Saturday, June 21, 2008

Spiritually Bankrupt

Jeromy at Seeking Goliath recently linked to a blog where the author talked about feeling "spiritually bankrupt.

Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." I'm not sure what that means. But I think Dallas Willard was the one writing about how "Blessed are the poor in spirit" really means, "Good news! In MY Kingdom, even the spiritually bankrupt get invites!"

Oh, man, I hope he's right. That would be great news for me. Because I'm not very spiritual. Never have been. I've tried. And I'll keep trying. But I'm just not. I don't feel much of anything a lot of the time. I'm sorry.

I know; I probably won't be writing old-school hymns: "And He walks with me, I think, and He talks with me, probably in some way, and He tells me I am His own, but generally not through an audible voice that I hear, at least in a non-metaphorical sense, and none other has ever known just how awkward it even is for me to talk about my faith, personally, and I know I should feel bad about that, too."

Maybe I'm still doing something wrong. I've never come by faith easily. I don't get swept up in swirling "powerful worship". Shoot, I'm not even comfy in it. I don't like praying out loud, even among friends.

Read the whole thing. Brant writes very movingly about his inability to feel moved spiritually. I don't think Brant is alone, either. In my own sphere of experience, I have heard people express similar feelings and the internet is certainly full of people expressing the same sentiment.

For many of these people, I believe their feelings stem from a common source. In our age of sensationalism it is easy to trip over people on TV, in the newspaper, or in books proclaiming their profound spirituality and connection with God. They cry and shout and proclaim how deeply they feel God's presence in their lives, how he moves in them, touches them, and is always right there with them through all of their trials and tribulations. Leaving aside that much of this often seems exaggerated and not real, how can people have faith when it seems like this is the only way to have real faith.

I think faith comes in many forms and for some it is not going to be the charismatic, emotional, "I feel God's hand on me" sort of faith. For some, faith will be a quiet belief that there is a higher power of some sort and that life is not a meaningless exercise. Unfortunately, in our society it is easy to fall prey to marketing which tells you how you are supposed to feel. When people see some preacher on TV talking about how he literally feels God's presence regularly, no doubt some question their own faith, asking, "Why don't I feel like that."

And the answer is, "Because you're different." Just as we all like different foods or are attracted to different people, we are each going to feel faith in a different way and that's just the way it should be.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Those Crazy Canucks

I've never had an inclination to live in Canada, but stories like this ensure that I would not ever do more than visit.

A Canadian court has lifted a 12-year-old girl's grounding, overturning her father's punishment for disobeying his orders to stay off the internet, his lawyer said.

The girl had taken her father to Quebec Superior Court after he refused to allow her to go on a school trip for chatting on websites he tried to block, and then posting "inappropriate" pictures of herself online using a friend's computer.

What kind of world do we live in wherein a court can overturn a child's grounding by their parents?

Bush is a War Criminal

While it has been known for awhile that torture has been practiced by our soldiers and intelligence officers and that it has been authorized and condoned all the way up the chain of command, we continue to gather evidence of how deep it was. This was not the practice of a few rogue elements. Torture was signed off on by all of the major player's in this administration.

Pete concedes that the administration originally seized far, far more detainees than it could prove guilty (or ever tried to prove guilty) and has released thousands falsely imprisoned. Of the thousands seized, Pete concedes many were abused and tortured, with over a hundred deaths occurring during interrogation, two score of whom the administration has itself conceded were murder-by-interrogation. All this occurred after the president decided his actions as commander-in-chief could not be constrained by the law, after he had waived the baseline Geneva Convention protections for prisoners in wartime - in violation of the policy of every previous president of the United States from Washington on - and after critical memos were signed allowing American interrogators to do anything to prisoners short of death or loss of a major organ. Larry Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff explains what this means in terms any morally responsible person would understand:

Andrew continues.

