Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Plato (428-348BC): The Symposium.

This is a series of speeches about Love given among friends. One thing that jumps out right away is the deification of love:

"What a strange thing it is, Eryximachus, that, whereas other gods have poems and hymns made in their honour, the great and glorious god, Love, has no encomiast among all the poets who are so many." - The Symposium.

Then there is the Hindus with Krishna being the "Lord of love", and Christians with "God is Love" (1 John 4:8). Same pattern?

The first thing to note is that our English word 'Love' corresponds to multiple Greek words. The subject in The Symposium is Eros, of Love as passion. The Love in 1 John 4:8 is Agape, which is a Love that is perfect, unselfish and caring for others. Thus, Agape love is quite distinct from our animal instincts in their good and bad forms which are much discussed in The Symposium. Then there is the distinction that the Greeks view the gods as having control over the subject matter, whereas Christians view Love (Agape) as emanating from God's character.

With Socrates there, we are going to get to the core of what the Greeks view loving as being about:

"Remember further what you said in your speech, or if you do not remember I will remind you: you said that the love of the beautiful set in order the empire of the gods, for that of deformed things there is no love-did you not say something of that kind?

Yes, said Agathon.
Yes, my friend, and the remark was a just one. And if this is true, Love is the love of beauty and not of deformity?

He assented.
And the admission has been already made that Love is of something which a man wants and has not?

True, he said.
Then Love wants and has not beauty?" - The Symposium

The degeneracy of this love should now start to become clear. The beauty of the loved entices us and brings us desire so that the love seems to be quite selfish at root. Compare that to the following:

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." - Romans 5:8.

Because we were sinners, there was nothing beautiful or desirable in us, yet God's love was still operational to the point of His son going to die. Certainly our beauty is not what this is all about, but rather our deformity.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758): 30 hours in Hell.

Or to put it another way, I listened to 30 hours of his sermons in which Hell featured strongly as something to be avoided. For example:

"If you die unconverted, you will have the worse place in hell for having had a seat or place in God's house in this world." - Many Mansions

Thus, those who unrepentently attend church are warned so that even a sermon about Heaven features Hell. He goes on to tell the story of a dying man and his admonition:

"The first of them was much in expressing his sense of the vast importance of an interest in Christ, as I was a witness, and was earnest in calling on others to improve their time, to be thorough, to get an interest in Christ, and seemed very desirous that young people might receive council and warning from him, as the words of a dying man, to do their utmost to make sure of conversion; ..."

Yes, the Gospel message is for young people. This was clearly a different era. Today, we are taught that young people need to get a re-written, Disneyized version of the Gospel. Then they graduate to a faux scholarly version, or maybe a psycho-therapist type, or one that quotes trendy authors and metaphors in an effort to acquire respectability. Edwards has none of this. Just the straight stuff on the good, the bad and the spiritually ugly. It makes me feel like even today's fundamentalist Christians are getting soft and squishy. A library of works was left by Edwards, but Librivox only has this one set of sermons recorded. Wondering what all I missed ...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A rainy day at Sacramento Old Town. This is the perfect stop half way between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe - especially when your nerves have been jarred by 40 miles of driving with snow chains on. We stopped by a coffee shop for a nice lunch and some hot apple cider.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

My car is clearly recognized as the one in the middle.

It's a bit old fashioned in the era of the SUV, but it just doesn't seem right to have a winter trip without installing tire chains.

Chains chatter as we drive the way up towards Donner Pass.

News from the Darwinistas ...

The BBC article claims that from the time of the extinction of the dinosaurs, the remaining small rodent-like mammals were able to "go nuts" and develop into a vast array of large mammals, and all this within a period of "25 millions years".

Since I am in an optimization theory mood again, let's give this a look: The assertion is that mammals, with a 3-billion base-pair DNA encoding, optimized themselves for a biological niche within 25 million years. If we assume one generation per year, the result is absolutely fabulous: Evolutionary optimization methods are order-0: That is they do not consider any derivatives. In optimization theory, we bring in calculus and compute convergence rates based on Taylor Series expansions. The more derivatives, the higher the expansion, and the faster the convergence rate. A simple 1st order method (i.e. 1st order derivatives only) can require 1000's of iterations for decent convergence when only dealing with 2 variables. A second order method can have nice convergence, but computing all the 1st and 2nd order derivatives by non-analytical means can be at least of order n*n cost (n is the number of parameters). For 0-order methods, we expect the number of iterations to be vastly more than the number of parameters, not vastly less as is required by Darwinism.

