Category Archives: Uncategorized

Elites

Ripped from the comments:

My objection to neoliberalism is, primarily, that capitalist globalism has bred either its own demise or will turn into tyranny of some form or another. I know people who are basically aspiring to be part of the international ruling class: future politicians, future political hacks, business types, think tankers, etc. I went to college with them, and I’m friends with some of them. They are leading us all to ruin.

Their cluelessness, lack of self-awareness, and lack of empathy for people they consider below them is absolutely breathtaking. “Let them eat cake” level stuff. They can’t understand that their high IQs are not earned, and that intellect is not a moral quality (as an aside, I think this is part of the appeal of blank-slatism to intelligent people: if they ignore that IQ is probably about 50% inherited, and most environmental factors are out of their control, they can pretend that their university degrees and so on simply show their high quality as individuals, instead of showing that they rolled well for INT at character creation). They can’t understand why all those factory workers who want to keep their jobs, or want the jobs to come back to town, instead of learning to code and moving to the Bay, or getting a business degree and moving to London or NYC, or getting a law degree and… etc. Their mastery of skills that allow them to pick up and move pretty much anywhere and earn well doing it mean that they have little consideration, respect, or loyalty for their countrymen who cannot. The people from all over the world working in finance in London feel loyalty to each other – after all, they are the best, are they not? – far more than they do to the peons from wherever they come from.

Their response to stuff like Brexit and Trump’s election is eye-opening. Absolute contempt for the great unwashed. I’m exempting visible minorities, Muslims, LGBT people, etc from this – because they actually stand to suffer from right-wing populism, real suffering, not in the pocketbook – but the fact is that the most spite I have seen has tended to come from straight white cis people. Their hatred and contempt for Brexiters and Trump voters is palpable, especially when it’s hilariously hypocritical – I have heard condemnation of Trump voters as racists … at parties that are overhwhelmingly white; I have heard more than one white guy use “white guy” as a term of abuse … and they throw parties that are 100% white. They don’t even recognize their hate and contempt as hate and contempt, they just project it onto those they despise. They do not recognize their own racial biases (I remember a wealthy young man explaining to me, to paraphrase, “it’s not racist to be afraid of black people, because they’re poor, and poor people are more likely to be criminals”) but instead project them onto those they despise (he now posts Facebook statuses excoriating straight white cis men, a group from which he apparently exempts himself, despite being 4/4 for those qualities).

Either this will lead to the demise of neoliberal globalism – because even if the Brexiters and the Trump voters are dumb, they’re not so dumb as to not notice the contempt, and will vote to put a thumb in the eye of the elites who despise them. Or, it will lead to tyranny of one kind or another, as the elites decide that, really, those rednecks in coal country and those losers in North England shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

Batman in all things

No enemies to the right

If you keep an eye on the deeper, darker reaches of the political blogosphere, you will have noticed a certain phrase making the rounds: No enemies to the right. Indeed, I would put the single unifying belief of the many groups called “alt-right” as the following: self-policing and following the old political norms will only lead to defeat; the left will never follow the same rules, so it’s time to treat them the same way they treat us.

Looking over recent election results, it’s hard to argue. Trump did a thousand things that all the conventional wisdom thought disqualifying. He still won. And those deep, dark reaches I just mentioned are the only ones who saw it coming.

But consider the other side of all this: the complete collapse of the Democratic party. If Hillary had not thought herself so above the law that she completely ignored basic security rules, if her inner circle had not also included a man who feels compelled to send weiner pictures to anything over the age of 15, if Hillary’s staff had at least been self-disciplined enough to keep aforementioned classified information off of aforementioned Weiner’s computer such that both investigations didn’t intersect and bring themselves back up right before the election, if the Democratic party itself had been willing to let their voters pick the nominee instead of conspiring to sink Sanders, if the press had not conspired with them, if, failing all that, Podesta had the wherewithal not to fall for the same phishing emails all of us get regularly and subsequently expose the entire charade, if Hillary did not have a history of covering for her husband’s harassment of women (a history that includes credible accusations of rape!) which hamstrung her when attacking Trump’s boorishness, if the policies pushed by Democrats when they held all branches had actually worked as promised, if any Democratic politician with a snowball’s chance (sorry, that was never Bernie) had the courage (or even just ambition!) to throw their hat into the ring instead of meekly standing aside for Hillary, if any of those pieces had not fallen into place, we might well be talking about how it is impossible for Republicans to ever again win at the national level.

