Monday, December 06, 2010

Blender 2.55 + Makehuman Alpha

Blender 2.55 + Makehuman Alpha, originally uploaded by pterandon.

This was an attempt to take a MakeHuman character and import it into Blender. It appears to have worked well. I was astonished at how well the toning & colors worked out. There was a great big headache with importing some python scripts from MH to Blender involving the latter's Add-Ons menu under User Preferences. But it actually worked.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Saving the Bible from climate change

Representative John Shimkus has drawn attention to the role that Christian theology can play in the climate change debate. My sources of information are a Huffington Post article, which is based on a Toronto Star article by Cathal Kelly.

In a 2009 hearing, Shimkus cited God's promise to Noah:
“Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though all inclinations of his heart are evil from childhood and never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done.

“As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will never cease.”

(Interestingly, Jerry Falwell's 2007 sermon on climate change quoted the same passage. ) Here's Shimkus' analysis, from the Star article:
“I believe that’s the infallible word of God, and that’s the way it’s going to be for his creation,” Shimkus said. "The Earth will end only when God declares it's time to be over. Man will not destroy this Earth. This Earth will not be destroyed by a Flood," Shimkus asserted. "I do believe that God's word is infallible, unchanging, perfect."

I for one, do believe that the bible is infallible, unchanging, perfect. My problem is that he sets up the bible to be disproved by events in history. Shinkus took the trouble to cite this scriptural passages to say that the bible refutes global warming alarmism. That is a very fair assessment of his purpose in citing Scripture.

Okay, what is global warming alarmism? It is that due to anthropogenic gas pollution, the earth will experience radical, geographic shifts in its zones of agricultural productivity, and experience massive local flooding (just the low lying areas of the planet, not "the earth" as in the flood of Noah). Can anyone point to me a major green organization, a citation from the ICCP, or Science or Nature that says more? I'd like to see it!

Now the question is whether the earth has already suffered cases of massive local flooding, or radical shifts in zones in agricultural productivity due to weather changes? The suffering of the Bangladeshi people due to flooding is all too well known. It's already happening. Global warming alarmism is that more parts of the earth will experience flooding, not that the entire planet will be underwater. Greenpeace just released a statement saying,
"In an extreme runaway scenario, a complete melting of the Greenland ice sheet would add 7 metres to the world’s oceans, and a complete melting of the Antarctic sheet would add 60 metres. Those scenarios would require a massive restructuring of human civilisation as we know it. However, even a one-to-two metre rise in sea level will inundate certain port cities, islands, atolls, flood deltas and coastal plains, obliterate vulnerable species and displace millions of people.

Now let's look at seedtime and harvest. Has the weather either starved people or caused massive local suffering? How about the Irish potato famine (blamed on increased rainfall & cool weather that led to blight), and the American Dustbowl (blamed on a drought) being but two examples. And as one of my conservative friends pointed out, even during the Irish famine, the country was a net exporter of food. So we had massive suffering due to loss of agricultural productivity, but no "end to seedtime and harvest".

I would also note that the promise in Genesis 8 speaks to what God Himself would not do, not what people can do to themselves.

As I see it, there are five possibilities:
  1. The Bible (or at least Genesis 8) is fallible and has been completely disproven by multiple events in history, OR
  2. God breaks his promises, OR
  3. Our recollection of human history is wrong, because the bible is true. Those Irish immigrants to the United States were lying to us about conditions back home. OR
  4. There is a significant portion of the green movement that is saying the earth will lose all its agricultural productivity and be completely flooded, like to the top of Mount Ararat (and I just haven't been listening), OR
  5. Shinkus is engaged in three sins: One is a misrepresentation of what green activists and climate scientists have actually said. The second is setting up the reliability of the Word of God to be mocked by people who read the newspaper. The third is tacking "and the bible is infallible" to the end of his political opinions.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tea Party versus Reality

First, let me digress a bit with a talk about how difficult it can be to get a firm grasp on some political questions. For example, I have heard (or heard of) two different interviews with former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan in the past year or so. From my memory, in the two talks, Greenspan gave completely different philosophies on taxes and government deficit spending. What is Greenspan's view on deficit spending? Why did I perceive two different opinions? Well, I might have heard him incorrectly one or both times; Greenspan might have misspoken or he changed his mind; he himself might not have sufficiently developed his own opinions in order to realize the contradictions. Or I might not know enough about economics to comprehend a highly nuanced theory. Furthermore, what does it matter what Greenspan's opinions are? Will knowledge that Greenspan himself weighed in on one side or the other of this issue immediately change any partisans' minds? Probably not. So, to a large degree, political questions of this type may be "unknowable" or hopelessly intractable.