What is missing from the BBC article is that the "25 million years" didn't only result in new species optimized for various niches, but almost certainly produced a system of global symbiotic ecological balance. In other words, the various species of mammals, along with species of plants and non-mammal animals, were also part of this grand symbiotic optimization. Essentially we have a tightly coupled optimization problem with all the biodiversity of life being optimized in one swoop, and it only took less than 25 million iterations, using a 0-order method. Amazing!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Yesterday we did some easy snow shoeing. Today Mrs. Looney joined me for a more substantial climb. Can't believe we made it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful for a little dusting of snow.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sharia Law and Oklahoma ...

The voters of Oklahoma put a bill through declaring that judges could not consider Sharia law. A few moments later, a Muslim filed suit claiming that this violated his right to practice his religion, and a judge ruled the law unconstitutional. Duh!

Anyway, this requires a little reflection. Does the inability to impose Sharia Law constitute a restriction on religion? The all-religions-are-alike mentality of modernism says 'of course not'. Religion is strictly an internal thing and a sensible person does not let his internal spirituality effect his externals in any noticeable way. People who do otherwise are crazed fundamentalist extremists. In the case of Islam, however, the rules change and we suddenly start acknowledging that there is more to religion than the internal state. So yes, anyone can choose to follow Sharia Law, but does that really constitute the religion? What if the religion isn't the voluntary adherence to Sharia Law, but rather the involuntary imposition of Sharia Law on others? If this is the case, then the judge is certainly correct - that America's courts must have the option of involuntarily imposing Sharia Law onto US citizens in order to uphold freedom of religion for a Sharia Law adherent who might reside in the community! It will be fun to see how all this works out.
Democracy, UK style.

Sounds a bit like Iran over there.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mission Santa Cruz.

Yes, there is a small mission in Santa Cruz that was livened up by the big enthusiasm of a lady named Julie who gave us a tour. Thanks, Julie.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Hornet - CVS-12

This WW2/Korean War relic is parked just down the road in Alameda. We were doing a tour today and stopped by to get a quick look. Eventually I need to go back and do some exploring.
Airport Security pondering.

This topic should begin by reading about security in Israel, where the situation is much more threatening than here in the US, but effective security is accomplished without groping and/or making nude photos of all the passengers. The problem, of course, is that it involves what we call "profiling": the notion that an elderly nun behaving normally is less likely to be a threat than a skittish young man who shows up in the records as having been traveling to places like Yemen. Political Correctness says that it is better for a major city to be blotted out than to return to "profiling". Of course profiling is simply another word for discrimination. The end result sends costs through the roof and forces all Americans to equally suffer the indignities of being groped. Call this a 'win' for terrorism.

This does remind me of the banking crisis: Through the Community Reinvestment Act, congress reached out and groped the banking industry, forcing them to abandon 'profiling' in giving loans - that is they were banned from determining if someone could repay the loans. This had the predictable unhappy ending with America's collective wallet being groped to make things right. Following this, we now have a health insurance system where profiling is banned, which is going to put the unlimited health care costs from an unreformed, government organized health cartel swarming with malpractice lawyers onto the productive parts of the economy. Again, the economy is being groped, but now from a different angle than was done regarding banking and housing. The common denominator to all this is political correctness and its banning of profiling.

Going back to profiling as discrimination, this topic needs some more of a look. In the earlier history of America, we ranked people based on their skin color, which was certainly a form of discrimination that we thankfully consider bad. On the other hand, we must admit that the human brain is a discrimination machine. We make judgments about all kinds of things from the bits of data we gather. If someone is dirty and smells of alcohol, we judge one thing. If another is neat, clean and polite, we judge something else. There are a thousand other cues that cause us to classify people in our subconsciences according to inductive reasoning. Is this wrong? The evolutionary view must be that these tendencies evolved in a human due to considerations of survival of the fittest, thus I can't see how discrimination could be viewed as wrong under any circumstances for Darwinistas. As a Christian, I view the human's tendency to discriminate as something that God created in us and gave us for a purpose. As with all human abilities, however, it can be used for good or bad. Christians consider the nature of man to be corrupt causing are discrimination habits to be corrupt. Thus, it is that we need to learn to judge and discriminate in ways that are more wise and sensible, not simply dispense with judgment. There is a better way for the Christian:

"But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heard.'" - 1 Samuel 16:7

Thus, the Christian believes there is a better way, although it is hard since we can't look at people's hearts. The airport screeners in Israel, however, are trained to look at other indicators and discriminate accordingly.

