Tuesday, December 30, 2008

How Not To Write A Headline

On www.money.cnn.com, the headline reads: Worst Holiday Shopping Season Since '70

Now, to read just the headline, you would think CNN is saying that retailers sold about as much in 2008 as they did thirty-eight years ago in 1970, which would have been an unmitigated disaster.

Fortunately, if you read the article, you'd discover that they really meant holiday retail sales were down around four percent from last years holiday retail sales, which is the worse year-to-year decline since 1970.

In terms of actual dollars, retailers actually sold over three times as much in 2008 as they did in 1970.

Considering the state of the economy, that year-to-year sales were down no more than four percent would actually be pretty good news if it weren't for the massive markdowns retailers took to try and maintain their revenue.

Still a four per-cent decline isn't news that the sky is falling. In fact, retail sales beat in 2008 beat some projections and some retailers like amazon.com reported their best Christmas sales ever.

A big part of any recession is the pessimism people feel about the state of the economy which curbs spending. With that in mind, one would hope that a responsible news agency would forgo incendiary headlines in favor of more factual ones so not to inflate people's fears.

This doesn't seem to be the case over at CNN.com.

You can read the article here: http://money.cnn.com/2008/12/30/news/economy/holiday_shopping.reut/index.htm

The lesson here may be that if one really wants to understand the news they have to go a good bit beyond the headlines, and even then it's best not to trust just one source for your news. The downside is that it's actually a lot of work to keep yourself informed.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

New Rules for the Faithful

The attacks of September eleventh, made many people realize that religion can be dangerous. There is no solace in saying "that wasn't my religion", because all religions have had equal moments of insanity.

Not surprisingly, people have turned to atheism in growing numbers as this act drove a wedge between people's trust and their faith. People of faith can respond by relying even further on their old ways, which may help some, but drives others even farther away, or they can adopt some new concepts for the future.

It's disingenuous for people who believe in an all powerful God to ever assume they should use the earthly forces of violence or law to enforce God's will. Control has no part in faith. People must come to God of their own choice or it means nothing. Likewise, people must follow God's law because they believe in it and not because they are forced by other men or it means nothing.

All people have different ideas and understandings of God and none of us have the right to enforce our perspective on any others. How can you be sure they are wrong and you are right? If someone is wrong in their beliefs, then that is an issue between them and God, not them and you.

It may feel confining, but it protects us from each other and allows us to have faith and follow our faith under any condition. It's one of the greatest gifts of our ancestors. Embrace it and protect it and it will protect you and your faith.

People of faith have fought science many times through the years and they've always lost. Science takes nothing away from faith. It gives the faithful an opportunity to refine and redefine their faith based on new information. Embrace this. It may seem painful to give up old understandings and embracing new ones, but doing it only makes us stronger.

We were never made to be perfect. Never be ashamed of your mistakes. Admit them easily and be willing to learn from them. This is much more difficult than it seems.

This does not mean "love the sinner but hate the sin." None of us are wise enough to distinguish between men and their acts. Love all unconditionally. Their sins are an issue between them and God, not you. Love before all has the power to end all conflicts and ease all suffering, but only if we are strong enough to do it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Objective Christian

If you're brave enough to take a completely human and objective look at the bible and all the people who wrote it and all the people who compiled it and embrace the considerable amount of truth that journey leads you to, but still come away a believer, then you're in for life and there's nothing anyone can ever do to change that.

There's not even very much that can upset you. If you already know all the criticisms, but still believe then there's nothing humanists, atheists, agnostics, Satanists, Pagans or Scientologists can say to upset you.

You might even agree with them on some points, but since you already know these things, but still remain faithful, then it's no challenge to you.

It's the people who wont take that journey, who won't look at the bible objectively whose faith is in jeopardy, because it's built on the sand of superstition and not stone of reason.

For example: the objective christian knows that there is a vast collection of evidence in support of Darwin's theory of evolution, so that means the creation story in genesis must mean something other than what we thought it meant and they go on with their life.

They may or may not try and find out what that "something other" is, but it doesn't matter because their faith isn't threatened if every single word of the bible isn't historically and scientifically accurate. They know that's not the case and they don't care.

