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Main | October 2006 »

September 30, 2006

Re: AIDS and UN Globotaxation

Some are apparently asking variations on this question: Why is there a post on the U.N. Globotaxation scheme in a blog based upon a Christian worldview? What does that have to do with anything?

Well, remembering that, over the past couple of weeks, we'd placed a number of posts on The Point about the need for Christians to continue fighting AIDS around the world, consider the following questions:

  1. Who is the more judicious and prudent steward of resources intended for those in need -- you or a gigantic, scandal-ridden bureaucracy?
  2. Who is likely to be more effective in using your funds to reach the suffering with help for both their temporal and eternal needs -- private Christian organizations like WorldVision and Compassion International or the United Nations, an organization so concerned about the welfare of Christians around the world that it routinely gave seats on the Human Rights Commission to thug states?
  3. If we are concerned about a U.S. culture continually shifting away from its Christian roots, does it seem prudent or imprudent to incrementally hand over governance power to an world body which sees little value in Judeo-Christian thought?

Commenter Phil Rispen gets it:

It is difficult to trust our own government, which is an elected body, (and in theory at least responsible to us) to use our money in a wise manner. How much less a body of leaders many of whom are little more than dictators themselves to use our money wisely. It would be very foolish to allow our government to follow this path.

Evolution’s Evangelist

Albert Mohler offers a critique of the forthcoming book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins's latest attempt to wrestle humanity from the clutches of religion and place it safely in the care of naturalism.

Dawkins admits his "presumptuous optimism" in hoping that his book will cause persons to set aside their faith. "If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down," he asserts. Time will tell....

In one of the central chapters of his book, Dawkins attempts to accomplish two simultaneous purposes: to undermine the intellectual movement known as Intelligent Design and, in a twist of its logic, to suggest that belief in God is itself a refutation of the very notion of an intelligent design. As Dawkins sees it, "the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other." As he sets out his case, he denies that there could be any legitimate basis for belief in God. The very notion of a supernatural agent flies directly in the face of his presuppositional naturalism. Therefore, by definition, such a God cannot exist and those who believe in such a God prove their intellectual inadequacy or gullibility.

If nothing else, one has to appreciate the work of Richard Dawkins for its clarity in depicting the logical ends -- and moral confusion -- of Darwinism. For if science has truly relinquished the possibility of (or the need for) a transcendent creator, then what foundation do we have upon which to build any discussion of rightness or ethics? Dawkins seems unsettled by this thought, but he is satisfied with the faith that evolution will someday produce an adequate solution. History suggests otherwise.

Perhaps it is too ethereal -- too "unscientific" -- to thus suggest that the presence of conscience voices an argument in favor of God's existence. Yet naturalism offers no conclusive rebuttal. Meanwhile, as Regis Nicoll points out in a new piece at BreakPoint Online, the deep complexity of life refutes the notion that biology is an act purely of nature.

In what must have been a “Eureka!” moment, the Microsoft geeks realized the macromolecules of life contain information—a complex string of characters carrying a message that derives its meaning, not from the characters themselves, but from the conventions, associations, and contexts defined by rational, creative thought.

But according to the metanarrative of materialism, DNA is the fortuitous product of a blind, undirected process that began after some subatomic particles mysteriously appeared, then haphazardly collided, eons ago. It’s an enchanting story, but one that conflicts with everything we know about information: it only comes from intelligence!

Yet Richard Dawkins is quite the established apologist for that "blind, undirected process." And he apparently yearns for the rest of us to abandon any ideas to the contrary, particularly Christian ideas. But what is it exactly that he's trying to save us from?

Re: Global Warming

Apparently The Point is already attracting some smart readers. My post on Global Warming generated some thoughtful comments from Walrus, Florida Gene, and Robyn.

Robyn comments as follows:

First, you self admittedly aren't a statistician or a scientistist of any sort but, you say, you've worked with statisticians. You feel this gives you the right to make some relatively broad claims about the state of the earth. This is something like a layman making an assessment of a person's illness... because he's "worked with" a neurologist or a surgeon.

Presumably you've also read a number of books, written for the layman about the subject of global warming. I can understand the false confidence these give about the subject. Would you go into surgery with this same sort of lay knowledge? Of course not. Yet you're quick to ridicule the idea of global warming.

In fact, Robyn, I was really trying to avoid sounding like I am ridiculing the idea of global warming. Instead, I was trying to stick to what I know: statistical models. To your point, as I admitted, I'm not a statistical modeler, but -- to be clear -- I have learned statistical modeling techniques and have built regression models for academic purposes. That doesn't make me a statistical modeler nor a statistician. But it does mean that I at least have a fundamental understanding of how models do and don't work. And when some of the best statistical modelers in the business confirm what I was taught in graduate school -- that statistical models inherently cannot predict values beyond the scope of the input data (and a global warming catastrophe is wellllllll outside the input data) -- I tend to listen.

At the same time, I acknowledged that if some sort of environmental calamity was on the distant horizon, the only hope for predicting it would be through -- yep -- statistical models. If that sounds to you like Catch-22, there's probably something to that. Which is why I ultimately conclude that we, as stewards of the earth, should consider the matter with an open mind, but without mistakenly believing that a coming global warming catastrophe is a demonstrable scientific fact.  For more on that, see this piece from Richard Lindzen, Professor of Atmospheric Studies at MIT.

By all means, in our efforts to serve as stewards of the earth, we should respect each others' opinions. Part of showing respect is to avoid cheating in the debate by intentionally or inadvertently making definitive claims that simply aren't true.

This is a joke, right? Right??

File this one under the heading of "Am I reading this correctly, or has the caffeine not kicked in yet?":

Michael C. Hall is the star of "Dexter," a fascinating new Sunday night Showtime series about a Miami lawman who moonlights as brutal serial killer, using the same barbarous tactics of those he is trying to catch. But this avenger is one who only choppity-chops the bad guys who have either outsmarted the legal system or are guilty but haven't been caught. . . .

We're not too sure yet how Dexter got the way he is but, luckily, his foster father, Harry (James Remar, the creepy onetime boyfriend of Samantha on "Sex and the City"), knew early on he was a natural-born killer. "Maybe we can do something to channel it -- use it for good," he tells his teenage son in one of many flashbacks.

So begins Dad's training of Dexter, which we come to know as the "Code of Harry." It includes: Don't go hunting after random individuals but rather those who have it comin', and make sure to "always cover your tracks."

The foster dad is one of many appealing supporting characters. . . .

More here, if you can stomach it.

September 29, 2006

What a long, strange trip it’s been

Over at Christianity Today, Mark Noll takes us on a loooong trip down history lane, looking back on 50 years of CT and how the evangelical movement was shaped, in "Where We Are and How We Got Here." I haven't finished reading it, but his conclusion (I know -- how morbid of me to skip to the last paragraph) makes a salient point about balance:

During the first half of the 20th century, the stress had shifted toward preserving traditions. At the middle of the 20th century, evangelicals began to move back toward a balance.

But have evangelicals today moved too far? Has an overemphasis on preserving tradition been replaced by an overemphasis on connecting to the culture? For such supremely important questions, it is, of course, too early for a historical assessment. When the balance shifts too strongly to one without the other, it is merely sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. But an evangelical resurgence that balances traditional faith and cultural relevance sounds a trumpet of salvation to the world.

Read more and discuss. I'd like to hear thoughts from those who actually remember the time periods upon which Noll reflects (unlike me, for whom the '50s are the stuff of my high-school history books and Nick at Nite reruns -- in the late '80s, NaN showed Donna Reed and Mr. Ed, whereas now it broadcasts shows that were new when I was a kid! And the former local oldies station now airs "the greatest rock of all time" like Aerosmith! I'm too young for this stuff to begin ... But I'm digressing...) Tell me what you think about the state of the evangelical movement, and the Church in general, and the influence on culture today.

How ugly is ugly?

Catherina, I agree about "Betty" being more cute than ugly, even with the addition of braces, glasses, etc. (My mom picked up a paper with a picture of her last weekend and asked, "She's supposed to be 'ugly'?") While Hollywood's version of "ugly" is amusingly predictable -- I've been wondering what would have happened at the casting session if a young woman with, say, acne had walked in -- I'll give them credit for being willing to base a show on such a character, though it's also amusing that the media are so hysterically excited over it ("Look, America! We gave you a show about a woman who isn't shiny-haired, twiglike, and vapid! This is BIG!" Um, yeah, we know. Now if you could just get everyone around her to stop acting like rabbits, that might be even bigger. But I digress . . . ).

As Betty scored a pretty impressive 16.1 million viewers last night, it seems people are going for this idea of inner beauty being more important than outer gorgeousness. As you say, I hope the show can stick with it. Prada, though a fun movie in many ways, was flawed in this department -- who can forget the cringe-inducing "You're FINALLY a size 4! I'm so proud of you!!" from the "wise" older mentor in that one?

