Saturday, October 31, 2009

Disgusted with Dell (Updated)

I've been waiting for months for Intel to release their mobile Core i7 processors so I could upgrade my laptop. Intel released them in September.

On September 24th I placed an order for a Dell XPS 16 with a core i7 processor. It was not cheap, so I took advantage of the offer for 0% interest for 12 months if I opened a credit account with Dell. At that time the promised delivery date was October 28th.

On October 23rd I received an e-mail from Dell stating that the delivery date had been postponed until November 5th.

Today I logged onto my Dell account to check on the status of my order. I discovered that Dell cancelled my September 24th order and placed an identical order for me on October 29th with a delivery date of November 29th. All without notifying me of anything.

I called Dell customer service to find out what was going on. The wait time to get to a customer service representative was more than 5 minutes. After talking with the first representative, I was switched to 4 different customer service representatives -- each time with a wait time of more than five minutes. The representatives told me that there was a problem with the configuration that they had promised me and that they had to change the order. Since the orders appeared to be identical, I asked them what the difference was between the orders. None of them could tell me that.

More than two full months to wait for delivery of a computer is longer than I think reasonable. I told the last representative to cancel my order. I have no intention of ever buying another computer from Dell.

The Customer Service Representative told me that he could not cancel the order and that I would have to call back to Dell to cancel the order next week. I told him that the order I placed was already cancelled. I did not place the order on October 29th, Dell did. I have no intention of calling back to cancel an order that I never placed.

We'll see how this plays out. Right now, I'm about to switch to an HP laptop. Here's a link that shows HP can deliver a Core i7 laptop in two days.

Update 9:50AM 11/2/09: I called Dell again this morning to try to get them to cancel the order they placed in my name on 10/29/09. I did not place an order on 10/29/09. I placed my order on 9/24/09 and they cancelled that order without notifying me of the cancellation. I was on hold for 25 minutes before reaching a Customer Service Representative. She told me that they could not cancel the order. The order is now scheduled for delivery on 11/25/09. I advised her that I would refuse delivery of the computer.

Update 11:00AM 11/2/09: HP may be able to deliver in two days, but their laptop frequency of repair record -- according to Consumer Reports -- is not impressive. Neither is Dell's any more. I just ordered a Toshiba. Their laptop frequency of repair record is impressive. Toshiba can deliver in one to two weeks.

Update 12:25PM 11/2/09 Lisa Grimes with Sales Operations from Dell sent me an e-mail advising me that she had read my blog and wanted to assist me. I asked her to cancel the order from Dell. She did.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Solution Found for America's Dismal Job Market

Oklahoma Ten Commandments Case Goes to Supreme Court

Lawyers for the Haskell County Commissioners in Stigler, Oklahoma have formally filed a Petition of Writ of Certiorari asking the Supreme Court to reverse the decision of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that their Monument to American Theocracy is unconstitutional.

One of the arguments the lawyers make in their writ is that the monument is not in a prominent place on the courthouse grounds because it is not posted near the entrance to the courthouse. As the background of the picture on the right shows, the monument is posted near the main street and highway in Stigler -- where it is visible and prominent to every person who walks by the courthouse and/or drives through town.

As the picture on the left shows, the engraver did not know how to spell the word "adultery."

For the record, Haskell County has still not complied with the court's order that it remove the monument from the grounds of their courthouse.

Jeff Zurheide Passes (Revised)

I received notice that Jeff Zurheide, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, passed away yesterday.

In my opinion, Jeff was the most courageous Baptist minister in the state of Oklahoma during the years that he was at First Baptist in OKC. He was also the premier scholar-preacher in the state.

Don't take my word for it. Examine the record for yourself. Here are some links from the archives of the Mainstream Messenger:

Response to the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message

Herschel Hobbs on Baptist Freedom: The 2000 Herschel H. and Frances J. Hobbs Lecture Series at Oklahoma Baptist University.

First Baptist Church Drops Out of the SBC

Distortions by Preservationist Newsletter Destroying Herschel Hobbs Legacy
Today a lyric from an old song appears sad but true: "It seems the good, they die young."

I'll just add my "Amen!" to the "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" that he's already heard from his Maker.

