Social Commentary

Creation Science

Parableman put up Christian Carnival CXXXVI yesterday and one of the posts caught my eye: Dr. Hovind and the Age of the Earth from Imago Dei. I wanted to write my thoughts on it here for a few reasons: firstly, Christianity and science are very near and dear to me, and secondly, the writer was getting a decent amount of persecution from non-Christians about the subject and I wanted to throw out my Christian perspective on the subject that (hopefully) won’t be seen as persecution but an alternate position. Also, I have written on some of this way back in my post Science vs. Religion (with the original post and comments at my old blog here), so feel free to check that out as well. I will be linking to many different sources in their post including Wikipedia. I recognize that Wikipedia is not the best source for information, but it is often easier to understand than other sources and they have links to other sources if you want additional information.

Before I start, I feel I should make this disclaimer. I am a devout Christian. I am a Bible believing Christian. I also have degrees in Physics and Astronomy. I am perfectly okay that some Christians will reject this, that is their prerogative and salvation does not depend on what we think about these things. However, I think that, as Christians, we are called to use the things that God has given us, this includes our minds and our “powers” of observation. Science is a wonderful thing and it can be used to tell us about the amazing universe that God did indeed create (just maybe not in the way that some Christians think). On with the post!

Amanda’s post starts with a look at different forms of evolution:

1. Cosmic Evolution – the origin of time, space, and matter. This is the big bang. 2. Chemical Evolution – the origin of higher elements from hydrogen. (If the Big Bang produced hydrogen and some helium, how did we get the others? 3. Stellar and planetary Evolution – the origin of stars and planets. (No one has ever seen a star form. What you see is a spot getting brighter and you assume a star is forming. It could be the dust is clearing and there’s a star behind it. No one has ever proven the formation of a single star. Yet it’s estimated that there are enough stars for every person on earth to own 2 trillion stars.) 4. Organic Evolution – the origin of life. Somehow life has to get started from non-living material. (But spontaneous generation was proven wrong 200 years ago.) 5. Macro Evolution – Changing from one kind of animal into another. (Nobody has ever seen a dog produce a non-dog. Big or small it’s still a dog. Dog, wolf, and coyote may have had a common ancestor, but they’re still the same kind of animal.) 6. Micro Evolution – Variations within kinds (big dogs and little dogs). Only this one has been observed.

I would like to take a look at each one of her statements.

“1. Cosmic Evolution – the origin of time, space, and matter. This is the big bang.” Yeah. And numerous independent studies lead in the direction of supporting the big bang. This isn’t just one group suggesting the big bang is what happened. This is numerous physicists and astronomers showing that their work supports a singularity some 13-14 billion years ago.

“2. Chemical Evolution – the origin of higher elements from hydrogen. (If the Big Bang produced hydrogen and some helium, how did we get the others?” This is “simple” nuclear physics. Happens all the time. This is called stellar nucleosynthesis. (Info links: Wikipedia, Astronomy Notes, Science Week, and there is lots more out there.) The larger scale of this would be Big Bang Nucleosynthesis. (Info links: Wikipedia, Berkeley Astro, Berkeley Cosmology, and many more.) Also check out Wikipedia’s articles on the Proton Proton chain and the CNO cycle.

“3. Stellar and planetary Evolution – the origin of stars and planets. (No one has ever seen a star form. What you see is a spot getting brighter and you assume a star is forming. It could be the dust is clearing and there’s a star behind it. No one has ever proven the formation of a single star. Yet it’s estimated that there are enough stars for every person on earth to own 2 trillion stars.)” This is also a very well evidenced science. There are numerous places where star birth can be seen, check out The Eagle Nebula (and Proplyds on Wikipedia). I am not really sure what the number of stars has to do with anything, but yes, there are lots of them. Our own Milky Way Galaxy has somewhere between 200 and 400 billion stars in it. Even looking at a TINY sliver of space thousands and thousands of galaxies can be seen. The number of stars in our own galaxy and the number of galaxies in the universe suggests that there are easily 2 trillion stars for each person (some 70 sextillion are suggested).

“4. Organic Evolution – the origin of life. Somehow life has to get started from non-living material. (But spontaneous generation was proven wrong 200 years ago.)” I am no biologist and have not studied this extensively. It seems to me that evolutionists have yet to suggest how life actually started. What supposedly caused amino acids to combine for form proteins and then eventually form DNA? I understand that there is a chemical process there, but what makes something go from inert to life? How did life actually start?

“5. Macro Evolution – Changing from one kind of animal into another. (Nobody has ever seen a dog produce a non-dog. Big or small it’s still a dog. Dog, wolf, and coyote may have had a common ancestor, but they’re still the same kind of animal.)” While simplistic, I tend to agree with Amanda here. Macro Evolutionary theory seems to be lacking in support. I think that any honest evolutionist would admit that this is just a working theory and that it has a long way to go.

“6. Micro Evolution – Variations within kinds (big dogs and little dogs). Only this one has been observed.” Yes this has been seen. But it is not the only one that has been observed. #4 and #5 are the ones that lack scientific support.

Amanda goes on to say: “There are two options: 1. Somebody made the world (In the beginning God…) 2. The world made itself.” Okay, that is fine. But I am not sure why believing in the Big Bang automatically puts me as a #2 believer. That doesn’t follow.

