Dr. Forbush Thinks

Look at the world through the eyes of Dr. Forbush. He leads you through politics, religion and science asking questions and attempting to answer them....

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Location: California, United States

Friday, February 25, 2005

Treating Superstition

Since I am a Catholic I only recently understood the issue of basing Protestant Christianity only on the Bible. This was a response to having huge numbers of superstitious people basing their beliefs on tradition. They would pray to saints using rituals that were not described in the Bible hoping for miracles. Martin Luther and others objected to religion that was not based on facts. And, facts in the eyes of these leaders could only come from the Bible.

Of course there is quite a bit of ritual in Catholic services that is not explicitly from the Bible and these things were created in a response to a need to build a relationship with God. They are passed down by tradition. I don't know if any protestant Christians pray the Rosary or the Stations of the Cross. Of course you don't need these things to be part of your faith, but they are just another way to build a closer relationship with God.

Jesus went out to the Mount of Olives to pray when he needed strength. He didn’t go into the Synagogue or the Temple to find this strength. Some people today go to quite natural places to find peace and tranquility, but it would be highly unusual for most people to pray on a mountain today when they needed strength. Most people choose to go to a place of worship. Going to a place of worship on days other than the Sabbath is also a tradition that is not demonstrated in the Bible, but it helps build a relationship with God. Catholics could attend church every day of the year if they choose to. This could be used as a superstitious crutch to assure unsure people in times when they are seeking strength. But maybe this is exactly the medicine that these people need.

If we worry about superstition, then we should worry that a place of worship is given more importance than a mountain. But, believing that a mountain is a more important place than a place of worship would also reflect a superstition. The truth must be that no place is more important than any other place, so we should just find the time to pray and not worry about the place.

However, if we worry about superstition we need to examine the whole idea of placing complete faith in a book that does not agree completely with the observations of the world in which we live. The Bible tells us that the world is surrounded completely by water. The firmament above us prevents the water from spilling down on us. Obviously this is wrong and NASA has proven it wrong on every space fight. Even if we were to say that the firmament was billions of light years away I believe that there is no water on the outside of the Universe.

The point is that God gave us the world around us as well as the senses to observe this world. Based on these gifts of God we can determine quite a bit about the Earth and the Universe that we inhabit. If we want to understand the moral lessons of the Bible then we must understand that the Bible gives us clues to how we should live, but the world around us gives us the clues to how the world was created and how it has changed over time. Jumping to the conclusion that the Bible tells us everything puts us back into the pre-reformation basis of faith by superstition.

Shock and Awe

Shock and Awe

Yesterday I received my issue of the New Yorker. Then I lost it. Actually I set it on the kitchen table and the kids moved it to the coffee table. After dinner I couldn’t find it until I saw the bright orange cover of this weeks issue peeking out from under the coffee table.

I really like the New Yorker, because the quality of the writing is what I aspire to. Obviously if you have read my blog you know that there is no way that you will be reading what I write in the New Yorker any time soon.

This week there were several articles that left me satisfied after reading them. But the most impressive was a little bit of satire from Ian Frazier. You can read it yourself here:

Here to Tell You

Ian Frazier begins with a quote from Jerry Falwell from his autobiography. He tells us about Falwell’s father who “plays a prank” on a guy, he doesn’t like by cooking the guy’s cat and serving it to him. My thoughts continuously went to disgust over and over again before I could even get to the satire. How could a Christian preacher even think about publishing such a disgusting story? Wouldn’t publishing the sexual antics of his mother be just about as disgusting? Somehow I can imagine that they would draw the line there. When so-called Christians talk about what should and should not be published how could they come to the conclusion that this was acceptable?

Obviously I haven’t read the autobiography, and I don’t plan to. I don’t have the need to know how to get rich quick by preaching the word of God. Maybe Jerry has a reasonable reason to include this disgusting story in his autobiography. Maybe he tells us how he came to God after being raised by this evil father of his. But, the description in the quote suggests that Jerry found the story amusing.

My point here is that Ian Frazier does a wonderful job in this short satire and I hope you enjoy it as well.

by Ian Frazier

"There were times that Dad's pranks bordered on cruelty. One of his oil-company workers, a one-legged man he nicknamed "Crip" Smith, complained about everything. Dad and Crip's co-workers got tired of the old man's bellyaching and decided to take revenge. One morning Crip called in sick and Dad volunteered to send by lunch to his grateful but suspicious employee. Dad and his chums caught Crip's old black tomcat, killed it, skinned it, and cooked it in the kitchen of one of Dad's little restaurants. They called it squirrel meat and delivered it to Crip on a linen-covered tray. When Crip returned to work the next morning, Dad and his co-conspirators asked him how he liked his meal. They knew he would complain even about a free home-cooked lunch, and when Crip called it "the toughest squirrel meat" he had ever eaten, they were glad to tell him why."
--The Reverend Jerry Falwell, in "Strength for the Journey: An Autobiography

There were times that Dad's pranks bordered on what your out-of-control activist judges might call felonies. One of his employees was an effeminate fellow he nicknamed "Sissybritches" Jones, who had a live-in male homosexual companion for the purposes of sodomy. Ol' Sissy mentioned one day that since he and this guy he did sodomy with had been together for years, they had decided to go ahead and get married. Well, that did it, and so Dad and his friends decided to take revenge. This sodomite couple had an old black golden retriever, and because it was old it didn't matter if it died. Dad and the other dads killed it, doused it with kerosene, set it on fire, hung it up in automobile headlights for awhile, and then served it as dog meat on linen-covered trays in their little restaurants. When Sissy and the other one came around afterward and complained, Dad and his squad were happy to let them in on the joke. Then they shot and killed them both.

Of course, I'm exaggerating a little bit here. Every good story gets exaggerated some in the retelling, and there's nothing wrong with that. I seem to recall that the two men were not actually shot and killed, or not at that time. But I think the underlying point of the story remains the same, and it is this: First, we sometimes forget how much humor there is in the Bible. The Bible is full of wonderful, earthy humor, if not on every page, at least on many pages, particularly in the Letters of Paul. And, second, we should never lose sight of the fact that Jesus said--get out your Bibles, it's Matthew 10, verse 34--he said, "I have come not to bring peace, but a sword."

Note that Jesus does not say he came to bring a dagger, or a wooden club with pointed spikes in it. He specifies a sword. Why does he do that? Probably because the sword was the most advanced weapon of Jesus' day. And if we transpose this saying into our own era, if we wanted a weapon, none of us would be likely to reach for a sword. The verse could perhaps be better understood in our terms if it referred not to a sword but to an automatic rifle or shotgun sold out of the trunk of a person's car in a lumber company parking lot in Dothan, Alabama. When we see it like that we have a better idea of what Jesus was trying to say.

Now, some of the so-called cultural elites in Hollywood and Washington and Raleigh-Durham want to tell us that our long-standing traditions have become somehow unfashionable in the modern world. And don't kid yourselves--when they say that, they're really telling us they're right and we're wrong. They'll say, for example, that you can't blow up a bag of kittens with a shotgun, just because they themselves never did it for a harmless prank when they were young. Then these folks wants to turn around and put their values, or lack of values, on everybody else.

Once again, the answer I have for them is simple: Go back to your Bible. In the very first book, first chapter, twenty-sixth verse--read along with me--it says God gave man, quote, "dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over all living things on the earth," unquote. What does this mean? If you said that it means you can bury an old black Chihuahua up to its neck in your yard and run over its head with a lawnmower, then you have been paying attention, because you are exactly correct. They key is that little word "dominion." When God uses that word he is saying, in essence, man can do to the beasts of the earth whatever he wants or feels like at any particular time.

This is especially true, by the way, regarding cats. I happen not to be fond of cats, and that includes secular-humanist catlike dogs such as Chihuahuas and golden retrievers. This is just a personal preference that I and most of my fellow pastors share. But when I or any other pastor am asked to perform a marriage of homosexual cats, or of homosexual cat-owning people--well, then I think the hour has come for a scourging of wickedness such as God used to do in the Biblical lands. I know you all are familiar with the story of the old black tomcat and the one-legged newlywed lesbian couple from Massachusetts. If you'd be interested to study it further, there's a copy of it on the pink sheet in your bulletin insert. After you read it you will see several phone numbers at the bottom that you can call.

But that's not what I'm here to talk to you about today. No, it isn't. I am here to tell you that I have never in my life been happier than I am right now. This evening, I actually shed tears of joy at the recent success of our efforts. And as I wept I also danced a little bit, not lewdly like on MTV, but with a couple crossover steps and a godly kind of hop, I felt so blessed. what miracles have been achieved!

