culture

nothing new under the sun. including irrelevancy.

I’m sure the dude is a nice guy, and I’m sure he means well, and I’m sure he’s wanting to connect with people and present old ideas in an updated form. But frankly, this book‘s title borders on the ridiculous and its content is merely an echo and not a new song:

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Two things, with an underlying third, bother me about this book. First, there is an inordinate amount of endorsements for the book. There are 42! As I’ve noted before, including such a multiplicity of accolades suggests either a pathological need for praise or an attempt to get wide-spread recognition to help push an otherwise crappy idea. Or it’s just a sad marketing strategy. Probably one of the the most absurd is from Tony Nolan:

Read Static Jedi and you’ll experience Eric Samuel Timm dropping some Jesus power on you, Obi-Won Kenobi style! But the force you’ll get isn’t fictional; it’s authentic Holy Spirit power helping you master the noisy gauntlet of life choices. Read this book!

I’ll let the absurdity and poor theology of this endorsement speak for itself. And probably one of the silliest is from Dr Ed Newton:

Static Jedi is more than a resource on spiritual intimacy; it’s a paradigm changer that will hydrate your soul into spiritual renewal.”

“Paradigm changer”? Seriously? Have you not read any of the other spirituality-self-help-styled books on the market? How is Static Jedi, other than the ridiculous title, any different? Moreover, how is this book a break from the mold of the classics–i.e. Brother Lawrences’ (far better) treatment of the subject? Saying this book is a “paradigm changer” is like saying Neil Cole’s book, Church 3.0 is revolutionary for how to do church. I’ve read Cole’s book. It’s not. The same is true for Mr Timm’s book. It’s not new, and it’s certainly not breaking out of an existing mold and creating new ones. It’s essentially nothing more than old principles in new language.

Second, there’s decision to associate (if not conflate) “Jedi” with Christian spirituality (let alone Christianity)–even if only in passing. I say “only in passing” because, Mr Timm never really defines what a “Static Jedi” is (which is problematic for his first chapter, since he’s asking people if they are one or want to become one) or even why he chose that phrase. The closest he comes is: “Static Jedi: One who masters the noise. Noise, existing in many shapes, consumes our time, real life, and ability to hear God. A Static Jedi is a form of master, teacher, and sensei” (Kindle loc. 286). Wow. That’s helpful. Okay, if that’s the definition, why use “Jedi”? Why not one of the other (more benign) terms?¹

That aside, one problem with the association is that Jedi are fictional characters. Why not rely on and use real people? Moreover, Jedi from the Star Wars narrative, and the 20th century religion, Jediism that developed out of that narrative are “nontheistic”² in their “theology”. More problematic, the “force” Jedi tap into, harness, and use is simply that: an impersonal thing built into the fabric of the universe. So far, I’m not seeing any parallels or any sound reason to associate it with Christianity. This problem could have been avoided if Mr Timm chose a better descriptive term. But there seems to be an underlying reason for choosing such a designation: an unspoken need to be relevant.

And that brings me to the third problem. The need for being relevant, or at least desiring to make the gospel–and its associated ideas–relevant always runs the risk of (and usually ends up in) irrelevancy. This fact was ably presented and defended in Os Guinness’ book, Prophetic Untimeliness: A Challenge to the Idol of Relevance (2003). Some insight from Guiness includes:

After two hundred years of earnest dedication to reinventing the faith and the church and to being more relevant in the world, we are confronted by an embarrassing fact: Never have Christians pursued relevance more strenuously; never have Christians been more irrelevant.

Our timeliness lies in the untimeliness of rejecting modern timeliness. Our moment and our hour depend upon our turning from the spurious models of the modern world to the real moment and the real hour seen only under God.

…many Christian leaders have become trendy. Obsessed with the new, they have produced only novelty. Staggering from one high of excitement to another, they have become jaded.

–Guinness, Prophetic Untimeliness (2003), 12, 23, 77

With all due respect, Mr Timm would have done well to consult Guinness’ advice before pitching ideas about Christian Jedi.