Then: “So…we all came from a dot and the dot came from nothing. This is what they teach in schools. All of the dirt in the universe was in the little dot and it started spinning faster and faster until one day it exploded. The pieces became galaxies and stars.” There was nothing, then God created the universe: how is this different from “we all came from a dot and the dot came from nothing”?

“I believe that 6000 years ago God created everything” – but on what basis do you ignore scientific evidence? “I believe In the beginning God… (Gen. 1:1) You believe In the beginning dirt…” No, I believe that In the Beginning God… and God created dirt.

So where did the laws come from? Gravity, centrifugal force, intertia, etc. Where did the energy come from? It takes energy to make something move. And what about the conservation of angular momentum? That means that if a spinning object breaks apart in a frictionless environment (like the big bang) the pieces that fly off are going to spin in the same direction as the original object because the outside is moving faster than the inside. If the universe began as a spinning dot, shouldn’t everything be spinning the same way? Venus and Uranus spin in different directions than the other planets. 8 of the 91 known moons are spinning backwards. Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune have moons orbiting in both directions. Some galaxies spin backwards.

Firstly, I am not sure why she thinks that the Big Bang would be frictionless, it wasn’t. If nothing had interacted with anything, then yes, everything would be rotating the exact same way. But that is not that case at all. Everything interacts with everything else. Gravity is an extremely small force, but will still have a huge impact. Microscopic variations in the smooth early universe caused clumping to occur. Clumping of matter eventually caused it to coalesce into larger bodies. As the continued to occur, the smooth early universe became more clumpy with voids.

“Dr. Hovind believes things are spinning backwards because God created everything and He did it on purpose to make the big bang theory look stupid.” That makes me sad. That statement just makes me think that Dr. Hovind (whom I have had no experience with) hasn’t actually studied astronomy or physics.

I am not going to comment on her mention of the 2nd law of thermodynamics because it doesn’t really make sense. Nor will I comment on her look at macro evolution, not because I agree with everything she says, but because I by and large agree with her conclusions (that macro evolution is lacking and doesn’t seem to work).

I know I am picking on this particular blogger. I do not doubt her faith or salvation, I just think she is off the mark in this belief. It seems like the rejection of science often completely stems from a literal reading of the beginning of Genesis. I cannot see any other reason to reject a 13 billion year old universe (cosmic evolution, #1). (And I don’t see any reason to reject chemical [#2], or stellar and planetary [#3] evolution.) But why is it seen that a literal reading is to be had? It seems that many Christians are perfectly willing to use a poetical reading at some times but not others. It comes down to good exegesis. We can’t blindly say one passage is literal and one is poetical. We have to find intent and purpose. Genesis was not trying to give a science lesson: six days of creation was never meant to literally be six days. Genesis is a narrative of how God brought us into being, the details of how long that took are not included because they were not relevant. I want Christians to understand that their reading of the beginning of Genesis is a particular interpretation that not all Christians need to follow. In my view, it is actually inappropriate for Christians to follow that reading. Science and the scientific method came out of Christianity and Christians’ desire to know more about the world that God gave us, why would we reject that now just because it happens to go against your particular interpretation?

In summary: Christians can and should embrace science, they are not opposing belief structures. Believe the Bible, yes, but don’t reject science out of hand. God has given us glimpses into how the universe was made and what goes on there, embrace those things as gracious gifts from God. Again, I also want to point out that salvation is not dependant on your take on this issue. I just want you to move beyond a rigid understanding of what you think the Bible says, it probably was not intended that way. Exegesis is a good thing.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post is from a previous blog so the original comments no longer exist.

What is wrong with people? (x3)

Over the past few days I have stumbled across a few things that make me wonder “what is wrong with people?”

(1)

Let me start with Michael Moore. The Guarding is reporting that Michael Moore has stated that “Fifty-one percent of the American people lacked information [in this election] and we want to educate and enlighten them. They weren’t told the truth. We’re communicators and it’s up to us to start doing it now.” Moore is planning a new “documentary” called Fahrenheit 9/11 1/2 so he can “enlighten” us and give us that information we were painfully without.

What is wrong with this man? Seriously. If anything, I think the democratic party should do everything in their power to shut him up. I think his mocking of the American people and and calling people uneducated for their vote is very damaging to them. People can see through his false humility and lies to see what he really is. Why is he making this film? Two reasons that I can see: to spit some more on the American population and to fill his large pant pockets with even more money.

Speaking of money…

(2)

Latrell Sprewell is a guard for the Timberwolves. They offered him a three year, $21 million contract that was a reduction of $7 million of yearly salary. I don’t know their reasons specifically for this reduction, but probably relate to him “aging” (in terms of playability) as well as choking his coach (nice guy). I can understand he might be a little upset as a loss of 7 mil a year is a significant loss, but here is what this guys says along with his request for a trade: “I’ve got my family to feed.”

What is wrong with this man? $21 million over three years (not to mention all that he has earned thus far) isn’t enough to feed your kids? Obviously he can’t literally mean that, but what was he thinking? If he did really mean that, he is very sad person.

