Friday, December 31, 2004
Happy New Year
I apologize for the sporadic nature of posts these past two weeks. This has been a very full, very wonderful season for me, but my time has been mostly out of my control.
To all of you:
Happy New Year and may Peace be with you.
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Somebody said it for me
Thanks to Ally for the link.
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
So now is a good time to talk about a much maligned item of our diet--FAT. Fat is not the villain everyone says it is. Fat is essential to our health and well-being. Fat is what holds our cells together, forming a major part of cell walls. There are two things that are important about fat, how much, and which fats.
The "how much" is easy, it is the "which fats" that is more complicated, and to me more interesting. How much is generally about 1/3 of your daily calories. On some stringent diets, this would be reduced for two reasons, losing weight puts your body on a high-fat diet from your own fat being metabolized, and too many fat calories reduce the amount of calories available for protein and complex carbohydrates with their attendant vitamins.
Before I start on the fun part, let's talk a little bit about WHY fat is necessary. I mentioned the cell walls, and I suppose one would guess that most of the cell walls can be made by the body from other fats or carbohydrates--true. But there are fats that cannot be made by the body that are precursors to essential molecules in the body, among them certain unsaturated fats, more on that later. Also there are vitamins A, D, E, and other fat-soluable nutrients that require fats to be absorbed. That is why there is a recommendation of a minimum fat intake of around three tablespoons of vegetable oil a day. Fat, being a concentrated source of energy and slow to digest provides the reserves that get us through until the next meal, or the energy when working very hard aerobically. (Anaerobic work burns sugar, but only partly) Children need more fat than adults because of their higher metabolisms. If they don't get it, they cannot eat enough to maintain their weight and growth. In fact, there were reports of well-cared for, malnourished children, because during the first craze over low-fat diets and the harm of cholesterol, parents were putting children on low-fat or even fat-free diets.
Since I just mentioned it, let's discuss cholesterol a minute. Believe it or not, cholesterol is necessary in the body and is a precursor for the adrenal steriods, endocrine hormones essential to life. What is the problem is when there is too much cholesterol in the blood, and especially when in the form of Low-density lipoproteins. Cholesterol in the form of high-density lipoproteins is considered good. What you need to understand is that the body makes 10 times more cholesterol every day than what you can eat. Dietary cholesterol in moderate amounts is not harmful. Eggs have been given a bad rap for their cholesterol content. That level of cholesterol is high as a food source but small compared to what the body is producing daily. In addition eggs have a natural emulsifier (like a detergent) to keep all that cholesterol suspended in the yolk, lecithin. The beauty of lecithin is that it contains choline which is a part of a major nerve transmission scheme.
Scrambled eggs aren't bad for breakfast, but steak could be because of saturated fat. Saturated fat is considered bad because it is easily turned into cholesterol in the body. This becomes harmful cholesterol, in the form of low-density lipoproteins that can deposit on artery walls. Saturated fat is made from molecules that have no carbon-carbon double bonds in them. This is one component of the fat analysis on every nutrition label.
The other component is unsaturated fat, and there is quite a bit to say about it. First of all not all unsaturated fats are considered equal. And one form is as bad or worse than saturated fats for forming cholesterol, so called trans- fatty acids. It was the subject of a potential lawsuit, the Oreo lawsuit, because Oreo cookies contained a fairly large proportion of trans-fatty acids. Cis- fatty acids are however considered good. They occur naturally in vegetable oils.
To visualize the difference, set two equilateral triangles with a corner of each pointing to each other and the bases vertical on the outside. Draw a double line between the two points of the triangles, and erase the line that forms the base. You should have a double line with two diverging lines from each end. The ends of the diverging lines are upper left, ul, lower left, ll, ur, and lr, by the same reasoning. The points connected by the two lines are the carbons of the double bond, and the ends of the diverging lines may be either the rest of the molecule in each direction, or a hydrogen atom. In a trans- double bond, the molecule goes from ll to ur or from ul to lr, whichever you prefer. In a cis- double bond the molecule goes from ll to lr or ul to ur, whichever you prefer. This geometry makes a huge difference in how the body handles the fat molecule.
But if cis- double bonds occur in vegetable oils, where do we get the trans- ones from? Double bonds make fats oily instead of solid, and in prepared foods, oils can separate, whereas solid fats will stay suspended or keep their contents suspended. Solid fats are animal fats and vegetable shortning. Because animal fats are more solid because of being saturated (all the double bonds are gone and only single carbon-carbon bonds are found with hydrogen in all the open positions), vegetable oils are hydrogenated removing double bonds until it is the right consistency. What happens is that since oils have multiple double bonds in the molecules, all of them cis-, they rearrange during hyrogenation and form trans- double bonds for the ones that remain behind. (Explaining how requires graphic capabilities I don't possess.) Thus, any food containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils has trans- double bonds. The biggest sources in the past were margarine and peanut butters that are not labeled "natural" (The better known brand names still are.)
Actually this means that since the calories are the same, old-style margarine was actually less healthy than butter, but a lot cheaper. Peanut butter, other than that called "natural", contains unsaturated fatty acids, but many of them are trans because of the hydrogenation and partial hydrogenation of the oils used to make it. BTW, read the labels carefully on peanut butter. The oils in peanut butter are not necessarily the original peanut oil. That was pressed out and sold as peanut oil. The meal was reconstituted with hydrogenated oil and flavoring agents to make brand-name peanut butter. Unless the label says it contains only peanuts and maybe salt, it has trans acids.
With respect to the vegetable oils, I am of the opinion based on my reading that the healthiest vegetable oils are olive oil, regular and extra-virgin, and canola oil. These are mono-unsaturated oils, that is they have only one double bond. It is the exclusive use of these in Italian cooking that creates the so-called Italian paradox of a high fat diet, but low blood cholesterol. (In France the same thing occurs because of the extensive use of goose and duck fat which is also mono-unsaturated.) I make salad dressing with extra-virgin olive oil and also saute with it. I use the regular olive oil for deep fat frying. Because olive oil has a flavor, I use canola oil in baking. Two advantages of using olive oil for deep-fat frying: it is more stable, and it makes the most beautiful brown crust on breaded foods. Fringe benefit is that it is more healthy than other oils for deep-fat frying.
