Monday, January 31, 2005

God of the Environment too...

Let me start off by thanking those of you who did pray for Princess T last week. She managed to get over her strep quite quickly, and without infecting more folks. We appreciate the prayers.

Much has happened since last I posted. And yes, I do need to get a bit more consistent in posting mid-/late-week. Random thought to start the week, then a commentary.

Note: The Iraqis were finally able to vote, and the turnout was substantial. Will this mean we hear less whining from the left about our failures in Iraq? At least for a week?

Commentary (if you think I'm too sensitive on this, email me - I may have a blind spot here): Bill Moyers wrote a column that appeared in the Strib this past Sunday. Sigh. I don't know where to start. My wife is an ecologist. She prefers to avoid the stigma of associating with environmentalists, although she does sympathize with a few of their positions. I consider myself earth-friendly, although I'm not going to stop eating beef or wearing shoes containing leather. In short, we take our God-given responsibility to care for the earth rather seriously. I believe we are far from alone.

However, Moyers seems to ignore those of us who actually think that there is nothing we can do to hasten the end times in order to talk about the subset of Christians who believe we should trash the place. By implication, our current President and his administration belong to this latter group. Ugh.

The truth of the matter is, that yes, there are a few Christians who are under the impression we can actually speed up the rapture and bring about Christ's return sooner than currently planned. Then there are the rest (most) of us who realize the time was set by God before the world was even created, and nothing we do can change that date. In the meantime, we have responsibilities to live the Kingdom of God in the here and now. This means seeking peace, as well as treating the environment well. It wouldn't have hurt Moyers to focus on that, rather than (falsely, IMO) imply our Commander in Chief thinks we should trash the place so his favorite philosopher can drop by for a visit.

Moyers' tenuous connection with logic is exemplified in the transition from page 1 of the article to page 2. He asserts, first of all, that "millions of Christian fundamentalists may believe that environmental destruction is not only to be disregarded but actually welcomed -- even hastened -- as a sign of the coming apocalypse" (emphasis mine.) They may believe this. "They" also may not. But that wouldn't make the article very, well, interesting. So, we are led to believe the majority of the Religious Right (a rather vague and ambiguous label) wants to actively pollute our planet. Okay...

Moyers then flips to page 2, where he says, "As Grist makes clear, we're not talking about a handful of fringe lawmakers who hold or are beholden to these beliefs. Nearly half the U.S. Congress before the recent election -- 231 legislators in total and more since the election -- are backed by the religious right." Um, we've gone from millions of Christians to the entire religious right. And, these legislators must believe as the religious right does in regards to the environment (even though I think it more than a stretch to think this is standard belief within the mainstream "religious righties") too. Never mind what the majority of these legislators would say or do. They must, by association with the wackos on the right, think we need to damage the earth. Actively. To bring about the Second Coming.

Listen, just because someone believes that Jesus is coming again doesn't mean that (a) he or she believes in the rapture, (b) that he or she believes we should try and bring about the rapture on our own, (c) that he or she believes we should actively harm others or the earth, or try to bring about political situations that would "set up" the rapture, or (d) that he or she believes we should force our views on the environment on others. Fact is, most of us evangelicals are quite content to do our part to keep the earth healthy as a matter of stewardship. Few of us want to pollute to try and get Jesus to pick up the pace. Fear mongering of this sort is just baiting the liberals and preaching to the choir of anti-Christian stereotypes.

Our role as stewards of creation is not to take higher priority than our role as lovers of mankind, however. The priority of the Christian is to preach the gospel (using words when necessary.) Loving and serving the citizens of the world into the Kingdom of God is absolutely our first duty. No idols of environmentalism can take priority over that. But while we are striving to reduce the number of sinners destined to spend an eternity apart from our creator, we can - and should - act wisely in matters of the environment. That should have been Moyers' message.

(Editor's Note: Evangelical Outpost has some good thoughts on this posted here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

What a great idea!

The wonderful spirit of the blogosphere, especially in the Evangelical subculture, is quite refreshing at times. And yes, when I say that I am purposely ignoring the not-so-nice out there. Hugh starts it all off by tossing out the idea of holding a "God blogs" conference. The idea was quickly picked up by SmartChristian Blog and away we go. I think it's a fascinating idea, and will do what I can to get there. My only regret is that the schedule looks like it'd be next fall. I need the help now! If you are interested in God and blogs, think about noting your interest.

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I think I've found another blog for my regular rotation: Allthings2all. This post is more concise than I could hope to be on the topic. I realize many feel Pascal's wager isn't worth thinking about, but Pascal was absolutely right. God is, or God isn't. Human philosophy and thought can't determine the answer, so pick the side on which you'll be betting. With eternity on the line, it needs to be a well-informed wager though. Don't dismiss God because your "reason" doesn't allow for faith. The stakes are too high.