Associated Baptist Press has run an obituary.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pierard Corrects Land, Again

Richard Land did not take lightly Richard Pierard's criticism of his use of Nazi analogies in regard to healthcare reform proposals. Pierard, a professional historian and a scholar of German history, seems to have hit a raw nerve in Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Land complained to Baptist Press, "The last time I checked, Dr. Pierard had not been made speech czar."

Pierard responds to Land's complaint in an essay today on Ethics Daily. His strongest comments, however, were addressed to all Southern Baptists:

Southern Baptists should be just as disturbed by Land's statements because he has brought his denomination into disrepute. His half-hearted repentance included the suggestion that he would continue to expose the ideas of "lethal and deadly philosophies loose in 20th century Germany prior to the Nazis' ascendancy to power" that seemed to be relevant to contemporary life-and-death issues. In other words, it appears he will continue to draw on the Nazi analogy when it might help him in the struggle with other Christians who do not share his views on "life" issues.

The concerns many of us have about Land's own civility inevitably reflect back on the integrity of the denomination that appointed him and stands behind him. Both he and his superiors need to reflect carefully on what Christian speech is really all about and on their need to turn their backs on old ways of expressing disagreement. This is truly a question of "ethics."

Still Looking for a Prophet

In the fall of 2005 Phil Strickland, former head of the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, was to be the speaker at the annual Texas Baptist Committed breakfast. Phil was too sick to deliver the speech. His speech on "Where Have All the Prophets Gone?" was read for him by George Mason, pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas.

Phil's concerns are as pertinent today as they were then, perhaps more so. Here's his conclusion:

We desperately need a "theology of enough." We are stewards, not owners, of what we have, at least in Christian teaching. So do we have any walls around what we will spend on ourselves? Do we have any sense of enough for ourselves? That's where the prophets will emerge.

Ah, but what about one more -- denominations. Should they take risk and speak prophetically or declare that the only real role of the denomination is meeting the need of the churches who are a member of the BGCT? To me the answer is easy. Meeting the will of churches, vital as it is, comes in behind one other: listening for and meeting the will of God.

What trumps the prophetic role in denominations is fear of financial loss, and the lack of understanding what crosses they are willing to die on, if any. What is so compelling that a denomination will stand there and ignore the consequences? Do we know the answer to that question? The question must be asked of laypeople and pastors and churches.

A half century ago in this very city some of the brightest lights of Baptists shone in church pulpits. One of the brightest was Blake Smith, pastor of the University Baptist Church. One Sunday morning he stood tall in that pulpit and declared that it was past time that the University of Texas open its doors to all Texas citizens. The time for integration had come. What's more, he said to his all-white church, the time had come for University Baptist Church to open its doors to all for whom Christ died.

Well, right after the benediction the predictable took place. An emergency deacons meeting was called for that afternoon. For hours those men grumbled on about what the preacher had said that morning, about whether he had the right to say those things, about the autonomy of the local church to decide who would and who would not be its members, about whether Blake Smith ought tobe their pastor at all. After all long while, the moderator looked to the back of the room where an old respected judge was sitting quietly. The man said, "Judge, we haven't heard from you on this matter. What do you think?" The judge rose to his feet and said solemnly, "Well, boys, you know I don't like what our pastor said this morning any more than any of the rest of you. But I think Jesus liked it a lot." Motion to adjourn.

Where have all the prophets gone?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Finding Common Ground Between Baptists and Muslims

The Baptist Center for Ethics has posted a 90 second trailer (above) and several brief video clips (here) for their documentary "Different Books, Common Word."

The documentary will air on ABC-TV affiliate stations beginning in January 2010.

Here's a link to a story about the documentary on Ethics Daily.

It was a privilege and honor for me to be one of the people interviewed for this documentary.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Al Mohler on Conscience

Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary and architect of the heretical 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statement, has taken up writing about conscience lately. Today, he writes about "The Idolatrous Religion of Conscience" and concludes with a quote from Martin Luther:

"It is the nature of all hypocrites and false prophets to create a conscience where there is none, and to cause conscience to disappear where it does exist."
I find it ironic that Mohler is now demonstrating such concern about forms of idolatry. Particularly when the article on "Scriptures" that he wrote for the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message demoted Jesus and elevated the Bible to such and extent that his statement is the clearest expression of Bible idolatry ever approved by a Baptist convention.

For the record, I too believe that conscience can be elevated to idolatrous levels. No one should trust a conscience that is not informed by both scripture and by the Holy Spirit (Mohler also turns a deaf ear to God's Spirit).

