Saturday, November 18, 2006

Rethinking Iraq

Recently in Newsweek (November 6 cover "We're losing, but all isn't lost.", Fareed Zakaria wrote an excellent and balanced view of Irag with recommendations for a way forward. Frankly, I'm tired of simplistic pronouncements on "Bush's War", from both Bush critics and some supporters. Critics blindly overlook the stark realities of the Saddam era, saying we should leave now and never should have been there in the first place. Some supporters, and Bush himself, overlook the stark realities of the escalated Sunni/Shiite sectarian hatred and violence (and the fact that much fighting is largely not a jihadist crusade but a Sunni struggle for control of the country) and its impact on uniting a democratic Iraq. Zakaria gives a more realistic picture and suggests a more balanced solution.

Democracy in Iraq--although I believe it still has a fighting chance--is not winning. Zakaria says we must "reduce and deploy our troops and nudge Iraqis toward a deal" in order to avoid total loss and get a "gray" outcome. In laying out the bad and the ugly, he doesn't overlook the good: a free Kurdish north and democratic free elections. One point he hits home is the critical fact that "the way out of this stalemate is not to pack up and go home. That will surely result in a bloodbath or worse."

One element missing from Zakaria's analysis is the need for forgiveness in Iraqi society. Without it, there is little hope. Shiites are venting after years of Sunni control and oppression, and Sunnis are retaliating trying to regain control. Shortly after Zakaria's article (and Saddam's hanging sentence), the largely Shia-controlled government finally made an effort to reign in Shiite death squads that attack Sunnis and then offered Sunnis their old government jobs from the Saddam era--a huge concession. Steps to reconcile and forgive like this will do more than any military solution. And as Zakaria said, with a Shia and Sunni agreement, Al Qaeda would be marginalized in the country.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Ted Haggard's Darkest Hour

The case of Ted Haggard and his recent fall from grace is a truly bizarre story. Haggard initially minimizes the accusations by Mike Jones (I bought meth from him, but didn't take it; I got a massage from him, but didn't have sex with him - sound familiar? "...but I didn't inhale"), but eventually confesses his own deception: "The fact is I am guilty of sexual immorality. I am a deceiver and a liar. There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring about it for my entire life..." He still says not all of what was claimed was true, but enough of it is. Meanwhile, Mike Jones passes a lie detector test partially--the part about him having sex with Haggard he fails. Perhaps he was stressed at that time, says the test implementer, and says he will do it over. Whatever the outcome is irrelevant now that Haggard has at least admitted deception, sexual immorality, and a "dark side".

Haggard is now mocked by the left and tolerated by the church, as a fallen brother, whose sin now exposed, was part of God's will as "God is a holy God and he chose this incredibly important timing for this sin to be revealed, and I actually think it's a good thing. I believe America needs a shaking, spiritually, " so said a leading board member of Haggard's church.

God is using this to shake America? Isn't he using it to shake the church? Shouldn't people be angry that the church continues to foster deceptive leaders? Or, is there a deeper element that should be faced--the fact that narrow, legalistic teaching bears the bad fruit of deception, hypocrisy, and in some cases deep sexual frustration?

One of the bizarre elements of this is how no one seems to be asking how a anti-gay-rights evangelical influential leader could fall into homosexual sin in the first place! Doesn't it appear like he was a man struggling with homosexual orientation and finally gave in? If so, his story must be reminiscent of Mel White's, although Mel didn't openly preach against homosexuality.

In 2003, Haggard was quoted as the new President of the National Association of Evangelicals: "This is evangelicalism's finest hour. It is the time for evangelicalism to assert itself in the public debate of ideas." If that was their finest hour, today is one of their darkest. And, another piece of evidence that the church is in desperate need of a new reformation.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Myths in the Media and in Public Thought

Did you know almost everything you know is wrong? So says 20/20 consumer advocate John Stossel in his new book Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity. And he has a good point with a strong case.