In the animal fats, I trim my meats as much as possible, but I use butter and lard. Lard is already semi-solid to solid, so even if the bucket says hydrogenated, the amount is low. At the same time lard is 8 grams of unsaturated fat out of a total of 13 grams of fat. I prefer butter because of the way it cooks and because it contains no trans- fatty acids, compared to the hard margarines. The soft margarines are a different story, but they are almost useless to cook with.
So if you have stayed in this long, here is a summary:
-Up to a third of calories should be fat, but no less than three tablespoons a day.
-It's OK to eat eggs
-Butter is better than old-fashioned, hard margarine, but the new soft spreads are good for bread, etc.
-Lard is much better than shortning. (I personally like the results better also.)
-Olive and canola oils where oil is needed.
-Only natural peanut butter--the kind that separates and isn't quite as smooth.
This is the first of three posts. The others will discuss type II diabetes, and diets.
Friday, December 24, 2004
My Christmas Wish for everyone
When your year is full of problems and stress, may it all become resolved.
When you suffer and are sick, may you find ease and healing.
When everything seems dark, may you have hope.
When you feel lost and rejected, may someone give you love.
May all of us feel more kindness and gentleness.
May we be more tolerant and willing to listen.
May God's Peace and the Spirit of Christmas come to us all.
Thursday, December 23, 2004
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
This particular politicizing of science has its roots in a much more pernicious issue, abortion. Notice that the pro-abortion forces are the same ones that promote embryonic stem cell research, and the anti-abortion forces are against it, though not against placental stem cell research or adult stem cell research.
It comes down to a moral issue, what constitutes human life. By now the pro-abortion groups have had one of their members actually say on national television that they would kill a new born on the same grounds as they would have it aborted -- the mother's preference not to be burdened. We see their definition of human--when the mother considers it human. Against this we have the anti-abortion groups that say that once the egg is fertilized, it is human, and killing it by abortion is murder.
Against the moral absolute that abortion is murder, the pro-abortion camp appear to have few arguments. They certainly don't try to meet it head on. This is where I think the embryonic stem cell campaign comes in. It is an attempt to confuse the moral issues by saying, in effect, "See, there is a a good that can come from abortion--stem cells to heal people." By attaching a utilitarian good to the issue they are trying to shift the ground of the debate. At the same time, to make the argument appear stronger, they ignore any good results from any other direction, trying to create the idea that there is only one way to obtain these results, theirs.
From such moral standards we get the Dutch doctors killing babies and calling it euthanasia, and Peter Singer saying it's OK to kill three-years olds.
The importance of free elections in Iraq
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
My experience with power companies is that they will warn you well ahead of time before they cut off your power. Often the bill is one or two months in arrears before the power is cut. In addition, if one talks to them and can show hardship, they will work with the customer to keep power on as long as some minimal payments are coming in.
Let us now shift to our benevolent government agencies. I have in mind specifically water. My experience is that you have 21 days after the due date and then the water is cut off--no excuses, no working with you, no exceptions. If you want to see harsh, cold, and unresponsive public contact, just try doing anything with your local government.
Remember, they don't have to be nice, they have the legal right to use force (guns) all the time, and the courts are in their back pocket.
Monday, December 20, 2004
Meditation on the Christmas Star
To have evidence and no doubt. That is what those that put themselves forward as our "wise men" seem to propose to us day after day from their sterile rooms high above the avenues. They have the "undoubtable evidence" from which we should derive, they hope, doubt about all that for which they have no evidence. First and foremost in their vision is that we should have doubt in the original myths that have made us and sustained us as individuals and as a people. In their world, they would have us cast off the old myths and embrace their "new and improved myths -- complete with evidence."
Instead, every year it seems, that a tide has shifted in the hearts of men and we turn like a lodestone to the deeper myths of the heart; that place where The Star abides.
Sunday, December 19, 2004
Jesus in front of the Sanhedrin, a discussion
In my post last week, “What Determines Christianity,” I received a comment that used a quote from Luke 22: 66-71 and from the wording the New International Version. The quote is presented as a disagreement with my statement that Jesus never claimed he was the Son of God. My response was that the claim is problematic and depends on the translation.
Here is my study to date of Jesus’ trial in front of the Sanhedrin. First of all, it is very doubtful that it was a real trial in front of the entire Sanhedrin. Second, the exact quotes from the trial are problematic, simply because we have no idea as to who was there to report it. Peter remained in the courtyard. He cannot be a witness of the proceedings of the Sanhedrin. He would have been equally detained had he not denied Jesus. Additionally there is disagreement among the versions as to what Jesus replied when asked if he were the Son of God.
Though I think the main outlines of my discussion are correct, I expect there will be fine-tuning as time goes on. The core statement that Jesus did not claim to be the Son of God, I think remains. I also have strong suspicions that the Evangelists that wrote the gospels, whether consciously or not, had some major agenda items to present, especially with culpability of the Jews in Jesus’ death. It is possible that the charges of blasphemy were not arrived at, but the gospel writers used the idea to show that the Jews did not believe in what was obvious to them, Jesus’ divinity.
The longer I ponder this whole sequence of events, from the seizure in the olive grove through the crucifixion, the more tawdry and less ecclesiastical they become. The Cliff Notes version would be, the Jews sent a mob and some Temple goons to seize Jesus, who seeing the high risk to his followers, for low chance of success, made the crowning decision of his life and surrendered. He was then taken to the Chief Priest and some Scribes and after a discussion and possible inquisition-like questioning, decided to trump up a charge of sedition to get Jesus killed by the Romans. They were actually in fear that if they tried to create a charge of blasphemy and stone Jesus, there would be a popular uprising against them. Jesus had acquired a goodly following, which was why they wanted him dead in the first place.
Trials of Jesus—CommentaryJesus Before the Sanhedrin:
In looking at the various versions, the correspondence of Mark and Matthew from the seizing of Jesus through his questioning by Pilate is amazing. Given the precedence of Mark in time, the obvious conclusion is that Matthew copied those verses almost word for word, or else obtained them from the same source. In the case of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, we would expect that the version of Jesus trial in front of the Sanhedrin came from Peter, since he is placed there in all three gospels. However, Luke has a slightly different slant on the events which would indicate that although he started with the same version or witness, he either had additional input from other sources, or the oral tradition he recorded diverged early from that of Mark and Matthew. Luke also reorders events, putting the abuse by the guards ahead of the questioning instead of after. From The Jerusalem Bible footnotes:
Lk has neither false witnesses… nor explicit sentence of death. He certainly seems to use a different source from Mt and Mk.