Then I strutted for a while, and gave myself high fives in the full-length mirror in my office in the rectory. My son heard me and he came in, and we did some complicated handshakes that I could share with you all if you would like to learn them. Oh, last November was glorious for those who care, as we do, about the traditional, non-homosexual, one-man-and-one-woman-with-children-whose-paternity-can-be-verified family! (And by that I mean, of course, a family in which BOTH the man AND the woman were BORN a man and a woman, and can prove it--that is, they are still exactly the same sex as they were when they were born, and haven't had any of those operations that are all the rage, I'm told.)

By now, it may be obvious to many of you that I'm on the verge of hysteria. I split the back of my jacket in my gyrations before I came out here--those of you behind me would be able to see it if I weren't wearing this beautiful robe. Friends, remember our constitutional Federal Marriage Amendment! We have got to make Congress pass that thing! I believe in my soul that we will. And, before we do, we better remember to put in a couple of sentences about the requirement that you be born a man or a woman, et cetera. I honestly thought of that only just now.

Oh, I feel an unusual presence of administering angels. Truly the spirit has descended upon us tonight. I want you all to bow your heads, and take out your Palm Pilots and BlackBerries and cell phones and laptops, and then work and work them with all your strength, until the kingdom of us begins to appear.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Good Art?

How does anyone know what art is “good” and what art is “bad?”

The general public has the idea that a painting is “good” when the painting represents the object that is being painted. But painting is more than just the subject in the painting. We know that by considering photography. Everything in a photograph is reproduced exactly as the lens sees the world. So, with photography there is also the composition of the picture, the lighting and the choice of subject itself. But, what makes a photograph “good?”

I have written on this subject before. Art is about observing the world and creating something to communicate an observation back to the world. The best photographs capture emotions and transfer them back to the world. Similarly the best paintings don’t always capture only the reality of the world, but the reality of the world in light of the emotions of the observer. But emotions are not the only things that influence our observation of the world around us. In fact, the reduction of emotions in art is also studied.

Last night I attended a performance of the Trisha Brown Dance Troop. Trisha Brown has been exploring dance since the 1970s and has presented some extraordinary work in those 30 some years. Since her exploration of dance has been pushing the boundary of what is understood to be “dance” and there are people who find her work difficult. Typical questions asked about her work might be - What is the point? What is she trying to say? Why did she choose the music she chose? What was I supposed to get out of that?

All of those questions need to be asked. While I sat there watching her work I thought about what I was seeing. The first piece was meant to be ethereal. The music was like the wind being blown through a collection of objects. A flute sporadically punctuated the wind. It was a very slow piece with dancers interacting with each other in powerful ways. The piece not only demonstrated the strength of the dancers, but the power in their dependence on each other. I don’t know if the dance was meant to be a metaphor, maybe it was only a vision in Trisha Brown’s mind when she created it. The power in art is that it sometimes communicates in ways that are not direct. The work was certainly intellectual in that one should think about the interactions of the dancers and the repetition of certain movements that were used like a refrain in a song. However, one could just sit there and enjoy the fluid motion of the dancers without thinking about the meaning. But, if one were to view the dance in this way it may be less satisfactory.

So, was this piece “good?” Of course that depends on quite a bit. It depends on what the observer expects to get out of watching a performance. Someone who has been a dancer would know the difficulty of some of the moves and appreciate them. Someone educated in the history of dance would understand how Trisha was pushing the limits and appreciate her effort. Someone who expected that they should put thought into understanding the piece might feel satisfied with their internal discovering of her work. However, someone who attended the performance in order to be entertained may have been less satisfied. So, was this piece “good?”

There were actually three different dances at this performance. The casual performance attendee may find their “easy to appreciate” dance in the last piece. This piece was performed to a “cool jazz” number. The dance was a study in counterpoint which is much easier understood by the casual observer. A group of dancers move in synchronicity, while seemingly random dancers dance against this unison movement.

So, was this piece “good?” The casual observer would find this piece more accessible, while the person looking for something new may not find it as satisfying as the first piece. A dancer who has attempted the difficult moves could appreciate many elements of this dance. However, if someone were searching for some deeper meaning in this piece it may be more difficult to find. So, was this piece “good?”

What I tried to illustrate with my observation of this performance was the difficulty in accessing whether art can actually be graded. There are so many things that determine whether one finds satisfaction with a work of art. The question that really needs to be asked isn't – Was the work “good?” Instead, the question that needs to be asked is – Did the artist communicate effectively to the intended observer? Perhaps the intended observer for Trisha Brown’s first piece was different than the intended observer in her last piece. Maybe she chose the three pieces in order to appeal to three different typical audiences. Maybe the diversity of the material offered is the secret to her success as a long lasting as well as refreshing choreographer.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Free Speech and Privacy

While listening to all the tributes to Hunter Thompson recently an interesting side note came up. During the 1970s Ken Kesey held a meeting in Oregon where he was trying to find common ground between Conservatives, Liberals and Moderates. It seems to me that the results of this meeting should be noted in the light of our national polarization. The results basically found that the only thing they could agree on were the virtues of Free Speech and Privacy.

This may not seem to be very surprising, but we should recall that Free Speech was a major issue in the Vietnam era. Conservatives generally wanted to control where people could exercise Free Speech. Similarly, conservatives in the name of national security compromised privacy as well. The FBI tapped phones and collected information on protest organizers. FBI agents sought information on all the organized protest movements in the hopes of disrupting these movements before they got too powerful.

Now, I don't know what such a conference of this type would produce today. I would guess that American values haven't changed that much in the last thirty years. Perhaps the Liberal vs. Conservative arguments should keep this small bit of common ground in mind if we want these arguments to be productive.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Iraq War Preemption

The reasons for the US invasion and occupation of Iraq have changed over time, but most of us can recite them as if they were stated yesterday. So, I thought if we looked at the reasons the administration put forth for the invasion of Iraq we could see how the administration feels about Syria and Iran. We should remember that what people say and what they mean are not always the same. So, going through this exercise of comparing the reasons for attacking, and occupying Iraq and the administration’s action against Iran or Syria may also prove to highlight the truthfulness of the administration as well.

During the build up for the invasion of Iraq the administration told us how dangerous the Iraqi regime was because they possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). Does Iran have WMD? Yes, Iran is know to have stockpiles of chemical weapons. Does Syria have WMD? Yes, Syria is known to have stockpiles of chemical weapons.

After the invasion of Iraq and no stockpiles of WMD were found the administration changed their public statement to the search for Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs. Does Iran have Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs? Yes, Iran is working on developing both nuclear and biological weapons. Does Syria weapons of mass destruction programs? Here experts are not sure if the programs exist, and if they do how far along they are.

However, since the UN weapons inspections worked so well the programs that existed were mainly on paper. Perhaps if the UN inspections and pressure from other countries was reduced Iraq could have restarted these programs. At this point the administration claimed that Saddam Hussein was an evil leader and many people suffered under his rule. Therefore the US was justified in removing him from power. Does Iran have a Democratic government? No. Is the Iranian government repressive? Yes, women are not treated as equals and secular ideas are rejected from all laws. Is Syria a Democratic government? No. Is the Syrian government repressive? Yes, the people of Syria feel repressed by the current regime.

So, what sets Iraq apart from these two countries? Some people suggest that Saddam Hussein demonstrated that he was a danger when he invaded and occupied Kuwait. It turns out that Syria is currently occupying Lebanon.

Another argument for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein was sponsoring terrorism. Saddam Hussein did contribute to the payments to families of suicide bombers, but no link to any terrorist organization has been proven. On the other hand Iran and Syria formed an alliance in 1982 to support Hesbola, a known terrorist organization.

So, based on the evidence it seems that Iran and Syria actually qualify as targets of US aggression under the same standards that the administration used to justify it’s invasion of Iraq. Since the Bush administration is not gearing up for invasion of these countries the deeper questions need to be asked. Either the administration lied about its reasons for the Iraq invasion, or there are additional deterrents in regard to Iran and Syria. Either way, the truth should be exposed.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Be Not Afraid

Jim Wallis points out in his book “God’s Politics: How the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It” that Jesus tells us not to be afraid not once but many times through out his book. Mr. Wallis uses Jesus’ teachings to show us how Christians should respond to Terrorism. In fact, the point of terror is to inflict fear on large countries by making their citizens fearful. If we are afraid, then the terrorists have succeeded.

Mr. Wallis continues to tell us how the Bush administration fell right into the trap of the terrorists. The fear inflicted by the 9/11 attacks caused the Bush administration to over react by attacking not only al Qaeda and Afghanistan which could be justified response to the attacks, but also Iraq which everyone knows for certain now had no connection to al Qaeda. Jim Wallis goes into great detail about how the majority of churches throughout the country pleaded with President Bush not to attack Iraq before the invasion. All of the major Churches in the US except the Southern Baptists were against the Iraq invasion before the invasion based on the information known at the time. I suggest that people interested in how right these religious people opposed the war should read Mr. Wallis’ book.