On the other hand: the theory of evolution has the superstitious christian under siege. For them, if genesis goes down then the whole bible is bullshit and they've been fools all their lives, so they fight like hell to keep that from happening, even if it means isolating themselves from the rest of the world.

Now, who serves God better, the woman who walks freely in a changing world but still believes, or the man who digs himself a bomb shelter to live in because he might have descended from apes?

Suzanne Marrs on Eudora Welty Video

Below is a YouTube copy of MPB's Gene Edwards interviewing Millsaps Professor Suzanne Marrs about her book Eudora Welty: A Biography.

This is a couple of years old and Dr Marrs may not even know it's still available on the Internet.

I have to admit that I'm not the biggest Eudora Welty fan, and it's for pretty stupid reasons. Her writer's voice and her characters are so finely aligned with my cultural background that her stories make me feel like I'm listening to gossip and not fiction and it's been that way ever since I could read.

Faulkner's writer's voice was very different for me. He was more like someone confessing things they'd really rather not talk about, which is hugely compelling by itself.

That being said, I dearly love hearing Suzanne talking about Miss Eudora. She speaks from the two very different cultures, the one she was born to and the one she adopted after twenty something years in Mississippi, which I find exciting, and she has a powerful mastery of words that's both beautiful and descriptive, but also structured and efficient. Her book reads much the same way as she speaks.

The thing that separates this book from really any other other biography I can think of is that Marrs is a fine academician and she does all the things that requires, but she's also writing about someone who was a loved friend for many years and the merger of those two points of view makes the book worth reading.

If you haven't picked it up, I recommend it.

She has a great speaking voice too. It's not an actor's voice or a radio voice but a really authentic voice, filled with humanity and personality. I love Gene Edwards, but I can tune him out pretty quickly, Suzanne's voice compels you to listen though, like you'll miss something if you don't.

Watch the video, it's great:

On Dogs and Free Markets

I want to talk about free market economies, but first I want to talk about dogs.

Dogs in the City
Dog-owners who live in cities and don't have yards know that they have to walk their dog once, sometimes twice a day.

Dogs are remarkable creatures. They're highly intelligent and blessed with sharp natural instincts as well. Their senses are far superior to ours and pound-per-pound, they are much stronger and faster than us, but, the city isn't their natural environment.

Owning a dog in the city means using a leash. The leash prevents the dog from walking in front of a moving bus, going into a sewer drain, after another dog, into a garbage can or humping a cop's leg. It keeps the dog safe and healthy and keeps the owner out of trouble.

The leash needs to be long enough to allow the dog some natural freedom of movement, but short enough to keep the dog out of dangerous situations and keep the owner out of trouble.

Dog owners will tell you that, at first, dogs hate the leash, but pretty soon they grow to love just the sight of it because it means they get to go outside.

Markets are like Dogs.
Markets are like dogs. They're remarkable creatures, but stable societies aren't their natural environment. Markets are made up of human beings, but they, themselves are not human and they require human supervision and control to keep them out of trouble.

Think of government regulation as a leash for markets. They prevent the market from wandering in front of a bus, chasing after squirrels or humping a cop's leg.

Completely free markets are like dogs in a city without a leash. They're free to run around and have a great time, but there's a really high risk they'll end up as road kill, getting lost, or getting the owner in some sort of trouble, so responsible owners invest in a leash.

Regulation isn't necessarily anti-capitalism. Its a recognition that, unlike ants, human beings clearly aren't more intelligent when they act in groups than they are individually and need some sort of guidance to prevent them from doing something really stupid.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Passing of George Harmon

Now that I've gotten over the shock a little bit, I feel like I can write something about the passing of George Harmon.

I say shock because Dr Harmon always worked on staying in shape and a week ago was in far better condition than most people his age. He died from a blood infection from a scrape on his arm which just goes to show that no man knows the hour of his passing.

Dr Harmon came to Millsaps at a fairly low point in the college's history. We were a small, liberal arts college, awash in a sea of small, liberal arts colleges, with nothing to distinguish us from the others.

Harmon's idea was to build up the business school. We didn't even have a business school at that point. We offered accounting and economics, but nothing that you could call a business management curricula.

That actually put us at an advantage. We didn't have a business school, but neither did most of the schools we competed against. By putting one in, we were in the position of an early adapter which gave us a considerable head start on the competition.

