Truth and Happiness

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pascals pensees

“We desire truth and find in ourselves nothing but uncertainty. We seek happiness and find  only wretchedness and death. We are incapable of not desiring and happiness and incapable of either certainty or happiness.”   -Pascal

A friend of mine recommended the book Christianity for Modern Pagans, a book on Pascal’s Pensées, out lined and explained by Peter Kreeft. This friend, a pastor, has said he has read it over twenty times and could not stop saying how good it was. I bought the book, but was thinking it couldn’t be that good. Forty-five pages in, I think it is that good. Pascal, a contemporary of Descartes, is considered the first apologist to the modern world, sitting on top of the Christian Middle Ages as the Enlightenment took root in Europe. The wisdom of this book is striking and compelling. Today, I am going to just share some excerpts from the book.

“[Concerning the above quote], these are the four fundamental truths, the data, about the human condition always and everywhere. No philosophy that ignores them is worth a first glance; no philosophy that has no explanation for them is worth a second. Ultimately, no philosophy except Christianity is worth a third glance and our belief, because only Christianity has a satisfactory explanation for these four facts. This is another way of summarizing Pascal’s fundamental overall argument in the Pensées.

Truth (our head’s food) and happiness (our heart’s food) are the two things everyone wants, and not in crumbs but in great loaves; not in raindrops but in waves. Yet these are the two things no one gets except in little crumbs and droplets.

…Since no one can change human nature, no one can make us stop desiring truth and happiness; and no mere human being can give us truth or happiness. We may mediate these two things, but we cannot create them; we are aqueducts, not fountains.

…Science and technology shield modern man from a clear knowledge of these four fundamental truths of Pascal, for science (or rather scientism) offers us the illusion that we now know the Truth when in fact we only know some truths, and technology has given us comforts but not contentment. “

Utopian Soft Tyranny

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Ameritopia mark levinThis is just a note prior to my review of Ameritopia by Mark Levin, which I would like to share. The more I think of this book and the Utopian philosophy that is growing and blooming in Liberalism (I think especially the atheism blatantly exposed at the Democratic National Convention when Jerusalem and God language  was reinstated into their platform), I cannot help but think that Utopian idealism serves as one source of “salvation” for humanity and will be at least one root of the coming persecution of Christians. As Peter Kreeft writes,

“Every orthodox Christian apologetic, from Paul…to Augustine…to Aquinas…to Pascal…to Kierkegaard to Chesterton to C.S. Lewis, has always circled around these two foci, rotated around these two poles: sin and salvation… In the past, the difficulty in accepting Christianity was in its second point, salvation. Everyone in premodern societies knew sin was real, but many doubted salvation. Today it is the exact opposite: everybody is saved, but there is no sin to be saved from. Thus what originally came into the world as “good news” strikes the modern mind as bad news, as guilt-ridden, moralistic and “judgmental”. For the modern mind is no longer “convinced of sin, of righteousness and of judgment” (Jn 16:8).”

Sin is personal to each of us, something that we must deal with personally. While there are environmental factors that can influence our lives, that can never negate our own free will to choose good or evil. I think the more the government becomes the solution to social problems and crime, for to the modern mind crime is only acting out against social injustice (and implies moral innocence), the more Christianity will be a stench, this bad news. Instead of Christ, there is faith in Utopian government.

Ameritopia, by Mark Levin

In Ameritopia, Levin presents his argument that the U.S. is in a post-constitutional period and heading toward the soft tyranny of the Utopian vision. For me, it has put a name and philosophy behind progressive Liberalism. As Kierkegaard wrote in The Point of View, “an illusion can never be destroyed directly, and only by indirect means can it be radically removed… A direct attack only strengthens a person in his illusion and, at the same time, embitters him.” This book is excellent in that it comes up from behind the illusion that government can perfect humanity, exposing this philosophy and its advance into our modern government.

In the first section, the Utopian visions of Plato, More, Hobbes and Marx are discussed and shown to clearly advocate despotic governing bodies to achieve their ends of human perfection. I really did not understand the nature of utopianism, and was shocked by the control and uniformity proposed by these philosophers. The utopian dream relies heavily on the benevolence of one man, or a small group of men, to rule selflessly for the benefit of all people….and pure dream that is. As Lord Acton wrote in 1887, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” And as Montesquieu observed, “in a popular state there must be an additional spring, which is Virtue.” That only comes from within the citizen.

Locke’s and Montesquieu’s influence on the centralized government is explored, in regard to liberty, form of government and the separation of powers. The observations of Alexis de Tocqueville in the U.S. are explored as well, as to the virtues of the people and the almost hidden and unobtrusive quality of the government. He also addressed the form of despotism that most endangers a free society, one that creeps into “soft tyranny”. “It is the gradual imposition of and acquiescence to radical egalitarianism, which is disguised as democratic and administrative utilitarianism. It is the belief in the infinite ability and capacity of elected officials to perfect life and in a vast, neutral administrative state to ensure its proper regulation.”

Levin explores the writings of Woodrow Wilson, unveiling his vision of the governments as “living things and operate as organic wholes” and “have their natural evolution and are one thing in one age, another in another.” In his writings, Wilson exchanged our inalienable rights for privilege granted by government. He argued that federal courts are not bound to the Constitution. Levin reveals in Roosevelt’s writings contempt of the constitution’s limits on federal power, and his proposed “Second Bill of Rights” as mere disguised tyranny.