The irony of our current situation should now be clear: We are governed by atheists and theistic-atheists who believe in evolution, which considers discrimination to be an unconditional good imparted to mankind by their god, Mother Nature. In practice, however, they consider discrimination to be an unconditional evil so that it must be universally banned with no exceptions. Probably something between those extremes would be a better position.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Doctrine Of Fascism (1932).

This was credited to Mussolini (1883-1945). Today a Fascist is anyone who holds a political view you don't like. I thought it might be good to hear what they had to say for themselves. In this essay a number of political systems are compared in order to clarify what Fascism is or isn't. The first to be debunked is 19th century liberalism: The belief in individual liberty, free markets, and a minimalist government to maintain order. This he pronounces to be dead, which is indeed true for Europe. In the US, this corresponds to the modern Tea Party movement and president Reagan, who was the only president who believed this since the 19th century. In practice, however, the 19th century liberalism is dead in the US also because it can never muster enough votes to make its beliefs last for more than a short while.

One doesn't need to go far in this work to find out that Fascism is idolatry of The State:

"Anti-individualistic, the Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State, which stands for the conscience and the universal, will of man as a historic entity."

It goes on like this sounding as totalitarian as Communism. A difference is that Fascism affirms the traditions of religion - making them an extension of the state - whereas Communism is explicitly atheist and anti-religion. In practice, however, this distinction shrinks considerably as Communists have frequently tolerated religion, but insisted on appointing the priests. An additional sense of the divergence is here:

Fascism is therefore opposed to Socialism to which unity within the State (which amalgamates classes into a single economic and ethical reality) is unknown, and which sees in history nothing but the class struggle. Fascism is likewise opposed to trade unionism as a class weapon. But when brought within the orbit of the State, Fascism recognizes the real needs which gave rise to socialism and trade unionism, giving them due weight in the guild or corporative system in which divergent interests are coordinated and harmonized in the unity of the State"

Fascism deals with classes by making them serve the state in their own appropriate way. Communism simply makes a single slave class of everyone. The modern leftist exploits class and culture warfare to keep society in a constant state of tension and upheaval. Regarding morality and virtue, we have this:

Let no one think of denying the moral character of Fascism. For I should be ashamed to speak from this tribune if I did not feel that I represent the moral and spiritual powers of the state. What would the state be if it did not possess a spirit of its own, and a morality of its own, which lend power to the laws in virtue of which the state is obeyed by its citizens?"

And so we see that the Fascist views the state as an upholder of morality. This isn't too different from Communism either. It should be noted that the source of that morality and virtue isn't explicitly referred to, but I have a sense that it is mixed with a bit of nostalgia for former Roman glory.

Considering the modernist leftist, they too seem to idolize the state, but in a more limited sense as the notions of individualism haven't been entirely dispensed with. A common notion to all the major leftist movements is total control over education:

Thus many of the practical expressions of Fascism such as party organization, system of education, and discipline can only be understood when considered in relation to its general attitude toward life. A spiritual attitude."

There are several more statements. Fascists, Communists and modern Leftists all consider the brain to be property of The State. Where things split, however, is that Fascists and Communists believe in upholding virtue and restraining vice, whereas modern Leftists believe in upholding vice and restraining virtue.

Going back to 19th century liberalism, it is clear that this system cannot work without a citizenry that is virtuous. Since virtue is not the natural state that humans are born into, it must be passed on by education and coercion. This, however, would seem to contradict the premise of liberty. The Libertarian correction considers the passing on of virtue to the next generation as anti-Liberty and so introduces a ban on virtue, at least in any way that would elevate it above vice. It would seem that this system can work, but only for one generation. It is good to see that the world of ideas is much more complex than simply left and right. And nothing is workable in the long run.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758): Hypocrites Deficient in the Duty of Prayer.

An hour of rhetoric was dedicated to expounding the above. This mainly has me thinking on the word Hypocrite and the various uses. The original word was used for an actor in a play, who is trying to play as someone he isn't. Humans, however, learn by mimicking others, so there is nothing extraordinary in this. In our modern, popular discourse it is more along the lines of someone whose actions deviate from their intentions or ideals. Again, besides distinguishing us from the other animals, this isn't too helpful. There is also a variant where a hypocrite is someone who sets out to do something, but then abandons the effort as soon as it becomes the least bit difficult.

The modern usage, however, is for someone whose moral standards exceed their behavior. This is greatly condemned. Given that humans are famously deficient of whatever standard is set, there would seem to be only one possible way to correct this failing: Dispense with the moral code altogether. Unfortunately that isn't possible either, since even the worst human beings have some moral code, althoiugh it might be quite brief.