The move didn't come without controversy. There were those who saw it as abandoning the liberal arts roots of the college and bringing in a business school meant bringing in conservative thinkers who would clash with the school's more liberal base.

The plan worked though, and a rising tide raises all ships. Pretty soon enrollment was up, the school became more financially stable and we were building new buildings. As a result, the liberal arts program went from barely surviving by the skin of its teeth, to being fairly stable, although less populated than the business school.

Harmon had an unforgettable personality. He was relentlessly aggressive, which sometimes got him in trouble, but most often made him a bulldog at accomplishing his goals.

He didn't socialize with the faculty much and they were often at odds, but something many people didn't know, he was dearly loved by the maintenance department who would invite him when they had barbeque's or other social events.

Dr Harmon was perhaps one of the more controversial individuals ever involved in Millsaps, but there's no way you can look at the college when he came and compare it to the college as it is today and not think we were much better off that he came.

He is survived by two daughters, Mary and Beth, a son, George and his lovely wife Bessie.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Moses Rebellion

I've always had my doubts about the story of Moses as told in Exodus.

Suppose a Muslim Jihadist came to George Bush and said that everything from Katrina to the stock market crash were signs from Allah that America should release the detainees at Guantanamo, get out of Iraq, stop supporting Israel and take ham off the menu at Dominoes.

Would you believe him? Probably not. Likewise, I think Pharaoh just shook his head every time Moses came to town trying to blame whatever recent misfortune befell Egypt on his mysterious god who was angry because the Hebrews were slaves.

The Plagues
The truth is, if you know anything about that region, then you know that whatever hell Moses rained down on Egypt isn't all that different from the hell that rains down on them most of the time anyway. It was an ecological disaster that prompted the Jews to move to Egypt in the first place.

Pretty much all of the plagues that befell Egypt fall into the category of normal but unfortunate ecological disasters. All, except one.

The Angel of Death
The last plague, the death of the first-born, finally tipped the balance and freed the Jews. One interpretation of this is that an angel of death moved among the Egyptians in the form of a green mist, killing children. This is what you see in the movie with Charlton Heston.

Would a loving God condone the killing of children, even if they were pagan children and their parents were persecuting the chosen people? Probably not.

"First Born" can mean children, but it can also mean the head of the household. Many cultures at that time passed their wealth down to the first born male. That would mean that many of the wealthiest and most powerful adult men in a culture were "first born".

You can read this part of the story as God acting in mysterious ways, but you can also read it as a slave rebellion. A clue as to which is the correct interpretation might be the blood on the door.

The Jews were told to paint lambs blood on their doors as a sign that whatever was out killing the first born should pass them over. Now, the angel of death (whatever that is) probably wouldn't need a sign to know who to kill and who not to kill, but an army of rebel slaves going through town killing the heads of the households would.

When this country still had slaves, we also had slave rebellions. The most famous was led by a man named Nat Turner. None of the American slave rebellions ended in anyone being freed, but they were very similar to what we see in exodus in that they featured slaves, going through the community, killing the male slave holders.

For Nat Turner's army, it was easy to tell who was the enemy: they were white. For Jews living in Egypt, the racial or biological differences wouldn't have been nearly so pronounced. They would need some sort of sign to know who not to kill. The blood on the door was just such a sign.

Free at Last!
After a night of such killings, the next day the Egyptians would have been completely unable to prevent the Jews from leaving. At that time, most cultures didn't have a standing army. It took some time to bring an armed force together, which gave the Jews a significant head start in getting out of town.

Once the Jews were clear of Egypt, we're told that Pharaoh had a change of heart and sent chariots after them. You could say he had a change of heart, but you could also say that it took him some time to raise an army to go after the rebels.

Another clue that this was a slave rebellion is that the Jews took Egyptian gold with them. They would use it later to construct the golden calf idol while they waited for Moses to return with the ten commandments. It's unlikely the Egyptians would give up their gold willingly. The Jews would have to take it by force.

The Battle of the Red Sea
The same holds true for the miracle crossing of the Red Sea. Exodus doesn't give a very precise location for the crossing. Historically, people have placed it in the south at a particularly deep part of the sea. If that's where it was then their crossing would have to have been a pretty impressive miracle.

