Monday, January 30, 2012

Timothy Brindle's Christ Triad

As a newcomer to the Lampmode records, high quality, Christcentric, lyrical theology rap scene I've recently been blessed with a wealth of recorded material from the last 6-8 years or so with which to occupy my music listening time. The two albums that have dominated my listening time have been Shai Linne's The Attributes of God and Timothy Brindle's Killing Sin. Both immediately struck me as monumental artistic achievements -- easily outclassing any of their anemic secular counterparts from the last decade -- as well as legitimate theological treatises with content so relentlessly focused and sound that it could stand alongside other well-regarded works in the Reformed theology tradition. There's much that could be said about both works, but in this post I want to focus on a triad of songs from the Killing Sin album: The Faithfulness of Christ, The Humility of Christ, and The Excellency of Christ.

Killing Sin is best described an album-length meditation or exposition on the process of sanctification that God performs in the lives of His followers. The focus on sin is intense and Timothy faithfully relates the extent to which God abhors sin, and even moreso in the lives of His followers. As Brindle says on the track The Sinfulness of Sin: "In a sense when a Christian sins / It's more sickenin' than the sins of wicked men  (why?) / 'Cause we've tasted His goodness as recipients of Grace / So every time we sin it's like we're spittin' in His face / If Christians are no longer trapped in its bondage / Why, like dogs, do we go back to our vomit?" Throughout the album Timothy attempts to artfully relate just how detestable sin is to God, while also outlining the ways that Christ's work on the cross and His Resurrection enables us to "put to death our crooked flesh" through the power of the Holy Spirit. None of this really does justice to the depth, breadth, and vibrancy with which the album addresses this topic, and, in any case, Timothy provides us with a kind of  thesis statement that does better than I can at summarizing the album's aim on The Intro.

It's within this context that these three songs are marshaled. The last two tracks -- Humility and Excellency -- are also the last two songs on the album, while Faithfulness comes a bit earlier in the album. The sequencing of the tracks was obviously done purposefully, and I think Timothy doesn't put Faithfulness at the end for two main reasons, though this is obviously speculation. First is that Christ's Faithfulness is mostly manifested in the way He stays by our side through our daily struggles. How He is trudging along besides us amidst the various difficulties and temptations of life, even when we fall and stumble. For this reason I believe the track is sequenced earlier in the progression of songs, placing Christ's Faithfulness within and among (though of course in no way separate from) our battles with sin, as reflected by the surrounding tracks which cover that topic. The second reason I think the sequencing makes a lot of sense is because the slot before Humility and Excellency is filled by the terrific Fix Our Eyes, which serves as a kind of turning point, a signpost to the climactic moments of the album.

Though Christ is strongly present throughout the entire album, the progression of the album is such that it works itself up and out of sin, into the radiant glory of Christ as depicted in the final three tracks where the focus on the person of Christ becomes utterly fixed, even though He was faithfully present all along.

On Humility, the best track of the album, Timothy turns his focus to the incomprehensibly amazing and loving act of God's condescension into finitude on our account. "If you seem confused with this / God passed through His own creature's uterus / I admit this is odd, but the Bible can persuade me / 'An omnipotent God crying as a baby?!'" The track is largely about the Incarnation, focusing on the Christmas narrative and God's decision to rescue humanity from our iniquity by becoming one of us and dying in our place: "What an awesome feat to drop so deep and cop His sheep / He didn't step down; He took a quantum leap / And I'm amazed how God, infinite in wealth / Put aside His fame, and limited himself / To time and space and eyes and legs / He died to save a violent race whose sins would bring em hell."