The last chapter is a tour de force revelation of the extent of the tentacles of the government, which totaled 81,405 pages of federal rules in 2010, amounting to $1.752 trillion (in 2008) in private sector regulatory costs. With regard to entitlements and “social insurance”, Levin traces this concept to Henry Seager, who believed “individualism” was the greatest obstacle to social reform and the entrusting of all our needs to the common government. Yet, Social Security and Medicare are proving unsustainable, as will be centralized control of healthcare, which “must, must redistribute wealth from richer” and “establishes more than 150 new bureaucracies, agencies, boards, commissions and programs”. Of the soft tyranny of utopianism, De Tocqueville writes, “such a power…compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people who are reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

History Connections

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As I try to be consistent blogging, I am noticing that there are (at least) two types of posts I am motivated to write. One is the more in-depth post that ends up requiring more research. I am not sure if I am doing that well, but I am trying. The other kind of post is on quick connections I make between different places, posts, or readings. Because I want to say something “meaningful” and “in-depth”, and I have work and a family of six, the “Aha!” moments, the connections, stay only as quick notes in my journal. My busy life progresses, and nothing is written.

Well, today is a “quick connect” day.

I started to follow a blog called Faith and History by Robert McKenzie, professor and chair of the Dept of History at Wheaton College. I read this post about (basically) data mining history with the explicit purpose of gathering ammunition for one’s own viewpoint. McKenzie writes:

“The history-as-ammunition approach views the past as an arsenal, a storehouse of weapons to wield in the culture wars. If you stop to think about it, many of the most controversial public issues of the past generation have had an important historical component.”

This approach made me really consider how I look at history, and my purpose for research. Lately, I read and listen to audiobooks on history for curiosity sake. I do know, though, that I have mined history for ammunition. My oldest daughter is learning formal debate this semester, and see how essential it is to build both an AC and NC, researching all the information in order to build an argument for or against whatever the debate topic is. But those notes can be used in the wrong way. I found the writer’s warning profound: “whenever we know in advance what we hope to find in the past, we will almost certainly find what we are looking for.”

I was also struck by this statement about the irresponsibility of historical ignorance.

“As citizens of a free society charged with choosing our governmental representatives, we undoubtedly need to be historically savvy. You could even say that historical ignorance is downright irresponsible when so many vital public issues involve claims about the past.”

The Connection:

I followed a tweet to this video of Ann Coulter on The View. I thought it entertaining, but I don’t want to discuss the politics here. What I noticed during this heated exchange was the following, and connects directly to the post from McKensie:

  1. Coulter is using historical fact to back up her argument. Just listening to her speak (or anyone, really), there is no quick way to “fact check” her, unless you know the history. Did Coulter mine history as ammunition? I am not saying she is did or didn’t, but the discussion/argument should revolve around the validity of her facts, not “how much do you know about being black”.
  2. Goldberg: “I listen to my grandmother…” Wow, warm fuzzy, but not a great historical source there.
  3. Shepard: “You keep standing in the past, you got to come back to the present.” And again: “When you talk about, you stay in the past.” Coulter: “Well, that’s because that was brought up. It’s just a fact.” What struck me was Shepard’s dismissal of the past, that it has no meaning on the present. But in order to have a meaningful discussion, all parties should come to understand the past. McKensie’s charge of irresponsibility of historical ignorance. Shepard doesn’t even want to know the history.

Bioengineering Ethics

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Can scientists bioengineer people with better ethics? Are there genes that switch us from wretches to saints? Professor Julian Savulescu, Oxford professor and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Medical Ethics, says yes and advises that parents have a “moral obligation” to select for the best personalities for their children so they can be “ethically better”.

“Professor Julian Savulescu said that creating so-called designer babies could be
considered a “moral obligation” as it makes them grow up into “ethically better

He said that science is increasingly discovering that genes have a significant influence on personality – with certain genetic markers in embryo suggesting future characteristics. By screening in and screening out certain genes in the embryos, it should be possible to influence how a child turns out. In the end, he said that “rational design” would help lead to a better, more intelligent and less violent society in the future.

“Surely trying to ensure that your children have the best, or a good enough, opportunity for a great life is responsible parenting?” wrote Prof Savulescu, the Uehiro Professor in practical ethics.”

But is it really our genes that are the problem? If we design the next generation to be better ethically and morally, so that the next generation is then better, and so on, isn’t that the same as bioengineering a human robot? If you minimize, and then eliminate, the biological influences (supposedly personality flaws) on decision-making, essentially removing our desire for wrong-doing (defined as “bad for self and society”), you have removed free will. How does one genetically select for “good” free will? This is the logical conclusion of a naturalist explanation of human existence. The bad that humans do is simply a result of bad genes and bad environments, and it removes completely the any act of free will.

That begs the question: couldn’t God have made us with perfect genes? Why did he create such flawed personalities in the first place? C.S. Lewis writing in “Mere Christianity”, sheds some light:

“‘Why did God make a creature of such rotten stuff that it went wrong?’ The better stuff a creature is made of–the cleverer and stronger and freer it is–then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be if it goes wrong. A cow cannot be very good or very bad; a dog can be both better and worse; a child better and worse still; an ordinary man, still more so; a man of genius, still more so; a superhuman spirit best–or worst–of all.”

Savulescu doesn’t understand that no matter the genetic make-up, humans still have free will and can exercise it to good or evil. He obviously does not believe that there is any Moral Law, is a complete naturalist, believing that perfect genes would produce a perfect being. But in essence, in the attempt to bioengineer superheroes, we will still end up with supervillians.

In the book Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, Samuel Johnson speaks to us through the reflections of the character of Imlac, when he and Rasselas finally arrive at the pyramids.

