Friday, April 30, 2010

Authentic; Fearless; Not Fully Alone; Patriotism; Memes; Tithes; Julia in My Mind

1. Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People, page 208:

Another word of warning. I know from experience that some men…will try to use the same psychology mechanically. They will try to boost the other man’s ego, not through genuine, real appreciation, but through flattery and insincerity. And their technique won’t work. [N]obody wants insincerity. Nobody wants flattery. Let me repeat: the principles taught in this book will work only when they come from the heart. I am not advocating a bag of tricks. I am talking about a new way of life.

In my blogs about this book, I’ve often presented it as a work that offers sound advice on how to manipulate people: to get them to like you so that they’ll do what you want. And, in a sense, the book markets itself as such: it tells you that following its principles will help you to succeed in business, for example. But, as Dale Carnegie notes in the above quote, suppose we practiced these principles while actually valuing the people we want to befriend? Suppose we saw others as people of dignity and worth, with their own needs, problems, and struggles. Then, we would be sincere when we practiced the principles, not merely trying to use others for our own elevation.

I think about seducing women. There are womanizers who are adept at pretending that they care for women in order to get them into bed. How do the women feel when they learn that they’ve been manipulated? Probably not too good, in a lot of cases (unless they were looking for a cheap fling). But suppose a man acted as if he cared for her, and truly did care for her? What if her fantasy were a reality? That would be beautiful.

Personally, I have difficulty coming across as if I sincerely value other people. If I don’t like a person, then that comes through somehow. Even if I point out things to that person that I admire about him or her, they comes across as insincere, even when they’re not. But it’s better to give than to receive, I guess. I have to do good and trust that God notices, and will bless me accordingly.

2. Robert Heinlein, Sixth Column, pages 184-185:

The Prince Royal watched with great interest as Ardmore approached him. The man walked without fear. And, the Prince was forced to admit, the man had a certain dignity about him, for a barbarian.

The absence of fear is something that most people admire. Women are often attracted to confidence, even though they may also sigh at such things as sensitivity and vulnerability.

I think of an episode in this season of Lost. The Smoke Monster comes to a drunken Sawyer in the form of John Locke, and Sawyer picks up that something is not quite right. “Who are you, because you sure as hell ain’t John Locke!”, Sawyer says. The Smoke Monster asks Sawyer why he thinks that, and Sawyer responds: “Because John Locke had fear, even when he was pretending that he didn’t.”

I’d be afraid to be around Sawyer, if he could sniff the fear that I was trying to hide! I’ve been told that all sorts of people can sniff fear: beautiful women, unruly kids, CEOs. But, if you’re trying to hide your fear and they can sniff it anyway, is there any hope? For me, fear is always there. It’s just a part of me! I feel a little better, though, when I hear about successful people who admit that they have fear, yet somehow rise above it, or cope with it.

3. Erhard Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part I with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry, pages 52-53:

When attached to an individual complain psalm, the blessing is evidence that the suffering individual was not alone but rather in the midst of a group of worshipers while praying for recovery and well-being…

The outlawed, suffering, and depressed person easily feels persecuted by hostile crowds…The social group, which should protect its members, may become wary of him (see Psalms 4 and 55), so enemies may arise from one’s own environment (…”Suspicion of sorcery and poisoning tactics within the village runs high at times”…). The enemies may also include hostile groups or even demonic powers…(…against the one-sided view of Birkeland, who declares every single enemy in the book of Psalms to be a foreign intruder).

I often feel alone in groups, in the sense that I don’t think that others like me. But, even then, there’s a sense in which I don’t feel alone. When I’m at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, I’m around people who (like me) are crazy: they have fears and resentments and worries and shyness. Yet, we all look to a higher power to restore us to sanity. The same goes for some churches that I’ve attended. When I’m at a charismatic church and a woman is praising God with tears in her eyes, I feel a connection to her: like me, she’s a vulnerable soul approaching the throne of grace.

Gerstengerger’s reference to “demonic powers” stood out to me because, for a time, that’s how I read the psalms in which the Psalmist asks God to deliver him from enemies who seek to do him harm. I read them in light of spiritual enemies—Satan, sin, the flesh, the world—since there was nobody who was literally trying to kill me.

4. R. Pfeiffer, History of Classical Scholarship, page 249:

Although an indefatigable traveller through the whole Greek world (not beyond it) Polemo did not lack a sense of local patriotism…

My Internet connection was down yesterday afternoon, so I watched an episode from the first season of Brothers and Sisters. Justin Walker has enlisted to go to Afghanistan shortly after 9/11, and his mother, Nora, expresses concern that he’s allowing himself to be caught up in some “nationalistic fervor” that will put his life at risk. I somewhat appreciated Nora’s statement, for, shortly after September 11, I too was disturbed by the group-think that was pervading the atmosphere around me.

Do I love my country? I certainly admire the men who founded it, who placed their lives on the line in a risky move to create a free and independent nation. I like how our nation has grown over the years: we once allowed slavery and racial segregation, but we came to realize that such institutions ran counter to the principles that we proclaimed. In a sense, we are a beacon of light for other nations, which look to us for deliverance from evil and oppression. And we have certain freedoms here—freedom of speech, of religion, of privacy—which many other countries cannot take for granted. Plus, we’re prosperous.

But I can’t say that we’re perfect. There are times when we stomp on other nations in pursuit of our own self-interest (or that of elites). Our health care system is broken, as care is too costly for a number of Americans. Some people fall through the cracks of our economic system. There are other countries where people can freely speak and practice their religion, and they don’t have these kinds of problems, at least not at the level that we do. Why are we better than them? Because we’re America, and I’m just supposed to take for granted that America is the best country in the world?

I’m not sure if I buy into the sappy patriotism that I used to embrace. But I should probably see my country as similar to all people and institutions: it’s a mixture of good and bad.

5. Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion, pages 15-16:

…after the overthrow of Babylon by the Persians the Old-Babylonian religion ceased to be a state-cult attached to the political center and bound up with its functions of rule…Both support and restriction fell away with the loss of statehood. The release of the religion from a political function was an uprooting comparable to the territorial uprooting of Israel. The fate of subjection and political impotence in the Persian Empire forced the Babylonian religion to stand henceforth on its spiritual content alone. No longer connected with the institutions of a local power-system and enjoying the prestige of its authority, it was thrown back upon its inherent theological qualities, which had to be formulated as such if they were to hold their own against other religious systems which had similarly been set afloat and were now competing for the minds of men. [T]he older cult was transformed into an abstract doctrine, the reasoned system of astrology, which simply by the appeal of its thought-content, presented in Greek form, became a powerful force in the Hellenistic world of ideas.

This reminds me of something that atheist Richard Dawkins discusses in The God Delusion: memes. Ideas in religion that help people cope and survive remain in that religion, and are perpetuated; ideas that fail to do this die.

On Netflix, I was watching the film for Christian apologist Lee Strobel’s The Case for Faith. Although I was rolling my eyes through all the predictable drivel that apologists consider a “case”, I actually liked something that Lee said. Lee referred to skeptic Bertrand Russell, who declared that anyone who sits at the bedside of a dying child will disavow the existence of a loving God. Lee asked what an atheist would say at the bedside of a dying child. “Oh well, that’s the way life is”? His point was that Christianity at least offers hope.

Sure, if the child is a Christian; otherwise, Christianity says she’s going to hell—unless it believes in an age of accountability, and, even then, her parents would go to hell if they’re not Christians, which negates any notion that there will be a great reunion in heaven of people and their families. Sure there will be, if they’re all Christians! But I appreciated Lee’s point that an atheistic viewpoint doesn’t offer a great deal of hope. That’s why I respect skeptics, such as Ken Pulliam, who look at life and realistically assess that religion will be with us for a very long time. It offers us hope and the ability to cope with life, and that has assisted us in our survival up to this point.

But I do wonder if Christianity will remain the same, or if it will change. Liberal John Shelby Spong wrote a book a while back, entitled Why Christianity Must Change or Die. He made a good point when he referred to the intellectual challenges to Christianity, but I think he’s reaching if he holds that his non-theistic version will appeal to people and meet their needs. Sure, rich intellectuals may like it, but I doubt it will be popular.

Yet, there are things about Christianity that turn off a lot of people. Some of it’s connected with what the Bible says. Some of it is not. Will Christianity change? And, if it ends up disavowing certain things in the Bible, will it do so while pretending to be true to the Bible?

6. Richard Sarason, A History of the Mishnaic Law of Agriculture: A Study of Tractate Demai, page 46:

Since the produce was purchased abroad, we assume it to have been grown abroad. It therefore is exempt from tithing…

Yet, the Israelites outside of the land of Israel tithed in some capacity. See The Mishnah: Tithes from Ammon and Moab.

7. Do you admire certain celebrities? Do their talents appeal to you, or have you gained wisdom and inspiration from their life stories? Suppose those celebrities didn’t like you.

That’s a question I’ve asked myself whenever I watch television or read an author I enjoy, but it was brought to the forefront of my mind as I watched the movie, Julie and Julia.

Julia Childs was a famous television chef. Years after Julia Childs’ heyday, Julie Powell decided to blog through Julia Childs’ recipe book. Julie achieved success as a blogger and a writer. She thought the world of Julia Childs, and she imagined Julia Childs speaking to her as she followed her recipes. But, sad to say, Julia Childs did not like her. Julia never met Julie, but she knew about her well-publicized blog, and she didn’t appreciate what Julie was doing. She thought that Julie’s project was trivial, and Julie’s occasional four-letter word did not endear her to Julia.

