Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Monday, January 30, 2006
Saturday, January 28, 2006
My Cell Phone, Myself: Philosophy of a Technology
Our cell company offers these ring tones: "screams" and "moaning" and much more. Don't ask. Everything is customized (even in a perverted sense); the self is endlessly flattered; choices explode; it gets old, and we want none of it. Here are our rules (so far).
1. We have a very minimal minutes plan. The cell is only for exigencies when my wife and I cannot use a land line.
2. We are not giving the number to anyone else, not even Paris Hilton.
3. I am not going to wear it. It is not a piece of clothing. The full armor of God is enough (Ephesians 6)--along with the standard sartorial arrangements.
4. I am not going to use it in public--meaning no "cell yelling" or "cell stalking."
5. I am not going to use it while driving (or biking or swimming).
6. I will never say, "I don't know how I got along without it," because it will not become an integrated feature of my life.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Another Aphorism on Postmodern Times
Sunday, January 22, 2006
Abortion: Reflection and Prayer
"ON THIS DAY -On Jan. 22, 1973, in its Roe vs. Wade decision, the Supreme Court legalized abortions, using a trimester approach. "
Thirty-three years later, perhaps forty million abortions later, we stand as a nation guilty before a holy and Almighty God. We are guilty of neglecting and even killing "the least of these," the most vulnerable among us. May God have mercy on us and may God bring restorative justice to the land. May Christians, the people who are taught to believe that all humans bear the image of God (Genesis 1:26), rise to the challenge by teaching and preaching the truth about abortion. May we rise to the challenge to pray that Judge Samuel Alito may be confirmed to the Supreme Court, since his philosophy of law (is constitutional and) would thus likely turn back Roe vs. Wade if given a chance. May be counsel people to honor and protect unborn life. May be give our time and money to that great end. And may we offer forgiveness through our loving Savior for those who have performed and had unnecessary abortion performed on them. May they repent, be forgiven, and be restored to newness of life in Jesus Christ. Amen
Saturday, January 21, 2006
Football, Baseball, and the Culture of Violence
Cultural forms shape our sensibilities and our mindsets in countless and typically covert ways. As a culture riven with senseless violence and mayhem, as evidenced at Columbine High School, we need to discern the cultural forces that pull people away from God’s shalom and toward the abyss of rage, revenge, and the devaluing of human life made in God’s image. Sin lies in the heart, but it also becomes institutionalized and systemic in many cultural forms. These must be exegeted and exposed to the light of truth.
Now on to sports, a topic that is virtually never discussed in terms of cultural form, whether moral or aesthetic. Whatever features unite all instances of sport, each sports differs from every other sport in some distinctive ways. Rather than give an detailed ontology and ethical assessment of the major team sports, I want to draw from comparisons between football and baseball in relation to cultural violence and entertainment.
I will not be discussing the ethical character of players, managers, owners, and fans. This is incidental to a formal or structural analysis of these two sports. We find “good Christians” playing baseball and football and “good Christians” watching both sports. This is a trivial point, however, if we endeavor to discern the nature of these two sports.
The argument is brief, sharp, and probably unpopular. Baseball is both aesthetically and morally superior to football as a cultural form. Moreover, football is not only inferior to baseball, but possesses deficits that should cause Christians to consider their participation in the sport—whether as players, managers, owners, or fans—in principle. As an ideal, a team sport should evince aesthetic beauty, moral virtue, and intellectual value. Now consider baseball and football.
1. Football is intrinsically violent. It cannot be played without heavy padding and physical punishment. Professional players typically undergo multiple surgeries for repeated injuries. Many of these injuries are permanently debilitating. The nature of the sport encourages a toleration for, and even promotion of, violence. Players attempt to injure each other to take them out of the game.
Many young men are seriously injured while playing football. Why risk the damage to a growing body? If the body is “fearfully and wonderfully made” and the temple of the Holy Spirit for the Christian, why should anyone treat one’s own body and other’s bodies to so much physical abuse? We were not designed for this kind of punishment.
