May 17 2009

The Spiritual Poverty of Socialism? Part 2

The previous post in this series is here.

First, in order to be able to talk about this, let’s agree that no purely socialist society has ever existed.  Nevertheless, it’s reasonable to observe that some government policies and programs are more socialist than others.  So it’s the morality of socialist policies and programs in general that is in question, without regard to whether they exist in a purely socialist system.  In any case, experience suggests that it’s a smokescreen to argue that particular politicians or governments “aren’t socialist” in some absolutist sense.  What’s very clear is that some policies are socialist.  Governments and politicians who primarily pursue those policies can reasonably be called “socialist” in normal speech.

So what ARE socialist policies?  Basically, socialist policies attempt to disconnect outcomes for individuals from the efforts made BY those individuals, and to do so with money and other resources taken from other individuals in the form of taxes, fees, restrictions, regulations, and sometimes outright confiscation.   This isn’t a theoretical economic definition, but is rather an observation of what animates socialist policies (the disconnection of outcomes from individual efforts) and the means by which socialist policies are carried out (taxes, fees, restrictions, regulations, and confiscation).  Call it an operational definition that allows the correct identification of “socialists in the wild” without first capturing them, checking their DNA and doing a complete morphological exam of their complete economic policy.  If it walks like socialist, talks like a socialist, and generally acts like a socialist….

You can look up socialism in several online references and get various definitions, some requiring “state ownership of the means of production” and “central planning of economic activity” and other things.  The problem:  the definition of “state ownership” is vague.  If I theoretically own something, but the state can tell me IF I can use it, how to use it, when to use it, who I have to pay to use it, how much I have to pay them to use it, who I have to hire to use it, where I can sell it, IF I can sell it, perhaps price limitations on what I can sell it for, what kinds of conditions I am required to provide for those I hire, etc., and after all that the state confiscates a large percentage of whatever money I can make using it, even with all those restrictions, regulations and requirements, at what point does my putative “ownership” cease to mean “ownership” in the normally accepted sense?   Particularly if the next “owner” to whom I sell it has the same relationship with the state that I did when I owned it? And now, what if all the people who (theoretically) don’t own my property are still allowed to vote for regulations and policies and taxes that impose all the restrictions I just listed, for their own benefit as they see it?  Who, exactly, owns my property?  Well, quite a few of us, apparently.

This is why those textbook definitions are of little benefit in really identifying “socialism on the ground.”  When someone tells you that European nations “aren’t really socialist,” it means they are looking at the textbooks, instead of the realities on the ground.  It’s like saying that the Soviet Union wasn’t really a dictatorship because they had elections.

So, while textbook definitions of “socialism” often obscure more than they reveal, it’s easy to see that socialist policies attempt to disconnect outcomes for individuals from the efforts made BY those individuals, and to do so with money and other resources taken in the form of taxes, fees, restrictions, regulations, and sometimes outright confiscation.

Statism and socialism have much in common.  It’s pretty safe to say that socialism requires statism to function; if there isn’t much statism going on, there won’t be much socialism, either.  On the other hand, some forms of statism (the purely kleptocractic dictatorship, for example) aren’t particularly socialist, because they have no intent to secure ANY particular outcome for individuals other than those in power.  So:  all socialists are statists, but not all statists are socialists, although in the modern world most are.

In what follows, therefore, everytime I use the word “socialist” it would be good to remember that it means “socialist and statist.”  I just don’t want to say it that way everytime.

Most people who reject socialism are really rejecting statism, its unavoidable symbiote.  I am one of those.  If there was some way of having an entire culture participate in “voluntary socialism,” where everyone worked as hard as if they were working only for themselves, and behaving as responsibly with public resources as if they were personally owned, I might be willing to consider it (though I would have several reservations…  and since we don’t live in Heaven yet, and the Fall happened, this is a ludicrous conjecture anyway).  For me, the deal breaker is the degree of statism that must accompany socialism.

