A Secular Defense of REAL Faith

 

Beware – I would say to believers – the patronage of unbelievers

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This author rails against the notion that because faith has social benefits, believers shouldn’t worry about the truth of what they believe. While I disagree on many points, I appreciate his candor. He warns us against unbelievers speaking glibly about the social benefits of religion without addressing the truth of the claims. And even though this may feel good, believers should beware of it as well. Useful lies are still lies. And truth is truth even if it doesn’t appear victorious in the moment.

“One of the reasons we can be pretty sure Jesus actually existed is that if He had not, the Church would never have invented Him. He stands so passionately, resolutely and inconveniently against everything an established church stands for. Continuity? Tradition? Christ had nothing to do with stability. He came to break up families, to smash routines, to cast aside the human superstructures, to teach abandonment of earthly concerns and a throwing of ourselves upon God’s mercy.”

And again

“As I get older the sharpness of my faculties begins to dull. But what I will not do is sink into a mellow blur of acceptance of the things I railed against in my youth. ‘Familiar’ be damned. ‘Comforting’ be damned. ‘Useful’ be damned. Is it true? — that is the question. It was the question when I was 12 and the question when I was 22. Forty years later it is still the question. It is the only question.”

 

Source: Beware – I would say to believers – the patronage of unbelievers | The Spectator

You Should Worry About Scientists-Frauds, Hoaxes, Nonsense, and Bias in Scientific Papers

This essay takes a few words to discuss the problem of false reports in peer-reviewed academic journals. Evidently, there are a number of problems with publishing scientific “facts” these days. There is the garden variety error. Then there is the fraud. After this is the Hoax, in which clever pranksters make fools of the system.  Evidently there are more than a few PhDs that are eager to confirm their bias about the emperor’s clothes. Last is the nonsense paper. Keep reading.

Remember, science is NOT what scientists say. And because of this you should always be skeptical. And we are learning that we have to be skeptical even when groups of scientists insist on things. And sadly, the scientific community has no one to blame for themselves for this mess. Thankfully there are some whistle-blowers in the ranks.

This article is entertaining and frightening at the same time. Someone actually published an article on the feminizing of melting glaciers…

The authors mention how the progressive-left bias of scientific community, especially social scientists, makes them easy prey for claims that fit their pre-conceived view of the world. Of course that danger doesn’t only affect the left, it just so happens that they have a majority, and they are the ones insisting that their beliefs are facts.

Note well how he ends the article:

“Social science is especially hard-hit these days; one psychologist described it as “riddled with flaky research and questionable theories.” There is a surprisingly broad consensus about the cause—that is, everyone from Michael Shermer to Uncommon Descent agrees on it—namely, that the field’s overwhelmingly progressive-left bias makes it an easy mark for both hoaxes and frauds.

“It also makes it an easy target for a third category of problem paper that is neither a hoax nor a fraud exactly: the nonsense paper that may well be believed by its authors. Examples of these include the widely cited “positivity ratio” in psychology, which was assessed as “entirely unfounded” in 2013, and the recent, apparently serious attempt to “feminize” melting glaciers.

“This sort of thing should come as no surprise. Monochromatic bias exposes a community to greater risk because few of its members even notice a hoax, fraud, or nonsense thesis that passes their bias filter. Usually, the person to whom it doesn’t sound right has different commitments and life experiences, and he or she is the one motivated to investigate.

“Ironically, many defenders of the status quo in recent years have claimed to be “scared to death of the anti-science lobby.” Their worries are misplaced. It’s actually science that is coming to get them. Soon.” (emphasis added)

Source: The Hoax on Us by Denyse O’Leary

Music as Cultural Warfare: How the Nazi’s Co-opted the Orchestra to Serve Their Political Ends.

Art always bows to some greater ideology. There is no such thing as neutral art. It always conveys a message. Most often it is a servant of the strongest principles within a culture. This brief article reviews research to show how the Nazi propaganda machine slowly took over the Berlin orchestra to reinforce ideas of German National Socialism.  The author is clear that the foundations for this were laid many years before. Yet hearing about the actual events is both fascinating and chilling.

This process started with understanding the power of music as a cultural force. Then Goebbels “annexed” the  Berlin orchestra in the same way that Germany annexed land during the war.  But it started when members of the orchestra were willing to sell their autonomy and their souls for more money and other cultural benefits. After that, they were owned by the Nazis.

