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Faith | jonmower.com

Faith

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Obama and Abortion

A friend recently wrote:

This election ignore all the lies about obama is a terrorist, or obama is anti christ, or obama will destroy the u.s. those things are ridiculous and they are gonna continue to go out of conrtol. but here's one thing that is true and is equally as disturbing:

In a failed abortion situation, when the baby survives, the question is what do you do with that baby? The united states congress voted on this and there was a general consensus that it was wrong to just let that baby die. However, Obama did not feel the same way. He voted for letting the baby die. Hillary Clinton voted to let the baby live. This is not propaganda, google this, I'll even give you what Obama said to defend his side:

"that we live in a pluralistic society, and that I can't impose my religious views on another."
-Obama

Its not a matter of religion, it's a matter of the right to life, the most important right in America. Some people will argue in the case where a baby will harm the health of the mother that the abortion is fair. But in a failed abortion the baby is outside of the mother and if everyone shared Obama's view they just let the baby lay out to die.

This is an extremely ugly and graphic topic, but I think its necessary to hear. Maybe McCain is old, pretty boring, and just kind of a weird guy, but he at least has never in his 200 years of congress life voted against life.

If you don't like either just do what I'm doing write in Ron Paul.

Ron Paul: Youtube him

As a HuffPo article (of course, sympathetic to Obama) points out (link), my friend's summary gets some of the facts wrong (e.g., Obama's vote was in the Illinois senate not the US senate and there are reasons other than a disregard for life that may have prompted Obama to vote against the Illinois bill).  That's not to say that Obama's position/votes related to abortion don't bother me.

Regardless, I see in this appeal from my friend (and most conversation about abortion) a perpetuation of the focus on ideology rather than practicality.  The American public is pretty evenly divided between the view that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare and that it should be illegal and rare. Ideologically those two views are very different, but practically they are very similar. Both parties focus on ideology as a wedge issue, dig in to give no ground, and as a result do things that don't help.  Rather than focus on ideological differences, an approach that has led to stalemate with little hope for significant change in the foreseeable future, I'm more interested in both sides focusing on where they agree and can work together to do practical things to reduce the abortion rate.

Some examples are suggested in an article by Tony Campolo: Pro-Life Democrats Call for an Abortion Reduction Plank

Benevolence

Today a friend said:

If budgets are moral documents then Hell is going to be over-crowded with church folk.

and another replied:

also pretty much most families. Do you have a budget? Do you look to the interests of others before the interests of your own?

I have been thinking a bit about church budgets lately.  It started when I heard that the U.S. set a new record for charitable giving last year despite the economic downturn (from an article by Philip Rucker in the Washington Post):

Americans donated $306 billion to charities in 2007...most of the donations, about $229 billion, came from individuals...giving from private foundations increased 7 percent and through personal bequests 4 percent, adjusted for inflation...international aid agencies, environmental groups and human service charities saw the largest increases in charitable gifts. Gifts to international groups, which were so small 20 years ago that the category was nonexistent in the survey, have grown steadily, increasing by 13 percent last year to $13 billion.

I've mentioned before that Robert Reich has argued that most charitable donations are made by the rich to institutions that serve the rich:

This year's charitable donations are expected to total more than $200 billion, a record. But a big portion of this impressive sum -- especially from the wealthy, who have the most to donate -- is going to culture palaces: to the operas, art museums, symphonies and theaters where the wealthy spend much of their leisure time. It's also being donated to the universities they attended and expect their children to attend, perhaps with the added inducement of knowing that these schools often practice a kind of affirmative action for "legacies."

It turns out that only an estimated 10% of all charitable deductions are directed at the poor.

I started thinking about churches as charitable institutions and how church-spending typically fits this pattern too.  What fraction of American's "charitable giving" to church actually goes to the poor and needy?  Churches have ministers to pay and facilities to maintain, so what fraction of a typical church's budget goes to benevolence?  For us, it's about 7 %.  I'm not saying that the other 93 % doesn't go to good things too, but much of it isn't charity as I would define it.

I'm glad Americans are setting giving records again this year, but I wonder if our priorities couldn't use some adjustment.

