After 12/7/2011, this blog will no longer be updated, although content will remain. Please visit my new blog at Hidden Latitudes.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Moving

Hello, friends,
I want to write you all a personal note (especially my followers) but Google is not cooperating.
So, to Mary, Donna, Trisha, Libby, Jason, Kip, David and Don:
Thank you for following me. I am both grateful and chastened, chastened that I have not kept up my end of the bargain. Plenty of reasons, but no good excuses.
I am beginning a new blog today. I hope you will follow me there as well. It is called Hidden Latitudes: Seeing the world from a different place. The main reason I am doing this is rather silly; I have felt for some time that the name "Words of Wayne" was both pretentious and untrue. So much of what I posted was the great thoughts and observations of others. Mine were paltry in comparison. So the new name is more true, and I have a better attitude about it. The content here will remain as long as Google allows it. I may repost some of the better posts on the new site.
Also, I hope this will spur me to post more.
You guys and gals mean a lot to me. I hope you will find the new blog encouraging and thought provoking.
Blessings,
Wayne

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Gospel as short short story

   
As a writer, I appreciate economical writing. Not exclusively—two of my favorite writers are Stephen King and Pat Conroy, famous for wordy, expansive tomes. Yet, like great design, the best writing usually occurs when nothing remains that can be excised. 
   One of the most interesting books I have read in the last decade was a collection of "55 fiction"—short stories consisting of exactly fifty-five words. It is a challenge, but offers great reward; you get to the end between sips of coffee!
   Ernest Hemingway, famous for his economy, is rumored to have penned this short short story:

             For Sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.
   You can spend hours reading that, and reading into that.
   There are 930,243 words in the King James Version of the Bible. It spans from the beginning of the earth to the creation of a new heaven. No one could ever call it economical word-wise. Yet we are told that every word is God-breathed and meant to be heard and read. In other words, it IS as lean and concise as God wants it to be.
   So I am not suggesting a replacement for any word in offering the following: How would I condense the story of the Bible (which I feel is ultimately the story of Jesus) into just six words?

  My humble suggestion:


We couldn't. Jesus did. Follow Him.

--Wayne S.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Oops

I rashly deleted a folder in Picasa which evidently stripped all of the photos from my Blog. Please enjoy the text as I try to rebuild three years worth of photos.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

If All Men Are Good: Another look at Anne Frank

One of the most puzzling aspects of the Jewish Holocaust is why over five million Jews—many well aware that they were headed towards a deadly end—allowed themselves to be herded into ghettos, then trains, and ultimately the gas chambers, without ever trying to avoid their fate. Yes, they were facing large numbers and superior weaponry, but they were seldom outnumbered. Trains carrying thousands of Jews, Poles and gypsies disembarked several times a day at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and all of them were directed to the camps or the crematoriums by no more than a few dozen soldiers. 
It is said that the desire of flight or fight is a universal one. But the evidence falters in the killing fields of Germany and Poland. In the Foreword to Miklos Nyisli's Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness AccountBruno Bettelheim addresses this question in regards to a very famous family: 


Margo, Otto, Anne and Edith Frank
   "Perhaps a remark on the universal success of the Diary of Anne Frank may stress how much we all wish to subscribe to this business-as-usual philosophy, and to forget that it hastens our destruction. It is an onerous task to take apart such a humane, such a moving story that arouses so much compassion for gentle Anne Frank. But I believe that the worldwide acclaim of her story cannot be explained unless we recognize our wish to forget the gas chambers and to glorify the attitude of going on with business-as-usual, even in a holocaust. While the Franks were making their preparations for going passively into hiding, thousands of other Jews in Holland and elsewhere in Europe were trying to escape to the free world, the better to be able to fight their executioners. Others who could not do so went underground—not simply to hide from the SS, waiting passively, without preparation for fight, for the day when they would be caught—but to fight the Germans, and with it for humanity. All the Franks wanted was to go on with life as much as possible in the usual fashion. 
   "Little Anne, too, wanted only to go on with life as usual, and nobody can blame her. But hers was certainly not a necessary fate, much less a heroic one; it was a senseless fate. The Franks could have faced the facts and survived, as did many Jews living in Holland. Anne could have had a good chance to survive, as did many Jewish children in Holland. But for that she would have had to be separated from her parents and gone to live with a Dutch family as their own child. Everybody who recognized the obvious knew that the hardest way to go underground was to do it as a family; that to hide as a family made detection by the SS most likely. The Franks, with their excellent connections among gentile Dutch families should have had an easy time hiding out singly, each with a different family. But instead of planning for this, the main principle of their planning was to continue as much as possible with the kind of family life they were accustomed to. Any other course would have meant not merely giving up the beloved family life as usual, but also accepting as reality man’s inhumanity to man. Most of all it would have forced their acceptance that business-as-usual was not an absolute value, but can sometimes be the most destructive of all attitudes. There is little doubt that the Franks, who were able to provide themselves with so much, could have provided themselves with a gun or two had they wished. They could have shot down at least one or two of the SS men who came for them. There was no surplus of SS men. The loss of an SS with every Jew arrested would have noticeably hindered the functioning of the police state. 
Otto Frank
The fate of the Franks wouldn’t have been any different, because they all died anyway except for Anne’s father, though he hardly meant to pay for his survival with the extermination of his whole family. They could have sold their lives dearly instead of walking to their death. 
   
