Archive for June, 2008
“There are no absolutes!” The concept that there are no absolute rights or wrongs, everything is relative, is broadly advocated. This opens the door to relativism. The thesis of relativism is that whether a thing or thought is right or wrong is relative to who, what, when, where, and why a thing is done.
Ask persons who believe there are no absolutes if they are absolutely certain there aren’t and they might well respond, “Absolutely.”
Oops, there is one.
Those who insist there are absolutes of right and wrong are called judgmental, exclusive, and partisan by relativists. I am persuaded these terms are applicable to relativists.
Relativism says if you believe in absolute truth you are wrong. This makes relativism judgmental.
Relativism in saying there are no absolute truths excludes your belief in absolute truth and is exclusive.
Relativism excludes all persons who are non-relativists from their supposedly “right thinking” party. That makes them partisans.
If the statement “There are no absolute truths” is true that is an absolute and the statement is false.
In the 1950s and 60s relativism was marketed as “Situation Ethics.” The situation determined the ethic. Advocates believed in an evolving ethic. An illustration of the incorrectness of this concept has been suggested to be slavery. 200 years ago it was socially acceptable. Today it isn’t. Suppose 200 years from now it is once again socially acceptable. Isn’t slavery an absolute wrong?
Some relativists argue that you cannot know that anything is right. If you cannot know that anything is right you cannot know that statement is right and that statement is self-contradicting meaning you can know a thing is right.
The Ancient Greek Protagrores was an early writer who issued this summary statement: “Man is the measure of all things.” Not.
That philosophy was played out in ancient
Israel in a time described as when “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” That was relativism at its best. It was one of the most confusing and defeatist times in the history of the nation.
British scholar C.S. Lewis in his book, “The Abolition of Man” refers to maximums of truth as “Tau.” These “primeval moral platitudes” constitute our human moral inheritance. Some of them are justice, truthfulness, mercy, and magnanimity. If we try to operate outside the bounds of Tau under the pretension of neutrality we will learn it is impossible to develop any moral reasoning at all.
Absolutes are a bond for a society. There must be a set of standards for a culture to function harmoniously. Without absolutes there could be no moral code or judicial system.
William Penn made a statement that inflames relativists. He said, “Right is right though all men be against it and wrong is wrong though all men be for it.”
Acceptance of relativism is distorting our national vision.
Following is an oversimplified brief history of the emerging church in Rome. A Catholic historian could do a much better job and doubtless would prefer a fuller accounting. Having studied the early church it is not my primary purpose to recount it but to share enough evidence to prove another point entirely which is actually in defense of the Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church can give a name for every Bishop of Rome dating back to Peter. Some of these are questionable and little is known of them. Parenthetically there are other denominations that make the same claim. During those early years the Bishop of Rome had little or no authority over bishops from other areas.
The first council held at the behest of an Emperor was held by Bishop Melitiades in 313 AD. This established the first link between the papacy and temporal powers.
The first church buildings were erected in Rome between 312 and 337 AD.
The renowned first Council of Nicea was held in 325 AD.
Leo the Great, also known as Leo I, who served from 440-461 AD defined Catholic orthodoxy in his work “Tome.”
That means that between the time the Christian gospel arrived and became established in Rome that for nearly 300 years there was no authoritative all powerful Roman Catholic Church. The church was a colony of believers meeting in homes until the early 300s.
Now the purpose of this background.
There are profiteers making a good living claiming Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had children. They further claim the church fathers knew this and have kept it a secret all these years. Only they, these courageous authors and film makers, now have been so clever as to uncover this devious secret and brave enough to reveal it.
The point is there was no all powerful body that could have suppressed such a dramatic event during those early years. There was no powerful Vatican to keep this from being broadly known. Such news would have had such a revolutionary influence in those first 300 years the church would have been stillborn. The movement would have gone absolutely nowhere.
The detractors of Jesus say his disciples kept the secret initially. Why? One of the laws regarding Jewish men had to do with them marrying. If Jesus had been married there would have been no cause to keep it a secret. Marriage was the norm. The fact he was married would have been celebrated. He participated in many social functions why would his marriage not have been noted as a celebration?
Married women were known by the name of their husband and single women by their home town. Mary Magdalene meant Mary the single woman from Magdela. This indicates she was never married.
Mary Magdalene was at the cross with Mary the mother of Jesus when Jesus commended the care of his mother to his disciple John. Would a person so caring for his mother not have provided at the same moment for his wife?