Those are the fruits of “no enemies to the left”: a party so riddled with corruption and incompetence that, when presented with a task of “don’t do the wrong thing at every single turn,” they failed.

They’re still digging, too. After losing in just about every race, the remaining Democratic Representative chose to reelect exactly the same leadership which had overseen their reduction from a historic majority to a historic minority. The average age of the House Democratic leadership is 76 (for comparison House Republican leadership ranges from 41-51). Reform will come not from within, but simply once the current leadership dies of old age. Virtue, once lost, is difficult to regain.

If we follow the same path of having no standards we will hold ourselves to, we will end up in the same place. Tread carefully.

Do not disturb my circles!

A Lever Long Enough

You may recall that a little while back, there was some hoopla over refugees. That story was about how much you suck. This story is about network effects and social capital.

It all started simply enough, with an article in the local newspaper saying the Syrians were coming here. There was a lot of interest in our church community in seeing how we could help out, and my wife and I had worked with that refugee agency in the past. It was a pretty clear case of God plunking something in my lap and saying, “do this thing.” So I did.

Anyway, I got back in touch with my contacts at the old agency to tell them help was on the way. And then I posted something on the church’s Facebook page asking for volunteers. And then the flood began. From this point forward, my role was one of trying to direct a current far more powerful than me down the right pathways.

We ended up assigned not to Syrians, but a Somali family of ten. Ten people with nothing but the clothes on their backs need a lot of stuff. Left to my own devices, I could have procured a few pieces of furniture and some food with a significant investment of time and money. But because I was connected to a church, I was able to put the word out to a few hundred people (already preselected to be inclined towards philanthropy), and sit back as the donations poured in. Spread out over so many people, no great sacrifice was required of anybody. One person had some chairs they didn’t need, another an old couch, another a lampstand, and every item was checked off the list in no time (which was good, because we had no time). Because the church had a building, I didn’t need to worry about finding a place to warehouse all of these items; people were able to drop them off at a central location at a time convenient to them.

As this was going on, our group of volunteers grew. The (real-life) social networks of everybody in the church became a recruitment tool. What before would have just been idle talk about how “somebody else should do something” was easily translated into action instead. Anybody in the church or who knew anybody in the church was now only a degree removed from the action. Signing up didn’t require any more than a quick chat with me on Sunday.

So we had a large group. Now what? Here the existence of the building again proved critical. The church had plenty of available classrooms where we could gather, meet with the agency coordinator, and plan our next steps.

When it came time to furnish the house, I found myself with the entire youth group at my disposal. Some 40-50 people and half a dozen vehicles descended on the house, cleaning and filling it in a few hours. It would have taken me days to do half as thorough a job on my own.

Our church network began linking into other networks. A local woman who, as near as I can determine, is the effective matriarch of our local Somali community, heard about our church’s involvement, and so drove up to talk to us and see where we might be interested in helping out. A few meetings took place, introductions were made, and soon our networks were enmeshed.

My involvement faded out at this point, but the work carried on without me. Churches regularly get random items donated; many of them are now getting funneled onward. One older couple who moved out of their house even donated its contents to the local refugees, who cleaned it out in short order. When the (largely Muslim) Somalians wanted French Bibles, they knew to turn to us, and we in turn used a connection to the Gideons to help with that. (He was able to provide 3 on short notice. They proceeded to fight over who would get them, so we promised to acquire more.) Last I heard, the aforementioned Matriarch was speaking to our women’s group, which I’m sure will result in even more connections.