Speaking of feeding people…

(3)

There are many agencies in the world that offer sponsorships of children in third world countries in order to help feed them, clothe them, offer them medical help, and educate them. Compassion, World Vision, and Christian Children’s Fund are three such example that seems to be pretty legit. There are, of course, many out there that are not on the up and up and just take advantage of people and not much money actually reaches the child. That being said, child sponsorship can be a very worth while endeavor and a worthy charity to support. Although I am not a big fan of some of their commercials, they serve there purpose and are needed to get the word out. The just really aren’t my thing though. I always wonder how much aid the camera crew has offered to the people they are filming. Toyota has decided it would be a lovely idea to parody these commercials to sell a truck.

What is wrong with Toyota? This is one of the most insensitive commercials I have seen in a long time. Even if you disagree with the child sponsorship organizations, there are still many needy children around the world that have next to nothing and Toyota has decided it wise to take this $20,000 or so truck and somehow equate it to a child that hasn’t eaten in days? This is pathetic. “If you can give up one coffee a day (holding a Starbucks cup) you can have one for your own.” Seriously, what is wrong with Toyota and more importantly, why are other people not enraged by this? I don’t care if you are a Christian, a Muslim, a Satanist, or Atheist, I would hope you have enough compassion for starving children that to see feeding them equated with the need for a truck as something to be abhorred.

(This is really stupid of me, but I was so annoyed by the commercial that I actually forgot who the maker of the truck was, when I see the commercial again, I will fill in the XXXXXs. Why is it I can see a commercial over and over when I don’t want to see it and then when I DO want to see it, I don’t see it for 3 days? UPDATE: XXXXXs are now Toyotas, thanks Division!)

Shalom

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The epitome of sloth and glut

I am continually amazed at how american culture can take sin to the next level. “The Seven Deadly Sins.” Of course no sin is more deadly than any other but those seven are probably the most obvious of personal sins. Apparently we, as a society, are tired of keeping those sins separate. “What we REALLY need to do is figure out how we can combine sins so I don’t have to waste time on individual indulgences.”

A few refrigerator companies have figured it would be a good idea if they merged sloth and gluttony. They have figured that people are just not lazy enough (or maybe they think we are already this lazy and want us to keep up the good work), and have built a refrigerator with a television built in. I saw this about half a year ago at Fry’s, and am now seeing it on television commercials. What is going on? Walking five or ten feet from the kitchen to the television was just too straining? I REALLLLLLY need that cheese log, if only it was near the tv. How have things come to this? I want my kids to have complete access, all hours of every day to the least amount of movement possible. What I am working on now is building a bed on top of the fridge with the tv, oh and don’t forget the internet!

Shalom and happy eating/watching.

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Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death”

This is the first version of a book review for my “Theology of Culture” class at Regent. (Yes, I know there are typos and such, as I said this was the first draft.) Unfortunately I had to cut it from over 1600 words down to 1250, that was really difficult.

This is a great book that I recommend to anyone, I also recommend Postman’s other works such as Technopoly, The End of Education, and Conscientious Objections. Postman is great at making critical remarks, although often doesn’t offer too much in the way of suggestions for change (and I don’t that is necessarily a bad thing as I think he sees himself as a social commentator, not necessarily a corrector).

Matt Jones

Regent College

October 22nd, 2004
INDS/THEO 515: The Theology of Culture
John Stackhouse
Word Count: 1659

Book Review #1
Amusing Ourselves to Death:
Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
Neil Postman

Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. New York: Penguin Books, 1985.

Neil Postman aims to show how the “Age of Show Business” has changed how public discourse has changed for the worse. In Amusing Ourselves to Death he asserts that we are living in a Huxleyan society and not an Orwellian. “Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us” (viii). The title suggests that, as Huxley did, we will be caught up in the act of watching television and not see its significance and that will kill culture. To be more specific, the subtitle brings it down to public discourse. Discourse in our society has changed throughout the years and Postman suggests that the “age of show business” through the use and prevalence of television will kill culture in the way Huxley suggests.

Postman structures his book in two main parts: Firstly he addresses the setup, historical background of how discourse has been carried out in society and how it has changed. And secondly, he delves into the topics of how television will cause us to “amuse ourselves to death.”

The just of the first part aims to show that there has been a decline in the “Age of Typography” caused by a rise in the “Age of Television” (8). Postman states, “I must, first, demonstrate how, under the governance of the printing press, discourse in America was different from what it is now – generally coherent, serious and rational; and then how, under the governance of television, it has become shriveled and absurd” (16). The five chapters of this part center on that task.

He shows that culture is connected to its conversations and its conversations are formed by the medium in which they take place. Our culture set in the frame of typography was able to use language as a means of complex argument that was pleasurable and common to many areas of the public sphere (47). Through many inventions and events culminating with the introduction of the television, the typography mindset was pushed to the periphery and “as typography moves to the periphery of our culture and television takes its place at the center, the seriousness, clarity and, above all, value of public discourse dangerously declines” (29).

The first five chapters that make up part one move logically from one to the next, setting up the framework. Chapter one shows that, as the title suggests, “The medium is the metaphor.” The medium in which we learn plays an important role because “what important ideas are convenient to express inevitable become the important content of a culture” (6). This leads to chapter two discussing the media as an epistemology. Postman asserts that “the concept of truth is intimately linked to the biases of forms of expression” (22).

