Saturday, July 24, 2004

We're mostly against torture

I'm a bit reeling from news reports that a "majority" of Americans oppose torture.

The results come from the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA). The AP story reported on Yahoo! News stated,
A majority, 55 percent, said this country should never use mental torture — such as making someone think that they or their family will be killed, according to the poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland.

Of course, my political sensibilities are deeply offended that the number is not 100%. The PIPA report does show greater reluctance to suport other forms of torture:
These include methods formally approved by the Department of Defense including using threatening dogs (rejected by 58%) and forcing detainees to go naked (75% rejected). Other forms rejected by even larger majorities included sexual humiliation (89%) and holding a detainee’s head under water (81%).

Rush Limbaugh is widely reported to have called the Abu Ghraib prison abuses "brilliant"; I read a speech from Chuck Colson where he stated his disgust at the sexual turn of events at Abu Ghraib, and said that as a fine young officer he in his youth would have found nonsexual ways to abuse prisoners. It sounded like he was reaching into the list of techniques above.

I've heard it said that using abuse in interrogation is not helpful because the abused will say anything to get the abuse to stop. In all seriousness, it endangers us not only because of unreliable information but because it ticks off the family members of those abused.

I am convinced that the God of the Bible is appalled at these things. We are no better than beasts. As one who believes in original sin and an actual hell, it's times like these that these doctrines perhaps become too believable for comfort. And yes I know that as I point my finger at the speck in my neighbor's eye I must look for the plank in my own and confess with the Good Thief on the Cross that "I justly deserve Thy temporal and eternal punishment."

But where is the church in all this? I can think of about four different responses:
  1. Rush is right. Prisoner abuse is brilliant. I've also seen other conservatives say what happened at that prison was not torture. 
    My response: To the former, I think there's a quote in Out of the Silent Planet where the angel in charge of Mars says to one of the villians from Earth, "Were you of my world, I would simply 'undo' you, because everything human in you is already gone." To the latter, perhaps this is some kind of forgivable hysteria to deal with such unbelievable news. In any case, if some Christian denominations are breaking up over some wanting to be silent about sexual sins, I say I'd be the first to throw a brick over this issue.

  2. The Gospel and our eternal status is the focus of the Church. As the regenerate will be empowered to do good works by the Spirit, therefore we must simply preach even more boldly the doctrine of forgiveness of sins on account of Christ's sake.
    My response, this may be the case, but why then wouldn't this formula apply also to other sins, like abortion or sexual ones: 'Hush up on controversial specifics, just preach Jesus'? I do not mean to mock anyone's commitment to seek legislation against abortion. Your theology of politically incorrect sins (like torture) however should match your theology on the sanctity of life.

  3. This is a national emergency crying out for incisive Law and Gospel preaching. My response: so like how? How do you tell people to be simple decent human beings without rightly being accused of partisanship, etc? How do you articulate this to be stricly a message from God-- yeah there's the idea of "Remember those abused as if you yourself were abused," but does that law make people human again?

  4. If these justifications for prisoner abuse were to represent a valid option within orthodox Christianity, I can just imagine what is going on in the mind of nontheists: Whereas, Christians are supportive, indifferent, silent, or divided on whether to round up residents of a country they've invaded and start torturing people at random. Therefore be it resolved Christianity is complete bunk.

    My response: This is my greatest fear-- that those in these countries fearing for their lives, or those nontheists seeking some kind of moral framework to live out their lives, and run into the Chuck Colosn speech. Or they'll hear about Rush's quote and knowing that Rush likes Republican candidates, and remember that the devout church going population of this country is overwhelmingly Republican. So they'll very naturally conclude that either there's something wrong with the actual God out there or the bible these Republicans are reading or with Christianity as something that this planet can afford any longer. This is my greatest fear.

And that's what's got me even more appalled.

Pray for the church. Pray for those we are endangering. Pray for me.

Image: from Toy Story??

I showed an animation of this walk/talk cycle to a four-year old friend of my son. He said, "Hey, I saw that guy on Toy Story!" Best compliment of the month, ferr sherr! Posted by Hello

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

A book review: "Beyond Liberation Theology"

Beyond Liberation Theology Humberto Belli & Ronald Nash, 1992, Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids Michigan.

I wanted to bring attention to this book's critique of biblical interpretation. I find myself in resounding agreement with the chapter, "Liberation Theology and the Bible", even as I recoil in sadness at some of the book's political and moral worldview as it relates to poverty, economics, and low intensity conflict in Latin America. As a disclaimer, the two authors are Humberto Belli, a former Nicaraguan contra, and Ronald Nash, a man who wrote Why the Left Is Not Right: The Religious Left : Who They Are and What They Believe a book filled with misinformation about politically liberal Christians. Thus, I do not endorse the entirety of the book.