In a profound scene on the movie, Julie is really heart-broken to learn that Julia Childs does not like her. Julie believes that Julia Childs is perfect, and so the fault must be hers (Julie’s). But her husband, Eric, tells her that the Julia in her mind is perfect. I thought his point would be that we shouldn’t idealize people, but that’s not what he went on to say. Rather, Eric told his wife that the Julia in her mind was the only Julia that mattered, and that, if Julia didn’t understand what Julie was doing, then that’s not something that Julie should fret about.

I’m still trying to unpack this scene, for it’s probably much deeper than I presently realize. Julie and Julia were both alike in a lot of ways: they dealt with struggles and failure and, eventually, success. And yet, Julia did not like Julie, for she didn’t understand what Julie was doing. One lesson may be that we can admire people, even if they don’t like us. We all share the common experience of humanity, and, yet, for a variety of reasons, certain people don’t click: due to differences in temperament or culture, or misunderstandings. But what’s important is the Julia in our minds: what we admire about a person that inspires us to be better and to get through the day.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tenacious Dickens; Good on Paper; Adoption; Elephants; Church Tradition; Tithed; True Church

1. Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People, page 187:

The praise, the recognition that he received by getting one story in print, changed his whole career, for if it hadn’t been for that encouragement, he might have spent his entire life working in rat-infested factories. You may have heard of that boy, too. His name was Charles Dickens.

Carnegie’s point here is that encouragement can bring the best out of people. But, in his previous paragraph, we see that Charles Dickens didn’t wait for encouragement before he acted. Rather, Dickens sent out manuscript after manuscript, receiving numerous rejections in the process. He had tenacity, and, in some sense, he believed in himself, for he kept sending out manuscripts. But he was also modest and slightly unsure of himself, for he mailed his manuscripts at night, when no one would see him. I do agree with Carnegie, however, that approval by an editor encouraged Dickens to keep on writing; otherwise, he may have become discouraged and stopped sending out manuscripts. But I have to admire Dickens for sending them out even when he was receiving nothing but rejection. That is walking by faith, and not by sight!

2. Robert Heinlein, Sixth Column, pages 162-163:

Here was a church that did not ask a man to subscribe to its creeds; you could come and enjoy all the benefits and never be asked to give up your old-time religion—or even be asked if you had a religion.

Sometime during the 1990′s, I read Marvin Olasky’s Tragedy of American Compassion, which was a criticism of the American welfare system. Olasky hearkened back to the days when churches helped the poor, giving them food and bringing them to Christ, which changed their lives for the better. In this era, there were poor people who stopped being drunks and became responsible, working citizens of society.

I got a cozy feeling when I read Olasky’s stories. But that was before Olasky influenced President George W. Bush to try such an approach in real life, through faith-based initiatives. That was the way the Bush II years were for me: ideas I had supported for years were finally becoming national policy. That includes faith based initiatives, tax cuts, and abstinence-only sex education.

I wouldn’t say that these ideas were a total failure. Tax cuts stimulated the economy, and I’m sure there were some abstinence-only sex ed programs that worked. But these ideas were not enough. Bush’s tax cuts did not get us out of our economic crisis, and abstinence-only sex education did not stop the sudden upswing in teen pregnancies. Real-life doesn’t always conform to ideological pamphlets, from the right or the left!

Regarding faith-based initiatives, there was concern during the Bush Administration that poor people were getting religion shoved down their throats. Even some Christians contended that churches should help everyone, without pressuring them to accept a religious creed. What looks good on paper (Olasky’s book) can end up becoming complicated when applied to real life! I can think of other examples: the Iraq War, Medicare, the Great Society, etc.

3. Erhard Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part I with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry, page 46:

The contention that adoption was unknown or detested in Israel is rather ill founded…

Gerstenberger says this in his discussion of royal Psalms, in which (according to Gerstenberger) God adopts the king of Israel as his son.

I vaguely recall a sermon by Garner Ted Armstrong, in which he criticized the Worldwide Church of God for stigmatizing adoption. He was discussing Romans 8:15, which affirms that Christians have received the spirit of adoption. I wonder why the WCG stigmatized adoption (if it indeed did). Apparently, there were biblical scholars who did so as well, claiming that adoption was detested in ancient Israel!

4. R. Pfeiffer, History of Classical Scholarship, page 172:

There are various tales of elephants being attracted by the scent of flowers and making love to girls binding and selling wreaths…

The elephants were making love to women? I can’t even imagine how that would take place!

5. R.P.C. Hanson, Allegory and Event, page 372:

Does this mean that we must after all return to the view that Origen was restrained and influenced in his interpretation of Scripture by a ‘tradition of the Church’ independent of Scripture? The answer depends upon what is meant by ‘tradition of the Church’…It is exceedingly difficult to determine at any moment in church history what the ‘tradition of the Church’ is. Justin Martyr, for instance, says as plainly as possible that a literal interpretation of the Millennial Kingdom, described in Rev. 20.4, is an integral part of orthodox Christianity. Origen says that an allegorical interpretation of this prophecy is a piece of apostolic teaching. Gaius (quoted by Eusebius) attributed a belief very like Justin’s to the heretic Cerinthus.

When I read Catholic writings that appeal to “church tradition”, they usually make a fairly decent case, quoting a range of church fathers who have similar ideas on (say) baptism. But there was diversity among the church fathers as well. Not all of the fathers agreed on what teaching went back to the apostles. I wonder how Catholics would address this. Would they say that we should especially embrace the ideas that the fathers agreed went back to the apostles?

6. Richard Sarason, A History of the Mishnaic Law of Agriculture: A Study of Tractate Demai, page 36:

The Israelite who consumes second tithe in Jerusalem eats it just like the priest eating holy things in the Temple, viz., in a state of cleanness. Just as we do not require the priest to designate second tithe (and certainly not to separate heave offerings of the tithe) from doubtfully tithed holy things, so we do not require the pilgrim to do the same with regard to doubtfully tithed produce purchased in Jerusalem which becomes second tithe. In both cases, since the whole of the produce in question is holy, and since one of the tithes to be separated would in any case be eaten on the spot by him who separates, we do not require the separation of the other tithe.

I guess what Sarason is saying is that the doubtfully-tithed produce becomes second tithe, so it’s no longer doubtfully-tithed!

7. Felix Taylor has a post, HOW TO DISPROVE THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY, in which he quotes Robert Bowman. Bowman believes in the Trinity, but he tells anti-Trinitarians how they can put together a convincing case (which he probably doubts is even possible). Bowman states the following:

It’s no good telling us that you believe X, Y, and Z instead of the Trinity, if this “alternative” is your own private confe[ss]ion of beliefs. I say this because the true doctrine of God will be held by a community of believers in Jesus Christ, the EKKLHSIA (“church”). Theologies do not exist in a vacuum, or in isolation. You are either part of a church that teaches the theology you espouse, or you are picking and choosing what you will believe from others and not committing yourself to a _way of life_ that puts a set of teachings into practice. Jesus Christ said that he would be with his people until the end of the age as they engaged in the work of making disciples, baptizing and teaching them (Matt. 28:19-20). So, what people today are Christ’s people?

I was about to make an “Oh Brother” post about this quote, but I don’t think that I can blow it off that easily. The New Testament talks about a “church”. Even its talk about the last days refers to believers in Jesus, which may imply a Christian community. I think this is why there are many Christians who believe in a “true church”: the New Testament talks about a church, so they assume that God must have a recognized body that is doing his work.

In my background with Armstrongism, there was discussion about the existence of a true church. The Worldwide Church of God said it was an organization—the WCG, whereas others said it was an organism, not an official group. There was nuance in this discussion, for the WCG also saw God’s church in other bodies: the Waldensians of the past, the Church of God (Seventh-Day), etc. They believed God was officially working through an organization, but they had a sense that there were people outside of that body who obeyed God’s commandments and were God’s people.

In evangelicalism, there is a distinction between the church body and the universal church. A church body is a church congregation, whereas the universal church encompasses all believers in Christ, both those who belong to a local church, and those who do not.

I’m not sure if we have to assume that God has an organization on earth, which fully conforms to God’s truth. Maybe God is working through a variety of Christians, who don’t agree about everything.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Eddie; Decent; Anti-Oppression Psalms; Homeric "Errors"; Imminent; Inductive; Flashing Light

1. Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People, page 154:

Dale Carnegie says that our backgrounds have influenced how we’ve turned out. If we had the same body, temperament, mind, environment, and experiences as Al Capone, Carnegie states, then we would have turned out just as he did. Carnegie also says that the “only reason…that you are not a rattlesnake is that your mother and father weren’t rattlesnakes.” His conclusion is that we shouldn’t look down on people who are “irritated, bigoted, [or] unreasoning”, but we should pity them, for we could have ended up just as they are, had we had their backgrounds.

This reminds me of last Sunday’s Desperate Housewives, which was about Eddie, the strangler of Fairview. The conclusion of the narrator, the late Mary Alice Young, is that monsters are created by other monsters. Eddie had a bad mother. She was a drunk, and she told Eddie throughout his life that she did not want him. She also made fun of him, telling him that the only woman he’d ever get was one who was blind or inflatable.

