any good prophet does.

So what is the main message of Daniel? Is it an admonition to stay pure in the midst of a pagan society? Is it showing the blessings of integrity and faithfulness? Is it about how God can save you from the “lions” in your life? Nope, nope, and nope. You have to remember, the intended audience here would be post-exile Jews. They were back in Judah, reading about this young man named “God-is-my-judge.” This is what I believe to be the striking theme of this book: even when Judah is in exile, Yahweh is absolutely sovereign over all nations and rulers, including Babylon. Yahweh has not been defeated by Dagon, Baal or Molech, nor can any so called “god” stand before him.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The F-word

This rumination on the term "fundamentalist" by Alvin Plantinga is hilariously classic.

"I fully realize that the dreaded f-word will be trotted out to stigmatize any model of this kind. Before responding, however, we must first look into the use of this term 'fundamentalist'. On the most common contemporary academic use of the term, it is a term of abuse or disapprobation, rather like 'son of a bitch', more exactly 'sonovabitch', or perhaps still more exactly (at least according to those authorities who look to the Old West as normative on matters of pronunciation) 'sumbitch'. When the term is used in this way, no definition of it is ordinarily given. (If you called someone a sumbitch, would you feel obliged first to define the term?) Still, there is a bit more to the meaning of 'fundamentalist' (in this widely current use): it isn't simply a term of abuse. In addition to its emotive force, it does have some cognitive content, and ordinarily denotes relatively conservative theological views. That makes it more like 'stupid sumbitch' (or maybe 'fascist sumbitch'?) than 'sumbitch' simpliciter. It isn't exactly like that term either, however, because its cognitive content can expand and contract on demand; its content seems to depend on who is using it. In the mouths of certain liberal theologians, for example, it tends to denote any who accept traditional Christianity, including Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Barth; in the mouths of devout secularists like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett, it tends to denote anyone who believes there is such a person as God. The explanation is that the term has a certain indexical element: its cognitive content is given by the phrase 'considerably to the right, theologically speaking, of me and my enlightened friends.' The full meaning of the term, therefore (in this use), can be given by something like 'stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine'."

(Hat Tip to Brian at Christian Thinker -- a new blog worth checking out!)

How Far Will We Go?

500 years ago, if you started acting strange -- talking to invisible people, washing your hands obsessively, cutting yourself -- they took you to the priest. The problem was assumed to be spiritual.

100 years ago, the same behavior would land you in the couch of your friendly neighborhood psychoanalyst. The problem was assumed to the psychological.

Today, the same behavior (or even something far less dramatic) can be remedied at the local pharmacist. The problem is chemical.

Do you realize that we now have pills for shyness, impotence, overactive bladder, insomnia, sadness, short attention spans, and "restless legs syndrome." (Did I forget anything?)

I'm sorry, but what was that last one?
"Restless legs syndrome?"

(I'm sure this is a very real disorder. I'm just appalled at the endless proliferation of pharmaceuticals. )

What's next?

Party Poopers at NBC

Sadly, tragically, NBC has ordered the removal of all video of SNL sketches from the internet. Apparently, you can still buy them at ITunes. The world just got a little less funny.
Monday, March 06, 2006

Russell At the Dock

My friend Charlie, an atheist, has expressed concern regarding my post on John Cage. I thought it would be more interesting if I responded publicly.

Charlie disagrees with my claims that atheism takes courage, that the atheist's universe is purposeless and random, and that atheism necessitates the embracing of despair. "You have no reason to say this," he writes. He thinks my existential assesment of atheism cannot be supported.

Well, I'll mention two things in my defense at this juncture. First, I used to be an atheist, and so I am acquainted with the existential implications. Perhaps I am alone in my experience. But then I turn to Bertrand Russell, one of the patron saints of atheism in the 20th century. He puts it this way:

That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they
were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and
his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no
fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an
individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the
devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are
destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole
temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a
universe in ruins--all these things, if not quite beyound dispute, are yet so
nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only
within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of
unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built.*

I can call other witnesses if needed -- Camus, Sartre, Nietzsche, et al. The greatest philosophical atheists understand the terrible truth, and have the courage to face it. For this, I admire them.

*From A Free Man's Worship, 1903. (5th paragraph down on this internet version.)

Making Evangelicals Look Stupid

Richard Dawkins does a great job of making us look dumb in this video. Of course, he does an equally good job of making himself look rude. I suspect he is sincerely troubled by the whole intelligent design debate, and is afraid that the anti-science attitude of many born-again Christians will drag us back into the middle ages. I also suspect that Dawkins has some unresolved psychological issues that drive him to pick fights with Christians.

On a side note, if Ted Haggard is the voice of evangelicalism, then I'm going to need some powerful anti-depressants.

(Thanks to Johnny-Dee for the video.)
Sunday, March 05, 2006

Music without God

True atheism requires great courage. Facing a random and purposeless universe, embracing despair -- these are terrifying experiences ill-advised for the faint of heart. An even more daunting proposition is to live accordingly. This is where most atheists fail -- they borrow existential capital from the Christian universe and live as if their lives had meaning and intrinsic value.

I don't know for certain that John Cage (1912-1992) was an atheist, but he composed like one. Prior to the 20th century, most composers believed that the universe was inherently ordered and meaningful, and their music reflected this. Cage believed that the universe was random and meaningless, and sought to portray this truth in his work. (For a sample of Cage's Sonata II, click here. For Winter Music (1957), click here.) As Jackson Pollock did in his art, Cage employed chance to "create" his music. If everything we know in the world is ultimately the product of chance, then music composed in this way is more real or true than the artificial constructions of Bach or Mozart.

Inevitably, Cage's philosophy was merely a whim of convenience which he applied only in his art. An avid mycologist (mushroom collector), he admitted that he could not employ his methodology of randomness to his hobby. He commented, "I became aware that if I approached mushrooms in the spirit of my chance operations, I would die shortly." Siphoning off meaning and purpose from a theistic worldview, Cage lived as if there were such a thing as order when it suited him. I applaud him, however, for the integration of his music with his cosmic nihilism.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Dies Cinerum

Thus begins the countdown to Easter. I'm not Catholic, but I plan to observe Lent this year. Ash Wednesday is meant to remind us of our mortality. Memento, homo, quia pulvis es et in pulverem reverteris. "Remember man, that you are but dust, and unto dust you shall return."

(HT for the Latin help from Maverick Philosopher)