Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Undumbing of a Generation

For a long time the caricature of evangelical Christians in the United States has been that they are a bunch of uneducated hicks. Certain individuals have delighted in trying to rub the lack of educational achievement among middle America in the faces of Christians everywhere.

Now it has to be said that Christianity is not Mensa. There is no intellectual requirement to join, and I'm sure God's graciousness extends even to those unable to discuss the differences between Arminianism and Calvinism. That said, such claims annoy people like myself, who finds intellectual discussion very satisfying.

However, as the song says, the times they are a changing and New Yorks Times commentator Ross Douthat observes that conservative evangelicals are becoming increasing prominent among the educated classes.

In the 1970s, for instance, college-educated Americans overwhelmingly supported liberal divorce laws, while the rest of the country was ambivalent. Likewise, college graduates were much less likely than high school graduates to say that premarital sex was “always wrong.” Flash forward to the 2000s, though, and college graduates have grown more socially conservative on both fronts (50 percent now favor making divorces harder to get, up from 34 percent in the age of key parties), while the least educated Americans have become more permissive. There has been a similar change in religious practice. In the 1970s, college- educated Americans were slightly less likely to attend church than high school graduates. Today, piety increasingly correlates with education: college graduates are America’s most faithful churchgoers, while religious observance has dropped precipitously among the less-educated.

However, as the educational levels of believers has increased, those in the lower classes are not just becoming less religiously observant, they're also forsaking the moral principles that middle America cherishes.

But as religious conservatives have climbed the educational ladder, American churches seem to be having trouble reaching the people left behind. This is bad news for both Christianity and the country. The reinforcing bonds of strong families and strong religious communities have been crucial to working-class prosperity in America. Yet today, no religious body seems equipped to play the kind of stabilizing role in the lives of the “moderately educated middle” (let alone among high school dropouts) that the early-20th-century Catholic Church played among the ethnic working class. As a result, the long-running culture war arguments about how to structure family life (Should marriage be reserved for heterosexuals? Is abstinence or “safe sex” the most responsible way to navigate the premarital landscape?) look increasingly irrelevant further down the educational ladder, where sex and child-rearing often take place in the absence of any social structures at all.

This is something for Christians to keep in mind. Christianity is not just an intellectual exercise (although it is a very satisfying one) but a complete social structure that has a place even for those poor and ill-educated. That group provides much of the violent crime in society, so reaching them and including them in the societal framework provides a motivation to improve their lot, and see themselves as contributing responsible members of the group.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Thoughts on the Case for the Crusades

Tim O'Neill, on the blog Armrium Magnum reviews Rodney Stark's book The Case for the Crusades, and is not impressed.
Rodney Stark basically restates what is said in Robert Spencer's The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), that Islam was not the haven of tolerance and enlightenment that it's advocates claim, and that the Crusades were wars of defence against Islamic aggression.
Tim points out that although Islamic forces had attacked Europe over a period of years, that was not mentioned in the call to arms by Pope Urban.
Stark Gets It WRONG

Stark's next section attempts to dismiss the idea that the Crusades were "unprovoked" and catalogues the Muslim atrocities and attacks on pilgrims that he claims were the "real" reasons the Crusades were launched.  What is notable to any objective observer here is actually how little material he has to work with and how far back he has to go (mostly to the Eighth and Ninth Centuries) to find it.  Of course, there were periodic pogroms against Christians in the Islamic world and sometimes Christian pilgrims were harassed.  But if we imagine a situation where there were Muslim enclaves in western Europe or large groups of (heavily armed) Islamic pilgrims regularly journeying to, say, central Eleventh Century France, do we really suppose we would not see much the same thing happening?

That aside, these incidents and things like the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 1009 were the
exceptions, not the rule.  In addition, they do not feature in the reasons the Crusaders themselves gave for their expeditions in anything but the most peripheral way.