Add to this Eddie’s frustration with the opposite sex. He could never get a woman, and many women in his life (his mother, Gabby, Susan, Danielle Van de Camp, the girls at his school) rejected him. He didn’t just want sex, for he desired a relationship, a woman who would love him. After Bree told him that he’d some day find a woman who would say “yes” to him, he went to a prostitute on a street-corner. When she says “yes”, he gives her a bouquet of flowers, and she laughs him to scorn. And so she becomes Eddie’s first victim.

One can understand how Eddie became as he was, and I certainly have compassion and empathy for this fictional character. One of the themes of Desperate Housewives is that we should not judge other people, for we all have skeletons in our closets, and we’ve done our share of sin, sometimes with good intentions. But what are the implications of this? Should a court let Eddie off-the-hook because he had a hard life? Is there a way for us to be compassionate, without compromising our moral standards and the well-being of society?

2. Robert Heinlein, Sixth Column, page 154:

“…you are too soft and mush-headed for this job. You apparently think that the United States can win this war without anyone getting hurt—you don’t even have the guts to watch a traitor die.”

This reminds me of last night’s V, which was an excellent episode on so many levels. I’m thinking of the scene in which some of the sympathizers of the Fifth Column—the aliens who are resisting the attempts of their fellow aliens to take over the earth—have captured and tied up a man who has killed on behalf of the evil, invading aliens. His reason was that the aliens healed his daughter of paralysis, and he felt that someone needed to fight for them, since they were pacifists (in his mind). A torturer among the Fifth Column sympathizers wants to beat this guy up to get information out of him about the location of Fifth Column members, so he can help them out. Before he proceeds to torture the captive, he says, “It is now time for all decent people to leave the room!” The priest, played by Joel Gretsch, then leaves the room. Earlier, the priest told the torturer not to beat the captive up.

The torturer had no self-delusion that he was a decent man. He knew he was scum, and he wanted to use that attribute for his cause. He had resigned himself to being a scum years ago!

This quote from Heinlein also reminded me of a conservative statement that often got on my nerves, even when I supported the war in Iraq. Whenever a liberal would point out the innocent casualties and disastrous consequences of the war, a conservative would blithely blow that point off with “War is hell.” Yes, war is hell, which is why we should try to avoid it if there are other ways to deal with the problem.

3. Erhard Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part I with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry, pages 31-32:

Gerstenberger narrates that the Israelite monarchy created a feudalism through the centralization of economic and military interests, and that this feudalism “ruthlessly exploited the small landowners and the agrarian and urban proletariat”. The stratification between rich and poor continued into Israel’s post-exilic period, as Nehemiah 5:1-13 indicates. In Israel’s pre-exilic period, there were “group chiefs and ritual experts who attended the needs of the individual and the family.” They included men of God, prophets, and priests of local sanctuaries. (I see such figures in II Kings!) These “lower ranks of the prophetic and sacerdotal hierarchy assumed responsibilities in counseling persons and groups in distress.” According to Gerstenberger, they were the ones who composed the Psalms that ranted against the oppression of the poor.

I often wondered who would compose those sorts of Psalms. Would the establishment? Why would the establishment acknowledge the existence of social ills under its auspices? I’m glad that Gerstenberger attempted some answer to this question that has baffled me.

4. R. Pfeiffer, History of Classical Scholarship, page 166:

To the scientific rationalistic mind of Eratosthenes the unrealities in Homeric geography were obvious. He did not blame the poet; the fault was in the interpreters who made the fundamental mistake of identifying epic localities with certain places in the Mediterranean and supposing that Homer made it his business to teach people geography or anything else such as theology, ethics, or military tactics. Homer’s geographical passages, for instance the wanderings of Odysseus, were to be regarded as purely imaginary; the aim of the poet was there and elsewhere not to instruct but to give pleasure.

At first, I thought that Eratosthenes was trying to argue as some Christians do when they are confronted with “errors” in the Bible: “The Bible’s not a history or science book, but its intention is to teach us how to live, and to bring us closer to God.” But Eratosthenes doesn’t believe that Homer intended to teach people about theology and ethics, so that impression of mine goes out the window! He seems to contend that Homer is just great literature. That’s how some people today treat the Bible: “Why worry about whether it’s factually accurate or inaccurate? It has good stories!” The stories definitely draw me to the Bible. They have since I was a child who read Bible story books, listened to Bible story tapes, and watched Superbook. But I also see the Bible as a guide on how to live and become closer to God.

5. R.P.C. Hanson, Allegory and Event, page 342:

Words of our Lord apparently suggesting a Second Coming to take place very soon [Origen] explains away: ‘Henceforth ye shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power’ (Matt. 26:64) does not in his view imply a return of Christ in the near future, for in the first place Christ’s disciples saw him ‘sitting at the right hand of power’ when they saw him risen from the dead, and in the second place an immense period of time is only a day in God’s sight anyway.

I’ve wondered how church fathers dealt with passages in which Jesus appears to say that his second coming is near. Well, now I know how one church father dealt with them! I don’t find his first argument about Matthew 26:64 all that convincing, for Jesus was talking in that verse to the Jewish leaders, not his disciples. But N.T. Wright and many preterists have contended that the Jewish leaders did see Jesus sit on the right hand of power, with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. That event confirmed to them that Jesus had authority and judgment, or so the argument runs. I don’t know. Rabbinic Judaism didn’t conclude that from this event! Neither did Josephus. I doubt that conclusion was in the minds of the Jews experiencing it.

6. Richard Sarason, A History of the Mishnaic Law of Agriculture: A Study of Tractate Demai, page 20:

Each formal unit must be analyzed on its own terms, and not forced to conform to an a priori literary theory of the document. My work therefore strives to be rigorously inductive.

I like that. I’d prefer to read a writing that has a thesis and proceeds from there, since it’s easier on me, the reader. But an inductive approach is probably better because it allows the texts to speak for themselves, rather than hammering them into a neat thesis. I once voiced that opinion to a DePauw Honor Scholar class, to laughter: “I think reality’s too complex to reduce to a thesis.” At the same time, it’s okay (in my opinion) to ask a question, and to look for answers. That can produce a neat paper. But there are all sorts of approaches.

7. Ken Pulliam had some good posts last week: Did Paul Hallucinate on the Road to Damascus?–Part One and Did Paul Hallucinate on the Road to Damascus?–Part Two. His conclusion was that Saul of Tarsus and the people with him may have seen a solar flare, and that Saul hallucinated the voice of Jesus, as a result of his inner conflict over the message of Christianity and his persecution of Christians (his kicking of the goads, to refer to Acts 26:14). Ken referred to psychological studies to argue that such was within the realm of possibility. Ken also had a post before that, Are Religious Experiences Evidence for God?, where he refers to studies indicating that the inner peace that comes from religious exercises (i.e., prayer, meditation) has a natural explanation, meaning we don’t have to attribute it to the supernatural.

I thought of Ken’s posts as I watched My Name Is Bill W. yesterday, and I also recalled the CBS movie that was on Sunday night, When Love Is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story. Bill Wilson was the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, and his wife, Lois, started Al-Anon, which helps the families of alcoholics. In both movies, the character of Bill Wilson talks about seeing a light in his hospital room and feeling a sense of peace washing all over him. Whereas, before that event, he continually promised to stop drinking and ended up breaking his promise, that event placed him on a solid ground of sobriety. He still needed to build on that ground, however. He couldn’t rely on an out-of-the-ordinary experience in his past, for he had to take the necessary action to keep sober: reach out to other alcoholics, rely on a higher power, take a moral inventory, let go of resentment, make restitution, etc.

In My Name Is Bill W., Bill is explaining his Saul of Tarsus experience to his doctor, William Silkworth, who wrote the “Doctor’s Opinion” in the Big Book. Silkworth says that he cannot account for Bill’s experience from a scientific perspective, but at least Bill is in a better place than he was yesterday.

Nowadays, there are scientists who contend that they can account for such an experience from a scientific perspective. Perhaps so. But, in my humble opinion, Bill was still in a better place than he was before his “flashing light” experience, as was the apostle Paul.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Unloaded Questions; Outsider’s Test; Thank You; Smart Guy; Reason for Origen’s Universalism; Allowed This Time; Self-Acceptance

1. Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People, page 136:

Carnegie quotes Dr. Overstreet, who states: “It often seems as if people get a sense of their own importance by antagonizing at the outset. The radical comes into a conference with his conservative brethren; and immediately he must make them furious! What, as a matter of fact, is the good of it? If he simply does it to get some pleasure out of it for himself, he may be pardoned. But if he expects to achieve something, he is only psychologically stupid.”

This describes me in a nut-shell: I love to challenge the mindset of the status quo. At DePauw and Harvard, I was a conservative! In conservative Christian settings, I was a liberal. But Dale Carnegie exhorts us to find common ground with another person and to ask her questions to which she can answer “yes”, leading her towards our point-of-view. This is what Socrates did: he didn’t march up to a person and say “This is the way it is.” Rather, he asked questions.

Many people who try to practice this approach don’t do it all that well, in my opinion, because their questions are loaded and ideologically biased. “And which political party is more pro-American—the Republicans or the Democrats?”, a person once asked me, expecting me to answer “Republican.” That’s not an effective use of the Socratic method, unless you know for sure that the person you’re asking the question will answer “Republican”!

But I think that it’s appropriate to ask people about what we consider the weaknesses in their positions, to see how they handle them. For example: “President Obama, what do you think about all this debt?” That’s not a loaded question. His policy was to do deficit spending in order to get our economy out of its economic hole. What’s his view on the debt that such a policy created? I’m sure it has crossed his mind! He’s a smart man!

