Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Caveat on My Political Views

When it comes to politics, I don’t have much confidence in my opinions, because I’m not a political thinker by any stretch of the imagination. Moreover, I have seen my opinions change enough in the past to render me suspicious of the ones I currently hold. Please bear this in mind when reading my political pontifications on this blog.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Horton heard a what?

On the plane ride across the Atlantic they showed three full-length movies, one of which was Horton Hears a Who. I was in Paris when it came out there, and wanted to see it, but for some reason my wife was more intent on seeing ... well ... Paris.

I had forgotten the Dr. Seuss book, so the story was essentially new to me. Having seen it, I have to say that I'm shocked such a film came out of Hollywood. It has religious and ethical connotations that are the polar opposite of the Hollywood mindset.

Horton (voiced by Jim Carrey) is an elephant, and because of his ears, he has greater hearing than others in his jungle community. He hears, and then befriends, the mayor of a town (voiced by Steve Carell) on a planet that is basically a dust speck. The movie entails Horton trying to bring the dust speck to safety.

The religious connotation is that Horton hears a voice, but other people doubt him because they don't hear it themselves. His main detractor (a kangaroo, voiced by Carol Burnett) says "If you can't see it, feel it, or hear it, it doesn't exist." This strikes me as very similar to the claims of atheists that if they can't experience God with their five senses, they refuse to believe in him. If someone claims to hear God's voice, he must be delusional or worse.

The ethical connotation is that Horton insists that the people in Whoville are just as important as anyone else, since "A person's a person, no matter how small." This strikes me as a very obvious statement about abortion. It doesn't matter that they (the Whos in Whoville or the fetus in the mother's uterus) are small, they're just as important and have just as much right to live as anyone else.

Again, I am staggered that Hollywood made this movie. These implications are not contrived or hidden; they are very obvious. I also find it interesting that the two main characters are voiced by Jim Carrey and Steve Carell. Both men have Christian backgrounds: Carrey was raised Catholic, and has attended Protestant church as an adult, and Carell is a lifelong Catholic. These two also made two other movies which take God seriously: Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty.

Of course, the movie has other themes as well. The kangaroo accuses Horton of corrupting the young, eerily similar to the same charges made against Socrates. Another is that Horton refuses to give up, even when everyone else is against him, and even when what he promised to do becomes insanely difficult. "I meant what I said and I said what I meant; an elephant's faithful, one hundred percent." This is quite laudable, and I'm very glad that this is put forward as something people should do; but there are other mainstream movies that advocate such themes, so it's not as noteworthy as the two mentioned above.

(cross-posted at OregonLive)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Eric Liddell on Infant Baptism

You may recall Eric Liddell was one of the main characters of the film Chariots of Fire. Liddell was a missionary in China, but he also loved to run, and competed in the 1924 Olympics. He soon discovered, though, that several of the events in which he was to run -- including his best event, the 100 meters -- were scheduled on Sundays, and he refused to run on the day of rest. He had to choose between winning the gold for himself and his country, and standing for what he believed God wanted of him. He chose the latter. He trained for the 400 meter instead, and surprised everyone by not only winning, but by setting the world record.

At any rate, a few years ago a friend gave me a book Liddell wrote, entitled The Disciplines of the Christian Life. I've only skimmed through it, but he has a one-page appendix where he discusses infant baptism and dedication. My wife and I became Christians as adults, and joined congregations that practice believer baptism. However, Liddell's brief discussion is very intriguing, and makes an excellent case. I present it here without further discussion.

The question of infant baptism or dedication arises only when there are Christian parents. As soon as the Christian society became established, infant baptism became the practice of the Church. The unity of the family is one of the underlying truths of life. Infant baptism gives expression to this fact.

The practice of infant baptism rests also upon the revelation of God given us in Jesus Christ. That revelation makes clear to us that, in the matter of our salvation, God always acts first. God does not wait for man's repentance; he sends his Son to bring about that repentance. He comes to meet us, and our experience of his love creates the spirit of new obedience. Everywhere and always it is God who takes the initiative. The administration of the sacrament of baptism to infants gives a symbolic expression to that primary note in the Christian gospel and is true to the mind of God.