I also find it ironic that Mohler cites Martin Luther so approvingly. I'm not sure where the quote he cites is to be found in Luther's corpus, but I'm certain that you can find quotes similar to this in Luther's denunciations of the Anabaptists whose conscience prohibited them from baptizing infants. Instead, they insisted on baptizing believers.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The SBC's Unethical Ethician Strikes Again

You might expect the President of an agency entitled "The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission" to be scrupulous about speaking the truth and honoring promises. You should expect the same from the head of the ethical ageny of the largest Protestant denomination in America. Unfortunately, Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Convention's political arm and ethical agency, appears to have few scruples about mendacity and promise breaking.

On September 26th Land declared democratic proposals for healthcare reform to be "precisely what the Nazi's did." He bestowed on Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, President Obama's healthcare advisor, "The Dr. Jospeh Mengele Award." Mengele was a notorious Nazi death camp doctor.

When Abraham Foxman of the AntiDefamation League complained about his inappropriate use of Nazi analogies, Land denied he intended to say what he clearly said, apologized, and promised not to use such analogies in the future.

Land lied. As Brian Kaylor at Ethics Daily points out, Baptist Press, the propaganda arm for the Southern Baptist Convention, is still printing stories that indicate Land still stands by his Nazi analogies.

Richard Land's remarks prompted the Interfaith Alliance to write an open letter calling for civility and asking public speakers to refrain from holocaust comparisons.

Jesus and Conscience

Jesus did not use the word for conscience. He spoke about the heart.

Jesus perceives that people honor God with their lips, but their hearts are far from him. (Mk. 7:6) His mission is to seek and save those who are lost in their sin and guilt. He likens his message to a seed that brings forth much fruit when it falls on the good ground of an honest and good heart that will hear it and keep it. (Luke 8:15)

Those who hear Jesus and look at themselves through his eyes, begin to perceive how they appear in God's sight. Through Jesus' eyes the proud and self-righteous discover that they are unacceptable to God, though they may not believe it. On the other hand, penitent sinners see that, in spite of their sin, God loves them, accepts them, and wants to transform their hearts and lives.

Lives are transformed by a wholehearted response to Christ's call to discipleship. Jesus commands his disciples to turn away from a life of sin and calls them to follow him, his teachings and his example. Disciples are to bear witness to the character and quality of Christ's life, sacrificial death and resurrection by the character and quality of their own life of sacrificial love and service. Literally, disciples are to be ready and willing to give up their lives for others in the same humble, self-sacrificing Spirit in which Christ took up a cross and died for all humanity.

Short of making the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus expects his disciples to maintain a pure heart by loving God with all their heart, with all their soul, with all their mind, and with all their strength, by loving their neighbors as themselves, by loving each other as he has loved them, and by loving even their enemies.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

KSBI Reports on OCC Press Conference

KSBI-TV has also posted a report about the the press conference for healthcare reform that the Oklahoma Conference of Churches sponsored Tuesday.

Here's a link. KSBI uses another sound bite from my statement.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

OETA Reports on OCC Healthcare Reform Press Conference

The local PBS affiliate made the Oklahoma Conference of Churches' press conference on healthcare reform their top story yesterday.

Click on the ONR 10-20-09 Report or on the picture that looks like the one above. A preview of the press conference coverage is at the 1:20 mark. Full coverage of the press conference begins at the 5:10 mark.

About half of my statement makes it into the report.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Supporting Healthcare Reform

The Oklahoma Conference of Churches is holding a press conference at the State Capitol this afternoon to support healthcare reform. Here is what I plan to say:
I am a Baptist minister and I am here to speak on behalf of the many Baptists who expect our elected leaders to assure that healthcare is accessible, affordable, accountable, and inclusive of all persons.

I am also here to apologize for the heartlessness and indifference of the many Baptists and other Christians who appear to identify more with the priest and the Levite than with the Samaritan in the parable of the good Samaritan.

When we see someone who is sick, injured and beaten down by life in our society our first question should not be "Who sinned and made this person poor and uninsured?" Instead, our first question should be "What can I do to help?"

More than anything else, you can help by demanding that healthcare be accessible, affordable, accountable and inclusive of all persons.

Have a heart, America! Demand healthcare reform.

