Tuesday, October 31, 2017

from "Enough Horses in the Barn" on the Reformation...

As Greg Ogden notes in his prophetic work on discipleship: Luther, Calvin and other Reformers…

promised to liberate the church from a hierarchical priesthood by rediscovering ‘the priesthood of all believers’. But the Reformation never fully delivered on its promise… Within Protestant circles, we are fully acquainted with the first aspect of the priesthood of all believers…all believers have direct access to God through Jesus Christ…The unfinished business and the unkept promise that has the power to unleash a grass-roots revolution in the church is the logical corollary to the priesthood of all believers: not only are all believers priests before God, but we are also priests to one another and to the world.

In this, Ogden notes a painful irony: “Protestant churches have been just as priest-ruled as Catholic churches, we just call it by a different name.” As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, how far have we really come in this regard? As Elton Trueblood noted, “Most Protestants pay lip service to the Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of every believer.” The good news? “We live in a generation when the unfinished business of the Reformation may at last be completed.”

Ogden points to many causes for the current state of affairs and the forsaken promises of the Reformers. For example, he devotes a chapter to church-speak. “Saints” are considered to be spiritually elite, rather than a label for every believer (as is the case throughout the New Testament). We refer to “the ministry” as if it’s the particular province of professionals—and to “the minister” of Church X as if church members are not ministers of the Gospel. We call the professionals by formal titles like “reverend”; we designate “the clergy” as a “leadership caste” of specialists. We imagine that “the minister has a priestly aura.” They dress in clerical garb and preside over various sacraments. All of this serves to separate “them” from “us,” at least in practice.

Another example: since Kurt moved from being the pastor of a satellite campus to full-time parachurch ministry, his kids are often asked “Is your dad ever going to pastor again?” And their children blurt out: “He pastors every day!” It’s not helpful—to professionals or to lay people—to think of “ministry” in such narrow, purely-professional terms.

Even in traditions with fewer rites and speakers in more casual clothing, the “us and them” distinction still holds, more or less. We depend on professional staff more than lay pastors. We tend to see evangelism as inviting people to church so they can hear the Gospel, rather than something we can do well with the Holy Spirit, as we walk daily with Jesus. We focus on conversion and baptism over “teaching them to obey everything” Jesus has commanded, forgoing purposeful and robust discipleship within biblical community.

How did we get stuck? Ogden: “The reformed definition of the church was trapped in institutionalism” with its focus on “the word of God rightly proclaimed and sacraments rightly administered”—but delivered by the clergy. The Reformers were more focused on what was wrong than what to do properly. They exalted the role of preaching, which implies the passivity of the church members as a hopefully-attentive audience. And the Church and the local church have been enmeshed in civil society, where church, state, and the importance of professional leadership have been intertwined.

Dallas Willard adds that the Church has tended to focus so strongly on beliefs and doctrine, fending off attacks from inside and out—that Christ as a teacher about life and obedience has largely been lost. As a result, we have emphasized certain key doctrinal tenets, while implicitly ignoring a vast array of teachings that weigh on our daily lives.

Kraemer provides more reasons. The Reformers focused most of their attention on abuse and corruption in the existing system. More pressing, there was an obvious lack of disciples and disciple-makers, given the almost-universal passivity of the laity to that point. “The former members of a Church which for ages had kept its membership in a state of spiritual immaturity…could not suddenly function as spiritual adults.” As a related matter, if there are few trained laity, how does one establish reasonable order—except through the professionals?

The almost-inevitable upshot: “Already at the time of the Reformation and in the first period of its consolidation, concrete historical facts ensured that the principle of ‘the universal priesthood of believers’ could not be acted upon.” There was a strong emphasis on theology and preaching—again, quite reasonably in that context—a function that would naturally fall to trained professionals. After surveying matters thoroughly, Kraemer calls for the practice of a new ecclesiology. As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, can its promises of an empowered laity be fulfilled? Is it possible—and if so, how so?

This is not what Jesus had in mind as He focused on empowering the 12. Do you have a vision for getting thoroughly equipped? If so, what's the plan?

Sunday, October 29, 2017

to which president(s) can we compare President Trump?