In the next post in this series, I’ll discuss the continuum of socialism/statism, i.e., starting with those “socialist” policies that most of us agree about, and moving to those that are more controversial.   Then, we can get to the spiritual implications of all this, the moral questions, the really interesting stuff.  Stay tuned.  I know this has been a bit dull, but it’s about to get much more interesting.

The next post in this series is here.

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May 15 2009

Conflicted Christians

Category: abortion,church,higher education,Obama,religionharmonicminer @ 9:39 am

As previously observed, President Obama will receive an honorary doctorate from Notre Dame in a few days, and address a commencement exercise. And although there is a considerable amount of Outrage Over Obama Speaking at Notre Dame, the plain fact is that 53% of Catholics voted for him, in direct contravention of their bishops’ advice and admonition.

One graduating senior, Matt Degnan, is selling T-shirts he designed that say “Obama? Fine By Me.” When I asked him whether the shirts represented enthusiastic support of the president or merely tacit ambivalence, he simply responded, “I think that the shirts speak for themselves.”

But he told the paper that faculty members have been the most frequent buyers, which comes as no surprise to anyone who’s ever met a college professor.

Furthermore, Catholics themselves helped put Obama in office, after voting for him 53 percent. Obama secured the largest advantage among Catholics for a Democrat since Bill Clinton.

So although I’m empathetic toward the outrage, and a Catholic school honoring a pro-choice activist like Obama is nothing short of outrageous, the numbers tell a different picture. The state of Indiana, St. Joseph’s County, South Bend, and the University of Notre Dame all supported candidate Obama, with alacrity, as did Catholic America.

Right-to-life issues are important, but this supposed scandal is muddied by the inconvenient underlying facts: Obama has huge support here, and some of the groups that are railing against his visit are the very groups that helped put him in office, in a position to then be invited.

But voting him into office was apparently one thing, and allowing him to speak at a college commencement, another. Catholics should get their message straight if they want to regain the kind of influence that makes them a credible voice of reason, compassion, clarity, and morality. Right now they just seem tongue-tied.

Christians should not be tongue tied.   Ever.   They should be willing to speak out on straight-up moral issues, especially those involving life and death of the most innocent.  Shame on us.  And count me as one evangelical who feels more in common with the other 47% of Roman Catholics than with all too many protestants.

In the meantime, here’s a protestant to admire, for his conviction, and his willingness to tell simple, unobstructed, unconflicted truth:

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May 12 2009

Deconstructing the Deconstructor

Category: church,religion,theology,Uncategorizedharmonicminer @ 9:44 am

Bart Ehrman’s “Jesus Interrupted” is another in the line of books attempting to challenge orthodox understandings of the nature of the Bible and the validity of faith, more or less on the line of the Jesus Seminar approach.

Ben Witherington has a multipart blog/essay essentially taking on Ehrman on his own ground, in his own terms.  It seems to this layman to be excellent reading, and so I link to it below.

Bart Interrupted: Part One

Bart Interrupted: Part Two

Bart Interrupted: Part Three

Bart Interrupted: Part Four

Bart Interrupted: Part Five

Bart Interrupted: Part Six

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May 09 2009

Altered States

Category: church,left,mediaharmonicminer @ 9:36 am

At this place, on the front page:

You get this ad for “church,” United Methodist style.

And this one for sex toys, hookups, and pornography.  Don’t bother to click it, I didn’t link it.

I’m trying to remember the last time I saw an ad for church and an ad for sex services in the same place.  Oh, yeah.  The LA Times.  Craigslist.  The Yellow Pages.

But really:  wouldn’t you think ONE of these groups would think this wasn’t the place to advertise?

Oh well.  Welcome to the modern Christian Left.  Crackpot politics, sexual liberty, and a feeling of moral superiority, all in one.

It would seem that the United Methodists really know where to advertise to find like-minded folk.

So I went to “RethinkChurch” (just click the graphic above and you can, too).  In the search engine on the site, I typed in the word “Jesus.”

