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July 16, 2016 / compassioninpolitics

Switchfoot’s Redemption Side

I’ve got my hands at redemption’s side
Whose scars are bigger than these doubts of mine
I’ll fit all of these monstrosities inside
It’ll come alive, come alive, alive, come alive

My fears have worn me out
My fears have worn me out
And my fears have worn me out
My fears have worn me, worn me out

If you read this about 3 times and reflect on it…..its really pretty profound.

When I was listening in the car and thought it said “those starts are bigger than these doubts of mine.”  That lyric also works, although not totally in the context of the song itself, which is more Redemption themed than Creation themed.

July 15, 2016 / compassioninpolitics

Thomas Nagel on Materialism


Materialism, then, is fine as far as it goes. It just doesn’t go as far as materialists want it to. It is a premise of science, not a finding. Scientists do their work by assuming that every phenomenon can be reduced to a material, mechanistic cause and by excluding any possibility of nonmaterial explanations. And the materialist assumption works really, really well—in detecting and quantifying things that have a material or mechanistic explanation. Materialism has allowed us to predict and control what happens in nature with astonishing success. The jaw-dropping edifice of modern science, from space probes to nanosurgery, is the result.

But the success has gone to the materialists’ heads. From a fruitful method, materialism becomes an axiom: If science can’t quantify something, it doesn’t exist, and so the subjective, unquantifiable, immaterial “manifest image” of our mental life is proved to be an illusion.

The Core Ethical Project of Thomas Nagel:
Nagel, though doesn’t address the initial problem with deducing ethics from the constructs of biology. We need something more than biology to determine what is possible for human beings and how they should ideally behave. At a minimum, biology (in the context of the human experience and the human spirit) can perhaps deduce, infer, and inform an ethical system deduced from human rationality–but as David Hume postulated ever so many years ago–you can’t deduce an ought from an is. Although, to be fair, looking at perceived or implied essences (and telos) is certainly one way to attempt to bridge this gap in a semi-contructive way. I think any such application has to be wary.

Although Nagel defends a theory of telos that is so strong that it is akin to destiny (or God-like force or God). Nagel is apt to point out the multiple holes in the materialist perspective on human choice and ethics. He sees it lacking an account of intentionality, subjectivity, and decision-processes that individuals go through as they reason about their lives and their world.

“The tendency for life to form may be a basic feature of the natural order, not explained by the nonteleological laws of physics and chemistry.”

Nagel even goes further:

“The universe has become not only conscious and aware of itself but capable in some respects of choosing its path into the future–through all three, the conscious, the knowledge, and the choice, are dispersed over a vast crowd of beings, acting individually and collectively.”

I think Nagel must be thinking of something like the Force from Star Wars, but its beginning to sound a lot like God just wrapped in more human-centric on the one hand…..or abstraction (and miracle or magic) on the other.

In terms of his reasoning around ethics:

“Value enters the world with life, and the capacity to recognize and be influence by value in its larger extension appears with higher forms of life. Therefore the historical explanation of life must include an explanation of value, just as it must include an explanation of consciousness.”

This quote from Nagel seems especially odd and perhaps a little obtuse:
” It is difficult to imagine what form of psychophysical monism could make possible a reductive historical explanation of the origin of life, the development of conscious life, and the appearance of practical reason that would make it anything other than a complete accident that we care about has objective value.”

Nagel is an atheist, but admits the problems intrinsic to our conceptions of science as defined by materialism.

Resources:
Naturalistic Fallacy (Is versus Ought)
Moral Non-naturalism (link)

July 14, 2016 / compassioninpolitics

Book Review of Phillip Zuckermans “Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment”

Analysis, Critique, Criticism of Zuckerman’s “Society without God”

As the footnotes of his wikipedia page point out: “Zuckerman’s work is based on his studies conducted during a 14-month period in Scandinavia in 2005–2006.” or this key distinction: “Zuckerman interviewed Danes and Swedes. He didn’t interview Finns or Norwegians.” Initially, that seems to be a rather small data points. The question of representativeness and sample size is certainly in question. He only had 149 interviews.

The question of the Dane’s Christianity or religiousity is intitially problematic:

The problem of interpreting religion in Scandinavia is highlighted in Ina Rosén’s 2009 dissertation, I’m a Believer—but I’ll be Damned if I’m Religious. x It concerns the difficulty of using traditional religious language in interviews and surveys. When the focus groups in her survey/interviews talked about religion, they connected to what Rosén calls “routinized religion,” a category in line with her concept “packed religion.” When using this type of category or conception, religion appears “thin, cultural, declining or diffuse” in Denmark—a statement, therefore, in accordance with Zuckerman’s findings. However, when Rosén used an “unpacked” conception of religion, she was able to conclude that three-quarters of the Danes are believers;xi a “glaring contrast” to Zuckerman’s results. In sum, after passing a religious language barrier, this recent study shows that a “majority of Danes believe or are willing to identify as religious to a lesser or greater extent.”xii Putting the pieces of evidence together thus allows a critical perspective on Zuckerman’s contention that the Scandinavian societies are secular.