However, today I wanted to write about fear and the so-called Christians on the right have used fear in the very non-Christian way. Jesus told us of the power of fear. But, like Jesus’ teachings on Love that we need to realize that Jesus’ teachings apply to everyone, Christians and non-Christians alike. If only the Christians live their lives by way of the Law of Love, then non-Christians will take advantage of this predictable response to hate. So, Christians need to teach Christian values in regard to caring for each other to non-Christians in order to allow Christians to follow their own teachings without being taken advantage of. This is also true of teaching Jesus’ commandment to not be afraid. If your neighbors are acting in fair they will respond in irrational ways when they are attacked.

Even without Jim Wallis telling us not to be afraid I already knew the dangers of a fearful society. Fear has been used as an instrument of coercion through out history. Nazis used fear to control the German population. The Soviets used fear to control the Communist Satellite States of Eastern Block. Fear can make even rational people choose irrational responses. Fear was obviously responsible for the US invasion of Iraq. Fear was also responsible for the re-election of George W Bush.

After 9/11 the price of airplane tickets dropped to all time lows. This was because of fear. And, this was fear inflicted on our country by terrorists. I wasn’t afraid, because I knew the probability of another attack would be small, and even if there was another attack the probability of it being on my plane was small. And, finally, I wasn’t afraid because I knew that if an attack were to happen on my plane it would be God’s Will. So, out of a combination of patriotism and a need to be with family our family took a trip back east to visit family during the Christmas of 2001.

The price of air travel remained low throughout 2002, so our family took another trip back east at spring break. This time we took the entire family to Washington DC. What a better way to teach the children what it means to be an American than to take them to the memorials and places like Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown to show them what our forefathers believed in.

This is called taking a tragedy and turning it into a positive experience. This was how our family personally fought our own battle against the terrorists. Terror means fear. If you become fearful as a result of a terrorist attack, the terrorist has succeeded. Terrorists are very small groups, and they would have a very small impact if they were to take on our military or police. But, if they are able to create fear, then that fear will do more damage to our society than the actual damage inflicted. If everyone were not afraid, as Jesus taught, then the terrorist attack would not have the effect desired by the terrorists.

But, fear does not only have to do with terror. Both the religious leaders and the politicians seed fear in our society. Some conservative religious leaders seed the idea of a society falling into moral decay. Making this statement must be interpreted as seeding fear among the congregation. These leaders sow fear and the congregation responds in non-Christian ways. In the early twentieth century religious groups used fear to pass prohibition. In the south fear was used to keep the races segregated. Civil Rights have been fought continuously by putting fear on the opposite side. Fear is being used today to fight the idea of Gay Marriage. Fear is being used today to take away our liberty through the Patriot Act. Fear was used to persuade congress to vote for the invasion of Iraq. Fear is being used today to persuade people to support the immoral actions in Iraq. Fear is being used today scare people into believing the lies of President Bush. Obviously not all of this fear is caused by the terrorists, but we should realize that ALL FEAR weakens our country.

Be Not Afraid!

Friday, February 18, 2005

My Own Personal Hate Blog

I now have my own personal hate blog. I don't know if I should be frightened or elated that someone actually thinks my blog is worth complaining about. It is interesting that the owner of the blog was frightened to actually confront me. I allow comments on any of my blogs. I give out my e-mail. But, the blogger thought he'd rather avoid face to face contact and just complain about me behind my back.

Of course I have left a comment on his blog to let him know that I have read his rant.Check it out for yourself:
Dr. Forbush - cultured, educated Scum



I don’t have much to say today, but I will try anyway.

I was excited when I discovered an old pair of pants in the back of my closet. These pants have been there for several years. This is because when we moved into our house I had to give up my fitness club membership. One thing lead to another, and I could no longer fit into these pants.

However, last year I join a fitness club and yesterday when I tried on these pants – they fit. I already knew that I had lost about twenty pounds, but I didn’t realize that I could fit into my old clothes. Actually there really aren’t many old clothes, because I gave them to the poor when I realized that I would never loose all that weight.

So, beginning last year I began working out almost every morning. I now get up around 5:30am and go to the pool where I swim for about an hour every day. I use the pace clock and I try to push myself just a little bit more each day. In an hour I usually swim about 3500 yards, which is about two miles. When I first started I don’t think that I could go more than 1000 yards, but it’s hard to remember what it was like last year. I have also begun using some of the treadmill and stationary bike things. But, I would rather swim any day. However, I ran in a 5K a couple of weeks ago. I’ve done this from time to time, but this was the first time that I wasn’t sore for days afterward. All signs are pointing to the fact that I am getting into better shape.

I have also been listening to old time radio shows. I listen to them off the WVXU web site. Every weekday they broadcast radio shows from the 1940s and the 1950s. The shows range from mystery, science fiction, comedy, to drama. Not only are the shows interesting on the pure entertainment level, but also on a historical level. The characters talk about work and family life, politics and social interactions. Listening to these shows give you a sense of things that have changed in the last fifty years, but it also gives a sense of why they changed.

I was listening to a science fiction radio show called X minus 1. This is a show that creates 30-minute science fiction radio shows based on some of the better science fiction short stories of the day. One show tells the story of a government organization that was having trouble finding people to colonize Venus. Never mind the fact that Venus could not be inhabitable, the idea was more universal than that. Assume that there was a place that was habitable and a government wanted its people to populate it, how would you motivate people to go. Initially the government would simply pay people to go. They would find the best and the brightest and pay them to go. However, after a few months it became difficult to find more people, and the ones already on Venus wanted to come home early and even sacrifice their bonuses.

The narrator described smoke filled rooms where the top levels of government tried to come up with a plan. It was interesting that the science fiction writer couldn’t imagine the laws against smoking in public buildings that we have today. In the end the solution came to find the outcasts from society, because they would be willing to risk all to go to another world. The idea was modeled after the profile of a typical colonist from Colonial America, or the profile of a person who risked all to go discover gold in California.

The radio shows are all very interesting and enlightening. I plan on listening to more of them and I’m sure I’ll write about what I think....

Thursday, February 17, 2005

National Service

I just received a letter from our friends living in Israel. They told me that their daughter is about to graduate from High School and she is trying to decide what she will do with her two years of National Service. This got me to thinking about the idea of National Service. Other countries have similar programs where a student graduates and is then obligated to contribute to the welfare of the country by serving the country. Unlike the idea of a draft, every student, male or female must choose some service. There are other options beside the military, but of course women can volunteer in the military. Another friend from Israel served part of her two years as a tank commander.

What would a National Service program in the United States be like? Obviously many students would volunteer to serve in the military. But, there are other worthwhile programs that would do very well with an increase in manpower. National Parks could use beefing up. Programs like Head Start could also use a few interested people. The Peace Corp and Americorp could use manpower to increase its effectiveness and spread American good will.

Of course the climate isn’t ripe for selflessness. The current administration is more concerned with greed and self-interest. The idea that our youth should give up two years between high school and college to be productive for our society would be looked upon as a Communist idea. The free market will determine if these things are required. If companies don’t pop up to do these things in the private sector, then they must not be worth doing.

But, if anyone out there is still reading I am saying that a program like this could actually be a good thing for the students as well as the country as a whole. The students would have a “quick” two-year lesson on the real world. It may give them insight into what they may want to do with the rest of their lives. They could see a bit of the real world and then go to the university with those real world problems in mind. When problems are in mind, the solutions are not far behind.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


American culture must be one of the least defined cultures in the world. The problem is that there really isn’t one American culture and there never has been. This is because America has always been a land of immigrants. Immigrants always bring their own culture with them when they come to their new land. It is never clear to the immigrants why they can’t continue to propagate their own culture to the next generation. Immigrants will teach their children about their culture and command them to propagate their culture to the next generation.

Children are not always receptive to the idea of propagating their culture. Add to that the question of intermarriage among different cultures. Who’s culture is passed down, the husband’s or the wife’s? Some cultures place more emphasis on continuing their culture while other cultures place less value on the idea of passing traditions down to the next generation. Each interaction requires the parents to want to teach their children and it also requires the children to want to learn.

In reality American culture becomes a mix of stories and songs and advice that vary across the country. People that have a long history in one place may also have stories about that place that find themselves in the mix of their culture. Families that have lived in California for over one hundred and fifty years certainly have stories from the Gold Rush and Earthquakes that have found their way into their personal culture. Families that survived the Civil War have passed down cultural ideas and feelings that stretch back over the same one hundred and fifty years.

So, is their any such thing as American culture? We certainly have very few universal traditions, songs or stories that can be claimed as American culture. However, many people see their own personal culture as “American culture.” But this would be wrong, and anyone who has moved away from the place they grew up certainly knows this first hand. The idea that Christianity is part of American culture can be seen as true for regions of the South and Great Plains by the people who live there, but it does not span the country as those people would have you believe.