This post is inspired by an article in The Atlantic posted to a FB group to which I subscribe... Fascinating question, but so difficult to say-- in particular, how to know/understand/judge history well enough to make such comparisons effectively AND then ironically, how to understand our contemporary context without the benefit of an historical lens.

Other problems in rendering a judgment:
--How symptomatic is Trump of the country's mood when he was only elected because the Dems chose....err, picked such a deplorable candidate?
--How symptomatic is Trump of the GOP when his success can be traced to a series of odd events-- most notably, his emergence from such a crowded primary?
--How GOPish is Trump vs. many people (including enough Dems and independents to win the race, despite his amazing flaws!) are simply tired of an obviously tired status quo and largely-feckless politicians on both sides of the aisle. The past 36 years, we've been offered a certain style (smooth and reassuring). But for the last 15 years, we've had lousy substance led by a deeply-flawed political class. Why are we surprised that people would want a dramatic change?
--And perhaps the largest difficulty: To what extent are each of us capable of teasing out the essence of Trump's policy and his approach-- from his unconventional, offputting-to-many style? I think these problems are especially large on the Left.
1.) Some of their policy eggs are being broken at present. (The connection of those eggs to someone who is often taken as a messianic figure will necessarily be even more deeply troubling to them.)
2.) Words tend to matter more to them, resulting in a tendency to fawn too much over Obama and to be esp. bothered by Trump.
3.) A la Haidt, they've shown us how much they tend to struggle with empathy over the last 18 months, with their inability to even imagine how people could choose T over C, whether by holding their nose (tightly) or giving him a big ol' tongue-kiss.

Trump may be unique/extraordinary. I don't know the details of American History well enough to say, especially with respect to most of our 19th century presidents. If pressed to make a comparison, I'd say he's a combo of Andrew Jackson (from what I understand of his style and substance), Obama (given the penchant for executive orders-- although ironically, Obama set the table for that), and FDR (given his court-stacking, his penchant for policies that leaned heavily against / violated the Constitution, his troubles with the media, and his going around the media through the new medium of "fireside chats").

Interesting question/article!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Designated Survivor: some interesting economics and political economy

A strange/incoherent moment in Designated Survivor (from 10/11's episode):

President Kirkland accuses the RX industry of making billions of dollars in profit "on the backs of the American people". (Here, he misunderstands mutually beneficial trade-- at least insofar as the government allows this in HC/HI).

Then, he wants a particular CEO to "step up and do the right thing and make a sacrifice" for the people and the common good. Yet, he doesn't want to pay for something that would benefit the common good.

The CEO makes a compelling case about the lost R&D-- and when the President is unmoved, the CEO references the many people who will be harmed when their other drugs are not brought to market.

Kirkland says his job is to save lives now, acknowledging the short-run fixation of politicians. And then he brings race into it, when the CEO's decisions are unrelated to race. From there, Kirkland intimidates, slanders, and extorts the company to get what he wants. Instead, if you really believe this is for "the common good", why not just pay the company for serving the common good in this manner?

Maybe I can develop this into a test question!

claims about exploitation and monopsony power at LouCity FC

Claims in the C-J about exploitation when working for LouCity FC: Uhh, then why are you working for them?

The three options from Labor Econ: 1.) you don't know you're being exploited (not true here, since they're complaining); 2.) you're vulnerable to the firm's monopsony power (not true here, since these folks can work at dozens or hundreds of jobs); and 3.) you're irrational and can't weigh benefits and costs well (apparently the best inference).

More likely: sloppy thinking and/or an opportunistic power grab.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

on MacLean vs. Buchanan

Great article...

seeing it for automation, but not the minimum wage...why?

Why can people see the "substitution effect" of automation and technological advance-- but not for the minimum wage and other employer mandates? (Cognitive dissonance, anyone?)

The substitution effect is that higher cost labor or lower cost capital/tech will cause firms to substitute from labor to capital.
But there's also a "scale effect": as production gets less/more expensive, firms are incentivized to produce more/less, requirement more/less of all inputs, including labor.

We know that both effects are in play. If not, all of the tech advance we've had would have resulted in mass unemployment. Instead, we observe some sectoral problems/adjustments and challenges for those whose skills have become obsolescent.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

research on National Job Corps

Excellent research (from 2008) on the "National Job Corps" job training program for young, disadvantaged folks. Hopefully, the program is as good or has gotten better. Tonia is going to follow-up, hoping to connecting her work with Hope to the local NJC folks.

