Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Inequality or absolute poverty

I have mixed feelings about the inequality argument. I think the issues are a slightly more complex than often argued, but in general I do not find it a problem. This puts me at odds with many of my fellow Christians, or at least the more vocal ones. Absolute wealth has its temptations, but I don't see inequality per se as a specific problem. We have inequality in many other areas of life: sporting, music, literary, and numeracy capabilities. Not many people argue against this natural inequality and most would just seek to optimise each individual's ability. Money has some differences to this but also some similarities.

Now I don't necessarily have sympathies with the extremely wealthy. I am not sympathetic to the legal protections for bankers or government bailouts. I think money can be made immorally. However I don't object to people having money just because they have a lot of it.

Nevertheless, I am concerned about the poor; especially the oppressed poor. Perhaps I could be more concerned in my actions, but in general I support just laws which I think protect the poor from oppression and, in the long term, rise them out of poverty.

But inequality is not the issue.

The Guardian quotes an Oxfam report.
The share of the world’s wealth owned by the best-off 1% has increased from 44% in 2009 to 48% in 2014, while the least well-off 80% currently own just 5.5%.
But what does this mean and why is it so?

Here is the comparison of rich and poor.


Now there is some difficulty using this timeframe. It is during the time of the global financial crisis which may skew results based on fluctuations of various currencies. And it is probably too short, a longer timeframe would be preferable. Even so, the benefit of this graph is that it shows absolute values.

According to this data: in 2000 the poorest 50% had $400 billion, in 2002 $700 billion, in 2005 $1300 billion and by 2014 $1800 billion. So if we completely ignore the wealthy we note that the wealth of the poor has grown by billions in the last decade. Even taking into account the rising population, the poorest 50% are significantly increasing their wealth. This is a good outcome. Now this seems more preferable to me than the richest 80 people increasing their wealth, but that they did so does not bother me. And it is not obvious based on this graph (alone) that the increased wealth of the rich was detrimental to the poor. Now perhaps it was detrimental, especially when politicians offered to bale out massive companies at the cost to middle class taxpayers, though that probably hits the richest 50% in developed countries. But what if wealth grows like that?

What if, as productivity increases through the use of capital, the labourers and the owners of the capital both increase their wealth? If you had the opportunity to increase the income of the poor from $2 a day to $5 a day by entrepreneurs who also doubled their income from $10 million a year would you be happy? Or would you rather remove income from the wealthy and give the poor an extra $1 a day knowing that the following year their income would be back down to $2 a day?

Now if men make money from fraud or theft then justice demands that this is taken from them and given to their victims. And those with money should help the poor: both direct giving when necessary, or providing work, opportunity, or capital. But the cry of "inequality" without consideration as to the why can just reflect a politics of envy.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Monday quote

But all this shows only, that these good people [French Communists] are not the best Christians, although they style themselves so; because if they were, they would know the bible better, and find that, if some few passages of the bible may be favourable to Communism, the general spirit of its doctrines is, nevertheless, totally opposed to it, as well as to every rational measure.

Frederick Engels

Sunday, 22 March 2015

The time of the end

Christians have predicted the end of the world for centuries, although such prediction has a bad wrap currently. Of course there are many failed predictions we can point to, as well as Jesus' admonitions telling us we cannot know when. Even Jesus didn't know!

I think the idea that it is impossible to know is a little simplistic. And while many people falsely thought the end was nigh, there will be a generation around when Jesus returns. So can we know anything about the timing? And what did Jesus actually say?

On 2 occasions Jesus mentioned to the disciples that they are not to know the time of the end. The first during the Olivet discourse recounted by Matthew and Mark
But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. (Matthew 24:36)

But concerning that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Mark 13:32)
The second before his ascension.
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8)
During the Olivet discourse Jesus prophesies concerning the destruction of the temple, the distress to come, and his return. It is his return which occasions the comments above. There will be signs in the sky at his return but people will be continuing their usual living: eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage; as in the days of Noah just before judgment.

Jesus' comments are notable for 2 things here. Firstly he mentions the day and the hour which may indicate quite a specific time. While not necessarily as specific as a certain day—it could preclude prediction of the year—it does not necessarily mean that one cannot know the approximate time. Daniel gives quite an exact prophecy timewise but it was difficult to understand at the time and even now continues to evade many commentators. Jesus' words here have been used to dissuade prediction and disparage predictors but he may not be completely prohibiting prediction as such. Which brings us to the second notable issue.

Jesus comments expect men who live in the last days to recognise that they are. Right in the midst of describing his return and warning them that they cannot know the exact time Jesus gives the lesson of the fig tree.
From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
"When you see what I am describing" says Jesus, "know that my return is near." In fact Jesus' return will be during this generation.

