Saturday, August 30, 2008

Let's Talk About Fighting Corruption

I hear that Sarah Palin is a tough cookie who is ready to stand up to big oil and take on corruption in her own party. Given her support for more drilling, I doubt that the big oil companies are exactly quaking in their boots. As far as her street cred as a corruption fighter, let's see what she has to say about the no bid contracts in Iraq and the billions of dollars that have gone missing there. Let's see what she has to say about the politicization of the Justice Department.

I guess that I am just a little bit skeptical about the tremendous popularity that Palin enjoys in Alaska. True corruption fighters tend to piss off more people than she has. I am reserving judgment, but I want to hear what she would do specifically about the corruption in Washington.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Is Abortion Biblical?

Whenever an evangelical Christian dismisses a skeptic's argument on the grounds that the skeptic is misinterpreting some passage of scripture with which I am unfamiliar, I like to go read that passage. It amazes me how frequently the passage seems to means exactly what the skeptic said it means. Today it happened with a passage from Numbers that describes the procedure that a husband should follow when he suspects his wife of infidelity. Christians assert that the passage can't be used to support abortion because it doesn't say that the unfaithful wife was pregnant, but that seems pretty thin to me.
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'If a man's wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him by sleeping with another man, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure—or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure- then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder offering to draw attention to guilt.
"'The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the LORD. Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. After the priest has had the woman stand before the LORD, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse. Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, "If no other man has slept with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have defiled yourself by sleeping with a man other than your husband"--here the priest is to put the woman under this curse of the oath--"may the LORD cause your people to curse and denounce you when he causes your thigh to waste away and your abdomen to swell. May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells and your thigh wastes away."
"'Then the woman is to say, "Amen. So be it."
""'The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. He shall have the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water will enter her and cause bitter suffering. The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the LORD and bring it to the altar. The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water. If she has defiled herself and been unfaithful to her husband, then when she is made to drink the water that brings a curse, it will go into her and cause bitter suffering; her abdomen will swell and her thigh waste away, and she will become accursed among her people. If, however, the woman has not defiled herself and is free from impurity, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children.
"'This, then, is the law of jealousy when a woman goes astray and defiles herself while married to her husband, or when feelings of jealousy come over a man because he suspects his wife. The priest is to have her stand before the LORD and is to apply this entire law to her. The husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the woman will bear the consequences of her sin.' "
Numbers 5:11-31.

While it is true that the passage doesn't mention pregnancy, it is equally true that pregnancy is one of the natural consequences of sexual intercourse. If this is the procedure to be followed when a man suspects his wife of infidelity, it is necessarily going to be applied to some women who are pregnant. And if a pregnant woman is cursed so that she cannot have children, that would seem to necessitate the termination of the pregnancy.

What makes it even more interesting is a possible alternative translation of the phrase "her abdomen will swell and her thigh waste away." According to the New International Version, this might be better translated as "she will have barrenness and a miscarrying womb." If the passage did not contemplate that some of the suspect women would be pregnant, the "miscarrying womb" would be superfluous. If this translation is correct, it seems even more clear that this passage instructs the cuckold to terminate a pregnancy that was got from another man.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Little Light on the Credit Crisis

"[W]e did not consider the dangers of financial deregulation. We failed to recognise that if risks can be taken and transferred freely, most of them will end up being taken by the most foolish investors, not the most suitable."

Edward Hadas,

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Some Anecdotal Evidence

My daughter graduated from college in June with a degree in liberal arts. She just got her first job in the Chicago area, a clerical position in the medical field paying $11/hr. She has more than $20,000 in student loan debt.

In 1982, my wife graduated with a degree in liberal arts. Her first job in the Chicago area was also a clerical position in the medical field. She was paid $7/hr and had a couple thousand dollars in debt. Based on the Consumer Price Index, that would be worth $15.80/hr today.

Republicans have been in the White House for eighteen of those twenty-six years.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Case for the Real Jesus (9): More on "Minimal Facts"

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am not a fan of Lee Strobel’s “investigative journalism” and the way that he somehow always seems to find the conservative Christian position overwhelmingly supported by the conservative Christian scholars that he interviews. I often find myself wanting to ask his experts a pointed follow-up question at the very moment Strobel is exclaiming “Wow! I’m completely convinced.” Sometimes I am fortunate enough to run across the answer to the question I wanted to ask somewhere else though.

This recently occurred with a question I had about Strobel’s interview with Mike Licona in The Case for the Real Jesus:
Although the fifth fact—that the tomb of Jesus was empty—is part of the minimal case for the resurrection, it doesn’t enjoy the nearly universal consensus among scholars that the first four do,” Licona began. “Still there’s strong evidence in its favor.”
“How strong?” I asked.
[Gary] Habermas determined that about 75 percent of scholars on the subject regard it as a historical fact. That’s quite a large majority.
The Case for the Real Jesus p. 123

I’ve always wondered about the sample of scholars that Habermas surveyed as part of his “minimal facts” approach. I couldn’t help but suspect that most of the “scholars on the subject” might be theologians whose qualifications as historians might be questionable. I thought that even a liberal theologian might be more inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to the historicity of the New Testament accounts than say a historian of ancient Rome or an archeologist. I have occasionally considered tracking down some of Habermas’ books through intra-library loan, but I’ve never gotten around to doing it. A few weeks back though, a blogger (who I would thank personally if I could remember who it was--turns out that it was Jon over at Evangelical Agnosticism) directed me to an article on Habermas’ website that had some of the information I was looking for.