Good news:
-relatively effective for a govt program like this, including wealth transfer and higher incomes in the short-run
-relatively (only) effective for the older folks in the 16-24 age range
-the residential piece was probably part of the success, with its greater ability to do "categorization, discernment" (a la Olasky) and accountability

Bad news:
-really expensive ($25K per)
-modest effectiveness-- and of that, limited to the older folks and only short-run impact on wages/income
-the only govt job training program that's been shown to have any effectiveness

Missing research question of interest (I'll email the researchers and see if they had/have anything): Were smaller centers more effective than larger centers?

"the inner ring" on character, reputation and pleasing man vs. God

Much of the Sermon on the Mount deals with relationships and reputation. If we can "get that right", we'll be in good shape; in not, not-so-much. In a Christian worldview, "getting it right" implies a proper understanding of our relationship with God, our relationship with others, and the interaction of those two.

Character is paramount, but reputation matters. Be concerned about the perception of others (e.g., stumbling blocks of legalism and liberty), but not too much ("people-pleasing" over pleasing God". Or in Lewis' words: don't worry about "the inner ring".

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

the environmental impact of organic (vs. traditional) farming-- or on pollution more generally...

Farming (organic or otherwise) is complicated in its enviro impact. Organic is probably a net gain, but it's expensive (which introduces other complexities). And to the direct point here, it still pollutes and even, has some (surprising) enviro downsides. (Here's a nice article on the topic.) Beyond that: How did the (refined?) compost get to the farmer? How did the organic veggies get to you? And so on. All of those steps produce pollution.

Keep in mind, too, that we're in a partnership with companies to pollute with us, at least implicitly. When I drive a car, I produce pollutants, damage the roads, etc. But I also, in essence, asked Toyota to pollute the environment to produce a car for me. When I eat a steak and drink wine, I asked a rancher and a winemaker to contribute to global warming through cow farts and grape emissions. Electric car owners are creating all sorts of enviro troubles with their batteries. And so on.

Friday, October 20, 2017

East of Eden quotes

I recently finished a re-read of John Steinbeck's East of Eden (EE). I first read EE in high school (11th or 12th grade-- I think, with Mr. Taylor-- at Robinson HS in Fairfax). That alone is interesting-- to consider what kids read today vs. what I read. (Another interesting observation: many folks read Ayn Rand's massive novels in their HS days in the 1950s and 1960s.)

EE is a great novel-- and Steinbeck considered it "the only book [he had] ever written". It's a retelling of Genesis 1-4-- in particular, Cain and Abel-- so it's a particularly interesting read for Jews and Christians.

On free will and Gen 4…
Lee on alternative translations of timshel (691’s last word from Adam) in Gen 4 as (’Thou shalt’ / ‘Do thou’ vs. ‘Thou mayest rule over sin’): “Don’t you see?” he cried. “The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’—that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Don’t you see?”…Now, there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But “Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win…It is the easy out of laziness, out of weakness, to throw oneself into the lap of deity, saying, ‘I couldn’t help it; the way was set.’ But think of the glory of the choice! That makes a man a man. A cat has no choice, a bee must make honey. There’s no godliness there…But this—this is a ladder to climb to the stars.” Lee’s eyes shone. “You can never lose that. It cuts the feet from under weakness and cowardliness and laziness.” (349-350)

“It was your two-word retranslation, Lee—”Thou mayest.’ It took me by the throat and shook me. And when the dizziness was over, a path was open, new and bright. And my life which is ending seems to be going on to an ending wonderful. And my music has a new last melody like a bird song in the night.” Lee was peering at him’ through the darkness. “That’s what it did to those old men of my family.” “ ‘Thou mayest rule over sin,’ Lee. That’s it. I do not believe all men are destroyed. I can name you a dozen who were not, and they are the ones the world lives by. It is true of the spirit as it is true of battles—only the winners are remembered. Surely most men are destroyed, but there are others who like pillars of fire guide frightened men through the darkness. ‘Thou mayest, Thou mayest!’ What glory! It is true that we are weak and sick and quarrelsome, but if that is all we ever were, we would, millenniums ago, have disappeared from the face of the earth. A few remnants of fossilized jawbone, some broken teeth in strata of limestone, would be the only mark man would have left of his existence in the world. But the choice, Lee, the choice of winning! I had never understood it or accepted it before. Do you see now why I told Adam tonight? I exercised the choice. Maybe I was wrong, but by telling him I also forced him to live or get off the pot. What is that word, Lee?” “Timshel,” said Lee. (355-356)