So why have so many people in previous generations been wrong about Jesus' return? It is my contention that there are several conditions given around the end of the world, both here, and in other books such as Daniel, Zechariah, Thessalonians and Revelation. Other generations may have noted aspects of the world that fit some features, but not all. The generation of Jesus' return needs to see all aspects fulfilled, or being fulfilled. Ironically, the failed predictions of previous naysayers may have steeled the last generation against warnings of the end of the world, thus proving Jesus' warning about the days of Noah.

The warning in Acts does not detract from what I have said though it does need commenting on. Firstly, the nature of the kingdom of God was to be different from previous kingdoms of Israel, at least until Jesus' return. Secondly, the disciples concerning themselves with a coming earthly kingdom may have detracted them from Jesus' task which was discipling the world. Thirdly, this was given to the disciples of that time. Now while I think discipling the world it applies to subsequent disciples including those of the final generation, this does not preclude the final generation knowing the live at the time of the end.

In summary, we cannot know the exact time and we should concern ourselves with discipling the world. This does not necessarily preclude knowing the approximate time. And even if we cannot know the approximate time ahead of time, those living in the generation of Jesus' return are expected to be aware that they are living in the last days. Further, they must not be complacent.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Monday quote

The medicine of austerity always becomes worse than the disease of profligacy.

Victor Davis Hanson.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Monday quote

Rights and obligations are brother principles, both owing their existence to the God who made us creatures of equal dignity, possessing the logos that makes our self-government possible.

Matthew J. Franck

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Reading atheist literature

I have heard it said at least once that if Christianity is true it should be able to stand against its critics. It should have good answers to those who find problems with it.

Some also suggest that believers can and should read books antagonistic to the faith because if Christianity is true then our beliefs will stand.

I happen to think that the basic concept behind these thoughts is valid. Truth refutes falsehood. Let God be true and every man a liar (Rom 3:4). If Christianity is the true worldview then all facts and experiences will be consistent with it.

The problem with this position is that we are finite. So while a robust faith can take it on the nose, how robust is our faith? How well equipped is the average Christian to receive challenges to his beliefs?

Faith is more than well-grounded correct knowledge. And I have no problem with those of a less intellectual disposition who are content to follow Christ as best they can without concern with to cognitive challenges. Nevertheless, there are challenges to one's faith in reading authors antagonistic to God. Falsehood can be very persuasive. Many struggle to distinguish dialectic from rhetoric; many lack adequate foundation and confidence in truth; and many struggle to identify the false presuppositions or interpretations clothed as facts.

Therefore, spending significant time reading material inconsistent with Christianity is not helpful. This is not a matter of whether Christianity can weather the storms, it is whether you can. Don't assume you know more than you do or that you are stronger than you are.

It is a battle. The war for your soul is real. Jesus said he sends us out as lambs amongst wolves (Luk 10:3). Wolves seek to destroy lambs and are successful in doing so. Sheep have no defense against predators and lambs are even more vulnerable.

Consider this decision. Now I don't know where this guy was at prior to reading so many books on atheism but I think this sort of thinking is incredibly foolish.
I was raised in a Christian Fundamentalist home my whole life. From one through 12th grade I was home schooled, and was taught everything through the Christian fundamentalist lense. After High school I attended a hyper fundamentalist place called Honor Academy. At Honor Academy I gained interest in philosophy and Christian apologetics and decided to dedicate my life to Christian apologetics. I am 23 now and since then I have read hundreds of Christian Apologetics books. I have read all of Lewis, all of Schaeffer, all of Peter Kreeft, all of Dr. Geisler's books, including his encyclopedia A-Z twice, and his Systematic Theology twice, I have read Plantinga, McDowell, Craig, Ravi, Moreland, Holding, Swinburne, N.T Wright, Paul Copan Etc. I was until recently enrolled at Dr. Geisler's school to study apologetics and philosophy.

This year I decided in order to be fair and honest to read all the top skeptical books on religion. So I did some research and made a list of over 100 books. I am now at book 76 and consider myself a confident Atheist.
The author of one of these books, John Loftus, argues that Christians should read the top sceptical books against Christianity,
If your faith can withstand our arguments then you will be a better informed Christian with a much stronger faith. If your faith cannot withstand our arguments then your faith wasn’t worth having in the first place. YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE!
But you have everything to lose. Should I intentionally surround myself with as many ravenous wolves as I can find; if I survive I am stronger for it, and if I get torn to pieces...?

Men are fallen so they reason fallibly: both Christians and non-Christians. But Paul warns us concerning men who reject the truth. He writes to the Thessalonians,
Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12) 
Like all men their reasoning is fallen, but they are also susceptible to lies. They have a disposition towards believing falsehood in preference truth. If the Bible is true then those who write against the Bible are likely to be writing rhetoric for nonsense. What benefit is it for those who know the truth to spend so much time listening to error?