Suppose it was farther north though, in the Sea of Reeds? This area was more like a broad marsh than a deep sea. Strong winds and low tides would take most of the standing water out of the marsh and the Jews, traveling on foot with their flocks could easily pass through it, but the Egyptians, traveling on chariots would have been hopelessly stuck in the mud.

The Jews could hide in the tall reeds and pick off the bogged down Egyptians from a covered position. So, was the crossing of the Red Sea really a battle and not a mind-blowing special effect kind of miracle? It seems more likely.

Chariots were like the stealth fighters of their day. With them, a smaller group of Egyptians could conquer a much larger army on foot. But, with their chariots stuck in the mud, the Egyptians would have been sitting ducks.

What about God?
So, does this mean there was no God and the story of Exodus was just the act of men? Not necessarily. Throughout history, very few slave rebellions ended successfully. Nearly all slave rebellions ended with the slaves being returned to slavery and their leaders executed. That this story ended with the slaves going free could be a sign of God's intervention.

Exodus tells the story of Egyptian society weakened by a series of natural disasters to the point where an organized slave rebellion could beat the odds and enforce their own freedom. I have no trouble seeing the hand of God in that.

It's not as beautiful a story as the version presented by Cecil B Demille in his movie, but by telling the story more realistically, it also becomes much harder to dismiss. It also tells us that God still works in our lives even without the special-effects type of miracles we see in the movies.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Candy Cane Myth

This time of year, many of you will come across the Legend of the Christian Candy Cane.

It's a beautiful story unfortunately it's not at all historically accurate.

See http://www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/candycane.asp for the true story of the candy cane.

The thing is, if you take out the inaccurate stuff about some unknown guy in Indiana and just say "one can find some beautiful christian symbols in a candy cane", then the story still works.

For me, it's a much stronger testament to know that these symbols are there, even though nobody intentionally put them there.

Christian symbols show up randomly and beautifully in all sorts of unexpected places. Like the sand dollar which even has christian symbols inside it's bony shell or Passiflora Incarnata, known in the South as the "passion flower" or "May pop" that grows wild along fence lines and roadsides.

It's important for Christians to steadfastly maintain the difference between parable and fact. The world and its events don't come to us prepackaged with Christian ideals. It's up to us to take the real stuff of life as it comes to us and make some sense of it from a Christian perspective, and to do that, we must maintain the difference between the two.

Jesus himself often used fiction to illustrate greater truths. We call them parables and they're part of our tradition. Jesus never meant for us to believe that the Good Samaritan was a real person who we could go and find and talk to. If he had, he would have given us his name, but that doesn't keep the story of the Samaritan from being an incredibly important part of the Christian life.

Candy canes are just candy. There's no hidden symbols in them, but that shouldn't keep Christians from teaching their children to take the ordinary stuff of life and reinterpret them from a Christian perspective. You have to do it honestly though, without trying to sneak in mysterious confectioners from Indiana without explaining that he is a parable, and never really existed.

It's all about the strength of the house you want to build. Parables are houses built on stone, but parables presented as historical fact are houses built on sand.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Fiddling while Detroit Burns

Reports from the failed senate bill on the auto bailout are still sketchy, but at this point it looks like the holdout was between the UAW and senate republicans.

The UAW agreed in principal to lower the wages they charge American auto makers to the levels they charge foreign automakers producing domestically, but they wanted a year to implement the cuts. Senate republicans wanted the cuts to come in 2009 and when the two sides couldn't agree, the bill failed.

I have a few questions:
First, why was the UAW still charging more to work for american companies than they were for the same jobs at foreign companies? That this wasn't done years ago really makes the UAW look pretty greedy and unreasonable.

Secondly, we're told that the president may provide funds to the big three out of the already passed TARP money anyway. If that's true, I really would like to know how much a part this possibility played in the UAW's unwillingness to play ball with republican senators.

Playing Hardball
This is serious business. The market will probably take a really big hit today on the news. There was plenty of motivation on both sides of the senate to come up with a bill. The only player who might possibly benefit from the bill failing is the UAW who might have seen getting some money now from the president and more money later from the new more union-friendly, democrat senate as preferable to taking wage cuts now, rather than later.