I have been flabbergasted how so much of what the media reports and how they frame debates is distorted and misrepresented. Headlines announce news and without reading the whole article or digging deeper into facts, you walk away with a distorted view. Or, the bias of the media outlet slants the issue the way they want. The result is many of us are duped. Stossel exposes this phenomenon with his fact-finding investigative approach. Here are some samples of his findings:

Myth: DDT is dangerous to the environment. Truth: DDT saves lives.
I've been telling this story that DDT is way overhyped as a killer. It's only dangerous at very high levels and when public policy banned it years ago, it proved devastating for Africans. If the US funded DDT spraying, we could prevent the spread of malaria, but we don't and millions die.

Myth: Gas prices are going through the roof. Truth: Gasoline is a bargain.
When adjusted for inflation, we still pay little for gas. In fact, factoring inflation, gas today is 69 cents cheaper than 1981!

Myth: Outsourcing takes American jobs. Truth: Outsourcing creates American jobs.
Outsourcing helps the poor in the developing world and lowers prices and helps us consumers. Lower prices means we have more money to spend. Outsourcing also enables businesses to expand operations and create new and better jobs for Americans.

Myth: Republicans shrink government. Truth: Republicans say they will, but don't

Myth: Government helps the needy. Truth: Government hurts the needy by vomiting the public's money everywhere.

Myth: Politicians (e.g. President and Congress) run America. Truth: The people run America.

Myth: Public schools are underfunded. Truth: They have lots of money.

Myth: Business rip us off. Truth: Most don't.

Myth: Experts can cure homosexuality. Truth: Experts delude themselves.
(My thinking on this one has changed and I agree with Stossel - see Mel White).

Myth: (a) Global warming is happening because of fossil-fuel burning and (b) signing the Kyoto Treaty would stop it. Truth: (a) Maybe and (b) Hardly.
The evidence points that it doesn't. See Canadian scientists statement. Kyoto would hurt the poor.

Myth: Polygamy is cruel to women. Truth: The women aren't complaining.

Myth: John Stossel is a conservative. Truth: John Stossel is a libertarian.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Posts to Come

I've been so busy with my new job, I haven't had a chance to post much. I've got several subjects on my mind to post around including the Ted Haggard incident, John Stossel's new book called "Myths, Lies, and other Downright Stupidity", the Dead Sea Scrolls, the recent excellent Newsweek article on Iraq, and more about the Intelligent Design movement (just watched a video of Richard Dawkins visiting Ted Haggard's church -- a misrepresentation of the ID movement and a shameful display by Haggard, which reinforces again the need for a radical reformation in the church or else materialists and/or legalists will rule the day).

Technorati Profile

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Who's the Dodos? Intelligent Design Theorists of Evolutionists?

Randy Olson, an evolutionary biologist, made a documentary called Flock of Dodos. that makes the case that the success of Intelligent Design is merely from a slick PR campaign (by Seattle's Discovery Institute) and not based on real science. Olson says there is no crisis of evidence in evolution, but some people still don't believe in it because of a poor job of communication by scientists. The film (I've only seen the trailer and the ABC interview of Olson) attempts to discredit the ID movement by revealing who the real Dodos are--anyone who doubts in evolution.

One thing Olson did well in the interview is to differentiate between Creationists and ID proponents, something that isn't often done. Creationists start with a literal belief in the book of Genesis and try to bend science to fit it. ID theorists don't begin with Genesis but only with the scientific evidence for design in nature. Yet excerpts from the film reveal evolutionists mixing them all together--one of them says we should call out supporters of creationism or ID and tell them "you're an idiot."

Although, it appears to give both sides of the story, the film apparently leaves out much of the story. There IS dissent among scientists. 100 of them from universities signed the Scientific Dissent from Darwinism. Is this scientist in the film calling the likes of these--including agnostic David Berlinski and intellectual giant William F. Buckley, idiots? This debate is not a new PR battle that started in 2000, as the film claims. Biologist Michael Denton wrote Evolution: a Theory in Crisis in 1986. Mathmetician Berlinski, wrote The Deniable Darwin in 1996. UC Berkeley's Philip Johnson put Darwin on Trial in 1993. If one takes a truly objective look, the theory of evolution is in crisis. Even a Dodo can see that.