Habermas’ Resurrection Research from 1975 to the Present: What are Critical Scholars Saying? confirmed that “[m]ost of the critical scholars are theologians or New Testament scholars, while a number of philosophers and historians, among other fields, are also included.” Well call me a nitpicker, but I would like to see a lot more historians, archeologists, and cultural anthropologists in that sample. Essentially, the “minimal facts” approach boils down to this: Historians are required to explain those things that theologians consider to be facts. If they cannot do so to the satisfaction of Christian apologists, the apologists deem themselves entitled to claim the theological facts as historical facts on a par with any other fact that the historians accept. This doesn’t seem quite right to me. Maybe if Christian apologists showed some respect for the things that other groups of scholars (e.g., scientists) consider to be facts (e.g., evolution) I might feel differently.

Another thing I always wondered about was where Habermas’ sample fell on the liberal/conservative spectrum. I could not help but think that schools like Bob Jones University might have more scholars working on questions of the historicity of the New Testament than more liberal institutions. Happily, the Habermas article answered that question as well:
A rough estimate of the publications in my study of Jesus’ resurrection among British, French, and German authors (as well as a number of authors from several other countries), published during the last 25 or so years, indicates that there is approximately a 3:1 ratio of works that fall into the category that we have dubbed the moderate conservative position, as compared to more skeptical treatments....
By far, the majority of publications on the subject of Jesus’ death and resurrection have been written by North American authors. Interestingly, my study of these works also indicates an approximate ratio of 3:1 of moderate conservative to skeptical publications, as with the European publications.

Isn’t that interesting? 75% of the sample is composed of moderate Christian conservative publications and 75% of the scholars accept the empty tomb as a fact. That’s a hell of a coincidence! Funny that Licona and Strobel didn’t mention that. Kinda makes Mikey’s majority seem not quite so large.

Friday, August 15, 2008

On Abortion

I generally steer clear of abortion debates, but a discussion on another blog inspired me to share a few thoughts.

About fifteen years ago, my wife had a miscarriage. At the time, we had two small children and my wife had recently been diagnosed with a chronic illness which promised to make her third pregnancy much tougher than the first two. Piled on top of that, I was not going to be able to help out as much as I had with the first two kids because some recent career reversals had me working a lot of hours at a crappy job just to make ends meet. My wife and I never considered an abortion and I have no doubt that I would have loved that child as much as the other two, but I have to confess that my primary reaction to that miscarriage was relief. In light of our situation at the time, I felt like we had finally caught a break.

I suppose there are some who might consider me a monster for feeling the way I did, but I would like to think that most people would view the miscarriage and my feelings about it a private matter between my wife and me. I have known people whose reactions to a miscarriage varied from relief to detached resignation to mourning. I don’t feel that anyone had any right to tell any of them what their reaction should be.

According to some medical experts, 15% of recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage and this does not count the women who miscarry without ever realizing they were pregnant. If that many infants suffered crib death, we would consider it tragic and medical science would be striving to find a solution to the problem, but miscarriages draw little attention. In fact, it would be foolish to devote too much effort to eliminating miscarriages because they are often nature’s way of dealing with severe genetic abnormalities.

The point of this is that I think that our natural moral sense (whatever that may be) does not recognize a first trimester fetus as a unique person having the same claim on society’s attention and protection as a baby born alive. I think that this is an innate sense of the thing that has built up over millions of years of evolution. Even many people that would not choose abortion for themselves are never going to feel that this stage of the pregnancy is anything but a private matter.

The anti-abortion crowd asserts that every abortion is the murder of an innocent baby and that the failure to be shocked by this is proof of moral depravity. However, I see no evidence of their dismay at the millions of babies that die through miscarriages or the millions more whose lives are ended when a fertilized egg naturally fails to attach to the uterine wall. Nor do I expect to see such evidence because I think they recognize that these are not yet person who have a claim on society's attention. That does not mean that the pro-life side might not make some powerful arguments when it comes to late term abortions, but 75% of abortions occur at ten weeks or less. The claim that every one of these is the murder of an innocent baby isn’t going to ring true for most people. I personally find it very difficult to attribute the malevolence of a murderer to someone who chooses the result that I was so relieved to obtain by chance.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

On Qualifications

Does anyone else appreciate the irony in Republicans whining about the length of Obama's resume? For eight years, the Bush administration has corrupted the government with Brownies and Goodlings who had no qualifications for their jobs other than their willingness to worship at the George W. Bush Cult of Personality. One of my biggest fears about McCain is that he would do nothing to clean out the incompetent ideologues that Bush packed into every department of the government.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Putting Paris Hilton in Perspective

This is one of my favorite clips from the Colbert Report. I love the way Steven Colbert finds himself unable to maintain his persona in the face of Tommy Chong's keen analysis of Paris Hilton's drunk driving arrest. My thanks to the McCain campaign for an excuse to post it.