I have written a historical novel that will be out later this year in which characters of the time of Jesus deal in detail with this and many other modern myths. I hope it is found to be intriguing and informative.
Liberation Theology is a new term for many. Reverend Jeremiah Wright, an advocate of this school of thought, has reintroduced it and acquainted many with it for the first time.
To concisely write on a subject as broad as this is to leave room for criticism for not fully representing the subject. To introduce it concession must be made that this is only in part a characterization of the topic.
In 1969 James Cone wrote the primary work introducing the school of thought entitled “Black Theology and Black Power.” In a later book Cone defines this school of theology in this way:
“If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community… Black theology will accept only the love of a God who participates in the destruction of the white enemy. What we need is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love.”1
Some current advocates say Christianity was forced on early Africans introduced to America and has failed them. Because of this failure many blacks in America are being attracted to Islam.
Islam is represented as the original faith of African-Americans. It is depicted as the faith willfully embraced by African ancestors. This completely ignores the historical reality that emerging Islam gained most converts at the point of a sword. Its evangelical style consisted of convert or die.
Reverend Jeremiah Wright is correct in saying we must love one another and consider each as an equal. He is right in saying there is an incongruence between faith and practice by many who profess faith in Christianity. Lamentably that is true of all races. Members of no other faith can plead innocent to that charge.
He made reference to 11:00 AM on Sunday as the most segregated hour of the week. Unfortunately there was a time not so distant past this was true, but not now. Churches of all ethnic and racial groups are open to “whosoever.”
The reason most churches have a core that is alike is style, not segregation. Within the white, black, brown, and yellow congregations there are preferred styles of worship and people go where there is a style they prefer. Music has a lot to do with a person’s preferred place of worship. In general in America any person can worship anywhere they want. That would not be true if people didn’t love those unlike them and consider them equals.
Christians aren’t perfect and many disgrace the name. Yet, Christians operate the largest disaster relief agencies in the world, they provide more hospitals than any independent group, rescue missions and homeless shelters proliferate, most homes for unwed mothers are supported by them, numerous sports ministries are Christian based, the largest non-government agencies designed to feed the hungry are operated by Christians, and churches provide free counseling. They would not do that if they didn’t love others and consider them equals.
1. “A Black Theology of Liberation,” by James H. Cone 1990, page 27.
Street gangs are proliferating at such a rate that some social scientists are suggesting the streets of America will be controlled by them within ten years. Two legitimate questions are “from where are they coming?” and “what are the contributing factors?”.
There are ethnic gangs such as Hispanic and Asian but native born Americans are comprising more gangs than ever. To find the cause take a close look at the American family. Serving on the Governor’s Council I became privy to amazing insight.
At birth a child has approximately 100 billion brain cells. Each cell is interconnected by thousands of others by electrochemical structures called synapse. A newborn baby has approximately 50 trillion synapses.
If the cells or synapse aren’t used they wither.
Within the brain there are areas with varying functions.
The occipital lobe is assigned the job of identifying what we see. The temporal lobe processes spoken language and hearing.
Another area is where the capacity for social interaction is determined.
By 8 months the number of synaps has grown to 1,000 trillion. By age of 20 years the number has decreased from 1,000 trillion to 500 trillion.
Certain areas of the brain are not developed at birth. They have to be developed. If a child can’t hear at birth that part of the brain does not develop. In general if a child born deaf and doesn’t hear speech by age 10 they are not likely to ever understand language. That part of the brain was undeveloped because it didn’t function during the formative years.
If a child is born blind the neural connections between the eye and brain don’t develop. If sight isn’t gained by age 2 the child will never see properly. That part of the brain did not develop during the formative years.
If certain parts of the brain are not connected by synapse in the early years they don’t develop. A young child’s experiences can cause brain synapse to increase or decrease by up to 25%.
Parts of the brain, the parietal lobe, processes touch. Cat scans show that in children in third world countries reared in government institutions where they are not lovingly held and touched this part of the brain doesn’t develop. They are candidates for anti-social behavior. They can destroy or kill and have no remorse, no feeling.
Studies show that dads with children ages 2 to 12 spend less that 12 minutes a day with their children. Add to that the absentee father and the situation is compounded.
The lack of loving parental touch is dramatically helping gang development in America. For children to be healthy emotionally they must have the opportunity to form a comfortable and secure relationship with a loving and care-giving parent.
