31 January 2017

Christians and Evolution

Over the centuries, religion has engaged in a slow retreat before science. This is true not only of primitive religions, but also for the monotheistic revealed religions such as Christianity. Not all science, of course. Maybe not even most science. Science, however,  has demonstrated the the universe is much older and larger than anyone in the ancient world imagined. Science has revealed the spherical shape of the earth. And science has dispelled those religious notions that gods controlled the forces of nature.

Aside from the convictions of young earth creationists, most Christians have accepted the conclusions of modern cosmology, geology, and biology. Granted, they must make some accommodations. For example, Christian intellectuals imaginatively construct such theological theories as the "day-age" theory, the "gap" theory, and the "literary framework" theory to reconcile the biblical account of creation with the findings of science.

It is difficult to make similar accommodations with the biblical story of the creation of mankind. Christians who accept the evolution of the cosmos resist accepting the evolution of mankind. Why is that?

First, the specificity of the biblical story of mankind's creation presents a challenge. It is difficult to tease out any intelligible symbolic interpretation of the passages. Does shaping of the clay into a man symbolize God's shaping of man through eons of evolution? Sounds a bit of a stretch. Second, so many other parts of Christian dogma derived from the creation story. The whole narrative of the creation in God's image, the loss or defacing of God's image through sin, and its recovery through salvation would be lost. If man evolved, where is the sin? Where is the salvation?

Second, the nature of the sciences on which the idea of evolution rests seems to be not as strong as in other sciences. Everyone understands the basics of experimental science, where researchers create a specialized experience in a lab and reach repeatable or  falsifiable conclusions. The science behind evolution differs. Biology, of course, utilizes the specialized experiences of the lab, and our understanding of biology provides insight into the structures and functions of living things. The idea of evolution, however, also rests on the findings of archaeology and physical anthropology. These sciences seek to understand a past that cannot be recreated in a lab. In their methods of inquiry, or at least the goals of their inquiry,  archaeology and physical resemble history--usually understood as part of the humanities. In fact, the subject of archaeology and physical anthropology once was described as "natural history."

So given the Christian predisposition to adhere to their religious dogma and the nature of the science on which evolution rests, it is understandable by some religious people resist the consensus of modern science regarding the origins of mankind. And if would require a level of curiosity not possessed by the average person to walk into a library and check out a book on evolution. Most people rest content with the science education they received in high school or college. Given the nearly endless variety of pursuits people can choose from to fill in their leisure time, reading a science book probably hold little attraction for anyone--Christian or not.

The alternative--at least from a religious perspective--is worse. This is the blatant rejection of the creation story itself. Liberal Christians adopt the view of atheists and see it simply as a folk tale. And, of course, as might be expected, for many liberals, without the creation and the fall, there is no original sin. Mankind is not a flawed creature in need of redemption.

But they still won't let go of Jesus.

29 January 2017

A Sunday School Lesson: Creation 2.0

In Genesis chapter 2 verse four begins the first of eleven sections called "The generations of . . . ."

This first section is "The Generations of the Heavens and of the Earth"--although the subsequent passages describe something very different.

The section opens with an explanation of how God had not created rain. Instead, a mysterious mist came up from the ground to water all vegetation.

Then begins what appears to be a second account of the creation of land animals--including man. Readers recall that in Gen. 1:24-28 God created the land animals and  mankind on day 6.

"And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.  And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.  And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.  And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." Genesis 1:24-28

In Gen. 2:4-17, however,  God creates man again--this time out of the dust of the ground. He puts Adam in a garden located in Eden, watered by four rivers. God directs him to eat of every tree except one called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Only later does God create animals, which he brings one by one to Adam to name. All this came about as a search for a companion, When God and Adam find no compatible companion among the animals for Adam,

 "And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.  And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.  And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.  And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;  And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.  And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.  Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.  And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.Genesis 2:18-25

Christians usually try to solve the problem by asserting that the second passage is merely an elaboration of the first. If it is, then it denudes the first passage of a meaningful narrative.

A sacrifice they are more than willing to make . . .

28 January 2017

The Common Good of the Household

As might be inferred from the previous two Saturday posts, all members of a household share a common good--especially the husband and wife. They share the common good of working together to secure their necessities. They share the common good of participating in the personality formation of the offspring the may have together.

Yet every election year progressive rhetoric pits the sexes against one and other.

The verbal venue most often chosen by progressives concerns birth control and abortion.