2. Robert Heinlein, Sixth Column, page 116:

“…All religions look equally silly from the outside…Sorry! I don’t mean to tread on anybody’s toes…Take any religious mystery, any theological proposition: expressed in ordinary terms it will read like sheer nonsense to the outsider, from the ritualistic, symbolic eating of human flesh and blood practiced by all the Christian sects to the outright cannibalism practiced by some savages.”

This is the “outsider’s test of faith” that atheists talk about. See Ken Pulliam’s summary of John Loftus’ discussion of this test here. The idea is that we’re supposed to step outside of our religion and take a look at it as if we were outsiders, the same way that we would evaluate a religion that is not our own. The conclusion Loftus wants us to reach is that it’s all nonsense!

I have some sympathy for the “outsider’s test of faith”, for I’m sick of Christians who apply their razor-sharp reasoning to other religions—to show that they’re silly or irrational or immoral in comparison with Christianity—and yet they give a free pass to their own faith. Either they say “Just have faith, for God knows more than we do” when they’re discussing the problematic aspects of Christianity, or they offer apologetic “answers” that not everyone finds convincing.

At the same time, I’m open to a degree of mystery, so I don’t automatically blow something off just because it doesn’t make complete sense to me. Believing in a good God with all of the evil that exists in the world is an example.

Interestingly, the “outsider’s test of Christianity” runs counter to some of the things that I’ve learned about the academic study of religion. Not completely, mind you, for, when we apply (say) an anthropological analysis to a religion, we are acting as detached outsiders, looking at it from the perspective of a field of study. But I was also encouraged to try to understand a religion from the perspective of its practitioners—to try to enter into their mindset. And this would apply to any religion.

But the “outsider’s test of faith” isn’t really about the study of religion—it’s about the evaluation of a religion to determine whether or not we should accept it. Personally, I’m not big on getting on any high horse and pronouncing all religions as “wrong”. Maybe they have something to teach us. Maybe their practitioners have experienced things that many of us haven’t! I don’t want to become a complete relativist, however, for cannibalism strikes me as cruel.

3. Erhard Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part I with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry, page 15:

“I give thee thanks” means exactly “I am handing over to you my thank offering” (see Pss. 52:11…; 57:10-11; 86:12; 118:21; 138:1-2).

This just stood out to me. Maybe it’s because the ancient Israelites had a concrete way to say “thank you” to God. I either forget to say “thank you” in my prayers, or I say it, it feels empty, and I soon forget about it. But the ancient Israelites offered an animal. Rituals solidify things, in my opinion.

4. R. Pfeiffer, History of Classical Scholarship, page 153:

But who is courageous enough to measure himself even as editor against the universality of Eratosthenes, philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, chronographer, geographer, grammarian, and poet?

Smart guy! A jack of all trades!

You can probably tell that I’m really struggling to find interesting things in this book. I’m sure there are people who love it. It just doesn’t interest me!

5. R.P.C. Hanson, Allegory and Event, page 335:

The fact is that universalism in Origen’s thought is a necessary conclusion from his basic premises, and not, as it is in most modern thought, a ‘larger hope’ grounded on a strong belief in God’s love and a kindly feeling toward all humanity, however degraded. In Origen’s view for God to fail in reconciling into their original state as pure spirits wholly obedient to his will any beings at all, even only one or two, would be for God, the single, simple, primal, unalterable One, to compromise himself with change and becoming and corruption. This is inconceivable, and therefore all must be saved.

I don’t entirely understand this, but it addresses a question that has come to me. Why was Origen a universalist? Was it because he believed in the love of God for all humanity and could not conceive of a good God torturing sinners in hell forever and ever? That’s a big reason that I’m drawn to universalism, but, in line with what I said in (2), my job in studying the ancients should be to figure out what they think, not project onto them what I think.

Maybe I can use some of what they think to inform my own thoughts. For example, I believe that Origen’s view that hell is a place of correction accords with my understanding of the love of God, who prefers not to throw his creation into the garbage, but deeply wants them to become righteous and reconciled with him. But was that Origen’s reason for seeing hell as a place of correction?

According to Hanson, the answer is “no”. I don’t entirely understand what Origen’s reason for believing in universalism is. It has something to do with God being one, so, apparently, in some manner, God’s creation must also be one: united with him. Origen referred to I Corinthians 15:28, which affirms that, after all things have become subjected to the Son, the Son will subject himself to the Father, making God all in all. So all will become one, in a manner of speaking.

Many Christians believe that God will be “all in all” because he will destroy or eternally punish his enemies, so what will be left will be subordinate to God. And the righteous remnant will be “all” that there is! Or perhaps the believers in eternal torment hold that the sinners in hell are subordinate to God, so God is all in all that way. In this view, everyone will be subordinate to God, but some won’t care for their state of subordination. But Origen held that all will be subordinated to God in reconciliation to him.

6. Richard Sarason, A History of the Mishnaic Law of Agriculture: A Study of Tractate Demai, page 15:

[Mishnah Demai 4] now turns to the case of purchasing produce from someone who is not deemed trustworthy. In certain well-defined circumstances we may believe his word that the produce has been tithed, and therefore need not tithe it ourselves…The major principles are as follows: We may believe someone not deemed trustworthy (1) in an emergency (as on the Sabbath, 4:1-2), or (2) when we have no sure way to verify his statement (4:5), or (3) when he testifies concerning someone else, and thus has no personal interest to be served by lying (4:6). But if two men give testimony concerning each other, we suspect collision (4:6-7).

This highlights the issue of Tractate Demai. We’re supposed to eat food after it has been tithed. The problem was that not every Jew tithed scrupulously. So Jews had to be careful about whom they bought their produce from. What if the Jewish salesman of produce did not tithe mint, dill, and cummin? You will be eating untithed produce, and God won’t like that very much!

But there are exceptions. You can eat the possibly untithed produce on the Sabbath, perhaps because you’re not allowed to perform the business of giving it back to the seller on that day, and that may be all the food that you have. Then, for the rabbis, there are ways to tell if a person is telling the truth, on the basis of his self-interest or the possibility of collusion. Christian apologists use this approach when they argue that the early Christians were telling the truth about Jesus’ resurrection: they can’t think of any motive for the early Christians to lie, especially when they were suffering persecution for their faith, and so they conclude that they were speaking the truth.

7. AA Daily Reflection, April 26: Instead of demanding that people, places, and things make me happy, I can ask God for self-acceptance.

The bad part is me to a T. I get so bent out of shape when people, places, and things are not the way I want. I even get bent out of shape when I look back and think of times in the past when they were not as I want. And so I allow the problems of yesterday to spoil my today. What I need to learn is to accept myself even when things are not as I desire—when people do not accept me, when I feel looked down on, etc. I wish I had that kind of peace.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Is Dale Carnegie Biblical?; Compromise for God; Pagan Roots; Callimachus; Priests and Allegory; Israelite Welfare System; Lois Wilson

1. Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People, page 118:

By the way, I am not revealing anything new in this chapter. Nineteen centuries ago, Jesus said: “Agree with thine adversary quickly.” In other words, don’t argue with your customer or your husband or your adversary. Don’t tell him he is wrong, don’t get him stirred up, but use a little diplomacy.

Carnegie usually treats the Bible as a part of the wisdom of the ages, which encompasses Socrates, Confucius, Zoroastrians, and others. But are Carnegie’s principles consistent with the Bible? Carnegie teaches that we’re to be diplomatic and let others talk about themselves. I’ve heard preachers take swipes at Carnegie’s approach. One preacher was talking about Elijah, who could be pretty bold in his criticisms of King Ahab. This preacher remarked, “Elijah obviously didn’t read How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

Indeed, a prominent element of the biblical tradition is that false prophets tell people what they want to hear, whereas true prophets speak the truth, often in the form of a rebuke. In Luke 6:26, Jesus says, “Woe to you, when all men shall speak well of you! For so did their fathers to the false prophets” (KJV). II Timothy 3:12 states that all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. I’ve heard preachers say that, if we’re truly living godly lives, we won”t be all that popular, for people would resent us for our righteousness. And so there’s a trend in Christianity that says that the godly will not win friends and influence people.

Yet, we see other trends as well. The Book of Proverbs is about how we can win friends, avoid conflict, and impress kings. Wisdom literature was the How to Win Friends and Influence People of ancient times. And Luke 2:52 affirms that Jesus grew in favor with God and man.

Dale Carnegie’s book is about giving and putting others before ourselves, which, paradoxically, can actually be a means to our own elevation. When we practice biblical principles, that can attract people to us. Yet, the Bible also suggests that it can repel people as well.

2. Robert Heinlein, Sixth Column, pages 106-107:

The Sixth Column, a group of Americans that is resisting Pan-Asian conquerors of the United States, is operating under the guise of a religious group. According to this religion that the Sixth Column contrives, God has a thousand mysterious attributes and relates to each class and people-group in a different way. There is Lord Mota, who acts through Dis, the Destroyer, as Tamar, the Lady of Mercy, intercedes for worshippers. This religion also does humanitarian work, which appeals to the Pan-Asians, who have a number of poor and sick people in their midst.

Alec is an American who is reluctant to go along with this religion, for he doesn’t want to do anything in the name of a false God. Ardmore responds to him as follows:

“But is it a false God? Do you think God cares very much what name you call Him as long as the work you perform is acceptable to Him? Now mind you…I don’t say that this so-called temple we have erected here is necessarily a House of the Lord, but isn’t the worship of God a matter of how you feel in your heart rather than the verbal forms and the ceremonials used?”

