Tuesday, December 10, 2013, 9:31 AM
Mark Driscoll has been living with accusations of plagiarism for the last three weeks. A radio host spotted some suspicious passages in his latest book and asked him to make sure they were properly credited in future editions. Then she found some cut-and-paste passages in another of his works. (Christianity Today has a blow-by-blow account of the controversy.)
What has been Driscoll’s reaction to these allegations? Well, not much of anything. In the initial interview, he says that he’ll look into it, but he takes an aggressive tone and accuses the interviewer of having the wrong spirit. Then, silence.
Yesterday, InterVarsity Press, who published one of the books that Driscoll plagiarized, voiced a complaint. Mars Hill Church quietly removed the offending material from their website and replaced it with this message:
In 2009, Pastor Mark preached through 1 & 2 Peter in a sermon series called Trial. To help our small groups, a team of people including a research assistant, put together a free study guide that was produced in-house and was never sold. About 5 years later it was brought to our attention that it contained some citation errors. We have discovered that during the editing process, content from other published sources were mistaken for research notes. These sentences were adapted instead of quoted directly. We are grateful this was brought to our attention, and we have removed that document from our website to correct the mistake. Additionally, we are examining all of our similar content as a precautionary measure.
I’ve been disappointed with how Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church have handled this issue. A few years back, Lisa B. Marshall wrote a helpful post about handling a media crisis. This affair could have been a non-issue if Driscoll had followed this common sense approach. Let’s look at this situation in light of her advice.
1. “Be first and fast.” When confronted with an awkward situation, you need to control the narrative. It’s been three weeks, and we’ve heard nothing from Driscoll on this matter.
2. “Be honest.” We haven’t heard from Driscoll yet, but the message posted on the Mars Hill website fails this test. They never admit the problem. They try to explain away the plagiarism. They try to mitigate its seriousness by claiming that the material was never sold, a claim that Jonathan Merritt notes is untrue. Let me add that lack of financial gain in no way excuses plagiarism. Plagiarism is about the credit.
3. “Be responsible.” Lisa B. Marshall writes, “Apologize for errors. If you were wrong, say you were wrong. If you or your company caused injury, apologize sincerely. This is the time to be human, not professional.” Neither Driscoll nor Mars Hill Church has done this. Moreover, they throw an unnamed research assistant under the bus. The study guide said, “Introduction by Pastor Mark Driscoll.” He put his name on it. He’s responsible for it. He needs to apologize. Sincerely.
Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church created this media crisis. Things would have been different if Driscoll had managed some humility during the initial interview. (I know Janet Mefferd badgered him, but from a public-relations standpoint he should have kept his cool.) After the interview he should have issued a statement. He should have apologized for sloppiness and said that he would do better in the future. It might have ended there. It certainly would have robbed his critics of the power to shape the narrative.
But he didn’t do those things. Time and time again we see politicians, celebrities, and athletes botch media crises. Unfortunately, Christians usually don’t do much better. This is ironic since Marshall’s rules for dealing with a media crisis have much in common with Christianity’s ideas about confession and repentance. Shouldn’t Christians of all people be getting this right?
I’ve seen this situation play out too many times. When faced with a crisis, Christians batten down the hatches, circle the wagons, and stick their heads in the sand. Local churches and national denominations hide from scrutiny. Christian colleges avoid commenting on theological, financial, or ethical problems until too late. Now we can add the Christian publishing industry to our list of Christian institutions that want to ignore crises. We need more transparency in our Christian institutions. If we really have truth and light on our side, why do our institutions hide so much? Christians ought to be the most talkative and forthcoming with information. If we are doing things right, then we need to let the world see our witness to truth. If we’re doing things wrong, then we need to openly confess our sin as a witness to truth. Either way, we need transparency.
UPDATE (12/10/13, 3:30 pm):
Warren Throckmorton posted a link to the research notes that Mars Hill used in preparing their study guide. The notes in question are bracketed in quotation marks and followed by a footnote. Driscoll must not have noticed as he prepared the introduction. It’s obvious that Driscoll used this research assistant as a ghostwriter, most likely without the research assistant’s knowledge. It happens. People get sloppy, but he should have owned up to it from the beginning.
Friday, November 29, 2013, 9:31 AM
Mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll just can’t seem to avoid controversy. He’s crass and brash, and he says outrageous things. He’s always making some Christian somewhere uncomfortable. This time, however, it’s not about the words that he’s said. It’s that he’s claimed the words that other people have said.
On November 21, Janet Mefferd, a radio host, accused Driscoll of plagiarism. She pointed out that passages from his new book, A Call to Resurgence: Will Christianity Have a Funeral or a Future?, reproduce ideas from a book by Peter Jones published in 1999, Gospel Truth/Pagan Lies: Can You Tell the Difference? Driscoll blew off her assertion. Mefferd has uploaded a comparison of the similar passages, along with some other suspect passages, here.
If I had come across the Call to Resurgence passage, I’d have been concerned about the lack of citation, but I might have just shrugged it off as ineptitude.
Some of the other evidence that Mefferd found is more damning. In a book on First and Second Peter published by Mars Hill Church, Driscoll lifts whole paragraphs almost word-for-word from the entry on First Peter in the New Bible Commentary, published by IVP in 1994. These passages are at the end of the previous link, and Mefferd provides additional passages here.
I’m a university professor. I have no tolerance for this kind of nonsense. I’ve failed students for less flagrant plagiarism. So, it’s my duty, as a member of my professing profession, to give Driscoll an “F.”
Mark Driscoll, you have failed.
I’ve dealt with a number of plagiarists, and it seems to me that plagiarism stems from two issues. I’ll let you decide which problem Driscoll suffers from, because there obviously is a problem.
1. Laziness. Writing is hard work, so some writers don’t want to do it right. Laziness also leads to procrastination. Getting behind schedule causes writers to cut corners and plagiarize.
2. Ignorance. I don’t mean ignorance of the conventions of proper citation. Everyone knows not to steal other people’s words. I mean ignorance of the topic. Sometimes people plagiarize because they are incompetent. They don’t know enough about their topic to ask interesting questions and provide interesting answers. Thus they must regurgitate what someone else has done. Becoming competent would take too much work (see reason one), and admitting incompetence would be embarrassing.
Unfortunately, this kind of thing is pretty common in Christian publishing. I remember when I was in seminary I came across a couple of paragraphs in a new commentary that had been lifted word-for-word from a very old commentary. I told my professor about it, and he shook his head sadly. He said, “I know that author. I can’t believe he did that.” We didn’t have blogs back then. It was much more difficult to “out” the plagiarists.
Of course, perhaps Driscoll isn’t a plagiarist. Maybe he employed a ghostwriter who is a plagiarist. It’d be convenient to have a scapegoat right now. But even if it was his ghostwriter, I’ll still fail him because we university professors don’t actually approve of ghostwriting. I know it’s typical in Christian publishing, but it’s still lying. Ghostwriting is lying, and plagiarism is stealing, and there seems to be a lot of it going around.