John’s version is a completely different story that skips the questioning at Caiaphas’ house. The entire time span in John’s version of questioning by the Jewish officials occurs prior to Jesus being taken to Caiaphas house. I have created a merged version that emphasizes these similarities and differences in colored fonts.
When I first started looking at these passages, I thought the Roman guard was present at Caiaphas’ and Annas’ houses during the questioning. This led to three paragraphs of questions concerning the relationship between the civil and religious authorities. After my study of the seizure in the olive grove, I have since concluded that the Roman guards were not present there or at the questioning at either Annas’ or Caiaphas’ houses. Jesus was not in the control of the Roman guards until the next morning when he was taken to Pilate. Thus the abuse of the prisoner at the high priest’s house(s) is due to the temple police and the crowd, not the Roman soldiers. They have their turn later as we shall see, but at that point it is more understandable, though still cruel and reprehensible.
In the combined story I have created, Jesus’ questioning at Annas house precedes the questioning by the Council told in the Synoptics. However, I find an internal inconsistency in the story. All versions say Jesus was questioned at Annas’ house by the high priest, who is Caiaphas, but then have him sent to Caiaphas’ house. One could suppose that Caiaphas was at his father-in-law’s house and had Jesus brought there before more formal questioning at his own house. However, the verse reads, “Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.”[ Jn18:24] The implication is that Annas did the questioning and then sent him to Caiaphas, and referring to Annas as the high priest would not seem to be correct, unless this story were being passed down through Gentiles. I would not consider Jews to let the inconsistency stand.
Again in these verses from John, we see a verbally combative Jesus. “Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.”[ Jn18:21] And when struck by the guard for supposed insolence “JESUS: If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”[ Jn18:23] This contrasts sharply with the questioning in front of the Council when he doesn’t answer a charge of blasphemy.
The testimony that Jesus said he would destroy the temple is quoted only in Mark and Matthew and almost exactly the same. Here we see the passive Jesus, not replying to the request for rebuttal. I think that the charge being leveled is actually a paraphrase or a deliberate misquoting of a teaching made during Jesus’ ministry concerning the power of God.
When we get to the question, “Are you the Messiah?” all three Gospels weigh in, each with a slightly different version of the question, and each with a differing response. The issue is dependent on the translation. My choice is the same as I make for the question in front of Pilate, in essence “You decide.”
(See the Synthetic Translation commentary for Jesus before the Sanhedrin for a fuller discussion.)
The Jerusalem Bible translates this as:
64 Jesus answered him, ‘It is you who say it. But, …..[the remainder is similar to the synthetic and other versions]
This is in agreement with my interpretation of the answer. However, their footnotes are again instructive for both this verse and the following verse [in Matthew]:
“The Gospel shows Jesus at this critical moment abandoning his policy of the messianic secret…and unequivocally accepting the title of Messiah, although making clear that he is Messiah not in the traditional sense of a political liberator, but in the sense of the glorious personage whom Daniel had seen in a vision. Dn 7:13k. With this allusion to Dn is combined reference to Ps 110:1, which features so largely in the apostolic preaching. Since this understanding of the expression ‘Son of man’ stems probably from the evangelists rather than from Jesus, himself, see 8:20h, it is probable also that the evangelists are responsible for this underlining of the significance of this scene…..It is only in the apostolic preaching after Pentecost that Jesus’ disciples explicitly acknowledge him as Messiah.”
To return to the Synthetic Translation:
Lk22:69 But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of Almighty God.
Lk22:70 COUNCIL: Are you the Son of God, then? JESUS: You say if I am.
This text in all versions and authors both in front of the Sanhedrin and in front of Pilate offers the same difficulties. I cannot chose the simple “Yes” or “I am” when most of the versions have such wordage as “It is as you say.” There is more there than, “Yes” or “I am.” Consistent with my choices for similar texts, I have chosen words that imply that Jesus is leaving it up to the Sanhedrin. The Jerusalem Bible translates Jesus’ reply as “It is you who say I am.” This is in agreement with my interpretation of the reply. (However, see also my discussion in the Synthetic Translation Commentary on Luke in the section Jesus Before Pilate.)
We go from an unequivocal “I am” in Mark, through an answer that depends on the version of the translation being read to the Luke story where the translations look almost identical to the questioning before Pilate. One of the sources of “I am” in some of the translations may be attempts to harmonize the Gospels and their translations. Since the commentaries consider this part one of the most difficult of the Bible, to try to harmonize in the translation process obscures rather than enhances understanding. I am of course writing from a biased perspective, since I have chosen to independently translate the Gospels and harmonize (or not) after the translations are available.
This apparent willingness to claim to be the Messiah could come from the reporting of Peter rather than the events. Peter was the disciple that first stated that Jesus was the Messiah. Having once made that judgment, he would not be willing to retract it. Despite an attempt to report accurately, it is very reasonable that Peter would provide a version of the events that favored his belief that Jesus was the Messiah. Note that in Luke the high priest asks the question again in a more specific way, “Are you the Son of God” rather than “Are you the Messiah”.
Looking at the questioning from a trial perspective, it would appear that Jesus is trying to set a trap for the Sanhedrin. He is aware that the questioning is to create a statement of blasphemy from him that he is the Messiah or the Son of God. He tries to put the burden back on the Sanhedrin. If they say yes, they are violating their own beliefs in how to treat the Messiah, and if they say no, then there is no blasphemy and Jesus should be set free. Though I have created the translation, “You say if I am”, its purpose is to clarify what I think is the meaning. The actual words are probably closer to, “as you say”. However, this is very ambiguous in English. For that matter it may have had the potential to be that ambiguous in Aramaic, allowing the Sanhedrin to say he made the claim. They (the Sanhedrin) are taking the interpretation that is common in Christian readings of the trials—you have said it and I am agreeing with it—as opposed to, “If you say so.”
Though I am aware that many authors ascribe a special meaning to “The Son of Man”, saying it indicates possible divinity in a particular Old Testament way, I think, until convinced otherwise, it should be taken in a more real world meaning. Jesus is referring to himself as representative of all humans, though in this case probably specifically Jews, as opposed to being divine. When he says the Son of Man shall sit at the right hand of the Almighty, he is exalting humanity not indicating his divinity. Such an interpretation is consistent with a message of grace vs. works.