Note: Thanks to Andy Watts for suggesting phrases used in this statement.

Monday, October 19, 2009

On Using God

Wade Burleson has posted an insightful blog about the facility with which some Christians use God as an explanation for actions with questionable integrity and intentionality. He cites some notorious examples within the SBC takeover movement and makes a worthwhile suggestion:

Bottom line: I wish Christian people would simply state the plain truth and stop spiritualizing everything. How many pastors say "God has called me to another church" when it is more accurate to say "I have an opportunity to go to a bigger church that will pay me a larger salary which will possibly enhance the opportunties and influence I have in terms of my ministerial career." I, frankly, would find the latter--if ever said--refreshing.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Better Late Than Never

Richard Land has finally apologized for equating the Obama administration's plan for heathcare with the work of the Nazi death camp doctor Joseph Mengele.

After receiving a letter of complaint from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and a personal contact from its leader, Land disingenuously denied that he intended to equate Obama's healthcare proposals with anything related to the Holocaust. Then, he disingenuously denied that he really intended to equate anyone in the Obama administration with Dr. Mengele.

Ultimately, Land apologized for any hurt his remarks may have caused Holocaust survivors. Baptist Press has yet to publish a story about his "apology."

I guess this pseudo-apology is better late than never.

As head of the political arm of the largest Protestant denomination in America, Land ought to have known better from the beginning.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mclaren Asks Obama to Reconsider War in Afghanistan

Brian Mclaren has posted an Open Letter to President Obama on the War in Afghanistan.

He asks the President to "find another way ahead in Afghanistan."

I wholeheartedly agree.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Conscience in Classical Greece and Hellenistic Culture

The Greeks were the first people to speak of conscience in the sense in which we use the word. Contrary to what some highly regarded biblical scholars have asserted, the term was not "invented" by the Stoics nor was it predominantly used by them. The materialist philosopher Democritus (460-360 BC) was the first person recorded to have used the Greek word for consciousness, synoida, with the moral sense of conscience:
Some men, not knowing the dissolution of mortal nature, suffer wretchedly throughout their lifetime from distress and fear because of their consciousness of the evildoing in their lives, making false speculations about the time after death.
Few believe that Democritus was doing anything more than taking up a usage for the word that was popular and common in his time. Synoida literally meant "to know in common with" and was often used for knowledge about which you could bear witness for or against another person. In the sense of conscience, you are bearing witness for or against yourself.

The closest any early Greek comes to the idea of a good conscience is the historian Xenophon (430-354) who bears witness within himself that he does good works: "We know with ourselves that we began as children and still continue in the practice of noble and good works."

All of the other early Greek references to "know with ourselves" are associated with an internal witness to something bad. A fragment from the dramatist Menander (342-291 BCE) suggests that, in the world of politics, anyone who bears witness within himself, no matter how brave, will be terrorized by what he knows. The historian Polybius (203-120 BCE) writes that "there is no witness as fearful nor accuser as terrible as the conscience which dwells in every man’s soul."

One of the earliest portrayals of the effects of conscience came from the tragedian Euripedes (480-406 BCE) in Orestes, a play about a son who was advised by the god Apollo to avenge the death of his father by killing his mother who murdered him:
Orestes: Here I am, the murderer of my wretched mother.

Menelaus: I have heard, spare your words; evils should be seldom spoken.

Orestes: I will be sparing; but the deity is lavish of woe to me.

Menelaus: What ails you? What is your deadly sickness?