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One last thing before I head to rest and recover from teaching Awana Cubbies tonight. It was a tragic day for the U.S. military in Iraq, and a tragic day for civilians in Los Angeles. I'm reminded when I see stories like this that, contrary to the worldview of some, human nature is deeply flawed. If humanity were good, we wouldn't have wars. If human nature was good, we wouldn't have people die because someone decided to risk others in an aborted attempt to take his own life. Bad news isn't aberrant, it's systemic. It's just that we think so well of ourselves compared to those "others" on the news that we don't recognize our own nature for what it is: rebellious against God, and inherently selfish. There but for the grace of God, go I. This is a world in need of a savior.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Kids...gotta love 'em

A favor, if you don't mind, and are of the praying ilk. Daughter #1 (Princess T for those of you scoring at home) has strep throat - unfortunately discovered shortly after Sunday School. She's on antibiotics, and is perking up nicely, but if you could take a moment to pray that she did not spread this far and wide through the church Sunday School program, I know she'd be obliged.

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Long day. But no complaints. Worked from home today to watch Princess T, since she couldn't go to daycare. I was able to remain somewhat productive for the company, so I don't have to burn an entire vacation day this early in the year. Not that staying home with my daughters is "burning" anything, but I'd rather spend vacation time with them both healthy. More fun to do things like take them outside on such unseasonably warm days. The 6" of snow we got this weekend is all but gone from the local sledding hill after the neighborhood kids took a few runs - and we couldn't get out there with Tierney being sick.

Ah well. It was still a joy. She was so helpful around the house, which is amazing at age 4. Hopefully it rubs off on the younger sibling, who thinks that Daddy should clean up all her messes. Well, why not? Daddy and Mommy have been doing that all her life; it's not fair to change the rules now! She'll learn.

Which I enjoy watching. Seeing little ones absorb everything around them is truly humbling. Princess T learns her Awana verses in a few repetitions, and remembers them for weeks and months afterwards. Little Miss learns about, oh, 10 new words daily, or at least it seems that way. My wife and I both teach Sunday School, and it is amazing what kids pick up on, and how quickly they do so.

If you can't tell, I have a soft spot for children. A friend of mine works with orphans, and has asked for people to come visit/help for a few weeks. My fear is that I'd try to bring 20 of them home with me. There is joy in children, and we can learn so much from them. I'm learning more and more that there is more to life than work and a kept up property. Playing is necessary, for them and for me. And hugs make everything better.

Thank you Lord, for children. And may they all sleep well tonight, and may they come to know you as Abba Father.

God bless!

Monday, January 24, 2005

Have mercy on me, a newbie blogger...

I still haven't quite figured out all this "blogging" stuff yet. It's technically easy enough, but finding the time is taking some getting used to. Not to mention figuring out exactly where I want to take this thing. I suppose that's the fun of anything new. I can't wait to see what I end up doing here.

One of the problems is trying to fit this around family, church, work, and school. This weekend, for instance, we took the girls to swimming lessons, shoveled 28 metric tons of snow out of our driveway, attended church, took care of a sick four-year-old and crammed a week's worth of Statistics homework into a few hours time last night. Okay, it doesn't look that bad on "paper" but the time flew by when I lived it.

This isn't, of course, news to anyone who blogs. The best laid plans of bloggers everywhere are often laid asunder by the duties of life. So I'll stop talking about it now...(shouts of rejoicing I hear?)

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I was, recently, blogging on a reason why I believe in God. Of course, after posting it I thought of about 27 improvements I could have made in the wording, but I'll leave it as-is for now. There are more reasons, of course, and one of them has to do with a recent anniversary. We are now 32 years into the Roe v. Wade era, plus a day or two. This is always an occasion of sadness for me, as with all pro-lifers, but the movement is not what I'd like to talk about. I will say, though, that as a fervent pro-lifer, I hope to talk about some of this in the near future.

No, rather I'd like to talk about those two little miracles named Amissa and Tierney. Tierney is our four year old, and Amissa is our two year old. Both girls are (and I am under obligation as holder of the title "Daddy" to say this) beautiful, bright and charming. But that is not what leads me to believe in God. Because I believe in God, and because I believe certain things about Him, I believe I have been blessed. But this follows from a set of beliefs. The root belief is the belief in God.