I might not know much about economics, but I know a thing about how cold I've been over the past twenty years, and in twenty years of discussion with friends and family members about how cold it was for them across the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. I know that it's gotten warmer since 1973, by my own direct observation. If however scientists were able to come up with a scientific explanation that says I was wrong in my direct observations, I probably should listen. But they haven't.

What if I were to consult the scientific consensus and it were to confirm my own personal observation that the earth (and the Eastern Seaboard) were in fact warming, AND political activists of a certain political persuasion tell me that the earth is cooling? How likely is that the political activists would be right, and my personal observations are wrong, and the compiled scientific data are also wrong? I think it's pretty unlikely.

This is my response to a poll by the Pew Research Center on climate change. They asked all kinds of questions related to policy decisions, and I don't care about that. I did not quote any policy-related poll data below. Maybe the question of what is the best policy is another unanswerable, intractable question. Similarly, the poll says that there's about a 20% of the populate across the board who believe that the earth is warming, but it's not due to human pollution. Fair enough: it's interesting that this one view does not correlate to any political orientation. But is anyone in the room stubbornly denying reality itself? I think it's pretty obvious here.

What is completely alarming is the response to the question of whether the earth were warming at all. The poll answers here show an amazing sensitivity to political affiliation. Seventy percent of Tea Party Republicans believe that there is no warming. Fourteen percent of Democrats have the same denial of reality. This is sad. If you're completely wrong, most likely denying your own observation of reality, on one point, how many other points can you be wrong on?

Global Warming Poll, originally uploaded by pterandon.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

School of Visual Arts, MFA playlist

While poking around Youtube, I found this school's channel. Every one is a masterpiece. This is great stuff. It reminds me how quality storytelling is possible in a short film.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Global warming doubting

The percentage of Americans who believe that global warming is occurring has decreased by 20% over the past three years, according to a Pew Center report.

Latest data from the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, including 2009 data:

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Health Care Debate and the Prisoner's Dilemma

In game theory, there's a concept called the Prisoner's Dilemma. There are many analogies used to explain the concept, but I think the best example involves the produce market in a rural community. One vendor brings vegetables to barter; another brings fruit. Every week they trade a box of produce, and open it when they get home.

If the fruit vendor gets home to find he's received moldy carrots but had given away his freshest apples, he'll be really ticked. And in that same transaction, the veggie vendor would have received the greatest gain-- he gave away something worthless and got something of value in return. Next week each may have a strategy based on the prior week's results-- the fruit vendor may want to retaliate, while the veggie vendor may realize he cannot go on forever trading the bad vegs because eventually he'll want some good fruit for his family. So as the rounds of trading play on, there may be cycles of "betray" and "cooperate". Even if both players were acting in good faith, there may be cases where accidents of weather and hired hands that prevent one from always bringing good produce to the trade. You may or may not choose to "punish" your best friend and trading partner for a single instance of bad produce.

(Thus, bad offerings to your partner might not always be due to an active choice to defraud-- that, I believe, is the weakness of the original articulation of the Prisoner's Dilemma, which involves the plea bargaining of two thieves in court. When trying to explain PD to a child, I got caught up in questions of, "Shouldn't you always tell the truth?" when talking about the police and courts. In contrast, the fruit/ veggie analogy is free of this ethical conundrum and makes it easier to understand how trading might work.)

The same Prisoner's Dilemma may be applied to the debate over slavery in the 19th century. England eventually took an ethical stance and forbade slavery within Britain and did so decades before America did. But once it had done so, Britain now had a HUGE incentive to get the other Altantic nations to forbid slavery as well. It was now bringing fresh vegetables and didn't want to compete with vendors habitually bringing moldy fruit.

