cerebrumilleurselli

This WordPress.com site is the cat’s pajamas

Merry Christmas, Dr. Peterson

I just finished listening to the following podcast which I recommend listening to:

http://bigideas.tvo.org/episode/184159/jordan-peterson-on-redemption-and-psychology-in-christianity

Jordan Peterson is a psychologist who appears to be a student of human history and of human nature.  Since he is a psychologist, that may appear redundant to say, but in modern times that is one of those “despite,” not “because of,” things.

I imagine that Thomas Jefferson and Peterson would have a lot in common in regards to the Christian worldview.  Both embraced portions of it, especially the parts about our fallen natures and the danger of statism.  What neither could embrace was the actual Incarnation. 

Peterson is one of those sad individuals who are so close to the Gospel that it seems just the slightest push would send them into its arms.   Their reason and observations have taken them to the point where little seems to separate them from the goal.  Yet, the barrier between them is immense.  They are like prisoners, isolated from their loved ones, who’ve picked up the walls of their prison while inside them and moved them right next to the ones they love.   They are close, but the walls still separate.

To abuse an analogy of C.S. Lewis:  Peterson is like the child busy at making mud pies in a puddle while his parent tries to convince him to abandon the puddle and come to the beach.  His intellect can fully grasp the dynamics of puddle and mud pie.  This God who invites him to swim in His infinite ocean, to play on the sand that stretches out past where his fingertips can reach and farther than his eyes can see is offering something beyond his intellect, and therefore is not real.

To quote Ravi Zacharias:

“God has put enough into the world to make faith in Him a most reasonable thing, and He has left enough out to make it impossible to live by sheer reason or observation alone.”

Peterson is at that point; the end of the road of reason and observation.   He has accepted the philosophy of Jesus.  In fact he has accepted the whole philosophy of the Old and New Testaments.  He presents a beautiful argument for why this philosophy matches human nature and human history.  What he has not accepted is that Jesus could be who He claimed to be.  That a myth can teach and model reality is part of his worldview.  That a myth could be real, historical, flesh and blood, is not.

Jesus is always the stumbling block.   He is offensive to both the Eastern and Western mind. 

To have some feel for the Jewish offense at Jesus requires some understanding of their sense of how holy God is.  Did the occupier of the Holy of Holies really nurse at the breast of a peasant girl?  Did the being who would strike dead anyone who would deviate one iota from His holy decrees by touching the Ark, really come to this earth to embrace (actually, physically, embrace) the most unholy among us and ultimately share their fate?  This kind of intimacy between Holy God and lowly man is embarrassing to contemplate.  It is like imagining your parents making love; even if the reality of it must be acknowledged, there are parts that I’d rather not dwell on.

The Western, Greek-based thinkers wonder why Jesus had to ruin the reasonableness of His philosophy with silly talk of miracles and of transcendent, incomprehensible union.  Please, a virgin birth?  Their eyes can’t roll far enough.  Really, ritual cannibalism? Really?   This Christianity is plainly barbarism to the Greek mind.

Jesus, who claimed to be both Truth and the fulfillment of the Law, does not contradict either.  He is not the “despite”; He is the “because of”.

 

The Petraeus Affair Graphic

To those confused by the Petraeus affair, I present this handy graphic:

 

Of course, Petraeus is used to complex graphics.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1269463/Afghanistan-PowerPoint-slide-Generals-left-baffled-PowerPoint-slide.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Satire, Irony, and Sarcasm, Oh My!

This post showed up in Slashdot last Monday. It appears that some have taken Glenn Beck seriously when he stated that Sean Smith, one of the victims of the 9/11 attack in Benghazi, was a covert CIA agent and was contacting the CIA when he posted on an internet forum shortly before his death.
Smith, who went by the nom de net of Vilerat, was moderator of a forum at the website “Something Awful”. Apparently this was the forum he posted to while waiting at a “safe-house” just prior to his murder.  Smith was killed at the safe-house along with two ex-SEALs and the Libyan ambassador. 

