Friday, February 24, 2012

The -eriority of Collectivism

I am sometimes asked whether I think the collectivist society of the Biblical world (and even 60-70% of the world today) is "superior" to the modern individualist society we now have in America. My reply has been that both types of society have advantages and both have ways they can be abused. However, I would also add that in reality, individualism is always something of a phantom -- as the phrase goes, no man is an island -- or else expresses itself as the ultimate deviance which most of us rightly frown upon. I'll draw a lesson from my "other job" doing USDA surveys to make this point.

Right now I'm in the midst of the "biggest" agricultural survey -- one that effectively creates a financial profile of the business I visit for the last calendar year. The information in this survey is used for a lot of reasons, but among the most important are that 1) it helps set amounts set aside for federal aid for agriculture when there is a disaster; 2) it ensures that agricultural businesses are fairly represented in government; 3) it protects taxpayers from being ripped off by those who try to claim they need more financial aid than they do.

There are more than a few people though -- between 30-50% of those selected each year -- who don't want to participate in the process (which is not mandatory). Some say they have privacy concerns. Some claim they don't have time (and then will spend 10 minutes explaining to me why they don't). But some just don't care.

Here's the rub, though. Some of those who refuse to take part in the survey would be among those who would be first in line for government aid when a hurricane or tornado hits their business. Then they'll complain that the aid didn't come fast enough, or wasn't enough to suit them, and so on. Or, they'll claim they would never want the government's help -- as they 10 minutes later take their SUV out onto a highway paid for with government funds.

The lesson here is that in real sense, even most individualists are still collectivists to some extent. The only pure individualist is the guy who goes and lives in the woods alone. (And I'll admit -- that might have been my option had I lived in the first century.) Everyone else is still to some degree collectivist. The guy who whines sharing his "private" information with the government doesn't seem to mind using what the government provides for him -- roads, mail service, and even perhaps schools. When he uses those things, he's a collectivist. Yet ask him to provide information that will make those services better, not just for him but for everyone, and he becomes a hardcore individualist.

I was amazed by one farm owner who declared that the taking of surveys was "communism." This was ironic in part because some time later, I was chosen to represent my field answering questions from Russian government officials who were using US surveys as models for what they wanted their agricultural department to do -- and were told that no such surveys had been conducted in Russia since before the Communist revolution! It's also ironic because it isn't communism (with all its associated principles of the proletariat, etc) but an expression of collectivism. It's the same mistake fundy atheists make when they claim the Bible is "communist".

Just recently another farmer declared to me that he didn't think a survey of his operation would be "beneficial" and gave me a litany of reasons why he thought this was so. I answered each of them -- and in the end, he merely returned to the first objection on his list. (Yep -- like arguing with a fundy atheist, too.) What became clear was that what he meant was, "It wouldn't do me any good."

In the end, many people who refuse to do these surveys I work with are saying, "I don't care about my fellow farmers. I care only about myself. I don't care about making the system better for everyone. My fears/privacy/etc are far more important than the common welfare." Of course, one could argue about the efficacy of such instruments in terms of aiding the common good, but that's another matter. And I'm far from saying that system is perfect.

However, it does demonstrate this much: Living as a group is still, in a very real way, what our priorities and necessities reflect. And Christianity, when it demands that we care for the common good (agape), is also on the right track.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Ed, Edd, and Edski

Ed "I'm Talking and I Can't Shut Up" Babinski, at last report, hadn't learned a thing; the latest news is that he remains intent on his ignorance. On an associate's blog, he left some of the usual "argument by outrage" tripe, as well as a mixed bag of stream of consciousness hoodoo which has become his trademark.

Initially, Edski whines about Ananias and Sapphira: "...two people are struck dead instantly for lying to Peter about how much money they gave the church." Yes, and? That's it. There's no argument, no analysis, no question asking why this might have been considered a just punishment. This is no different than saying, "One man was killed for giving away secrets" -- and not bothering to explain or understand whether it was a man who gossiped about his neighbor's lemon cream pie being stale, or a man selling nuclear bomb designs to Iran.

Of course, it wasn't merely "Peter" that was lied to; it was the Holy Spirit as well, so that the actions of these two were an effective denial of God's authority, and hence also, treasonous within the parameters of the Kingdom. It was, moreover, an exceptional and flagrant disregard for the whole of the fellowship of believers; it implied that one could engage the community on two levels, one in which one publicly gained honor and status for contributing to the common welfare (by professing to have given forth all one had promised) while also benefiting one's self secretly (thereby falsely accruing the prior referenced honor).
Of course, to an exegetical and emotional nincompoop like Edski, neither this nor the equally serious dishonoring of the Eucharist (1 Cor.) is anything worthy off any sort of response or punishment; God should just suck it up and mind His own business (except when it comes to Hitler, maybe) while we excellent specimens exercise our Constitutional rights. There is never any thought of how such acts would ripple and expend into greater acts that endanger the life and health of others, nor any sense that God deserves more respect than Sam the grocer. To round off his outrage, Edski wallows in the self-pity of fiery hell, a concept he knows very well I don't adhere to, at least; but don't expect him to do any more than gawk like a touristing chimpanzee at what he finds to be a bewildering variety of Christian opinions, none of which he is capable of refuting anyway.