This kind of research is delightful stuff for history nerds like me. And the great question of history is always, “what does this mean for us today?” I think at present most people are associating fascism with Trump in the US. But to be honest, when I read this, I thought much more about the music and entertainment business in America as supporting the Left. In our country, one of the great weaknesses of the conservative movement has been second rate art. But within Hollywood there is a group-think that preaches leftist (rather than liberal) ideas.  Think I am exaggerating? Just listen to the speeches at the Oscar’s.  Add to this the recent censorship that is happening on University Campuses in the name of having “safe spaces” in the name of avoiding hate speech, and you can see that the Left has a much tighter grip on these cultural expressions.

In any case we need to be aware that culture-makers are trying to recruit us (and at times enslave us) for their view of the world. This is an inescapable reality for good or bad. Dictators who want to hijack culture will always move toward this source of power and it is in the best interest of free people to be aware of the greater agenda. I think the ideal situation is a culture of arts that is both free and reinforces important virtues.

Some tidbits from the article:

 

“The alchemy of the transformation began with a gradual relinquishment of autonomy, especially stark in Berlin. The Berlin Philharmonic, nationalized into a state-owned company in January 1934 under Joseph Goebbels’ Ministry of Propaganda, began to perform in the old Philharmonie on Bernburger Straße under an immense swastika. It was now expected to render service to “the German cause.” (Even Goebbels did not speak of “Nazi music” but of “German music.”) Goebbels, who began to call it “my orchestra,” increased its subsidies and its musicians’ salaries and personally signed letters of exemption from military service for its members. Goebbels also lavishly funded a movie about the orchestra (released in late 1944), which Trümpi calls “the most expensive advertising campaign ever undertaken on behalf of the Berlin Philharmonic.”

And again,

“After the Anschluss (annexation) of Austria in March 1938, things were even worse in Vienna, which liked to think of itself as the “music city” par excellence. Trümpi, the first historian granted full access to the Vienna Philharmonic archives, reports that a blacklist compiled in 1938 named 11 Jewish orchestra members, and ten more who were married to Jewish women. After the Anschluss, an annexation as much cultural as territorial, all were either forced into retirement or dismissed. Seven of them would be murdered in the Holocaust. Close to half of the philharmonic’s remaining musicians joined the Nazi Party.”

Source: The Baton and the Jackboot

Why Don’t Prochoice Authors Argue For Infanticide?

Here are shocking bits from an article in The Atlantic:

“What are the shades of moral difference between terminating a fetus that could not survive outside the womb vs. one that can, even if, as in this case, it would suffer from significant disabilities? What’s the difference between those decisions and the decision to kill such a child after it has been born, or let it die? That last question, about infanticide, is particularly charged, not least because of the common-sense “disgust” factor. As Jeff McMahan, a former Rutgers professor who’s now at Oxford, wrote in 2007:

‘Although philosophers have conducted a wide-ranging debate about the morality of abortion for more than thirty years, generating in the process an extensive literature on the topic, they have, with very few exceptions, shrunk from extending the debate to include a discussion of infanticide. I know from discussions with prominent writers on ethics that some have been deterred from writing on the subject by fear of possible consequences for their reputations, careers and even physical security … My own experience is much more limited, but tends to confirm that discussing infanticide is not the best way to win friends or secure admiring book reviews.'”

What does this mean? It means that the logic of abortion should lead pro-choice people to accept and advocate infanticide. But hardly any will take that step.  Why? Not from some high moral principal, but because to do so would be bad for one’s work and social life. I suppose this is one time to be thankful for cowardice.

Source: Personal Stories of Abortion Made Public – The Atlantic

The Barbed Gift of Leisure – The Chronicle of Higher Education

 

Here is a thoughtful essay on the fact that the leisure we all desire is actually fraught with significant dangers and temptations. Mark Kingwell (the author) is obviously a scholar and his writing cuts across the standard short-attention-span variety of prose that flows in the gutters of the internet (translation: this is not an easy read).

In any case the article is thought provoking and profound. He concludes with something significant. What to do with our time when we don’t have to work to put food on the table? That question brings up the greatest question all: What is the meaning of life? Why are we here anyway?  He writes:

“More profoundly, though, is a point that returns us to the original vision of a populace altogether freed from work by robots. To use a good example of critical consciousness emerging from within the production cycles of the culture industry, consider the Axiom, the passenger spaceship that figures in the 2008 animated film WALL-E. Here, robot labor has proved so successful, and so nonthreatening, that the human masters have been freed to indulge in nonstop indulgence of their desires. As a result, they have over generations grown morbidly obese, addicted to soft drinks and video games, their bones liquefied in the ship’s microgravity conditions. They exist, but they cannot be said to live.