I’m sorry, Pastor Mark, but I don’t give extra credit. You’ll be stuck with the grade you’ve earned on this one.
(And because it’s always important to cite your sources, I give Jonathan Merritt the HT for this one.)
Tuesday, November 19, 2013, 9:30 AM
The Atlantic ran an interview with David Thornburg, entitled “Lectures Didn’t Work in 1350—and They Still Don’t Work Today.” It’s full of the typical technology-will-save-education balderdash. I’ll skip any comments on that topic.
Let’s talk about this assertion that lectures don’t work. The interviewer asks why we keep using this lecture-based model that doesn’t suit every student’s needs. Thornburg answers:
It’s a fascinating question. There’s a painting of a classroom by Laurentius de Voltolina from 1350 that shows it’s not working. Students are talking to each other or falling asleep while the teacher drones on. Why has this perpetuated? I don’t know.
I can tell you why. It’s perpetuated because it works.
It worked in the fourteenth century, and it still works today. For the last eight hundred years, schools have been dealing with limited budgets and high student-teacher ratios. The lecture-based model mitigates these obstacles.
If the lecture isn’t the problem, what is? I see two.
1. It’s not the lecture; it’s the students. Look at that picture of the medieval university classroom again. How do we know that the lecture is boring? The students sitting in front are engaged. The students in the back are not. I teach in a university classroom. Things haven’t changed. Some students really don’t want to learn the material. They sit in the back to hide from it and from me.
We cannot look at one painting of a medieval classroom and claim that the lecture is not working; however, some textual evidence might give us insight into the back row of that classroom. Consider this letter from a medieval father to his son studying at the university.
I have recently discovered that you live dissolutely and slothfully, preferring license to restraint and play to work and strumming a guitar while the others are at their studies, whence it happens that you have read but one volume of law while your more industrious companions have read several. Wherefore I have decided to exhort you herewith to repent utterly of your dissolute and careless ways, that you may no longer be called a waster and your shame may be turned to good repute.
Here’s another one from a different father.
I have learned—not from your master, although he ought not to hide such things from me, but from a certain trustworthy source—that you do not study in your room or act in the schools as a good student should, but play and wander about, disobedient to your master and indulging in sport and in certain other dishonorable practices which I do not now care to explain by letter.
These letters show that while times change, human nature does not. Of course, not all medieval students were wasters. One overachieving son sends a letter to his father claiming that his lectures were so popular that other classrooms were deserted. That’s the thing; lectures can be wildly entertaining, as well as educational, which brings us to the second problem.
2. It’s not the lecture; it’s the lecturers. A much more pressing problem than lazy disengaged students, is lazy disengaged teachers. Why don’t students develop a passion for the material? Probably their teachers don’t demonstrate a passion. Curiosity and excitement are contagious, even in a lecture.
Of course most bad lecturers aren’t lazy or disengaged. They just haven’t been taught what a good lecture looks like. They do not understand fundamental principles of rhetoric and public speaking. Some teachers know what a good lecture looks like, but they do not have the time or energy to actually create a good lecture. Teachers at all levels spend precious energy jumping through administrative hoops. Adjunct college professors have the added complication of trying to teach six or seven classes at three or four different schools in order to pay off those student loans. Excellent lectures take time. Sometimes there’s just no time.
Can we please stop blaming the lecture? I’m the first to admit that not all lectures are good. But that’s true of all media. Not all books are good. Not all blog posts are good. Probably most books published last year were not worth reading. Certainly most blog posts written last year was not worth reading. Even though most lectures might be bad, it doesn’t mean that the lecture itself is to blame. For most content areas, the lecture remains the best medium for educating a large group.
Don’t let the prophets of the new techno-education fool you. The lecture is here to stay. It’s been tried and tested.
Tuesday, November 5, 2013, 11:04 AM
Thailand is the only southeast-Asian nation that was never colonized by western powers, and the Thai pride themselves on being a “land of the free.” But now it seems that some in the West want to impose a bit of cultural imperialism on the Thai.
Recently American media have criticized racist advertising in Thailand. Time complained about a Dunkin’ Donuts ad that featured a woman whose face was painted black, and then The New Yorker rehashed that story when complaining that Naomi Campbell appeared too white on the cover of Vogue Thailand.
According to these media outlets, Thailand has a problem with racism. The Thai consider light skin beautiful; therefore, they must be racists. The manipulating of skin color in advertisements offends some Americans; therefore, the Thai must be racist. The companies involved have issued non-apologies for these transgressions against American sensibilities; therefore, the Thai must be racist. All this hand wringing is nonsense, and if anyone has a right to be offended it’s the Thai.
In these articles, Americans take up the white man’s burden to bring the light of political correctness to a benighted nation. These articles insist that other peoples conform themselves to the concerns of American society, and if they don’t we can brand them with our harshest epithets.
We need to exhibit a bit of cultural sensitivity and look at the issue from the Thai perspective. The issue isn’t about racism at all. It’s about aesthetics. For as long as anyone can remember, the Thai have thought that lighter skin is more beautiful than darker skin. This aesthetic shouldn’t be considered racism because the Thai, a relatively homogeneous people, apply these standards of beauty first to their own people, then to secondarily to outsiders. Yes, color preference exists in Thailand, but Americans need to stop seeing themselves every time they look at the world.
The Thai prefer lighter skin tones because they believe lighter skin communicates higher social status. America used to prefer darker skin tones for the same reason. In America a higher social status meant that you could lay on the beach all day. But skin color is merely one component of Thailand’s aesthetic ideal, which also includes things like body shape and double eyelids.
I believe that Thailand could benefit from relaxing its standards of beauty a bit. But is America really ready to step in and have that conversation? What if we calculated all the money that Americans spend on cosmetics and cosmetic surgery? What if we added up all the money that the Thai spend on cosmetics (including sunscreen) and cosmetic surgery? Which country would seem more obsessed with idealized beauty? I don’t know, but I have my suspicions. The log in our eye is so big that we can’t properly identify the speck in our neighbor’s.
[Cross-posted at Reflection and Choice]
Monday, October 28, 2013, 9:45 AM
“Computer Scientists ‘Prove’ God Exists.” That’s the headline of an article from last week on Spiegel Online. The scientists who came up with the idea admit that they were just trying to grab some headlines for their work. According to Spiegel:
In fact, what the researchers in question say they have actually proven is a theorem put forward by renowned Austrian mathematician Kurt Gödel — and the real news isn’t about a Supreme Being, but rather what can now be achieved in scientific fields using superior technology.
When Gödel died in 1978, he left behind a tantalizing theory based on principles of modal logic — that a higher being must exist. The details of the mathematics involved in Gödel’s ontological proof are complicated, but in essence the Austrian was arguing that, by definition, God is that for which no greater can be conceived. And while God exists in the understanding of the concept, we could conceive of him as greater if he existed in reality. Therefore, he must exist.
I’m not really a mathematics guy, but I’ve always enjoyed an ontological proof. Each semester I expose my freshmen to Anselm of Canterbury. They keep looking at his argument wondering what they’re missing. I comfort them, saying that it might be the hardest thing they do all semester. Even after they understand it, usually less than half of them think it’s valuable.