2. Baseball is not intrinsically violent, but only contingently violent; it much less violent than football overall. No physical contact of a brutal nature is required of the sport. No pitcher must bean (intentionally hit) a batter, although there is a risk of this happening accidentally. No batter tries to injure a fielder with a hit. No fielder intentionally throws the baseball into a runner, although this may happen by accident. And so on. Yes, there is physical contact between offense and defense. A runner barreling home from second base on a single to the outfield may need to collide with the catcher in order to attempt to score. However, his is not necessitated by the game as such, and the catcher is well-protected by his pads and mask. Many games are played where this kind of contact never occurs. Further, many runners will try to avoid the catcher entirely with a hook slide.
3. Baseball is intellectually superior to football, because of the degree of strategy, finesse, and intelligence required to play it well. Football knows of many plays and patterns, but most of them reduce to speed, strength, and coordination--as opposed to intelligence. In baseball, a pitcher with less than a cannon arm (such as Greg Maddox) can be one of the best pitchers in baseball in light of his intelligence in pitch selection, control, knowledge of batters, and fielding ability. Nothing analogous is the case with football, to my knowledge.
Historically, intellectuals have been drawn to write and reflect on baseball. A recent example is columnist and author, George Will. I doubt there is anything of this nature to be said of football. (This, of course, does not imply that no intellectuals like football or than only unintelligent people do.)
4. Aesthetically, baseball is superior because of its unique sense of time. There is no clock in baseball. Time never runs out, only opportunities do. When Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over till it’s over,” he was not uttering a tautology. Since the game is not terminated until the final out is made, it is always possible to come back or to blow a huge lead. In football, the game is often over (determined) before it is over (temporally), rendering the final minutes meaningless and pointless. In baseball, as in the Christian world view, a measure of hope is always alive until the game is over. Near-miraculous comebacks are possible. When they occur, there is no greater drama in all of sports.
5. The pace of baseball is far more deliberate and delicate than football, given that there is no time clock. It is thus more conducive to patience and reflection. This assumes that you are not watching on an evil television network where commercials are now jammed in between batters; thus violating the ontology of the game itself.
6. Both baseball and football require athletic skill for their performance, but I venture to say that an expertly turned double-play, a diving catch in the outfield, or a deftly stolen base (particularly of home) demonstrates more athletic and aesthetic excellence than anything in football. Moreover, nothing in any sport has the dramatic effect of a grand slam homerun, especially in a close game.
7. No one can hog the ball or exclude other players from play in baseball. This is largely because baseball is the only team sport where the defense controls the ball. The defense never knows where the ball will end up after the next pitch. This adds an element suspense and intrigue that is lacking in football. The batter or baserunner has no possession of the ball. The ball must be outsmarted by being hit (by the batter) or avoided (by the runner).
8. In baseball, apart from the aberration of the designated hitter (a recent perversion only used in one league), all the players must function on both defense and offense. Pitchers are not expected to be excellent hitters, but they can contribute in this way and also need to know how to bunt and run the bases. This adds depth to the athletic performance. Football players play either defense or offense, but not both (with possible rare exceptions).
More could be said, but if these reflections are correct, baseball is superior to football as a cultural form. It is much less violent, more artful, and more intellectually stimulating. The intrinsically and inextricably violent nature of football makes it suspect morally, especially for Christians who ought to prize gentleness and peace as fruits of the Spirit. Despite my apologetic for baseball, I can find no moral imperative to be involved at any level of baseball. Any goodness or excellence found therein can be found, at least analogously, in other areas of life.
Nevertheless, the moral implications of the argument are as follows:
1. If one participates in a team sport, baseball is a worthy choice, as is softball for similar reasons. One may play well or poorly, with good motives or bad motives, but the nature of the game is itself good.
2. Given the formal deficiencies and defects of football, one ought not play it or coach it or watch it or own it or support it (through stadium taxes, etc.). (This does not exclude touch or flag football, which are not intrinsically violent, though still aesthetically and intellectually inferior to baseball.) Football reinforces and perpetuates the culture of violence, which must be resisted in every form if we are to regain a measure of sanity and civility in our increasingly violent world.
One may wonder, then, if I am very involved in watching baseball. I am not. Television has nearly destroyed the sport (as it destroyed just about everything). I will did not watch the World Series last year, nor did I watch a single game. My argument is not a justification for any habit or addiction I may have; it addresses objective properties related to form. Attending an organic form of baseball, such as youth league, is another matter. That would be blessedly unmediated.