Same goes for the recent health care debate. Whether you've been vilifying the HMO execs or decrying government intrusion, in my view it is clear that the health care companies have been operating under a Prisoner's Dilemma. I believe that the competition between companies has been so stiff that have felt forced to adopt several unkind practices, such as the one involving pre-existing conditions. I can see that one HMO might feel that otherwise, they'd attract a bunch of sick people and provide disincentives for getting coverage to healthy, working, 25-year-olds. They may fear being the only one company that makes it too easy to wait until you're sick until you get coverage. They may fear being the only company bringing the freshest apples to the market, if mold is "in".

Thus, I believe I've seen the health care companies ambivalent towards proposals by liberals that make every player in the market act in a certain way, in removing a certain amount of mold from the fruit. They don't want to take it on the chin by being seen as the nicest company on earth, but are willing to play a nicer game if everyone were forced to. I cannot point to a particular article, but I got this feeling from my reading. Same goes for environmental regulations-- some businesses don't mind a playing field where everyone is required to play nicer. I think liberals need a greater awareness of the economic limitations of HMO's-- sometimes it's not always an active choice to be an arse. And I think when conservatives get alarmed at even these modest proposals to eliminate incentives to be an arse, it just shows they have no compassion.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Neanderthals, Mitochondrial DNA, and the Tower of Babel.

Here's an interesting take on the recent science news that certain races of humans may have some common DNA with Neanderthals.

The organization "Reasons to Believe" has a series of podcasts which attempt to advance an Old Earth Creationist position. That is that God took supernatural action to create over hundreds of millions of years. It holds that Genesis is literal history, if one is careful about the translation of certain words. Anyway, their May 10 Podcast was entitled, "Ancient DNA shows interbreeding between Homo sapiens and Neanderthal".

They advanced a fascinating interpretation. We may remember that the biblical story of the Tower of Babel shows humanity as having a single culture, and then being dispersed afterwards by the action of God. In this episode, Hugh Ross offers the idea that the mixing of humans and Neanderthals may have been part of what happened in this story. A fascinating listen!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Is there any way to combine these two videos?


Is there any way to combine these two? The truthfulness of the first is of no doubt. But its message is weakened a bit by its apparent sarcasm to the second. And that it is as much a message to the converted, it seems to say, "The real urgency is in the Great Commission (Matt 28:16:20); don't worry about Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) or being a Goat (Matthew 25:31-46)."

In college, one of my conservative friends claimed that the purpose of all social concern was to create a Utopia, and Christian truths show us that creating a Utopia is impossible. I replied, "I guess that depends on whether your purpose is to create a Utopia or to keep people alive long enough to hear the gospel." I really don't know where those words came from, because I hadn't ever before put that thought together.

When did the producers of the first video see Christ hungry? In the second video!!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Animatable mesh2 in povray for character animation

I've spent more time working on an animatable mesh in povray. This object here is a single, mesh2 object created in povray. It may look creepy now, but I hope someday to make a character like in the movies. The biggest success seen here is that I was actually able to get the character's head to rotate back and forth. I was fighting the code and didn't realize it was actually working this well until I saw the final video. I still haven't figured out why the back of the head has a flat spot on it-- that's next to fix.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Benthamite Utilitairianism vs. the Active Choice to be an Arse

A while ago, I listened to a podcast of Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do Series, which featured lectures by Michael Sandel about philosophy and ethics. One lecture was about Bentham's Utilitarianism. The lecture implied that there were moral limitations to utilitarianism, that eventually pure, unfettered utilitarianism could lead to justifying outrages that shock the conscience.

Examples were given:
  • The Roman Coliseum
    It was claimed that a utilitarian argument could be made that the pure, ecstatic joy provided to thousands of Roman spectators could outweigh the short-term pain inflicted on a few Christian martyrs.

  • The Pinto gas tank
    In this case, Ford Motor Company made a utilitarian calculation about the cost of replacing a defective gas tank design that was leading to death and injury in rear-end explosions. During a trial, it was revealed that Ford calculated that the $11 repair, multiplied by millions of cars, outweighed the benefit of reducing a few hundred deaths. Sandel in his lecture claimed that a utilitarian argument justified this calculation.