Instead, American culture is truly a small bag of goodies. There are the relatively small number of universal patriotic songs like the National Anthem and God Bless America. The sad truth is that the remaining parts of American culture are due to the widespread marketing campaigns of large corporations. The Coca-Cola ads of the early twentieth century created the universal idea of Santa Claus. The mass marketing of the NFL and the NBA have created the nearly universal appeal of football and basketball. The mass marketing of Hollywood has created the American cultural appeal of American movies and Video games. The overall marketing of all of corporate America has created the American cultural ideal that “buying things makes you happy.”

What are the parts of American culture that deserve to be passed on to the next generation? What will you teach your children?

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


I have been thinking about the guy who drove his SUV onto the railroad tracks in order to commit suicide. When the train approached the guy chickened out and couldn’t move his SUV. He jumped out of the SUV and ran. When the train hit it was derailed into an oncoming train. Eleven people were killed.

The guy is being tried for the murder of the eleven people. If convicted he could get the death penalty. What is the reasoning here? The guy wanted to die; so just kill him. Right? But, wait a minute isn’t suicide illegal? If the state puts him to death would it be assisted suicide? I don’t really understand the whole death penalty thing. I have been told that having a death penalty is a deterrent. So, the message the DA is sending by seeking the death penalty in this case is: “Don’t try to kill yourself on the railroad tracks or we will kill you.” I don’t see that being a great deterrent.

Also, why do they put a murder suspect on a suicide watch? Just let him do it, it will save the state money in the long run. They could put a rod hanging from the ceiling with a rope on it, just in case.

Obviously I don’t agree with suicide or the death penalty, in case someone is wondering. I just thought I’d point out some inconsistency in the whole concept.

Christian Hatred

Anna has become outraged at a post by a Conservative Christian who goes by the name Cao. Her post claims that Islam is a religion of hate and the murder of a family in Jersey City, New Jersey is proof that they have brought the war to the United States.

Its funny how the Right has had such an enormous appeal to the Christians when they post things like this. Apparently either Christians won’t stand up for what Jesus taught, or they don’t know what Jesus taught. I’ll include a bit of the Bible below to remind them.

Cao, a right wing conservative that appeals to Christians by including links on their sites to prayer sites and the like are hypocritical. Obviously this post was intended to inflame hatred toward Islam in general. Someone should keep their thinking cap on and remember that all Muslims are not terrorists and implying this insights hatred which is certainly not Christian. Add to that the fact that no one actually knows for certain who committed these crimes. He is certainly jumping the gun and judging before any of the facts are known.

Matthew 7:1-6

1“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.

It’s quite interesting how Jesus warned his followers in Mathew about the temptation to scold and chastise those who may be deemed unworthy. But, we should recall that only God judges. We should be concerned with our own affairs. It is interesting that the Christian Right can’t stop judging. But maybe James can say it better than Jesus can.

James 4:10-12
10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

11 Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you–who are you to judge your neighbor?

So, when a self-proclaimed homosexual tells you that he was created by God with an attraction to people of the same sex, then who are you to judge. Let these people love one another. Be tolerant of Islam, because God will judge them if he deems there to be an issue. The right is always so concerned about people sinning, even though they advertise a policy of keeping the Government small. Keep religion out of Government, because all religions don’t have the same sins.

Fairness and Christianity

Fairness and Christianity

God never promised us that life on earth would be fair. However, how does a Christian deal with the fact that the world is unfair? Some Christian groups believe that spreading their form of Christianity is the most important task they are endowed with. But the poor often have problems that theology doesn’t address immediately. Like, where can they sleep each night? Abused wives need to be saved from their husband before they can be saved from eternal damnation. In other countries some people live in squalor because they have no choice. Opportunity is not presented to every person equally.

Obviously there are Christians who address these problems by organizing groups who work hard to make lives better. Sometimes people don’t want to make their lives better because they fear the loss of freedom, or restrictions, or the unknown. The poor don’t just need a hand out every day, but they also need information and a nudge to motivate them. Abused women and children need a place to stay for the night, but they also need a way to break out of an abusive relationship and build the confidence they need to stay out of these relationships in the future. Christians who read Jesus’ words will understand that this work is not just an option, but an obligation.

Fairness goes beyond the everyday needs of people that find themselves in hard times. If this weren’t true, then these social issues would be spread around the country uniformly. Instead we find pockets of poor, homeless, and abused people clustered in inner cities or remote rural areas. If everyone had equal opportunities we could imagine that 80% of the children who grew up in poor areas would have good jobs and raise healthy happy families. Not only that, but the net income of people around the world would not depend on the country you live in. But, the world is not fair. People who grow up in the inner city get poor education and don’t get good jobs. Many of them can’t even get a job and many get jobs that pay low wages. Whose fault is this, and what can be done to change it? Should Christians be concerned with education?

Why should spreading the Gospel be a priority? The Gospel tells us to take care of the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the poor; the more people who know and understand this will lighten the burden on those of us who do this already. Taking these actions will lessen human suffering in a global context. But, if Christianity is spread while ignoring the obligations that all Christians must acknowledge, then Christianity is faith without works.

Christian groups are a small and disorganized lot. We know that larger and more organized groups can often be more effective when addressing widespread and understood problems. We also know that small groups can more quickly adjust to unforeseen changes. We can imagine that a mixture of these two different organization types would be the ideal solution to most problems. As a Christian it is hard to imagine not supporting efforts to address the inherent issue of unfairness present in our world today.

Finally, as Americans we are often reminded that the US is a rich country. The per capita income of Americans is among the highest of all large countries in the world. So, even if you find yourself a middle class American you are most likely in the top 10% of all people on earth. Being in the top 10% and being a Christian brings forth a serious obligation that everyone should consider.


Monday, February 14, 2005


Lying and dishonesty are usually considered sins. However, many people contend that white lies where one lies to a person in order to prevent hurt feelings are considered doing the Christian thing. You love your neighbor instead of hurting their feelings.

But, what does God do when put in this position? God apparently described the Garden of Eden to Adam and Eve. He told them that they could eat of any tree in the Garden except the tree in the center of the Garden, the tree of life. Eve had gotten the impression that God had told them that they would die if they ate of the fruit of that tree. She said, Gen 3:3 “But of the fruit of the tree which [is] in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.”

But, Eve and Adam ate of this tree and did not die. They did go through a transformation, but they did not die. So, did God lie to Adam and Eve, or did Adam and Eve just misunderstand what God said?

In Hebrews, the author tells us: Heb.6:18 “It was impossible for God to lie.” So, God must not have lied, because God can not lie. But, it isn’t that easy, because in the Gospel we see: Mt.19:26, “With God all things are possible.” So, apparently God can lie if he wants to, because anything is possible. If he can lie, does he actually lie in any case?

Paul tells us in 2 Thessalonians, Chapter 2:11-12 “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” So, Paul is telling us that God is going to lie in order to make people believe that they are going to be damned if they don’t believe the truth. That’s interesting, what is the truth that people will be deceived into believing that they will be damned for not believing? Well, let’s look at the NIV text:

“9The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, 10and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.”

So, God sends deception in order to assure that sinners are punished and not turn to God at the last minute. Somehow this doesn’t fit with my understanding of what Jesus taught.

Anyway, it comes down to these questions - If God can do anything he should be able to lie? But the author of Hebrews tells us that God can’t lie. So, can God lie? There is evidence of it in the Bible. But if God lies, how can he be good? Or is lying no longer considered a sin in all cases? If so, maybe that’s how a president can justify lying to the citizens of his country.

Innate or Not

In 1993 the first of these innate homosexuality studies were published. However, Christian groups who know that this is the key to their defense of homosexuality being a sin, began a very active campaign to discredit this study and all of the studies published since. This is because if Christians admit that God created some people with innate homosexuality, then their argument for homosexuality being a sin falls apart. Sin must be a choice. So, instead of pointing to each scientific study showing homosexuality is innate, I will point you to a Christian web site that makes it their job to discredit every study of this kind.


By reading this you can get an idea of how the Christians who hate homosexuality operate.

However, you should also keep in mind that the scientific studies that have been published on this subject were non-biased. The scientists had no reason to care what the results would be. They were also peer reviewed, which means that other scientists versed in the subject read the papers and determined whether all of the relevant questions were answered. Some of the arguments posed by the Christian group had to do with statistics. They claim that the sample sizes were not large enough. Well, this will be answered as the studies are continued. However, these Christian groups are also fighting to reduce money spent on these studies. This is because they don’t really care about the truth; rather they want to have a particular result. This is not how science works. Science makes observations and reports the results of those observations.

These Christian groups who oppose homosexuality have very loud voices, especially in churches. This is because homosexuals have been shunned from churches and they have no way to make their case. The majority of homosexuals who know that they can not change have given up on trying to be accepted by any church. Therefore they aren’t in the position to make religious arguments, and for the most part they don’t even care.