Unions are used to playing hardball. That's what they do. Senators and Representatives and Presidents have to answer to their constituency, but unions have nobody to answer to but their members, and the best way to do that is by wringing out every last penny they can from management.

They're not fighting with management now though. They're fighting with the American people, and holding us over a barrel like this isn't going to play well. Not only do we hold the key to their future with this bailout money, but we're also the future consumers of their product and for the unions to burn what little goodwill they have left with the American people over two dollars an hour is simply foolish.

So who's at fault?
I think they're all guilty of fiddling while Rome burns, but then they were fiddling when the fire started too.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Atheists and Hubris

Richard Dawkins frustrates me.

His earlier brilliant work with memes completely predicts his later work as an evangelist for scientific atheism, yet he refuses to acknowledge it.

He steadfastly maintains that since his collection of memes are "The Truth", then he and his peers are the only true evangelists and all other evangelists, (particularly the religious kind) are just charlatans.

Here's a tip: anyone who holds up a sign claiming to know "The Truth" is either deluded or a liar, and often both.

Dawkins will tell you that the proof for his one and only "Truth" comes from the scientific method. Now, not everyone can just go out and prove his theories with this scientific method. It takes years of specialized training and education to participate in the process.

Here's the kicker: the academic institutions that spawn all these participants in the scientific method to "prove" scientific memes evolved from medieval institutions used to educate monks and priests to "prove" religious memes. It's the very same process simply turned around to produce propaganda for another perspective.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a huge fan of science, but I'm also a pretty big fan of religion too. The difference between people like Richard Dawkins or Jerry Falwell and me, is that I don't hold out my hand and tell people that I possess "The Truth, and if you'll but follow me I'll share it with you!"

Hubris is the greatest of all human weaknesses and it is simple hubris that leads men to claim they know "The Truth" in any form. Even saying this, I'm on the very edge of hubris myself.

There may be such a thing as "The Truth" out there, but I don't believe any one of us is capable of understanding anything but small pieces of it. It's only by bringing all these small pieces together that we're able to make out the rough shape of anything like the larger truth.

People who claim to know "The Truth" separate us though, and prevent us from ever seeing this unified truth. They gather together their followers and call them blessed and castigate those that follow any other prophet calling them heretics.

Scientific atheists like Dawkins are pretty good followers of the first commandment: Science is the lord thy God, and thou shalt have no other gods before it. They're also pretty good about casting out false idols and false prophets. Gee, I wonder where they got the idea.

I'm not saying that Dawkins' ideas don't have merit. What I'm saying is that dogma is dogma is dogma. It matters not whether it's the religious kind or the scientific kind, it's all human and it's all questionable.

You could say that some ideas are more reliable and more valuable than others, but I would say that is really just a matter of perspective. Humans have accomplished quite a lot based on ideas that we today would call unreliable and no one has yet produced any ideas that are absolute or unquestionable, be they ideas about God or ideas about gravity.

So, Richard Dawkins, I'm a big fan of yours, but it's time to lay off the hubris and the evangelism before your other fans start telling me you walked on water.

Old School Bear Market Benefits

There were a couple of bear markets when I was a kid.

My dad had several friends who were stock brokers or bankers and he would call them a couple of times during the day and at the end of the day to see what the market did and to prevent monopolizing one guy's time, he would change up who he called from day to day.

The calls themselves were really cool. They would start with "how's the market", then go through a short discussion of national and local business news then end with news about wives, children and other relatives.

These were real two-way conversations with people he knew. You don't get that from watching the news, which is, at best, a one-way exchange of information. They built connectivity between two human beings, which, in turn made the whole community just a little bit stronger, especially when you consider how many other people were having just the same sorts of conversations.

Were my dad alive today, he would simply check the Internet to see what the market was doing, then go about his business, completely missing the opportunity to connect with someone, with anyone.

Technology has added so much to our lives, but it has taken some away as well. We have more information available to us than ever before in human history, but we're also becoming more and more isolated.

Perhaps that's why the fastest growing parts of the Internet are all companies that offer some sort of social interaction like Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and the like.

The trick now will be to evolve these sites from being not only very useful, but also very profitable so they'll stick around. That was a hurdle my dad's brand of social interaction didn't have to pass. It will happen though. There's almost always a way to make money on things that are useful.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Turning the Other Cheek to Terrorists

Some men asked Jesus, "teacher, what should we do if a man hits us across the cheek?"