  • The Ticking Time Bomb
    The question was asked in today's situations with terrorism. If you know someone has information about an up-and-coming terrorist plot which could kill hundreds, it was asked, wouldn't it justify a little torture to save those lives?

Given the horrible outcomes of the first two cases, the argument was that moral philosophers have been forced over the centuries to seek limitations and modifications to utilitarianism. I would disagree that unfettered utilitarianism is to blame.

Q: Are the Romans currently tearing apart Christians?
A: No, they ticked off so many of their neighbors that they were eventually overrun by the Gauls.

Q: Is Ford Motor Company doing well financially today?
A: No, the liberal media and trial lawyers tore them apart during those trials leading to great financial loss back then and, as some conservatives have argued, helped usher in a regulatory environment that hurt them.

So, if your calculation were to provide emotional benefits to your Roman citizens, your calculus failed. You forgot the Gauls. If your calculation was to provide financial benefits to Ford shareholders, you failed. You forgot the liberal media. In my estimation, there was an active choice in each of these cases to be a meanie, one which blinded planners to all the likely outcomes.

Now let's consider the case of torture, or those enhanced interrogation that Amnesty International calls torture. First of all, let's assume you actually have a person who has knowledge of ticking time bomb cases. Many critics of torture have argued that the tortured person gives not what you need to know but rather any and everything that he or she thinks will stop the torture. In this example, even over the short term, the utilitarian calculation may be weak.

Over the long term, I would argue that there are additional factors that have to be considered. It has been said that making the torture a policy of the state endangers U.S. soldiers who in the future might ever be captured. And if you ever torture someone who wasn't actually a radical, he or she sure as heck will be by the time you're done.

Certain questions in society may be difficult to answer. They may have a right or wrong-ness fully apart from any utilitarian calculation. I believe that Benthamite Utilitarianism does not in and of itself lead to awful questions, if you consider the "Gauls" in any situation.

Slavery's new apologists

On the internet, a Lutheran pastor that I know was sharing links to this old clip from the TV show, "West Wing." The one where the fictional President tears into a fictional "Dr. Laura" conservative pundit. The President tries to make the argument that if you use the Bible to come to an opinion on the morality of homosexual sexual relations, you must also follow its directives on the Sabbath and slavery. According to the clip, the directives on the Sabbath are for each of us to up and go stone those who work on the Sabbath. It also means that a prosperous man can sell his daughter into slavery whenever he pleases.

Too many of those who have been advocating for justice for GLBT persons, who advocated setting aside the traditional ethical requirements for pastors in churches like the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, did so against the bible. They used arguments like my Lutheran pastor above that if you rely on the bible alone, you're going to have to do all kinds of awful things, like let men sell their daughters into slavery. Indeed, upon watching the 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA, I ended up with the feeling that the slavery issue were being re-opened. That 21st century Christians now were no longer sure that the bible was against slavery. It was like watching a convention of apologists for slavery from the 1800's.

I'm open to progressive ideas on the rights of gay and lesbian persons, but have to speak up when some advocates nail their platform on the idea that the bible motivates brutality. They may have evidence that some apologists for slavery did use the bible to support their position. But I have yet to find an abolitionist of that age that used 21st century liberal dogma: dissing the authority, historical accuracy, etc., of the scriptures. Those who argued against slavery used the bible, too, and in my opinion, took more passages more literally.

Find me a group that's speaking for gay rights from a biblical perspective, and I'll join them. I cannot join church movements, per se, that state as obvious that the bible makes you a brute.