He is then concerned that the epistemology of television is inferior to that of print-based epistemology and is, in fact, damaging (27). Because he feels this way, he then launches into chapter three that discusses what our culture was like in the print-based, typographic focus and then shows that mode of discourse leads to a “typographic mind” discussed in chapter four. He then, in chapter five, contrasts those two chapters to prove his assertion of chapter two that television’s epistemology is damaging. Chapter five is the lead in chapter to the larger discussion of how discourse has been damaged by television.

The second part of Postman’s book takes on the challenge of proving his premise. Chapter six discusses “not that television is entertaining but that it has made entertainment itself the natural format for the representation of all experience” (87). The nature of television does not allow complex thought to be achieved or encouraged. It is “bad” television to have a camera on someone who is thinking. This leads into how education is attempted on television but before Postman delves deeper into the discussion of education in chapter ten, he first goes into a discussion of the fragmentation of reality depicted on television and how that leads to trivialities.

“Now… This” has been used widely in television and brings with it the thought that “what one has just heard or seen has no relevance to what one is about to hear or see, or possibly to anything one is ever likely to hear or see” (99). Drama is what has become important on television, not content, thus bringing fragmentation to culture. The abundance of information that is presented means nothing because it has no context and has no bearing on our lives; we don’t actually do anything with the information. The shift of discourse from content to entertainment seemed natural and was unchallenged. Chapter eight goes to further his point that television is about entertainment and not content by looking at the specific case of televangelism. While criticizing how televangelizers work, Postman does say “what makes these television preachers the enemy of religious experience is not so much their weaknesses but the weaknesses of the medium in which they work” (117).

Another case example of how television has failed to be a content filled discourse is tackled in chapter nine dealing with politics and how elections use television. “If politics is like show business [which Postman says it is], then the idea is not to pursue excellence, clarity or honesty but to appear as if you are, which is another matter altogether” (126). Postman draws similarities between politics and the commercial.

After these two case examples, Postman turns back to education and how it is negatively changed by television. That is the main problem: education is changed by television instead of education controlling television. In the “Age of Television” the classroom is starting to mimic, to become entertainment. Television is also used in the classroom, but because of the nature of the medium, very little context, nor content, is transferred. This section concludes his argument and leads to the final chapter of a “Huxleyan warning” and some suggestions. Postman warns that if it is not recognized what television does and how it should be used, culture will die. This embodies his main suggestion: ask questions. Such examples, but not limited to, are: “How do different forms of information persuade?  How do different information forms dictate the type of content that is expressed?”(160). If these questions can be discussed, it is the first step to taking back television.

Postman argued very well for his stance against television. He did say that “the problem, in any case, does not reside in what people watch. The problem is in that we watch. The solution must be found in how we watch” (160). His argument is well thought out and concise. His argument relied on the premise that in the typography type discourse, culture was well nurtured and cultivated an analytical mind. His first section proved that quite well. One example of how he proved that was the Lincoln-Douglas debates (44ff). The extensive timeframe in which the debates occurred is unthought-of in today’s culture. The only way for such in-depth events to occur would be for people to have the capacity to comprehend what was going on.

Postman also proves his point by comparing the discourse of theologians such as Edwards to that of Falwell implying that Falwell relies more on the television mindset of culture rather than the content filled discourse of the print-based. Through the foundation of what he proves about the print-based discourse, he goes on to prove that the television-based discourse does not work. Using the examples of evangelism, elections, and the more involved topic of education, Postman shows that, indeed, the use of television has negatively affected those areas. The nature of the corruption is not that people view it as being bad, but that it is seen as being good. No one seems to mind that there is very little content provided through television. What is worse is that it is changing education, if content leaves education, then there is no point. Postman sets up each of these examples and uses them to prove his point very effectively.

One thing that impressed my positively about this book was that he laid out his foundations very well. He didn’t just start showing how television is bad, he showed that what it had to say was bad because of the lack of content and fragmentation and was is direct opposition to the print-based discourse. Another than that also impressed my positively was Postman wasn’t complaining about content as a reason for the failure of television. He went much deeper in saying that it is the nature of television and that the horrible thing is that no one sees it. It is easy to complain about the content of television but until the nature and heard of what television can say (as Postman has done) the other complaints are as trivial as the information presented by television.

One thing that impressed me negatively was that Postman did not offer too many suggestions to correct the problem. His main suggestion to ask questions about what television can do and to do that through our educational system is good, but I don’t think it goes deep enough. He did recognize that telling people to get rid of their televisions would not work, but he doesn’t offer much alternative. A second thing that impressed me negatively was his assertion that in the print-based discourse “people had a sense they could control some of the contingencies in their lives” (69) more so than those of the television discourse age. While I agree that people could comprehend the cohesive information being presented to them (for example in the Lincoln-Douglas debates) I don’t think that necessarily leads to people taking action any more than people of today. If they did take action, they were more informed to do so, but I don’t feel that just because people don’t have the content because of the television medium, they act on that information any less (it will just be less informed).

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post is from a previous blog so the original comments no longer exist.

What do the polls say?

