Surprised by Joy

November 23, 2014

I am not quite sure how to classify C. S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy. It is an autobiography, of sorts, but Lewis only wrote about his early, pre-Christian life. He had quite a lot to write about his childhood and adolescence and his early loss of his faith. He seemed to have less to write about his adult life, his service in World War I, and his career at Oxford and the narrative ends when he became a Theist. He seems to have ended just when many readers might want to know more.

 
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Lewis’s journey was not primarily a spiritual one. There was no conversion on the road to Damascus for Lewis. His journey was largely an intellectual one. His faith was shaken by the death of his mother but destroyed by his intellectual pride and a too ready acceptance of the materialist philosophies of his time. C. S. Lewis became a Theist when he realized that many Christians were quite intelligent men. He found that he could no longer believe that a writer like G. K. Chesterton or George MacDonald was brilliant despite his faith.

Lewis’s journey was also a lifelong search for what he called Joy, an indescribable longing for something not found in this world and that can never really be satisfied by the world. Lewis describes his search for Joy in pleasure, the world’s philosophy, and other such vanities. He got snatches of Joy in Nordic mythology, a feeling he called “Northerness”, in music, friendships, etc but it was never the real thing. Ultimately, Lewis found Joy after he stopped looking for it, in his Christian faith. He didn’t expect to find Joy there. Lewis described himself as a reluctant and miserable convert. Lewis’s lesson seems to be that you cannot find Joy by looking for it. If you seek for other things, especially the Ultimate Source of Joy, Christ, you may surprise yourself by finding Joy.

I do not believe that C. S. Lewis was ever really an Atheist. He was not being dishonest, except with himself. For a very long time, Lewis tried to convince himself to be an atheist, but it never really stuck. He never fully accepted the materialist, naturalist worldview that is necessary for true atheism. By his account here, Lewis always had a somewhat mystical bent, a feeling that there is more to the world than meets the eye. One of the temptations he faced in his youth was a fascination with the occult and Lewis admitted that if he had run into the right (wrong?) sort of people he might have ended up a magician or even a Satanist. This seems hardly the sort a Richard Dawkins is made of, but a Dawkins would never have responded to Christ’s call.

Surprised by Joy is one of Lewis’s better books. Some of his best lines, the ones people are always quoting can be found in this book. Lewis recounts his early life with good humor and the result is a very readable story. There are too many typos in the Kindle edition of this book which are very annoying. I hope this can be corrected.

 

The Bubble Boy Cured

November 20, 2014

One of the funniest episodes of the sitcom Seinfeld was The Bubble Boy, which naturally featured a boy with a severe immune disorder who lived in a “bubble”. The main characters of the show; Jerry, Elaine, George and George’s girlfriend Susan are all going  on a trip to Susan’s family’s cabin with a stop along the way for Jerry to meet a young fan of his who happened to be a bubble boy. Driving in two separate cars, the group becomes separated and George and Susan arrive at the bubble boy’s house not knowing where Jerry and Elaine are or how late they might be.

 

This episode aired back in 1992 and advancing technology has rendered the premise of a party being lost and separated obsolete. In our age of ubiquitous cell phones, Jerry Seinfeld and his friends could have easily kept in touch with one another. Even better, recent advances in medical research may soon make the whole concept of keeping children with severe immune disorders in sterile environments, or bubbles, as obsolete as the iron lung or bleeding with leeches. Here is the article from Time with the good news.

Alysia Padilla-Vaccaro and Christian Vaccaro owe their daughter’s life to stem cells. Evangelina, now two, is alive today because she saved herself with her own bone marrow cells.

 

Evangelina, a twin, was born with a severe immune disorder caused by a genetic aberration that makes her vulnerable to any and all bacteria and viruses; even a simple cold could be fatal. But doctors at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Broad Stem Cell Research Center gave her a new treatment, using her own stem cells, that has essentially cured her disease. She’s one of 18 children who have been treated with the cutting-edge therapy, and the study’s leader, Dr. Donald Kohn, says that the strategy could also be used to treat other gene-based disorders such as sickle cell anemia.