Apologies

No, I'm not apologizing for so many content-starved posts about movies I've seen recently. 

Several weeks back I read an article by Kevin Sack in The New York Times by titled "Doctors Say 'I'm Sorry' Before 'See You in Court'".  From the article:

For decades, malpractice lawyers and insurers have counseled doctors and hospitals to “deny and defend.” Many still warn clients that any admission of fault, or even expression of regret, is likely to invite litigation and imperil careers.

But with providers choking on malpractice costs and consumers demanding action against medical errors, a handful of prominent academic medical centers, like Johns Hopkins and Stanford, are trying a disarming approach.

By promptly disclosing medical errors and offering earnest apologies and fair compensation, they hope to restore integrity to dealings with patients, make it easier to learn from mistakes and dilute anger that often fuels lawsuits.

Malpractice lawyers say that what often transforms a reasonable patient into an indignant plaintiff is less an error than its concealment, and the victim’s concern that it will happen again.

Despite some projections that disclosure would prompt a flood of lawsuits, hospitals are reporting decreases in their caseloads and savings in legal costs. Malpractice premiums have declined in some instances, though market forces may be partly responsible.

That got me to thinking about non-apology apologies which are so prevalent these days (from Wikipedia):

A non-apology apology is a statement in the form of an apology that is nothing of the sort, a common gambit in politics and public relations. It most commonly entails the speaker saying that he or she is sorry not because of any realization on his or her own part, but rather only because a person who has been aggrieved is requesting the apology, expressing a grievance, or threatening some form of retribution or retaliation.

Anyway, that got me thinking about how the Bible seems to say much more about the importance of forgiving than apologizing.

Here are some of the verses I turned up about forgiveness:

Col 3:13
13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Matt. 18:21-22
21Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" 22Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Matt 16:14-15
14For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Mark 11:25
25And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."

Here are the only ones that I cold turn up and construe to be about apologizing:

James 5:16
16Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

Matt 5:23-24
23"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Apologies can be tough.  I admit it.  I'm not above employing a non-apology apology now and then.  An apology may not be a pre-requisite for forgiveness, but it certainly helps.  Get busy.  Apologize.

Interference

About a year ago I had a conversation with a friend in response to one of her blog posts.  It was about how family planning fits (or doesn't) with yielding to "God's will." At the time I thought about the issue a bit (and also had a few conversations Lisa on the subject) and took the time to do a reasonable job of typing out what I was thinking (kind of rare).  The subject sort of came up again today with some other friends which prompted me to check to see if I still had a copy of what I wrote (which I did) and to preserve it here:

It's wonderful that your family has found such peace and happiness where before there was burden and frustration. I certainly found your post interesting and have a few comments from my perspective. Admittedly, I haven't done any additional reading (e.g. about Above Rubies), so I may be missing the point or ignorant about some areas of the philosophy. Also, I won't be surprised if I'm not able to describe what I'm thinking in a way that is crystal clear.

Again, obviously the path your family has taken has led you from frustration to blessings and peace. I'm convinced along with you that this happened because you decided to accept whatever God brought you and to serve him in it.

However, I suspect this decision to faithfully accept God's will is largely independent of what choices you make in terms of family planning. Fundamentally, I believe that accepting God's will and receiving that peace of mind does not imply that my actions (or inaction) cease to have an influence on what happens.

I can continue to act according to my understanding of God's will and according to my desires (to the extent that they are consistent with my understanding of God's will) (with my primary desire being to love and serve God). In my opinion, it is fundamentally an attitude of accepting whatever God brings...not a commitment to any particular path of action or inaction ("interfering").

I think I have a different understanding about "God's will", interfering with it, etc. You can probably get a sense of that viewpoint in the comments to one of my blog posts: link. I'm not sure about this dichotomy between my control and God's. I think it's an illusion that I'm ever really in control, no matter what I do. Obviously, if God wants to, he can accomplish whatever he desires no matter what I do. On the other hand, my actions also have an obvious potential to affect what happens.

Therefore, I wonder about this:

"The stance of this ministry was definitely to turn family planning over to God, rather than take matters into our hands and try to prevent or plan for children."