The Sanhedrin now reaches the conclusion of blasphemy. If I hypothesize correctly, Jesus at no time stated he was the Son of God or was the Messiah. However, the Sanhedrin reached the conclusion because that is the decision they needed. Once the decision was stated, those present went along with it, and began abusing Jesus accordingly. His Jewish captors and the persons present at the questioning would have been participants.
Also from The Jerusalem Bible:
It is difficult to decide precisely what the blasphemy was: not the claim to be Messiah; perhaps the claim to be Son of God though under arrest.
I created a very long discussion of whether or not this was a trial in the proper sense based on the commentaries and my own analysis. This material is also in the full post at Bill's Religious Archives.
First of all, Dennis, Congratulations! You deserve to feel proud of your accomplishment. Part of the reason you feel so proud is that this is a truly objective accomplishment. It is a dealing with reality in a productive way with objective evidence, your assets, to show you accomplished something. There is no dependence on opinion, analysis, spin or any other subjective appraisal. It is all right there in the black numbers on your balance sheet. You have proven you have value in the common coin of the realm--money.
Next, having made money does not diminish your spiritual values unless you betrayed a moral value in the process. I have long held that most people who deride the rich are envious and use so-called spritual values not as a standard but as a weapon to depricate accomplishment. Ever notice where they go when reality hits them in the face, and they need money? Be careful what you accept as spiritual values. There are many so-called values that are created from whole-cloth by other people, simply to create guilt at their non-attainment. The guilt is then the weapon that they use to manipulate their victims, people who are ashamed of themselves, based on a false standard.
The other point to be made is that you are doing it strictly for yourself and those you love. It is not being done as a duty to some faceless entity. This is yours except for what was taken by government agencies at an implied gun-point. If you gave to charity willingly with some of it, wonderful. And if you didn't because it doesn't fit your values, or no charity appears worth it, wonderful. This is YOURS and as such an honest source of pride.
Let me suggest a parallel. I do not have an inclination to make money. I have no business sense, and don't enjoy the effort. However, I take a fierce pride in the output of my work and my blog. They represent what I have that is of value to me, my ability to think, analyze, and communicate the results. My hit counts, comments, and emails are the objective coin that tells me I have produced something of value, and how valuable it is. However, the size of the audience for what I write is not the goal, but simply the process itself and its output. So it is for those who make money and create wealth. The balance sheet is seen not as an end in itself so much as an indicator of how well one is doing the process. Those who pursue wealth should have a pride as great or greater as I have. That my accomplishment is more or less immaterial vs monetary is of no import in this discussion. It is the fact that in both cases the thing was pursued for its value to the pursuer, not to the rest of the world. That it is of value to the rest of the world is a fringe benefit. The importance is in the value to oneself.
Again, congratulations and be proud. You have earned it.
Thursday, December 16, 2004
Answer for Smallholder
If your definition of Christian requires belief in good works for their own sake and not as a prerequisite for salvation, does this exclude Catholics who hold that you need faith AND good works?
It is an excellent question that touches on an issue that I hadn't really brought up, What is necessary for Salvation?
My discusssion of salvation was in reference to the belief that Jesus' death on the cross absolves our sins. I was considering works more in the Jamesian sense of Faith without works is empty and works without Faith have no value. I had not considered works in relation to salvation. I don't see a requirement for works for salvation running counter to any of my discussion. If the works are not accompanied with a right spirit, I would think they have a risk of thinking that salvation comes from works rather than Grace. Just recently the Lutheran and Roman Catholic Churches agreed on the doctrine of Salvation through Grace.
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Naturalism and ethics
The results were seven pages in Word. I have placed the remainder of the study in Bill's Big Stuff, here.
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
What determines Christianity?
The opening remarks were by the Maximum Leader which he asks,
If one accepts the teachings of Jesus, without accepting that Jesus was God or the literal Son of God; does that still make you a Christian? Does it make you an Episcopalian or Methodist or Presbyterian?
how do we define ourselves in terms of religious affiliation? Is the faith in our heart more important than the faith we practice with a group? Is it possible for someone to "know" facts that point to a historical truth yet still choose to believe in their hearts a revealed or religious truth at odds with the view of historical fact?
The Foreign Minister then replied with
With your scenario of what if a guy thinks Christ exists, but was just a dude with cool ideas.
That already exists. The Jews, and Muslims believe that he existed and was some sort of holy man. I argue that what MAKES a Christian is the person that makes the leap of faith to believe that he was God's Son and was raised from the dead. Without that part, there is no Christianity.
The Bible is kind of like the US constitution in respect that 2 people could read it and get something TOTOALLY different out of it. That is why you have Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, etc etc.
The Minister of Agriculture then appeared to second the Foreign Minister's interpretation:
As a quick hit, the Maximum Leader asks about labeling religion. His example, I fear is not apt; the word "Christian" refers, by definition, to someone who accepts the divinity of Christ. I grew up believing that Chirst was simply Jesus' last name, but believe it or not, Christ isn't really a bit of Josephian patrimony. The word means "messiah and son of god." So if you say "Jesus Christ," you are naming a historical figure and declaring your acceptance of his divinity.
At this point the Maximum Leader gave a history of the term Christian, which indicated that there originally was no doctrinal association with it. He also allowed that the major sects all have the doctrine of Jesus' divinity and pointed out the attendant belief in the Trinity. He also mentioned sects that believed in Jesus' teachings but not his divinity, and provided a link to a dictionary definition of Christian. He then returned to a version of his original question:
Can you still behave like a good [mainline Protestant] even if you deny certain basic premises of that faith?
The Minister of Agriculture responded with a discussion of the inclusion or exclusion of the sects that do not ascribe to Jesus' divinity, and some very good parallels between three of the major sects discussed. He finally closed with a comment similar to the Foreign Minister's to the effect that including sects that did not believe in Jesus' Divinity would necessitate including Islam and Judaism.
So much for our review.