The authors however have made an assessment of the use and abuse of biblical criticism that I highly endorse. Like any tool, it can be put to noble or to silly and ignoble purposes. I write this review ultimately as a Christian who strives for a high view of scripture and this review is offered as a response to those who might believe in a "necessity" of using the tools of biblical criticsm and not understand how these tools are widely abused in Cristendom.

What follows below is a long quote from this chapter. I have added blue emphases to places where the authors cite the beneficial uses of biblical criticism and red emphases to the places where the authors cite the detrimental uses.

The question is ultimately the authority of scripture.

------begin quoted material


According to form criticism, the Gospels are not simply historical narratives about Jesus. They are the end result of a long process of oral tradition that was collected, preserved, and edited. ... For the form critic, the Gospels were an important source of information about what the chruch believe about Jesus at the time the Gospels were formulated.
Several positive contributions from form criticism stand out. For one thing, the stress on a period of oral tradition prior to the writing of the Gospels countered an earlier emphasis on exclusively written sources for the Gospels and sought to move beyond problems of that approach. It also drew important attention to the fact that the community of the early church had a practical interest in the tradition it transmitted. Form criticism helped clarify how the practical concerns of the early Christian community shaped and preserved its memories of Jesus. ...
It is important to distinguish between the neutral method of form criticism, which can be useful in a number of ways for understanding Scripture, and the presuppositions that some of the form critics insist on bringing to their use of the method. ...
Form critics who became captive to [the] destructive presuppositions used their method to undermine the historical credibility of the Gospels. ...
By itself, form criticism does not force one to conclude that the early church invented its stories about Jesus. The method can be used by people who believe the stories were recollections of what Jesus actually did and said, recollections that were preserved because of their relevance for some later life situation in the church
. ..
The problem then is not with form criticism per se but with the undefended assumption that the Gospels witness primarily to the life situation of the church at some later stage of its history and only secondarily to the historical Jesus...
Instead of assuming that the early church fabricated stories about Jesus to help it deal with its problems, it makes better sense to assume that considerations about practical relevance led the church to preserve statements originally made by Jesus.
A pivotal issue in the debate concerns proper placement of the burden of proof.
The skeptics argue that the burden of proof rests on those who regard the sources as authentic.
But as New Testament authority Joachim Jeremias asks, "Why should the burden of proof not fall on the skeptic?"


As easy as it may be to notice theological interests at work in the Gospels, it requires a whole set of additional presuppositions
to conclude that the Evangelists produced only imaginative interpretations of Jesus with loose or even nonexistent historical ties. As Stephen S. Smalley points out, the radical claim that there is not connection between the Christ of faith and the Jesus of history presupposes: "that the evangelists themselves were unaware of the distinction betweeen history and faith, and were prepared to disregard the former completely in the interests of the latter."
In other words, redaction criticism and form criticsm are not necessarily incompatible with either a high view of scripture or the conviction that the New Testament picture of Jesus is grounded on historical information. Conservative use of redaction criticism suggests that the Evangelists started with the historical information available to them and "drew out the theological implications of history which they recorded." Starting with the apostolic tradition about Jesus, the Evangelists expressed their own theological understanding of the tradition by the arrangement of their Gospels and by the seams that tied the various units of tradition to one another. Used with care, redaction criticism provides students of the New Testament with several advantages. It can help them see the interrelationship between faith and history in the early Christian community. The Gospel writers were not interested in recording bare facts. The Gospels reflect their writers' interaction with and theological interpretation of studying the Gospels as wholes... Redaction criticism can help identify what the Gospel writers themselves contributed to their source material.

But many redaction critics perform highly conjectural and subjective analysis. Redaction criticism should not imply the creation of new material.


According to Migeuz-Bonino, the Word of God should not be understood "as a conceptual communication but as a creative event, a history-making pronouncement. Its truth does not consist in some correspondence to any idea but in its efficacy to carrying out God's promise or fulfilling his judgement." Theologically liberal Protestants realized they could make Christian communities much more pliable to their imaginative, subjective reconstructions of Christian belief if they could dissuade the people in the pew from the old idea that divine revelation was in any sense some "conceptual communication". Interpret the Word of God in any way you like, as inward personal experience or as "creative event" perhaps, but never as a communication of truth! Over the past two hundred years, much non-orthodox theology has tried to deny Christians any acces to divinely inspired truth. ...
Whatever else religion can and possibily should be, it can never [in this view] be grounded on revealed information from God. The consequences of this are far reaching. For one thing, it explains the tendency in so much contemporary Christendom to equate Christian religion with whatever "Christians" happen to believe or practice at the moment. Since there is no divinely revealed truth, we may believe whatever we want.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Image: A Goofball Sidekick?