Known to doctors as adenosine deaminase (ADA)-deficient severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), it’s better known as “bubble boy” disease, since children born with the genetic disorder have immune systems so weak that they need to stay in relatively clean and germ-free environments. Until Evangelina and her sister Annabella were 11 months old, “We were gowned and masked and did not go outside,” says their mother Alysia Padilla-Vaccaro. “Our children did not physically see our mouths until then because we were masked all the time. We couldn’t take them outside to take a breath of fresh air, because there is fungus in the air, and that could kill her.”

 

The only treatments for SCID are bone marrow transplants from healthy people, ideally a matched sibling; the unaffected cells can then repopulate the immune system of the baby with SCID. But despite being her twin, Annabella wasn’t a blood match for her sister, nor were her parents. Padilla-Vaccaro and her husband, Christian, were considering unrelated donors but were concerned about the risk of rejection. “We would be trying to fix one problem and getting another,” she says.

That’s when the doctors at the Children’s Hospital at Orange County, where Evangelina was diagnosed, told her parents about a stem cell trial for SCID babies at UCLA, led by Dr. Donald Kohn. “As soon as they said trial, I thought, ‘my kid is dead,” says Padilla-Vaccaro of the last resort option. But a dozen children born with other forms of SCID—in which different mutations caused the same weak immune systems—who were successfully treated by Kohn convinced the couple that the therapy was worth trying. Kohn had one spot left in the trial and was willing to hold it for Evangelina until she matured more. Born premature, she was diagnosed at six weeks old and needed more time for what was left of her immune system to catch up to weather the procedure.

When she was two months old, Evangelina was admitted to UCLA and had bone marrow drawn from her tiny hip. It contained the stem cells that go on to develop into all of the cells in the blood and immune systems. Kohn treated them with gene therapy, co-opting a modified virus to carry the healthy ADA gene so it could infect the stem cells from Evangelina’s bone marrow. The idea was that by transplanting these healthy ADA-containing cells back into Evangelina, she would soon be making her own healthy immune cells. And because they were made from her own cells, her body wouldn’t reject them.

“After the transplant of this miraculous tube of stem cells, which literally took five minutes, we had to just wait and see for a good six weeks,” says Padilla-Vaccaro. “The week after Christmas [in 2012], Dr. Kohn came in and told me, ‘It worked.’ It worked. Those words…besides the birth of my children, that day will always be the best day in my life.”

There is more about how Dr. Kohn developed his procedure.

This is truly wonderful news and I hope that the techniques used in cases like this can be used to treat or cure other genetic diseases. As Glenn Reynolds might say, faster please.

 

Game Over for the Planet

November 19, 2014

Here is another message I just received from Moveon.org.

Dear MoveOn member,

In just hours, the Senate will vote on whether to push forward the Keystone XL pipeline—a disastrous and dangerous proposal that would, in the words of leading climate scientists and environmentalists, be “game over for the planet.”1

Either the Senate will send President Obama a Keystone pipeline bill TODAY—and we will need him to promise to veto it; or the Democrats will defeat the measure by one vote, which means that in just seven weeks, a new Republican majority will send him the pipeline—and we’ll need him to veto it in January.

Either way, President Obama is our last line of defense. So we’re joining with allies to mobilize grassroots support demanding that the president commit to vetoing the pipeline bill—today or early next year.

Will you chip in $3 to help stop the Keystone XL pipeline—and to push Democrats and President Obama to be bold in the fights ahead?

Yes, I’ll chip in.

We’ve already begun fighting back. We’re helping organize rallies outside wavering senators’ offices. We’re mobilizing calls to senators. And we’re providing organizers on the ground with access to MoveOn tools and connections to MoveOn members.  

We’re mobilizing because this is a hugely important fight on its own—and it’ll set the stage for the next two years.

When the Republicans take control of the Senate in January, we can expect a rush of right-wing, anti-climate, anti-science bills: a rollback of President Obama’s efforts to regulate carbon, bills to undermine his climate change agreement with China, and bills that give rein to the extractive practices of frackers, Big Coal, and Big Oil.

Following the midterms, some Democrats are feeling nervous—and they are hearing from the usual chorus of consultants and pundits who advise them that the way to win is to be more like Republicans. This is the kind of horrible advice that lost many Democrats their election—yet conservative Democrats continue to listen! And they won’t stop unless they feel sustained, passionate pressure from their grassroots base—the folks who they need to inspire in order to win future elections.

Will you chip in $3 to help us make sure Democrats stop the Keystone XL pipeline, stop listening to big oil and bad consultants, and fight for progressive values?