Progressives advocate not just for maintaining the current status quo established by Roe v. Wade, but also expanding its scope. They see birth control and abortion as a rights. And  they conceive these rights as more than just "negative" rights that cannot be impinged upon by society or government; they are "positive" rights that must be provided by society or government. Consequently, many progressives advocate for government provision of birth control and abortions--or at least government regulations compelling private entities like insurers to provide these services.

In their advocacy, they warn who constitutes the enemy poised to deprive them of their rights--men. Sometimes progressive feminists  and their supporters conjure up an image of men in Congress passing laws restricting abortion. Or they sound the alarm about the men on the Supreme Court who might overturn Roe v. Wade.

This tactic is somewhat puzzling. Surveys indicate that  men support the right to abortion to the same degree as women. And why not. Men find abortion almost as liberating as women. No more shotgun weddings. No more decades of financial support for an  unwanted child. Moreover, wasn't it seven men of men on the Supreme Court that established abortion at the law of the land?

Anyway, these tactics seem to resonate only with single women. After all, somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of abortions involve single women. Moreover, in presidential elections, married women break for Republicans more than Democrats. Even in this most divisive and extraordinary of elections, the allegedly misogynistic Trump captured half of the vote of married women and the majority of white married women.

Married women recognize the common good of the sexes.

Single women will eventually.

27 January 2017

The Bible and the Cosmos (5): The Sky's the Limit

And in biblical cosmology, it really is the limit.

 According to the Bible, there is no "outer space." The heavens refer to "inner space," the dome shaped expanse above the earth.

In the book of Job, a passage seems to imply that  the dome of  heaven or sky is some type of material structure. One of Job's encouragers asks a rhetorical question contrasting God's greatness with Job's insignificance:

"Hast thou with him spread out the sky, which is strong, and as a molten looking glass?" Job 37:18

In this and several other passsages,  the Bible speaks of God "spreading" or "stretching" out the heavens.  The verb means to hammer our or shape. In most cases, its use seems to be metaphorical. The text in Job, however, clearly understands the heaven to be a solid substance likened to "a molten looking glass." In the ancient world, a mirror of this sort consisted of polished brass.

Perhaps this is why God can shake the heavens in his wrath, just like he can with the land:

"Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the Lord of hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger." Isaiah 13:13

"For thus saith the Lord of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land;" Haggai 2:6

"Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I will shake the heavens and the earth;" Haggai 2:21

The shaking of heavens, in the sense of "outer space," is difficult to imagine. Moreover, its visible effects would take millions of light years to arrive. The shaking of heavens, in the sense of a "dome" over the land, certainly would evoke the terror that God intends.

And what happens when God shakes the heavens? Why the stars fall to the earth!

"Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:" Matthew 24:29

"And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind." Rev. 6:13

This can happen because the stars--as well as the sun-- are only as large as they appear and somehow move across the polished brass dome of heaven.

26 January 2017

The Bible and the Cosmos (4): The End of the Heavens

When the biblical writers use the phrase "the earth," they refer to a landmass, not a planet. Similarly, when they refer to "the heavens," they describe the expanse above the landmass, not outer space.

This can be seen in several passages that describe meteorological features. Numerous bible passages allude to "the four winds" which seem to correspond to the four corners of earth:

"And upon Elam will I bring the four winds from the four quarters of heaven, and will scatter them toward all those winds; and there shall be no nation whither the outcasts of Elam shall not come." Jeremiah 49:36

Christian Jews writing in the first century seem to hold similar views. The heavens entend no further than the land mass. This can be seen in two slightly different versions from a sermon by Jesus:

"And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." Matthew 24:31

"And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven." Mark 13:27

Similar imagery is found in Revelation:

"And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree." Rev. 7:1

Several passages referring to other meteorological activity suggest that the heavens extend no farther than the edges or ends of the landmass. For example, Job's encourager Elihu draws attention to the greatness of God in the impressive meteorological displays of nature. He hears the voice of God in thunder and sees God sending out lightning to the ends of the earth:

"At this also my heart trembleth, and is moved out of his place. Hear attentively the noise of his voice, and the sound that goeth out of his mouth. He directeth it under the whole heaven, and his lightning unto the ends of the earth. After it a voice roareth: he thundereth with the voice of his excellency; and he will not stay them when his voice is heard. God thundereth marvellously with his voice; great things doeth he, which we cannot comprehend." Job 37:1-5

Similarly, the Psalmist conceives of the sun's motion in the same way. The sun, like the lightning, reaches the edges or ends of the earth as it completes its circuit.

"Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof." Psalm 19:4-6

The ancient Hebrews, then, seem to have understood the earth as a square or rectangular landmass and heaven as an open expanse above it that extended no more distant that the extreme edges of that landmass. The earth had four corners or sides with four winds that blew from those directions. The most impressive feature of the heaven was not the wind. It was the sun, moon, and stars.

25 January 2017

The Bible and The Cosmos(3): The Foundations of the Earth

So if God created the earth, understood as a landmass rather than a planet, on what does this land mass rest?

Earlier in Genesis, Moses writes that God gathered the water under the heaven together into seas.

Additional passages, however, suggest that the land actually floated on the water. In a song of praise to God, the Psalmist suggests that God built the land on top of the water:

"To him that by wisdom made the heavens: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him that stretched out the earth above the waters: for his mercy endureth for ever." Psalm 136:5-6

Moreover, Moses himself expands on his initial Genesis description by alluding to the waters under the earth. In several passages warning Israel against crafting religious idols of animal life, he makes his command as comprehensive as possible about the kinds of animal life involved:

"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:" Exodus 20:4

"Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, The likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, The likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth:" Deut. 4:16-18

"Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth:" Deut. 5:8

In all three of these texts, Moses prohibits idols of creature from land, air, or sea. And he describes the seas as "under" or "beneath" the earth.

In other texts, the Bible describes the earth on "pillars". This seems clearly to be a figure of speech. Other times the earth rests on "foundations." In some passages, this may indeed refer to the lower depths of the land. Most often, however, the Hebrew word for "foundations" is translated "place."  The concept of foundation does not seem to add much to understanding ancient Hebrew cosmology.

24 January 2017

The Bible and the Cosmos (2): The Shape of the Landmass called Earth

So what shape is the landmass of earth?

Most biblical texts suggest that the ancient Hebrews believed in a square or rectangular shape for the landmass or earth.

Isaiah prophesied about the coming of the Messiah and the gathering of the faithful from their dispersion:

"And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth." Isaiah 11:11-12

Such a view conforms well with the use of four directions NSEW.

But the same books also describes the earth as a circle:

"It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:" Isaiah 40:22

A circle, of course, differs from a sphere. This passage reflects a "common sense" view that the earth from the surface appears to be a flat, circular land mass. This perspective fits, too, with the translation of firmament or heaven as  dome  in some modern versions of the Bible.

23 January 2017

The Bible and the Cosmos (1): The Earth--Landmass or Sphere?

Over the past several Sundays, we looked at the biblical passages in the Genesis creation story. We read that God brought forth the cosmos--the heavens and the earth-- in six 24 hour days.

Then he rested.

So what exactly was it that God hath wrought? What was the ancient Hebrew understanding of the cosmos?

The next few posts this week will look at scriptures outside of Genesis to see what light they shine upon the Genesis account.

According to the Bible, God created a landmass--NOT A PLANET--called earth. The Hebrew word for earth means ground, soil, or land. This land must be flat because the land has an end or edge to it.

Other passages alluding to God's creation celebrate his power in bringing forth a so large a land mass.  Hebrew writers did not know its extent. They did not known it constituted the surface of a sphere. They only could describe its extent as ends:

"Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son's name, if thou canst tell?" Proverbs 30:4

"Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding." Isaiah 40:28

The immense and unknown extent of the land mass could also be used to strike fear in the hearts of Israel. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses warns Israel  before they began the conquest of their holy land that infidelity to God will result in divine discipline throught foreign conquest and dispersion from their land. In their dispersion they will be cursed to worship idols. Moses declares:

"The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand" Deut. 28:49

"And the Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood and stone." Deut. 28:64

In contrast, the Psalmist used the same expression to describe the universal blessing of peace that he believed that God brings:

"He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire." Psalm 46:9

And the prophet Isaiah exhorted his readers to praise God for the coming of his annointed one and the victory to come:

"Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof." Isaiah 42:10

And he utilized this expression in his anticipation of the universal worship of the Hebrew God:

"Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else." Isaiah 45:22

Now today, event though we know the earth or land is the surface of a sphere, we use the expression "ends of the earth" as a literary convention. As will be shown, we use many biblical expressions that way. But only someone with modern scientific understanding of our cosmos could suggest that the Hebrew writers of scripture used such expressions as figures of speech. The point of "figures of speech" is that we take  literal statements and give them a new, specialized meanings for rhetorical effect. The biblical expression "ends of the earth" does not function as a figure of speech. It is the literal statement which serves as the basis for modern figures of speech. Its writer believed in a flat landmass that had edges that he described as "the ends of the earth."