The gravest danger of offloading work is not a robot uprising but a human downgrading. Work hones skills, challenges cognition, and, at its best, serves noble ends. It also makes the experience of genuine idling, in contrast to frenzied leisure time, even more valuable. Here, with only our own ends and desires to contemplate—what shall we do with this free time?—we come face to face with life’s ultimate question. To ask what is worth doing when nobody is telling us what to do, to wonder about how to spend our time, is to ask why are we here in the first place. Like so many of the standard philosophical questions, these ones butt up, however playfully, against the threshold of mortality.”

And this thought about our social media addiction is the best line I have read in while:

We are no longer owners and workers, in short; we are, instead, voracious and mostly quite happy producers and consumers of images. Nowadays, the images are mostly of ourselves, circulated in an apparently endless frenzy of narcissistic exhibitionism and equally narcissistic voyeurism: my looking at your online images and personal details, consuming them, is somehow still about me.”

Source: The Barbed Gift of Leisure – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Why Oxford Dictionary’s 2016 Word of the Year Matters

Another great contribution by Ravi Zacharias. What comes through so clearly is the irony of scholars and media personalities who will insist there is no truth and then complain about lies. It shows the emptiness of postmodernism and its self defeating attempt to destroy the truth by denying its existence. I have said it before, but it bears repeating, people who deny the existence of rules only want that privilege for themselves.

Ravi writes:

“We now live in a “post-truth” culture where misremembering is normal. (Not surprisingly, within hours of the American elections, a French television network baptized our culture as “post-logic.”) These two bastions of values, the academy and the media—where relativism flows in their veins—have become the town criers of this new word. Castigating the politicians, they untruthfully predicted the destination of the untruthful. Excoriating an electorate gone amuck, they wondered how people could be duped into a lie. Having themselves swallowed a camel, they strained a gnat. They are the primary carriers of word manipulation, repeating distortions often enough to make them into truths. Caring not for truth but for effect and for the manipulation of all thinking, their victory is pyrrhic.”

Again:

“It used to be said, “If a Cretan tells you all Cretans are liars, can you believe him?” Now we have to ask ourselves if we can believe it when a post-truth culture tells us it is a post-truth culture.”

And this one wins the day:

“And we have so extinguished the light of truth in our halls of learning that it is possible for a Harvard student to say, “I can believe anything I want, so long as I don’t claim it to be true.”

Source: Why Oxford Dictionary’s 2016 Word of the Year Matters

Why Schools Are Failing Our Boys

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“Statistically speaking, boys now lag behind girls on every single academic measure; they also get in trouble and drop out of school much more frequently than girls. There are fewer boys in college than girls, and far more lost 20-something boys than 20-something girls.”

This article is a helpful intro on how our education system is failing our boys. In many ways normal boy behavior is considered at best an inconvenience, and at worst a disorder to be treated.  This is important stuff, and if you would like to explore this more check out the book “Boys Adrift” by family practice MD and psychologist Leonard Sax.

You need to read this if you have little boys.

Our current system is not helping boys succeed, it is holding them back. And this in spite of the ongoing myth of oppressed girls in the academic environment.

Source: Why schools are failing our boys – The Washington Post

The Unexpected Cost of Materialism

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Today I found an old iPad charger in a drawer while cleaning out some clutter. This discovery made me take a moment to reflect. Why? Because I didn’t know I owned this charger. At some point I bought it and stowed it away. But that moment was lost in the archives. In fact, several months ago a friend asked me to borrow it because theirs stopped working and they had to wait for the new one to arrive in the mail.  When they asked, I told them no. I would have gladly loaned it, but I couldn’t share I didn’t have. And you might as well not own something if you don’t know that you own it or can’t find it.

I recently preached on some of the problems with materialism and consumerism at our church, so this has been on my mind. You can listen to the message here. But finding this charger clarified several things for me. Here are a few more observations that can fuel the movement to get away from “stuffocating” our souls with material things.