How do my daughters argue for the existence of God? Quite simply, naturalism (the term I'm using to describe any opposing view to theism of any flavor) has no satisfactory explanation for why certain things about my daughters are observable. Both girls, for instance, has a great love of art and beauty. There is no natural reason, no evolutionary explanation, for why beauty and aesthetics appeal to us. I've heard a few attempts, and none are plausible enough for me.

Likewise, neither girl bears the signs of "accident of nature." Rather, they both have the "fingerprints of God" all over them. Their design is evident. No large number of random events or mutations could have added up to Tierney and Amissa. They are too fearfully and wonderfully made. It's just not credible.

Some may say this is denial, and wishful thinking on my part. Possibly, I guess. For those of a naturalistic bent, my assumptions, and what makes sense to me, will have little sway. But for those of you in that camp, I'd ask if you have a better explanation. (And being married to someone in the biological/natural education field, I've heard most of the evidence proffered on this point.) If nothing else, I try to be fair-minded, and open-minded to the point where I risk having my mind fall out completely. Let me know if you have a question I may not have considered, and I'll post my thoughts (email link below.)

For now, though, there is nothing else I can think of that explains their complexity and wonder than a loving creator who granted mercy on a wanna-be Daddy.

God bless!

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Offense, redux

First of all, I apologize for the bad link in yesterday's post. HTML is not beyond me, but typing sometimes is. Major typo in the link means the article wasn't found. My bad, and it's now been fixed in the original post.

To follow up on the story, the Supreme Court has rejected Michael Newdow's emergency appeal designed to stop prayer at President Bush's inauguration ceremony. I noted yesterday that Newdow could simply turn off his television at that point in time, with no harm being done. I doubt he'd be made to feel like a less-than-primo citizen if he didn't watch part of the ceremony. Frankly, I won't be watching any of it beyond what shows up on the local news. Reading additional news stories, though, reveal that Newdow will be attending the ceremony in person, ergo the advice to turn off the television isn't applicable.

Salient point. However, now we're just finding out that Newdow is manipulating the situation just so he can get his day in court. Apparently, he sued to stop prayer from being offered at the last inauguration, to no avail precisely because he couldn't demonstrate any real harm; he could have, in effect, turned off the television. To avoid that legal argument, it appears that he procured a ticket to this year's ceremony and filed suit once more. At least this is how it looks to me, and while I certainly can't read Newdow's mind, his actions lead me to this conclusion.

Regardless of his motivation in deciding to attend this year's ceremony in person, his argument that prayer would "him to accept unwanted religious beliefs." Yikes. Are we truly to believe that prayer in public ceremonies forces attendees to convert, against their will, to Christianity? I think the fact that atheists such as Newdow are still around in this country, despite being surrounded by all us dangerous theists argues against that conclusion.

Beyond whether public prayer at government-sanctioned events is coercive, or is about establishing a state church (which is clearly unconstitutional), though, is the notion of taking offense, or being made to feel "second class" because others pray in public. The obvious rejoinder to such complaints falls along one of these lines: (a) get over it, we're a Christian nation, (b) ignore the message, or (c) you can't infringe on our right to free expression and freedom of religion. While there is some merit to (b) and (c) - (a) strikes me as terribly arrogant and improper - I think a better reply lies in a different approach.

Any feelings of inferiority, or of being looked down upon, are problems with the observer, not the Constitution. Freedom of speech guarantees that someone will be ticked off by something someone else says. That's a given. Whether that someone is you, though, is up to you. That is, no matter how offensive the message, you can choose to not take offense. You choose whether to feel like a second-class citizen, or feel like a full citizen who happens to disagree with the majority. The choice is yours, and the courts are not here to mandate that others stay silent in order to avoid offending you.

When people say things that are "offensive" to me, I generally don't take offense. This has to be a conscious decision, and usually justified by understanding the context of the situation. I don't need to look for the courts to make me feel good; that's my responsibility. I don't have to like every message, or agree with it. How I choose to respond is up to me.

It is true that speech by the government cannot be coercive, or establish a state religion. Inaugural prayers have been around a long time, and it's obvious they do neither. The only real "harm" Newdow can claim is how the prayer makes him feel. That's not the court's problem, that's his.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Right to not be offended...

Seems someone is eager to claim the role of Madeline Murray O'Hare. Michael Newdow cannot give up. According to CNN, he has submitted an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court over the planned prayer at the Presidential inauguration.

Is there a right for those of us who see this as the obvious waste of time and money that it is to demand that Newdow pay all governmental expenses in trying this "case" of his? Ugh.

Key text from the CNN.com article:
In an emergency filing, Michael Newdow argued that a prayer at Thursday's ceremony would violate the Constitution by forcing him to accept unwanted religious beliefs.


