Monday, April 30, 2012
I’ve wondered what I should do when people follow me on account of my posts on particular topics, such as Asperger’s or works of fiction. Should I continue to write posts about these topics to keep those followers, when, overall, I tend to focus on other topics, such as politics and religion? I feel that, at least for myself, I should read more books on social skills, but I have other projects lined up for this year and the next, so I may not have the time to do so. This year, I’m going through books on or by Presidential candidates for the 2012 election. Next year, I may not even have special posts for Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and National Autism Month (as I usually do), and the reason is that January 9 will be the centennial of Nixon’s birthday, and I’m planning to blog through books about and by Nixon for the entirety of 2013 (and a little bit beyond that, depending on if I finish the books I plan to read in 2013). Well, Nixon struggled socially, so maybe I can write posts on that to keep those who follow me for my posts on Asperger’s!
One thing that I could do is listen to presentations on Asperger’s on YouTube while I’m reading or writing, and post some of them here, along with some commentary. I listened to an interview with Temple Grandin today (see here). I happen to enjoy listening to Temple talk, since she is articulate and her presentation is often orderly. Plus, she has interesting things to say. Perhaps I could make a regular practice of blogging about such interviews, forums, and presentations, as well as keep my eyes open for any articles on Asperger’s (or even social skills) that I may find helpful. I doubt that I’ll write on Asperger’s or social skills every single day, but once a week may be feasible. I do try to write a third post on some days about a topic that interests me, in addition to my posts about my readings.
I liked what Newt said on page 182 about education:
"...we teach these subjects as facts to be memorized rather than a great adventure of discovery to be pursued. Teaching, memorizing, and testing are all familiar words. But we must return the words wonder, adventure, and discovery to our schools. We should not center on education, but on learning. We should go beyond force-feeding numbers and theories to a level of true discovery where a child wonders what the answers are and goes in search of them for the pure excitement of it."
I was one time working with a program that tutored at-risk youth, and I remarked that I could understand why the youths were so bored with what they were learning in school, for I was bored with that stuff and was happy to be in college where I could pursue my interests and take the courses that I wanted. My supervisor responded that my opportunities to do so in college were my reward for doing well in the boring subjects in junior high and high school. I think that it's important for students to learn subjects that may not necessarily interest them. At the same time, I believe that schools should encourage students to pursue their interests, and that opportunities to do so should not be limited to the gifted and talented or to those who go on to college.
In my write-up today on Joseph Telushkin's A Code of Jewish Ethics, Volume 1: You Shall Be Holy, my post will be synchronic rather than diachronic, in that I'll discuss Telushkin's depiction of Judaism's stance on the issue of forgiveness without always identifying the different sources that he cites along with their times of composition.
I was somewhat confused about whether or not Telushkin believes that murder can be forgiven, according to Judaism. He cites a source saying that God ordained for David to commit adultery with Bathsheba and to kill Uriah----acts that were so uncharacteristic of David----in order to demonstrate to us God's willingness to forgive sinners (B.T. Avodah Zarah 4b-5a). That implies to me that murderers can be forgiven. At the same time, Telushkin states that murder technically cannot be forgiven, for the victim is no longer around to forgive the offender.
Sunday, April 29, 2012
I agree with my pastor on the cacophony of voices. They are out there. What pleases one person may not please another person. The way that one person may want me to live is different from how another person thinks I should live.
I question, however, whether listening to the Good Shepherd helps, since there are so many ideas (some of them contradictory) about what the Good Shepherd wants.
So do I just go with what floats my boat? If that’s the case, how can I be corrected? Well, I’m not particularly worried about whether I will be “corrected” or not. But I should listen to different ideas—-even ones that go against my grain—-because I need guidance as to what life is like and how I should go through it. Life does not always (or even often) proceed according to what floats my boat, and that means I have to listen to some things that I may not want to hear, if I am to be successful.
But there are also times—-maybe a lot of times—-when I need to retreat from the cacophony of voices, sit in silence, and determine what is right for me to do, perhaps with God’s guidance.
See here (and the comments underneath the post) and also here for other people’s thoughts on this sort of issue.
"The current system dictates a focus on reactive acute care and does not incentivize prevention. Coverage for prescription medications is a paramount example...Medicare will cover the visit to the doctor to discuss the numbness in the foot, but it will not pay for the insulin to relieve, and stop, the problem. Medicare will pay for visits to the emergency room when a beneficiary has a heart attack, but it fails to pay for the cholesterol medication that may have prevented the incident all together. Medicare's end-stage renal-disease program (offers kidney dialysis when the kidneys no longer function) is one of the highest cost programs in Medicare, yet it will not pay for the insulin that could prevent many of those individuals from needing it in the first place."
Newt wrote this before the Medicare prescription drug entitlement was passed into law. And what Newt said makes sense, for you would expect for prevention to save money by reducing the number of people who end up in emergency rooms. But did the prescription drug benefit save Medicare money? As far I as know, Medicare spending has continued to increase since that benefit was passed. Why? Is it because the donut hole requires some people to still pay for their prescription drugs, thereby hindering them from a health-plan of prevention? Is Medicare Advantage part of the problem, as I have read that it entails the government giving money to insurance companies, plus there are questions about the quality of Medicare Advantage plans? Is the sheer cost of prescription drugs part of the problem?
"Not everybody needs medication but I am one of those who do. For me, socialization is impossible if I constantly feel like I'm being attacked by a lion."
I am not that afraid, but I have felt social anxiety, largely because I don't know what to say to people, or I am self-conscious about making a mistake, or I fear being looked at like I'm some sort of freak (which happens). When others ask me questions and are interested in my response, then that anxiety may go down a bit. But how can I make my anxiety go down? One thing a counselor told me was that, as I listen to others attentively, I become more relaxed. Then, I can share some things about myself. For me, the challenge is to find open-ended questions that can enable me to invite others to share about themselves.
Tomorrow is the last day of National Autism Month. I'll post something. Stay tuned!
Saturday, April 28, 2012
"In a world where we have the ability to do our own trading on the stock market, it should be unacceptable that we are still at the mercy of an insurance company to understand care options, provider choices, and costs. The role of a patient has evolved into a dependency relationship in the healthcare delivery system rather than the driver of the system. Access to information and knowledge about healthcare will empower individuals, as consumers, to make the best healthcare choices in deciding which procedures, treatments, and preventive care will meet their mental, emotional, and physical needs. We want to know that the physician performing our hip and knee replacement has done the procedure enough times to be proficient at it. We want to know that if we have type 2 diabetes, our doctor has a high percentage of success in treating patients with that condition."
But what if you do an online search and find a doctor you like, and the insurance company doesn't cover a visit to that particular doctor? Knowledge is not necessarily power, especially in a system where one is dependent on the insurance company. I wonder how Canada would handle this: Can Canadians visit any doctor in the country, and the government pays for it?
"Jennifer has been married to Gary Myers for eleven years. They met at a science fiction/fantasy book discussion group, where he wowed her with his encyclopedic knowledge of horror films and early 20th C. fantasy literature."
I liked that. As a matter of fact, I also liked how my latest reading of the book was about how Aspies can be interested in certain topics and draw from their interests as they attempt to cope with life. For example, Jennifer holds on to a Harry Potter or Disneyland item in her pocket if she needs to calm down. I'm not interested in Harry Potter so much (at least not yet), but I like, say, Star Trek: Voyager. And wouldn't it be nice if I could wow a lady with my eccentric interests (i.e., the life of Richard Nixon, which I will read and blog about in 2013). :D
Psalm 74:8 says (in the KJV): "They said in their hearts, Let us destroy them together: they have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land. "
The Hebrew word translated as "synagogues" is moadei, which is the plural construct form of the word moed. Moed in the Hebrew Bible can refer to a religious assembly, a feast, a congregation, or a designated time.
The Septuagint translates the verse as "They said in their heart, their kin together, 'Come and let us burn all the feasts of God from the land.'" The Septuagint understands moadei in this verse to mean "festivals". It presumes that Psalm 74:8 relates to what appears to be the topic of Psalm 74 as a whole: Israel's sadness at the destruction of the Temple, her perplexity as she wonders when God will help her, and her attempts to reassure herself as she reminds herself of God's displays of power in the past. For the LXX, the festivals were held in the Temple, which is destroyed in Psalm 74, and so Psalm 74:8 most likely relates to the destruction of the Temple. Interpreters who relied on the Septuagint, such as Augustine and Theodore of Mopsuestia, had this understanding.