Yes, I’ll chip in to help stop Keystone XL and fight for progressive values.

This fight isn’t just a preamble to other environmental attacks—it foreshadows the large range of issues that the right-wing Republican leadership intends to tackle. We’ll face similar assaults on health care, women’s rights, equality, decent wages, Social Security, and civil rights.

In fight after fight, Republicans will push forward a radical agenda and then attempt to pick off a few Democrats to give them the supermajority they need, as well as the veneer of “bipartisanship.”

The only way to preserve affordable health care, see humane reforms in our immigration policy, ensure women make their own decisions about their health, and fully invest in Social Security is to make sure Democrats stand strong. And when the Democrats in the Senate falter, it will come to President Obama to be bold in the use of his veto pen.

Following the midterms, many Democrats are nervous. It’s our job to make them realize that the path to a stronger America, and to future electoral victories, isn’t through caving in—it’s through standing up for our shared values.

Whatever happens in the Senate today, we know one thing for sure: We’re going to need to be stubborn, strong, and stiff-spined for the next two years.

Can you chip in $3 to help us defeat the Keystone pipeline—and prepare for the fights ahead?

Yes, I’ll chip in.

Thanks for all you do.

Anna, Jo, Brian, Corinne, and the rest of the team

Are they serious? According to the geologists, this planet has been in existence for 4.57 billion years. In that time it has survived collision with an object the size of Mars, creating the Moon many other asteroid strikes including the one that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, whatever caused the extinction of ninety-five percent of all life at the end of the Permian Era, ice ages, climate changes, and who knows what else; only to be finally destroyed by a single pipeline.

The trouble I have with the Greens, besides their bullying and obvious lust for power, is that they seem to have some idea that the Earth has existed in a delicate, stable equilibrium from the beginning and that now Man has arrived to upset the balance. I think they get their ideas about nature from Bambi. The truth is that the Earth has changed drastically over the eons, in terms of climate, atmospheric content and even geography. For instance, during the Mesozoic Era (the Age of Dinosaurs), the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may have been as much as five times present levels, even without the nefarious activities of carbon polluters, causing a warmer Earth. Somehow life on the planet survived and even flourished. We have had ice ages over the last several millennia in which the glaciers extended not far north from where I am sitting, but the worst ice age, the glaciers extended almost to the equator. The only thing constant in the history of the Earth is that it is a dynamic, ever changing system. Even if everything the worst alarmists say about climate change were true, it would not mean the end for the planet. We might make ourselves very uncomfortable, perhaps even extinct, but the Earth will survive anything we could possibly do to it.

I should add that Canada is going to develop the tar sands regardless  of what we decide. If we don’t want the Keystone pipeline extended, they can just as easily sell the crude oil to China. I wonder which is a safer method of transporting oil, a pipeline or tankers. I should also add that if there is one thing needed to accomplish the goals Moveon.org says it wants, it would be a robust American economy powered by the recent surge in the energy industry. Rich countries with growing economies can afford to worry about decent wages and equal rights. Poorer countries mired in economic stagnation have to worry about surviving.

Obama Being Bold

November 18, 2014

I got an e-mail from Moveon.org praising Obama for going ahead with his progressive policies, even though the majority of the voters indicated that they do not like such policies. Remember, the voters did not give the Republicans a historic victory because they have developed a great love for Mitch McConnell or John Boehner. They hated what Obama and the Democrats have been doing. Anyway, here is the message.

Dear MoveOn member,

After the midterm election, many of us wondered: How would President Obama respond?

So far, we’ve been happily surprised. As The New York Times reports, “Mr. Obama has flexed his muscles on immigration, climate change and the Internet, demonstrating that he still aspires to enact sweeping policies that could help define his legacy.”1

These are welcome moves. It appears the President is setting his own course instead of listening to corporate lobbyists and consultants. As I told the Times, “The president has seen what happens when he doesn’t step forward and Democrats don’t inspire the public or their base—we win on the issues, but lose at the polls—so we can’t do worse. Let’s try being bold.2

Click here to sign a thank-you card to the president for his actions and rhetoric since the midterms—and urge him to keep being bold.