“For the pyramids, no reason has ever been given adequate to the cost and labour of the work. The narrowness of the chambers proves that it could afford no retreat from enemies, and treasures might have been reposited at far less expense with equal security. It seems to have been erected only in compliance with that hunger of imagination which preys incessantly upon life, and must be always appeased by some employment. Those who have already all that they can enjoy must enlarge their desires. He that has built for use till use is supplied must begin to build for vanity….I consider this mighty structure as a monument of the insufficiency of human enjoyments.”

This is the lesson of history. People in perfect health and wealth will still choose self-glorification, and will make miserable others to achieve their selfish ends.

I had (sadly) never heard of Samuel Johnson before I started reading Not with a Bang but a Whimper by Theodore Dalrymple. The book is a collection of essays about the decline of Western culture, and its emphasis (so far) is directed at the decline in moral character. It is not the genes that make us better men, it is our moral decisions that do. And that comes from living a life of flaws.

Of Johnson, Dalrymple writes that “at every moment [he] reflects on the moral meaning and consequences of human life.” In his biography of Richard Savage, Johnson reflects on the faults of the poet. Dalrymple asks, “Who could fail to recognize a common human pattern in his delineation of Savage’s greatest failing?”

“By imputing none of his miseries to himself he continued to act upon the same principles and to follow the same path; was never made wiser by his sufferings, nor preserved by one misfortune from falling into another. He proceeded throughout his life to tread the same steps on the same circle; always applauding his past conduct, or at least forgetting it, to amuse himself with phantoms of happiness which were dancing before him, and willingly turned his eye from the light of reason, when it would have discovered the illusion and shown him, what he never wanted to see, his real state.”

There is only one path to wisdom. It is spiritual, and it is open to everyone of all genetic make-ups.

Note: I have since downloaded the free Kindle version of Rasselas and plan to read it soon.

C.S. Lewis on Christian Society

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Given the heated politics of the day, I found this Friday Quote from Mere Christianity very interesting and thought-provoking. Hopefully it is some food for thought for you. Comments are very welcome.

“All the same, the New Testament, without going into details, gives us a pretty clear hint of what a fully Christian society would be like. Perhaps it gives us more than we can take. It tells us that there are to be no passengers or parasites: if man does not work, he ought not to eat. Every one is to work with his own hands, and what is more, every one’s work is to produce something good: there will be no manufacture of silly luxuries and then of sillier advertisements to persuade us to buy them. And there is to be no ‘swank’ or ‘side’, no putting on airs. To that extent a Christian society would be what we now call Leftist. On the other hand, it is always insisting on obedience—obedience (and outward marks of respect) from all of us to properly appointed magistrates, from children to parents, and (I am afraid this is going to be very unpopular) from wives to husbands. Thirdly, it is to be a cheerful society: full of singing and rejoicing, and regarding worry or anxiety as wrong. Courtesy is one of the Christian virtues; and the New Testament hates what it calls ‘busybodies’.

If there were such a society in existence and you or I visited it, I think we should come away with a curious impression. We should feel that its economic life was very socialistic and, in that sense, ‘advanced’, but that its family life and its code of manners were rather old fashioned—perhaps even ceremonious and aristocratic. Each of us would like some bits of it, but I am afraid very few of us would like the whole thing. That is just what one would expect if Christianity is the total plan for the human machine. We have all departed from the total plan in different ways, and each of us wants to make out that his own modification of the original plan is the plan itself. You will find this again and again about anything that is really Christian: every one is attracted by bits of it and wants to pick out those bits and leave the rest. That is why we do not get much further: and that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are fighting for Christianity.

Now another point. There is one bit of advice given to us by the ancient heathen Greeks, and by the Jews in the Old Testament, and by the great Christian teachers of the Middle Ages, which the modern economic system has completely disobeyed. All these people told us not to lend money at interest; and lending money at interest—what we call investment—is the basis of our whole system. Now it may not absolutely follow that we are wrong. Some people say that when Moses and Aristotle and the Christians agreed in forbidding interest (or ‘usury’ as they called it), they could not foresee the joint stock company, and were only thinking of the private money-lender, and that, therefore, we need not bother about what they said. That is a question I cannot decide on. I am not an economist and I simply do not know whether the investment system is responsible for the state we are in or not. This is where we want the Christian economist. But I should not have been honest if I had not told you that three great civilizations had agreed (or so it seems at first sight) in condemning the very thing on which we have based our whole life.”

Katniss Would Fight the Spartans

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Spartans. I think of high school and college mascots, or (mostly) of the fighting elite portrayed in the latest movie 300. This modern movie was a very stylized portrayal of the Battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans held off the Persian Army for days (100,000-300,000 soldiers). They are portrayed as the fighting elite, the best trained soldiers in the world at that time. And that they were.

I just started my new audiobook today, The Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan. This war was after the second failed Persian invasion of Greece. Athens and Sparta were at their height then, and since my knowledge of this time period is spotty, I decided on this book. From the introduction, I learned that this war was brutal, and similarities have been drawn between this war and World War I. These Spartan men enjoyed the privilege of being free, but there was also a part of Spartan culture that is probably not widely known. Sparta kept state slaves called Helots, and they outnumbered the freemen 7:1. As Kagan describes in his book, Sparta kept a highly trained and disciplined army. But they were reluctant (in general) to deploy their soldiers too far from their cities, namely in fear of a Helot revolt. As one Athenian who knew Sparta well said, the Helots “would rather eat the [Spartans] raw.”

It is ironic that behind the courage and glory of those 300 Spartan warriors lay 2100 Helot slaves. To draw a parallel between another modern book and movie, rooting for these Spartans may be similar to rooting for the Panem Capital in The Hunger Games. The Capital lived similarly, importing everything from the districts while pursuing a life of…well, not military excellence, but surely absolute freedom. The Hunger Games showed District 12 and it’s poverty, and also it’s hero Katniss.