This last point can be extended into a key criticism of Stark's wider thesis as well.  If the Crusades were, as he tries to argue, simply a reaction to Muslim encroachment into the European "homeland", why is it we do not see this reflected in
any of the vast amount of material we have on the preaching of the First Crusade or any of the material we have on the motivations of the Crusaders?  Did Pope Urban and the other instigators of the Crusades forget to mention this?  And if this was the "true" motivation of the Crusaders, then launching a vastly expensive and highly dangerous 2500 mile long-distance military strike into Palestine, of all places, was an extremely weird way to carry it out.  It is not like Jerusalem was the religious heartland of Islam (that was Arabia) or even its political centre (that was, if anything, Cairo) or even its intellectual centre (which was Baghdad).

If the real objective was to turn back the teeming tides of fanatical Muslim expansion from the gates of Europe, as Stark tries to make out, then the obvious target was far closer to home: in
Spain.  Stark even mentions, in passing, that one of Urban's papal predecessors, Alexander II, had already tried to stir the knights of Europe into joining the Spanish Christian kingdoms in attacking Muslim states in Spain back in 1063 , but the result was less than spectacular even by Stark's own fumbling admission:
The response was very modest.  A small number of Frankish knights seem to have ventured into Spain and their participation may have helped recover more Muslim territory, but no significant battles were fought. (p. 46)
 So we are supposed to believe that, in 1063, a Papal call to meet the the supposedly pressing need to defend a beleaguered Europe from Islamic expansion could only muster up "a small number of Frankish knights", despite a promise of remission of sins for those who embarked, yet just 32 years later it sparked a mass movement, armies in the hundreds of thousands and wars that lasted over 200 years in a land 2500 miles from home?  This simply makes zero sense.

Stark is clearly wrong.  Plenty of solid scholarly work has been done in the last 60 years on the real motivations behind the Crusading ideal - millennial ideas about the coming apocalypse, idealised visions of Jerusalem not as a place but a mystical concept, the increasing alignment of knighthood with religious ideals, the outward expansion of western Europeans in all directions etc - but there is
no evidence that they were ever seen as defensive wars against enemies encroaching on Europe, as the Spanish example clearly demonstrates.
 The Crusades were fought for a number of reasons, but the most important were religious motivations. As Tim says.
As odd and unpalatable as it may be to modern people, the primary motivation of Crusaders seems to have been religious piety.  It was usually a form of piety that modern observers find bizarre and was often one informed by myth and a weird idealism that we find hard to reconcile with modern Christianity or with any modern ideas at all, but the evidence is overwhelming that it was genuine and highly motivating.
 The Crusades were not fought to win riches on Earth, nor were they fought to convert Muslims to Christianity. For the most part the Crusaders went to war convinced that it was their spiritual duty to God.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Thoughts from Albert Mohler

Albert Mohler responds to writing by Jerry Coyne. I respond to the short quote from Coyne.
Because pretending that faith and science are equally valid ways of finding truth not only weakens our concept of truth, it also gives religion an undeserved authority that does the world no good. For it is faith’s certainty that it has a grasp on truth, combined with its inability to actually find it, that produces things such as the oppression of women and gays, opposition to stem cell research and euthanasia, attacks on science, denial of contraception for birth control and AIDS prevention, sexual repression, and of course all those wars, suicide bombings and religious persecutions.
Oppression of women and gays? Women made up a large percentage of early converts to Christianity because in comparison with the culture of the day, they had far greater freedoms inside the Church than outside it.
Opposition to stem cell research? I notice that he left out the qualifier "embryonic". Opposition to embryonic stem cell research arises because the method of producing them destroys a human life. Simply producing stem cell lines from adult stem cells arouses no moral difficulties at all.
Opposition to euthanasia? Yes, I'm opposed to putting down human beings the way we put down animals because I value human life slightly higher than that of animals.
Attacks on science? You know why Galileo gets so much airtime in atheist quarters despite being a loyal son of the Church? Because when all's said and done, that's about the only example of conflict between "science" and "religion" that they can come up with, and the funny thing is, Galileo was wrong. Sure he was less wrong than his critics, but that's only a matter of degree. His best evidence for the rotation of the Earth was the movement of the tides, which we know is the result of the moon's gravitational pull. His models were no better than those of Tycho Brahe.
Denial of contraception? If people actually obeyed the Church's instructions on sexual morality then there would be no AIDS epidemic. They don't do that, so I seriously doubt they obey the Catholic prohibition on contraception. They don't use condoms because they don't want to wear condoms.
Sexual repression? Sexual repression is a real psychological condition that is seldom manifested in a sexual manner. What Coyne refers to is sexual discipline. I find it fascinating that so many atheists are obsessed with sex and indulging their every whim, along with their constant championing of homosexuality. Maybe they're all closet fags? Hey, whatever floats their boat man, I'm not one to judge.
Wars? As Vox Day pointed out in The Irrational Atheist, religion on the whole is responsible for about 7% of historical wars. Suicide bombings? Invented by the Tamil Tigers, a secular group, and far less effective than the high explosive, nuclear, chemical and biological weapons than Coyne and his boyfriends have given us.
Vox has also pointed out that the major religions have been around for collectively 10,000 years, and there has been no risk of world destruction. Science has been around 400 years, and given us weapons capable of wiping all life from the planet. If there's a group that we need to kill to save ourselves, it's the scientists who have to go.
Jerry Coyne is either ignorant or deliberately deceptive. I'll split the difference and say he's both.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Classic "Evidences" for Evolution