Before I get to the topic at hand, I want to mention that Greek is very difficult. Specifically Koine Greek or Biblical Greek. I am assuming that many of the forms of Greek are hard, but this is the one I am learning so it is all I can speak of. Koine is a form of Attic Greek (that itself was a branch of Ionic, one of the forms of Classic Greek). Kione is the “common” form of Greek that was spoken by the common man as it was a simplified form of classical and therefore doesn’t have some of the subtleties of its more polished predecessor. I seven weeks we have covered all the noun forms and over 66% of the words in the Bible (of course part of this is because words like “and” and “the” are used quite a bit – did you know that in Greek the definite article “the” has 24 different forms?). Anyway, it is a tough language, but I am really excited about learning it. That was quite the digressions, so if you feel like you will never have those two minutes back, I am sorry.

On to the topic at hand. Polls. What do the polls say? My answer: who cares? I have many problems with polls. As far as polling goes I think that election polls are probably the most accurate and by that, I still mean not very accurate. Depending on who you talk to the presidential polls will say different things. I have seen numerous maps that show what the polls are telling us… Bush is going to win! No wait, Kerry is going to win! No wait…

http://vodkapundit.com/archives/KerryWin.jpg

http://vodkapundit.com/archives/BushWin.jpg

http://www.electoral-vote.com/

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/vote2004/politics101/politics101_ecmap.html

http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/election-test-fl,0,1851284.flash

http://synapse.princeton.edu/~sam/pollcalc-map-undecideds-assigned.html

Got the idea? And these are just a few of the maps you can find doing a google search. What does this mean? It means that polls are completely useless. I like I said, election polling are the most accurate form of polls we have. Who do you want to win? A? B? or maybe C? Pretty cut and dry, and yet we have no consistency with the electoral college maps, predictions based on current polls and past trends just do not work. WHY BOTHER? There really is no reason to continue with this as it just makes people either feel good about themselves or feel bad and have something to complain about (yes ironic that I am complaining).

Other types of polls are even worse. Questions are often asked completely out of context and often about subjects that people don’t understand or even know about. How is that data to be explained? Even “yes” or “no” questions will not give great answers depending on how the question is asked. I always think of the “poll” – Dihydrogen oxide is a number one leading cause of death throughout the world and yet our country spends loads of money to work with this deadly chemical. Do you think this chemical should be banned?” What do you think folks?

I am reading a book by Neil Postman (that I will post a review of later) and I am reminded of some of his comments in another of his social commentaries: Technopoly. I will start with an example he poses: “Two priests who, being unsure if it was permissible to smoke and pray at the same time, wrote to the Pope for a definite answer. One priest phrased the question “Is it permissible to smoke while praying?(126)” and was told it is no, since prayer should be the focus of one’s whole attention; the other priest asked if it is permissible to pray while smoking and was told that it is, since it is always appropriate to pray.” Questions asked are of huge importance. Getting back to the specifics of polls I draw, again, on Postman’s Technopoly. Making up an example he suggests: “The latest poll indicates that 72% of the American public believes we should withdraw economic aid from Nicaragua. Of those who expressed this opinion 28% thought Nicaragua was in central Asia, 18% thought it was an island near New Zealand, and 27.4% believed that ‘Africans should help themselves,’ obviously confusing Nicaragua with Nigeria. Moreover, of those polled, 61.8% did not know that we give economic aid to Nicaragua, and 23% did not know what ‘economic aid’ means.(135)” Eventhough this is a fictitious example, you can see how it can cause problems in real world situations. The chances are, the only thing that gets reported is that 72% of Americans thing economic aid should be withdrawn. This is reasonable to assume because the other questions are genearlly not even asked.

The other issue with polls, which has already been hinted at, is that that the public is given the chance to speak and give opinions about things they know very little about. I believe people should continue learning and always seek to know more and if you have knowledge about something, please feel free to comment on it, if not, you should sit back and listen and learn but just keep quiet. This also makes me think of celebrities who know very little but have much exposure say anything about everything and people actually listen to what they have to say. The problem with this is that when people,celebrities or not, spout off about that which they don’t know it creates a problem in that it is hard to listen to anyone. If I hear 30 people, who don’t know what they are talking about go off on something it is going to be very difficult for me to listen to that 31st person, even if they really do know what they are talking about. (I have way too many run-on sentences, sorry)

This has been somewhat fragmented, but here are my concluding thoughts: Don’t listen to polls. Go and try and make a difference in things if you can and to do that you will have to become educated about things. I am glad when people in authority don’t necessarily follow polls or public opinion. Do what is right, learn about something before you comment on it. Political polls can show anything you want them to, just ask the right questions. Go vote on the 2nd, don’t pay attention to the maps.

Shalom

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post is from a previous blog so the original comments no longer exist.

Discussion of “Christ and Culture” by Niebuhr

Here is my first brief paper discussion on Richard Niebuhr’s “Christ and Culture”. There were also a lot of good things that I didn’t think of that were brought up in discussion. I would definitely recommend this book to others, but it will take a while to get through. This is not an essay and therefore is not written in essay for and not always in complete sentences, deal with it :)

Matt Jones
Regent College
Theology of Culture
John Stackhouse
Word Count: 1077

Christ and Culture Discussion Paper

1. What is “the enduring problem,” and why does it “endure”?

The enduring problem with discussion of Christ and Culture is that there are many ways to view how Christ relates to culture. The Bible can support multiple theories of how we should relate to culture. It is not explicit about one particular way we are supposed to interact with culture. Jesus makes many statements that can give credible support to the five types of interaction that Niebuhr outlines. Also, many strong and influential Christians throughout the ages have been “members” of each of these types suggesting that belief of one type or the other does not make a person a better or worse Christian.

