Monthly Archives: August 2006

Conversation from a Baghdad suburb

Omar writes:

Is it civil war in Iraq or is it not? And if it is, is there a way to stop it and if it’s not, is there a way to avert it?


I wonder: would I be willing to organize and stand up to these criminals if they were in my community? I hope so, but given the same circumstances, I’m sure I would be tempted to “play it safe.”

Right on cue

The media has been droning on and on about Katrina-related topics for the last week. We had the Democratic Party opportunists attempting to gain an advantage over the Republican majority in Congress. We’ve had news reports from networks suddenly interested in how much work has, or hasn’t, been accomplished in the wake of the devastation. We’ve even had a show on a certain meteorology-related channel talk about the challenges and successes the USPS had in getting the mail back up and running.

Sadly, it mostly seems to be propaganda.

The eternal now

I’d like to make clear that I am not a theologian. I also want to state right up front that this is a rational attempt to explain the unexplainable. While it’s perhaps a bit quixotic, I think it is a useful exercise, regardless.

First, a question: Can divine predestination and human free will coexist?

This is really one of the “can God make a rock so big that he couldn’t lift it?” questions; if he is omnipotent, then he can create a rock of infinite size and mass. This in turn leads to the conclusion that because it has infinite size and mass, it cannot – by definition – be “lifted” or otherwise “moved”. And then, of course, one concludes that God must not be omnipotent! The flaw in this reasoning is that it assumes that God is bounded by three dimensions and the laws of physics as we understand them. For that matter, it assumes that God is bounded by time. This, precisely, is the problem with this question. You see, the very term predestination is an attempt to map God onto our own understanding in the same way that an architect might use drawings to map a three-dimensional building onto paper in two dimensions.

Keeping this idea in mind, many things take on a quite different meaning. Citing a previous example, our linear minds think this way: Child falls in water. Rescuer pulls child from water. Attempts to revive succeed. From our perspective, this might be a miraculous outcome of a series of events. However, from the standpoint of God, this orderly sequence collapses into a single, cohesive entity, visible and in focus in its entirety. It simply is.

So then, if God exists outside of time in the eternal now, there is no “before” or “after.” He has determined our being, he has seen our existence, and he has pronounced judgment in a way that defies linear reasoning. I struggle as I write this paragraph because my mind wants desperately to order things and use words like “before” and “at the same time,” all the while realizing that this desire in itself defies reason. I cannot accept that the Creator can be bounded by his own creation.

From here we examine the topic of free will. Can I do anything apart from God’s will? By way of example, allow me to propose a case for you: I have to choose between walking past a homeless person on the street, or stopping to help them. I’m in a hurry. I want to stop, but I feel like I have no time. With a pang of guilt I keep walking. Now, what I’m saying is that there is no conflict between God causing me to make that choice and my desire to do the same thing. I could fool myself into thinking that I really wanted to help, but the fact is, I even more wanted to be on my way to get to whatever “important” thing lay ahead. What I desire to do is exactly what I do. Nevertheless, my desire is the product of who I was created to be and my environment, both of which are subject to God’s will in themselves. The only way I can resolve this apparent paradox is to conclude that I am choosing to do God’s will, even if I cannot understand how the things that I do are part of his plans.

Let me be quick to point out that I don’t believe that walking past this homeless person is always and necessarily wrong. Yes, it is probably true that I should have stopped to lend a hand. On the other hand, though, the act of me walking past may trigger a note of despair that causes them to seek God.

I realize that what I’m saying here can be used to rationalize practically any behavior. Dear reader, if you do this, you do so at your own peril. It is one thing to try to find the bigger picture, and another thing entirely to try to manipulate it to your own advantage. This understanding is not an excuse to dismiss your words, actions, and thoughts with a curt “well, that’s just the way I am.” Rather, I exhort you to seek God’s will.

But what is God’s will? Whether you believe the story of Moses being given the ten commandments to be a literal account, as I do, or an allegory, these words are powerful and fundamental. You can summarize them all with two thoughts: love God, and love others.

By love, and particularly in reference to loving other people, we’re talking about the kind of love that is committed to the welfare of others, that respects them and cherishes them regardless of personal cost. Loving people might make them happy, but sometimes it won’t. Loving people might cause them to like you, but sometimes they’ll hate you. This kind of love isn’t “G-love,” as Heather Mac Donald suggests. While this is at odds with popular culture’s idea that love is a feeling, it doesn’t invalidate the idea of love as commitment and action.

“What,” you may ask, “gives one person the right to decide what’s best for another?” Sometimes the answer is pretty clear cut; say, a parent choosing what’s best for a young child, or a friend taking the keys from someone who’s had too much to drink. Other times it’s not so clear. All you can do in many situations is make suggestions, and only then at an appropriate time and place. Above all you must be acting out of genuine care for another: not their feelings for you, not their pocketbook, not even their soul. All of these things are only single dimensions of a person! Getting people to like you doesn’t pay their bills. Giving them money doesn’t speak to their soul. Saving their soul doesn’t stave off hunger and thirst. Look at the whole person.

And so we come back, again, to the eternal now. In the same way that love sees a whole person and not just one aspect, God sees the whole of time and not just moments strung together in a sequence. Indeed, the very name of God alludes to this, which is variously rendered as “I am who am,” “I am who is,” and other similar constructs. From this perspective, at least to dim understanding of it, some seemingly unanswerable questions suddenly come into focus.

Some things just are, whether we understand them or not.

Simplistic views of the Judeo-Christian God

Heather Mac Donald’s fundamental point is reasonably sound; “the arguments for conservative values can proceed on reason alone.” (Emphasis mine.)