I am taking the opportunity to examine and discuss an older article by Carl Wieland for my own interest.

Niles Eldredge wrote a book called, The Triumph of Evolution, but Carl did not write concerning that book. Rather he looked at a review made by Jerry Coyne.

Coyne's coverage, while praising, expressed his opinion that Eldredge had short-changed his argument by not mentioning three classic and powerful arguments for evolution.

Those three are, according to Coyne.

Sightless Eyes
Yes, once again it seems that the evidence that eyes could arise through chance mutations and natural selection is that chance mutations and natural selection can destroy them.
I'm not sure why anyone (let alone a college professor) thinks that showing that something can be broken can prove that the same process which broke it is the same process that created it. There are, after all, a myriad of ways to break [insert whatever mechanism you like here] but I can guarantee you that none of those ways were used to build it in the first place. Nor can they.

Hairy Embryos
Whilst we were in our mother's womb, we were covered in hair. Lots of it. Embryonic recapitulation has a long and murky history but surely lanugo is a gift from the evolutionary gods to their devoted followers.
Well, not so much.
As Wieland points out, infants and the unborn are no more hairy than adults. We have the same number of follicles, it's just the type of hair that changes. Lanugo gives way to vellus hair on the body, while terminal hair is always found on the head. At puberty in men, vellus hair gives way to terminal hair over much of the body, while women don't experience quite as much change (or at least we hope they don't). Interestingly, baldness isn't the result of losing hair, but the result of follicles switching from terminal hair production to vellus hair.

Island Migrants
Here Coyne attacks a strawman belief that creationists believe that all extant species were created in their present locations, he uses the example of oceanic islands. Short answer. They don't.
As Wieland points out, the post-flood dispersion model does create an expectation that only organisms with a mechanism to reach those islands would be there. The ability to swim or fly would get them there, but those without those skills would have to hop a lift, either with a natural raft or perhaps with human explorers. Natural selection in their island home would allow for the speciation that produces the definitive island kinds.

Three classic and powerful arguments for evolution? If they are, then evolution is in trouble.

I have heard that, while in other countries, "professor" is a title that indicates an advanced degree in a subject, in the United States it merely means one allowed to lecture at a university. That does somewhat cheapen the title.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


This is a test post from my Nokia E70.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Thoughts on Science

One of the conclusions reached by scholars like Rodney Stark is that the Christian philosophical framework was necessary for the rise of science in the west.

This is often responded to by certain sceptics by references to Greeks, Muslims, Egyptians, Indians etc. It should be noted that these sceptics never describe what science is supposed to be, or how these peoples are supposed to have developed it.

It should first be recognised, as Rodney Stark does, that neither technology nor mathematics are science. Both are necessary for the development of science, but neither is adequate. Technology is necessary because the tools of inquiry used in the scientific fields rely on being able to detect phenomena that may be too small or too distant for the unaided human senses. Mathematics is the language of science and provides the notation that allows us to describe phenomena. The referenced peoples had both technology and mathematics, but they did not develop science.

Science is a body of knowledge acquired through application of the scientific method. This method is generally defined as a sequence of observation, hypothesis formation and experimental testing that allows adjustment of the hypothesis.

