Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Another Something I Don't Get

Lady Gaga.
Why we let the media push us around and control our worldviews
Why a person who makes popular music thinks he/she is an expert in anything else and therefore should have a platform
Addictions and addicted people
How a person who has written a lot of books can get away with putting out trash

Monday, June 28, 2010

From Charles Colson's BreakPoint Ministry--And I Heartily Agree

Broken Genome Promises
Identifying the Weak

June 28, 2010

Ten years ago, then-president Clinton told Americans that mapping the human genome would "revolutionize the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of most, if not all, human diseases."

But as the New York Times reported recently, a decade after the mapping of the human genome, the "genetic map [has yielded] few new cures."

The primary goal of the project—discovering the "genetic roots of common disease" and then finding cures—"remains elusive." In fact, the Times reports, "geneticists are almost back to square one in knowing where to look for the roots of common disease."

Unfortunately, there's more to this story than yet another case of failing to live up to the scientists' hype. That's because while genetics' potential to heal may be almost back to square one, the same can't be said for its potential to harm.

Genomics may not be able to cure illnesses, but it can prevent illnesses by identifying those in utero who are genetically at risk.

Take the recent announcement that scientists had "uncovered dozens of previously unknown genetic mutations that contribute to autism in children."

Notwithstanding what you may have heard, these findings bring us no closer to "curing" autism. On the contrary, the study shows how difficult it will be to "design drug therapies that work across a wide range of autistic spectrum disorders."

Now it doesn't take a genetics scientist to figure out the road we're heading down. If we can identify fetuses who carry genetic markers for autism, but we can't find a cure for them, what's likely to happen? We'll see an increase in abortions. Exactly what happened to people with Down syndrome—92 percent of whom now, after prenatal diagnosis, follow with an abortion.

There is no reason to believe that prenatal diagnoses of autism, or even a predisposition to autism, would be all that different. Prospective parents of children with less-challenging genetic prognoses abort their unborn children in a majority of the cases.

Raising an autistic child—whose dependence may extend beyond the age of 18 and whose needs can exhaust even the most dedicated and loving parent—is a scary prospect.

As I've also discovered, however, with my grandson Max, it can be a huge blessing.

Now this doesn' t take into account expense. We know that keeping medical costs down right now is a national priority. So it's easy to understand why parents are strongly encouraged to undergo genetic screening. The least-expensive way to care for people with special needs is to prevent them from being born. So the pressure will mount on parents to abort babies with genetic issues.

If this sounds familiar, that's because it was the "near future" depicted in the film Gattaca. That came out three years before Clinton's announcement. Film director Andrew Niccol saw where our brave new world of genetic screening would lead. A tool to enhance human life could end up becoming a tool to eliminate it.

Folks, it comes down simply to this. Human life is either sacred, made in the image of God, and therefore worthy of our protection in all circumstances, or it is merely the result of chance, an accumulation of genetic material to be manipulated—or even eliminated—according to the dictates of science and the bottom line.

There is no in-between.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Things I just Don't Understand--At least a Few

1. Tattoos.
2. Church services in the dark (like a night club?)
3. Piercing anywhere but in earlobes
4. The popularity of vampire anything
5. Why women call up talk radio shows and start crying. Shoot, why some women start crying if you look cross-eyed at them.
6. Why people (usually men, but not always) sabotage themselves. Self-sabotage, especially among freshmen college students, is one of life's enduring mysteries.
7. Piling on. Listen, the Prez is having a bad week. Give him a break. Disagree with the man's policies (I sure do), but don't attack him for being a human being.
8. Al Bore, I mean Gore.
9. Women with tattoos.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Best Comments Post Ever

Seen on a yahoo comments page:
From the looks of these comments, some of you need to look into taking a remedial writing course.

And This Will End It

The other night TCM showed the Judy Garland version of A Star is Born. For a number of reasons, I prefer the Janet Gaynor version from the thirties. Like most originals, the 30s version had more heart, and for me, I didn't have to listen to Judy Garland's campy singing for what seemed like hours. The male lead in the original was a better person than in the second version; he loved his wife more. Plus, the first time I saw it the end shocked me, and of course I knew what was coming with this one. Additionally, for some reason the studio cut and lost portions of the second one and the viewer now has to sit through bizarre stills with dialogue in the background for quite a bit. I wished they would have cut Judy's numbers instead of the story scenes. And as Robert Osborne says, the rise of the young starlet in the first version makes more sense, and Judy Garland was too old for the role to be believable.

