Monday, August 28, 2006

Wikipedias and Epistemology

It is interesting that one of the founders of the Wikipedia was interested in epistemology, and even studied it formally. Marshall Poe, the author of the Atlantic article on the topic, "The Hive" (September 2006), however, has no grasp of this discipline. This is evidenced in his ridiculous statement that truth is determined by consensus--as if belief (personal or collective) is identical to truth. If so, truth is extremely easy: just believe X and X is true. It is too easy, then--and absurd. You may believe that John Coltrane played tuba; but it is false, nevertheless. (He did once record with a tuba player, though.)

But truth is classically understood (and grasped at a common sense and basic level) as correspondence. X is true only if X corresponds to some reality. Truth is "written in the stars" as the author mentions; it is not written in a Wikipedia. At least that is not what makes it true, determines its truth.

Wiki entries may or may not be true. The one just entered on me is true--at least when I checked. Someone may have now edited it to read that Kenny G is my favorite musician (a prankster student of mine, perhaps). However knowledge (a term the author doesn't bother to define) requires:

1. S believes X is true.
2. X is true (objectively).
3. X has justification for her belief that X is true.

Wikipedias may suggest that certain truth-claims are true, but without a clear record of authorship or documentation (and with the contstant revisions), justification is difficult if not impossible to find.

One would hope for some philosophical analysis to be brought to a discussion of the Wikipedic world. I am still waiting to find one. Maybe some philosopher of technology or social epistemologist will fill that bill.

Review of Jonathon Wells's new book

Jonathon Wells, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, Regnery Publishing, 2006. Reviewed by Douglas Groothuis.

Recently a short letter of mine was published in The New York Times. The letter criticized a boilerplate, straw man attack on intelligent design written by a crusading Darwinist—an all too common occurrence, sadly. I received two letters castigating my audacity in criticizing Darwin.

One letter claimed that no amount of empirical evidence could support design because design is not a physical property. Exactly so. This confirmed my letter's comment that opposition to ID is based on methodological naturalism: no intelligent causes are allowed in the game. Why is this? It is because this is how they—the Darwinian priesthood—set up the rules (dogma). In other words, the question is begged. That is a fallacy.

Another letter accused ID proponents of Lysenkoism; that is, they would get their way by strong arm tactics, as did the Soviet scientist who shut down dissent to his ideas I the old USSR. I wrote back saying that the Darwinists are the real Lysenkoists, since they constantly shut down ID from being presented in public institutions and attack ID proponents personally. (Wells gives plentiful evidence for that.) Moreover, ID people have never advocated banning the teaching of Darwinism. They only want to allow it to be challenged with scientific evidence to the contrary. (Wells also demonstrates that Lysenko, common opinion to the contrary, did not oppose Darwinism, but rather Mendelian genetics.)

These letters highlight just some of the wrongheaded responses of Darwinists against ID. Wells addresses all the rest, such as:

1. ID is religious, not scientific.
2. ID is the same as creationism.
3. ID makes no scientific predictions and is not testable.
4. ID proponents want to restrict the teaching of Darwinism.
5. No ID arguments have been published in peer review literature.

But Wells also presents the positive case for ID with clarity, logic, and ample documentation. He thoroughly and engagingly explains some of the more rarified ID concepts, such as specified complexity, with aplomb but never glibly. (Don’t let the title of this book deceive you; it is never flippant, glib, or unserious.) Wells also repeatedly skewers Darwinian fallacies. My favorite fallacy is the claim that ID is not testable, but that all the evidence is against it. If it is not testable, then no evidence could be marshaled for it or against it.

Wells covers the whole spectrum of issues related to Darwinism and ID: scientific, philosophical, cultural, and political. His concluding chapter predicts the eventual ascendance of ID over Darwinism, given the strength of its evidence and the unimpressive strategies of its antagonists.

This book is ideal for the neophyte who wants to get to the bottom of the debate. However, the more seasoned reader (such as myself) will also benefit from some new ideas she might have missed in her other reading as well as from the sheer pleasure of reading such a well-crafted and timely presentation.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Curmudgeon in Wiki!

It happened. Someone informed me that he made a Wikipedia entry on "Douglas Groothuis," since there had been none. I read it. It is accurate. He should have mentioned that I am against them. But I appreciate the thought.

He did forget to mention that I once played drums (for one song in a bar in Alaska in 1976) with a guitar player (Larry Lee) who played with Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. Do you believe it?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Anne Lamott Endorses a New Age Writer

Anne Lamott, who has written two best-selling spiritual memoirs, and who is taken by some to be an evangelical, has endorsed a new book by the pantheistic author, Marianne Williamson, a long-time advocate of the channeled document, A Course in Miracles. Lamott says of The Gift of Change:" [Williamson's] voice is strong medicine for our woundedness, warmth, insistence, good humor, and a little light to see by." The book is also hailed by pantheistic author, Deepak Chopra:"Williamson takes her readers seriously enough to ask serious attention of them and to offer them much in return."

Once again, this indicates that many "spiritual" writers, even those claiming Christianity in some form, do not possess a biblical worldview. But one should not publicly teach or write without seriously pondering the stern and stirring warnings of Titus 2:7-8 and James 3:1-2.

7 In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness 8 and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us (Titus 2:7-8).

1 Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. Those who are never at fault in what they say are perfect, able to keep their whole body in check (James 3:1-2).

Teachers must have integrity because of their influence. But Lamott cannot even discern that Williamson denies the gospel itself. Williamson teaches that Jesus atonement means that we are all already "at-one" with God, and that guilt and sin are unreal. Forgiveness, for her, means realizing that there is nothing to forgive. These are not small theological errors, but titanic spiritual counterfeits. (I assess channeling, including Williamson and A Course in Miracles, in Jesus in an Age of Controversy.) The gospel of God is nothing to play with, as the Apostle Paul warned:

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel, 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let that person be under God's curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let that person be under God's curse! (Galatians 1:6-9).

Let us, therefore, leave aside the teachings of the immature and embrace godly writers, well grounded in The Book of Books.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Ecclesiastes 12: Inspiration for all Teachers and Writers

10 The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true.11 The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one shepherd.

Charles Colson on Islamic Fascism

Islamic Fascists?
By Chuck Colson

What’s in a Name?

Shortly after British authorities announced that they had foiled a plot to bomb transcontinental flights, President Bush called it a “stark reminder” that the United States is “at war with Islamic fascists.”

The president’s comments triggered a series of responses. The Saudi government rejected even the possibility of Islamic fascism. A spokesman for King Abdullah said that “what Islam is being charged with today, such as fascism, is primarily the result of Western cultural heritage.”

Closer to home, American liberals, of course, called it politically incorrect to say this. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, suggested that expressions like “Islamic fascists” might inadvertently “start a religious war against Islam and Muslims.” It complained that the expression “attaches the religion of Islam to tyranny and fascism, rather than isolating the threat to a specific group of individuals . . . ”

If I didn’t know better, I would have thought that CAIR was kidding. The expression “Islamic fascism” is used in order to distinguish between ordinary Muslims and the perpetrators of terrorism. It serves also to make a point that our enemy isn’t Islam itself, but a particular kind of Islam that perpetrates terrorism and tyranny. These are the distinctions that groups like CAIR ought to be supporting.