The Greeks, for example, did not have science in this sense. They produced great observations, formulated hypotheses from those observations, but they didn't then use testing to verify or discount their hypotheses.

It should also be noted that "the rise of science" refers to the proliferation and perseverance of science in that culture. Islam did contribute to the rise, but eventually the growth petered out.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Thoughts on Miracles

One of the charges levelled at the ancients is that they can't be trusted to report miracles because they were credulous and superstitious.

Glenn Miller discusses such matters and reaches a completely different conclusion.

* "In antiquity miracles were not accepted without question. Graeco-Roman writers were often reluctant to ascribe miraculous events to the gods, and offered alternative explanations. Some writers were openly skeptical about miracles (e.g. Epicurus; Lucretius; Lucian). So it is a mistake to write off the miracles of Jesus as the result of the naivety and gullibility of people in the ancient world." [GAJ, rev 2, p.235, Stanton]

* "This period [Hellenistic] may well have been the least superstitious period of antiquity, even if we have to allow for the continued existence in concealment of an undercurrent of the usual superstitions and belief in miracles. However that may be a change sets in with the beginning of late antiquity. Popular belief in miracles and superstition revived." [MSECT:269, Theissen]

* "On the other hand it must be admitted that in the relatively peaceful and stable period of the first two centuries the irrationalism which first appeared at the beginning of the first century was unable to strike roots. There continued to be rationalist movements alongside it. In his dialogues Lucian mocked his contemporaries' belief in the miraculous. Oenomaus of Gadara mocked the oracles, and Sextus Empiricus once more brought together all the arguments of scepticism. Even where increased irrationalism was notable--for example in Plutarch's development--it remained within bounds, without eccentricity or fanaticism. There was no decisive change before the great social and political crisis of the 3rd century. AD. [MSECT:275, Theissen]

* "Primitive Christian belief in the miraculous thus has a crucial role in the religious development of late antiquity. It stands at the beginning of the 'new' irrationalism of that age. Our brief outline of this development may have done something to correct the widespread picture of an ancient belief in the miraculous which has no history. What we have found here is not a rampant jungle of ancient credulity with regard to miracles, but a process of historical transformation in which forms and patterns of belief in the miraculous succeed one another. If we accept this picture, we must firmly reject assertions that primitive Christian belief in the miraculous represented nothing unusual in the context of its period." [MSECT:276, Theissen]

* "particularly in the Augustan age, when intellectual life was inspired by the example of Alexandrian scholarship, there was a general desire for increasingly exact knowledge, and historians, like poets, were always on the alert to correct their predecessors." [X02:RCH4S:93, Woodman]

* "It is in this light that we must judge the accounts we possess of other miracle-workers in Jesus' period and culture. We have already observed that the list of such occurrences is very much shorter than is often supposed. If we take the period of four hundred years stretching from two hundred years before to two hundred years after the birth of Christ, the number of miracles recorded which are remotely comparable with those of Jesus is astonishingly small. On the pagan side, there is little to report apart from the records of cures at healing shrines, which were certainly quite frequent, but are a rather different phenomenon from cures performed by an individual healer. Indeed it is significant that later Christian fathers, when seeking miracle workers with whom to compare or contrast Jesus, had to have recourse to remote and by now almost legendary figures of the past such as Pythagoras or Empedocles." [X:JATCH:103]

* "In the second century C.E. there is a fair amount of evidence to support the thesis that philosophers were generally inclined to be less critical in assessing extraordinary phenomena than in the centuries immediately preceding and more cordial toward religion generally and mainstream piety and its wonders specifically." [X04:PCCM:104]

* "In the Second-Sophistic period [beginning 2nd century AD] the pagan gods were extraordinarily active. They not only appeared to humankind in person or in dreams. They were also diligent in giving out oracles. The paganism of the High Empire does indeed have a vibrant feel to it." [HI:AREPJC:167]

* "The rituals we studied [exorcism, love rites, alchemy, and deification] all point to the importance of the first three centuries [AD]. Ideas which only appeared in embryonic form before the turn of the millennium undergo tremendous development by the beginning of the fourth century [AD]". [HI:MRW:98]

The easy acceptance of miracles was foreign to that world. The complete opposite of what sceptics claim... no surprises there of course.