I hate her because I know why she went away. I know—because I’ve got her in me.” His head was down and his voice was heartbroken. Lee jumped up. “You stop that!” he said sharply. “You hear me? Don’t let me catch you doing that. Of course you may have that in you. Everybody has. But you’ve got the other too. Here—look up! Look at me!” Cal raised his head and said wearily, “What do you want?” “You’ve got the other too. Listen to me! You wouldn’t even be wondering if you didn’t have it. Don’t you dare take the lazy way. It’s too easy to excuse yourself because of your ancestry. Don’t let me catch you doing it! Now—look close at me so you will remember. Whatever you do, it will be you who do it—not your mother.” “Do you believe that, Lee?” “Yes, I believe it, and you’d better believe it or I’ll break every bone in your body.” (515)

It is argued that because they believed thoroughly in a just, moral God they could put their faith there and let the smaller securities take care of themselves. But I think that because they trusted themselves and respected themselves as individuals, because they knew beyond doubt that they were valuable and potentially moral units—because of this they could give God their own courage and dignity and then receive it back. (14)

Monsters are variations from the accepted normal to a greater or a less degree…to a monster the norm must seem monstrous, since everyone is normal to himself. To the inner monster it must be even more obscure, since he has no visible thing to compare with others. To a man born without conscience, a soul-stricken man must seem ridiculous. To a criminal, honesty is foolish. You must not forget that a monster is only a variation, and that to a monster the norm is monstrous. (82)

What freedom men and women could have, were they not constantly tricked and trapped and enslaved and tortured by their sexuality! The only drawback in that freedom is that without it one would not be a human. One would be a monster. (86 on Cathy)

Adam said, “I can’t get over a feeling that Cain got the dirty end of the stick.” “Maybe he did,” said Samuel. “But Cain lived and had children, and Abel lives only in the story. We are Cain’s children. (310)

Rage was in his voice, and Adam felt the creeping fear; but he knew also that he had a moment left…He could think of nothing to say that would be heard, for once in rage his brother would not listen, would not even hear. He bulked darkly in front of Adam, shorter, wider, thicker, but still not crouched… (33)

On religion…
George was a sinless boy and grew to be a sinless man. No crime of commission was ever attributed to him, and his crimes of omission were only misdemeanors. In his middle life, at about the time such things were known about, it was discovered that he had pernicious anemia. It is possible that his virtue lived on a lack of energy. (43)

She never studied the Bible or inspected it; she just read it. The many places where it seems to refute itself did not confuse her in the least. And finally she came to a point where she knew it so well that she went right on reading it without listening. (48-49 on Liza)

Liza spoke sharply. “You’re never satisfied to let the Testament alone. You’re forever picking at it and questioning it. You turn it over the way a ’coon turns over a wet rock, and it angers me.” [Samuel, her husband:] “I’m just trying to understand it, Mother.” [Liza] “What is there to understand? Just read it. There it is in black and white. Who wants you to understand it? If the Lord God wanted you to understand it He’d have given you to understand or He’d have set it down different.” (294)

Aron’s training in worldliness was gained from a young man of no experience, which gave him the agility for generalization only the inexperienced can have… It was natural that the convert Aron should work on Cal. First Aron prayed silently for Cal, but finally he approached him. He denounced Cal’s godlessness, demanded his reformation. Cal might have tried to go along if his brother had been more clever. But Aron had reached a point of passionate purity that made everyone else foul. After a few lectures Cal found him unbearably smug and told him so. It was a relief to both of them when Aron abandoned his brother to eternal damnation. (516-517)