I like Anselm’s argument, but I’m going to have to trust that these mathematicians got Gödel’s theorem right. I have no hope of understanding what they’ve done. I’m merely happy to see another ontological argument getting a little bit of credit.
Friday, September 27, 2013, 12:30 PM
It’s 2013. Have we learned nothing? Must we still put up with intolerant bigots telling us whom we can and can’t love?
Earlier this week my social-media feeds erupted as left-leaning friends and acquaintances reacted to an interview in which author and teacher David Gilmour came out of the closet.
I teach modern short fiction to third and first-year students. So I teach mostly Russian and American authors. Not much on the Canadian front. But I can only teach stuff I love. I can’t teach stuff that I don’t, and I haven’t encountered any Canadian writers yet that I love enough to teach.
I’m not interested in teaching books by women. Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women. Except for Virginia Woolf. And when I tried to teach Virginia Woolf, she’s too sophisticated, even for a third-year class. Usually at the beginning of the semester a hand shoots up and someone asks why there aren’t any women writers in the course. I say I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.
The reaction has been fierce, angry, and for the most part ad hominem. How dare Gilmour only love male authors!
As for me, I am shocked—shocked—to find that we’re still so intolerant. Gilmour has a literary same-sex attraction. Can’t we just live and let live? Must we mock and belittle him because he doesn’t love women? Because he doesn’t want to read women? Doesn’t Gilmour have the right to love whomever he chooses? Who are we to judge?
I think Gilmour’s confession was very brave. He should be applauded for staying true to himself. He’s risked much in admitting to the world that he loves to read other men and that he doesn’t care who knows about it. Can he help that he loves male authors? It’s wrong for everyone to ask him to change.
Some people on the left will claim that it’s a slippery slope. If we let Gilmour just teach what he loves, white males, then we might have to start letting other instructors teach what they love too. Someone might want to teach a literature class focused on women authors. Will we be able to allow that? Someone might want to teach a class on Asian literature. I say that these are things we might have to risk in order to embrace tolerance and acceptance. In the spirit of progress, let’s stop condemning Gilmour for his same-sex literary attraction. Let’s stop being bigots.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013, 12:02 PM
This past spring, Kermit Gosnell was convicted of murdering babies and breaking numerous laws at his Philadelphia abortion clinic. Though he was found guilty by a jury of his peers, Gosnell maintains that he is “spiritually innocent.”
In an article in Philadelphia Magazine, Gosnell says that his actions were justified because what he did, he did to help society.
Gosnell—who was convicted in May of snipping the necks of babies born alive during abortion procedures in his West Philadelphia clinic—believes he was serving the best interests of his community and the women who came to him. “In an ideal world,” he said, “we’d have no need for abortion. But bringing a child into the world when it cannot be provided for, that there are not sufficient systems to support, is a greater sin. I considered myself to be in a war against poverty, and I feel comfortable with the things I did and the decisions I made.”
Gosnell contends he is “innocent” of the charges against him, laying out complicated—and not particularly credible—reasons he should have been found not guilty. When Volk asked him if he was actually referring to his own sense of “spiritual innocence,” Gosnell responded, “Yes.”
So Gosnell felt comfortable with his actions because he considered himself “in a war against poverty.” From my point of view, Gosnell’s war on poverty is a bit problematic. Since when does an individual get to declare war on anything? Maybe he should say that he had a “vendetta” against poverty. Maybe even a blood feud? But war? War on poverty sounds really great, but one-man wars aren’t really wars. It’d be more appropriate to say that he was a vigilante striking against poverty, or to keep up with the times, let’s just call him a terrorist. After all, that’s what we call people who wage war without sanction.
Even more disturbing is his method of waging war. How does Kermit Gosnell plan to stamp out poverty? He wants to kill the poor people. No one’s poorer than an unwanted child. Gosnell seems to suggest that if we kill the poor, we kill poverty. But why stop with the poor child who has no chance at becoming rich? Why not kill the poor mother who has no chance of becoming rich? Oh wait, he did that too. Let’s not be confused by his rhetoric. He was not at war with poverty. He was killing poor people. There’s a big difference.
He’s so deluded that he’s even started writing poetry that lauds abortionists. I’ll leave it to my poet friends to critique his literary output.
Monday, September 23, 2013, 9:30 AM
Earlier this month LifeWay Research, an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, polled Americans regarding the connection between current events in Syria and the prophecies of the Bible. I find the results a little surprising.
Thirty-two percent of those polled agree with the statement, “I believe the battles in Syria are all part of the prophecies of the Book of Revelation,” Forty-nine percent disagree.
Twenty-six percent of those surveyed agree with statement, “I believe that U.S. military intervention in Syria might lead to the Battle of Armageddon that’s spoken about in the Book of Revelation.”
It would be interesting to know the margin of error for these numbers, but regardless thirty percent is a sizable chunk of the population.
These results indicate that Dispensationalism’s version of Pre-Millennial eschatology is alive and well. Take heart, Christian publishers. The market for more Left-Behind paraphernalia hasn’t disappeared.
I don’t affirm Dispensationalism or its doctrine of the end times. Too often, the teachers of this position deny the imminent return of Christ. We’re taught that certain steps must occur in the Israeli state, so let’s be on the look out for them. Also, we must watch for the Anti-Christ. (I have been told by a pastor that the Anti-Christ will be the leader of the EU since it is a revived Roman Empire. Just in case you were wondering, it’s no such thing.)
Even though I don’t agree with this teaching, I understand why other people do. There are good historical reasons for its presence in the American religious landscape. Pulpits around the country still echo some of the influential books and teachers from the last century. Names have been forgotten but ideas live on.
It’s not just Dispensationalism, however, that has this propensity to look to current events for clues about the world’s end. It’s a reoccurring theme in human history. People were looking for the end of the world during the upheavals of the sixteenth century. In the nineteenth century Napoleon was clearly the Anti-Christ. (After all, he did revive the Roman Empire, right?) Last century the Cold War was going to lead to Armageddon. None of those worked out, so now we’ll watch Syria and hold our breath.
The world will end. Possibly before I finish this blog post. The apostles looked for an imminent return of Christ. We’d do well to assume that Christ really might come back at any time. Don’t wait for the missiles to start firing. Be found faithful now. It could be now.
Read more on the LifeWay poll here.
Thursday, September 12, 2013, 11:50 AM
The Wall Street Journal recently asked “How Many Times Can a Tale Be Told?” The piece comments on our superabundance of translations of classic texts and the fact that more come out every year. Why do we need so many translations?
One of the books that we seem to have too many translations of is Anna Karenina.
There are half-a-dozen English-language translations of the 1878 Russian novel available for sale online, including the 2001 version produced by celebrated translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. An endorsement by Oprah Winfrey turned that edition into a best-seller, with more than 1.3 million copies in print to date.
