Wednesday, August 25, 2021

why would people have a biblical worldview with the usual approach to discipleship in the local church?

Here's what we observe (in this article, other evidence, and everyday life):

-many people in churches
-many people believe they have a biblical worldview
-very few people (6% in this survey) have a biblical worldview

This is troubling but not surprising. The #1 problem is the church's failure to disciple well, relying mostly on the minimal impact of sermons, light/passive small groups, and light/large youth groups. Few pastors/churches have a vision or a plan to focus on discipleship-- ironically, failing to implement/emulate the ministry model of Jesus. (What Would Jesus Do? Not rely on great sermons and passive small groups!) The result is that people are discipled much more by the culture than the Church.

One way to remedy this for you locally: join a "Getting Equipped" that will start just after Labor Day. (Details below or PM me.) Long-term or non-local: Check out and let me know how we can help you fulfill the ops/commands of Ephesians 4:11-16 and the "teaching them to obey all" of the Great Commission.

Friday, August 20, 2021

discipled strongly by politics, lightly by pastors, or rigorously through the Word and with Jesus

David French dropped an ouch that I read in another article: "Most conservative white evangelicals spend far more time listening to right-wing radio and TV hosts than to their own pastors."

A broadside with Biden-levels of policy accuracy but an important kernel of truth. Let's break it down...

-I'd bet my ranch that the same applies to "politically active/interested" folks of various ethnicities and ideology. So, why pick on certain folks by ideology or especially by race? #WhiteGuilt

-By "conservative" (and liberal), I'm guessing he means theologically so, since there are only a handful of conservatives or liberals politically-- Christian or otherwise. (As always don't confuse GOP with conservative or Dem/Left with liberal.)

-Why would these folks listen to their pastors more than they listen to radio/TV, since pastors only provide a half-hour per week?

-Why *should* they listen to their pastors more than that to be faithful disciples of Jesus? Discipleship can only be lightly served by a weekly sermon. #RollUpYourSleeves #GettingEquipped

-All this said, Christians are not disciples of Jesus often enough. To French's broader point, they should be reading the Word, listening to godly counsel, and engaging in biblical community much more than radio/TV of any type-- political or otherwise.

-Punchline: All of this stems from both church leaders and laity falling prey to various temptations-- failing to offer and failing to accept-- ways in which one might engage in rigorous discipleship with Jesus. #DisobeyingEphesians4_11thru16

Lyman Stone on changes in American religiosity over time

Had read this summary/excerpt earlier, but just finished the longer research piece (in the first comment below). Really nice work, if you're into this question. (The longer article is long, but you can skim a lot of it.)

Key findings for me:
1.) Reiterates the importance of understanding the 1950s as a religious aberration-- not the end of a long period of intense religiosity from the early days of the American experiment. This includes a surprisingly low level of religiosity in our earlier years as a country. (See: my Touchstone article on Herberg's classic book about this.)

2.) The 1st Great Awakening may have changed which churches people attended, but did not have a big impact on overall religiosity.

3.) The correlations and likely somewhat-causal impacts of dramatically increasing and then declining marriage-- and increased secular education (length of days, # of days and years)-- on religiosity.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

articles on the 20th anniversary of 9/11

A beautiful piece by Jim Kushiner in Touchstone based on history, providence, and Christian theology. 

Jennifer Senior's account in The Atlantic is a powerful, personal, and poignant article on 9/11's impact on one family. 

Stephen Presser in Chronicles on the Surveillance State subsequent to 9/11. We're still bearing "fruit" from the largely-bipartisan willingness to (heavily) trade-off liberty for security. Just like the mid-1990s GOP success and Bush II's profligacy killed off most of the conservatives, 9/11 and President O-bomb-a killed off most of the liberals. Now, we're mostly left with Lefties, Righties, and a ton of feckless pols and enabling partisans.

George Packer's article in The Atlantic has much good analysis in it. 

1.) Setting the context about the relative peace/prosperity that we faced (and confident complacency that we chose) between the end of the Cold War and 9/11. Tech advance made it seem as if economic woes  and body bags in our military efforts were a thing of the past. 

2.) How we ignored the Islamists for a decade when they had been trying to get our attention. This is excusable for the general public, but not so much for the bureaucratic failures and in-fighting that prevented us from realizing, assessing, and mitigating the dangers at hand. (Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower is excellent on this. Here's my review. See also: the Netflix series.)

3.) He argues that there were three "influential scripts": the US as innocent advocates for freedom (conservative interventionists); "blowback" by relatively powerless people against powerful interlopers (Libertarian-- or at libertarian/liberal on this issue; see: my review of Pape's book which provides the academic analysis of this concern); and the US as duty-bound to use its military to support human rights and "democracy" ("liberal interventionists"). In practice, the interventionists of both stripes dominated the political arena, until it became increasingly obvious that intervention wasn't working all that well. 