Anne Frank

   "There is good reason why the so successful play ends with Anne stating her belief in the good in all men. What is denied is the importance of accepting the gas chambers as real so that never again will they exist. If all men are basically good, if going on with intimate family living no matter what else is what is to be most admired, then indeed we can all go on with life as usual and forget about Auschwitz. Except that Anne Frank died because her parents could not get themselves to believe in Auschwitz. And her story found wide acclaim because for us too, it denies implicitly that Auschwitz ever existed. If all men are good, there can be no Auschwitz."

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The evolutionary belch of the primordial slime?

Summarized, the argument is this: if only nature exists, then when I think and reason and prove things, the only thing that’s happening is that atoms are moving in my brain because other atoms pushed them. Human reason is caused only by nature, by the sum total of all the material events, from the Big Bang through evolution to photons of light stimulating my optic nerve to send electrical charges to my brain now. Why should I trust my reasoning, then, if it is caused by nothing but blind, unintelligent material forces? If there is no supernatural Mind, if my material brain is not moved by or in touch with or aware of any superior Spirit or Mind (however many material means and intermediaries he may use), then I have destroyed the credentials of my thinking, including that very act of skeptical thinking. Then I can’t help how my tongue happens to wag. Then I think a certain thing is true only because atoms and wind and weather and digestion and electricity have necessitated it, not because a wise and good Father God is teaching his children through many material intermediaries, as a teacher teaches students through blackboards and books. If there is no supernatural, then science is like listening to a broadcast of the news when there’s no broadcaster, no one on the other end. The television set and the wires are like the universe and our bodies and senses: the means of communication. God is like the broadcaster. Would you pay attention if you thought the broadcast just happened and there was nobody there? Would you pay attention to your own thinking if you believed it was nothing but the inevitable echoes of the evolutionary belch of the primordial slime?
--from Angels and Demons, by Peter Kreeft

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pat Conroy on Losing.

Pat Conroy, lower left
There is no downside to winning. It feels forever fabulous. But there is no teacher more discriminating or transforming than loss. The great secret of athletics is that you can learn more from losing than winning. No coach can afford to preach such a doctrine, but our losing season served as both model and template of how a life can go wrong and fall apart in even the most inconceivable places.
   Losing prepares you for the heartbreak, setback, and tragedy that you will encounter in the world more than winning ever can. By licking your wounds you learn how to avoid getting wounded the next time. The American military learned more by its defeat in South Vietnam than it did in all the victories ever fought under the Stars and Stripes. Loss invites reflection and reformulating and a change of strategies. Loss hurts and bleeds and aches. Loss is always ready to call out your name in the night. Loss follows you home and taunts you at the breakfast table, follows you to work in the morning. You have to make accommodations and broker deals to soften the rabbit punches that loss brings to your daily life. You have to take the word "loser" and add it to your resume and walk around with it on your name tag as it hand-feeds you your own shit in dosages too large for even great beasts to swallow. The word "loser" follows you, bird-dogs you, sniff you out of whatever fields you  hide in because you have to face things clearly and you cannot turn away from what is true. My team won eight games and lost seventeen... losers by any measure.
--Pat Conroy, in My Losing Season.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Life of the Artist

“I tried to get a Christmas job at Walmart once,” he recounts, “and when I filled out the application, I had to put down, ‘Musician for 20 years.’ I could see in their eyes what they were thinking, ‘Musician, drugs, irresponsible.’ What they actually said was, ‘Thank you for the application, Mr. Mallonee, we’ll call if we’re interested.’ I realized, ‘If I can’t get a job at Walmart at Christmas, I can’t get a job anywhere.’ This is all I can do. On the other hand, this is what I really love, so I have to take the famine with the feast.”
Bill Mallonee, quoted by Geoffrey Himes, in Paste Magazine.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Can you be a criminal and a Christian?



   A blog I read on occasion is Friendly Atheist. It is the work of Hemant Mehta, a math teacher in suburban Chicago (and who is, indeed, a friendly atheist). On September 8, 2011, the title of his blog entry was:

If People of Faith Commit a Crime, Do They Still Represent the Faith?

   Mr. Mehta then referred to a study by the Brookings Institute and the Public Religion Research Institute. The study reveals that, if a Christian were to commit a terrorist act in the name of religion, 83% of Americans would declare that person as not a true Christian, while only 13% would say that you COULD be a Christian and a terrorist.
   The survey also found that, asked the same question about Muslim terrorists, the numbers are much closer: 48% say NO, while 44% say YES, a Muslim terrorist is probably a true Muslim.
   The blogger's only comment about the findings are this: "How's that for a double standard?" Well, it is, for sure. But I guess it bodes well for Christianity in general that we are disassociated with violent acts in the name of religion (although some think otherwise). As an aside, I think it is worth noting that the most horrific and brutal acts in history were carried out by people who, like Mr. Mehta, professed no faith at all.
   But I'm sure Mr. Mehta (and the Institutes) would never have thought to ask an even more provocative question, and it is this:

   Isn't being a criminal actually a prerequisite for being a Christian?