Ardmore’s point appears to be that the Sixth Column is helping the poor and the sick, while also fighting for the freedom of the United States. Wouldn’t Alec be honoring God by doing these things, even if it’s in the name of a made-up religion?

Ardmore then lays things on the line for Alec. If Alec doesn’t want to participate in a false religion, then Ardmore will understand, for Ardmore doesn’t want anyone to violate his or her conscience. But, if that is what Alec decides, then Alec can’t participate in any activity of the Sixth Column, including cooking. Alec is either in or he’s out.

This reminds me of excuses I have heard for (say) working on the Sabbath: “God wants me to provide for myself, right? We’re allowed to do good on the Sabbath day. Well, what’s wrong with helping myself, or my family?” I can envision Christians in the Roman empire saying the same sort of thing, as they were told to offer incense to a pagan deity.

I don’t judge people for using Ardmore-like excuses. There’s a degree of logic in what Ardmore is saying: In his attempt to honor God, was Alec keeping himself from fighting for principles that were consistent with God’s character? Sometimes, we may need to compromise our beliefs for a greater good. At other times, we should stand for our beliefs, come what may. When to do which, I don’t know. I guess that’s between the individual and God.

3. Erhard Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part I with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry, page 8:

The most important feature of Israel’s adaptation to Canaan was her adopting the cycle of regular, seasonal festivals with its system of sanctuaries, sacrifices, and rituals that was customary in that sedentary society. Israelite herdsmen did bring along their own traditions, but merged them freely with Canaanite rites. One seminomadic group, for instance, contributed to this composite its tradition of the sojourn in Egypt and the marvelous deliverance from the “house of bondage,” with its Passover and blood rites…All this heritage was placed into the system of Canaanite agricultural feasts.

I was one time discussing Christmas with some Christian students, and I said that I could understand the perspective of Christians who oppose the observance of the holiday. Deuteronomy 12:30, after all, forbids the Israelites to worship God using the customs of the Canaanites. A Christian student then replied, “Well, James, as a good biblical scholar, you know that’s exactly what Pesach is!”

I’ve heard people say things like this. I once listened to a conversation, in which a teacher referred to a book that discussed the use of blood in foreign cultures to ward off destructive spirits, which resembles the Exodus story. And I remember Conservative Jew Harold Kushner making the same sort of claim in his book about Judaism, To Life! But Baruch Bokser states in the Anchor Bible Dictionary (volume 6, page 760):

For some scholars extra-biblical rites, in particular those of ANE holidays, are the clue to the Passover’s prehistory. Rost (1943, see Childs Exodus OTL, 189) suggests that Passover was originally connected to a semi-nomadic festival taking place during migration and designed to protect the nomads and their flock throughout the annual spring migration from the desert to arable land. Many have adopted this approach because it nicely fits the situation of Passover, even providing an analogue to the apotropaic use of blood to protect the Israelites from the destroyer (see e.g., AncIsr, 488–90). Obviously, however, as Haran (1978: 320–21) remarks, any details about the nomadic background can only be speculative.

How much evidence do we actually have that the Israelites borrowed Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread (or concepts therein) from the Canaanites?

I’m not so hung-up of the “pagan roots” of things, for the religions of the Bible resemble aspects of pagan cultures—in the existence of sacrifices, a priesthood, festivals, etc. But I wonder what basis there is for certain scholarly claims.

4. R. Pfeiffer, History of Classical Scholarship, page 143:

…Apollonius’ work conformed to Aristotle’s demands, but ran counter to fundamental doctrines of Callimachus; he did not attempt the same scrupulous precision and discipline of language and metre, and he could never have attained the Callimachean subtlety and graciousness combined with nervous virility.

Callimachus sounds like quite a poet! Orderly, disciplined, subtle, gracious, yet nervously virile (whatever that means!).

5. R.P.C. Hanson, Allegory and Event, page 307:

[According to Origen, the] Jewish priests who served the Temple knew such allegorizations of the law as these.

Hanson cites Contra Celsum v.44, which states (see BOOK V):

But as Celsus would compare the venerable customs of the Jews with the laws of certain nations, let us proceed to look at them. He is of opinion, accordingly, that there is no difference between the doctrine regarding heaven and that regarding God; and he says that the Persians, like the Jews, offer sacrifices to Jupiter upon the tops of the mountains,— not observing that, as the Jews were acquainted with one God, so they had only one holy house of prayer, and one altar of whole burnt-offerings, and one censer for incense, and one high priest of God. The Jews, then, had nothing in common with the Persians, who ascend the summits of their mountains, which are many in number, and offer up sacrifices which have nothing in common with those which are regulated by the Mosaic code,— in conformity to which the Jewish priests served unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, explaining enigmatically the object of the law regarding the sacrifices, and the things of which these sacrifices were the symbols. The Persians therefore may call the whole circle of heaven Jupiter; but we maintain that the heaven is neither Jupiter nor God, as we indeed know that certain beings of a class inferior to God have ascended above the heavens and all visible nature: and in this sense we understand the words, Praise God, you heaven of heavens, and you waters that be above the heavens: let them praise the name of the Lord.

This is similar to my discussion about Christmas in (3): Celsus says that Judaism and Christianity are untrue because their customs resemble those of foreign nations, whereas Origen highlights the differences to stress that Judaism and Christianity are superior to paganism. Unlike Hanson, I don’t see a statement that the priests were aware of the allegorical meaning of their rituals, however. Rather, to me, Origen is saying that these rituals had deeper significance, not that the priests were aware of what that significance was, or even knew that it existed.

6. Richard Sarason, A History of the Mishnaic Law of Agriculture: A Study of Tractate Demai, page 4:

In every third year the tithe is not brought up to Jerusalem or eaten by the offerer, but stored up as a charity fund for the local poor, viz., the Levites, resident aliens, orphans, and widows.

That reminds me of Jimmy Swaggart’s comments on Deuteronomy 15:11, in the Expositor’s Study Bible:

Israel’s welfare program was the third year of tithing the produce of the entirety of the land, to be given to the poor and needy, along with the Levites. Not failing this and, as well, lending to those who were truly in need, one can readily see that the welfare program was generous.

A conservative like Jimmy Swaggart is suggesting that ancient Israelite society under God’s law had a generous welfare program? But I thought God was a Republican!

That said, Swaggart does use the term “those who were truly in need”, meaning that he probably distinguishes between the deserving poor and the undeserving poor. Ancient Israelite society aimed to help those who couldn’t help themselves. At the same time, we should remember that every Israelite under God’s law was to have an allotment of land! On PBS’s Bill Moyers’ Journal, a lady was critiquing the slogan that a “rising tide lifts all boats”, pointing out that not everyone has a boat that can be lifted! Under God’s law, all Israelites had a boat—a plot of land—through which they could support themselves and their families. Those who didn’t have a boat were covered by the welfare system.

7. Last night, I watched the CBS Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, When Love Is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story, starring Winona Ryder. Lois Wilson was the wife of Bill Wilson, who founded Alcoholics Anonymous. She started Al-Anon, a support group for the families of alcoholics.

The movie really helped me that night! I can easily fall into thoughts of resentment and fear, and there were times during the movie when I could identify with Bill Wilson in his pre-sobriety stage, when he hid flasks of alcohol in his office at work. That’s how he coped! But, when I saw Bill’s former drinking buddy, Ebby, looking clean and all-together, tactfully informing Bill about the Oxford Group that eventually led to AA, I felt a peace of mind. I was reminded of the AA principle of remaining sober, through thick and thin, good times and bad.

The author of this movie was obviously familiar with the program, including the twelve steps and the concept of staying sober by talking with another alcoholic. But, in the meetings on this movie, there was free-flowing discussion. That’s not how AA meetings are, however, for, in all of the meetings that I attended, only one person at a time talks, and you cannot interrupt her. I wonder if this concept was introduced into AA some years into its existence.

I read on wikipedia that Winona Ryder had a problem with pills at some point. I wonder if she found help, and if her role in this movie was her way of promoting a life of sobriety for addicts. Whether this is the case or not, I applaud her for being in this movie!

Tonight will be my Desperate Housewives and Brothers and Sisters night, for I no longer had a DVR to tape them while I was watching the CBS movie. I’ll be watching these shows on the Internet. I also ordered a movie from Netflix, a 1989 Hallmark Hall of Fame movie entitled My Name Is Bill W., which is about Bill Wilson.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Humility; Miracles; New Heart; Ancient Libraries; Early Christian Sabbatarianism; Textus Receptus; Women Priests

1. Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People, page 111:

I believe now hardly anything that I believed twenty years ago—except the multiplication table; and I begin to doubt even that when I read about Einstein. In another twenty years, I may not believe what I have said in this book. I am not sure now of anything as I used to be. Socrates said repeatedly to his followers in Athens: “One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing.” Well, I can’t hope to be any smarter than Socrates; so I have quit telling people they are wrong. And I find that it pays.

I don’t think that we have to be extreme skeptics, but we should realize that others may have reasons for their points-of-view, and we should be willing to listen and learn.

2. Robert Heinlein, Sixth Column, pages 72-73:

“That’s exactly why we have to have you, Colonel—to solve problems that are elementary to a man of your genius…but which are miracles for the rest of us. That’s what a religion needs—miracles! You’ll be called on to produce effects that will strain even your genius, things that the PanAsians cannot possibly understand, and will think supernatural.”