Now I am not saying that we can isolate ourselves from the world's agenda. I read a lot of literature (books, journals, internet) and much of it has many subtle assumptions that are hostile to the Bible—though I should be cautious. Nor am I saying that it is wrong to ever read atheist material. I have read the odd atheist book. And I think intellectually solid Christians should read and refute atheist claims. Rather I am arguing that while the Bible may be an anvil that has worn out many a hammer, your understanding of the Bible may not be so sturdy. And we are not involved in merely a dispassionate discussion about various ideas, this is a war with your soul at stake. Do not think you are stronger than you are. Paul warns the Corinthians against evil and participating in sin although his warning seems apropos here,
Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12)

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Desiring and completing

In the second letter to the Corinthians Paul gives some advice on giving money. He makes a comment which, while applying to money in the context, seems to have broader application.
And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. (2 Corinthians 8:10-11) 
Here was something (giving) which the Corinthians started to do. Not only did they begin to do this work, they desired to do it. Further, Paul says that the desire needs to be matched by finishing the work.

It is not enough to have a keen desire, the desire must both be acted on and completed. This corresponds to Jesus' parable about the 2 sons.
“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” (Matthew 21:28-31)
Desire and intent is not enough, it must be matched by action. As James says,
You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:22-26)

Monday, 2 March 2015

Monday quote

Monopolists, apparently, can conceive of only one way of making money, which is bullying consumers and competitors to put up and shut up. Furthermore, it also appears to mean that past mistakes have to be repeated at a larger, and ever more ridiculous, scale.

Michele Boldrine and David K Levine, Against Intellectual Monopoly.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Love of money

Paul's first letter to Timothy gives us an example of Scripture which some people under-read and some over-read; though both represent a misreading of the text due, in part, to not paying enough attention. Paul writes,
For the love of money is a root of all evils. (1 Timothy 6)
It is not uncommon to hear that money is the root of all evil. While having money is associated with temptations that are less common for the poor, the misquote places the source of the evil in the an amoral object, or rather the possessor of the object. It implies that having money is reflective of an evil heart.

When read right, that the love of money is a source of evils, we avoid this error. By seeing that covetousness is the problem we see that the desire to obtain money causes a great many evils, and it can be a temptation to all men, not just the wealthy.

Somewhat less common is the idea that every specific evil in the world has as its root, the love of money. Some modern translations translate this the passage as,
the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil
While a true statement and in line with what I am arguing, it is not warranted in a literal translation.

We can see that not every evil has its source in the love of money. Consider the sin of Adam and Eve. This passage should be read proverbially. The context concerns false teachers, the necessity of contentment, and those who long to be rich.
Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all evils.
Paul's phrase does not require one to think that every evil ever seen is motivated by money, it merely is a proverbial type statement directed at people who want to be rich: showing them that this desire will lead them into many evils.

Paying close attention to both what exactly the passage does say (love of money) and the genre and context (people longing to be rich) helps the reader understand what Paul is saying here. Covetousness, especially coveting money, will lead men into all manner of wickedness.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Monday quote

The philosophers Hume and Kant, in a frenzy of high conceit, helped to banish “testimony” from the modern world as a reliable source of knowledge. We want an idolatrous way of knowing that we think is indubitable. But we are finite, and so it has to be testimony or nothing. Jesus is Lord, so it is testify and live or languish and die.

Douglas Wilson.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Monday quote

He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts—for support rather than illumination.

Andrew Lang.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The Books of the Bible: a Reader's Bible

A few years ago I posted on The New International Translation's The Books of the Bible. I
bought one some time ago and have read it from time to time so I have some further thoughts. I am not going to comment on the translation because the selling feature of the book is layout; other than say I grew up on the NIV (pre-update) and I like it. It is quite an easy reading version which probably helps a Reader's Bible. And I think that the NIV update made some improvements in translation but its gender neutral accommodations were unnecessary.

In general The Books of the Bible is a reasonable Bible to buy or use; I say this as I have several negative comments (of various levels of importance) below that may suggest otherwise. I wrote this current post before re-reading my earlier post and many of my thoughts before I bought the book turned out to be the case on reading it. The change in book order now seems less sensible.

It is important to read the Bible in detail at times, but reading the Bible as a story, at least the specific books as a story, is just as important. While meaning can hang on a clause, a word, or even a tense; the larger context is vitally important and mitigates against over-interpreting. I am more likely to read larger passages of the Bible (1–3 chapters) at a time than a few verses so I am not certain that a Reader's Bible is as important to someone like me but I have heard that others are reading larger chunks of Scripture this way. As such, Books of the Bible is a useful addition.