The threads that appear to run through the posts are:
1. Belief in Jesus' Divinity with a corollary that lack of that belief equates to Judaism and Islam.
2. Membership in a denomination
3. Concordance with the doctrine of a denomination
4. Personal belief in conflict with doctrine
Missing from the discussion and vital to considering Christianity were:
2. Benevolent works
3. A right spirit
4. Salvation through Jesus' death on the cross
As a quick simplification, I would like to dispose of the implied equivalence of Judaism, Islam, and sects that consider themselves Christian but do not believe in the divinity of Jesus. (as a shorthand I will call them non-divine Christians)
The single most important difference between non-divine Christians and both Judaism and Islam is the concept of Grace. Neither Islam nor Judaism believes in forgiveness simply from contrition. Virtue is through good works, whatever those might be. To the Pharisees, good works was rigid adherence to the law and a fixed rate of giving. It was all surface, form sufficed whether substance was there. My understanding of Islam is similar, only good works are whatever the Imam determines them to be, thus the Jihadi mentality. Only in the teachings of Jesus does the spirit of The Law get invoked, and in fact in opposition to the letter of the law. More than once Jesus deliberately broke The Law to make the point that it was spirit not the letter that counted. And through Paul we obtain the refinement of the concept of Grace, God's forgiveness though we don't and can't deserve it.
So as a first step in this discussion, I would say that a belief in Grace is necessary to be a Christian. I don't think, however, it is sufficient.
Let us move on to works. All the major religions exhort their believers to do good works, provide for the poor, assist the weak and helpless, defend the defenseless, be good to their neighbors and loved ones. One must believe in a duty to do good works. However, in Christianity those works must be done in the right spirit, a desire to do them for their own sake. Doing works to get to Heaven is to be like the Pharisees, with whom Jesus' did verbal and philosophical battle until they killed him (Notice that he came back more powerful than ever. That's where Lucas got it from.). We have all seen the so-called Christian that gives only as necessary and secretly begrudges it. My wife and I see it especially in our work with the homeless, churches that provide with one hand and condemn behind the back of the other hand.
So another necessary ingredient is works done in a right spirit. Again this is not sufficient.
A right spirit is more than a willingness to do works. It is a way of approaching the world. It comes from a proper balance of pride and humility (I posted in detail on that in May, June, or July). It allows us to let the minor irritants not irritate or to require no response, yet lets us deal with important issues in a good and kind way as necessary. It does not gather resentment nor take revenge. It can demand justice and give mercy. It is open to others, but is not taken advantage of. It is realistic. It is to live the exhortations of Jesus in ones heart. As we are not perfect, we don't always do it, but to the degree we do, we are better for it.
So at this point we have Grace, works, and spirit as necessary to Christianity.
So let's back into the remaining issues by first looking at the implied question, is membership in a denomination determinative of Christianity? I am looking at that thinking that it is conflated with the question of divinity. So let's back up a bit to Paul. It is in the Gospels that the possible divinity of Jesus is mentioned, and and in Paul that the divinity of Jesus is definitely stated. In those days there were no denominations, only churches in various locations, e.g., Corinth, Thessaly, Collosius, etc. Yet in all these churches, Paul's doctrines were promulgated with variants that Paul was constantly trying to correct with his epistles. Throughout Paul's epistles is the message that Jesus is the Son of God, and that his death on the cross saved us from damnation to Hell for our sins. It is those two beliefs which I would consider core beliefs of Christianity. They were there from the start in all churches that have sprung from the original Pauline doctrines.
Belief in Jesus' divinity and belief in salvation through his death are absolutely necessary to the definition of being a Christian, and on further thought may be sufficient, in which case Grace, works, and spirit are not necessary. Of those three I would argue that Grace is necessary, though works and spirit could follow from the other three. But then I contemplate a professed Christian that does not do works or has a poor spirit, and I think, "hypocrite."
Now let us look at the issues of denomination. Based on my discussion of Paul above, membership in a particular church is not necessary to be a Christian. Christianity is a belief and attendant behaviors that come from that belief. Denominations are organizations of people that think similarly and have found their particular details of belief in different parts of the Bible and life. Some denominations are more rigid than others in acceptable beliefs and behaviors. To all but a few Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church, drinking, gambling, and smoking are terrible sins. To all churches extramarital sex (whether between unmarried couples or adultery) is considered sinful. Some emphasize works as the way to heaven, others emphasize Grace. Most do state that Jesus was divine; they believe in the Trinity, and they believe in salvation through the crucifixion. I would not consider membership in, or attendance at, a church as necessary for Christianity. After all we were assured that, "Whenever two or more are gathered in my name...."
So to answer the question, "Does accepting the teachings of Jesus without believing in his divinity make one a Christian?" Not by any historical or Biblical definition. Can one be as good or better a person than a Christian by definition? Yes, and here is where the difficulties arise. I think that one can accept Grace and live a life in Grace without being a defined Christian. I do not think that accepting the divinity of Jesus is necessary to accepting Grace. Jesus himself is never quoted as directly saying he is the Son of God any more than any other man. One has to be very careful in studying translations here because the grounds for Jesus as the Son of God are just as problematic as Christ the King assertions on which I posted about a month ago.
I don't think one can be a technically good member of a denomination if one denies a basic tenet of the faith. However, that is not to say one may not behave as a good member of the faith, despite the lack of one or another beliefs. If ones apostacy were revealed the denomination would have the right to expel one.
The following are necessary and collectively sufficient to define a Christian:
1. Belief in the divinity of Jesus
2. Belief in salvation through his death on the cross
3. Acceptance of Grace
4. Good works
5. Right Spirit
The belief in the Trinity is a post-Pauline concept promulgated by various councils trying to create a consistent belief and stamp out heresies. I do not consider it necessary to the definition of Christian. The same goes for membership in a denomination. The membership may support ones preferred flavor of Christianity, but the membership per se does not impart any Christian virtue.
Truth in blogging statement:
Those of you who have read my religious posts know that I am not a defined Christian, and though I am called a member of the Lutheran Church technically am not a Lutheran because of my beliefs. To new readers of this blog, I have an archive of just my religious writings. The link is on the right at the bottom.
