Thursday, January 28, 2010

What is the State of the Union? A Small Analysis

Last night, the first black president of the United States gave his State of the Union address. Just recently the Republicans had gained filibuster power in the senate with the election of Scott Brown. So, he called for unity, implying that using filibuster power would shut down the government, which is what the republicans may do and is not a very good thing. (Having the government running smoothly is usually seen as good.)

Obama also called for more programs, reforms and hope. He also said that the government will stop spending beginning of January of 2011. I am currently unclear about what he meant, being non-politically educated. Does he mean not expanding expending or cut all spending, except for the spending he identified, namely spending on nationally security, medicare and medicaid and social security? My Dad said it was the former. It was a 70 minute long speech, his longest one yet. I zoned out a couple times and this was one of those points.

Obama did a good job of keeping up his momentum and was interesting, I got bored, but that is because it was me. I certainly felt comforted and assured everything is going to be okay. He was confident, firm and all those good things. This is unique in his administration. This past year it has been very cold, analytical and not very willing to give Americans a hug.

I would like to point out two specific points on new legislation and one point on legislation he didn't talk about. First, he talked about removing the "do-not-ask-do-not-tell" policy. He wants people who are attracted to the same gender to be allowed to be in the military and be open about it. That's going to stir up a lot of controversy. It's definitely NOT going to bring unity. Second, he wants to make tax breaks and spend less. I like that... How is going to pay for these programs then? Where is the money going to come from? Lastly, he didn't talk about the abortion issue. Smart move, why bring that up when the status quo is in your favor?

In conclusion, I am worried about how he wants to pay for all these great programs. They really do sound nice, they appear to be able to fix a lot of problems. In reality though, they will be warped into something different after they've been through congress. Also, you want to cut government spending at the same time, that's what Bush did. (Oh I need to add this: did you notice how he did not name the Bush administration, but alluded to it. I thought it was well done because he was making a point about a mistake of the past administration that he is having to deal with.)

So I hope nothing too bad happens in the next three years. Now, what will the Republicans do with their filibuster power? Will they stop the government and not be unified. Obama, with his glares and smirks toward them, certainly wasn't encouraging...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Shadow of the Almighty, Book review

I recently finished, just this morning in fact, "The Shadow of the Almighty," a biography of Jim Elliot, written by his wife, Elisabeth Elliot. This is one of those books that you put on your shelf, to be read again in a year.

Elliot was born in 1927 to a conservative Christian family. He died in 1956, killed by Auca Indians who he was trying to reach in order to preach the gospel to. He was a Christian.

There are very few people in Christianity who you can properly identify as simply being Christians. You associate them with a certain cause like civil rights, helping the poor, education, preaching and what not. With Jim Elliot, it can very simply be described that he was a Christian who dedicated himself to following the will of God in an absolute way.

I would describe Elliot as a fundamentalist. he did not vote, was a dedicated pacifist, he owned little and though he went to college, thought that much of what he learned was "worldly" and prohibited him from spending time with His Lord. Elliot is a prime example of what it means to not be of this world. During his early years, I think it would be an accurate describe that he was Pharisaical, meaning he lived with a lot of voluntary rules which he believed would lead him to right living and a Godly lifestyle.

When I first started to read Shadow of the Almighty, I was repelled by his attitude about Christian living. Most of my feeling stemmed from his dogmatism, he wouldn't just budge from his position on what it means to be a Christian but would go further and was less willing to adjust to his environment on secondary issues. As he grew older, as he matured in his faith, I noticed that this changed. He wasn't so blunt or obvious about his faith, it was more nuanced and fine. I also noticed that he became more respectful of people who he saw as not fully following the faith or were not Christians and not glorifying God. It was interesting to watch this transformation.

Also, even though he had a very close relationship with God, there were times of struggle. One of my favorite quotes from the book: “Sometimes one is conscious of spiritual life only because he is still struggling to maintain it, not at all because he is purposefully living it.” It is a comfort and assuring to know that life sucks for everyone, even if one is God or is very close to God.

So, for anyone who wants to read this book, it is worth your time. I was impressed by the way he honestly and fully followed Christ, dedicating himself to even death in order to fulfill his calling as a Christian.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Arguments for the Existence of God, are they worth having?

For the past two days, we have been going over the different arguments for the existence of God, and it is about the third or fourth time I have been over these arguments in a class. (We are going over the teleological arguments, cosmological arguments and ontological arguments.) They get old after the first time. The sleeping bear represents how I felt during class, I could have taken a nap. (But I didn't!)

In this post I will be raising the question, are these arguments worth studying? I conclude that they are. Their are two main reasons: First, it provides an avenue for us to better understand God and second, it can remove intellectual obstacles for those who are struggling with the belief in the existence of God.