Hmm…Katniss was a Helot…and would fight the Spartans!

Ok, on a whim I googled “Katniss was a helot.” What I found was someone’s Honors Thesis from the University of Rhode Island. In it, the writer explores the classical themes and allusions found in The Hunger Games. It is a very good paper! Here is something about the Spartans and Helots:

“According to the Greek historian Thucydides, Spartaan policy was “at all times…governed by the necessity of taking precautions against” the Helots. The Spartans constantly feared a Helot uprising, and Thucydides reports that the Spartans devised ways of eliminating strong Helot youths they viewed as threats.”


“Paul Cartledge, in his study of Agesilaos and the Crisis of Sparta, claims it would not be an overstatement to characterize the history of Sparta as “fundamentally the history of the class struggle between the Spartans and the Helots.”

Well, those buff men with chiseled abs are not looking so glorious to me now. I don’t think I will look at them the same again, shown in the context of history.

The Zombie Apocalypse—Useful For Understanding History

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I have wondered for a while now why zombies are so appealing. They began as horror movies, then moved to comedy(i.e. Shaun of the Dean, etc) , literature (Pride & Prejudice & Zombies – ok, it is not real literature…), and even live action running races where some people dress up as zombies and try to steal the “life” flags of the runners. Now there is a show on AMC called The Walking Dead that is drama set during a zombie apocalypse. A friend had told me about the show, but I was reluctant because it was just zombies. Dead people wandering around trying to kill and eat you—so what? This past weekend, I don’t know what motivated me, but I popped it on Netflix. Coming from a pay channel, it is as expected solidly rated-R for gratuitous violence and some language, but it struck a chord with me—it applied to what I have been  learning and wondering about history.

Roving Wars Meant Death for the Common People

Last month I finished the book Peter the Great by Robert Massie. I really knew nothing about his monarch and thoroughly enjoyed the book. I was especially interested in Peter’s Great Northern War with Charles XII of Sweden, which was fought between 1700-1721.  While the Swedes had the best trained military and was feared across Europe, Russia’s army was weak and backward. One of Peter’s greatest achievements was his modernization of the military (including the creation of a navy), and he was able to defeat Charles XII at Poltava. Prior to Poltava, a tactic Peter used to slow Charles’s advance on Moscow was to slash and burn ~100 miles of land to deprive the Swedish army of supplies. Charles then had to extort food and provisions from the peasants. One method was to bring out the family’s youngest child and put a noose around their neck, and then demand the family’s food stocks. The choice for the family became death by successive hangings as the soldiers went child to child, or death by slow starvation. The brutality of this particular example has stuck in my mind.

Wars throughout history have usually meant terror, destruction, death and desolation for the common homestead. Another book I put on my list is on the Thirty Years War, which left Germany desolate. Think of France, Germany and Russia during World War II. On and on, back through history, the violence of man on man has yielded widespread misery for the common man.

Watching the drama and violence of The Walking Dead, I unexpectedly realized the parallels. I think  it is difficult for people living in first world countries to understand what it would have been like to live back then during war. War raged through their villages and neighborhoods. Watching and identifying with these characters allows people to feel that extreme terror and vulnerability that people must have felt back then. Also, I think one can draw a solid moral correlation between these soldiers and the undead. The person who can put a noose around an innocent child’s head to hang them may as well have the same moral code of a zombie.

Stone The Rebel

The pilot episode creates some quick background, mystery and action that serve as a great “hook” for the series. [**spoilers ahead**] My wife and I wanted to keep watching. In the next episode, Rick (a sheriff’s deputy) meets a band of survivors in Atlanta. Right away we are shown a character named Merle, a stereotypical amoral racist redneck. He is shooting zombies for fun off the rooftop (wasting their limited ammo and drawing more zombies to the group). When challenged, he calls a black guy a nig***, and then starts beating him. He puts a gun to the man’s head and proclaims himself leader of the group. In a moment, however, the butt end of Rick’s rifle ends his short reign. “Things are different now,” Rick says, “we survive by pulling together, not apart.” Merle is handcuffed to some piping, raging and cursing, and is eventually left behind to die.

Here is the first of many moral dilemmas shown in the show. Was it right to leave Merle to die? He was a total liability to the group, and I found it easy to justify leaving him. The situation fully reminded me of the early Israelites, when God’s law said to take the rebel outside of the camp and stone them to death. It made it very clear to me how dangerous rebels like this are to the group. Encased in our modern culture, it sounds really harsh to do that to someone. But in the context of real immediate danger (i.e. Zombies!!) it is easier to see that the rebellious nature of Merle will get good people killed.

Whose Morals Do You Follow?

Here is the bottom-line: if the zombie apocalypse hits, and you have a bunch of people thrown together, who is in charge and who decides what is right and what is wrong? This is where The Walking Dead does the drama right. From just what I have seen in the first season, this seems to be a central recurring theme and an important one to consider.

We are shown a lazy redneck just bosses his wife around, makes her do all the work and beats her. Some women want to intervene, but one comments that it is their marriage, “let them work it out”. One woman won’t let it go, though, and confronts the man and he starts to slap her. Shane (Rick’s partner, another deputy) intervenes and beats him terribly. I was left thinking that this guy deserved it, but the brutality of it made me wonder how far Shane would go. Even the women looked at him tentatively.

When there are twenty or so survivors, threatened with death at any moment, do we still let an abusive marriage continue? Does the leader get to step in and exercise justice? How much justice? What type of punishment? Continually there was conflict in the group over what to do-yelling, cursing, men holding each other back. Again I thought of the tribes of Israel and how needed the law that God gave them was. With the real threat of danger imminent (i.e. Zombies!!), I could not help thinking how absolutely necessary it would be to have a higher moral law to follow.