At intervals Salinas suffered from a mild eructation of morality. The process never varied much. One burst was like another. Sometimes it started in the pulpit and sometimes with a new ambitious president of the Women’s Civic Club. Gambling was invariably the sin to be eradicated. There were certain advantages in attacking gambling. One could discuss it, which was not true of prostitution. It was an obvious evil and most of the games were operated by Chinese. There was little chance of treading on the toes of a relative. From church and club the town’s two newspapers caught fire. Editorials demanded a clean-up. The police agreed but pleaded short-handedness and tried for increased budget and sometimes succeeded. When it got to the editorial stage everyone knew the cards were down. What followed was as carefully produced as a ballet. The police got ready, the gambling houses got ready, and the papers set up congratulatory editorials in advance. Then came the raid, deliberate and sure. Twenty or more Chinese, imported from Pajaro, a few bums, six or eight drummers, who, being strangers, were not warned, fell into the police net, were booked, jailed, and in the morning fined and released. The town relaxed in its new spotlessness and the houses lost only one night of business plus the fines. It is one of the triumphs of the human that he can know a thing and still not believe it. (518)

Mrs. Edwards was persistently if not profoundly religious. She spent a great part of her time with the mechanics of her church, which did not leave her time for either its background or its effects. (106)

On life, aging, death and legacy…
Father can’t be an old man. Samuel is young as the dawn—the perpetual dawn. He might get old as midday maybe, but sweet God! the evening cannot come, and the night—? Sweet God, no! (328-329)

“When you say I deserve a rest, you are saying that my life is over.” (342; Samuel to Adam)

On death and legacy: Envies are gone, and the measuring stick is: “Was he loved or was he hated? Is his death felt as a loss or does a kind of joy come of it?” (476)

I have wondered why it is that some people are less affected and torn by the verities of life and death than others. Una’s death cut the earth from under Samuel’s feet and opened his defended keep and let in old age. On the other hand Liza, who surely loved her family as deeply as did her husband, was not destroyed or warped. Her life continued evenly. She felt sorrow but she survived it. I think perhaps Liza accepted the world as she accepted the Bible, with all of its paradoxes and its reverses. She did not like death but she knew it existed, and when it came it did not surprise her. Samuel may have thought and played and philosophized about death, hut he did not really believe in it. His world did not have death as a member. He, and all around him, was immortal. When real death came it was an outrage, a denial of the immortality he deeply felt, and the one crack in his wall caused the whole structure to crash. I think he had always thought he could argue himself out of death. It was a personal opponent and one he could lick. To Liza it was simply death—the thing promised and expected. She could go on and in her sorrow put a pot of beans in the oven, bake six pies, and plan to exactness how much food would be necessary properly to feed the funeral guests. And she could in her sorrow see that Samuel had a clean white shirt and that his black broadcloth was brushed and free of spots and his shoes blacked. Perhaps it takes these two kinds to make a good marriage, riveted with several kinds of strengths. (336; on the response of Liza vs. Samuel to Una’s death)

You can boast about anything if it's all you have. Maybe the less you have, the more you are required to boast. (4)

And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way. (6)

“Charles is not afraid so he could never learn anything about courage.” (30)

“I don’t believe anything,” Adam said. “I don’t know, so what can I believe?” (77)

In the books of some memories it was the best time that ever sloshed over the world—the old time, the gay time, sweet and simple, as though time were young and fearless…For the world was changing, and sweetness was gone, and virtue too…Ladies were not ladies any more, and you couldn’t trust a gentleman’s word. There was a time when people kept their fly buttons fastened. And man’s freedom was boiling off…Oh, strawberries don’t taste as they used to and the thighs of women have lost their clutch! (147-151; intro to Part 2 on perspectives at the turn of the century)

Whatever Cathy may have been, she set off the glory in Adam…He raged at his farm, forced it, added to it, drilled and trimmed, and his boundaries extended. He took no rest, no recreation, and he became rich without pleasure and respected without friends. (152-153)

“There are no ugly questions except those clothed in condescension. I don’t know where being a servant came into disrepute. It is the refuge of a philosopher, the food of the lazy, and, properly carried out, it is a position of power, even of love. I can’t understand why more intelligent people don’t take it as a career—learn to do it well and reap its benefits. A good servant has absolute security, not because of his master’s kindness, but because of habit and indolence. It’s a hard thing for a man to change spices or lay out his own socks. He’ll keep a bad servant rather than change. But a good servant, and I am an excellent one, can completely control his master, tell him what to think, how to act, whom to marry, when to divorce, reduce him to terror as a discipline, or distribute happiness to him, and finally be mentioned in his will. If I had wished I could have robbed, stripped, and beaten anyone I’ve worked for and come away with thanks. Finally, in my circumstances I am unprotected. My master will defend me, protect me. You have to work and worry. I work less and worry less. And I am a good servant. A bad one does no work and does no worrying, and he still is fed, clothed, and protected. I don’t know any profession where the field is so cluttered with incompetents and where excellence is so rare.” (190; Lee responding to a question about settling for being a servant)