Wish, Hope, Belief, Faith, and Trust
A wish is a desire without a reality check as to its possibility. Wishing upon a star is a common secular image, especially in fairy tales. There is a religious component to wishing, in that a wish assumes a provider of the wish, whether the star or some unseen spirit. When one wishes, it can often be without any possibility of the wish coming true. That does not stop the desire or its expression. In one sense a wish can be considered a hold-over from early childhood where all desires were expressed without being rationally assessed. In childhood the provider is generally the parent and often the wishes are granted. This emotional habit carries over into adulthood or at least the teen years, and parents are displaced by usually unnamed sources of beneficence. In many cases it is allied to superstition, e.g. if one sees a falling star, one should make a wish, or the leg of the turkey wishbone that has the joint gets their wish, or making a wish and blowing out all the candles on a birthday cake in one breath will get a wish. It frequently happens that wishes are already tempered to reality as one grows up, but the act of wishing does not entail any evaluation at the time, it simply happens, and its fulfillment is to be done by some unnamed spirit.
Hope is also a desire, but hopes come with assessments of possible achievement. In a situation where there is no possibility of the desired outcome, one may still wish for it, but one does not hope for it. It is a hopeless situation. But hope is a great comforter, and the Bible is full of examples and exhortations to hope for the best, to ask God for help and from that obtain hope. Hope is always less than certain. Otherwise, it would be one of the other three words. Hope is religiously important because many situations in life may be considered hopeless in themselves, but with the addition of God’s help become hopeful. It is not that God will create certainty or necessarily grant what is desired. But there is the possibility that one will receive help and having more than just ones own resources can provide encouragement and the feeling of a possibility of accomplishment.
Belief must be differentiated from faith very clearly. I have heard the two words used interchangeably which is wrong. Belief is a statement of existence. To say, “I believe in God,” is to say that one holds God’s existence to be true. It says nothing about ones relationship to God nor to His qualities or properties. Belief is a rational construction and is either a primary axiom or is derived from other more primary beliefs. Unless one argues in a circle, at some point when one discusses belief there must be a fundamental set of assumed beliefs. They may have plausibility from other information, but they must be assumed as true. A belief in God is such an assumption. All the so-called proofs are not. The Argument from Design is simply that, an argument that does not prove God’s existence. It may be persuasive to the person stating it, but the belief in God came before the argument.
Beliefs can be logically destroyed. If ones belief structure has certain conclusions about the world, and those conclusions are not found, or their antitheses are found, then the belief may be held to be erroneous and removed. However, I think there is a difference between a disprovable belief and a conditional belief. A conditional belief is not belief, it is a hypothesis. In religion there is no room for hypothetical beliefs. The emotional nature of religion militates against believing in a “maybe” God. Once one believes, there can be long and impassioned discussions about the nature of God that one believes in, but the belief is fundamental.
Faith is the emotional support of belief. It is the allying of ones emotions with ones beliefs to make the belief stronger and more durable. Faith sustains a belief even when the evidence runs against it. Faith can provide the strength of belief with no evidential support, e.g. “blind faith.” Faith is actually what is usually meant when we see belief in a religious context. Belief in something or someone is not the same as faith in something or someone. Faith goes beyond the existence and supposes properties usually favorable to the person believing. There are times when one will hear, “I have faith he will screw it up,” but generally it is, “I have faith that something good will occur.” The important thing here is that faith has properties of the object of faith associated with it. One may believe in God, but it takes faith to believe in God’s Grace. Grace is important only in emotional terms, providing the hope and assumption of forgiveness. Faith believes in the beneficence of God even when all looks godless. Job is the prime example.
Trust is certitude, certitude of a relationship. It is the hardest to achieve, because it goes beyond faith in its depth. Belief and faith must come before trust can be achieved. Trust assumes that the object of belief will act in certain ways, always. Especially in our anxious times, it is extremely hard to trust God to help, particularly when we don’t have a pipeline to His decisions. But yet when we do trust God, it removes great amounts of anxiety from our lives. We quit worrying because we KNOW that God will help. But trust is very dependent on how we have experienced our lives to the present. The amount of betrayal we experience directly will impact our willingness to trust God, regardless of all the exhortations and our faith. If one has spent ones life doing for oneself because no one else could be trusted to do things, to suddenly trust God to do things runs counter to every harsh lesson learned.
A voice of sanity
Ally's post points to the way things ought to be, if we are to have public schools, not the way they are or ideologues want them to be.
Monday, December 13, 2004
Sunday, December 12, 2004
The 9/11 Commission Report
The data collection and analysis are phenomenal. The after the fact reconstructions were most impressive, and so was the analyses of the various problems in both detecting the on-coming disaster and in dealing with it afterwards. Apparently while the politicians held hearings and did their posturing before the TV cameras and the press, the staff went about the job in a most conscientious manner and produced a useful document, with respect to the facts and their analysis. In this we received our tax-dollars-worth.
As for the recommendations which have been so hastily turned into law, I have a much dimmer view. It is in the nature of bureaucracies and politicians to consider the way they do business as the most successful, and to always recommend more. Such were the recommended changes. Just as in many companies they try to manage their way to success by rearranging organizational structures, so has the 9/11 Commission tried to fashion a better intellegence and security apparatus by rearranging the existing organizational structure in government. My own view is that they need to deal with allowing more autonomy at the lower levels, and better low-level coordination than imposing some security czar at the top. It is much too hard to get anything done due to all the formal protocols required to work inter-departmentally. I was impressed more in the things that worked from people knowing people and people having at least tried some things before the disaster. Simply shaking up the current organizations and holding them more accountable would have been a better step than adding another agency.
Finally, no where did I see any recommendation that would act as an incentive to better performance. This is one of the major problems with government. There are no incentives to be more effective. In fact the major incentive is to do the same with more people, thus becoming less effective.
Some things appear to be occurring that are positive that have come from 9/11. The current shake-up in the CIA was long over-due. It will take several years to get the human intelligence back to full operation, but at least it is starting. Donald Rumsfeld has done an excellent job with the Department of Defense, and appears to be still working at restructuring to make it more effective. (And yes, the military is one place where structure spells success or failure.) I have great hopes that Ms. Rice can create some changes in the State Department. I have commented forcefully on my assessment of State before. I am anxious to see what will transpire. I will also be very interested to see the thrust of the Justice Department.
We shall continue to live in interesting times.
Thursday, December 09, 2004
Reno vs. Las Vegas
Gaming in Las Vegas is cold. The croupiers don't chat at all. It is a cold hustle in the casinos. Reminds me of the reputation of New York City. Las Vegas works hard at appealing to breaking the rules. Billboards stressing the sensual shows, a constant bombardment of lights and sound and images urging gambling and floor shows. At night every corner has hispanics trying to give everyone cards with pictures of nude women and phone numbers for shows at small bars.