Lest the intensely, carefully crafted rhyme schemes be forgotten, I will bring attention to them here. As someone who has written rap lyrics -- very poorly I might add -- it's difficult to overemphasize just how well-crafted these rhymes are technically, or how incredibly they're delivered. With that artistic aside accomplished, let me get back to the content of Humility. I think I've said about all that I could about the track that it doesn't say better for itself, so I'll let Timothy's lyrics speak and just transcribe the last 20 bars of the song:

Slaughtered, bleedin', gushin', oozin' blood
The Father pleased to crush Him whom He loved
So He probably didn't even feel the crown and nails
He had to suffer more than that to bring down the veil
Our eyes are haughty and our lies are naughty
The Holy Christ bore our sins inside His body
Yeah His veins they burst, but no one's pain was worse
Cause the one who made the Earth became a curse
And He was one with the Father's essence
But on the cross, the God of heavens cut off His presence
So I can't share any language
That can rightly describe the Christ's despair and His anguish
So forever will I tell
In three hours Christ suffered more than any sinner ever will in hell
He who had infinite joy and pleasure
Became a man of sorrows so we could join forever
He took a cosmic plunge, put on some lungs
On the cross, became to God a sponge
To soak up His wrath
So the wicked wouldn't be sifted and blown into chaff

Um. Wow. It's really difficult for me to listen to this song without beginning to weep, mostly out of gratitude.

Finally we turn to Excellency. While Humility mostly focused on the Incarnation, it culminates with the crucifixion (as you can see from the above lyrics), and, as you might imagine, Excellency focuses on the Glory of the Risen Savior (accompanied by an appropriately triumphal sonic arrangement): "You're the Lion- yet the Lamb / You're divine yet you're a man / You're Messiah and 'I AM'/ You're triumphant in your plan / Resurrected in all power and might / Exalted in all glory and honor- the Father showered the Christ / Full time worshipers- forever we're employed / Christ came to give us the full measure of His joy."

And if you let the album repeat at this point we are brought full circle to the daily battles of believers with sin, which Christ's Resurrection empowers us to overcome. It's sometimes easy to forget that Christ died not only to save us from the penalty of death, but that He rose to give us His life, Eternal life which can begin living now if we die to our old sinful selves. But the real takeaway from the album is that dying to our sins and putting them to death isn't something we do once and are done with, but it is a continuous process in this life which can only be accomplished by fixing our eyes on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If you liked something about this blog, I assure you that anything I've been able to convey is only a faint whisper of what this album has to say. Check it out for free on Spotify or purchase it at Lampmode's online store.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Peter Boghossian, Faith and True Belief

There is something irresistibly beguiling about the spectacle of an educated person making what they believe to be grand pronouncements, that they seem to think ought to shake the core of some people's very being, when in fact they are saying very close to nothing at all. I was recently introduced to Peter Boghossian, professor of philosophy at Portland State University, via Sam Harris' posting a link to an interview with him in which he speaks about how faith claims have no place in a public, secular classroom. Something he seemed to think was a very controversial position, at least when presented to believers. Of course, in reality, such a claim is not enough to even arouse mild dissent from religious persons in America, the great majority of which have no interest in 'faith claims' being taught, or utilized in public classroom settings. Perhaps he's worried about the desire of some religious people to have Intelligent Design taught in science classrooms, but even if you're worried about such a thing, you aren't worried about 'faith' being taught in science class, you're worried about what you deem to be bad science being taught in science class. So even here, 'faith in the classroom' is a non-issue for any party involved; virtually no one anywhere desires such a thing.

But maybe this straw-man, this preposterous fear of believers desiring 'faith in the classroom' was a one-off thing, and I should be charitable and cut Professor Boghossian some slack. At that point in time, I did, but Philosophy News recently posted an article that reviews a recent lecture of his titled Jesus, the Easter Bunny, and Other Delusions: Just Say No!, where he essentially reiterates the argument from the earlier interview, only with the slight twist that faith claims not only aren't appropriate in a public classroom, but that they are actually delusional. "Alright", I said to myself "that's quite enough with the charitableness."

Not to put too fine a point on it, but from the interview and the summary of the lecture, it isn't at all clear that  Professor Boghossian has any understanding at all of how faith functions for a believer i.e. do even believers themselves hold that "Faith" is the best way to investigate immanent material reality and draw the most reliable conclusions about it? No, so the fact that it isn't fails to disabuse a person of faith from anything whatsoever.

The articles of faith most believers hold are almost all about transcendent reality which is not directly accessible to empirical investigation, or are about empirical events (say, the resurrection), which are mostly only subject to historical investigation, and so the fecundity of empirical, scientific investigation of material reality tells us nothing about whether Faith-as-such is successful at apprehending these realities it actually purports to apprehend, or whether non-Faith -- which is Faith's actual competitor here, not science -- is preferable.