The Ersatz Religion of Football
Friday, January 20, 2006
A Dead-on Commentary by Charles Colson
January 20, 2006
This Sunday marks the thirty-third anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision—a day Americans should mark with sadness and shame. Forty million babies have been sacrificed on the altar of personal choice and autonomy.
When Roe came down, many of us argued that it was the beginning of a slippery slope, that once we devalued life in the womb we would devalue life—and endanger life—at all stages. After all, we had just established, as a matter of law and social priority, that individual choice trumps even the right to life.
Tragically, we have been proven right. The so-called "right to choose" has led to Supreme Court decisions like the Lawrence case that held that it is discriminatory for states to legislate against sodomy. As Justice Scalia put it in his dissent, "This opens the flood gates for gay marriage and makes it impossible for any morals legislation to be enacted." He is right. Who can say the common good demands the preservation of traditional marriage when personal choice is exalted to the summum bonum of society and is constitutionally protected?
The worst post-Roe decision was Casey v. Planned Parenthood, in which Justice Kennedy wrote: "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." Now, if you take those words literally, it makes it impossible to legislate any determination of the common good, because inevitably, the individual then has the right to say that does not conform to his idea about the meaning of life.
This is individualism run amok.
And this week more damage was done. By invoking federal drug laws, John Ashcroft, when he was U.S. Attorney General, tried to stop Oregon from allowing doctors to assist in patient suicide. This week the Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, held that the federal government cannot bar the dispensing of controlled substances for assisted suicide in the face of a state provision permitting it.
Thankfully, it is a limited decision. The Court did not rule on the constitutionality of the assisted suicide—except by implication. But it does suggest that six justices are sympathetic to it. If assisted suicide is ever permitted, it will soon become involuntary euthanasia, as it has in Holland.
I don't like to be an alarmist, but unless we do something—such as getting more justices like Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas on the Court—we will soon have Dutch-style euthanasia in America.
Some good news this week from the Court: On Thursday it unanimously ruled that a New Hampshire law requiring parental notification if a teenager is seeking an abortion can stand. An exception must be added for medical emergencies, but on principle, parental notification still passes constitutional muster. This vindicates the incremental strategy: Chip away at Roe.
On this anniversary, Christians must resolve to go on fighting, not only on behalf of the unborn, but addressing a broader question: Does our society have the capacity to rule itself according to what is the common good, adhering to its founding principles of the protection of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Or will it be swept up in the notion that the only thing that matters is that individuals can choose for themselves whatever they want?
Don't give up this struggle. We must resolve to fight smarter and harder—for as long as it takes. Get links to further information on today's topic
For printer-friendly version, simply visit http://msg1svc.net/servlet/Gateway?p=pfm&u=37543&et=H&s=8021&da=0 and click on Today's Commentary. The printer-friendly link is on the left-hand column.Copyright (c) 2006 Prison FellowshipTHIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
The Cost of 'Choice': Women Evaluate the Impact of Abortion by Erika Bachiochi, ed.
Human Dignity in the Biotech Century by Charles Colson and Nigel Cameron, eds.
BreakPoint WorldView: "The Power of Poetry: What We Can Learn" by T. M. Moore
"Civil Disunion: Seeking Happily Ever After for Marriage in America" by Glen Lavy
"BreakPoint with Chuck Colson" is a daily commentary on news and trends from a Christian perspective. Heard on more than 1000 radio outlets nationwide, BreakPoint transcripts are also available on the Internet. BreakPoint is a production of The Wilberforce Forum, a division of Prison Fellowship: 44180 Riverside Parkway, Lansdowne, VA 20176.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Saturday, January 14, 2006
Tricked by "Truthiness"
What we don’t find in Frey or Oprah is repentance: the humble stance that admits wrong, apologizes, and promises to do better. Instead, we get spin and the redefinition of terms (shades of Clinton and “is”). Oprah says it was the publisher’s responsibility to label the genre; but it doesn’t matter since it has helped people with addictions. But it has been pointed out in The New York Times that Frey’s book would not likely have become a best-seller as a novel. The lie of authenticity was essential to its illicit ascent. And one spunky reader is suing the publisher for fraud. She bought a “memoir” and she got a novel. Good for her.