I played no part and exerted no energy in any of that. But none of it would have happened if not for me. Because I acted as a group instead of alone, my small effort has been magnified many times beyond my own capabilities.

Reverse Verse

Bible study idea: take a single chapter, and for the next month or two, study it from the perspective of one of the great Christians of the past.

But what chapter would work well for this? I took up a little side project to find out.

To do this, I took a whole bunch (81) of writings off of CCEL, and wrote some code to parse through them for scripture references. Happily, the CCEL staff has a very standardized format, which made this fairly simple.

I’m now working on a good web interface to display and search the resulting information, which I’ll eventually put online. In the meantime, I thought you might be interested in some preliminary results.

Popular books

The most popular chapter, by far, is John 1, with 1,727 references. Next in line are Matt 5 (1,409), Romans 8 (1,369), and 1 Cor 15 (1,223).

Matthew is the most popular Gospel (14,229 references), Mark is the least (2,047) (but then, it’s also the shortest).

The most referenced book is Psalms (14,415). The least referenced is Song of Solomon, with a whopping zero references, the only book outside of the dueterocanon which can claim that.

The most popular Psalms, in descending order are 119 (467), 19 (392), 45 (364), and 2 (323).

Patristic preferences

Athanasius’ favorite book is John (John 1 being his favorite chapter). Psalms is second, but he does reference nearly every book. The same is true of Ambrose and Gregory of Nyssa. Basil references Psalms slightly more than John, and his favorite chapter is Genesis 1. Eusebius likes Acts twice as much as any other book.

James Arminius mines Romans extensively (586 references; next up is John with 305).

Jonathan Edwards mostly preached from the Gospels.

Blaise Pascal liked Isaiah most of all.