But there is another view: that Psalm 74:8 is acknowledging the existence of places outside of the Temple in the land of Israel where Israelites gathered together to worship. For one, Psalm 74:8 says that the moadei were "burned", and it makes more sense to say that a place of assembly was burned rather than a festival. Second, the MT has "in the land", which implies that these moadei are throughout the Holy Land, not only at the Temple.
But then the problem of the date of Psalm 74 arises. When were there places of worship outside of the Temple in the land of Israel? In II Kings 4:23, we read that Northern Israelites in the time of Elisha could go to a prophet on a Sabbath or a new moon. But would these places of worship exist in 587 B.C.E., at the time when the Temple was destroyed? Josiah had gotten rid of other sanctuaries besides the Temple, and a predominant theological school of the Bible, the Deuteronomists, opposed those sanctuaries. Psalm 74 may be related to the Deuteronomistic school in some manner, for Psalm 74:7 refers to the Temple as the dwelling-place for God's name, and the Deuteronomists were emphatic that the sanctuary was to be a dwelling-place of God's name, not God himself (Deuteronomy 12, 14, 16). Would Psalm 74 support sanctuaries other than the Temple?
Others have noted that there were places of prayer in Israel's exilic and post-exilic times. Zechariah 7:3-5 and 8:19 refer to fasts, which the Jews practiced even when there was not a Temple. And I Maccabees 3:46 mentions a former place of prayer at Mizpah. Consequently, some have related Psalm 74 to Antiochus IV's attack on the Temple right before the time of the Maccabean revolt. The idea is that Antiochus not only attacked the Temple, but other places of worship throughout the land of Israel as well. But my problem with that view is that Psalm 74 appears to describe a destruction of the Temple, not merely a pollution of it. The destruction of the Temple occurred in 587 B.C.E., so I think that Psalm 74 is about that particular event.
My conclusion is that there were places of worship outside of the Temple in 587 B.C.E., and that these places were deemed valid by the Deuteronomists. As I talk about in my post here, we see in Deuteronomy 16:7-8 that a solemn assembly could be held outside of the Temple on the last Day of Unleavened Bread. Deuteronomy most likely did not support sacrifices occurring outside of the Temple, but perhaps these places of assembly only had prayer, not sacrifice.
Friday, April 27, 2012
"The amount of hours we worked and the time my staff and I spent in the Speaker's office made it very easy to make poor dietary choices and not exercise. Leftover cookies and appetizers from meetings and receptions, fast food, and tuna melts from the grill led to almost everyone in the office gaining weight over the first year. Someone in the office started a weight contest, who could lose 8% of their body weight in eight weeks. Everyone who wanted to participate put in $20 and weighed in with the weight keeper. It became a team approach to healthy behavior. After eight weeks, two of the staff had achieved their goal, winning about $150 each, and quite a few others were close behind. This is not a revolutionary idea but the kind of healthy, team-building activity that could be replicated in any workplace. It just takes leadership."
I appreciate this anecdote because it gives me a glimpse into what life in Washington is like and also shows that Newt and his staff were pretty cool----in that they had the camaraderie to hold a weight-loss contest.
In terms of the incentives that society can offer for healthy living, Newt on pages 101-102 suggests "lower co-pays for patients who are compliant with their health-management requirements." I wonder how that compliance would be measured. Would it be through such things as weight-loss and low cholesterol?
I especially appreciated what Sanders said on page 357: "I don't feel that AS individuals always have to conform to the norms of social rules of conduct, but at the same time, it's not useful to any of us to carry our anger too far."
I'd like to fit in, but I also don't want to be a clone. I think that sometimes a contrarian or a degree of eccentricity makes life interesting! But it shouldn't be taken too far, I guess, to the point that it's utterly disruptive.
1. On page 118, Telushkin talks about greeting people. He quotes Babylonian Talmud 17a, which says that Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai greeted people first in the marketplace, even if they were Gentiles. Telushkin then tells a story about how Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzensky found that he could not cheerfully greet everyone he met in Vilna, since that was a large city. Imagine trying to greet everyone you encounter in New York City. You really can't, since you are coming across hordes of people at a time! After telling this story, Telushkin lays out the principle that "it is appropriate to greet those whose eye we catch, and all those whom we know, even if only slightly."
The above discussion is a good example of why I am enjoying this book so far: it teaches social skills. I myself struggle with greeting people. I fear rejection or not being remembered, or I wonder if I know the person well enough to greet him. But I'm getting better at greeting people, I hope. Elsewhere in this book, Telushkin reinforces a point that I have heard in another setting: that, even if another person does not remember you, you can take the opportunity to reintroduce yourself and remind him of where he met you.
Telushkin's discussion about greetings reminded me of what the New Testament says about this issue. There's Matthew 5:47, which says that greeting our brethren does not bring us reward, for everyone does that. Jesus makes this point within the context of talking about the importance of loving our enemies. And then there's Luke 10:4, in which Jesus tells his disciples not to greet anyone while they're on their way to evangelize a city. II Kings 4:29 has something similar: Elisha is sending Gehazi to raise a child from the dead, and Gehazi is to greet no one along the way.
On an important mission, a person is to be single-minded, not distracted by the need to greet people. Of course, Jesus was not saying that his followers should never greet people----after all, he said that they should greet their enemies----but, on an important mission, their mission should be what is foremost on their mind. I wonder why, though. There are biblical scholars who would say that the disciples believed their mission to be urgent because Jesus thought that the end was near, and so they had to get busy and start getting converts because time was short, and they could not get bogged down in greetings. If Jesus did not believe that the end was near, what would be the reason for his disciples not to greet people along the way? Where's the emergency? At the same time, if the disciples were continually in emergency mode because they felt that the end was near, why did they allow themselves at least some opportunities to greet people----such as their enemies (according to Matthew 5:47)?
2. Telushkin talks about how common sense plays a role within Judaism in defining what God wants for Jews to do. Telushkin gives a variety of examples, but one that I'll mention is in Babylonian Talmud Gittin 56a, in which Jerusalem is conquered because a rabbi was inflexible in his application of halakah. Essentially, Bar Kamtza, who was upset with Jewish leaders, made a blemish on a sacrifice that was to be offered on the Roman emperor's behalf, and the Torah prohibits the sacrifice of blemished animals. There were some dilemmas. Should the rabbis refrain from offering the sacrifice on the emperor's behalf and thus incur the wrath of Rome? Should they kill Bar Kamtza to prevent him from telling the emperor that the Jews decided not to offer a sacrifice on the emperor's behalf? On these issues, Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas was a stickler for the letter of the law: he said that the Jews should not sacrifice the blemished animal because that is prohibited by the Torah, and that they should not kill Bar Kamtza because causing a blemish in a sacrificial animal does not merit death. Because people chose to go with his inflexibility, which defied common sense, the Romans got mad at the Jews' refusal to offer the sacrifice on the emperor's behalf and thus destroyed Jerusalem.
Does reason supercede divine revelation? There are times when reason dictates an exception to the law within Judaism. Telushkin mentions, for example, the Maccabees' rule that Jews could fight to defend themselves on the Sabbath, even though they're technically not supposed to do any work on that day. At the same time, there is the rabbinic writing known as the Sifra, which affirms that the Jews should go with divine revelation, even though it may say things that they would not logically conclude. The Sifra repeatedly says that one might reach a certain conclusion logically, but the Torah says something else, and so one should follow the Torah. This makes a degree of sense, for, if logic were sufficient, why did God give the Torah? And yet, Jewish thinkers have pointed out that God did not give us the Torah to hurt us, and so they crafted exceptions to laws when strictly following those laws could result in (say) death. Still, they did acknowledge times when Jews should take their stand and keep the law, even when doing so brought the death penalty from Gentile persecutors.
Thursday, April 26, 2012
1. On pages 73-74, Newt talks about childhood nutrition. He laments that "School lunches...contribute to instilling unhealthy eating habits in children" because they "are high in carbohydrates and fail to offer a variety of healthy alternatives such as soymilk", when "Foods containing soy protein are effective in reducing cholesterol, treating kidney disease, and may cause calcium to be better utilized, helping to ward off osteoporosis." Newt states that the dairy industry is being put ahead of children's nutritional needs. Newt then discusses a school district in California that has banned sodas on campuses, replacing them with milk, "beverages with at least 50% fruit juice, and sports drinks with less than 42 grams of sugar per 20-ounce serving". Newt says that childhood obesity is a growing problem.