One problem with her argument is that it depicts a grossly oversimplified view of the God of Judeo-Christian faith. She acknowledges that she is making some assumptions, such as her comparisons to a human judge or father. More telling is this passage:

I am happy to live with a conception of God as completely inscrutable, as long as that conception is consistently applied. But I constantly hear believers confidently interpreting God’s intentions when something good happens to them or to others. When God saves a child from drowning, a believer knows why God acted: It was because of his love for the child.

Religiously Arguing – Heather Mac Donald, National Review

Even a cursory study of the nature of God reveals that his action in saving a child from drowning is either one of mercy or of grace. While these ideas are compatible with God’s love, this doesn’t mean that they are equivalent. What’s sad is that believers and unbelievers alike don’t understand the distinctions. I believe the faulty conclusion above is based, in whole or in part, on this misunderstanding.

As to the idea that a loving God would not sit idly by while his children suffered: Many parents of adult children have had no choice but to do exactly that while their children have descended into the self-destructive behaviors of substance abuse. Some of these parents weep daily. Most offer everything they can to help an alcohol- or drug-dependent child up and out of their miserable condition. In spite of it all, there is nothing that a parent, loving or otherwise, can do to force an unrepentant, unwilling adult child to get the help that they clearly need. At least, not in a country where personal freedoms are cherished and celebrated.

“But he’s God,” you say; “why doesn’t he just force the issue?” To this I answer: why do we assume that he should? Do we claim to know what plans God has made? Perhaps a teen walks by a man passed out in a gutter with a bottle in his hand, and decides right then and there that they will do everything to avoid ending up the same way. Perhaps a young doctor sees the ravages of heroin and commits to doing everything she can to educate her community, ultimately saving even one life. I am not saying that it’s okay to be an alcoholic or a junkie. I am saying that maybe, just maybe, some bad things are allowed to happen because it will awaken the good and noble in others.

On the other hand, there are times when a parent may legitimately choose to let a child suffer pain, even though this goes against one’s own desire. I’m a parent of young children, myself (all of them under 10 years old). This experience provides plenty of examples. Let me choose a silly, small example: let’s say my kids have enormous difficulty in keeping their room clean (hard to imagine, I know). After months of reminders, and repeated all-afternoon Saturday cleaning sessions, they’re simply not getting the point. In a change of direction we decide to inform them that it’s time to clean, secure a positive acknowledgment, and then go set a kitchen timer. When that timer goes off, anything that’s left out – favorite toys, clothes, whatever – goes into storage until further notice.

The worst part of this is when you have sentimental attachments to some of these items, perhaps as much as your children do. There have been tears of sadness and disappointment from both parent and child. You hope, though, that the child has learned a few important lessons, not the least of which are the law of consequence and a sense of personal responsibility.

The Judeo-Christian God doesn’t offer to routinely, or even occasionally, deliver human beings from the consequences of their actions. Rather, he asks us to trust him in spite of whatever may lie ahead. This is not incompatible with reason. It merely requires us to acknowledge that we don’t have all of the relevant information upon which to make a determination. I’m okay with that.

By the way, from the perspective of the eternal now, things that seem significant to us – trapped in linear time, as we are – can take on an entirely different meaning. I’ll explain more about this idea some other time.

Nancy and Harry vs. FEMA

Via the Mercury News, this AP story:

In a report entitled “Broken Promises,” House and Senate Democratic leaders described what they called “the failed response” of the administration since the hurricane hit.

Released Wednesday by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her Senate counterpart, Harry Reid, D-Nev., the report asserted that “thousands of families are still waiting” for FEMA trailers and that a significant proportion of money that FEMA has spent there “has been waste, fraud and abuse.”

Bush: Katrina recovery will take time – Associated Press

How, exactly, are they differentiating their own waste from the “waste, fraud, and abuse” they’re laying at FEMA’s feet?

This seems like a very dangerous game that they’re playing.

Working for peace in Iraq

Captain Ed brings hopeful news just as I was starting to fear that rising violence would turn what many consider a de facto civil war into a full scale, declared conflict. He writes:

Two weeks is not much of a sample by which to extrapolate future performance. However, this does demonstrate that the US has finally applied force to the problem of the militias on both sides of the sectarian divide.

Read more…

While a full scale war doesn’t seem as unlikely as it once did, I feel it is still far from a foregone conclusion.

Doesn’t follow

Another dose of amusement courtesy of Instapundit. Tom Shoop writes:

In those limited circumstances, that might be true — although one would assume a planeload of bureaucrats, under the same conditions, would have made the same decision as the civilians on Flight 93.

Beating Up Government – Government Executive magazine

Um… okay.

Since when is “a planeload of bureaucrats” equivalent to “a bureaucracy”? Sure, they might be related, but this completely misses the point.

Say, is Mr. Shoop a bureaucrat?

UPDATE: Well, okay, I guess he’s not a bureaucrat. But I’m still amused.

Fox News crew is still missing

My own short attention span is shameful. Michelle Malkin is right:

The disappearance of Centanni and Wiig is at least as newsworthy as – and far more threatening to our national security than – people falling off cruise ships or getting eaten by alligators or attacked by bees.

Missing Fox News crew: Blogburst – Michelle Malkin

This isn’t about Fox News. This is about two human beings who deserve our concern and attention. Don’t let the media forget that.

The end of Qur’an Project

One last entry sums it all up:

So, here is the final update:

I finished the rest of the Qur’an and nothing there made me change my mind about the Manson-like quality of the cult.

Closed – Qur’an Project

Let me be quick to point out that my understanding that the cult is not Islam, itself. While I personally have grave doubts regarding the Muslim faith, that’s not an indictment against those who hold it. The Muslims I know are as tolerant and accepting as anyone else. Rather, the cult is those extremists who commit violence against people who have done them no wrong. Can anyone really argue otherwise?