Positives

Single column. I would prefer all Bibles use a single column. I realise that because the Bible is over 700,000 words, creating a book-sized Bible can be difficult and various solutions include font size, font face, thin paper, and double (even triple) column. The column width is about 80 characters, I think readability would possibly be enhanced reducing this to 70 characters.

Paragraphing. This should be standard for Bible and is common to my experience. I grew up reading paragraphed Bibles and infrequently read one divided by verses. That verse formatted Bibles are still produced makes no sense. Verses are solely for reference, not for interpretation.

Speech. Dialogue is paragraphed in a modern format, that is, new paragraphs with a new speaker; the same format as one would find in a novel. Why some modern paragraphed Bibles do not do this is unknown to me.
Poetry. The poetry is indented but the parallelisms are not indicated, that is the second line of verse is not indented further than the first. This is my preference as it allows the reader to decide on what are the parallels or whether they exist; some of the parallelisms in the dual indent system found in other Bibles seem forced or even mistaken. Stanzas are rightly separated by line spaces which is the equivalent of paragraphing in poetry. The only problem is that the NIV also uses a list format for some of its prose which is effectively formatted the same as the poetry; I am not certain of a good solution.

Section headings. There are none. Not that I mind them but they shouldn't be in a Reader's Bible. Personally I think that section headings should be to the side of the text, and probably in a different font-face rather than bolded, italicised, or enlarged.

Neutral

I prefer chapter and verse numbers, even with this style of Bible. I think they can be made more indistinct by lightening them to grey, and making chapter numbers smaller and removing them from the textblock. I do not think verse numbers significantly affect my ability to read but I am aware that for many this can be a distraction. I once had a Bible with Strongs numbers* attached to various words and coding for tenses of verbs, as well as verse numbers, footnotes and cross references. A friend found my Bible impossible to read and couldn't understand how I could: I just ignored the numbers and letters when I didn't need them.

No red letter. I don't have strong views on this. It is probably preferable for a Reader's Bible.

First Testament. This is the name given to the Old Testament. Though I don't mind it I think it unnecessary. We have the New Testament, Jesus describes the new covenant in his blood, and refers to new wine and old wine. Thus Old Testament is accurate and not in anyway disparaging.

Endnotes. I generally hate endnotes through a book (usually at end of chapters). Footnote or back of entire book for me, preferably the former. The benefit is that the footnotes do not distract you, the negative is that when you want to find the note it takes time to find the endnotes for the book and then the specific one on the page, reading through them all to find the passage (notes are not numbered). Probably the right decision but a hassle if you are a regular reader of footnotes.

Negatives

Paragraphing. 4 levels of paragraphing! Intent, line space times 1, 2 and 3. 3 line spaces is also followed by a dropcap for the new paragraph. How do they justify this? 1 level of paragraphing is adequate and at the most 2: indent and single line space. And no capital words or dropcaps.

Book order. The Old and New Testaments are completely rearranged. Now I have some sympathy with placing the Old Testament in the order from the time of Christ and grouping them into the Law, Writings and Prophets. The Books of the Bible groups them differently using History, Prophets and Writings and includes several books in History that the Jews would include in the Prophets or Writings (such as Judges and Ruth). But the New Testament order is completely unhelpful. Firstly it is difficult to navigate without the contents because the order is unfamiliar. But the order is not overly sensible. One could go with the traditional order or the Greek Orthodox order. But they group them around the gospels and this is forced in places. Luke is grouped with Acts (sensibly) but also all of Paul which therefore accounts for the bulk of the New Testament. Paul's letters are chronological which could be helpful. John is grouped with his letters and Revelation (makes sense). Mark with Peter's letters (Peter source of Mark presumably) and Jude (probably due to similarities with Peter). Matthew with James and Hebrews because they're left over. But Hebrews would be better with the Lukan section. The letters are not like the gospels. And if another gospel is going to oust Matthew for pole position why Luke? Mark if they think it written first or, better still, John for its parallels to Genesis.

Number of books. This just fails. Samuel, Kings and Chronicles were single books that were split in the Septuagint. I have long thought that in modern Bibles these 6 books should be 3. The Books of the Bible starts the process then joins Samuel to Kings (why) and Chronicles to Ezra and Nehemiah. Luke is adjacent to Acts and Acts is titled separately but they are incorrectly considered a single book in the contents.

Name. The Books of the Bible. Really! It does show up in an internet search but most of the results are tables of contents for the Bible.

*Goodrick-Kohlenberger numbers actually.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Monday quote

Physical courage, which despises all danger, will make a man brave in one way; and moral courage, which despises all opinion, will make a man brave in another.

Charles Caleb Colton

Monday, 26 January 2015

Monday quote

His role as a "conservative" is to conserve the changes that are imposed by the progressives.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Monday quote

Authority naturally flows to those who take responsibility. Authority routinely flees those who seek to blame others.

Douglas Wilson.

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