Oh, and incidentally, I happened to catch some of Hitchcock's Suspicion last night on TCM after Betty was over, and was reminded that in the old days, when Hollywood was looking for plain-girl types, Fontaine_1 they frequently went to . . . Joan Fontaine.

Maybe we are making a little progress in the direction of realism.

’My Fair Lady’ It Isn’t -- More on ’Yoduk Story’

Chuck will be talking on Monday's radio broadcast about Yoduk Story. The musical makes its American premiere next week in Bethesda, Maryland; tickets are available here.

Both the director and choreographer are gulag survivors--among the estimated 200,000 political prisoners being tortured, starved, and brutally killed in North Korea's six prison camps. Yoduk Story tells the story of a dancer who is sent to Yoduk prison, is raped by a drunken guard, and gives birth to a baby. Despite the grim setting and storyline, the musical's ultimate message is one of hope, forgiveness, and redemption.

Yoduk Story was first staged in South Korea, where nervous state officials did everything they could to shut it down, fearful of offending their northern neighbors. Investors backed out (the writer-director ultimately put up one of his own kidneys as collateral); so did the theater that had originally agreed to stage it. Nevertheless, the show went on (albeit at Seoul's equivelent to off- off-Broadway); some 75,000 people came to see it, including many young people who had known next to nothing about the gulags. Yoduk Story was originally slated to appear at Washington's National Theater; it was moved out of Washington for reasons that remain mysterious. However, those familiar with the endless threats and intimidation that have dogged this musical will probably not be surprised.

Is Yoduk Story true to life? Playwright Jung Sung San told the Christian Science Monitor: "We know the actual situation in North Korea is 10 times worse."

While attending a musical depicting love, torture, and survival in a prison camp (pictures here) may not be the most cheerful way to spend an evening at the theater, the producers hope it will bring much-needed attention to the plight of those suffering under the dictatorship of Kim Jong-il. If Yoduk Story is well-attended next week, the musical will likely travel to other American cities. Discounts are available on group ticket purchases for students and seniors. If you live anywhere near the D.C. Metro area, please consider attending. Yoduk Story will be performed on October 4, 5 and 6.

Ugly is only skin deep

But this new sitcom goes deeper. Coming on the heels of The Devil Wears Prada, ABC's Ugly Betty has already shown some promise of success. But unlike the chic makeover Anne Hathaway undergoes in Prada (and the Princess Diaries series), the point would be defeated if title actress America Ferrara underwent the same -- although the actress is, actually, unconventionally beautiful, which, I think, is more beautiful than standard (read: unremarkable and unnoticeable) beauty: Think Uma Thurman and Cate Blanchett.

America is best known for her roles in Real Women Have Curves and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (a chick flick, yes, but aside from that, alongside Amber Tamblyn of Joan of Arcadia and Alexis Bledel of Gilmore Girls, and some blonde actress I had not seen before, America definitely stole the show and proved herself a more interesting and skilled actress, I thought). Tom Shales gushes a bit over the show, calling it "the best new show of the year and a great big blast of happiness," but after Uglybetty_1 watching it last night, I hope it does develop and continue. It was clearly a "morality tale" type of show, but it didn't beat you over the head too much with the time-worn and -proven adage about beauty being skin-deep and inner beauty being infinitely more valuable. It teetered almost too close to being sappy in some scenes, but overall it's presenting a view of ourselves that we need to see -- about our society's shallow notions of beauty, consumption, and class (i.e., societal class, not taste, but then again, that too).

A discussion of class came up in a conversation between Betty and her boss, who was trying to get her to come back to the thankless job. (Of course, she will! Otherwise the sitcom's over!) Betty told him about having "real problems," like trying to get an HMO to cover your widower father's pills or desperately looking for any job in order to help pay the rent in their humble abode in Queens. But in an interesting turn, her boss discusses his own problems, like living up to the high standards set by his brother -- who had recently and tragically died -- and overcoming his father's low expectations of him as the "lesser" son. Everyone has problems, he says. They may be different in type, but they're problems. (Even a bed-hopping playboy can be human.) That conversation, the good overall premise of the show, and the acting capability of America Ferrara, makes me hopeful that this show will continue, and continue to get better (come on, screenwriters! keep bringing substance).

To any bloggers/readers who watched last night, what do you think of Ugly Betty?

Jesus -- The ’Lead’ Disciple

Discipleship, particularly Transformational Discipleship, is a hot topic at Prison Fellowship and BreakPoint right now, as this past year we've adopted a new mission/vision/values focused on discipleship that transforms individual lives, churches and communities.

As I said in an earlier post, I attended a discipleship and mentoring seminar last weekend taught by Don Payne of Denver Seminary. Here's a thought-provoking point from the day, tied to an analogy Don made of a group of skiers making their way down a mountain of fresh powder, with the expert at the front of the pack, and those still learning following behind:

"Jesus is the lead disciple for God. He cut a trail for us that we could not cut ourselves."

I like this quote because it reminds me that ultimately, it is Christ we look to as our example, as our mentor, as our guide. While we learn much from our brothers and sisters who are on the journey with us, it is Jesus who is the Way we follow.

Oh -- and if you want a great book that gives practial ideas for how to mentor/disciple others, and what discipleship really is, read Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time by Greg Ogden.

San Quentin and Cash

Come November 17, the new edition of Johnny Cash at San Quentin will be pounding through my stereo. Columbia/Legacy records is set to release the new album, which will include thirteen previously unissued tracks and a DVD commentary. BreakPoint WorldView featured a great article by Steve Beard on what made Cash and his music so riveting.

Cash wrote songs the man on the street—or perhaps more appropriately, the guy hanging out in the alley—could relate to. He loved prisoners, the working man, and the welfare mother—those found on the outskirts. His songwriting orbited around the universal human condition of sin and redemption, murder and grace, darkness and light. What you saw was what you got with Cash. When he sang, you could almost taste the hillbilly moonshine, smell the gunpowder of a smoking revolver, and feel the drops of blood off the thorny crown of a crucified Christ.

Read more on "How the Man Came Around."

The Wrong Choice

But no surprise, given the UN's track record on human rights. According to the AP, South Korea Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon is favored to become the next UN Secretary-General. I don't know much about Ban, but given South Korea's silence and inaction -- indeed, their aiding and abetting -- regarding North Korea's horrendous human rights abuses, a South Korean leader is the wrong choice for the head of an agency that should be, but more often than not fails to be, an enforcer of human rights. Looks like they're just continuing with "business-as-usual."

What can we do? To start, why not go see a play? That is, Yoduk Story: A Musical. It is written by a North Korean defector who spent time in the "Dear Leader's" gulags. Read the website synopsis of the play:

There is a place called Yoduk Prison Camp in North Korea. It is the infamous concentration camp for the condemned in the Paradise of People. We present a great epic story of love, despair, and death in this modern-day Auschwitz in the Paradise of People, Kim Jong-il's Democratic People's Republic of Korea. (Based on true eyewitness testimonies)

It premieres in Bethesda, MD, at the Strathmore on Oct. 4-6 and in L.A. Oct. 19-22. If you can get to one of those shows, do so -- and bring a crowd with you. This is a great church/youth group outing too. Encourage theaters in your city to bring the play to their venue.

As Chuck notes in this coming Monday's BreakPoint commentary, the arts can "train the moral imagination" of the people. Think of the impact of Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin on the slave trade 150 years ago.

To learn more about the abuses in North Korea and how you can make a difference, visit the North Korea Freedom Coalition, of which Wilberforce Forum is a part, which also has flyers for Yoduk Story that you can distribute at your church and to your friends and neighbors.

More Thoughts on Identity--That Thudding Image

If you've been following my posts, you will have noticed that I've been critiquing both modern and postmodern notions of self. We must come to recognize how subtly culture influences even ideas as central as our own understanding of identity. And we must ultimately look to the Word of God to unlock the mysteries of our own personhood. It’s with this that I continue my thoughts…

I once heard it said, “Making a decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." That bare-bellied, barefoot princeling, who takes his first lurching steps, does so stamped with likeness—of his momma’s sapphire eyes, or his daddy’s half-smile. And if he matures into a scoundrel or a saint, we call him a reflection of the ones whose DNA twisted in that marvelous pirouette, a double helix winding stairway called life.

I’ve wondered at times if God felt that way when He made us. Did he heave a sigh to think that His heart would now go walking around outside of Him? After all, we were to bear His luminous image, a “weight of glory” which would sit like a heavy crown upon the heads of Adam’s sons and Eve’s daughters. We would forever reflect Him, with that undeniable family resemblance stamped upon our brows. What a terrible risk. But with something more like laughter than a sigh, the Trinity’s love brimmed over. In Eden’s dawn, mystery broke with a fierce and naked beauty: God’s image thudding through Paradise.