Bibliography

For the curious, here are the works I searched:
NPNF1-01. The Confessions and Letters of St. Augustine, with a
NPNF1-02. St. Augustine’s City of God and Christian Doctrine
NPNF1-03. On the Holy Trinity; Doctrinal Treatises; Moral
NPNF1-04. Augustine: The Writings Against the Manichaeans and
NPNF1-05. St. Augustine: Anti-Pelagian Writings
NPNF1-06. St. Augustine: Sermon on the Mount; Harmony of the
NPNF1-07. St. Augustine: Homilies on the Gospel of John; Augustine, St.
NPNF1-08. St. Augustine: Exposition on the Book of Psalms Augustine, St.
NPNF1-09. St. Chrysostom: On the Priesthood; Ascetic Treatises;
NPNF1-10. St. Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Chrysostom, Saint
NPNF1-11. Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles
NPNF1-12. Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to
NPNF1-13. Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Chrysostom, St.
NPNF1-14. Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of St. John Chrysostom, St.
NPNF2-01. Eusebius Pamphilius: Church History, Life of Eusebius Pamphilius
NPNF2-02. Socrates and Sozomenus Ecclesiastical Histories Socrates Scholasticus
NPNF2-03. Theodoret, Jerome, Gennadius, & Rufinus: Historical
NPNF2-04. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters Athanasius
NPNF2-05. Gregory of Nyssa: Dogmatic Treatises, Etc. Gregory of Nyssa
NPNF2-06. Jerome: The Principal Works of St. Jerome Jerome, St.
NPNF2-07. Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory Nazianzen
NPNF2-08. Basil: Letters and Select Works
NPNF2-09. Hilary of Poitiers, John of Damascus
NPNF2-10. Ambrose: Selected Works and Letters
NPNF-211. Sulpitius Severus, Vincent of Lerins, John Cassian
NPNF-212. Leo the Great, Gregory the Great
NPNF-213. Gregory the Great (II), Ephraim Syrus, Aphrahat
NPNF2-14. The Seven Ecumenical Councils
Moody’s Anecdotes and Illustrations: Related in his Revival Work Moody, Dwight Lyman (1837-1899)
ANF01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus Justin Martyr, St. (c.100-165)
ANF02. Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian,
ANF03. Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian Tertullian (c. 160-c. 230)
ANF04. Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth;
ANF05. Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Caius,
ANF06. Fathers of the Third Century: Gregory Thaumaturgus,
ANF07. Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: Lactantius,
ANF08. The Twelve Patriarchs, Excerpts and Epistles, The
ANF09. The Gospel of Peter, The Diatessaron of Tatian, The
The Works of James Arminius, Vol. 1 Arminius, James (1560-1609)
The Works of James Arminius, Vol. 2 Arminius, James (1560-1609)
The Works of James Arminius, Vol. 3 Arminius, James (1560-1609)
Ascent of Mount Carmel John of the Cross, St. (1542-1591)
Proslogium; Monologium; An Appendix in Behalf of the Fool by Anselm, Saint, Archbishop of Canterbury (1033-1109)
De Servo Arbitrio “On the Enslaved Will” or The Bondage of Will Luther, Martin (1483-1546)
Calvin: Commentaries Calvin, Jean
Harmony of the Law – Volume 1 Calvin, John (1509 – 1564)
Harmony of the Law – Volume 2 Calvin, John (1509-1564)
Harmony of the Law – Volume 3 Calvin, John (1509-1564)
Harmony of the Law – Volume 4 Calvin, John (1509-1564)
On the Christian Life Calvin, John
Dark Night of the Soul John of the Cross, St. (1542-1591)
The Devotions of Saint Anselm Archbishop of Canterbury Anselm, Saint, Archbishop of Canterbury (1033-1109)
Select Sermons Edwards, Jonathan (1703-1758)
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola Ignatius of Loyola, St (1491-1556)
First Principles of the Reformation or the Ninety-five Theses Luther, Martin (1483-1546)
The Imitation of Christ Thomas, à Kempis, 1380-1471
Revelations of Divine Love Julian, of Norwich, b. 1343
Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard Kierkegaard, Soren (1813-1855)
The Large Catechism Luther, Martin (1483-1546)
Some Letters of Saint Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux Bernard, of Clairvaux, Saint (1090 or 91-1153)
On Loving God Bernard, of Clairvaux, Saint (1090 or 91-1153)
St. Anselm’s Book of Meditations and Prayers. Anselm, Saint, Archbishop of Canterbury (1033-1109)
The Complete Works of Menno Simon Volume 1 Simons, Menno (1496-1561)
The Complete Works of Menno Simon Volume 2 Simons, Menno (1496-1561)
Mysticism: A Study in Nature and Development of Spiritual Underhill, Evelyn
Pensées Pascal, Blaise (1623-1662)
The Pilgrim’s Progress Bunyan, John (1628-1688)
Preface to the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans Luther, Martin (1483-1546)
A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life Law, William (1686-1761)
Assorted Sermons By Martin Luther Luther, Martin (1483-1546)
Spurgeon’s Sermons Volume 01: 1855 Spurgeon, Charles Haddon (1834-1892)
Spurgeon’s Sermons Volume 02: 1856 Spurgeon, Charles Haddon (1834-1892)
Spurgeon’s Sermons Volume 03: 1857 Spurgeon, Charles Haddon (1834-1892)
Spurgeon’s Sermons Volume 04: 1858 Spurgeon, Charles Haddon (1834-1892)
Spurgeon’s Sermons Volume 05: 1859 Spurgeon, Charles Haddon (1834-1892)
Spurgeon’s Sermons Volume 06: 1860 Spurgeon, Charles Haddon (1834-1892)
Spurgeon’s Sermons Volume 07: 1861 Spurgeon, Charles Haddon (1834-1892)
Spurgeon’s Sermons Volume 08: 1863 Spurgeon, Charles Haddon (1834-1892)
Table Talk Luther, Martin (1483-1546)
The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume One Edwards, Jonathan (1703-1758)
The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume Two Edwards, Jonathan (1703-1758)

Message: I want what happened to the Indians to happen to you

A Syrian Parable

The following is a true story, and a parable. My life has many layers.