Here’s what I got:

I typed in “salvation,” and got even less.  So, let’s see.  This is a United Methodist Church website, with no mention of “salvation”, and almost none of “Jesus.”  I wonder if that “Carnal Nation” website links to a seminary.

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May 08 2009

The Spiritual Poverty of Socialism? Part I

Category: capitalism,economy,government,religion,socialismharmonicminer @ 9:46 am

In a brilliant challenge to social theorist Charles Murray, Greg Forster points to the incompleteness of Murray’s argument that socialism is spiritually negative on moral grounds.

Faced with Charles Murray’s argument that the welfare state makes everything too easy, a socialist could ask: Should everything therefore be made more difficult? How can Murray say the welfare state is bad for making life easier while praising other state functions that make life easier, like the police? Only a moral perspective can oppose socialism while affirming legitimate state functions.At the American Enterprise Institute’s annual black-tie shindig on March 11, Charles Murray gave an outstanding lecture on the spiritual (as distinct from economic) dangers of the European-style social welfare state. But Murray’s analysis, though otherwise excellent, is missing a crucial element: an appreciation that these spiritual dangers ultimately arise from disregarding the moral law. And just as a small curve in a funhouse mirror changes the whole image, the single missing piece in Murray’s logic bends his whole argument ever so slightly, but crucially, out of shape.

The topic of Murray’s talk was well chosen. Whatever one thinks of its virtues, socialism on a scale that would have been unthinkable just two years ago is already the law of the land. We see government asserting de facto rights of ownership over our largest financial firms. We have seen a sizeable portion of the economy being brought under direct government control, financed by trillion-dollar borrowing. We have made steps to undermine the Fed’s independence that could bring about inflation that would make the 1970s look tame. Some are beginning to raise tentative but credible questions about the security of America’s sovereign debt. And the top two items on the legislative agenda this year will be near-irreversible first steps toward socialized medicine and a giant new energy tax disguised as environmental regulation.

Murray argues that, even aside from its demographic and economic flaws, the European welfare state undermines the aspects of civilization that make for “a life well-lived.” By a life well-lived, he means a life characterized by a lasting and justified satisfaction that one’s life was worth living. He identifies himself with the Aristotelian preference for seeing human beings fully “flourish,” and argues that this, as opposed to mere hedonism, is what Madison had in mind when he wrote that “the object of government” is “the happiness of the people.”

Only a limited number of human activities can serve as sources for this kind of deep satisfaction. Murray identifies three characteristics that all such activities must have: they must be important, they must be difficult, and they must involve individual responsibility for consequences. Activities that are trivial, effortless, or disconnected from consequences can be fun, but cannot make for a life well-lived.

Murray asserts that there are only four areas of life where such activities take place: family, community, vocation, and faith. The assertion is plausible, if only because Murray is careful to define these concepts broadly—a “community” need not be a neighborhood but can be geographically expansive, and “vocation” can include avocations or, more nebulously, “causes.”

The crux of Murray’s case is that the European-style welfare state undermines all four of these areas of life—and on a deeper level than even most conservatives now appreciate. The welfare state doesn’t just eat away at the material preconditions of these activities, but also detracts from their ability to provide a life well-lived.

—-In the lecture’s most powerful passage, Murray discusses how this deeper dynamic has been at work destroying the family in America’s poor urban communities—where something approaching a European-style welfare state already exists. Welfare makes it much harder for the family to be a source of deep satisfaction for men in these communities:

A man who is holding down a menial job and thereby supporting a wife and children is doing something authentically important with his life. He should take deep satisfaction from that, and be praised by his community for doing so. Think of all the phrases we used to have for it: “He is a man who pulls his own weight.” “He is a good provider.”

If that same man lives under a system that says that the children of the woman he sleeps with will be taken care of whether or not he contributes, then that status goes away. I am not describing some theoretical outcome. I am describing American neighborhoods where, once, working at a menial job to provide for his family made a man proud and gave him status in his community, and where now it doesn’t.

Welfare removes the difficulty from providing for the family, and therefore the importance of the husband and father.