Newt goes on to say that he's not in favor of banning soft drinks and whole milk, but that people should learn about balance. But Newt may support the school's ban on soft drinks, for he says that "The soft drink companies should be challenged to expect to produce healthy alternatives or to expect to have reduced access to young people as a market."
What Newt said in this 2003 book intrigued me, in light of conservative snark about Michelle Obama's anti-obesity campaign (see here). I wonder what the difference is between Newt's approach to this issue and that of Michelle Obama.
In any case, as much as I like soda, I think that schools should promote healthier dietary habits. Many conservatives decry Michelle Obama's anti-obesity program as characteristic of a big government nanny state, and some of them defiantly affirm that they have a right to eat whatever they want, even if it's unhealthy. But eating in an unhealthy manner doesn't just affect the person eating in an unhealthy manner. It produces health problems that impact everyone else----in terms of higher health care costs and insurance premiums.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that the government should ban junk food. I seriously doubt that Michelle Obama goes that far, either. But schools and school lunches should be stocked with healthy food and drinks. Michelle Obama does well to work with restaurants to encourage them to have healthy items on menus. A health care program that encourages preventative care----which entails doctors coaching patients to eat right----can benefit individuals and society as a whole.
2. Newt once again expresses disapproval of third-party payers for health care. Newt supports health savings accounts----tax-free accounts of employees to which employers will contribute. But Newt's proposals do not get rid of insurance altogether. Newt believes that health-savings accounts will reduce premiums because people would have money in their account for medical needs, and thus could have a higher deductible in their health insurance. Newt also wants to move America away from employer-based health insurance, yet he recognizes that it's more expensive for individuals to purchase health insurance. As a solution, he proposes a tax credit for the individual purchase of health insurance, and also that groups (i.e., of small businesses, organizations, etc.) be able to purchase health insurance.
I think that these ideas are a step in the right direction, but I doubt that they're adequate for everybody. Would a tax credit help individuals who don't make enough to pay much in taxes to begin with? Would health-savings accounts provide enough money for costly operations? Moreover, while Newt's proposal that small businesses come together to purchase health insurance may have merit, I question whether Republicans have the will to push for this. I remember George W. Bush supporting this idea when he debated John Kerry. Then Bush won, and I didn't hear about the idea again. (But maybe Bush did mention it, since he supported some proposal regarding health insurance, which was rejected by the Democrats.)
In my latest reading of The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships, Sean Barron tells a story about when he walked into the recording studio where his parents worked and made a social mistake. Sean was in a bad mood because he did poorly on a test earlier that day, and so he breezed past one of his parents' co-workers, Marcia (with whom he was acquainted), without saying hello. Sean's mom corrected him on that, and Sean sank deeper into his morose mood. When he went out to dinner with his parents that night, he wanted them to ask him what was wrong and to try to comfort him. But whenever they did ask him what was wrong, he was unresponsive. From this experience, Sean learned the "Three strikes and you're out" principle:
"Most people will give you the benefit of the doubt a few times, and after that, if you don't take responsibility for either changing your behavior or repairing the situation, they lose interest in further social interaction with you." (Page 347)
I could identify with Sean's story. For one, it teaches me that it's important to be polite even when I'm in a bad mood. Granted, it may be difficult for some to be cheerful and to make small-talk when they feel badly, but saying "hello" doesn't have to take much effort. At the same time, Sean then had to go out with his parents when he was in a bad mood, and that would be difficult. Perhaps honest communication would have defused the situation (as hard as that may be), or he could have pretended to be happy just to get through the dinner.
Second, I can understand why Sean felt bad after he was corrected. Perhaps he wanted for his mom to treat him as an adult rather than a little kid, or he was embarrassed. Moreover, Sean said earlier in the book that he confused making mistakes with being a mistake, and he probably felt as a result of his mom's correction that he was a mistake.Third, I learn not to put heavy expectations on the world around me. I've often expected the world to be unconditionally loving and accepting of me, when it is not. I shouldn't assume that the entire world is against me, since, as Temple says, that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But I shouldn't expect for everyone in the world to be unconditionally accepting, either.
I started Rabbi Joseph Telushkin's A Code of Jewish Ethics, volume 1: You Shall Be Holy. I won't be doing this book justice in my write-ups about it, since it has so much in it: ancient and modern stories, personal anecdotes, nuggets of wisdom, etc. For this post, I'll comment on three items.
1. On page 20, Telushkin quotes Beizah 32b, which states: "If someone is compassionate toward others, you can be sure that he is a descendant of our father Abraham, and if someone is not compassionate toward others, you can be sure that he is not a descendant of our father Abraham." Telushkin then goes on to say that "Sadly, one sometimes meets Jews who, according to this definition, are certainly not spiritual descendants of Abraham."
This intrigued me because it reminded me of passages in the New Testament that treat descent from Abraham as something spiritual. Jesus tells Jewish leaders in the Gospel of John that they are not true sons of Abraham but rather are sons of the devil, since they do the deeds of the devil rather than those of Abraham (John 8). Paul says that Gentiles who follow Abraham's faith by believing in Christ are Abraham's seed, whereas not all Jews are truly a part of Israel. I was somewhat surprised to see a concept of spiritual descent from Abraham in rabbinic Judaism, though perhaps I should not be overly shocked, since Qumran saw itself as the true Israel (or did it?).
2. On page 34, Telushkin says that "Jewish law speaks on donating between ten and twenty percent of one's net income to charity." I've wondered how Judaism handles the issue of tithing, when there is no longer a Temple to which Jews can give their tithes. Do Jews now tithe by giving ten per cent of their income to charity?
3. On page 89, Telushkin quotes Rava in Mo'ed Kattan 28a, who states (and the brackets are in Telushkin's book): "The length of one's life, children [i.e., whether one has them, or the number of children one has] and livelihood depend not on merit, but rather on fate [or fortune]..." Rava tells a story to illustrate this point. There were two great rabbis in the third century: Rav Chisda and Rabbah. Both were righteous, for God answered their prayers for rain. But Rav Chisda had good experiences, whereas Rabbah had bad experiences. Rav Chisda lived until age 92, "witnessed sixty weddings of children and grandchildren" (Telushkin's words), and had enough bread that he could give fine flour to the dogs. Rabbah, by contrast, lived to age 40, saw a lot of premature deaths in his family, and endured poverty and hunger. According to Rava, their experiences had nothing to do with how moral they were, for both were righteous men.
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
1. On page 55, Newt states: "In the airline industry, we insist on safety first and profits second. In providing care we should insist on value for the patient before the provider or insurer can try to make a profit. Any other focus risks lives and is inherently immoral."
This should be obvious. Unfortunately, as Newt notes and as many of us have experienced, our health care system does not run that way.
2. On page 63, Newt states: "We should incentivize providers to achieve certain outcomes. For example, the national rate for hospital-induced illnesses is about 4%. If Medicare had an incentive program in which hospitals reporting an error rate under 1% received a substantial bonus (say one-half the amount they saved Medicare by creating fewer hospital-induced illnesses), we would begin to see dramatic decreases in hospital-induced illness."
Although Newt is talking specifically here about hospital-induced illness, what he says reminds me of something in Michael Moore's Sicko. Michael Moore was interviewing a physician in the United Kingdom (if I'm not mistaken), and the physician was telling Michael Moore that the government gives him a bonus when his patients are healthy. Suppose that Medicare did that here in the U.S.: it gave hospitals or doctors incentives if most of their patients were healthy, thereby saving Medicare money. That could encourage preventative care. At the same time, a potential problem could be that doctors would not see the very sick, for the doctors would want for most of their patients to be healthy so they could collect that bonus, and thus they'd cherry-pick. Hospitals, of course, have to see everyone, but, if I'm not mistaken (and I welcome tactful correction), doctors can limit the patients they see.
3. On page 64, Newt states: "...if Congress adds a prescription drug benefit to Medicare that is similar to the House bill passed in 2002, the cost of the drug benefit over 75 years will equal the current national debt. To pay for those kinds of programs we must transform the system."
I remember Newt saying in one of the debates that the prescription drug benefit was good policy because it saved money. In a sense, it's preventative care: it costs less to pay for prescriptions that alleviate illnesses than it does to allow those illnesses to become an emergency. In the passage I just quoted, however, Newt acknowledges that the benefit could get costly, and he appears to think that it could function best within a profound transformation of the health care system, not the status quo.