Unexpected Perspective

Overall, I liked the show and it was, for me, an unexpected place to plug-in some historical perspective. Oh,and there were Zombies!!

The Imperial and Extinguished Free Will

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The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There is not one of them which will not make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide. –C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity

I have posted here and here on free will, and these thoughts have brought to culmination some thoughts on the movie Brave that have been simmering in the back of my mind ever since I saw the movie. This movie has so much to do with free will, but in two different aspects. [Spoilers ahead]

The Imperial Free Will

In the movie, the fiery red-headed Merida is forced into an arranged marriage which she doesn’t want. In fact, she shows up at the archery contest to win her own hand, and aptly out-performs her competition. Her mother, though, who has always tried to mold and shape her into a proper princess, insists she marry for the good of the kingdom. Merida desperately tries to take control of her destiny, and this is where we see what I am calling the Imperial Will. She escapes the castle to change her Fate and…

  1. She follows a will o’ the wisp trail for what seems miles. Ok, now when I was a kid, rolling dice and playing Dungeons & Dragons ( Nerd Alert!), I would NEVER have followed a will o’ wisp. You are just asking for a Hobgoblin ambush or something, just sayin’. Legend has it, these lights lured travelers from safe paths. We, the audience, also know there is a huge terrible bear on the loose somewhere. When I saw her do this, I was alarmed!
  2. She finds a witch who will give her a spell to change her fate. Ok, a witch. She knows nothing about this woman and doesn’t think to ask.
  3. The witch makes her a cake that she must feed to her mother Elinor. Merida knows nothing about its effects. No, “Um, what is in this? or “What will this do to my mother?”
  4. She brings the cake back and actually gives it to her mother to eat. Oh yeah, did I mention, Merida knows nothing about its effects.

There is an ignorance streaming right through the life of Merida that is simply terrifying and a parent’s worst nightmare. It is as C.S. Lewis stated above—she set her free will up as what she had to have at all costs, and it made her so incredibly foolish. She did not consider the consequences for her actions, and the movie explores her attempt to make them right. I hope and pray that those young people who are coming into their self-awareness will see and learn from this lesson.

The movie shows the typical fight between parent and child, where the parent tries to fit the kid into their mold. I am not advocating that, but jeez, these kids accepted so little responsibility! The good part of the royal marriage is just that—they are married! And they love each other! The dysfunction, however, lies with squarely on the huge shoulders of King Fergus. Although very funny, he is a completely useless adolescent man (all the men were depicted this way, really) that left the real leadership to his wife. [Pet Peeve: It is annoying and offensive to think of men during that time period as so goofy (I’m thinking of William Wallace, Rob Roy, etc), but this is a kids movie and so I let it go.] This dysfunction, however, strains the parenting and leaves all the hard work to the mother. Sadly, this does reflect our society. Men, we need to step up and lead our families!

The Extinguished Free Will

The other instance of free will I saw in this movie was the use of bears. Once transformed into a bear, Merida’s mother started to become the bear and take on the animal nature. There was a moment when Elinor turned and attacked Merida. We see her come to her senses, her alarm and shame, and we sense the peril her mother is in.

This transition is key in understanding the pantheistic worldview underlying this movie. The villain of the movie, the huge vicious bear that took the leg of Fergus, is none other than the Mor’du.

Mor’du was not always a bear; he was a human prince, who wanted to take over the kingdom he shared with his three brothers, and went to the witch to gain “the strength of ten men”, paying with the ring of his house, which bears two crossed axes. The spell he received eventually transformed him into a bear, soon leading to the fall of the kingdom, as on the dawn of the second day, the spell became permanent and the bear side of him overtook his humanity, making him a monstrous beast.

In the end Mor’du is crushed and killed, and we see his human spirit rise up out of the carcass. He looks intently at Merida, nods, and then dissipates to become a will o’ wisp. At this point, I was tempted to think that this was a positive thing. Poor guy, made a huge life changing mistake, and he got released. Happy ending for him. I do wonder about the countless unhappy endings of those that lived and died when destroyed the kingdom. And I do wonder if this movie is telling me Mor’du is not responsible, after all, the animal “overtook his humanity.” An animal, of course, has no free will…therefore, Mor’du is not accountable for the crimes he has committed.

I thought I would be clever and call it Extinguished Free Will, and it raises a lot of questions. If Neo-Darwinian evolution is true, aren’t we all just higher animals? If that is the case, what are we really to be held accountable for? Aren’t we lucky if we manage to do a little bit of good? Does Hitler or Stalin just rise up out of their graves, give a nice little nod and go on into the universe? Is there no ultimate justice? Perhaps it is comforting to think that after all the bad we do, we still get to go surf the universe?

One reason why many people find [Life-Force] so attractive is that it gives one much of the emotional comfort of believing in God and none of the less pleasant consequences. When you are feeling fit and the sun is shining and you do not want to believe that the whole universe is a mere mechanical dance of atoms, it is nice to be able to think of this great mysterious Force rolling on through the centuries and carrying you on its crest. If, on the other hand, you want to do something rather shabby, the Life-Force, being only a blind force, with no morals and no mind, will never interfere with you like that troublesome God we learned about when we were children. The Life-Force is sort of a tame God. You can switch it on when you want, but it will not bother you. All the thrills of religion and none of the cost. Is the Life-Force the greatest achievement of wishful thinking the world has yet seen? -C.S. Lewis in Mere Chrisitanity

Thoughts on “The Mighty Macs”

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My oldest daughter saw this movie with her basketball coach and team earlier in the year, so we decided to rent it last night. Overall, I thought it was predictable and somewhat boring. It shows the same sort of strolling coach spouting motivational rhetoric while the players endure their harsh training, all in the name of building Team. This coaching process is not wrong and works, but was done mechanically in the movie. You knew they were underdogs and the team would come back to win, making that last free throw shot. Etc. The power of the movie, for me, did not rest on this merit, but on the glimpse it gives us into the perspective of the woman in 1971.