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¹ Incidentally, and for whatever reason, Mr Timm switches terminology at various times in the book–e.g. “Static Master”.
² Cf. George D. Chryssides, Historical Dictionary of New Religious Movements (2011), 186.

more statistical loathing

I have grown to dislike and even distrust the use of statistics, particularly in the form of percentages. (See here and here for examples of why this is so). Admittedly, some uses are rather comical. For instance, just the other day there was an advert on TV for mascara (Maxfactor, I think it was) and the voice-over made grand statements about women’s views on the product. Based on the VO’s claims, one would think that he was speaking for the whole of womankind. Hardly. At the bottom of the screen appeared the percentage of women supporting the claims made and number surveyed. The figures? 74% of 70 women!¹ No typo. Seven, zero. My first (cynical) thought was: “So, you [Maxfactor] basically got your own PR department to offer some opinions.”

As benign or even banal as this instance might be, it adheres to or relies on (and possibly even perpetuates) a rather malignant rhetorical ploy: shape opinion on the basis of persuasively strong claims supported by high percentages.² For example: “The majority of people (78%) believe _[insert hot-button issue here]_ should be permitted” or “…feel that _____ is unfair.” The underlying assumption appears to be: with language such as “majority” or “most people” and percentages exceeding 50%, we can make the issue appear to be prevailing and widespread, and if we can get people to believe the language and percentages, then we can shape public opinion in a particular direction. To remain in my cynicism, this usually means: the “majority” we’re documenting is the cultural norm, so you might want to get on board rather than fight against the “majority” view.

However, because I am that annoying person who asks, when confronted with percentages: ” ‘x’% of how many surveyed?”, and because the survey pool is hardly ever deep and wide enough or representative of the whole, I will neither be persuaded by the claims made (because they do not represent the whole they claim to) nor accept the data to be empirical evidence of public views/opinions (because it’s not). Moreover, I will not pretend that, say, 1500 people surveyed constitute a “majority” view and that I must accept their view, which is really a “minority” one (based on comparative figures), simply because they’re touted as the majority in a particular survey. In fact, I don’t have to accept anything simply because a few say so–and do so rather loudly (i.e. delusionally pretending to be the many).³ I accept things because they are worthy of acceptance, but that requires an entirely different (and more substantial) kind of conversation.

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¹ I’m not sure if they’re doing this in the States (or anywhere else), but here in the UK it is now common practice in adverts to show both the percentage and the number of people surveyed.
² It is, therefore, no wonder that the survey-data is either tucked away at the end of the article or on a completely different site.
³ Current issues in American politics illustrate what happens when a few are allowed to shape the many, and do so on the assumption that the few are portrayed as more powerful than the many.

another one left behind

I have four e-mail addresses: personal, University, joint (i.e. my lovely wife and me), and Yahoo. The first is the one I prefer and use most often, the second is used out of necessity, the third is for random things, and the last is lovingly called, my “crap e-mail.” It’s the one I use when I have to sign up for things or give out a valid e-mail address. Thus, it’s the one that receives the most crap (or spam).

However, because it’s a Yahoo address this means I occasionally have to endure the Yahoo homepage, which is usually nothing more than a cesspool of banal dronings about superficialities masquerading as real news. Admittedly, every so often there is something important and newsworthy, but it’s typically late in the feed or sandwiched between useless slices of stale drivel. (Can you tell I have a slight disdain for Yahoo?)

In exceptional cases (and by that I mean their rarity, not their quality), I find something that is simply laughable–not because it is funny but because it is painfully pathetic. Case in point: this morning I was slapped in the face with this story. My angst is not with the story itself. I truly feel for the woman who was inadvertently harpooned and I do pray that she makes a full recovery. My beef, however, is with the ineptitude at keeping the details straight–let alone consistent. Or valid. Or right. Here’s what I mean.