Boghossian's example of transubstantiation -- conceived of as the physical elements transforming physically into flesh and blood, which is a somewhat dubious interpretation -- is uninteresting because it merely demonstrates an article of faith that is subject to empirical, scientific investigation and which we can dismiss as bad faith, or an example of faith in something that isn't true. The history of science is just as chock full of ideas about reality which have proven to be false. If someone persists in holding them, in the face of facts to the contrary, by all means call out that person as ignorant or obstinate, whether it's a scientific belief that is called into question or a matter of faith. None of this has any bearing on the question of whether faith-as-such is reliable, though, anymore than the existence of bad scientific theses throughout history is evidence that science is unreliable.

In addition to all of this, most systems of 'faith' are not completely insulated from the influence of facts or reason; indeed, many systems -- certainly most Christian systems -- are responsive to these things, where applicable, in much the same way that science is.

The more intractable problem for Boghossian's position is that people of faith don't have faith in faith-as-process, they have faith in a particular God, particular tenets, particular traditions, particular institutions etc. And Boghossian's particular critique proceeds as if believers do have faith in faith-as-a-process-for-producing-true-beliefs, which believers do not. Believers in the Christian God, for example, will readily admit that many religions, and non-religious systems of belief, invoke faith at various points (secular systems might not call it 'faith', but at some point they must appeal to some unverifiable 'first principles', which is substantially no different). Christians would merely contend that this is always a misguided -- or at least, in the case of philosophical first principles, incomplete -- faith that will not produce true beliefs. Hence it isn't faith itself that believers elevate, worship, obey, but rather the object of their faith which they believe is the source of their true beliefs, simultaneously remaining completely aware that faith-as-process is very often unreliable and un-illuminating. What is important -- from the believer's perspective -- is having a faith properly oriented, and there is no dispassionate, objective standard by which we can say that a faith properly oriented does not produce true belief, because we have no dispassionate, objective, empirical criteria for demonstrating the truth or falsity of (mostly) claims about transcendent reality.

So, as a believer, I can readily concede that faith-in-faith-as-the-process-most-well-suited-to-reliably-determining-truths-about-immanent-material-reality is misguided, and still hold that Faith in the Christian God of the Bible (a person, not a process) is perfectly warranted and uniquely accurate at apprehending the true nature of reality (that is, the most crucial, spiritual, transcendent level of reality, not scientific facts about immanent reality).

In the same way, a believer can completely affirm various critiques of "religion" in general and still advocate for a particular religion, without contradiction. Thus said critiques of "religion" in general are very often vacuously true, in a way that could never bother actually religious people, who don't subscribe to "religion" but rather subscribe to a particular religion. In the same way, this critique of "faith" could never trouble a person of faith, even if they were to concede that the critique was entirely valid.

If it were just a simple category error of this sort which undermines his entire point, and it wasn't accompanied by such condescending, self-righteous bombast, or if it were a one-time thing, I probably wouldn't even bother addressing it. But this combination is particularly worthy of derision and sharp correction.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

God's Love

'Love' is widely misapprehended because of a cultural tendency to associate it with saccharine sentimentality. Christians understand that God is love in the sense of 'agape' (or a combination of 'eros' and 'agape', depending on who you ask), but if the cultural understanding of love is something else entirely -- which ours is -- then it's important to clarify what it is we mean when we say things like "God is Love." If people think we are saying that God is what our culture understands love to be, they will think that we're saying something very far from what we actually mean.

The cultural understanding of love wouldn't include any space for things like "judgment". And within the social sphere, between and among fallen human beings, this makes sense to some extent. But from the perspective of a perfect Creator God who is far above His creatures in every way, space for righteous judgment as an aspect of love opens up fully, and is in fact logically necessary.
The lyricism in the following track by Evangel expresses what God's Love is while being careful to contrast it to our culture's understanding of love. 