What bothers me about Jonathan Edwards sermon is that it uses Hypocrite to refer to common people who engage in public prayer as situations arise, yet do not pray in private. Certainly it is a form of hypocrisy or pretentiousness, but going along with the culture is something we all do. Yes, we should pray to God always and keep our thoughts on Him. The Bible, however, uses things differently:

"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full." - Matthew 6:5

The hypocrite isn't merely passively following the culture, but rather exploiting it, extending it, and pushing the envelope in order to gain attention for his spirituality. God, however, is completely outside of his field of view. The other thing I note is that most of the references to hypocrites in the Bible are to educated teachers. The modern words that seem to fit this version of hypocrite more closely are duplicity and mendacity. It isn't just the false pretenses, but the wicked intentions that are behind the dishonesty, and frequently the intention of doing tremendous harm.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

A bit rude ...

We have a crossing to the Fremont Central Park that has a bit of tension. Formally it is supposed to be closed, but signs are put up periodically indicating we aren't supposed to do this. As long as the signs are put up politely, and everyone ignores them politely, the rules are sufficiently acknowledged and bureaucracy is appeased. But then some hooligans (are hooligans only English?) took offense, tore the sign out of the ground, and threw it into the creek. I wish people could be a bit more civilized. On the other hand, things are much worse in some nearby areas.
California Supreme Court: Taxpayers must pay to subsidize college tuition for illegals.

As California's tuition hikes keep coming one after another, this is a bit of news that will be unwelcome to those who have to pay their way. According to the article, there are 25,000 illegal college students in the state, which works out to a subsidy of perhaps $250 million per year. The University of California has been infamously seeking more (legal) foreign and out-of-state students to make up funding shortfalls, which means reducing the number of in-state students. Add to this that the state is already bankrupt...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758): Regarding Public Works Projects.

So far I have found little to take exception to in Edwards sermon, but there is a portion of this one that grabbed my ears - besides the title:

"So if man obtain his subordinate ends ever so fully; yet if he altogether fail of his ultimate end, he is wholly an useless creature. Thus if men be very useful in temporal things to their families, or greatly promote the temporal interest of the neighborhood, or of the public; yet if no glory be brought to God by it, they are altogether useless. If men actively bring no glory to God, they are, as to their own activity, altogether useless, how much soever they may promote the benefit of one another. How much soever one part of mankind may subserve another; yet if the end of the whole be not answered, every part is useless." - Wicked Men Useful In Their Destruction Only.

My sense is that Edwards has considered the Purpose Driven Life far more thoroughly than Rick Warren did. Setting that aside, my primary thought on this is that Christians should join in and be active on community efforts, even if the stated purpose isn't the glorification of Christ. Our role as useful citizens will serve as a testimony, even in societies that are wholly given over to evil. In some sense I believe that this is due to a greater purpose that God has, but typically an activity can be subordinate to multiple ultimate ends. The readily visible ultimate end might be trivial, but the true ultimate end of everything can still be served.
Christian Basics: Eternal Punishment.

Since I am immersed temporarily in Jonathan Edwards sermons, I was tempted to adapt his style, but will hold off on that. Not enough time to prepare a one hour sermon!

"'Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.'" - Matthew 25:46

This is from the parable of the sheep and the goats that Jesus told, but it is quite explicit that the punishment is eternal, not merely final followed by non-existence.

"Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment." - Hebrews 6:1-2

It is thus an elementary teaching that the judgment leads us off onto an eternal destination. At the same time, Christianity has no concept of the termination of souls. Besides this, we must consider that the fires are eternal, but why have them to be eternal if the destruction is immediate?

Does any of this matter?

There is the story of Jesus dining with a Pharisee where he is anointed by a sinful woman. As it says:

"'Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.'" - Luke 7:47

The Pharisee was able in some sense to have fellowship with Jesus, yet because he did not recognize the severity of his sins, he was unable to truly love. The woman, on the other hand, was quite clear on the magnitude of her sins, thus, her love was all the greater. Those who recognize how great the magnitude of the disaster that waits upon them will tend to be all the more appreciative at the salvation. The annihilationist viewpoint vastly diminishes the punishment to the point where many will simply say, "Oh well, I didn't win the eternal lottery". I see the whole exercise of arguing against eternal punishment as something which inevitably leads to a lukewarm Christianity and empty church pews.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Handicapped ... but not in matching colors.

This was seen at the wilderness trail head parking area.
Jonathan Edwards: On Reason and Knowledge.