And notice how, once family is undermined, two other areas of deep satisfaction—vocation and community—are undermined as well. The menial job loses its significance, and the now-superfluous father is no longer an important part of his community.

Murray is not saying that the welfare state removes absolutely all deep satisfaction from these areas of life. But the empirical evidence before our eyes, both in Europe and in our own poor urban neighborhoods, ought to convince us that the negative impact of the welfare state is extremely damaging.

—-…. faced with Murray’s argument that the welfare state makes everything too easy, a socialist might well retort: Should everything therefore be made more difficult, so you can have the deep satisfaction of overcoming difficulty? If the welfare state is bad, why are police good? Why not abolish the police so that walking home safely requires more effort (such as arming yourself) and can thereby become a source of deep satisfaction?

We can’t ultimately answer this question without distinguishing between morally legitimate and illegitimate ways of making things easier. Policing the streets makes our civilization more conducive to deep satisfaction because it is right. Coercive redistribution of wealth makes our civilization less conducive to deep satisfaction because it is wrong. Able-bodied people who live on welfare for extended periods are cheating—just as much as an athlete who bribes the judges. That’s why the welfare state has the corrosive effects it does.

—-Those who are now building the socialist utopia around us are convinced that their way is morally superior, and increasing numbers of Americans (especially in the rising generation) are beginning to think that they’re right—especially as they come to see unbridled capitalism as morally hollow and corrosive. The moral case for economic freedom—the rightness of capitalism in the context of an ethical culture—is indispensable if the disaster Murray rightly warns us against is to be averted.

It’s more or less received wisdom on the Christian Left that its socialist leanings are morally superior to those of the selfish, capitalist Right.  After all, didn’t Jesus come to minister to the poor and downtrodden?  Wasn’t His ministry about challenging everyone else to care for the poor?  Isn’t selfishness evil?  Aren’t we supposed to “give till it hurts”?  What about “widows and orphans” in the New Testament?  Aren’t Christians morally required to vote for politicians and policies that will provide more resources for the poor?  Wasn’t a form of communism the pattern of the early church?

These are serious questions, of course, and I plan to treat them seriously in upcoming posts.  If you’ve been lurking around this blog for awhile, you probably know what my general position is, but you may be surprised at some of the reasons.

The next post in this series is here.

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Apr 24 2009

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

Category: religion,theologyharmonicminer @ 9:15 am

A Smattering of Greek is Worse than None at All

A man who has only a smattering of Greek, if he uses it, is pretty sure to make himself ridiculous. He thinks he has discovered something when in reality he has only been misled by his partial knowledge. I have heard man after man of real ability along other lines make an egregious fool of himself when with his very limited knowledge of Greek, he has attempted to give original translations of the Scriptures.

Speaking from experience, I’ve known quite a few young Greek or Hebrew students who now seem to believe that their understanding of scripture and doctrine has simply leaped beyond all reasonable bounds, as they presume to correct some very carefully considered understandings, by the greatest scholars of all time, that have stood the test of centuries.

All of this from a mere two or three years of Greek or Hebrew.

More worth reading at the link above… then scroll to the bottom of the page and note when it was written, and how much it sounds like something you just heard about last week.

Emerging what?

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Apr 04 2009

The courage of Richard John Neuhaus

Category: abortion,left,religionharmonicminer @ 9:35 am

Robert P. George describes the commitment of one time “liberal” Richard John Nuehaus to the unborn, and what that stance cost him in the eyes of the world, in an article well worth reading in its entirety. Concluding paragraphs:

He Threw It All Away

For Neuhaus, the liberal movement had gone wrong not only on the sanctity of human life, but on the range of issues on which it had succumbed to the ideology of the post-1960s cultural left. While celebrating “personal liberation,” “diverse lifestyles,” “self-expression,” and “if it feels good, do it,” all in the name of respecting “the individual,” liberalism had gone hook, line, and sinker for a set of doctrines and social policies that would only increase the size and enhance the control of the state—mainly by enervating the only institutions available to provide counterweights to state power.