Yet next year, two new translations of the massive novel will hit the shelves. “Why two more now, and in the same year? I have no idea,” says Mr. Pevear in an email.
WSJ suggests that one of the reasons for these new translations is that publishers hope to boost their revenue stream. They are relatively inexpensive to produce, since translators don’t expect as much compensation compared to an author, and the new translation might find a home in the college classroom, providing the publisher with a small but steady income.
Of course it’s not just about the money, at least not for the translators themselves. The translators think they can bring more accuracy to their own editions. In most cases it’s a labor of love.
This piece about translations of classic texts caused me to ponder translations of the classic text, the Bible. We have more translations of the Bible than we do Anna Karenina. Undoubtedly, more are on the way. Do we really need all these translations?
To a certain extent, the same considerations that inspire fresh translations of Tolstoy encourage Bible publishers to create fresh translations too.
Christian publishers need money, and the Bible sells well every year. Bible publishers push the market even further than Penguin and Norton by tailoring notes and study aids to a certain demographic. On Amazon, you have your choice of about twenty-five different English translations in over eight thousand different formats. Trust me, we wouldn’t have this many options if they didn’t make money.
Just like those who translate classic texts, Bible translators don’t expect much money. Actually they expect less because they usually work in committees. (I know. It sounds terrible.)
Copyright provides another economic incentive for fresh translations, not your own copyright, the other guy’s. By creating an in-house translation, Christian publishers save money on royalties. Lifeway has saved millions of dollars that would have gone to Zondervan, owner the NIV, because it now uses the Holman Christian Standard Version, owned by its subsidiary B&H Publishing Group.
While publishers probably concern themselves more with the bottom line, I have faith that the translators themselves strive for accuracy. Unfortunately, agreement concerning the nature of “accuracy” eludes us.
What’s constitutes accuracy? Often we can’t even agree on spelling. In Lattimore’s translation of the Odyssey we read about Athene, Kalypso, Aithiopians, Kronos, and Ithaka, while in Fagles’s we read about Athena, Calypso, Ethiopians, Cronus, and Ithaca. I find the second set a more accurate translation, but many would disagree. It doesn’t get easier when you start worrying about grammar, syntax, and interpretation.
What’s the best way to translate the Bible? A paraphrase that captures the spirit of the original text? A literal translation that captures the syntax of the original text? Dynamic equivalency that captures neither one nor the other? All helpful in their own way. Different translations will suit different readers and different purposes.
We’re left with an embarrassment of riches. Should I complain about having too many choices? I know people who do. I’ve decided that no matter the motive behind a translation, I’ll be thankful that it’s available. I’m glad that there are more than a dozen English versions of Dante and dozens of English versions of the Bible. Now if I could just find a way to convince my students to read them.
Cross-posted at Reflection and Choice
Thursday, September 5, 2013, 2:29 PM
This week Derek Webb released his latest album, I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry, and I Love You. The album is more explicitly about the church than some of his recent work, and it marks a return to his roots, both thematically and musically.
Back in the nineties, Derek belonged to the Christian band Caedmon’s Call, and he wrote most of their folksy introspective songs. In 2003, he left Caedmon’s to work on his solo project, She Must and Shall Go Free. He dedicated that album to the church. She Must and Shall Go Free was equal parts rebuke and encouragement. The gospel isn’t just for lost people. It’s for Christians too. The album rebukes an American church that ignores its own sin and tries to earn merit with God. It encourages the church to rely only on the grace of Christ.
As his albums piled higher, Derek continued to speak words of rebuke, but the word of encouragement started to disappear. He started getting more political in some of his songs, taking a few shots at the Republican Party. This annoyed some of his more conservative fans. He also started to emphasize social issues that he felt Christians were neglecting, which made some long-time fans feel that he was minimizing the gospel.
His 2009 album, Stockholm Syndrome, sparked controversy because one of the songs included a dirty word. But it wasn’t just the dirty word. In the song, Derek accused Christians of worrying more about homosexuality than poverty. His message and his choice of words cost him a number of fans. Touring with the openly gay Jennifer Knapp didn’t win any of those fans back.
Stockholm Syndrome was a solid album, but its style actually made it easier for fans to walk away. Derek’s older music had an acoustic rawness to it. By 2009, Derek had begun experimenting with his sound, and Stockholm Syndrome features synthesized music, a techno beat, and distorted vocals. It’s really good, if you like that sort of thing, but unfortunately many of his old fans didn’t like that sort of thing.
This new album, I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry, and I Love You, seems like an attempt to reconnect with some of those old fans. He explores some of the same themes that he did in She Must and Shall Go Free, albeit in a more personal voice. The album’s sound also reengages his folk roots. Derek was inspired to write this album as he considered the ten-year anniversary of She Must and Shall Go Free, and the album really does feel like a homecoming. The prodigal son has returned, and with this album he says that he’s sorry.
Of course many fans will want to know what exactly he’s apologizing for. I’ve listened to the album and listened to him talk about it. He isn’t necessarily retracting anything he’s said. Instead he seems to apologize for how he’s said things. I’ve been listening to Derek’s songs for almost twenty years, and I can trace theological, artistic, and political growth through his albums. This album signals a development in his emotional maturity. He doesn’t scold his listeners in this album. There’s no regret about what he’s said in the past, but we hear regret about how he’s said some of those things. His almost-forty-year-old self seems a bit ashamed of the brashness of his younger days.
I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry, and I Love You is a fine album that once-upon-a-time fans ought to give a chance. It will seem familiar, but in one sense it’s still different than his earlier work. The album communicates a certain weariness. It sounds like the cares of the world have tired Derek and he needed to return to a place of refuge. He has more longing for that which will be and less interest in what we ought to do.
This latest album is a worthy sequel to She Must and Shall Go Free, but the earlier album still remains Derek’s best work. She Must and Shall Go Free will haunt its listener’s soul. If you’re not familiar with Derek’s work, start there. Then listen to his newest album.
Collin Garbarino is an assistant professor of history at Houston Baptist University.
Monday, September 2, 2013, 10:50 AM
One of the “horsemen” of the “new atheism” has invited his opponents to enter the lists, and he’s willing to pay the champion.
Sam Harris published The Moral Landscape about three years ago. In this book he argues that science is the real basis for morality. Science doesn’t merely describe “what is”; it also tells humans “what ought to be.” Using scientific empiricism, we can objectively determine right from wrong. If a science of human flourishing informs morality, then humanity has no use for gods and religion.
His arguments have been attacked, but Harris claims that he hasn’t encountered “a substantial criticism” (a somewhat subjective phrase for such an objective fellow). But he’s willing to be swayed if someone comes up with something “substantial,” and he’s putting his money where his mouth is. Here’s his announcement on his blog.
So I would like to issue a public challenge. Anyone who believes that my case for a scientific understanding of morality is mistaken is invited to prove it in 1,000 words or less. (You must refute the central argument of the book—not peripheral issues.) The best response will be published on this website, and its author will receive $1,000. If any essay actually persuades me, however, its author will receive $10,000, and I will publicly recant my view.