Orestes: My conscience; I am aware of having done terrible things.
Philo of Alexandria (20 BC – 50 AD), a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher, describes conscience as something that wages war within the soul:
Come now, if you please, and with your reason look into the mind of the man who is about to swear to a falsehood; and you will see that it is not tranquil, but full of disorder and confusion, accusing itself, and enduring all kinds of insolence and evil speaking; for the conscience which dwells in, and never leaves the soul of each individual, not being accustomed to admit to itself any wicked thing, preserves its own nature always such as to hate evil, and to love virtue, being itself at the same time an accuser and a judge; being roused as an accuser it blames, impeaches, and is hostile; and again as a judge it teaches, admonishes, and recommends the accused to change his ways, and if he be able to persuade him, he is with joy reconciled to him, but if he be not able to do so, then he wages an endless and implacable war against him, never quitting him neither by day, nor by night, but pricking him, and inflicting incurable wounds on him, until he destroys his miserable and accursed life.
The historian Plutarch (46-120 AD), a native of Greece who became a Roman citizen, described the conscience as like an ulcer:
Like an ulcer in the flesh. It implants in the soul a remorse which never ceases to wound and to goad it. Any other pain can be reasoned away, but this remorse is inflicted by reason, on the soul which is so racked with shame, and self-chastised. For just as those overcome by shivering fits, or burning with fever, suffer worse and are in greater distress than those who suffer the equivalent, but external, heat or cold, so the pains which come as it were from without and by chance are more easy to bear. But the cry "None other is to blame for this but myself" coming from within upon the wicked man's own sins, makes his sufferings yet harder to bear.
One of the most widely quoted statements about the Greek conscience, erroneously attributed to the Stoic philosopher Epictetus (55-135 AD) by the historian of music Marcus Meibomius (1630-1710), is from an unknown author and dates from around 90 AD:
When we were children our parents handed us over to a nursery-slave who should watch over us everywhere lest harm befall us. But when we are grown up, God hands us over to the conscience implanted in us, to protect us. Let us not in any way despise its protection, for should we do so we shall be both ill-pleasing to God and have our own conscience as an enemy.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Cut Out the in-your-face Religiosity

Ethics Daily has posted an outstanding essay by Zach Dawes about the hypocrisy of Christians who only believe in religious liberty for themselves. Here's a quote:

Probably the best way to explain the issue is to change the group promoting their religious sayings. What if there were quotations from the Quran or the Book of Mormon or another religious group on the banner? What if the majority of the community was atheist and the banners read, "There is no god: eat, drink and be merry"? Would it be acceptable to continue displaying such statements? If no, why is it acceptable for Christians, but not others?

This is the problem often missed amid the sloganized and pejorative banter. This decision is not a denial of Christians' rights to freely express their beliefs. It's a defense of non-Christians' rights to not have Christian beliefs forced upon them.
There are people bright enough to comprehend this in nearly every church in America. Why can't we put an end to the in-your-face religiosity in the public square that masquerades as a kind of tactless, insensitive and aggressive evangelism?

Friday, October 09, 2009

Podcast: Politics, Religion and Conscience

Podcast (27 MB Mp3) of Dr. Bruce Prescott's 10-4-09 "Religious Talk" radio broadcast. I read and comment on Neal Gabler's outstanding Op-Ed on "Religion as Politics" and then talk about Baptists, liberty of conscience, and the need for a passionate progressive faith.

Premature Recognition

Obama Awarded Nobel Peace Prize.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Oklahoma: Nearly the Worst Healthcare in America

The Commonwealth Fund has ranked the health care systems by for all fifty states and the District of Columbia.

Ranked at number 50: Oklahoma. Only Mississippi is ranked lower.

Click here see how other states compare.

Of course, the rest of the country really didn't need Commonwealth to weigh in. All they need do to form an opinion about the quality of healthcare most Oklahomans value is to listen to rhetoric about healthcare from Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, M.D.

Socrates' Conscience

Hannah Arendt, the great Jewish-German philosopher, traced the roots of the Western philosophic understanding of conscience to Socrates. Central to her view is Socrate' refusal to accept contradiction within himself. Socrates is reported to have said,

It would be better for me that my lyre or a chorus I direct were out of tune and loud with discord, and that most men should not agree with me and contradict me, rather than that I, being one, should be out of tune with myself and contradict myself. (Georgias 482b-c)
Socrates could not abide with hypocrisy. For him, the silent inner dialogue with oneself is what constitutes the self into a person. Who could desire to be at odds with their own self? The most important thing in life is to know yourself and be at one with yourself.

Internal dialogue with self is inescapable for Socrates. You can walk away from other people when you have a disagreement, but you cannot walk away from yourself. When you do what you know is wrong, you are witness against yourself and cannot get away from your accuser. You condemn yourself to live with self-reproach.

More than anything else, Socrates wanted to be able to be hold an internal dialogue with himself with integrity and thereby be able to live with himself. That's why he said, "It is better to suffer wrong than do wrong." (Georgias 475c)

Socrates thought teaching people how to think without contradiction would enable them to live without contradiction. For him, morality was founded on the inner intercourse between self with itself. If each person conducted that dialogue with integrity, he thought, there would be no need for external rules or standards.