LeBron James and the staggering "gender gap" in professional basketball

Sometimes, a little anecdote or example can be so powerful. For example, public school teachers send their kids to private schools at well more than the national average. Or if you can't come close to stopping drugs in prison, how are you going to stop them in a "free" society.

Here's a great one from Mark Perry on profound gender income inequality in pro basketball. 

Even when people push for equal pay, it's unequal. For example, in tennis at Wimbledon, men and women champs are paid the same. But the men have to play many more sets to get the same money. Once you get away from the market, you just get some trade-offs-- many of them unsavory, unfair, and inefficient.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

superstition, fundamentalism, faux science, and Chesterton's "maniac"

a really nice essay by an old buddy, Michael Munger, dealing with religious fundies on the Right and on the Left...

two passages come to mind:
1.) Jesus in Jn 9:3 on contemporary confusion about cause/effect with the blind man
2.) Ezekiel 18:2-4 (a sadly obscure passage) on the misinterpretation of the famous passage in the 10 Commandments about "the sins of the fathers"-- seeing it as a law of the universe, rather than as a general principle

Monday, October 16, 2017

a crazy two weeks

These days, the kids have a "balanced" schedule for K-12. So, we have two-week breaks for Fall, Winter, and Spring-- and thus, a shorter Summer. We just finished our two weeks from Sept 30 thru Oct 15.  It was like the Twilight Zone, so I want to briefly record my thoughts here as a journal of sorts. 

For one thing, Zach turned 19 on Sept 30 and Daniel turned 13 on Oct 15. So, both reached milestone birthdays, causing us to have four teenage boys (young men) at the same time.  

For week 1, Zach went to Florida, starting on his 19th birthday. And while he was on vacation, we were on vacation too-- it was easy, with nothing to worry about. 

In week 2, I had a lot planned. I was speaking in Fort Wayne at a lunch and on the radio on Tuesday. I met an old friend (and  ministry friend of his) in Anderson on Wednesday AM and spoke in Richmond at Wed lunch. Wed PM, I was back home, before Kurt and I spoke to 50-60 Lutheran leaders in three breakout sessions at a regional conference on Thursday. 

Tonia and I had seen a counselor on Monday to tune up our parenting-- and our marriage with respect to our parenting. One of the good things that came from it was a decision to reset our "house rules" and to have a conversation with Zach about being "an adult" in our home. I haven't been parenting him much, but Tonia had been-- or at least, had been perceived that way by Zach. So, on Monday, we laid out our (modest) rules if he wanted to stay with us. And we told him that Tonia wouldn't parent him anymore.

I got home on Wed PM and we were talking to him about his trip to Florida and other things. And then, we found out that he had already quit his (nice) job at Aldi's. (WHAT?!) He then expressed frustration at perceptions of us controlling him. Trying to make a long story short: we reiterated that he was free to move out whenever he wanted. He left that night.

He's been back to the house a few times and everything seems cordial. We think he's looking for another job. He has some money saved up, but not much. He's couch-surfing for now. We'll see what happens over the next few weeks. 

Oh yeah...And Zach brought home a cat on Sunday evening. Uhhh. I was just able to clean up that mess today by giving away the cat to a good home. 

Anyway, pray for us. He's "a good kid" and trying to find his way. He can be impulsive and short-sighted, so who knows? Most of us do stupid stuff in this age range. Hopefully, he'll do limited damage to himself and others. Hopefully, God and others will reach him in this phase-- and he'll learn valuable life lessons. And hopefully, he'll quickly move to a life of (fervent) discipleship with Christ and being increasingly comfortable in the goodness of God's Kingdom. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

review of "Shadow Gods"

A buddy of mine (Ray Rieck) sent me a book to give a quick review (Shadow Gods by Daniel Jones). The book provides an argument against Christianity. 