God is Love, we don't need proof of it / We see the truth of it in the crucifix / But He's not just the God who's got Love for the lost / But the God who said this world was judged through the cross / Believe it / God was Love, even when He sent His Angel of Death to kill the firstborn of Egypt / Not Casanova / But Love that needs the Lamb's blood for passin' over / The Wrath of Jehovah / With all that in mind / Know God is Love which suffers long and is kind / 'Til we fall into line / While His anger is buildin' / Patiently awaitin' His children / To become the world's strangers and pilgrims

Of course, some people make the opposite mistake and overemphasize His judgment at the expense of His patience, kindness, etc. The first verse of this song ensures it won't make that mistake, giving numerous examples of God's incomprehensible grace. But in our culture, I would argue that the concept of judgment and wrath being facets of perfect Love is almost completely foreign, and so is the much more common misunderstanding in need of correction. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Absurd Anti-SOPA Hysteria Goes Viral

Though I'm closer to pro-SOPA than anti-SOPA , I understand some of the arguments against it. I don't think they're very persuasive, but I understand them. And if they were presented in a manner commensurate with the moderate-to-negligible "threat" the bill presents, I probably would remain silently indifferent to the matter. But given the completely unwarranted, apocalyptic hysteria that has erupted in response, I have to call out some of the more blatant fallacies of the anti-SOPA, PIPA movement

1) Don't say "you're not in favor of piracy, just against this specific bill, SOPA", and then list 10 arguments that would apply to any measure taken against piracy. If your argument is against the specifics of the bill, then you can't employ arguments that are anti-piracy-regulation as such.

2) An example of the above: "The bill won't even stop piracy!" This is true of any action taken against piracy. It's true of any law that combats any kind of crime, cyber or otherwise. Hence, this fact is not an argument, it's irrelevant. The aim of the bill isn't to "stop" piracy, but to fight it and reduce it, which this bill absolutely will do. As Richard Cotton pointed out on Up With Chris Hayes, the same measures in The Netherlands have cut traffic to Piratebay by 80%. Hence, the measures do work at decreasing (not stopping) piracy. That doesn't mean the bill wouldn't ever need updated, or that other legislation wouldn't be needed as pirates adapt, but none of these facts are an argument against passing the bill. But if you made that argument that is evidence that you're not in favor of any kind of legislation or actions taken to curb it.

3) Is a policeman/judge who arrests/fines/jails a street-corner bootlegger for illegally distributing copyrighted material engaging in "censorship"? Yes or no. If your answer is no, then please stop talking about how the bill is censorship. If your answer is yes, then no one needs to listen to you because you don't know what censorship is.

4) RE: "breaking the internet", the fact that the bill will have repercussions extending beyond pirates themselves to web-relationships with pirates is obvious and an huge incentive for people to stop pirating and/or associating with businesses that do. This can have (at least short-term) negative effects for "the internet", yes, but so what? Therefore the law is unjust? Unconstitutional? Of course not. "Things changing on the internet" (even if it's for the worse) is neither a legal argument or a coherent argument why something should not become law when people's rights (specifically, intellectual property rights) are at stake.

5) The degree to which innovations on the part of media providers decrease piracy by making content easier, faster and cheaper to access is completely irrelevant to the question of SOPA and whether it is sound legislation. It's true that if Best Buy drops the prices of their DVDs, they could run competing corner-store bootleggers out of business without assistance from the law, but they should not have to compete with an illegal competitor in the first place. I have no problem with the fact that the existence of pirates can spur innovation. Fantastic. That is true and anti-piracy legislation like SOPA (though not necessarily SOPA) should be passed. Both are true and the two issues are not mutually exclusive. If piracy is a massive problem  because content providers either have no way to "compete" with piracy, or just aren't doing a good job of it? Then it should be legislated against. If it's a relatively small problem because providers have innovated and reduced it significantly? Then it still should be legislated against. The issue has no relevance.

6) People passing a bill who "know nothing about the internet" is irrelevant if the bill itself is any good. If the bill is good (and it is) and they pass it while knowing nothing about the internet then.. good. If the bill is bad and they don't pass it while knowing nothing about the internet, then you're happy. Hence, the problem is not who is voting on it or what they do and don't know but whether or not the bill itself is any good. If the quality of the bill is your issue, then never say anything about what Congress does or does not know because it is irrelevant. Just speak about the bill and what's wrong with it.

