Thursday, November 30, 2006

Demented DiVito: Inebriated Television

Several talk radio hosts have played portions of Danny DeVito's drunken, scatological emissions aired recently on some television program. (I didn't see it.) He was vulgar, idiotic, and perfectly in keeping of the tenor of most television. Someone who is inebriated lacks inhibition, is insensitive, irrational, and at odds with the good, the true, and the beautiful.

In that sense, then, DiVito's performance wasn't shocking or out of place at all. He was in his element. Television typically exhibits the marks of inebriation: it lacks restraint; it is callous; it is stupid and stupifying; and it pays no respect to the higher verities. It is, in a word, inebriated. It inebriates. It caters to the enebriated. DeVito was right at home--splashing in the druken sewer.

As Scripture says, "Be not drunk with wine, but filled with the Spirit." That is, shun both alchoholic and vidiotic forms of enebriation.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ten Irrefutable Laws of Curmudgeonly Leadership

Having spent some time in the “Management” section of Barnes and Noble today (hey, I’m on sabbatical, after all), I discerned the need for a short, simple, snappy, guide to curmudgeonly leadership. The management/leadership books struck me as platitudinous at best and artificially formulaic at worse. I was amazed at how much they cost relative to the number of pages and words. So, it is time for a constructive alternative—offered to the world for free.

1. Irrefutable Law #1: Never trust irrefutable laws of leadership. You may get refuted.
2. Irrefutable Law #2: Pundits are typically not to be trusted, except to be pundits-- sell many books, mug for many cameras, speak at many conferences with jumbotrons, and make much money.
3. Irrefutable Law #3: Small books featuring big print, many endorsements, and lots of illustrations make for poor flyswatters, but adequate coasters.
4. Irrefutable Law #4: Curmudgeons lead by lamentation.
5. Irrefutable Law #5: Curmudgeons lead by failing often.
6. Irrefutable Law #6: Curmudgeons lead by being unpopular, misunderstood, and neglected. Who they lead is another question.
7. Irrefutable Law #7: Curmudgeons will be curmudgeons.
8. Irrefutable Law #8: Curmudgeons tilt at windmills, defend lost causes, try to turn back the clock, and wait eagerly for the Last Judgment.
9. Irrefutable Law #9: Curmudgeons perpetuate gloom for the common good.
10. Irrefutable Law #10: Question Irrefutable Laws #1-#9 whenever possible.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Robert T. Herbert: A Eulogy

Dr. Robert T. Herbert
May 26, 1928 - February 16, 2006

I just discovered that my dissertation chairman at the University of Oregon, Robert T. Herbert, passed away several months ago. He had been retired for quite a few years, and I had not had any contact with him for several years. I was sad to hear of his passing.

Professor Herbert was not a very well-known or a highly productive philosopher, but he was a very good one. He was an excellent writer, with a sense of humor; this is not often the case with philosophers. His emphasis was philosophy of religion and his main influence was Wittgenstein, whose writings he was introduced to through his professor, O.K. Bouwsma. This made for a tough customer for a graduate student to deal with. Herbert would "puzzle" (one of his favorite words) over philosophical issues, looking at them from every possible angle, and make probing suggestions. While not a stunning lecturer, he was not afraid of long pauses, and always carefully crafted his thoughts and expected his students to do so as well.

Professor Herbert and I disagreed on many things. In a Philosophy of Religion seminar he was leading, I voiced concerns about a paper in which he argued that believers come down with faith as one comes down with a cold. That is, the faith is neither rational nor irrational. (The paper was subsequently published in Faith and Philosophy.) He asked me to write a response to his paper. I agreed with some hesitation. (Whether I really had a choice, I do not know.) When I received the paper back, it was filled with red ink comments challenging nearly every one of my criticisms. At the bottom of the last page was the grade: A+. I published my response in The Bulletin of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, which eventually upgraded and became Philosophia Christi.

Professor Herbert thought that philosophy could show that Christian doctrines were coherent, but not that they were evidentially established. But he thought that was enough, and held to some manner of Christian faith, it seemed. Thus, he argued for the coherence of the Incarnation against Kierkegaard's views. These arguments, along with papers on free will and determinism, and other subjects, can be found in his book, Paradox and Identity in Theology. (My own apologetic goals are more ambitious.)

Although I did well in his classes and on the comprehensive exams, I had a rough time discerning what Professor Herbert would acccept for a doctoral dissertation; but eventually, with the help of my wife, Rebecca, I found something that he was really interested in: the reasons why Blaise Pascal rejected natural theology. That was a nice "puzzle" to muse on—and no one had written very much about it. So, chapters were produced and few good comments leaked out from his infamous pen. One remark, "good patch," written next a line of about an inch long, carried me along for several weeks in the dissertation process. Professor Herbert was not , you may have guessed, lavish in his praise. After reading another chapter, he referred to it as "heartening." That became one of my favorite commendatory adjectives to this day.

The last battle, so to speak, was over the final chapter of my dissertation. Professor Herbert wanted me to conclude my dissertation with what I thought was the best argument for God's existence. My thesis had tried to refute all of Pascal's arguments against natural theology, so Professor Herbert thought I should marshal an ideal exhibit of what Pascal thought should not be done. I dreaded that, since Professor Herbert thought that no arguments for God's existence were rationally compelling! We went through several rounds of chapter drafts until I had a meeting with the entire dissertation committee. To my amazement, another professor, Don Levi, essentially and mysteriously took over the meeting and said to me, "Herbs [that is what he called him] has given you enough grief. Just turn in a final version and you're done." Professor Herbert just sat there, saying nothing. I left the meeting a free man. “Herbs” signed my dissertation form a few weeks later after the defense. Miracles still happen.

In our lighter moments (there were a few), Professor Herbert and I talked about baseball. We both rooted for the Braves. When he found out that I had accepted a position at Denver Seminary, he gave me a Colorado Rockies Baseball cap, which I still have. It was a nice touch.

All in all, Robert T. Herbert—crusty and demanding philosopher that he was—made me a better philosopher than I would have been otherwise. For that, I am grateful. And, thank God, I also told him so before he died.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving: Books (updated again)

Having been thoroughly disgusted by the AOL caption and images about "Movies to be Thankful For" (perhaps there are some, but not the pop/shlock ones they picked), here is a brief list of books for which I give thanks to God. There are ten items listed, but some specify several books by the same author. The books are not ranked in significant, except for the first: the Bible. May this list stimulate you to read these books and to consider what books have inspired you. And may it encourage everyone to give reading a treasured place in your life--contemporary insanity/illiteracy/vidiocy to the contrary.

1. The Bible. The Books of books: divinely inspired, completely true, dependable, endlessly challenging, and applicable to all of life for eternity. The Book that brings us Jesus Christ, Lord of the universe.

2. Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There. Schaeffer's heart cry on reaching the lost with the truth of Christianity. It helped set the course for my calling as a Christian.

3. Blaise Pascal, Pensees. The unfinished masterpiece of apologetics by the 17th century philosopher and scientist. While not systematic and not even Protestant, the apologetic gems and general themes (particularly on the Christian account of the human condition and the stakes concerning Christian belief) continue to inspire and instruct me. Just last Sunday I preached a message called "Deposed Royalty: Christianity and Being Human" that drew considerable inspiration from his anthropological argument. For more on this, see the chapter, "Deposed Royalty" in my book, On Pascal.

4. Os Guinness, The Dust of Death. Having come out of the last vestiges of the counterculture (it hit Anchorage, Alaska, where I grew up, about five years late), Guinness's masterful Christian assessment of the roots, fruits, errors, and aspirations of the counterculture gave me a perspective I have not forgotten. Any book by Os Guinness is worthwhile. Read them all.

5. James Sire, The Universe Next Door. This contemporary classic on the nature and meaning of worldviews is now in its fourth edition. I first read it for a class in the late 1970s, and have taught out of every one of the editions. Sire is an excellent writer and is able to bring philosophical concepts to the general reader without condescension or dilution. He also gave one of the first explanations and critique of the New Age worldview (originally called The New Consciousness).

6. Soren Kierekegaard, The Sickness Unto Death and Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. I do not appeal to Kierkegaard for apologetic method, since he was too much of a fideist. However, The Sickness Unto Death set forth a theological/psychological account of sin that exposed and arrested my rebellion against God when I first read it in 1976. Purity of Heart , which I read a few years after my conversion, is an arresting challenge to live the Christian life before the "audit of eternity." Everything matters before God and all must be done for his glory. This, along with The God Who is There, more than any other books (besides the Bible) helped give me direction for my calling (such as it is).

7. G.K. Chesterton. Orthodoxy. Endlessly witty, but never merely funny, Chesterton set forth this creed in unforgettable ways, deflating a host of philosophies that are still with us today, such as pragmatism, relativism, pantheism, and agnosticism.

8. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, The Abolition of Man, Miracles. Of all Lewis's many books, these three gave me fundamental apologetic tools to use in my college studies and beyond. I have read The Abolition of Man at least seven times and benefit from every reading. I first read it as a sophomore or junior in college. I was stunned recently when two graduate students in a class of mine found it too difficult to read.

9. Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority. Six volumes. I read volumes one through four (about 2000 pages) in the summer of 1981 before taking a summer course from Dr. Henry at New College, Berkeley. The set, which is a kind of systematic theology organized around apologetic and philosophical themes and concerns, is encyclopedic, rigorous in logic, deeply biblical, and philosophically and theologically rich. Reading the volumes is like a seminary education in theology and apologetics. Dr. Henry was a Clarkian presuppositionalist, who rejected natural theology. I now part company with him on this, but still am immensely grateful to have read these volumes and to have studied (albeit briefly) at his feet (as my African friends put it).

10. Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults. This pivotal book, which helped launch the modern evangelical countercult movement, clarified the differences between Christian orthodoxy and the many varieties of heresy. It gave me the essential categories of theological discernment that I use to this day.

Of course, there are so many more, but this will suffice for my short list of books for which to be thankful. I read all of these books within the first four of five years after becoming a Christian in 1976. There have been hundreds more. What is on your list?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Going Out of Business Sale: Curmudgeon on Demand

Well, it has come to this. I am having a going out of business sale. You might wonder what my “business” is, since I am academic and a minister. My business is ideas, presented truly and rationally and wisely. At least has been my aim.

But I came up with a way to retire, enrich myself, and bless the entire world in so doing. Stories of preachers selling their sermons have inspired me, as has a web page that copped without attribution much of Unmasking the New Age (my first book). I am offering to all of you all of my outlines, sermons, books, articles, and anything else of mine in print or recorded—for a price, of course. Why continue to fight the consumer ethos when it is everywhere?

Any curmudgeonly insights over nearly three decades of lecturing, preaching, writing, debating, and general muck-raking can be your’s for the paying! (I have repented of freely giving as I have freely received—what an outmoded concept!) And you need not worry about attribution, of course. (Most people misspell my last name anyway.) The celebrated “death of the author” means the rebirth of the plagiarist, but without all those nasty connotations associated with that modernist-infected word. No longer is one a “plagiarist” but a media-savvy amalgamator.

Of course, the idea of mass-marketing curmudgeonly insights may strike one as strange as Jeremiah preaching in the Crystal Cathedral; but, hey, it’s worth a shot. Maybe an enterprising plagiarist—oops, I mean amalgamator—could mix and match Groothuis with Rick Warren or Groothuis with Ed Young. Talk about an incoherent postmodern pastiche-- just like television. It could happen. It could work.

Those antiquated, antique principles about the integrity of authorship, studiousness (putting your own time into the ideas you express), and proper attribution can go the way of the dodo bird, I say. Now everything is flexible, fungible, elastic, and fantastic! It’s a revolution.

Curmudgeon for sale!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Memorial for Jean Merrill, died November 12, 2006.

[I read the following essay at the funeral of my mother-in-law this past Saturday. Although few of you knew her, you should reflect on the kind of life she led and on matters eternal.]

“Cheerful” is the first word that comes to my mind about Jean Merrill, my beloved mother-in-law. Mom was cheerful and delightful for several reasons. First, she deeply loved and enjoyed her husband, Paul. He was always a great source of her joy. Second, she loved people and especially her family. Third, she found delight in music, especially in performing it. For many years she was the organist at Gospel Echoes Bible Church and knew every hymn and chorus by heart. This involvement in the church’s life overall was a fourth reason for her cheer. Worship, teaching, church attendance, and Christian service were integral, meaningful, and consistent parts of her life. Fifth, and most importantly, she loved her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and always endeavored to live faithfully and prayerfully before Him for the glory of God. She knew “the joy of the Lord.”

Mom enjoyed the small things in life as well as great blessings. She was always interested in something: a new song, a new book, or the proper interpretation of a Bible verse. She was never bored. She loved scouring through Bible commentaries and Bible Study helps. It was fitting, then, that she managed the book table and later the book store at Gospel Echoes Bible Church. Whenever anyone had a question about a particular subject, Mom would work hard to recommend just the right book. She had verses from the Bible pasted throughout her home and hid the Word in her heart, as well. She collected many teaching tapes and loved to listen to the Psalms on tape. Rebecca and I would often send Mom and Dad tapes of our messages, knowing she would listen to and savor every word. She was always interested in our lives and wanted to learn from us as well as give us her wisdom.

Mom’s cheerfulness was also born of her generosity. She was always eager to please and serve her friends and family. One incident, among many, stands out to me. When Rebecca and I were first married, Mom and Dad noticed that the U-Haul trailer that was to take our belongings from Eugene, Oregon, to Madison, Wisconsin, looked far too big for our little 1976 Gremlin to pull. So, they decided to hitch it to their truck and drive out to Madison themselves so I could drive the Gremlin without being encumbered by an overstuffed caboose. Mom and Dad also contributed generously to Christian ministries, including all the ministries I worked for before finally moving into the world of guaranteed salaries.

I also remember Mom as stately and striking in demeanor, posture, and gait—just like her daughter. She was a class act. In the early 1990s, Mom and Dad lived part-time in Eugene, Oregon, where Rebecca and I were living while I was in graduate school. This afforded us much time with them for several years. I remember seeing Rebecca and Mom at the church we all attended striding swiftly through the lobby on their way to some important destination: mother and daughter—sleek, graceful, beautiful, and unforgettable. One of the parishioners even dubbed Mother “Momma Gams.” (For you young people, “gams” means legs.)

While the last few years—and particularly the last few months—of Mother’s life were discouraging and difficult, we still saw her old personality shine through at times, penetrating the layers of pain, weakness, and heartbreak. But right now, Mother is far more than merely cheerful; she is ecstatic, exultant, elated, and ebullient, basking in the radiance of the glorious God who lovingly saved her, guided her, and brought her safely to heaven’s far shore.

And better yet, all who know Christ as Lord will one day dance and sing and play and work and worship along with Jean Merrill in a resurrected world of boundless beauty before the very throne of God. And we will do so forever and ever: world without end. Amen.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Scriptures on Death, Resurrection and Eternal Life

John 11:25-27 TNIV (Today's New International Version)

25 Jesus said to [Martha], "I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
27 "Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."

John 14:2-3 NRSV

In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

2 Corinthians 5:1-9 TNIV

1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. 6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 We live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.

1 Corinthians 15 (selected texts) TNIV

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all others. 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a human being. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive...
36 What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body....
50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."
55 "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 TNIV

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord's word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Philippians 1:21-24 TNIV

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

2 Timothy 4:6-8 TNIV

6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Psalm 116:15 TNIV

15 Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of those faithful to him.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Explanation of the "Family Crisis"

Here is a personal note.

Some of you may be wondering what a "nonmoral family crisis" is, given my post before last mentioning a "blog recess." It is no scandal, but a great loss. My mother-in-law, Jean Northrup Merrill, entered eternal glory early last Sunday morning. Her funeral is Saturday, November 18, in Phoenix, where we are now staying.

I may write more about her in the near future. Until then, ponder this verse: "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints" (Psalm 116:15). See also Arthur Pink's essay on this verse in his book, Comfort for Christians.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Preacher Speaks

Ecclesiastes 7 KJV (King James Version)

1A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one's birth.
2It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.
3Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.
4The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
5It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools.
6For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity.
7Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart.
8Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
9Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.
10Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.
11Wisdom is good with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun.
12For wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it.
13Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?
14In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him.
15All things have I seen in the days of my vanity: there is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness.
16Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself ?
17Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?
18It is good that thou shouldest take hold of this; yea, also from this withdraw not thine hand: for he that feareth God shall come forth of them all.
19Wisdom strengtheneth the wise more than ten mighty men which are in the city.
20For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.
21Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee:
22For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others.
23All this have I proved by wisdom: I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me.
24That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out?
25I applied mine heart to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness:
26And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her.
27Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account:
28Which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found.
29Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Blog Recess

Because of a (non-moral) family crisis, there will be no new postings on The Constructive Curmudgeon for some time.

1 Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;
2 While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:
3 In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,
4 And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;
5 Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:
6 Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.
7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
8 Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity. Ecclesiastes 12:1-8, King James Version.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Voting for Nothing

[A recent commentary on NPR (I can remember none of the details) inspired the following observations.]

Americans are obsessed with voting. I don't mean voting for insignificant things like Senators, Congresspeople, Presidents, Governors, and so on--less than half eligible voters usually do vote, I hear. I refer to another kind of voting. America On Line wants me to vote now for President. In fact, it wants me to vote for all manner of things all the time--as do any number of other web pages. What do all these appeals for votes mean?

They mean nothing; they keystrokes in the wind. They are empty amusements that deceive us into thinking that our opinions (rendered into votes) mean something simply by being asserted. I heard that TV zombies vote for the "American Idol." That has quite a payoff for the idol, but what bearing does it have on actual taste, aesthetic quality, or virtue of any kind? A vote is not an argument. Most voting on line, moreover, has no outcome whatsoever. Nothing is changed by this voting. (What if I were voted the world's greatest philosopher? I still wouldn't give the Gifford Lectures next year or get hired by Harvard, Yale, Princeton...)

Further yet, why assume that bare assertions Yea or Nay have any purchase on reality? All flies vote for excrement. Well, they vote with their wings, so to speak. The excremental Kenny G sells more units than the excellent John Coltrane... You get the (ugly) picture, by now, I hope.

I suggest we stop this meaningless and vane voting and try to learn what opinions are worth holding. This requires study and the pursuit of knowledge, not opinion slinging through vaporous voting.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Ted Haggard's Fall: A Time for Reflection

Ted Haggard, now ex-mega-church pastor and ex-president of the National Associations of Evangelicals, has sinned grievously by committing homosexual acts and possibly through taking illicit drugs as well. He has admitted committing some of the sins—but not which ones—accused of him by a homosexual prostitute who recently went public about his liaisons with Haggard. He has been dismissed by his church for sexual immorality. His letter to his church can be read here.

This is cause for some reflection and prayer. Yes, the media are licking their collective chops at the prospect of a feeding frenzy, "rejoicing in the wrong," but we should do better. Haggard’s accuser states that his revelation was politically motivated: He wanted to expose Haggard’s homosexual behavior since Haggard is a supporter of a Colorado Amendment that defines marriage monogamously. Nevertheless, there is far more than the dirty world of politics to consider here.

It may be that Ted Haggard wielded too much power for one man to bear. This could well have been part of his precipitous downfall—in addition to many other things, most of which only God knows. How can one man be the pastor of a giant church and the head of a giant organization? For fallen mortals, with power comes pride; with pride comes an entry point for the dark and demonic forces let loose in this fallen world. When these powers get their sweetened and poisoned talons into the soul, all manner of evil breaks in and breaks out. One with power must guard his or her heart diligently and have others available to set up sentry as well. Otherwise the fortress will be overrun and the casualties will be many. Bloody carcasses will be strewn everywhere as a result of Ted Haggard's sin.

Let us all take this to heart, since we, too, are subject to manifold temptations, however much power we may possess. As Francis Schaeffer somewhere said, a successful Sunday school teacher can become prideful at having more in his class than another teacher. This is as much a sin or pride as any other. It must be rooted out by repentance. We should remember the log in our own eye and the heart problems we all suffer from. And when we remember, let us repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand. This is an upside-down Kingdom where the humble are exalted, the poor blessed, and the prideful sent empty away.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Election Realities

The New York Times is crowing that the Republicans are doomed in the upcoming elections. I hope and pray they are wrong. All I can do is offer these considerations. With the elections days away, there are three hard and unpleasant realities that need to be faced by all voters.

1. The war in Iraq is not going well, although progress has been made. You cannot easily paste a republic over a culture that knows little of the sensibilities and morality required for a constitutional order that recognizes fundamental human rights, such as freedom of religion and freedom of speech. It is not 1776 in Iraq. This is a conservative observation, not a liberal one. Culture is deeper than politics; and culture is rooted in worldview.

However, whatever the long-term prospects for Iraq may be, and whether or not the United States should have invaded Iraq, to pull out of Iraq now would result giving the country over to the terrorists. The jihadists will not be placated by an American withdrawal; they would, rather, be emboldened, just as they were emboldened by the USSR’s withdrew from Afghanistan. Terrorists are never placated or appeased; any concession to them is their victory and their empowerment. If the jihadists take over Iraq, civilization will be further jeopardized, and all the American soldiers who died for this cause—however noble they may have been in battle—will have died for the sake of a defeat, not for a victory. For more on this, see the essays by Victor Davis Hanson for National Review on line.

Now, which party wants to leave Iraq as soon as possible? Which party views Islamic terrorism as essentially a criminal problem? Which party thinks that the terrorists will back off if we try to “understand their pain” and make concessions to them? That would be the Democrats, not the Republicans. The latter are, of course, not perfect in their understanding of Islamic fascism; neither are their strategies always for the best. But at the end of the day, the Republicans understand that we fighting a war for civilzation; the Democrats do not.

2. The push to fund embryonic stem cell research with federal and state dollars is tremendous. In some cases, this means creating a member of the human race in order to destroy it for the purpose of (possibly) helping another human being. This is what is advanced by Proposition 2 in Missouri. See The National Right to Life article on this. In other cases, preexisting embryos are used and killed. This orientation is merely instrumental, utilitarian—and inhuman. Moreover, embryonic stem cells have yielded no beneficial results for treating diseases and no one knows if they will. Private groups are not poring money into this line of research. If they were, there would be more evidence of possible therapeutic results. But positive results are immaterial. A human society does not create and destroy humans for the sake of other humans. You treat humans as ends (because they bear God’s image), not a means to other ends. See the on-line essays by Charles Colson, Robert George, and Nigel Cameron on this topic.

Which party supports state and federal funding for embryonic stem cell research? Which party attacks attempts to protect embryonic life as “anti-science” and “theocratic”? It is the Democrats, of course. And we must never forget that it is the Democrats who support abortion on demand (including partial-birth abortions) as a constitutional right. Thus over a million human fetuses are legally slaughtered every year in the United States, and have been since 1973.

3. Having thrown off the concept of creation and the idea that moral principles built into the universe by its Creator and Designer, millions stump for equal legitimacy and equal legal privileges for “same sex couples,” even claiming the state should create a new category never heard of in human history: same sex marriage (an oxymoron, to be sure). Consult the on line essays by Charles Colson on this issue.

Which party endorses same sex marriage a fundamental human right? Which party would overturn millennia of moral tradition and pore contempt on the Bible’s view of marriage? It is the Democrats, once again.

Given these immensely important issues, who deserves your vote next week? Yes, some Democrats will demur on one or more of these points and not all Republicans agree with what I’ve written above. But one has to remember that whichever gains a majority, calls the shots. The rogue Democrat who opposes embryonic stem cell creation and destruction or opposes pulling out of Iraq has little say in the party’s platform and will usually vote with his or party anyway. Like it or not, party politics is what moves politics in America. See Hugh Hewitt’s book, If It’s Not Close they Can’t Cheat on that.

Therefore, I adjure you:

1. Do not let the Democrats pull our troops out of Iraq prematurely.
2. Do not let the Democrats let loose billions of dollars of governmental money to fund stem cell destruction.
3. Do not let the Democrats redefine marriage as same sex coupling.

That is, do not vote for Democrats on November 7.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Dr. Jonathan Wells Responds to Critics

[The following comments are from Jonathan Wells in light of the controversy raging on this blog. Thanks to Dr. Wells for providing this essay exclusively for The Constructive Curmudgeon.]

Comment for Doug Groothuis’s blog:

The issue here is not all that complicated. Darwin thought that “community in embryonic structure reveals community of descent” and concluded that early vertebrate embryos “show us, more or less completely, the condition of the progenitor of the whole group in its adult state.” Darwin considered this “by far the strongest single class of facts in favor of” his theory. (Origin of Species, Chapter XIV; September 10, 1860 letter to Asa Gray)

But early vertebrate embryos do not look alike. They become somewhat similar (though not as similar as Haeckel made them out to be) midway through development, then they diverge again. This is illustrated by the “developmental hourglass” drawing on page 31 of my Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Developmental biologists (including P.Z. Myers, to judge from his Panda’s Thumb review of my chapter) are well aware of this pattern, which has been described repeatedly in the developmental biology literature.

But an hourglass pattern does not provide the evidence Darwin needed for his theory. If “community in embryonic structure reveals community of descent,” then a pattern of early differences followed by convergence followed by divergence makes no sense. Some modern Darwinists, instead of acknowledging the problem, simply attribute the early differences to evolution. In other words, they assume their theory is true and then use it to explain away anomalies in the very evidence that was supposed to provide the strongest support for it. Meanwhile, other Darwinists provide a smokescreen for this circular argument by calling their critics names…

Is that how science should be done?

Jonathan Wells