The post-1960s liberal establishment—from the New York Times to NBC, from Harvard to Stanford, from the American Bar Association to Americans for Democratic Action—having embraced the combination of statism and lifestyle individualism that defines what it means to be a “liberal” (or “progressive”) today, could not understand Richard Neuhaus or, in truth, abide him. Far from being lionized, he was loathed by them, albeit with a grudging respect for the intellectual gifts they once hoped he would place in the service of liberal causes. Those gifts were deployed relentlessly—and to powerful effect—against them and all their works and ways.

And so Fr. Richard John Neuhaus did not go through life, as it once seemed he would, collecting honorary degrees from the most prestigious universities, giving warmly received speeches before major professional associations and at international congresses of the great and the good, being a celebrated guest at social and political gatherings on the Upper West Side, or appearing on the Sunday network news shows as spiritual guarantor of the moral validity of liberalism’s favored policies and practices.

His profound commitment to the sanctity of human life in all stages and conditions placed him on a different path, one that led him out of the liberal fold and into intense opposition. As a kind of artifact of his youth, he remained to the end a registered member of the Democratic Party. But he stood defiantly against many of the doctrines and policies that came to define that Party in his lifetime. He was, in fact, their most forceful and effective critic—the scourge of the post-1960s liberals. He was not, as things turned out, their Niebuhr, but their nemesis.

May more of us have the same kind of courage, to take risks, to put our convictions ahead of our careers and public approval.

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Feb 18 2009

The Next Great Awakening: part 4

Category: religion,science,theologyharmonicminer @ 10:04 am

The previous post in this series is here.

Scientists have been promising for some time now that we’re likely to find intelligent, technological species all over the universe, starting in our galaxy.

Maybe, maybe not.

There’s the Fermi Paradox, which essentially boils down to the question, if the universe has so many intelligent life-forms, why don’t we hear from them, or see any evidence OF them?

If interstellar travel is possible, even the “slow” kind nearly within the reach of Earth technology, then it would only take from 5 million to 50 million years to colonize the galaxy. This is a relatively small amount of time on a geological scale, let alone a cosmological one. Since there are many stars older than the sun, or since intelligent life might have evolved earlier elsewhere, the question then becomes why the galaxy has not been colonized already.

Consider:  how long will it take for the human race to create self-replicating space probes that are able to “live off the land” so to speak, using local materials to create copies of themselves, and move on to the next star system and do it again?   How long to create interstellar space flight systems of some kind?  Think big.  100 years?  1000 years?  10,000 years?  If ANY species in the galaxy ever reached this point (it would only take ONE, in all the history of the galaxy), and if that point was reached even 50 million years ago (a mere eyeblink in a galaxy perhaps 10-12 billion years old, or more), then we should see evidence of it, assuming these space probes have multiplied as designed, and probably overlapped various star systems many times over by now.  The first time we began broadcasting, we should have been noticed, assuming that an intelligence that wanted to send such probes was interested in other intelligent beings, and had at least one probe in the Solar System already (of course, the first thing they would have seen from TV broadcasts may have convinced them we were all idiots….).

So:  unless every other gregarious, curious race died before it could create such technology, or unless we are the first in the history of the galaxy (neither of which is consistent with the notion that the human race is “ordinary”), we may very well be alone.

Then there’s the Rare Earth perspective, essentially itself an extension of the anthropic principle, or more properly, a list of evidence in favor of the anthropic principle.  Essentially, it’s all about the fine-tuning of the universe, our galaxy, our solar system, and our planet, for human life, particularly intelligent, technological human life.

Anthropic reasoning typically concludes that the stability of structures essential for life, from atomic nuclei to the whole universe, depends on delicate balances between different fundamental forces. These balances are believed to occur only in a tiny fraction of possible universes so that this universe appears fine-tuned for life. Anthropic reasoning attempts to explain and quantify this fine tuning.