Someone at the Something Awful website commented that even the Onion would think this story was too ridiculous to run. 

Interesting:  Someone mocks a bit of satire, that he thinks is serious, by comparing it to other satire.

I could say that this isn’t ironic at all, but that would be sarcasm.

It’s amusing when you observe or read about people who have missed the point of an item of satire, irony, or sarcasm.  James Taranto has an excellent article here on two examples of satire taken literally, and no, he doesn’t include the Glenn Beck story.

What isn’t amusing is when you are the person who doesn’t get the joke, or, worse yet, your little gem of sarcasm is miss-interpreted. 

Reading these items in Slashdot and Taranto’s Best of the Web reminded me of something that happened when I was stationed on my submarine.  I had only been aboard for a few weeks.  It was customary on our boat that newly arrived, junior enlisted spend time as “mess-cranks”.  Cranks acted as assistants to the mess-specialists who prepared the meals aboard the submarine.  They performed all the not-fun duties associated with feeding large groups of people, like washing dishes, serving food and cleaning up after eighty-some guys have cycled through for a meal in under two hours in a space smaller than the average living room.

It was after a meal that this incident took place.  I was washing dishes in the galley.   The galley had everything you’d find in an institutional kitchen: cleaning sinks, pots, storage racks, prep areas, stove, oven, and grill top; all crammed into a space about twelve by twelve feet.  There were four or five of us crammed in there as well.

Someone had brought in a boom box.  It was playing a variety of rock bands from the 80’s that have blissfully disappeared down the memory hole.  I thought someone was playing a top-40 compilation tape until I heard a DJ from one of the Norfolk area radio stations announce “another thirty minutes of uninterrupted, commercial-free music”.  The boom box owner had simply recorded 90 minutes of radio play on the cassette. 

I did not know my fellow galley slaves very well.  I was the only crank from the engineering department and “nukes” and “coners” did not fraternize much.  Nukes were the engineering personnel who were responsible for the reactor and propulsion plant and worked in the aft end of the ship.  Coners were the rest of the enlisted personnel on board who worked in the forward half of the boat.  Nukes thought that coners were not-so-bright and more interested in military formality than competence.  Coners thought that nukes were arrogant jerks.  I think we both deserved our stereotypes.

Now, at the time, we were several hundred feet under the surface of the ocean, somewhere off the Virginia capes.   Even on the surface, it is not possible to get radio reception through a thick steel hull without an external antenna, much less when you’re under several hundred feet of water and several hundred miles away from the broadcasting station.  I knew this, it was obvious to everyone.

I thought I would be clever and “break the ice” with my fellow workers.  I waited until the next time the DJ made an announcement.  “Boy, you sure get great reception down here”, I said.  I expected that my potential new friends would immediately see my sarcasm, give a light chuckle or groan as appropriate to a middling joke, and we would then progress to small talk about music, the hygiene habits of Chief Petty Officers, or how miserable our existence was going to be for the next four weeks of this underway.

That’s not what happened. 

“You’re stupid.”  The Mess Specialist who was in charge of our group of cranks looked at me like I was something his shoe had stepped in.  “You can’t get radio down here”, he said.  “That’s a tape.”  He turned to my fellow cranks; “this guy thinks were listening to the radio!  Can you believe it?”  On cue, my band of brothers started laughing along with the Mess Specialist.

Looking back, I don’t know if the other cranks really didn’t get the sarcasm.  This particular Mess Specialist tended to lord it over us in the odious way that only young men new to having authority over other human beings can manage.  They might have gone along with his misconception to avoid antagonizing him.  I can’t blame them; our jobs were miserable enough as it was.

I thought briefly that I should defend myself and explain the sarcasm; that I really did know that it was only a tape, that it is obvious to everyone, including me, that you can’t get an FM radio station under water, through HY-80 steel, from hundreds of miles away- that it was just a way to start a conversation.  But I figured that a group of people who assumed I was that stupid would also assume I was lying to cover up being so stupid.  So I turned back to my dishes and didn’t say a word.

