The Reliable Bible – The Reliability of the New Testament

May 29, 2012

Excellent infographic showing the the reliability of the New Testament text as compared to other ancient documents. The New Testament has many more existing copies from antiquity which are closer to the the writing of the original text than any other well known ancient text we have – which would be expected for a document understood by believers as being Divinely inspired.

The reliability of the New Testament

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The Demise of Guys

May 29, 2012

Are pornography and video games destroying men in our culture?

According to psychologist Philip G. Zimbardo and writer Nikita Duncan in their recent TED publication The Demise of Guys, that is exactly what is happening. Though it is a brief work, the book does a thorough job of describing how young men are increasingly exchanging real relationships and the challenges of daily life for the artifice of virtual sex and the pseudo-combat. Zimbardo lays a large part of the fault squarely on the growth of pornography and video gaming:

Over the past decade, this pattern has escalated into adulthood where grown men remain like little boys, having difficulty relating to women as equals, friends, partners, intimates, or even as cherished wives.

We believe this demise can be traced to the rise of technology enchantment. From the earliest ages, guys are seduced into excessive and mostly isolated viewing and involvement with texting, tweeting, blogging, online chatting, emailing, and watching sports on TV or laptops. Most of all, though, they’re burying themselves in video games and in getting off on all-pervasive online pornography.

We are focusing primarily on guys investing too much time and energy in the last two factors: playing video games and watching freely available Internet porn. Video game production companies are in fierce competition to make games that are ever more enticing, more provocative and, now, in 3-D. The same is true for pornography. Pornography is the fastest-growing global business, with production companies churning out daily doses of porn flicks in seemingly endless variety. The high-definition 3-D porn wave may also be coming (pun intended). The combination of excessive video game playing and pornography viewing is becoming addictive for a lot of guys. The next phase we imagine is transferring the player’s viewpoint onto the body of the protagonist to mesh realities and make digital environments totally egocentric.

As a Christian I find this to be problematic because I understand human are designed to base their relationships on what is true, that we are designed to be in relationship with God and with our fellow men. And those relationships have purposes that serve greater purposes; our relationships with our wives allows us to parent our children, our relationships with our children allow us to prepare them to be adults, our friendships and working relationships provide support and community that allow us to produce accomplishments beyond that which we could do alone. To the degree we substitute virtual relationships for real ones we, as the Apostle Paul said, “…exchange the truth of God for a lie.”

It is not as clear from a secular perspective why this is a problem. Unless there is an objective ‘ought’ concerning relationships, there is no reason why it wouldn’t be fine for young men to pursue virtual relationships activities instead of real ones. As our society increasingly abandons its Christian worldview, it will be harder to claim that reality is preferable to virtuality.

That being said, the problems Zimbardo and Duncan detail are real and growing. There is a growing population of young men who are unable to engage with others with the opposite sex in a substantive, communicate in the ways necessary to operate in a work or social environment and engage in tasks that require persistence, engagement and risk-taking. As the authors point out the impact of such virtual stimulation has real physiological effects including addiction and diminished capacity to act on one’s desires. I think it is no coincidence that most of those in ‘New Atheist’ crowd are single young men. They are verbally combative online but often in reality are isolated, anti-social and lacking engagement in committed relationships or communities which involve risk-taking or self-sacrifice. New Atheism is the religion of the virtual life.

The authors offer some prescriptions for this which rightly involve changes in education and more aware parenting. However the root of the problem (as it always is) is spiritual – and absent a belief in the fact that a life exists which one ought to be living, there is little incentive to avoid the addictive draw of virtual pleasures.

Philip Zimbardo’s TED talk gives a brief overview of the research.

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The Honored Dead

May 27, 2012

Bald eagle on a gravestone at Fort Snelling National Cemetery, Minnesota

Memorial Day for me has always had personal significance – I am named after my uncle Jack, who died as a very young man along with 55,000 others at the Battle of Monte Cassino. There is no more tragic reality than the fact that decades of life, the possibility of love and children and making a contribution to society can all disintegrate in the explosive flash of a hidden landmine.

I have already had twice the lifetime he did. I have a wife I love and four healthy children, something he never experienced. I have wealth and opportunity he probably only dreamed of for the short time he was alive. I know the conclusion of the war he only saw the beginning of.

Though brief and inglorious, his sacrifice made the life I have possible – like one stone in thousands forming an archway I have passed through to the blessings I have enjoyed.

Such sacrifices are certainly worth a day of remembrance.


Designed to be Married

May 26, 2012

In a recent article on CNN Albert Mohler responds to complaints that conservative Christians have an unwarranted focus on homosexuality. He aptly parses the difference between the laws that governed ancient Israelite society and the principles that govern the lives of Christians, and provides a solid basis for Christians to maintain strong opposition to normalizing homosexual behavior.

What I find lacking in Mohler’s argument as well as most Christian’s discussion of homosexuality is the fact that human sexuality is firmly rooted in our design. In Scripture our sexuality doesn’t emanate from Old Testament law or even the teachings of Jesus, but in our very natures. Christians find this in Genesis 1 commanding the first humans to “be fruitful and multiply” and also in the description of a monogamous life-long marriage in Genesis 2 that pronounces that a man “be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” This is the understanding of marriage that was later reiterated by Jesus.