Not everyone reading this has the good fortune of having a young child in the home but doubtless most know friends who do. Share this insight with them as an encouragement to cultivate well balanced children who function constructively in society.
Have you polished your “mirror neurons” lately?
Don’t be discouraged if you didn’t know you had mirror neurons. Neurologists have just discovered our brains contain them. They serve to activate our responses to emotions we sense around us. It is a subtle but definite response that occurs without us realizing what is happening.
Not only does this happen in our interpersonal relationships but they also pick up emotions from movie and TV actors.
The way these neurons work is they pick up on the emotions of other persons and cause us to tend to respond in kind. If around a negative and critical person we tend to respond in kind. Conversely if around a positive and optimistic person we mirror their emotions.
These neurons are so strong that it is possible for a person to have a great day yet as a result of being around negative people who constantly complain end the day feeling down. Here is good news. The reverse is also true. A bad day around upbeat people can create a sense of fulfillment and peace.
It is no surprise that the mirror neurons of females work better than those of males. That has long been acknowledged by people noting the female is more intuitive. She has a greater depth of feeling; more sensitive. Her mirrors are more polished.
Do you have any toxic people in your life? You know the kind of people singing that old favorite from “Hee-Haw”, “Gloom, despair, and agony on me. If it weren’t for bad luck I wouldn’t have any luck at all”? If at all possible disassociate yourself from them. If you can’t, immunize yourself against them. To do this learn to better control your emotions. Realize the impact of such a person and act rather than react to them.
When the “Law of Emotional Equilibrium” is considered it becomes apparent how important to the functioning of our mirror neurons is. Simply stated, one negative person can pull down five positive people easier than five positive people can pick up on negative person.
There is another principle that states it takes eleven positive inputs to compensate for one negative input.
Those are the norms. However, if persons are aware of these factors and sensitive to the influences to which they are exposed they can compensate for them. An anti-toxin mental inoculate is achieved by feeding your mind with great truths and associating with positive people.
Our emotional compass or to be more current our emotional GPS needs a point of reference; a gyroscopically balanced attitude.
Sir Edmund Hillary in speaking of climbing high mountains observed, “When climbing at great altitudes in the rarified oxygen deprived atmosphere, the mind has a tendency to wander. Therefore before leaving the base camp in the morning one has to fix his mind.” He then spoke of how the mind has to be fixed on the objective and not allowed to wander.
Polish your mirror neurons so you can be sensitive to the emotional needs of others but not controlled by them. People with a certain spiritual orientation find a stable fixed point of reference in the fact “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You.” Mirror that to those around you.
“Waste not want not.”
“A penny saved is a penny earned.”
Our predecessors beat us to those practical insights. They are indeed words of wisdom. I believe in conservation. The first paying job I had was with the conservation department in our state. I believe in thrift. I am not as thrifty as the woman who puts her used paper towel on the kitchen sink faucet to dry overnight for reuse, or the man who rinses and saves his dental floss for reuse. However, I am provident and at best frugal. One of the most popular movements of our time advocates a worthy means to an impossible end. The means involves but is not limited to reducing atmospheric pollution, conserving energy, when possible using biodegradable products, conserving water and reducing greenhouse gases. I’m a believer who does those things. The intended end is to stop global warming. To help determine if this is possible, consider the history of our planet. To do so take into consideration the various climate changes in the past and in light of them consider if there were human activities that caused them or if they were simply endemic and cyclical. When visiting the Sahara
Desert, I was shown evidence that it once was a vast forest, verdure. Herbage abounded. Today it is the largest arid land mass on earth. Fossils of animals that were foragers and grazers reveal it was once a vegetative area. Fossil remains of trees are found in vast areas of the desert. What could have been the conditions created by human beings to cause this dramatic change? There were no fossil fuels or greenhouse gases produced by humans in such quantities as to have caused it. In Switzerland we visited the Jungfrau where a contrasting climate to the Sahara exists. On this mountain summit you are above 95% of the atmospheric pollution of the earth. The snow and glaciers cover the mountains all year. The Ice Palace has been carved in the glacier. Long corridors and spacious rooms are made the more interesting by stunning ice sculptures.
Snow flakes that fall on the Jungfrau flow through the lower Grindelwald Glacier in the form of ice crystals for 200 to 250 years before melting and becoming part of the streams in the valleys. This is a marvelous place to study global warming. A 10,000 year record shows a rapid change every 2,000 years from colder to warmer or warmer to colder. That is earth’s history.