I agree that this is often the case. But I think that humor can be mis-used by people with Asperger's as they attempt to fit in. For example, Temple Grandin has talked about people with Asperger's being fired from jobs for making fun of a person's weight. My hunch is that those people with Asperger's were trying to fit in by being funny, with disastrous results.
I know that Sean doesn't have this sort of thing in mind when he is referring to humor. He explicitly says that we should not use humor to deliberately hurt someone else. But, in my opinion, society pressures people to talk and to be funny in order to be accepted, and that can lead to inappropriate remarks. Moreover, I find that I'm funniest when I'm not pressured with some rule saying "Thou shalt be funny or you won't fit in, and people won't like you, and you won't make friends, have a significant other, or get or keep a job" (and I want to make clear that Sean and Temple don't use those words). Traversing through society's social expectations is like going through a mine-field.
1. On page 248, Novak refers to the existence of thirty Noachide commandments. But weren't there only seven? According to Novak, Menahem Azariah di Fano (who died in 1620) sought to harmonize this by "making the seven laws seven categories having a total of thirty precepts." If you're interested in what the thirty Noachide commandments are, check out the article here, which features two versions.
2. On page 262, Novak is discussing a view within Judaism (one view that existed among other views) that the Gentiles are not held accountable for idolatry for the reason that only Israel is commanded to worship the LORD alone. Novak states:
"This view was also put forth, in more traditional form to be sure, by R. Solomon ibn Adret in the thirteenth century (Responsa Rasha, 4, no. 334) and later by Rabbenu Bahya. The latter writes: 'Therefore, we do not find in the entire Torah in any place that Scripture considers the nations guilty of idolatry, but only Israel who are specified as his portion' (comment to Deut. 31:15 re Deut. 4:19-20...). He continues, re II Kings 17:26, that gentile idolatry is only considered prohibited when practiced in Eretz Israel, even when the Jews are not there. See also Lev. 18:27-28; SR 15.23 re Lev. 26:1. See Rashbam to Deut. 4:19. Furthermore, it is worth noting that the condemnation of the Jewish survivors of the Temple's destruction by Ezekiel (33:24-25), a condemnation that lists idolatry among their sins, was interpreted on T. Sot. 6:9 to refer to gentiles for the violation of all the Noahide laws."
Initially, that last sentence does not appear to jive with what comes before it, but it makes sense when you check out Tosefta Sotah 6:9. Essentially, that passage is arguing that the Gentiles cannot possess the land of Israel because they have violated the Noachide commandments (and the ones that are mentioned are eating a limb from a live animal, idolatry, murder, stealing and perverting justice, fornication, and pederasty).
3. On page 280, Novak refers to "the rabbinic view that Noahides can only offer whole burnt offerings...but not peace offerings...those offerings eaten in fellowship." Novak cites B.T. Zev. 116a and Sifra, Vayikra, 13a re Lev. 3:1.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Genesis 21:14 is often lampooned, or it is cited to show that the Bible has different sources, or that an editor clumsily threw together different stories in Genesis. The reason is that Genesis 21:14 appears to say that Abraham put Ishmael on Hagar’s back. Why would Abraham put Ishmael on Hagar’s back? He wasn’t a baby at this point! Earlier in the Book of Genesis, in Genesis 17, Ishmael was circumcised at the age of 13!
I found two attempts at a solution to this problem. First, there’s that of the Protestant commentator John Gill. In the Hebrew, it says (in my literal translation) “And Abraham rose early in the morning, and he took bread and a water-skin of water and he gave to Hagar. He put on her shoulder, and the boy, and he sent her and she went and she wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.” According to Gill, the text is not saying that Abraham put Ishmael on Hagar’s back. Rather, Gill thinks that “the boy” goes with “he gave to Hagar”, not “He put on her shoulder”. It’s almost as if Gill treats “He put on her shoulder” as parenthetical. For Gill, Abraham gave Hagar bread and a water-skin and put those on her shoulder, and he also gave Hagar Ishmael, which means that Abraham “delivered him into her hand, to be taken care of by her; and very probably she led him in her hand”. Whether this works, I don’t know. I have to admit that “and the boy” is in a pretty awkward place in the verse!
The second solution is that of Genesis Rabbah 53:13. It says that Sarah gave Ishmael the evil eye, and so Ishmael got sick. As a result, Hagar had to carry Ishmael on her back. I do admire the rabbis for their creativity!
1. Messianic Jew Derek Leman talks about Rachel Held Evans’ controversial post, 15 Reasons I Left Church. Derek refers to an e-mail that he received, which said (and Derek changed some parts to respect the person’s anonymity):
“At the local university I am completing some classes in Judaism and loving them. Then I attend my local church and things that never bothered me before are suddenly a terrible disappointment. In a recent sermon, the pastor unfortunately used the typical theme of Jewish faithlessness in contrast to Christian faithfulness. His complete lack of skill in exegeting the scriptures, in realizing the authors themselves were Jewish, and that anti-Judaism is nowhere to be found in a skillful reading of the New Testament is alarming. In another recent Bible discussion, many of the members gave smug answers about the harmfulness of the Law and the superiority of ‘grace,’ as they understand it. I felt so out of place here. This is the first time I have come to feel like a stranger in my own church. I am afraid I don’t fit within Christianity anymore, but my faith in Jesus has not diminished at all. Why can’t churches see Messiah for who he is? How can a person whose eyes are opened to these things remain?”
This made me think some about my own church’s approach towards the Hebrew Bible and Judaism. (My church is PCUSA.) Like other churches that I have attended, my current church criticizes the Pharisees (see my post here), and it sometimes treats the Hebrew Bible as inferior to the New Testament. At the same time, both the Pastor and the Pastor Emeritus have said that God’s hand was in the creation of the modern state of Israel, albeit they didn’t say this in a fanatical Christian Zionist way. Moreover, I think that our Bible study through Margaret Feinberg’s Scouting the Divine was a positive step, for Feinberg demonstrated knowledge and appreciation for laws in the Hebrew Bible, such as the Sabbath, gleanings, and the land rest. Some people in the group were using that as a platform to promote blue laws, which (as someone who spent time in Seventh-Day Adventism) frightened me somewhat. But Feinberg’s book definitely encouraged us to see the Torah positively.
2. The Christian Heretic shared a journal entry that she wrote when she was a Christian in college. She said:
“My Chi Alpha friends loved me when I was ultra-spiritual and rebuked me when I wasn’t. So I sort of went into pseudo-spiritual. I did all the right things, said the right words, but my motivation was to make friends, not just to get to know God. He was the fringe benefit. Here at home, my friends at church seem so shallow and superficial. Whenever I get together in a social gathering, it’s all rowdy, fun and games, crazy, not too much hint of a serious side. In both situations, I feel I have compromised my relationships with God for the relationships of people. I keep searching for the perfect friend. One who has all the qualities listed earlier.
“People just aren’t like that, though. Every human being on this earth puts conditions on their love for one another. ‘I love you because you seem spiritual.’ ‘I love you because you’re wild and crazy and like a good time.’ ‘I love you because you are my daughter.’ No person can love all the various facets of an individual. A person loves, not another person, but certain sides of his personality that are compatible with their own. Only God can love the whole person.”
I identified with wanting a deeper relationship with God that was hard to find amidst the evangelical fun-and-games, and also desiring unconditional love, which is hard to get in this world.
3. Nick Norelli criticizes Bart Ehrman’s remark that “Apart from fundmanetalists and very conservative evangelicals, scholars are unified in thinking that the view that Jesus was God was a later development within Christian circles”. Nick appeals to Larry Hurtado, a scholar who argues on the basis of cultic devotion that Jesus was exalted early on in Christian history, meaning that a relatively high Christology is early rather than late.
4. Rodney shares what he thinks about being in churchrelevance.com’s Top 200 Church Blogs.
5. Kate Elizabeth Conner talks about the two times that she adored Jerry Falwell when she was a student at Liberty University.
What I liked in my latest reading of Newt Gingrich's Saving Lives & Saving Money: Transforming Health and Healthcare is that it differed from some of the usual conservative talking-points that I hear.