Ancient Athens thought Socrates teaching corrupted the morals of the city's youth. He encouraged them to examine the traditional beliefs on which morality had been based. In their eyes, undermining unquestioning belief and obedience threatened the harmony of city life.

Athens passed a death sentence on Socrates for disrupting the peace and tranquility of their society. Socrates willingly suffered this injustice rather than actually undermine the rule of law by fleeing the city.

Arendt contends that the morality of Socrates proved inadequate for ordinary political life and is "relevant only in times of crisis." She repeatedly cites examples from dissidents and opponents to the Nazi regime who explained their behavior by claiming, "I couldn't live with myself if I followed orders." For her, the Socratic "self as the ultimate criterion of moral conduct is politically a kind of emergency measure."

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Hebrew Conscience

The Hebrew Bible has no word for "conscience." Instead, the word "heart" is used in ways that resemble our understanding of "conscience."

In places, the Old Testament envisions the heart as a moral guide. David prays for Solomon to have "a perfect heart, to keep thy commandments" (1 Chron. 29:19) and Solomon prays for "an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil." (1 Kings 3:9) Jeremiah sees a day when God will make a "new covenant" with his people and will put his "law within them and on their heart." (Jere. 31:31-34).

The strongest impulses of the heart, however, are predominantly viewed as untrustworthy and deceitful (Jere. 17:9). Rabbinic Judaism distinguished two drives within the human heart. An evil inclination (Yetzer Hara) rooted in essential biological drives that issue in a psychological proclivity toward selfishness and a good inclination (Yetzer Hatov) that grows with moral and intellectual understanding and shapes the personality for good in proportion to the degree to which the heart adheres to God's law.

The primary expressions of conscience in the Old Testament are associated with experiences of guilt due to the failure to keep the law. From the beginning, law-breaking was viewed as exposing oneself to shame in the eyes of others (Gen. 3). David's heart was recorded to be "smote" (KJV), "troubled" (NASB), "conscience-stricken" (NIV) after he numbered the people (2 Sam. 24:10, cf. 1 Sam. 24:5) The Psalmist confesses "I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me" (Ps. 51:3) and prays "Create in me a clean heart, O God" (Ps. 51:10).

While conscience is primarily viewed as adherence to God's law, there are also biblical passages in which conscience appears as a "spiritual audacity" bold enough to argue and reason with God. Abraham questions whether the entire population of Sodom and Gomorrah deserves judgment (Gen. 18:20-33), Moses successfully intercedes for the Children of Israel when God declares his intention to destroy them (Ex. 32:9-14), and the Psalmist accuses God of sleeping while his people are given into the hands of their enemies like sheep to be eaten (Psalm 44).

Consciences free to challenge omnipotence and influence God himself will not be afraid of questioning the moral authority of their leaders and of challenging the injustices of any earthly potentate. Amos denounces societies that trample on the heads of the poor and deny justice to the oppressed (Amos 2:7), Micah objects to leaders who pronounce judgment for a bribe, priests who instruct for a price, and prophets who divine for money (Micah 3:11), and Ezekiel abhors the arrogance of cities like Sodom where there was abundant food and careless ease, but no help for the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:49).

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Another Outrageous Lie From Richard Land

Richard Land, head of the political action arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, told members of the Christian Coalition in Florida that the healthcare reform proposed by the Obama administration is "pro-euthaniasia" and is "precisely what the Nazis did."

Land's speech in Florida is filled with such outrageous lies and distortions that it sounds like a rant from someone who is either mentally unbalanced or else is attempting to foment the violent overthrow of our government. That he should be the chief ethical spokesperson for the largest protestant denomination in our nation is unfathomable.

Meanwhile, millions of perfectly sane Southern Baptists who are embarrassed by Land's lies continue to give tithes and offerings to churches that forward a percentage of their money to support Land's work.

That doesn't make sense to me either.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Conscience of Ancient Egyptians

The earliest records we have of any kind of moral philosophy date from between the 28th and the 25th Century BCE. The Maxims of Ptahhotep, compiled by the Grand Vizier under the Pharoah Isesi of the Fifth Dynasty in the 25th Century BCE, have been described as the "earliest formulation of right conduct to be found in any literature."