Amidst all the dizzying spin and excuse-making, Christians should rejoice the ultimate story of redemption—the life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and session of Jesus Christ—is factual, verifiable, authentic, and incomparable. As Os Guinness wrote years ago, “Christianity isn’t true because it works. It works because it’s true.”
Friday, January 13, 2006
Buddhism and Nonbeing
"Religions appeared worshipping the nonbeing and self-annihilation for the sake of an eternal repose in nothing ness."
Christianity: In the beginning was the Word. John, chapter one, verse one.
Buddhism: In the beginning was the Void.
Monday, January 09, 2006
On Being a Curmudgeon
This book is highly recommended for its critique of the effect of the digital world on literacy. Thanks to Josh Sowin for reminding me of this quote (which I first read soon after the book's release in 1994).
Saturday, January 07, 2006
Truthiness is nuttiness
By HEATHER CLARK
The Associated Press
Friday, January 6, 2006; 10:47 PM
A panel of linguists has decided the word that best reflects 2005 is "truthiness," defined as the quality of stating concepts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than the facts. More.
[The article goes on to quote someone who says that unless we get truth and facts together "we're not going to make much progress." Quite so. Facts are what make statements true. That is, a declarative or indicative statement needs a "truth-maker" or state of affairs to which it corresponds in order for that statement to be true. If there is no truth-maker, the statement is false. Truth is not a quality of gender, skin pigment, consensus, power, or expert opinion. It is a quality of statements that reflect or represent reality.
Years ago, Charles Fair wrote a book called The New Nonsense (1974) in which he lamented the rise of "willful personal belief." This, in essence, is "truthiness"--one takes something to be true simply because one chooses or wants it to be true. It is "true for me." That makes truth mighty easy--and terribly cheap. Let's apply it: I am the greatest living philosopher, or so I wish. And it is thus true. What a relief. What a crock!
For more on what truth is, see my book, Truth Decay, especially chapters three and four.]
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
Unpublished Letter to The Rocky Mountain News by Rebecca Merrill Groothuis
Lisa Jones’s response (12-29-05) to Paul Campos’s editorial about intelligent design (ID) is so tiresomely typical of the non-arguments reflexively intoned in the attempt to discredit ID. Those who have concluded that ID is purely religious and utterly unscientific waste no time employing this conclusion as an unstated premise. From there, they are off and running—questions begging and insults flying. And after all the rabid rhetoric has been emitted, do we see any semblance of a logical argument as to why ID should be deemed unscientific? No. But this is precisely the point at issue in this debate, is it not?
Rebecca Merrill Groothuis
Alaska Statehood, 1959
"The procedural requirements imposed by the Congress on the State of Alaska to entitle that state to admission into the Union have been complied with in all respects, and that admission of the State of Alaska into the Union on an equal footing with the other States of the Union is accomplished."
Alaska thus became the 49th state of the United States and a new flag was unveiled, soon to become obsolete when Hawaii became a state a few years a later. This occured on my second birthday. I was born in the territory of Anchorage, Alaska in 1957.
Sunday, January 01, 2006
Posing, Not Impressing
But everyone now thinks he or she has the right to be a celebrity—or at least to look like one. So, they strike their poses: trying to radiate confidence or beauty or intelligence or hipness or sensuality. As Thomas De Zengotita says in Mediated, we are all method actors now.
Compare this with a mall and humble photograph of the Christian devotional writer, Andrew Murray (d. 1917), found in a book of his on holiness. We see his profile, his eyes closed, his head tilted down. He seems to be at prayer or perhaps in meditation. He is not posing. He is not saying, “Look at me, aren’t I________.” He is simply being before God, the Audience of One. No pose will impress the Almighty, who sees to the marrow of our being.
"A Few Tips on Restoring Civility"
A lot of people in America are ticked off. We are frustrated, bugged, and hassled for myriad reasons. Much of our discontent has plagued humanity almost from the beginning. But much of our contemporary agitation stems from technologies that corrode common decency and invite incivility. While humans cannot delete death or abolish taxes, we can recover some civility by disciplining our technologies. The following recommendations won’t shake the world, but they might make life more civil and less agitating. The motivation is simply the Golden Rule, as articulated by Jesus: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Noise. Americans are awash in unwanted noise. Much of this is beyond our control, but some is not. When unwanted decibels rise, our hearts pounds and our heads hurt. We may even become ill. (The American military blasts heavy metal music into enemy territory in order to disorientate before attacking.) Unwelcome and unavoidable music from other automobiles accosts us at stoplights and in parking lots. Subwoofers assail us while in our homes and cars, and while on walks. Cell phone yelling invades our consciousness just about everywhere, including on bike trails and in bathrooms. Cell phone rings (with their annoying customized ring tones) resonate everywhere: at concerts, church services, funerals, and in classrooms.
