Thursday, August 31, 2006

Theology as a contact sport

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, theology, eschatology

prescript: I used NIV for most Bible quotations in this article

When the Left Behind novels began appearing about ten years ago, they caused a minor sensation, and made a lot of money for Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Then 9/11 happened, lots of people realized we just might be in the midst of WW3, uncertainty abounded and, predictably, the ongoing series, originally slated for seven books but with a ninth volume just released, was expanded to twelve (now fifteen with three prequels), and Messrs. LaHaye and Jenkins got rich. So far as I know, only a handful of people actually believed in Jesus as a result of reading any of the books. Mainly, lots of more-or-less lukewarm Christians got their attitude adjusted. However, the basically Arminian message primarily affected those who were uncertain of their standing in the first place.

My own stance about the series is that its theology is very narrow, and after the first volume, there is just too much derring-do! I'll give a summary of my understanding later, but I want to get to the book on the table. In Left Behind? The Facts Behind the Fiction LeAnn Snow Flesher, a professor at American Baptist Seminary, strips the Left Behind message to its essentials and shows how it distorts Biblical texts.

Tim LaHaye's theology is dispensational, futurist, and pre-millennial; a development (an over-develoment, I'd say) of John N. Darby's dispensationalism as popularized by C. I. Scofield. In the process, she compares it to the eschatology of Protestant theology, which is mainly supersessional, historical, and preterite (I couldn't tell whether millennial or not). Professor Flesher does a good job of outlining the theological points, though her continued use of the epigram "Darbyite, futurist, premillennial" and variations thereof strikes me as ad hominem name-calling. I am very familiar with Darby's theology, and Scofield's, and she is actually reporting an extreme over-literalism attributable to later generations.

As an aside, Darby developed two valuable tools for understanding the Bible: Dispensationalism and Typology. Both must go together, or you get a one-sided theology. Tim LaHaye's error is disregarding typology. I believe the error of Protestant supersessional theology is disregarding dispensations.

OK, rough slogging ahead: let's unpack some of these terms.

Dispensation: one translation of οικονοµιa, which most naturally translates "economy". The related verb means "to dispense resources". Theologically, a dispensation is a particular method that God uses to deal with people to carry out His overarching purpose; while a particular time period may be characterized by a particular economy, the time period is not the dispensation.

For example, in Romans 5:14 Paul wrote "...death reigned from Adam until Moses...", then in 5:21, " sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign thorough righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Thus, prior to Moses, who introduced the Law, was one period, and that after Jesus came is another; we know that between these, God dealt with Israel according to the Law given by Moses, as John wrote (1:17), "For the law was given through Moses; grace and reality came through Jesus Christ." In these three periods—pre-Law (or Conscience), Law of Moses, Grace in Christ—God and His people related to one another in three different ways. Today, God relates to people who have heard of neither Christ or Moses via the Conscience, to Israel (primarily the Jews) according to Moses' Law, and to the church according to Grace, but his principle economy in this, the church age, is Grace. Though each age has its characteristic economy, they can thus exist simultaneously.

Supersession: the principle that the church supersedes Israel, and God has done away with the Law as a principle in dealing with Israel. Typically, this includes the belief that the responsibilities and blessings of Israel now inhere to the church, and probably has a lot to do with most churches' reliance on a professional clergy (priests, by any name), which is more in accord with the Israelite economy. John 1:17 is used to support supersession, but this interpretation is countered by Romans 9-11, particularly 11:1, "...has God cast away his people? Absolutely not!..." Supersessionism and dispensationalism are mutually exclusive.

Futurist and Historical: ways of interpreting predictions by the Biblical prophets. Futurists believe many or most predictions have yet to occur, sometimes invoking "partial fulfillment". Historicists believe nearly all predictions were fulfilled in times future to the prophet, but it our own past. An example of "partial fulfillment" is the "little horn" of Daniel 8: actions of the tyrant Antiochus IV fulfilled part of the prophecy, but not all; those of Titus in AD 70 did not add to the fulfillment, so futurists look to a future tyrant to complete the prophecy. Some historicists state that the portions of the prediction that Antiochus didn't fulfill constitute a mistaken prediction, others that we must be missing something in the historical account that would show all things were fulfilled. Preterite refers to a mainly Historical approach.

Millennialism: belief in a period of a thousand years (literal or spiritual) during which Christ will reign. Pre-millennialists believe that period is a literal 1000-year future kingdom of Christ on earth, post-millennialists (properly intra-millennialists) believe it refers to the church age with Christ ruling in the hearts of His people, and amillennialists or non-millennialists believe "the thousand years" mentioned seven times in Revelation (and nowhere else) is a figurative expression only.

Typology: the emphasis on figurative, metaphorical, and allegorical language, particularly in the Old Testament, as instructions for later ages. In other words, in Genesis 24, for example, Abraham sent a servant to find a bride for Isaac. This is explained typologically as God the Father sending the Holy Spirit to gain the Church to be the bride of Christ. Typologists (I am one) point to Paul's language in Romans 5:14: "Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come." The Greek word for pattern is tυpος or "typos". Paul frequently used typology and allegorical interpretation of the Old Testement.

There is an added element here, the matter of the Rapture. This is the whole point of the first "Left Behind" book. The verb "caught up" in 1 Thess. 4:7 is rapto in Latin. From this we get "raptor", describing hawks and other birds that snatch up their prey. The emotion of rapture means being caught up in a feeling. Many Christians believe God's people (or some of them) will be snatched off the earth by God at the end of this age.

Then there is the matter of timing. Jesus spoke of a time of distress, saying in Matt. 24:29: "For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again." The KJV and other versions say "great tribulation", whereas NIV uses that term only in Rev. 7:14, though the Greek is the same. Will the rapture occur before this great distress, during it, after it, or some combination? Ms Flesher apparently doesn't believe in a literal rapture, and devotes a chapter to showing that the verses that are used to support both rapture and the timing thereof don't all refer to the same thing. Her reasoning is sharp and clear, showing that it takes a mixing of portions of NT texts into OT texts to make the case as LaHaye would have it. Such amalgamation is not "rightly dividing" the word!

LaHaye and Jenkins promote the rapture of every "true believer" just prior to a 7-year "tribulation". The definition of such true believers, however, is performance based. The basis of one's status with God is godly behavior, not possession of God's life. Perhaps they assume conversion must produce rapid spiritual advancement, or it isn't genuine. As a result their viewpoint is seen as Arminian, even though I suspect they think of themselves as Calvinists.

They also promote a literal world ruler they call the Antichrist, and build a plausible-sounding case for the events that culminate with a "last battle" and the public appearing of Christ. The author of Left Behind? clearly shows the shortcomings of the narrow theology underlying the series. Actually, after the third volume, I thought the theology was getting pretty thin on the ground, with more and more emphasis placed on the exploits of the Tribulation Force. Ms Flesher shows how LaHaye's theology gets him into a few "can't have it both ways" pinches, and shows that it is destructive of faith. In its place, however, she has little to offer.

As I mentioned above, Protestant theology sees little or no distinction between Israel and the church, while extreme dispensational theology makes too great a distinction, not between Israel and the church, but in the application of verses that are meant literally for the one and typologically for the other.

Leaving out a clutter of verses, here is a (very sparse) sequence of events according to a balanced dispensational theology:

  • Time runs out for the current world order. A ruler arises who unites many nations in Europe (both Western and Balkan), the Middle East (primarily Turkey), and north Africa; whether politically or economically doesn't really matter. Eventually, he makes a significant treaty, which may refer to Jerusalem, but may not. I'll call this united territory "Therionia", using the Greek word for "wild beast," and call its ruler Therion.
  • Christians are in various conditions, some more mature and faithful, and others more selfish and childish. Many "still have a lot to learn." Christ snatches away the spiritually mature, leaving others to be taken later. This is to be understood according to the principle of firstfruits and harvest.
  • Therionia prospers (It is centered in Rome, not Babylon/Baghdad). At some point Therion takes a blow to the head and dies, but arises again (maybe three days later, maybe not). As a result, an associate of Therion promotes him as a god and demands he receive worship. This false prophet we can call Pseudas.
  • Most likely, the Jews received permission or took the initiative to rebuild the temple. Perhaps the Dome of the Rock was destroyed in a battle, and Saudi Arabia wasn't strong enough to retake its site. This will become eminently possible once the oil economy of the world winds down in another generation or two, and could happen any time should the Saudi oil fields be subject to widespread terrorist attack. However, the "desolation of the temple" may have a meaning we haven't guessed yet. Whatever, a shocking sacrilege is perpetrated by Pseudas and Therion.
  • Religious persecution ensues. Not just against Jews and Christians, but against all faiths. Refugees will flock to a place called "the wilderness", somewhere that Therion has no authority. This could be in Asia, Africa, or the Americas, but my bet is on North America because this flood of refugees could be better assimilated there (low population), and the culture is the most tolerant. It may be everywhere outside Therionia, however, according to capacity.
  • God begins to respond overtly with supernatural disasters: burning 100-lb hailstones, bloody lakes and rivers, etc. The Western hemisphere and Asia(+Southern Africa?) are two parts of the world. I believe Therionia is "the third part" mentioned in the Trumpet plagues. This period begins with the arrival of the two witnesses.
  • The Bowl plagues follow, covering a rather short period of time, certainly a year or less. They extend the Trumpet plagues to all the earth. Jesus had warned that if this time were not cut short, not even the elect could survive.
  • The two witnesses are killed. 3.5 days later they arise; probably they are killed by stealth, at night, but arise at midday, for they are seen to ascend to the sky. This is the most likely time for the remaining people of God to be caught up, just preceded by the first resurrection, which includes all Old and New Testament people of God who have died.
  • Christ's people appear before his judgment seat, where he chooses those who will accompany him into battle, and who will be remanded for further maturation.
  • Christ and his bride ride into battle, but nobody fights. He speaks, and it is all over. Therion and Pseudas are sent straight to the lake of fire, and those who followed them against Christ die. Satan is bound in "the abyss", wherever that may be. Christ gathers the remaining people, all who are not His already, to separate sheep and goats, depending on how they treated the refugees ("my brothers") who fled Therionia, and those who couldn't escape. The sheep become citizens of the millennial kingdom.
  • The millennium begins, and Christ reigns with His bride at his side. This is also called the "wedding feast of the lamb." Whether the thousand years are literal or not is unimportant. Primarily, it is also the period when the people of God who received salvation but didn't grow spiritually can grow to maturity. They are outside the city, Jesus called it "outer darkness." This is not for condemnation, but for discipline and training.
  • I'll skip the condition of this kingdom age; large swaths of the Old Testament refer to it.
  • At the end of this period, Satan is released, to give the citizens of the kingdom a final test; those who fail die of divine fire. Satan is cast into the lake of fire.
  • The dead arise in the second resurrection to be judged. The "dead in the sea" refers to the demons. At this point, you'd think everyone whose name is not in the book of life is already with Christ. Anyway, each individual is checked against the book of life, and away they go to the fire.
  • Though the earth has been beautified, "the old heaven and the old earth pass away" and a new heaven and new earth appear. The new Jerusalem descends from the new heaven to rest on the newe earth. By inference we understand that at this point, everyone who needed further instruction during the kingdom age has become full grown, and all God's people are with Him. Thus begins eternity, not in heaven but on earth.

In the above points, I would not be at all surprised to find that some things I expect to occur literally turn out to be types or antitypes (meaning fulfillment of a type, not its opposite). Darby once wrote that prophecy is not given to enable us to prophesy, but to recognize events as they unfold. Nobody living in the year 9BC would have guessed that Quirinius was about to require a census that required people to register in the town they were born in, forcing a young couple just a year or two later to visit Bethlehem for a few weeks, thus fulfilling seemingly conflicting prophecies, that the Nazarene would be from Bethlehem! Matthew probably didn't get its significance until Jesus told him. How sad that, though the scribes in Jerusalem knew the prophecies, none of them went with the Eastern astrologers to see if the celestial sign they had seen indicated the Messiah had been born. How many will recognize the genuine signs of the end?

Also, I do not call the evil ruler Antichrist. This term is used only in the epistles of 1 John and 2 John, referring to those who teach a non-divine Christ.

The hardest part of all the above for most Christians is the "outer darkness" matter. Nearly all Christians are taught that this term refers to hell. They don't consider that the lake of fire won't be dark, not by any means! Part of genuine hell is being seen for what you really are!! Also, with the sun shining seven times its present brightness, the moon as bright as the sun, yet the holy city needing neither sun nor moon because of the brightness of God and the Lamb, that "darkness" is a relative term. When you are in a glorified body, made to endure—even to revel in—almost infinite brightness, anything less is quite a letdown!

I think of it like this. I was a rather poor college student for two years. I dropped out and worked. A year of this adjusted my attitude, and I returned to college part time, working first full time, then half time. I had quite a mishmash of transferred courses when it came time to declare my intention to graduate at Cal State. Just days before graduation, my most recent adviser discovered that I was missing a required course in History! I had 240 credits under my belt (124 were sufficient), but I needed a lousy 2-credit course to finish. Well, I had to take that course. I like history, and it was not arduous, nor even particularly difficult, but it was in its own way a real suffering. I'd been in the class of 1969; I graduated in 1972. Those three years, particularly that last semester, were like a thousand! Happy Millennium!!!

Sometimes a younger believer will come for counseling about some distressing matter, usually a recurring sin. I can tell there is a certain slackness of attitude, at least in this one area. I give advice I was once given in a similar situation, "You have to be transformed," referring to Romans 12:2 and 2 Cor. 3:18. My response had been, "It took Jacob 100 years to get transformed." The answer was, "He did not have the benefit of the indwelling Holy Spirit. You do. In this matter, at least, it should take at most a few months." The brother was right. So when I get the expected response, I know what to say. On occasion, however, someone will say, "I don't think I can get through on this, not even in fifty years." Then I respond, "OK, do you think a thousand years is enough?"

Left Behind? does a valuable service to the Christian community, but I was disappointed in the alternative presented.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Did Jesus really say THAT?!?

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, theology, textual criticism

Bart D. Ehrman is making a name for himself, popularizing portions of theological and scriptural knowledge that have until now been little known outside graduate schools of Theology. I have read his earlier books, Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew and Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament. The 2005 publication of Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why completes a trilogy that I think necessary for any nonprofessional student of Scripture.

These books are not making Dr. Ehrman any friends among the most conservative evangelicals, I am sure. So why should I, a most conservative Christian, and an evangelical (when I allow myself to be labeled at all), appreciate them so much? Simply this: knowledge is better than ignorance. I prefer to know, either what the writers of the Bible really, really wrote, or at least to know the various things that they might have written, and why sundry manuscripts have variations at all (when it is possible to know...).

No proponent of "blind faith" am I. No, in too many places I find an apostle writing "we know", "you know", and "knowing this". To be a Christian, one must KNOW a few things. Not "secret knowledge" that a self-chosen elite (e.g. Gnostics) might espouse, but things that anyone may know. Paul wrote to Timothy, "God does not desire that any perish, but that all come to the full knowledge (epi-gnosis, a special word of his) of the truth." A Christian is someone who has received Jesus, and thus knows that the Spirit of Christ has entered his human spirit (see Romans 8:16). A Christian believes that God desires this: "all shall know Me", and rejoices to know Him.

In the Introduction to the book, and a little in the closing chapter, the author reveals his history. He had a born-again experience as a young person, then in a succession of Bible schools and seminaries, as his knowledge grew, his faith changed. I was looking for him to say he didn't think "being born again" is a valid experience, but he didn't go that far. Nonetheless, he rejects the narrow conservatism that goes with it among many evangelicals...but not all. I may be over-interpreting him, but I do detect a note of betrayed innocense in his narrative. But reading the book, I think he has risen above any of that, and striven to present as clear a picture as he can, of the current state of textual criticism of New Testament manuscripts.

There is one item with which I find fault. He states more than once that there are more differences than there are words in the New Testament (NT hereafter). As I recall, the Greek text has about 140,000 words. One way of numbering the different variants (a letter here, a word or phrase there, even whole verses inserted or deleted) counts about 200,000. However, this is misleading.

If you have a thousand manuscripts that are nearly identical, and another that has a hundred differences compared to any of them, it has the same hundred differences with each of them; that is counted as 100,000 differences! In reality, there are 100, plus any differences among the "nearly identical" corpus. There are actually about 3,600 words of the 140,000 (less than 3%) that are subject to variation.

The more important matter that Dr. Ehrman discusses is the handful of places where a different reading makes different theology. He says, again more than once, that several passages found in all the critical texts (that is, texts compiled by textual-critical processes) were in all likelihood not in the original manuscript; and that in several other places a reading long considered a "variant" is much more likely to be the actual, correct reading.