Billy Graham the Moderate

Newsweek just ran a story on Billy Graham in his twilight years that was encouraging and revealing. The writer put Graham in a favorable light and highlighted his approach--over the years--of not making politics primary, but secondary to the Gospel "which transcends party lines." A few of the quotes jumped out at me as they reinforced much of how I have changed or never bought the conservative Christian party line.

Graham says "I'm not a literalist about the Bible in that every jot and tittle is from the Lord. This is a difference in my thinking through the years." And, "It would be foolish for me to speculate on who will be in heaven and who won't. He gave his son for the whole world, and I think he loves everybody regardless of what label they have."

Wise words indeed.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Up From the Evolutionary Ooze

Hey, I got my letter from the post below (Would Darwin Really Have Loved It?) published in Time magazine! Here is the excerpt they printed under the title "Up from the Ooze":

Here we go again. One transitional animal is discovered and "presto," Darwinism is undeniable. Paleontologist Novacek says “Some people will never be convinced,” and conveniently ignores the growing non-creationist voices of variance. Fishapod could be a link or could be a strange animal like a platypus. Without a worldwide fossil record of continuous transformation, it is far from a slam dunk for Darwin’s theory in action.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Divine Sex

Traditional Christian teaching on sex does not mesh with the original writings of the Bible set in their historical and cultural context. That is one premise in this important book by Philo Thelos (Divine Sex: Liberating Sex from Religious Tradition - click on title above). The book will shock card-carrying evangelicals or fundamentalists but simply can't be ignored. Again, my conservative Christian friends will think I've gone overboard with my endorsement of this book. The few I've shared it with think anyone who accepts it is ignoring the "clear" teaching of scripture and just wants to be free from moral constraints.

The book is compelling because the author is from a conservative church background and maintains a high view of scripture. He advocates for sound Bible study methods (original language, meaning, and historical context is key to understanding) in the vein of scholars like Gordon Fee. So, what's the controversy? He challenges traditional moral understanding about adultery, sexual immorality, and marriage fidelity with a sound Biblical argument.

For instance, have you ever wondered why polygamy, concubinage, and other multiple sexual relationships are practiced by Biblical heros without a word of censure from God? Did you know that if Bethsheba, with whom David had an adulterous liaison, was single, he wouldn't have committed adultery? In the NT, the word translated "sexual immorality" or "fornication" is the Greek word "porneia", which refers to illicit and idolatrous practices as defined by the Torah and does not refer to singles sexuality, oral sex, masturbation, erotic writings, or viewing graphic depictions of the human body.

The main ethic that can be derived from the Bible regarding sexual practice is a love ethic. In your sexual life, do not harm another but love and respect your neighbor. Adultery is wrong because it takes what belongs to another (sexual theft) or breaks a commitment made to another. If in a marriage, a couple allows one another to engage in other relationships that don't steal what belongs to another, those relationships don't fit the Biblical definition of adultery. Monogamy and abstinence from sex until marriage is not demanded by the Scriptural definitions of porneia. The book Divine Sex convincingly makes this case and challenges the traditional faulty interpretations of sexual morality in the church today.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Would Darwin Really Have Loved It?

Time magazine did an article on the Fishapod discovery (April 17) and the confident it-will-be-hard-to-explain-away attitude of some Darwinism supporters shined through. Here's my letter to the editor:

Fishapod: Cousin or Exotic Critter?

Here we go again. One transitional animal is discovered and "presto," Darwinism is undeniable. Paleontologist Novacek says “Some people will never be convinced,” and conveniently ignores the growing non-creationist voices of variance. You know, “wackos” like William F. Buckley and avowed agnostic David Berlinski, not to mention the 100 reputable scientists who signed the Scientific Dissent from Darwinism statement. Sorry, Darwin expected “innumerable” and “endless” transitionals, not merely a few. Miller states “The argument that there are no transitionals is untenable.” Agreed! But the critique is not that there is none at all, but that the myriad of transitionals Darwin anticipated necessary to demonstrate macroevolution has never been found! One single discovery is unimpressive when you are expecting a plethora. Fishapod could be a link or could be a strange animal like a platypus. Without a worldwide fossil record of continuous transformation and demonstrable mechanisms of transition, it is far from a slam dunk for Darwin’s theory in action.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Idolatrous Interpretation of the Bible

When I was in college at U. Mass Amherst, a friend of mine from Intervarsity fellowship told me about the time she visited a cult meeting (I believe it was called "The Way"). She said, "I know this sounds strange, but it was like they worshiped the Bible, not God."