22 January 2017

A Sunday School Lesson: "And God Rested"--The Seventh Day

After six literal days and nights, the creation of the cosmos is complete. The cosmos means the land mass called earth, the dome above it, the celestial bodies that moved within the dome, and the terrestrial creatures that lived upon the earth--including mankind.

Then God rested.

 "Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.  And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.  And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made." Genesis 2:1-3 

Some critics complain that if God is omnipotent as believers say, why then does he need rest? Well, the conventional biblical interpretation of this passage is that rested in this case simply means "ceased from labor"--not because of fatigue, but because creation was  complete. This makes sense. The whole story of creation seems silly; why engage in equally silly nitpicking?

Anyway, the next few posts will look in more detail at the biblical conception of the cosmos.

21 January 2017

The Modern Household

Modern developments have undermined the traditional and conservative function of household from both the standpoints of economic and personality formation--or the cultivation of virtue.

Since the time of Aristotle, the household has been seen as the center of economic production. Whether a household lived off the land (in the form of farming, herding, or fishing) or from some type of manual art or craft, the family produced it necessities at home. And for the last 300  years, households have been able to produce beyond a basic level of subsistence. This enabled households to barter or sell for what might be called "luxuries."

With the advent of industrialism and the accompanying modern organization of the workforce, this has changed. Today the family produces its necessities outside the home. Slowly, over several decades of the 19th century, young single women filled the ranks of textile workers while males gravitated to the so-called heavy industries. (At least this is the pattern that emerged in North America.) For the most part, married women still worked in the home. But these days many more married women work outside the home. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the post-WWII decades the participation of married women in the work force rose from about 17% to nearly 70%. How much of this participation reflects an enthusiasm about work or the pressures of economic necessity is anyone's guess. It might depend upon how many women enjoy developing their "careers" versus how many  reluctantly work at their "jobs." In any case, the  modern two wage earning household appears to be more financially prosperous than ever.

It is difficult to measure the trade off -- what has been lost. Obviously parents sacrifice some of that emotional fulfillment derived from shared experiences with themselves and their children. Children lose the same. Moreover, parents relinquish to others that primary and crucial role in the personality formation of their children. Those "others" include family members, neighbors, and complete strangers in the professional daycare business.

The challenges posed by the industrial age to the modern household have been intensified by the hostility to the family manifest in much of progressive social science. Historian and cultural critic Christopher Lasch, his book Haven In A Heartless World surveys the twentieth century history of psychology and sociology in its relentless attacks on the family. With the advent of the industrial organization of the workforce, when men worked outside the home, the household was romantically conceived as a haven from a hostile,  heartless, competitive, outside world of work. It was not a haven from the hostility of professional social science. They despised the human "products" of modern family life and sought to reform it. Progressive social science attacked child rearing practices, traditional family stucture with its stay at home mothers, and even monogamy itself. A anti-family ideology conspired with economic developments to undermine and weaken the contemporary family. Has the 21st century family, armed with professional child rearing advice and "supported" by professional daycare and public schooling done any better than the early 20th century family in the cultivation of virtue and that fundamental function of personality formation?

Given the seemingly intractable social problems largely stemming from the modern household, that is a difficult conclusion to embrace.


17 January 2017

Of Icons and Ironies

Representative John Lewis recently generated some controversy when in an interview for Meet the Press, he said that he does not consider Donald Trump a legitimate president. Moreover, he asserted that he would not attend the inauguration. The reason, he explained, is that the Russians interfered with the election and destroyed the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.

Ironies abound, however, as one might suspect in the world of politics.

Lewis basically puts himself in the same position of the "birthers" who denied the legitimacy of President Barack Obama. (The irony of this situation is also probably lost on Donald Trump himself--the most well-known of the "birthers.")

Lewis talked vaguely about the nature of the threat. This serves to reinforce the Democratic meme that the Russians some how "hacked the election"--conjuring up images of the Tartar techs flipping votes as they were cast in electronic voting machines.

Republicans themselves have warned about the threats posed by a resurgent Russia. Putin is attempting to make Russia great again. This no doubt will result in conflicts of interest with the United States. Mitt Romney alluded to this in one of his presidential debates with Obama back in 2012. Romney became not the new president but a conservative Cassandra as he was roundly mocked by the Democrats.

In fact, the Russians simply embraced an American political tradition--leaking documents and private communications for publication in the media. Usually when the press publishes such information, they preface their accounts with remarks such as "documents acquire by the Times . . . " Acquired? Well, how did the Times acquire these documents  They were stolen leaked by an inside source. In this case Wikileaks got the scoop instead of the Times. When anonymous sources steal documents or share with the media the content of private conversations during a political campaign,  does this not also constitute interfering in an election? Is this not interfering with democracy?