Many conservatives love to argue that there are long waiting-periods in Canada and other countries that have single-payer national health insurance, but Newt (although he does not favor single-payer national health insurance) points out that there are long waiting periods in the United States to see a doctor, in a number of cases. Many conservatives hold that the number of uninsured people in America is far less than 42 million, but Newt sticks with the 41.2 million figure, which is based on Census Bureau numbers. Many conservatives have maintained that the vast majority of Americans are satisfied with their health insurance and the U.S. health care system in general, but Newt highlights increasing dissatisfaction, and he contends that the quality of U.S. health care could be better. Some conservatives have said that health insurance should only be catastrophic and that its coverage of other things is what contributes to high premiums, but Newt acknowledges the importance of preventative care, in terms of both health and also the cost of health care.
Newt is still a conservative, for he criticizes the large role that the government plays in the U.S. health care system. Overall, Newt would like for the system to focus on the doctor and the patient, and he does not care for third-parties paying for health care. The result of third-party payers, as he notes, is that you have the insurance companies and the government, which want to control the amount of money that they spend on health care. In the case of the insurance companies, this is to maximize profits for the companies and the shareholders; in the case of the government, it may be to keep government spending for health care under control to prevent deficits or to allow money to be spent on other things. You have the doctors, who want to make more money. As Newt notes, if the government or the insurance company pays less per visit by patients, then the doctors will simply find ways to schedule more visits! And then you have the patients, who are dissatisfied with the care that they are getting.
I think that third-party payers are a problem, but I cannot think of any alternative, for the reason that these payers exist in the first place is that health care is expensive. I tend to trust the government more than private insurance companies seeking to maximize their profits, however, for I recall Howard Dean saying that, when he was a doctor, dealing with the government was much easier than dealing with private insurance companies, in terms of getting his patients the care that they needed. Perhaps there's more to the issue than this, though.
For my write-up today on The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships, I'll use as my starting-point something that Sean Barron says on page 328:
"For years, I reacted to uncomfortable situations with silence. During the same time, I clung to the mistaken notion that silence was just that----a void, empty of meaning. Regardless of how hard I tried to remove myself from that uncomfortable situation by retreating into myself, I always gave off something negative that those in my presence felt and picked up on every time. In itself, this is another unwritten rule of social interaction: being silent is a form of communication all its own. There are appropriate and inappropriate times and places for being silent. Inappropriate silence speaks volumes and the old adage, 'silence is golden' doesn't always apply."
This is where I struggle. I'm told that I shouldn't be so quiet because people interpret me as cold or ignore me. But then I talk a lot and, because I don't know what to say, I end up saying things that are awkward or inappropriate. Nowadays, I don't speak unless I feel a need to do so. But I'm around my family, and, overall, they accept me anyway. Whether my current approach would work with strangers, I do not know.Temple and Sean offer ideas on how to initiate small talk: compliment someone, for instance. According to Temple, one shouldn't be hurt if another person doesn't want to continue a conversation. That makes sense to me. I don't have to expect everyone to find me dazzling, but there might be some people who would be interested in talking with me.
A problem that has perplexed a lot of Christians and thinkers about Christianity is the eternal destiny of those who have never heard the Gospel. A salient doctrine within Christianity states that one must believe in the Gospel (usually defined as Jesus dying and rising again to bring forgiveness of sins) in order to escape eternal torment in hell and to enter the good afterlife. But what about those who have never heard the Gospel and thus have lacked an opportunity to respond to it? Would a loving God condemn them to hell?
What I found interesting in my latest reading of David Novak's The Image of the Non-Jew in Judaism is that a similar problem exists within Judaism. Moses Mendelssohn said the following, and I will provide some context for his remarks after featuring what Mendelssohn said:
"And to me these matters are difficult...that all the inhabitants of the earth from the rising to the setting of the sun are doomed, except us...unless they believe in the Torah which was given us as an inheritance to the congregation of Jacob alone, especially concerning a matter not at all explicit in the Torah...Concerning this we only have ancestral tradition, but what will those nations do upon whom the light of the Torah has not shined at all?"
"God...was, in their opinion, good enough to reveal to mankind the truths upon which their happiness depends; but he was neither omnipotent nor good enough to grant to them the faculties of discovering them themselves. Besides, by this assertion, they make the necessity of a supernatural revelation more universal than revelation itself. For if without revelation the human race cannot but be depraved and miserable, why have by far the greater portion thereof been living without true revelation from the beginning, or why must both the Indies wait until the Europeans are pleased to send them some comforters, to bring them tidings..."
These quotes appear on pages 206-207 of Novak's book. The first quote is from an October 26, 1773 letter, and the second is from Mendelssohn's book, Jerusalem.
Mendelssohn was responding to a Jewish view that Gentile observance of the Noachide commandments only counts if the Gentiles recognize and accept that God revealed the Torah to Israel, meaning that the Gentiles are obeying the Noachide commandments specifically because they are in the Torah. Otherwise, the Gentiles will not enter the World to Come, and they will not receive the happiness that obedience to God brings. But Mendelssohn finds this view problematic, for there are many people around the world who have not heard of the Torah. Mendelssohn appears to think that it's more reasonable to believe that Gentiles will attain happiness and enter the good afterlife if they obey the principles of natural law----which are universal and thus are accessible even to those who have never heard of the Torah.
Monday, April 23, 2012
I started Newt Gingrich's Saving Lives & Saving Money: Transforming Health and Health Care. Actually, Newt wrote this book with other people, but I'll only refer to "Newt" when discussing what the author of the book says.
My impression has been that this book in particular is an important book to Newt, for Newt referred specifically to it at least two times in his campaign. I first heard of it when I watched Newt Gingrich's debate with Herman Cain, and I decided to buy it so that I could learn more about what Newt thought was wrong with America's health care system, and how he believed the system could be fixed.
At the outset, let me say that one thing that I admire about Newt is that he at least acknowledges that the American health care system is broken. When I hear many other conservatives talk about health care, I wish that I observed in their comments that same sensitivity. Instead, what I hear are goofy arguments. "Oh, the American health care system is the best in the world! Everyone has to be treated in emergency rooms in the United States of America!" Yeah, and that drives up the cost of health care, which is why Obama and Romney have supported an insurance mandate. Plus, I have heard that those without health insurance don't get as good of care in emergency rooms as people with insurance.
In my last reading of this book by Newt, I encountered one idea that was vintage Newt: that we could reduce bureaucracy and paperwork in the health care system by making more things computerized, thereby saving money. Moreover, like many conservatives, Newt also talks about how trial lawyers contribute to the increasing cost of health care. According to Newt, the litigious culture discourages people from becoming nurses, which is why there is such a shortage of nurses. Plus, because doctors are afraid of being sued, they are reluctant to admit mistakes, which hinders those mistakes from being corrected.
Newt believes that another problem is that there is a third party involved in paying for health care, namely, insurance companies and the government. I doubt that he wants to remove completely any third parties, for he has stated that he supports allowing the elderly to stay in Medicare if that is what they want. But, while third parties may contribute in some manner to the rising costs of health care, I doubt that health care would be cheap were they to leave the picture. Newt himself acknowledges that one reason that the cost of health care has increased is because of the advancements that have been made in health care.
Another point that Newt makes is that Medicaid eats up a lot of states' budgets, hindering them from spending money on things that they need (i.e., roads). So does Newt support reducing money that is spent on government health care programs? This could be problematic, for, on pages 27-28, he states:
"Because the government accounts for 45% of all healthcare spending, their tactics to control costs have hit the system like an atomic bomb. Decreased reimbursement rates from the government are hurting the bottom line. Doctors and other care providers are forced to see more patients for less time in order to maintain their standard of living. Some doctors are now even charging a 'membership fee' of $1,500 to reduce the number of patients they treat."
Government attempts to control costs have negatively impacted supply-and-demand. But perhaps Newt is saying here that the problem is that the government is too heavily involved in health care at the outset. Because people depend so heavily on the government, what the government does has quite an impact. But suppose people were not as dependent on the government? I myself think that health care would still be expensive.
One final point for this post: On page 17, Newt has a chart, and he's drawing from information here about insurance premiums. Essentially, the figures show that the annual increase in employer-based insurance premiums was declining until 1996, when it started to increase. A conservative friend of mine once told me that I should thank Bill Clinton for my high premiums (which are actually not employer-based), but I forget what his reasoning was.
I have three items for my write-up today on David Novak's The Image of the Non-Jew in Judaism.