When you have too much stuff, you have trouble remembering what you own. If you do remember, then it is because you have devoted vital time and mental energy to keeping track of it. This is time and focus that should be spent on things that actually matter.  It can be like our own private version of warehouse management.  Simply trying to organize and remember what we already have can be exhausting, and expensive.

And if your house and garage are full, then something like this will probably happen to you:  You need something that you think you already own. But you don’t know for sure, and you definitely don’t know where it is. So you spend a lot of time and frustration looking for it. And if you can’t find what you are looking for, you may end up going to the store to buy another one anyway. Now you own 2 of them.

This whole arrangement is draining. And that is the real price of having too much stuff. It robs us of our time, focus, and emotional energy. And these are limited resources that  should be used for things that are really important, like God and people.  And it is not just exhausting when we are trying to find the thing we need. It is exhausting because thousands of things we might need some day are in the way of the life we are trying to live everyday.  How many of us know we should straighten up our stuff to make life more navigable, but the thought of spending several hours (or days!) is just too overwhelming?  What’s the answer? Lets go shopping!

Better to give deliberate thought to the meaning and purpose of our lives and then determine to only acquire and own what we need for that purpose.

In Praise of Leisure & The Unexpected Temptations of Superabundance

What is the real purpose for making money? How is it that our abundance of money has left us less able to answer that question? How is it that we have misplaced any sense of leisure (which is really just doing culture for its own sake rather than for profit)?

This is a thought provoking article from the Chronicle of Higher Education that seeks to answer these questions.

The authors provide some food for thought, but wrongly place the blame for human greed at the feet of capitalism. I have no desire to defend the evils of our current economy, which seems more like a kind of Frankenstein- with parts of different bodies stitched together in their decay-than anything pure. But I do find it short sighted to miss the fact that all  human history, and every economic system is full of greed and discontent. What human history is NOT full of is abundance. And in part it is capitalism that has helped us arrive at this situation where we are no longer fighting to survive with bare necessities. But it is a two edged sword and we are not doing a very good job at surviving the temptations of superabundance.

“Imagine a world in which most people worked only 15 hours a week. They would be paid as much as, or even more than, they now are, because the fruits of their labor would be distributed more evenly across society. Leisure would occupy far more of their waking hours than work. It was exactly this prospect that John Maynard Keynes conjured up in a little essay published in 1930 called “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren.” Its thesis was simple. As technological progress made possible an increase in the output of goods per hour worked, people would have to work less and less to satisfy their needs, until in the end they would have to work hardly at all. Then, Keynes wrote, “for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem—how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.” He thought this condition might be reached in about 100 years—that is, by 2030….

“He asked something hardly discussed today: What is wealth for? How much money do we need to lead a good life? This might seem an impossible question. But it is not a trivial one. Making money cannot be an end in itself—at least for anyone not suffering from acute mental disorder. To say that my purpose in life is to make more and more money is like saying that my aim in eating is to get fatter and fatter. And what is true of individuals is also true of societies. Making money cannot be the permanent business of humanity, for the simple reason that there is nothing to do with money except spend it. And we cannot just go on spending. There will come a point when we will be satiated or disgusted or both. Or will we?”

Here is another meaty phrase:

“If the ultimate end of industry is idleness, if we labor and create merely so that our descendants can snuggle down to an eternity of daytime television, then all progress is, as Orwell put it, “a frantic struggle towards an objective which [we] hope and pray will never be reached.” We are in the paradoxical situation of goading ourselves to ever new feats of enterprise, not because we think them worthwhile, but because any activity, however pointless, is better than none. We must believe in the possibility of genuine leisure—otherwise our state is desperate indeed.”

 

Source: In Praise of Leisure – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Some Leadership Lessons From The Hunt For Bin Laden

Leadership is leadership. The same principles apply when leading in sports, music, business and war. But these principles may be expressed in different ways. Sometimes seeing elements of good leadership on display in another realm can help to us to understand these lessons without so much background noise.  How about the hunt for the most wanted man in history?

“The CIA is a global institution that undertakes high-risk missions to defend the United States. Its analysis is scrutinized every morning by no less an exacting customer than the president of the United States. Its successes are largely unknown; its failures are legendary. Simply put, CIA has one of the toughest jobs in all of government.”

And it should be no surprise, the main lessons have to do with priorities, focus, and taking the long view.

Source: The Former Head of the CIA on Managing the Hunt for Bin Laden