Here's my latest piece of evidence. I have been reading William Wilberforce's 1807 "Letter on the Abolition of Slavery." Here's the part where he deals with the biblical record on slavery:

"[H]owever, most of all astonishing, that our opponents attempt to vindicate the Slave Trade on grounds of religion also. The only argument which they urge with, the slightest colour of reason is that slavery was allowed under the Jewish dispensation. The Jews were exalted by the express designation of heaven to a state of eminence above the strangers who sojourned among them, and the heathen who dwelt around them, from either of whom, as a mark of their own dominion, God, who has a right to assign to all his creatures their several places in the scale of being, allowed them to take bondmen and bondwomen, treating them, however, with kindness, remembering their own feelings when they were slaves in Egypt, and admitting them to the chief national privileges, to the circumcision, to the passover, and other solemn feasts, and thus instructing them in the true religion. Besides this, the slaves were to be set free at the year of Jubilee, or every fiftieth year, a command which was alone sufficient to prevent their accumulating in any great number.

But they who thus urge on us the Divine toleration of slavery under the Jewish Theocracy, should remember that the Jews themselves were expressly commanded not to retain any of their own nation, any of their brethren in slavery, except as a punishment, or by their own consent; and even these were to be set free on the return of the sabbatical, or the seventh year. Inasmuch therefore, as we are repeatedly and expressly told that Christ. has done away all distinctions of nations, and made all mankind one great family, all our fellow creatures are now our brethren ; and therefore the very principles and spirit of the Jewish law itself would forbid our keeping the Africans, anymore than our own fellow subjects, in a state of slavery. But even supposing, contrary to the fact, that our opponents had succeeded in proving that the Slave Trade was not contrary to the Jewish law, this would only prove that they would be entitled to carry it on if they were Jews, and could, like the Jews, produce satisfactory proof that they were the chosen people of God. But really it would be consuming your time to no purpose, to enter into a formal proof, that fraud, rapine, and cruelty, a contrary to that religion, which commands us to love our neighbour as ourselves, and to do to others as we would have them them do to us. I cannot persuade myself that our opponents are serious in using this argument, and therefore I will proceed no farther with this discussion. Besides, even granting that it were possible for any of them to be seriously convinced that Christianity does not prohibit the Slave Trade, I should still have no great encouragement to proceed, for,—it may be prejudice, but I cannot persuade myself that they are so much under the practical influence of religion, that if we should convince their understandings, we should alter their conduct.
William Wilberforce, A letter on the abolition of the slave trade, 1807

Strong stuff.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Christianity is evil

"When we cast our eyes towards the south-west of Europe, and behold extensive countries, once possessed by the most polished nations, the chosen seats of literature and the liberal arts; and now behold one universal waste of ignorance and barbarism, we have always been accustomed to ascribe the fatal change to the conquest of a band of Mahometan invaders... But with what shame must we acknowledge, that in Africa, Christianity and Mahometanism appear to have mutually interchanged characters-- Smith, the African Company's own agent in 1722, tells us, 'the discerning natives account it their greatest unhappiness that they were ever visited by the Europeans. They say that we Christians introduced the traffic of Slaves, and that 'before our coming they lived in peace.' But, say they, it is observable, that where ever Christianity comes, there come with it a sword, a gun, powder, and ball.'
The same picture may appear to claim still greater attention from the hand of Mr. Parke, whose visit is more recent, and whose knowledge of Africa is more extensive. Speaking of the Foulah nation, who are many of them professed Mahometans, he says, 'religious persecution is not known among them..."

"... we must abolish the Slave Trade before we attempt to diffuse among the Africans the lessons of peace and love; lest we are asked the same well-known question, and receive the same well-known reply, as the Spanish priest from the poor dying Peruvian, when the Spaniards in America were acting on the plan which is here advised of at once ravaging and converting: 'Are there to be any Europeans in the Heaven, where you wish me to secure a place?' Being told 'yes', 'Then it is no place for Peruvians.' "

William Wilberforce,
A letter on the abolition of the slave trade, 1807

This is a work by a great Christian apologist, in a passionate letter of Christian reasons to abolish the slave trade. William Wilberforce wrote it in 1807 to the "Freeholders and other inhabitants of Yorkshire" to urge Britain to outlaw slavery. In it, he basically says that Islam laid waste to the south-west of Europe. But that in Africa, "Christianity and Mahometanism appear to have mutually interchanged characters." One was an undeniable sociological evil in one place and time, and another is an undeniable sociological evil in another. So saith one of the great Christian apologists of Britain.