4.) The Islamists won in a sense-- as we "fell into the jihadists' trap and embarked on an undefined, unwinnable War on Terror, while imagining, as Bush declared, that 'it will end in a way and at an hour of our choosing'." (I had forgotten that quote of amazing hubris.) But in the long-run, they didn't win-- at least in a positive manner-- having "receded as a strategic threat". 

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

a little trip to Owensboro, etc.

Tonia and I got away for two days last week-- centered on Owensboro, but stops before/after as well. It was a nice little trip-- and maybe the last destination for us in our area, within a two-hour drive. (In the past, we've been to Indy, Cincy, Lexington, Evansville, Horse Cave, Frankfort, Madison, and Columbus/Nashville/Brown County. If you have other suggestions, let me know!)

Our itinerary: 

-hiked the Hemlock Cliffs trail in Hoosier National Forest

-lunch at Soup-n-Such Bistro and visited the monastery at Ferdinand

-Owensboro (Day 1b): Bluegrass Hall of Fame; Museum of Fine Art; dinner and strolling the riverfront

-Owensboro (Day 2a): W. KY Botanical Gardens; World's Largest Sassafras tree

-Bill Monroe birthplace and museum

-Abraham Lincoln birthplace (National Park) and museum

-dinner and then, the movie "Nine Days" at Village 8

All of it was at least good/solid. (Results may vary with your preferences.) The bluegrass stops were better than expected. But the highlights were the art museum (much better than expected) and the riverwalk (really nice). Their high school looked like a college building. It got me wondering how they got so much money or how effective their government must be. 

Anywho, I can definitely recommend our trip to you if you're looking for two days away. 

Monday, August 16, 2021

a review of War Fever-- on Ruth, Muck, and Whittlesey

Roberts and Smith have written a solid book if you're into baseball, WW1, and/or the Spanish Flu pandemic a century ago. The authors focus on Babe Ruth, Karl Muck, and Charles Whittlesey-- the most famous war athlete, war villain, and war hero. (I had never heard of Muck or Whittlesey.)

Most interesting numbers: the per-capita pandemic numbers given were that 2x as many people got the SF and 3x as many died from it.

Most interesting angle: Ruth's German heritage and the threat of it soiling his popularity. (1918 was also the primary year when Ruth was a hitter and a pitcher in the same year.)

Most impressive irony: the media "raked" Muck mercilessly, but the term "muckraking" had been coined by Teddy Roosevelt decades earlier.

Most interesting factoid: the "Plattsburg Camps" where a private effort trained men for war before the govt got excited/organized enough to do so.

Weirdest writing decision: spelling Plattsburgh without the H. (It bothered me since we used to live near there.)

Saturday, August 7, 2021

review of Lukianoff & Haidt's "The Coddling of the American Mind"

The Coddling of the American Mind is centered around three myths: 

1.) Fragility: What doesn't kill you makes you weaker.

2.) Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.

3.) Us vs. Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people 

Lukianoff and Haidt (LH) argue that these three contradict "ancient wisdom", modern research on well-being, and harms individuals and communities (4, 263). (Other than that, they're terrific!) They're particularly concerned about their impact on our youth, education (especially college), and democracy (5). 

Lukianoff is a lawyer/activist with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) on 1st Amendment issues, especially at universities. His observations about college students and free speech were the chief catalysts for his work with Haidt. Administrators had always been the most conservative on speech issues, with faculty and especially students clamoring for a more liberal approach to free expression. But starting in 2013, he noticed a dramatic trend with students increasingly wanting to restrict speech. FIRE has been tracking "disinvitation" efforts since 2000. The numbers were consistent until 2009 and then especially in 2013-- with a big jump in efforts on the Left (47). 

Concepts such as "triggered" also got rolling then and the complaints were "medicalized"--  claims that it interfered with student ability to function. This connects to a theme throughout the book: the importance of "cognitive behavioral therapy" (CBT), which relies on taking small direct/discrete steps to address (real or perceived) threats. You don't just talk about it; you do something about it (34). It's not so much the thing (which you may not be able to control) as your response to the thing (which you can control). 

This angle is important to Lukianoff personally, since it helped him deal with his own depression. And it's something of interest to Haidt professionally, as a professor of "social psychology." (Most notably to me, he has an excellent book on religion and politics, The Righteous Mind (7-8). Founded by Aaron Beck in the 1960s, CBT says "it is possible to break the disempowering feedback cycle between negative beliefs and negative emotions." (37) CBT requires skill and time, but the evidence that it works is "overwhelming". LH cover nine common errors that CBT looks to address (38)-- most of which are connected to the three myths that drive the book.  