Some might argue that  the DNC documents and the John Podesta emails  were acquired by a foreign entity--one hostile to US interests. Ironically, the prospect of Russian interference in elections is nothing new. Democrats considered Ronald Reagan such an existential threat to America the Democratic Party's domination of politics that they actually sought Russian interference. Jimmy Carter sought the help of  Leonid Brezhnev against Ronald Reagan in 1980. Again in 1984, Ted Kennedy sought the help of former KGB director Yuri Andropov in thwarting Reagan's reelection.

And readers must not forget President Obama's own attempts to influence public opinion in Israel with the ultimate aim of displacing Benjamin Netanyahu.

Lewis's remarks provoked the usual ill-considered Tweet from Trump.

Trump's remarks generated another controversy. He was not guilty of an irrelevant retort; Trump committed the mortal sin of attacking a civil rights icon. An icon is a sacred religious symbol worthy of reverence because of the person for which it stands. Lewis is an icon of that holy civil rights movement. And being an icon means anything you say will go unchallenged.

Unless, that is, the icon is known as Donald Trump. You see, until he began campaign for the presidency, he was a pop culture icon. If you do not believe some unknown blogger like me, take the word of the Washington Post

15 January 2017

A Sunday School Lesson--"Let Us Make Man:" The Sixth Day

God finishes creation with, at least in Christian eyes, his greatest work:

"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so. And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day." Genesis 1:26-31

God creates man in his image and likeness. This means that man in some sense represents God and is like God. The words "image" and "likeness" denotes something similar. Image also means idol, an image that represents the deity (or idea)  behind it. Because we are in God's image, we are his greatest work.

Unfortunately, later biblical passages add a perverted twist to this assessment. In contrast to the view of Immanuel Kant that human beings should be treated as ends rather than means, God created mankind as means rather than ends.

Isaiah tells the chosen covenant people that God created them for his own glory.

"Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him."Isaiah 43:7

Paul echoed this theme in his letter to the Christians of Ephesus:

"In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ." Ephes. 1:11-12

But what about those people who are not "called by my name," and who have not "trusted in Christ?"

Well, God created them for his glory, too.

"What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory," Romans 9:22-23

God created the believers to make known the riches of his glory in order to exalt his mercy.

God created the unbelievers to could show his wrath and make his power known in order to exalt his justice. 

And that's the "good news" of the gospel.

Another great video from the Bible Skeptic channel on YouTube.

14 January 2017

People Management

Aristotle asserted that the state is  constituted of households--not individuals. But just as households are parts of the state, individuals are parts of the household. He argues that household management, then, is more than acquiring and managing property needed for securing one's needs.  In his words:

"Thus it is clear that household management attends more to men than to the acquisition of inanimate things, and to humans excellence more that to the excellence of property which we call wealth . . . "

Aristotle announces in Book I of Politics to discuss the relationships between household members--husband, wife, children, and slaves. Perhaps today we might call this most important function of the family personality formation. But he never expounds upon it.  He vaguely alludes to the virtues explicated in his earlier work Ethics and their importance regarding members of the household. And he fails to even develop that theme. He merely notes the importance of habituation in the formation of virtue and the propriety of the household as the context for this purpose:

“The instruction and habits prescribed by a father have as much force in the household as laws and custom have in the state, and even more because of the tie of blood and the children's sense of benefits received, for they are influences from the outset by natural affection and docility.”

The important thing to take from this for conservatism is the crucial role that households play in the making of citizens. Many of our most pressing social problems exist as moral problems reflecting the failure of households in molding citizens.

Aristotle sums up this point nicely:

"For in as much as every family is a part of a state, and there relationships are the parts of a family, and the virtue of the part must have regard to the virtue of the whole, women and children must be trained by education wit an eye to the constitution if the virtues of either of them are supposed to make any difference in the virtues of the state. And they must make a difference; for the children grow up to be citizens, and half the free persons in a state are women."

12 January 2017

The President's Long Goodbye

President Obama gave his so-called "farewell address" a couple of days back.

Because he has announced that he will continue to reside in Washington D.C. area after his term officially ends, this will not be the last we hear of him. Like many professional athletes, Obama cannot endure the life that must be lived after the cheering has stopped. 

You can listen and read the transcript here.