Related to this is the Privileged Planet hypothesis, the notion that the Earth is uniquely placed in our galaxy, and our galaxy uniquely placed in its local cluster and that local cluster in its super-cluster to allow the universe to be carefully observed and understood, with almost any other place being too bright (too many stars too close) or too dark (too many obscuring gas clouds).

All of that provides some context for this report claiming that the Milky Way Galaxy has ‘billions of Earths’

There could be one hundred billion Earth-like planets in our galaxy, a US conference has heard.

Dr Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution of Science said many of these worlds could be inhabited by simple lifeforms.

He was speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago.

So far, telescopes have been able to detect just over 300 planets outside our Solar System. (update: the original form of this article was created in 2009, and as of 2023, many thousands of extra-solar planets have been detected)

Very few of these would be capable of supporting life, however. Most are gas giants like our Jupiter, and many orbit so close to their parent stars that any microbes would have to survive roasting temperatures.

But, based on the limited numbers of planets found so far, Dr Boss has estimated that each Sun-like star has on average one “Earth-like” planet.

This simple calculation means there would be huge numbers capable of supporting life.

“Not only are they probably habitable but they probably are also going to be inhabited,” Dr Boss told BBC News. “But I think that most likely the nearby ‘Earths’ are going to be inhabited with things which are perhaps more common to what Earth was like three or four billion years ago.” That means bacterial lifeforms.

Outside of the obvious fact that this was just a wild guess by a scientist (since Earth-size rocky planets in the habitable zone of a Sun-like star appear to be rare to very, very rare), why do you suppose that a scientist incautious enough to make the claim is so cautious about the likely development of advanced life (meaning anything more than bacteria)?  The answer is pretty simple.

Scientists really don’t have a fuzzy clue how life on Earth began so fast (in an eye-blink in geological time) just after it was cooling off from the Late Heavy Bombardment.  Forget all the nonsense you’ve heard and read about “billions and billions of years in the primordial soup” allowing life to spontaneously generate.  First, there was no primordial soup.  Second, life appears to have begun within just a very few million years of the time Earth cooled enough to allow it to survive.  This is not something scientists talk about much to the public, but it’s a hot topic at conventions, workshops, etc.  For a more complete presentation on the huge problem presented to science by the origin of life, see Signature In The Cell, by Stephen C. Meyer.

The current theory judged most likely by many exo-biologists is that the Earth was seeded with life from some other planet.  No kidding, some of the most brilliant and prominent believe exactly this.

So Alan Boss is loathe to suggest many intelligent species elsewhere (he surely knows all about the Fermi Paradox), but he’s willing to take a swing at the notion that whatever seeded life on Earth may have done so elsewhere, though of course it isn’t going to be something he talks about a lot.  Sounds too much like science fiction, don’t you know?  Or some wild notion that God goes around the universe seeding life…  can’t have that, either.

Also omitted from Boss’ theory is that the Earth has been a reasonably safe place for the development of advanced life because it is between two spiral arms of our galaxy, not IN one of them, which would surely have been deadly for advanced life due to radiation, super-nova proximity, etc., not to mention being a lousy place from which to observe the galaxy or the universe….  ever try looking at the stars from downtown Las Vegas?  The vast majority of Boss’ “earthlike” planets would be in star systems hostile to advanced life, either due to the type of star they orbited, or the location of that star system in the galaxy.

Much of this is nicely presented in Why the Universe is the way it is, by Hugh Ross.  You may or may not agree with all his conclusions, but I think you’ll find it a very provocative read.  A recent book by Dr. Ross (as of 2022) is Designed To The Core, in which he explains the probable great rarity of conditions congenial to life in the universe, which relates nicely to be the Rare Earth and Privileged Planet concepts mentioned above.

So, why is all this in “The Next Great Awakening” series?