1. In Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 57b, we find that abortion is prohibited for Gentile Noachides, to the point that the death penalty is prescribed as the penalty for that crime. No exceptions to this prohibition are mentioned. Tannaitic sources, however, do not treat abortion as a capital offense for Jews, plus they allow abortion to save the life of the mother. So is the law stricter for Gentiles than for Jews? As Novak documents, Jewish interpreters have said "no". They have either affirmed that Noachide morality applies to the Jews, or that the Gentiles, too, are allowed to resort to abortion when the fetus threatens the life of the mother. There is a queasiness about asserting that Noachide morality is stricter than the Torah.
And yet, in my latest reading of Novak, there do appear to be times when the Torah is more lenient than what is required for Gentiles, and the reason is that Gentiles are viewed as corrupt. For example, on page 103, we read that "for gentiles premeditation may be inferred, whereas for Jews it must be explicitly verified in capital cases." For Jews, it must be established that the suspect was aware of the prohibition that he violated and acted with premeditation, whereas premeditation is assumed with the Gentiles (or so I understand Novak's point). But Novak also refers to the view within Judaism that "In cases of ignorance of circumstances...Jewish law is also lenient with gentiles" (page 103).
2. One of the Noachide commandments prohibits eating a limb torn off of a live animal. Why? One view is that this was an idolatrous rite. Another view is that this commandment teaches people to refrain from cruelty. And a third view is that eating a limb from a live animal violates God's boundaries and order, since we're supposed to eat the meat of animals that have died, not meat from animals that are alive.
3. On pages 198-199, Novak talks about the late medieval Jewish thinker Meiri, who wrestled with the issue of whether Gentiles could observe and study the Torah. According to Novak, after the destruction of the Temple and the schism between Jews and Christians, there was an attempt within Judaism to set up clear boundaries between Jews and Gentiles, and the result of that was removing "Anything suggesting a quasi-Judaism". Consequently, the third century Palestinian amora Rabbi Simon b. Lakish affirmed that a Gentile keeping the Sabbath deserved death, and his brother-in-law Rabbi Johanan ben Nappaha stated that a Gentile studying Torah merited death (B.T. Sanhedrin 58b-59a).
But things get murkier when we come to Maimonides and Meiri. Meiri justifies these rabbinic rulings by saying that their concern was that people would think that Gentiles observing the Jewish laws were themselves Jews and would thus try to learn from them. Meiri probably does not want for Gentiles to get their impression of what Jews are like from religious syncretists who may hold views that mainstream Judaism regards as unacceptable, and so Meiri wishes that Gentiles did not keep certain Jewish customs. (Many Jews today have the same issue with Messianic Judaism.) At the same time, Meiri does believe that Gentiles can observe some commandments in the Torah because he notes that Gentile offerings and donations were deemed acceptable at the Temple while it still stood. Similarly, Maimonides "permits Gentiles to observe Jewish commandments and receive reward from God" (page 198). And Meiri allows Gentiles to study the Torah "if their study of the Noahide laws likely will le[a]d them to conversion" (page 198).
Novak then asks a good question: "What is the difference between religious syncretism, which both Maimonides and Meiri judge as the basis for the prohibition of gentile observance of the Sabbath and Torah study, and electing to observe some Jewish commandments?" The answer is this: If a Gentile is trying to start a new religion and is incorporating Jewish elements into that, then what the Gentile is doing is prohibited. If, however, the Gentile accepts Jewish revelation and is electing to observe parts of it as a Gentile, then that is okay. Maimonides applied the latter to the ger toshav, a Gentile who dwells within Israel. And Meiri applied it to Christians, who accept the legitimacy of Jewish revelation. Meiri's view on this probably was not unanimously received, for there were Jews who regarded the Christians as idolaters.
Sunday, April 22, 2012
My Pastor’s point this morning was that, on account of Jesus Christ, we can throw away the chalk. I’m not entirely sure what this means. Should we ignore our own sins? There are people who believe that Jesus Christ has put us in a situation in which we are saved by grace, and so we do not need to stress out about our sins. The people I’m thinking about here are not pro-sin or antinomian, mind you, but they believe that we can grow when we are free to make mistakes, without being afraid that God will condemn us for those mistakes. Grace, in short, is an opportunity to grow.
Is there a place for us to enumerate our sins or character defects? Perhaps doing so is destructive if it leads us to guilt and self-condemnation—-or at least the guilt and self-condemnation that do not lead to anywhere positive. If guilt leads us to embrace God’s love and forgiveness or to become better people, then it may be a good thing.
Regarding Chapter Sixteen, there were some differences between that chapter and A Contract with the Earth. Not contradictions, but differences. Whereas A Contract with the Earth was for America weeding itself off of fossil fuel, Chapter Sixteen of Real Change included building more oil refineries under the rubric of Green Conservatism. Chapters Sixteen-Seventeen also promote nuclear power as a way to reduce carbon emissions, something that did not strike me as a prominent theme in A Contract with the Earth.
Chapter Sixteen of Real Change was also more partisan. It criticized the Superfund and an approach to the environment that emphasizes "lawsuits, paperwork, litigation, and bureaucracy" rather than encouraging the development of new technology that will help the environment (page 191). Chapter Sixteen also disapproves of Al Gore's contention that all humankind and posterity, not just individuals, have rights, for Newt interprets this as "some collectivist and non-democratic elite's interpretation of what is needed" (page 194). In A Contract with the Earth, by contrast, Newt is not partisan but focuses on the good that people are doing to help the environment.
I learned about the polar bear Knut in Chapter Sixteen of Real Change. See here for wikipedia's article. According to Newt, Knut's mother did not feed him, and so human caretakers at the zoo did so, and that outraged animal rights activist Frank Albrecht, who thought that the zoo should kill the bear because it would have died in its natural habitat. I found it sad that an animal rights activist would support killing an animal, for the idea behind animal rights should be the preservation of animal life. As I read some about Albrecht's position, however, I saw that he was concerned that keeping Knut alive would not be in Knut's interest, for Albrecht did not deem it appropriate for humans to feed Knut by hand, in light of animal protection laws, plus he thought that Knut was dying a slow death because he was separated from his mother. Albrecht probably saw killing Knut as a form of mercy-killing. When Knut demonstrated that he could live on his own, however, Albrecht reversed his position that the zoo should kill the bear.
A feature of Chapter Sixteen that I appreciated was Newt's discussion of how the Trust for Public Land will give Atlanta twenty-two miles of parks and trails. Newt did not mention how nature can spiritually edify us, but that's what I thought about when reading that passage: that walking on trails and observing nature will remind us of how small we are and allow us to see nature's beauty, things that Newt discusses in A Contract with the Earth.
Chapter Seventeen of Real Change surprised me because I was expecting a lot of "Drill, Baby, Drill", but that's not what I encountered. Rather, Newt focused on green technology and hydrogen. He even argued that nuclear power could support our conversion to hydrogen power, saying that "Nuclear power has an additional bonus in that nuclear power plants can produce hydrogen for a hydrogen-powered automobile system at night when the electricity grid does not need the power" (page 200-201).
My overall reaction to Newt's discussion on the environment is that green technology should be encouraged and promoted, by government and within the private sector. I would not, however, dispense with government regulations, for those keep businesses accountable. I'm for the regulations being sensible, however, and the focus should be on results: Are the air and water cleaner, and have CO2 emissions been reduced?
For my write-up today on The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships, I'll use as my starting-point something that Sean Barron says on page 300:
"Using lead-ins. By this I mean good conversation openers and phrases that encourage the interaction to continue. These are things like, 'That's interesting. Tell me more.' They also include paraphrasing (without repeating verbatim) what the person told you. For example, someone tells you that she feels sad because her mother died or that she is overjoyed at getting an A on her test. You could respond with something like, 'I'm sorry about your mother. I can tell you're feeling very sad. Tell me about her,' or 'That's great. I see how happy you are about your grade.'"
I think that there's something to that. In the past, I've had my doubts about whether saying "Tell me more" is a good social mechanism. I've envisioned myself responding if someone said "Tell me more" to me with, "Well, I'm not entirely sure what to say or what you're looking for..." I've feared that people would tell me that if I asked them to tell me more. Plus, I remember one guy telling me about his job, and then he closed the conversation with "That's all I have to say about that." So I wondered if I was right even to ask him about his job at the outset! Perhaps I should have asked specific questions, but ones that were open-ended. I don't know.