Obama's remarks made the traditional allusion to our national creed of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" and a couple of nods to the conservative notion of the common good. He repeatedly returned, however, to the regular progressive  paradigms of class and identity politics. Among the lowlights:

First, Obama reiterated his original campaign theme of "Hope and Change."  He said he "learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved and they get engaged, and they come together to demand it." Of course, "Hope and Change" are somewhat empty concepts. In what is your hope? What kind of change? And as we saw this November, such empty slogans work both ways: ordinary people got involved, got engaged, and got the Democrats out of the White House.

Second, Obama noted some of the changes during his eight years in office: 

"If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history. If I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran's nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, take out the mastermind of 9/11, if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens, if I had told you all that, you might have said our sights were set a little too high. But that's what we did.  That's what you did."

The effects of the great recession still linger. The job creation is such a long stretch because it has been moving at a glacier like pace. Obamacare is crumbling. No one knows what the future holds for Cuba and Iran. And everyone forgets that Obama the candidate opposed so-called marriage equality.

Third, recognizing the limits of the recovery, Obama turned to class:

"But for all the real progress that we've made, we know it's not enough. Our economy doesn't work as well or grow as fast when a few prosper at the expense of a growing middle class and ladders for folks who want to get into the middle class.  That's the economic argument. But stark inequality is also corrosive to our democratic ideal. While the top one percent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many families, in inner cities and in rural counties, have been left behind — the laid-off factory worker; the waitress or health care worker who's just barely getting by and struggling to pay the bills — convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful — that's a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics."

He failed to make the connection, but what he called "the economic argument" largely explains the loss of Hillary Clinton.

Fourth, Obama turned to race:

"There's a second threat to our democracy — and this one is as old as our nation itself. After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. And such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society. Now, I've lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were 10, or 20, or 30 years ago, no matter what some folks say. You can see it not just in statistics, you see it in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum."

He rightly acknowledged the improvement of race relations that has occurred in his lifetime and wisely noted the unrealistic expectations--even naivete--of those who anticipated the emergence of a post-racial America. He seems oblivious, though, to his own contributions to the decline in civility regarding racial controversies or the role of his own party and its mainstream media fluffers in continuing to  inflame racial tensions. Aghast at the racially tinged tweets of Donald Trump, Democrats forget that they called the fundamentally decent Mitt Romney and John McCain racists. too.

Fifth, Obama tied race and class together as a subtle indictment of those who rejected his party in the recent presidential election.

"But we're not where we need to be. And all of us have more work to do.  If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves. If we're unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants, just because they don't look like us, we will diminish the prospects of our own children — because those brown kids will represent a larger and larger share of America's workforce.  And we have shown that our economy doesn't have to be a zero-sum game. Last year, incomes rose for all races, all age groups, for men and for women."

Of course, no one has expressed an unwillingness to invest in the children of immigrants. Many people, however, have expressed an unwillingness to invest in the children of illegal immigrants.

Finally, rhetorically rejecting the Constitution one last time, Obama issued a renewed call for American cultural imperialism--to force other counties to accept  Western  progressive values about democracy, human rights, the role of women, and the rights LGBT people.

"That's why we cannot withdraw from big global fights — to expand democracy, and human rights, and women's rights, and LGBT rights. No matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem, that's part of defending America."

So now forcing alien values on other peoples falls under the rubric of  "providing for the common defense, " even while subverting traditional values at home.

Well, farewell to you, too, Mr. President.

10 January 2017

Of Hacks and Hacking

Last week the government released the intelligence report on alleged Russian hacking during the 2016 election.

You can read it here.

The main conclusions attributed the hacking of the DNC and John Podesta to the Russians, who directly or through a third party, forwarded the information to Wikileaks. The purpose behind the publication of the documents was to help Donald Trump in the election.

The release confirms--at least in the hearts and minds of Democrats--their narrative that the election was "hacked." That narrative is sufficiently vague enough to include everything from publishing private emails to hacking voting machines. Plenty of low information Democrats will believe the latter.

The "hacking" narrative is chief promoted by "journalists" who continue to fluff for the Democratic Party.

Then there are the political hacks:

Hillary Clinton:

She partially blames the leaks for her loss in November---never mind that the mainstream media manifested an astonishing lack of interest in the leaks.

“This is not just an attack on me and my campaign, although that may have added fuel to it. This is an attack against our country. We are well beyond normal political concerns here. This is about the integrity of our democracy and the security of our nation.”

Nancy Pelosi :

She finally found her inner bipartisan spirit. After the release of documents by Wikileaks, she actually called on Republicans NOT to use the contents of those leaks in the on-going political campaigns, asserting that  “defending our democracy is more important than any advantage or disadvantage in this election.”