That still leaves the question: Is it right to call the bin Ladens of the world “Islamic fascists”? The answer is “yes.” The president was right on.

As Stephen Morris of Johns Hopkins recently wrote, fascism’s goal is to “achieve national greatness” through totalitarian control of both political and social life; it seeks to create an empire; and it “aspires to re-create a mythical past.”

Sound familiar? It should. What was true of Germany and Italy in the 1930s and ’40s is also true of groups like Iran, al-Qaeda, and millions of Islamic radicals today.

Countries like Iran and Afghanistan under the Taliban are and were undeniably totalitarian. All aspects of life, not just politics, are subject to strict ideological control.

Nor can radical Islam’s imperial ambitions be denied. Iran, al-Qaeda, and even Hamas talk about an Islamic empire stretching from India to the Iberian peninsula. What Morris says about aspiring to “re-create a mythical past” is evident in bin Laden’s continuing references to the “tragedy of Andalusia” and Hamas’s demands for the return of Seville. The Iranians take it a step further and see themselves as ushering in a messianic age.

The fascist influence on today’s Islamic terrorists is made crystal clear in the book In the Shade of the Koran written by an Egyptian radical named Sayyid Qutb and widely read today by jihadists all over the world. Qutb was profoundly influenced by the same anti-Semitic liberal intellectuals in Europe who shaped Hitler’s demonic vision. Though Qutb was executed, his teachings profoundly influenced Osama bin Laden.

Today’s Islamic fascists share with their Nazi counterparts violence and intimidation as their tactics. And now, as in World War II, free people of all faiths must oppose them. But wisdom begins with a willingness to learn from history and call things by their proper name, which is precisely what the president did.

For Further Reading and Information

Today’s BreakPoint offer: Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad? by Dr. Timothy George.

William Shawcross, “Yes, the Problem Is ‘Islamic Fascism’,” Jerusalem Post, 14 August 2006.

Stephen J. Morris, “It Is Islamic Fascism,” The Australian, 14 August 2006.

David Ignatius, “Are We Fighting ‘Islamic Fascists’?” Washington Post, 18 August 2006, A21.

“A Chilling Reminder,” Washington Post, 11 August 2006, A18.

“Word Choice: Are We at War with ‘Islamic Fascism’?” National Review Online, 17 August 2006.

BreakPoint Commentary No. 060727, “An Unwelcome Reunion: Spain and the Jihadists.”

Thursday, August 24, 2006


My letter on ID to The New York Times generated this fragment from a long lecture/email:

There is no data for “design”. In fact, there cannot be: “design” is an intellectual, not a physical, activity. Design manifests itself in the physical world, and Dembski and Behe look at physical structures and conclude design. That is not science.

This perfectly illustrates the point made in my argument. The Darwinists are a priori committed to methodological naturalism. Or: "What my net don't catch ain't fish" to use the colloquial. ID isn't science because it doesn't terminate the explanation with a merely physical process. That begs the question and refuses to consider the actual evidence for design.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The End of the Lectern

I began teaching an introductory philosophy class at Estrella Mountain Community College last night. To my horror, the classroom was denuded. That is, it was barren of a lectern. I thought it was a fluke, but today I found from the school that the entire community college has no free standing lecterns and only a very few desk-mounted lecterns. They put in a “work order” for one (don’t hold your breath on “work orders” in a bureaucracy), but said they could not guarantee that the lectern would remain in that room.

I feel rather undressed without a lectern in a classroom or without a good solid pulpit in a church. (Do not give me a music stand! These contraptions cannot even support the weight of a good-sized Bible.) This affection for the lectern is not merely an idiosyncrasy on my part (I hope). The solid object from which a teacher or preacher speaks serves as the anchor for one’s notes, books, and articles. It provides a center point for engaging the class with the voice and the documents. Without a lectern, one loses this point of focus and gravity. One is reduced to standing directly in front of the class, perhaps holding one’s notes in one’s hand and grabbing a book off to the side once in a while. It is not good.

Of course, the lectern is disappearing because of the domination of the computer in teaching. People are punching keys and producing PowerPoint presentations. The teacher, her words, and her documents are left behind. But I do not use these means to my ends simply because they would not serve them. The teaching of philosophy is necessarily oriented toward words, written and spoken. Most philosophical concepts are not amenable to presentation in images—outside of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” but even there, the abstract concepts are more significant than a nifty graphic (in full color or even animation) of the prisoners, the cave, the fire, the images on the wall, and so on.

The end of the lectern—in the sense of telos—is to concentrate thought through lecture and discussion at a fixed point. It provides a grounding or bearing for one’s prepared material. Of course, the object itself does not insure that ratiocination will break out like a happy contagion throughout the class. Yet there is a philosophy of pedagogy built into the lectern. Behind it should stand a person who should be there, who is at home there, who has studied well in preparation (Titus 2:7-8), who wants to teach, and who is thereby authorized to stand at the center of attention in order to initiate, stimulate, and orchestrate philosophical thought in his or her students. The teacher stands behind an object on which are placed texts, notes, or articles. The one teaching is the one who has learned, and who takes those objects of learning with her into the classroom, not as incidental items, but as favored artifacts of inscribed thought.

But the end of the lectern—in the sense of its extinction or endangerment—makes all of the educational sensibilities just discussed more difficult to engender. What does it say about our culture’s view of pedagogy, authority, truth, rationality, and personality? I suggest we need a bully pulpit to advocate for the return of the lectern.

Book Review: The Force of Reason

Oriana Fallaci, The Force of Reason (Rizolli, 2006).

Miss Fallaci is a courageous woman. Her stance has brought her death threats and criminal charges in Europe for--believe it or not--"blaspheming Islam." A veteran Italian journalist and intrepid interviewer (Oh, to see her interview the President of Iran and not the insipid Mike Wallace!), Fallaci follows up her incendiary "The Rage and the Pride" with an attack on the journalists who, without argument but with plenty of invective, castigated her attack on Islam made in that previous book.

Fallaci's thesis is that Islam is taking over Europe. Many--if not most--Muslims are not assimilating and hate the deep values of their host countries. Fallaci excoriates the moral cowardice of these European countries--particularly her own beloved Italy--for not enforcing their centuries long culture.

A "Christian atheist," Fallaci wants to cherish and retain the culture of Christendom, but without a supernatural Christ. She admires Jesus, but denies his deity, since she denies that God exists. She does so because of the problem of evil.

Yet secularism, no matter what memory it may have of Christendom, is not sufficient to resist Islam. A spiritually hollow Europe cannot endure the zealotry and fanaticism of radical Islam. Given its relativism and multiculturalism, it lacks the category of evil. Given its atheism, it lacks a transcendent perspective from which to refute Islamic extremism and to challenge it with a better way of life found in the One whom Fallaci admires, but who she cannot bring herself to worship.