This is again a reference to Franklin Graham's "Islam is evil" approach to evangelism. One might just as well have equal anecdotal evidence that "Christianity is evil." That's the charge actually made by some atheists, based on equally flimsy logic. In this regard of sloppy attacks, the devout followers of Islam and Christianity might have more in common than opposition. Here's a checklist of questions I ask before blaming any religion, especially my own, for a social ill:
  • The real question is whether the the Koran and/or the Bible required these periods of brutality. Not whether some nut could find a few verses to support the brutality, but whether a comprehensive faithfulness to the whole text as authoritative really motivates one to be a brute.
  • If someone could point to a few verses which appear to give a "green light" to the outrage, is there even a single "red light" verse which says, "STOP!" ? (Like, "Love your enemies"?)
  • How are the Law portions of the text being used? Are the brutes using the "law" portions of the sacred texts only as a list of things that the "elect" get to do to their enemies, or as a demand for all humans to exercise restraint? (i.e., permission to slaughter your/God's enemies vs. a call to exercise restraint in advancing your interests.)
  • Who is advocating the brutality? Were all camps of traditionalists within the sect in favor of the brutality?
  • Were there any "social conscience traditionalists" (like Wilberforce, King, Romero, Bonhoeffer, John Paul II) within the sect in effect "spoiling the party" by complaining about the brutality?
  • Were those who complained about brutality appealing to either the literal demands of the sacred texts or to older authorities in the faith tradition? (This is opposed to attacking the text's authority, complete inspiration, accuracy, humanity, etc.)?
IMO, it is necessary to go through this kind of thought process in order to distinguish between "a jerk who happens to be of Religion X" and "the jerkiness inspired by Religion X."

My point is not that both religions are good, and therefore you ought to feel good about either. You should be a Christian because Jesus died for your sins, and you cannot earn merits with God based on your works. In my last post, I said it was "evil" for any religion to promise such merits. Furthermore, I suspect not only are there contemporary Christians whose religion brings the world "a sword, a gun, powder, and ball," but also there are mild-mannered, faithful Muslims who aren't out to kill us or oppress their women. (Bush, Blair, Colson, and Buckley, Jr., repeatedly insisted so after 9/11, didn't they?) You'll do little to achieve religious conversion of these mild-mannered folk-- or engender their strategic cooperation against the brutes of their own religion-- with the kind of broad brush that Graham paints with. Or by implying they are less faithful than the suicide bombers.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Franklin Graham calls 10% of Islam to repentance

According to a Pew Research study
In all nine predominantly Muslim nations surveyed in 2009 a strong majority say it is equally important to educate girls and boys. This opinion is shared by more than eight-in-ten in Lebanon (96%), Israel (93%), Indonesia (93%), Turkey (89%), Pakistan (87%) and the Palestinian territories (85%).
Now we all know that Muslim countries are known generally to be behind the west in terms of women's rights and education-- the Taliban's abuse of women being an extreme but all-too-real example. But what to the Muslim citizenry wish for? Equality, at least in education according to this poll. It's also not too hard to believe that if these people are residents of Muslims country, they are actual practitioners of Islam, and therefore probably don't see some degree of equal treatment for boys and girls as being incompatible with all flavors of faithful Islam. How do you reach these people for Christ?

Here's Franklin Graham's approach. Franklin Graham is the son of evangelist Billy Graham and the head of Shepherd's purse. He was recently disinvited from a Pentagon Prayer day at the request of some Mulsim advocacy group. Graham has taken heat for comments he has made in reference to Islam. He has called it "evil". Recently, on the April 22 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
GRAHAM: You know, Gretchen, first of all, I love Muslim people and I want Muslims everywhere to know what I know, that God loves us, that he sent his son Jesus Christ into this world to take our sins and he died for our sins and rose from the grave and that Christ can come into their heart and change them and they can have the hope of eternal life, salvation. I want them to know that they don't have to die in a car bomb don't have to die in some kind of holy war to be accepted by God. But it's through faith in Jesus Christ and Christ alone. But when you look at Islam, I love the people of Islam but the religion, I do not agree with the religion at all. And if you look at what the religion does just to women, women alone, it is just horrid. And so yes, I speak out for women. I speak out for people that live under Islam, that are enslaved by Islam and I want them to know that they can be free, free through faith in Jesus Christ and Christ alone.
[emphasis added in red].
He also said,
"True Islam cannot be practiced in this country," he told CNN's Campbell Brown last December. "You can't beat your wife. You cannot murder your children if you think they've committed adultery or something like that, which they do practice in these other countries."