But, how can anyone actually argue that people choose to be homosexual? It doesn’t even make any sense. If you consider the high number of homosexual teenagers who commit suicide. If they did choose to be homosexual, don’t you think that they would choose to become straight rather than kill themselves? Well, don’t worry, these Christian groups have determined that people who choose to become homosexual actually change their brain structure while they believe that they are homosexual, then it becomes very difficult to become heterosexual. However, with the right therapy they can change their brains to desire a heterosexual relationship. The arguments will continue until society looks at these scientific studies and realize how the so-called Christians spin the results.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Long View

Stepping back and looking at the big picture can sometimes clear your mind. Typically I get up close and address one very small problem at a time. Sometimes I have a list of problems and I go down that list knocking things off one at a time. But, standing back and looking at the whole big picture is a good way to see if everything is on track. We can see if all those little problems and their solutions have added up to anything at all.

This has been a problem since the dawn of recorded history. Before man wrote down any history people did what they were told, and the leaders followed a vision and tried to construct that vision in their short time on earth. Some leaders saw the Great Pyramids of Egypt in their vision. This is because their vision included leaving something behind when they were dead, so the world could remark about the greatness of the leader who created it. But, how could building a Pyramid make life better in Egypt? The point is that if you take the long view you can see that building Pyramids is not making life better for any of the Egyptians. Building the Pyramids takes labor away from farming, or other engineering projects designed to make life more livable in 2000 BC Egypt. We can see that even though people were working, their energy was going into building a project that was not going to make life easier or more productive.

That’s one way that stepping back and looking at the big picture helps to point out the problems with an organization, or a simple plan. We can apply the same analysis to the problems that we face today. Ever since Roe v. Wade there have been critics of abortion. These critics believe that once a baby is conceived the baby is human and has all of the rights that a born baby has been given.

So, lets step back from this issue and look at the problem and ask some questions. Abortion kills people, so how can we kill less people? Why do people have abortions? How can we make abortion a less desirable option? What would a law against abortion actually do?

First of all only pregnant women actually have abortions. So, if we just got rid of pregnant women, then there wouldn’t be any need for abortions. But, actually it isn’t all pregnant women who have abortions, it is pregnant women who are not ready to have children who want to have abortions. So, if we just got rid of all pregnant women who weren’t ready to have children we could solve this problem. We can’t kill them, because that would double the number of people killed, so why don’t we make it easier for them not to get pregnant. How could we do this? First we can promote the idea of waiting to have sex until they are ready to have children. This would be a good first step. However, people being people they won’t always do what is in their best interest. But there are other ways to prevent pregnancy. Surely making as many ways to prevent pregnancy available to as many women as possible will surely reduce the desire for abortions. After all, we are trying to prevent the death of what some people would claim to be a human life. With such an important problem on the table we should certainly make every effort to reduce the number of pregnant women who are not ready to have children.

But, some women will still become pregnant and still not want to have children. If we have successfully reduced this number we are making progress, but once they are pregnant we should making having the baby easy. If the woman is homeless or jobless we should make every effort to make it easy for her to have the baby. The government should also make it easy for her to give the baby up for adoption. If the woman has no means of support the woman should be able to get some support. After all, we want to reduce the number of abortions. It is interesting that the number of abortions went down under the Clinton administration, but has gone up under the Bush administration. This is because economics plays a big role in the decision to have an abortion. If you don’t have the money to feed a baby, you are not likely to be able to take care of one. Companies should be encouraged to pay living wages in order to reduce the abortion rates.

In conclusion, we should look at the big picture in order to figure out what can be done at the lowest levels. We should step back at look at the big picture from time to time to see if what we are fighting for and how we are doing that makes any sense.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Nuclear Trouble

Let me get this straight, Donald Rumsfeld is trying to go 0-3 in dealing with the Axis of Evil. North Korea has been trying to prove to outside observers that they have at least one nuclear weapon. Saddam Hussein, on the other hand was trying to prove that Iraq didn’t have any nuclear weapons. In that case the administration couldn’t be too careful and found an invasion to be the final solution. So, when I read:
“Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he did not know whether North Korea has the weapons it claimed.” I sat there dumbstruck.

North Korea most likely has nuclear weapons, at least one. And, North Korea has been talking to Iran. Chances are that North Korea would be willing to sell a nuclear weapon to Iran, because North Korea is strapped for cash and they most likely don’t intend to use more than one weapon to make a point if they did want to use one. So, couple that with the speech that Iranian President Mohammad Khatami made today. He said, "The whole Iranian nation is united against any threat or attack. If the invaders reach Iran, the country will turn into a burning hell for them," he added, as the crowd, braving heavy snow, chanted "Death to America!" and "Death to Israel!". Obviously he used the burn in hell remark to elude to the intended use of nuclear weapons. So, even if they don’t have the missile technology they would still use the weapons within their borders.

How many mistakes does it take before the administration can get it right?

Art and Literature

I wrote a blog about Art and Science last week, and I thought I would continue from where I left off. In my blog I concluded that Art and Science are actually more alike than we actually realize. This is because Art and Science both observe the world and record those observations. Art includes emotion in both the observation and the communication. Science on the other hand attempts to exclude emotion in an effort to measure the world.

Based on this simplistic view we can move forward and ask the question – “What makes art ‘good’?” Most people have a personal idea of what makes art “good.” I have heard people express these opinions as long ago as I can remember. For example, one person may tell me that they saw some fantastic art, because the paintings were so realistic. Realism is one aspect of art, but does that mean that art that isn’t realistic is bad? Similarly, some people may say that like a particular style of music because they really enjoy the beat or the lyrics reminded them of a romance they once had. Does this mean that if music doesn’t have the catchy beat or lyrics that remind us of something out of our lives, then the music is bad? If the answer to these questions is no, then how do we know if art is ‘good’?

We should go back to understand the purpose of art. The artist observes the world and records those observations in a form, which communicates them to an audience. Paintings and drawings have an audience that trickles in and moves on over time. Live music and dance have an audience that witnesses the performance simultaneously, but only once. Literature, like paintings and drawings, have an audience that trickles in, but the audience must also have their interest held for a long period of time, or the reader may just put the book down and never pick it up again.

People know what they like when it comes to literature. Most people have strong opinions about what type of books that they prefer. Some people will wander through the mystery section looking for another mystery. Some people will peruse the science fiction section looking for another science fiction novel. People know what they like and they like what they know. So, how does one know if a book is a ‘good’ book?

We can go to an extreme example here. Everyone knows that sex sells. Include sex in your book, and you are bound to sell more books. This is because people like to read about what they know, and everyone knows about sex. Even a young teenager who hasn’t experienced sex is programmed by nature to desire something when it comes to sex. So, does including sex in a book make the book ‘good’? Most people would argue that including sex in a book only makes the book ‘cheap’, not ‘good’. Why is this? In our capitalistic society we are taught that creating demand for a product is the most important aspect of your product. Including sex in a book increases demand, therefore including sex in a book should make a book ‘good’.

Maybe the answer lies in the purpose of art. They purpose of art is to observe the world and to relate those observations back to the audience. By writing a book that includes sex in it we are relating the observed experience of sex back to the audience. But, if the book merely tells us what we already know the artist isn’t breaking new frontiers or relating new observations. The author is relying on telling us what we already know and telling us something that we know we like to hear again and again. It is like the pop musician that uses the I, IV, V chord progression over and over again. The musician knows that this is what the people are familiar with and he knows that people won’t complain. He is giving the people what they want, but he is not exploring new ways of communication with the audience. Lots of people will buy the music, but is it ‘good’ music. Is the musician a ‘good’ musician?

Obviously the answer lies somewhere in between. People want to hear the music that they are familiar with and the styles they are familiar with. But there must also be a place for musicians to explore new forms of music. Similarly artists need to create art in both traditional and new ways in an effort to understand the established styles and create more powerful new styles. Likewise literature will continue to rehash the old standards and also look at old observations in new ways.

To this end I’d like to alert people to the novel, “I am Charlotte Simmons.” by Tom Wolfe. Mr. Wolfe uses sex in this novel in a completely different way. It gives the reader a new view on an old observation. Of course if you are someone who believes that sex doesn’t belong in literature, then you won’t like this book. But, if you have an open mind you may be surprised at what Mr. Wolfe is saying and how he says it. Is it ‘good’ literature? Time will tell.


Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Lynne Cheney

Lynne Cheney

Today Terry Gross interviewed Lynne Cheney on Fresh Air. Of course the constitutional amendment to Out Law Gay Marriage was brought up. Lynne denied supporting the amendment several times, but refused to come up with any reasons why she chose this position. Terry tried to ask the question about six different ways, but apparently Karl Rove must have given her talking points because she refused to go into any details. If you get a chance, tune in NPR or listen online at:

Fresh Air - NPR

Real ID Act

Conservatives have fought tooth and nail against a national ID card since the 1950s. A national ID card was the symbol of the Communist State run government. A national ID card would limit freedom of travel. A national ID card could not be incorporated into a free society.