A prayer at this ceremony would force him to accept unwanted religious beliefs? The prayer is going to hold a gun to his head and demand obeisance? Whatever. There is no "right" to watch the inauguration, and there is no obligation to schedule one that doesn't offend someone. If the prayer bothers him so much, he can just turn off the television. Works for me everytime 60 Minutes comes on.

Listen, the fact that we have guaranteed rights of free speech and free religious expression means people in this country will be offended. It is assumed in the Constitution; there is no way to avoid offending someone if you are going to allow people to spout off whatever they want, or practice whatever religion they want. Offended by what someone else says? By what they believe? Good...that means the Constitution is working.

Some may say that the difference here is the fact that the inauguration is a "governmental" ceremony. Here I'll direct you to the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. Prayer at the inauguration is not going to lead to a state-sponsored church. President Bush is not telling people they are second-class citizens for not believing as he does. He is exercising his rights as an American to express the importance of his faith. There is no coercion, no executive mandate that everyone must believe as he does. The First United Church of the U.S. Congress is not going to pop into existence claiming a tithe of our taxes. This is a tradition going back two centuries, and I fail to see an established state church. There is absolutely no Constitutional violation, as I'm sure the courts will point out.

Newdow needs a new hobby. Tilting at these particular windmills is wasting our time, and our tax dollars.

UPDATE (1/19 - 4:15 PM): I corrected the link above, and apologize for the error. Apparently having a degree in Computer Science doesn't guarantee that you will type correctly, and I messed up the link via typo.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Programmed or Free to Choose?

Rumor has it, the very beginning is a good place to start. When defending one's faith, then, it seems to me a good place to start is in discussing why one believes in the existence of God. Or at least, a god (or many for the polytheists out there.) There are many reasons I believe God exists, and many more reasons on top of that for my belief in the God of orthodox Christianity. Over time, I hope to share most, if not all, of these reasons. For now, though, we'll start with my favorite reason for believing in the existence of God. As I mentioned yesterday, this is not meant as a proof; this is one of many arguments that I accept as evidence, the sum of which leads me to my faith.

Geez...I disclaim and explain a lot. Must be the outgrowth of having a Mother working at a law firm.

So, back to it. The formulation for this argument is something along these lines. Humans have free will. This means we have the ability to choose between options, and we have the freedom to choose between options free of interference. The reality of free will is nearly axiomatic; the alternatives are not as often held. The alternative is basically determinism. If we do not have free will, we are "programmed" by biology, physics, chemistry and environment/experience to choose a certain way. An example: Person X faces a choice between action A and action B. If X has free will, X may choose A or B; there is nothing preventing X from choosing either option (though there may be factors making one choice more difficult to make than the other.) If X does not have free will, X will always choose A, or will always choose B, when faced with the same choice, in the same environment, with the same life experiences and biological "state."

How does this belief in free will lead to the existence of God? Well, quite simply, there is no purely naturalistic explanation of free will that is satisfactory. At least not one that I've heard. There are two basic explanations for reality. The first is naturalism, which posits that there is nothing that cannot be explained by purely empirical and natural causes. The second explanation would agree to an extent with naturalism, and accept naturalistic causes for many things. However, it would go further and accept the possibility of supernatural causes as well.

If naturalism is true, and nothing can exist outside of the observable universe, then there cannot be a god. Everything must boil down to our physical universe. The problem with this explanation of reality is that is cannot account for free will. One's brain would be the sole decision making center. This doesn't seem such a problem, as most people believe that anyway. But, if our decisions come solely from our brains, then we are at the mercy of the chemical and physical reactions taking place within our brains. Getting back to our example, if person X lives in a purely naturalistic universe, any decisions made would be "programmed" by naturalistic laws: chemical, physical, cause/effect, stimulus/response. There would be nothing to guide the brain through the decision-making process, and impulses traveling through the brain would be forced, by physical laws, to follow set routes. X wouldn't have freedom because the rules governing nerve transmissions would not allow for brain signals to go but one way at any given junction point.

Of course, the "programming" would change as each decision, or bit of sensory data, modifies the structure of the brain. So, it is conceivable that we would have the illusion of being able to choose since later on X could choose a different alternative when faced with the "same" decision. However, since experience and environment (via naturalistic causes) have modified the brain, this second decision is not really from the same choice at all. Part of the environment is different from when the first choice was made, and a vital part of the environment at that. So the choice, while appearing to be different, would still be forced by naturalistic laws, ergo is not really free will.

So I find the naturalistic explanation insufficient to account for free will. Of course, I could be wrong, and I am "programmed" to believe in free will, and to type what I am typing now. In that case, those who disagree shouldn't call me foolish - I'm only doing what I'm programmed to do. Though, I guess, maybe calling me foolish is what they're programmed to do...