The great interest of these accounts is discerning the why: why did someone deliberately introduce an extra verse here, or remove a phrase there? Of course, copying errors produce all kinds of "noise", but the crux of this matter is deliberate editing of a text. There are several reasons. Some copyists felt that events recorded in more than one place were too diversely recorded, and so modified the wording in some places to "harmonize" the accounts. Others, in the midst of theological battles with heretics, non-Christian opponents, or proselytizing Jews, sought to remove or soften language that would give the opponent ground to make an argument. Tha author presents useful examples of all these, many of which remain to this day in our Bibles.

I found myself very interested in one minor item. I'll leave those of more import to the interested reader. But I am very interested that, where Mark records the healing of a leper, most versions record that Jesus had compassion on the leper, and touched him, healing him. Seven pages (133-139) are devoted to discussing the fact that the original text very probably said that Jesus became angry, then touched the leper and healed him (Mark 1:41). Both Mark and Matthew record what happens next: Jesus exhorts the man to say nothing, just to show the priest. But Mark also records a harsher version than Matthew.

Why should Jesus get angry? I had a few ideas, and it seems logical. For one, I recalled that in John 11, at the grave of Lazarus, when "Jesus wept" they said, "Behold how he loved him." I have understood long since that Jesus's weeping was out of frustration at the blindness of everyone mentioned in the account. Every human encounter in the chapter is a roadblock to his purpose "that the Father may be glorified."

Here, we must understand that most "lepers" had any of a number of skin eruptions that might have been leprosy, but were more usually infectious boils due to poor hygiene. Let us also consider that Jesus typically knew what people were thinking, and also had foreknowledge; these are frequently mentioned. So his reasons for anger are several: the sick man mainly needs a good scrubbing with soap and water, and healing him will do little to change his health habits; the man is going to blab about the healing, hindering Jesus's freedom of movement at a critical time (his life was in danger if he showed his face in the wrong place); the man most likely will forget to go to the priest, and will be sick again shortly, and no better off.

It also makes sense, that Mark be the one to record Jesus's anger, in several places. Mark collected Peter's memoirs from his speaking, and Peter surely knew of Jesus's anger, being its object several times. Sometimes it seems Jesus had to interrupt Peter frequently just on general principles!

Then why would some copyist (or perhaps quite a few) change the word meaning "got angry" to one meaning "felt compassion" (the second word is a few letters longer, so it isn't a "typo")? The pagan world around gave short shrift to any prophet whose followers claimed he was a god. Lots of people did so. They expected genuine deities to live up to a high moral standard, to be more stoic than the Stoics. Jesus was an emotional guy! Most likely, those in the thick of the battle didn't want their personal copy of Mark to say that Jesus was irked by a leper, seeming to heal him almost perfunctorily, then scolded him angrily.

Well, my view of the New Testament manuscript situation is pretty much unchanged (see my former post). In keeping with God's desire that his people know him personally in their human spirit, I think He deliberately allowed a much greater measure of human foible to affect the production and transmission of the documents, compared to the Old Testament manuscript corpus. It is part of the differing economy of NT versus OT.

Thanks to Dr. Ehrman; I hope he'll publish a "Bible companion" containing the clearest cases of "Uh oh, we've been using the wrong reading here", and the reasons why. The wise will benefit.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Two Libraries, two traditions, two principles of inspiration

kw: opinion, spiritual musings, scriptures, verbal inspiration

I have begun to read a book in which the author, a highly-acclaimed Bible scholar, describes for a lay audience the problems of textual criticism of New Testament manuscripts (I'll present details when I review the book). His introduction describes his conversion to a very conservative Evangelical tradition, and the transitions he went through as he learned the craft of determining what the Bible manuscripts really say, what the original words of the Bible really might have been.

His self-revelation made me think. Why does he have a note of betrayed zeal? I have been a much less scholarly student of the field for many years. I had to be, because the church produced a new translation of the Bible, and we frequently found ourselves confronted with "King James only" folks, and others who cast blame on our efforts. Fortunately, among the scholars was the one modern man who was raised as a native speaker of Koine Greek, by his parents, both Greek scholars. He didn't hear English until he was four.

Anyway, turning back to my experience and musings, I think I have a minim to offer in this matter. Why is it that there are so many thousands of differences among the eight or nine thousand manuscripts of the New Testament? Isn't the Bible supposed to be God's Word, inspired verbally, preserved through the ages, to be the one perfect book for our spiritual leading?

There is this verse in the Old Testament (Psa 12:6, KJV): "The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times." Other versions agree, many using the word "flawless" for "pure". So, people ask, where are these words to be found? [by the way, I'm using KJV because it is familiar, not because I prefer it. I don't]

I follow a dispensational theology. The dispensational premise is that God has one purpose, but the way he works out his purpose differs in different "dispensations", or "economies" to transliterate the Greek word. Thus, he worked in one way with Adam before the fall, another way with Adam and his descendants before the flood, another way yet after the flood, in quite a different way with Abraham, and yet another with Israel after the Testimony was given at Sinai. The books of the Old Testament, as Christians call it, record these several economies.

The life and ministry of Jesus was a transitional period. After the resurrection of Jesus, God has had an economy of dealing with his church, that is distinct, as different from the Jewish economy as it is from the way God dealt with Noah or Job.

I believe a key turning point in the Old Testament was the people's request at Sinai, before the Testimony was given (Exo 19:8): "All that the LORD hath spoken we will do." God had just made many promises to the people; he had not told them they had to do anything! So, the tone changes, thunder erupts, and Moses ascends to receive the Ten Commandments, the beginning of a flurry of "things to do".

I was quite impressed when I heard that, once they studied the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were made public when I was quite young, they found only a few tiny differences between them and the Masoretic text, which was a thousand years later. The masoretes were fanatical, obsessively exact copyists, so such near-perfection stands to reason. As a result, it is frequently not hard at all to know with great certainty what word was where in an original text of the Hebrew scriptures.

God had (in Deuteronomy) demanded 100% literacy of Israel, so all could read His Word, and it is clear to me that He took in hand to make sure every generation of Israel has had that word, unchanged.

There are clues to a great difference to come, hidden in that near-perfect text. My favorite example is Jeremiah 31:33-4: "But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."

In the New Testament economy, God's Word, his written word, is critical, but even more crucial is that His people know Him. It is clear, from the way the scribes quote scripture in the Gospels, that those scriptures were nearly an idol to them. Jesus said to them (John 5:39-40): "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. 40 And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life."

To Jesus, life is more valuable than knowledge. He wants us to come to Him.

I have four different critical Greek texts of the New Testament, including the 23d and 26th Nestle-Aland editions, the Majority Text, and the Textus Receptus. The first and last differ the most from one another; the 23NA is most strongly influenced by the "Western" texts of the 4th-8th Centuries, and the TR by the "Eastern" texts of the 10th-12th Centuries.

The Eastern texts are from a translation made in the 10th Century, from 1st Century Greek into the vernacular of the time. The language had changed, as much change as that between Old English of 900 years ago and modern English. See this rendering of the Lord's Prayer as found in wikipedia. According to my (limited) study, the vast majority of textual differences are between any particular Eastern and any particular Western text. Within each body of texts, there is much less variation.

But even if we look only at the Western texts, there is considerable variation. Yet, on a closer look, the meaning is unchanged. One must still believe in the resurrection of Jesus and His sacrifice for our sins to become a Christian. To me, the New Testament is holographic. The crucial items are presented several times, and together they comprise a complete picture.

I see the NT as more human than the OT: more account is made for human foibles, and the writers are not mere tape recorders. I see God relating to people in a more consistently human way than He did from Moses until the Cross. It is more like the way he came to Abraham, as a traveler who ate under the sunshade before his tent. The style of inspiration in the Greek NT is different in kind from that of the Hebrew OT. Do some of the books in this marvelous Library show signs of editing? I say, "Why not?" If Paul did the best he could, but someone—wittingly or not—later "fixed things up a bit," could not the editor have been inspired also?

The way Paul wrote 1 Cor 7 is telling. Here he says, "I command, yet not I, but the Lord," there he says, "I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful." And he concludes, "and I think also I have the spirit of the Lord." How many of the words in this chapter are God's words? Does that last phrase cover everything, even where he said, "I have no commandment"?

The men wrote according to their consciousness. Mark (recording Peter's homilies) wrote of "a blind man" at Jericho, whereas Matthew (an accountant) noted "two blind men". Is this a substantive difference? The meaning of the story is the same. God didn't bother to edit this... John provides a name for the man...or one of the men: Bartimaeus. I tend to view such instances as one account supplementing another. Cannot we also view both inadvertant and witting textual differences as God providing a stereo view of His meaning: several ways to say the same thing?