Before anyone says, what's wrong with Judy Garland, I would say this: She could sing a great song. But one song at a time is enough, and her dancing is a little silly. That said, "The Man Who Got Away" was fabulous, the perfect song for her, like Sinatra singing "One for the Road." She is too much about her tragedy for me, and this is why she is an icon for gays--her tragic, put upon, victimized life that ended in suicide. She was sad, looking for something over the rainbow.

Rarely are remakes better. There is no way I would spend money to see Karate Kid again, even with Jackie Chan.

Good Read

I recently finished Descartes Bones. An important book for anyone concerned with the history of philosophy, science, its relationship to religion (esp. Roman Catholicism), and humanities. I think I understand "Cogito Ergo Sum" better now. It had eluded me before.

I was teaching "I think, therefore I am" in class and a student, a Christian, pointed out his use of "I am," and wondered if it was related to the "I am" of the Burning Bush, etc. This might be an interesting connection. Descartes was a devout person, in his own way, not unlike most of the other scientists until the 20th century.

Addendum to Yesterday

Ha! I have obviously gotten a laptop back!

I realized that part of the problem with our view of the Holy Spirit comes from the Apostle's Creed. The mention there of the Holy Spirit seems like an afterthought. I also realized that we treat the Holy Spirit like a servant--ours and God's. Wow. How did we get so far from understanding the Holy Spirit's role and place (I have a hard time putting a pronoun to the Holy Spirit, and definitely won't abbreviate.)

I am a fan of The Pragmatics of Human Communication by Watzlawick, Beavin, and Jackson. It's a must read for any student of communication. But notice the title, Human Communication. I bring this up because one of their axioms is that human communication is either complementary or asymmetrical. In other words, there is either equality or inequality in terms of power. We of course are mostly in asymmetrical relationships. Someone has higher status or power almost all the time. Therefore, it is hard for us to envision relationships that are complementary, equal in status but not in function. WE have this trouble in marriage. I think this is part of our problem with the Trinity. The relationship between the three persons of the Godhead is coequal but not always cofunctional, a word I made up.

However, I would be the first to say that if I meditate too much on the Trinity my head might explode and I might veer off into wrong doctrines. I am not rewriting The Shack, here.

Link not to be missed

Is there anything more sinister?

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Incomplete Trinity

Before I am accused of heresy, let me say that this refers to our version of the Trinity. We leave off the Holy Spirit in our teaching and practice, but do remember to tag the Holy Spirit on to our "trinitarian formulas."

I am the furtherest (farthest? furthest?) person from a charismatic there is, but I have long felt the experiential absence of the Holy Spirit from church and practice. What are we afraid of? If God is called "Abba Father" and Jesus is the Messiah, the Redeemer, the Good Shepherd, and many other endearing names, why do we not attribute love, care, grace, etc. to the Holy Spirit as well?

I bring this up because I am working through two discipleship books right now in hopes of using them with a small group (very small). At the moment in both I am studying the Holy Spirit. There were three questions I was supposed to write about today in one of them (Renovare "Living the Mission" workbook).

1. How do you most clearly see the Holy Spirit working in your life?
a. to convict of real sin (as opposed to cultural and societal sources of shame, guilt, and embarrassment--a huge difference that is separated by a fine line in most of our thinking).
b. to empower my spiritual gifts
c. to understand the Bible at more than an intellectual level
d. to produce any semblance of the fruit of the spirit in my life because I don't produce them by myself
2. What spiritual gifts would you add to the lists in Romans, I Corinthians, and Ephesians. I find this a ridiculous question. God told us what they are, and we have no business adding anymore. Any we add would be to make us feel better and think our talents have some sort of spiritual power just because we do it. The spiritual gift of handcrafts; the spiritual gift of golf.
3. Does your church underemphasize the Holy Spirit and what would you do to change that? First, teach the doctrines of the Holy Spirit. Second, make asking for truly spiritual power a daily occurrence, especially in corporate prayer/worship. Third, stop being afraid of talking about the Holy Spirit. I was taught in fundamentalism that the Holy Spirit never talks about Himself, so we shouldn't. Well, not quite.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

It Would Be Funny If It Weren't So Sad

Two years ago we were supposed to believe that Barack Obama was the Messiah. Now his supporters are turning on him. They had such ridiculous ideas, no wonder their expectations were not met.

I do not feel sorry for them, or for him. He ate it up.

Unfortunately, this is happening because of one of the worst disasters possible. So there is no satisfaction in this.

Perhaps because I am a student of public rhetoric, I used to listen to Obama speak and think, "Yeah, he gives a good speech, but come on, everybody knows that doesn't mean he's a leader or qualified to be president or anything." Apparently not. I felt the way I used to at Tennessee Temple. I would sit there in chapel and look around and say to myself, "These people actually believe all this," (not the Christian truth, but the self-serving stuff that only those who were there would understand what I am talking about).