Overall my biggest problem with the anti-SOPA movement is the disingenuous incoherence and the emotional reactionary character of it. A friend of mind is a neo-Marxist type who doesn't believe in intellectual property at all. He is logical and consistent, given his presuppositions and worldview, even though I think he's wrong. By contrast team anti-SOPA throws any bumper-sticker slogan it thinks can catch common people's attention and draw support to their cause, no matter how inane and worthless the content of the arguments are.

So if you're going to oppose SOPA, be able to argue agaisnt it. I've read dozens of articles, mostly from the tech sector, but also some from libertarian think tanks, and almost all of them are propelled by scare tactic rhetoric, hollow sloganeering ("like China!", "censorship!", "better distribution is the answer"), all of which are either internally nonsensical or completely avoid the actual heart of the matter: the rights of those in the U.S. not to have to compete with illegal content thieves. Rights which the government has a duty to protect via legislation.

As for the legitimate downsides of the bill -- and there are some -- they aren't even really worth delving into because the bill itself isn't my issue. My issue is with the tinfoil-hat hysterics of those who are in opposition to the bill. Once team anti-SOPA drops those, then we can discuss rationally the narrow issue of the bill's specifics.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Christian Response to the "Hating Religion" Video

From my previous post you should be able to infer that I found the viral popularity of the "Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus" video to be discouraging and disheartening. It's one thing for one guy out there to write that poem, and make that video. That event in itself wouldn't bother me so much, because I could just write that person's thinking off as anomalous and not representative of any large swath of Christians. But when my first exposure to the video came via an explosion of praise and enthusiasm from Christians, that makes it more troublesome in two ways: 1) It means that many Christians already had similar thoughts and 2) The fact that it is being spread primarily as a positive thing may influence other Christians to adopt a similar attitude.

Of the four times it appeared on my facebook on the first day, each post only had positive feedback on it. It's possible that those who felt like I did about it just kept their dissent to themselves, perhaps not wanting to offend anyone. But, in any case, there are many, many Christians out there who either agree with the sentiments expressed in the video, or at least don't find them harmful.

To my relief, in the day or two following the appearance of the video, there has also been a substantial number of critical responses to the video from the Christian blogosphere. Many of which echo the criticisms from my post, others that took the video to task for different, but extremely important reasons, and still others that fall somewhere in the middle.

This one by my friend Ron focuses on the misunderstanding of the significance Christ's work displayed in the video, reducing that work to solely "dying for our sins", while failing to emphasize the utterly crucial regenerative aspect of Christ's resurrection. Resurrection which enables Christ's followers to change, not merely to be forgiven.

This post, by a friend of a friend, largely echoes my points regarding conflating one certain mode of religion for religion itself.

This post by my friend Scott wasn't written as a response to the video, but it was something he wrote previously that he thought was applicable in light of the video. It's about how -- despite the sometimes understandable desire to want to do so -- we can't separate Christ from His church, and say we love Him but not it. And if the Church of Christ is not "religion" then there's no such thing as "religion".

This post does an excellent job of highlighting the fact that using religion to erect a false facade to cover our brokenness is not the fault of "religion", but the fault of those of us who sinfully misuse "religion".

Finally, this post does a phenomenal point-by-point breakdown of the inaccuracies and fallacies of the video in a way that I wanted to do, but felt it would require too much effort. Even my post focusing on essentially one aspect of the video was fairly long. So, thank you for picking up my slack, sir.

I'm sure there are many other similar backlash responses out there, and thank God for that. I thought I'd just share a few of them that I found encouraging. While the "spiritual-Christ-follower-but-not-religious" attitude is still seemingly epidemic, it's good to know I'm not alone in opposing it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Why I Love Jesus AND The Religion He Established

If you are a Christian and use the Internet you may have seen this video titled "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus":

It has recently gone viral on the Christian-social-media scene, if my facebook is any indication (4 Christians posted or re-posted it today, which is a big number for one day). Since I'm going to expend a rather large amount of time critiquing aspects of it, I felt I should -- in the name of fairness -- list some of the things I did like about it first:

- The affirmation of love for Jesus. This is always a good thing to see and hear, and he mentions multiple  reasons Christ is worthy of praise and Glory. Amen to all of that.
- His honesty about his own struggles being a "Sunday-only" Christian and such.
- His rightful disdain of certain hypocrisies of certain typically religious types of people, such as the erection of a religious facade to mask their brokenness and sin.