Before I critique these two reasons, I first want to make a point about the validity and soundness of the arguments in general. As it stands now, I do not think that if someone is not convinced by these arguments, it doesn't mean they are being irrational. I would also add that if someone accepts these arguments without attempting to fully understand them is being a bit naive.

Also, one must not put your faith in these arguments. For instance, the Fine-tuning argument is based upon a lot of scientific theory that could be change in the future. It is not a good idea to rest one's belief in God on stuff that could shift. Belief in God needs to be more foundational.

I find it hard to accept these arguments because they are trying to pin down God in a purely logical manner. They could work, but they don't tell us much about God. You might be able to get to the point where God is proven to be a personal being, but what about his character? When I study these arguments, my picture of God becomes limited. So as to the first reason for studying these arguments, I find it hard to get a lot out of them. Furthermore, even though it provides a platform to look at some interesting stuff (telos, actual infinites, fine-tuning in the universe), there is nothing explicitly Christian about these ideas. You can affirm these arguments and deny the incarnation or trinity. (If your theism is not Christian, this would not apply.)

This brings us to look at the the second reason: if you have to resort to intellectual arguments in order to have "faith," what is your faith? I don't think I would call that faith. It can lead to faith, the Holy Spirit uses a lot of different stuff, but if it is the foundation, the core of your belief, I wonder what exactly do you believe? Is God loving then? what are his attributes, does he have attributes?

Someone who first hears about the arguments for the existence of God and begins to study them, might be fascinated and enjoy studying them. He/she could remove certain intellectual obstacles. (Such as the idea of a God is incompatible with how science explains things or that the big bang removes reason for an unmoved mover.) Also, people who are not familiar with the ideas about God that these arguments deal with would become open to some really important ideas. (God being an infinite being, as the originator of the universe)

So their is reason to continue studying these arguments, even if you don't agree with them, that is assuming you are a theist. They can only go so far though. Ultimately one cannot become a religious person because of these arguments nor can you develop a personal relationship with Him through these arguments. Hence, I find them boring and not very helpful to me at this moment in my life. So, I'm gunna join the bear and take a nap.

Monday, January 18, 2010

CORPS Winter Conference, Thoughts on Sin

This past weekend I went to the CORPS Winter Conference. For those who are unfamiliar with Reformed Presbyterian events, this is a yearly conference where "young adults" get together for a weekend in January to fellowship, listen to a speaker and play hearts. It was formally known as CYA Winter Conference but they decided to change the name. This post will be on what the speaker spoke on.

Pastor James Faris was this year's speaker, giving four lectures. The theme was "The Seven Deadly Sins." He spoke on Sloth, Envy, Lust and Pride. I currently don't have my notes with me so I will be just making general observations. First, it is extremely hard to listen to an analysis of sin. To me, it felt like someone was taking sandpaper and scrapping sores on my body. We tend to want to look the other way when someone talks to us about sin because it is something we also struggle with or it is the opposite of who we are in Christ. Yet confession and discussion of sin is vital to our growth as Christians. Put lightly, it is like talking about how you messed up in a basketball game or thinking how you're going to avoid "messing up."

Also, it reveals our hypocrisy as Christians. We're supposed to be good, joyful and full of thanks to God. Almost always that is not the case. These four talks that James spoke on were applicable to me and it would not surprise me if all four were applicable to everyone in the room (all 100+ of us). That's not a very nice thought...

Another general thought about James' talks were two themes he made. The first, these sins are done in direct attack against God. Some sins are against other people but these in particular, even if they are done against others, are directly against God. Hence, the second point, they "will send you straight to the pit of hell." James kept saying this, that if you are in these sins, you are going to hell. I want to harp on this last point.

I thought that James was a bit unclear on this, especially on his talk on lust, because he did not distinguish between being in sin and struggling with sin. (at least I didn't catch a distinction...) All Christians struggle with sin, no Christian lives in sin. (Romans 6) James was speaking before a openly Christian audience. That being so, I thought it would have been helpful for myself if James spoke on how as Christians, we are fighting these sins being protected by Christ. (I often think of the picture of me hiding behind the body of Christ. Him standing, me crouching behind.) We're not headed to the pit of hell if we're having to deal with sin or fighting it. For me, that's what I'm dealing with, a spiritual battle with my flesh.

James did a great job of talking about these sins. You could tell he has done an incredible amount of research and has thought deeply about this subject. (And this is not a topic that is pleasant to think about, which makes his work even more commendable.) I really appreciated what he said, and it has helped me and convicted me. What I am saying here is a small point which was I not clear and saw that it was important for me to reach clarity. Plus, I thought that it might be a good blog post. So writing out what I thought on this point was helpful for me, and hopefully helpful to those who read this.