Having listened to a few hours of Jonathan Edwards, I am certainly warming up to him. He is more fundamentalist than a fundamentalist, yet at the same time he lived and preached before the modernist era got going. Modernist believe that they were the first humans to discover the brain and reason, so let's see what Edwards has to say in contrast:

"2. Without knowledge in divinity, none would differ from the most ignorant and barbarous heathens. ...
3. If a man have no knowledge of these things, the faculty of reason in him will be wholly in vain. The faculty of reason and understanding was given for actual understanding and knowledge. If a man have no actual knowledge, the faculty or capacity of knowing is of no use to him. And if he have actual knowledge, yet if he be destitute of the knowledge of those things which are the last end of his being, and for the sake of the knowledge of which he had more understanding given him than the beasts; then still his faculty of reason is in vain; he might as well have been a beast, as a man with this knowledge." - The Importance and Advantage of a Thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth.

Comparing Edwards to modern fundamentalist, I find him to be more ordered in his thoughts, less likely to use football metaphors, and fairly solid in terms of what he says about Biblical studies background items.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Jonathan Edwards and Anselm regarding God's honor.

This topic should start by noting that we are in the latter stages of Democracy as described by Polybius where there is no honor for anything or anyone. Do we not compete among our friends to see who can make the most contemptuous remarks regarding politicians? Is there anyone - other than Lady Gaga - for whom we all have respect? Even the queen of England is mocked. Parents are despised by their children, if they can find them. School teachers lock themselves in their offices to protect themselves from the children. Restricting ourselves to Christians, do we honor our pastors and elders? So we go into this topic recognizing that we are living in an age that despises honor. But what does the Bible teach:

"Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor." - 2 Peter 1:17

Ooops. My attitude needs an adjustment.

Shortly after reading Anselm's works I had read that Anselm was the author of the notion that man's salvation was tied up in the requirement of God's honor. This surprised me. It wasn't because I had missed this, but rather that Anselm presented God's honor in an incidental way as if it were a presupposition that everyone agreed upon. Here is an example:

"Someone who does not render to God this honour due to him is taking away from God what is his, and dishonouring God, and this is what it is to sin." - Why God Became Man.11

"But God rightly punishes sinners, not for nothing but for something: for, as I have said in my book mentioned above, he demands the honour due to him from unwilling sinners which they did not wish to render freely, and he places them apart from the just in due order so that nothing should be out of place in his kingdom." - Virgin Conception and Original Sin.6

The latter is in response to another point that Anselm discussed - that sin was actually nothing.

I thought it would be good to ponder this a little further from our modernist perspective. If someone is expecting honor, our instinct is to take him out back and beat him up. But what if we are on life support and the person happens to be the only one who can operate the life support system? Do we beat him up then? What if he actually is the one and only life support system? Going further, what if that person had the sole power to make our life either pleasant or unpleasant?

Taking this further, it seems to me that many conceptualize God as a god - a spiritual being that exists off in some unreachable dimension - yet they do not have a notion of God as God. That is they do not accept that the universe owes its existence and continued functioning due to God's governance, nor do they acknowledge any good having come their way due to God's providence. He is simply some bloke who is seeking honor and maybe tossed them a pence once or twice.

Moving back to the real world, the honor that is given - or demanded - is done so that anarchy can by avoided. If the bosses are ignored, the plant will shut down. If the judge is despised, criminals will go unhindered. Honor is required for a reason. Moving forward from Anselm, this is what Jonathan Edwards has to say:

"It was utterly inconsistent with the honour of the divine attributes to save any one of the fallen children of men, as they were in themselves. It could not have been done had not God contrived a way consistent with the honour of his holiness, majesty, justice, and truth. But since God in the gospel has revealed that nothing is too hard for him to do, nothing beyond the reach of his power, and wisdom, and sufficiency; and since Christ has wrought out the work of redemption, and fulfilled the law by obeying, there is none of mankind whom he may not save without any prejudice to any of his attributes, excepting those who have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost." - God's Sovereignty in the Salvation of Men.

As the title indicates, God is sovereign when it comes to salvation. The notion that we can dishonor him as we please and then put Him under obligation to save us anyway is, well .... nuts.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Some more views from the Golden Gate Bridge.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758): Agony and Prayer meetings.