This leaves a mix of naturalistic and supernaturalistic explanations for free will. That is, there is a physical component to decision making, which involves naturalistic rules and processes. On top of this, there is a supernatural component that guides, and can "overrule" the naturalistic rules and processes. This I would say is our soul. The human soul could not be naturalistic, else it would act/react to stimuli according to natural laws, and again would mean we have no free will. It'd just be another layer of physical programming.

(You might ask why the physical component would have to exist, and why free will couldn't exist entirely within the soul. It is obvious to me that the impact of such things as drugs and alcohol on a person's decision making process proves that there is an active physical component that can be impacted by naturalistic causes.)

So, the soul is supernatural. This would allow for free will, as it would be unconstrained by physical laws, though as I noted above, the decision making process could be impacted by naturalistic events and input. It also introduces the possibility of other supernatural "things" like God. Since the soul could not spring from naturalistic causes, it would have to come from a supernatural source. This source, then, would be God. I haven't yet addressed what this God would be like, or provided any attributes. All I have argued (and whether coherently or not, I'm not sure) is that granting the existence of free will necessitates the acceptance of the supernatural. In later posts I'll talk about why I believe this God has certain attributes.

In summary (you're probably wondering why I didn't start here and save you the trouble of reading the volume above):

1) Only an explanation of reality that includes the supernatural (i.e. the soul) can account for free will
2) Humans have free will
3) Therefore, humans exist in a reality that includes the supernatural (i.e. a soul)

I think that concludes argument #1. I'm sure I'll come up with clearer formulations later on, but I'll go with it for now. Now I'm off to other things. Namely, trying to figure out why St. Cloud, MN is colder than the South Pole at the moment. That's just not right...

God bless (and have a good weekend!)

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Evidence and argumentation...and it's really cold out

The current temperature here in Minneapolis (largest city in "Minne-so-cold," as Hugh calls it, is -2. The wind chill is -25. You'd think this is a problem, but for those of us who call this place home, it's really not that bad. Sure, you wouldn't want to go around sticking your tongues to flag poles or anything, but for sanitary reasons you probably wouldn't want to do that in July either.

Some people think we're somewhat strange, those of us who live here, for dealing with such cold. I think it's a wonderful thing, the varying weather forms we see up here. Christmas wouldn't be the same without snow, and it's wonderful to be able to enjoy skiing, golfing, snowshoeing, etc...all without having to travel to another state. Besides, for every person who thinks they'd never live here in the cold, I can find a person who could never live in Texas come summertime. It's all a matter of preference, none "crazier" than another. God's creation is, well, very creative. There are blessings and dangers no matter where one resides, and it's something we should all keep in mind.

Then again, the cold could have rendered my capacity for though useless today (as my wife would ask, "today only?") and in reality there's no rational reason for choosing to live here. Minus 25 wind chills are pretty cold...even for a long time 'Sotan.

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Last week I said I'd start a series of posts on why I believe in God. Pretty standard fare for your typical Evangelical, and probably not fraught with new dangers for me to explore. However, if you are going to be reading what I write, it probably helps you to know a bit more about my thought process. Who knows, perhaps someone can help me improve it. I'm not above correction. I expect this series to go about a week or so, with the possibility of interruptions as events call for it. After all, interesting things are happening in this world on a daily basis, and some of them will intrigue me enough to interrupt my regularly scheduled blogging.

Before I get into the "why's" though, I should present the usual disclaimers in matters of metaphysics and apologetics. First of all, there is no way to "prove" the existence of God. When dealing with the topic, the best we can do is present our best evidence. The reader can then do what the reader wants with the information, and hopefully evidence presented fairly will be received and evaluated fairly.

Second, there are multiple types of evidences. Some are empirical, some are experiential, some are testimonial. I'm sure there are further divisions and subdivisions. My point is not to provide a tutorial on types of evidences, but instead to say there are many types. Some types of evidences are accepted as valid or credible by some people, but very few people accept all types of evidences as equally valid. So, for instance, if I provide testimonial evidence as a reason I believe in X, I don't expect everyone to acknowledge that the testimonial evidence is sufficient to justify my belief in X. Likewise, I don't accept that just because empirical evidence points to Y that solves the question. To me, the clearest picture comes when you are open-minded enough to accept that multiple forms of evidence are valid, albeit to different people they will be valid to a varying extent.