Reno was actually called stodgy by one of the conference participants. I like it a lot better. It has everything that Las Vegas does, it just doesn't hit you in the face with it. The croupiers will banter or chat with the customers. It is all a bit friendlier.
There are things that are different. I am staying in a hotel across the strip from the Belagio, which has a fountain and light show at night. It is impressive, with jets that can shoot as high as 60 ft. into the air. It is choreographed to music and plays every 30 min from 5 PM to midnight. Now that it is Christmas season it apparently is playing every 15 minutes.
Truth in blogging statement: I am prejudiced. I went to high school in Carson City, NV, which is 30 mi south of Reno. We left there after my Sophomore year of college. It is similar enough to Las Vegas in geography that I had a massive attack of homesickness flying into the Las Vegas airport.
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
Believe it or not
UPDATE: Went to the casino, played slots for my wife, lost $4 fast. Went to the roulette table, started with a $20 stake, used the method I outlined in my blog, when the stake was gone, I had $60 on the back rail. Gave the croupier $6, and cashed in the rest. Note that I did have a mild urge to tap the back rail after I lost the last part of my stake. Didn't do it. Glad I didn't. Can always go back tomorrow night.
Another Christmas Meditation
Monday, December 06, 2004
Reflections on the birth of Jesus
Unlike the very consistent telling of the events in the olive grove when Jesus was crucified, we have no consistency at all in the beginnings of Jesus’ life. So it is not surprising that attempts to match any Biblical clues with possible events in the real world are all but impossible. I have read of many attempts, and they all seem to fall apart on one inconsistency or another. Not even the year or the season of his birth can be established, though the current acceptance of 4 BCE (Before Common Era, an anthropological and historical secular designation) seems as good as any. It is highly likely that the season of his birth was co-opted from some other festival.
So of all the gospel events, this one is the most likely to have a lot of mythos built into it—a projection of our own desires and longings. It is perfectly natural that we should want to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Regardless of whether we see him as a divine incarnation or as an outstanding human, he is one of the most significant figures, if not the most significant, in human history. Just as we celebrate the births of famous men of history so we should celebrate Jesus’ birth.
A short digression: There is an Episcopal bishop by the name of Shelby Spong. Bishop Spong has proposed a number of heretical ideas. I have read one of his books and ended up being underwhelmed. I first learned of him years ago when he was interviewed by Leslie Ann Stahl (sp?) on a TV news magazine. One of Bishop Spong’s comments was that Christmas was horrible. We were celebrating the birth of someone who would be horribly murdered, and in fact made it out to be that we were celebrating the birth of a sacrificial victim. In his implications, the sacrifice was wasted.
Bishop Spong misses the point entirely. If we accept the divinity of Jesus, and the implications of his death and resurrection as presented by Paul, then we are focusing on his accomplishment of rescuing us from death. In fact his death is a necessary part of the program. We celebrate Jesus for being our rescuer, our redeemer, and giving us salvation. We focus on the death only to understand what it is we receive. If we do not accept the divinity of Jesus, we still can celebrate him as having taught and lived an example of how we should live together as better humans. His death is the underscore of his life—“I mean it, and I will die, if necessary, to show that I mean it.” Jesus teachings, when applied to day to day living, lead to better ways of interacting with each other and to such positive results that we should celebrate his life and therefore his birth.
So what of the angels, the Magi, the manger, and all the rest? Whether or not they are literally true, they are symbolically true. We write songs about them, and gladly sing about them every year, because they strike a strong emotional chord in us. They tell us what we want to believe and hear. They give us a reminder in the depths of winter of the hope and rebirth that comes with spring. We need such reminders.
So how do we approach the birth of Jesus?, with joy, thanksgiving, and hope—joy at the birth, the beginning of life, thanksgiving for the importance of that particular life, and hope for the promise of our being better persons and our redemption.
Thanks to New Scientist for the link.
Saturday, December 04, 2004
Conservation and you
Today, I was considering the extent of the invasion of my life by the conservationists. I was getting ready for my trip to Las Vegas for the CMG 2004 conference, and had at least one problem directly attributable to the conservationists' meddling in my life.
Let's start with the shower. When was the last time you really felt good taking a shower? The spray beating on your skin, and flowing generously over you. I felt that way in Canada this summer when I was working up there. They don't have arbitrary restrictions on the flow through a shower head. In the US the maximum flow is 3 L/min. It will get you clean, but it sure doesn't feel good. Actually most flows average 2.6 L/min not 3. Do you want to know what is actually possible? Watch the water fill your bathtub or whirlpool tub. Since it is limited by the quantity of water it can hold, the faucets are not restricted. For that matter look at your kitchen sink or your bathroom wash basins. How fast can you get water to flow through them? Other than my bathtub, the fastest faucet in the condo is the laundry tub. The only positive benefit I found with restricted shower heads was that my water heater could keep up with two teenagers taking showers.
By now you see where I am heading, I hope. Those of you who aren't particularly earthy can pass over the next bit. Let's return to the bathroom and specifically the toilet. Every toilet now carries a label that says 2.5 Gpf or some such number. That is Gallons per flush. First of all what kind of mind worries about how much water is used in a toilet flush? Anyway, the amount of water is significantly less than what used to be used when I was growing up. As a consequence toilet manufacturers have had to hire hydraulic engineers to design toilets that will clear themselves on that restricted amount of water. There are two main approaches to do this, restrict the throat of the siphon between the bowl and the drain, and create a surge effect when the lever is pulled to try to force material through the restriction. The problem is it doesn't work. There are a few delicate references in the popular press to the fact that it takes two or more flushes to do the job of what used to be one flush, thus negating the savings. Worse, multiple flushes don't always do it. A constant accoutrement in bathrooms these days is a plunger. It doesn't make any difference how careful one is, there will be times when the toilet plugs, and solidly. Always when it is the most inconvenient to deal with.
Here is what really gripes me about all this -- the stupidity of those who set these rules. The amount of water saved in absolute terms sounds like a lot, probably in the millions or billions of gallons per year. But industry uses more than that EVERY DAY. The savings are in the noise of the consumption statistics. For some groups ideological crusade, we are made to suffer continual inconvenience.