A little more than a century after the time of Christ, while Gnostics spun their heresies, Iraneus, one of the early church Fathers, wrote from Lyon, “The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God.”

I’ve seen enough minivans in my life to understand this principle. After all, aren’t their bumpers always plastered with, “My child is an honor roll student at so-and-so elementary.” Parents beam when their child’s life reflects them well. Or to put it in Iraneus’ terms, “The glory of a parent is their child fully alive.”

Yet somehow we’ve often missed this starkly obvious aspect to our identity. If we were made to bear God’s image, we were made to imitate Him. Gil Baile in his essay on the contributions of Rene Girard in The Self: Beyond the Postmodern Crisis, puts it this way:

“What can be said of the creature who is made in the image and likeness of another? Surely this: that this creature can only fulfill its destiny by becoming like someone else. So counterinstinctual and counterintuitive is such a desire, that the likelihood of this creature actually fulfilling its destiny would be slim, indeed, unless the creature were somehow endowed with a desire to do so, a desire equally counterinstinctual and counterintuitive, a desire to be itself by becoming like someone else…. But what a strange creature this would be, one endowed with a desire to fulfill its own unique destiny by modeling the life of another. Can any such creature be found? Rene Girard … insists that the decisive feature of human existence is the central role played in human affairs by mimetic desire, the ineradicable impulse to desire what one sees another desiring, to fashion one’s own desires on the model of another’s desires, in short, to imitate.”

More to come....

Standard Assumptions

Gina gave us some good caution on the conclusions we can jump to in matters of the heart. Let me just point out that the Washington Post editorial I originally linked to was referring to new census data that shows, empirically, that there are quite simply fewer single men than single women in the Washington D.C. area.

Both singles and married folk in the church can sometimes forget that God doesn't promise marriage for everyone. When we forget that, we singles can sometimes get a little resentful and petulant. Understood. But there is a better way. I highly recommend Lori Smith's book The Single Truth, which digs into Scripture to see what God has to say about the issue. The cover is full of pink roses, but Lori wrote it for both women and men; so guys, buy the book and slap on some clip art of a motorcycle. Lori looked at the assumptions we, as singles, often make, as well as the assumptions we pick up from "church culture," and contrasts these with biblical truth. It's challenging and encouraging. Go find a copy and read it!

Catastrophic Global Warming -- Fact or Faith?

As promised, the Governator signed the unprecedented AB32, which calls for the state of California to reduce emissions by 25% in the next 14 years. The unprecedented action gained plaudits from many, among them Tony Blair, who gushed: "You are showing brilliant leadership that will inspire people around the world." To which Governor Schwarzenegger responded, thinking about his current prospects for re-election, "I'll be back." (OK, I made that part up.)

Senator James Inhofe made it clear on Monday, however, that he is hopping mad about the whole Global Warming matter. Sen Inhofe covered all of the bases in his lengthy floor speech, and had this to say about the use of predictive models:

One of the ways alarmists have pounded this mantra of “consensus” on global warming into our pop culture is through the use of computer models which project future calamity. But the science is simply not there to place so much faith in scary computer model scenarios which extrapolate the current and projected buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and conclude that the planet faces certain doom.

It's important to realize that the ability of these models to reliably predict environmental catastrophe is the sole basis for any kind of opinion on the matter. Full disclosure: I am among the skeptics. I'm not a statistician, but I've worked with statistical models in academia and in Corporate America. Rule #1 in using statistical models is never, ever, ever use them to predict something which has never occurred. (Rule #2, by the way, is not to be shocked if an apparently powerful predictive model utterly fails when used in the real world.)

Yet that's exactly what those warning of calamity are doing. Now, if the risk to rely upon the model is low, then the decision to use the model is rather easy. Inhofe, however, argues that this is not the case at all, warning that actions like the Kyoto Treaty will result in "back-breaking poverty and premature death" in developing countries.

So should we eschew reliance upon statistical models Well, this begs the question: If there really is going to be an environmental catastrophe from global warming, how might we hope to understand that reality now? And the answer, to be fair, is, yes, statistical modeling.

The point is this: It is utterly incorrect to claim that a coming global warming catastrophe is anything even close to a scientific certainty. But we are also called to be caretakers of the earth, and we need to take that charge seriously, as Chuck's Breakpoint commentary from April 12, 2005 explains. As we choose our sides on the matter, we need to approach environmentalist issues intent on stewardship, with a clear-eyed view as to what is and is not knowable, and a concern for those affected by our policies. None of us will be afforded the luxury of certainty, I'm afraid.

Truth on Downward Spiral

Seems like the concept of truth is on hard times.

First there was the “Word of the Year“—the word having gained most prominence in the previous year. For 2005, the honor went to truthiness: the quality of stating concepts or facts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than facts known to be true.

Next came A Million Little Pieces: the story that author James Frey tried to pass off as a true autobiography of redemption through a life of alcoholism, drug addiction and crime. When finally caught in his web of deception, he defended his story saying, “The emotional truth is there.”

Then came Loose Change--the $10,000 film that two college students, Korey Rowe and Dylan Avery, produced that “shows the direct connection between the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the United States government.” According to Rowe and Avery, the tragedy of 9/11 was a sinister act of our own government to justify going to war. What’s more, those weren’t commercial airliners that crashed into the Pentagon on that fateful day, they were U.S. cruise missiles.

Amazingly, the film has gained currency, especially among college students, despite eyewitness reports, film footage, commercial jet debris, recovered black boxes and, oh yes, the fact that all the passengers on those flights were actually killed and buried!

Even better are the reasons given among young people for supporting the film: “We don’t know the whole truth” (So I guess we just make something up?); “It’s good to raise questions” (Maybe we should also question whether 2 plus 2 really equals 4?); “It stimulates critical thinking” (About as much as wasting thought on Holocaust denial theories). But my personal favorite, a la American Bandstand, is: “[It is] catchy, hip, with an upbeat soundtrack.” That oughta do it.

As nutty as all this may seem, it’s not limited to the cranial emanations of bored college students. According to a recent Christian Science Monitor report, Kevin Barrett, a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, believes “the US government planned and carried out the 9/11 attacks.”

Like young Rowe and Avery, Professor Barrett justifies his theory by pointing to a poll indicating that the public feel they haven’t been told the whole truth. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

September 28, 2006

Second Life -- at what cost to real life?

The Economist has an article this week on the virtual website Second Life (PG-13 rating -- article has language and Second Life site has virtual girls in bikinis).

According to their website, "Second Life is a 3-D virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents. Since opening to the public in 2003, it has grown explosively and today is inhabited by 338,895 people from around the globe."

"Residents" create an online persona, buy land (with "real" money), build houses, start businesses, socialize, shop, and can pretty much virtually create, be and do anything. They even have virtual currency that can be exchanged for real money (if you are a virtually successful entrepreneur).

The Economist article shares some interesting applications for the software such as a psychiatric professor who developed a way for his students to "get inside the head" of a schizophrenic to see the world from their perspective.

Linden Labs Chairman, Mitch Kapor, predicts that “spending part of your day in a virtual world will become commonplace” and “profoundly normal.” Second Life may even “accelerate the social evolution of humanity.”


I'll let you all discuss the worldview implications of spending time, creativity and energy investing in a virtual community rather than with flesh and blood people who live next door or work in the next cube or who maybe need that creativity, energy and time invested in real solutions to real needs.

Some points to ponder: Is this a Marshall McLuhan moment? How does this jibe with today's ubiquitous quest for "authentic community" and "missional living"?

Re: ’Give these poor souls a thought’

I'm late with this update, but the death penalty for the three Indonesian Christian men I wrote about earlier was carried out last week. Mariam Bell, our national director of public policy, passed along an e-mail from Jubilee Campaign about it. I can't find the full text of their bulletin online to link to, but they did send this article about the executions. And they asked that Christians pray for the families of the three men.

One Muslim at a Time

In the past few years, the Lord has allowed me to go on short term mission trips to several Muslim countries in West Africa. Last May and June, my daughter, Allison (another 2004 Centurion) and I were in one country (for safety reasons, I prefer not to name it) where we were able to teach English at a local university as well as visiting several villages that surrounded the city where we were staying. A few days ago, I had an email from the missionaries there who told us that in the past week, three Muslim men had come to know Jesus Christ as their savior -- including two in a village we visited and prayed walked. 

Aside from the obvious joy this should give us, to know that there are new members of the family of God, it's also a reminded that, ultimately, in this battle against Islamofascist-backed terrorism, there are still millions of "ordinary Muslims" around the world who need Jesus. God hasn't called me to go fight in Afghanistan and Iraq (hmmm, now there's an idea ... send all the grandmothers!!), but He has called all of us to be a part of the spiritual battle that, in the end, WILL end in victory, Christ's victory.