Third, everyone has biases. Everyone has preferences, and preconceived notions. Hopefully I will be clear about mine, and if I am not, please ask. I'll do what I can to clarify such things. There is nothing wrong with biases, and having one does nothing to add or subtract from the credibility of an argument. For instance, I may have a bias against X and for Y. If I write that X is bad because of Z, the fact that I prefer Y to X doesn't mean that Z is not a rational reason for believing X is bad. Evaluate Z on its own merits, and don't dismiss it just because I prefer X to Y. I do expect that my biases will be noted and included in the evaluation of my arguments, but they alone should not be sufficient cause to disregard or avoid the argument itself.

Finally, I'm very willing to hear what others have to say on the matter. Where we agree, I'm interested in hearing different formulations of my argument to help clarify my own thinking. Where we disagree, I am very interested in testing my beliefs against alternatives. If I haven't mentioned it yet, I am a nut about apologetics, and an amateur (i.e. self-taught, with a steep learning curve ahead) philosophy junky. Testing my beliefs is a wonderful use of the faculties God gave me. I promise to consider your thoughts as best I can.

Now...back to the cold, and I'll be back tomorrow with the first post in the series. Unless something more interesting comes up.

God bless!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Americanism...

As promised last week, I am throwing my proverbial hat into Evangelical Outpost's ring in response to this article.
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David Gelernter offers up a thought provoking article, Americanism-and Its Enemies in the latest Commentary Magazine. Gelernter's (paraphrased) thesis is that Americanism, as he defines it, is in fact an evolved Puritanism, ergo the anti-Americanism of today is related to the anti-Puritanism of early American history.

Gelernter describes Americanism as "the set of beliefs that are thought to constitute America’s essence and to set it apart; the beliefs that make Americans positive that their nation is superior to all others—morally superior, closer to God." Assuming this definition makes it very easy to see why "[a]nti-Americanism has blossomed frantically in recent years" as Gelernter says. Anyone holding a belief that he or she is preferred by God is rightly seen as, to be charitable, a tad arrogant.

Gelernter's discussion of Puritan thought, and the evolution of such thought in American history, is interesting. The irony is that even if Gelernter's discussion is correct, and I have no reason to think it's not, the formation of Americanist thought is based on some very tenuous Biblical interpretation.

He argues Americanism has a creed built as "one fundamental fact [that] creates two premises that create three conclusions."

"The fundamental fact: the Bible is God’s word. Two premises: first, every member of the American community has his own individual dignity, insofar as he deals individually with God; second, the community has a divine mission to all mankind. Three conclusions: every human being everywhere is entitled to freedom, equality, and democracy."

While I would agree with the fundamental fact and the first premise, I have doubts about the second premise. While it is true that each member of our community has individual dignity, it is not true that the American community has a divine mission to mankind. Nothing in the Bible indicates that America has a special role to play in the world. Rather, the OT talks about Israel's role, and the NT speaks of the church's role (both testaments refer to the mission of individuals.) This change, from God dealing with the world through a nation to God dealing with the world through a church, is vitally important. God is working through a church, not a nation. The Puritan-Americanist thought equates the nation and the church in a way not indicated in scripture.

Granting Gelernter his premises, though, I still have problems with his conclusions. He claims that the conclusions are each derived from scripture. This may be, but not necessarily in an appropriate way. For instance, Gelertner says, "[f]reedom is the message of the Exodus, one of the Hebrew Bible’s great underlying themes." Actually, the message of Exodus is about obedience to God, and His sovereignty over the realms of men. God delivered Israel, yes, but the lesson to be learned isn't that God wants all nations to be free. We must be careful about believing God will deal with all nations the same as He did Israel; we're not all "the chosen people" and Israel has a unique place in scripture. Now, this isn't to say that God doesn't prefer freedom for all people (see Philemon - this does seem to be the preference.) That point can be argued at great length. But the derivation of the right to freedom is not the message of Exodus.

Gelernter's description of how equality is proscribed in the Bible indicates further interpretive problems. While it is correct to point to Genesis in regards to equality of value before God, the equality in America is not the equality talked about in scripture. The Bible speaks of our equality before God, not of our equal roles or responsibilities within society. In fact, Biblically speaking, equality is not ever proscribed for societies. Women are told not to speak in church. Jesus talks about the "least" and the "greatest" in such a way that it is clear we don't have equal roles. Gentiles were not the equal of Jews. If much is expected from those to whom much is given, and less is expected from those to whom little is given, then Jesus also is saying we don't have equal responsibilities. The Bible talks about equality of worth, not equality of people in the eyes and institutions of man. The exception to this rule is the church (Gal. 3:28.) But the church is not America; equating the two, while seemingly a cornerstone of Puritan/Americanist thought, is a mistake.