The main downfall of the video is its critique of "religion" and the false antagonism it introduces between Jesus and "religion", and this will take some significant unpacking.

Critique of religion is not the exclusive domain of the un-religious. Or at least not of unbelievers. The amount of people who use the phrase "spiritual-but-not-religious" (alternatively, "Christ-follower-but-not-religious") to describe their belief system is staggering. If "spiritual-but-not-religious" was itself an option for checking on religious affiliation surveys, I imagine it would be in strong competition for being one of the top 2 or 3 religions in America, at least.

Whence such disdain for (Christian) "religion"? In largely Protestant America, it can partially be traced back to the Reformation. After all, the Reformation was a rebellion against the established, legalistic, Christian order of the time that resulted in a more individualized, more "free", more enigmatic form of religion. Ultimately this was a movement away from those things we tend to most closely associate with "religion": authority, tradition, ritual, legalism etc. And, in America and within Protestantism, the majority regard this movement to be a desirable result.

Another reason for the hostility toward religion is the historical failings of "religion", or really -- more precisely -- the failings of religious people and institutions. Of which there are plenty. Some of these are common human failings that seem to be magnified in religious people; self-righteousness, pride, "intolerance". Whether this perception of religious people -- or of the Church -- is in fact accurate is debatable, but it's easy enough to admit that many religious people (Christians included) do many wicked things, and certain tendencies are more closely associated with religiosity than others.

But the two biggest reasons for the hostility toward Christian religion specifically are A) sin -- the sinful rejection of Christ and His bride -- and B) the fact that "religion" is so nebulous, multifarious, and imprecise as to make it a perfect scapegoat. It literally has no one to defend it. A Christian has no interest in defending "religion", he will defend Christ or Christianity. A Muslim has no stake in defending "religion", he only wants to defend Islam. And so on.

As for "A)", that problem doesn't appear to be the best explanation for this video. He verifies that he loves "the Church and the Bible." However, in most instances of the "spiritual-not-religious" or "Christ-follower-not-religious" voicing their opposition to religion, it is often motivated by a desire to affirm certain sinful (or at least inaccurate) critiques of (Christian) religion, while attempting to avoid throwing Christ out with the religion. The problem is that you can't separate Christ from his Church as the Church is Christ's Body, indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit. His representative on Earth. The move for the "spiritual-not-religious" person at this juncture is to claim that Christ's church is not about "religion", which he (the "spiritual-not-religious" person) implicitly narrowly defines as a certain form of self-righteous, legalistic, Pharisee-ism. The problem is that "religion" is a much more broad, protean phenomenon than that and you can't disassociate yourself from it by redefining it, simply because the word has some nefarious associations for you.

With regard to "B)", this fellow in the video isn't alone in this scapegoating effort. The most visible perpetrators of this scapegoating currently are the New Atheists, a group of scientists and authors who have made penning haughty diatribes against 'religion' their main source of income. One overarching difficulty for their arguments -- and for this video -- is that they fail to distinguish religion as such from religion as practiced by most, or the particular case from the general case. Either that, or they have trouble distinguishing between correlation and causation. While the subject is too large to tackle in this post, David Bentley Hart does a marvelous job of that here and here. Or, as Hart says elsewhere, most of the criticisms lodged against religion are "simple category mistakes or the kind of historical oversimplifications that are either demonstrably false or irrelevantly true."

This is evident in the video when when the poet asks "If religion is so great, why has it started so many wars?", making multiple mistakes at once. The actual number of wars started by "religion" or in the name of "religion" is zero. And this is not (solely) a flippancy; if you're going to make an argument you have to make these critical distinctions between "religion" and "things religious people have done in the name of their religion", for instance. They are not equivalent.

If we're to be charitable and assume he meant something like "many wars have been started by adherents of particular religions for religious reasons", then it becomes a bit of a historical caricature that is true only in a limited sense. Many of the wars traditionally attributed to religious causation were not "religious" wars. The European wars of the 1800s that are commonly referred to as the "wars of religion", for instance, were not religious wars at all but wars waged by the modern secular state. Many other wars throughout history had various political, cultural, and religious tensions which resulted in the eruption of violence, but which were not fundamentally "religious" wars, but sometimes get mislabeled as such (usually because there were religious men fighting in them).