Okay, so now take those 80% of residents of the Islam world who would like to see their daughters educated. Are they going to view an accurate view of Islam as one where they murder their daughters? How many of them are going to take pause at Franklin's suggestion to accepting Christ instead of doing suicide bombing? Are Islamic people all just strapping on their bomb vests, and need a missionary like Graham to tell them to stop?

I suspect Graham's statements read like nationalistic prejudice, where you tell people to repent of a stereotype of their nationality. I put Graham's "I want them to know that they don't have to die in a car bomb don't have to die in some kind of holy war to be accepted by God" isn't very well received by the vast majority of well-behaved Muslims. I suspect it would be taken as well as saying to Israelis, "You don't have to kill Palestinian babies by bulldozing their houses..." or to Southern men, "You don't have to have sex with those animals..." Or to Italians, "You don't have to become part of a Mafia where you go kill old ladies." There should be pastors bravely making sermons about the very real cases of animal abuse and indiscriminate use of force by security operations. But you don't address people by a large class that doesn't comprise the set of those doing the bad things. To do so is immature, silly, counterproductive to evangelism of real people. I remember Bush, Blair, and Buckley, Jr., all making the case after 9/11 that the terrorists were heretics of Islam.

Franklin's statements are probably however red meat to certain kinds of Christians as far as supporting certain kinds of evangelism. I have also seen a lot of ugly things said by his supporters on the internet.

If you've made it this far, you might have noticed that I haven't yet criticized his idea that "Islam is evil." This is also the statement that the secular press and liberal-protestants within Christianity will take most offense at. And here I will support Reverend Graham. From the context of a Theology of the Cross in Christianity, any good deed that causes you to place an iota of hope for rightness with God is a mortal sin. Indeed, Martin Luther wrote in his Heidelberg Disputation:
  • The works of the righteous would be mortal sins if they would not be feared as mortal sins by the righteous themselves out of pious fear of God.
  • By so much more are the works of man mortal sins when they are done without fear and in unadulterated, evil self-security.
  • To say that works without Christ are dead, but not mortal, appears to constitute a perilous surrender of the fear of God.
  • Indeed, it is very difficult to see how a work can be dead and at the same time not a harmful and mortal sin.
  • Arrogance cannot be avoided or true hope be present unless the judgment of condemnation is feared in every work.

Luther is here saying that good deeds can be mortal sins, if we put our hope in them. This is the sense that Islam is evil in the view of a theology of the cross. That it is a works-based religion where humans must strive to put themselves right with God apart from a righteousness based on Christ. If the confessions of Christianity are true, then telling people they can get right with God apart from Christ is nothing less than evil.

The problem with Franklin Graham's approach is that he's not saying this. Or it's not getting into the papers. Perhaps a theologian of the cross would, too, be dis-invited from the Pentagon.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Small gifts for the poor.

I found in my folder at church about 20 brown paper lunch bags (empty, new). I'm not entirely sure who gave them, but it's because I as a layman coordinate the list of volunteers to make lunches for the local homeless shelter. It's fascinating, that I really don't have a convenient way of using them, or getting them to the massive rotating list of persons preparing the meals. But someone thought enough about the poor to stick these lunch bags in my folder, perhaps in effect in Christ's name. I don't know exactly what to do with them, but I don't think I should trash them or stick them into my family's own pantry. It's just an interesting little burden and privilege to have these holy bags taking up space in the kitchen.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Vendor lock-in, the quick sell, and the rise of smart phones

Two or three years ago, I wanted to buy a GPS system. I was searching the database in of all of the models of GPS units produced by Garmin. At first I was astounded by the vast array of options available, then I eventually figured out a pattern in the table that Amazon made available. Every model that had a capability of subscribing to a Microsoft-based traffic information service cost about $100 more. I didn't figure I lived in a city big enough to have its own traffic data; I don't like Microsoft; I was happy to save $100. About a year later, Google announced a feature of the Droid phone OS which would provide turn-by-turn navigation. In response, Garmin's shares plummeted in October 2009, according to the Wall Street Journal. Google was giving away for free on a smart phone a feature that you could have easily paid $200 for as a standalone device, plus $100 or more for the right to pay additional subscription fees to Microsoft.