As many of you probably know, God is doing great things all over Africa as more and more people turn away from a religion that has brought them nothing but hopelessness, misery and poverty. Please remember to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ over there; they are suffering tremendous persecution for the sake of the Name. Also pray about how God wants YOU to "see Him at work and join Him there" (as Henry Blackaby would say).

The testosterone made me do it

This article in my monthly University of Texas e-letter (Go Horns!) examines the correlation between the hormonal levels of people and their pets. Researchers say the study shows a link between high testosterone levels in male dog owners and high stress hormones in their dogs. The reason? When the dogs misbehave the testosterone-fueled men hit and yell at the dogs. This, in turn, upsets the dogs, increasing their stress hormones.

Well, duh!

It's interesting to me that researchers would spend time and money on something that a) is so common sense and b) could have been spent on researching how to identify the reasons for and ways to prevent testosterone-charged abuse of people.

They do get around to speculating at the end of the article that, gee, if these guys treat their dogs like this there is a possibility they might behave the same way towards people, particularly their children. But the bigger concern here seems to be the consequences of this type of behavior on dogs, especially dogs in high-stress jobs. The correlation between parents and children is sort of an afterthought.

Is this another example of our society's slide toward anthropomorphism and our desire to equate (or elevate) animals to a human level? My dog, my brother.

In any event, I guess that, unlike Barbara Walters's Havanese, dogs with high-stress occupations don't come home from a hard day's work to whisper sweet nothings in their high-testosterone human companion's ear. . .

More thoughts on Identity--Critiquing Modern and Postmodern Notions

Continuing on with my post from yesterday, notably missing from the Cartesian modern conceptions of self was the understanding that the self cannot be truly known except in relationship to the other. I am who I am in relationship to others. This fits in with a biblical look at the Trinity. Each member of the Trinity has an essence, an identity, but each member of the Trinity cannot be fully known except in relation to the other. The Father sends the Son; the Son glorifies the Father and sends the Spirit; the Spirit works in us to live the life of the Son and bring glory to the Father. Though each “person” has essence, each is unfathomably intertwined.

Before the great shift of urbanization took place, there was some semblance of that woven into how we were known as selves. You were known in relation to your family (people knew your aunts and uncles etc.) and you were known in relation to your place. In the postmodern conception of self, image has become everything. We are branded generation. We are known as Mac™ people or PC people, as Coke™ or Pepsi™ people. He drives a Hummer™; she wears Ann Taylor™. Each brand has its own narrative, its own story that goes with it. It is its own empty echo of our need to be known in relation to an other. It is its own empty echo of our need to be known in relationship to a grander story than our own.

How should we understand the notion of self from a biblical worldview?

We are designed to be in relationship. The Trinity is pure relationship. God is love; and love must have an object. The three-in-one nature of the Trinity made it possible for love to flow continuously between Father, Son, and Spirit. In creation, that love brimmed over. As a result of whose image we bear, we are designed to be in (right) relationship to God (only possible through the work of Christ, and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives). And we are designed to be in right relationship to others.

We are made in His image. That as we shall see (in my next post—stay tuned), helps us further understand what this whole notion of identity or selfhood should mean.


I went to see the new Jet Li movie this afternoon, Fearless, and found it an engaging and thoughtful film. Warning, it's a Chinese film, so it has subtitles. If you are not discouraged by having to read and watch at the same time, though, I highly recommend it. It's based on a true story about a Chinese martial arts master who, for the sake of fame, loses all that is important to him. The film speaks of the need for repentance, healing, forgiveness, restoration of what has been broken (particularly broken relationships) and finding a new and better way of living. The cultural context may not be Christian, but all the themes are. Aside from that, the photography of the fight scenes, and scenes of rural landscapes are breathtaking.

Of men, women, standards, and assumptions

In response to my first post about single women, "Puzzled" writes:

There are plenty of single, godly, upstanding evangelical men in this country. Perhaps most of them are in the red counties. I don't know.

I do know that most of them aren't in the top 2% in height, or the top 10% in wealth and looks, and so single women often don't 'see' them in the first place.

Elsewhere, under a post of Kristine's, he comments that we single women "place externals, power and money ahead of character" and thus will continue to overlook eligible men. Under the same post, dh12 brings up the question of standards -- specifically, are single women's standards too high?

With all due respect, I believe it's worth pointing out that no single woman on this blog, either blog members or commenters, has ever spoken of any "standards" for an ideal mate other than faith in Christ, godly character, and the ability to lead a family. And of course heterosexuality, which for most of us is an absolute must. Single Christian women who possess the kind of character and values referred to in the original NRO conversation aren't necessarily looking for Cary Grant in An Affair to Remember to sweep them off their feet. Most of us would be more than content with Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life: not rich, not powerful, not drop-dead gorgeous -- simply a faithful, loving man of integrity who gives willingly of himself to his family. Are these standards too high?

But there's something about this subject that leads men and women alike to make hasty generalizations and assumptions about the opposite sex as a whole. I've been guilty of the same thing, when encounters with supposedly Christian single men who did not exhibit godly character, trustworthiness, or kindness have led me to say some pretty bitter -- and unfair -- things about single men in general. Apparently single men go through much the same thing for their part.

In an area so fraught with emotion and frustration, and in a time when standards have eroded so much that many have trouble just figuring out what godly Christian men and women and their relationships are supposed to look like, I believe it's urgently necessary that we pray for the grace to really listen to what our fellow Christians of both genders are saying, to respect their opinions, and to ask ourselves how we can become the kind of men and women who shatter cynical assumptions instead of helping to create them.

I found a very good quote I'd like to share on the subject, but this post is already getting a little too long. Stay tuned . . .

Welcome, new bloggers!

The Point is happy to introduce two new bloggers. Faith Brobst works for Justice Fellowship, a subsidiary of Prison Fellowship, as a restorative justice assistant. Christina Holder is a marketing writer who just joined Prison Fellowship a couple of weeks ago, but we here at The Point already are throwing her in at the deep end making sure that her PF experience is a well-rounded one. We're in the process of getting their bios posted so you can get to know them a little better. Welcome, ladies!

Re: To-may-to, To-mah-to ...

Mike Nelson of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame has a similar new project called RiffTrax (motto: "We don't make movies, we make fun of them!"). (Parental warning: Some of the movies are R-rated.) Catherina's post brought irresistibly to mind this recent RiffTrax joke:

Teenage boy to pregnant teenage girl in movie: "How's the fetus?"

Mike: "Fetus?? What, does he write for the New York Times?"

To-may-to, To-mah-to ...

Ah, semantics. This post on Opinion Journal's "Best of the Web Today" speaks for itself:

Prenatal Thesaurus
From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

Police are searching for a 22-year-old Fort Worth man accused of causing the death of his unborn daughter last month by repeatedly kicking his girlfriend, who was five months pregnant, in the abdomen.

Homicide detectives obtained a capital murder warrant against Jason D. Nash this month after the Tarrant County medical examiner's office ruled the death of the fetus a homicide. . . .

"The next day police were notified that the unborn fetus had died," Sullivan said. . . .

Under Texas law, a person commits capital murder if they murder an individual under six years of age. An individual is defined as a human being who is alive, including an unborn child at every state of gestation from fertilization to birth.

Is the victim in this alleged crime an unborn daughter, a fetus, an unborn fetus, an individual, a human being or an unborn child? Don't ask us, baby!

Roberto on ’The Laissez-Faire Family’

Roberto has a thoughtful new article up at Boundless about the weakening of marriage and how it affects the marginalized:

As [James Q.] Wilson, quoting Myron Magnet's "The Dream and The Nightmare," put it, "when the haves remake a culture, the people who pay the price are the have-nots." What seems like small and subtle shifts to the "college-educated minority" (i.e., us) winds up devastating the vulnerable. . . .

Even more cruelly, the effects of our tinkering with marriage and family on the marginalized aren't limited to their current hardships. As the report documents, the "marriage gap" will make it harder for them and their kids to catch up with the better-off minority.

How to express your beliefs while keeping your cool

Regarding a previous post about engaging nonbelievers in conversation about matters of truth, Greg Laurich asks, "It's hard not to 'defend your faith' when you are constantly attacked for your views. How do you respond?" First, don't fight back; don't engage in the same attitude and tactics of the one who is being hostile to your views. Then, if you can, try to steer the conversation to a reasonable tone and direction. One person I know of who models this well is Rev. John Rankin, of Theological Education Institute. Read some accounts of his conversations with "combatants" and how he handled it at the TEI site, including this one with homosexual advocates.