On the other hand, in a world that does not listen to me much anyway, I have felt refreshed when someone says, "So, tell me more about" such-and-such. And, when someone paraphrases what I say, that tells me that the person is listening. So perhaps there's something to Sean's advice.
Saturday, April 21, 2012
From my blog:
Nixon’s Civil Rights 12: Charles Colson
10 Significant Mike Wallace Moments
1. One Lord, One Faith, One Voice: A Forum on the Limits of Politics and a Search for Common Ground
This was an article in the October 7, 1996 Christianity Today in which Colson, Ralph Reed, and Tony Campolo had a discussion about faith in public life. I especially liked what Reed had to say about Colson:
“The first book other than the Bible that I read after I became a Christian was Born Again, by Chuck Colson. I think God wanted me to read that book, because it was the story of someone who wanted to change the world and tried to do it through politics and came to a point where he saw that politics wasn’t the answer. That book changed my life, because up until I got saved I thought the same thing. If we could just elect the Gipper, if we could just cut the marginal tax rate, if we could just get rid of the Soviet empire, it would be a great world. I want to instill in the hearts and minds of activists that you should not make your political involvement the sole repository of your hopes and aspirations as a Christian for the reformation of society.”
2. David Plotz, Charles Colson: How a Watergate Crook Became America’s Greatest Christian Conservative
This article appeared in the March 10, 2000 edition of Slate. I like the first quote because it illustrates what I loved about Colson, and the second one highlights concerns that I had about him:
“On prison issues, he is a darling of the left. He insists that nonviolent criminals should not be jailed, that more convicts should be paroled, and that drug offenders should be treated rather than incarcerated. He works desperately to convince conservative lawmakers to reconsider their lock-’em-up views. Colson lobbies for better prison conditions. He champions ‘restorative justice,’ a promising notion now being tested all over the country. Restorative justice holds that crime is committed not against the state but against a victim and against God. In restorative justice, nonviolent criminals stay out of jail, remain in the community where they committed their crime, and work to support their families and pay restitution to the victim. Ideally, the criminal seeks reconciliation with the victim, too.”
“There are hints that Colson is changing as his popularity increases. During the first two decades after he left prison, he invariably criticized Christian political activism for its self-righteousness. But that criticism is subsiding. In his radio shows and columns, which reach millions of Christians, Colson sounds increasingly like other religious-right preachers. He doesn’t yet have the bile of a Robertson, but he seems angrier and angrier, and he is more and more willing to wade into politics. He harshly criticizes evolution. He has lobbied to permit the display of the Ten Commandments in government buildings. He has been increasingly vocal about his loathing for gay rights. (The villains of Colson’s apocalyptic novel are AIDS activists.) He pushed hard for the impeachment of President Clinton.”
3. Jessica Gresko, Watergate Figure Charles Colson Has Died at 80
This entire article is worth reading, for it talks about Daniel Ellsberg and Colson’s view on Mark Felt after Felt was identified as Deep Throat. But I’ll highlight here my favorite part of the article, which is a quotation of Mark Earley, a former Virginia Attorney General who worked with Colson’s Prison Fellowship:
I finished A Contract with the Earth, by Newt Gingrich and Terry Maple. What interested me in my latest reading was the biography of Newt at the end of the book. Among other things, it states the following:
"Since his days as a college professor in western Georgia, where, in the early 1970s, he was an environmental studies professor, he has been involved in a variety of environmental initiatives. He was the founding chair of the West Georgia College Chapter of the Georgia Conservancy. He has championed various environmental causes, including efforts to create the Chattahoochee River Greenway, protect the wild tigers of Asia, and establish the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Marine Sanctuary."
This tells me that Newt has long been concerned about environmental issues, meaning that he wasn't just writing a book about the environment for the sake of writing a book about the environment. He has a record of concern on this issue. On some level, I already knew that, for I remember hearing in 1994 the story of how Newt as a child got involved in the political process by lobbying for a zoo.
So what are my impressions of A Contract with the Earth? I liked its optimism and its accounts of how people in the private sector are working to protect and improve the environment. Whether their efforts are enough, I'd probably say "no", since environmental problems still remain. But at least they're doing something.
I would have liked to have seen more of Newt's critique of current environmental policy. I wrote here a while back, in discussing an NPR story on Newt's Contract with the Earth:
"According to Gingrich, the environmental movement has turned many conservatives off from caring about the environment. He states that, starting in the 1980's, 'the leading environmental groups on the left — particularly the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters — began to equate the environment with litigation, regulation, taxation, [and] bureaucracy[,] and you were either for their solution or you were against the environment.' For Gingrich, the result of liberal 'solutions' was harm to the economy. As an alternative, Gingrich proposes (in NPR's words) a 'science-and-technology-based, entrepreneurial, free-market approach that incentivizes the development of new systems and new technologies that can lead you to a better environment.'"
I wish that I saw more of a discussion of these issues in Newt's book: the history of environmentalism, and how left-wing environmental policies have failed. I did learn some about the history of environmentalism in the book, for Newt and Maple talked a little about the Muir-Pinchot debate. I just wish I saw more about the history of environmentalism.
"Some of the 'safe subjects' I talk about are the weather, our surroundings, recent movies, whether or not the person has pets, asking about any hobbies they have, etc. If I'm at an autism meeting, I know I can ask about different therapies or the school program, or books on autism or Asperger's. One of the rules about conversation topics that seems to apply generally in society is there are three subjects you don't discuss with strangers and most people who are not close friends: sex, politics, and religion. People let their emotions get all tied up into those subjects which can result in volatile reactions that are sometimes hard to handle. I have close friends I can discuss these subjects with, but I don't talk about them with strangers. When I was in my twenties, I was obsessed with talking about the meaning of life. I did not realize that most people do not spend hours talking about such a deep subject. Today that's another subject I only discuss with few very close friends."
I think that there may be a place to talk about politics and religion with strangers. But it has to be done in a non-threatening way. Often, in the past, I did not discuss these subjects overly well with people. I did so in a manner that alienated many people from me, though (I have to be honest) I also managed to attract people to me, since they thought that I was smart, or they agreed with what I had to say, or they wanted to debate me. I struggled with social skills----probably less in my high school years than I do now, but I still struggled, and talking about politics and religion gave me a voice, something to talk about with other people. The thing is, a lot of people don't want to talk about deep subjects all of the time, or they do not desire for me to shove my beliefs down their throats.
Sean Barron in my latest reading of this book talks about how he was uncomfortable going out with friends of his parents because they knew a lot about the music industry, and Sean did not know much about that topic and thus felt that he had nothing to contribute to the conversations. Consequently, Sean learned about obscure jazz musicians from almanacs and other sources, and he felt empowered when he talked about these musicians to his parents' friends, who did not know about them.
I can identify with Sean here. I often enjoyed learning facts about, say, Presidents and the Bible, and then dazzling people with my knowledge. In some settings, that helped me out socially. When I was in the fifth grade and my class was doing a trivia exercise on the Presidents, many of my classmates wanted to work with me because of my Presidential knowledge! In certain religious settings, knowing your Bible is considered to be a good thing. But I've learned that knowing facts is not entirely sufficient for social situations. When I went to Harvard Divinity School, I studied the Bible intensively, hoping that my knowledge would help others and that people would be drawn to me. Well, it didn't exactly work out that way! There's a place for interacting with people on a human level----for discussing surroundings, or asking them what's going on in their lives, etc.
Where I struggle socially is that I often don't know what to talk with people about. One thing that Temple in this book recommended as a solution to this is to do different things and have a variety of experiences. And she also referred to safe subjects to discuss: the weather, pets, movies, etc.
1. In the King James Version, v 4 states: "For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm." The New American Standard Version, however, translates the second half of the verse as "and their body is fat". Both are understanding the words in the phrase u-vari ulam differently.
I can see merit in pieces of both translations of the verse. I can understand why the NASB translates bari as "fat", for that is what the word most often means in the Hebrew Bible (see here). The only place where the KJV translates it as "firm" is in Psalm 73:4.
But I can also understand why the KJV translates ulam as "their strength". The word ul only appears in two places in the Hebrew Bible: in Psalm 73:4, and in II Kings 24:15, where it refers to the mighty in the land (and mighty equals strength). As I checked the BDB and William Holladay's Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, I could not find a justification for translating ul as "body". Keil-Delitzsch, however, noted the Arabic parallel allun, which they say means "body". Perhaps the idea is that the body is strong because it is a structure. In any case, even though I think that (from a linguistic standpoint) "their strength" makes more sense for ulam and "fat" makes more sense for bari, I have to admit that "their strength is firm" and "their body is fat" make more sense to me as an English reader than "their strength is fat".