James Taranto and others point out that the onus is on the teller of the tale to know his audience and to tweak the telling so as not to be misunderstood.  I obvious misjudged my audience.  While the vagaries of radio reception might have been obvious to all, it was apparently not obvious to all that it was obvious to all.

Instances where people have taken items of irony, satire or sarcasm literally, (when they’ve “fallen for it”) seem to fall into two categories.  The first is when the writer gives clues to the nature of his piece, but the reader doesn’t catch them.  Sometimes the only clue is the byline date of “April 1st”. 

The second category is more interesting.  These failures of understanding are due to assumptions the reader or listener makes about the person communicating.  Follow the logic: If someone assumes Glenn Beck is stupid, and then he reads something stupid that Glenn Beck says, what’s the point of going meta over it? Take the statement literally and confirm your assumption.  This has happened to Glenn Beck enough that he and his cohosts joke about it.  Many times after he says something outlandish in the course of using hyperbole or other attempts at humor, one of his cohorts will chime in with a “great, now we’ll read about that in Media Matters”. 

The Mess Specialist who was the bane of my cranking experience made an assumption about me.  It was probably borne out of his feelings toward nukes in general that we thought we were smarter than we actually were.  When an opportunity came along to confirm his assumption, he hopped on it with gusto.

A few months later the same Mess Specialist made another false assumption that caused him to misinterpret a message.

The Mess Specialist was standing his submarine board.  This was the final hurdle to qualifying as a submariner and receiving his “dolphins” pin.  It consisted of two chiefs and an officer who asked the candidate questions about the ship and about how to respond in emergencies. 

The Mess Specialist was not doing well.  During the board the two chiefs conferred and agreed that they were going to fail him and make him study more and retake the board.  But first they were going to have some fun with him. 

“What is the shape of the sonar sphere?” one of them asked.  (By the way, yes, this question is just like asking someone “who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?”  The obvious answer is the right answer.)  From the Mess Specialist’s point of view, he had been asked a series of questions of a general nature about the ship that he failed to correctly answer, and now he was being asked a very specific question about a technical feature of one of the ship’s systems.  Assuming that the chiefs were being cruel (they were, just not in the way he thought) and were asking him even harder questions, he couldn’t take it anymore and snapped. “This isn’t fair!” he cried.  “How am I supposed to know what the shape of the sonar sphere is?  I’m not a sonar tech!  You can’t ask those kinds of questions!”

After the chiefs stopped laughing they concluded the board and assigned the Mess Specialist his remediation.  He eventually he did pass a board.  He received his “dolphins” and continued to make life miserable for new arrivals to the ship.  

We make all kinds of assumptions just to get through life.  We drop some and pick up new ones as evidence comes in to prove or disprove them.  One assumption that has proven true is that fact can be stranger than fiction.

A few weeks ago the NPR program “On the Media” did a piece where they had a former editor at the Onion guess which of three outlandish headlines was from the Onion, given that the other two were real headlines that had run the previous week in regular news outfits.  It was not obvious which item was the fake, satirical, headline.  I goes to show that there is enough crazy out there to make the Onion redundant.

Which of the following headlines would you say is real and which would you say is “too ridiculous even for the Onion to run”?

“Undercover CIA operative spends last moments under siege in safe-house contacting fellow CIA operatives.”

 Or:

“Consulate IT administrator spends last moments under siege in safe-house blogging to fellow geeks.”

Be like the Bereans:  read and listen wisely, and test your assumptions.

And be like Paul:  know your audience and shape your message accordingly.

test

test post

The Burden of Proof

One of the benefits of listening to NPR is that the hosts and liberal quests are to some extent off their guard.  The hosts generally toss softballs to like minded folk they are interviewing. 

Which is why when NPR’s science correspondent Christopher Joyce was being interviewed on Talk of the Nation back in August, he said the following concerning supposed missing links in the human evolutionary chain:

” I mean, you could fit all the fossils from this period into a big suitcase.”

The “this period” is the two million years between homo erectus and homo sapien in the darwinian org chart.