   I think the answer to that question should be an unqualified, emphatic YES! For at the heart of Christianity, as Christ taught it, were two hard truths: 

   First, Man is a criminal, if not for crimes against humanity, then for crimes against divinity—rebelling against and denying a God who made him and sustains him.
   And second, judgment has been passed and a sentence has been handed down. But strangely enough, the penalty has been paid for the crime, and we can walk free, if we admit our guiltiness and accept the payment.
   I have said in the past that a church is "a wonderful community made up of murderers, adulterers and thieves." If you've worked it out how to atone for your own shortcomings (sin, in Biblical parlance), or you disagree that you have any, then neither Christ nor Christianity will be your cup of tea. But if you have doubts...
—Wayne S.
P.S.: For those of you who like to get your sociology freak on, the above mentioned study is fascinating stuff. 

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Dialogue, not dogma.

“I just spoke to Christianity Today,” Farmiga shares, “and they were extremely grateful for fully realized representations of Christians, where they’ve been given senses of humor and exquisite personalities. And yes, faults, but not to the degree where mockery is being made. They’re three-dimensional portrayals. And then you’ve got the other side that have come to me and said ‘I was fully prepared to be cynical and not connect, and in fact didn’t want to connect. And I found myself incredibly touched, and I thank you for that openness.’ So it’s wild to see unexpected reactions from either skew. But you know, I think films are the best sermons. No matter what faith you’re coming from—Hinduism or Buddhism or Islam or Judaism or whatever. The best sermons within all these faiths are the ones that provoke dialogue and don’t instill dogma.”
Vera Farmiga, on her directoral debut film Higher Ground, as quoted in Paste Magazine.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Science or Morality?

There are many things that are “unscientific” but not anti-scientific, things science can’t prove but can’t disprove either—things everyone accepts, like beauty, and love, and morality, and the presence of a self, an “I” in this body, not just atoms. So there’s nothing wrong with being “unscientific.”
...
Today, most people who don’t believe in God are not hard-headed scientists who demand rational proof of everything, but softhearted, compassionate people who are afraid God is too tough, too demanding, too “judgmental,” too moralistic. The primary reason for refusing to believe in God—the God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—is moral today.
from Angels and Demons, by Peter J. Kreeft

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

G. K. Chesterton on Mysticism

   Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. 
   He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of to-day) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. 
If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. 
   His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also. Thus he believed that children were indeed the kingdom of heaven, but nevertheless ought to be obedient to the kingdom of earth. He admired youth because it was young and age because it was not. It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid.
—G. K. Chesterton, in Orthodoxy

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What I Learned From Atheists

Two statements: The Christian faith makes a significant, noticeable, and practical difference in a person's life. A person who is not a Christian is eternally separated from God. Either of these statements—both made by atheists—is a powerful argument for evangelism if we really were to believe them. If both are true, we need to throw off the influence of secularization, restore the Christian mind in our thinking, and unashamedly proclaim the truth of the Gospel.
—from Larry Stone at realclearreligion.org
(So many excellent thoughts in this article. Please read it all at the link above).

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Kristof on Evangelical Christianity


   Evangelicals are disproportionately likely to donate 10 percent of their incomes to charities, mostly church-related. More important, go to the front lines, at home or abroad, in the battles against hunger, malaria, prison rape, obstetric fistula, human trafficking or genocide, and some of the bravest people you meet are evangelical Christians (or conservative Catholics, similar in many ways) who truly live their faith.
   I’m not particularly religious myself, but I stand in awe of those I’ve seen risking their lives in this way — and it sickens me to see that faith mocked at New York cocktail parties.
—Nicholas D. Kristof, in the New York Times

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pat Conroy on words.

    Because I was raised Roman Catholic, I never feared taking any unchaperoned walks through the fields of language. Words lifted me up and filled me with pleasure. I’ve never met a word I was afraid of, just ones that left me indifferent or that I knew I wouldn’t ever put to use. When reading a book, I’ll encounter words that please me, goad me into action, make me want to sing a song. I dislike pretentious words, those highfalutin ones with a trust fund and an Ivy League education. Often they were stillborn in the minds of academics, critics, scientists. They have a tendency to flash their warning lights in the middle of a good sentence. In literary criticism my eye has fallen on such gelatinous piles as “antonomasia,” “litotes,” or “enallage.” 
     I’ve no idea what those words mean nor how to pronounce them nor any desire to look them up. But whenever I read I’ll encounter forgotten words that come back to me like old friends who’ve returned from long voyages to bring me news of the world. Often, I’ll begin my writing day by reading those words in the notebooks I keep with such haphazard consistency. Though I’m an erratic journal keeper, I admire the art form well enough to wish I’d had the discipline to master that sideshow of the writer’s craft. I lose most of the world around me when I fail to record entries in those notebooks that line my shelves.
     I could build a castle from the words I steal from books I cherish. Here’s a list I culled from a book I read long ago—“sanction,” “outlaw,” “suburbia,” “lamentations,” “corolla,” “debris,” and “periodic table.” I can shake that fistful of words and jump-start a sentence that could send me on my way toward a new book. But if I go forward a single page I can listen to a different reading self who cherry-picked words from another book and recorded “atlas,” “villainy,” “candelabra,” “tango.” Each file of words seems outfitted for a different story or novel. I hunt down words that have my initials branded on their flanks. If I take the time to write one down I want to get it right every time I form a sentence. I’ve known dozens of writers who fear the pitfalls and fastnesses of the language they write in and the glossy mess of the humanity they describe. Yes, humanity is a mess and it takes the immensity of a coiled and supple language to do it justice. Writing is the only way I have to explain my own life to myself. I’ve amassed a stockpile of books in vaults and storage bins in attics and unfinished basements and tortoiseshell-colored boxes that I raid with willful abandon when I try to fix a sentence on a page. Words call out my name when I need them to make something worthy out of language.
—from My Reading Life