There have been other promising signs from national Democrats this past week. Most excitingly: Senator Elizabeth Warren gained a leadership position in the Senate Democratic Caucus. From championing student loan reform to reining in Wall Street, Warren is one of the most passionate and effective voices for the little guy (and gal). Having her in leadership is a huge deal.

But there’s no getting around it: The president will be the last line of defense in the next two years, as the Republican-controlled Senate and House muscle through bad bills on a range of fronts. He’ll be under tremendous pressure to make bad deals with obstructionists and extremists like Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz.

For the next two years, President Obama will have the power to deliver real change—if he has the confidence to follow through with executive actions on issues like immigration reform and climate change, and to stand up to the radical right.

So we need to show support when the president does the right thing—and then push hard to make sure he follows through.

Click here to add your name to the card we’ll send the president. The card reads:

Dear Mr. President,Thank you.

Since the midterm election, you’ve indicated that you’re willing to show real leadership on tackling climate change, protecting a free and open Internet, and reforming immigration—pushing for bold steps in areas where Congress has failed to act.

You’re not alone: Americans from all walks of life want and need you to follow through, and do even more. We need you to use the power of the presidency to make meaningful change on these and other critical issues—like expanding access to health care, pushing for a diplomatic solution to rein in Iran’s nuclear program, raising wages, and building an economy that works for all of us, to name a few.

We urge you to act boldly, and promise to stand with you when you fight for all of us in the months ahead. (And yes, we’ll let you know when we disagree, too!) 

We’ll send President Obama this card, with the names of all the MoveOn members who have signed it—and a personal comment if you want to add one—so he knows that when he stands up for progressive values, we’ve got his back.

Add your name to the card—thank President Obama, urge him to be bold, and be a part of the movement to propel our shared agenda.

The president is showing the grit that inspired us to elect him. We need to get his back when he stands strong—and keep the heat on through the fights ahead.

Thanks for all you do.

–Anna, Alejandro, Nick, Justin K., and the rest of the team

They want him to go full Bourbon and double down on the very policies that lost him control of Congress. If I were more cynical, I would sign that card and do everything I could to encourage President Obama to pursue unpopular policies sure to be a millstone around the necks of every Democrat in 2016, Maybe we can have another tsunami. But, I am not that cynical. The country would be far better off if President Obama worked within the confines of the constitution and tried to meet the opposition halfway than if he tried to rule by decree. Trying to shove unwanted policies down the throats of the voters,, breaking the system in the meantime will only make things difficult for all of us.

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He might lose his head.

 

 

The Comet and the Shirt

November 17, 2014

In earlier times people were afraid of comets. A comet in the sky was seen as a sure sign that impending disaster. It is not too difficult to understand why people would feel that way. Other heavenly bodies, such as the stars and planets move in predictable ways. The Sun rises and sets the same way every day. The Moon goes through its phases. The planets move across the background of the fixed stars. Eclipses were no doubt terrifying, but astronomers learned to predict them in ancient times. Comets, however, seemed to appear out of nowhere then disappear just as quickly. No one could tell what path they would take across the sky. Even the appearance of a comet inspired fear. The Sun and Moon looked circular and the stars and planets were points of light. A comet had a long tail streaming from it. To some the tail might look like a sword indicating divine displeasure with the inhabitants of the Earth. In any case, comets looked and acted like no other object in the heavens and that was enough to worry people.

It wasn’t until the eighteenth century that some of the mystery surrounding comets began to be dispelled. The astronomer Edmond Halley had come to believe that comets had to obey the same laws of gravitation discovered by Isaac Newton as any other object in the Solar System and beyond. He reasoned that comets orbited the Sun like the planets but they had to have extremely elongated elliptical orbits so that they would only come close enough to be observed after many years, perhaps centuries. Halley also noticed there were comet sightings approximately every 75-76 years apart and theorized that they were sightings of the same comet. He predicted that the comet, now called Halley’s Comet would return in 1758. Halley died in 1742, so he didn’t live to see his prediction come true, but his efforts showed that a comet was simply another celestial object with a motion that could be predicted, like any planet. There was nothing to fear from a comet.

Since Halley’s time, astronomers have come to learn more about comets and just this month the Philae lander from the European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe became the first man made object to land on a comet. The Rosetta probe itself was the first probe to actually orbit  a comet. This should be a proud moment for the European Space Agency and for Project Leader Matt Taylor. Instead, Dr. Taylor has found himself in the middle of a controversy and has been forced to make a tearful apology, because he wore the wrong shirt.

He helped mankind land on a comet, but Dr Matt Taylor may end up being remembered for his risqué sartorial judgement rather than his scientific acumen.

The space scientist broke down in tears today and apologised for wearing a gaudy shirt which featured cartoon images of women wearing bondage gear and firing guns.

During a press briefing this afternoon on the progress of the Rosetta mission, Dr Taylor, the lead scientist, appeared visibly upset and struggled to speak.

Eventually he said: “I made a big mistake and I offended many people and I am very sorry about this.”

Dr Taylor received a reassuring pat on the back from Andrea Accomazzo, the Rosetta flight operations director, as he went on to describe the current state of the mission.

In recent days the heavily-tattooed London scientist had become a firm favourite with the public for his unlikely appearance and enthusiastic interviews.

But the shirt has divided opinion, with many women in the science community accusing Dr Taylor of sexism.

Astrophysicist Katie Mack said earlier this week “I don’t care what scientists wear. But a shirt featuring women in lingerie isn’t appropriate for a broadcast if you care about women in science”

Here is Dr Taylor wearing the offensive shirt.

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Maybe the shirt is in poor taste, but so what? This man landed a probe on a comet. Surely that is more significant than his sartorial choices. After all, no one expects scientists to be fashion plates. What sort of person in their right mind is offended by this? Why do they conclude that Dr Taylor is sending some sort of misogynist message against woman in science? WHy can’t they seem to understand that this might simply be a shirt he happens to like?

With these sort of busybodies, nothing can ever be simply a personal preference with no great cultural message. No act can be a neutral one devoid of political meaning. No one can be a bystander or aspire to simply live their own life and mind their own business. You are either for social justice or against it and Gaea help you it you are perceived to be against it. These people are bullies and totalitarians, the worst sort since they are convinced in their minds that they are eternally on the side of the angels.

I think that Dr Taylor has done us all a great disservice by apologizing for offending people. He has nothing to apologize for and making apologies only enables the bullies. Instead of apologizing, we need to start telling them where they can stick their perpetual feelings of victimization.

 

Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot

November 15, 2014

That was a book written by Al Franken back in 1996, obviously to show he possessed the maturity needed to become a US Senator. This title is the personal opinion of Frankin’s. There are many who might disagree with the opinion that Rush Limbaugh is an idiot, including Mr. Limbaugh but the question of whether Rush Limbaugh is or is not an idiot is not one that is readily decided by any observations and cannot really be determined to be objectively true or false. On the other hand, the statement that Rush Limbaugh is in favor of sexual assault or rape is a statement that can be determined to be true or false based on Rush Limbaugh’s own statements. This is not simply a personal opinion. If someone takes Rush’s words out of context to make the accusation that he believes that sexual assault is acceptable behavior, they are making a statement that is false and potentially damaging to Rush Limbaugh’s reputation. If someone makes the statement, knowing it to be false,with the intention to cause damage to Rush Limbaugh, that is defamation and Rush Limbaugh can take legal action against them.

This is not just a hypothetical case. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee really did make such statements in a campaign to have advertisers boycott Rush Limbaugh’s show and Rush Limbaugh is really considering legal action against them. Here is the story from the Daily Caller.

Radio host Rush Limbaugh has threatened to sue the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) for defamation, The Daily Caller has learned.

Limbaugh retained the services of lawyer Patty Glaser and demanded that the DCCC “preserve all records in anticipation of a lawsuit for defamation and interference” after the Democratic Party group led a campaign against Limbaugh based on out-of-context statements the host made about sexual assault. Limbaugh’s legal team delivered a letter to DCCC representatives Monday informing them of the legal threat. Limbaugh has also demanded a public retraction and apology.

The Limbaugh team is currently proceeding from the standpoint of litigating and has not yet made a decision as to whether the DCCC could make any concessions at this point to prevent the lawsuit.

The DCCC “has intentionally disseminated demonstrably false statements concerning Rush Limbaugh in a concerted effort to harm Mr. Limbaugh, and with reckless disregard for the resulting impact to small businesses across America that choose to advertise on his radio program” according to the GlaserWeil law firm’s letter to the DCCC, which was obtained by TheDC. “Mr. Limbaugh clearly, unambiguously, and emphatically condemned the notion that ‘no’ means ‘yes.’”