Not to mention, I think the notion of secularism is a historical one too, which some have critiqued Zuckerman about.

But more to the point, the level of analysis (countries and states) is particularly odd. Studies at the level of the individual, which is ultimately where we make decisions like this favor religion as a means to happiness and well-being. Large swaths of research point in this direction, such that its one of the core principles that the research aggregated at the University of Pennsylvania (and others) points to this connection. The Berkeley Center for Good even points to the importance of character, wisdom, and religion for happiness.

Such analyses of secularity and civility have been faulted for cherry-picking both their social health measures (for example, excluding suicide) and their countries (omitting North Korea, China, Vietnam, and the former Soviet states). Instead, they focus on secular countries whose values were fed by a Judeo Christian heritage. Still, ]* Zuckerman’s point can be extended to U.S. state-by-state comparisons.

The Southern states all have higher religious-adherence rates than the West Coast states. They also have slightly higher divorce rates and much higher crime and smoking rates. So once again, it looks like the least religious places are the healthiest and most flourishing.

But it’s individuals who experience more or less faith, happiness, and health. And, surprise, the correlations across individuals run the other direction. Among 45,859 American adults responding since 1972 to National Opinion Research Center surveys, the percentage of “very happy” people ranged from 28 percent of those who never attended religious services up to 48 percent of those who attended more than once a week.

The Heritage Foundation has two white papers on this topic which summarize social science on this question:

  1. “Why Religion Matters”
  2. “Why Religion Matters Even More”

I highly recommend scanning the conclusions here in bullet list form:

Why Religion Matters Even More: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability

Professor Philip Zuckerman even admits to alternative causalities, which is at least honest. And moreover, even atheists admit this connection (see the The Atheist Case for Religion).

David Myers, a psychologist points to the weaknesses of these comparisons:

You can read about the religion and well-being connection here:

A 2012 review of more than 326 peer-reviewed studies of mainly adult populations found that out of those 326 studies, 256 (79%) found only significant positive associations between religiosity/spirituality and well-being. The author postulated that the positive influence of religion or spirituality on well-being can be explained through a few key mechanisms, such as religion’s role as a coping strategy and as a support system for prosocial behaviors. In addition, religious beliefs can potentially alter the way individuals cognitively react to stressors, and often, the regulations of most faiths decrease the likelihood of individuals experiencing particularly stressful life events (such as divorce or incarceration) (2).

I also don’t think Zuckerman looks at the benefits of the US system (innovation in health care, freedom, etc…). Also, the US defends the world, so that military spending is what enables a socialist experiment like those countries to survive in the first place. And, there is no way to know if the US had a more robust social safety net if similar cultural features would arise, which puts significant holes in his overall thesis if its mean to be comparative and/or apply to the US (and be, well scientific in any sense of the term).

Not only that but as sociology professor Lisa Graham McMinn points out

Zuckerman sells humanity short. If people are content but no longer care about transcendent meaning and purpose or life beyond death, that’s not a sign of greatness but tragic forgetfulness. Their horizon of concern is too narrow. They were made for more. What does it profit a society if, as this book’s jacket notes, it gains “excellent educational systems, strong economies, well-supported arts, free health care, egalitarian social policies, outstanding bike paths, and great beer,” but loses its soul? Can a country build strong social systems and keep its soul? While I am thankful for Zuckerman’s reminder about Christianity’s social implications, and the example of a place that meets those obligations differently than we do, I am sad he misses the rest.

Given that, this points to:

  1. significant problems with Zuckermans study and method which call his study question
  2. a large swath of counter-veiling peer reviewed studies (over 326) which focus on the individual, which call his conclusions into serious question.
  3. A question about Zuckerman’s goals and priorities and assumptions.

Its worth noting that one of the main advocates of the secularism thesis from Boston University recanted.

Moreover, the work of Randy Foster has demonstrated the massive economic value of Christianity in quantiatative numbers, and its specific to the US’s history.

Sources:

Source: Review: <i>Society without God</i>

July 13, 2016 / compassioninpolitics

What are the best social justice and social change movies?

  • Stand and Deliver (Teaching/Education Reform)
  • Won’t Back Down (Teaching/Education Reform)
  • Concussion (Will Smith about the concussions problem in professional football)
  • Ghandi (non-violence)
  • Eyes on the Prize (Anything about Martin Luther King Jr–it seems more focused on bio and history than Selma does)
  • Waiting for Superman (documentary about Education Policy and Reform)

Some of these social justice films recommended by Relevant seem interesting (Hotel Rwanda, Living on a Dollar, etc..)

I would further point out that Participant Media has a number of films that fall into that category, however personally I have issues with some in how they handle the issues or portray characters. (link)

Its worth noting that some of the 30 for 30 and other ESPN documentaries may also give a partial window into that world.

Finally this Films for Action has social change documentaries here.  I’m not sure how good the filtering has been in terms of picking the best or picking content that is appropriate for the age group you might be working with, for instance high school or college students.