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Essential Fear of God

Religious fear, or awe, is an essential ingredient of all true religion, yet it has been systematically exiled from modern, “psychologically correct” religion. What irony!—the thing the Bible calls the “beginning of wisdom” is the experience modern religious educators and liturgists deliberately remove or try to remove from our souls: fear and trembling, adoration and worship, the bent knee and the prone heart. The modern God is “something I can feel comfortable with”. The God of the Bible, in contrast, is “a consuming fire”. (See Psalm 103[104]:4 and Hebrews 12:29).
--Angels and Demons by Peter J. Kreeft

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Fundamental Need for Fundamental Education

   School, in teaching the mastery of skills (the three Rs) gives the child faith in his ability to master other skills—schools devoted to the debatable (social studies, multiculturalism, and other moot topics) weaken the child—for, even as they seem to endorse some inchoate sense of “social justice,” they offer the adolescent hungering for certainty a curriculum of pabulum, and reward him for regurgitating the school’s positions. 
   College, once a predictable, practicable course of study designed to fit the individual for self-support, has become, at least in the Liberal Arts, an extension of the bad high school, which is to say, of the terror of adolescence. 
   The advertisement of “choice”—in curriculum, in behavior (in the glorification of “alternative lifestyles”), while a charming idea to the conscious (pleasure-bent) eighteen-year-old mind, is, actually, to him deeply unsettling. For the eighteen-year-old knows that at some point he must abandon even graduate school, and get on in a world which, he knows, the pandering cry of “choice” is not fitting him for. Gender studies, multiculturalism, semiotics, deconstruction, video art, and other such guff, while attractive to the child, as they seem to endorse his “adulthood,” are in truth, terrifying as his clock ticks on toward the school’s relaxation of its authority, that date on which it will spew the unschooled, confused, skill-less student into a world which, he must know, is uninterested in his capacity for bushwah, and wants to know what he can contribute to the common effort.
From The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture, by David Mamet.

Monday, August 08, 2011

On brothers, birthdays and institutions.

   Today is my youngest brother's 50th birthday. We will have a party, and celebrate this milestone with him. But he will not have his wife, his children or their spouses here to celebrate with us.
   There are none.
   Jeff suffered carbon monoxide poisoning when he was seventeen years old. After being in a coma for months, it took him over a year to relearn how to walk, talk and do the most simple tasks.
   But it all didn't come back. He has an IQ in the mid sixties. Physically, he is as feeble as an eighty year old man. Perhaps the most devastating effects of his injury are the total inability to remember or think logically. He has lived with us for seven years (since our mother's death), but still comes down to the kitchen in the morning and opens several cabinets looking for his coffee cup, which has been in the same place since he came to us. When we suggest he fix a bowl of cereal, he will look through the cabinets until he finds the bowls, take it to the table, then go through more cabinets to find the cereal, take it to the table, come back and look in the freezer for the milk before opening the other door, and then prepare his bowl of cereal. Only after he has stared at the bowl for several moments will he realize he needs a spoon, which prompts another hunt through the drawers. Afterwards, unless we suggest he clean up, all will remain on the kitchen table. It is this way every day. 
   He will do anything we ask of him, but we must ask. And only one thing at a time.
   Needless to say, possibilities for work, even volunteer work, are non-existent. A well-meaning friend suggested being a "bagboy" at the local grocery. I explained that the ice cream would melt before being placed on top of the bread.
   Yet two things began to become obvious. One, Jeff needed an experience, or better yet an environment, that stimulated him more, that kept him busy. And two, I needed to do something else besides spend my day with him. I felt myself being slowed, becoming as lethargic and unmotivated as my charge. I felt guilty about not doing the former; and guilty for feeling the latter.
   So we began looking at alternatives. But the prospect was daunting, and not a little bit frightening. I had visions of some dark and dreary place where "undesirables" were shunted off to be barely kept alive. It used to be that way.  Laura Hillenbrand, in her book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, describes such a time, not so long ago:


In the 1930s, America was infatuated with the pseudoscience of eugenics and its promise of strengthening the human race by culling the “unfit” from the genetic pool. Along with the “feebleminded,” insane, and criminal, those so classified included women who had sex out of wedlock (considered a mental illness), orphans, the disabled, the poor, the homeless, epileptics, masturbators, the blind and the deaf, alcoholics, and girls whose genitals exceeded certain measurements. Some eugenicists advocated euthanasia, and in mental hospitals, this was quietly carried out on scores of people through “lethal neglect” or outright murder. At one Illinois mental hospital, new patients were dosed with milk from cows infected with tuberculosis, in the belief that only the undesirable would perish. As many as four in ten of these patients died. A more popular tool of eugenics was forced sterilization, employed on a raft of lost souls who, through misbehavior or misfortune, fell into the hands of state governments.
   Not a pretty picture. Of course, insane asylums no longer exists, but there are nevertheless some frightening places still around. 
   But a serendipitous (i.e. God-inspired) comment from a new friend led us to just the perfect place. Annandale Village is a community in Suwanee, Georgia (45 minutes northeast of Atlanta) which offers a bucolic, community style setting for adults with developmental disabilities and traumatic brain injuries. After visiting, we allowed Jeff to stay a week. We were unsure of how he would react to the place (His first comment the first day: "Is this a nursing home?") but he thrived. He was led into a dizzying world of events, field trips, and a sheltered workshop. We told him this was no nursing home; it was more like perpetual summer camp.
   Jeff will soon be going back for his second week-long stay, and we are trying (along with my middle brother, Charles) to work out the financial arrangements for him to become a permanent resident. 
   We are grateful to be able to offer him the chance to be a more productive and self respecting man. And we don't feel like we are "institutionalizing" him at all. 
   Yet he will always be a part of the most important institution of all: our family.
Happy Birthday, Jeff.  