Fallaci is justifiably outraged at what she sees happening to Europe. It fits a pattern of Islamic conquest and subjection, as she argues. But outrage and expletives are not sufficient to rise to this global challenge. One must dig deeper and look higher to wage this battle for civilization.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Letter on Intelligent Design Published in The New York Times

The New York Times, August 22, 2006.
Battling Ignorance

To the Editor:

Lawrence M. Krauss’s essay against “creationism” in the schools (“How to Make Sure Children Are Scientifically Illiterate,” Aug. 15) never engaged any genuine philosophical or scientific arguments related to Darwinism or its absolute commitment to methodological naturalism: that is, design is never allowed to explain anything in biology.

Nor did Dr. Krauss even mention the careful method of design detection laid out by intelligent design proponents like the philosopher and mathematician William Dembski or the biochemist Michael Behe. They are clearly not creationists.

The best way for students to learn science and critical thinking is to present a debate on Darwinism. Students are now denied the opportunity to think for themselves. That is a dogma no one should accept. If Dr. Krauss is worried about students’ being ignorant of science, he should support a debate, not a monopoly.

Douglas Groothuis
Littleton, Colo.
The writer is a professor of philosophy at the Denver Seminary.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Reggie White's Repentance

Faithful readers of The Constructive Curmudgeon know that I despise football for a host of principled reasons. I posted an essay on my philosophical case against football some months ago. Of course, I do not follow it. However, I found this article in USA Today (linked on Nancy Hollenbach's blog) about the repentance and awakening of football player and Christian, Reggie White.

Shortly before his early death, White came to realize that his sports celebrity outran his godliness. He came clean and began to work on his character before God rather than chasing after every speaking possibility he was offered. He realized that he has been, in his words, "prostituted." I commend this article for your reflection on sports, celebrity, American culture, and the biblical meaning of evangelism and Christlikeness.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Doug Groothuis review of "The Gospel of Judas"

Article Last Updated: 8/19/2006 12:59 AM

Book review
"Judas" a window on Gnosticism

By Douglas Groothuis
Special to The Denver Post

The Da Vinci Code" book and movie have tapped into and further stimulated popular interest in accounts of Jesus that were never included in the Bible. The novel led many to believe that the New Testament books we now possess were a result of the unsavory politics of Constantine at the Council of Nicea (325), that reliable documents depicted Jesus as married, and so on. Scholars have refuted these charges, but soon before the release of "The Da Vinci Code" movie, a short, spotty and cryptic text called "The Gospel of Judas" was released with much fanfare.

In making Judas the hero instead of the villain, this ancient document has sparked more questions about which historical sources accurately describe the life and times of Jesus.

"The Gospel of Judas" is a codex (ancient book) written in Coptic, which was found in Egypt by farmers in the 1970s but only recently released to the public by The National Geographic Society. This book contains a translation of the document in addition to essays by four scholars discussing its discovery and meaning. "The Gospel of Judas" is one of the many Gnostic texts from the second and third centuries.

Gnosticism is a worldview that denied the goodness of creation - "The Gospel of Judas" refers to the cosmos as "perdition" - and that affirmed a secret divine spark (or gnosis) latent in some people. It is much shorter than the four Gospels of the New Testament, with about half of the space given to footnotes. The text is fairly often difficult to follow because the original codex was damaged such that important words and entire lines are missing. The translators compensate for this by adding probable missing words in brackets, but this still leaves a fair amount of it undecipherable, despite the copious notes added at the bottom of the page. The text also uses some technical vocabulary that is not obvious to those unacquainted with Gnosticism.

As Bart Ehrman notes in his essay, "The Gospel of Judas" turns orthodox Christianity on its head. It begins with a revelation given only to Judas. The story denies that Jesus is the Incarnation of the God described in the Hebrew Bible. Instead, Judas (alone among the disciples) realizes that Jesus comes from a realm far higher than inhabited by the underachieving deity worshipped ignorantly by the Jews. Jesus laughs at the ignorance of the other disciples who haven't caught on to this monotheistic shell game. Yet he commends Judas.

When Judas gives Jesus over to be killed, Jesus thanks him for helping him exit a disagreeable earth. Then Judas enters "a luminous cloud" as a reward for his illumination. "The Gospel of Judas" ends without reporting either Jesus' crucifixion or his resurrection. The resurrection of the body would be unthinkable for this Gnostic mind-set, because the body is reckoned a prison from which one yearns to escape.

Contributors Marvin Mayer and Ehrman present "The Gospel of Judas" as a compelling alternative to the New Testament presentation of Jesus as Savior and Judas as betrayer, and this is how the book has been marketed. Ehrman claims that the four New Testament gospels won out over the other accounts of Jesus' life for largely political reasons. This scenario has been advanced by a host of writers in the past few decades, especially Elaine Pagels ("The Gnostic Gospels"), who, not surprisingly, endorses the book.

Nevertheless, "The Gospel of Judas" is dated around the middle of the second century, while most all scholars date Matthew, Mark and Luke to within three or four decades after Jesus' ministry. The Gospel of John is usually dated in the 90s. Internal evidence and the testimony of the church fathers agree that these records were written by witnesses of the events they describe or those who consulted witnesses (see the beginning of Luke, for example). Besides, no Gnostic text was ever even considered as a candidate for inclusion in the New Testament. The Gnostics knew they could not compete with the primary biographies. These Gnostic stories are later revisions of a much more historically rooted testimony about Jesus.

Despite promotion to the contrary, the publication of "The Gospel of Judas" does not fling open a long-closed window into a forgotten or suppressed Christianity. It rather provides one more primary source about the theological rebellion known as Gnosticism.

Douglas Groothuis is professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary and the author of "On Jesus."

Celebrity Epistemology

What theory of knowledge (epistemology) is shared by contemporary America’s ubiquitous celebrities? They, too, must know their way around their worlds, so let us hazard a guess. You may have heard of “virtue epistemology.” This is “vice epistemology.” (The following are generalizations. There are a few celebrities whose epistemology may be less debased. At least it is possible.)

1. The celebrity must master the art of being well known for being well known, as Daniel Borstin put it. This elusive quality is known to the celebrity alone. Think of Paris Hilton. On second thought, you cannot actually think of Paris Hilton, since she inspires no thought. You can only visualize her.
2. The celebrity must ever-watchful for cameras. One’s entire perceptual equipment must be attuned to the possibility of being photographed.
3. When a camera is perceived, the celebrity must discern whether to pose or seek cover. Unwanted photos end up on the covers of tabloids. There celebrity is made to look far too human, even unattractive, even un-posed. Therefore, the celebrity must recoil from these photographic intrusions. However, if the camera is wielded by a high-class magazine or television show, the celebrity must comport oneself accordingly. I will not go into this, since it would require another essay on celebrity ethics. Here is a clue: egoism.
4. The celebrity must have a keen sense for image-makeover. All of the celebrity’s intellectual and perceptual powers must be trained to know just when the public is getting tired of their image. Holding on to an image too long may mean death: the lack of celebrity! That means low ratings, loss of fornication partners, no magazine covers, no new movie deals, no appearances on “The Tonight Show,” and so on.
5. Celebrities must never—repeat never—appear intellectual or reflective. Celebrities have no time to cultivate the so-called “life of the mind,” since they are too busy entertaining the masses with their visages. How can thought be photographed anyway? It cannot be done. The action is in the image. And the money is in the image. The celebrity knows the difference between her paycheck and that of a professor, after all. When is the last time you saw a philosopher or theologian on the cover of Glamour or People Magazine? Thus, celebrities must not cerebrate.
6. The celebrity, unlike those in the unwashed herd, knows the meaning of an esoteric and entrancing quality: glamour. The celebrity not only recognize it—their heroes are, of course, other celebrities, who specialize in glamour—but the celebrity embodies glamour far more than mere mortals. They know how to do it. Glamour impresses without edifying; it excites without ennobling; and it stimulates without educating. It is amazing how much glamour can do—for the celebrity.