Some remarks are then offered on my observations that 85% of humans will end up saved. He recalls seeing this on TWeb, but apparently doesn't recall how I arrived at that figure, though chances are I gave my explanation in the same space he saw the number in. How do I know this, he wants to know? Simple, Edski:

1) Hell is shame.

2) The unborn (yes, Edski, that includes zygotes), the infant, and the very young -- as well as eg, the mentally incompetent -- cannot experience shame.

3) Due to mortality figures over history (especially infant mortality), the end result is that we must suppose that, under this rubric, at least 85% of all who have ever lived got a "Get Into Heaven Free Card".

Of course, Edski is still stuck on Connecticut Avenue while the rest of us have advanced to Park Place, so rather than answer these points with something like a serious study of the agonistic tenor of the NT world, he starts with a dumb question that has no relevance or importance whatsoever ("What percentage of them will have memories of living on earth at all?"), followed by a reiteration of the opposing view in which he recites the litany of numbers of unsaved babies that must be roasting in flames by this time.

He then closes that section with bit of self-pitying rhetoric: "But woe to people who actually engage with J.P. and don't accept a majority of his answers. " Actually, Edski, the greater woe is on turkeys like you who actually don't engage with my answers, and news flash: Extended bouts of irrelevant verbal diarrhea is not "engaging" them.

Finally, moving as easily to another unrelated topic as a greased swine on roller skates, Edski rattles on about "Evangelical Christian professors [who] have been forced to leave the Christian college where they teach (or sometimes called up on heresy charges) for questioning a creationist interpretation of Genesis 1 and moving toward interpreting Genesis 1 in Mesopotamian terms." Unfortunately Edski doesn't name any of these alleged persons, which makes it rather difficult for me to direct my ire towards any of them, as he seems to think I should be doing. Of course, although he thinks this is inconsistent with my activism with Mike Licona, it doesn't occur to Edski that with Geisler vs Licona, my ire is well informed (eg, the subject of NT exegesis and interpretation), where it would not be on issues of science and origins related to Genesis 1. As is typical of Edski over the years, he has no sense of dimension or valid authority. If I knew as much about Genesis 1 issues as I do about NT exegesis, there's a good chance I'd find a dog in one of those hunts and let it loose to war. As it is, I'll be the first to say that as little as I know, any dog I tried to hunt with there would be beaten up by Cocoa.

As it is, I've learned the lesson Edski has still failed to achieve in the 15+ years I've been observing his ramblings -- when you're not well informed, keep your big mouth shut.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Cross Fertilization

My side job doing USDA surveys has me too busy for a substantial post this week, but I thought I'd share an unusual instance in which the two jobs -- surveys and ministry -- crossed paths.

Yesterday I visited one of my "regulars" I see every year, a local nursery owner. As sometimes happens, I'm asked if the surveys are the only job I have, and I get a chance to talk about the ministry work I do as well, as my "real" job.

That sparked his interest, as he explained his moral objections to "televangelists" who ask for money all the time, and as it happens, many of the people whose practices he objected to -- including Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn, and Rod Parsley -- are people I've written articles on. I gave him a ministry business card, and who knows? He may drop in to the site.

I'll just add one moralizing point --- I've always supposed that teachers like Osteen and Meyer were doing more harm than good. I did detailed E-Block articles on those two, and found that their teachings were completely lacking in substance and utility. Yet of course, they thrive because they find itching ears among gullible and shallow Christians.

Isn't it past time we shed these teachers as useless deadwood?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Apologetics and the Priority Pyramid

Because of USDA training, I didn't have a lot of time this week to write posts, but a thought keeps recurring to me of late that I want to share.

It's great when churches have ministries like, say, a soup kitchen, or a crisis pregnancy center. A church should have whatever ministries it can like that according to its available resources.

But how can such a church have something like that, while not also in some way encouraging apologetics?

Here's the problem. All those extra ministries are performed because, at the heart of it all, we believe Christianity is true. That is our basis for compassionate acts: The fact that God acted in history to raise Jesus from the dead. So why is it that ministries that make it their purpose to prove things like that are virtually ignored by comparison?

As it is, if you ask (say) a crisis counselor why they serve in their ministry, they are apt to say something like, it is what Jesus would do. That's a correct answer to an extent but it isn't a complete one: It doesn't tell us WHY anyone should care what Jesus wants us to do. If Jesus was just some guy in Palestine, then our epistemic basis for any ministry is inadequate, subjective, or rooted in something we try to ignore by keeping so busy we don't think about it. (That's the emergent church's solution.)

At best, that person might say that Jesus is Lord, and that is why they serve. But again, the answer's not done: WHY think Jesus is Lord?

Maybe there's one other answer, usually taken to be final: "Because he lives in my heart and tells me so." Yes indeed -- rooted in subjectivity, as noted.

Apologetics isn't an expensive ministry, and it is getting less expensive to do as more and more of its tools plummet in price and/or become more freely available. Yet most churches don't spend a dime on it.

Our priority pyramid is badly inverted -- which makes it no surprise that it's on the verge of toppling over on us every moment.