In the area of family planning, what does it really mean to turn it over to God versus take matters in our own hands? How can you define one and only one particular path as turning it over to God and all others as interfering?

No matter what we do, we have some potential to influence the outcome. Birth control is an obvious one, but so many other factors have an influence: ovulation irregularities, egg or sperm problems, physical health of the husband and wife, stress level of the wife, whether or not the husband uses a laptop, does the husband wear whitey-tighties or boxers, frequency of love-making, level of nutritional health, etc.

Because many of these factors are at least partially within our control and influenced by our choices, it is inevitable that we will interfere. On the other hand, if our interference is contrary to God's will, he can make that clear (like he did for you) or work his will regardless.

As an analogy, Lisa contracted pneumonia a few weeks back. She assumed that it was God's will that she recover, and so went to the doctor and got a prescription for antibiotics. Within a week or so, she got better. Did she turn her health over to God or did she interfere? I would argue that she did both and that accepting that God has ultimate control over an aspect of your life does not imply that you not take action that you believe to be consistent with God's will.

Then it comes down to me trying to understand what God's will is for my family concerning children. How many kids does God want me to have? Is there an optimum number? As many as possible? A "large" number? What's the biblical basis?  No matter what your answer concerning the target and the biblical basis, I assume that the biblical basis is rather subtle. I tend to think that God speaks clearly about the really important things. The number of kids I have is largely irrelevant, I believe.

Getting back to the theme of the blog post I linked above, the clear will of God regarding children that I see in the Bible is that I love them and train them in his ways...not that I have a certain number. That is his general will. In the exceptional case that he has a more specific plan, he can certainly reveal that (as he did for you) but I don't believe that he has already revealed in the scriptures a more specific plan.

About kids being a burden...I'm sure some people have that attitude and I'm sure that most every parent has had that feeling at some point, but I don't believe that it is generally as widespread as you imply. At least in my experience, most of the parents I know do not consider their kids to be a burden. I don't. About "large" families, you mentioned some benefits for the kids (learning skills, service, unselfishness). Are there any down sides for the kids? Are there not opportunities for those benefits in smaller families? Is it really better to have a family so large that the older kids raise the younger kids...better for the older kids? better for the younger kids? Humans and their families are highly adaptable such that I have no doubt that many different arrangements work out OK in the end...but 10 kids, really? That's what is best for everyone?

I think I've rambled enough. I hope I've been able to communicate my point of view. I hope it's clear that I'm not trying to criticize the path you've taken.  Though it would be unfair to assume it, one might get the impression from your blog post that you were promoting the path you've taken as THE right way. I think what I'm trying to do is argue that the path you've taken is not the only one that can lead to the blessings you've experienced.

Are Most Scientists Atheists or Agnostics Rather than Believers in God?

During last Friday night's episode of Real Time, Bill Maher made the comment that most scientists are atheists or agnostics.  That caught my attention, although it's the kind of statement that I probably wouldn't have questioned if my own personal observations weren't to the contrary.  Sure, I could buy that it's a true statement in the sense that any percentage greater than 50 is "most", but frankly I don't at all buy it in the sense that Maher was using it: to claim that science and faith are incompatible and that religion's credibility is diminished by the "fact" that it is rejected by "most" scientists.

For the last 8 years I've worked in R&D for a major chemical company surrounded by a whole gaggle of PhD engineers and other members of the "hard" sciences.  Time and again I've been surprised to find out that one of my colleagues is a church-goer.  With many of them that I haven't had deep conversations about faith, so admittedly some may be atheists or agnostics who happen to go to church for one reason or another.  However, there are also plenty that I do know well and know that they are strong believers.  As another anecdote, my own PhD advisor (who was and continues to be one of the most respected and influential professors in his field of science) is a Christian.  Somehow these sorts of surprises are reassuring to me in my own faith.

Prompted by Maher's statement, I did some googling.  A recent study pretty much fit my expectations, so I quit looking further.  ;-)

Based on a survey of scientists from 21 "elite" research universities, approximately 60 percent were either atheists or agnostics.  So, yes, ~60 is greater than 50 and is a larger number than the general public.  The study also suggested a bit of a surprise:

Scientists are less religious than the general population, a new study shows, but the reason has little to do with their study of science or academic pressures.