And here are a few books discussed previously on BreakPoint that you may find helpful:

Ultimately, avoid arrogance; again, it's not about winning the argument, but rather changing minds and hearts. As Art Lindsley puts it: "The defense of the Gospel is most effective when combined with the demeanor of Christ." Of course, realize the difference between offending with our attitude (not justifiable) and offending with the Gospel, which is supposed to be an offense to fallen human nature. But just because Jesus called people names doesn't mean you should too ...

MLK Jr., Men and the Church

Alex Burt and Fred Voltmer both have wonderful observations stemming from MLK Jr.'s comment about the relationship between the Church and the state. And it wasn't what I was thinking about when I read the quote: I was thinking about how the Church should neither be beholden to the state, waiting for its lead, or seeking to live out its mission solely via the state (i.e., laws), but rather should lead by example.

But of course, that idea leads into Alex's and Fred's comments about the current state of some/many of today's churches: all talk (and much not very substantial) and very little action. "That must explain why in many churches you will have more women than men," observed Alex. To that I'll add that you'll also have many very dissatisfied women (not to say that church is for "our satisfaction" -- actually, that's the problem, that too many churches seek only to "satisfy" its congregants) -- that is, women dissatisfied because they also are looking for that significance, looking to live out their faith, not just hear feel-good Sunday morning talks.

Personally, I'd like to see more regular involvement in global humanitarian aid, including putting our money into ministries overseas. And of course, the local involvement in their own communities is a very visible witness of who the Church is. Alex's practical recommendations, "taking food out to where the homeless hang out and preach the gospel to them . . . Having car repair days for elderly or single women, helping needy people with chores around their houses, etc.," I think, answer Fred's question ("Any thoughts on how to give the average man in the church a significant action role that is both genuine and compelling enough to keep him coming back?").

And if your church isn't doing that, sir -- or ma'am -- I'd suggest not waiting for them to do so, not even simply suggesting they do, but taking the initiative to begin such a ministry yourself, to offer to be a lay leader. I bet a lot of overworked church leaders/staff would welcome it. Churches need to move beyond the "here's how you make your own life better" messages to "here's how we make our community and culture better, redeeming and restoring it for the kingdom of God" actions. We also need great Christian worldview teachers in the churches to help offer members a better apologetic for why their faith is not about themselves, but about how we should live in the world -- great worldview teachers like the Wilberforce Centurions, like Diane Singer and Jeff Clinton. Why don't you consider applying for the 2007 class?

RE: Biblical Illiteracy

It's obvious from the number of comments that this post touched a nerve. Many of you evidently have a story similar to my own: you had a heart that was hungry to know and experience God, and you were blessed when the Spirit honored that desire by leading you to a place where your soul could be filled with His Truth. I want thank all of you for sharing your testimony and offering your own insights.

There was one comment, however, that I would like to address directly. This was the post which mentioned women pastors, obviously in a less than approving light. When I read this, it struck me that one thing we have to be careful not to do is to assume that the Spirit is going to lead us to "unanimity." I know Christians who love the Lord as much (if not more) than I do, who love and cherish His Word as much (if not more) than I do, and who lead a Spirit-led life as much (if not more) than I do .... who nevertheless disagree on this and many other issues. It's a mystery to me why God doesn't just zap us with the same opinion on everything: isn't Truth the Truth, and shouldn't we all see it the same way? But for whatever reasons, He does not. 

This particular issue (the ordination of women and whether women should ever teach a Bible class which includes men) is one I have had to personally wrestle with. After spending most of my life in churches that said women should not occupy these roles, I began to "test the teaching" about 16 years ago when a friend asked me to. She trusted my scholarship and my objectivity to help her see the issue clearly after a conflict arose on a mission trip to Africa. 

Without going into details, let me say that the quest I then embarked on was a surprise. I read lots of books and articles from each end of the spectrum -- from feminist harangues (mostly against the Apostle Paul, who I admire greatly) to works that would make any misogynist proud. Fortunately, I also found serious scholarship by people who followed sound hermenuetical principles -- and even they disagreed when it came to understanding what Paul really meant in passages like 1 Timothy 2. Over a period of years, I not only continued to read the scholars, I also began to notice the women mentioned in the NT, and the roles they played (church-starters, church leaders, deacons, apostles, co-laborers for Christ, co-prisoners for the gospel, etc.), and I began to see the issue from an egalitarian perspective.

It took about ten years to wean me off what had been drummed into my head for so long by pastors who I respect and love to this day. But, the Spirit and the Word led me to disagree. I know they would disapprove, but I must be more concerned with God's approval than man's. Now, my husband and I are members of a Baptist church which has both male and female pastors, a church where I regularly teach a large adult SS class which includes both men and women (BTW, my husband of nearly 40 years is a member of my class). All I can say is that it's a wonderful place to worship and fellowship and serve. I have no axe to grind with those who see this issue differently; I'm just thankful for where the Lord has led us.

September 27, 2006

Re: Biblical Illiteracy

Diane's post on the church's failure to encourage Scriptural literacy has sparked a fascinating discussion. As it should, since Spirit-inspired knowledge of God's Word is the only foundation by which we can truly understand the person and nature of God. For my two cents, such a failure stems largely from two mindsets infiltrating the modern church.

First, while most Christian leaders are quick to encourage respect of the Scripture, much fewer are willing to admonish reverence for it. This is not just semantics. The difference lies in authority, wherein those who merely respect the teachings of the Bible remain free to ignore passages that are inconvenient or seem out of date. To revere Scripture, however, means to give careful attention and study to every word to see what it reveals about the Lord -- and to adjust one's life accordingly.

The other danger, clearly stemming from the first, is our intense desire for practicality. We demand that messages, sermons, books, and the Bible offer tips or self-help, which leads to a temptation to be interested only in how Scripture can apply to living in the 21st century, rather than its eternal insights.

So in order to find a deeper understanding of Bible, the church needs to start by taking it seriously.

Que Viva Espana

Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar clearly didn't get the memo. (H/T The Corner) Speaking at conference on globalization this week in DC, he not only defended Benedict XVI, he went several steps further:

“Why do we always have to say sorry and they never do?” Aznar told a conference in Washington on “global threats” on Friday.

On Saturday, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was quoted as saying that more European leaders should have spoken out in support of the Pope after he made his disputed comments on Islam.

"I was disappointed there were not more European leaders who said 'naturally the Pope has the right to express his views'," Barroso was quoted as saying to the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

"The problem is not the statements of the Pope but the reaction of the extremists," the paper quoted him as saying.

Referring to the Moorish conquest of much of the Iberian Peninsula from the eighth to the 15th century, Aznar said: “It is interesting to note that while a lot of people in the world are asking the Pope to apologise for his speech, I have never heard a Muslim say sorry for having conquered Spain and occupying it for eight centuries.”

“I support Ferdinand and Isabella,” he proclaimed, in reference to the medieval Catholic monarchs who drove the Moors out of Spain in 1492.

As the song goes:

Entre Flores, Fandanguillos y alegrias,
nacio en España la tierra del amor
Solo dios pudiera hacer tanta belleza,
y es imposible que puedan haber dos.
Y todo el mundo sabe que es verdad,
y lloran cuando tienen que marchar.
Por eso se oye este refrán
"Que Viva España"

What’s the Point?

I’m hopeful that many on-clickers are joining us today for the first time because you heard Chuck Colson on BreakPoint talk about the launch of this new venture. I’d love for you to know a reason or two why I think you should bookmark us, and make us part of your daily routine.

Culture is so close to us it is hard to really be aware of it sometimes. One of my grad-school professors described culture as water to a fish. It is something all around us. Something we move through, but completely take for granted.

I believe, however, that as Christians we need to develop more of an awareness of this air we breathe. Sometimes we need to know we’re breathing toxic air; and we need to get out of it. Sometimes we need to just appreciate this air is particularly sweet. We live in a culture that displays aspects of the fall and aspects of God’s common grace. Sometimes God speaks to us through the everyday events happening around us. Sometimes He calls us to be the ones speaking into those everyday events with His voice, His perspective. And sometimes He may be calling us to actually create culture. I believe this is a blog that does all of these. And, as a result, I hope it will be a blog that will sometimes challenge you, sometimes encourage you, sometimes make you want to spit, sometimes make you want to shout, “Amen!” and sometimes send you running out to do something.

But that leads me back to you. Together we're thinking about what it really means to bring a biblical worldview to every area of life, and how we live that out in our everyday praxis. We need you to be a part of this dialogue. And we hope that this is just the first stepping stone in developing a community space where Christians think, dream, reflect, engage, and interact…not so that we can simply think differently, but so we can spur each other on to act differently. Let us work together to understand how we practice the presence of God in every sphere of culture.