For such people, may they never be able to rinse all the soap off, and may their toilets always be plugged.
Friday, December 03, 2004
[Truth in blogging note: I am an Eagle Scout.]
I find it fascinating that the more connected we become to the world around us, the less connected we are to each other. ... we seem to understand each other less, parents still cannot relate to their children, and we are more alone.
... What happened?
There is material here for many hours of thought and blogging. I'd consider how we are educated and how it destroys effective interaction, how we have been trained to consider the government and not ourselves and neighbors as providers of help, how our entertainments are so engrossing that we prefer them to the real world, how the more politically "blue" we are, the less we care about our fellow man as a reality, how material goods and job have become the measure of a person rather than moral quality.
That's a start, I'm sure there is much more.
Thursday, December 02, 2004
From pseudo-science to legal reality
Countries and individual companies could end up being sued for their contribution to climate change, suggest scientists who have quantified how global warming increases the risk of freak weather events.
Myles Allen and colleagues tested their technique for measuring risk on the European heat wave of 2003 which killed thousands of people. They found that emission of greenhouse gases has at least doubled and more likely quadrupled the risk of such a severe event happening.
“The fraction of risk due to human events is starting to reach the level where a court might find the emitters responsible,” says Allen, at the University of Oxford, UK. This means, for example, that relatives of those who died during the heat wave could consider seeking compensation.
Already, US states have filed a lawsuit against power companies for failing to control carbon dioxide emissions. “Litigation in relation to greenhouse gases is increasingly likely,” writes Allen in his Nature article, co-authored by Richard Lord, a QC (senior attorney) from Brick Court Chambers in London, UK.
To calculate how much humans were to blame for the 2003’s heat wave, the team used computer simulations developed by the UK’s Met Office. They compared the frequency of heat waves in today’s greenhouse-gas polluted world to their frequency in the simulated, uncontaminated environment.
There isn't a climate model today that should be considered fully validated. None of them make accurate predictions of the past or future weather. None of them take into account many non-linear variables in our atmosphere. Interactions of clouds, oceans, water vapor, and methane, the last two potent green house gasses in their own right, are routinely ignored to simplify models to tractibility. This is not science, it is ideological pseudo-science.
The results from many runs of the climate model suggest that extreme heat waves can now be expected once every 250 years but would have happened less than once in 1000 years if there were no extra greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
While severe heat waves are still extremely rare, the chances of them happening are increased, explains Allen. “We have loaded the weather dice.”
Increasing the odds of an adverse event can be enough to make an entity liable for damages - as seen with tobacco companies. Class-action lawsuits against them have been underpinned by scientific evidence that smoking increases the risk of developing lung cancer.
It is not possible to link any individual case of the disease to smoking because there are other causes too. Similarly, no particular climate event can be blamed on global warming, but now Allen and colleagues have shown they can calculate a change in risk.
The only difference, says Allen, is that the risk attached to smoking was calculated by comparing the fate of large numbers of people, some smokers, some not. The same statistical techniques cannot be applied directly to the climate because the Earth has only one. They have to use simulated models to generate comparisons.
“A crucial thing for the courts to decide will be whether this kind of evidence is admissible,” Allen told New Scientist. If it is, courts will then have to deal with the more complex question of who to hold responsible.
Journal reference: Nature (vol 432, p 551, p 610)
Being able to calculate a change in risk does not of itself indicate it exists or is even valid. The models they are using have to be greatly simplified if they can do many runs in a reasonable amount of time that cover time spans long enough to claim changes from once every 250 years to once every 100 years. The methodological problems implied on the face of it are mammoth. But rest assured, there are lawyers already licking their chops at the prospect of the class action suits this would imply. Just think, an entire nation as a class. Makes the tobacco settlement look like chump change.
The reason stuff like this occurs is because we have ceased to teach even the rudiments of science properly, and destroyed the ability of people to make sensible judgments. Science has become the new mystical religion, tended in oracular temples called Universities, Research Institutes, and Government Agencies.
And to think that Nature is supposed to be a referreed journal. Don't look to the British any longer for new valid ideas in science. At one time, most of my literature searches would find British laboratory findings at the start, with the main exploitations in this country. No more. When Nature accepts this tripe, science in Great Britain is dead.
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
Dance of Death
The dance of Infant Destruction has variations, there is legalized abortion, embryonic stem cells, and now the the most heinous variation, the Dutch Euthanasia step. Even after surviving nine months in the womb, a living child can be legally killed if it is judged to be in incurable pain and suffering. Now the power of life and death is brought into the new born arena.
The Dance of Old Age Termination has always been performed in the back wings, until Dr. Kevorkian who made it a center stage feature. It was OK to assist people in killing themselves. But in Great Britain, there are National Health initiatives that encourage not maintaining lives in order to free up resources. It is becoming a subtle form of selective murder. So now life and death are subject to bureaucratic dictate at an increasingly earlier age.
The Dance of Third World Reduction is brought about by the ideological refusal to radically modernize or assist in modernizing underdeveloped nations, and the refusal to provide the necessary drugs and pesticides. They cannot be blind to the results, but they are rationalized away in the name of some Rousseauan ideal. Or to stand idly by as despots such as Saddam Hussein destroyed their people rationalizing with some bogus -ism, or perverted philosophical concept.
As the dance goes on, more and more of the human lifespan is being placed under such actions. Someday disagreeing with the establishment will be grounds for death, but under pseudo-scientific grounds.
When ever their schemes are implemented, people die. Hitler's final solution, Stalin's death camps, death in the name of leftist ideology. As those mass orgies of Death have disappeared, so the Dance is done on an individual and quiet scale with many individuals dancing with Death instead of a few powerful ones. And the tempo increases and the sound swells so imperceptibly, until we suddenly are aware of it, and find it is so wide spread it can hardly be contained. And when we did have hints or suspicions of its occurrence we are hoodwinked with high-sounding moral phrases and told it is for the good of humanity.
But humanity here means the perpetrators' egos. And when properly confronted such a sniveling, whining lot they are. Temper tantrums when they don't get their way. Vicious retaliation when defeated legitimately. They court Death and dance with it, because it gives a bogus sense of power to destroy, when they can't create or build. They would rather have nothing than see something good, especially if they did not create it.