So I can't feel sorry for anyone who let themselves be duped and who chooses not to know enough about American history, politics, and the constitution to know the president is not a soul-savior.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Some Reading for Those So Inclined

This is something I wrote for my students in HUMANITIES 1201. I think it's pretty good and might clear up some things for folks.

The 18th and 19th Centuries

As usual, the text does what it does very well but eliminates some crucial elements of this period, called The Age of Reason or The Age of Enlightenment. This study guide is designed to guide you through what in the book you will be held responsible to know (that is, what I want to emphasize) and will at the end do the same in reference to the PowerPoint, which as you see is simplified but still important.

The Age of Reason actually started about 1680 with Isaac Newton’s work called Principia Mathematica and with the English Glorious Revolution. One of the ideas Newton and his contemporaries proposed was that the world, nature, or natural phenomena were measurable and could be recorded in mathematical formulas. If measurable, then it was understandable and controllable. Nature was now the primary field of study, as opposed to human beings alone; human beings were increasingly being seen as a part of nature, not separate from it (as Christianity taught). Nature was an extremely important word to the Enlightenment. Nature was seen as orderly and rational, as well as understandable and controllable.

Furthermore, in the Enlightenment view, Nature can be “divided up.” It was during the Enlightenment that Linnaeus broke down nature into species, classes, phyla, and orders, etc. Remember that this is before Darwin and evolutionary theory. Nature is also friendly, not the source of evil or misfortune, and because it is created by God to be perfect and orderly, it is the source of law. It is very common to hear in the Enlightenment discussion “Law of Nature” or “Natural Law.” Those terms did not originate in the Enlightenment but were used a great deal to explain the world and also to defend the “natural order,” such as kings, poverty, and lack of social concern. However, others used the idea of “natural law” to defend a moral order that came from within man’s ability to reason and think, and to defend human and civil rights as “natural.” A good example is found in the Declaration of Independence, where “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them” is seen as basic to all humans.

The textbook writers are correct in saying that this was an age of diversity, but I’m not sure they explain that fully. There were basically two ways of looking at the world in the Enlightenment. First was the conservative, defending how things were, defending that kings should hold all the power (Thomas Hobbes, enlightened despots/absolutism), defending that situations like war and famine were good for population control (Malthus), defending that free market capitalism should not be restrained (Adam Smith, laissez-faire), defending that the past has the best answers (Edmund Burke, the “Father of Conservatism), and defending that the Roman Republic should be idealized.

A common religion of the Enlightenment period was Deism, which has been described as “clock theology.” Deism says, “The universe, or Nature, is a clock. It has been designed perfectly; there has not been a fall of man, as Christian theology teaches, that has affected both human beings and nature and caused it to decay. It has been designed to keep ticking forever. God made the clock, wound it up, put it on the shelf, and walked away. It ticks; God doesn’t come back and intervene, nor does God need to, so there are no miracles or divine acts.” The Deists of the Enlightenment would not have rejected the morality of Christianity, but they would have rejected its belief basis, its cultus.

There is a line from Alexander Pope that symbolizes this view; at the same time, because the primary literary form of the period was irony or satire, he may have been making fun of it. “Whatever is, is right.” We often say, “It is what it is,” as a sort of resignation or “whatever,” but they were saying, “It is what it is, and it is what it is supposed to be.” You can see how this philosophy could be used to justify many unjust social conditions. It was not until the 1800s that solving social problems really became a major secular concern, although charitable acts had been important to some extent in the church. One exception, and a perfect example of the irony/satire of the period and the mixture of past-looking and forward-looking views, is Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, which you can read and post about on the discussion page. Another exception was Fragonard’s painting, The Swing, which we will discuss in class.

The second view was the more progressive, revolutionary, or forward thinking; it did not reject all of the ideas I just mentioned but saw human reason and potential as capable of something better. John Locke, who actually lived in the 1600s, wrote the most important works on political theory as far as the United States is concerned. He argued that all humans have natural rights from God simply by virtue of being human and created in God’s image. Contrary to popular belief, Locke was actually a religious person and wrote on theology as well as politics, science, and psychology. In order to secure or protect those rights, people get together and form “social compacts;” governments are compacts that do not give the rights (we already have them) but make sure there is law and order so that we can exercise our rights. The basic rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of property. Obviously, Thomas Jefferson and the other “founding fathers” took his ideas, but modified the last of the three basic rights to “pursuit of happiness.”