My understanding of the plot here is that the Sixth Column in America, which is seeking to undermine its PanAsian conquerors, will be sharing information under the guise of a religious group. The Colonel would be performing the technological “miracles” that will help the Sixth Column and baffle the PanAsians, even as they undermine them. The PanAsians are depicted as technologically naive. Had Heinlein written this book in the 1980′s, when the Japanese were running circles around us, he’d probably present the Asians differently.

3. Rolf Rendtorff, The Covenant Formula:

Rendtorff talks about passages in Deuteronomy and the prophets, which assert (in their own way) that God will give the Israelites a heart that will naturally follow his commandments. Ever since I read the prophets ten years ago, I’ve felt that this eschatological activity that God will perform will be God’s way of uniting the conditionality and unconditionality of his covenant with Israel. God is committed to his people, no matter what. Yet, their enjoyment of some of his covenant promises—such as dwelling in the Promised Land and having God in their midst—is dependent on their obedience to God. And so God promises to guarantee their obedience by giving them a heart that is inclined towards righteousness.

Christians contend that their religion is the fulfillment of this promise. But, if this is the case, why do Christians still sin? I like the approach of the dispensationalist E.W. Bullinger, who said that the new nature that Paul talks about is distinct from the new heart that God discusses in the prophets. The new nature co-exists with the old, sinful nature, resulting in the conflict that Romans 7 depicts. For Bullinger, the new heart is something that will be for Israel specifically. Dispensationalists tend to understand “Israel” in the Old Testament as physical Israel, not the church.

At the same time, Hebrews 8:10ff. applies Jeremiah 31:33—where God promises to write his law in the hearts of the Israelites—to the new covenant that Jesus Christ has inaugurated. Does the author of Hebrews believe that the Jewish-Christians (or even the Gentile-Christians) have God’s law on their hearts? If so, how would he account for their sin?

4. P. Pfeiffer, History of Classical Scholarship, pages 126-127:

[In the third century B.C.E.] in Alexandria a Greek library was founded on a grand scale; and this reminds us of the enormous Babylonian and Assyrian libraries of old…The lay-out of the papyrus roles in the Alexandrian library seems to have resembled that of the clay tablets in the oriental libraries in one or perhaps two significant points. The title of a work was regularly placed at the end of the roll and of the tablet…and in ‘catalogues’ not only this title, but also the ‘incipit’ was cited. On tablets and rolls the number of lines was occasionally counted, and these ‘stichometrical’ figures were put at the end and sometimes as running figures in the margins; they appear again in library catalogues.

I sometimes wonder what ancient libraries were like. This passage shed light on that!

5. R.P.C. Hanson, Allegory and Event, page 290:

Dugmore has also produced evidence to show that the normal Christian attitude to the Decalogue was to regard it as that part of the law which was still binding upon Christians, and has given an interesting account of the early Christians’ observance of the Sabbath (i.e., Saturday); it was quite a widespread observance and continued in one way or another for at least five centuries. We have already encountered some evidence that Sabbath-observance was quite a well-known phenomenon in Origen’s day.

I couldn’t find online the book by Dugmore that Hanson cites (The Influence of the Synagogue upon the Divine Office), but here’s an article by Dugmore about the Lord’s Day. I appreciate his point that the church fathers may have drawn ideas on (say) when to pray from Judaism. I didn’t care as much for his argument that we have little evidence that the early Christian (starting from the late first century C.E.) day of assembly was Sunday, when there are patristic sources that say precisely that (see Sabbath or Sunday?). Were there early Christians who observed the seventh-day Sabbath? Yes, among both Jews and Gentiles. Various church fathers felt a need to criticize Christians for that practice, so it was apparently going on.

6. N.F. Marcos, The Septuagint in Context, page 367:

textus receptus: text transmitted as official by the Masoretes and printed in the Hebrew Bibles until the Leningrad manuscript B19a began to be published.

This definition somewhat took me aback, for it said nothing about the New Testament. That’s when it hit me: most of the debates about KJV-only surrounds the New Testament, not the Old (as far as I know). By and large, Christians today stick with the Masoretic Text for the Hebrew Bible, which is interesting, considering that Christians embraced the Septuagint early in their history, as well as produced other translations. Nowadays, it’s the best texts for the New Testament that they debate.

7. At Latin mass this morning, philosopher-priest essentially said that women shouldn’t be priests, even though there are pundits who claim that the church wouldn’t have its current problem (which I will not name) if more women were at the helm. To be honest, women in the priesthood is not a topic of interest to me, so I won’t comment. I found it interesting to learn, however, that the position that women should be allowed into the priesthood became heretical after Pope John Paul II declared it so. Before, the notion that women should be priests was deemed silly, not heresy. Or so said philosopher-priest.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Another Person’s Interest, Fifth Column

1. Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People, pages 86-98:

One rule that Dale Carnegie affirms is that we should talk with other people about what interests them. Theodore Roosevelt would research a subject the night before meeting someone if he knew that the person he was about to meet was interested in that subject.

This makes sense, but I could use a how-to manual on how to do that. In the past, I’ve felt as if I need to be an expert on a topic in order to discuss it with someone. That’s one reason I felt so inadequate at Harvard and other graduate schools I attended: I feel as if the people around me know so much, while I know so little. And this also applies to discussions about sports among the working stiffs. Sure, I can check out the score of a game, but I feel as if I need to be a walking sports encyclopedia in order to participate in their discussions, at their level! Otherwise, I’d think that I was holding them back.

But there are many times when people appreciate open-ended questions from people who don’t know much about their area of interest, for that gives them an opportunity to talk about themselves. I know a counselor who talked glowingly about an opportunity he had to discuss football strategy with his wife. His wife knew little about football, but she was taking the time to ask him questions about it so that she could be a part of his world.

There are times when I like talking about my interests to other people. There have been times when I had difficulty, however. I was watching Lost at home with my dad one time, and he’d never seen the show. I found it hard to explain all of the nuances of Lost to him!

I also find that there are many times when I want to be the person who wins friends and influences people, so, when a person asks me about my interests, I cut him short and ask him about his—and not very adeptly, at that. But there’s nothing wrong with me allowing somebody else to be generous, to be a giver.

2. Robert Heinlein, The Sixth Column, page 56:

[The resistance against America's Pan-Asian conquerors] would have to be something like the “fifth column” that destroyed the European democracies from within in the tragic days that led to the final blackout of European civilization. But this would not be a fifth column of traitors, bent on paralyzing a free country, but the antithesis of that, a sixth column of patriots whose privilege it would be to destroy the morale of invaders, make them afraid, unsure of themselves.

I looked up “fifth column” on wikipedia, for I was curious about it, with the term being on V, and all. On V, the fifth column refers to the aliens who are subverting the attempt of their fellow aliens to take over the earth. In real life, the term started in the late 1930′s, with the Spanish Civil War. A nationalist general believed that a fifth column was supporting the nationalists’ attempt to overthrow the Republican (or, for its detractors, socialist) government of Spain. So the historical setting for this term is essentially the events that led up to Franco’s dictatorship. America and Britain used the term to clamp down on potential subversives (in their mind) who could end up supporting Germany and Japan. America warned against the “fifth column” when it put Japanese-Americans into internment camps, for example. When Heinlein uses the term “fifth column”, he is referring to fascist subversives who undermined European democracies.

But he talks as if the fascists won, as if they created the “final blackout of European civilization.” His book was originally a serial published in 1941, and it became a book in 1949. So the story was written when Heinlein didn’t know how World War II would end up. In his mind, the Fascists could win, or at least inflict lasting damage!

II Kings 2

For my weekly quiet time this week, I studied II Kings 2. In it, Elijah is carried off to heaven, Elisha succeeds Elijah after receiving a double portion of his spirit, Elisha heals the bitter waters of Jericho, and Elisha curses forty-two children from Bethel, who are telling him to "Go up, baldy." The result is that two she-bears come out of the woods and maul them.

The story of Elisha and the she-bears disturbs many people. Nowadays, Christian apologists argue that the word used for the boys in the Hebrew text, na-ar, can refer to young men. The Nelson Study Bible states:

The noun na'ar always refers to males but can include different ages. It can refer to anyone from an infant (Ex. 2:6) to a young boy (Gen. 22:5) to soldiers (1 Kin. 20:17-20). It sometimes denotes a household servant (1 Sam. 9:3) or a royal official (19:6).

But II Kings 2:23 doesn't just say that ne-arim were calling Elisha a baldhead. It says that ne-arim qetanim---small youths---were doing this. Why would the text say that they were small, if its goal was to portray them as young men?

I'm not overly adept at BibleWorks searches, but I found three places where the term na'ar qatan is used: I Kings 3:7; 11:17; and II Kings 5:14. In I Kings 3:7, Solomon calls himself a na'ar qatan and states that he needs God to grant him wisdom. There are Christian apologists who point to this passage and contend that this is proof that na'ar qatan can refer to a young man, for Solomon was not a little child. But, in my humble opinion, Solomon isn't saying that he's literally a na'ar qatan, but rather that he feels like a na'ar qatan, for he deems himself inadequate and immature for the Israelite monarchy and needs wisdom in order to rule effectively.

I Kings 11:17 says that Hadad was a na'ar qatan when Joab slaughtered males in Edom. Hadad fled with his father and his father's servants to Egypt. And II Kings 5:14 states that Naaman's flesh became like that of a na'ar qatan when he was healed of leprosy.