Such is the epistemic world of celebrities. Let us celebrate them not.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Targetted in Target by TiVo

The surreal is sometimes the real, really. Never wear a red shirt in Target. While in a Target in Sun City West, Arizona (looking for a waste basket; don't worry, it gets better), I was drawn to the television wall, my TV-B-Gone at the ready. I zapped about four at once, moved down the row, and darkened a few others.

While aiming for one more shot, a woman asked me, "Do you have TiVo?" (This is a device that records TV shows digitally and plays them back when you want. You never have to miss a nanosecond of the idiocy.) I looked down at my aimed TV-B-Gone (as did she for a moment, I think) and wondered if she was referring to that subversive device. I said, "TiVo?" She said, "I'm looking for TiVO." Well, well. Then I brilliantly said, "Sorry I don't work here. I have no idea." She replied, "It was the red shirt. Sorry."

It was the red shirt. There must be verse in Ecclesiates that frames all this wisely, but I cannot think of what it might be. No, it's the whole book.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Haunted by the Pain Wrought by Evil

I was arrested and am now haunted by a voice played on NPR today. It was the voice of one soon to become voiceless, because she would soon die at the hands of mass murderers. This was a recording of a frantic women calling the New York City police after her Twin Tower was hit by an airplane used as a missile on September 11, 2001.

She was high up in the building, above the mark where the demon-piloted plane exploded into her building. The smoke was billowing and the temperature rising. "We are burning up," she cried. The police operator valiently tried to calm and console her... But that woman was never seen or heard again.

Why does this haunt me? Why should this haunt you? It revealed the soul of a human ravaged by evil, evil done to her--while she was at work, minding her own business, never expecting terror to doom her.

Although it was nearly five years ago, and while debate rages on how America should respond to the war declared against America by Osama be Laden and his vermin, we must not lose our resolve to stand against this evil. The evil that deliberately targets civilians, the evil that rejoices in their deaths and torments, this evil done in the name of a false God. That same evil targeted ten airplanes for destruction over the ocean on their way to America. It was foiled; but they remain.

We are in the vortex of nothing less than a battle for civilization. Let that haunt you. The battle is all-encompassing and multifacetted. Worldview is pitted against worldview. Before some men are beheaded other men are deluded and desouled by deadly lies. This is philosophical, theological, spiritual, and military warfare all rolled into one.

Will you stand for the truth that sets people free? That truth is Jesus Christ. His way is liberation, in this life and beyond. It is the way of love, service, and sacrifice. Christians may be martyred, but their martyrdom is not through suicide/homicide. They overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony. The most heinous men can repent and find new life and real love.

But the Ameircan state, with its God-given power of the sword, must also stand against its enemies. It must see evil as evil. It must respond to evil and never placate or tone it down It, too, must be haunted by the last words of an innocent women about to die because she lived in America.

I am writing this late at night on a tiny keyboard. I should be preparing for other things. I have no time for anyone to edit this.

I am haunted by this evil. I will not forget it. I will remember and act accordingly, God helping me.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Words, Meaning, Silence

Ecclesiates 6:11

11 The more the words,
the less the meaning,
and how does that profit anyone?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Aging, Meaning, and God: The Grasshopper Cometh

Ecclesiastes 12 TNIV (Today's New International Version)

1 Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, "I find no pleasure in them"—
2 before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain;
3 when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, when the grinders cease because they are few, and those looking through the windows grow dim;
4 when the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades; when people rise up at the sound of birds, but all their songs grow faint;
5 when people are afraid of heights and of dangers in the streets; when the almond tree blossoms and the grasshopper drags itself along and desire no longer is stirred. Then people go to their eternal home and mourners go about the streets.
6 Remember him—before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the wheel broken at the well,
7 and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
8 "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Everything is meaningless!"

The Conclusion of the Matter
9 Not only was the Teacher wise, but also he imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. 10 The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true.
11 The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one shepherd. 12 Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.
13 Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the [duty] of every human being.
14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Apologetics: Take it to the Streets

Having just finished the little pedagogical classic, The Seven Laws of Teaching, by John Milton Gregory, I realized that I had not left to my students a synoptic review and exhortation based on our five-week adventure in Christian apologetics (Defending Christian Faith at Denver Seminary). Since the class is over, I sent them a group email. Perhaps some of you might be edified by it. It is the charter for my life, however imperfectly I live it out.

For the sake of the King of Kings and his eternal Kingdom, take Christian truth so seriously that you consistently and over a lifetime apply your resources to understanding it, explaining it, declaring it, defending it, and applying it. Enter the world of ideas with a deep knowledge of the truth, from which flows a confident and courageous defense of Christianity before the watching world. Seize upon opportunities to make the Gospel known as much as your wisdom and maturity allows. Always depend on the Holy Spirit for the requisite character, knowledge, and rationality for this grand task.

In other words, "Take it to the streets," In Jesus’ name.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Art of the Syllabus

Is there an art to the syllabus? First of all, what is a syllabus? It is a constitution or charter for some kind of course in which certain things are to be achieved. So, a syllabus is programmatic: the course will accomplish X number of things in Y kinds of ways (or one hopes). It contains references to books and articles, but is not a bibliography per se. The syllabus should motivate a student to learn through the class. It should not confuse her or overwhelm her. It should reveal the concern of the professor for the student and for the discipline engaged. In other words, it should be an act of love. Syllabi are obviously important to modern learning—I don’t think Jesus handed any out to his disciples, however—but have never heard a lecture about them or even read an article on them. One usually learns from the syllabi one has received as a student or from those shared by other faculty.

What should a syllabus involve? Some are clipped and businesslike—a mere page or two. Others are more expansive, discursive, or even homiletic and inspirational. I put epigrams at the beginning of my syllabi (as often found leading a chapter of a book) and pepper them with exhortations, warnings, imperatives, and more. My syllabus for apologetics—a course I have taught at least once a year since 1993—weighs in at about sixteen pages: long enough to send the heartiest student into severe syllabus shock. In fact, it sent an adjunct professor whose is teaching the class for me this fall (I am going on sabbatical) into a similar panic after he beheld it. However, much of the girth is not its complicated assignments, but its references, both print and Internet. For some years, I have been using what I call a “hot linked” syllabus: references are linked in the syllabus and can be accessed immediately if one is on line. (Who says I’m a Luddite? If you would like a copy of this monster, let me know.)

The form of the syllabus is not as difficult as the content, however. The teacher needs to discern how much reading to assign, the course format (lecture, seminar, lecture-seminar?), and how students will be evaluated (quizzes, in class tests, take home test, oral reports, group projects?), and more. I wrestle with the level of the content as I prepare to teach Introduction to Philosophy at Estrella Mountain Community College this fall, having taught the class once before at Arapahoe Community College last term. The basic principle is to stretch the student, but not to the breaking point. However, it is far better to overwhelm the student than to bore them, thus insulting their intelligence. (Teaching and preaching should flesh out the same principle.)