Take a look at the way in which the story is advertised in the newsfeed:

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Now, I ask you, dear reader: do you remember seeing anything in the original story about the women being “inches away from death”? I don’t. I do, however, remember seeing that “the harpoon came within 1cm of killing the woman.” In case you missed it:

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Last time I checked, “1cm” is a far cry from “inches”–the plural form implying more than one inch. Come on, people; it’s basic education! You know, the stuff you learned when you were about 5. (Another child left behind).

I think what bugs me even more is that the newsfeed presents the “inches from death” as though it’s a legitimate quotation, but it’s not. No one in the article says that! Ever. So, not only are the technical details inconsistent (i.e. patently wrong) yet presented as though nothing’s really problematic, the quotation doesn’t even exist yet it is proffered as though it does. That’s just poor and painfully pathetic reporting.

I think I need more coffee….

a modicum of solace

Yesterday The Guardian provided the results of an American-based survey on various conspiracy theories. Interestingly, the headline focused only on one of the 26 questions: Obama as the Antichrist. Two things–one about the headline, and one about the survey–and then a third, which is less troubling.

With regard to the headline, it’s a bit misleading. According to the numbers in the results (the full break-down is here), only 13% believe Obama is the Antichrist. That’s hardly “one in four Americans.” The only way you can get close to a “one in four” charge (i.e. 25%) is if you lump the 13% from the “not sure” category, which is what Paul Harris does in the article. He does this on the basis that “not sure” = “possibly so” or “I could be convinced”. A bit shady on the method, but understandable. “One in four” sounds better and (slightly) more widespread than “one in seven(ish)”.

With regard to the survey, it too is a bit misleading. If we went on the title alone, we get the impression that 25% of (all) Americans believe Obama is the Antichrist. Given the population of the US (315,610,625, as of 8.30 this morning), that would mean something around 78,902,656.25. (Who is the .25 of a person!?). But that can’t be right. Outside of Garnier, who would survey that many people? Harris does explain that the survey involved only “a sample of American voters”. Okie dokie. According to this site, last year there were 146,311,000 registered voters in the US (a number that seems too clean for my taste, but no matter). So if we use that number, then, according to Harris’ “one in four” charge, that would mean 36,577,750 people surveyed believe Obama to be the Antichrist. (Thankfully, no fractions of people this time). But that can’t be right either.

Conveniently (or smartly), Harris leaves out the exact size of the sample, and he suspiciously leaves out any links to survey itself. Again, it sounds so much better and more–dare I say–condemning to say “one in four Americans” and let people assume that the number is huge. But what about facts? If you were to take the 12 seconds to do your own search and locate the survey in question (or just use the link I supplied–you’re welcome), you would see that the sample-size is . . . get ready for this . . . 1247. I didn’t leave out any numbers. 1,2,4,7. That’s all. Seriously, Harris: Asda’s got more stuff on sale.

Accordingly, if we use Harris’ bold figure of 25%, that would mean only 311.75 people believe Obama is the Antichrist. That’s not “one in four”. That’s like one in a million (I think; my maths are a little rusty this morning). But no one is going to care if Harris says that figure, so it’s no wonder that his misleadingly says, “one in four”. Things get uglier if we use the solid number of 13%, which would bring the total to a whopping 162.11 people. That’s just under one in every two million (again, I think). Seriously, Harris: you’re going to paint 1/4 of Americans with a brush admittedly used by only 162.11 people? Tsk! Tsk!

The third thing, and this is the modicum of solace: only 162.11 people admit to believing Obama to be the Antichrist. I don’t mean to sound crass, but it’s comforting to know that only 162.11 people have a faulty understanding of the Antichrist. If we follow what the Johannine Epistles say, the “antichrist” (ἀντιχριστος) is anyone who “denies the Father and the Son” (1Jn 2.22) and/or denies “Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh” (2Jn 1.7). While the Johannine Epistle seem to suggest a solitary figure–i.e. the Antichrist–appearing in the last days (cf. 1Jn 2.18; 4.3), nothing definite is said about him (or her–sorry, I have to be PC these days). However, since the language of the Epistles on this matter is apocalyptic, we can safely assume that this solitary figure is understood in apocalyptic terms–i.e. he (or she) ain’t human. And if he (or she) ain’t human, then Obama can’t be the Antichrist. Same goes for the new Pope–contra this guy–or any other person.

two similar quotes…

or two writers recognizing the importance of a singular point?