Finding democracy in the Bible is harder, as Gelernter accurately points out. And here it is somewhat problematic for the Puritans. For one thing, if the Puritans tried to emulate Israel, the Jews never lived (in Biblical times) in a democracy. The preferred society, as God Himself declares, was a theocracy (1 Sam. 8) with God as king. Since Israel wanted a human king, God provided a monarchy, which worked up until the nation was sent into captivity. Israel, if the nation was our parallel, was never a democracy in ancient times. The Jews were always led by individuals (Samuel, Moses, the judges, the kings), never by elected representatives.

The irony is that despite some reaches in exegesis, what the Puritans tried, worked. America is, in most important ways, the premier power on the planet. For the faithful, the place of America in its relatively short history is replete with the fingerprints of God, and it is obvious to Americanists that we have been a blessed people.

So why, if the founding thinkers of Puritanism/Americanism were off in their scripture interpretation, did America turn out the way it did? I believe it is because scripture is consistent in proscribing the way to blessing. Obedience to, and faith in, God keeps His hand of protection and blessing on a people. Not in every individual circumstance, of course, and not for every individual. Some "good" people suffer, and some "disobedient" people thrive. That's why I call these Biblical principles instead of Biblical guarantees. God's will is greater than we can understand. But as a general rule, obedience and fidelity lead to blessing. Turning away from God leads to trouble. Maybe not in the now, but definitely down the road.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Thinkin' Around

As I said yesterday, I'm fond of essays. I also like to debate. I hope this blog allows me to enjoy both interests in a civil manner. Of course, this is a two way street, so as soon as I say something controversial enough to start a debate of sorts, I hope the participants can remain civil. If I'm not, feel free to slap me down about it (with a modicum of civility, of course.)

But back to essays and debates. There is a contest put on by the good folk of New York Mills, MN each year. The contest, named the Great American Think-Off (GATO) poses a question with two sides. Essays are submitted, and finalists are chosen from all entrants to appear in New York Mills for a final debate on the topic. I am a fan of the contest, and look forward to entering again. This year's question, though, is a tough one since I'm not entirely sure where I stand on the spectrum of possible answers. The GATO question for this year is "Competition or Cooperation: Which benefits society more?" Fascinating. But I think mistakenly posed as a false dilemma of sorts. It is possible in this case to find a middle ground where neither is more beneficial than the other when mixed properly. I'll have to give this one some thought before I start an essay. It's not a question I've thought of before, but it looks like a challenging one to contemplate.

For more on the GATO, check out their Web site.

Speaking of essay contests, another one is at Evangelical Outpost. This one asks for a blog posting in response to this article by David Gelernter of Commentary Magazine. The Evangelical Outpost summary of the article/contest looks intriguing, and I'm guessing my next post will be an entry to the contest.

And no, this blog is not going to become a central point for essay contest notifications...but if you have one you'd think I'll find interesting, let me know (email at the bottom of the page or via comments.)

Until next time, God bless!

Thursday, January 06, 2005

What's coming up?

I suppose a direction for this blog should be set forth so I can attempt to hold myself accountable. First of all, I'm not the type to sift Web sites all day long to be "first to market" an opinion on a breaking story. As noted Tuesday, I am drawn in too many different directions.

Second, I do not have much interest in seeking out obscure bits of trivia to discuss. While I have a wide variety of interests, and can talk passionately about a few things, searching for nuggets of information not widely in the public realm is not the way I'd describe my favorite hobby.

Finally, for now, I don't have a specific "niche" interest that could support a blog. Ergo, this will not be a blog about the University of Minnesota Gopher's football team (though I enjoyed the win over 'Bama) or storm chasing. The latter is an interest of mine, but in Minnesota, we don't have a very long season for it; certainly not long enough to sustain 12 months of chatter from me.

So where do I see this blog going? I have an affinity for essays, so I'll probably veer towards writing an essay blog. I also have a passion for apologetics (i.e. defending my Christian worldview) so there will likely be many a post that tie in the Christian worldview to current events. And, I'm very much a "family guy" so often I'll incorporate stories of the wife/kids. Sort of a combination of Lileks and Mark D. Roberts is where I see this ultimately going. Frequent series, with some breaks for matters of immediate interest. And if that doesn't work, I'll try something else.

As a tease, My first series will probably be an answer to the question of why I believe in God. Not an argument for why anyone else should/should not, but just an explanation of my thoughts on the matter. I look for that to start next week, with a general wrap of final thoughts on what this blog will be/why I'm starting a blog to come tomorrow.

God bless!

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Toddlers & Preschoolers & Bears...oh my!