“Let’s be clear: Rush Limbaugh is advocating for the tolerance of rape” the DCCC stated in a September fundraising email after Limbaugh mocked Ohio State’s new mandatory sexual consent guidelines. (RELATED: Democrats Attack Rush Limbaugh On Way To November Loss)

Limbaugh’s team said that the DCCC’s campaign against Limbaugh provides grounds for a defamation case, based on legal precedent.

“The DCCC may believe it to be immune from liability by quoting words, taken out of context. This is untrue,” Glaser said. “There is significant on point precedent in the 9th Circuit for holding an organization responsible for falsifying meaning through selective quoting. In Price v. Stossel, the court held that, if a party accurately quotes ‘a statement actually made by a public figure, but presents the statement in a misleading context, thereby changing the viewer’s understanding of the speaker’s words,’ that constitutes defamation.”

I don’t much care for litigation of any sort, but I hope Rush Limbaugh goes ahead with this lawsuit. The progressives have shown over and over that telling the truth is simply not an action they value very highly. If slander is useful to gain power and destroy their opponents, they have no trouble with slander. Maybe legal action will teach them better.

Jesus Was Married with Children

November 13, 2014

This is the “explosive” claim made by a just published book, according to ABC News.

A new book based on interpretations of ancient texts features an explosive claim: Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene, and the couple had two children.

In “The Lost Gospel,” set for release Wednesday, authors Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson argue that the original Virgin Mary was Jesus’ wife – not his mother – and that there was an assassination attempt on Jesus’ life 13 years before he was crucified.

The writers say they spent six years working on the book. Their arguments are based on an ancient manuscript dating back nearly 1,500 years, one they say they found in a British library, translating the text from an Aramaic dialect into English.

Mark Goodacre, a professor of religious studies at Duke University, is skeptical of the book’s findings.

“I don’t think that there is any credibility in these claims at all,” Goodacre said. “There is simply no evidence in this text or anywhere else that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, much less that they had a couple of children.”

This is not the first assertion that Jesus was married. A fragment of an ancient Egyptian papyrus known as the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” was unveiled in 2012, containing the phrase “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife,” although the document was written centuries after Jesus died.

The 2003 novel “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown also highlighted the possibility of Jesus’ having been married to Mary Magdalene.

This is simply ridiculous. The earliest and presumably most reliable biographical materials we have about Jesus of Nazareth are the canonical Gospels written from about AD 70-100. As I have said before, these writings are entirely credible accounts of a Jewish preacher who managed to get himself crucified. The writers were familiar with the geography and customs of first century Judea and if the writers were not really Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,(the Gospels were written anonymously) they were certainly written by men very much like them. Most of the other “Gospels”that appear in the news these days were written by members of various Gnostic sects more than a century after the crucifixion. These accounts tend to be rather fanciful and divorced from the context of the historical background of first century Judea. The Jesus they present is more of a mythological figure than a historical one.

Could Jesus have been married? There is something like a twenty year gap in the Gospels between the finding in the temple at the age of twelve and the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry. It is likely that in that period, Jesus of Nazareth lived a more or less ordinary life, perhaps taking up the carpenter’s trade of his foster-father. An observant Jew of his cultural background would have been expected to get married and have children. Except for groups like the Essenes, celibacy has never played a role in Jewish culture. It is possible that there was a Mrs. Jesus and a Jesus Jr. It might seem to be incompatible with the role of a Messiah to get oneself crucified leaving a widow and orphans, but the discovery that Jesus had a family wouldn’t change any fundamental Christian beliefs about him or discredit Christianity.

There is, however, no mention of a wife and children anywhere in the canonical gospels. When Jesus’s mother and brothers went to fetch him, surely believing that he had lost his mind, (Mark 3:31-34) there was no mention of an abandoned wife. When Jesus returned home to Nazareth, people recognized him as the son of Mary and the carpenter and the brother of James, Joseph, Simon and Judas. No one mentioned a wife or children. There was no grieving wife at the cross. Mary Magdalene was a female follower of Jesus, but there is no indication they were married.