Still, noise can be controlled. When playing music in the car, one can turn down the volume and/or close the windows when in earshot of others. Subwoofers, however, are another story. Rendering them civil is on the order of making Attila the Hun a pacifist. Subwoofers embody incivility. Perhaps legal restrictions are the only hope. Nevertheless, subwoofer users could moderate the roar when they come in range of others. Cell phone users could refrain from calls when they are interacting with others face-to-face and not broadcast their comments to everyone in range. (I once heard a woman on a cell phone loudly discussing her grieving process while she bought books at The Tattered Cover.) Ringers can be turned off or put on throb when they would disturb others. After all, we once lived without them.
Speed. Americans are always in a hurry—and often for no reason. “Time is money,” said Ben Franklin. So we rush about all the time—at work and at play—frightened of losing any time. Other cars drive too slowly. Checkers are too leisurely, talking to customers! Even the automatic checkers (with their annoying robotic “voices”) are not efficient enough for us.
Since most moral philosophers consider patience a virtue, we might try practicing it for a change. Surely one can wait a few seconds without losing a fortune or having a conniption. What if the person ahead of you says a few personal words to the checker? Maybe the checker needs encouragement. If the driver ahead has a pathological disorder that doesn’t allow her to break the speed limit, you don’t have to flash your lights, honk, tailgate, or make obscene gestures. You might try out the pathology yourself and observe life at a legal speed. Or (more likely) you can pass in due time and take your chances with the law. Perhaps the snail-paced driver is at an age where driving any faster would endanger everyone.
Television: Television is the great dynamo of incivility. It destroys conversations by bombarding us with distracting images and sounds. And TV is nearly omnipresent, showing up in restaurants and even emergency rooms—places where unmediated conversations were once considered a priority.
What to do? Turn off as many TVs as possible and see what happens. When associating with others, don’t depend on the TV for stimulation. (What’s on TV is usually pretty uncivil anyway.) Instead, enter into the lost art of conversation that honors the thoughts and feelings of others. Eat at restaurants with no TVs. Purchase a TV-B-Gone, a universal remote control that turns off many TVs. I once zapped nine public and unneeded screens in one triumphant weekend. Some civility was restored, and the beast, while not disarmed, was incapacitated for a season. By the way, there are far better sources for find out what is going on in the world than TV, such as magazines, newspapers, and the Internet.
This only scratches the surface of civility. But think on this. If you apply the Golden Rule to matters of noise, speed, and television, your life and the lives of those around will surely change—and change for the better.
· Douglas Groothuis is Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary and the author of Truth Decay.
Letter in the January 1, 2006 Denver Post
Re: The birth of a 'mad sect,"' Dec. 25 John Aloysius Farrell column.
John Aloysius Farrell discredited Christianity as historically uncertain. This is incorrect. Farrell dismisses Pliny's and Josephus' references to Christ; yet they in fact corroborate the existence of Christ and certain significant facts about him. Other ancient historians, such as Thallus, Tacititus and Suetonius, mention Christ and his followers as well. These references alone put the lie to Farrell's claim that there is little proof of Jesus' existence. Farrell demeans the Apostle Paul's letters by saying that he "paints no portrait of Christ, the man from Nazareth." But Paul had no need to repeat facts about the earthly life of Christ, since these were already known to his readers. However, Paul does refer to several facts about Jesus' life and teaching, particularly his Jewish ancestry, crucifixion and resurrection. Although Farrell downplays the Gospels, they were written only a few decades after the events they describe by eyewitnesses or those
who consulted eyewitness - impressive credentials for ancient literature. "The Da Vinci Code" to the contrary, the four Gospels were not selected for merely political reasons, but because of their connection to reliable witnesses, the agreement of their teachings, and their early use in the church.
- Douglas Groothuis, Littleton The writer is a professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary.