Monday, December 31, 2007

DVDs and Early Onset Dementia

My wife uttered the following epigram after commenting on the demented and spastic expression on a young child's face, which is featured on the instructional booklet to a DVD player. The child is, of course, looking at a screen.

"These days excitement passes for enjoyment, and
overstimulation passes for excitement."

--Rebecca Merrill Groothuis

Concluding Benediction for 2007

20 Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.--Hebrews 13:20, TNIV.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Space, Room, Silence

The Constructive Curmudgeon will take an indefinite recess.

Use the time you might spend here to lament the lot of this fallen, broken world,
to cry out to the Trinity for wisdom and courage,
and to search your own heart for pockets of rebellion against
the Holiest of All.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

"Woe to you..." --Matthew 23.

Most become television characters,
Automatically defering to self, for self, in self, by self.
"My story..."
Memoirs, ubiquitous--in reviews, essays, editorials.
The imperious "I" as axiomatic, autosoteric.

Self intrudes, extrudes,
struts, whines, wishes, whistles, imposes.
"My story..."
Self permeates, as a way of life,
as way of (socially acceptable and normal) death--a noisey decay.

Why self? Why, it's self!
It's me.
Who else?
Theology as autobiography.
Theology as psychology.
No theology at all.

Selfism, solipsism, solecism.
First-person, firmly personal.
I am not lonely!...Am I?

Gaining the whole world through verbal theft,
Stealing self from God.
Steeling oneself from God.
Refusing to live in God, before God...
That self might find its rightful place,
And learn silence, solace, and more silence
In the One who is not silent, but demands
that self shut itself up and

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Top Ten Bad Events of 2007 (corrected)

Near the end of the year, we are assaulted with a number of lists concerning noteworthy events of 2007. Here is my curmudgeonly list of obnoxious realities from 2007. These items by no means are meant to exhaust the list of "bad events," nor are they the most evil things that happened in 2007. They are simply things that really ticked me off. Since my sensibilities are not perfectly calibrated to objective reality, I cannot claim too much for the list. Please add a few of your own.

1. Hilary Clinton running for president. She is the quintessentially unprincipled politico: all political machine, no character, no vision.
2. Bill Clinton writing a book on giving. This defies belief. It is like the Marquis de Sade writing a book on abstinence. Clinton has no shame, but plays a mean game of narcissism.
3. The on going media fascination with stupid, sex-crazed, and drug-addled celebrities. Don't expect this to change any time before the millennium.
4. The baseball steroid scandals. "Take me out to the drug game, take me out to the show..." Here is another evidence of the death of character in America.
5. Barry Bonds breaking Hank Aaron's home run record. I don't like tattoos, but an asterisk on Barry's head would be just fine.
6. The growth of "the new atheism" perpetuated by writers like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. They don't give the best arguments for atheism, but they have raised the volume, sharpened the knives, and gone for the heart of religion--all religion. Their errors are legion, their books best-sellers. (I have reviewed recent books by Harris and Dawkins in The Christian Research Journal. I have a review of Hitchen's God is Not Great forthcoming there as well.)
7. The continued ideologically rich, but intellectually poor, pummelling of Intelligent Design by the established media and educational mandarins, particularly Iowa State University's denial of tenure to the stellar scholar, Guillermo Gonzalez. Read about this at: 8. The major television networks air the video of the evil ramblings of a mass killer, who devastated his university. He became the postmortem celebrity he desired. The national addiction to video continues--without shame, without knowledge of the truth, without respite.
9. There seems to be no presidential candidate who is both pro-life and has a realistic view of international terrorism--the two greatest issues facing the country.
10. Of lesser consequence: I was given a free Kenny G CD when I ordered a Jack Bruce recording on line. It remains unopened in my office--an object suitable for hurling across the room during a lecture on aesthetics.

Six Wrong Reasons to Give (Title Correction)

America on Line ran an egregious story about reasons to give to charities. It devilishly transforms altruism into egoism--ingenious and ignominious. There is no mention, of course, of God's commands to give, God's love of a cheerful giver, or God's ultimate gift of himself when "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).

Please see through this, then see to it that you give as the Bible teaches: "It is better to give than to receive." I have appended curmudgeonly commentary to each point.

Six Surprising Reasons to Give to Charity

Everyone knows there are lots of good reasons to give to charity, especially at the end of the year when there are tax benefits to reap and holiday good will to spread. But this year, many charities are doing quite a bit of giving themselves.Non-profits are trying harder than ever to make donating fun. They have little choice since their costs are rising as charitable donations remain fairly flat. These organizations realize you have to give something to get something.

But before you decide to help your fellow man, check out the charity with Charity Navigator or the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance to make sure that your donation will be spent prudently. The following are some surprising reasons to give to charity:

1) Meet Celebrities: Want to meet Bruce Springsteen, Robin Williams or Bill Clinton? Chances to shake hands with these and other notable people were recently auctioned off at the Web site Charity Folks and Charitybuzz. Be forewarned, these experiences don’t come cheap.

I don't want to meet any celebrities. I am already trying to avoid them in popular culture. If I met Bill Clinton I would say, "Thou art the man," then probably get arrested.

2) Do interesting things: For example, Charity Folks recently auctioned off a chance to shadow the elite Special Operations Division of the New York Police Department, watch the NBC Nightly News from the control room, or attend the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show and a party with the super models. Chances to hang out with the cast of the Howard Stern Show and win a day of beauty with celebrity stylist Rita Hazan were sold recently on Charitybuzz. People with more modest budgets can get in on the fun as well. Aquariums and zoos offer special behind-the-scenes tours for donors, as do some museums.

I can do interesting things by buying the opportunity (going to a concert) or simply doing them (teaching my classes). I won't pretend that I am giving when really all I am doing is getting something.

3) Get cool stuff: Local charities often hold auctions for autographed merchandise from local professional athletes as a way to raise money. If sports aren't your thing, eBay's Giving Works auctions off a huge variety of items. Recent offerings include a Civil War bayonet, a set of porcelain pigs, and a hooded sweatshirt for a dog. Charitybuzz was recently offering teddy bears designed by celebrities, such as "My Name Is Earl" star Jaime Pressly. Many local charities, such as hospitals, operate thrift stores where bargains can sometimes be found.

I'll buy things if I want them, not pretend I am giving.

4) Meet interesting people: Charities are finding that people donate because of encouragement from friends and family. Sites such as for Network for Good, which AOL helped found, bring together donors, volunteers and charities. Even smaller groups are looking to get people more involved through special events.

This one has something going for it, perhaps. But we should find our deepest fellowship in the church, which is a community of giving and receiving. But much of our giving may not translate into meeting interesting people. We are helping people, though; that is enough.

5) Feel real good: Believe it or not, donating to charity helps stimulate the regions of the brain associated with pleasure, according to a study published in the magazine Science by scientists and economists at the University of Oregon. Plus, it's the right thing to do.

Worldly hedonism stalks us everywhere and strikes at will. The comment also assumes physicalism concerning consciousness. Instead of growing in virtue through generosity, we are told to stimulate parts of our brains. There is nothing like a "happy" machine.

6) Enjoy great tax benefits: Maybe it's not that surprising to most people, but remember that you have until December 31 to make a donation and get a deduction on April's tax bill. Uncle Sam likes it when you do the right thing, but it's important to follow the rules. The terms "non-profit organization" and "charity" aren’t synonymous. For example, the IRS doesn't allow people to deduct contributions to political candidates, foreign organizations, civic associations or "groups whose purpose is to lobby for law changes." People should consult IRS Publication 526 or their tax preparer if they have any questions. There are lots of reasons to give to charity other than tax benefits. And no matter which charity you choose or why you decide to ante up, you will likely find it rewarding in ways you never expected.

This is an aftereffect, not a reason, Christianly speaking.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Prophetic Modes

A prophet
in a muzzle
is a puzzle.

A prophet
on the docket
is a rocket.

A prophet
in a corporation
is a consternation.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Groothuis on Flew: There is a God After All

My review of Anthony Flew's remarkable book, There is a God, has been published in The Denver Post (the same day another review runs in The New York Times). You may guess which one is more sympathetic to Flew. The Post also ran an excerpt of Flew's book.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

How I Became a Philosopher: Installment One

How does one become what one now is, or at least what one thinks one is? That seems to be a philosophical question. So how did I become a philosopher (assuming I am one, for the sake of argument).

This is not easy to answer. First, one must understand what a philosopher is. I tried to do that in On Jesus (0n the way to arguing that Jesus was a genuine philosopher). I wrote:

I propose that the necessary and sufficient conditions for being a philosopher (whether good or bad, major or minor, employed or unemployed) are a strong and lived-out inclination to pursue truth about philosophical matters through the rigorous use of human reasoning, and to do so with some intellectual facility. The last proviso is added to rule out those who may fancy themselves philosophers but cannot philosophize well enough to merit the title. Even a bad philosopher must be able to philosophize in some recognizable sense. By “philosophical matters” I mean the enduring questions of life’s meaning, purpose, and value as they relate to all the major divisions of philosophy (primarily epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics).
Well, well. If this is so (which is a matter of philosophical debate), then what lead me to become a philosopher? The answer is not simple, since it ensnares me in puzzling over the exigencies and vicissitudes of a half century on earth. But here is my first (and perhaps last) installment.
I flunked a typing test. This was not, perhaps, the pivotal factor or condition, but it may have been necessary. I had taken three philosophy classes during my first year of college at the University of Northern Colorado, although I went there for their journalism program. By the third class (taught by Frank Morelli) I got the bug in my gut. I liked writing these papers (as abysmal as they were), and I received some commendation. (This wasn't Harvard, after all.)
But I continued in my journalism major the next year at the University of Oregon (or "the mail order school" as one wag on this blog put it). Back in antiquity (1977), a journalism major needed some facility with an ancient technology: the manual typewriter. One can now find these in museums or, I suppose, near the bottom of garbage dumps. I was never a good typist. To be more blunt, I was (and am) a terrible typist, sometimes making multiple errors per word. But to get into the University's journalism program, one needed to type something like twenty-five words per minute with only a certain number of errors.
So, I practiced and practiced. I took the test--and failed. The next year, I changed my major to something more practical: philosophy. I could type as slowly and badly as I wanted in that major, so long as the final product was acceptable. Having read some Francis Schaeffer by this time, I had confidence that Christianity could hold its own in the world of ideas and that being a philosopher and being a Christian were not incompatible. In fact, I had a sense of mission and calling about this. Flunking the typing test gave me a strong existential push in this direction.
Now, given computers, my typing skills are irrelevant. My philosophical skills--such as they are--are not.


The new volume, "Lost" and Philosophy, contains two essays by friends of mine: Rebecca Vartabedian (MA in Philosophy from Denver Seminary) and David Werther (Ph.D. from The University of Wisconsin-Madison). The later essay (on the cosmological argument) cites my chapter, "Metaphysical Implications of Cosmological Argument," from In Defense of Natural Theology. This is about as close to TV as I get.

If you are going to watch television...then at least get philosophical about it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Constructive Curmudgeon Reviews "Crazy for God" by Frank Schaeffer

My long review of Frank Schaeffer's book, Crazy for God, is now posted at The Pearcey Report. This is written by the son of Francis and Edith Schaeffer. For the record, I did not chose the title of the review or the subtitles. I am grateful for the opportunity to give this troubling book a fairly thorough evaluation.

For a healthier perspective on Francis Schaeffer's ministry, see Rick Pearcey's fine essay:
Francis Schaeffer: A Student's Appreciation of a Distinct Approach.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Slavery in the US

The AP reports that a wealthy couple (who seem to be East Indian, but no mention is made of this) have been convicted of holding slaves in the United States. A similar verdict came down in Denver recently.

Think. Weep. Pray.

Welcome to the downside of globalization. This kind of thing is sadly all too common in other parts of the world.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Dark Loneliness of the Chronically Ill: A Challenge

Few know of the depths of despair, of darkness, of hopelessness of the chronically ill souls among us (and apart from us). They are removed from normal life, trapped by debilitating, crushing woes unknown and unfathomable by most mortals.

They pray Psalm 88, a lament of Heman, a man chronically ill and miserable, crying and calling out to a heaven that seems remote and inaccessible. (Darkness was his closest friend.) Their loved ones flail about as "the healthy one," praying, fasting, or trying to divert themselves from the pain and loneliness they cannot take away. They hate themselves for not doing more, for not being more empathetic, for losing their tempers, for giving up. They ask for divine forgiveness and more strength. The cycle repeats.

And most others do nothing. They ignore pain they cannot fix; despair they cannot cheer up with cliches and mass marketed or niche-marketed props. They stay away, afraid their own fragile happiness will be imperilled in the weeping, contorted faces of the wounded who will not heal.

Bleeding wound that will not heal.
Lord, spit on our eyes so we can see
And wake up from this tragedy.

--Bruce Cockburn, "Broken Wheel."

They are right. Their happiness will vanish. Normality will disappear when you suffer with another whose pain, bitterness, and loneliness you cannot withstand. You will suffer, too, and in a new mode of fallenness. You will cry out to a seemly absent heaven amidst a near hell on earth.

Can you lay claim to the Psalm that reveals that light shines in the darkness for the righteous? Can you walk into the darkness of a seemingly ruined life and bring some life and light into it? Are you willing to try? Are you willing to fail? For this ministry of presence, even failing may be succeeding.
For more on this subject, see: James M Rotholz, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Christianity, and Culture: Between God and an Illness. New York: The Hawthorne Press, 2002. 141 pages. I reviewed this fine book at Denver Journal a few years ago.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Suffering and Listening

1. If you listen to who address you with their suffering, you will suffer more yourself. But you will also put yourself into a sympathetic or even empathetic position.

2. If you listen to those who address you with their suffering, you will decrease the suffering of the one suffering.

3. If you fail to listen to those who address you with their suffering, you will increase the suffering of the one suffering.

Now, what of a religion whose aim is to alleviate suffering through detachment from it?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Hospital Chapel: 30 Minutes

Today I spent thirty minutes--praying, memorizing, and reciting Scripture--in a hospital chapel. It was small, seating about thirty people. It was empty, and remained so the entire time I was there. To the left and right of a large nature photograph (no Cross was in sight) were the mission and value statements of the hospital, neither of which mentioned God, the Bible, or the soul. I could find no Bibles. It was clean. It appeared to be new or seldom used (or both). There was a small, modest, but attractive lectern in the left corner. I wondered who said what and when. (Most every time I see a lectern or pulpit, I imagine myself speaking there.)

I sat for about ten minutes, praying about a doctor's appointment going on upstairs, seeking God for divine newness and restoration and illumination. I later knelt for the rest of the time. (There were no kneelers.)

It was somewhat quiet, but the sounds of the hospital intruded a bit. It was not the hub of the hospital, but the on the margins, it seemed, humanly speaking. One could read a long list of doctor's offices near the entrance of the hospital, but there was nothing on the chapel that I could see. But someone at the information desk knew where it was.

Later this struck me: A hospital is a place of illness seeking healing, a place of fear seeking consolation, a place where death can become more real, a place fear and darkness in many ways. Yes, one can pray anywhere--and one should (1 Thesalanions 5:17). Yet how often and how biblically do people pray--together or separately--in this small place? I do not know; but given its diminutive size and pristine appearance, I wonder if it is neglected, if prayer itself is neglected, if the Great Physician is ignored in favor of the MDs...

Many years ago, I occasionally prayed in the large chapel of a hospital near the University of Oregon-Eugene campus (Sacred Heart). After the expansion and renovation of campus, the chapel was scrapped and replaced by a small room. Archetecture speaks.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


"Even now," declares the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning." --Joel 2:12

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Prayer, Fasting, and Suffering

Postmodern Western culture habituates the unwary to develop ungodly responses to suffering as their second nature. We flee it through diversions, of which there is a plethora. Some suffering can be alleviated through natural means. But much suffering cannot be so dispatched; it stubbornly resists what is at hand. Think of serious illness, chronic illness, demonic oppression. "This kind only comes out through prayer and fasting," said Jesus. For the Christian, this should drive us to our knees--and out of our kitchens and restaurants.

Prayer with fasting is entirely countercultural, and urgently needed today. We are systematically ensnared by worldly enticements: comfort foods, endless amusements, chemical escapes, religion without reality. We get along--or pretend we do--without recourse to the supernatural, without desperation for a manifestation of God's holy Kingdom. We have marketing, technique, salesmanship, sin.

But there is an ancient, Christian discipline: prayer and fasting. We deny ourselves in order to seek God with all our being. We empty ourselves to be filled more with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures. We throw ourselves back into the Scriptures to guide and rebuke our thoughts, to reorient our imaginations, to alter our wills. We feed on the Word of God, not physical food. We hunger for the Bread of Heaven. We talk to God more than to others. We wait; we wail; we wonder. We seek God for our only provision, our only solution, our only resolution. We seek God, denying ourselves of what usually distracts, distorts, and deranges us.

Do American Christians pursue God in this way? Do our pastors exhort us to do so? Do small groups fast and pray? Jesus said, "When you fast...," then gave instructions. It was assumed that his disciples would do this after he ascended to heaven. Prayer and fasting preceded Paul's great missionary outreach that began in Acts 13. The church "ministered unto the Lord" through prayer and fasting. Then the Spirit spoke, commissioning Paul and Barnabas. This is our problem: we are not commissioned, because we have not sought God on God's terms. Instead of being commissioned, we are scheduled; instead of being edified, we are entertained; instead of fasting we are feasting (on ashes).

Resources on "The Golden Compass"

The atheist movie, "The Golden Compass" will soon be out. Here are some resources on it. Don't be taken unaware.

The Golden Compass: A Primer on Atheism
Russ Wise

Russ Wise explains The Golden Compass as a primer of Atheism, and presents suggestions of how Christians, especially parents, can respond.

Atheism For Kids
Gene Edward Veith

Gene Edward Veith examines the attack on C.S. Lewis and The Chronicles of Narnia as the behind the scenes passion of author Philip Pullman.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Witch Trial of Dr. Gonzalez

The Discovery Institute has posted an updated document detailing the reasons why Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez was denied tenure at Iowa State University. It is simple. Despite his very impressive publication record, he was targeted because he advocates Intelligent Design--even though he never does so in the classroom. This is ideological assassination. There is no intellectual tolerance at state institutions when it comes to arguing against naturalism in the sciences.

I have an unpublished paper on why ID should be taught at state universities. It is called, "Intelligent Design and the State University: Accepting the Challenge," which is available on my web page. This was originally read on October 6, 2007, at “The Crisis of the University,” University of Colorado—Boulder.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Kindle Challenge

Amazon has just released what they claim to be a revolutionary e-book reader (and much else) called a Kindle, which Newsweek reviewed. It claims to be user-friendly and has cell phone like access to a huge number of books, magazines, and more. You can also search books with the technology. I wrote about the difference between the page and the screen in The Soul in Cyberspace, but Kindle is a bit beyond what I (or anyone) had in mind in 1997.

Well. For any wealthy Constructive Curmudgeon reader out there, I challenge you to buy me one for Christmas, so that I can blog about what I take its strengths and weaknesses to be. It only costs $399!

(The chances are small, since no one took the hint about my wishlist on Amazon. But, you never know...)

Sex in Robo-space

Just how bizarre can this unhinged world become? Are there any limits left? The New York Times today reviewed a new book by David Levy called, Love and Sex With Robots.

Yes, it will happen; and yes--not to worry--it is just fine. In fact, it is already happening in rather low-tech modes. (No details will be given.) Why? Because humans personalize their pets and their stuffed animals, even their laptops. So, why not personalize a robot as a sex partner--at least when the technology makes it enjoyable (and safe) enough? After all, we accept all sorts of other sexual kinkiness, so there is nothing wrong with robotic sexual encounters (even if no one is home on the robotic end).

The reviewer is a bit chary about this, but (of course) does not reach the level of astonishment or outrage. The New York Times reserves these responses for Christianity, Intelligent Design, and the Republican Party. Maybe the author is embracing this robo-love too uncritically. Just maybe...

The very idea of robo-sex trades on three themes, all of which undermine culture and sanity, all of which have receded into the intellectual background (thus giving them greater power than when they were merely controversial).

The first notion is that technological innovations are almost entirely good and "progressive." If you can build a better (and sexier) robot, then why not? Are you against progress, you Luddite prude?

The second idea is that sexuality is entirely for personal enjoyment, apart from any encounter with genuine otherness (that is, another human being) and apart from any sense of given-ness, of normativity, of original design. We have a sexual urges; what we do with them is up to us. Sexual expression (the key word) is not reserved for certain human relationships, but is open-ended and experimental.

The third claim is that sex is the same as love; the concepts are conflated. So, one may "love" one's robotic "partner."

The lost self thus luxuriates in a technopology of polymorphic perversity. Freud meets Frankenstein (with better technology). Having sought out every possible permutation of strange flesh, the untethered self now sniffs out strange circuits. Instead of "the flesh pots of (ancient) Egypt," we have the "circuit pots of (postmodern) Babylon." Perhaps these new robotic partners can outperform their fleshly counterparts. Of course, no one is performing, no one is enjoying, and no one is loving. Instead of a marriage covenant, you have a guarantee (and maybe an extended warrantee).

Welcome to the brave new world of robotic wonders.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

An Atheist Who Wants Atonement: The Testimony of Human Nature

[From The New York Times Magazine.]

Questions for Ian McEwan
A Sinner’s Tale

Published: December 2, 2007

Q: Your novel “Atonement” — the story of Briony Tallis, a novelist who tells a lie in her girlhood and hurts her older sister in a way for which she can never atone — has been made into a film. . . .

Q: It seems to me that the impulse to atone is a religious one, and yet you are a self-declared atheist.

Yes, I am an atheist, and probably Briony is, too. Atheists have as much conscience, possibly more, than people with deep religious conviction, and they still have the same problem of how they reconcile themselves to a bad deed in the past. It’s a little easier if you’ve got a god to forgive you.