Charles Shumer:

He called on a congressional investigation--as long as it does not become "politicized"--which sets up a high  bar for a story about politics.

The right wing has its own political hacks as well.

 Sarah Palin . .

Palin, like other conservatives, condemned Wikileaks and Julian Assange when he published classified U.S. governement documents. She personally attacked him for publishing her own e-mails. Now she has second thoughts and has apologized.

You can read all about it here.

Just because Julian Assange published negative stories about the Democrats that the mainstream media largely ignored does not make him a friend of conservatives or, more importantly, a friend of the United States.

08 January 2017

A Sunday School Lesson: "Let the Waters Bring Forth"-- The Fifth Day

Resuming a look at the biblical account of creation, God creates swarms of swimming creatures to inhabit the seas and swarms of flying creatures to inhabit the heavens.

"And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. And the evening and the morning were the fifth day". Genesis 1:20-23

The biblical author continues to provide a chronology out of sync with the understanding of modern science.

Moreover, these verses mark the beginning of the primitive biological classification system used by God . . .  or Moses. The Bible classifies animals according to their locomotion. Animals fall into the taxonomic categories of swimming things, flying things, and after day six, creeping things.

While the ancient Hebrews made their mark in history through their literary epic the Bible, these passages do not indicate much promise for any advances in natural science.

See more at the Bible Skeptic on YouTube.

07 January 2017

The Household Economy

As a new year begins, a resumption of Saturday reflections on conservatism.

Back in November, a post entitled Family, Community, and State noted noted Aristotle's view that the state is not made up of individuals who form a state based on some kind of social contract, but rather that the state is made up of households. Proliferating households eventually become a village. (Aristotle likens the growth of a village to colonization from families.) And a conglomeration of villages becomes a state.  Aristotle's view is not only more historically accurate, but also instantiates the conservative view of an ascending hierarchy of institutions. By state, of course, Aristotle means the ancient Greek city-state.

Several posts in December examined marriage from various perspectives and offered a defense of traditional, i.e., biologically based marriage as an inheritance from Roman--not biblical--law.

Marriage is the beginning of the formation of the household.

So what does Aristotle say about the household?

He recognizes what he calls the "marriage relation" and the "procreative relation" between husband and wife. He notes that these have no commonly accepted name.

Aristotle moves on unromantically or sentimentally to the household as an economic institution. Indeed, the internet tells me that the Greek equivalent for the work economy essentially mean household.

"Property is part of the household, and the art of acquiring property is a part of the art of managing the household: for no man can live well, or indeed live at all, unless he be provided with necessaries."

Aristotle surveys the various means of acquiring necessaries, especially that most crucial of necessaries--food. These include farmers, hunters, fishers, and herdsman. He calls these modes of acquiring property natural because these modes secure wealth from nature and they serve to meet the natural needs of humans. Indeed, in his teleological world view, the very purposes of nature is for the use of man. In that Aristotle differs little from more religiously based understandings of man and his relationship to nature. (Those more religious minded people introduce God as the creator of nature for man's use.)  Anyway, those who engage in these traditional means of acquiring wealth aim at securing the necessities of life. And necessities have limits.

Aristotle contrasts this means of getting wealth with another, which he describes as  unnatural. He calls it retail trade.  According to Aristotle, this began with bartering--the exchange of goods to meet one's needs. The invention of coins facilitated the expansion of all kinds of trade. But it also permitted a change in the purposes or ends of property. Coins allow the acquisition of property without limit. Those who engage in trade seem to aim at acquiring wealth without limits. Aristotle seems to see this as a indication of a moral vice. People who seek wealth without limits appear to lack a desire for cultivating virtue in themselves or their families. It reveals that pleasure motivates them. And because there are no limits to pleasure, this requires the acquisition of wealth without limits. In his words,

"The origin of this disposition in means that they are intent upon living only, and not upon living ell; and, as their desire are unlimited, they also desire that the means of gratifying then should be without limit. Those who do aim at this good life seek the means of obtaining bodily pleasures; and, since the enjoyment of these appears to depend on property, they are absorbed in getting wealthy."

This observation by Aristotle begins a centuries long debate in republican theorizing about virtue, commerce, and the right political economy.

And that is why Aristotle concludes that household management is more than attending to  "inanimate things," but rather attending to people.

04 January 2017

An Obama Third Term? The Voters have Spoken

In an "interview" with former political adviser David Axelrod, our egotist-in-chief asserted that if the Constitution permitted a third term, he could have defeated Donald Trump in the 2016 election. He based his claim on his belief that Americans continue to embrace his vision.