Years later, that statement doesn't sound so strange to me. I've seen too many times where a Bible verse or teaching (more accurately, a certain traditional unsound interpretation of a Bible passage or theme) is worshiped above a more historically, culturally based reading of that passage. A second type of this practice is what I call selective literalism. When a reader says they take the Bible literally but in reality only accepts passages that fit their theology. They worship their theology above truth.

I believe the first main cause of this is the failure for churches to teach people good practices in studying the Bible. People who are told that it's the "Word of God" will take the English words in each verse at face value with little attention to the cultural, literary, or original-language context of those words. So a verse like "I wish above all things that you prosper", becomes 'God wants me and you to be wealthy'. "Flee sexual immorality", becomes 'Don't practice whatever I envision sexual immorality to be, e.g. masturbation, oral sex, viewing graphic sexual images, (all behaviors that the Bible doesn't address at all as a sin issue) or singles sexuality (a behavior that it addresses only as an ownership issue for a father or a bridegroom).

Selective literalism could take, for example, Jesus' discourse on the 'last days' and make it fit a present-day scenario (where every earthquake and disaster becomes "proof" that we are in the last days) but ignores Jesus' clear-cut statement "I tell you the truth, this [1st century] generation will not pass away until all these things take place". Or, refusing to address the obvious acceptance of polygamy, concubinage, and certain sexual freedoms in the OT, when interpreting sexual mores for today. Think about it. How many times has one heard a Bible message on the implications of God honoring these figures in the Hebrews hall of faith: Samson, who slept with a prostitute and took Delilah as a girlfriend, Rahab the prostitute, and David who had several wives and concubines and to whom God said he would have given more if he only asked?

Idolatrous interpretation can be annoying at best and dangerous (see my comments on Pat Robertson) at worst. Either way and even when it's sincere and well-meaning (often the case), it dishonors God to so casually call something his Word for people today when there is strong Biblical evidence to the contrary.

Make Happiness Normal

I disagree with the thesis of Time's article called "Happiness Isn't Normal," (Feb. 13, 2006), about a new form of psychotherapy that tells people to embrace pain to overcome sadness. Face emotional pain, yes, but know need to embrace it, it can be overcome with a dose of realistic perspective and unconditional love, often through the vehicle of cognitive therapy. Here's my letter to the editor:

Having been depression-free for seven plus years due in large part to cognitive therapy, I am skeptical of Hayes' ACT therapy. Its refusal to challenge distorted thoughts dismisses reality and can only lead to its conclusion that happiness isn't normal. Cognitive therapy is superior, I believe, because it helps the depressed put things in proper perspective and to overcome the tendencies of blowing negative things out of proportion and disqualifying positive things in life. The result is that the positive exceeds the negative and happiness is normal. Perhaps one reason ACT is having some success is because it does mimic cognitive therapy to some degree. When ACT teaches a response to a negative thought to be "I'm thinking I'm a lousy parent," rather than "I'm a lousy parent," it at least diffuses the power of that thought and plants a seed thought: "Since I'm only thinking it, perhaps I'm not one." Cognitive therapy does this more directly and by facing reality, not dismissing it.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Challenging Closed Minds

World Magazine, the evangelical national news publication, did an article on Soulforce's Equality Ride (a group of young self-proclaimed evangelical homosexuals) campaign that is visiting Christian campuses to challenge their ban on gay and lesbian students (Uninvited Guests, March 4). Joel Belz first imagines a college deciding if they should allow a group of Muslims on campus who want to do a cultural exchange. That's seems fine, he concludes, it would give opportunity to build bridges, be a positive Christian witness to Muslims, without compromising the college's values. But then, what if the group was Soulforce's homosexual activists--part of Equality Ride? All of a sudden, that proposition makes Christian colleges uncomfortable. They wouldn't want them to show up, but might tolerate them for a discussion before sending them on their way.