2. Briefly define each of Niebuhr’s five types

Christ against culture: Christ is here to claim authority over the earth and therefore throws out all ideas of culture. Culture is bad and sin is transmitted through it. This type “affirms the sole authority of Christ over the Christian and resolutely rejects culture’s claims to loyalty.” Typically seen as “either-or”. This group is essentially separatist in belief that culture should be rejected. All forms of activity in culture (military, political, etc…) should not occur. The monastic tradition is one representative of this type.

Christ of culture: Christ defines what culture is. He is a “guide of men in all their labor.” Problem that arises with this is that what that culture is is looked at through a particular culture and is often ascribe those values. “Christianity itself needed to be regarded as an ellipse with two foci, rather than as a circle with one center. One focus was justification or the forgiveness of sins; the other, ethical striving for the attainment of the perfect society.” This Christ also give man power over nature. Often looked at as being two-minded: having a loyalty to both Christ and civilization. Wants society to be peaceful and co-operative which will achieve these things by moral training. Jesus as a great enlightener is a common them. Gnostic tradition takes the enlightener theme especially. Kant and Leibnitz are two of the main proponents of this type. Jesus as hero.

Christ above culture: This group is similar to the second group in that it sees Christ as “the fulfillment of cultural aspirations and the restorer of the institutions of true society.” The difference is that their view of Christ incorporates aspects of Christ that are not part of, nor belong to, culture. Christ uses culture to point to himself as savior but the other characteristics are what actually save man. He gives capabilities that humans could not conceive of. Thomas Aquinas is seen as a major representative.

Christ and culture in paradox: This group is similar to the Christ against culture type in that the see Christ at opposition to culture but differ in that they do not feel removal from society should happen. “Obedience to God requires obedience to the institutions of society and loyalty to its members as well as obedience to a Christ who sits in judgment on that society.” Luther is seen as the greatest representative of this type.

Christ the transformer of culture: Also called the “conversionist” type. Similar to first and fourth group in that they see that culture has been perverted and is fallen but differ in that this group see Christ as a person who is the “converter of man in his culture and society, not apart from these, for there is no nature without culture and not turning of men from self and idols to God save in society.” This means that, while culture is the transmitter of sin, Christ still uses culture to save and redeem man. John Calvin and Augustine are two of the key figures of this type.

3. Is there a difference (for Niebuhr? For you?) between “Christ and Culture” and “Church and Culture”?

I do believe that Niebuhr sees a difference between Christ/Culture and Church/Culture. The Church must evaluate the culture that it is in and respond to it in an appropriate manner. Christ did the same thing except that Christ was only responsible to God. The Church is responsible not only to God but also its members. The Church’s members are also part of culture and will relate the Christ differently and therefore the church will have to take that into consideration.

I would say that there, at the heart, is not a difference between how Christ relates to culture and how the church SHOULD relate to culture. Christ looked at the culture He was in a told stories, talked to people, challenged people, in a way that would make sense in that culture. If He had come today, in our culture, he would have done things differently. He still would have looked at the culture and told stories, talked to people, and challenged people, but he would have done in it a way that was relevant to our culture. Some things would look the same, some things would look drastically different.

4. What is one thing that impressed you positively, and one thing that impressed you negatively, about this book?

One thing that impressed me positively about this book is that Niebuhr did a wonderful job of outlining five ways of thinking about the relationship between Christ and culture. He goes on to say that there are many ways of dealing with this topic but I would imagine that it would be a very strenuous task to delve into the many possibilities on our own. Niebuhr did us a great service of bringing out the most important types of relation and giving us a deep understanding of what those types are as well as why they have been thought.

One thing that impressed me negatively about this book was its style or tone. To me it was somewhat difficult to read. I found it similar, in my mind, to reading the King James version of the Bible: the content is there and wonderful but because of how it was written it made it somewhat of a slow read. I felt that at some places passages were overly difficult but only so because of his style of writing. It is definitely an academic book and should be read as such and part of it is me needed to change, or at least prepare, for different ways to get across information.

A good point that was brought up in discussion was that Niebuhr says that we should not pass judgement on the different types of relation, but I would disagree with that. Some views of relation are supported only when viewing particular Bible passages out of context and that should definitely be judged. Otherwise you get the idea that you can make the Bible what you want of it and truth becomes relative.

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“The Village” and “Hero”

Andy and I went to see “The Village” yesterday and I believe we both enjoyed it and yet feel that there was something missing. The movie made some wonderful comments about culture and our response to it. For those that have not seen the movie, I will probably be talking about things that will spoil the movie for you, so stop reading!

The premise is that a group got together because of some sort of tragedy in their lives (murder, rape) and decided that they should form their own community and go live on their own. In order to maintain the level of seclusion they desired they (and here is the plot twist that Shyamalan like to use) created “creatures” in the surrounding woods to keep people from venturing outside of their safe-haven. The charade is kept in place by keeping the story alive as well as using costumes to physically show that the creatures did, indeed, exist.