Counter-factual history can be fun. Its conclusions remain, however, just that--counter-factual.

At least one aspect of the 2016 election supports Obama's claim. Large numbers of black voters stayed home, especially black women. Whether they supported his vision or not--who knows. Like many other voters in both parties, black women probably voted with their emotions. Maybe ethnic solidarity moved them. Maybe Obama as "the golden child" destined to save America drew them to the polls. Maybe Obama as the son of doting mothers and grandmothers accounted for the extraordinary turn out. In 2016, the stayed home by the thousands. Perhaps not only the absence of Obama from the ballot, but also the presence of Hillary Clinton that kept them away from the polls. The attitude of the public toward Hillary Clinton always has been problematic. In 1992, during Bill Clinton's campaign, his staff assembled one of those focus groups in which handheld meters recorded responses to various images and sounds. One of those staff members, George Stephanopolous, later recalled how the positive reactions from the focus group "dropped like a downhill ski run" in response to video of Hillary Clinton.

When I recently learned about that, it brought to mind something that unfolded contemporaneously with the first Clinton administration--the trial of O.J. Simpson. After losing what could have been a slam dunk case (if I may use a basketball analogy for the trial of an ex-football player), the prosecution engaged in the same self-searching as the Democrats at least should be doing today. It came out that in their own pre-trial focus groups, the subjects reacted very negatively to lead prosecutor Macia Clark. Apparently black women expressed the most visceral spite for her. I remember the expression "white bitch on the make" being tossed about. Do some black women have such animosity for some professional white women? Did some black female voters see Clinton as another "white bitch on the make?" Maybe the absence of black voters made ALL the difference in the world. But maybe their absence made only SOME difference,

Skepticism about Obama's claim is warranted, however, by another factor: who showed up at the polls and where. Dozens of counties in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin that went for Obama both in 2008 and 2012 voted Republican in 2016. New voters account to some degree for the change. The majority of votes, however, were probably cast by those who once perceived Obama as the populist candidate devoted to changing the way business is done in Washington D.C.--and elsewhere. He promised, after all,  to fundamentally transform America.

The election was a shock but it also was the crescendo against Obama that has been rising for a number of years.

It first showed in the 2010 elections, when the Republicans gains 63 seats in the House of Representatives--the largest reversal since the Great Depression.

It showed  in the  2012 presidential election, when Obama himself received 3.5 million fewer votes than in 2008.

It showed in the 2014 mid term elections, when the Republicans gained control of the Senate.

And it showed in the state houses, where during Obama's terms of office, the Republicans gained over 1,000 seats. They hold the most seats since the 1920s. They control 32 state legislatures. And in 24 of those states, they also control the governorship.

Unfortunately, progressive  domination of the SCOTUS has blunted and has the potential to continue to blunt the conservative surge against the Obama administration.

It remains to be seen if the progressive hold on the court will endure.

01 January 2017

A Sunday School Lesson--The Fourth Day: "Let Their Be Lights In the Firmament"

According to the Bible, on the fourth day, God created lights in the expanse that separates the waters on the earth from the waters above the expanse.

"And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day."Genesis 1:14-19

The purposes for the lights differ from our modern understanding.

The Bible says the lights are for signs or omens. Ancient peoples of whatever religion (as well as the superstitious among us today) believed that their god or gods communicated through astronomical phenomena. Today, of course, we understand eclipses, "shooting stars," etc. strictly in terms of the physical structure of the universe.

The Bible says that the lights are for seasons, or appointed times and assemblies. The ancient Hebrews organized their religious festivals around the Sun, stars, and the cycles of the moon.  Most moderns societies do not organize religious or political assemblies around astronomical phenomena.

The Bible says that the lights are for days and years. We, too, use the sun for marking off days. We do not, however, see the sun and moon created for that purpose. And unlike the ancient Hebrews, we know that the rotation of the earth creates the days and the orbit of the earth marks the years.

These lights are said to divide the day from the night. This is a bit redundant, since God divided the day from the night already when he created the first day. Giving light to the earth is a bit redundant as well since God created light on the first day.

The passage describing the sun and moon to "rule" the day and night is the most interesting. This passage means that the "day" is the dominion or place of the sun and the "night" is the dominion or place of the moon. But the place of the sun and moon, day and night, are located "in the firmament" or dome over the land. From the perspective of the biblical authors, the sun, moon, and star are not thousands or millions of miles distant; their dominion is immediately above us.

Another great video from the Bible Skeptic over at YouTube: