Wednesday, February 25, 2009

C. Orthodoxy has moved to WordPress. This Blogger version will remain available, but new content will only be posted to the WordPress site, here:

Please update your bookmarks, RSS feeders and blogrolls, and come visit the new C. Orthodoxy!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Goodbye Blogger

When I started my experiment with WordPress I was motivated by two things especially: the need to do simple back-ups of the blog and the desire for cleaner and more professional look. Along the way I discovered all sorts of other advantages and disadvantages to the switch, but most of those balance each other out, and it is these two that remain the most important.

I was wrong about one of them, however. It turns out Blogger now can do simple backups. I think this is a relatively new feature (or I'm just an idiot), but I don't think many people are aware of it yet. For those of you who are still on Blogger, then, I strongly encourage you to make regular use of this feature, which can be found on your Dashboard under Settings. I've tested it (here) and it does work as intended. Unlike with WordPress, you can still only import posts from other Blogger accounts (no transfers from other platforms), and there is not yet any way to automate the process, but the ability to manually export and import your posts and comments is a major improvement and effectively eliminates one of my big reasons for switching.

If that is a wash, however, the other reason for switching remains. As the poll shows, most people prefer the look and feel of WordPress (by a margin of 3 to 1), and I certainly do. Blogger, admittedly, allows greater freedom to customize your template, but WordPress needs less customization--many of their templates look great unmodified. Alex suggested that I try some third-party templates to find a better look for Blogger, but after spending much of the last week trying, I've finally given up.

There are literally hundreds of custom templates available for free online, but Blogger's system is so buggy that you are lucky if you can get one to upload, and will have to delete all your widgets to do it. I tried dozens of them and almost every time, Blogger would run into some error (bX-pwned) and the upload would fail. Judging by the fact that the Help boards are flooded with unanswered complaints about these errors, it's clear that this is an ongoing problem. For someone like me, with only minimal knowledge of html (let alone xml), it's just not worth the effort, nor the risk, to mess with that.

So I'm moving to WordPress for good. I will not be deleting this blog here, but from now on all new posts will appear exclusively on WordPress. Please remember to update your blogrolls, RSS feeders and/or bookmarks (unless, of course, you've been looking for an excuse to delete me), the new address is:

Thanks everyone for a great 18 months!

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Lord of the Rings-The Steward and the King

Inspired by this post (and ready to take a break from my thesis), my wife and I watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy again this weekend and I was once more impressed by Peter Jackson’s films. He didn’t get everything right (it kills me that he left out the scouring of the Shire, though Return of the King was certainly long enough without it!), but he really captured the beauty and grandeur of Tolkien’s epic.

Still, one aspect of the storyline especially really doesn't get the full treatment Tolkien intended. Flipping back through the books again, I can’t shake the brilliance of Tolkien's presentation of Aragorn's rise to kingship. Unlike Narnia, The Lord of the Rings is no allegory (Gandalf, Frodo—even Boromir in his own way—are each as much Christ figures as Aragorn is), but Tolkien’s depiction of Aragorn’s rise to kingship gives a masterful retelling of the incarnation, and actually fits with my reading of John even better than I had recalled.

In Tolkien’s vision, the Stewards are charged with the governance of the kingdom until the true king might reclaim his throne. Thus their duty, from the beginning, was intended to be temporary and provisional. But as the return of the king was long delayed, this perception changed. Arnor, the northern half of the kingdom, from which Aragorn derives, has long lost its grandeur and been reduced to humility. The Dúnedain (Elvish for “Men of the West”) are indeed the descendents of the kings from across the sea, but now most only know them as “rangers,” and see them as little more than vagrants. Few know of their long efforts to protect the free peoples of the North, and fewer still looked to their numbers for the return of the king.

Thus when the hobbits first meet Aragorn they have no idea of his true identity. He calls himself “Strider” and willingly risks his life to save them from the Nazgûl, without ever demanding their allegiance or even hinting at his lineage. But Tolkien himself hints at it. In fact, the quote on my sidebar is actually from Bilbo’s description of Aragorn, first seen in a letter Gandalf left for the hobbits:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
So it is throughout the trilogy, as Aragorn repeatedly puts aside his kingly rights to serve others. He is humble and weather-worn, hardly the picture of a king and lord of old. Thus when he does finally turn towards Minus Tirith, the very "city of the king," we find that not all welcome, or even recognize, his coming. For the Stewards of Gondor (the southern half of the kingdom) are failing in their charge. Denethor has long overreached his authority as Steward, insisting: "the rule of Gondor… is mine and no other man’s, unless the king should come again." Yet when the armies of Mordor close in and Denethor’s only remaining son and heir, Faramir, lays poisoned and dying, Denethor chooses rather to burn on a pyre with his son than take up his duty as Steward:

"I say to thee, Gandalf Mithrandir, I will not be thy tool! I am Steward of the House of Anárion. I will not step down to be the dotard chamberlain of an upstart. Even were his claim proved to me, still he comes but of the line of Isildur. I will not bow to such a one, last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship and dignity."

"What then would you have," said Gandalf, "if your will could have its way?"

"I would have things as they were in all the days of my life," answered Denethor, "and in the days of my long-fathers before me: to be the Lord of this city in peace, and leave my chair to a son after me, who would be his own master and no wizard’s pupil. But if doom denies this to me, then I will have naught: neither life diminished, nor love halved, nor honour abated."

"To me it would not seem that a Steward who faithfully surrenders his charge is diminished in love or in honour," said Gandalf. "And at the least, you shall not rob your son of his choice while his death is still in doubt.”
In the end, however, Denethor takes his own life, a traitor and an upstart, but his abuse of the Stewardship is by no means Tolkien’s last word on the matter. For after defeating the army that Denethor so feared, Aragorn does enter Minus Tirith, not (at first) as its king, but in secret. Thus he goes to the houses of healing and takes up the care of Faramir himself (along with that of Éowyn and Merry, stricken after killing the king of the Nazgûl). And when Faramir is healed by his king, he does take his father’s place as Steward, and at the climax of The Return of the King (a role sadly cut from the film) it is Faramir who oversees Aragorn’s coronation. In a chapter titled “The Steward and the King,” Faramir meets Aragorn at the gate of Minus Tirith, kneels before him and says:

"The last Steward of Gondor begs leave to surrender his office." And he held out a white rod; but Aragorn took the rod and gave it back, saying: "That office is not ended, and it shall be thine and thy heirs’ as long as my line shall last. Do now thy office!"

Then Faramir stood up and spoke in a clear voice: "Men of Gondor, hear now the Steward of this Realm! Behold! One has come to claim the kingship at last. Here is Aragorn son of Arathorn, chieftain of the Dúnedain of Arnor, Captain of the Host of the West, bearer of the Star of the North, wielder of the Sword Reforged, victorious in battle, whose hands bring healing, the Elfstone, Elessar of the line of Valandil, Isildur’s son, Elendil’s son of Númenor. Shall he be king and enter into the City and dwell there?"

And all the host and all the people cried yea with one voice.
Faramir remained Steward even after the return of his king, and as such, he became the primary witness to Aragorn's true identity. Yet far from a reduction in his role, Faramir was given yet greater honor, and made Prince of Ithilien (the land on the other side of the river, where he first met Frodo and Sam and “proved his quality” by overcoming the temptation of the Ring), and so he lived there with Lady Éowyn, always within sight of the city he loved and the king who had healed them.

And this, I think, is how John also understood the institutions of Judaism. His well-known vitriol against the leaders of “the Jews,” is not to be understood as a rejection of Judaism at all. It is rather to be explained by his deep sense of betrayal. As John understands them, Moses and his Torah, the Temple and its festivals and priesthood, these were all meant to be “witnesses” to Jesus, "stewards" if you will, who prepared the way for Israel’s true king. But Like Denethor, many of who currently held Jewish leadership rejected Jesus and so, from John’s perspective, failed their charge. Nevertheless, their status as witnesses was not undone either by Jesus’ coming or by their faithlessness. Indeed, John insists that even when the high priest himself conspires to kill Jesus, he cannot help but fulfill his duty as witness:
Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, "You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish."

He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. (11:49-52)
And so when we get to the crucifixion narrative, John (even more than the other Gospel writers), emphasizes that Jesus died as King of the Jews (19:18-22). In a Gospel that uses that phrase fully 25 times, mostly to refer to the Jewish institutions whose significance John has repeatedly claimed point to Jesus, the expression could not help but carry deep significance: In taking his rightful kingship, Jesus fulfills the "witness" of these figures and institutions, whose “stewardship” had prepared for his coming. Yet “stewards” they remain (like all the rest of us), and in that role they are not “replaced” by the king but “re-placed”--given a new and fuller role. The return of Israel's king is thus not the end of her stewardship but its culmination.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Switching from Blogger to WordPress--Advantages and Disadvantages

After a few days of experimenting with WordPress, I wanted to make some initial observations on the process of importing from Blogger and the advantages and disadvantages I've found so far.

I had already set up a WordPress account before, so I could leave comments on WordPress blogs, so setting up my own blog required only a few clicks. I was annoyed, however, that they only allow letters and numbers in your URL, so I had to go with rather than c-orthodoxy (as on Blogger). Setting up the blog and choosing a theme was simple, and unlike with Blogger, many of the WordPress themes actually look good unmodified (for a point of contrast, see what my current Blogger theme looked like before I modified it, here). It's a good thing, too, because they let you change precious little about the theme you choose--but more on that in a bit.

Importing from Blogger was also pretty easy. There is a page in the Dashboard specially devoted to importing and exporting, and it took only a few clicks and a bit of waiting for them to transfer all 350+ posts and 990 comments from Blogger. I did have a couple of hiccups: the process seemed to hang up about two-thirds of the way through. So I ran it again and this time it seemed to hang up almost immediately. But when I checked the blog itself I found that all the posts had imported just fine.

The only real problem I had with the import, and it was a minor one, was with the tags. I use a lot of labels on my posts, and I was very pleased to see that WordPress imported them as well. However, for some reason about a dozen posts had one or more tags replaced by a long number. Further, when I had thought the first import failed and tried it again, it was these posts which WordPress re-imported (since it skips those it has already done), leaving me with two copies of each of those posts, one with the correct tags (but no comments) and the other with comments but incorrect tags. I have no idea what would cause such a glitch, but it took a good hour to sort it out. All in all, however, I was very impressed with the importing process and, even if I decide to stick with Blogger, at the least it has given me a backup if I ever need it.

So on to the advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages of WordPress over Blogger:

  • The first and most important is the one that led me to try WordPress in the first place--the need to create a usable backup of my content. Blogger makes this both "dangerous and unpredictable" (to quote Ben Linus), but WordPress makes it remarkably easy. Not only was I able to transfer everything from Blogger to WordPress (and this itself is a form of backup), it only took moments to download the entire contents of the blog (posts, comments, tags, pages, etc.) into a nice and small xml file (mine was 3.1mb). To make sure the file is actually usable, I set up a test blog ( and uploaded it, and it seemed to work fine, or should I say: and there was much rejoicing!
  • Of less importance but still high on the list of advantages is WordPress' generally more aesthetically pleasing look and feel. I think the WordPress version looks far better and more professional than the Blogger version, and judging by the poll, most of you agree (if you don't let me know). While for long term readers (especially those using RSS feed) the look of the blog is not the most important thing, for first time visitors it can make a big difference to whether they stick around, and I am willing to put up with a few functional limitations for the sake of a cleaner and more professional look.
  • While Blogger strips out all the formatting (except hyperlinks) when you copy text into its post editor, WordPress preserves it. Since I often compose my posts in Word and copy them into the editor, this is a huge plus, as it saves me the hassle of either: 1. Manually adding html to the post as I compose it, or 2. Manually restoring italics and other formatting after copying into the editor. WordPress also allows me to add a fold so that longer posts need not take up so much space on the main page (as I've done with this post on the WordPress version), and allows you make posts "sticky" (always at the top of the page).
  • WordPress version seems to load faster and more smoothly than the Blogger version.
  • WordPress allows much better control over categories and tags. Blogger has only one kind of label system, while WordPress has two, allowing you to put posts in broad categories which are listed at the bottom of page, and provide more specific tags which can be displayed or not (I've got it set to show just the most common tags in a cloud). Since I had collected nearly 600 labels here on Blogger, the ability to organize them in this way was a big advantage for WordPress. Perhaps even better, WordPress allows global editing of tags and categories. I can change the name of a tag once and apply it to every post I've ever used the tag on. I can also convert tags to categories and categories to tags, either individually or all at once, none of which Blogger allows.
  • WordPress allows pages (e.g. this one), while Blogger does not.
  • WordPress offers much better comment management on the back end, and just added comment threading as an option.
  • WordPress only shows real trackbacks, not those annoying fake ones that show up on practically every Blogger post ever since they added their new blogroll widget.
Disadvantages of WordPress Compared to Blogger:
  • On the other hand, WordPress places severe limitations on your ability to modify themes, and each theme determines a vast range of settings on your blog. For instance, the theme I am currently using only allows you to change the masthead image--that's it--you cannot adjust the color scheme, fonts, text size, layout, etc. In Blogger this is true to a limited extend. For instance, the template I am currently using allows me to change some aspects of the color scheme but not others, and I have no control over things like column width. But WordPress goes further, tying all sorts of other settings to the theme, like whether archives show full posts or only excerpts, or which widgets you can use. You have to pay $15 a year if you want to be able to modify the CSS, and even then you are quite limited in what you can change.
  • Related to this, WordPress offers a much more limited range of widgets than Blogger, and gives you much less control over the widgets themselves. For instance, the only option you have for the blogroll is to add categories. You cannot even control what order the links appear in--it is alphabetical whether you like it or not. If you want to make a separate list of links (as I have for "featured posts") you have to code it manually using the text editor, because there is no option to add a second link list besides the blogroll (at least not in this theme). Similarly, you can add a tag cloud or a categories cloud, but you have no control at all over how many search terms it will include or how to display them.
  • Unlike Blogger, with WordPress you are also limited to 3 GB of media; it's $20 a year if you want 5 GB more. I'm not sure how big of a deal this is yet, since it doesn't seem to count the pictures that I had already uploaded on the posts I imported from Blogger (even though it kept them), and even the YouTube video I posted this week is not being counted against my total. But I'm not sure if that is just an error--I coded it in manually rather than using the built in "add video" button, since I didn't notice that button until after I'd done it myself. In fact, the only "media" it is counting right now is the masthead image, using up a miniscule 32kb.
  • WordPress (or is it just the theme I chose?) doesn't allow comment previews, which may not matter to some people but to a perfectionist like me, that's kind of a big deal. In fact, you have no choice but to include the comment field on the same page as the post (Blogger lets you choose between several options).
  • Finally, WordPress does not allow Java. They have a work-around for YouTube and a few other things, but not for others. For instance, you cannot use GoogleAnalytics with WordPress, which is a bummer, though not a huge deal.
Finally, some things that don't really fall into the advantages or disadvantages categories, but annoyed me just the same. Take them with a grain of salt as I'm certain I've run across at least as many with Blogger over the last 18 months, I've just gotten used to them and so forgotten what they were:

The Dashboard is a bit counter-intuitive, to me at least. The comment emails WordPress sends are much harder to read than those Blogger sends (but on the plus side, they only send emails for other people's comments, not your own). The built-in statistics are very limited, and for some reason they divide days based on GMT, rather than local time (I can't call this a disadvantage because Blogger does not include built-in statistics at all). You can't import WordPress back into Blogger (again, I can't call this a disadvantage because the problem is with Blogger, not with WordPress, but still--it does mean that if you switch to WordPress, there's no easy way to go back).

All in all then, I'm still pretty divided on whether I should switch. I really like the look of WordPress (at least with this particular theme), and the ability to do simple back-ups is a big deal. On the other hand, while individually none of the disadvantages are all that bad, they are not trivial. The limitations on modifying themes and widgets are probably the most annoying, though much less important to me than they would be if Blogger (with its very bland templates) imposed the same limitations. The 3GB media limit may turn out to be a bigger deal, but I don't post that many pictures anyway, and I'm not sure what all will actually be included in that total, so I'm not sure. The biggest thing is just the hassle of making people update their RSS feeds and blogrolls, but that's only temporary. Thus I am leaning towards WordPress, but I'm gonna wait a few more days before deciding and am still eager to hear your feedback.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Replacement Theology and The Return of the King

I've mentioned that I'm working on a thesis on the Temple in the Gospel of John, and one of my major interests is with the "replacement" theology that pervades much of the literature on the subject.* Most previous studies and commentaries view Jesus as the replacement of the Temple, the Torah, Moses and a variety of other Jewish figures and institutions. In older studies especially, this is often part of a broad supersessionist approach that emphasizes contrast and polemic in comparing Judaism and Christianity.

A growing number of scholars, especially since the Second World War, have come to question this supersessionist approach, and now emphasize Jesus' continuity with and "fulfillment" of his Jewish predecessors, but replacement remains the default view, and polemical overtones often crop up even in those studies that emphasize fulfillment. For a variety of reasons, I think this paradigm distorts our understanding of John's--very Jewish--Gospel and distracts from his more central Christological and Theological purposes. I'll be exploring those reasons in my thesis and don't want to detail them just yet, but yesterday I was struck by an analogy that, I think, captures very well John's point as I understand it, and may be of wider interest [Updated, see Hugh's comment]:

Imagine a king went away on a journey and left an emissary a regent to govern in his stead. The regent is charged with reminding his people of the king's wishes and keeping them expectant of his eventual return. The regent does his job well, but when the king finally does return, it is in a manner that no one expects, and most do not recognize him as the king at all. At that point, the king's regent is, technically speaking, no longer necessary--no one needs to ask the regent about the king's wishes because they can now ask the king directly--but since the regent is one of the few who knows the king's true identity, he does continue to serve as a "witness" to that fact, valuable to those who have come to trust the regent but are not yet convinced that this late-comer is truly their king.

Now as far as the regent continues to do his job well, he becomes in a sense "obsolete," for those who do listen to him and recognize their king no longer "need" the regent, but he is not thereby "replaced" by the king, for he is and always was the king's agent. Thus, it is not a case of supersession, as when one king replaces another, for the king and his regent have always been in different categories. The regent always was a mere "witness" to the king's identity and purposes, so this is not some new change in his role after the king returns; it is rather the fulfillment of the role he was charged with from the beginning.

Such is how, I believe, John views Moses, the Torah and the Temple. As the incarnation of the one God of Israel, Jesus does not replace those "predecessors" (after all, he thinks Jesus, as the logos, predates them), nor is their status as "witnesses" (John 5) a demotion from their previous roles. Instead, John seems to be saying that this is the purpose they have always served. Jesus is not a new Moses, a new Torah or a new Temple, but the divine king to whom all three have always pointed.

*So please don't steal what I'm about to say! ;)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


One of the unexpected bonuses of trying WordPress this week is that it gave me a global comments total, and it just so happens that today I passed 1000. Ironically, the lucky comment was Jim's, which bluntly stated: "told ya- blogger sucks." But I'll have to disagree. Whatever my annoyances with Blogger, I can't help but be thankful for the technology (free no less!) that has enabled the numerous conversations that make up those thousand comments. Without Blogger, I would have never met the vast majority of the many people who have taken the time to stop by and leave a comment.

So of all the stats that we bloggers tend to obsess over, I have to say that this is the one I care about most. Whatever passing interest my own thoughts may warrant, and however many people read them, to my mind the main point of blogging has always been the discussions it fosters. So to all those who have commented--friend or foe--thank you very much for joining the conversation!

Bill Bailey on "Acts of God"

What the...?

Has anyone else had problems viewing my blog today?* It shows up fine in Internet Explorer, but on Firefox the main page only show the masthead and sidebar, no posts. I tried reloading, including in a new tab, several times with no luck.... But wait, now suddenly it's back and works fine... very weird.

Strange timing, too. I've been using Blogger for a year and a half and have never had any stability problems, but the same week I'm experimenting with WordPress, Blogger acts up? Is it just a coincidence, or did the import process cause some issue? Maybe it's a sign.

*Which I suppose is rather like saying: "If you're not here, raise your hand!" Oh well.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The WordPress Experiment

I've decided to go ahead with a trial run on WordPress. I haven't yet decided whether I'm going to switch yet--I'm finding both unexpected bonuses, and frustrating annoyances in the new platform, so I want to live with it for a couple weeks before I commit to switching. I'll post my initial thoughts on the process and the pluses and minuses I've discovered later this week.

In any case, take a gander and tell me what you think of the WordPress version of C. Orthodoxy!

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Land of the Free, Home of the Brave

I might need to rethink that point about fascism. Disgusting:

Army Private Brandon Neely served as a prison guard at Guantánamo in the first years the facility was in operation. With the Bush Administration, and thus the threat of retaliation against him, now gone, Neely decided to step forward and tell his story. “The stuff I did and the stuff I saw was just wrong,” he told the Associated Press. Neely describes the arrival of detainees in full sensory-deprivation garb, he details their sexual abuse by medical personnel, torture by other medical personnel, brutal beatings out of frustration, fear, and retribution, the first hunger strike and its causes, torturous shackling, positional torture, interference with religious practices and beliefs, verbal abuse, restriction of recreation, the behavior of mentally ill detainees, an isolation regime that was put in place for child-detainees, and his conversations with prisoners David Hicks and Rhuhel Ahmed.
I hope it turns out that he is exaggerating, but even if so, I doubt the truth is all sunshine and roses. What kind of political system makes us choose between abortion and this?

HT Catholic and Enjoying It

Second Life Article Now Available

I just noticed that my article on Second Life, World of Warcraft and other "Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games" from Salvo 3, is finally available online. They currently have it up as the featured article of the week. You can read it here.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Worst Kind of Fascism... the kind that claims it's "for your own good."

Have you heard about the new law (which went into effect February 10) that criminalizes the selling or distribution of all childrens' books printed before 1985, unless each one is tested for lead. You know, to protect "the children" from lead-containing ink, which no doubt kills millions every year--wait, what?

If you're a lover of literature, read this, it'll break your heart. Apparently the American Library Association is already engaging in civil disobedience, claiming it will assume the law does not apply to them unless they hear otherwise, but many private booksellers have already destroyed their stocks in fear of the $100,000 fines mandated by the law.

Then again, Congress is looking for a way to cover that budget deficit...

*HT for the image: The Leaky Cauldron

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Suddenly Christian

I just recently discovered a great blog called Suddenly Christian, by author John Shore. He's thoughtful, funny and interesting, and he has a lively comments section. I've added him to the blogroll; I've also added Scotteriology and James' Thoughts and Musings, who I've been reading for a while.

In any case, John wrote a good post questioning the way many Christians adamantly insist on a "literal" reading of Paul's rejections of homosexuality, while explaining away Jesus' condemnations of wealth. He sparked a spirited debate, near the end of which one of his commenters quipped:

I have tried to find the passage of scripture that says, “Blessed are the ones who think they are smart enough to tell everyone else what’s right or wrong about themselves or what they believe,” but I have struck out thus far. I think it’s in 2nd Hesitations.

Friday, February 13, 2009

So That's How It Works!

What does it say about me that this makes perfect sense (HT Sporadic Maunderings):

*Actually, computers (and all other mechanical devices) are inhabited by tiny little elves and gremlins who control all the machines functions.*

I envision it as a tiny monkey (maybe like one of those golden lion tamarind that look like little bearded old men) inside my hard drive furiously switching wires like a 1940's-era phone operator. Sometimes he gets tangled up. Other times, you tell him to unplug something but he can't get the plug out and he's in there with his little feet planted against the wall of the drive, yanking for all he's worth.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Darwin Day...

So, as I'm sure the whole world knows, today is Charles Darwin's 200th birthday. No doubt, the 'net is crowded with tributes to his genius and attacks on those who continue to doubt his theory, all of which is understandable. But I find it all rather bemusing. No one celebrates "Einstein Day" or "Newton Day" or even "Plato Day," despite the fact that all of those men have surely had at least as great an impact on our understanding of how the world works as Darwin has.

I'm sure part of the difference is that there is no concerted effort to deny the insights of those others (well, except maybe Plato!), whereas evolution remains under constant attack. Still, the excessive devotion paid to Darwin the man, and even to his theory, seems quite out of keeping with repeated claims to only be interested in Science™. For a great many people, evolution is clearly perceived as much more than a scientific explanation, however well supported--it forms the foundation for their whole worldview.

So I can't help but laugh at the fuss over Darwin Day, but in the end, I do think his theory is both largely correct and fascinating, so despite my bemusement here's my favorite quote from the man himself. It's only a shame this observation gets obscured by so many of the debates over evolution:

There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.

Blogger vs. Wordpress?

Lately I've been thinking about switching this blog from Blogger to Wordpress. There are a number of reasons--e.g. Wordpress seems more flexible and I prefer the "feel" of it--but foremost among them is the need to keep a back-up of the blog. As I've now got over 350 posts, with numerous helpful comment discussions among them, I'd be very upset if a server error, hacker or some other catastrophe wiped all of that out. But Blogger makes it very difficult to back up your blog directly. The third party programs I've tried are intolerably slow and I'm not even sure I'd be able to use the data they collect if I ever needed it. Wordpress, on the other hand, can be set to send you backups automatically, and also allows you to create and use them manually, with little trouble.

The big thing holding me back is the fear of losing my work in the process of trying to save it: As I understand it, you can transfer posts from Blogger to Wordpress fairly easily, or so they say, and supposedly it is also possible to transfer comments, but a lot of people seem to have problems with that, so I'm not sure. If I can't transfer both posts and comments reliably, then its not worth switching to me. But even if I can do so without headaches, transferring to a new platform would require a fair amount of work, it would wipe out all my incoming links and google traffic, and it would force people to update their readers, blogrolls, etc., so I'm not eager to do it unless there is a significant benefit to be had.

So I'm wondering: those of you who have used both Blogger and Wordpress, or switched from one to the other (and I know this is true of at least a few of my readers), do you think it would be worth switching over, why or why not? If so, any advice on how to go about it?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Those Creepy Dollhouse Ads

I'm a big fan of director Joss Wheden, but his work always seems to get screwed up at some point along the way. For instance, Firefly had the potential to be one of the best sci-fi series ever made, but then FOX messed with its schedule and canceled it. In the end, we got Serenity out of it, which is one of my favorite movies, but it's a crime that the show never really got a chance. On the other hand, with no network to blow it, I also really enjoyed Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog--until it jumped the shark in the third installment.

Thus I've been looking forward to Whedon's new series Dollhouse, which premiers this Friday on FOX, but I can't help but have a bad feeling that they are gonna screw this up too (why, oh why would he go back to FOX?!). Still, the premise sounds fascinating: It's about a company that reprograms its employees to do whatever jobs its clients wish--raising all sorts of interesting questions about human nature, free will and determinism, good and evil, etc.

But those ads! For the last couple weeks I keep running across these creepy advertisements (e.g. on Technorati) with the lead actress naked and surrounded by photographs or mirrors or whatever. I get that they are trying to highlight the way she is being exploited by the Dollhouse--thus, the images I've seen are not really sexual--but yuk! I hope this isn't the tone they are going to set in the show as a whole, or I may not be watching it long. Has any one else seen these?

Christian Carnival CCLXIII

Assuming I remember my roman numerals, I think that's the 258th Christian Carnival, hosted this week at the Evangelical Ecologist (a good blog about environmental issues from a Christian perspective). It includes my post on "engaging culture."

Monday, February 9, 2009

It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine...

Sorry about the title, but after listening to Obama's press conference tonight and reading various criticisms of the economic stimulus package, that about sums up my feelings about the economic crisis. To be honest, I completely lack the economic expertize to pontificate on such matters, and am not even interested in linking to those who claim them. But I did run across a couple of interesting posts in the last couple days that focus on an aspect of these issues that does interest me: how our collective reactions to such crises reflect our views on human nature, and how that should impact our decision-making.

First, Charlie Lehardy has a great post on the concept of "moral hazard" and its impact on the current economic situation. Second, Chris Schelin has some good reflections on the subject of "peak oil"--an issue that is currently less visible than the recession, but may in the long run prove more important--particularly the way overly optimistic and pessimistic views of humanity tend to dominate such debates. Both posts offer some helpful observations from a lay-persons' perspective.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Quote - Seeing Through the Bible

Henry Ward Beecher (HT Creation of an Evolutionist):

The Bible is like a telescope. If a man looks through his telescope, then he sees worlds beyond; but if he looks at his telescope, then he does not see anything but that. The Bible is a thing to be looked through, to see that which is beyond.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Enganging Culture Means All Culture--Not Just What's Hip

Owen Strackan gets it exactly right (HT Christ and Pop Culture):

Readers of this blog will know that I want to “engage culture” even as I want to be what is often called “incarnational.” But as some are increasingly pointing out (see pastor Kevin DeYoung’s hilarious and correct post on this topic), engaging culture does not mean that one must own a Mac, listen to Sufjan Stevens, Bob Dylan, and Bon Iver, watch CNN, listen contemplatively to NPR, drink local-brand coffee only, and cultivate stylish facial hair.

One may be engaging culture with these sorts of life choices. If so, terrific! But isn’t one also engaging culture, so to speak, by listening to Hank Williams, eating at Wendy’s (note: I do not encourage this), and seeking to witness at the local truck stop? Are these things not “culture” that we should engage? Or is “culture” only what is branded cool by the upwardly mobile?
It seems to me that many of us have become so concerned about distancing ourselves from fundamentalism that we have abandoned the low-brow culture entirely. We tell ourselves that this is part of our witness--that we want to show that Christianity doesn't have to be ignorant and backwards-looking--but the truth is, we've grown comfortable with our "upwardly mobile" lifestyle and don't want to give it up. Jesus commanded us to "deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me," but it's a lot easier to pamper yourself, take up your Starbucks and follow what's cool.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


I'm very curious where they're gonna go with this (HT In the Open Space):

As Carmen notes, for some reason Internet Explorer crashes when you try to embed this video (another reason to hate Microsoft, I guess). Firefox worked to embed it, but hopefully it won't crash IE browsers who simply access the blog.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Theological Vice and Virtue

A couple weeks back, Ben Myers posted a tongue-in-cheek list of theological vices, for instance:

1. As a theological student, your aim is to accumulate opinions – as many as you can, and as fast as possible. (Exceptional students may acquire all their opinions within the first few weeks; others require an entire semester.)... If at first you don’t feel much conviction for these new opinions, just be patient: within twelve months you will be a staunch advocate, and you’ll even be able to help new students acquire the same opinions.
Today he posted his corresponding list of theological virtues, including:
6. Love: Theological formation should be driven by a love for truth, not by animosity towards untruth. Truthful theology always involves polemics – but since truth takes form as love, it can never be used as a weapon to wound another person. Where this occurs, truth becomes a falsehood....

9. Truth: Ambition for the comfort and respectability of a career is a deadly temptation which the theological student must resist. One can serve the idol of career only by compromising the call to speak the truth – that is, by sacrificing one’s entire theological vocation. Theological education is not about garnering academic favour, nor about treading the eggshells of correctness and respectability; it is about loving the truth and speaking the truth faithfully, while “taking no thought for tomorrow” (Matt. 6:34).

10. Prayer: Prayer is the theologian’s most fitting and most distinctive activity. A theologian who does not pray is a grotesque aberration – like a literary scholar who doesn’t read, or a music teacher who cannot play an instrument. Above all else, “the theologian is the one who prays” (St Evagrius).
If, like me, you need the reminder, do check out his lists.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

It's Easier If We Pretend They Don't Exist

James Pate ProgressiveChurchlady notes a piece on the practice of "hiding" the homeless during major events, which is doublespeak for arresting them for being an eyesore. It seems that with the Super Bowl this weekend, Tampa Bay has joined the long list of cities to sweep for vagrants and lock them in jail while the crowds have their fun.

Instead of dealing with the problem directly--which would require admitting the numerous ways we dehumanize and disenfranchise the homeless--we cart them off and pretend then don't exist.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Problem with Literalism - Again

HT a fellow grad student apparently, Scott Bailey.

The Carnival is Back in Town

It's been a while since I've been in one of these, but my post on FOCA is included in this week's Christian Carnival, hosted at Ignorant Historian.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Abortion and Teenage Pregnancy By State

For those who have not been following the comments on my recent post on the Freedom of Choice Act, an objection was raised that restrictions on abortion merely trade a lower abortion rate for a higher rate of teenage pregnancy. Now those who believe abortion is murder might think that a reasonable trade--the lesser of two evils and all--but even if so, it is hardly an ideal situation. Better by far would be to reduce both teenage pregnancy and abortion, and a truly pro-life position must not ignore the negative consequences of its actions. Thus N. Adam claims the pro-life acceptance of this trade-off is one more instance of our "caring more about the welfare of the unborn than the born."

In support of such a claim, it can be pointed out that most of those states with the highest teenage birth rates are in the South, and many of these are Red states. These numbers are a bit skewed, however, by the fact that a high abortion rate can mask a similarly high pregnancy rate. Still, even when comparing overall teenage pregnancy rates, it is clear that the South is not doing well. According to the Guttmach Institute (an arm of Planned Parenthood; figures are for 2000, the latest I can find), the five states with the highest teenage pregnancy rates per 1000 girls are (with Abortion rank and percentage):

1. Nevada: Pregnancy rate 113/1000 (Abortion: 4th highest; 36%)
2. Arizona: 104 (A 19th; 21%)
3. Mississippi: 103 (A 28th; 16%)
4. New Mexico: 103 (A 18th; 22%)
5. Texas: 101 (A 26th; 17%)

Nevertheless, the fact that these are all in the South, and include some states with pro-choice policies (e.g. Guttmacher ranks New Mexico the 6th best for "efforts to help women avoid unplanned pregnancy") strongly points to a cultural factor--this is clearly not just a matter of access to contraception and abortion or even "Red vs. Blue." Thus, some very Red and very anti-abortion Midwestern states (like the Dakotas) are among the lowest in pregnancy and birth rates: North Dakota has the best overall teenage pregnancy rate (42/1000) and the 3rd best abortion rate (8%); South Dakota has the 7th best pregnancy rate (54/1000) and the 2nd best abortion rate (7%).

These numbers are also skewed by the fact that abortion restrictions and contraception restrictions (too) often go hand-in-hand, especially in the South. So if we want to get a better idea of the impact of abortion restrictions themselves--and thus the likely impact of FOCA's passage, which would eliminate all such restrictions--we should instead look at the rankings for highest abortion percentages, and here the claim that increased access to abortion lowers teenage pregnancy rates collapses in ruin. According the Guttmacher Institute's own numbers, the five states with the highest teenage abortion rates are all among the top 16 highest teenage pregnancy rates, and all are Blue states (with overall teenage pregnancy rank and rate/1000 girls):

1. New Jersey: 47% Abortion rate (Pregnancy rank 16th highest; 90/1000)
2. New York: 46% (P 14th; 91)
3. Maryland: 38% (P 13th; 91)
4. Nevada: 36% (P 1st; 113)
5. California: 36% (P 7th; 96)

Predictably, four of these states have very permissive abortion laws (California, Maryland, New York and New Jersey; Nevada is something of an exception, and in fact is not clearly Blue, though it went for Obama). More surprisingly, and according to Guttmacher, three of the four provide excellent access to contraception and related services: California (1st), New York (5th) and Maryland (12th) are all in Guttmacher's top 12, though Nevada (34) and New Jersey (43!) get low scores. In other words, these states have some of the best access to abortion and contraception but not only have very high abortion rates (predictably), but also have consistently higher teenage pregnancy rates. In contrast, the five states with the lowest abortion rates are all among those with the 25 lowest teenage pregnancy rates:

46. West Virginia 10% abortion rate (Pregnancy rank 35th; 67/1000)
47. Kentucky 8% (P 25th; 76)
48. North Dakota 8% (P 50th; 42)
49. South Dakota 7% (P 44th; 54)
50. Utah 6% (P 45th; 53)

Note that this does not just measure overall numbers of abortion, but the abortion rate per pregnancy. In other words, Utah, South Dakota and North Dakota are not just low on the list because they have few pregnancies; they have the fewest pregnancies and the smallest percentages of those pregnancies end in abortion. Four of these five states have in place the very laws FOCA would eliminate (West Virginia is the exception).

Now clearly there is much more involved in these differences in teenage pregnancy and abortion rates than a few parental consent laws. There are, very obviously, strong cultural differences that no laws (for or against abortion) can eliminate. Thus, it is often rightly pointed out that, even if criminalized, many women would still seek abortions (though clearly this is more true in certain parts of the country than others). But the opposite is also true: even where abortion is legal, it can remain rare if the culture continues to view it as objectionable (as in parts of the Midwest), and this by no means needs to lead to higher pregnancy rates. In short, and as I have emphasized on numerous occasions, it is not the laws that need fixing so much as people's hearts and minds. So long as we pretend that casual sex and abortion can be morally neutral and consequence free, we will have states like New Jersey and New York with extremely high abortion and teenage pregnancy rates.

But at the same time, it can hardly be an accident that four of the five states with the highest rates of abortion already have FOCA like laws on the books and yet still are among the worst in teenage pregnancy, while four of the five states with the the lowest abortion rates have the very kinds of laws FOCA would repeal and some of the best rates of teenage pregnancy. All of which renders very problematic the claim that restricting access to abortion inevitably leads to higher rates of teenage pregnancy. If anything, the opposite seems to be the case.

What Does It Mean to Be Bi-Partisan?

Henry Neufeld has an excellent post on the subject:

In my view bipartisanship means honestly listening to one another, and cooperating across party lines wherever that will work. There are two things to avoid: 1) Bickering, grandstanding, and other such tactics and 2) Compromising away your principles. I think both of these things should be avoided diligently and equally.

When two politicians disagree on a substantive issue of principle, debate it out openly and honestly, and then end up voting against one another, I regard that as good civic responsibility. When the same politicians waffle around until they find some mushy compromise, I call that dishonesty and cowardice.
Read the whole thing.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

BSG - "A Disquiet Follows My Soul"

The title of last night's episode of Battlestar Galactica aptly summarizes my feelings about where the show seems to be heading. Is their goal to prove that real heroes do not exist, that even the "best" are thoroughly corrupt? Where is the courage and hope? Left in the ashes of Earth, it seems. Along with the fleet, I have no idea where they are going anymore, and I'm not sure we'll like it when they get there (spoilers follow).

But despite all the "disquiet," this episode did explore some interesting ideas about the nature of humanity. In particular, it brought to the fore an issue that has underlain much of the series: the "humanity" of the Cylons. The Final Five Cylons have been revealed and have formed an alliance with the humans, and now they want to be treated as equals, full citizens with all the rights and protections that entails. Nor is their argument without merit. Are they not people too?

As is graphically illustrated by the scene in which Colonel Tigh and the Six first see the ultrasound of their unborn child, these "machines" are flesh and blood too, thinking and feeling people just like the rest of us. No, they were not born--as far as we can tell they are clones--but is that really relevant? Is it only one's birth that defines one's identity? As the movie Hellboy once put it, it's not one's origins that "make a man a man," but rather "the choices he makes. Not how he starts things, but how he decides to end them."

Yet that is just the problem, according to Felix Gaeta and many others in the fleet, who rightfully ask: Are these not the same Cylons who only four years ago destroyed the colonies--incinerating billions of people? Are these not the same Cylons who oppressed, imprisoned, tortured and executed many of the last survivors on New Caprica? Are these not the same Cylons who chased the remnant of humanity across half the galaxy, only finally giving up their war of extermination when they learned the Final Five were among them? Are these not the same Cylons who, only days ago it seems, threatened to nuke the whole human fleet if they refused to hand over the Five? But now--now that Earth is a wasteland and all hope seems lost--now the Cylons feel as frightened and alone as the humans. Now they want protection. Now they claim to have turned over a new leaf and want to be treated as equals. Is that justice? Is Gaeta wrong to insist that "someday soon there will be a reckoning"? Should we just forget the past with all its victims and join in a round of Kum Ba Yah?

If the Cylons are guilty as sin, however, their newfound desire to be treated as humanity's equal is not as out of place as it might seem, for there is little sign of righteousness among the Colonials either. They too have tortured and executed, imprisoned and enslaved, even coldly slaughtered their Cylon enemies. It wasn't long ago that these very humans and these very Cylons attacked and destroyed the resurrection hub, killing thousands instantly and condemning all Cylons everywhere to death. It may even turn out that it was humans who destroyed the Cylon "Earth" 2000 years ago. "All this has happened before, and all this will happen again."

And if this is true of humanity in general, it is also true of our "heroes," each and every one of whom has a closet full of too many skeletons to name. Gaeta himself, as revealed in the recent webisodes, is hardly a picture of virtue, aiding the Cylon pogrom during the occupation of New Caprica, attempting to kill Gaius Baltar and an Eight for reminding him of that treason, and now plotting mutiny on Galactica. Even Cally Tyrol--probably the cleanest character in the whole series until Tory flushed her out an airlock for discovering they were Cylons--has now been revealed as unfaithful: it turns out Nicholas is not Tyrol's child after all; she got pregnant by another man just before they got married, tried to get an (illegal) abortion, then changed her mind and lied about who the father was.

After all of this has come to light, however, Gaius Baltar--Gaius Baltar--has the audacity to blame God for the evil that has befallen them:

Baltar: What manner of forgiveness are you seeking? Is it that of disobedient children?... Are you all just children who transgressed against your Father's demands?
Crowd: No, we've done nothing wrong.
Baltar: Are you being punished for your multitude of sins? Are you?
Crowd: No!
Baltar: Is this really our lot? To have been lead, by a father, to the promised land? To paradise? Only to have paradise cruelly smashed to bits before our very eyes? Are these the actions of a father towards his children?
Crowd: No! It's not right!
Baltar: What have you done to deserve this punishment? What sins have you committed to condemn you--condemn you!--to wander through the universe, without hope, without light? So you have to ask yourselves, what kind of a father abandons his own children to despair and loneliness? Perhaps we are not the ones in need of forgiveness! Perhaps we are not. Perhaps we have been wronged! Perhaps it is God who should come down here and beg for our forgiveness!
Coming from Gaius Baltar--the most narcissistic, self-serving, morally bankrupt character of all, the very man who enabled the Cylons to wipe out the colonies, collaborated with them on New Caprica, and now leads a sex-cult on Galactica--this outburst of indignant blasphemy is deeply ironic, and made all the more so when it is immediately followed by a fight between Tyrol and the real father of Cally's child. It seems that Cylons and humans can't even stop fighting long enough to blame God for their troubles.

I wonder, if God really did come down, who among them would deserve to stand in his presence? But more to the point: Will God come down anyway, and will there be any redemption on offer if he does? Is there any hope at the end of this story, or is BSG content to leave us with the despair of a meaningless and Godless universe?

Friday, January 23, 2009

I'm a Fundamentalist, You're a Fundamentalist, We're All Fundamentalists...

From a humorous post over at Inhabitatio Dei:

The third kind of fundamentalist is what we might call the ubiquitous fundamentalist. This sort of fundamentalist is someone who strongly believes a fairly large number of things and, as such, gets in arguments with other such fundamentalists who believe different things. The reason this sort of fundamentalist is termed ubiquitous is because every single person in the world is one of them. You, me, that guy over there. Her? Her.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Quote - Smallville

From tonight's episode of Smallville:

Saving someone, truly saving them, is not about knocking them out and throwing them in a dark room; it's about helping them find their way back to the right side.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Abortion, Infant Mortality and the Freedom of Choice Act

N. Adam left the following comment on my last post. Given that tomorrow is the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I wanted to provide a full response here:

[I]t is rather curious how a site like the one you've linked to [here] can be so opposed to abortion and embryonic stem cell research on moral standing alone, yet (according to my google searches) have absolutely nothing meaningful to say about the horrible infant morality rate in the US and the fact that we have tens of millions of children [who] are currently without healthcare.
It's a fair observation, and similar to the one Timothy Mills made a while back. As I responded to Timothy, there is a very clear distinction to be made between intentional and unintentional death, whereby it is hardly illegitimate to focus one's primary attention on the former. But the issue is even clearer in this case. The site N. Adam refers to is specifically focused on a fighting a particular piece of legislation, the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), so it can hardly be blamed for failing to address issues not connected with FOCA, as infant mortality is not.

A more important question, then, is whether fighting FOCA itself is a worthwhile cause, or whether our time ought better to be spent fighting the "horrible" rate of infant mortality in the United States. Sadly, that is easily answered: the US infant mortality rate is the 28th worst in the world, more than twice as high as some other developed nations. In short, infant mortality (and the poor education and health care that contribute to it) absolutely should be a concern to all of us. Nevertheless, in the US this amounts to less than 28,000 deaths a year, whereas abortion currently takes 1,200,000 lives a year. I'm no math wiz, but I'm pretty sure 1.2 million is more than 28 thousand.

But that is only half the issue, for we are not talking about which of those numbers are more important to reduce; we are talking about a bill that would very likely increase the number of abortions performed in this country. If made law, FOCA would eliminate all state and local restrictions on abortion, including partial birth abortion bans, parental consent laws, waiting periods, and many other restrictions which have already been found constitutional by the Supreme Court. There is also concern that the bill might supersede the Hyde Amendment, which currently restricts federal funding for abortions, and many believe it would force religious health care providers (such as Catholic hospitals) to perform abortions or close their doors. In short, FOCA would reduce or eliminate all limitations on abortion, and would almost certainly increase the total number performed annually, as has been the case in those states, like Maryland, which have passed similar legislation (for fuller discussions of the likely impact of this legislation go here and here).

As a Senator, President Obama was a co-sponsor of the bill, and once vowed that "the first thing" he would do as President would be to sign it. Thus, while there are many things about Obama that I like, I am thankful that so far he has not kept that promise (in fact, I'm quite impressed by the legislation he did choose to sign first), and I sincerely pray that he is never able to do so.

To return to N. Adam's observation, then, I do not find it the least bit curious that the site I linked should focus its attention squarely on abortion; it is, after all, called FightFOCA. But more fundamentally, I fail to see why it should seem strange that the pro-life movement generally focuses more attention on abortion than infant death, given that the US infant mortality rate is only 6.9 per 1000 live births, while the abortion rate is currently 19.4%, or about 194 per 1000 known pregnancies (the lowest rate since Roe v. Wade).

Now imagine you lived in a country where theft had been legal for 36 years, and because of this, pick-pocketing had become quite pervasive: 194 out of every 1000 people in this hypothetical country have their wallets stolen, while 7 out of every 1000 people lose their wallets by accident. Now imagine that various pro-Picking organizations argue vehemently that to outlaw the practice would not stop people from stealing; it would only make life more dangerous for those who choose to steal. This argument has convinced the Supreme Court of this hypothetical country, but various states within it have been unimpressed by the rhetoric and passed laws to limit theft where possible. Now imagine that these laws seem to be working--pickpocketing is at its lowest level since theft became legal, except in those few states which passed their own Freedom of Picking Acts, in which the rate of pickpocketing has continued to increase.

Now imagine the country elected a man who said "the first thing" he would do upon entering office would be to pass legislation to repeal all those local restrictions on theft and even force tax-payers and religious organizations to support the practice. Would you find it strange if a group of the citizens of that country formed an organization intent on fighting that new legislation? Would you find it odd if their website failed to devote equal attention to the 7 people per 1000 who lose their wallets accidentally, as they devote to the 194 people per 1000 who are robbed?

Don't misunderstand me, I for one believe that a truly pro-life view absolutely must care as much about the born as the unborn (if not more). I've argued again and again that the current dichotomy over such issues is nothing but harmful. But no one that I know of is trying to make infant mortality "safe, legal and rare." No one I know of wants to reduce health care for children. Unfortunately, our new President does want to eliminate state and local laws which reduce abortion, and I for one will not stand by and say nothing. I'm thankful that the 500,000 other signers of the FightFOCA petition feel the same.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Good Choice

Congratulations Obama! Thank you for your efforts to raise the level of civility and optimism in our nation and around the world. Thank you for your hopeful and bi-partisan approach, as evidenced by your cabinet appointments and Inaugural address. I pray that you truly are able to lead us to a brighter future. That said, while there are many campaign promises that I hope you are able to keep, there is one in particular that I very much hope you are not.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy Martin Luther King Jr Day!

Full text of the speech here.

UPDATE: Matt Kelley offers some excellent reflections on another of King's speeches, which is perhaps even more relevant than the above. Do click through and read it (HT James McGrath's reader).

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Battlestar Galactica - Sometimes a Great Notion

What would you do if all your hopes fell to ashes. How would you respond if all your dreams of heaven turned into hell? Such are the questions put to our long-suffering heroes in last night's episode of Battlestar Galactica. Unfortunately, the unmitigated despair we got for an answer was far from inspiring. We waited a year for this?

It's probably not a good sign that my wife's reaction was: "Do we really have to sit through nine more episodes of this? Can't they just answer our questions and be done with it?" The best thing about BSG has always been the story it told, but after last night I've lost the plot. Even the answers they finally gave were depressing, especially the anticlimactic identification of the final Cylon. I'm not sure what was worse: Who they picked, or the admission that they only decided at the end of last season. The Cylons had a plan; did the writers?

Still, as Carmen Anders notes, BSG has given us some dark and dreary episodes in the past, and they always paved the way for something better. If all seems lost now, that doesn't mean it will end that way, and really, we could hardly have expected sunshine and puppy dogs after all that has happened. Our characters have been hanging their hopes on Earth for years now, and to finally get there and find it worse than what they left could hardly fail to devastate them. It's not a fun way to begin the final episodes of the series, but it was brutally honest.

On that score I particularly liked the brief scene when Adama was walking to Tigh's quarters with a loaded gun, as Galactica's crew fell to pieces around him--it perfectly revealed his loss of control and concern. I also agree with Barbara Nicolosi that Dualla's and Kara's storylines were particularly well done. They were shocking, but made a certain terrible sense in retrospect.

So in the end, I still have hope for Galactica, but I'm not sure what I'll do if it comes to nothing.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Quote - Nietzsche on Christian Faith

From Friedrich Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil (translated by Helen Zimmern):

The Christian faith from the beginning, is sacrifice: the sacrifice of all freedom, all pride, all self-confidence of spirit.... Modern men, with their obtuseness as regards all Christian nomenclature, have no longer the sense for the terribly superlative conception which was implied to an antique taste by the paradox of the formula, "God on the Cross." Hitherto there had never and nowhere been such boldness in inversion, nor anything at once so dreadful, questioning, and questionable as this formula: it promised the transvaluation of all ancient values. (pg. 34 Dover Thrift Edition)

Three Cheers for Continuum and T&T Clark!

Last month I mentioned that I'd won the Continuum/T&T Clark give-away at SBL. Well the books arrived today and I'm pleased to announce that they even exceeded my expectations. Not only did they let me choose $250 worth of free books, but they even let me take them at the conference price! These are the volumes I chose:

Paula Gooder The Pentateuch (retail $40)
James Charlesworth Resurrection: The Origins and Future of a Biblical Doctrine ($35)
Larry Hurtado One God, One Lord: New Edition ($50)
Loren Stuckenbruck (ed.) Early Christian and Jewish Monotheism ($84)
Mark Goodacre The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze ($35)
Stephen Um The Theme of Temple Christology in John's Gospel ($168)
John Day (ed.) Temple and Worship in Biblical Israel ($50)
Total retail value: $462

So let me give a hearty Hip Hip Hurray! to Continuum and T&T Clark!

By the way, they also have a blog here.

(P.S. I normally dislike these kinds of "look what I got!" posts when I see them on other blogs, but I didn't want to let this pass without giving Continuum/T&T Clark the thanks they deserve!)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Monday, January 5, 2009

Quote - Richard Longenecker on Apostolic Exegesis

Richard Longenecker in Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period (as with most things I quote, I could quibble over some details, but it's a good summary):

There is a great deal that was held in common by the earliest Christian preachers and the New Testament writers in their use of Scripture.... All treated the biblical text with some degree of freedom, believing that from among the various textual traditions then current they could do something of textual criticism on a theological basis since they knew the conclusion to which that biblical testimony was pointing. All seem prepared to employ not only biblical citations but also, to a limited extent, statements of truth found outside the canon, whether of Jewish, pagan or uncertain origin. And all of them, most importantly, worked from the same two fixed points: (1) the messiahship and lordship of Jesus, as validated by the resurrection and witnessed to by the Spirit; and (2) the revelation of God in the Old Testament as pointing forward to Jesus. Thus their perspective was avowedly christocentric and their treatment thoroughly christological. (pgs. 189-90)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Reading the Bible in Context--But What Context?

Recently, John Hobbins of Ancient Hebrew Poetry called my blog "Christian postmodern," which puzzled me at first, but I suppose makes sense in light of various things I've said around here, not least in my sidebar and this post. The problem with nice thing about a label like "postmodern" is that it's ambiguous enough to take however I want--in this case I'll go with "hip and unconventional"--but since others may define the term differently, I wanted to clarify my position, particularly regarding how I understand biblical interpretation:

To many, "a postmodern doctrine of Scripture" (John's phrase) means a reading cut off from its original context, based on the assumption that meaning and truth are flexible and necessarily imposed by the reader. Thus you might have a feminist, post-colonial or vegan reading of a text, with little concern at all for whether such a thing was intended by the original "author." Now, on the one hand, I do have a great deal of sympathy for such an approach. The very fact that the Bible has been written and rewritten, collected and interpreted through numerous different contexts--from bronze age nomadic tribes to Imperial Rome and beyond--suggests that flexibility and reapplication are inherent to its very nature, as I suggested in the post linked above.

In fact, it is not at all clear to me that the authors of the New Testament themselves felt restricted to the "original intended meaning" in their own interpretation of the Scriptures they treasured, so why should we? They clearly believed that more recent events and knowledge, especially the life and death of Jesus but also including broader political and cultural realities, set their scriptures in new and quite unexpected light. Nor is it easy to see why such a process had to end with the New Testament authors. Thus, I not only think it is appropriate to ask new questions of Scripture, but such may even be demanded by the text itself. After all, is "the word of God living and active" (Heb 4:12), or only dull and lifeless? Doesn't Paul say we have been given "a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit" (2 Cor 3:6)?

But clearly that can only be half the story, for why bother reading in the first place if you are not willing to hear what someone else has to say? If we only bring our own questions and perspectives to the text, there is little point in reading at all, and almost no chance of reading well. This is especially the case when dealing with an ancient document like the Bible, which derives from a very different cultural context. As John's post makes clear in the case of Jeremiah 7:22, ignorance of the original context inevitably leads to distorted understandings of the text, and this is hardly excusable simply because our interests lie elsewhere. Thus, even if it is legitimate and even necessary to go beyond the text, such can only be done responsibly after we have made every effort to understand it on its own terms.

More fundamentally, has not the primary purpose of preserving and reinterpreting scripture precisely been to face these new situations in ways that are faithful to, or at least aware of, what has gone before? If it is appropriate for us to ask new questions, then, we must also learn to hear anew the questions the text itself was intended to ask and answer, as these are often enough not questions we ourselves are likely to ask. If we are not willing to do that, we might as well ignore the text altogether and focus our attention elsewhere.

Ultimately, I don't think there is just one legitimate context in which scripture is to be interpreted. Rather, there is a necessary tension between our own varied contexts and the "original" context of scripture. To read the Bible faithfully is to live into that tension, allowing our questions (and answers) to shape and be shaped by those of our predecessors, to learn from our tradition even if we refuse to be trapped by it.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Bumper Sticker Wisdom

Seen next to an Obama sticker (make of that what you will):

Don't Believe Everything You Think

12+ Best Links of 2008

Sherry at Semicolon had the great idea to compile the twelve best things she linked in 2008 (naturally, the fact that she included one of my posts has nothing to do with why I like the idea!). Anyway here are my twelve (plus) favorite links from 2008, in chronological order:

Be Grateful, It's Your Birthday, by Julie Grisolano, is easily the most thoughtful and moving article about the impact of abortion that I read last year. Please read it, then consider signing this.

Equally heartbreaking is Sex and Scandal at Duke from Rolling Stone. It's an older article (written in 2006), but still well worth a read.

On a lighter note, there's Hell Abolished, God Adopts Gold Sticker System at The Wittenburg Door, which also wins the prize for most comments I've ever seen on a post (5441!).

Kim Fabricius, who is always worth your time, is at his very best in this paradoxical sermon: Lose Your Faith.

On another note, with the final episodes of Battlestar Galactica premiering in less than two weeks (!!), this is still the best post I've seen on the mid-season finale: Battlestar Galactica Provides Earth-Shattering 'Revelations' (major spoiler warning).

Next is another from The Wittenburg Door, but this one is more substantial (but still funny): Joe Bob Parties With the Atheists.

Steven Greydanus posted an excellent article on good, evil and the supernatural in recent film, at Christianity Today: Hellboy, Evil and the Cross.

Two for one: Nick Milne posted the most comprehensive of the many responses to P.Z. Myers' desecration of the Eucharist, the Quran, and a copy of The God Delusion, while Francis Beckwith offered perhaps the most succinct summary of my own view of the debacle.

And back to the fluff, there's Five O'Clock People, whose latest CD is still awesome, and still maddeningly unavailable; listen to it here.

Back to the meat, and another double-dip, here's a thought-provoking article at The Other Journal on Why Every Christian Should 'Quite Rightly Pass for an Atheist', and the response: On What Could Quite Rightly Pass for a Fetish.

Halden at Inhabitatio Dei wrote an outstanding post on Moral Equivalence, War, and Abortion.

Alan Knox had an excellent and humorous series on Scripture... As We Live it.

And finally--a bonus--my favorite comic of 2008 (from xkcd):

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Evan Almighty

I saw Evan Almighty again tonight and and enjoyed it quite a bit more than the first time. I tend to dislike movies where, if they were remotely realistic, everything would end badly, and you keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. So here we have a newly elected U.S. Congressman going to seed, followed around by wild animals, and shouting about a flood and how God told him to build an ark. There's simply no way this is going to end well, or maintain any believability if it does. Nor does the film itself provide a convincing resolution to the mess--I'm pretty sure that even if everything could happen as it did in the movie, the authorities would be more likely to believe Evan sabotaged the dam than that God actually warned him of the danger. And I'm certain that any flood that could carry a boat right up to the Capitol Building would destroy most of Washington D.C. in the process.

But whatever. This time I knew what to expect and so wasn't as distracted by the absurdities and just enjoyed it as a humorous parable about a man far too concerned with outward appearances with whom God has some fun, and uses to do some good. And as a parable, it works pretty well (for instance, see Carmen's excellent observations here). What I especially like about it, however, is its exploration of how God answers prayer. On one side, of course, the movie is full of instances of direct, miraculous, acts of God, but on the other hand, it suggests that God's usual practice is much more subtle and personal:

Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for their family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?
Ultimately, and as I've said before, God is less interested in fixing our circumstances than he is in fixing us--making us into the kind of people who live for and love one another, regardless of our circumstances. Yet it is still we who must choose how to live in each circumstance. Though God wants to transform us, to cleanse us of our self-focus and make us into the people we are meant to be, he can only do so through our choices.Whatever its failings, Evan Almighty explores that tension very well, and has a lot of fun doing it.

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2009, the 150th anniversary of the Origin of Species, 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, 450th anniversary of the final edition of Calvin's Institutes, and 500th birthday of John Calvin. One of my goals this year is to read both books. If you'd like to join me, you can get them in daily installments: DailyLit has On the Origin of Species in 205 parts here; and Princeton Theological Seminary has The Institutes of the Christian Religion in 365 parts here. Both can be subscribed to with a reader.

Here are my other resolutions:

1. To finish my thesis (I hope to defend in September).
2. To apply to PhD programs (which means taking the GRE, ugh!).
3. To present at least one paper at a conference.
4. To publish at least one paper.
5. To publish at least one book review.
6. To read at least 3 chapters of Greek per week.
7. To read at least 3 chapters of Hebrew per week.
8. To get my French back to reading competence.

Anyone else like to share their resolutions?