But, if the new type of conservative has it’s way the USA will have an effective national ID card. By passing standards that all driver’s licenses must meet and creating a national database the government is creating a national ID card. By using the fact that the large majority of American operate automobiles and need a driver’s license to do the things a free American needs to do every day the Real ID Act (H.R. 418) will make us just like the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. We will have another way for the government to know where we are and what we are doing.

It’s funny how fear can be used to take away freedom. Well, maybe it isn’t “funny” but it sure makes you think.

More Information

Biblical Reflections 2/9/2005

There are so many things in the Bible to contemplate and reflect upon that I thought that I would write a regular piece on my Biblical Reflections. I don’t know how often I will write in this mode, but every time that God gives me the inspiration to write I will.

I was reading Romans chapter 14 and I came upon some interesting things that Paul had to say. I am not surprised that the Christian right wouldn’t like these things. Paul is talking about the virtue of peace. In fact, he goes so far as to say that we should not eat meat in the name of peace. If the Christian right was to follow Paul’s teachings on peace in Romans chapter 14 as strictly as other passages in the Bible we would see the ranchers in Texas giving up their cowboy jobs to grow soy beans.

Let’s look at what Paul says: Rom 14:13 “Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.” Hey, this is good stuff reflecting the teachings of Jesus himself.

And Paul makes an even more powerful statement on peace in Romans 14:19 “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.” What the hell is a Christian president doing making war? He should go back and read what Paul says here.

But Paul draws this conclusion in the next line: Romans 14:20 “For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.” He is saying that eating meat goes against making peace. I know a few hippies that feel that way, but conservative Christians, I haven’t met them yet. Strange how this line never gets any air time.

Well, we all know that Paul didn’t like to drink wine. He writes about it all the time. Fundamentalist Christians give up drinking alcohol because of Paul’s feelings toward alcohol. But there aren’t many Fundamentalist Vegetarians that give up meat because Paul has told them that it is offensive. But, Paul equates wine and meat in the next line. Romans 14:21 “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.”

It is quite strange how Paul has condemned the consumption of wine in his writings when Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water into wine. What an odd duck Paul was. But, it could be that Paul was considering the health of the early Christian community. Maybe Paul knew the dangers of eating meat and he offered the vegetarian diet as a healthy alternative. That Paul, he was ahead of his time. :-)

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Paul Doesn’t Know His Bible

Another funny contradiction is where Paul doesn’t know what was in the Ark of the Covenant. Paul is an ex-Pharisee who should have been well read in the Bible. So, when he misremembers what is written down in First Kings he looses credibility. Or, is Paul using deception to strengthen his case? Paul writes in Hebrews: Heb.9:4

"The ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant."

But in First Kings we see: 1 Kg.8:9
"There was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone, which Moses put there at Horeb, when the LORD made a covenant with the children of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt."

So, why did Paul introduce the Golden pot of Manna into his writing? Obviously he is try to create a stronger tie between the importance of the Eucharist and the manna of the desert that sustained the Hebrews on their escape from Egypt. If Paul exaggerates here, what prevents him from exaggerating anywhere else in his writing in order to prove any of the points that he deems worthy?

Another Fun Biblical Contradiction

Someone’s last words are most often considered important. In fact the Bible frames the last words of Christ in three different readings. This being so, it could be concluded that Jesus’ last words could possibly sum up the life of Christ. So, let’s look at the last words of Christ:

1) Mt.27:46
"And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

2) Lk.23:46
"And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost."

3) Jn.19:30
"When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost."

So, who is right? What were Jesus’ last words? How does a Christian who believes that the Bible has no error in it interpret this apparent contradiction?


The Bible is full of contradictions that true believers deny. There are of course the two different and contradictory accounts of the creation, but there are more.

While reading the Gospel of John I found another blatant contradiction. In John 15:15 we read “For all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” Quite obviously John is telling us that Jesus has told his apostles everything that they should know. But, one chapter later John 16:12 we read “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” So, Jesus told us everything except the stuff that he thought that the apostles couldn’t bear to know. So, he didn’t tell them everything. Which of the statements is a lie? Wait, Jesus can’t lie, because he is God and God can’t sin and lying is a sin. Somehow those who have no doubt in the absolute truth of the Bible have worked out how this can not be a contradiction. It must be the same people who believed that George W Bush invaded Iraq to free the Iraqis after he told the American people we were invading Iraq to save the US from the inevitable mushroom cloud.

People will believe almost anything that they are told if they want to believe it – even if it is obviously wrong.

Monday, February 07, 2005

The Common Cold

I attended an interesting Bio-Tech conference last week. Most Bio-Tech conferences are interesting, but I don’t really go to many. So, this conference gave me the chance to listen to talks and find out what is new in the field.

Well, first of all Bio-Tech is a huge area covering many different technologies. I attended a small number of talks which mainly covered the automation of Bio-Tech machines, so I clearly haven’t covered the entire field by any means. But, I did attend a talk that covered something that effects every single person on this planet. The talk was on the topic of virus detection.

There are many different viruses. The person giving the talk described a method for detecting viruses with the ability to identify known viruses and determine a signature for newly detected viruses. The technique is based on the idea that some viruses will cling to particular DNA sequences. Known 70mer long DNA sequences are arrayed into a target and virus samples are tested on the array. If the virus sticks to a particular pattern of DNA it is considered a hit. A particular pattern of hits identifies the virus.

The interesting part of this talk was the realization that there are over 200 known rhinoviruses that cause the common cold. There are even more, and the virus evolves into new viruses all the time. This rapid evolution is the method that the virus uses to continue to survive and beat the immune system over and over again. This rapid evolution also makes it difficult for any drug company to develop a “cure for the common cold.” As this new method for virus detection is developed a large catalog of viruses will certainly be established, and could be used to detect and identify the virus you are infected with if you simply spit into a cup. Most viruses simply cause the discomfort symptoms everyone experiences, but a few viruses actually may cause longer-range disease. People have hypothesized that some strains of virus may cause arthritis, asthma or other long term diseases. If this detection and identification scheme were used on babies from day one, a list of viruses could be cataloged and these diseases could be cured and possibly prevented as doctors learn the relationships between these infections those diseases.

It looks to me like the future is bright....

Fundamental Truth

Everyone knows that there are many different Christian religions. All you need to do is drive down Main Street USA and look at the number of churches. The majority of these churches claim to be Christian and they all believe that they have the “truth.” Anyone that looks at the differences between these churches will come to several conclusions. First of all, Jesus did not give us the answer to every question, otherwise every church would have the same rules and worship in the same way. But church leaders are human and they make mistakes. Of course the leaders of every church believe that the other churches are being lead by human leaders who make mistakes. Otherwise churches would somehow realize that they were wrong and fix the problems within their own church.

How did this basic discord among Christian Churches come to be?

Everyone has heard of the Schism and the Reformation. The details of these breaks in the church are not always understood. For example, what was Martin Luther saying when he posted his document on the door of the church? He was saying that the church was losing sight of Christ’s mission. He was saying that the leaders of the church were wrong and he knew it because of his understanding of the Bible. The leaders of the church had the power and they had always been able to quell dissent by asserting authority. “We are the leaders, therefore we are right,” is what they would say. But Martin Luther wasn’t the first person to disagree with the teachings of the church, and I am sure that he will not be the last. In fact, every church in existence today has had disagreements on doctrine with every other church, or the churches would be unified.

In fact, Jesus preaches a break with the traditional Jewish church. The Pharisees were a group of Jews who had a very strict adherence to the law. They memorized the law and the had a scheme of how all of the laws of the Bible fit together so that they could lead a holy life. The motivation of the Pharisees was to get closer to God by following the laws. They knew every law and every exception to the law. Anyone who broke these laws were seen to be sinners and therefore unworthy.

Jesus didn’t see these things the same way. In fact, in Mat 9:11 “And when the Pharisees saw [it], they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?” How could Jesus, a self-proclaimed holy man eat with sinners? Obviously this meant that Jesus could not possibly be of God, because God would want to be close to the worthy, not the sinners.

Then comes Matthew 23. Jesus spells out the problems he has with the Pharisees. In Matthew 23:24-26 Jesus says, “[Ye] blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Aids Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. [Thou] blind Pharisee, cleanse first that [which is] within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.” He goes on quite a bit about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. This is quite important, because it is the crux of his teaching. It is also the reason that Jesus was put to death. This whole conflict with authority mirrors the conflict that Socrates has with authority. Jesus like Socrates points out that the laws are not the answer in themselves.

So, since Jesus preaches about the weakness of these laws and he points out how people should be put before the laws, it comes as no surprise that a scribe or lawyer asks him which law is the most important. We see the scene acted out in Mathew 22:35-40 and Mark 12:28-34 and Luke 10:25-28. There is no doubt that Jesus thought that Loving God and Loving your neighbor as yourself were the most important of all laws. Of course this is the core of what Jesus taught. He is giving us the prescription for how we should live our lives. The Pharisees, however, did not accept this radical thought. This is because the Pharisees were very conservative, they didn’t want the laws thrown to the wind, because God gave them these laws. Jesus was a danger to the order of Jewish society. Who knows, all of the Jewish dietary laws could be thrown out the window. Gentiles may be accepted into houses of worship. Women may be allowed to pray with the men if Jesus’ teachings were to be accepted. It is easy to see how the Pharisees could hate what Jesus taught.