Locke’s ideas were revolutionary. Other forward-thinking philosophers and writers who influenced the politics of this time were Voltaire, Rousseau, Thomas Paine, and Diderot. Unfortunately, because the kings had so much power, these “revolutionaries” were often met with opposition. Revolutionaries promise to bring a new order where all citizens will be treated justly and where there is representative government, and rule of law, but it doesn’t always work that way.

By the end of the 18th century, there were two revolutions based on these Enlightenment ideals. One was successful, and one was less so. Why? Probably because of five reasons. First, the American colonists had 150 years of self-government already. Second, the American colonists saw themselves as Englishmen, and the English already had a parliamentary form of government. Third, there is something to be said for distance—the American colonists had less money and resources but were fighting on their own land, and the British were going to have increasing trouble controlling people thousands of miles away, although they eventually learned to be pretty good at it. Fourth, the revolution was being led by the wealthy, the educated, and the elite in the colonies, for the most part. Fifth, the religious difference comes into play (Protestant vs. Catholic), but that is a more complex argument. Protestantism has a less hierarchical idea, and some of the churches in the colonies were democratic or representative in the polity (church government). On the other hand, the French revolutionaries did not have a history of self-government, they were fighting on their own land and against their own people, and they were trying to get rid of the elite, not being led by them. In fact, their leadership grew more and more violent.

Furthermore, the book almost totally leaves out the Industrial Revolution (I.R), which began in England in 1750, not in the 1800s as the book states. The I.R. was transported to the U.S. and other parts of Europe in the 1800s, but the English were the first beneficiaries of it and also its first victims. Because the I.R. started there, so did the Romantic Movement, which was a protest against the I.R. The Industrial Revolution started because the English had a more open economic and banking system (capitalism), because they had a good navy for trade, because they had extensive colonies, because they excluded certain hard-working and profit-motivated religious groups from the professions and those people (called Dissenters, such as Quakers, Baptists, and Presbyterians) went into trade and commerce, because they were ahead of the game on the scientific principles needed for mass production (such as steam power), and because they had representative government and a more open view of political power.

The main thing I want you to get out of this unit is where it fits in the big picture, and how it affects our everyday lives. The Enlightenment Project, or modernism, is what we live with today. Modernism, started in this period, believes reason and the scientific method will champion the day and make mankind better, solving social problems. We don’t really question that as a culture, although some voices do (those called “postmodern”). It provides a “metanarrative” of human progress, as the Christian religion provides an overarching interpretative story of “redemption” from a fall into sin. We expect science to find more cures for diseases, for example. Of course it will, given enough time and money and smarts. Science equals progress and progress equals science and they both equal good.

Secondly, each period has its own “aesthetic” or “sensibility.” The Baroque was over-the-top, dramatic. Rococo was a sort of blip, like Mannerism, but its sensibility was also over-the-top, sort of a decadent Baroque. The Enlightenment and Neoclassicism were a return to a cool, calm, rational, universal, poised style, like the Renaissance. What we are seeing then, are two overall trends: each period is becoming more diverse and complex, and the pendulum is swinging between two human extremes of emotion and rationality, universalism vs. nationalism, the group vs. the individual, and emphasis on the objective vs. emphasis on the subjective.

Finally, what we will see in this unit, as the last, is the end of “culture as cultus.” At the beginning of the class, we saw how culture originally meant a shared belief system. The participants in a culture not only share dress, customs, language, resources, and geography, but they also share belief about many basic concepts: higher powers, education, family, power, politics, and even artistic expression. As we progress through the 18th and especially the 19th centuries, it is obvious that commonality in culture is disappearing. Diversity becomes the norm.

The expression in William Butler Yeats poem, “The Second Coming,” “Things fall apart, the centre does not hold.” What holds culture together is gone. So, the question is, can a culture continue if there is no center? What holds our U.S. culture together in 2010? What beliefs? Are those being challenged? It’s an interesting thought. But as we look at the various art (and if you look at the art in chapters 21 and 22), we see many “-isms.” That is, we see many different schools and ways of doing art, which reflect the many philosophically diverse views that begin in the 18th century, where man’s mind and experience, rather than a delivered religious revelation, become the guide to truth and reality.

Monday, June 07, 2010


I read James Joyce's "The Dead," one of my most favorite short stories, last night. Joyce's characters in The Dubliners all have epiphanies. I had one this morning too.

We humans love to blame God for things that happen because we disobey His law and common sense. Then we pray for Him to fix it. If we are so smart, why don't we fix it ourselves?

Public Speaking Online: Part III

This is a continuation of articles below on speaking for webinars, etc.  Experts give a few other preparation tips...