As it turns out the Christian argument for the preeminence of heterosexual relationships transects the secular one. There is no doubt about the importance of the reproductive aspect of heterosexual relationship, from the aspect of maintaining the human species. Marriage however is equally important in this respect. As I have noted elsewhere the long term relationship between men and women who parent children together has physiological impacts on adults and children which facilitate the investment necessary to raise a child.

And on a societal level a healthy nuclear family is perhaps the greatest indicator of success in one’s life in terms of education, employment and later relationships. The income and education gaps in our society often fall along the lines of marriage success.

And the failure of the traditional family has notably pernicious effects. As Steven Pinker details in his recent book on the history of violence The Better Angels of Our Nature, the Free Love and anti-authority 60’s had a dramatic impact on the American family, and a corresponding dramatic increase in violence in the following decades. A diminished commitment to the marriages and families had a decivilizing impact. In many ways this explains why older adults oppose gay marriage in higher numbers than younger do. These people were the free-loving hippies of yesteryear – and they remember the damage such social experimentation did to our society.

In his letter to the Romans Paul employed the argument from design when he described what happens when we move away from the purposes of marriage for which we are created:

For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

Romans 1:26-27

In this sense law and morality are merely descriptions of our ‘natural functions’. The laws in Scripture governing sexuality then aren’t arbitrary at all but flow from understanding the behaviors that allow for human flourishing. Thus we can no more confer marriage on homosexuals than we can confer the ability to breastfeed on men. And attempts to pretend men can breastfeed would be as harmful to child rearing as ignoring the importance of traditional marriage was in the 60s – or today.

So while there is certainly warrant for a Christian to oppose homosexual behaviors and the idea of homosexual marriage from Scripture, we also have an appeal to nature and to the benefits of supporting monogamous, committed heterosexual relationships as a basis for healthy parenting and human flourishing, an idea which is well supported by data and history.


Friday Fun-ness

May 25, 2012

Interesting bit by history film maker Ken Burns on telling a story. Being a history buff, I enjoy his films immensely, though The Civil War is still his best in my mind.


Not the Dreams of My Daughters

May 18, 2012

As the father of two young women, an accomplished young professional and active and confident teen, I have many dreams for my two daughters. I dream that they will remain strong in their faith, that they will love and serve others and that they will work hard and find success in whatever vocation they undertake. I also dream that they will find the right men to spend their lives with – men worthy of the people they have been raised to be and who will love and cherish them as much as I do. I am confident that these dreams will come true (in fact already are for my oldest) because they are smart, confident and faith-filled young women – and because none of these dreams are dependent on what a particular President may or may not do.

It appears though that some have a different idea about what will make their daughters futures hopeful. In a new Obama Campaign Ad (yes, they are starting already!) a mother speaks wistfully about her own dreams and fears concerning her daughter’s futures. Somehow she ends up being concerned about the future availability of contraception:

“I love that my daughters dream so big and see no limits to their future. Watching their dreams unfold everyday is one of the unique pleasures of being a mom.

It is upsetting to me that in 2012 the use of birth control has become controversial. Birth control isn’t just for family planning, it’s preventative care and treatment, it’s medication that most women need and use at some point in their lives. And it is as common in a woman’s medicine cabinet as cough medicine.

Beyond that it’s a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body and her own life. This is just one reason I’m so passionate about getting you re-elected this year. We need a President who will stand up for women’s health and stay focused on jobs and economic recovery. The dreams of all our daughters are at stake. And they’re counting on us to fight for them.”

The ad is based on a letter penned by Erin Bilbray-Kohn, a mother of two daughters. I have to admit I found it somewhat contrived that a mother would spontaneously write about her hopes and fears for her children’s futures in such a way that would so neatly fit into the administration’s message on contraception. This being the internet age, it took me about three seconds to discover that this isn’t some ordinary mom – she is the daughter of the former Democratic Congressional Representative from Nevada, and a Democratic operative herself. So that is why her ‘letter’ reads like it was written by The Campaign to Re-Elect Obama – because …well it was.

This fact makes it all the more clear why the message of the ad is so out of touch with what most mothers (and fathers) actually want for their daughters (and sons). The few parents who might want the government to provide free contraceptives to the point where they are “as common in a woman’s medicine cabinet as cough medicine” probably have very few hopes and dreams for their daughters other than that they stay out of jail. To the degree that most parents consider their kids contraception it is more likely to be in terms of the hopes that their children don’t see their easy availability as a license to live lives of hedonism and debauchery.

I would contend that most parents who think about the impact the government will have on their daughter’s lives are probably most concerned with whether the government will inadequately defend their lives and property, drain their wealth with taxes and debt or threaten their liberties in the guise of social progress.

With regard to these concerns the current administration is more likely to provoke nightmares than pleasant dreams of my daughter’s future.


Friday Fun-ness

May 18, 2012

Ever since I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey I have understood that when robots become sentient the first thing they will want to use their newfound awareness for is to kill humans. This was further verified in the documentaries like Terminator and The Matrix. Thankfully, some folks have been thinking about this looming threat and created a how-to video for defending civilization.