"And therefore in Luke 13:24. "Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able;" the word in the original, translated strive, is agwnizesqe. "Agonize, to enter in at the strait gate." The word is especially used for that sort of strife, which in those days was exhibited in the Olympic games, in which men strove for the mastery in running, wrestling, and other such kinds of exercises; and a prize was set up that was bestowed on the conqueror. Those, who thus contended, were, in the language then in use, said to agonize. Thus the apostle in his epistle to the Christians of Corinth, a city of Greece, where such games were annually exhibited, says in allusion to the strivings of the combatants, "And every man that striveth for the mastery," in the original, every one that agonizeth, "is temperate in all things." The place where those games were held was called Agwn, or the place of agony; and the word is particularly used in Scripture for that striving in earnest prayer wherein persons wrestle with God:they are said to agonize, or to be in agony, in prayer." - Christ's Agony.

Αγωνια (Agonia) should be the Greek word. I spent a little time trying to track the original linking of Agon to the Olympics, but wasn't successful. On the other hand, it is quite clear that Edward's interpretation is generally accepted due to web sites like this. Having been in bicycle racing, I can certainly appreciate the linking of agony to the striving to win a competition. Then again, I know of certain meetings that I felt were agony, and no doubt countless people consider prayer meetings to be agony, although they certainly aren't striving to do anything except survive.

Much of what Jonathan Edwards is preaching on is the Agony of Jesus' final hours as the crucifixion approaches:

"And being in agony, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground." - Luke 22:44

Edwards' interpretation is that we should have the notion of "striving" as much in our mind here as we do of pain, because Jesus is truly striving in his prayers with God for our salvation as well as the suffering he is about to endure. In the application part Edwards argues that we too should strive/agonize with God in our prayers.

This had me thinking about prayer meetings. One of the aberrant features of my personality is that I like prayer meetings. When I was growing up long ago in the south our Wednesday night prayer meetings would have perhaps 40 or 50 people joining together. I miss those times. A normal prayer meeting these days seems to have 4 or 5, all of whom are on staff and under an obligation to join the meeting. Do Christians pray any more? This led me to think about the famous prayer meeting in the book of Jonah chapter 1. It is sad when the pagans pray more readily than the Christians. Anyway, Christians are supposed to join together and agonize in prayer. What could be more exciting?
We're Number (Thirty..) One!

31st being the US ranking for math performance compared to other industrialized countries. Among the US states, California ranks #34 out of 50. It should be noted that Texas comes in at #18 on the US state rankings. Does managing cattle herds really take more mental skills than raising marijuana? Or maybe the Texans do better because they don't smoke their cows. (Note: I am chewing on smoked Texas jerky.) This certainly begs for more research dollars.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758): Regarding Pharisees.

"What had passed in the preceding discourse naturally occasioned Christ to observe this; because the disciples had been telling how others did not know him, but were generally mistaken about him, and divided and confounded in their opinions of him: but Peter had declared his assured faith, that he was the Son of God. Now it was natural to observe, how it was not flesh and blood that had revealed it to him, but God: for if this knowledge were dependent on natural causes or means, how came it to pass that they, a company of poor fishermen, illiterate men, and persons of low education, attained to the knowledge of the truth; while the Scribes and Pharisees, men of vastly higher advantages, and greater knowledge and sagacity in other matters, remained in ignorance? This could be owing only to the gracious distinguishing influence and revelation of the Spirit of God." - Sermons of Jonathan Edwards.

Today the term "Pharisee" is a four-letter word used to describe people who are ignorant and have a strong sense of right and wrong that isn't merely politically correct - someone like the Apostle Peter! Apparently Paul used to be a Christian, but on the Damascus road he saw the light, and converted to being a Pharisee! Then there are James, Jude and John who would be characterized as super-Pharisees in today's climate. It is good to see that Jonathan Edwards gets things right.

So I should add in a disclaimer here: I am a Pharisee - per the original definition. That means I am educated, and I like playing with ideas. I think highly of my intellectual abilities. I both like to teach others and believe myself to be sufficiently qualified to do such. This makes me a Pharisee ... and an intellectual. Most intellectuals think that these traits give us some sort of advantage when processing the Bible and looking for spiritual insights. The problem is that this kind of conceit is in direct conflict what the Bible teaches:

"At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.'" - Luke 10:21

With some rare exceptions like Nicodemus, the Pharisees seem to be the most out of touch regarding Jesus, unless we are to talk of the Sadducees who have some modernist tendencies and are even more confused. As a Pharisee, I am frequently offended at the simple understanding of the uneducated. But then I have to restrain this and acknowledge that those simple, uneducated people are frequently nearer to God than I am. To the extent that Christianity is a relationship with the risen Lord, rather than an intellectual enterprise, they are often far superior to me.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758): Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.