Thoughts on Christianity

As Vox Day detailed in his book The Irrational Atheist most of the “arguments” put forwards by the new atheists are simply logically fallacious.

We see some of the same above, such as the claim that Christianity cannot be true because Christians do bad things. When it is pointed out that atheists have not only done equally bad, but even worse things, the special pleading is made that Christians ought to be better because they have the holy spirit inside them.

Arguments such as Craig’s Kalam formulation are dismissed because Craig would remain faithful even if the evidence was against him. Of course the logical implication of that is that Craig hasn’t found the evidence inadequate yet. Moreover Kalam is a logical argument, P1, P2, and C1, so an attempt to refute it cannot revolve around discrediting the source. That’s ad hominem.

The first proposition is unassailable, simply because if we don’t assume causality then all discussion ceases, it is the second proposition that is the weak point in the argument, because while we currently assume that the universe has a beginning, we cannot prove it. Craig’s arguments against an infinity reached by successive addition doesn’t take into consideration set theory where a set can contain an infinite number of values (for example all real numbers) without achieving that point by cumulative addition. Incidentally the person who introduced me to that criticism was a biblical creationist. However if proposition 1 is true, and we must assume that it is, and proposition 2 is probably true, which at the moment we generally assume it is, then the conclusion, that the universe had a first cause, is also probably true.

We can construct similar arguments based around morality, or teleology, which make it reasonable to infer a moral intelligence behind life.

Whilst showing that it is reasonable to propose a moral intelligence that created the universe, that doesn't automatically lead to Christianity.

What we then have to ask is what religious tradition deals with a creator god and specific historical events?

A creator god is necessary because of the first step. Obviously a god who is the universe cannot logically be the creator of that universe. That leaves out all pantheistic religions like Hinduism, as well as godless religions like Buddhism and atheism. The classical religions like those of the Greeks and Romans must go too. In their mythology the gods were born from Khronus and he in turn came into being at the moment of creation, hence he could not be the first cause.

We're now down to a relatively short list of theistic religions with transcendent deities. Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I will treat Judaism and Christianity as two parts of the same tradition, although I'm sure most Jews would disagree with me.

Specific historical interventions are lacking in what I see of Zoroastrianism, that is Ahura Mazda doesn't seem to do very much. Whilst Zoroaster seems to have had many valuable insights, he doesn't appear to have the same miracle working power as Moses and Jesus.

In Judaism, whilst God doesn't act capriciously, the Biblical writers testify to specific actions and predictions attributed to YHWH. Where we are able to test them (and that is a limitation in any historical work) they seem to hold up well.

Christianity is rooted in the historical evidence of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, and the theological interpretations placed on that evidence by Jesus and his apostles. Again within the limitations of historical inquiry the evidence seems to hold up well.

Islam is rooted in the revelation of Allah to Mohammed. However he makes specific claims about Jesus that are contrary to those recorded in the Bible. Since the historical evidence about Jesus goes back to the late first century and early second century, whilst Mohammed was writing in the seventh, this leaves me somewhat sceptical of his claims.

Since Mohammed did not claim to be writing his own recollections, but rather what Allah was dictating, this would lead me to regard his claims of authority as somewhat dubious.

Based on this brief assessment I would have to say that Judeo-Christianity has the best claim to be objectively true. If it is not then another form of theism, possibly one not revealed to humanity, is the next most likely.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Thoughts on atheist clergy

Dr Albert Mohler comments on Daniel Dennett's study of religious belief among the clergy.

Darryl is a Presbyterian who sees himself as a "progressive-minded" pastor who wants to see his kind of non-doctrinal Christianity "given validity in some way." He acknowledges that he is more a pantheist than a theist, and thinks that many of the more educated members of his church hold to the same liberal beliefs as his own. And those beliefs (or unbeliefs) are stated clearly: "I reject the virgin birth. I reject substitutionary atonement. I reject the divinity of Jesus. I reject heaven and hell in the traditional sense, and I am not alone."

Amazingly, Darryl is candid about the fact that he remains in the ministry largely for financial reasons. It is how he provides for his family. If he openly espoused his beliefs, "I may be burning bridges in terms of my ability to earn a living this way."