Jesus and the Apostles nearly always quoted the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT) rather than the Hebrew. Did this make a difference?

For the OT, the medium and the message are one. I don't think this is so for the NT; the medium is not the message, and indeed, the diversity of the medium gives us a better fix on the message.

God had Jeremiah predict that a day was coming when ALL will know Him. If you have the Person, the book is less critical. It is still critical, but is decidedly secondary: Jesus desired that those who "search the scriptures" would "come to Me". God will not allow anything, not even the scriptures, to become so perfect that we honor it more than knowing Him.

Equal-opportunity hater on the loose!

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, politics, political campaigns, journalism

The book is Spanking the Donkey: Dispatches from the Dumb Season by Matt Taibbi. I put a couple key words up top, but this one defies categorization.

Is this guy just a misogynist, or is he simply more extreme than the average burned-out citizen in his disdain for "politics as usual", with a large dollop of extra venom for President Bush? What do you call a journalist who alternates serious attempts at honestly seeking a real story, with blowing his mind on magic mushrooms, LSD, and cocaine? I don't know, either.

He can be very funny; his sidebar spoofs—interviewing a somewhat spacey Osama; proposing that America simply confer citizenship on the whole planet; his "Wimblehack!" competition for worst journalist of 2004—are hilarious and eloquent.

He spends much more ink on his everyone and everything having to do with the process of selecting candidates and electing them. He has a heck of a mind between his ears, whenever he can lay of the hallucinogens long enough to let it work.

After reading a chapter or two I could have set this one down without comment. But as Churchill observed, "Even a fool is right sometimes." I slogged on, and I am not displeased. I'll bypass detailed analysis (it'd be pretty poor, anyway...), and jump to the chase.

The book is Taibbi's memoir of coverage of the 2003-4 Presidential primaries and nationwide election for at least three progressive papers. Print may be a hotter medium than TV, but he knows how the media work: "You can get all kinds of things on television, but on balance, pretty much all content has to be rounded enough at the edges, unthreatening enough to the corporations ruling the airwaves, to serve competently in its only important role: a medium to sell advertising." [p141] So he knew what he was in for setting out.

He typically avoided the costly hotels most journalists indulged in, and escaped many of the staged "events", attempting to locate more peripheral citizens. They weren't hard to find: some semi-blighted neighborhood or near-ghetto was dependably within five blocks of wherever the candidate of the day was speaking, or throwing a football, or whatever.

He found in Dennis Kucinich the only thoughtful candidate, capable and willing to speak of issues. Naturally, he watched with growing horror as the Democrats dumped their candidates, almost from the top down in terms of qualification and quality, leaving John Kerry to lose to Bush. He spent a number of weeks, using an assumed name, working at a Republican campaign headquarters in Florida. Didn't help his frame of mind...

Finally, he ran his Wimblehack! competition, which ended almost as disastrously (from his viewpoint) as the election. Finally, he concluded, "...America's political problems are bigger than Bush. The real problem in American politics is the rule of calculation and money over principle..." [p193]

His 2004 election conclusion: "The Republicans won last week—let's face it—because they stand for something that voters can understand. A large number of them stand for being deranged lunatics who believe that the Bible was the last book ever written, and for being intellectual cowards who hide from the terrifying complexities of modern society by placing all of their beliefs in infantile concepts like faith, force, and patriotism.

"Our handicap, to which they are immune, is to understand that modern society is a machine that can operate seamlessly according to its own peculiar twisted morality without obviously interfering with the advance of those concepts that they consider important. ...

"...They're fighting for a simple path to heaven, while the rest of us are fighting for something a little less exciting: the desire to have a more rational and inoffensive political atmosphere within which to wrestle with the underlying problems of existential despair in a confusing secular world whose only offered paradises are affluence, sexual freedom, and consumer choice." [p323]

In other words, the great divide in contemporary America is religious in nature. So he writes, "The country is lonely and self-possessed, ... there seems to be no solution on the horizon that anyone is offering to bring us more together, to give us the things we really need: love and acceptance and community." [p324]

Here I see, more clearly than with any other secular writer, the churchless longing for a church! No other kind of human society offers love, acceptance, and community.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Glimmerings of a roadmap to increased security

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, politics, national security

"Almost persuaded now to believe" the very least, I have to say that Gary Hart knows how to make a case. A lot has happened to Senator Hart since 1988. Now holding an endowed professorship in Colorado, he has become an active author in the national security arena. His latest book is The Shield & the Cloak: the Security of the Commons.

The Shield of which he writes is the familiar military establishment intended to destroy enemies or keep them at bay. The Cloak is an array of social measures, domestic and otherwise, that offer added protections no army can secure. The author was co-chair of the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century (the Hart-Rudman Commission), and this book largely expounds on its recommendations .

He first lays out the 21st Century environment as he sees it: "...the early twenty-first century is an age of (1) global change, (2) tidal waves of information, (3) failed and failing states, and (4) wars involving tribes, clans, and gangs." [p11; numbering supplied] He focuses on the third and fourth points, and posits that they add a "third dimension" to warfare, one that makes traditional military strategy obsolete. In this he is certainly correct.

He is also partly correct to add that "The best that can be said for the Iraqi occupation is that it may, at a very heavy cost, provide valuable lessons for U.S. military forces concerning twenty-first-century fourth-generation warfare." [p71] This is not the best that can be said of it—I'd say that's reserved for liberating 25 million people—, but it is an important factor.

Throughout the book he explains the Commissions's social recommendations. A significant instance: "Several steps were proposed to implement this effort to draw the highest-quality citizens back into all avenues of national service." In short: (1) expand educational assistance, (2) lower self-defeating barriers and provide realistic job descriptions, (3) overhaul the foreign service system, (4) reform the civil service system, (5) create a National Security Service Corps, (6) expand the G.I. Bill. [p92]

Item (2) is partly from his personal experience; I've heard it said that if Jack Kennedy had been subjected to the scrutiny that became common after 1974, he couldn't have been elected to a school board. For that matter, neither could Lincoln or FDR. Item (5) sounds like an expanded VISTA or domestic Peace Corps. Items (1) and (6) are two sides of one coin, and he is right that it will probably take another Sputnik scare to produce any such thing.

By the way, Gary, most folks forgave you over the monkey business on the Monkey Business long ago, even me, and I'm a Republican. Your mistake was not so much grabbing (!) the gusto, but in being dumb enough to let the press embarrass you over it. Learn from Jack Kennedy and Jesse Jackson (and a host of others since): never apologize, never explain.

Once he gets to concrete proposals, he and I begin to part ways. He proposes: perhaps to create "a Persian Gulf Treaty Alliance (PGTA), patterned after...NATO..." [p145] Man, I can't think of anything more calculated to make any remaining favorable Arabs hate us! Mealy-mouthed expressions of "membership by both producer and consumer states" go nowhere toward alleviating the clear impression that the "producer states" would become vassals...and no, they aren't vassals yet, or there'd be no OPEC. Our mistake is not buying their oil, it is trying to play nicey-nicey with them, when in reality, we do have the resources to shift our resourcing enough to pinch their purses as needed.

A bit later, "In dozens if not hundreds of instances, the ability of nations to solve common problems will depend on their willingness to cede a degree of their sovereignty to new international organizations in an effort to establish political coherence on the global commons. The issue of sovereignty is at the heart of the future of a new commonwealth of security." [p155] He has been using the term "the commons" a lot throughout the book and here it comes into its own. This is Socialism, unalloyed. Once you've ceded a few hundred pieces of national sovereignty, you run out. The "new international organizations" are not detailed.

He throws a sop to those disgusted with the UN, but the above paragraph shows he'd rather the (possibly slightly reformed) UN ran the US than the other way around. It reminds me of the current trend in business: outsource everything, so that the ideal US corporation becomes a CEO with a bag of money, who just buys services as needed. It is a vision of a world with no citizens, just contractors for required services, and a big social safety net to keep those least skilled from raising a ruckus. Oh, yeah, gotta take care of the poor (and I agree we do, but not in a Socialist manner).