But, why couldn’t a list of laws be given for Jesus’ teachings to be followed? Wouldn’t a list of laws make it easier for everyone involved? This way one could simply go to a list of laws and look up the given situation and determine if an action was good or bad. But, a list of laws is written in the context of the culture in which they are written. Each culture believes itself to be most enlightened and the culture believes that it would write the most enlightened laws. But only 200 years ago slavery was believed to be justified by the Bible. The Bible tells us: (Col 4:1) “Masters, give unto [your] servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.” Therefore, since we are all slaves of God, we can emulate God and have our own slaves, as long as we are just and equal. If we treat all the slaves the same we should be fine, right?

Laws about slavery were always believed to be justified by the Bible by the Christian slave owners. But, the culture changed and many believe that it changed for the better. The idea of slavery was considered objectionable and the Bible was re-read in the light of this cultural change. Jesus’ teaching of love was understood in the new light. Paul’s writings were understood to mean paid help, and not slaves. Culture influences how we understand the Bible.

Jesus’ revolution lead to many different interpretations of his teachings. If we read the stories that have been saved for us in the Gospels it is clear that Jesus taught us that love was more important than the written law, and he also taught us that many of the written laws could be derived from this one law. But the details always causes problems. And people don’t like it when someone gets away with not following a rule that they have to follow. This means that many Early Christians began to interpret Jesus’ teachings in different ways.

Then along came Paul. Paul was a Pharisee. He knew the Jewish laws like the back of his hand. He didn’t like the way the Christians (who were largely Jews) had begun to disregard the Jewish law. We know this because we know that he persecuted the Christians. Why would he make an effort to persecute people if he wasn’t upset about this? But, to his dismay the Christians are not persuaded by his persecution. Instead their resolve grows under the persecution. In the Biblical story Paul is knocked to the ground and God asks him why he is persecuting his people. Even if God never really knocked him to the ground it must have become obvious that Paul was fighting a loosing battle. So, Paul says something like, “If you can’t beat them join them.” So, Paul realizes what Jesus taught. All of the “good” laws can be derived from the first law. Paul goes about teaching that many of the Pharisees laws are derived from the Law of Love. And, he is quite successful.

However, Paul doesn’t realize that some of these laws are based in the culture. This, as we have said before, is the weakness of writing specific laws. This can be seen in 1 Corinthians 11:4-7 “Every man praying or prophesying, having [his] head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with [her] head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover [his] head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.”

Looking at this obsession that Paul seems to have about head covering should give us some insight into Paul’s thinking. This idea is based in the culture of 50 AD Mediterranean culture. The method of covering your head demonstrates your respect for God. Showing respect for God is derived from the Law of Love, to love God above all others. But, in our culture today we no longer show respect by wearing hats. So, the law doesn’t make any sense for us today. And, Catholics got rid of this idea in the 1960s. Many other Christian religions no longer practice this either. Although there may be a few sects that read the Bible literally and don’t understand why Paul is telling the Christians to do this but they do it anyway.

So, in summary we see that Jesus worked hard to separate the laws from the worship of God and the way we should live our lives. He put the Law of Love as the most important law and told us that all of the “valid” laws can be derived from this law. Jesus understood that culture could influence specific laws but the Law of Love could free us to understand what laws are valid. Paul the ex-Pharisee loved laws and showed how his favorite laws could be derived from Jesus’ Law of Love. This put order into the early Christian church and unified Christians which eventually made them more powerful. However, some of Paul’s laws are no longer considered important in our culture, because they no longer have the same meaning.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Christian Behaviour

I have a problem with Fundamentalists Christians who what to impose their religious laws on the general population. I really don’t understand why they even believe that passing universal laws about social issues can even be Christian. The Christ I read about in the Bible is tolerant and invites sinners into his home. Passing laws against social behaviour removes the Christian from the equation. They turn the issue into a law issue.

Gay marriage is my favorite example of how Fundamentalist Christians who believe God sent down a mandate for them to outlaw legal homosexual relationships. If you read the Bible you will see that there are many laws that these hypocrites no longer follow, because the death of Christ has freed them from Jewish dietary laws, among others. But, Jesus doesn’t say anything about homosexual behaviour one way or another. Christians could assume that those laws were also thrown out with the death of our Savior.

But we don’t need to worry, because Paul wrote letters to his friends and told them that homosexuality is a problem. It isn’t clear how Paul derived this teaching from Jesus. Jesus taught us about love. We are to love God above all others and we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Now, we must assume that God made homosexuals. The problem is whether homosexuals have a choice in their sexual orientation. Scientific studies have now shown that homosexual behaviour is not learned; rather it is innate. This means that homosexuals are attracted to people of the same sex, and repulsed by the idea of having sex with the opposite sex. God did this, because he created every individual. If God were to demand that homosexuals should be denied a close loving relationship with another human being most people would site this as evidence of an evil God that promotes torture. Based on what Jesus taught however, the number one commandment that we are commanded to obey is to love God above all others and to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is simple to derive that homosexuals that have no choice in the matter should form loving relationships with members of the same sex. Love is more important than any of the other laws, even the ones created by Paul.

But even more than that, only the homosexual himself/herself knows if they have any choice in their choice of a mate. Christians should not judge this, because the issue should be between the person and God. It is clear that Fundamentalist Christians take unchristian action when they behave in ways that attack homosexuality by passing laws, or creating hostile atmospheres.

Christian Homosexual Logic

I haven’t actually posted anything on homosexuality specifically, but I have used the issue to demonstrate inconsistency between what Paul has written and what Jesus taught. However, most of the comments come back to this issue. It is quite funny to be that so many heterosexuals would even care about homosexuality, because it doesn’t even concern them. I will attempt to draw up a framework for understanding homosexuals and try to determine what a “good” Christian response to the issue should be based on what Jesus (not Paul) taught.

First of all we need to assume that several groups of people exist in order to have this discussion. Some of the groups may not exist in reality, but after the discussion is over you can set the number to zero and you will still have a result. (What? I am using logic here, so we need to first assume the classes and then we can determine the number in each class later)

The groups should be Christians, non-Christians, Christian homosexuals, Christian bisexuals, non-Christian homosexuals and non-Christian bisexuals. We can use many definitions for these groups and we can see how the results change based on the changes in definitions. For now I will define each group as follows:

Christians – For the purpose of this discussion we will assume that these are followers of Jesus’ teachings on love and building relationships with both God and our neighbors.

non-Christians – For this discussion we will assume that non-Christians are all those opposed to the teachings of Jesus on love and relationships as described in my blog on sin.

Christian homosexuals – These are those people who find sexual relationships with people of the same sex fulfilling loving relationships that allow them to grow. They also believe in Jesus teaching on love and relationships.

non-Christian homosexuals – These are those people who find sexual relationships with people of the same sex fulfilling loving relationships that allow them to grow. However, they do not believe in the teachings of Jesus on love and relationships.

Christian bisexuals – These are those people who find sexual relationships with people of the same sex or the opposite sex fulfilling loving relationships that allow them to grow. They also believe that they should follow the teachings of Jesus on love and relationships.

non-Christian bisexuals - These are those people who find sexual relationships with people of the same sex or the opposite sex fulfilling loving relationships that allow them to grow. However, they do not believe in the teachings of Jesus on love and relationships.

What are the goals of each of these groups of people and how should they behave in relations within their groups and between their groups?

Christians – Based on what Jesus taught this group should try to build a strong relationship with God through prayer. And they should try to form a strong relationship with their neighbors. Since neighbor means everyone, it should include all of the named groups. Christians also need to follow mandated government laws, even if they are superfluous to their religious law.

non-Christians – They are ambivalent to the law of love that Jesus has prescribed, however they must follow all of the written laws mandated by the government

Christian homosexuals – They need to follow the same law of love and the same government laws.

non-Christian homosexuals – They need to follow only the government laws.

Christian bisexuals – They need to follow the law of love and government laws.
non-Christian bisexuals – They only need to follow the government laws.

So, based on this framework we can ask ourselves questions and derive the response for each group.

Let us simply ask the question – how should each group respond to a law that limits homosexual relationships. We don’t need to be specific for the discussion here, but the framework is always open for new questions.

Christian – Christians should ask themselves, does limiting relationships of homosexuals build loving relationships between neighbors and with God, or does it destroy relationships between neighbors and with God? Of course they also need to ask the typical government questions as well; Does the law improve civil order? Is the expensive to enact? Does the law effect human rights? Can the law be enforced? Assuming the law goes into effect how will my life change, will I behave more Christian like?

non-Christians – non-Christians simply need to ask the typical government questions as well; Does the law improve civil order? Is the expensive to enact? Does the law effect human rights? Can the law be enforced? Assuming the law goes into effect how will my life change, will I behave more Christian like?