What Coach Cathy Rush had to battle was a culture that asked, “You’re married…why do you want to work?” Being a man surrounded by competent women every day, it is not a concept I bump into often. The girls on this team didn’t even understand how to dream of something big—or, maybe not that; maybe they could dream big, but they didn’t realize that they could actually achieve it! The use of the pins “We will be #1” underscores the coach’s drive to instill in everyone that they can do it.

Another good example from the movie was the scene where Rush visited Lizanne. Lizanne’s boyfriend had just broken up with her and she was distraught. Rush helps her to see that her worth should not be based on this boy. She asks, “What is he going to miss about you?” Lizanne starts to list all the true and positive things about herself and emerges from the codependency.

I thought the movie, in general, portrayed the church, sterilized. It was stiff and outwardly reverent. The head masters seemed more pragmatic and business-like. Perhaps this is the way catholic schools are, I don’t know, but there was very little biblical references. God does seem to answer Sister Sunday’s prayer almost immediately, though, interrupting her earnestness with the sounds of dribbling and whistles. It was humourous. I thought the nuns funny and personable in their growing game attendance and cheering. But there is nothing useful taken from the Bible, other than the coach’s reference to 1 Cor 9:24 during one of their games:

“Do you not know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.”

If only Rush would have continued with v.25:

“Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. However, they do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.”

I think there is some irony here. Paul takes a social model and makes a spiritual application. He uses the race and the mindset of an athlete to encourage that same type of mindset in spiritual living.  Rush, however, takes that spiritual application to rebuild that social model in her athletes. She, seemingly, trades the spiritual crown for the physical one.

I was talking to my daughter yesterday about the sting of death, before we watched the movie (or even thought of renting it). Our neighbor across the street used to have such a great lawn. He would spray for weeds, mulch up around his bushes and fresh flowers, and prune his hedges perfectly. Last year he moved back to New York, and the house has been vacant since. A lawn service comes by sometimes to mow, but it is clearly not the same. My daughter commented that it was sad to see his yard like that. It used to be so beautiful, she said. We then started to discuss the difference between working for physical and eternal things. No matter how hard we work and how much we accumulate, when we die, we can’t take any of it with us. That is the sting of death…so what really matters in life? This is not to say it is wrong to work hard for things, but that we should be more concerned with a relationship with God and how we live.

This movie portrays a great coach that helped these women tremendously. She broke them out of imprisoned thinking and molded them into better people. She had a lasting impact on the school, as it still continues to this day. Some, as was seen at the end credits, went on to great achievements. The downfall of the movie, though, is the lack of real eternal perspective.

(This is just a movie and it is hard to know the complete story, so forgive me if I am wrong about the real people. All I have to go on what Hollywood has given us.)

Fruit or Nut?

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I haven’t really posted in a while as I have been quite busy with a lot of things. I do miss blogging, and often sometimes post in my head, if you know what I mean. I will follow a logic trail about some subject as I am driving, write out in my head what I want to say…and then get to work and…well, need to work. Sad face. No real post.

But I have been thinking about this article that was forwarded to me last week. I have been doing a lot of reading and studying on Christian worldview, and there was something about this article that just rang hollow to me. I is entitled “You Cannot Be Spiritual Without Being Religious” and is by Kevin DeYoung, a senior pastor from Michigan.

When I saw the bumper sticker at the top of the article, I immediately assumed that the post would address this statement and break it down. But, in my opinion, DeYoung stays within his Christian bubble and misses an opportunity to engage our culture. He chooses to focus on spiritual and religious, but fails to talk about fruit and nut. More importantly, I thought he was going to answer the question, “What is our culture saying to religious people through this sticker?”

DeYoung starts his discussion by pooling our impressions on what is considered spiritual.

 “When you hear the word “spiritual” certain images come to mind. You think of someone very quiet and contemplative. Or maybe you picture someone with hands raised in a demonstrative expression of worship. You may think of your spontaneous, free-wheeling, “Spirit-led” friend. The spiritual person in your mind may be the young woman deeply interested in miracles and mystery, or maybe the old man earnestly pursuing a relationship with a higher power. To be “spiritual” in our day is to be vaguely interested in the supernatural and loosely committed to practices like prayer and meditation.”

I agree with DeYoung here. These are common images and ideas about what is considered “spiritual”. I agree with him that these qualities are not spiritual, in and of themselves. They mostly have to do with an emotional state of being. DeYoung then presents an argument that left me sort of dumbfounded. He talks of a spiritual person accepting spiritual things. He then defines spiritual things as the message of the cross. If the person rejects the cross, they “forfeit the right to be considered spiritual.”

I get the doctrine behind this, but I think he should have return to the bumper sticker, because our culture is saying something about the Christian church that needs to be heard. Instead of engaging the culture, he claims that they just can’t understand spirituality at all. It’s just folly to them. But is that what this sticker demonstrates?

Consider spiritual fruit. This is a very Christian term, almost exclusively Christian. I don’t really hear or read it coming from other religious movements. This term is meant to actually call us back to the Bible, to Galatians 5:22-23, to “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control.” This is what biblical spiritual fruit is. These are the virtues that should be obvious in those who belong to Christ.