James H. Breasted in his 1934 book The Dawn of Conscience describes how in the Maxims of Ptahhotep the word for "heart" is used in ways that resemble our understanding of "conscience." The heart that hearkens to good advice is understood to be like a mentor or "wise guide."

Ptahhotep's idea of the heart as a wise guide influenced Egyptian thought for centuries. Breasted quotes a fifteenth century BCE court herald describing how his heart guided him in his service for the conqueror Thutmose III:

It was my heart which caused that I should do them, by its guidance of my affairs. It was . . . as an excellent witness. I did not disregard its speech, I feared to transgress its guidance. I prospered thereby greatly, I was successful by reason of that which it caused me to do, I was distinguished by its guidance.

‘Lo, . . .’ said the people, ‘it is an oracle of God in every body. Prosperous is he whom it has guided to the good way of achievement.’

Lo, thus I was.
Records show that the ancient Egyptians had great concern for impartially administered justice and for generosity toward the hungry and thirsty, widows, orphans, the naked and the poor. They set a limit, however, to the weight that should be given to the perceptions of strangers. Vizier Kheti of the Pyramid Age was said to have "discriminated against some of the people of his own kin [in favour of] strangers, for fear lest it should be said of him that he [favoured] his [kin dishon]estly." Later generations denounced excessive concern for impartiality as "more than justice" and exhorted later Viziers not to follow his example.

The perceptions that most concerned ordinary people of the Osirian faith in ancient Egypt were those of the forty-two lesser gods that sit in the court of the "Great God" on the day of judgment. The Egyptian Book of the Dead is filled with magic charms and incantations giving the dead power over the gods to prevent them from entering a complaint against them about their sins. The dead never confess their sins. Instead, the goal seems to be to be able to stand before the "Great God" and declare "I am one of pure mouth and pure hands, to whom was said 'Welcome, welcome' by those (the gods) who saw him." Those concerned that their own conscience would betray them as their heart was being weighed on the balances could purchase an amulet of a sacred beetle inscribed with the words, "O my heart, rise not up against me as a witness" to be placed over their heart in the grave. They could also add a chapter on "Preventing that the Heart of a Man Oppose Him in the Nether World" to their scroll of the Book of the Dead.

Those who worshipped the Sun–god, Aton, had a more conscientious religion. About Aton, Pharoah Akhenaton has been interpreted as saying that when the sun set and men slept, "Yet art thou still in my heart." Those of the Solar faith worshipped a god devoted to truth. They turned away from the magic of the Osirian faith and found relief from the guilt of sin by humble confession and repentance. For them, the goal seems to have been a quiet, inner communion with god that provided direction for their life.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Striving for a Good Conscience

Conscience involves a recognition of personal responsibility (2 Cor. 5:10). We all have a conscience because we all must give an account for what we do with the freedom and power God has given us.

How do we know what God expects?

We first learn what God expects from the law. God gave us the law to assist us in looking at ourselves through His eyes. The law shows us that sin is repulsive in God’s eyes. A guilty conscience is one that looks at its own soul through the eyes of the law and sees the stain of sin.

The law, however, is not the final measure of conscience. It is only a "tutor" that leads us through childhood toward a more mature relation in which we come to see God as a Father. (Gal. 4:1-7)

We learn to see God as a Father by looking at ourselves through the eyes of his Son. Jesus perfectly reveals what God expects. When we look at ourselves through His eyes, we see that, in spite of our sins, God loves us and wants to forgive us. That is why the gospel is good news! Those who accept God's love receive power to conquer sin and be free of guilt. We are authorized to look at ourselves as new persons, as sons of God, and joint heirs with Christ.

No one grasped the implications of this better than the apostle Paul. He was the first person on record to claim to have a "good conscience." (Acts 23:1) He did that while on trial before the Sanhedrin. When he did so, the High Priest — presumably in good conscience — immediately ordered someone to "strike him on the mouth." (Acts 23:2) People have disputed appeals to conscience ever since.

Conflict with the Sanhedrin was inevitable for Paul. He was using a different standard by which to measure conscience. The Sanhedrin measured their consciences by a law that was written by the finger of God on tablets of stone. Paul was measuring his conscience by the Spirit of Christ whose finger he felt clearly on his own heart.

Paul’s dispute with the Sanhedrin should serve as a signal for caution when matters of conscience are being weighed. We will all give an account for what we do with the freedom and power God has given us.