In a personal note regarding two "camps" with differing views of poverty, fatalists ("predestinarians") who see little point in trying to alleviate poverty, and incurable optimists who insist on making every effort to improve the lot of the poor: "It has never been clear to me why many people seem born into one camp or the other and few change sides during their lives." [p156]

There is a third way, which President Bush tried to energize by seeking to empower "faith-based initiatives." He'd have done better to leave well enough alone. The churches in the U.S. do more than the government does for those really in need. It is well known that most "welfare" is wasted on the able-bodied lazy. However, it keeps hordes of them out of the way while people of faith take care of those whom even the "welfare system" can't aid. Some church programs are misdirected no doubt, but most that I know of are based on raising a person's self-respect while keeping body and soul together, temporarily, as needed. "Welfare" annihilates self-respect.

However, the main elements of the Cloak that Gary Hart would add to our military Shield are valuable, and need to be carried out. Knowing human nature, and that necessity is truly the mother, and the midwife, of invention, we'll do what is needed, once a sufficient proportion of the population (at least 15%, historically) is shocked into recognition that these things MUST be done. I just pray we won't do them in a way that sovietizes the West.

Monday, August 21, 2006

God's Illegal Immigrants

kw: opinion, immigration, end times, eschatology

Amid the current controversy about people who enter the U.S. illegally, I stepped back to take a larger view. I and many others have wondered why our national leaders are so blind to the danger of our overly-open borders. But I wonder no more. If we really are in the End Times, it is part of the preparation for the times of tribulation predicted by Jesus and His apostles.

Go grab whatever Bible you have, and read Revelation chapter 12. I'll summarize the main points of verses 1-9:

  • vv 1-2: "A great sign", a woman clothed with sun, moon, and stars, is in labor, birthing a child.
  • vv 3-4: "Another sign", a great dragon in front of the woman, is ready to devour her newborn.
  • vv 5-6: Her child is born, a male child "who is to shepherd all the nations with an iron rod", and is caught up to God; she flees to "the wilderness" prepared by God to hide her for 1,260 days.
  • vv 7-9: War in heaven, Michael and his angels against the dragon and his angels. Michael wins, and the dragon is cast to the earth. In v 9 the dragon is named Satan.

In later verses (13-16), we see more details of v 6: the dragon chases the woman, who is given two eagle wings to fly to "the wilderness". The dragon tries to flood her, but the earth swallows up the flood.

Verse 17 is the key to understanding the chapter: "And the dragon became angry with the woman and went away to make war with the rest of her seed, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus." "The rest of her seed" refers to the woman's children other than the male child of v 5. Setting aside the dragon, we have three entities here, three corporate persons: the woman, the male child, and the rest of her seed.

Christian literature is full of controversy regarding these three. The majority, according to my study, interpret these as Mary, Jesus, and all the Christians believers. However, the chapter ends (v 18) with the dragon standing on the seashore, and the following chapter begins with the Beast rising from the sea, then another Beast rising from the earth, and the beginning of the Great Tribulation.

Therefore, a better interpretation is that the woman represents the universal church, including all the people of God, of Old and New Testament, both living and asleep; the male child represents the overcomers, those who diligently follow Christ and are caught up to God on His throne just prior to the arising of the two Beasts; and the rest of her seed represents the living people of God, both Jews (who keep the commandments of God) and Christians (who have the testimony of Jesus). They remain during the Great Tribulation.

Yes, you guessed it, I believe in partial rapture, or rather, that God's people will be caught away in stages. The promise to the church in Philadelphia is that those who have "kept the word of My endurance" will be kept out of the hour of trial (Rev 3:10). These are the male child. The promise in 1 Cor 15, that after the dead in Christ rise, "at the last trumpet...we shall be changed", and in 1 Thes 4 that "we who are living, who are left remaining, will be caught meet the Lord in the air" both refer to an event at the end of the Great Tribulation ("the last trumpet"). The "rapture" is a series of events, mainly a partial reaping of "firstfruits" and a later, general harvest.

How does this have any connection with immigration? The woman's flight into the wilderness indicates that many of God's people will flee to a place "prepared by God" for their protection during the Great Tribulation. Its duration is 1,260 days, or 3½ years of 360 days (3 years, 5½ months by our calendar).

What is "the wilderness"? The two wings are a clue. North America is the continent that is emphatically situated between two oceans. The U.S. has often been pictured as an eagle with the Atlantic and Pacific as her wings. Though the apostles did not know of this continent, God surely did, and I belive He put this image in Rev 12 as a clue. The language of the Seal, Trumpet, and Bowl visions in Revelation, and of Daniel's last vision, indicate that the authority of the Beast, the "man of sin", (whom many wrongly call Antichrist) extends only over the territory of the Roman empire at its height: southern Europe, northern Africa, and most of the Middle East.

When the astounding level of religious persecution that characterizes the Beast's reign begins, I believe many Jews and Christians will flee to America. Though the U.S. is very strong, her borders at least must be weak, and her people accommodating, to absorb such a surge of immigration. This will be the shining hour for American Christians, to extend hospitality to these "angels in disguise."

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Crack it, more time

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, pseudoscience, chiropractic

Carl Sagan said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". This phrase came to mind soon after I began reading One Minute Wellness: the natural health & happiness system that never fails by Dr. Ben Lerner with Dr. Greg Loman. I also found myself thinking, "I sure wish these guys were right."

The book is a long apologetic for Chiropractic, of a specific type. Drs. Lerner and Loman are not your grandfather's Chiropractors...or perhaps they'd say that only they and their ilk really are. They write more about God than about medicine. Thus, the book is really a presentation of faith healing, and all the more so as they claim the practice of "Body by God" Chiropractic has facilitated the healing of asthma, colic, arthritis, chronic ear infections, and bipolar disorder. They also write much about nutrition, contrasting "Food by God" with "Food by Man".

Chiropractic is a useful medical discipline. Its semi-allopathic cousin Osteopathy equally so. I learned an exercise from an Osteopath that I periodically need to combat sciatica. It works fast, and it works well. Many of my family members and friends see a Chiropractor from time to time. All of us also take advantage of allopathic ("ordinary") medicine as needed. I'd never have gone to a Chiropractor to either detect or treat colon cancer (my 2000-2001 "inner space" odyssey). However, one of my brothers did use a Chiropractor who practices Kinesiology to check for colon polyps. He claims there are none, but I'm frankly skeptical. Nothing substitutes seeing for yourself, via a colonoscopy.

A word about subluxations. Luxation is a synonym of dislocation. Sub-Luxation, or subluxation, is a displacement of a joint that is less than a dislocation, but is not quite normal. A genuine subluxation is painful, but not as agonizing as a luxation. A slightly jammed finger from catching a basketball wrongly is a common sort of subluxation; a harder jam, a dislocation, usually requires medical treatment. A genuine subluxation in the spine is also painful. If it doesn't hurt, it's not out of place. If you have a sore neck from reading too long with your head too far forward, a Chiropractor can probably help you. However, it has been repeatedly shown that the "silent" subluxations most Chiropractors point out on X-rays are imaginary, and different practitioners reading the same X-ray point out different "subluxations". Remember, if it doesn't hurt, it's not out of place.

It's also well known that better nutrition supports better health. But I find myself puzzled by the lists in Appendix B, "Food by God, Food by Man" (FbG, FbM). I'll just pick an item or two in my idiosyncratic way.

First, the only sweetener on the FbG list is Honey. Yet a vegetable on the same list is the Beet. If I puree a boiled Beet and filter it, I can crystallize sugar (sucrose) from the juice, sugar that is chemically identical to the sugar you buy in 5# bags at the store. As a matter of fact, those bags are full of sugar from "sugar beets", a variety that has a much higher sugar content than the ordinary red beet. Does my "processing" of the beet somehow make the sucrose molecule into a poison? Half the sugar content of honey is also sucrose, and the other half is fructose, which you can crystallize from grape juice (Grapes are also FbG).

People get so bothered by "refined" sugar or salt (also on the FbM list). What refining? Just crystallizing a couple of times to remove contaminants. Do you prefer "sea salt" to refined salt? Be prepared for your daily dose of mercury, cadmium, and other things that refining removes. Actually, salt crystallized from filtered sea water (gotta filter out the bacteria and parasites...) contains enough sulfate and magnesium ions to act as a mild laxative, which makes it an annoyance if your bowel is already producing a healthy movement or two daily! Such salt also sticks together and won't pour because those same extra ions absorb water from the air, making true sea salt perpetually moist.

For another, the FbM list contains the item "Regular use of animal products". (Creeping vegetarianism alert!) Just what is "regular"? If I eat chicken, pork or beef once a week only, is that FbG, but twice or more makes it FbM? This is nonsense! And why call Shellfish FbM? Did Man create shrimp ex nihilo? How about crabs, mussels, or octopi (great as sushi!).