Jonathan Edwards was a popular preacher earlier in American history. Librivox.org has a collection of his sermons audioized so I have started listening to them. Edwards' most famous sermon is the first. This one is on the subject of Hell - a topic which makes modern theologians either howl or squirm in obvious discomfort. The former are convinced that the notion of Hell was some sort of heretical corruption of the meaning of the Bible. If I understand their hermeneutic correctly, they go through each passage that is considered to be speaking of Hell, determine that there is some other remotely plausible meaning, and then declare the orthodox interpretation to be wrong. To give an independent example of the methodology, consider a famous classical story: If we determined that there had actually occurred a real historical race between a tortoise and a hare in ancient Greece, we could then deduce that there was no intended message about human character in this fable of Aesop! Pretty much all of Christianity can be dispensed with this way, but they are more selective.

The squirming pastors are the other sort. They seem to think that young people are just too sensitive. If we offend them with all this gore, what will they do? Common sense says that they will stay home and play a wildly offensive video game or watch a Friday the 13th flick, but pastors are still some how afraid. Eventually this sermon will need a sequel: Intellectuals in the Hands of an Angry God. Meanwhile, if you have 45 minutes to, um, kill, you can hear these classic sermons on audio: Part 1 and Part 2.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Boethius (480AD - 524?): Providence and the State of Rhode Island.

The latter portion of Boethius' prison writings include a discussion of Providence as compared to Fate, Fortune and Chance. I don't generally like to say things like 'he was fortunate' or 'I was lucky', because God's Providence is over all things. Here is Boethius on this:

"The coming into being of all things, the whole course of development in things that change, every sort of thing that moves in any wise, receives its due cause, order, and form from the steadfastness of the Divine mind. This mind, calm in the citadel of its own essential simplicity, has decreed that the method of its rule shall be manifold. Viewed in the very purity of the Divine intelligence, this method is called providence; but viewed in regard to those things which it moves and disposes, it is what the ancients called fate. That these two are different will easily be clear to anyone who passes in review their respective efficacies. Providence is the Divine reason itself, seated in the Supreme Being, which disposes all things; fate is the disposition inherent in all things which move, through which providence joins all things in their proper order. Providence embraces all things, however different, however infinite; fate sets in motion separately individual things, and assigns to them severally their position, form, and time." - The Consolation of Philosophy

Eventually the discussion moves to Causality and God's foreknowledge vs. Man's free will, but clearly Providence is a key concept. The note at the end of the book says that Boethius died a cruel death.

Regarding the title of this post, the State of Rhode Island's formal name is this: "The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations". During the last election, a measure was included to eliminate "and Providence Plantations" from the name. The opponents of Providence argued that Providence was associated with the slave trade. The proponents argued back that the author of the name, Roger Williams, had been an ardent opponent of slavery. In the end, the effort to remove Providence from the State of Rhode Island failed.

All this, however, goes back to Boethius. If everything is governed by Providence, are we really free to do anything? Or are we simply slaves to a chain of causality? In this he sees free will as something real that God gives us so that we truly do have freedom. Thus, I will give he last word to Boethius regarding the condition of human slavery:

"But when they are given over to vices, and fall from the possession of their proper reason, then indeed their condition is utter slavery."

Friday, November 05, 2010

How to make Chinese dumplings.

Boethius (480AD - 524?): Some theological themes.

The two themes I have picked were followed up by Anselm in more detail. The first is the belief that God is the essence for which no greater essence can be conceive. Anselm was criticized for providing almost no references in his work. Here is a similar notion from Boethius:

"The common belief of all mankind agrees that God, the supreme of all things, is good. For since nothing can be imagined better than God, how can we doubt Him to be good than whom there is nothing better? Now, reason shows God to be good in such wise as to prove that in Him is perfect good. For were it not so, He would not be supreme of all things; for there would be something else more excellent, possessed of perfect good, which would seem to have the advantage in priority and dignity, since it has clearly appeared that all perfect things are prior to those less complete. Wherefore, lest we fall into an infinite regression, we must acknowledge the supreme God to be full of supreme and perfect good. But we have determined that true happiness is the perfect good; therefore true happiness must dwell in the supreme Deity." - The Consolation Of Philosophy.

A second theme that Anselm seems to pick up from Boethius is that evil really amounts to nothing:

"'Now, there is nothing which One who is all-powerful cannot do.'


'But can God do evil, then?'

'Nay; by no means.'

'Then, evil is nothing,' said she, 'since He to whom nothing is impossible is unable to do evil.'"

Thus, Boethius was stuck in a prison cell pondering nothing.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Boethius (480AD - 524?): Looking for something distinctly Christian.