Responding to questions on Consumerism vs. Creative Culture

Brian Hollar, an economist and Christian over at Thinking on the Margin, has asked some thoughtful questions regarding my earlier post, Consumerism vs. Creative Culture:

1) Why do people make themselves and their children so busy? Do they do it out of neglect or from misplaced, but good intentions? I think a lot of parents want to avoid denying their children opportunities to develop skills and have experiences they think are good. What starts off as good motives sometimes transforms itself into an insane flurry of activity. Do you think the church helps or hurts more in this area? ... (You can see some of my thoughts on the busyness of families in a post I wrote in May ... )

Do any of our readers or other contributors with children want to take a stab at this? I think busyness varies from person to person in terms of motives. And each one of us, even when our motives are good, needs to frequently stop and re-evaluate our level of involvement and decide if we are honoring God and giving due diligence to concepts of Sabbath rest. Honestly I think sometimes we run from rest because we are running from the quietness where we have to confront God and our own deepest questions. But I've written more about that here.

Next Brian asks:

2) Hsu’s terms "production and provision" particularly stood out to me.  In this context, I wonder if there any fundamental difference between "provision" and "consumption"?  Provision certainly has a nicer ring to it and harkens to beneficent intent, but doesn't it ultimately mean the same thing as producing for the sake of self-consumption? Is this better or more moral than producing something that has value to others and exchanging it for goods to provide for your loved ones and yourself? Aren't consumption and production just two sides of the same coin? Isn't production without consumption really just a form of waste?

Here's some food for thought (pun intended) to illustrate my point: Imagine an over-ambitious mom who bakes fifty pies every day for her family of four.  Unless she gives some to the neighbors to eat (consume), she baked (produced) far more pies than what the family could reasonably use (consume). Isn’t she being wasteful?

In response Brian, I'm not sure if Hsu says anything about production vs. provision. I made a distinction between consumption and production, quoting Hsu, and he is saying that they are two opposite sides of, yes, the same coin. Taking your example, I think Hsu would suggest the woman share those pies as a means of Christian hospitality, something that has sadly been lost in our culture. But who knows, perhaps Mr. Hsu would comment on this for us. I'd encourage you to read his book and hear what he has to say in the context of living out a Christian worldview in a suburban culture. Finally, Brian asks:

3) Have our values changed or do we just have new opportunities now? One hundred years ago, it would have taken the better part of a day to go to and from town… and that was without bringing the kids along! Now we can easily zip around between cities in nice, air-conditioned mini-vans with a multitude of kids, groceries, sports gear, Gameboys, and Rover in tow. Are our priorities different today or is it just a matter of having new options open to us? Doesn’t this mean that families who focus on spending more meaningful time together have greater ability to do so than at any time in the past? Does the absence of this in a family indicate a lack of opportunity caused by our culture or a lack of priority in the choices made by individuals?

Good questions. I'm definitely not trying to deify a pre-urbanized culture. Every culture faces its challenges and has particular difficulties in learning how to express a Christian worldview. I was saying however, that in the past because parents and children did more actual work together in many cases problem-solving was more of a fluid part of their everyday lives. I will say our culture has elevated entertainment to a whole new level. It is hard to be counter-cultural in this. One great way would be for families to spend time serving together, whether that's working at a soup kitchen, restoring an elderly neighbor's fence, or working with another family on a shared project.

Finally Brian asks:

4) Is there an inherent dichotomy between consumption and creativity as Hsu alleges? For example, imagine how difficult it would be to develop theatrical skills if you never had a stage to perform upon, being a great writer with no one to read your work, or becoming a master composer without someone first buying a piano (which had to be produced by someone). The actor produces while the audience consumes. Once again, don’t production and consumption go hand in hand? If this is true, don’t we need consumption of some sort in order to for creativity to fully thrive?

Is the biggest problem with our culture the fact we produce vs. consume or is it more a problem of what we, as individuals, choose to consume?

Brian, I think in the context, you would see Hsu's not taking such a different approach than you. He's simply suggesting that in this culture where families and individuals spend so much time consuming, a healthy corrective is to spend some time creating, especially when that creation can further the Kingdom in some way. Thanks for your good questions. Hope this is helpful. I look forward to more good comments.

Re: Another Reason

I was just about to mention that article as well, Catherina. I suspect there is no small connection between the suggestive T-shirt trend and the proclivity for young girls to idolize atrocious role models like Britney Spears, Madonna, and -- apparently -- Charlotte Church. As another line in the Post piece notes:

In a culture that bombards teenagers with sexual imagery -- think of rapper 50 Cent's song "Candy Shop," about the pleasures of consuming lollipops -- the T-shirts are just another way to revel in raunchy entertainment, without necessarily getting physical, according to students interviewed for this story.

But it would be ridiculous for the media or parents or teachers to be fooled into thinking that such visual and aural stimulation does not fuel the temptation for a physical response. We know better.

Young girls are confused enough as it is, being bombarded on all sides with messages and promises that conflict with the God-given yearning for beauty and love. And young men are being encouraged to affirm such deception, rather than defending the chastity of their sisters. I'm not sure how to curb these trends, but I don't think we can do too much to reinforce purity and chivalry -- however counter-cultural it may seem.

Another Reason for School Uniforms

Tshirt_1 Continuing on Travis's theme about the demise of modesty, I know I'm not the only one who wants to gather all the attitude T-shirts and have a bonfire on the beach. I'm talking about those shirts that feature messages from "Your Boyfriend Is a Good Kisser" to worse, much worse. While intercourse among teens is in decline (though oral sex is prevalent), innuendo is way, way up. Today's Washington Post has a page-one story on the new challenge for school administrators: sexually suggestive t-shirts.

For teenagers who chafe at clothing rules for midriffs and cleavage, "attitude" shirts offer a chance to show some skin, without showing skin.

"We have so many dress codes or whatever, so the T-shirts are like us rebelling against the teachers and principals because we can't wear what we want," said Ashli, 17, a junior at Eleanor Roosevelt, in Greenbelt, who said she does not want to have sex until she is married. "I think most girls and boys get the T-shirts because they're funny and they draw attention to you. I don't really care what guys say."

Her mother, Yakini Ajanaku, does not mind her daughter's T-shirts because she said Ashli wears them to be ironic. "I know she's a sweet girl, and I know that she's very conservative and is not sexually active," Ajanaku said. "Other people would probably get the wrong message, but I am pretty much like, 'Who cares what they think?' "

Oh, Mom, you should care very much what people think. Because though you believe nothing physical is manifesting itself, actions are birthed in thoughts and imagination. And believe me, the imaginations are running wild:

Guys say there is nothing confusing about the messages. "When I see a T-shirt that says, '100% single,' then you're compelled to go up and talk to them," said Paul Barrett, 17, a senior at Osbourn Park. "But if they're not single, it'd kind of [tick] me off, like they're a tease. I wouldn't let my girlfriend wear that."

The message invites a conversation. The conversation leads to flirting and suggestions. The flirting and suggestions lead to, ahem, after-school activities -- and I don't mean football practice or band. Don't help the thoughts germinate in the first place. Go change your clothes...

Re: The Fear of Being Fooled

Looking at the subject from a slightly different angle . . .

I have in my inbox a notice about the Atlantic Monthly's "Atlantic Ideas Tour." Among the highlights of this tour is "Camelot Lost? Benjamin Schwarz in Conversation with Virginia Postrel on Glamorous Icons."

Maybe it's not fair for me to pontificate on this conversation based on the title alone. But I can at least tell you what the title brings to mind: the obsession with surface images that characterizes so much of our political process, not to mention our culture in general. In this area, disillusionment -- even if followed by cynicism -- has its place. But I don't know if this is the tack Schwarz and Postrel will take. The title suggests more of a wallow in nostalgia (this time, Roberto, I'm with you on that subject) over the joys of having the "glamorous" Kennedys and others like them running our government, regardless of whether they actually fulfilled that trust capably. Goodness knows we've seen enough of that wallowing in the culture over the past 40 years that it's hard not to come up with such an interpretation. But we'll see. Perhaps if any of our readers attend this, they can report back.

Or maybe the title just hit me the wrong way because I'm a Broadway purist, so every time someone uses "Camelot" in that context, I want to rant, "It's a musical by Lerner and Loewe about King Arthur! It has NOTHING to do with the Kennedy administration!"

Re: Mars Hill Church

Although I'm not sure that I'm the right guy to dip into "the Church beat," I do share Travis's concern with buying into the Salon piece on Mars Hill Church hook, line and sinker. So my thanks to the commenter who pointed us to Pastor Mark Driscoll's blog. Anyone who read the Salon article certainly ought to balance the perspective by reading what Driscoll has to say.  Honestly, I find myself impressed with his humility, and I think that most orthodox theologians would also think well of his church's positions on most matters. Perhaps Salon isn't the best source for objective reporting about the Church?