Apparently, cooking food is OK; it must not be a process that turns FbG into FbM, the way recrystallizing sugar or salt does. Oh, Oh! I just found Butter Buds on the FbG list!! Isn't that processed fat? Yet it's actually advertized as fat free. At, we read,

"Butter Buds Food Ingredients uses proprietary enzyme modification technology to 'unlock' the hidden, potent flavor in butter, cream, cheese and other flavorful fats, delivering highly concentrated flavor in convenient powdered form. These natural dairy concentrates deliver up to 400 times the flavor strength of standard dairy ingredients, and are used at extremely low application levels (usually less than 1.0%)."

I don't know about you, but modifying various fats using enzymes is "processing" of a rather extreme type. There is no way this could be "by God". I don't know what god these folks are invoking, but this process removes 99% of what God puts into natural fat.

So, let's come to God. Dr. B. J. Palmer, the "father of Chiropractic," said a century or so ago, "If God thought we needed aspirin, He would have created an aspirin tree." As a matter of fact, God did just that; He created the Willow. If you chew a mouthful of the bark from smooth willow branches, you'll get a dose of salicylic acid (named for salix, the Latin word for willow). Your pain will be relieved, but you'll also get a stomach ache. About the time Dr. Palmer did his first spinal adjustment, a chemist named Gerhardt buffered salicylic acid with sodium acetate (salt plus vinegar) to produce the chemical we call Aspirin today; this is much easier on the stomach, and is equally good as a pain reliever. God's original product causes a lot more indigestion, but I am so glad God inspired folks to improve on it a little.

The authors of One Minute Miracle write a lot about God. The book is actually two books. The right side of each page is the exhortatory text, and the left side of each page is a story about two people who benefit from Chiropractic, better nutrition, and faith in God. But the story has all the worst elements of over-sentimentalized religious fiction. My chief complaint about religion in the West today is that most people's religion is unalloyed sentimentality. I encapsulate it in a statement I've heard often, whenever anything "unpleasant" like sin, hell, repentance, or contrition is mentioned: "Oh, God is so loving! He would never do that!!" Read your Bible, folks: Yes, He would, and the old Spiritual that sings, "Everybody talkin' 'bout heaven; ain't goin' there" is talking about sentimental religionists who are no more heaven-bound than the average doorknob.

So, to be frank, the god these authors tout is not my God. "God" is not a name, it is a title; I prefer to use a direct translation from both Biblical languages, the term "the God." The only Name claimed by the God is the name Jesus: "For there is no other name given among men under heaven by which you must be saved."

Monday, August 14, 2006

More variety than a field of snowflakes

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, psychology, sociology, human personality

I've heard debates over Nature versus Nurture all my life. Everyone has, though mostly we tune them out. Even if we're interested, the interest seldom lasts long. I long ago concluded "it's both," not as a copout, but from observation. However, I didn't think much about what "Nurture" means.

Almost a decade ago, I wrote a song that contains these lines in a chorus: "Is it nature, is it nurture?/Why should anybody care?/We are dealt the cards, but our own hand we play..." Yet in the song, I celebrated Nature (genetic endowment) more than Nurture, and assumed that Nurture was also mainly a family affair. I wrote it in my fifties, after thinking long and hard about the way I'd "become my Father" in many ways, but quite a different person in others, and not just because in those ways I had instead become my Mother. Some of "what is Me" seems to be due to neither of them, nor any ancestor. Where and how did I come by some of these things? It was a mystery to me.

Judith Rich Harris may have the key that unlocks such a mystery. She studied psychology, including at Harvard, from which she was eventually expelled as being too much the synthesist...they like specialization there. She became an independent investigator, which makes her right after my own heart. She has studied much more than psychology over the years, which I believe gives her unique insight into humanness. Her recent book No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality presents her key, or rather, three synergistic keys.

Having at present a teenage son, I've been forced to the conclusion that most of who he is, that is, his personality, was built not my my wife and me but by the world around him and his reaction to it. I don't mean just his peer group—naturally, I think him peerless, and in many ways, he is so capable that true peers are hard to find. No, I mean everyone: schoolmates, church friends, teachers, coaches, and family members (definitely in the minority). His case is not like mine; my father's oldest friends, as they get senile, mistake me for a younger him. Such will never happen with my son. My wife and I are so very different, and he is such a smooth blend of the two—in those things he does have from us—that he cannot resemble either of us very closely.

I'll cut to the chase, but you shouldn't think this will "spoil it" for you. Nobody could do that; Ms Harris writes too well, bringing too much detail, for a mere thousand-word review to steal her thunder!

Author Harris first explains and then disposes of the common list of "suspects," commonly thought to produce human personality. The vast majority of studies have focused on degrees of similarity: between identical twins, ordinary siblings, cousins, and non-relatives, including step-siblings raised together. Few have focused on differences, and nearly none have focused on Harris's key question: Why are identical twins so different?

Think about it. Everyone knows a few pairs of identical twins. Some pairs go to great lengths to seem similar, others to great lengths to be different. Yet, once you get to know them, you can always tell them apart, though you may occasionally forget which name goes with which.

A certain sub-genre of science fiction literature abounds with clones. (Definition: a clone is the collection of individual entities that share the identical geotype. Thus a pair of identical twins is one clone. The four or eight calves produced by splitting a single embryo are one clone. The sheep Dolly and the mature sheep from whose cell she was developed are one clone, though in this case, the two were of different ages; both have died). Anyway, these sci-fi clones typically have almost magical qualities, frequently of the telepathic sort. In reality, there is at least one known human four-member clone, a set of identical quadruplets...there is nothing magical about them. They are four kids who happen to look a lot alike and have many similar tastes and habits, and a very robust collection of tastes and habits that are not shared!

Judy Harris has discerned three more likely suspects, that she calls systems. Each appears to be a mental organ with a specific function. This is similar to our language organ and our face-recognition organ. People whose face-recognition organ is damaged (it is in a particular part of the brain) cannot learn to recognize faces any quicker than they learn to recognize a car key or the house they live in. If you show them a picture of a familiar face, either right-side up or upside-down, they take the same time to state who it is. For most of us, however, recognition of an upside-down picture of someone's face takes much longer. The "face" organ is tuned to people in "ordinary" orientation, not hanging by their heels.

Each System has a set of skills, and each provides its own motivation so that a person willingly does the work to develop accordingly. We are self-motivated to produce a personality that we feel will best serve our interests. The three systems observe differing things, so they sometimes work at cross-purposes. We have plenty of reasons for the inner conflict we often feel!

The first of the three is the Relationship System. It makes use of the Recognition organ, and builds up a body of knowledge about every person we've taken note of, even via hearsay. It strives to build a predictive model of a person, so we'll know how they react, and how we ought to act with them. It uses what it has, which is why first impressions are so important. It tries mightily to determine what distinguishes each indivitual from the mass of "others" yet unknown; thus it homes in on the small differences we notice, even between identical twins. Yet it also looks for patterns in each individual's behavior, so as to be better at its predictions. So, it becomes very skillful at determining a certain kind of sameness (for one person) and another kind of distinctiveness (between any person and all others).

The second of the three is the Socialization System. We seek to belong. When we have few options, we do our best to belong to the group in which we find ourselves. The desire to conform is strong. Yet, once we venture outside the home and have a group of playmates and later schoolmates, we automatically belong to at least two groups, and probably several. Our family is but one of those groups, and we are definitely socialized to certain behavior with our family members. But it turns out that our in-home socialization has almost nothing to do with the other groups to which we belong.

The very active teens (high schoolers) with whom my son spends most of his time belong to several groups: as many as three sports teams; two, three, four or more musical ensembles (stage band, marching band, jazz band, city or county performing band, rock group, private jazz ensemble...); several academic organizations (Math League, Science Olympiad, Drama club...); a church; a church youth group; plus the AP and IB students, a quarter of the student body, form a loose-knit group with specific academic and societal goals. For my son, the number of his "friends" in this gaggle of groups numbers about two hundred. Each group has different "bylaws" or "running rules", and thus a child is differently socialized by each group. My kid is like ten different people, depending on whom he's with!

Dwell on that a moment: other than a few basic habits, the effect of parental training is completely overwhelmed by the socialization requirements of such a life. My conclusion, which I think mirror's Harris's: kids only turn out like their parents if all the groups to which they belong are a lot like their parents. Only this can explain the relative success of the Amish and similar groups, in raising kids who "stick with the program." No other choices are offered. Thus also the impulse of strongly religious parents to put their children into religious schools, of the appropriate stripe, of course! Parents can strongly influence their children's personalities, but only by controlling the entire environment. If home and school are much different, the parents will learn how little influence they truly have.