It is tempting to see Christian views in many pagan discussions of God when the names are removed. Having read a number of classical Greek and Roman works, it is clear that the distinctions can be a bit of a challenge. Boethius is constantly referring to classical philosophy, with references to God scattered about, but not in any distinctively Christian way. The following poem, however, does have a number of elements that are distinctly Christian, especially the one about seeing God's face:

"Maker of earth and sky, from age to age
Who rul'st the world by reason; at whose word
Time issues from Eternity's abyss:
To all that moves the source of movement, fixed
Thyself and moveless. Thee no cause impelled
Extrinsic this proportioned frame to shape
From shapeless matter; but, deep-set within
Thy inmost being, the form of perfect good,
From envy free; and Thou didst mould the whole
To that supernal pattern. Beauteous
The world in Thee thus imaged, being Thyself
Most beautiful. So Thou the work didst fashion
In that fair likeness, bidding it put on
Perfection through the exquisite perfectness
Of every part's contrivance. Thou dost bind
The elements in balanced harmony,
So that the hot and cold, the moist and dry,
Contend not; nor the pure fire leaping up
Escape, or weight of waters whelm the earth.
Thou joinest and diffusest through the whole,
Linking accordantly its several parts,
A soul of threefold nature, moving all.
This, cleft in twain, and in two circles gathered,
Speeds in a path that on itself returns,
Encompassing mind's limits, and conforms
The heavens to her true semblance. Lesser souls
And lesser lives by a like ordinance
Thou sendest forth, each to its starry car
Affixing, and dost strew them far and wide
O'er earth and heaven. These by a law benign
Thou biddest turn again, and render back
To thee their fires. Oh, grant, almighty Father,
Grant us on reason's wing to soar aloft
To heaven's exalted height; grant us to see
The fount of good; grant us, the true light found,
To fix our steadfast eyes in vision clear
On Thee. Disperse the heavy mists of earth,
And shine in Thine own splendour. For Thou art
The true serenity and perfect rest
Of every pious soul—to see Thy face,
The end and the beginning—One the guide,
The traveller, the pathway, and the goal." - The Consolation Of Philosophy

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Boethius (480AD - 524?): Regarding Happy Meals.

"Happiness is the one end which all created beings seek."

"All mortal creatures in those anxious aims which find employment in so many varied pursuits, though they take many paths, yet strive to reach one goal—the goal of happiness."

"For that which each seeks in preference to all else, that is in his judgment the supreme good. And we have defined the supreme good to be happiness." - The Consolation Of Philosophy

Augustine also noted that philosophers had claimed that happiness was the end goal, although he noted the hopelessness and irrationality of humans embracing such a goal. I tend to view the supreme good as caring for others. Happiness may not be the result, but so be it.

Having just listened to the above quotes, I arrived home to see that the city of San Francisco was taking a stand against happiness - at least in the form of McDonald's Happy Meal toys. Do they not know about philosophy? On the other hand, they do seem so concerned about happiness that they will not restrict the taking of drugs or renting the services of a sex slave. I am at a loss to know what the principles are behind the decision making.
From the top of Rose Peak in the fog. There is always something special about the peaceful solitude being up here in these conditions. There wasn't anyone out on the trail past Sunol Park.

Boethius (480AD - 524?): Revisionism ...

"It may be thou knowest not of the banishment of Anaxagoras, of the poison draught of Socrates, nor of Zeno's torturing, because these things happened in a distant country; yet mightest thou have learnt the fate of Arrius, of Seneca, of Soranus, whose stories are neither old nor unknown to fame. These men were brought to destruction for no other reason than that, settled as they were in my principles, their lives were a manifest contrast to the ways of the wicked." - The Consolation Of Philosophy

This stood out to me because Seneca, although a philosopher, was certainly not executed for being a philosopher, nor was he known for acting like a philosopher, but only talking philosophy. Nero had him killed when he had gone mad. Then there is the bit about Arrius. I am wondering a bit about Boethius after reading this. He seems to be romanticizing things. But then there is this:

"The whole of this earth's globe, as thou hast learnt from the demonstration of astronomy, compared with the expanse of heaven, is found no bigger than a point; that is to say, if measured by the vastness of heaven's sphere, it is held to occupy absolutely no space at all."

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Election Day: Voting in a new crew for the Titanic.

That is my feeling about today's vote. Does it matter? The US fiscal situation is sinking. The Democrats will try to run the ship into the ice berg again, as this is what leftism is all about. The Republicans have an idea that a ship is supposed to float, but even if they knew more than that - something that is questionable - they can't stop the flow.