So, if you were unable to attend, listen to the podcasts on the CORPS website, and benefit from God used to help me. note: I do not think they are up yet, understandably.

-Thanks to the leaders of CORPS for putting the conference together, it was a great conference.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pain and Suffering, a Universal

I hurt my toe on Saturday. It was really bad. I was playing 4-square in the lobby of my dorm. For those that are not familiar with the game of 4-square, it is a game in which there are four squares and a ball. You hit the ball into other squares and if the ball lands outside the squares, hits the inside lines, hits the vortex of doom, bounces more then once or hits someone while they are inside a square, they are out.

How did I hurt my toe? Well I hit the ball really hard, but in the process doing so, I ran into another player and hit my foot on the floor and somehow a lot of skin peeled back from my toe-nail to underneath my foot. Thank goodness my nerves stopped working for a while so I cut away the skin that had peeled back. It hurt, a lot. It was painful, and I suffered. Suffering happens every day in the world. Most recently, a magnitude-7.0 earthquake hit Haiti. Some are saying almost 500,000 are dead. The Haitian president, Rene Preval, says there are around 100,000 dead. A arch-bishop is dead. People working for the U.N. are dead. Government officials are dead. The national palace crumbled. Churches crumbled. The prison crumbled. U.S. Citizens from the U.S. embassy were air-lifted to military hospitals. It doesn't matter if you're of the church or a criminal, you could have gotten hurt.

The cut on my toe compared to the suffering that is occurring in Haiti is small, but they are both similar in that they both hurt, a lot. One of the few universals in the world is that everyone goes through pain and suffering though in different degrees. What can we do when things are just falling apart? We watch our own lives crumbling and then see it physically happen to whole countries.

Some deal with the result of suffering, pain, by blaming others, some say God doesn't exist, others resign themselves to despair and some claim to "suck it up." Whatever choice one makes, pain still hurts and suffering keeps on rolling, like the sun moving through the sky.

You really can't do anything about pain. You can't stop it from happening. And no one can. Yes, it can be lessened with safety precautions and coping techniques. It happens to everyone though, that's one of the things that binds all things on earth, we all experience pain and suffering.

Just one further note about Haiti, it is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, 80% are below the poverty line.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Inglourious Basterds (Warning: Spoiler)

A quick warning to those who have not seen the movie, "Inglourious Basterds," directed by Quentin Tarantino, this post contains a spoiler.

Part of the plot of "Inglorious Basterds" (IB) is to kill the key leaders of the Nazis Party just as the allies are landing in Normandy during World War II. American soldiers, are chosen to carry out the carnage. most of them are Jews and are already behind enemy lines purposely slaughtering Nazis soldiers and disfiguring them

It is hard to say that I enjoyed IB, but I certainly appreciated Tarantino's work. One part of the movie that bothered me is how hate is presented. It is upheld by "the good guys."

The movie does not portray the Nazis as haters. Colonel Hans Landa is shown to be a rather jolly fellow, maybe a bit off of his rocker. Fredrick Zoller is a flirt and a brave, dashing young man. Hitler is portrayed as an evil, angry man, but the haters are the good guys. Shosanna Dreyfus displays pain and hatred against the Nazis, understandably so. She was a Jew, her family was machine gunned down and The Nazis' pompous disposition toward her furthers this. Half the time she looks like she's about to spit in their time.

Not all of the "good guys" are full of hate. Colonel Raine is simply crazy. But the other inglorious basterds are. Watch how some of them kill and butcher the Germans. And these are the guys who you root for. You are disappointed at their death and cheer as they slaughter the bad guys.

Hatred is dangerous and manipulative. It takes away one's ability to function, to think and live the good life. If at all possible, you should avoid hating others because in the end, it will destroy you. It can be useful, scare your enemies and drive you to perform functions in a better way. Yet one with hate cannot achieve the good life. In the end, hatred leads to sadness, loneliness and a pitiful death. IB ends on a "funny note," the jolly Colonel receiving the mark of a Nazis and two good guys live to drive away in a vehicle. Everyone else dies. What a bummer that everyone does dies, a kid grows up without a father and Aldo Raine and Smithson Utivch no longer can unleash their hatred. The long-term effects of this hatred on the individuals who had it is saddening. Yeah sure WWII ends a year early and what not, but hatred was not necessary to set up the operation to kill the heads of the Nazis Party.

If I was in the position to end a war, but had to give up my life to end it (with my side winning of course), then I would in the least consider dying an worthwhile option and if their probably was not time to think, probably would automatically act so. Wouldn't anyone want to give themselves up to end such a terrible thing as war?

But there is no need for hatred. That is what bothered me about IB, that hatred was not seen as it really is, as a vice which stinks to have as a part of one's character.