Further, if we narrow it to Christian religion specifically -- since that's the crux of the disagreement as the video claims all religion as such is bad, while I claim all religion is false except Christianity -- then the caricature is even more historically inaccurate. Still, I would happily grant that there have been wars started by religious people for religious reasons throughout history. But this only gets us to the aforementioned "irrelevantly true". What does this tell us about "religion"? It tells us that humans are often wicked, sure, but if the world were purged of religion, would we have more or less war? Does the existence of political wars condemn politics as an illegitimate enterprise? The point of these rhetorical questions is to point out that the existence of religious wars tells us absolutely nothing about the validity or goodness of particular religions, or even religion as such.

The video also claims that "Jesus came to abolish religion." If we consult any dictionary on the matter, we can plainly see that this is factually incorrect. We must assume that by "religion" he means the narrow form of legalistic religion -- along with the sinful, sanctimonious attitudes it engendered -- of the Pharisees. Jesus was indeed opposed to this aspect of religion, and in the light of what He did and who He was, religion was transformed forever. But this is not the same as abolishing religion. Jesus was not a-religious, or anti-religious, He was perfectly religious. In every deed and every thought He never broke the Law of God's covenant with Israel, living the life of a sinless Jew. If Jesus was perfectly religious, and He is to be the example that we follow, how do we conclude that we should be a-religious or anti-religious? How is it even possible to be followers of Christ without being a "body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices"?

The man in the video goes on to point out the fact that religion is man-made, as if this were some strike against it. Art is man-made. Architecture is man-made. Science is man-made. Philosophy is man-made. Christ's work redeems all things -- except sin and death, which He defeats at the cross -- and religion is no exception. It's a logical fallacy to say that since Jesus opposed the religious order of his time, opposed hypocrisy and self-righteousness, or that since he atoned for sin, that therefore he was opposed religion as such. As with everything else, Christ redeems fallen religion and brings it under His righteous rule. He did not come to abolish it, contrary to what the video claims. And He told you as much: "I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." - Matt. 5:18.  He came to fulfill the Law and make the one true religion, the Kingdom of God, accessible to all people (rather than the one true religion being exclusive to God's chosen people, the Jews).

In addition to all this, when you look at the religion of Christ's followers on Earth, and the record of Christian religion -- all of it, pros and cons -- there is absolutely no cause for shame whatsoever, or any indication that Jesus will reject adherents of this religion in the way that he rebuked the Pharisees. Nay, He actually assured the followers of this religion that He would be with them visa vis the Holy Spirit, until his return (John 14). That doesn't mean Jesus co-signs every action of the Church, which is still made up of fallen men, but it does mean that this is the religion He established and that He has no intention of rejecting it.

This -- his hating religion while loving Jesus, his claiming Jesus and religion are on the opposite ends of some spectrum -- is my primary beef with the video. I have others -- Churches do feed the poor, for instance -- but it kind of feels like excessive piling on at this point, so I'll leave it at that.


UPDATE: It looks as if a friend of mine, Ron, did some of my expounding on other issues for me. He even touched on things I hadn't considered. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Google+ Is Great, But...

As much as I love Google+ as a social networking platform, there is a naive optimism among other Google+ enthusiasts about its virtues and its inevitable rise to pre-eminence.

Some of its most vocal proponents, such as Mike Elgan, tend to obfuscate the obvious things keeping it from really exploding. First and foremost is the still quite low active user base. Even though the user number is growing rapidly, the activity rate for the average user is not. There are probably hundreds of thousands of accounts that are either stone dead, or that see very minimal activity.

Proponents have tried to convince me that that is not really a problem because Google+ makes it easier to connect with new people -- rather than people you know in real life for example -- and people of common interests. I've found this to only be true to a limited extent. If one of your main interests happens to be technology, or Google itself, then this is definitely true. If one of your main interests is photography, I've also found this to be true. For whatever reason -- some of them obvious -- Google+ seems to be a fertile environment for online communities of photographers and tech bloggers. The other main interest that Google+ caters to well is interaction with people itself. If you're interested in engaging and interacting with large numbers of people with diverse interests, on widely varying topics, then Google+ can definitely cater to that. And it even provides a pretty unique tool for doing this with hangouts. 