How generous and open minded of him. There’s nothing like the promise of cold, hard cash for promoting thoughtful moral reflection.
Call me a cynic, but I have my doubts that Harris offers this challenge in good faith. If he’s not really interested in changing his mind, then why offer the money? Here are my speculations regarding his $1,000 bounty.
First, it’s been three years since the book came out. By offering a prize for the best refutation, Harris will convince thousands of arm-chair apologists to buy his book and write their own critique. He’s going to make more money off this contest than he’ll pay out to a winner.
Second, Harris will get thousands of brief essays arguing for a religiously grounded morality. His research assistants can then comb through them, and these essays will end up being the basis for his next book. It will be entitled something like The Dumb Things Apologists Say. If you enter, he can use your name and essay however he sees fit. Read the terms.
By participating, each entrant agrees … to the use of his/her name, voice, performance, photograph/video, image and/or likeness for programming, advertising, publicity and promotional purposes in any and all media, now or hereafter known, worldwide and on the Internet, and in perpetuity by Sponsor and its designees, without compensation (unless prohibited by law) or additional consents from entrant or any third party and without prior notice, approval or inspection, and to execute specific consent to such use if asked to do so.
I for one will not be helping him with his latest book proposal.
Sam Harris isn’t interested in furthering our understanding of the moral framework. This is a stunt. Unfortunately, it’s a stunt that will probably make him lots of money.
Thursday, August 29, 2013, 8:15 AM
Yesterday I made some comments on Google’s doodle that commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Sometimes I react before I finish reflecting. Some of the comments (along with some conversation with personal friends) caused me to rethink what I’d written. I’d like to retract some of what I said.
I still think that the doodle creates an intentional ambiguity in which the viewer is reminded of both MLK and Barack Obama at the same time. The doodle is definitely of MLK. He’s even got his hand raised just as he does in the most iconic photo from the event. But those ears. Those ears do not look anything like MLK’s, though they strongly resemble Obama’s. The key for me is that we don’t see his face. Why would Google take the iconic photo of King and spin it around to the back so as to obscure his features?
In my original post I suggest that Google uses the doodle to communicate that we’re still more or less in the same place we were in 1963. I now think that was a wrong interpretation. My own cynicism about America’s political discourse, coupled with the recent tensions over the Zimmerman case, led me astray.
I think Google was attempting something much more positive with its doodle. When we see it, we are reminded of King in 1963, but when we blink, we’re reminded that Obama will be addressing America from the same spot in 2013. A black leader argues for equality, and fifty years later a black president honors his memory. Part of the dream has been fulfilled. There is a beautiful symmetry to the moment, and I think Google’s ambiguity about the face highlighted this.
I was even encouraged by the first half of Obama’s speech. In it he addressed the concern that I voiced in my previous post. I was concerned about people dishonoring King by belittling how far we’ve come. Obama agrees.
To dismiss the magnitude of this process, to suggest, as some sometimes do that little has changed, that dishonors the courage and the sacrifice of those who paid the price to march in those years. Medgar Evers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, Martin Luther King, Jr. — they did not die in vain. Their victory was great.
I’m going to set aside my cynicism for a day or two. I think Google, Obama, and I are all on the same page regarding this one point: America has come a long way. The doodle is a kind of a cool prophecy/fulfillment confluence. A leader of black Americans announces his dream, and exactly fifty years later a black leader of all Americans reminds us how much we’ve gained.
I ended my last post by saying, “Some people will feel that I’m reading too much into a doodle. Maybe I am.” I probably shouldn’t retract that statement.
You can see the doodle and read the original post here.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013, 12:36 PM
Today is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It’s only right and proper for Google to commemorate the event with one of their famous doodles. But when I pulled up Google this morning, I didn’t think of MLK.
As soon as I saw the doodle, it struck me that the speaker looks more like Barack Obama than Martin Luther King, Jr.
Blame it on the ears.
I believe that the ambiguity is intentional. MLK had a dream. Obama has a dream. Google’s trying to tie the past and the present together so that we will all catch the dream too. But are they one and the same dream? There’s some commonalities, but there’s some differences too.
Conflating the two rhetoricians hurts more than it helps, in my estimation. Context is king, and no matter what the talking heads might say, 1963 and 2013 are worlds apart.
I want to honor MLK for his achievements. When Google pretends that we’re in the same place that we were 50 years ago, they’re actually denigrating MLK. They’re claiming that he didn’t manage to change the world. He did. Let’s pause and remember that.
Some people will feel that I’m reading too much into a doodle. Maybe I am. But why must Google hide the face of real change?
[Update: I retract some of the statements made in this post here.]
Tuesday, August 20, 2013, 9:30 AM
I recently heard about a college president who took time during the opening faculty meeting to attack two former professors. These former faculty members left the school two and three years previous, but their memories were shamed in a feeble attempt to divert blame for the school’s problems away from the administration. How pitiful that someone would construct bogeymen from the past instead of working on the task at hand.
I was immediately reminded of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Most of us know the story. The animals rebelled against their cruel farmer and instituted a collective for the good of all animals. Eventually, however, the pigs take charge and become just as bad, and in some ways worse, than the old cruel farmer.
In the story, two pigs, Napoleon and Snowball, vie for leadership of this new collective, and Napoleon eventually succeeds in exiling Snowball. But Napoleon’s leadership does not bring prosperity and comfort. When the farm experiences a major setback, it’s Snowball’s fault, even though he no longer lives there. In spite of his absence Snowball becomes a convenient scapegoat for Napoleon, so he can deflect criticism from his own poor leadership. Orwell writes, “Whenever anything went wrong it became usual to attribute it to Snowball.”
The irony is that Snowball was a hero before his expulsion, but Napoleon systematically vilifies him and robs him of all honor. One of those college professors was respected and honored by students, faculty, and administration before he left, but now he’s a Snowball.
As I thought about this sad situation, other examples of this “Snowball Syndrome” came to mind. American politicians are especially good at finding a Snowball behind every failed policy, but plenty of examples exist in the business world too.
As I thought about it, I realized that other people aren’t the only ones looking for Snowball. I do it too. When faced with a problem, my heart never wants to own up to it. I do not want to admit to myself that I’m the cause. I immediately look for Snowball.
My children make the easiest Snowball. Whatever my failure at hand, it is convenient to point out how they were complicit. If only they weren’t so noisy I would have gotten a lot more writing done. If only they hadn’t turned on the TV, I would have gotten those assignments graded. If only . . .
Sometimes I make a Snowball out of my parents. If only they had done this when I was growing up, then maybe I would have turned out like that. A boss makes a great Snowball too. My circumstances conspire against me, and someone else is always the author of those circumstances. But Snowball is a lie. Snowball didn’t do any of those things that Napoleon accused him of, and it isn’t my children’s fault when I don’t meet my writing goal.
Sometimes the enemies are real, and they really are trying to tear us down. But all too often we use those enemies as a crutch to cover our own faults. It’s hard to attack the real enemy if we’re operating under false intelligence.