1) I bought a clock from Brookstone that was supposed to never need resetting because it was permanently set with the correct time. Guess what-- it needed resetting out of the box, it didn't have the correct time. I took it back.
2) I bought two wireless weather clocks from Brookstone. It broadcast the correct time and 5-day weather forecast for my city. It was an amazing device. Miraculously, both stopped working after about 4 months (even with replaced batteries). There wasn't any sign in the store informing me it was a limited time service.
Both of these items have features that are duplicated by the smartest of smartphones. Ads for Google's new Nexus One tout its ability to display the correct weather and time when left on its charger stand.
In my humble opinion, there's some cynicism behind both companies' decisions listed above. Not so much how can we serve the customer but how can we get their money. Both problems just want me to rely on an Ipod Touch as my only alarm clock. The problems make me want to get a Google Nexus One. I believe what is radical about these phones is not just the new technology but the empowerment of the consumer. Instead of purchasing a series of single-purpose, barely functioning, electronic devices, we'll just buy another $3.99 app for the multi-purpose device we're already carrying around. As it's probably more fair and green, I hope this model continues to be a business success.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Unedifying focus on the End Times

I've been thinking about the End Times. For some Christians, the study of the End Times is a source of great fascination. My worry is that paying too much attention to "the signs" may cause one to have exactly the opposite state of mind that ought to occur if it's "your time to go".

Christians are called to repent, and to witness to others. There are few tasks which should be higher on the list of the faith walk of a believer. One might even say that the closer one feels to their own time of death, the more urgently one tends to undertake these activities. I'm sure we've all heard Christians who, upon hearing they have but a few months to live, take time to set their affairs in order upstairs, and talking about faith with their loved ones. We should be witnessing & repenting all our lives-- Luther said, "the whole life of believers should be repentance."

Somewhere also on the list of essential activities for a Christian is probably speaking up for the oppressed and providing relief to the victims of disasters.

My fear is that a focus on the End Times may cause one to look for signs at the expense of repentance, witnessing, speaking up for oppressed and relieving want. If you look for the signs, what are you looking for them for? Is it a case of, "I would only do these essential things if I knew the Earth had a few months to live?" I should hope not. Is it a case of wanting to get a better seat on the bus to Heaven? I wonder what works specifically taken on in the End Times would provide oneself merits towards one's salvation or place in Heaven. I suspect there are none, given that salvation is a free gift.

Sam Harris, a New Atheist, once predicted that most Christians would rejoice upon first hearing news of a giant fireball appearing over New York City-- because to them it would be a sign of the impending End Times. Faithful believers should take Harris' comment as an insult to orthodox biblical faith, but I fear it's too likely to be true. An End-Times focus can put one in a state where disasters don't tear at the heart, but make one walk to the other side of the road. Does one see suffering people, even the suffering of bad people who instigated war, as just part of the play unfolding on the stage before you?

Finally, what does Old Testament prophecy mean for you? Take the book of Isaiah. I see it to be full of calls to repentance and beautiful allegorical predictions of the sufferings, death, resurrection, and mission of Jesus Christ. I say we should be reading these texts over and over, so that eventually the Spirit may overcome our stubborn hearts. Perhaps upon the tenth reading we may see yet something else we may repent of, something else we may caution our neighbor about. Repenting and witnessing, repenting and witnessing. That's one take on Isaiah. Another take is to gloss over all these details in the text about our sin and Christ's work, and instead see what's in it for you in the End Times. Memorizing all the signs so you can hop on that bus to Heaven.

If you were about to die, you'd probably focus on all the right things in the faith. If you focus on the signs of the End Times, I fear you'll neglect repentance, witnessing, helping the oppressed, binding up wounds.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Saturday, January 02, 2010