Why are they unafraid of welcoming Muslims but afraid of welcoming homosexuals--even ones that call themselves believers? This is the closed-minded attitude that permeates many traditional Christian groups. They have already made up their mind because they already know the truth--so they say. If they are sure about the truth, they should not be intimidated. That is why they should welcome Equality Ride and encourage open dialogue. It should be interesting to see how the 20 campuses respond to these visits, including my graduate school, Eastern University. My experience is that we Christians don't always know what we are talking about when we say we know the truth about something. Misunderstandings, mistranslations, and misinterpretations of the Bible unfortunately are not uncommon. See What the Bible Says... as an example.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Rethinking Abortion

In college I was pro-choice. After reading Francis Schaefer and Everett Koop (Whatever Happened to the Human Race?) and Bernard Nathanson (Aborting America), I became pro-life and have been ever since. Why the change? New information I wasn't aware of. For example, Nathanson exposes some of the lies of the pre-Roe v Wade prochoice legal arguments and explains his transformation from being a co-founder of NARAL and a leading abortionist to recognizing the humaness of "alpha" (the fetus) and becoming a pro-life advocate. (I challenge everyone to read this book, whatever your side. Nathanson doesn't write as a right-winger but as an abortion movement insider). Koop brought his perspective as a pediatric surgeon and the value of human life. In 1989 I was arrested along with 800 others in Los Angeles at an Operation Rescue (OR) in front of a clinic and spent 3 days in jail. That was an eye-opening experience.

Although I'm still strongly prolife, my stance has shifted over the years as I continue to learn new information. I no longer believe that abortion should be in the same category as murder, except perhaps in some extreme late-term circumstances. I now have no issue with allowing exceptions for abortion for rape or incest. I no longer think that we should have a nationwide ban on abortion, but instead we should allow the States to decide through the legislative process. Although my experience with OR was positive (the media and pro-choice counter demonstrators revealed extreme bias against us), I have found later statements by an OR founder to be divisive and out-of-line.

Today, my main peeve with more traditional pro-life stance is the all-or-nothing and black-and-white attitude. It is our way or the highway and no room for compromise. My main peeve with the common pro-choice position is its disingenousness and unwillingness to face facts. If they were truly pro-choice, they would welcome the nationwide network of pregnancy help centers and encourage women to consider their services. They would admit the lies of their past (e.g. the exagerated claims on the number of deaths from backalley abortions, that "Roe" was not raped as was claimed in the case, and that she is now pro-life), and the fact that the Roe v Wade decision is based on flawed legal logic which is increasingly being conceded by pro-choice analysts. For example, see Cohen and Kinsley, (Kinsley: "Although I'm pro-choice, I was taught in law school, and still believe, that Roe v Wade is a muddle of bad reasoning... and judicial overreaching.")

It's interesting that Cohen has shifted within a pro-choice position and is now closer to mine. Perhaps this is a one way to solve the abortion dilemma. Each side get honest and take steps toward each other.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Extremism and Hypocrisy

The statements I heard from politicians at MLK day events were laughable. Hillary Clinton said Congress was like a southern plantation (How? Are they holding slaves?!!) and Bush was the worst-ever President. New Orleans Mayor Nagin said God was punishing America with hurricanes for the Iraq war (a left version of Robertson?) and that God wanted his city to be majority black (a chocolate city). How outrageous and irrelevant to what Martin Luther King espoused! Why all this divisive talk on MLK day? Actually Nagin's statement was racist. How do you know? Just switch the terms. Imagine the outcry if a white mayor said God wanted his city to be majority white!

Not to be outdone, Al Gore compared Bush's wiretapping of Americans to the FBI's dispicable surveillance of King. Seems Dems just used the day to make extreme political attacks. This criticism of wiretapping suspected terrorists and people talking to them boggles me. Presidents have historically used executive powers for this purpose. People conveniently forget that Democrats Clinton and Carter did. Clinton ordered physical searches without warrants here. Carter ordered electonic surveillance without court orders here. There are times when this is a good idea for national security. Court orders can take too long to get when suspected terrorists are plotting and time is cruical.