That isn’t much to base a humanity destroying, meaning erasing, God-killing theory on.

But it’s not peer-reviewed science!

8/8/12

Interesting post from a blog concerning quantum computing.  I found it via a Slashdot ariticle.

http://wavewatching.net/2012/08/04/lies-damned-lies-and-quantum-statistics/

The pertinent quote is from the mid-point of the post.  He gives this critique of the peer-review process:

“Bose found out the hard way that if you try to publish something that completely goes against the conventional wisdom, and you have to go through a peer review process, your chances of having your paper accepted are almost nil (some things never change).”

It’s obvious he must be a climate change denier.

But it’s not peer-reviewed science!

8/8/12

Interesting post from a blog concerning quantum computing.  I found it via a Slashdot ariticle.

http://wavewatching.net/2012/08/04/lies-damned-lies-and-quantum-statistics/

The pertinent quote is from the mid-point of the post.  He gives this critique of the peer-review process:

“Bose found out the hard way that if you try to publish something that completely goes against the conventional wisdom, and you have to go through a peer review process, your chances of having your paper accepted are almost nil (some things never change).”

It’s obvious he must be a climate change denier.

Hiroshima Anniversary

8/6/12

Today is the 67th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

Much can and has been written about the morality of dropping that bomb. It is a subject I wrestle with and have yet to find a completely satisfactory answer.

Nuclear weapons belong to a special category of weapons and tactics whose use involves the crossing of a threshold. These weapons and tactics include not just nuclear weapons but chemical weapons, biological weapons, and the deliberate targeting of civilians.

In the West, the threshold for the use of weapons and tactics in this category has been first-use by the enemy. Poison gas weapons were possessed by both Germany and the Allies in WWII, but were not used because of a no first-use understanding.

Germany did not start bombing London until the British first bombed Berlin. And of course the British didn’t target Berlin until the Germans had mistakenly bombed Coventry.

Another threshold is desperation. The world averted a worst case scenario when the Soviet Union dissolved relatively peacefully. There were enough nightmare possibilities from that situation to keep a writer of alternate history in potential plots for an entire career.

Having these thresholds does not answer the question of whether the use of the atomic bomb was right in 1945, or if it’s potential use was right during the cold war or now.

Part of the issue with some is the aura of the weapons themselves. For these people, atomic weapons represent much more than just a powerful, compact form of explosives. They are seen as the tool of American power and imperialism. The means by which America bullies the world. The science and technology that goes into the bomb represents all the forces of modernity that seek to strip the humanness from our society and to destroy our fragile environment. The radiation they release is seen as a mysterious, evil force. They are feared as the old pagan gods were feared; they are cold, un-loving entities whose greatest power is the ability to destroy the world. One of the men responsible for creating these devices captured this feeling perfectly when he repeated this pagan quote after the Trinity blast “I am become Shiva, the destroyer of worlds”.

But to reason the moral question of their use we must strip them of this aura. The bomb itself is morally neutral. It could be used to destroy a city. It could be used to excavate a canal. It could be used to divert an asteroid on a collision course with our planet. Only the actions of moral agents can be judged as moral or not.

And that leads to the real question. Can destroying a city be just as morally right as diverting an asteroid that is about to destroy the earth? In other words, can destroying a city, along with all its men, women, children, babies, buildings, art, and books, be morally the right thing to do?
If the answer is no, then it was also wrong to fire bomb Dresden and Tokyo. It was also wrong to threaten the cities of the Soviet Union with destruction under the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction. This Cold-war form of hostage exchange was meaningless without the resolve to carry through with the threat; attack our cities and we will attack yours. If you kill our children, we will kill yours.

Actions, when removed from their context, are as devoid of moral value as inanimate objects are. Sex can be a moral good in the context of marriage. In the context of rape it is evil.