John is identified as a Southern Baptist minister who has primarily served as a worship leader. He was attracted to Christianity as a religion of love, but his pursuit of Christianity "brought me to the point of not believing in God." As he explains, "I didn't plan to become an atheist. I didn't even want to become an atheist. It's just I had no choice. If I'm being honest with myself."

He is clearly not being honest with his church members. He rejects all belief in God and all Christian truth claims out of hand. He is a determined atheist. Once again, this unbelieving minister admits that he stays in the ministry because of finances. Amazingly, this minister even names his price: "If someone said, 'Here's $200,000,' I'd be turning my notice in this week, saying, 'A month from now is my last Sunday.' Because then I can pay off everything."

No one should sail under a false flag, especially not in the Christian Church where honesty is seen as a primary virtue. If these men are faking their profession, purely in the pursuit of ungodly Mammon, then please someone give them the money to pay their bills and get them out of our Church.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

IQ Test

Free I.Q. Test Online - Free I.Q. Test Online

I'm so dumb.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Thoughts on Scientific Philosophy

Years ago in How to Sink a Battleship Phillip Johnson laid out the transformation of science from a tool of inquiry to a tool of naturalistic indoctrination.

I enjoyed some of his wry observations, highlighting the example of Richard Dickerson.

Richard Dickerson, a professor of molecular biology at UCLA, provides a good example of how the basis of modern science has been articulated. He states as Rule Number One of scientific investigation, "Let us see how far and to what extent we can explain the behavior of the physical and material universe in terms of purely physical and material causes without invoking the supernatural."

That's a rational project, but there's another sentence that has to be added for the rule to make any sense, and that is, "At some point we'll stop to audit the books and see how far we've gone." For example, if your investment advisor suggests plunging wildly in the corn futures market, then at some point you're going to want to know if you have anything left, or whether you've made any money. If he tells you "Let's just always assume that corn futures go up in value," you know you are giving your money to somebody who has lost touch with reality.

Yet Johnson also observes that not every scientist (perhaps not many scientists) would embrace such a dogmatic position. Speaking of Richard Feynman he wrote.

In his famous 1974 Commencement address at Caltech, Richard Feynman provided an inspiring counter-example of how science ought to be practiced. He began by warning against self- deception, the original sin of science, saying that "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool." To avoid self- deception scientists must bend over backwards to report data that cast doubt on their theories. Feynman applied this principle specifically to scientists who talk to the public:

"I would like to add something that's not essential to the science, but something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool the laymen when you're talking as a scientist. . . . I'm talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you're maybe wrong, [an integrity] that you ought to have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen."

That's such a magnificent statement, I wish it could be set to music. Richard Feynman's kind of science has the virtue of humility at its very core. Honesty and humility.

That is indeed a magnificent statement, and I hope that I have tried to act with the same principle in mind. I do note in real life that I tend to qualify many of my statements, trying to be careful not to go beyond what the evidence is able to support.

The Prayer of the Boondock Saints

And Shepherds we shall be
For thee, my Lord, for thee.
Power hath descended forth from Thy hand
Our feet may swiftly carry out Thy commands.
So we shall flow a river forth to Thee
And teeming with souls shall it ever be.
In Nomeni Patri Et Fili Spiritus Sancti.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Thoughts on Liberal Fecundity

Don Feder offers a study on the way in which liberals have created disaster scenario after disaster scenario in order to gain power and access to our pocketbooks.

One section that caught my eye was his commentary on hate crimes.

The National Epidemic of Hate Crimes – The late Sen. Edward Kennedy called hate crimes “domestic terrorism” – thereby suggesting that they were just as much a threat to our nation’s security as al-Qaeda, Taliban, Hezbollah and every jihad-preaching imam around the world. Neo-Nazis, Ku-Kluxers and freelance haters were roaming our streets looking for victims on which to inflict their vile animus. The alleged epidemic led to the passage last year of The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which added “sexual orientation” to the category of protected classes.

Just how much of a hate-crimes crisis there is may be seen from the FBI Uniform Crime Reports. (The FBI is required to compile statistics of so-called bias offenses.)