But that's not why Psalm 73:4 stood out to me. The reason that this verse caught my attention is that it affirmed that there are no bands when the wicked die. The word translated as "bands" (which, in the Hebrew Bible, only appears in Psalm 73:4 and Isaiah 58:6, where it refers to the oppressive bands of wickedness) is understood by many translators to mean pain, their idea being that Psalm 73:4 is a lament that the wicked do not feel any pain when they die. The Septuagint and the Targum, however, have a different idea: that the verse is saying that the wicked are not "dismayed and daunted" (to draw from Edward Cook's translation of the Targum) when they die. Either way, Psalm 73:4 stood out to me because it appeared to contradict the overall theme of Psalm 73 as a whole: that the Psalmist is sad that the wicked prosper, but the Psalmist then learns that God will kill the wicked. But why should the Psalmist be consoled that the wicked will die, when he says in v 4 that their death is not painful, or that the wicked do not even fear death?
There are at least two solutions to this problem that have been proposed. One is that Psalm 73 is not about God's punishment of the wicked in this life, but in the afterlife. I will look more into this viewpoint in my discussion of Psalm 73:24. The other solution is that le-motam ("to their death") is actually lemo tam, which means "to them whole". The idea here is that Psalm 73:4 should be translated as follows: "For there are no bands to them; whole and fat is their body."
2. Psalm 74:10 says in the KJV: "Therefore his people return hither: and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them." My literal translation of this verse is, "Therefore his people will return (or, in the kethib, will bring back) here, and waters of full will be found to them."
This is a difficult verse. The Septuagint renders it (and here I am using Lancelot C.L. Benton's translation), "Therefore shall my people return hither: and full days shall be found with them." The LXX's Hebrew manuscript must have ve-yemei ("and days of") rather than u-mei ("waters of"), and it has "my people" rather than "his people". The LXX for this verse is probably affirming that, because the wicked have angered God, God will return his people Israel to the Promised Land and give them full days.
But what if Psalm 74:10 is about the wicked rather than God's people? According to translators and commentators, the idea is that the people admire the wicked who are prospering. Either the fullness of water refers to the prosperity of the wicked, or the phrase is indicating that people keep returning to drink up the wicked people's words, for they admire the wicked on account of their rich life.
I thought that some of the Christian sermons that I heard on this verse were pretty pathetic, to tell you the truth. They applied this verse to celebrities and how people admire them and drink up their words, even when these celebrities (supposedly) don't know what they are talking about. One preacher mentioned Harry Belefonte's criticism of the Iraq War, saying that Belefonte singing "Day-O" does not make him an expert on foreign policy, and that Scripture calls Belefonte a fool for speaking out without knowing all of the facts (as if the Bush Administration knew all of the facts when it launched the war in the first place). And another preacher lamented that people were holding a vigil for Heath Ledger after his death, when he was in the pro-gay movie Brokeback Mountain. I found these remarks to be one-sided, judgmental, and ridiculous, for Belefonte is not wicked when he stands up for what he thinks is right, and there is nothing wrong with lamenting the death of Heath Ledger, who (by many accounts) was a decent guy. But I still take from Psalm 74:10 the lesson that I should resist the temptation to admire the prosperous people who do what is wrong, as if their prosperity makes them worthy for me to emulate.
3. Psalm 73:17 states in the KJV, "Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end." This is a crucial part of the Psalm, for it is in the sanctuary that the Psalmist reverses his view that the wicked unfairly prosper and affirms that they will come to an end. Why the Psalmist reversed his view is not stated. Marvin Tate proposes three possibilities: that the Psalmist had a vision in the sanctuary of God in God's majesty, as Isaiah had in Isaiah 6; that the Psalmist heard from a temple prophet that the wicked would come to an end, the sort of message that we see in Isaiah 40:7-8; and that the Psalmist reached this conclusion in a state of meditation and quiet contemplation. Tate observes that Psalm 73:16 indicates that the Psalmist was engaging in "strenuous intellectual effort" to understand why the wicked prosper, and his insight in the sanctuary may have been (at least in part) the fruit of this hard brain-work.
But Psalm 73:17 has a difficulty. The word that the KJV translated as "understood" is in the cohortative, and the cohortative often carries the meaning of "let me" do such-and-such. Moreover, the Septuagint uses the subjunctive for that word, and the subjunctive often means "may I" do this. So must the word in Psalm 73:17 mean "let me understand"? What sense does that make?
What is Psalm 73:17 saying? There are people who agree with the meaning that the KJV sees in the verse. Rashi was a medieval Jew who knew Hebrew, and he had no problem with interpreting Psalm 73:17 to mean that the Psalmist went into the sanctuary and understood the end of the wicked. And there is grammatical justification for that point-of-view. For one, there is such a thing as a "pseudo-cohortative" (to use Waltke-O'Connor's phrase), a cohortative that does not function as a cohortative. We see this sort of thing in the Hebrew Bible (i.e., Psalm 66:6). And, second, although the verbs in Psalm 73:17 are in the future tense, scholars have argued that tense is not really significant in Hebrew poetry----that the future tense can be used to describe a past event.
But there are other ways to interpret Psalm 73:17. One view is that the Psalmist is saying that he will understand the fate of the wicked only after God brings him to the sanctuary, for that will signal God's intention to vindicate the Psalmist and to punish the wicked. The grammatical justification for such a reading is that cohortatives are used in conditionals. Some suggest that the issue in this verse is the restoration of Israel from exile, but I suppose that an interpreter can make the case that it's applicable to David, who was away from the sanctuary during his flights from Saul and Absalom and wanted God to return him to it.
Another view is that the Psalmist in Psalm 73:17 is expressing resolve, for a cohortative can indicate a firm resolution (as Waltke-O'Connor document). In this case, the Psalmist is affirming that he will go into the sanctuary, with the express intent of understanding the true fate of the wicked. This coincides with a sermon point that I heard: that we go to church to remind ourselves of what is right, and to conform our thoughts to the truth. In the case of Psalm 73, according to this particular interpretation, the Psalmist thought that the wicked prospered, but he went to the sanctuary to remind himself of the truth that God is in control.
4. Psalm 73:24 states in the KJV, "Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory." Many Christian interpreters have understood the "glory" here as the afterlife. Others, however, have argued that "glory" is never used for the afterlife in the Hebrew Bible, and that Psalm 73:24 is about a glorious outcome that God would bring about in this life. Keil-Delitzsch wrestle with this issue, and they bring v 25 into the equation: "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. " They say that we can only go to heaven with God, and that even heaven would not satisfy the Psalmist if God were not there. In my opinion, the Psalmist in v 25 is not necessarily talking about an afterlife but is saying that----in the vast cosmos (heaven with its gods and earth with its people)----God is the only one he can fully count on. But I don't mind Keil-Delitzsch's homiletical application of the verse.
Friday, April 20, 2012
In my latest reading of A Contract with the Earth, Newt Gingrich and Terry Maple appear to disapprove of hysterical scenarios about potential environmental and other catastrophes, for they believe that cooler heads can develop technology that will save the day. For example, Y2K was averted through technology, and some of the technology installed to prevent Y2K allowed some potential 9/11 problems to be circumvented years later. And, although Stanford Professor Paul Ehrlich in 1968 predicted that there would be a world famine between 1970 and 1985 due to overpopulation, what happened was quite different, according to Newt and Maple: "Instead, the world experienced a precipitous drop in fertility and food was exported by the United States at record levels because of the effects of the so-called green revolution in agriculture" (page 186).As I have read A Contract with the Earth, I have wondered about the stance on climate change that is held by Newt and Maple. On the one hand, they don't care for apocalyptic scenarios, and they appear to express some doubt as to the extent to which human beings are causing climate change. On the other hand, they advocate the reduction of CO2 emissions, which implies that they believe that humans are contributing to climate change, on some level. In my latest reading, they say that we should seek to reduce CO2 emissions (through public and private encouragement of new technologies) in order to mitigate climate change, and, if that doesn't work, then we'll have to find a way to adapt. Newt and Maple affirm on page 193 that "We cannot afford to be wrong about global climate change", but they do not think that doomsday scenarios and paranoia really help the situation.