Unfortunately, the opposite of CBT is popular today: more shelter instead of dealing directly with threats and concerns. The irony: psychologists typically see trigger avoidance as a symptom of the underlying problem and certainly not its treatment (29)! LH also note that learning in general-- and college education in particular-- rely on a heavy dose of CBT within the process-- and therefore, that the myths are a threat to education (39-40). 

The Myths

On the myth of "fragility", LH open with the famous example of peanut allergies which were exacerbated by keeping so many children away from peanuts (20-21). But the key concepts here are borrowed from Nassim Talib who describes people and organisms as "fragile" (inherently so), "resilient" (inherently so), or "anti-fragile" (able to develop from fragile to resilient). Talib argues that humans are anti-fragile. It's not that difficulties make you weaker; they make you stronger. (A key caveat: too much difficulty-- chronic or acute-- can make you weaker.) As such, we prepare children for the road, not the road for the child (23); we don't see people as candles who need a wind-free zone (28); and as I often pray: "Lord, give us stronger backs not lighter loads". 

Another problem has been the increasing prominence of "safety-ism" (30). Trouble has been defined in increasingly subjective ways and the thresholds have been defined down (e.g., from pain to "trauma"). Another recent example: Some of our society's struggles with Covid are evidently a function of safety-ism. Related to this is the use of "emotional reasoning" (an oxymoron?) and the emergence of "micro-aggressions". On the latter, people imagine the worst about others (while assuming the best about themselves). And they exaggerate problems, labeling them as "aggression" which assumes or ignores motives. 

What are the implications for a college campus? Students "will come to see the world-- and even their university-- as a hostile place where things never seem to get better. If someone wanted to create an environment of perpetual anger and intergroup conflict, this would be an effective way to do it...likely to engender precisely the feelings of marginalization and oppression that almost everyone wants to eliminate." (46) It also serves to "foster an external locus of control" which is intuitively and statistically connected to less satisfaction and success (46). 

The third myth is a dogmatic view of good/evil: with me as the good (of course) and some others (usually convenient, caricatured, and simplistic scapegoats) as the evil. LH note that the resulting tribalism is inevitable to some extent (and even serves some good purposes-- e.g., as we take particular care of those around us). But we learn to live healthier lives by avoiding the excesses of tribalism (59). And of particular concern, we avoid the mistake of seeing others as "common enemies", generally focusing on our "common humanity" instead (60-62). The history of "common enemies" is not pretty-- with easy applications to the Nazis and Marxism. Today, identity politics has embraced this approach-- what amounts to a bad religion without mercy, grace, and redemption. The realities of life are more complex; common enemy and common humanity are too simple; all of us are a mix of good and evil, whether we can it "sin nature" (as in Christianity) or give it another label.  

How did we get it here and how do we get better? 

The middle part of the book focuses on universities as a center of this evolution-- or at least its most-evident fruit. Chapter 4 details "Intimidation and Violence" as a weapon of the illiberal on college campuses. I had forgotten the sad and ironic story of Berkeley as both the leaders in free speech and then, anti-free speech (81-86). They also recount Charles Murray's run-in with fascist students at Middlebury. And they close with Van Jones' awesome quote (which runs from 1:08-3:00 at the link) on safe spaces and "going to the gym." (96-97) It reminds me of Mr. Tumnus' quote about Aslan: He's not safe, but he's good. The ultimate goals are not overarching safety and short-run protection; the goals are strength and goodness. (LH [193] also use a great quote from SCOTUS Chief John Roberts [runs from 1:57-3:14 at the link].) 

In chapter 5, we get some inside baseball on academics and problems caused by/for professors in this arena. One might expect in-fighting, but squelching free speech and using intimidation to quiet speech and dampen academic freedom is deeply troubling. Colleges should be paragons of virtue in this regard. Instead, some of them are fueling the decline of these crucial values. 

From there, LH offer six interacting explanations with a chapter each (125). Chapter 6 discusses how a cycle of events and responses to those events have served to increase our woes in this realm. They touch on media bias-- which plays to members of various tribes, to satisfy their own ideological impulses or to make money as good media capitalists. Chapter 7 details the growth in anxiety and depression, particularly among the young and especially among girls. The advent of the IPhone, the increase in "screen time", and especially the proliferation of social media has been problematic, especially for young women. Chapter 8 describes the role of "paranoid" or "helicopter" parents-- in their responses to (perceived) threats, the fruit of safety-ism, and the implications of having fewer kids in the upper income classes (and the increased focus per-child that results). 

In Chapter 9, LH lament the reduction in play-- particularly unsupervised activity. This decline can be linked to less ability to take risks, learn from mistakes, and build social skills. Chapter 10 lays out the bureaucratic incentives within universities that have contributed: risk-averse bureaucrats would rather err on the side of safety and conservatism than values  that promote education. And in Chapter 11, they conclude with our society's increased focus on "justice", albeit in utopian terms. They also take a big poke at social scientists, asking why they have been unwilling to apply their usual critical thinking skills to univariate analysis and false-cause fallacies with respect to complex social problems (228). 