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Chesterton on Books about Success

The bookstores of today are full of "self-help" books. I naively thought the genre began near the middle of the last century with Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. But they had been around long enough that, by 1908, G. K. Chesterton, the English writer, had already had his fill. Listen, as in his inimitable style, he excoriates both the writers and their advice: 
THE FALLACY OF SUCCESS 
 There has appeared in our time a particular class of books and articles which I sincerely and solemnly think may be called the silliest ever known among men. They are much more wild than the wildest romances of chivalry and much more dull than the dullest religious tract. Moreover, the romances of chivalry were at least about chivalry; the religious tracts are about religion. But these things are about nothing; they are about what is called Success. On every bookstall, in every magazine, you may find works telling people how to succeed. They are books showing men how to succeed in everything; they are written by men who cannot even succeed in writing books. To begin with, of course, there is no such thing as Success. Or, if you like to put it so, there is nothing that is not successful. That a thing is successful merely means that it is; a millionaire is successful in being a millionaire and a donkey in being a donkey. Any live man has succeeded in living; any dead man may have succeeded in committing suicide. But, passing over the bad logic and bad philosophy in the phrase, we may take it, as these writers do, in the ordinary sense of success in obtaining money or worldly position. These writers profess to tell the ordinary man how he may succeed in his trade or speculation--how, if he is a builder, he may succeed as a builder; how, if he is a stockbroker, he may succeed as a stockbroker. They profess to show him how, if he is a grocer, he may become a sporting yachtsman; how, if he is a tenth-rate journalist, he may become a peer; and how, if he is a German Jew, he may become an Anglo-Saxon. This is a definite and business-like proposal, and I really think that the people who buy these books (if any people do buy them) have a moral, if not a legal, right to ask for their money back. Nobody would dare to publish a book about electricity which literally told one nothing about electricity; no one would dare to publish an article on botany which showed that the writer did not know which end of a plant grew in the earth. Yet our modern world is full of books about Success and successful people which literally contain no kind of idea, and scarcely any kind of verbal sense.
From All Things Considered.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Why Tolerance is Condescending

Penn Jillette is a very talented magician, the more statuesque half of Penn and Teller. He is also an outspoken atheist. Yet he remains one of the, if not nicest, then honest, ones and often has good things to say about sincere believers, even if he believes them sincerely wrong. Here's an example:

"One of the reasons I get along so much better with fundamentalist Christians than I do with liberal Christians, is that fundamentalist Christians, I can look them in the eye and say, 'You are wrong.' They also know that I will always fight for their right to say that. And I will celebrate their right to say that. But I will look them in the eye and say, "You're wrong." And the fundamentalist will look me in the eye and say, 'You're wrong.'  And that, to me, is respect.
"The more liberal religious people who go, 'There are many paths to truth, you just go on, and maybe you'll find your way' --[this] is the way you talk to a child, and I bristle at that."
Here is the video which includes the comment. Warning: Not all of it is as polite.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The death of a bookstore, the rise of reading