Here is a thought experiment pertinent to the art of the syllabus. What if we were to gauge the expertise of a professor not by her published work or degrees achieved, but by the care and dedication she put into her syllabi? Some academic superstars might be found at the bottom of the barrel. Other unknowns would rise to the top as celebrated syllabus sovereigns.

But, then again, the actual phenomenology of the course in question may either rise above or sink below the level of the syllabus. When great jazz musicians jam together, they only need to chat briefly about what tunes to play and in what key. The rest is left to their implicit knowledge and flights of improvisation. They need next to no “syllabus,” so to speak. Some master teachers may put little effort into the syllabus but ascent to great pedagogical heights in the performance of the class itself. Classical music requires a rigorous syllabus in most cases. But a marvelous score may be miserably performed.

In light of these brief reflections, please tell me what you (as teachers or students) think the art of the syllabus may be. Give horror stories and glowing reports. Let us learn together the art of learning.

Apologetics Lectures

I just found this web page that has MP3 files of part of course on apologetics I gave several years ago.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Vows, Words, Meaning

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.

2 Do not be quick with your mouth,
do not be hasty in your heart
to utter anything before God.
God is in heaven
and you are on earth,
so let your words be few.

3 A dream comes when there are many cares,
and many words mark the speech of a fool.

4 When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. 5 It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it. 6 Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the [temple] messenger, "My vow was a mistake." Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? 7 Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God.

Ecclesiastes 5:1-7.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Bernard Lewis from the August 8th Wall Street Journal

A passage from the Ayatollah Khomeini, quoted in an 11th-grade Iranian schoolbook, is revealing. "I am decisively announcing to the whole world that if the world-devourers [i.e., the infidel powers] wish to stand against our religion, we will stand against their whole world and will not cease until the annihilation of all them. Either we all become free, or we will go to the greater freedom which is martyrdom. Either we shake one another's hands in joy at the victory of Islam in the world, or all of us will turn to eternal life and martyrdom. In both cases, victory and success are ours."

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Private Jet Needed

The recent restrictions in air travel (due to the increased terrorist threat) happened two days after we purchased a ticket for my wife to fly from Denver to Phoenix. (We will both be there for my fall sabbatical from Denver Seminary.) It is very questionable whether Rebecca could handle a flight without any liquids, due to her medical problems. An extra long wait in the mold-hell of DIA is not high on her list of enjoyable activities either. So, she may need to drive out to Phoenix with me, which poses another (huge) set of problems.

So, on our walk tonight we came up with a simple solution. If anyone out there has a private jet and can fly Rebecca from Denver to Phoenix (for free, of course), please let us know as soon as possible.

All in all, "We walk by faith and not by sight." But what is the faithful thing to do on this one?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Academic Virtue: Finesse

As Aristotle pointed out, there are certain virtues consonant with various disciplines: requisite standards epistemologically and ethically. Christ calls us to seek first the Kingdom of God and to teach the truth he brought to earth in person (Matthew 6:33; 28:18-20). Paul commands us to do all that we do to the glory of God and to teach with integrity (Colossians 3:17; Titus 2:7-8).

This invokes some rumination. What are the academic virtues a Christian should seek and flesh out? Certainly, we should be truth-seekers and truth-tellers, who desire to be transformed through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2). Our scholarship should not merely advance our precious careers, but the Kingdom of God. We should shun the pride, preening, and pettiness which are so common in the halls of academe (and elsewhere, of course).

My question here, though, has more to do with finesse. Some things in scholarship are unambiguously wrong: plagiarism, lying on CVs, fudging data, demeaning students, treating them unfairly, recycling teaching material without new research, and more. Other matters, however, are more matters of finesse or of taste. Here are some items for thought.

1. Is there such a thing as self-plagiarism? I have seen authors recycle large amounts of previous published material without saying so. What of taking previously published materials and revising it for an entry in a book or elsewhere? (Maybe this is clearly wrong--at in the most egregious cases of recycling many pages without changes and no confession one is doing so--and not a matter of finesse.)

2. When should one quote a source and when should it be paraphrased and referenced? Some philosophers, for example, seldom quote others, such as Keith Yandell. Others, such as Ronald Nash, quote others very liberally (probably too much so much of the time). This seems to be a matter of taste, at least to some extent.

3. How much should first person reference come into academic writing? Strunk and White, in their immortal Elements of Style, say didacticallyto root it out. I tend to agree (notice the first person reference there), but autobiography cannot be separated entirely from philosophy or other academic disciplines. I usually tell my students to eliminate the first person unless it is somehow pertinent to the argument. The contemporary trend toward vapid memoir (Blue Like Jazz, etc.) should be avoided.

I look forward to your ruminations on academic finesse. Be graceful.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Victor Davis Hanson, National Review On Line, August 4, 2006

[This is long, but astute and alarming. The more I read by Hanson, the more impressed I am. He is a classicist and military historian.]

The Brink of Madness
A familiar place.

By Victor Davis Hanson

When I used to read about the 1930s — the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, the rise of fascism in Italy, Spain, and Germany, the appeasement in France and Britain, the murderous duplicity of the Soviet Union, and the racist Japanese murdering in China — I never could quite figure out why, during those bleak years, Western Europeans and those in the United States did not speak out and condemn the growing madness, if only to defend the millennia-long promise of Western liberalism.

Of course, the trauma of the Great War was all too fresh, and the utopian hopes for the League of Nations were not yet dashed. The Great Depression made the thought of rearmament seem absurd. The connivances of Stalin with Hitler — both satanic, yet sometimes in alliance, sometimes not — could confuse political judgments.

But nevertheless it is still surreal to reread the fantasies of Chamberlain, Daladier, and Pope Pius, or the stump speeches by Charles Lindbergh (“Their [the Jews’] greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government”) or Father Coughlin (“Many people are beginning to wonder whom they should fear most — the Roosevelt-Churchill combination or the Hitler-Mussolini combination.”) — and baffling to consider that such men ever had any influence.

Not any longer.

Our present generation too is on the brink of moral insanity. That has never been more evident than in the last three weeks, as the West has proven utterly unable to distinguish between an attacked democracy that seeks to strike back at terrorist combatants, and terrorist aggressors who seek to kill civilians.

It is now nearly five years since jihadists from the Arab world left a crater in Manhattan and ignited the Pentagon. Apart from the frontline in Iraq, the United States and NATO have troops battling the Islamic fascists in Afghanistan. European police scramble daily to avoid another London or Madrid train bombing. The French, Dutch, and Danish governments are worried that a sizable number of Muslim immigrants inside their countries are not assimilating, and, more worrisome, are starting to demand that their hosts alter their liberal values to accommodate radical Islam. It is apparently not safe for Australians in Bali, and a Jew alone in any Arab nation would have to be discreet — and perhaps now in France or Sweden as well. Canadians’ past opposition to the Iraq war, and their empathy for the Palestinians, earned no reprieve, if we can believe that Islamists were caught plotting to behead their prime minister. Russians have been blown up by Muslim Chechnyans from Moscow to Beslan. India is routinely attacked by Islamic terrorists. An elected Lebanese minister must keep in mind that a Hezbollah or Syrian terrorist — not an Israeli bomb — might kill him if he utters a wrong word. The only mystery here in the United States is which target the jihadists want to destroy first: the Holland Tunnel in New York or the Sears Tower in Chicago.