More in WSJ on creative law enforcement

Today's Wall Street Journal print edition has a front page article on a novel approach to cleaning up drug markets. The article describes a program that confronts dealers with their crime, threatens them with prosecution, and offers them a second chance. Officers root out the dealers in a community and build relationships with their "influencers" -- mothers and grandmothers among them. They gather evidence for a slam-dunk case, then get the influencers to convince the dealers to come in for a meeting. At the meeting, the dealers meet community leaders and pastors who promise to help and support them if they go straight -- and then they get to see the irrefutable case against them and learn that if they fail to clean up their act they will be aggressively prosecuted. The program is aimed at young, nonviolent offenders and is enjoying substantial success where it is being used.

The willingness of local churches to hold these young men and women accountable and to support them in their quest for transformation is key. According to the article, when a pastor speaking to program participants said, "We are against what you're doing, but we're for you," one 19-year-old remarked, "We wasn't expecting that...It did make an impression on me." Over and over again, the article talked about how churches had an effect on the lives of these men and women -- and how the lack of churches in a community led to less than stellar results from the program.

Kudos to the churches participating in this program, and others like it. We need more churches willing to roll up their sleeves and help people who want to make a change, remembering that we were once in their shoes, desperately needing a little grace (Eph 2:1-5).

Helping the mentally ill

A front page article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal (sorry, the online version is for WSJ subscribers only) describes an innovative training program for police officers in Arizona that helps them better interact with the mentally ill. According to the article, "The Justice Department estimates that about 330,000 of the nation's 2.2 million inmates are mentally ill. When released, they usually end up back in prison, in part because of a lack of outside treatment options." Or on the streets, living on grates and in alleys. Either way, law enformcement interacts with many of these folks more often than anyone else, which is why training them in effective techniques for talking to and assisting the mentally ill is smart. It keeps the officers safer, it keeps the mentally ill safer, and it keeps our communities safer.

The article warns that we can't, however, expect police officers to pick up all the slack when it comes to social services. Training them is smart; dumping the issue in their laps and walking away is foolish.

The church has a place here. We're commanded to care for the sick (Mt 25), which surely includes those struggling with mental illnesses. There are some great groups doing that in communities around the country. I used to volunteer at one in Pennsylvania, working in the kitchen a couple of weekends a year so their dedicated staff could get some time off. There are lots of other ways to get involved and make a difference. Find a local group and see how you can help!

At Least It’s Not Talking Spinach

My friend, who truly comprehends religion, has written some very good stuff on the NBC-VeggieTales (zzz . . must not fall asleep . . . nose smashing into keyboard hurts . . .) thingy.

After quoting an NBC press release that said, "[NBC's] goal is to reach as broad an audience as possible with these positive messages, while being careful not to advocate any one religious point of view," Johnny Winters's homeboy wrote,

This is a really interesting claim, since the key statement that has been banned is the VeggieTales motto used at the end of each episode, which is: “Remember kids, God made you special and he loves you very much.”

This statement was removed to avoid advocating “any one religious point of view.” This would be the controversial doctrinal point of view which maintains that God loves children. Of course, NBC leaders may have assumed that the statement that “God made you special” could be taken as an attack on evolution. That’s the ticket. Meanwhile, I should stress that Bob the Tomato does not do anything faith-specific while making this closing benediction, such as falling on his knees and making the sign of the cross. Bob the Tomato . . . does not have knees or arms.

Read the rest.

A New Kind of Church

I suppose it should no longer be surprising when the lure of celebrity overtakes innocence and virtue. But it is always discouraging. Michelle Malkin recounts how Wales' sweet, young opera singer Charlotte Church has become just another profane and obnoxious "star."

The 20-year-old entertainer has rebelled against the wholesome image that brought her fame, fortune and worldwide respect as a rare role model for young girls. She has traded in "Pie Jesu" for "Crazy Chick" -- a lousy pop anthem even Ashlee Simpson wouldn't be caught performing. Charlotte's gone from pure-hearted to pure crap. These days, she drinks, she smokes, she curses, she fights, she parties, and she tries very, very hard to shock and offend -- like a trashier Lindsay Lohan, only with better pipes....

The corruption of Charlotte Church is a sorry little sign of how innocence and grace have lost their mass appeal -- even as parents claim to want age-appropriate role models for their daughters. A survey of 1,010 mothers with daughters 4 to 9 years old, released this week, reported that 90 percent of the moms "believe there are not enough wholesome role models, celebrities, characters and brands for young girls to emulate." Some 85 percent of those polled said they are "tired of the "sexpot" dolls/characters" currently available.

They say that -- and yet, the doll market is clogged with best-selling Bratz babies in thongs and Barbies with bling.

I don't know enough about Ms. Church to make a guess as to why she would abandon her already successful classical career for this junk -- except that trash sells. It seems that increasingly, especially among the MTV generation, a requisite for lasting celebrity is to be ever edgier or more controversial. Talent is secondary, if relevant at all. And messages of virtue or purity are drowned out by hedonism and profanity.

Our sons and daughters deserve better.

Identity--Critiquing Modern and Postmodern Notions

I’ve been reading a fascinating book called The Self: Beyond the Postmodern Crisis. It’s a compilation of authors all adding their own voices to the notion of the self. Paul Vitz, one of the editors ,begins with a brief history of the notion of self, or identity. Descartes first popularized the idea of personhood as an autonomous notion. The selfhood of the modern age can be summed up in “I think therefore I am.” It is not interested in the self in relation to the other. The postmodern self on the other hand is “no longer coherent and integrated. It is a self without a center...” It is polyvocal (having many voices depending on the environment we find ourselves in); it is plastic (continually re-presenting itself), and it is transient. (pp. XIII-XIV). Citing postmodern psychologist Philip Cushman, Vitz documents how the concept of self has shifted:

A hundred years ago people still lived in small towns or on farms where they had reliable traditional family lives. Everybody knew who the Smiths were: they had lived in Elmwood for three generations…People knew one’s uncles and aunts, the quirks and characteristics of one’s family. Because of the stability of interpersonal relationships, there was a stability to the self as well. But as we moved into the modern city, we lost that stability, and the self become empty. In the city, nobody knew who the Smiths were, they didn’t know where Elmtown was, and people couldn’t talk about their family: it had no meaning to other people. In this environment, we began to search for a new identity….

Increasingly, what filled that void was a new identity formed through consumerism. The image branding of the modern age has become a new identity currency in which we trade. But the consumer self is constantly a dis-satisified self, since consumerism continually creates new wants. (This fits in with my post yesterday and with Albert Hsu’s new book The Suburban Christian where he also critiques and offers practical advice for living in such a culture.) The other notion of self that became popular was a therapeutic self. “Psychology gave us a self because we discovered who our family was and what our early childhood experiences…[it] gives us an indentity constructed from our own, often painful, childhood and family memories. This identity is largely negative.”

What I like so far about the book The Self: Beyond the Postmodern Crisis is that all of these notions are critiqued. And there is the exploration of what it would mean to look beyond modern and postmodern conceptions, to the Bible, for how we should even begin to think about the notion of selfhood. But more on that later…

RE: The Fear of Being Fooled

Allan, I'll amend my title: "The Fear of Being Fooled by the Establishment"! Conspiracy theories tend to argue against institutions, seeing them as dark and devious monolith powers that use propaganda to lie to, deceive, and control the common citizen. The fact that so many people fall for these anti-extablishment hoaxes was my concern.   

As far as the Wilson/Plame affair, I think it's more a case of people who knew the truth (there WAS no conspiracy), but they hate the Bush administration so much that they claimed they were victims to further their own political agenda. They're the ones guilty of telling "the Big Lie" ... and they're not about to admit that it was anything else because that lie continues to serve their ends.   

Re: The Fear of Being Fooled

Perhaps you are right Diane. But, if we really think about it, isn't the remarkable thing the utter lack of such fear (the fear of being fooled) that recent conspiracy theorists have shown Couldn't we see the Plame letdown coming from a mile away? It wasn't a letdown for many of us, mind you, but for those who had somehow bought into Joe Wilson's self-inflating claims of persecution, the news that the mystery leaker was -- oops -- one of their own, Richard Armitage, was a proper embarrassment.

Or was it?

Isn't that, right there, the problem? The lack of embarrassment? Did anyone from Team Plame's sizable bandwagon ever express any regret? How many even admitted they were wrong in accusing Administration players of high crimes? None that I know of. Nor did they have to -- MSM made sure of that. Nothing to see here, move along...

So if there is no risk of shame in espousing even the most irresponsible conspiracy theory, then this dramatically reduces the actual "fear of being fooled." If all one ever has to say is "Oops" or "Whatever" when conclusively proved wrong, then we ought to expect conspiracy theories, shouldn't we? After all, they're quite convenient for the Machiavellian political strategist.