Perhaps the church suppressed the knowledge of Jesus’s wife. As I have said, the Gospels were written from around AD 60-100, before there was much of an organized church. In the Apostolic and immediate post-Apostolic period when the Gospels were written, Christianity was still mostly a heretical Jewish sect that had begun to appeal widely to Gentiles. Christian congregations were small, autonomous and informally organized. The more elaborate hierarchy of priests, bishops, etc did not begin to appear until well into the second century. There wasn’t anyone who could suppress divergent views and indeed the early church was plagued with all sorts of movements later deemed heretical. We do not, obviously, have the original copies of any books of the New Testament, but scholars are reasonably certain that the New Testament we have matches what was originally written. There are fragments of manuscripts dating fairly early that match more complete, later manuscripts. The Church Fathers often quoted scripture in their writings, so much that if every copy of the Bible were destroyed, we could still reconstruct much of the New Testament from their works. The quotations match the New Testament we possess. There was no rewriting of the Bible by the emperor Constantine or at the Nicene Council, or anywhere else.

If Jesus had left descendants, would they not have played a role in the leadership of the early Church? Jesus’s brother James was apparently a leader of the Jerusalem Church. (Acts ch 15, Galatians ch 2) Why not Jesus’s sons? The descendants of Mohammed are still esteemed in the Islamic world as are the descendants of Confucius in China. Only the descendants of Aaron could be priests in Israel. Where are the descendants of Jesus?

Why this book getting any attention? If Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson had written a book contradicting what was generally known about any other historical person, say Julius Caesar, based on an interpretation of an obscure manuscript, they would be regarded as cranks and generally ignored. With Jesus Christ, however, any story, no matter how unsubstantiated, provided it departs from the orthodox conception of who he was is given admiring attention. It would seem that a great many people in the media are intensely interested in promoting the idea that either Jesus never existed or that he is not what Christians believe him to be.

Veterans Day

November 11, 2014

Today is Veterans Day. This day began as Armistice Day, November 11 1918 being the day that Germany signed the armistice that ended World War I. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day in 1919 to celebrate the courage of the men who fought and died in that war. The day was changed in 1954 in order to honor the veterans of all the wars of America.

I don’t have anything else to say except Thank You to all of the veterans who have served your country. You are better men and women than I am.

 

The Election of 1828

November 10, 2014

The election of 1828 was a rematch between the two major candidates of 1824, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. Jackson believed, with good reason, that he had been cheated out of the presidency in the last election and he was eager for revenge. For his part, Adams had not had a particularly successful presidency in part because of the irregularities of his election and the continuing hostility of Jackson’s supporters. Adams couldn’t imagine that a man like Jackson could possibly be competent to be president.

But you mustn’t think that this contest was nothing more than a personal quarrel between the two candidates. This election was nothing less than an epic struggle to determine who would rule the new republic, a small moneyed elite based in the East or the sovereign people, as least according to Jackson’s supporters. Adams’s people viewed it as a battled for control between rule the respectable stakeholders in the country and rule by an ignorant mob. The United States was becoming more democratic. In the election of 1828 only two states, Delaware and South Carolina still had their state legislatures choose their electors. Everywhere else, the Electors were chosen by popular vote.

The second party system was still developing and both candidates were theoretically of the same party. There were no caucuses this time. King Caucus was finished. The two candidates were nominated by state legislatures and special conventions. Vice President John C. Calhoun opted to run with Andrew Jackson so John Quincy Adams selected his Secretary of the Treasury, Richard Rush as his running mate.

As President, Adams had favored a more centralized government with protective tariffs to promote industry, a national bank, and federal support for internal improvements such as building roads and canals. Adams also believed that the federal government should promote education and science. In this, he was, perhaps, ahead of his time. Many of his countrymen did not see any use for such frivolities. Adams did come across as rather too intellectual for many Americans at the time, who valued the practical wisdom of a man like Jackson.

It was a little harder to determine what policies Jackson favored since he didn’t have much to say, at first. In general, he seemed to prefer a more decentralised Union with a smaller government closer to the people. Jackson tended to oppose using the federal government to sponsor internal improvements, believing this to be mostly a duty of the states, though he did agree to using surplus federal revenue to help the states fund such improvements. He believed the government should live within its means and not borrow. He passionately opposed the idea of a national bank.