The cure for “Snowball Syndrome,” as best I can tell, is confession. I need to be honest enough to speak the truth. I need to admit that I’m my own worst enemy. Snowball is such a comforting person to have around because he keeps things from being my fault. Honesty is hard, and I’m such a good liar that I don’t even know when I’m lying to myself. There’s ultimately only one hope for blaming others. I cast myself on God’s mercy, pleading that he will melt all my Snowballs.
Thursday, August 15, 2013, 1:25 PM
Celebrities don’t surprise me often. Big-name actors and musicians all tend to think, talk, and act alike. They aren’t all Lindsay Lohan, but they all seem to fall somewhere on the continuum of which she is merely an extreme.
This week, however, Ashton Kutcher, of all people, surprised me. His acceptance speech at the Teen Choice Awards has gone viral, for a good reason. But let us pause and ask, why on earth do we even have awards for the teens’ choice? I can offer no rationale. Let us resume.
In his speech, he reveals that his real name is actually “Chris.” This revelation is not what surprised me. The surprise came when he decided to tell his audience the three life-lessons that he learned before he became Ashton.
First, he tells the screaming teens to work hard. He says, “I believe that opportunity looks a lot like hard work.” The surprising thing is that he doesn’t just tell the kids to work hard in school. He doesn’t just tell them to use their brains. He tells them that it’s okay to sweat. He lists a variety of menial, unpleasant jobs that he held before he became Ashton. He finishes this first point with these words.
I’ve never had a job in my life that I’m better than. I was always just lucky to have a job. And every job I had was a stepping-stone to my next job. And I never quit my job until I had my next job.
These are words that American teens desperately need to hear. I teach college-age students, and the attitude of entitlement overwhelms me at times. Society has taught them for years that they are too good for certain kinds of work. Children who drink too deeply from this poisoned well will eventually begin to think that they are too good for any kind of work.
Kutcher’s second piece of advice is a little less surprising. He says, “The sexiest thing in the entire world is being really smart and being thoughtful and being generous.” This advice is a bit more conventional, but it’s nice that Kutcher explicitly tells these teens that marketing departments try to make us feel like we lack something in order to profit from us.
As for this third piece of advice, I seriously doubt that he learned this as Chris. Kutcher shares some of Steve Jobs’s wisdom that Kutcher gained while working on his biopic. He tells the audience, “Build a life. Don’t live one. Build one.” This too is advice that my college-age students need to hear. Too many American teens go to college in order to “get a good job.” Too few of them realize that there’s a better path.
Did Steve Jobs get a good job? Did Chris/Ashton Kutcher? Our youngsters should be focused on chasing the entrepreneurial dream rather than settling into someone else’s. College should be about creativity and curiosity, not job training. Careers should be about creating services and products for the good of society, not punching a clock.
So, yeah. Ashton Kutcher surprised me this week. I hope that the message will get out. I hope that some of my incoming freshman are planning to surprise me.
Monday, August 12, 2013, 9:30 AM
New York Times bestselling-author George Saunders gave a commencement speech at Syracuse University this past May that’s just beginning to get attention. Most commencement speeches are just terrible, but every year or so a good one stands out. Saunders’s speech is one of the good ones. (You can read the entire text here.)
His theme is kindness, and he wishes that people were kinder to each other. He begins with some poignant examples from his own life, and then he attempts to answer why we fail at being kind to one another.
Now, the million-dollar question: What’s our problem? Why aren’t we kinder?
Here’s what I think:
Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somehow Darwinian. These are: (1) we’re central to the universe (that is, our personal story is the main and most interesting story, the only story, really); (2) we’re separate from the universe (there’s US and then, out there, all that other junk – dogs and swing-sets, and the State of Nebraska and low-hanging clouds and, you know, other people), and (3) we’re permanent (death is real, o.k., sure – for you, but not for me).
Now, we don’t really believe these things – intellectually we know better – but we believe them viscerally, and live by them, and they cause us to prioritize our own needs over the needs of others, even though what we really want, in our hearts, is to be less selfish, more aware of what’s actually happening in the present moment, more open, and more loving.
Saunders exhibits real insight in his message. Most everyone wishes they were kinder, but most everyone fails rather miserably. We recognize these “confusions” at work in our own lives, but it’s difficult to move past them. Saunders used the final minutes of his speech to advise the graduates how they might solve the problem of unkindness. He says that the remedy for this confusion is intentional kindness. In order to be kind, be kinder.
His analysis at this point is much less helpful. He’s identified the problem, but his advice on doing kindness is a bit problematic. It’s like telling a sick man, “You know, the cure for your illness is being healthy.” Gee. Thanks.
The first step in recovery is admitting that we have a problem, so let’s call things by their proper names. These aren’t really “confusions.” They’re lies. They are things that we tell ourselves that aren’t true. Traditionally, we haven’t called the lies we tell ourselves “confusions.” We’ve called them “sin.”
These lies on Saunders’s list reach back to the Garden of Eden. “Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.” Each of those three things on Saunders’s list is true of God but not true of us; however, our sin causes us to forget that God is God and we are not.
The indictment is accurate. We aren’t God. The cure is false. Saunders cannot save a graduating class merely by telling them to sin less often. I hope they heed his words and give it a try so that they will see how futile and hollow this advice is.
The only hope for sinners is Christ, and we must cast ourselves on him. He’s the one who really is the center of the universe and whose personal story is the main and most interesting story. He’s the one who is separate from the universe, though he graciously entered into it to save rebels by sacrificing himself in their place. He’s the one who is permanent because he broke the tyranny of death at his resurrection. He has shown us kindness, and because of that kindness, we can be kind to one another.
Monday, August 5, 2013, 9:30 AM
Last week I read David Blum’s interview of President Obama for Amazon’s Kindle Singles. The interview was interesting, and it provided some insight into the president’s goals for the remainder of his term. He talked about the American dream. He talked about jobs. He talked about how Americans need to realize that we accomplish more together, i.e. through government, than we do as individuals. The interview gave me the impression that the president is a sincere man, who believes that things will change for the better if he can get the message out.
Obama talked about many things, but he avoided saying much about himself, and in the introduction, Blum notes that the president was reticent to speak about his own life. At a number of points in the interview, Blum attempts to steer the conversation towards more personal matters. He asks about Obama’s upbringing, his family, and his daughters. Each time, the president gets back to his talking points.
At one point in the interview, Blum asks:
Part of the American dream—even if you’re poor, or lower-middle class—involves yearning for tangible things you can’t afford. Were there things, when you were growing up, that you yearned for that you couldn’t afford?
I think every kid has some fantasies about what they’d like to have. But I can’t tell you how many people I meet in my generation who will say, “Looking back on it, we didn’t have a lot, but we didn’t feel poor.” The reason was because the American dream involved some pretty basic stuff.
He goes on to describe the American dream, and he never satisfies our curiosity about what his own dreams were.
This bit struck me because the previous day I had pondered this very question. Do you know what I wanted when I was growing up? Hamburger buns.