When commenting on a statement put out by “The Bible Literacy Project”, Joel Green says:

Encouraging study about the Bible in public schools , this document sketches possibilities for curriculum related to the Bible and literature, the Bible and history, and the Bible and world religions. As important as this project might be on its own terms, this is not reading the Bible as Scripture. . . . [T]he slogan that has driven critical study of the biblical materials–“Read the Bible as you would read any other book”–however helpful and well-intentioned, cannot on its own promote a reading of the Bible as Scripture. This way of engaging the Bible cannot sustain the people of God. This motto, I will argue, is not so much inappropriate as it is inadequate. It is not even the most important, first step to be taken.

–Joel B. Green, Seized by Truth: Reading the Bible as Scripture (2007), 2

When commenting on the significance of studying the NT in Greek, Randolph Tasker says:

the writings of the New Testament are for the most part not “literature” in the sense in which we apply that word to secular writings; and the attempt to promote the reading of it by presenting it as though it were “literature” in this sense is doomed to failure. The Gospels are meant to be read, and perhaps ought only to be read, because they contain a gospel, to accept which is man’s greatest need. If we want “literature” of an aesthetically satisfying nature, we must turn our attention elsewhere.

–R.V.G. Tasker, The Nature and Purpose of the Gospels (1944), 108

quote of the day (or why Santayana is still right)

Thus, eagerness on the part of the cities to receive marks of imperial favour, the desire of wealthy natives to attain the only form of public honour open to them, and the greed of the common people for sports and games, all combined to buttress the worship which the authorities had adopted as an instrument of government. But this was a way of expressing gratitude and admiration which the followers of Jesus could not take. The claim that was made on behalf of the emperor was irreconcilable with the sole right of Christ to the worship of men. Gradually it would come to the knowledge of the citizens that there was a sect in their midst that refused to join in the emperor-cultus. Astonishment would give place to anger. Every consideration that increased the enthusiasm of the citizens for the worship would make the attitude of the Christians more obnoxious in their eyes. The refusal would be construed into disloyalty; and both priests [of the emperor-cultus] and people would take every means in their power to overcome an obstinacy which would not only appear unreasonable and ungracious, but which might have the effect of making the city’s loyalty suspect in high quarters. The whole resources of the community would be employed to compel that conformity to the established usage which was not rendered voluntarily.

— J.T. Dean, The Book of Revelation (1915), 14

disparate observations*

One
Last week, the story of a Georgia House Representative’s views on creation hit the news. The underlying tone of the article seems to be one of poking fun at people who happen to hold a “young Earth” view of creation, or at least paint all Christians Broun. The structure of the article and the nature of some of the comments bear this out. However, in all the fun-poking, the writer’s eagerness produced a couple of flaws–one less severe than the other.

The minor flaw is the assertion that “Broun advanced his own theory of life on Earth” (emphasis added), one that adheres to a literal reading of the text. Yet a tad later the same writer claims: “Broun is far from the only believer in a literal, or Biblical, creation.” Well, which is it? Is it Broun’s own theory, or one shared by others? You can’t have it both ways. I guess the escape hatch here is Broun’s 9000-year-old suggestion, which is a bit odd.

The bigger flaw, however, is that in attempting to paint Christians with the same brush, the writer fails to recognize the basic problem of appointing someone with extreme anti-Science views to be the Chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. (I owe this observation to Robert Cargill). Hey Stephanie: If you wanted a real opportunity to criticize, or at least focus on something more controversial, you missed it.