A man lying prone on a roof top with a sniper rifle is a provocative sight. It is hard to picture this being a moral good as he centers a man’s heart in his cross hairs. But what if the targeted man also has a gun, and he is about to kill someone else? The sniper has to make a decision. Kill the man and save the victim, or let the man live and let him kill someone. The sniper can’t escape the decision. Walking away is a choice for the murderer and against the victim.

I believe that this is the heart of the matter. Framing this decision as a choice between a morally good and a morally wrong action is to parse the situation too much. This is really about choosing sides.

To return to the sniper; if he sides with the potential murder victim he has chosen to side with good.  If he decides not to shoot the murderer, he has chosen the side of evil. And he chooses to side with evil even if he has a fit of existential angst, throws his weapon down in disgust, and walks away from the situation. He must choose between good and evil. There is no middle way. There is no morally neutral ground in the conscience of a moral agent.

The alternate history where the atomic bomb was not used against Japan is clear. The preponderance of evidence is that the Japanese would have defended the main islands as fiercely as they did Okinawa. That alternative involves even more death and destruction than the bombs caused.
The only alternative that didn’t involve significant destruction was to accept the Japanese peace conditions. These amounted to little more than a cease fire with Japan still holding Korea and Formosa. The ideology that began the war would have remained intact. Choosing peace on these terms would have meant choosing the side of evil.

Similarly, declaring unilateral nuclear disarmament during the Cold war would have also meant choosing to side with evil. If you are not actively opposed to evil, then you are for it. It is the height of naiveté and delusion to think that a world in which only the Soviets had the bomb would not be a world in total subjugation to the communists. No one needs to imagine what the world would look like with America in sole possession of the bomb; that was the state of the world for almost 5 years after the end of WWII.

I don’t mean to say that these choices are easy, or that anything goes as long as you believe you are on the right side.  It does mean that we can’t make blanket statements about past or potential actions, e.g. the use of atomic weapons is always morally wrong, without examining the context and alternatives. 

The high-minded pseudo-pacifist who looks down on these hard choices needs to contemplate the fulfillment of their decisions.  Who is aided by them? Who is hurt?  Is evil advanced or opposed?

But to drag good and evil into the discussion may be too much.  Those concepts go out of favor when you refuse to contemplate the possibility of God.

Today is the 67…

Today is the 67th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

Much can and has been written about the morality of dropping that bomb. It is a subject I wrestle with and have yet to find a completely satisfactory answer.

Nuclear weapons belong to a special category of weapons and tactics whose use involves the crossing of a threshold. These weapons and tactics include not just nuclear weapons but chemical weapons, biological weapons, and the deliberate targeting of civilians.

In the West, the threshold for the use of weapons and tactics in this category has been first-use by the enemy. Poison gas weapons were possessed by both Germany and the Allies in WWII, but were not used because of a no first-use understanding.

Germany did not start bombing London until the British first bombed Berlin. And of course the British didn’t target Berlin until the Germans had mistakenly bombed Coventry.

Another threshold is desperation. The world averted a worst case scenario when the Soviet Union dissolved relatively peacefully. There were enough nightmare possibilities from that situation to keep a writer of alternate history in potential plots for an entire career.

Having these thresholds does not answer the question of whether the use of the atomic bomb was right in 1945, or if it’s potential use was right during the cold war or now.

Part of the issue with some is the aura of the weapons themselves. For these people, atomic weapons represent much more than just a powerful, compact form of explosives. They are seen as the tool of American power and imperialism. The means by which America bullies the world. The science and technology that goes into the bomb represents all the forces of modernity that seek to strip the humanness from our society and to destroy our fragile environment. The radiation they release is seen as a mysterious, evil force. They are feared as the old pagan gods were feared; they are cold, un-loving entities whose greatest power is the ability to destroy the world. One of the men responsible for creating these devices captured this feeling perfectly when he repeated this pagan quote after the Trinity blast “I am become Shiva, the destroyer of worlds”.

But to reason the moral question of their use we must strip them of this aura. The bomb itself is morally neutral. It could be used to destroy a city. It could be used to excavate a canal. It could be used to divert an asteroid on a collision course with our planet. Only the actions of moral agents can be judged as moral or not.