It is in line with this thought that the beautiful incident of our Lord blessing the little children finds its place (Mark 10.13). That is not a warrant for infant baptism, but it emphatically shows that our Lord's blessing was not confined to those who came to him in conscious love or penitence. Further, the words 'for of such is the kingdom of heaven' imply the present membership of the little ones in the heavenly Father's family.

If a child dies before it is baptized, it does not mean that it is damned. God is not like that.

Baptism of the child expresses in symbolic form our trust that God's Spirit will take the initiative in seeking to dwell with and work in and through that child's life.

Baptism is also an act of dedication on the part of the parents. They recognize that the child is a gift from God and they dedicate him or her to God's service, promising to do all they can to lead the child to know, love and follow God.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Thought of the Day

Governments are inherently bureaucratic.
Bureaucracies are inherently incompetent.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Water, water, everywhere...

First they found water under the surface of Mars. Now they've found water under the surface of the Moon. The word's still out on Mercury's north pole.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Hostile Work Environment

We're in the States for several weeks. In the week before we left, I took a temporary manual labor job so I could justify buying books at Powell's while we're in Portland. It involved building a temporary stage for a huge campus party, and then taking it down again afterwards, although we had some actual full-time workers come and lead us. On the last day of the job, one of the full-timers (they were different every day) had several tattoos, including one on his leg of a lion holding a severed, bloody arm in its mouth. It said, "So many Christians, so few lions". The hand on the severed arm was holding a cross.

I have to say I was a little uncomfortable working with someone who has a tattoo wishing violent death upon me. Of course, it's not the same thing as racism or sexism, since religion involves choice. But it was a little unsettling. I thought about saying something to him like, "That's my arm"; but I thought that would be a little surreal, since I would be pointing at his leg when I said it. Or I could have said something more provocative like, "It's pretty easy to call for the death of people who have 'Turn the other cheek' as one of their central teachings. Why not get a tattoo denigrating Muhammad instead?" I decided to just specifically thank him for every little thing he helped me with, and leave it at that.

At any rate, the next day, I hardly thought of it. It didn't really leave much of a lasting impact on me, other than the fact that I'm blogging about it. But it was kind of interesting.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Odyssey Oddity

Some passages in the Odyssey (full text here) might refer to a solar eclipse on the day Ulysses finally returns from the Trojan War. Scientists have now pinpointed the exact date this would refer to: April 16, 1178 B.C.

My favorite character is still Argos.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Some thoughts on the First Amendment

It is well-known that the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution in the Bill of Rights says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof".

Originally, these two statements were seen as two sides of the same coin: for government to establish a particular religion meant that members of other religions would be prohibited from practicing their own. So government should not have the power to prevent people from practicing their religion by establishing one religion as the official one.

For the last several decades, however, the courts have been interpreting the First Amendment in such a way that these two statements are mutually exclusive. An "establishment of religion" now means that any collection of people who have any ties at all to government do not have the right to express their religion in that setting. This leads to absurdities such as students being told they cannot engage in religious activities on public school grounds. How can this possibly avoid the charge of "prohibiting the free exercise" of one's religion? How does it amount to a government "establishment of religion"?

So I think it's necessary to understand the First Amendment in such a way that these two clauses do not contradict. I think this is achieved by understanding it as saying that no one should have restrictions placed on what they believe (and how they express these beliefs) about subjects that are usually understood as religious in nature: the existence and nature of God; the possibility of an afterlife; the purpose and aim of the human being; etc. (Note that these subjects are just as much philosophical as they are religious.) This means that those who want to express a belief that God does or does not exist should not have any restrictions placed on this expression by the government unless such expression prevents others from expressing contrary views, or it becomes dangerous to society. Of course that last one is probably going to be different for everyone.

In other words, the "establishment of religion" should not be understood to mean that any social group with ties to government should not have the right of religious expression in that forum. Rather, it should mean that no opinion regarding a religious subject -- such as whether or not God exists -- should be prohibited from being expressed in that forum. Neutrality on a subject is not achieved by prohibiting any attempt to address it; it's achieved by allowing all views to be expressed.

Obviously this is a complicated issue that a knee-jerk reaction can't do justice to. We have restrictions made on all of our freedoms, including our most basic ones of speech, expression, and religion. Yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater that is not on fire is not protected free speech for example. I suspect that most of this issue is going to be argued on the level of where the line should be drawn, not whether a line should be drawn.

(reposted from OregonLive)