   It was saddening news: Borders was closing its final 259 bookstores, this on top of the 225 it shuttered earlier in the year. Not only will some communities be deprived of a good bookstore, but tens of thousands will be deprived of a job. No one, reader or non, can be glad at the news.
   I have always been an avid reader. I remember reading Hardy Boys books in my upstairs bedroom at our house on B Street in Lindale, Georgia. We moved from there after my second grade year, so I was reading juvenile fiction at the age of seven.
   I love the feel, the heft, even the smell of a book. My idea of a pleasant day at the beach is a large umbrella, a cold drink, and a book. I love to own them, look at them on the shelf, underline, notate, and bookmark. Most of all, I like to read them.
   Yet I am as much responsible for Borders' demise as anyone. I haven't been there in years (I always found the actual stores too sterile, too European, for my tastes). As of late I haven't visited Barnes and Noble much either, for reasons I shall mention below. I do visit two used bookstores on occasion; I enjoy the aroma of older books and the dizzying layouts of the crowded pine shelves, but I seldom leave with a handful of books.
   So why is an avid bibliophile so infrequently in a bookstore? I hope it is the reason many others choose: the amazing variety of books offered by online sellers, and the ability to actually read them in digital form.
   As someone who appreciates physical books as much as I, I didn't think I would enjoy at all the notion of reading a book on an electronic device. Most of the earlier ones were atrocious. And reading on a computer, even a laptop, seemed awkward.
   But that all changed with the Kindle (and the Nook). Finally, here was a digital device that mimicked the look (but not the smell!) of a book,  was easy to use, and compact and light like a book. It took me a while to become accustomed to it, but once there, it became my preferred mode of reading. I especially like the way one can highlight and share passages with ease, and simply click on a word to find its meaning (I now know the meanings of risible and moiety). And another fabulous feature is that, if I pause my reading on any device, I can rejoin it on my laptop, tablet or even my phone, right where I left off. This is the best thing for a doctor's waiting room.
   Amazon doesn't release Kindle sales numbers, but most industry watchers expect that the seller will eclipse the eight million mark on 2011. They did announce that Kindle edition books have overtaken paperback sales, at least in units. Barnes and Noble's Nook is said by some to be the sales leader in books sold, but not in Nook readers. In either case, readers can read titles on a variety of devices (I use three), so proprietary hardware is not mandatory. And there are several publishers (Google Books, among others) that don't even sell hardware, but provide readers for devices.
   Both ease of use and portability are things I appreciate. Yet another key benefit is the price, with digital editions usually selling for much less than their paper cousins. Add the fact that it's available instantly, and tax-free, and it seems a no-brainer. Evidently I am not alone, judging by sales. So I don't fear the industry of writing and reading--it's still there. But it's changing.
   Will I miss Borders? Sadly, no. Would I miss Barnes and Noble, or the neighborhood bookstore, like The Shop Around the Corner in You've Got Mail? Perhaps (like I miss Meg Ryan!). But at its most basic, stripped of the romanticism, a bookstore is where you go to find a book. If I can do that from my home, is that wrong?
   Some people lament the loss of jobs and a sense of community. I regret the former, but question the latter. I can think of no time in my memory that a group of friends and I decided to meet up at a bookstore and spend some time together. I guess it happens.
   What intrigues me most about the digital age of publishing is the opportunities it affords writers like me, unable to attract attention with even modest publishers, to publish a book. And although it is a cash cow for some right now, I would hope that someday college textbooks might also be delivered in this fashion, thus lessening a large expense for financially strapped students.
  I don't know what the future will look like for bookstores, or books either. Music survived the demise of the vinyl record, and indeed thrived. There are more recorded acts now than ever in history. And I will, as long as I can, always buy good old-fashioned analog books (some authors, like Pat Conroy and David McCollough, will always be on the shelf). Yet I do not think it unfair to anyone that I read with pixels instead of ink.
   Because I am a reader. I don't listen to books. I don't wait for the movie. I read books.
—Wayne S.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Unproven doesn't mean unbelieveable

Can you prove the reality of the supernatural?
Even if I can’t, you also can’t prove its nonexistence. Naturalism cannot be proved. How could the fish in a little fishbowl prove that there is no world outside the fishbowl? How could an unborn baby prove there is no life outside the womb? How could man, bound to nature, prove there is nothing in addition to nature? You can’t prove a universal negative—that there is no X anywhere (unless X is self-contradictory, like a round square)—for to prove there is no X anywhere, you would have to look everywhere. Only God can do that.
Peter Kreeft, PhD, Professor of Philosophy at Boston College, in Angels and Demons.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Reconciling God of the Old and New Testament

How does one reconcile the loving God of the Old Testament  with the harsh God of the New Testament?
 When I ask this question of students, at first they are shocked,  and then most assume that I have simply misspoken, as I am  prone to do. They typically have heard the question inverted,  along these lines: "How did the mean Old Testament God  morph into a nice guy like Jesus?" I assure them that this time,  at least, I have not accidentally inverted my words. I then observe  that God in the Old Testament is consistently described  as slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, but Jesus  speaks about hell more than anyone else in Scripture. The  word hell doesn't even show up in English translations of the  Old Testament.
David T. Lamb, in God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Evolved or God-breathed?

If you’re the king’s kid, you’ll act kingly. If you’re made in the image of King God, you’ll act godly. But if you’re made in the image of King Kong—well, you can read the papers as well as I can.
Peter Kreeft, PhD, Professor of Philosophy at Boston College, in Angels and Demons.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Christianity gets an "attaboy" from an unusual source.

I have admired and enjoyed this man's words for over four decades. Now I have more to appreciate him for:
"Why so many expend such sweat and precious breath to fluidize and demonize Christianity is simply quite beyond me. Surely there are infinitely more negative and disruptive forces at work in the universe than something that gives hope and comfort, let alone refuge, aid and medical assistance to countless millions. I imagine it’s pretty much the same old bag of rattling bones, the detractors and stone throwers bitch and whine while negativity and selfishness runs rampant in their insular worlds. When was the last time you heard of “The American Atheist Association” building schools and housing for the homeless and disposed on the frozen slopes of China or bringing in medical supplies and vaccinating poverty stricken tribes in the African wilderness while warring factions try to kill them?" 
Bernie Taupin, long-time lyricist for Elton John, from his blog. Please go and read the entire thing.  (Hat tip Jared.)

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Christopher Hitchens embraces faith?

Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens, my favorite athiest, is dying of esophageal cancer. Numerous pleas for him to embrace faith have been met with just as many pledges never to do so. But from novelist Martin Amis, whom Hitchens calls his "dearest friend," comes perhaps the most interesting entreaty of all:  
My dear Hitch: there has been much wild talk, among the believers, about your impending embrace of the sacred and the supernatural. This is of course insane. But I still hope to convert you, by sheer force of zealotry, to my own persuasion: agnosticism. In your seminal book, God Is Not Great, you put very little distance between the agnostic and the atheist; and what divides you and me (to quote Nabokov yet again) is a rut that any frog could straddle. "The measure of an education," you write elsewhere, "is that you acquire some idea of the extent of your ignorance." And that's all that "agnosticism" really means: it is an acknowledgment of ignorance. Such a fractional shift (and I know you won't make it) would seem to me consonant with your character – with your acceptance of inconsistencies and contradictions, with your intellectual romanticism, and with your love of life, which I have come to regard as superior to my own.
 The atheistic position merits an adjective that no one would dream of applying to you: it is lenten. And agnosticism, I respectfully suggest, is a slightly more logical and decorous response to our situation – to the indecipherable grandeur of what is now being (hesitantly) called the multiverse. The science of cosmology is an awesome construct, while remaining embarrassingly incomplete and approximate; and over the last 30 years it has garnered little but a series of humiliations. So when I hear a man declare himself to be an atheist, I sometimes think of the enterprising termite who, while continuing to go about his tasks, declares himself to be an individualist. It cannot be altogether frivolous or wishful to talk of a "higher intelligence" – because the cosmos is itself a higher intelligence, in the simple sense that we do not and cannot understand it.
After reading that, I felt compelled to say that Amis is right: The only logical and reasonable stance concerning God (that is, solely based on logic and reason) is that of agnostic. I readily admit my faith and belief in God is exactly that: faith and belief. Yet Hitchens probably does not admit that his denial of the existence of God is equally a stand of faith and belief, and not logic and reason.
So, I guess you could say Christopher Hitchens has embraced faith. Of a sort.
—Wayne S. (Martin Amis quote From "Amis on Hitchens" in The Guardian.)
UPDATE: The above quotation also appears in Amis's foreword to The Quotable Hitchens.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Not exactly combobulated with prefixes

   The English language must be one of the most complex languages around (my Ukrainian friends may demur; they use different words, for the same thing, when speaking to a female rather than a male). One of the complexities of English must lie in its use of prefixes. Some are straightforward, like un-, ultra-, or sub-. Others often seem unnecessary, like be-: isn't becalm the same as calm, befog the same as fog, besiege the same as siege? There is even a word smirch; it means the same as besmirch.
    The most curious one to me is the prefix dis-. According to the rules, the prefix dis- denotes the negation, removal or expulsion of the verb to which it is attached. This can be clearly seen in such words as disappear, disclaim or discolor.
But occasionally the prefix attaches to a verb that, standing alone, would not have an opposite meaning. We have all heard of disgruntled postal workers, but what about the thousands of gruntled postal workers? If you distort something, you twist it, but a tort is a legal term for a wrongful act. If I discard something by accident, and then get it back, do I card it? No I retrieve it, which makes me wonder when I trieved it in the first place. Dissemination seems identical to semination to me. It is easy to disparage someone, but as far as I can tell impossible to parage someone. If I am saddened at something, I may be in dismay. When I am glad, I should say I am in may!
My goal here is not to suade you that English is a ciplined language, nor that we should dain it without question. I just want to make the point that proper usage is not always the aster we think it is. To think so would be showing real cernment.
—Wayne S.

Friday, April 29, 2011

What's inside the package?

    In doing some research on Blu-Ray players prior to a purchase, I was reading some customer reviews on Amazon. They usually prove very helpful, since most customers are eager to describe both disappointments and pleasant surprises. 

    In my reading, I came upon a review unlike any other I have read. In it, the reviewer... well, let me just quote the reviewer, Abe, verbatim:

I purchased this product as a gift to give my youngest, adult daughter for her 31st birthday. Therefore I can't say very much about how the unit performs in relation to video presented on the screen, audio, or Blu-ray loading speed. I can tell you that after I removed it from the shipping box, the manufacturer's packaging was attractive with interesting pieces of information printed on the box. The box itself appeared sturdy enough for the purpose of protecting the unit within and was of a size that made wrapping it very easy. The box surface adheres very well to standard Scotch tape which further facilitates wrapping.
The unwrapping process proved to be quite easy as well. Practially all the wrapping paper came off in one stroke. Opening the box was something even a two year old could accomplish easily. Once opened, the unit came out with a minimum of effort and a minimum of protective material that would have to be thrown away later.
Once all items were out of the box, accounting for each item that was supposed to be included was accomplished quickly.
All-in-all, this unit made for an exceptionally well received gift. I'd give it again and highly recommend it to anyone contemplating this unit as a gift to give to a good friend or relative.
     Of course, what is wonderfully humorous about the review is that Abe says absolutely nothing about the Blu-Ray player itself. Yet he is meticulously true to his experience with the product. I think Abe is either a very sincere man who wants to contribute to our decision-making, or else a very charming joker. Either way, I enjoyed his review.
    Further reflection, though, made me realize something. Regarding my spiritual life, I am almost always careful to describe it in positive terms. I talk about my church, my service to my brother, my Bible study. I talk about what I believe, and even some of what I practice. But I seldom get beyond the "box" and the "wrapping paper." It is rare that I will tell someone what's really in the box: a man with many faults, inconsistent faith, disappointments, debilitating sins and even bouts of depression. A man who believes strongly, strives mightily (not near enough) and who knows he is made to be something other than what he often is at the end of the day. I know some people (like my wife) see that my surface does not always "adhere very well" to the tape of the Gospel of Christ. 
    The real value of the product that is Christ in me must come from honestly appraising my life, first before God, then to myself, and finally to others. We all want to know what I wanted to know about that Blu-Ray player: How well does it work?
--Wayne S.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Repost: Love Like God, or Love of God?