They asked because this is something people are afraid of. Afraid, not of being hit the first time; that's already happened. They're afraid, for whatever reason, their attacker will hit them a second time or a third time or keep on hitting them until they just can't take it any more--or worse encourage others to hit them as well.

We have two natural responses to this situation. We can retreat and hide so that our attacker can't find us to hit us a second time, or we can go on the offensive and beat our attacker to the point where they either cannot hit us a second time, or are afraid to try. Scientists call this "fight or flight".

Jesus offers a pretty remarkable third option. "Turn and offer your other cheek". At first it sounds crazy. Nobody wants to get hit a second time, but Jesus recognizes there's something else at work here. Being afraid is worse than getting hit. If we turn the other cheek, then we take from our attacker his ability to make us live in fear and that makes us much stronger than he.

Turning the other cheek, we will get hit again, and perhaps a third or even a fourth time. Taking the hits, but not moving, our attacker soon sees he is powerless against us and has no choice but to withdraw.

Everyone has heard this story and knows this lesson but it is incredibly difficult to practice in our lives.

Seven years ago, terrorists hit us brutally in New York city. For fear that it might happen again, we attacked both Afghanistan and Iraq. Although highly criticized now, people forget the enormously high approval rating George Bush had at the time. Without question, this was the path most Americans wanted.

Suppose we had taken another path. Suppose we had turned the other cheek. What if the president had gone and TV and said "We cannot respond to this violent act with violence without bringing more suffering for the innocent" and chosen not to attack our attacker.

Following 9/11 people were afraid to leave their homes or engage the world in any way. They would have hated George Bush for choosing nonviolence and he probably would have lost his bid for re-election, if not outright impeachment. But, would he have been right?

Our attackers wanted to make us afraid. A military response was a pretty good indicator that we were indeed afraid, perhaps more so than if we had responded by hiding or retreating.

To turn the other cheek, we would have had to stand our ground firmly, without attacking offensively. It would have been difficult and required remarkable bravery on the part of millions of ordinary citizens and I'm not at all sure we would have been up to the task, but what if we were?

Without fear, terrorism is impotent. Our enemies would have lost the only weapon they had against us. They would have created a great deal of pain and suffering, but accomplished nothing and we would have been immediately triumphant.

Imagine how powerful a nation would be if it could take a hit like 9/11 and not responded, not changed our path in any way. Our enemies would have been astounded and pitiful for their lack of any weapon to use against us.

In 2001 we weren't strong enough to do this. We responded in fear as humans always have. We can learn though. Knowing that our counterattacks didn't accomplish what we'd hoped they might and taking the lessons from Jesus and Ghandi, we can respond differently next time. It will hurt, deeply hurt, to stand and turn the other cheek, but imagine the possibilities if we do.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Reconsidering Genesis

The creation story in Genesis is perhaps the most criticized part of the Bible, but I love it most of all.

It is not a scientifically accurate account of the creation of the universe, the earth, and the life upon it, but knowing what it is not allows me to sit back and listen to the story for what it is.

While other cultures populate their myths with gods who are very human and nearly human and some even have the audacity to believe their political leaders were gods themselves, the Jews instead recognize a very basic truth of life: we are alone.

There are no demi-gods in this story, and no golden age. We're not shadows of greater beings or slaves to a master. We are simply creations, like all the other creations, and we're given no clear reason or purpose for our existence other than knowing God wanted us to be.

In Genesis, God is inscrutable. There is no mention of his existence before the moment he creates light and he remains a mystery throughout the story. We're given no clue why God creates us or what he wants from us. The same is true even today. We may believe in God, but we have no idea of what he is or what his purposes are.

He creates us, protected in his perfect garden. We are alone and naked and unaware, but in some way we cannot understand we are like him and he favors us and has a purpose for us.

God is merciful and recognizes our isolation and creates for us a companion so that in this life we'll at least have each other. The point is not that they were male and female, or who came first, but that in this life we have only each other to cling to, and how valuable we are to each other.

God creates the forbidden tree and calls it "the tree of knowledge of good and evil". Now, anyone who's ever spent any time with human beings knows that before the end of the story, we're going to eat of that tree. It's our very nature to do so.