What is spiritual fruit contrasted to? Religious nuts. We could pool our collective knowledge here and list a lot of ideas and images of what religious nuts are. Are all Christians crazy? I don’t think this sticker is saying that. What I think our culture is telling us is, “we see you talking about Jesus, talking about the Cross, talking about a whole lot of things, but we want to see something real in your life. Real love, real joy, real peace, real patience, real kindness, real goodness, real faith, real gentleness, real self-control. Real spiritual fruit.”

Isn’t this fair to ask? When our culture sees a Christians that are just as materialistic, self-focused, pleasure-seeking, career-centered as anyone else. Where the church’s divorce rate is the same as our cultures. John Stonestreet of Summit Ministries quote a survey that found atheists scored better than Christians on biblical knowledge (a D- vs. an F). What are Christians without spiritual fruit? Religious nuts. All rules and no actions.

This reminds me of what Jesus said about the Pharisees. He admonished them because they washed the outside of their cup, but not the inside. That is what made them merely religious. The Pharisees were religious nuts, and what separates us from them? Spiritual fruit. Our culture has had their fill of Bible lessons and Sunday morning Christians. What they are challenging us to see is Christians with spiritual fruit in their lives.

It is really quite simple. Our culture, through this bumper sticker, is asking Christians to act like Christians. Instead of calling them fools, we should look inside our cups and check for fruit on our branches.

Wait a Second—Where’s the Father?!

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I recently wrote about this teacher in Texas who was fired from a Christian school for pregnancy out-of-wedlock. I was so focused on her situation that I totally missed this question!  A lot of people are upset at this school, but where is FATHER??

We are only left to wonder about him. It took two to make that baby. If he were in her life, wouldn’t he have been on the video supporting and defending her? Wouldn’t there have been some mention of him? Instead, there is just a lawyer. If the father had been a man of integrity, wouldn’t he have done the right thing and married her, committing to her and the family he chose to create with her?

But he is totally missing.

Why get married anyway, though? Since the divorce rate floats around 50%, chances are they would just get separated anyway. Why bother? But the point of marriage, a Christian one at any rate, isn’t to just get married so you can then do whatever you feel like doing. The idea is to commit, first to God and then to your partner. When I say commit, I mean constrain. When I constrain myself to God’s commands, I am not committing to just following a bunch of rules, like I’m in a prison. It is faithfully committing to the total truth of the Bible, trusting that it will lead to abundant life.

For instance, when God says, “Love is patient,” He means that when I am not patient, I do not love, and therefore I am wrong. No excuses. When I am impatient, I need to recognize that something is wrong in my heart, and it usually involves selfishness. What if I’m just tired? Is that an excuse to be impatient? Does it take away the hurt from impatient words? Do I get to say, “Yeah, I just lost my temper, but I’m tired”? As a Christian, no.

Impatience is always wrong. Unkindness is always wrong. Lust is always wrong. Hate is always wrong. And so on. It is very important for my wife to see me recognize my own sin, admit that I was wrong, and ask for forgiveness to reconcile the relationship. It builds trust and depth to our marriage bonds as I do this and see the same in her. As Christians, when faced with our imperfections, we don’t get to say “everyone has different interpretations” or “I didn’t do anything wrong.” No, for God says:

If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 Jn 1:8)

If truth isn’t in you, why get married? It really does become a toss-up. This is why so many marriages end, and so many don’t even try, in my opinion. This is why children need to see their teachers and role models following and obeying God, not adopting our culture’s moral relativism or making excuses.

Where is this father? Is he saying, as he left Samford alone and pregnant, “I didn’t do anything wrong?”

As for the Christian school, I do wonder if they could have extended her benefits until the baby’s birth. The story says she disclosed her pregnancy in the fall and was fired, I assume in the fall. It is now April. Perhaps her benefits were extended six months? Usually you can do something like that for a monthly fee. I don’t think we are getting the full story on that.

As for the father, he may be there in the background somewhere. The reporters may have left him out for whatever reason.  Even so, I do think this post applies to our culture in general.

She Did Nothing Wrong?

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I came across this article today, and the headline and first paragraph hooked me:

Former coach of the year fired from Christian school for out-of-wedlock pregnancy

 “In an incredibly bizarre situation that appears headed for a legal challenge, a Dallas-area volleyball coach and science teacher was fired by the Christian school at which she worked for becoming pregnant before being married.” (Emphasis mine)

The problem with this woman isn’t that she got pregnant out-of-wedlock. That is secondary, in my opinion. That she broke the school moral code is also secondary. The real problem is that she thinks she “did nothing wrong.” That’s why this sports writer describes the situation “incredibly bizarre.” I mean, what is wrong with doing what everyone else does?

In her own words she said:

“I looked it up and thought, ‘They can’t do this,'” the 29-year-old Samford told WFAA. “We all have different views and interpretations. It’s not necessarily the Christian thing to do to throw somebody aside because of those.”

This is the post-modern relativistic ideas that this teacher has been and would continue to stamp into the minds of all the children at that Christian school. If she would have kept her job, all the children would have learned that it is ok to have sex outside of marriage, to not wait for a faithful marriage partner, that it is ok to disagree with and not follow God’s commands. But the truth is, sexual immorality, impurity, pornography, text “sexting”, and the like is assaulting teens and children and destroying lives. Can we afford to let them think “I did nothing wrong”? No thanks!

Whoah! I just realized that I have totally been judging this woman! Jesus tells me not to judge, right? …but wait, He actually says:

1 “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. 2 For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a log in your eye? 5 Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Mt 7: 1-5)

Oh, so He is saying don’t be a hypocrite. Look at myself first; judge myself, then help my brother out with his speck…which requires a measure of judgement. But surely it is wrong to judge! Nobody is supposed to judge anybody—that is God’s job!