The findings challenge notions that science is responsible for a lack of faith among researchers, indicating that household upbringing carries the biggest weight in determining religiousness.

"Our study data do not strongly support the idea that scientists simply drop their religious identities upon professional training, due to an inherent conflict between science and faith, or to institutional pressure to conform," said Elaine Howard Ecklund, a sociologist at the University at Buffalo and co-author of the study.

That fits with my observations.  It's too simple to say that faith and science are incompatible and the scientific pursuits necessarily drive out faith.  Other factors are important, so I shouldn't be surprised that many of my scientist-pals in the mid-west, middle-America are people of faith despite the stereotype.

I'm sure if I looked a little harder, I could find plenty of evidence to the contrary (for example, this site quotes from various sources to draw different conclusions), and I'm not at all surprised that scientists tend to be less religious than the general population.  But I'm also convinced that the science vs faith divide isn't as cut and dried as conventional wisdom might claim.

Charity

In addition to giving at church, each month we set aside some money for miscellaneous charitable giving.  In the past, we've used this money to help support a missionary friend, for disaster relief, etc.  Now that our missionary-friend is back stateside, this year we've decided to sit down together as a family each month to decide together where to donate the money.

To say that the boys are interested in video games is quite the understatement.  Therefore, when I came across the Child's Play charity, it struck to me that they'd be able to relate to this.  From the web site:

Since 2003, we've set up and organized Child's Play, a game industry charity dedicated to improving the lives of children with toys and games in our network of over 40 hospitals worldwide. In four short years, you as a community have answered the call and come together to raise millions of dollars.

Through the web site you choose a charitable institution (we chose the Children's Hospital of Michigan) and then it takes you to an Amazon wishlist for the organization.  We bought an X-box and Madden 2008 and had it sent to the hospital.  We hope the kids understand what our family has done and that some sick kids will have a hospital stay that is quite as bad as it would have been because of what we've given.

Another site of interest is the Charity Navigator.  It's a place where you can do some homework about a charity ahead of time.  Unfortunately, the few that I've searched for so far did not have any info there.

What Happened This Afternoon

On the way home from work tonight, I stopped and picked Elliot up from Taekwon Do and then headed home.  As I turned onto a street near our house, I noticed a car heading toward me that swerved into my lane before turning back to its own.  As I proceeded, I noticed a dark object lying an the side of the road.  Today was trash day, so at first I assumed it was a garbage bag.  As I passed it, I realized that it was a person.  I stopped and got out, and saw that it was an elderly.  She said she had fallen and asked me to help her up.  I was concerned that she might have been injured, but she assured me that she didn't have a bad fall.  I offered to give her a ride, and she asked for a ride to Kroger.  She said her husband had said that snow had been forecasted for tonight, and she was trying to get to Kroger before it snowed.  After she bought a couple items, we gave her a ride home.  I offered to give her my phone number in case she needed anything else, but she said she didn't need it.  She just asked my name and street (presumably to send a thank you note).

I was quite glad that I saw her when I did because she could easily have be run over while lying there on the side of the road.  Her hearing seemed to be fine, but her vision seemed to be a bit lacking (which probably explains why she was walking instead of driving).  I was also glad that my son was there to observe me stopping and giving this lady aid.

Hard as Nails

Today I finished watching HBO's documentary Hard as Nails.  From the HBO web site:

When Justin Fatica steps to the altar, he becomes a whirlwind of energy, using a mix of professional wrestling, hip hop and Scripture to bring Jesus to his audience. An unordained Catholic minister and the founder of the Hard as Nails youth ministry, Fatica employs an intense, over-the-top approach that has connected with thousands of troubled teenagers, but also inspires resistance within his own Catholic Church. HARD AS NAILS paints an intimate portrait of this driven, charismatic man.

It was an interesting documentary.  The Hard as Nails ministry uses a lot more yelling and screaming than I'm used to hearing.  Maybe it's effective, though I guess I don't see much precedent in scripture.  Justin seems like a dedicated guy.  I like his idea of frequenting a barber shop on the black side of town and interacting with the folks there because it makes him uncomfortable.