And all this was done not in the chaos of a battlefield or even by rogue units or POW camps. It was not done in a war with anything like as many soldiers and battles as World War II. It was done in a closely managed war by a professional military and intelligence service in every theater of combat as a concerted policy to get more intelligence about Jihadist terror and the Iraq insurgency. It was authorized directly in the chain of command by the president, who knowingly broke the law and hired lawyers to tell him he hadn't. No clever argumentation that "only" 270 prisoners remain at Gitmo can gainsay that. And it is not, by the way, evidence against the fact that this administration seized countless innocents and tortured them to say that they eventually released most of them. It is no consolation to the torture victims at Abu Ghraib that they were eventually set free and their innocence confirmed. Those are the standards of benign dictatorships, not democracies.

Now, you could argue that the administration, after initial understandable over-reach, has tried to set things right. But you would be wrong.

They still refuse to take responsibility for torture and abuse and murder on their watch; and the CSRTs they eventually came up with have been revealed as kangaroo courts in which acquittals are deemed out of bounds and in which countless military lawyers have cried foul. It would be great if we had had a chance to set up clear guidelines in advance, with Congressional support, to give prisoners Geneva protections and non-habeas but robust military trials in what is, as everyone concedes, a very challenging conflict. But this president decided against that, to ignore the advice from the professionals and from the military lawyers, and to do it his own way, with appalling results. Once this record has been compiled and the indecency of Bush's "new kind of war" revealed, it seems to me that no Supreme Court that gives a damn about the Constitution or the ancient traditions of Anglo-American justice or humane warfare would give the benefit of the doubt to a president like this one. Not if the word "court" and "justice" are to be deemed within the same universe.

Sometimes I wonder if I still live in America or if I have somehow been transported to Bizzaro World where this is actually the norm.

Our President authorized torturing people.

Our President locked up innocent people and did not allow them the means to prove their innocence or free them immediately upon knowing their innocence.

Our President's decisions have led to the death of dozens of people - not on the battlefield, but in shadowy torture chambers.

Our President has lied about all of this and seems completely nonplussed by the results of his orders.

Our President, George W. Bush, is a war criminal and should be held accountable along with all of the other knowing architects of this unbelievably morally bankrupt scheme. This is not the kind of America we want.

Max Baucus, Senator Extraordinaire

Matt Yglesias says that the biggest obstacle in getting "good health care reform" is none other than our very own Max Baucus.

One thing I'd forgotten during the long debate about Clinton versus Obama on health care, and in speculation about the Senate filibuster, is that the key legislative player, the chokepoint through which health care reform must pass, is Max Baucus, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. But he's not just Finance Committee Chairman, he's also a terrible Senator! Indeed, on core economic policy issues he's probably the worst Senator -- a little bit right-wing, a lot corrupt and unprincipled. Ezra Klein has a piece on Baucus and health reform that nods in the direction of Baucus' critics but then waxes optimistic:

Sadly, even Baucus recognizes his own inteptitude.

It's Okay to Use the Web at Work

So says a new study. That's good news for me 'cause I read this story and posted about here on my blog while at work.

Of course, the people who did this study are probably just a bunch of lazy slackers who always get in trouble for surfing the net instead of working. This was a way of justifying it all to their bosses. For their hard work in order to justify slacking off, I applaud them.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Firefox 3

Mozilla has released the newest version of the supreme internet browser. And it's still free! If you're still using IE, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

The Supporters of Torture Aren't Supporters of Truth Either

Glenn Greenwald excoriates John Yoo for his appalling WSJ op-ed supporting Bush's policies of endless detention.

Yoo, for instance, claims that the Supreme Court in Boumediene allows "an alien who was captured fighting against the U.S. to use our courts to challenge his detention." But huge numbers of detainees in U.S. custody weren't "captured fighting against the U.S." at all. Many were taken from their homes. Others were just snatched off the street while engaged in the most mundane activities. Still others were abducted while in airports or at work.
The other deeply misleading claim in Yoo's Op-Ed is even more transparent. He characterizes the Court's decision as "grant[ing] captured al Qaeda terrorists the exact same rights as American citizens to a day in civilian court." What minimally self-respecting law professor would be willing to make this claim with a straight face?

The whole point of the habeas corpus right is that without a meaningful hearing, we don't know if the individuals our Government is imprisoning are really "al Qaeda terrorists" or something else. That ought to be too basic even to require pointing out. As this recent superb McClatchy article documents, scores of individuals detained at Guantanamo for years weren't "Al Qaeda terrorists" -- or any other kind of terrorists -- at all.