Biblical Illiteracy

Last night, I participated in a discussion group for a course called "The Biblical in Biblical Worldview." One of the questions T.M. Moore asked at the beginning was whether we agreed that many of the people we know, even in our churches, are woefully ignorant of the Bible (all said "yes"). He then asked the key question, "Why?"

In my experience, the answer to this is simple: I grew up in a mainline denomination where Sunday School teachers taught Bible stories, but with no real understanding of the theology revealed in those stories, and where pastors didn't teach the Bible at all. Oh, they would use the occasional quote to justify some political/moral/sociological point they wanted to make, but the Bible wasn't presented as something authoritative or lasting. It was treated like a book of quotes used only to "adorn a tale" (as Samuel Johnson might say). Consequently, I knew about Adam and Eve, Jonah and the whale, Daniel in the lion's den, etc. ... but I knew very little about how all that connected to Jesus Christ. I would periodically try to read the Bible on my own to make sense of the whole, only to give up in frustration after a few weeks.

The difference for me came when I left that denomination and found a church where the Bible was not only viewed as God's Word, but where it was taught systematically. Thankfully, for the past 35 years, I've been blessed with a number of pastors who teach the Bible in depth: they pay attention to the historical context in which a given book was written, the original languages, and the themes/doctrines which run throughout the entire book. They teach the stories AND the theology, so our minds are constantly moving back and forth from the abstract to the concrete principles that make up the Christian faith as it is lived out in the here and now. (BTW, great Bible teachers teach us how to think biblically; they don't do our thinking for us .... a sure-fire path to mindless, cookie-cutter Christians!)

From the pastors' standpoint, it's hard work to be committed Bible scholars and teachers when so many other pastoral duties demand their time and attention. I can even understand why so many of them don't even try to move beyond the "three points and a poem" formula they learned in seminary. But if we are to see a resurgence of Biblical literacy in our culture, it needs to start in our churches--with pastors leading the way for Sunday school teachers at all levels. It would be in everyone's best interest if we would free our pastors from many of the extra duties they are currently engaged in so they can spend far more hours each week in concentrated study of the Word and more time preparing in-depth Bible lessons. Then, they would truly be able to fulfill Jesus' command to "feed my sheep."

The Fear of Being Fooled

I read with interest the blog about why conspiracy theories persist, and why some individuals seem unusually attracted to such theories, no matter how strong the evidence against them may be. When I followed the link to Feser's article, I found the most telling phrase near the end: "Yet no civilization can be healthy which nurtures such delusions, for they strike at the very heart of a society's core institutions -- family, religion, schools, political institutions, and so forth -- and replace the (sometimes critical) allegiance we should feel for them with a corrosive skepticism. Conspiracy theories are only the most extreme symptom of this disease."

For me, the question is "Where does such corrosive skepticism begin?" Does it not, perhaps, start in those core institutions -- such as families broken by divorce; or in families where physical, emotional, or verbal absue is the "norm"; or in churches where pastors are guilty of adultery, embezzlement, sexual abuse of children, etc.? Then there's the little matter of our "yellow journalism" culture where we are repeatedly treated to the roller-coaster school of reporting: public figures are given the "hero" treatment for several months, followed by the "goat" treatment for several months, followed by the "restored hero" treatment, followed by the "lapsed goat" treatment, etc. It doesn't take much of this before human beings begin to construct certain defense mechanisms in the soul. On a personal level, they learn to distrust, and they fear being fooled again (as the old saying goes -- "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.")

Feser hits the larger cultural and historical issues at work in the inherent cynicism of our times, but I wonder if we can't look closer to home for reasons why that cynicism finds such fertile soil. BTW, when was the last time any of us heard a pastor preach a sermon against the "sin of cynicism"? Perhaps it's time.

Re: Speaking of Objects

I don't know, Anne. While the article describes several elements of that church that might be cause for concern, I'm hesitant to assume too much based solely on Salon's presentation of it. Or perhaps we should be concerned that they let Salon profile them to begin with!

Why We Protect the Weak

Whether they be unborn, disabled, poor, stricken with AIDS, persecuted for their faith, imprisoned or the child of a prisoner, politically oppressed, or otherwise voiceless:

Every Christian community must know that not only do the weak need the strong, but also that the strong cannot exist without the weak. The elimination of the weak is the death of the community.

-- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

(courtesy "Verse and Voice of the Day" e-mail from Sojourners)


Andrew Fastow, the former Chief Financial Officer of Enron, was sentenced to six years in prison by a federal judge yesterday. I have nothing to say about the Enron fiasco other than, if you want to really understand how and why it happened, rent the Oscar-nominated documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.

The reaction to Fastow's sentence took a sadly predictable turn: one commenter, quoted by Jane Galt, spoke for many when he wrote, "I want Andrew Fastow to serve a decade or two in some place where his new name is Audrey and he's somebody's girlfriend."

This prompted Galt to ask "why didn't we just sentence Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling to be tied down and raped by a couple of strapping bailiffs?" She continued

I think that prison rape is one of the most appalling moral failings of our society, and I've said so before. Not that it happens at all . . . there is a real problem with prison design, which is that if you let the prisoners socialise, they will terrorise each other, and if you don't, they go crazy. But that we basically don't bother trying to stop it, and worse, that it is in fact the most prominently deterrant feature of our prison terms.

I know I'm harping here. But I feel this very deeply. I do not believe the state is morally allowed to do that which individuals are not morally allowed to do; I do not believe that prison sentences should have "off label" uses; and I think that if you are willing for the state to impose a sentence in your name, you should be willing to carry it out. I am not willing to execute a prisoner, or to rape one. Therefore, I don't authorise the state to do things for me. Nor do I want those tasks delegated to some fiendish thug in order to give myself plausible moral deniability.

If you do think that rape is an appropriate punishment for securities law violations, then you should say so. You should pressure your representatives to write these penalties into law. And when volunteers are needed to carry out the sentence, you should be willing to put your name in the hat.

While I don't agree that personal unwillingness to carry out a particular punishment renders that punishment per se unjust, any more than not having served in the military invalidates your opinions on whether or not to go to war, I completely agree with Galt's larger point: our indifference and/or acquiescence to conditions within our prisons is a national disgrace that should give us pause whenever we're tempted to prattle on about the "goodness of America."

This indifference/acquiescence to what's going on inside the walls amounts to extrajudicial punishment, which is antithetical to a free society and the rule of law. If you think that rape or other violations of human dignity and bodily integrity (yes, I am referring to section 2297) is fitting punishment, please do so explicitly.

As Fyodor Dostoevsky put it, "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons." Pointing this out isn't harping; it's simple decency.

September 26, 2006

Gaffney on Globotaxes

In today's Washington Times, the Center for Security Policy's Frank Gaffney echoes Mark Steyn's rant against the U.N., refering to last week's Chavez and Ahmadinejad tag-team as a "spectacle of buffoonery and bombast". But he also warns thusly:

Incredibly, despite this performance and the U.N.'s rampant corruption, scandals and virulent hostility toward the Free World, the organization has taken a major step toward becoming a supranational government, unaccountable to and ever more routinely at odds with the United States.

In fact, Gaffney reminds us that an ability to tax is an ability to govern, and apparently the U.N. does indeed have designs on your wallet. Of course, the first step is a popular and sympathetic cause -- AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria -- via the UNITAID initiative:

UNITAID will, for the first time, rely for its institutional funding on what the U.N. euphemistically calls an "innovative financing mechanism." Another word for it is "globotaxes" -- levies imposed on international transactions, in this case, airline tickets.

Gaffney explains that, while only a handful of countries have signed on with the globotaxation scheme, the U.N. and its proxies claim that the U.S. has a standing commitment to provide over $800 billion in public foreign aid between now and 2015 to developing nations. Gaffney's expectation is that the U.N. will expect the U.S. to use such "innovative financing mechanisms" to pay what they "owe."

(By the way, Gaffney also explains the intriguing role that Bill Clinton -- ever in search of a positive legacy -- has played in all of this.)

While I appreciate Gaffney sounding the alarm, I tend to think that the American people would never stand for such an intrusion. The establishment of any taxation authority would clearly provide the U.N. with a legitimate role in actual governance, which the American people would rightly reject. But I do wonder if they would be sentimentally swayed by the fact that the ends are help for people around the world in desperate need. "It's only a few dollars; it's the least I can do." I hope not. After all, the American people are the most generous in the world, and they've shown themselves to be so without the "help" of a monstrous, inefficient, and ... ahem ... "integrity-challenged" organization like the United Nations.

The problem isn't the ends, of course.  It's the means.  And there are better means out there -- far better.