I give it 3 out of 5.

A Pot of Tea is Boiling

Last week my six-year-old asked me if there was ever a negative year.  I wasn't sure what he was asking.  He was wondering when the earth was made and if that was a negative year.  I explained that there were no negative years.  As you go back in time, you go from 1 A.D. to 1 B.C. and then keep counting upwards.  "So when was the world made?" he asked.  I had to wiggle a little but responded that we don't know exactly when the world was made.

Then today he asked, "Were Adam and Eve and the dinosaurs alive at the same time?"  I said that we don't really know because the Bible doesn't talk about dinosaurs.  Without any hesitation he suggested a solution to this lack of knowledge: "Just look it up on the internet."  I explained that scientists who study dinosaur fossils, etc. think that they lived millions of years ago.  "So that would be before Adam and Eve," he said.  I agreed and again emphasized the problem that the scientists who study dinosaurs can't really study anything about Adam and Eve and the Bible that tells us about Adam and Eve doesn't really address dinosaurs.  Then he said, "Wouldn't it be funny if they found Adam and Eve's bones?!?"

Both of those questions (year the earth was made and did dinosaurs live with Adam and Eve) were actually asked of Lisa, but her response is "Go ask you dad."

There's an interesting interview on Salon with John Haught, author of the forthcoming book "God and the New Atheism: A Critical Response to Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens".  He uses the metaphor of a boiling pot of tea to explain how he reconciles faith and science:

...I approach these issues by making a case for what I call "layered explanation." For example, if a pot of tea is boiling on the stove, and someone asks you why it's boiling, one answer is to say it's boiling because H2O molecules are moving around excitedly, making a transition from the liquid state to the gaseous state. And that's a very good answer. But you could also say it's boiling because my wife turned the gas on. Or you could say it's boiling because I want tea. Here you have three levels of explanation which are approaching phenomena from different points of view. This is how I see the relationship of theology to science. Of course I think theology is relevant to discussing the question, what is nature? What is the world? It would talk about it in terms of being a gift from the Creator, and having a promise built into it for the future. Science should not touch upon that level of understanding. But it doesn't contradict what evolutionary biology and the other sciences are telling us about nature. They're just different levels of understanding.

At the end of Haught's interview, he's asked whether or not as a Christian he believes the resurrection actually happened.  He doesn't give a straight answer.  Instead, he argues that science is not adequate for addressing questions of such importance.  When pushed, he admitted that he does not believe that a camera would have captured anything when Jesus visited his disciples after the resurrection.  That answer seems like one that would be unsatisfying to most Christians and atheists alike.

Haught is a big fan of Jesuit paleontologist named Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.  Coincidentally, I recently listened to a Science Friday segment featuring the author of a recent biography about Teilhard de Chardin.

TV Picks from The Week for Dec 17-23, 2007

A couple of the TV picks from The Week magazine for next week:

Hard as Nails
Justin Fatica, an unordained Catholic preacher in upstate New York, has drawn attention and aroused controversy with his Hard as Nails youth ministry. This lively profile captures the 28-year-old firebrand as he employs his attention-grabbing techniques, which include haranguing troubled teenagers and having them haul wooden crosses. Monday, Dec. 17, at 8 p.m., HBO

 

In God’s Name
French filmmakers Jules and Gedeon Naudet survived the collapse of the World Trade Center, an experience they chronicled in the Emmy- and Peabody-winning film 9/11. Since then, the two brothers have traveled the world seeking perspective from spiritual leaders on such issues as intolerance, terrorism, and war. This documentary features interviews with an array of religious leaders, including Pope Benedict XVI, the Dalai Lama, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, as well as their counterparts among Jews, Hindus, Muslims both Shiite and Sunni, Sikhs, Shintoists, Lutherans, Baptists, and Russian Orthodox—faiths whose combined followers number more than 4 billion. The film presents a unique opportunity to meet 12 people of extraordinary influence and hear their insights into the very meaning of life. Sunday, Dec. 23, at 9 p.m., CBS

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