[UPDATE: In the comments below, I was notified that the author is a deist, not an atheist as I had initially inferred. Looking back, I can see how that's the case-- and how I missed it. The author makes a number of references to atheism-- in particular, early-on, when he's explaining why he wrote the book. In the midst of those references, he says his book is not like "books of this ilk" and so, I assumed a connection to atheism. There are some clues in the text [e.g., p. 54-60's theism arguments as red herrings] and some late references to deism [196, 202]. I should have caught those; mea culpa. In any case, I've adjusted the review in a few places for this revelation.]

The author is generally thoughtful and respectful. He lays out his arguments in a clear and concise manner. He works to narrow the field and avoid tangents; he's careful with his terms; and his case is systematic (at least until he reaches its conclusions in chapter 6). And at 210 pages, with relatively large margins and a good-sized font, it makes for a relatively short read.

Of course, you can probably already see the general flaw and limits of the work. How do you narrow the field so far and draw an airtight set of inferences? How does one write a short book that effectively dismisses something so complicated, subjective, etc.? The answer, of course, is that you can't. Still, the book is worth a read/look for those interested in Christian apologetics. 

In Chapter 1, Jones describes different types of "believers"-- helpful in defining and narrowing the field. In Chapter 2, he starts into his thesis, as implied by the book's title-- that Christians are in Plato's cave, where we confuse the shadows with the related realities. Here, Jones makes a good point about the potential for circularity in Christian belief (p. 37-41). If one already has a belief well in hand, one might use reason to bolster those beliefs and then dismiss reason if it gets in the way. 

Of course, this is a big problem for anybody in any faith system-- whether Christian, Muslim, deist, or atheist; whether climate change, evolutionism, or Progressivism, whether free-marketism, environmentalism, or Statism. Later, Jones warns Christians about putting all of one's intellectual and faith eggs in one basket (152). But of course, this valid concern cuts in all directions, including Jones' views! There's nothing in his point that denies the truth of any belief system. But it is a good and fair warning-- to all of us-- about confirmation bias, the attraction of "just-so stories", and how we can fool ourselves into embracing error.

Jones is critical of William Craig here-- in pointing to the role of the Holy Spirit in theology and practice. This reminded me of Mormonism, which encourages a reliance on the "burning in the bosom". But my sense is that "the burning" is to be relied upon as one first receives the Mormon "revelation", rather than as an on-going, daily reliance on the Holy Spirit-- as prescribed in the New Testament. Of course, the NT also warns about "false spirits", so it's never a matter of simply relying on the Spirit. It's always to be interpreted in light of Scripture, godly counsel, etc.

Jones is careful to provide various applications of the term "faith", including its application to everyday life-- where one must routinely draw inferences, in faith, from limited information (41-43). To his credit, unlike many other atheists, he is not allergic to the term and he doesn't look to reduce it to "blind faith". Ultimately, he wants to describe this sort of faith with another term, to keep his argument cleaner, but I don't see any problem with this move. 

On a related matter, I wasn't clear on what Jones does with subjective evidences. All of us have experienced things in a manner that bolsters our "faith" in one thing or another. Of course, such evidences cannot have direct applicability to others and are of limited indirect use too. But one can't dismiss them either-- in religious faith or all sorts of other areas.

In Chapter 3, Jones is trying to clear the field to get to his primary argument, knocking out "dead ends" in terms of argument and apologetics. For example, he introduces "the problem of evil" and other common complaints about Christian theology. But he dismisses them as unhelpful to making his case-- or even, to making any good case (61-66). By the end of chapter 3, he's narrowed the field to his primary concern: the miraculous claims within Christianity (71). 

In Chapter 4, Jones describes four types of events: mundane, unusual, extraordinary, and outlandish (74-77). Not surprisingly, he believes that Christian belief in the "miraculous" fits in the outlandish category. A few things to say here. First, the distinction between extraordinary (E) and outlandish (O) is key-- and ultimately begs the question. If we assume X is E, we can reasonably believe it, but we would understand why others wouldn't join us. But if we assume X is O, then although logically possible, we probably shouldn't believe X and we will be pitied or scorned by others if we do so.