Because the more unique we understand ourselves to be in the universe, the more personal a God we might be willing to consider.  Science has been telling us for a few centuries now that we are not unique, not particularly special, that we were essentially inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, that whatever God there may be obviously viewed humans as a minor sidelight in creation (if indeed there IS a “creation”), that there are probably millions of other intelligent species in the universe, and so we don’t really matter that much….  with a corollary that maybe even the EARTH itself is more important than silly little US, the current ruling paradigm of the eco-pagans.

A representative sentiment:

The non-scientist’s relation to modern science is basically craven: we look to its discoveries and technology to save us from disease, to give us a faster ride and a softer life, and at the same time we shrink from what it has to tell us of our perilous and insignificant place in the cosmos. Not that threats to our safety and significance were absent from the pre-scientific world, or that arguments against a God-bestowed human grandeur were lacking before Darwin. But our century’s revelations of unthinkable largeness and unimaginable smallness, of abysmal stretches of geological time when we were nothing, of supernumerary galaxies and indeterminate subatomic behavior, of a kind of mad mathematical violence at the heart of matter have scorched us deeper than we know.

But much has changed since 1985 when Updike wrote the above.  Starting with the Big Bang theory decades earlier, continuing with the failure of biology to account for how life can possibly have begun (despite early optimism in the 1950s), and reinforced by the bewildering amount of fine-tuning required in the universe, our solar system, and Earth, in order for us to exist at all, let alone in a place where we can survive long enough as a civilization to develop high technology, and then for that place to be one of the few places where life might exist that also allows direct observation of the rest of the universe, we have seen science in the last 70-100 years begin to point, gradually, to the very special place humans have in Creation.  In fact, many hints of the foregoing were there in 1985, but perhaps Updike didn’t know it, because scientists weren’t talking about it in the lay media.

I believe that the incredible fine tuning of the universe is a story that needs to be told constantly by Christians, not in fear of what science may reveal, but in celebration that maybe, just maybe, science is about to “come home”, to point to basic facts of the relationship of humans to Creation that the church has taught for millennia.

Even if we someday learn of other intelligent civilizations, it is already obvious that they will be very rare.   And if they exist at all, I strongly suspect they will have their own revelation, one that is bound to have many parallels to our own, since it will have come from the same Source.   Of course, there is also the chance that they represent so thoroughly fallen a society that maybe we should have kept our mouths shut.  Go and reread the Screwtape Letters sometime.

Just to stimulate your thinking in this direction, there’s a very interesting science fiction book, Calculating God, which proceeds from the assumption that the aliens who visit us are theists.   The book takes many liberties, of course…  but it’s an intriguing idea that the aliens may show up on Earth as missionaries.

In the meantime, exactly how long will it take mainstream science to consider Creation itself as a scientific theory?  Let’s stake out some territory here…  if no alien races have been found in, say, 100 years, can we say they aren’t there?  Or 1000 years?  It’s not looking so good for SETI these days…..  unless you’re buying all the UFO reports coming out as evidence.  I’m keeping my powder dry.

The next post in this series will be here.

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Feb 03 2009

Spielberg, where are you?

Category: religion,Russia,societyharmonicminer @ 10:06 am

In American film, religious figures are mocked, accused of every conceivable crime and misdeed, and generally presented as being just below used car salesmen in moral character.  (Pretty much the only celluloid life-form lower than a priest or minister is a Pentagon General.)   But a Russian film producer apparently disagrees.

A Russian TV producer said on Thursday he was launching a “There is God” advertising campaign in London to counter atheist posters that were displayed on buses in January.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) raised 140,000 pounds ($200,000) to place slogans reading “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” on 800 buses. Religious organizations and believers organized protests, but advertising regulators said it was not in conflict with any laws.

….Russian TV producer, Alexander Korobko, …signed a contract with CBS Outdoor to put “There is God” posters on 25 London double-deckers from March 9. The posters will have photographs of a Russian monastery on them.

So, the question:  can anyone name a Hollywood producer who is actually funding public service messages in favor of belief in God?