The book concludes with helpful advice for parents and K-12 (chapter 12) and universities (chapter 13). Careful readers will see these chapters as a review and summation of earlier points. But it's useful to compile all of the advice in one place. 

For social observers and those passionate about free speech and education, The Coddling of the American Mind is essential reading. It's important to understand the cause/effect and  to have empathy for what has shaped the current crop of young adults. Without this, we'll stay frustrated-- and more important, less able to help them move past their fears and illiberalism to healthy lives and vibrant community. 

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

review of Jonathan (JP) Pokluda's "Outdated"

JP's book is good for those who are "dating", looking for a spouse, etc. And he has a terrific chapter on the many reasons why cohabitation is a terrible idea. 

He opens by noting that we ought to be much better at dating, especially with improved info in our times. But popular myths cause a lot of trouble, more than offsetting the modest advantages we might have (11-12). In this, I'm reminded of a point I make early in my Principles courses about the importance of theory (worldview, etc.). In any area of life, I'd much rather have an accurate/effective theory and less info-- than more info and an inaccurate/ineffective theory. People's theories about dating are not great, so the results aren't going to be great either. 

To summarize the book, JP is arguing that (one-on-one) dating should be aimed at marriage. Without that goal, dating is largely a waste of time, a catalyst for many temptations, the cause of many troubles. So, don't date if you're not ready for marriage. Don't date someone if you're not going to marry him/her. Break up with someone when you figure out it's probably not going to end in marriage (ch. 10). 

JP compares dating without (greater) purpose to shopping without money (27). And he draws a useful analogy to sales and notes that someone in sales would rather get a NO-- than an EHH that's probably a NO (131). He also compares dating to looking for a job and says it's not fun (26). I get the point, but one might rather be looking for a job, than unemployed!

He notes that "being single" is a calling-- if not for a lifetime, then for a time (34's intro leads to ch. 2). So, as in any other aspect of life, it's important to enjoy our context and find the blessings of our context as much as possible. Dallas Willard notes that God can only bless us where we're at. So, spend less time/energy trying to escape your current state (although this is not a call to complacency either) and more time enjoying where you're at (contentedness). Singles have many great opportunities-- that are not available to married-- so make sure not to miss out on those ops. 

His best chapter is in blowing up cohabitation. He covers the stats (161-163). The marriage rates are low; the divorce rates are higher; the personal happiness metrics are lower. If you're "into science", avoiding cohabitation is best for individuals, couples, and any children that might emerge. Sure, you can smoke and not have trouble, but I can't recommend it. Hey, maybe you'll be the exception! (He also notes that wedding/marriage traditions are built on the traditional view: you may kiss the bride, carry the bride over the threshold, and the honeymoon [160-161].) 

Why doesn't it work well? What are the problems? "It's not a precursor to marriage; it's a replacement for marriage...removes most of the motivation for getting married...especially for men." (162) Breaking up a bad relationship is tougher, so that's not good. Ending a cohabiting relationship is surprisingly close to the pain of divorce, so what do you gain there. "The essence of marriage is permanence. And it is impossible to practice permanence." (164) Well, and of course, it ignores a good God's great design for sex and marriage!

It's cheaper? Well, get married already or get a roommate. You're living together but not having sex? OK, but there are temptations and perceptions. And why is it wisdom to practice living together and not having sex? Is that what you want your marriage to look like?! (166) 

Small observations: 

-JP says that Hollywood is focused on dating more than marriage-- where it's implied that "happily ever after" is understood or unimportant (57). I'm not sure how to measure this, but it does seem like the more memorable part of movies about this topic are focused on dating and "the game". 

-He advises Christians to focus on discipleship with Jesus-- for themselves and those they would pursue for dating/marriage. I loved his advice to men and women: ask out the godliest single you know and those asked out should generally say yes (114-115). 

-He advises against "playing games" (ch. 7). Two nuggets here: game-playing has made you insecure as you've "taught yourself to believe people won't be attracted to your true self" (124); and the importance of questioning why you're doing/saying things (125). 

-He says it's fine for women to ask out men. But he doesn't recommend it, given the tendency for men to be passive-- and for this to be a difficult attribute in a marriage (129-130). See: Genesis 3:6!

-He recommends "low-key first dates" (136)-- e.g., coffee so it can easily be 30 minutes if it's a bomb or three hours if it's awesome-- and using groups to figure out individuals.

-Asking "how far is too far" (about physical intimacy in a relationship) is the wrong question. Rephrase the question this way: How close can I get to sinning without actually sinning? (152) See also: should I tithe on my gross pay or net pay? Uhh...