Of course these liberals don't have a monopoly on crazy statements or hypocrisy. Pat Robertson made another wild statement a few weeks ago about Ariel Sharon (He said "it may be that Sharon's being punished for giving up Gaza") and that the book of Joel shows that to give land to the Palestians is sin. This last one is a great example of Bible abuse. The book of Joel is not speaking to the middle east situation thousands of years in the future! To twist scripture to accuse Sharon is outrageous. And of course for more hypocrisy, there's conservative Christian leader Ralph Reed who didn't see any conflict of interest asking evangelicals for money to block tribal casinos in the south when he knew another tribal casino was paying his firm for the work (via Jack Abramoff). This casino hired Abramoff and Reed to gain a monopoly. Reed didn't bother telling evangelicals that they were actually encouraging gambling, not where they lived, but just down the road or across the state border!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Bible and Homosexuality

If my evangelical friends thought I had gone overboard with my call to A New Reformation, they will think I’ve gone off the deep end with this assessment of homosexuality and the Bible!

I have to admit, for years I have wondered how anyone could defend homosexuality in light of certain passages of the Bible. But that was before I did an honest study of those passages and discovered misinterpretations, AND before I learned that several words in those passages are almost certainly mistranslated! I believe these misinterpretations and mistranslations are grave injustices that need to be rectified.

A few observations that are undeniable: Female homosexuality was never condemned in the Old Testament, hence it was not against God’s law. Female homosexuality is only mentioned once in the New Testament in a seven-word phrase, in the context of idolatry. (Romans 1). There is no Hebrew or Greek word in the Bible that is equivalent to our modern term “homosexual.” The word homosexual first appeared in English Bibles in the 1946 RSV version. The word “sodomite”, referring to a male homosexual, is not in the original Hebrew or Greek. The two words most often translated “homosexual” are the Greek words “malakos” and “arsenokoitai,” obscure Greek terms whose translations are disputed by scholars.

The fact that female homosexuality is not condemned in the OT is amazing. If God was against all forms of homosexuality, why did He mention only male homosexuality in the Holiness code of Leviticus? The code also includes specific laws against incest (spelled out with attention to every conceivable sexual liaison), adultery, rape, and bestiality, but no law against female homosexuality. Its absence is a mystery, unless only certain forms of homosexuality are condemned. In addition, the NT teaches that “new covenant” believers have been released from the OT law. We are not obligated to obey the law, unless it becomes necessary in order to keep Christ’s law of love.

Context—literary, cultural, historical—is King when it comes to proper interpretation of the Bible. The passage in Romans condemning homosexuality is in the context of idolatry. The people doing these shameful acts are not worshiping the one true God, but idols. Are the acts shameful because they are homosexual or because they are part of idol worship? Shrine prostitution, with both male and females, was not uncommon in the Roman empire and among pagans throughout Israel’s history.

The term malakos is translated “effeminate”, “male prostitutes”, or “homosexuals”, depending on the version and literally means “soft” as an adjective. “Arsenokoitai” literally means “male bed”, and is translated “abusers of themselves with mankind” (KJV), “homosexual offenders”, or “sodomites.” Put in their historical context, malakos probably means “catamite” (New Jerusalem Bible), which is the young teen or boy in the common-for-the-day Greek/Roman pederastic relationship, with “arsenokoitai” probably referring to the men who used them sexually.

The church’s traditional view of homosexuality has not adequately explained these facts and perpetuates misunderstanding by not drawing attention to historical and cultural circumstances and the problems with the term “homosexual” as an English equivalent to the original Greek words. For a more detailed study, check the link on the title of this post.

Good Rich Samaritans

I was pleasantly surprised to see Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono as Time's Persons of the Year for 2005. I had mentioned them in previous posts on Black-and-White Thinking and Caring for the Poor and Fighting Poverty. It's great to see some good press on big business (so often stereotyped and demonized) and a serious entertainer activist. The Gates are doing amazing things in healthcare research and Bono has influenced politiicians to provide debt relief for developing nations and more money for AIDS programs. There's even a nice article about the odd couple, 41 Bush and Bill Clinton working together to raise relief funds.