And that leads to the real question. Can destroying a city be just as morally right as diverting an asteroid that is about to destroy the earth? In other words, can destroying a city, along with all its men, women, children, babies, buildings, art, and books, be morally the right thing to do?
If the answer is no, then it was also wrong to fire bomb Dresden and Tokyo. It was also wrong to threaten the cities of the Soviet Union with destruction under the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction. This Cold-war form of hostage exchange was meaningless without the resolve to carry through with the threat; attack our cities and we will attack yours. If you kill our children, we will kill yours.

Actions, when removed from their context, are as devoid of moral value as inanimate objects are. Sex can be a moral good in the context of marriage. In the context of rape it is evil.

A man lying prone on a roof top with a sniper rifle is a provocative sight. It is hard to picture this being a moral good as he centers a man’s heart in his cross hairs. But what if the targeted man also has a gun, and he is about to kill someone else? The sniper has to make a decision. Kill the man and save the victim, or let the man live and let him kill someone. The sniper can’t escape the decision. Walking away is a choice for the murderer and against the victim.

I believe that this is the heart of the matter. Framing this decision as a choice between a morally good and a morally wrong action is to parse the situation too much. This is really about choosing sides.

When to Leave Your Denomination

August 3, 2012

Mark Tooley has a post concerning the decision to leave your church.

http://juicyecumenism.com/2012/07/22/when-to-leave-your-church/

He links to a radio interview he gave to Moody Radio on the same subject.

Calling it “When to leave your church” is not entirely correct. It’s really about leaving your denomination. Some fortunate souls, like the ones belonging to the Falls Church in northern Virginia, stayed with their local congregations and it was the local congregation that left the larger body. In the case of the Falls Church, they left the Episcopal denomination and joined a separate Anglican governing body.

My family left our ELCA church in 2007. It was a choice five years in the making.

My wife and I agonized over this decision. Should we leave for a denomination that believed as we do, or should we stay as faithful witnesses to the truth and work to change the denomination?

When the ELCA veered off the true Gospel, I knew our leaving was inevitable, yet I still hesitated. God was telling us, in several different ways, that we had to leave. But He wasn’t telling us where to leave to. I put off the actual leaving by saying I would wait till the results of the next synod meeting, or I’ll wait till after our son has his first communion.

Our denomination had abandoned the Good News: that God loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for our sins.  They had replaced it with the idea that what justifies us is not the sacrifice of Christ, but that our natures justify us.  If it is our nature to act a certain way, then that act is not a sin. 

Throwing the Gospel under the bus in order to embrace the larger society’s view of sexuality wasn’t the only thing the ELCA had done.  Along with the Gospel went the idea that we were inherently sinful; the whole concept of original sin.  The very nature of God had to be changed to accommodate the new order of things.  God was no longer the unchanging rock; He became the indecisive, learning/morphing deity of process theology.

Even with these grievous errors and God’s call to leave, I hemmed and hawed between the ideas of leaving and staying to fight.

I remember especially when a dear older woman, full of the Holy Spirit, told us with a big smile on her face, “you need to leave.  You don’t belong here with the frozen-chosen.  ”  A painfully small group of us had been holding a prayer vigil over our synod meeting, hoping that God would bless (or strike) the participants with wisdom and clarity.  We knew it was not going well.  “You’re not the first family I’ve told to leave.  I see families like yours and God tells me to tell them to leave,” she said.  “But why do you stay?” I asked.  “Because God told me a long time ago: ‘Jan, sit down and shut up!’”  She is a dear sister in Christ.

Since we’ve left, my faith-walk has continued and I’ve learned a lot more about how God works in peoples’ lives.  One of the things I’ve learned is that orders come first, and explanations, later.  When God told Abraham to leave Ur and go to a land He would show him, Abraham didn’t know where he was going.  That came later.  After Abraham had done the obedience part. 

So the answer to “when you should leave your denomination?” is simple:  when God tells you to.  Not one second sooner and definitely not five years later.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.