For a little while now, I’ve been working to organize a group of about a dozen people to welcome and assist refugees (Syrian and otherwise) who are being settled in our area. Over the course of several months I’ve been trying to navigate around everyone’s conflicting schedules and slow responses to emails (my fault as much as anybody else’s) to little avail, so finally I just picked a date. Last night was that night. Everybody who could would gather at the church and we would be briefed by my contact at the refugee agency. It was all coming together.

About an hour before the meeting that I was supposed to head, I got the following text from my wife:

They’re sending me to the hospital

What was the proper course of action? Should I attend to my own family first, or give priority to the refugees?

I chose my family. Didn’t even hesitate.

At this point, you are yelling at your screen, calling me a racist. How do I know that? Because that’s what you’ve been doing on Facebook for the past several days.

“Brothers and sisters, slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them is truly righteous.” –Epistle of James the Socially Just 4:11 The most common article shared on social media is not “Recent event proves my politics were right all along.” That is merely the camouflage people wear for their real message: “I am a good person, and I’ll prove it by showing that I hate these bad people.” This what motivates a person to proudly declare that they have cut off former friends/relatives who promote badthink (consider if they instead phrased it as “I’m building myself an echo chamber!”). This is why you’ve seen people rush to tell you that, *sigh*, so many of their old friends and relatives are total xenophobes isn’t it terrible? And you get the sense that while they say this horrifies them, there’s a part of them that delights in it and couldn’t wait to tell everybody they know. Because by telling you how much they don’t like those people, they get to tell you how virtuous they are. Nothing feels quite so good as moral indignation; humans love to signal virtue. And it’s always easier to tear someone else down than to build yourself up.

“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will never be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Racist,’ will be immediately swept up into Heaven.” –Social Gospel of Matthew 5:22 So I’m sure it felt good. But what did you accomplish? Have you ever in your life, found that “you are a dirty sinner and I am not” made you more inclined to listen to somebody else’s arguments? If they peppered it with insults, did that incline you further toward them, or further against them? Then why have you embarked on this same strategy now?

Here’s what you would have done if you cared about the Syrians for their sakes rather than your own. You would have taken a moment to understand and address the concerns of those you are lecturing. People have very real reasons to be worried about the importing of large Muslim communities, and pretending those don’t exist or refusing to even mention the issue does not strengthen your credibility. Instead, it reiterates to them how little you care about them, and hints that you may well be willing to sacrifice them for the sake of political correctness.

And even if they weren’t worried about the Muslim issue (the Gulf states have refused to take in Syrian refugees. We can safely eliminate “don’t want Muslims in their country” as a motivation), many people would still have good reason to oppose them. The refugees will not be placed in the neighborhoods of well-off, privileged people like you and I. They will be stuck in low-income housing among the poor. There, they will probably compete for low-skill jobs, and very likely raise the crime rate in their area. Those poor people you’re looking down on have the same obligation to look after their own families that I did. They are not bad people for doing so, any more than you are a good person for dismissing as irrelevant the costs that will fall on them rather than you. Acknowledging that would have given you a chance to win them over.

(Oh, it also would have helped if you haven’t spent the past several years being silent about ISIS and their butchering of Christians, or even our treatment of refugees when they’re Christian. People do notice if you only speak up at the moment it is advantageous to your party, and they draw the appropriate conclusions. But let’s put that aside for now.)

“For I was hungry and you told someone else to give me something to eat, I was thirsty and you told someone else to give me something to drink, I was a stranger and you told someone else to invite me in… Truly I tell you, whatever you told someone else to do, you did for me.” –Social Gospel of Matthew 25:35,40 Actually, put all three previous paragraphs aside. Here’s what you really would have done if you cared about the Syrians: you would have gotten involved with your local refugee program or donated to them or made some sort of sacrifice to help them. Because of fortuitous timing, I was able to run an experiment. Whenever I saw somebody local post something in the style of “I am a good person because I care and you are not,” I invited them to our meeting, where they could learn how to physically help refugees. Not one showed up.