Actually, there is more to it than this. We have one system to go: the Status System. This system uses information from the other two, over a longer period, to gain status or advantage within the groups we choose to stick with (or that we can't escape). This system is the strongest discriminator; it makes our differences more different, in an effort to carve out a niche of greater value. The Relationship System collects all the information about differences between all the people we know, and many people we've heard about. The Socialization System averages the information for those in a group, so we tend to conform to group norms. But the Status System uses the distinctions between ourselves and others to find areas in which we alone excel, so as to dominate, or gain status, or at least earn some measure of respect, in each group.

No matter how similar one twin is to her twin, there must be some differences, just from the effects of random events. Everyone who knows those twins will put them on distinct "pages" of their Relationship memory, and will thus treat one a little different from the other. Each twin, reacting to others' reaction to them, will emphasize any difference that seems to confer an advantage. Thus, though both are likely socialize to the same group, each will specialize within it, so both are individually respected for unique characteristics.

As it turns out, by the time a pair of twins has reached adulthood, they are about equally balanced between similarities and differences. They may share many things (tastes, habits, attitudes...), but they will differ in about the same number of things. They are more similar than nontwin siblings, who typically share only about a quarter of their tastes or attitudes.

Our desire to be "loved for myself" drives much of our personality development, particularly in Western cultures in which individuality is more valued. Yet significant events can have great effects also. I don't know what I'd be like if I'd never experienced receiving Jesus. I might have many characteristics I now have, but I'd probably be very ignorant of biblical and theological subjects, and would not have gained anything from certain spiritual people I've spent much time with. I know that in many ways I am no different than I was six years ago, when I was dying of cancer. But some things are quite different. People who've known me all along can see the difference. Some folks like it, and most don't care. A few liked me better before, and I've lost one formerly close friend as a result.

Nobody who specialized in any one psychological or sociological discipline could have produced such a synthesis. Judy Harris is just the right sort of person to bring it all together, so we can see some of the "why" and "how" of the puzzles we all face.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Kiddie Kommander

kw: book reviews, science fiction, political fiction, child prodigies, gifted children, morality plays

I just re-read Orson Scott Card's 1985 classic Ender's Game, based on a 1977 novelette by the same name. This must be the third time. The book has sufficient depth that I find much I forgot I'd read before with each re-reading.

While Ender's Game wasn't the first, it has become the prototype "Young gaming expert defeats alien foe—unknowingly" story. It is also a morality play. (If you haven't read it, I'm about to spoil it for you. Skip a paragraph to avoid pollution!) When Ender (Andrew Wiggin) meets the last surviving "bugger" Queen, who communicates telepathically, he finds the alien species he destroyed, planet and all, hadn't realized they were at war until the end of the "Second Bugger War," upon which they retreated to their home system, hoping to be left alone. Thus, Ender has become the first to commit Xenocide, and in the sequels he attempts to atone by finding a planet for the Queen to colonize.

Ender is a moral child: though capable of ruthless violence he feels neurotically guilty over it. He is thus the combination of his brilliant siblings, the ruthless, amoral Peter and the loving, empathetic-but-practical Valentine. In this he is like Shedemai in Card's Homecoming series. The original protagonist of the early books, Nafai, is the most overly-good person in literature that I've read. He becomes a partial Christ figure in the fourth Homecoming book, altruistic to a near-fatal fault, even though he wears the mystical Cloak of the Starmaster, that confers invincibility. He is convinced by the Oversoul (a computer that watches over humanity) to yield the Cloak to Shedemai, who is nearly as well-intentioned as Nafai, but just ruthless enough not to he overborne by the evil older brother Elemak. Shedemai becomes the heroine of the last book.

In a sense, if the story had a happier ending, it would make great Disney fare: abused but talented child escapes family, but suffers even greater abuses (horrendous ones, actually) at the hands of his rescuers, finally triumphs. This is a story of manipulation taken to as great an exteme as one can, and still keep a reader in sufficient "suspense of disbelief" to continue reading.

Everything I've read by Card (he's prolific: Orson Scott Card Bibliography) is an exploration of the limits of morality in a tragic universe. Card is a Mormon...I was going to say "serious Mormon" but that's redundancy. Mormonism is a vigorous and rigorous faith, as mine is, so few adult Mormons are lukewarm. You're either active or absent. He once stated that the Homecoming series is a recasting of the migration stories in the Book of Mormon. Thus, he explores nobility and altruism, and their opposites, in all his fiction. It is what is in him.

In that, I like him very much. I care not about the difference in beliefs. I find all too few writers care a whit about appealing to their readers' nobility, and the majority seem entirely the opposite, making sales by appealing to people's taste for vice. Writers like Card that explore nobility, sacrifice, and empathy tend more to ennoble us.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Was Humpty really a cannon?

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, children's verse, history

Almost from birth, we hear rhymes and ditties of all sorts. Many are so-called "nursery rhymes". Later on, we may hear or read that many of these have a hidden meaning: how "Ring around the rosy" describes the effects of plague, or that "Contrary Mary" was good old "bloody Mary", perhaps that Humpty Dumpty was really a cannon that blew up. Or not...later still, everything we thought we knew about hidden meanings seems to get more hidden and more ambiguous. Most folks quit paying attention, even when they recite the rhymes for their own grandkids.

Many popular rhymes of past generations were riddles. Some were explicitly so:

When I was walking to St. Ives
I met a man with seven wives.
Each wife had seven sacks.
Each sack had seven cats.
Each cat had seven kits.
Kits, cats, sacks, wives,
How many were walking to St. Ives?

The answer is either one (myself) or nine (me + man + wives), assuming in the latter case this large family was walking! If you respond with a number greater than 2,400, you've counted a lot of creatures not walking!!

Here's a more typical example:

Little Nanny Etticoat,
In a white petticoat,
And a red nose;
The longer she stands,
The shorter she grows.

Answer: a Candle. Now, for the MOST familiar rhyming riddle of my childhood:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

Answer: an Egg...that is, until I was told there was a great cannon in Colchester that blew up about 1645. However, as Chris Roberts reports in Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme, the egg version predates the cannon story by centuries. A humpty-dumpty was an ale-and-brandy drink, and was also used to refer a clumsy oaf (of either sex), presumably under its influence. For children, the many falls of the drunk (and subsequent cracked skulls) were sanitized as the dreaded fall of an egg.

Roberts, a librarian, has put together forty nursery rhymes that are almost universally known among English speakers everywhere. Though one of the most "very British" of Brits, he has included a few items of American descent, including Yankee Doodle.

Yankee Doodle's is a lovely story of a slur being turned to a taunt by those slurred, a simpler version of the conversion of "God Save our Queen" into "Let Freedom Ring (America)".

It ought to be no surprise that many childhood ditties are, often openly, steeped in cruelty and sex. Prior to the 20th Century, few children escaped exposure to the full range of human experience. Kids slept in the same beds as their parents (regardless of what the parents were up to), went to the taverns and dogfights with them (and drank the ale and placed bets), and on occasion observed public hangings and the rotting corpses of those left up after the more heinous crimes. In much of the world, little has changed. Less than 1/10th of humanity is "civilized" to the extent that "certain things" are hidden from youngsters.

That last makes me wonder: in cultures where kids aren't kept so "innocent", do they create as many nursery rhymes? Probably, even more so. They need SOME way to express the overpowering things going on around them. But for our at-least-partly sanitized culture, we need a Chris Roberts to tell us what we were talking about, singing Baa Baa Black Sheep or Jack and Jill.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Invertebrate geometer - Mystery Solved

kw: puzzles, geometry, flowers, solutions

In a post on August 2, 2006, I showed a picture of a Phlox flower that looked like a propellor, each petal was chewed on one side only. This image is the clue to solving why a critter (probably a caterpillar) would favor only the left side of each petal.

The opened flower is chewed in the same propellor pattern. The bud next to it, about a quarter opened, lets us see what happened. When a bud gets partway open, and it is still mostly dark, the caterpillar eats the exposed part of each petal quickly, then flees as the sun rises.

The geometric "knowledge" thus resides in the flower bud's DNA, not in the eater.