I find it interesting that, when I look at ancient Christian exegesis, I see the supposition that these were children who mocked Elisha. Ephrem the Syrian (fourth century C.E.) and Augustine (fourth-fifth centuries C.E.) said that these children's parents either put their kids up to the mockery, or they raised their kids to lack reverence for the things of God. Either way, these Christian thinkers maintain, God was punishing these kids' parents by sending bears against the kids.

Rashi, a eleventh century Jewish commentator who often reflects rabbinic exegesis, holds that these were young men, but not really on the basis of the word na'ar. He states that they were empty, which the translation at takes to mean that they lacked experience in observing God's commandments. They were children in the sense that they were spiritually immature, in short. And, according to Rashi, they actually had a reason for their grievance against Elisha: their job was to bring sweet water to Jericho when its water was bitter. Once Elisha healed Jericho's waters, they were out of a job.

I read various things today about the story of Elisha and the she-bears: the young people were making fun of Elijah's ascent into heaven, which was why they were telling Elisha to "go up"; that baldness was a disgrace (Isaiah 3:17, 24), so the youths were really dissing Elisha when they called him a baldhead; that these Bethelites didn't want Elisha to go to Bethel, for they knew that he wouldn't like the sanctuary there (see I Kings 12-13). Some say that these youths should have treated Elisha with more respect, especially after he had demonstrated God's kindness and power by healing the waters of Jericho. Instead, they chose to make light of God's prophet.

Ellen White, a founder of Seventh-Day Adventism, makes the following point in Prophets and Kings:

Had Elisha allowed the mockery to pass unnoticed, he would have continued to be ridiculed and reviled by the rabble, and his mission to instruct and save in a time of grave national peril might have been defeated. This one instance of terrible severity was sufficient to command respect throughout his life. For fifty years he went in and out of the gate of Bethel, and to and fro in the land, from city to city, passing through crowds of idle, rude, dissolute youth; but none mocked him or made light of his qualifications as the prophet of the Most High.

Similarly, Bible scholar Walter Bruegemann states: The incident puts Israel on notice. This Elisha is dangerous and is not to be trifled with, not by small boys, not by kings, not by anybody, for he has the spirit of Elijah.

Maybe Elisha needed the respect of the people in order to do God's work, and that's why he sent bears in the LORD's name to maul those who mocked him. Not all prophets felt a need to avenge themselves against mockers, however. Jesus put up with scorners throughout his ministry and on the cross. He won the respect of many through his miracles and the power of his teachings, not by sending bears against his detractors (though one Christian preacher, Caesarius of Arles, said that the bears in II Kings 2 represented the Romans, whom God sent to punish the nation of Israel for mocking and rejecting Christ). Are different strategies appropriate for different times? If so, how can the Bible guide us, when its rules are not absolutely valid for every time, place, and situation? Or are there rules guiding which principle applies when?

I read something interesting about Elisha, but I'm not sure what the source was: the point was that Elisha was actually more social than Elijah was. Elijah didn't interact with kings that much. He came along to rebuke them, and then he left. When he helped someone, it was a woman who wasn't even an Israelite, but a Phoenician. Elisha, by contrast, performs miracles that help Israelites and a Syrian. He interacts with kings---of Israel and Syria. Elijah was like John the Baptist, boldly exhorting people to repent and threatening them with God's wrath. Elisha was more like Jesus, celebrating God and bringing God's love and healing to people---except for that incident with the she-bears.

Yet, Elijah benefited Israel. I was astonished to read a similar comment on II Kings 2:12---"Father, father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen"---in the writings of conservative pastor John MacArthur, Rashi the Jewish exegete, and Yale scholar Robert Wilson. According to all three of these interpreters, the likelihood exists that Elisha is referring to Elijah as the chariots of Israel and the horsemen, for Elijah did far more for Israel's defence than did her chariots. Elijah brought Israel and Ahab back to God, which influenced God to bless his people, at least while they were being faithful. Prophets show both love and wrath. In both cases, they are moved by some righteous standard and have the well-being of their people at heart---even if skeptics may contend that they could have used less fatal means to accomplish their goals.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Three Social Skills, Finny, Baffling P, Homer: The Platonic Edition, Origen and AA, “Translation”, Me to a T

1. Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People, pages 70-86:

The lessons today were smile, call people by their names to show them that they’re important to you, and listen to them talk about themselves and their interests. The “smile” rule reminds me of something I heard in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Dale Carnegie is saying that we should try to have a positive attitude. That recalls to my mind a person in AA who said that, when people tell him that they’re having a bad day, his question to them is, “What’s wrong with this day?” His point is that the day is neither good nor bad in itself; rather, it’s our reaction to what is going on in that day that is making it good or bad for us.

I think that, listening to Joel Osteen these past five years, I should recognize the value of keeping a positive attitude. But there are plenty of days when that is easier said than done. A person in AA once referred to male PMS. There are times when certain things bother us, and there are other times when we can blow them off, as if they don’t matter to us at all. I wish that I could control my mood, rendering myself calm and at peace. I once heard a person with Asperger’s state that his medication helps him to have that state of mind: he no longer obsesses over a person who disses him, for he’s able to blow that off and go about his business. Sounds good to me, but I can’t really afford medication in this season of my life, so I’ll be going the “struggling and prayer” route for the next few years!

On calling people by their names, I find that helpful. I wrote a post a while back on that, entitled What Is Your Name? On getting people to talk about themselves, that rule deserves a little more nuance. I need to say something that will encourage people to talk about themselves, as well as ask the open-ended questions that will keep the conversation going. For some people, it’s easy: you just ask a question and they go on and on. For others, it’s more difficult, since they’re quieter. But, come to think of it, there are also talkative people who don’t like to talk to me when I’m asking them questions. All I can really do is practice the rule of being a good listener. Sometimes, it will work, sometimes not.

Deb Fine says that we should say to people, “Tell me more.” I’m not sure if that works, for the reason that I don’t know how I’d respond to it. “Tell you more? I mean, there’s not much more that I can come up with!” I prefer to answer a question rather than being told to tell a person more.

2. Robert Heinlein, Sixth Column, pages 34-36:

A character named Jeff Thomas has been assigned to gather information on the Pan-Asians, who have conquered the United States. Jeff encounters an anarchist named Finny, who, unlike most Americans, does not hate the Pan-Asians. Rather, he viewed them as “more misguided souls whose excesses were deplorable.” Finny states that the Pan-Asians have been “duped into the old fallacy of the State as a super-entity.”

I have relatives like that. They think that our system is corrupt, but they disagree with those who actually believe that Americans can mount a successful revolution. These relatives of mine go about their lives and regard the system around them as misguided. They don’t expect that much out of it. As far as they’re concerned, Jesus will come and sort things out!

3. Rolf Rendtorff, The Covenant Formula, page 62:

Rendtorff refers to W. Zimmerli, whose thesis was that the Priestly Writing “‘ruthlessly pushed’ the tradition about the making of the covenant at Sinai, and spoke only of a covenant made by God with Abraham…”

The priestly writer has baffled me, ever since I wrote my first paper on the Documentary Hypothesis in the eleventh grade, for my Bible Literature class. According to the traditional JEPD model, the Yahwist (J) presents God commanding Noah to take seven of each clean animal onto the ark, and two of each unclean animal. The Priest (P), however, says that God commanded Noah to take two of each, period.

The reason that J has Noah take seven clean animals onto the ark is that Noah needs some animals for sacrifice after the Flood. But what puzzled me was this: Wouldn’t the priest be the one who’d be big on sacrifice, since he was a priest? I learned years later that the priest was somewhat leery about sacrifices being offered before the establishment of the Aaronide priesthood, for he believed that only Aaronides had sacrificial authority.

Now, a new puzzle has been thrown into the mix: the priest has a beef with Sinai and prefers to see the covenant as Abrahamic. I wonder what that’s all about!

4. R. Pfeiffer, History of Classical Scholarship, pages 113-114:

Pfeiffer refers to a fourth century B.C.E. copy of Homeric works, which omitted some lines that Plato criticized in Republic 389E. Wow! Plato had influence there!

5. R.P.C. Hanson, Allegory and Event, page 280:

The miracle of the stilling of the storm takes place in the experience of the Christian himself; he battles against the winds and waves of temptation; the Word comes to save him; the Peter in him attempts to be entirely master of the temptation and fails.

Origen saw allegorical meaning in the stories of the Old and the New Testaments. Did he believe that those stories happened in history? In many cases, yes, but there were exceptions.

There are many times when the allegorical meaning that Origen claims to detect does not speak to me. It appears to place a lot of the burden for spiritual growth on the shoulders of the individual. Martin Luther himself had this problem with Origen: Origen allegorized from the Bible such concepts as asceticism and overcoming sin, rather than pointing to the love and the mercy of God through Jesus Christ (which Luther deemed to be the Gospel). Origen’s allegorization of the “miracle of the stilling of the storm” is an exception, for it states that we by ourselves cannot overcome temptation, for we need God’s help through Christ.

Alcoholics Anonymous has a similar concept: our steps teach that we look to a higher power to restore us to sanity and to remove from us our character defects. Those defects are usually defined as selfishness and unkindness to others. There is a “sexual moral inventory” that people take, but AA doesn’t really require people to practice the Judeo-Christian principle of “abstinence before marriage, fidelity thereafter.” Bill Wilson, the founder of AA, supposedly had a mistress.

I wonder to what extent God delivers us from temptation. There are homosexuals who struggle against their sexual orientation, to no avail. I can decide that I won’t lust after women, but I don’t expect to get too far, there. But there are people who report that God has removed from them their lust.