While disgusting, I cannot say I find this surprising. Once you start compromising basic moral principles, the slope becomes quite slippery and you find yourself compromising more and more in order to justify your actions. Yoo, Feith, Rumsfeld, Cheney and the other architects of the current administration's policies will continue to spout garbage like this until long after they are gone from the national stage. I hope that our next President can work to restore some of moral integrity.

The Persecution Myth

Internetmonk has a great post debunking the oft repeated cry among evangelicals that Christians are persecuted in America.

Are American Christians justified in saying they are persecuted? It seems like a difficult case to make when we compare the experience of American evangelicals with the experiences of those in Africa and India who are genuinely persecuted. American Christians may experience persecution from time to time in unusual situations, but the vast majority of American Christians will never know anything of the real experience of imprisonment, violence or hostility that genuinely threatens their well-being.

American Christians may know a bit about harassment, ridicule or even prejudicial bias and intimidation. These aren’t to be discounted. And within some cultural subgroups- such as zealous political atheists or strict Muslims living in America- actual persecution of a Christian convert might occur. I don’t want to ignore those genuine episodes of violence and persecution that do occur.

These episodes, however, are extremely rare. Even if we are to give some credence to the likelihood that western culture is moving toward more frequent and acceptable persecution of Christians (and other religions), we are still faced with how American Christians use the statement in 2 Timothy 3.

I would suggest that the culture war mentality of American evangelicals proceeds on an exaggerated sense of persecution based on Christian mythology. The nature of American history and society makes a certain tension with a pronounced sense of specific religious entitlement inevitable. When Christians seem to expect that they be given a privileged place they also give themselves an excuse for claiming “persecution” when that is hardly the case.

A visitor from Sudan or India would find most of our discussions of persecution to be rather odd when compared to their own.

Sadly, I don't expect any amount of logic or reason to make this falsehood go away. Far too many evangelicals don't have time for such foolishness as "thinking."

Monday, June 16, 2008

William Shatner is Not Slowing Down

CNN has a great article about William Shatner.

Why did William Shatner cross the road? Why has he ever? To get to the other side. To see what's out there. To find out stuff and inhale the universe in his singular Shatnerian way. It's the story of his life -- and the lives of the characters he has breathed, spoken and shouted into existence over a 50-year performing career.

It's the story of "Boston Legal" bombast Denny Crane, racing to experience all life's pleasures before Alzheimer's drags him not-so-gentle into that good night. It's the story of the Priceline Negotiator, that discount-travel maniac who barnstorms across the planet to get us better deals on hotels and flights. It's the story of James T. Kirk, the wise and womanizing starship captain who led a crew of 23rd-century explorers across interstellar backroads.

And it's the story of Shatner himself -- a man governed by his passions and interests, a man who crosses new roads every day, gleefully ignoring those who dismiss him and conquering frontiers he never dreamed possible. A cultural phenomenon who, despite tales of his galactic ego, seems strikingly down to Earth as he shapes and basks in the third golden age of his career.

Say what you will about the man, but you can't call him dull.

Man's Inhumanity to Man

I'm not in the greatest of moods right now and it doesn't help reading stuff like this story.

Police killed a 27-year-old man as he kicked, punched and stomped a toddler to death despite other people's attempts to stop him on a dark, country road, authorities said.

Or this one.

The abuse-case that caused the Pope to lose his temper - to the point of a prissy smack - was Father Marcial Maciel. Until his death earlier this year, Maciel ran a large, far-right Catholic cult called the Legionaries of Christ. The Legionaries and their lay counterpart, Regnum Christi, are very powerful entities in the new Catholicism, given special protection by Pope John Paul II and much favor under his successor. And at the core of the Legionaries, like many religious cults, was a sexual abuse ring designed to please the founder. Secrecy was maintained by indoctrinating many members at a young age, and enforcing vows of silence on all topics related to Maciel. This cult-like stricture is still causing grief and suspicion in many parts of the Catholic world, most recently in the Baltimore archdiocese.