In the Garbarino household of the 1980s, we probably ate hamburgers about once a week, but we ate them on sandwich bread. In my mind, proper hamburger buns were a luxury item. Rich people ate their hamburgers on buns. Perhaps common folk could eat buns on special occasions, like weddings or funerals. As a child, I viewed hamburger buns as a status symbol.
Honestly, I’m not sure why my parents never bought buns. I suspect that buns were an unnecessary expense, but possibly it was merely poor planning. Regardless, as a child I wanted buns, but either rightly or wrongly, I assumed that buns were for people with more money.
I’m happy to say that today I can afford to buy hamburger buns. I should also note that now that I’m out of the house, my parents buy hamburger buns too. Contrary to what some politicians imply, America’s standard of living has increased considerably over the last thirty years.
I wonder if in the late 60s and early 70s little Barry Obama ate his hamburgers on sandwich bread. I wonder if he wanted buns. Whatever tangible things he longed for as a child, he can afford them now. That’s the great thing about America. Sometimes dreams come true. I suppose the president didn’t want to dwell on his fulfilled dreams while so many Americans are still working on theirs, but I, for one, would have been interested in hearing a more personal story. Of course maybe that’s because my dreams have been fulfilled too. I have hamburger buns.
[Cross-posted at Reflection and Choice]
Tuesday, July 30, 2013, 2:19 PM
Yesterday the FT blog saw much discussion of the Reza Aslan interview on FOX News. Today Timothy Michael Law, editor of Marginalia Review of Books, posted his spoof of the interview.
Timothy Michael Law has never been a Hellenistic Jew but has always followed the faith of his family heritage: Modern Christianity. He has now written a book about the Septuagint. The book has become controversial, as it calls into question some of the core tenets of post-Reformation Christian Hebraism, and even has the audacity to claim that the Septuagint was once used in the Christian Church. The book is called When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible. And Michael joins me now from Germany. Welcome.
TIMOTHY MICHAEL LAW:
Thank you for having me.
Well, this is an interesting book. Now, I want to clarify, you’re a Christian. So why did you write a book about the scriptures of Hellenistic Judaism?
I enjoyed Law’s spoof. You can read the full transcript of his interview here.
Monday, July 29, 2013, 11:12 AM
Christians haven’t been thrilled with Reza Aslan’s new book, Zealot: The Life and Times Jesus of Nazareth. His search for Jesus finds a fresh version of the “historical Jesus.” Over the last couple of hundred years the “historical Jesus” seems to sound an awful lot like a politically progressive university professor. Every generation of New Testament scholars discover the “real Jesus.” Current trends help these “scholars” discover Jesus’s true message.
That being said, if you want to dismiss this book as more of the same, here’s a good example of what not to do. On Fox News, Lauren Green spends the whole interview with Reza Aslan calling into question his ability to write the book. Aslan is a Muslim, and Green keeps asking why a Muslim would write about Jesus. Perhaps it’s an interesting side question, but it certainly shouldn’t be the main thrust of the interview.
If Green wanted to slam the book, she should have come with evidence demonstrating the book’s faults, which I hear are plentiful. Instead she came with a list of generic quotations from bloggers and authors who didn’t like it. No substance whatsoever. The interview amounted to: “You’re a Muslim and some people didn’t like your book.” Very unhelpful.
Reza Aslan doesn’t end up looking much better. He relies on credentialism. He keeps saying, “I have a PhD!” Big deal. I know plenty of fools with PhDs. (Though he’s misrepresenting his degrees, according to Matthew Franck.) Green asked some absurd questions, but Aslan should have come up with better responses. Even so, I’ll reluctantly have to award him the win.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013, 9:30 AM
Britain buzzes with excitement over the birth of a royal baby boy. That’s as it should be. After all, this baby is third in line for the throne. The nation looks forward to its first glimpse at their potential monarch. But Britain isn’t the only country that cares about the new royal. While the whole world is curious, Americans possess an excitement that is second only to Britain’s. Why?
Didn’t we fight a war so that we wouldn’t have to care who was third in line for the throne? Didn’t we explicitly repudiate titles of nobility in the Constitution? Why all the interest in a foreign royal? We can’t help it. It’s just human nature.
It’s hardwired into our very being to desire a king. Throughout the history of the world, monarchy has been the most common form of government. Some people will argue that selfish strongmen imposed their will on oppressed populations, but that narrative doesn’t fit the historical record. Monarchy’s predominance doesn’t rest on oppression. It rests on the fact that for the last six thousand years most humans have been incredibly comfortable with the institution. People always preferred good kings to bad kings, but they rarely questioned the kingship itself.
We can point to a few notable exceptions. After the Athenians threw out their tyrants, they had a fling with democracy that lasted about a hundred and seventy years. Rome did a bit better. It operated without a king for almost five hundred years. Eventually the novelty of republicanism wore thin, and the Romans opted for one-man rule again. When Tiberius tried to become a private citizen, the Senate begged him not to. They needed a monarch.
We’ve flirted with those failed models of governance in America. Hearkening back to Athens and Rome, we called ourselves a democratic-republic. We had a fine run with it, but we’re getting back to our monarchical roots. In a nod to our constitutional past, we still hold elections, but we’re increasingly looking to one man to solve all our problems. We just elect our king every four years now. No one looks to Congress to accomplish anything. America’s founding fathers would be astonished at the amount of hope and faith we place in the president. They’d also be shocked by the amount of power that we’ve handed him. The world has never seen a mightier king than the modern-day POTUS.
So what are these monarchs supposed to be doing? The job description of a king might vary from culture to culture, but a couple of features stay constant. First, people expect their king to rule them. Second, they expect their king to protect and save them from their enemies. Why did the ancient Israelites demand that Samuel choose for them a king? They wanted to be like all the other nations (like I said, it’s human nature to want a king). But how? They said, “We will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.” The king fights for the people.
Ruling yourself and fighting your own battles is hard. We’d rather not do it. It’s human nature to look to a king to do it for us. It actually might be worse than hard. It might be impossible. Can we rule ourselves? The Apostle Paul said, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” So much for ruling ourselves. Fighting our own battles is equally futile. We cannot save ourselves. We need a king to do it for us. We need King Jesus.
It’s this spiritual need for an eternal king that drives humans to look for temporal kings. We’re looking for something that our souls need. Moreover, the two are not antithetical. Living under temporal authority trains the soul for living under spiritual authority. (That’s why libertarians are so dangerous.) Earthly kings are a shadow of God’s authority. Our souls are designed to be subject to a king.
We shouldn’t be surprised that many Americans are so enamored with Britain’s royal family. Britain’s royals are the closest thing we have to a monarchy. We let our POTUS act like a king, but he doesn’t carry the same mystique, and since we elect a new one every four years, it’s hard to get excited about tradition and dynasty. We claim that we don’t believe in royalty, but in our hearts we know that we’re lying. A fascination with monarchy is not a cultural curiosity. It’s part of human nature. Kings matter.