Change takes work. Some of it is realistic. Some of it is not. But I do hope to get to the point where I don’t snap at people as much.

6. N.F. Marcos, The Septuagint in Context, page 346:

Not only did Christianity adopt a translated Bible as the official Bible, but from its beginnings it was a religion that favoured translation of the Bible into vernacular languages. Unlike Jewish communities, the Christian communities did not feel themselves to be chained to the Hebrew text as such but only to its contents, nor were they tied to the Greek text of the LXX. The new translations, as distinct from what happened with the Aramaic Targumim, became independent and took the place of the original in the life of the communities. This attitude conferred on the new versions of the Bible a status unlike that of the Jewish translations. They were not merely an aid to understanding the text but they replaced the original with authority. Hence, biblical translation is spoken of as a specifically Christian activity.

This may explain some of the odd quotations of the Bible in the Epistle to Barnabas (see Sneaking Stuff In). Maybe there were Christians who mixed their Christian interpretation in with their translation of the Old Testament, for they believed that their interpretation was the truth. The Jews did something similar: they translated the biblical text in services and added their interpretation. But this occurred orally. They didn’t add their interpretation to the written text, at least not ordinarily (see Theological Correction for exceptions).

7. I’m superstitious about the number 6, so I’ll be adding a seventh item. On Rachel Held Evans’ blog, I encountered a post by Donald Miller, entitled, Does Your Personality Influence Your Theology?. The following fits me to a T:

Then there is the scholarly type, who tends to understand everything from different angles, but has trouble landing or stating they believe in much of anything. They are on a search, looking for truth, and don’t like the idea of having arrived. These people make great Bible Scholars because they try to understand an idea from various angles, and yet they have a very hard time landing, mainly because they feel like when they land, they stop learning.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Doggy Social Skills; Strong Introvert; Covenants; Ancient Academia; the Christ of Faith in the Gospels; Peace through War; Bipartisan Earth Day

1. Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People, pages 57-69:

The lesson for today is that we should be genuinely interested in people. We should also give the impression that we are happy to see them. Carnegie refers to dogs as fine examples of this: they’re happy to see you!

That’s the way my Teddy and Penny dogs were with me and the rest of my family. When I came home for a break from college, they welcomed me, even though they didn’t know me that well. Mom said it was because I had the family scent. Every morning that I got out of bed and came to the living room, both of them came up too me and jumped on me, like they were happy to see me.

I think that the rule of being genuinely interested in people is valid. My therapist says that people like it when we remember something about them, for that conveys to them that they are important enough to remember. But I think that the rule needs to be nuanced a bit. It’s possible for me to go up to a person and ask a bunch of questions, coming across as an FBI informant in the process! Social skills books of today—such as Deb Fine’s The Fine Art of Small Talk and Alan Garner’s Conversationally Speaking—discourage coming across as an FBI informant, and they provide examples of open-ended questions that we can ask people.

Also, while there’s a place for being thoughtful of others, there should probably be a degree of intimacy before you do certain things. For example, an acquaintance of mine once told me that she likes Messianic praise music, so I got her a tape with some songs on it. In retrospect, I don’t think that I knew her well enough to give her a gift. I would have probably done better to have shown her some of my CDs and tapes, or to tell her where she could buy some. When it comes to helping people with their schoolwork by referring them to books, however, that’s appropriate when you’re a student, for all of you are in the same boat. Sometimes, people appreciate my suggestions; sometimes not.

Dale Carnegie states that an editor told him that, if an author doesn’t like people, then people won’t like his stories. I don’t know how true this is, for I’ve heard of plenty of writers who were messed-up recluses! But I wonder how this editor’s principle can relate to my blog. My readers can probably tell that I dislike certain people. But there are also people I like, though: family, friends, the characters on Lost, Desperate Housewives, and Brothers and Sisters, etc. I hope that my readers feel liked here. One thing I appreciate about Nick Norelli’s blog, Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (, is that he takes the time to respond to almost everybody’s comments. I feel liked whenever I visit there!

2. My sponsor suggested that I read Robert Heinlein’s Sixth Column, a science fiction work. So far in the book, a disaster has wiped out much of America. The line that stuck out to me today is on page 6:

There was Dr. Randall Brooks, biologist and bio-chemist, with a special commission of major. Ardmore liked his looks; he was quiet and mild, but gave the impression of an untroubled strength of character superior to that of a more extroverted man—he would do, and his advice would be useful.

3. Rolf Rendtorff, The Covenant Formula, page 59:

[At Sinai,] Israel’s relationship with God as it is defined in the terminology of the covenant formula is related to the covenant in such a way that the requirement to Abraham ‘to keep’ the covenant is now extended to Israel as a whole. In addition, the ‘keeping of the covenant’ is not now concentrated on one particular point, as it was in the case of Abraham, with the circumcision; it is extended to ‘listening to my voice’. This formulation proleptically denotes the commandments and precepts which God is going to proclaim in what follows.

Covenants. I can’t say that the issue ever made a whole lot of sense to me. There’s God’s covenant with Noah, God’s covenant with Abraham, the Sinai covenant, the Davidic covenant, the everlasting covenant, and the new covenant. An Armstrongite pastor once said that the Sinai covenant was a sub-section of the Abrahamic one. That’s pretty much how I see the issue. God made a promise to Abraham that God would be the God of his offspring, and that Abraham’s offspring would possess the Promised Land. What were the conditions for Israel’s possession of that land? They had to keep the law given to them at Sinai.

In Genesis 17, circumcision was the way to become and remain in the covenant people. Those who were not circumcised were cut off from them. Eventually, Rendtorff states, the requirement was expanded to encompass the entire Torah.

And so circumcision and the Torah are a sub-section of God’s covenant with Abraham. And yet Paul acts as if circumcision and the Torah are separate from it. In Romans 4, Paul makes the point that Abraham was justified by faith before he was circumcised, so right standing with God occurs through faith, not circumcision. In Galatians 3:17, Paul affirms that the law cannot annul God’s promise to Abraham 430 years earlier.

In a sense, when one looks at the Hebrew Bible, there does appear to be some truth in what Paul is saying: the Israelite’s failure to obey the Torah did not annul God’s covenant with them. God forgave them over and over. When they were exiled, God promised to restore them to their land. There was an unconditional element to God’s covenant with Israel: God would stick with her, no matter what.

4. R. Pfeiffer, History of Classical Scholarship, pages 96-97:

On the “men of letters” and scientists at the museum instituted by Ptolemy I (fourth-third centuries B.C.E.) in Egypt, Pfeiffer states: They had a carefree life: free meals, high salaries, no taxes to pay, very pleasant surroundings, good lodgings and servants. There was plenty of opportunity for quarelling with each other.

Sounds good, but I could do without the quarreling about nothing.

5. R.P.C. Hanson, Allegory and Event, page 275-276:

All [Origen] means is that where the evangelists give apparently contradictory accounts of Jesus those details which are inconsistent with the rest of the narrative are not descriptions of the historical Jesus actually teaching or healing in Palestine but are parabolic ways of describing different significances of Jesus, allegories of his ultimate significance for different sorts of human souls…Origen was not devoted to the humanity of Jesus…he was devoted to the Logos whose activity as Logos (not as human individual) was illustrated or enacted in parable or charade by Jesus incarnate as an individual.

I take this to mean that, according to Origen, the Gospels are not totally about what Jesus did on earth. They are also about how the risen Christ relates to human beings, and insights about that have been projected onto the historical Jesus in the Gospels. This helps me to remain a Christian while acknowledging New Testament criticism. The Gospels convey different facets about what Jesus is like, even if they may differ from one another in their details. But what happens when the observant Jewish Jesus of Luke and Matthew (sort of) differs from the freer Jesus of Mark and John? Maybe, at that point, we should learn from both portrayals: Jesus stood in the Jewish tradition and respected it, and yet he chose the well-being of people over the technicalities of the Torah whenever the two came into conflict. Or perhaps Jesus related to Jewish-Christians and Gentile-Christians differently, according to their backgrounds.

6. N.F. Marcos, The Septuagint in Context, page 312:

The warrior god in Ex. 15:3 and Is. 42:13…becomes a God who destroys wars…

The Hebrew versions emphasize that God will kick some serious rear-end as a warrior. In Exodus 15, God does that when God throws the Egyptians’ chariots and horses into the sea. The LXX points out, however, that God in defeating his enemies is actually putting an end to war. God is creating peace by getting rid of the war-mongers. That’s a message that appears throughout Scripture. The neo-cons support this conception of peace, only they ascribe to the United States the function that the LXX gives to God. Pacifists, however, define peace as non-resistance to evil, in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount.

7. Today is Earth Day. In my public school in Brazil, Indiana, the idea of taking care of our environment was as American as apple pie, and so we celebrated Earth Day. And this was in an area that was politically and religiously conservative. Granted, on a field trip, a park ranger (or whatever he was) advocated “conservation” rather than “preservation”, but we were continually told that we should respect our environment. I tended to rebel against this by ranting against environmentalism, as the right-wing firebrand that I was. But, nowadays, I find it interesting that—then and now—respect for the environment crosses party lines, at least when it comes to voters. A liberal professor of mine once said that the National Rifle Association is actually pro-environment. This one woman I know who criticizes Obama on Facebook once challenged a company that was polluting in her town. I know a professor who has a “Ron Paul for President” bumper sticker on the back of his truck, and yet he’s written on the need to care for our environment, for, as the Bible says, the very land can vomit us out!

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