We're told that it's disobedient, and perhaps God creates the device that separates us from all the other creatures with some sadness, but he must have known that we would seek out this knowledge, why else would he create the tree?

Had we not eaten of the tree, then the whole of history would never have happened. We would have remained innocent and ignorant in the garden forever. God created us with the capacity to fill the earth, and even cross the boundry of the sky to walk on the moon, but none of it would have happened had we not eaten of the tree.

The loss of innocence comes from knowing the difference between what is innocent and what is not. The capacity for that knowledge is what separated us from the other animals and we were made to follow that path.

God isn't surprised by our choice. He knows that our fate, and our highest purpose lies outside the garden. It's told as if it's a punishment, but it's not because God doesn't abandon us outside the garden. He stays with us and appears to us to guide us and help us several more times after that.

There's no Prometheus to give us fire in this story, no Dianna to help us hunt and no she-wolf to suckle us. We go into the world naked, with nothing but our wits to help us endure and the knowledge that God is with us.

It's so easy for us to dismiss this story and assume the people who wrote it were ignorant and uneducated on the true history of creation, but I think they understood a lot more than we give them credit for. Perhaps they didn't understand the mechanics of cells and gravity and such things, but if you give the story a chance you'll see that they understood a great deal about the condition and nature of man and the situation we find ourselves in, even today.

The story of creation isn't about an event thousands of years ago, it's about this moment, today, and the situation we find ourselves in every day. We are born no different from Adam and Eve leaving the garden. We have only our wits, each other, and God to help us survive.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Charles Darwin Loses His Religion

As you may know, Charles Darwin studied to become a clergyman before settling on biology. It is said that he finally lost his faith, long after publishing his controversial theories, when his daughter died as a child.

Like many of us, Darwin hoped his faith might spare him that kind of pain and suffering. If you read the bible though, you'll see fairly clearly that the faithful and the faithless often share the same fate.

The promise of faith is not that you'll have a better time of it here on earth. The promise of faith is that this isn't the end of the story. Though we can't see it or tell anything about it, faith promises us that we transcend these bodies and we survive the suffering here on this planet.

I can't imagine the pain Darwin endured on losing his child. There can't be anything worse. Nor can I blame him for losing his faith in the wake of such a tragedy, even though it was really the only thing I can think of that might offer some solace to a man in that horrible position.

Darwin's suffering did end though, with his death; and I believe, he and his beloved daughter were then reunited in a way unimaginable here on earth.

Though often vilified by the faithful, Darwin gave us much knowledge with which we can celebrate and marvel at the beauty of God's creation. His work brings me much closer to God because, through it, I can see the brushstrokes of the master's creation. I only wish his faith had brought more comfort in his own life.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dinosaurs and the Bible

Suppose you read a history book that said "John Kennedy said we should go to the moon, so we went to the moon."

Now, that would be a fairly accurate reporting of what happened, but it also omits a heck of a lot of important information, like "who", "why", and most importantly, "how".

The bible tells us that God created the universe and God created us, but like the example above it omits pretty much all of the details, especially "how".

Many people believe there's this conflict between science and religion because science has come up with a different narrative for the creation of life than the one found in Genesis. I don't see a conflict at all, but rather two different ways of telling the same story.

The Genesis writers were primarily concerned with telling the story of God's relationship to us. They tell us that God created us and God created the universe, but they make no attempt to get into the details of "how". Neither do they give us any indication of "who" or "what" God is.

Science, on the other hand, is completely concerned with the details of "how" man and the universe were created, but make no attempt to give the details of "why".

If you're reading the bible hoping to make it a book of science or history then you're going to be disappointed, it simply doesn't deal with those questions.

The bible is a collection of many different stories, written by many different people over an extraordinarily long period of time, trying to illuminate the relationship between God and man. They weren't even trying to account for the types of information one finds in books about history or science. It simply wasn't their purpose.

People who find a conflict between the bible and science or history are trying to make the bible something it's not, which means they're completely missing the point of the bible for what it is.

There's an incredible amount of valuable information in the bible, but if you're looking for the answer to where dinosaurs came from, or why the earth orbits around the sun, then you'll simply have to look elsewhere.

Official Ted Lasso