None of our current cultural “culprits” to which global warming is attributed, existed 10,000, 8,000 or even 2,000 years ago to cause the change. The conditions that caused these periods of global warming exist today and existed throughout history. The conditions that caused change yesteryear exist today and they are beyond human kind’s capacity to stop it. Our ancestors had to adjust and so must we.
Let’s join in conservation and preservation and not make things worse, but don’t expect to reverse historical cycles inherent in creation.
Do you find it hard to be proud of America? Like all other nations it isn’t a perfect country. As a stimulus to your pride, consider the Iwo Jima statue. A friend shared some of these insights.
How could any American stand before the memorial in Washington depicting the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima and not have pride? Those six boys, and they were boys, that raised that flag typify all American youth who have kept us free. As a result of our national TV ministry, I corresponded with one of those heroic boys in his latter years.
John Bradley, from Antigo, Wisconsin, typified those six after the war. He would never give an interview. Bradley was a medic who held over 200 boys as they writhed in pain and screamed as they died without medication to midigate their pain.
Harlon Block, high school all-state football player, was the first to put the pole in the ground. At the age of 21, Harlon died holding his intestines in his hand.
Rene Gagon was an 18 year old from New Hampshire who kept a picture of his girlfriend in his helmet.
Sgt. Mike Shank was known by his colleagues as “the old man”. He was 24. He was known for saying, “Let’s die for our country.”
Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian from Arizona, was one of the few who walked off Iwo. President Truman called him a hero. Ira said, “How can I feel like a hero when 250 of my buddies hit the island with me and only 27 of us walked off alive?”
Franklin Sousley was a fun-loving country boy from Hilltop, KY. Franklin died at the age of 19.
Consider this in light of our Iraq casualties. Over 7,000 boys died on Iwo Jima. Those who walked off never tolerated themselves being called heroes. They considered those who didn’t walk off the real heroes.
Three of the six depicted as raising the flag were among those who didn’t walk off Iwo.
It might offend Michelle if she took a close look at that statue of the flag raising by those 6 boys. A close look reveals there were thirteen hands on the flag staff, not twelve. when asked about it, the person responsible for the statue said the thirteenth hand was the hand of God. Deal with that you history revisionists!
I was the interim pastor of Lee Greenwood for a year. He has one song that is his signature achievement, “God Bless the USA”. In that song are lines that we should all sing with gratitude for these 6 boys and the thousands like them.
“I am proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.
And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave they right to me”
There is a bumper sticker that reads: “America, she ain’t perfect, but God ain’t through with her yet.”
Pride should produce gratitude that should solicit a commitment to helping make America a more perfect union.
When President Truman’s Secretary of State Dean Acheson wrote his memoirs of the crucial years following the Second World War, he entitled them, “Present at the Creation.” Little did he know how true that was. So much of our political world of today was brought into being during the days of the Roosevelt administration. A new national mentality was created by the two Roosevelts who were president. What Teddy set in motion Franklin accentuated. That generation of Americans was present at the creation of a new interpretation of the role of government.
When President Franklin Roosevelt signed what we now call the death tax bill he said, “This is the beginning of the redistribution of the wealth of America.” It ushered in a new creative way of interpreting the role of government. All of today’s entitlement programs are an outgrowth of that philosophy.
Economic stimulus checks, government support of businesses facing potential bankruptcy, federally funded programs that were once part of the business community were not the intent of the founders of our nation. The government cannot give the public anything costing money that they don’t take the money from the people to give. The government has no money. Their money comes from the tax paying public and the government determines how much the tax will be.
As a Congressman Davey Crockett, the lion of Washington in his day, said, “We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity, but as members of Congress we have no right to appropriate a dollar of the public money.”
It was part of his speech when Congress proposed to give a subsidy to the widow of a navy man. He felt it unconstitutional for the government to give support so instead he offered to personally give a week’s wage to the widow and urged his colleagues each to do the same.
Later in explaining his reasoning he offered this sockdolager, “Money with them is nothing but trash when it is to come out of the people. But it is the one great thing for which most of them are striving, and many of them sacrifice honor, integrity, and justice to obtain it.”
A new America was created in the 1930s and 40s. Now another new America is being advocated by some proponents of an even more benevolent government who are poised for election. The new America will be more dramatically different from our present one than ours is from the one of which Crockett spoke.
It will involve government getting more involved in public life and giving away more than ever. To do so they will have to take more than ever from the people. For example there is a proposal that not only will income off savings be taxed but the savings themselves.
One of our founding fathers warned against the day when an unproductive element of society would discover they could vote themselves benefits by electing those disposed to provide them. Thus we were warned of a potential implosion resulting from the more productive element of society being over taxed.
Like Acheson, are we present at the creation?
Alexis de Tocqueville was an eminent French representative of the liberal tradition of the mid-1800s. As such he was very active in French politics. He came to America to study the penal system but stayed for some time to study the nation from the perspective of a detached social scientist. His book released in 1835 entitled, “Democracy in America” is considered a classic early work in sociology. It reveals his perspective on the developing nation. These insights into our heritage are worth considering.
His observations led him to conclude America had not embraced socialism or feudalism as in Europe. It was the different attitudes regarding money. In Europe the common people had no hope and therefore no aspiration to gain it. The privileged felt it was their right to have wealth. Their inherited entitlement resulted in lethargy regarding trying to gain it. The ethos in America was different. In America money was an object to be sought. Here the people all felt they could gain wealth through industrious hard work. This resulted in a productive people.
He also wrote of the character of our society.
“Upon my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this new state of things.”
“I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion …. But I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions.”
“I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors…; in her fertile fields and boundless forests; in her rich mines and vast world commerce; in her public school system and institutions of learning. I sought for it in the democratic Congress and in her matchless Constitution.
“Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power.”
“America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
Today there is a correlation between the diminution of morality in our present society and the flickering flame in many pulpits. The popular health, wealth, and prosperity version of the gospel has replaced calls for a faith commitment resulting in morality, virtue, and integrity. Personal gain has replaced an appeal for a culture of responsible ethics that benefit all of society. A moral world is rarely addressed.
de Tocqueville wrote of the interrelation between two phases of American life. “In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But in America I found they were intimately united and that they reigned in common over the same country.”
His belief that the two were mutually dependent resulted in this conclusion:
“The safeguard of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law as well as the surest pledge of freedom.”
“Whatever Became of Sin?” is an intriguing title of a book worth noting. The author is not a right wing evangelical. Rather it is Karl Menninger, M.D., founder of the prestigious Menninger Clinic (psychiatric) and the Menninger Foundation.
Menninger is a prophet and a good one. He warns us of a social sickness in our midst and diagnoses it well. There is a long standing problem however. People since the Old Testament era tend not to believe even the best of prophets. At best they are ignored.
Menninger quotes Dr. Daniel J. Boorstin, director of the National Museum of Science and Technology at the Smithsonian Institution regarding our current malaise: “…we have lost our sense of history….lost our traditional respect for the wisdom of ancestors and the culture of kindred nations….we haunt ourselves with the illusory ideal of some “whole nation’ which had a deep and outspoken “faith’ in its “values.’”
In attempting to answer how this deterioration has occurred he says one word is missing from our analysis and that is “sin.”
It is still very present and influential but unidentified. In answer to the title of his book he says sin is still prominently responsible for our situation but we have renamed and often dignified it. We no longer call it sin.
A classic example is the circumstances involving the girl in the case of Governor Spitzer of New York. Such a person was formerly called a whore. They are sometimes called hookers. The name was derived from the group of women who followed General Hooker’s forces in the Civil War. Now they are referred to as call girls or preferably escorts.
Menninger makes a connection between sin, guilt, and not only social ills but psychological sickness. The name of the act has changed but the consequence is still the same.
A foreign observer of our society describes our values as being like a display window of a store in which someone has secretly gotten into at night and changed all the price tags. The valuable items have been made to appear cheap and he cheap ones given value. Our values have been inverted. The “faith” and “values” spoken of by Boorstin have been denigrated.
Who is to blame? Menninger says the responsible person is identified by the central letter in the word “sin.” No one sins today. We appear to have officially stopped sinning about twenty-five years ago.
The clinical mind of Dr. Menninger connects sin and guilt. He postulates that regardless of what sin is called on a personal basis it still erodes one’s emotional and psychological being. On a national scale it corrupts culture and leads to moral decay.
Imagine a prominent political figure doing as President Lincoln did and calling on the nation “to confess our sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon.”
An Old Testament prophet said if people will do that God will “forgive their sins and heal their land.” What a novel concept! God? What ever happened to Him? Oh, yes, He has been replaced by karma, luck, good fortune, fate, and Mother Nature.