However, if your interests are hip-hop music, Christianity, or literature (for example) you may have trouble finding many interesting communities or people to connect with that are consistently active on these subjects. And it's not as though I haven't tried to find them. I regularly search posts on these and other topics and very rarely find an active poster worth following. Though it's very easy to find "tech bloggers" or "engagers" -- someone I follow just shared a circle of 500 of them. They are everywhere. The problem is, I don't care about tech blogging or shallow 'engaging' with random people on diverse subjects, many of which I have no interest in. Neither do hundreds of thousands of other potential active Google+ers. We want people who share common interests and are active in discussing them in some depth, and these don't yet exist on Google+, for many interests. 

And even when you find an interest that you share with a fairly large number of people, like politics, it's a  very vague and general connection with other people. Rather than a more specific kind of connection i.e. not just politics, but Burkean conservative politics, for example.

Part of the reason Google+ hasn't fully taken off is because a lot of people who try it don't want to put the effort into essentially 'building' and contributing to a new social network, and some others don't really 'get' Google+ and think Facebook meets their needs well enough. Still others, even if they 'get' and enjoy Google+, want to be able to share and interact with their friends, most of whom are still on Facebook and won't be wrested from its clutches. And so, rather than complicate their life, inertia makes them stick with what they know. And it doesn't help that there are no real easy tools for integrating Facebook and Twitter with Google+ (like there are for integrating your Facebook and Twitter together). This makes it an either-or choice for a lot of people rather than a both-and one.

If Google+ is going to ever rival Facebook as an alternative, it has to figure out how to turn the explosive number of users into active communities of posters on a variety of topics. It also needs to find a way to make the transition smoother for people, by catering better to their already existing social networks. Otherwise it will only fill a fairly narrow social-media niche. I agree that Google+ is different in nature from Facebook and Twitter in its fundamental makeup, but it doesn't yet have the content -- in terms of active users supplying it -- to truly be competitive.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Occupy Jerusalem - 'Who Was Jesus' TV Special

There is a series on the Planet Green channel called Who Was Jesus? It's one of those pop-level looks at "the historical Jesus", which attempt to divine truths about Jesus as a person apart from religious doctrine and dogma. Given that the series appears on the Planet Green channel, I was fully prepared to be offended in some way, and while I only saw one episode of the series, two things were irksome about it. Well, more than two, but two that I felt like addressing in this post.

First was that the language used by the narrator to describe the economic and social conditions of the time were rooted in a particular disingenuous, modern, leftist rhetoric. Not that what they said was wrong per se, but the fact that they chose to say certain things repetitively -- while not saying many other things that could be said about first century Jewish and Roman culture -- revealed the presence of a particular ideology. Specifically, they referred to the "discrepancy of wealth" and "the suffering masses while a few prospered" over and over again. I will reiterate; it wasn't merely that they said these types of things, but that they made similar statements over and over again. The special could easily have been titled Occupy Jerusalem.

The second was some blatant racism by one historian. When talking about Mary when she goes with Jesus to Jerusalem, and Jesus goes to the temple, she says that "Just like a Jewish mother, Mary was worried to death when she couldn't find Jesus." I'm not hypersensitive when it comes to stereotypes, especially true ones, but this is one of those stereotypes that probably has little basis in reality. I'm aware of no evidence that suggests the average Jewish mother is appreciably more concerned about their children than non-Jewish mothers. The historian even reiterates the statement later, in addition to another trait of the Jewish mother that Mary displays after she finds Jesus, which the historian said was, I believe, relief. She was laughing as she relayed this observation of hers.

Again, I'm the last person to be overly politically correct and I certainly wasn't offended, but if they were exploring African history and she declared about some historical figure "he was, just like an African father, a deadbeat dad", I don't expect Planet Green would so readily include that programming on their channel. Even though, in this case, the attributes -- large amounts of worry and relief -- are either neutral or positive things, it's still quite surprising that they blithely include such dubious racial stereotypes.