Tuesday, July 16, 2013, 10:00 AM
This weekend a Florida jury decided that George Zimmerman did not murder Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman exercised his right to defend himself with lethal force. My knowledge of this case is far from perfect, but the evidence seems to cast shadows of doubt every which way. The jury found that Zimmerman operated within the rights which Florida state-law granted him.
This case has once again caused me to ponder the relationship between “rights” and “rightness.” I believe that having the right to do something does not entail that the exercising of that right is always morally right. We equivocate easily. Shouldn’t a right always be right? I don’t think so.
In my reading of the Civil War, the southern states had the legal right to leave the union. I also think that they acted immorally in exercising that right to protect the institution of black slavery. Exercising a legal right led to 600,000 deaths. I know this topic is hotly debated. I’ll find another.
An American woman who has an abortion is well within her legal rights to do so. Does this entail that it is morally right for her to have an abortion? We don’t call her a hero because she followed the laws and procured an abortion legally. Abortion remains immoral, and exercising this legal right has led to 50,000,000 deaths. But some readers will accuse me of equivocating here. There’s a difference between a state-given right and a God-given right. Abortion is contrary to nature and the law of God. Let’s find an example of a God-given right.
Many theologians argue that a husband or wife can rightfully seek a divorce if the other party has engaged in infidelity. But must a spouse seek divorce in these cases? Just because a spouse could exercise the right of divorce does not entail that he or she should exercise that right. Sometimes the right thing to do is to forgo our own rights and offer forgiveness seeking reconciliation.
And what of this God-given right to self-defense? Must we exercise this right? Sometimes exercising a right can be the wrong action. Jesus said to turn the other cheek. His words would be meaningless if it was always right to exercise our rights. Our rights can lead us astray. Especially if we’re concerned more about our own rights than we are about the welfare of our neighbors.
Sometimes asserting our God-given and state-given rights is the morally right thing to do. Sometimes it’s the wrong thing to do. Rightness has more to do with the condition of our hearts and the purity of our motives than it does to adhering to standards of law.
This is all very messy, and our political discourse likes things neat and tidy. Everything has to be black and white, but many issues are shades of gray. When confronted by the grayness caused by shadows of doubt, the taking heads merely decree either white or black. We look at the same gray cloud, and half America says white, while half says black.
Was George Zimmerman within his legal rights to kill Trayvon Martin? It appears to be so. Was it morally right for George Zimmerman to kill Trayvon Martin? That’s a different question that only God can answer. He can see through the grayness of doubt and circumstance. He can see George Zimmerman’s heart. He can see mine too.
[Cross-posted at Reflection and Choice]
Friday, July 12, 2013, 9:30 AM
Get ready to shout “Amen!” because this fall Oxygen will air Preachers of L.A., a new reality series about six pastors in the Los Angeles area.
Here’s what the network has to say about its new series.
Preachers of L.A. gives a candid and revealing look at six boldly different and world renowned mega-pastors in Southern California, who are willing to share diverse aspects of their lives, from their work in the community and with their parishioners to the very large and sometimes provocative lives they lead away from the pulpit.
Big houses. Fancy cars. Gold watches. Seminaries better get ready. I have a feeling that their enrollments will swell once Americans see how great it is to be a pastor. P. Diddy and Jay-Z aren’t the only ones who can live the good life. These pastors’re ballin, yo.
The ministers speaking in the trailer promote the so-called prosperity gospel. God wants you to be healthy and rich. He’s got plans to prosper you. But the prospering will be both material as well as spiritual. You just have to have faith. More faith you have, the richer and healthier you’ll be. It’s too bad the martyrs were so faithless. They should have just spoken a word of rebuke against those Roman magistrates.
I’ve always been fascinated by these types, but it’s in the same way I’m fascinated by train wrecks. I wish this kind of stuff didn’t happen, but I want to know what’s going on.
I feel quite certain that many Americans will be entertained by this program; however, I doubt that the church will be edified. Some viewers might embrace this sub-Christian message. Others will undoubtedly have their worst suspicions about the church confirmed. No one watching this will get an accurate picture of the typical faithful American pastor. Los Angeles has a number of faithful men who lead large congregations. Either they all turned Oxygen down, or Oxygen knew that faithfulness makes for boring television.
Wednesday, July 10, 2013, 11:18 AM
Today Rod Dreher has an excellent piece over at The American Conservative. In it he argues that conservatism is losing because conservatives have given up on storytelling. Didactic writings issued from think tanks aren’t very likely to influence behavior. Compelling stories are.
Dreher shares his own experience about moving back to Louisiana. For years he argued for community, but he never practiced what he preached. Seeing the story of his sister’s life and death changed his behavior.
According to Dreher, Americans ceded storytelling and the arts to the mass media. This mass media has always been characterized by a more progressive worldview, so left-leaning narratives are the only kinds of stories that we heard for generations. This situation leaves people making a choice between culture and conservatism. Dreher again relates his own experience.
I get this. As a bookish kid struggling to find a place in a world of hunting, fishing, and athletics, I was offered refuge in art, literature, and music my ninth-grade English teacher. She was quite liberal, but she was the only person I knew who shared the passion for creativity awakening inside me. I came to believe that all people who were serious about art were naturally liberal—and I became liberal too, for years. Over the years, I’ve seen that most of my conservative friends who are artistically inclined became so in spite of their conservatism—that is, despite the fact that the right-wingers they knew disdained the arts as effete and impractical. A love for art and literature was not part of the conservative story, as they received it.
Dreher invokes the memory of Russell Kirk and admonishes conservatives to reclaim what we’ve given up. It won’t be easy because we’re out of practice. Dreher reminds us that this is a long-term investment. We need to forget about short-term political gains. Our culture is at stake.
Read the entire article here.
Tuesday, July 9, 2013, 11:27 AM
Everyone has a worldview. Even smurfs.
This weekend I saw the new trailer for Smurfs 2. It looks to be a fun romp. Gargamel is back, and he’s got a new plan for catching those little blue people who are two apples high. If the trailer accurately represents the film, we’ll be entertained by nonstop shenanigans and high jinks. We’ll also get a healthy dose of atheistic existentialism.
Watch the trailer below. At the 1:45 mark Papa Smurf says, “It doesn’t matter where you came from; what matters is who you choose to be.”
How inspiring! If only it were true.
It does matter where we come from. If God really is our creator, then we really do owe him something. Papa Smurf’s words of pseudo-wisdom only make sense if our existence is the product of meaningless forces. If we are the products of evolution, then we have to manufacture meaning for our lives. We have to choose to be someone. If we have a creator, chances are that he intended for us to be a certain someone, and maybe we should ask him about it if we’re confused.
Wednesday, July 3, 2013, 4:12 PM
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Do people really show their true colors when under pressure? The Texas legislature is back in session again, once again trying to pass a law that would significantly restrict abortion in Texas.
Both protesters and supporters were out in full force yesterday, and things seemed to get a little heated. In this video, captured by blogger Adam Cahm, the pro-life crowd is singing “Amazing Grace” and an abortion activist responds with “Hail Satan.”
Check out some of these photos of the days events. I don’t think the abortion crowd is doing itself any favors.