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Feb 02 2009

Religious Freedom in America

Category: freedom,religionharmonicminer @ 10:46 am

Excerpt from a very useful article on religious freedom in the USA, from Richard Garnett at Public Discourse:

The first approach—”freedom from religion”—accepts religion as a social reality, but regards it primarily as a danger to the common good, and regards it as a practice that should be confined to the private, personal realm. On this view, it is “bad taste”—or worse!—”to bring religion into discussions of public policy.” Under this approach, as Professor Stephen Carter memorably put it, religion is “like building model airplanes, just another hobby: something quiet, something trivial—not really a fit activity for intelligent . . . adults.” Religious belief is protected, but the permissible implications and expressions of those beliefs are limited. The dominant concern is the domestication of religion, and its assimilation to the often-relativistic ideology of the state. The role of law and government is to maintain the boundary between private religion and public life; it is certainly not to support, and only rarely to accommodate, religious practice and formation.

This “freedom from” approach has found some expression in American law and policy, both in the past and—in some instances—today. It is not, however, true to the Constitution, to religious liberty properly understood, or to the nature of the human person, who is hard-wired and by nature drawn to search for truth and to cling to it when it is found. It is a good thing, then, that this approach’s influence seems more pronounced among academics and a few political activists, than among Americans generally.

The second approach—”freedom of religion”—tends to emphasize toleration, neutrality, and equal-treatment. Religion, on this view, is something that matters to many people, and so the law does not permit it to be singled out for special hostility or discrimination. It is recognized and accepted that religious believers and institutions are at work in society, and the stance of the law is even-handedness. Because we are all entitled to express our views and to live in accord with our consciences, religious believers are so entitled, too. The law, it is thought, should be “religion-blind.”

Although this approach is not hostile to religion, it is also reluctant to regard religion as something special. Religious liberty is just “liberty,” and liberty is something to which we all have an “equal” right. Religion is not something to be “singled out,” for accommodations and privileges, or for burdens and disadvantages. Again, religious commitment, expression, and motivation are all, in the end, matters of taste and private preference.

This approach represents an improvement on its “freedom from” competitor, and it, too, has been and is reflected in American law. In fact, it is fair to say that its influence is much more pronounced in the Supreme Court’s recent decisions. The Justices have emphasized, for example, that officials may not treat religiously-motivated speech worse than speech that reflects other viewpoints. Similarly, courts have ruled that public funds may be allocated to religiously affiliated schools and social-welfare agencies—so long as they are providing a secular public good—on the same terms as non-religious ones. At the same time, governments are not required to provide special accommodations for religious believers, or to exempt religiously motivated conduct from the reach of generally applicable laws.

Finally, a third approach: “freedom for religion.” This approach, in my view, represents the American experiment in “healthy secularism” at its best; it is the one that we should be rooting for. Under this approach, the search for religious truth is acknowledged as an important human activity. Religion, as religion, is special; its exercise is seen as valuable and good, and worthy of accommodation, even support. The idea is not, to be clear, that the public authority should demand religious observances or establish religious orthodoxy; it is, instead, that a political community committed to positive secularity can and should still take note of the fact that people long for the transcendent and are, by nature, called to search for the truth, and for God.

The entire article is worth reading. I’m a fan of the “freedom for religion” approach, as is the author of the piece. I also believe it is the only approach consistent with the clear meaning of the words in the Constitution, and the intent of the Founders as revealed by their actions, letters, civil participation in various state governments, etc. If we settle for less than this (and Garnett points out just how fragile our religious liberty is), we are giving up on a central aspect of what makes America what it was, and should continue to be, in contrast to the utter secularization of Europe.

Further, our religious institutions, churches, schools, colleges and universities, service organizations, etc., must be at the forefront of defending that religious liberty. Unfortunately, all too many are engaged in seeking the approval of the very secularism that is hostile to religion in the first place, adopting secular initiatives as if they were central to faith (but for which scriptural support has only recently been discovered, somehow), and pressuring their own constituencies to buy into secular-Left policy-prescriptions as an obligation of the faithful.

Sadly, the very institutions that should be defending our religious liberty are too often complicit in reducing it.

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