And don't forget this guy. I was showing my wife some of my animations and she said that this guy would make a better hero because he was more real. The others were so handsome or heroically perfect, she said, that it would be hard for people to relate. I was thinking of making this guy a sort of "goofball assistant that always saves the day at the end," and my wife's affection for him only affirmed this idea.

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Image: A Dueling Character?

The next round of the animations contest at the Internet Raytracing Competition has a theme of duel. So naturally, I had to start working on a sword that is animatable in the sense that it moves automatically with the wrist. It was very difficult to remember how my code worked but I eventually got it. Now the next challenge is to come up with a theme that explores my views as an Exhaustively Strict Just War Theologian, a view in opposition to the theology of the Bush Doctrine and "Rambo" movies. And no, I swear I wasn't trying to make it look like Mel Gibson-- I was aiming for myself! ;-)

 Posted by Hello

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Image: New Avatars

I'm revising the M.I.M.E. Man character, and here are two possible new avatars for use in web pages. A lot of folks were familiar with the old ones, but it looked really wierd in profile.

 Posted by Hello

Islamofascism and the Treaty of Versailles

Michelle Malkin, in a recent column, spoke about the recent announcement by the Phillipine government that it was going to withdraw from Iraq. She writes:

The Battling Bastards of Bataan have given way to the Mollycoddling Milksops of Manila. And ultimately, we -- not just Filipinos, but all Americans and our allies battling Islamofascism -- will pay a grislyprice for this disgraceful capitulation.

I suppose that's a very fair estimation of how conservatives see our current execution of the War on Terror-- that it has the same moral urgency as did fighting Nazi fascism in World War Two. I think that this lens allows critics of the War on Iraq to understand conservatives a little better, and it seems plausible that over the long term, this so-called Islamofascism could represent as great a threat to freedom, human dignity, and development as did Nazi Germany.

My analogy, however, is that the way we're handling the threat of terrorism too similarly to the way the threat posed by Germany in World War One was handled. It's been said that the overly brutal and demeaning conditions applied in the Treaty of Versailles led to suffering of the German people, which led to resentment under wich Nazism was able to flourish, creating a "bigger threat" for World War Two.

That's exactly how I believe many liberals view the War on Terror. From our support of the Israeli apartheid wall to incommunicado detentions at Guantanamo Bay, I believe we're bungling the war and whatever peace may come about later by in the same way the writers of the Treaty of Versailles bungled it. I believe this bungling will come with a "grisly price" as well.

Scalia's "Perverse Incentive"

I believe that the Christian faith involves weeping with the Lord over the brokenness of humanity. Some of this brokenness is rightly addressed by items of the agenda of the "family values" crowd, and many items on that of the "peace and justice" crowd. My study of the Church and my political sensibilities however make me more irked by those who espouse family values at the expense of human dignity.

I've never really been a fan of justice Antonin Scalia. When I heard that there was an 8-1 vote in Hamadi v. Rumsfeld, which was about our right to hold suspects at Guantamo Bay without trial, I naturally started seething at my ideological and theological nemesis, Scalia. I went to read the transcript and searched for what I assumed would be Scalia's dissent.

Interestingly, it turned out that the lone dissenter was Clarence Thomas, not Scalia.

I did find some interesting comments from Sandra Day O'Connor in response to Scalia's opinion:

JUSTICE SCALIA'’s treatment of that case in a footnote suffers from the same defect as does his treatment of Quirin: Because JUSTICE SCALIA finds the fact of battlefield capture irrelevant, his distinction based on the fact that the petitioner conceded enemy combatant status is beside the point. See supra, at 15–16. JUSTICE SCALIA can point to no case or other authority for the proposition that those captured on a foreign battlefield (whether detained there or in U. S. territory) cannot be detained outside the criminal process. Moreover, JUSTICE SCALIA presumably would come to a different result if Hamdi had been kept in Afghanistan or even Guantanamo Bay. See post, at 25 (SCALIA, J., dissenting). This creates a perverse incentive. Military authorities faced with the stark choice of submitting to the full-blown criminal process or releasing a suspected enemy combatant captured on
the battlefield will simply keep citizen-detainees abroad. Indeed, the Government transferred Hamdi from Guantanamo Bay to the United States naval brig only after it learned that he might be an American citizen. It is not at all clear why that should make a determinative constitutional difference.

O'Connor uses the word "perverse incentive" to refer to the legal framework Scalia would impose regarding the detention of prisoners. I just have to agree that this is perversion. I am saddened that too many conservatives aren't worried about this other form of perversity.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Image: Leaving the Old Behind...

In case you're wondering, no they're not holding hands. I just juxtaposition them close together so I can see a lot of them. Not that there would be anything wrong with that. Considering a major rehash of the MIME Man files I've been using in povray, and the latest is on the left. Its profile is far superior, to say the least.

 Posted by Hello