Since the current debate in Christian circles centers around the love of God, I thought a couple of you might find this entry, from 2009, of renewed interest.

Perhaps the most quoted New Testament writer of all is not Paul, but the Apostle John. There are two reasons for this: John 3:16 and First John 4:8.
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." John 3:16
"The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love." 1 John 4:8
   The former verse is, of course, a great promise to believers and unbelievers alike. The latter is a promise, too, that we will know the true spiritual state of our hearts by our actions towards others.
   Unfortunately, many (mostly those outside the faith) want to make the second verse mean something it does not. They want it to mean that "If we love, we know God." But it doesn't. If we love, we are perhaps most like God, but we do not neccessarily know Him. I may sit down and play "Yesterday" on the guitar, but I do not know Paul McCartney.
   John speaks about love a lot. Severty-nine times it is used in his writings. It is obvious that he thinks love is a paramount virtue, and evidence of a true spiritual faith. One would think the writer John would be a perfect text for those who say "the essence of spirituality is love."
   But John also says something else. In the same letter in which he wrote "God is love," he writes this:
"By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist*, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now is already in the world." 1 John 4: 2-3
Yikes! Suddenly we find that loving one another is not enough. We actually need to confess that Jesus is God, sent from God. Here's where the "God is love" crowd drops back. But in doing so, don't they really negate the love part, too? I mean, if John is dead-set on this Jesus stuff, can we trust him on the love stuff?
   Many Americans, Christian or not, simply choose to ignore the Jesus stuff. A Pew Research Center survey in 2007 found that in all major religions (including evangelical Christianity), a majority felt there were many roads to eternal life. Even our president unashamedly supports this view.  But John doesn't. And neither does the rest of the Bible.
   John sums it up this way:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.
We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
We love, because He first loved us. (1 John 4:7-19)
Yes, God is love. And Jesus is the evidence. The only evidence.
W. S
*John uses the term antichrist here in a generic sense, as someone who is anti-Christ, not as some prophetic future ruler.

Illustration: Helping Hands by Nadeem Chughtai 
  

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bono on Jesus

If only we could be a bit more like Him, the world would be transformed. When I look at the Cross of Christ, what I see up there is all my shit and everybody else's. So I ask myself a question a lot of people have asked: Who is this man? And was He who He said He was, or was He just a religious nut? And there it is, and that's the question. And no one can talk you into it or out of it. 
— Bono, excerpted from Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The shorter water fountain

    When I was a young boy growing up in Rome, Georgia, "downtown" was the shopping district. The first mall in Georgia, Atlanta's Lenox Square had just been opened, in 1959. It would be another twenty years before Rome would open a mall. So although Rome's downtown was only five blocks long, it was our Fifth Avenue, with a plethora of delightful and busy stores and eateries.
    I would often go shopping with my grandmother. There was one department store on Broad Street, the main thoroughfare in town. It was called Miller Brothers, and it was always a special treat because it had an elevator to the second floor. The only other elevator I knew of in town was in a hospital.
    So it was always a treat to go to Miller Brothers with my grandmother, and I was respectful when we lingered in the Women's section, because I knew an elevator ride awaited my good behavior.
    Parking was sometimes scarce on Broad Street proper, so we would often park on East First Street, the street behind Miller Brothers. Then we would enter via the back door, not as impressive as the Broad Street entrance, which had two large brass and glass doors. The back door, singular, was a less pretentious door, which opened into a narrow hallway with offices on one side, and bathrooms on the other.
    I remember one visit vividly, around 1960, when I was about six. We entered the rear door, and I stopped briefly to get a quick swig of water from the water fountain. There was a tall refrigerated water fountain, but it came to the top of my head, so I opted for the smaller ceramic fountain beside it, even though it was uncooled, like the drinking fountains at schools and sports arenas. It was just the right height. I was a few sips into the delightful refreshment when I was grabbed by the collar and rudely jerked back. I turned to find my grandmother looking at me with a stricken face.
    "That fountain is for the colored people," she loudly whispered, and pointed to a sign, which simply said, "Colored."
     I knew what she meant by "colored people," although they were pretty much one color in Rome. And I knew, at six, that these same people were called "nigras" by both my grandparents and my parents. I grew up in the segregated South and, yes, it was a racist society. I would see it change, and change dramitically, over the next fifty years. But then, I only knew the what of race relations, not the flimsy reasons why.
     I am pretty sure that my grandmother was concerned that I might get some ailment from using that fountain. But I didn't know that day what my transgression was. It was never explained, and I remember spending the rest of the visit wondering if I was rebuked for taking something that wasn't mine. Looking back from fifty years, I think that may be true. I think perhaps I stole a little of the quiet dignity of the black men and women who stooped to drink from the short, uncooled fountain, while lesser people stood and drank beside them.
     All this came to mind when I saw this video by Herman Cain, a black, conservative from Georgia who is considering a presidential run. Herman's story mirrors mine. Herman is nine years older than me, so his story probably took place earlier than mine. But although they weren't in the same year, it was certainly the same time. 
—Wayne S.