If I believed in hell, I'd think humanity was on the express train heading there.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Weekly Music Video

Some classic 80's metal - Dio with "Rainbow in the Dark"

Weekly Secret


Was World War II Unneccessary?

Human SmokeA new book out is claiming it was. Nicholson Baker writes in his book Human Smoke that it was the belligerence of Churchill and Roosevelt that allowed Hitler to solidly his power and authority in Germany and a major reason for the war.

Now I have often rolled my eyes at the level of adulation often given to World War II as if it was this neat little event where we, the good guys, just rolled up our sleeves and said, "We're going to teach the bad guys a lesson." The Allies certainly committed some atrocious acts and we should be able to look back on them with a critical eye and objective judge our actions without blindly resorting to, "Hitler was evil. We were the good guys fighting him so we could do no wrong."

However, it is ludicrous to go so far as to say that non-violence would have successfully dealt with Hitler as Baker tries to claim. Taking human life should never be done lightly and should without a doubt be the absolute last resort, but I don't think there's any doubt that the Nazis aligned with the Japanese presented a grave danger to the entire world and a military solution was the only one that was going to work. We can quibble on the details of how it should have been carried out (was it necessary to carpet bomb German cities? Drop the atomic bomb?), but you can't make a serious argument that holding hands and singing Kum Bah Ya would have curtailed Hitler.

Should We Have a Space Program?

Rod Dreher rails against McCain's talk of putting a man on Mars.

I know it's obligatory for American politicians to come up with new goals in the space race. It's also obligatory to tell people who criticize this kind of thing that they're a bunch of plodders who have no sense of adventure, and who fail to honor something deep in the human spirit.

But you know what? Plodder that I am, I don't want this country to put a thin dime toward sending a man to Mars until we have figured out what to do about the long-term energy crisis in this country. I know, I know, you could substitute any cause you want to for space exploration (How can we send a man to the moon when there are people going without health care?!, etc.). But get this: oil just closed today a smidge shy of $140 a barrel -- up over $10 in a single day. Biggest one-day jump ever.
The only point I want to make here is that the idea that the US should commit itself to a manned mission to Mars strikes me as so 20th century. Not a fantasy we can afford today.

Rants like this always annoy me. I've heard many people claim that the space program is a waste of money and we need to "solve the problems here on Earth first", but they don't seem to realize that the program has led to many advances not just in areas such as rocketry and computers, but in all sorts of areas such as communications, weather forecasting or even home cookware. The point is that the space program as with any cutting edge research can yield enormous benefits outside of its intended scope.

That said, I'm not sure our government should have an extensive space program. I think it is better left in the hands of private corporations. Let the government give out some grants and such, but it is too inefficient and unwieldy to continue being on the cutting edge of technology here (witness the debacle that is the space shuttle program).

I will vehemently disagree with anyone who claims, though, that we need to solve Earth's problems first. There will always be problems here and scientific research including that into space can help with some of them.

Better Go Buy Some Country Crock

'Cause you don't want to get on this guy's bad side.


I was chatting with Jeromy recently and one of the topics that came up was the consumerist mentality here in America. As an example of this, he sent me this link. On this page, you can buy an iPod from Revival Ministries International that comes "loaded" with many of their materials - videos and music - all for the low, low price of $2195.

Yes, two-thousand ninety-five dollars for an iPod full of their evangelistic garbage teachings. Your purchase lets you achieve "personal growth and [stay] plugged into revival" and support "Revival Ministries International's crusades in North America and abroad." They don't mention that it also allows anyone with common sense to mock you loudly and frequently, though.

The saddest part of the page, however, is the mention that this iPod is "Out of stock." There really is a sucker born every minute.

A Discombobulated Week

You can blame the lack of posting around here over the last week on my daughters. I get to see them a bit more in the summer and so they spent the last ten days with me. It was wonderful, of course, and I did not want to take them home tonight. Anyway, since I am not used to having them here so much, my typical routines get thrown into chaos and I found myself not getting on here to post anything even after they had gone to bed. But, now that they are gone until next weekend, I should be back to posting regularly again.