One of the great things about this movie is that these people wrestle with the notion that they are completely cut off from society and still have to deal with pain and suffering. They have to make decisions to either stay in their village or leave out into the unknown towns. In order to keep the innocence of the village they are often willing to suffer pain. The greater good of the idea wins out over the immediate need of a few individuals. It was really nice to see them struggle with these things.

When attempted murder creeps into their fair community they have to revise this idea. One of the daughters (Ivy), who is blind, is informed of the charade and is allowed to leave to community to fetch medicines to prevent infection of the victim (who is her intended). The intended murder is also an interesting comment, but I am not entirely sure what comment Shyamalan is intending to make. The man that intends to kill is mentally handicapped (Noah). It was also interesting because he is also killed off later in the movie, I have never seen a mentally handicapped person killed off in a movie, in this manner, before (that I can think of anyway). I don’t know if Shyamalan is suggesting that in a perfect society only those with mental illness could possibly commit such a heinous crime or of he was suggesting that this man was simply an extreme of what we all are. In once sense we are all mentally handicapped in that we are apart from God. We are all fallen and depraved and therefore sin. Noah is merely an extreme of what we all are and manifested his fallen state in a very drastic way that was not common in such a tight knit community.

One theme, that Andy pointed out, was different from Shyamalan’s previous films. His previous films have been about incorporating the supernatural into every day experience. Also, he is usually pointing out the goodness in man that that good endures through these supernatural experiences. In this film, the supernatural is fake. The goodness of man is not there, the fact that it is lacking is the reason the people leave and form their own community. When Ivy leaves the safe-haven of the woods she runs into a park ranger who is very kind and portrayed as innocent. This is opposite of what the community left and could lead to the belief that their reasons for leaving were invalid. As the park ranger goes to get her medical supplies he is talking to his superior (Shyamalan’s cameo) who is reading a news paper filled with articles about the horrible goings on in the world leaving you with the feeling that their actions were justified.

The theme of coming into enlightenment has been a common theme in many movies, including Shyamalan’s. People are in the darkness, the unknown and are somehow enlightened to what the truth is and it changes their lives. This film was different. Darkness was almost considered good or enlightened in itself. They were perfectly happy living in their own world, essentially in darkness about anything else in the world. They only character to leave is Ivy who is blind. One great comment that her father makes as people are questioning why she is the one to leave is that she is more capable than most the people in the village. Even through her blindness she can see and has a clear vision of what she has to do. In effect, more enlightened that others. I haven’t really developed this line of thought too much, and not completely sure what to do with it.

There are a few other themes that were also very well done in this movie that I won’t talk about (relying out the outside for salvation to mention one). The last one I want to mention is the idea of utopia and if it is possible, what would be the conditions for keeping that idea alive. I have already somewhat talked about this at the beginning, but it is important to mention again as it is what made Andy and I, although I think moreso with Andy, unsettled. The premise of the Village is that they have created a utopia, a safe-haven of innocence, if you will. The utopia did have its sorrows but they could still be deal with in the context of the idea of utopia. But the utopic state came crashing down with the actions of Noah. So what would be the conditions that they keep lying to their children and community members? When Noah died (actually, inadvertently killed by Ivy, who did not know it was him) he was masquerading as one of the “Creatures” and chasing after Ivy. She, now thinking the “Creatures” actually are real, kills him. The elders (who are the only ones in the Village that know of the farce) decide that Noah has re-affirmed their tale and the “Creatures” can go on living and maintaining the borders of the community. Andy, at least when we last talked, was quite unsettled by this, or didn’t know what to do with it. With all the evidence against their utopic idea, they they cannot escape the things that they originally left for, they still continue on. If the reason for their community had been shown to be invalid, it seems that the town would collapse. But for some reason they decide to continue lying to everyone to keep the idea alive. I guess this is where uneasiness has left me somewhat. I feel that, to them, the idea was still good and their secluded lifestyle will still be better than that outside.

There are a lot of things brought up in this movie that were very good and I did enjoy it quite a bit. I hope people have discussed the ideas brought up!

I also want to briefly mention the movie “Hero.” This is an amazing movie that deals with war and sacrifice. It is incredibly beautiful and the martial arts were stunning. It is a Chinese movie that has been out for about a year over there that for some reason, did not get picked up over here. Finally, of all people, Quentin Tarantino brought it over for the US (and Canadian!) audience. It is similar in genre to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” but I think I actually liked it better, and I really liked CT,HD. So essentially what I am saying is, “Go see this movie!”

Ok, back to reading,
Shalom

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Who writes the headlines?

Another funny post by Steven Den Beste. Basically he posted a snapshot from a Canadian news paper that states “World’s two most wanted war crimes fugitives still evading justice”

Now lets evaluate this jewel of a headline. To be a fugitive, don’t you have to be on the run? Seems like they are being a little redundant. Lets say, far argument’s sake, they aren’t being redundant and we have these two criminals evading justice. Now lets say they are caught, therefore the first and second most wanted criminals are out of commission, what happens to the third and fourth most wanted? Well it seems to me that they are now first and second (lucky them!). There is always going to be “two most wanted.” This headline could be said any any time of year and will ALWAYS be correct. ALWAYS. I thought this was very clever. :)

Shalom

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“Can we go to war?” or “May we go to war?”