Telling people you hate them and are better than them does not win them to your side. Your strategy is already bearing the predictable fruit. The White House has been pursuing much the same line, and in doing so, they turned the support for that anti-Syrian refugee bill from a majority into a veto-proof majority. So congratulations to all of you. I know it felt good patting yourselves on the back. I hope it was worth it.

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
Epistle of James 2:15-17

Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.
2 Timothy 2:25

The better your message makes you feel about yourself, the less likely it is that you are convincing anyone else. –McMegan’s Law

The one true sexual choice

Reblog!

The left is quite willing to criticize people’s sexual choices. A fairly large segment of the left criticize people who chose to engage in prostitution, particularly if they are the clients, and perversely I think more critical of unofficial prostitution (e.g. sex in exchange for fancy dinner) than straight-up cash exchanges. Sex in an environment of power inequality is clearly objectionable to the left, as is any expressed or perceived obligation to sex even if voluntarily entered into. Much of the left will criticize anyone who abstains from sex for religious reasons. Sex to cement an exclusive marriage that will endure even when one partner would prefer to end it, traditionally the only acceptable purpose for sex in most cultures, is clearly criticized across the left.

I think it more accurate to say that, rather than being unwilling to criticize people’s sexual choices, the left now criticizes every sexual choice but one: Sex for immediate, mutual, short-term pleasure. Sex within a long-term relationship is acceptable, but only if immediately pleasurable to both parties and only if the relationship would exist without the sex. And anybody who doesn’t have sex for immediate mutual short-term pleasure, is criticized either as a prude or as a neckbearded loser so undesirable that nobody would be pleased to have sex with them.

Parochialism

I recently had occasion to attend a service at a Mennonite church. Now, Mennonites can range from practically Amish to standard evangelical. These were by most appearances practically Amish; the congregation was dressed in home-made Amish-style clothing and there were no instruments during worship (although the words to the song were projected from a Macbook). Clearly, an insular group, unfamiliar with other ways of life.

The first part of the service was about efforts to rehabilitate ISIS sex slaves. The second part was a talk by Brother Yun, a major figure in the Chinese house church movement.

Virtues and Values

Reblog!

I’m gonna get a little Sapir-Worfy here.
I think something went terribly wrong when we as a society stopped talking about virtues and started talking about values.
Just… think about the words themselves. Value. what does it mean to value something? to passively regard it as a good thing.
I value good screenwriting. I value good wine. I value my time.
But virtue is different. virtue is a character trait. Virtue is a guideline for actions.
With Value, it’s enough to believe something.
With Virtue, you have to do something.

What religion is not

If I could hammer one thing into Rationalist’s heads it would be this: religions are not primarily concerned with explaining natural phenomena. It’s rarely even a secondary concern. Christianity isn’t, Islam isn’t, Buddhism isn’t, Hinduism isn’t, Judaism isn’t, and most of the rest that I’ve looked at aren’t either.

You may have a distorted view because Creation/Evolution debates have been elevated to The Most Important Thing in your particular bubbles, but even that revolves around a small handful of Bible chapters. You won’t find discussions of natural phenomenon in any of the Pauline epistles, or the Gospels for that matter. Psalms and Proverbs aren’t concerned with the interactions/existence of atoms. Religions want to answer, “what is wrong with the world, and what are we to do about it?” (Everyone agrees that all is not right in the world.)

Yes, overlap does occur, because no sphere of knowledge is fully distinct from all the others. That is why you get the evolution/creationism debate, and that is also why the physicists of the day needed Lemaitre to school them about the origin of the universe. Similarly, when Rationalists wonder whether we live in a simulation, they are simultaneously reinventing the Buddhist idea that this is all an illusion, and reasserting faith in a Creator God.