Also, very few of the above are appropriate for high school age kids, unfortunately.  Perhaps half–its at least something you should reflect on if that is your audience.

July 11, 2016 / compassioninpolitics

CS Lewis in Mere Christianity on Ethical Relativism

There are two reasons for saying it belongs to the same class as mathematics. The first is, as I said in the first chapter, that though there are differences between the moral ideas of one time or country and those of another, the differences are not really very great — not nearly so great as most people imagine — and you can recognize the same lay running through them all: whereas mere conventions, like the rule of the road of the kinds or clothes people wear, may differ to any extent. The other reason is this. When you think about these differences between the morality of one people and another, do you think that the morality of one people is ever better or worse than that of another? Have any of the changes been improvements? If not, then of course there could never be any moral progress. Progress means not just changing, but changing for the better. If no set of moral ideas were truer or better than any other, there would be no sense in preferring civilized morality to savage morality, or Christian morality to Nazi morality. In fact, of course, we all do believe that some moralities are better than others. We do believe that some of the people who tried to change the moral ideas of their own age were what we would call Reformers of Pioneers — people who understood morality better than their neighbors did. Very well then. The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other. But the standard that measures two things is something different from either. You are, in fact, comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people thing, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to that real Right than others. Or put it this way. If your moral ideas can be truer, and those of the Nazis less true, there must be something — some Real Morality — for them to be true about. The reason why your idea of New York can be truer of less true than mine is that New York is a real place, existing quite apart from what either of us thinks. If when each of us said ‘New York’ each means merely ‘The town I am imagining in my own head’, how could one of us have truer ideas than the other? There would be no question of truth or falsehood at all.

July 11, 2016 / compassioninpolitics

The Best of Surprised by Hope by NT Wright

“We can glimpse it in the book of Acts: the method of the kingdom will match the message of the kingdom. The kingdom…goes out into the world vulnerable, suffering, praising, praying, misunderstood, misjudged, vindicated, celebrating: always – as Paul puts it in one of his letters – bearing in the body the dying of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be displayed.”

NT Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church

“What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether. They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”

NT Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church

“Logic cannot comprehend love; so much the worse for logic.”

NT Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church

“When human beings give their heartfelt allegiance to and worship that which is not God, they progressively cease to reflect the image of God. One of the primary laws of human life is that you become like what you worship; what’s more, you reflect what you worship not only to the object itself but also outward to the world around. Those who worship money increasingly define themselves in terms of it and increasingly treat other people as creditors, debtors, partners, or customers rather than as human beings. Those who worship sex define themselves in terms of it (their preferences, their practices, their past histories) and increasingly treat other people as actual or potential sex objects. Those who worship power define themselves in terms of it and treat other people as either collaborators, competitors, or pawns. These and many other forms of idolatry combine in a thousand ways, all of them damaging to the image-bearing quality of the people concerned and of those whose lives they touch.”

NT Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church

“When human beings give their heartfelt allegiance to and worship that which is not God, they progressively cease to reflect the image of God. One of the primary laws of human life is that you become like what you worship; what’s more, you reflect what you worship not only to the object itself but also outward to the world around. Those who worship money increasingly define themselves in terms of it and increasingly treat other people as creditors, debtors, partners, or customers rather than as human beings. Those who worship sex define themselves in terms of it (their preferences, their practices, their past histories) and increasingly treat other people as actual or potential sex objects. Those who worship power define themselves in terms of it and treat other people as either collaborators, competitors, or pawns. These and many other forms of idolatry combine in a thousand ways, all of them damaging to the image-bearing quality of the people concerned and of those whose lives they touch.”

NT Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church

“Evil then consists not in being created but in the rebellious idolatry by which humans worship and honour elements of the natural world rather than the God who made them. The result is that the cosmos is out of joint. Instead of humans being God’s wise vice-regents over creation, they ignore the creator and try to worship something less demanding, something that will give them a short-term fix of power or pleasure.”

NT Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church

“And genuine human beings, from Genesis 1 onward, are given the mandate of looking after creation, of bringing order to God’s world, of establishing and maintaining communities. To suppose that we are saved, as it were, for our own private benefit, for the restoration of our own relationship with God (vital though that is!), and for our eventual homecoming and peace in heaven (misleading though that is!) is like a boy being given a baseball bat as a present and insisting that since it belongs to him, he must always and only play with it in private. But of course you can only do what you’re meant to do with a baseball bat when you’re playing with other people. And salvation only does what it’s meant to do when those who have been saved, are being saved, and will one day fully be saved realize that they are saved not as souls but as wholes and not for themselves alone but for what God now longs to do through them.”

NT Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church

(Source)

July 1, 2016 / compassioninpolitics

Remembering David Foster Wallace

There was also Wallace’s outsized passion for the printed word at a time when it looked like it needed champions. His novels were overstuffed with facts, humor, digressions, silence, and sadness. He conjured the world in two-hundred-word sentences that mixed formal diction and street slang, technicalese and plain speech; his prose slid forward with a controlled lack of control that mimed thought itself.

(Source: Link)

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