According to the UCR, in 2007, there were 16,929 murders and over 855,000 cases of aggravated assault in the United States.

There were also a grand total of 7,624 hate crimes of all kinds -- motivated by race, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, whatever.

Of that number, 78% involved either intimidation (words alone), or simple assault (no serious injury occurred), which included pushing and shoving. In 2007, 9 murders were classified as hate crimes – which constituted .0005 % of total homicides. Your chances of being the victim of a hate crime – any hate crime – are comparable to being struck by lightening twice while bungee-jumping on Groundhog Day.

So hate-crime legislation was passed to stop 0.05% of homicides in the USA. That doesn't really seem worth it to me. (checking his maths it is 0.05% not 0.0005%)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Thoughts on Relationships

Vox Day has written some very good advice to a woman asking about how to find a man in her mid-thirties.

I particularly liked his take on how her Christian beliefs could negatively affect her relationship possibilities, not because of the beliefs themselves but because of the nonsense that has infiltrated the Church in regards to the priority that is placed on the relationship with spouse versus relationship with God.

One thing that Christian women often fail to understand is that a single-minded devotion to Jesus will drive away most men almost as effectively as a feminist woman's narcissistic devotion to her education and career. This is true of Christian and non-Christian men alike. It's not that men don't respect your devotion, it's just that they tend to consider you off the market as a sort of Protestant equivalent of a nun. You're basically telling them that they will never be as important to you as they would be to pretty much any other woman, so it should come as little surprise that they tend to pursue those other women in preference to you.

When Paul told his readers that the first concern of the husband is his wife, and that of the wife her husband, he wasn't being negative (at least not excessively so). The first concern of a married person is their spouse. That is God's plan for marriage. Ladies, remember this, and if some pastor tries to tell you to "put Jesus first" hit him with your handbag.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thoughts on Christmas

People have claimed that the two accounts of Jesus birth in Matthew and Luke are very different stories. Whilst it is true that they are two accounts from different authors who are focusing on different things I think that is possible to reconstruct the timeline from the available information.

Mary and Joseph were espoused, betrothed but not married fully. At this time they are living in Nazareth.

The angel Gabriel comes to Mary and informs her that Jesus was to be born.

Mary leaves her home and travels to see her cousin Elizabeth who is at this time six months pregnant.

Mary remains with her until John is born.

Mary returns to her home and her condition becomes known to her betrothed. Joseph knows he's not the father and decides to put her aside quietly, rather than make a public disgrace of her.

An angel comes to Joseph in a dream and tells him that the child is not the product of adultery and that taking Mary as bride is not something to be feared. He does so.

A census (Bethyada suggests that "registration" is a better description of the event) is declared by the Roman governors and enforced by their puppet government. Joseph and Mary go to the town of Bethlehem which is the home town of the House of David which both of them belong to.

They do so, and take up residence in the house of another member of their family. Remember that in that culture it is a vile insult to refuse accommodation to a clan member, and equally insulting to reject such an offer. Misunderstanding the word used for Inn, in Luke, has led to the picturesque view of Jesus being born in a stable, but since Bethlehem was probably too small to have an inn and it would have been insulting to sleep in such a place when a family home was available this option is highly unlikely. People lived with their animals in a downstairs family room, and it was probably this room in which Jesus was born because the upstairs guest room is full.

The shepherds come to visit the house this night.

Eight days after this Jesus is circumcised.

After the period of Mary's purification (14 days) Mary and Joseph take him to the temple and offer the two doves that are the sacrifice of the poor.

At a point after this, probably not too much later, the Magi from the East (probably Babylon) came to visit Jesus and give their gifts. (Bethyada also points out that it wasn't necessarily Babylon, Susa is another candidate, and the period that they visited encompasses from shortly after the birth to about 18 months later; we do have the testimony of Herod that he was less than two by the time the king decided to kill the boys)

The Magi leave, not informing Herod of their discovery.

Herod orders his soldiers to kill all males in Bethlehem under the age of two, and at this point Joseph, Mary and Jesus are heading for Egypt.

Herod dies, and the family return to Nazareth.

It may not be a perfect reconstruction, but it seems to place the events in the correct order.