In nearly all these cases there is a certain sameness: The Koran is quoted as the moral authority of the perpetrators; terrorism is the preferred method of violence; Jews are usually blamed; dozens of rambling complaints are aired, and killers are often considered stateless, at least in the sense that the countries in which they seek shelter or conduct business or find support do not accept culpability for their actions.

Yet the present Western apology to all this is often to deal piecemeal with these perceived Muslim grievances: India, after all, is in Kashmir; Russia is in Chechnya; America is in Iraq, Canada is in Afghanistan; Spain was in Iraq (or rather, still is in Al Andalus); or Israel was in Gaza and Lebanon. Therefore we are to believe that “freedom fighters” commit terror for political purposes of “liberation.” At the most extreme, some think there is absolutely no pattern to global terrorism, and the mere suggestion that there is constitutes “Islamaphobia.”

Here at home, yet another Islamic fanatic conducts an act of al Qaedism in Seattle, and the police worry immediately about the safety of the mosques from which such hatred has in the past often emanated — as if the problem of a Jew being murdered at the Los Angeles airport or a Seattle civic center arises from not protecting mosques, rather than protecting us from what sometimes goes on in mosques.

But then the world is awash with a vicious hatred that we have not seen in our generation: the most lavish film in Turkish history, “Valley of the Wolves,” depicts a Jewish-American harvesting organs at Abu Ghraib in order to sell them; the Palestinian state press regularly denigrates the race and appearance of the American Secretary of State; the U.N. secretary general calls a mistaken Israeli strike on a U.N. post “deliberate,” without a word that his own Blue Helmets have for years watched Hezbollah arm rockets in violation of U.N. resolutions, and Hezbollah’s terrorists routinely hide behind U.N. peacekeepers to ensure impunity while launching missiles.

If you think I exaggerate the bankruptcy of the West or only refer to the serial ravings on the Middle East of Pat Buchanan or Jimmy Carter, consider some of the most recent comments from Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah about Israel: “When the people of this temporary country lose their confidence in their legendary army, the end of this entity will begin [emphasis added].” Then compare Nasrallah’s remarks about the U.S: “To President Bush, Prime Minister Olmert and every other tyrannical aggressor. I want to invite you to do what you want, practice your hostilities. By God, you will not succeed in erasing our memory, our presence or eradicating our strong belief. Your masses will soon waste away, and your days are numbered [emphasis added].”

And finally examine here at home reaction to Hezbollah — which has butchered Americans in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia — from a prominent Democratic Congressman, John Dingell: “I don’t take sides for or against Hezbollah.” And isn’t that the point, after all: the amoral Westerner cannot exercise moral judgment because he no longer has any?

An Arab rights group, between denunciations of Israel and America, is suing its alma mater the United States for not evacuating Arab-Americans quickly enough from Lebanon, despite government warnings of the dangers of going there, and the explicit tactics of Hezbollah, in the manner of Saddam Hussein, of using civilians as human shields in the war it started against Israel.

Demonstrators on behalf of Hezbollah inside the United States — does anyone remember our 241 Marines slaughtered by these cowardly terrorists? — routinely carry placards with the Star of David juxtaposed with Swastikas, as voices praise terrorist killers. Few Arab-American groups these past few days have publicly explained that the sort of violence, tyranny, and lawlessness of the Middle East that drove them to the shores of a compassionate and successful America is best epitomized by the primordial creed of Hezbollah.

There is no need to mention Europe, an entire continent now returning to the cowardice of the 1930s. Its cartoonists are terrified of offending Muslim sensibilities, so they now portray the Jews as Nazis, secure that no offended Israeli terrorist might chop off their heads. The French foreign minister meets with the Iranians to show solidarity with the terrorists who promise to wipe Israel off the map (“In the region there is of course a country such as Iran — a great country, a great people and a great civilization which is respected and which plays a stabilizing role in the region”) — and manages to outdo Chamberlain at Munich. One wonders only whether the prime catalyst for such French debasement is worry over oil, terrorists, nukes, unassimilated Arab minorities at home, or the old Gallic Jew-hatred.

It is now a cliché to rant about the spread of postmodernism, cultural relativism, utopian pacifism, and moral equivalence among the affluent and leisured societies of the West. But we are seeing the insidious wages of such pernicious theories as they filter down from our media, universities, and government — and never more so than in the general public’s nonchalance since Hezbollah attacked Israel.

These past few days the inability of millions of Westerners, both here and in Europe, to condemn fascist terrorists who start wars, spread racial hatred, and despise Western democracies is the real story, not the “quarter-ton” Israeli bombs that inadvertently hit civilians in Lebanon who live among rocket launchers that send missiles into Israeli cities and suburbs.

Yes, perhaps Israel should have hit more quickly, harder, and on the ground; yes, it has run an inept public relations campaign; yes, to these criticisms and more. But what is lost sight of is the central moral issue of our times: a humane democracy mired in an asymmetrical war is trying to protect itself against terrorists from the 7th century, while under the scrutiny of a corrupt world that needs oil, is largely anti-Semitic and deathly afraid of Islamic terrorists, and finds psychic enjoyment in seeing successful Western societies under duress.

In short, if we wish to learn what was going on in Europe in 1938, just look around.

— Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the author, most recently, of A War Like No Other. How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Abraham Kuyper on prayer, grace, genius

"But as the gift of grace is freely bestowed by the sovereign God, so is also the gift of genius. When the people pray, let them not forget to ask the Lord to raise up among them men of talent, heroes of art and of office.--The Work of the Holy Spirit." And women, too.

Humility: The Heart of Righteousness

[This was published in Christianity That Counts back in 1994.)


Writing about humility is--or at least should be--a humbling experience. I write with both reluctance and a sense of daring--and I hope without presumption. I am reluctant because I am no expert in the matter and do not want to speak too far beyond my experience. Nevertheless, I dare to proceed because I have been brought to see that humility is the living center of the Christian life, the indispensable heart of righteousness. As Andrew Murray said in his classic book Humility: The Beauty of Holiness, "Humility is the only soil in which the graces root; the lack of humility is the sufficient explanation of every defect and failure. Humility is not so much a grace or virtue along with others; it is the root of all, because it alone takes the right attitude before God, and allows Him as God to do all." Christian spirituality is founded upon humility of spirit and cannot live without it.

Without humility, Christ will be scarcely detectable in our lives. No matter what our gifts may be--teaching, preaching, writing, organizing, counseling, leading--and no matter how expertly we exhibit them, they are hauntingly hollow without humility. Without humility, others may hear of Christ from us, but they will not see him in us. He will remain more of a rumor than a reality. If we want Christ to become a public reality in us, we should seek to understand just what humility is and how to cultivate it.

Things valuable and rare, such as money and precious stones, are often counterfeited, and so humility is counterfeited by inept imitators. Someone who publicly bemoans his inadequacies with predictable regularity, is probably not humble. He is, rather, disgusted with himself and seeking to have others build him up. Nor is the one who is forever solemn and glum a good candidate for humility, because humility does not consist in perpetually pondering the somber and unpleasant. Such a dour soul is probably too wrapped up in melancholy to be meek.

We could expose other imposters of humility. But although counterfeits should be unmasked, they can provide no solid food for humility; one can avoid poison and still not know what makes for manna. The manna of humility can be understood as based on two doctrinal pillars known to us all: that we are creatures of the Creator, and redeemed by Christ the Redeemer.

Humility is a condition of the heart in which a person is disposed to receive all good things as a bestowal of grace. The humble refuse to take credit where it is not due, and recognize that "every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights" (James 1:18). Humility is based on our relationship with God. We are humble before God as a result of apprehending who God is in relation to who we are.


Humility is rooted not only in our being rescued from sin by the Savior; it is equally rooted in our position as creatures of the Creator. We are not the source of our own existence nor of any good that greets us. All is a gift from Another--the thunderous rush of the surging waves of the ocean, the luminous smile of a wife or husband, a good night's sleep, a moonlit night, a child's laughter. All is received by mere mortals. Adam and Eve in all their unfallen splendor owed worship and thanksgiving to their Maker. As do we.

It is a short step from thanksgiving to humility; conversely, it is quite a strain to be thankful and prideful at one sitting. Thanksgiving lifts us out of ourselves and into the graces of another where we find joy in the recognition of goodness bestowed. We are the recipients, not the Benefactor. As Andrew Murray put it: "But as God is the ever-present, ever-active One, who upholdeth all things by the word of his power, and in whom all things exist, the relation of the creature to God could only be one of unceasing, absolute, universal dependence."

While a reflection on this dependence naturally triggers thanksgiving and worship, pride is rooted in ingratitude and claims for itself what it can never merit. The book of Acts tells of the pride of Herod who, after an ostentatious public address, was lauded by his subjects as a god: "Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died" (Acts 12:21-23). Although God rarely judges so quickly, pride itself eats away at those who are intent on promoting themselves. Pride deems that no promotion is ever good enough, no accomplishment satisfactory, and no victory final. When we try to fill ourselves with ourselves we remain empty--if noisy. As Pascal put it regarding our need for grace, "this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself."


Humility is not only the appropriate response of dependent creatures, it is the Christian's invaluable inheritance in Christ. Our salvation was achieved through humility and for humility. Humility was the very instrument of redemption. Christ did not consider equality with God something to be grasped; instead, he humbled himself in order to serve us and his Father by leaving the perfection of heaven and dying on the cross to set us free from sin (Phil. 2:5-11). It may be difficult to fathom how God Incarnate could be humble, but this is only because our vision of humility is clouded. The humility of Christ is rooted in his servant heart. He came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for fallen people (Mk. 10:45).

The measure of Christ's earthly greatness was his obedience to the Father for our sake. He did not seek his own glory, although he deserved it; and he did not insist on his own will, although he could have commanded legions of angels to save him from the cross. Instead of demanding that the disciples kiss his feet, he washed theirs. Instead of slapping Judas at the last supper, he kissed him. Instead of silencing his opponents by summoning fire from heaven, he loved his enemies--even on the cross, asking his Father to forgive them.

Seen in this light we can better understand what Jesus meant when he said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30). This is Jesus' explanation of how we can receive his humility. His is the yoke of humility because he above all others was meek before his Father in heaven. And it is this humility that he offers to those who take up his yoke. We will miss the heart of this verse (as I did for years!) unless we see that Jesus both exemplifies and offers humility. Humility is a primary benefit of salvation. If we understand the terms of our salvation, our only response can be humility. One who is redeemed by the grace of God has no cause for boasting. As Paul announced, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast" (Eph. 2:8-9).

Pride is excluded in principle from first to last. As Jeremiah said, "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness" (Jer. 9:23-24).

If we understand the gospel and know who we are in Christ, we can trust the kindness of God himself instead of pridefully seeking the flattery and approval of others. We are free to be humble in Christ because we are completely at peace with him through his crucifixion and resurrection. We can rest even while we work because we are justified by faith, not works. We are free to serve God and others because we know that Christ will meet our needs out of the riches of his love. Pride is eliminated when we remember that "those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again" (2 Cor. 5:15).


If humility involves knowing who we are as creatures of the Creator and as sinners rescued by the Redeemer, can humility be cultivated in such a way that Christ will be seen in us? Seeking humility is a delicate matter. We should guard against praying for humility in order to be seen as humble, for this is merely pride feigning humility for pride's sake. We can't pray for humility as we would pray for a pay raise at work. We must dig deeper because humility involves a fundamental adjustment of our inner being in accordance with the truths of the gospel. Let's consider several steps for detecting the pride that precludes humility.

First, we should beseech God to lay bare our offensive pride, as David did when he prayed, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psa. 139:23-24). We may need to turn our prayers from requests for material blessings to requests for the spiritual blessing of humility. This is eminently reasonable since nothing can truly be enjoyed without humility; pride is far too petty and protective to enjoy anything. Building the kingdom of self is a dirty and dispiriting business. Finding humility in the Spirit glorifies God and brings life and peace.

Second, we should note what things particularly disturb us and then ask, "Am I bothered because this is evil and offense to God or am I upset because my pride is hurt?" Am I more outraged at not having my good deed applauded than I am over the fact that my friend was cheated by an employer? If so, my pride outweighs my humility. Andrew Murray puts it strongly: "All sharp and hasty judgments and utterances, so often excused under the plea of being outright and honest; all manifestations of temper and touchiness and irritation; all feelings of bitterness and estrangement--have their root in nothing but pride, that ever seeks itself."

Third, whenever we blow our own horns, we fall into pride and make humility impossible. Everyone needs approval and encouragement, but no one should manipulate others in order to gain it. Boasting is a particular snare for those in public ministry where popular approval is so important. Instead of glorying in God's work through us and in us, a subtle shift occurs and we instead recite our deeds of righteousness in order to receive applause. But Proverbs says to "let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips" (Prov. 27:2); it is not honorable to seek your own honor (Prov. 25:27). We disgrace God's ministry when we succumb to pride. But humility comes when our self-esteem is grounded in God's gracious estimation of us rather than in the varying opinions of others.


There are several ways that we can protect our hearts from pride and seek humility in the Spirit. First, in a culture enamored of self, we must be ever watchful not to let the world squeeze us into its psychological mold. The fountain of the spiritual life is humility, not self-love. In Christ we are free to recognize good qualities in ourselves and enjoy them as we offer them to God for his use, but exercises in self-congratulation are never edifying. As the spiritual advisor Fenelon put it, "True humility lies in seeing our own unworthiness and giving ourselves up to God, never doubting that He can work out the greatest results for and in us." We are best used for God's great purposes by realizing that he is great and and we are not. This refutes the advice of a self-absorbed society which desperately seeks to inflate a sinful and unforgiven self to acceptable proportions. Paul put it best when he said, "We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us" (2 Cor. 4:7).