The most beautiful tree: Sakura

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, photography, sakura, flowering cherry

In Cherry Blossoms Jake Rajs presents about 150 images of flowering cherry trees in the U.S., primarily in Washington, D.C. and New York City, which has several major botanical gardens and arboreta. To minimize copyright concerns, I've excerpted only four images from the book, and supplemented with three of my own from Japan. To me, the Sakura is the loveliest of trees.

I took my family to Japan to visit relatives several times, and in 1992, we went at Sakura time, thei first week of April. This image was taken at Odawara castle, across the moat with its arched bridge, deep in shadow and varely visible below the profusely blossoming trees.

Later that week we were in Gifu, an agricultural area. Though I saw a few Sakura bonsai, none were close enough to photograph. This little Momo (flowering peach) was right on the doorstep. This is one of my favorite photos from that trip.

I should say as an aside that I've seen more bonsai in the U.S. than in Japan. Where a Japanese family may have one or two, both Japanese and non-Japahese bonsai fanciers in the U.S. tend to have many. My brother-in-law had perhaps two hundred.

I suppose it relates to the American (and British) passion for making collections. Older cultures live among antiquities. Americans make collections of other folks' old stuff.

We also visited an art center at Narikawa. This image is scanned from a post card I bought there. The artist makes huge canvases, six to eight feet high by as long as the wall you plan to use. He uses a stenciling technique to put the thousands of flowers on the tree. Indeed, his paintings are produced in a multilayered way, and have fractal characteristics.

Sakura blossoms may be single or double. To my eye, the "double" ones seem to be at least quadruple. The single blossom is usually faintly pink, though an individual tree may be nearly white, or more richly pink. This is the traditional Sakura.

(This image and those that follow are from Rajs's book.)

Double blossoms are darker in color. A tree with white double blossoms is more likely to be a peach, and one with a richer purplish pink than shown here, it is probably a plum. Japan has quite a variety of very lovely early Spring flowering trees.

This is one of several photos from the book that shows the color contrast between various Sakura varieties. The Brooklyn Botanic Gardens staff tend to juxtapose contrasting varieties, while the Japanese habit is to plant masses of the same variety.

The afternoon light makes the Washington Monument and the Sakura trees nearby take on a golden hue.

If I have any quibble with the book, it is that the pages are only 5"x7" in size (13x18cm). A coffee-table book would be excessive, but a nice octavo volume would be quite stunning.

Friday, August 04, 2006

AI versus AI

kw: book reviews, mysteries, science fiction, artificial intelligence

Delete All Suspects by Donna Andrews is classified as a Mystery novel. The author's use of AIPs, or Artificially Intelligent Personalities, puts the book also in the Sci Fi realm.

Let me begin with a quibble. The principal AIP involved here, named Turing Hopper (AKA Alan Grace...could you guess?), is just a bit too human. There is a bit of soliloquy in Turing's thoughts (italic text in the narrative) about AIP limitations and inability to understand many human concerns. However, Turing comes across as a rather nerdy young woman. I don't recall if the human characters in the story attribute a gender to Turing, but this AIP has a woman's voice and sensibilities. Of course, the author can most convincingly speak in her own gender space...and I get the idea that Ms Andrews would like to be reincarnated as Turing Hopper (This is analogous to Isaac Asimov's clear sympathy and wishful identification with his deified R. Daneel Olivaw).

Be that as it may, I've sometimes wondered how a person would function if the bodily component of mind, the endocrine system, were absent. Perhaps one day someone will experience a corporectomy (the subjective side of a beheading) and be attached to sufficient life support for the head to live on. Without the body and its mind-bending glands attached, could the mind even work? Would you get the detached head seen in some Sci Fi stories, continuing with little change, or would you get the rapid development of extreme psychosis, or simply "mind death" (catatonic coma)? I vote for the latter. The body has too much to do with the mind. In particular, most emotions require chemical support from various bodily organs located far from the head—though you'd have to cut pretty high to leave out the thyroid and parathyroids. Turing experiences guilt, sadness, elation, foreboding, and dread. Unlikely, in my view.

OK, putting that aside, we have a very engaging tale of digital skullduggery and non-digital murder. There is the fear of digital murder (deletion...), and a modified, handicapped copy of Turing, whom she thinks of as her sister T2, figures largely in a parallel plot. This could lay the ground for a series of sequels, and I hope this is what the author intends (Note: her title list hints that this book is already a sequel).

Turing in this book, and her AIP friend KingFischer, serve as the perfect investigator's aides: lightning-fast with any kind of computer work, including "white hat" hacking and digital surveillance. They can do many things at once. Much dramatic tension revolves around them doing very many things at once.

There are at least two, or probably three, murders, done to keep the covers on some shady and illegal enterprises being performed using computers managed by a young basement computer wizard named Eddie. Sad to say, his only appearance opens the book, and he does not play any part in the plot thereafter, except as the missing hub of a collapsing wheel. But that's often the way life is. You don't get to rescue everyone. And the private detective Tim and his colleagues are shown much more realistically than in most PI stories: secure in what they do well, insecure when they don't understand, very human and likeable. Not for this author is the patient, infinitely competent Hercule Poirot, or a hard-boiled bulldozer like Sam Spade.

The side thread of the story, including hints of other AIPs besides Turing and KingFischer and the theft and attempted suborning of T2, opens up the interesting question: if genuine AIPs come into being at some time, will we let them exist?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Invertebrate geometer?

kw: puzzles, curiosity, geometry, flowers

I took this picture the morning of August 1, 2006. Our little Fall Phlox plant produces a flower or two daily; a bud is visible behind this chewed flower. Each afternoon, I see the new flower(s) in pristine beauty. The next morning, they are variously chewed.

This particular morning some fastidious creature—probably some kind of caterpillar—has eaten only the left half of each petal. The other flower, on the other side of the plant, was chewed in a similar pattern.

In the past, I've seen the ends of the petals removed, or two of the five completely eaten. A curious circumstance, this one!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Rediscovering why I didn't read all the "Dune" books

kw: book reviews, science fiction, political fiction, fantasy

I've read just four chapters, of 86, in Timeweb, the first of a new series by Brian Herbert. I've decided to go no further. Reading the last page confirmed my decision. I read Dune by his father Frank Herbert, and a small part of Dune Messiah. The inter- and intra-family conflict, the incessant intrigues, the overblown political and social enmities, were more than I could stomach.

Brian Herbert and collaborator Kevin J. Anderson wrote eight Dune novels (Frank Herbert had written six) and a few stories and collections. More are apparently on the way. From time to time I considered reading one or the other, but never did. The other day a the library, I saw Timeweb, and decided to see how Herbert the younger writes. He is, if anything more than more of the same. The few "setup" chapters I read indicate that the crux of the story is an undying, obsessive enmity between a planetary ecology of shapeshifters and that of earthlings. There are, as well, alliances and intrigues enough among the humans to keep the undertakers very, very busy.

It all just makes me very, very tired. I have enough tiring me without inflicting it upon my leisure time.

Franklin's Maxim at work...with a little help

kw: book reviews, science fiction, fantasy, picaresque tales

After reading a book and collection by Matthew Hughes, set in his Archonate milieu, I just had to pick up the Fool books: Fools Errant and Fool Me Twice. The Fool in question is young Filidor Vesh, nephew and heir of the Archon. Franklin's Maxim, fyi, is "Nature keeps a hard school, but a fool will learn in no other, and scarce in that." Filidor's uncle, having long since given up on more traditional forms of tutelage, brings him, over and again, into intimate contact with Nature and culture of as many forms as possible. It's a kill or cure method, and of course (for the author is the master of the narrative) it works. I just takes a few iterations.

Reading Hughes in the past, I'd been struck by his literary style. I just put my finger on it: it reads very much like 19th Century translations of Jules Verne. Yes, I know modern scholars very much impugn these old translations, and are hurrying to retranslate all of Verne. But those translations were produced with a particular English audience in mind, and serve well in that context.

So, in this two-volume coming-of-age tale, well stocked with exaggerated societies—human and not—of a variety much beyond anything Jonathan Swift might have devised, young Filidor must contend with around a dozen kinds of culture shock, far-future creatures such as enormous beavers and mastiff-size ants, several sorts of enigmatic "ultramondane" (i.e. space alien) folk, and assorted brigands, wizards, and thieves. While one or two last-minute rescues stretch one's credulity, in the main the narrative carries one along into a realm where all seems quite sensible, though it is far from coherent to poor Filidor.

The title of the second book comes from the aphorism "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." Filidor expresses this at one point in the story, but finds he is only half right: a very rough "half", but just the right one.