Steven Den Beste wrote a great article today (7/15) about the differences between “can” and “may” – capability and permission. More importantly, appearance and reality or form and substance. He relates the discussion to the war in Iraq and how the opposition often relies of the fallacies of form and will often ignore substance. Check it out, good stuff!

Shalom

Edit:
Also, check out this article called “Terror in the Skies, Again?“. Very interesting, indeed. Found from Lileks – you should read his commentary on the article as well – and Instapundit.

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Dennis Miller, End Times, and Michael Moore

It has been a while since I have posted and I have a lot on my mind so I will try to get some of those things out now and possibly elaborate later.

I like Dennis Miller, I think he is funny, clever, tries to be honest with the people he is talking to, and isn’t afraid of being blunt. I saw his new show in CNBC the other day. It wasn’t as intense as his show on HBO, but that is to be expected. Miller is pretty conservative and I generally agree with a lot he says and often appreciate how he says it. His guest on that particular night was Jerry Jenkins who is co-author of the “Left Behind” series of fictional books dealing with the end times / second coming of Christ. I have read the first few books in series and did enjoy them. They aren’t the most well written books I have ever read, but entertaining none the less. I am generally not a big fan of “Christian fiction” but these books put an interesting spin on the book of Revelation. I don’t necessarily agree with the theology behind the books (meaning I don’t believe that the end times will have to look like it is portrayed in the series, but that is ok, it is a work of fiction.)

I had mixed feelings about the Miller / Jenkins interview. Both parties seemed very heartfelt in their questions and answers. Jenkins did to one thing that I was not very happy with: he stated that ALL Christians believe that this is how the end (Parousia) will look. That we all all be rapured up into Heaven etc etc… This is a preeminent belief of dispensational premillennialism – not necessarily ALL Christians. I have two qualms with this view. Firstly, I take issue with how the word rapture is used. “Left Behind” has the rapture taking all true believers up to Heaven all to meet Christ before the 7 years of tribulation. I see the rapture as a gathering of the people of Christ as He returns (See 2 Thess 2.1-2, 1 Thess 4.14-18 also describe this gathering with Christ in the clouds.) The word “rapture” is basically from a Latin word translated from the Greek “episunago” meaning to gather together. Yes, it is true that the word “rapture” is never actually used in the Bible, but the concept IS there. My point is that the rapture of God’s people to meet with Christ is not necessarily going to happen right before the rapture, the concept of “episunago” is not actually found in Revelation. Secondly, I take issue with that idea that all Christians are going to leave earth and meet UP in Heaven and remain there for ever. It is pretty clear throughout the Bible that at the Parousia it will be Heaven ON earth not some ethereal fluffy-cloud-land. Yes, 1 Thess 4.14-18 makes note of gathering up with Christ in the air. BUT, if you actually read 1 Thess you will see that Christ has already descended from Heaven at the time of this meeting. It seems that the fact that the concept of rapture will occur in air is more of a meeting point, a rally-point if you will, NOT the location of Heaven or where all true believers are going to hang out for eternity. If you only used this passage to figure out where Heaven was going to be and the end, you would not be able to make any assertions because Christ descended from heaven to meet us, the eventual location of Heaven would have to be ascertained in another manner – like other places in the Bible.

Other than that point I think the interview went well. Mill asked some very difficult questions of Jenkins. The eternal “Why should person A who is well educated, intelligent, and a really great person be damned to Hell just because he doesn’t believe Jesus is the Christ while person B who is not that bright chooses to accept Christ will make it into Heaven?” This is a hard question and the answer is even harder. Jenkins did a good job of not denying the Truth of God while also explaining it in a way that was not too harsh. I liked the fact that Miller was blunt with Jenkins about his own beliefs and did not seem to mock Jenkins for his. Miller honestly saw a passion and heartfelt belief in what he was saying and seemed to respect that. At the end Miller jocularly stated that (loosely quoted) “we will see what happens in the end and if, as you are ascending into heaven and seem me down in the basement, put in a good word for me because I had you on my show.”

I hope the Miller continues to seek and ask honest questions and will come to realize that God is not about damning those to Hell that don’t follow Jesus, but is about saving those that do. If we are honest with ourselves we will see that we are sinful and really do deserve Hell. Even the “really nice” people mess up and sin, we all do. That is the nature of man after the Fall. It is only by God’s grace and mercy that we have another future available to us. God is the glass half full not half empty. God mourns for those that don’t follow the path to him and miss out on the eternity with him.

I have many more thoughts on that issue that will probably be saved for another time.

I would also like to say something here, because I really haven’t yet, about Michael Moore. I have not seen Fahrenheit 9/11 yet, not sure if I will. I wish people could see his films as they really are – opinion. People, not everything you seen in a documentary is fact, please remember that! Moore has an agenda and that is what he is pushing, nothing more. Please, please, please check out this blog (thanks Sal) for a wonderful discussion of Moore and one of his more recent opinion articles in the LA Times. This is WELL worth the read.

I always have more to say but it is almost 1 and I have to be up at 6, so I should go to bed. I look forward to any comments you all have! It is very strange, I never saw myself getting into the world of blogging, but here I am getting out all these different resources to give me fodder for my post. If nothing else, at least I am educating myself!

Shalom

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