I allegedly worked from home today. Actually, I took the day off, but still kept up with the work email and attended a meeting. I don't know if this is because my parents raised me with a sound work ethic, or because I was trying to balance the demands of Little 'Miss (age two) and Princess T (age 4) with some form of adult interaction. All I know is that working with two young 'uns clamoring for attention, claiming lap space and throwing various toys at you in the hopes you'll play with one of them is rather difficult.

Now, truth be told, I love staying home with my daughters. I love playing with them, and seeing their imaginations blossom. It seems that they grow, both physically and intellectually, constantly and visibly. It's almost as if I am watching them through a time lapse camera; yesterday Princess T was a tiny cuddler in my arms, and today she's a walking, talking, dancing, talking, thinking, talking, imagining talker. Who sings. Little 'Miss recovered from an ear infection about a year ago and finally figured out that those muffled sounds Mom and Dad make really meant something. She hasn't stopped chatting since. She also hasn't stopped moving since she learned to crawl. Fascinating and fun, lovable, charming and beautiful. I couldn't have two more wonderful children.

But wow. I have a great deal of empathy for my wife after days like today. (Yes, I know, I should have it every day, and I do, but not always as strongly as today.) I think the reason my wife has hobbies, visits friends, plays in the community band, and sells Mary Kay is because she needs some time to talk with adults. I get that opportunity at work. Her job is environmental education, primarily with kids. So, on the days she's not a stay-at-home mom, she's working with other people's offspring. I empathize, and don't envy her.

Don't get me wrong. I love kids. I teach Sunday School to three year olds, and adore every minute I spend with my daughters. It's just that I usually adore those minutes in hindsight. When you're wrapped up in their little worlds you often aren't as amazed as you should be. It is only by looking back that you realize how special such moments are, and how quickly the time is passing. I am, for instance, looking back at today wondering why I bothered to try and do some work. I had the day off, and missed some opportunities to enjoy more time with two girls who will be grown before I know it. Not many, granted, but enough to make me think I should have ignored the pressing matters of the job that pays in money, and paid just a little more attention to the job that pays real value.

Little 'Miss is now saying, again, "play with me daddy."

It's good to regain perspective, and have this time at end of day to think back. The irritations are gone, and the same requests made earlier are more endearing upon reflection. So I think I'll go play now. And this time, not worry about how well the adults are getting along without me.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Welcome!

As if the blogosphere wasn't crowded enough...

Welcome to my first blog post. Hopefully I'll be posting information here that is informative, or if not that, at least thought provoking. This is not intended to be a diary blog, though I'm certain that some personal information will appear. My writing tends to be fairly informal and conversational, so the private life will sneak in at times. My intent is to use this blog as a means of communication, a way of working out answers to questions that nag at me, and a place of practicing my skills in writing. With luck, you'll find something of interest in my ruminations.

I suppose I need to let you know a bit about me. I'm a thirtysomething male who lives (ala my blog name) in the northern part of the Twin Cities. For those of you unfamiliar with that particular title, it refers to the Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota metro area. I'm married, with two beautiful pre-school daughters. We share two cats, and an affinity for snow. I have undergraduate degrees in Communication, Bible, and Computer Science, and am now working on my MBA. My job title is IT Project Manager, which means I, well, manage projects for my company's IT department. Primarily, these projects deal with software development, not hardware installation, or networking, or anything like that.

Beyond the miscellany of my life, I also have biases. Everyone does, really, though some are more ignorant of their own than they should be. I would ask, though, that as I try to be open about my perspective that you would take any arguments put forth in this blog honestly, and apart from my bias. In other words, don't dismiss what I propose just because you disagree with my religious philosophy, or don't automatically accept my assertions on the basis of agreeing with my philosophy. Rather, judge the arguments themselves on their merits. I don't mind debate; rather, I enjoy it. It is preferred, though, that the debate be honest and civil.

That being said, and by way of introduction, some of my biases should be made known up front. It will save some of you the trouble of visiting again if you (a) dislike my beliefs, and (b) don't like that last paragraph. I am a conservative Christian in terms of religion, an independent in terms of politics, and a Minnesota sports fan in terms of athletic affiliations. These high-level views color pretty much all of my thoughts, so consider yourself warned. Detail about my views will come out as this blog gets going.

I think this is enough for now. I may get into hobbies later (as I think those can sometimes help provide insight into "who a person really is") but that's for another day. I intend to post about once a day, M-F, though certain days will see more/fewer posts. I welcome emails, and will answer them as I have time. I apologize in advance for late replies, though, as time spent studying for a Master's degree, on top of a full-time job and a full-time family means blog-related work may be the last tasks on a long list. I will read every reply though.

In the meantime, I'm putting up the beginnings of a blog roll. Check out some of these folks' work. I don't always agree with them, but I think they're worth checking out.

God bless!