Second, we can study and meditate upon the lives and writings of great saints and heroes of the faith, both within and outside of the Scripture, who put flesh and bone on humility. Here we find that humility is not the enemy of greatness. Moses was called the meekest of men, but he was a world-changing instrument in God's hands. Paul was a humble bondservant of Christ, but bold to preach the gospel and risk all for God. As someone involved with the university, I find the example of Thomas Aquinas inspiring because I need to be watchful to avoid the competitiveness and intellectual pride that besets the academy. Aquinas was a great theologian and philosopher of the middle ages; yet one of his disciples wrote that he "owed his knowledge less to the effort of his mind than to the power of his prayer. Every time he wanted to study, discuss, teach, write, or dictate, he first had recourse to the privacy of prayer, weeping before God in order to discover the divine secrets." The great scholar was great only because he was humble. "Humility comes before honor" (Prov. 15:33).

Third, being open and accountable to another believer is essential to spiritual growth in humility. Humility is not a solitary project; it requires help from friends. My wife has on several occasions observed a sense of self-importance in my teaching and gently encouraged me to reform. I need to hear this--even though it stings--because the pain of correction is far better than the indulgence and deception of pride. Spouses and friends should prayerfully encourage each other to take up the yoke of Jesus in order to experience and express his restful humility.


Is the practice of Christian humility possible in the modern public square, the realm so often characterized by noisy, unprincipled, and power-mongering politicos who are more likely to believe that the earth inherits the meek than the meek inherit the earth?

Humility is not optional for Christians. The humility of Jesus secured a salvation which makes humility both possible and necessary. It is not simply one virtue among many, but the root of all righteousness--because only humility puts us in our rightful place before the Creator and Redeemer. And only humility puts us in the ethical position to represent our Master with authenticity. Empty vessels can be filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit. Vessels brimming with pride can hold no grace. Blaise Pascal summarized the humble life when he said, "Do small things as if they were great, because of the majesty of Christ, who does them in us and lives our life, and great things as if they were small and easy, because of his almighty power." Amen.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Calling All Academics

I recently read a collection of short essays in The Chronicle of Higher Education concerning how a professor's well-known blog may have hurt his chances at getting a better academic job. The Chronicle has run a number of essays on the pros and cons of blogging for academics in the past few years. For example, what you find when you google (now a verb) "Professor Windi Gail Blowharde" may be something quite different from what you find on her CV.

In light of this, here are ask two questions. (1) If you are an academic and you regularly read The Constructive Curmudgeon, please leave a post. (Tom and Tim, you are already among the elect.) (2) How do any of you understand the relationship of the blog to the academic world? I know that this blog has caused a few academic ripples. For example, a fellow who wants to do graduate work on Carl Jung asked me for more information about the gnosticizer after reading my post on Jung (originally an article in Christian Counseling Today).

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Folly of "World Opinion"

[Of all the talk radio hosts I have heard, Denis Prager is probably the most civil and rational. Obviously, I do not always agree with him (especially concerning his views on smoking and breast implants), but on the issue below, he courageously and intelligently refutes a common and pernicious myth: that world opinion has any intrinsic moral standing.]

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Moral bankruptcy of 'world opinion'
Posted: August 1, 20061:00 a.m. Eastern
By Dennis Prager
© 2000 © 2006

If you are ever morally confused about a major world issue, here is a rule that is almost never violated: Whenever you hear that "world opinion" holds a view, assume it is morally wrong.

And here is a related rule if your religious or national or ethnic group ever suffers horrific persecution: "World opinion" will never do a thing for you. Never.
"World opinion" has little or nothing to say about the world's greatest evils and regularly condemns those who fight evil.

The history of "world opinion" regarding the greatest mass murders and cruelties on the planet is one of relentless apathy.

Ask the 1.5 million Armenians massacred by the Ottoman Turks;
or the 6 million Ukrainians slaughtered by Stalin;
or the tens of millions of other Soviet citizens killed by Stalin's Soviet Union;
or the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their helpers throughout Europe;
or the 60 million Chinese butchered by Mao;
or the 2 million Cambodians murdered by Pol Pot;
or the millions killed and enslaved in Sudan;
or the Tutsis murdered in Rwanda's genocide;
or the millions starved to death and enslaved in North Korea;
or the million Tibetans killed by the Chinese;
or the million-plus Afghans put to death by Brezhnev's Soviet Union.

Ask any of these poor souls, or the hundreds of millions of others slaughtered, tortured, raped and enslaved in the last 100 years, if "world opinion" did anything for them.

On the other hand, we learn that "world opinion" is quite exercised over Israel's unintentional killing of a few hundred Lebanese civilians behind whom hides Hezbollah – a terror group that intentionally sends missiles at Israeli cities and whose announced goals are the annihilation of Israel and the Islamicization of Lebanon. And, of course, "world opinion" was just livid at American abuses of some Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. In fact, "world opinion" is constantly upset with America and Israel, two of the most decent countries on earth, yet silent about the world's cruelest countries.

Why is this?

Here are four reasons:

First, television news.

It is difficult to overstate the damage done to the world by television news. Even when not driven by political bias – an exceedingly rare occurrence globally – television news presents a thoroughly distorted picture of the world. Because it is almost entirely dependent upon pictures, TV news is only capable of showing human suffering in, or caused by, free countries. So even if the BBC or CNN were interested in showing the suffering of millions of Sudanese blacks or North Koreans –and they are not interested in so doing – they cannot do it because reporters cannot visit Sudan or North Korea and video freely. Likewise, China's decimation and annexation of Tibet, one of the world's oldest ongoing civilizations, never made it to television.

Second, "world opinion" is shaped by the same lack of courage that shapes most individual human beings' behavior. This is another aspect of the problem of the distorted way news is presented. It takes courage to report the evil of evil regimes; it takes no courage to report on the flaws of decent societies. Reporters who went into Afghanistan without the Soviet Union's permission were killed. Reporters would risk their lives to get critical stories out of Tibet, North Korea and other areas where vicious regimes rule. But to report on America's bad deeds in Iraq (not to mention at home) or Israel's is relatively effortless, and you surely won't get killed. Indeed, you may well win a Pulitzer Prize.

Third, "world opinion" bends toward power. To cite the Israel example, "world opinion" far more fears alienating the largest producers of oil and 1 billion Muslims than it fears alienating tiny Israel and the world's 13 million Jews. And not only because of oil and numbers. When you offend Muslims, you risk getting a fatwa, having your editorial offices burned down or receiving death threats. Jews don't burn down their critics' offices, issue fatwas or send death threats, let alone act on such threats.

Fourth, those who don't fight evil condemn those who do. "World opinion" doesn't confront real evils, but it has a particular animus toward those who do – most notably today America and Israel.

The moment one recognizes "world opinion" for what it is – a statement of moral cowardice, one is no longer enthralled by the term. That "world opinion" at this moment allegedly loathes America and Israel is a badge of honor to be worn proudly by those countries. It is when "world opinion" and its news media start liking you that you should wonder if you've lost your way.

Dennis Prager, one of America's most respected and popular nationally syndicated radio talk-show hosts, is the author of several books and a frequent guest on TV shows such as "Larry King Live," "The O'Reilly Factor" and "Hannity & Colmes."