9 I wrote to you in a letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. 10 I did not mean the immoral people of this world or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters; otherwise you would have to leave the world. 11 But now I am writing you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer who is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. 12 For what business is it of mine to judge outsiders? Don’t you judge those who are inside? 13 But God judges outsiders. Put away the evil person from among yourselves.(Cor 5: 9-13)

Paul writes here clearly about judging. Christians are not to judge those outside the church, but those that are (or call themselves) Christians. Post-modern relativism doesn’t hold up against the Bible, but I hear the “don’t judge” mantras all the time from people. I think it is this very attitude leads to the incredibly bizarre situation of teachers appointed to Christian classrooms who do not have a clue as to their God appointed duty to train our children in God’s divine way.

I also think it bizarre that this “coach of the year” can find nothing wrong with herself. I go with my daughter to her basketball practices and they pick those girls apart, find their weakness and help them improve. Since Samford clearly has no Christian moral compass, I doubt she can seriously guide her players and students spiritually.

In the end, it is sad that this mother will most likely get buried in medical bills. She really doesn’t have a case against the school. But if she could have had even an ounce of humility, and could have even just whispered the phrase, “I was wrong,” perhaps she would be in a better situation. Perhaps the administration would have just put her on probation. Perhaps she could have share with the students what she did wrong and what she was going to do to fix it. It could have been an incredible story of grace, but that would have required some kind of acknowledgement other than “I did nothing wrong.”

More Dialectic, Please!

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I just read this article and I am glad we home school our kids in Classical Conversations. The middle and high school Challenge programs offer a great opportunity to present and debate current events and other topics.

The article address the lack of debate on evolution in school and it’s effect on critical thinking. Isn’t obvious to anyone with a brain that if you are just taught facts you don’t develop critical thinking skills? In the classical approach to education, this is called learning the grammar and forgetting the dialectic (logic). From a biblical perspective, it is gaining knowledge without understanding. If you are going to be an independent thinker, you must debate! Duh!

Here is another article I read where the 22 biology textbooks were evaluated on their use of the so-called “icons” of evolution. It’s a long read, but enlightening.

Darwin Would Agree With Kirk Cameron’s Stance On Gays

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I was attracted to this article by a Facebook friend and thought I would state the obvious: Charles Darwin would agree with Cameron. No, really, I am positive he would.

When pressed to acknowledge whether homosexuality was a sin, Kirk Cameron said:

“I think that it’s…unnatural. It’s detrimental and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization.”

GLAAD responded as follows:

“In this interview, Kirk Cameron sounds even more dated than his 1980s TV character,” said Herndon Graddick, Senior Director of Programs at GLAAD.

But you see, Darwin would say that homosexuality is…umm…unnatural. According to his theory (Law, some would say), we can only evolve if our genes and whatever special adaptation we have developed through mutation is passed on to our offspring through sexual reproduction. But, homosexuals do not reproduce (test tubes don’t count), and believe it or not, according to evolution, that is extremely destructive. Imagine this: if every person on earth decided to be a homosexual today, the human race would die on in one generation. Scary.

The irony of this argument is that, if you believe evolution is true, you must agree with Kirk Cameron. The path of logic is different, but the conclusion is the same.

As for the GLAAD comments on the acceptance of homosexuality by Christianity, why do they even reference all of us? Who cares what we think anyway. For example, if someone was a priest of Zeus, they would follow the dictates of Zeus. If they were Buddhists, they would follow Buddha’s teaching. Christians follow (you guessed it) the teachings of the Bible. Here GLAAD said:

“Cameron is out of step with a growing majority of Americans, particularly people of faith who believe that their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters should be loved and accepted based on their character and not condemned because of their sexual orientation.”

Well, I don’t think Darwin would have any particular comment on this statement, but God does in 1 Timothy 1:8-11:

“We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.”

Now these GLAAD people will clearly not like this, and it is a mystery why they would want to be Christians in the first place. I mean, it’s in the Bible, for crying out loud! Is Christianity some democracy where people vote and discuss what to accept and what gets ignored? Maybe they are talking about the sect of some Jeffersonian Christians? (Thomas Jefferson ripped out all the pages of the Bible he didn’t like…)

[added March 5, 2012] This is religion fully embracing and accepting its place as a community limited to private opinion only. At this level, God ceases to have any authority or any place in a self-made reality. Scary.

A great book to read on Christian worldview is Total Truth, by Nancy Pearcey.

Do Hard Things

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Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low ExpectationsThis is an excellent book for both teens and adults. It was practical, demanding and encouraging. I think I appreciated the section on the Myth of Adolescence most. I always wondered where history shifted from youth that accomplished much (John Adams, farmer, at Harvard at 16) to the modern goof-off teenager. We do indeed have low expectations of teens, in general. I wish I would have had this book in my teens, with the support network available via (at the least) through the internet. I don’t think I would have wasted so much of my life.

Both my wife and I have read this, and I have given it to my almost 15-year-old daughter. I am looking forward to hearing her thoughts about the book. All she has is this current culture of adolescence to learn from. But just this evening, she was telling me how much she was dreading her basketball practice tomorrow and all the running they would be doing. I told her she is focused on the wrong thing. She needs to lift her eyes to her tournament in two weeks and see how stronger she will be. You have to look to the future to see the value of hard work today. Having admitted that all the “suicides” in practice have helped, I could tell she thought I was right. I am hoping this will give her more perspective on the value of doing hard things, rather than just Mom and Dad telling her it’s important.