Second, as an economist, I'm obsessed with choices among alternatives. In Econ101, we talk about "opportunity costs"-- the value of the next-best alternative. In the context of a debate, the question becomes the credibility of the next-best argument. Jones isn't familiar with this line of logic or chooses not to engage it. Whether Christian beliefs about the miraculous are E or O, the question is really whether alternative explanations are even more E or O.

For the deist, if there's a Creator God, then why would it be O or even E to believe that God would intervene on occasion? For the atheist, it turns out that their beliefs about how the universe began, how life began, and especially, how life developed to what we see around us-- are also a series of E's or, to me and most other people, quite O. (The closest Jones comes to addressing this is in his coverage of the ontological argument for the existence of God [53-54].) In a word, if this were the only question at hand, it would take far more faith for me to believe in the atheist's broad narrative about the origins and development of life. Or in a word: you can't complain about my narrative if you're unwilling to lay out your narrative. And if you're narrative is in the E or O category, you'll want to be careful chucking rocks.

In Chapter 5, Jones provides brief arguments on the particulars claims for the miraculous in the Christian faith. But in chapter 6, things start to devolve: he claims that Christians have been fooled (comparing it to being "catfished") and are stuck in "GroupThink". From there, the argument unwinds dramatically in the last three (shorter) chapters. 

After effectively narrowing the field and drawing his inferences, Jones can't resist the temptation to widen the field again, without doing the necessary heavy lifting. (See: p. 176-182's on who was Jesus; and p. 182-186's on what's in the Bible, including his assumptions of very-late dating for the Gospels and an interesting understanding of the literature on "legends". FWIW, he doesn't deal at any length with one of my favorites to any degree-- the extraordinary post-resurrection reaction of the disciples.) The result is careless arguing and even some ad hominem (e.g., p. 196's "asinine"). In a word, the book would have been much better with a tight ending after he makes the rest of his substantive case in chapter 5 or 6.

Two sets of thoughts to close. First, Jones strongly dislikes Lee Strobel's book The Case for Christ. But if Strobel is not a liar (and Jones does not accuse him of this), then Strobel is the very model of what Jones advocates in terms of thinking. If Strobel was a believer writing a book like this, then Jones' critique would hold. But Strobel was firmly entrenched on the path of "skepticism". He was open to listening to people on the other side. He read liberally. He was convinced by the arguments and left his cave. This is exactly what Jones advocates! Even though Jones disagrees with Strobel's conclusion, he is a glowing example of Jones' supposed approach to truth. Jones' failure here is so strange that it necessarily causes one to have less faith in his arguments, credibility, etc.

If one ignores Jones' odd pokes at Strobel, we can recognize that Jones is correct and valuable on this point. Christians should read skeptics and skeptics should read Christian apologetics such as Strobel's Case for Christ. In fact, you can't really call yourself a skeptic unless you exercise your skepticism.

Jones wonders if God exists-- agnosticism and "the maybe game"
 (187-189) and references to deism (196, 202). If it's less outlandish to believe in His existence than not, then you have to wrestle with Christianity's particular revelation. In any case, the skeptic should read C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity and The Great Divorce, while believers should read Jones and others. Those with a particular interest in the miraculous should read Chesterton's Orthodoxy-- particularly "The Paradoxes' and "The Maniac" (which gets to Jones point about super-circular reasoning). And so on. 

Second, Jones seems convinced (and deeply troubled) that "eternal punishing" is the only reasonable manner to interpret the Scriptures on the question of what happens to those who don't want to be with God or who want to justify themselves to God by their works (2, 193-196). Although this is the most popular position within Christian doctrine, the doctrine is far from settled. Moreover, this omission is strange for someone who seems well-read. 

But there are other options here. For one thing, "inclusivism" is a reasonable possibility to expand the field of "those who will be saved"-- to all who are saved by Christ through faith and grace, rather than merely those who have a knowledge of (and faith in) the bearded God-Man from Galilee. More directly, the outcome could easily be "eternal punishment" (instead of "eternal punishing") in some form of "annihilationism". The Scriptures routinely speak to this in a few ways-- most notably, in terms of the "destruction" of the soul (e.g., Mt 10:28). One wonders if this dead end has taken him to the corner of his own cave.

In any case, this is a solid work from a little-known local author on a topic of great importance. If you're into apologetics for theism and particularly Christianity, it's worth a look.