We will all be held personally responsible for every inflammatory opinion we express, for every incendiary action we take, and for every uncharitable vote we make. Those missing or absent when issues of conscience are raised will not escape accountability.

Until that final account is made, each person is required to examine their own conscience. The best way to do that is to measure it by what Jesus revealed that God expects.

That's why Paul says we must appear before the judgment seat of "Christ." It's also the best reason for asking "What would Jesus do?"

When you truly do what Jesus would do, you’ll have a good conscience.

Having a clear conscience, however, is no guarantee that your conscience is good. Some people have a clear conscience when others correctly believe they shouldn't. Another may have a conscience that is clear and good when others incorrectly think he shouldn't.

In the end, we all have to live with our own consciences.

That's why the best we can try to do is strive to have a good conscience.

Ultimately, judging the goodness of consciences belongs to God.

A Time for Passionate Progressive Faith

The LA Times has posted an insightful but defeatist essay about "Politics as Religion" by Neal Gabler. Gabler says American conservatism has become a religion and cannot be overcome:

You cannot beat religion with politics, which is why the extreme right "wins" so many battles. The fundamentalist political fanatics will always be more zealous than mainstream conservatives or liberals. They will always be louder, more adamant, more aggrieved, more threatening, more willing to do anything to win. Losing is inconceivable. For them, every battle is a crusade -- or a jihad -- a matter of good and evil.

There is something terrifying in this. The media have certainly been cowed; they treat intolerance as if it were legitimate political activity. So have many politicians, and not just the conservative ones who know that if they don't fall in line, they will be run over. This political fundamentalism has also invaded the general culture in deleterious ways. The ugly incivility of recent months is partly the result of political fundamentalists who have nothing but contempt for opposing viewpoints, which gives them license to shout down opponents or threaten them, just as jihadis everywhere do.

Those who oppose the religification of politics may think all they have to do is change tactics, but they are sadly, tragically mistaken. They can never win, because for the political fundamentalists, this isn't political jousting, this is Armageddon.
Gabler's diagnosis is fairly astute but the prognosis is not as dire as he projects.

The antidote for the fundamentalist religification of politics will be a passionate progressive faith that advocates with unyielding fervor for equal liberty of conscience for all persons and separation of church and state.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Sobering Facts About the U.S. Economy

Since the stock market has been demonstrated to be as risky as a casino, I've been trying to find a conservative form of investing that hedges against the prospect of high rates of inflation in the future. Research led me to consider TIPS (Treasury Inflation Protected Securities). Investigating the possibilities for investing in TIPS led me to a report issued last week by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

That report, Debt Management: Treasury Inflation Protected Securities Shoulg Play a Heightened Role in Addressing Debt Management Challenges, describes the challenge that the U.S. government is facing in regard to the mountain of debt that must be paid for the enormous budget deficits, war expenses and finance industry bailout of the last nine years. Here are some sobering facts the GAO discusses as it offers TIPS as a tool for the government to manage its debt:

"Treasury’s total outstanding debt increased by $2.3 trillion (25 percent increase in federal debt) since the onset of the economic recession in December 2007." (p.4)

"At the end of June 2009, Treasury’s outstanding marketable securities stood at $6.6 trillion, an increase of almost $2.1 trillion from December 2007." (p. 4)

"Treasury data states that almost half of the $6.6 trillion in marketable securities is held by foreign investors, as of May 2009." (footnote, p. 4)

"78 percent (or about $5.1 trillion) of the outstanding marketable Treasuries mature by 2015 and will need to be rolled over (or refinanced) -- potentially at higher interest rates." (p. 6)

"CBO’s analysis of the President’s Budgetary Proposals for Fiscal Year 2010 shows -—absent changes in policy -— interest payments on federal debt more than tripling -—to almost $800 billion -— by 2019." (pp. 6-7)

"CBO projects that, absent changes in current policy, the debt held by the public will double in 5 years (from 2008 to 2013) and almost triple in 11 years (from 2008 to 2019). . . . CBO projects that debt held by the public will increase from 41 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in fiscal year 2008 to 71 percent by the end of fiscal year 2013." (p. 8)
Here's one of the reasons why the GAO considers TIPS a good debt strategy for the government:

"Governments are well suited to bear inflation risk because periods of inflation are often associated with increased revenues." (p. 2)