Christian homosexuals Of course this group needs to ask all of the Christian questions above, but they also need to understand how the law effects them directly. They need to ask: Does this law make my life better or worse?

non-Christian homosexuals – Of course this group needs to ask the same questions as the Christian homosexuals except for the Christian questions about love.

And the bisexuals would ask the same questions as the homosexuals and one more. Assuming the law goes into effect should I change my orientation to conform to society and the laws?

Looking at this analysis it should be obvious that passing laws that limit homosexual behaviour will only impact the bisexuals. Bisexuals have a choice; they are attracted to either sex equally. However, if we look at homosexuals who have no choice, we are essentially taking away the legal ability for these people to have a loving relationship with someone. As Christians our theology is based on love. We should encourage loving relationships to give us metaphors to help us in understanding our relationship with God. From a Christian point of view it doesn’t make any sense to take love away from someone, because is central to our religion.

Bisexuals on the other hand have a choice and we love them and want them to have meaningful lives. In order to help them we should encourage them to fall in love with a member of the opposite sex because we want them to be happy and have as little trouble as possible.

But, what can Christians do when it comes to the homosexual issue? First of all, we don’t know if a person is homosexual or bisexual. As we have seen, this makes a difference. Jesus would most likely tell the person that they should feel comfortable with understanding their own attraction. He would tell us the how loving someone is a metaphor for our love with God. He would tell the person how finding a person of the opposite sex will make ones life easier and because we love that person we want their life to be easier. However, finding that special person to love is also important and sometimes that person is of the same sex.


In a number of blogs I have attempted to point out differences and inconsistancy between what Jesus taught and what Paul wrote in his letters. I have been attacked by Christians on many different levels in these discussions and have begun to repeat myself over and over again. One of the main issues seems to be a difference in the in the concept of sin between what fundamentalist Christians believe sin to be and what Jesus taught.

So, what is sin?

The Christians I have argued with continuously claim that since Paul wrote that homosexuality is a sin then it is a sin and anyone who acts on homosexual urges is a sinner.

But, this idea is based on the idea of laws and the breaking of laws. This assumes that the breaking of a law is automatically a sin. This is in direct opposition to what Jesus taught in the Gospel.

Why? When did Jesus claim anything about the law?

Anyone who has been reading these discussions knows that Jesus had an on going conflict with the Jewish religious community. The arguments tended to center around the complex Jewish law of the time. For example: was it OK to heal the sick on the Sabbath? Jesus had healed a sick man on the Sabbath and the religious leaders claimed that Jesus must be evil because he did work on the Sabbath. After all, how could Jesus come from God and break the law of the Sabbath?

But, it comes down to this. Jesus tells us that the most important commandment is to love God above all others and to love one another as you love yourself. This is the key to understanding the revolution that Jesus brought to us. If you can’t understand this simple fact then there is only the hope of following the laws and hoping that it is what God wants you to do. But Jesus gave us the answer. You don’t find God by following the rules and laws, you find him by learning to love.

Unfortunately, Paul did not understand this concept as well as he should have. But, this is understandable, because he didn’t follow Jesus around and listen to what Jesus taught day after day. Paul was converted from being a Pharisee. Pharisees, of course, were the bane of Jesus. Pharisees believed that everything reduced down to laws. Tell me what the law is and I will not misbehave. And, the consequence is that if you don’t have an applicable law for a certain situation then it will be difficult to determine the correct action.

But, what did Jesus mean by love? I believe that love is a relationship, not a law. When you love someone you build a relationship. Therefore, we must build a relationship with God and our neighbors. So, things that strengthen these relationships are good, regardless of the laws and things that destroy these relationships are sinful, regardless of the laws.

Knowing this is freeing. Every Christian should know this, but very few actually practice it. Many Christians are told that prayer is good, but they don’t realize why prayer is good. It is good, because it builds your relationship with God. Every Christian knows that it is important to love each other, but they don’t realize what love means. They believe that being nice to someone is “good enough.” But, they don’t realize that love means building the relationship by working at it even when the other person doesn’t want to.

So, the key to Jesus’ teachings is that morality is derived from the law of love and not from specific laws in the Bible or anywhere else. This doesn’t mean that the Bible is completely wrong, it has many good ideas in it. But, it means that whereever there are questions in the Bible we should be able to go back to Jesus’ law of love and verify whether we are building a relationship or destroying a relationship by our actions.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Arts and Sciences

When I was in college many years ago students would tend to break up into groups based on their majors or at least general interests. Science majors tended to hang out with science majors. Humanity majors tended to hang out with humanity majors. Sometimes groups would refer to the other groups as being inferior for many different reasons. My group of friends centered around the sciences. We had pre-med, chemistry, physics, mathematics and a pre-law student at the core of the group. We also had many others who joined us in the dinning hall and hung around from time to time. We were all biased toward the sciences, but we also appreciated the arts and humanities. We hosted the classic toga party, but of course you had to come as a character from Greek mythology. We included the rites of Dionysius. Members of the group often offered more information and suggestions about what to include in this annual celebration. The point here is that although our group was formed from science majors we incorporated the humanities into our lives as I have illustrated in this example.

But, toga parties were not the only way we incorporated humanities into our lives. We attended orchestra concerts, we went to poetry readings and we discussed the books we were reading with each other. Our group somehow felt a need to experience more than just the science of our classroom lives.

So, when a high school friend of mine came to visit during a break I was surprised to learn how negative he was in regard to the arts and humanities. He was enrolled in a technical university were every student was majoring in science or engineering. The only humanities required were freshman English and another humanities course. Freshman English was concerned with grammar and technical writing. And, my friend told me that he was planning on taking a history of science class to satisfy his humanities requirement.

This may not seem strange to many, but I was almost shocked. I had always thought that my friend was pretty smart, but I couldn’t understand why he didn’t have any curiosity when it came to the humanities. When I asked him, he told me how worthless the humanities were. Science and engineering had provided marvelous inventions, but the humanities have only provided stories, and pictures and music. What good was all that. It was merely entertainment, nothing of substance.

Obviously this conversation has been stored away in my brain for quite some time. I never really knew how to express my opposition to his idea of the worthlessness of the humanities in general. I didn’t really know why I liked science and stories both. I wasn’t just confined to the rational world, I read religious writings and I listened to music. Somehow I always found myself asking the question, “What is the artist trying to convey with this work?” Somehow I always felt that if the artist thought that it was important enough to spend time making a piece of art I should try to understand what he is trying to say.

Of course not all artists are good at conveying their ideas. Some are much better than others as are scientists and any other person in any other occupation. When it takes more time to figure out what the artist is trying to say than you are willing to spend looking at it then, in my opinion, the artist has failed.

But, what is the job of an artist? Does an artist really have a place in society? Does an artist do something to make our lives better? Should we value what an artist does as much as we value what a scientist does?

Maybe at this point we should take a step back and look at what an artist does and what motivates him. And if we compare that to what a scientist does and what motivates him maybe some of these questions could actually have some answers.

In general an artist is motivated by curiosity and by observations. Similarly a scientist is motivated by curiosity and by observations. It seems strange, but it is true that both artists and scientists have the same basic motivations. However, artists observe the world around then in the light of the emotions they experience within themselves. The artist then takes these observations in the light of their emotions and they try to communicate those experiences to other human beings. Scientists also look at the world around themselves and they try to take measurements without any emotions in order to record the experience of the world without involving emotions. This information is then communicated to other human beings in ways that try to tie these measurements together and ease the communication of this information in an understandable and emotion free way.

So, the inclusion or exclusion of emotion in the study of a subject can determine the difference between an artistic approach and a scientific approach.

For example, Let’s look at the stars. A scientist looks at each and every star one at a time and measures many parameters of the star. They measure the color and the brightness and the position and how it moves. An artist looks at the sky and produces:

Do both of these activities contribute to a better society? Which one is more valuable? How do we measure the value of each of these activities?

Unfortunately the value of each of these activities are different for each person looking at the results. The scientist produces lots and lots of data. The majority of Americans don’t really care about the data at all. On the other hand, the majority of Americans are stunned by Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” The artist is able to transfer his emotion of awe to millions of people by this one painting. The scientist is able to transfer millions of data points to a few scientists who value the information.

But, the scientist’s work doesn’t end there. This is because the data could be transferred to theorists who are trying to understand how stars burn. And, this theorist puts all the information together and he is able to determine the typical life of a star. This information, the life of a star like our sun is then communicated to school children everywhere and they are in awe. The data can predict that the sun will burn for another 5 billion years. This data and the subsequent theory can change how we understand the universe.

So, how do we assign value to these two activities?