Two
Two days ago, I read an article by W.O. Fitch, entitled, “Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Christ” (Theology 74.607 [1971]: 18-24). Anyone with a basic knowledge of NT scholarship in general and the Corinthian letters in particular will conclude the article is about the issue of “parties” or “factions” (or “cliques”) in Corinth. In fact, this conclusion would seem to follow from what Fitch argues in the bulk of the article.

However, when we come to the end of the article we discover that dealing with issue of “parties” or “factions” (or “cliques”) in Corinth, and how we might understand them, are not a part of Fitch’s agenda. His final sentence reveals that he has something completely different in mind. Fitch says: “All of this point to the early date for Galatians: and also suggests that Acts, while it is eirenic, is not as tendentious as some current writing assumes” (24).

Three
This morning I started reading B.F. Westcott’s, A General View of the History of the English Bible (1868)–as you do on a Tuesday.  Throughout the first 70 or so pages, I noticed something: there is a striking (and scary) similarity between 1) the opponents of both Wycliffe and Tyndale and 2) the “King James Only” advocates of today.

Particularly, the two groups share the same animosity and  indignation toward their chosen “enemies.” Even the kinds of arguments marshaled (or at least the reasons behind them) have frightening parallels. The only notable difference is that the KJO crowd isn’t burning their “enemies” at the stake–although, I wouldn’t say that option has gone without consideration.

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* A couple of these will likely get me into trouble, or at least ruffle some feathers. Sorry.

how to change but stay the same

I try to keep watch for articles on Facebook’s every-adapting policies and accessibility, and what useful tips there might be on the subject. Yesterday I found this big-brother sounding article, “Who’s Watching You on Facebook?” (The use of phrases like, “being spied on”, “snooping”, and “prying eyes” really helps the motif). In many respects it unfolded in the usual way and reached the typical conclusion: “other people besides close friends and family see your stuff, so be careful what you post on Facebook, otherwise it’ll bite your keester clean off.” It then gave four examples from four different areas of life where the four seemingly hapless individuals got screwed.*

What troubled me about the article, however, and it appears in similar articles dealing with social media, is how it identifies the locus of wrongdoing. (I should say, how it inconsistently identifies it). In only one of the four examples does the article correctly name the real problem–albeit implicitly: if you owe money to debt-collectors, “[i]gnoring the problem won’t make it go away.” Conclusion: own up to what you owe and pay it. However, whatever standard or methodology used for that one is clearly chucked out the window when it comes to the two other big ones–i.e. “job hunting” and “legal snooping”.

With the first one, the fault is not with the person who drinks uncontrollably, reduces him-/herself to drugs, and/or brags about getting hammered or flying around in a yellow submarine; nor is it with the person who displays pictures where onlookers would otherwise have to pay a monthly fee. No, the fault is placed squarely on the decision to publicize such things on Facebook. And the reason why this act of publicizing is a bad move? It’s not because there is something wrong with the behavior itself, but because doing so might kill your chance for getting a job.

With the second one, the fault is not with Dorothy McGurk’s sinister decision to lie about the extent of her physical condition and milk the system for $850/month. No, the fault is placed on her thoughtless decision to post information and photos of herself, which show her to be getting on just fine–and enjoying things in the process. And why was this thoughtless decision bad? It’s not because Dorothy knowingly cheated the ones who otherwise seek to help those in (real) need, but because she will now no longer get $850/month.

In all of this there seems to be an underlying accusation against those ostensibly doing the spying, snooping, and prying–how dare they invade people’s private lives!–while those who lie, cheat, steal, debauch and demean themselves are portrayed as victims. Moreover, the tone of the article’s summary comes across as, “Let me show you how not to make these rookie mistakes.” (This seems to me to operate on a modified version of, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”). Thus, the article seems to offer advice on making superficial changes without affecting what truly matters; how to change but stay the same; how to divert the attention off one’s own evil and focus entirely on the apparent evil of those who disapprove.

I would ask, “What the hell is happening with society?”, but I think that would begin to answer the question.

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* I will admit that the “password” example illustrates excessiveness on the part of the employer, and that type of power-play should be resisted.