If Jackson was a little vague on the policies he preferred, he was not at all uncertain about the means to win elections and obtain office. He understood that the key to success in politics was organization. Jackson did not share his opponent’s, and the founding fathers’, disdain for political parties. He believed that parties were essential to preserving democratic rule and liberty. Immediately after the election of 1824, Jackson and his supporters began to build up a party organization to oppose Adams in Congress and prepare the way for Jackson’s campaign in 1828. This party organization was first called simply the “Friends of Jackson”but before long they began referring to themselves as the Democratic Party. Thus was formed one of the two great parties that have dominated American politics.

This new Democratic party began promoting Jackson’s cause with partisan newspapers, parades, rallies and all the paraphernalia of what came to be American presidential campaigns. They referred to Jackson, the war hero, as Old Hickory and carried around hickory sticks. They made much of the corrupt bargain that had placed Adams in the White House against the will of the people.  Jackson was a man of the people against those East Coast Elites championed by Adams, another emerging theme in American politics. Jackson was not as educated as Adams, who knew his Greek and Latin, but he had the practical common sense of the common man. It might be fair to say that Jackson was the first truly American politician.

John Quincy Adams and his supporters tried to fight back. They overcame their dislike of parties and organized themselves into the “National Republicans“. They had their own newspapers, parades, rallies, etc, but somehow they couldn’t match the enthusiasm of Jackson’s supporters. They relentlessly attacked Jackson’s character and supposed wartime heroics. Six men who Jackson had had hanged for desertion were transformed into martyrs who had served their time and only wanted to go home. Jackson was said to have indulged in gambling, cock fighting, slave trading, drunkenness, theft, lying and even murder. Jackson’s mother was a prostitute brought over to America by British soldiers. Once again the  irregularities of Andrew Jackson’s marriage to his wife, Rachel, were brought up, and Anti-Jackson newspapers referred to them as a “convicted adulteress and her paramour husband”. Rachel Jackson died soon after the election and Andrew Jackson was convinced that these slurs had killed her. He never forgave his enemies for that.

The election was not a close one. Jackson received 642,553 popular votes (55.9%) and 178 electoral votes. Adams got 500,897 popular votes (43.7%) and 83 electoral votes. Jackson swept the nation except for New England, Maryland, Delaware,and New Jersey which went to Adams. New York’s Electors were split 20 to 16 in favor of Jackson.

The Election of 1828

The Election of 1828

 

Andrew Jackson got to be president, but there is no need to feel sorry for John Quincy Adams. He went on to have a distinguished career in the House of Representatives where, among other things, he fought the good fight against slavery.

Felix Culpa

November 9, 2014

During the week running up to Halloween the humor site Cracked.com ran a series of articles with horror or Halloween themes, one of these being Adam Tod Brown’s 6 Compelling Reasons to Consider Switching to Satan. This was meant to be humorous, of course, but some of the reasons he gave are worth considering. Brown’s observation that some cultures do not consider a “Devil” figure to be bad was what inspired me to write a recent post on Prometheus.

It is the first reason he gives, number six on the list, that I would like to consider now.

#6. Because He’s Why You Know Things and Ask Questions

Hey! You believe the story of Adam and Eve, right? Just joking, but you at least know it, right? God makes a man and a woman, drops them into the middle of the Garden of Eden, and tells them not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. A talking serpent shows up and convinces Eve to ignore that one command and, just like that, we’re all born a bunch of filthy sinners because we possess the knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong, and all that other fun stuff.

Perfectly reasonable! Anyway, whether he was an actual serpent or not is open for debate if you don’t value your free time much, but most people agree that the “serpent” in question represents Satan. Before he came along, we were built to blindly follow God without ever questioning how or why the things around us happen.

I mean, call me whatever you want for saying it, but that doesn’t sound particularly great to me. I’d honestly rather know some things and make some decisions and, to hear the Bible tell it, Satan is the one who made that possible. Is that really such a bad thing? Well, it depends on who you ask.

Well, as a matter of fact, I do believe the story of Adam and Eve though I will not quibble over whether the story of Genesis ought to be taken literally or as a myth or whether Adam and Eve were real, individual human beings or represented the human race generally. It does not take a particularly keen observer to notice that there is something seriously awry with Homo sapiens. The story of Adam and Eve and the Fall is as good an explanation on how and why we have gone bad as any I have ever heard.

The sentiment that Adam Tod Brown expresses here is close to the theological concept of felix culpa or the fortunate fall. The idea is that it was actually a good thing that Adam and Eve sinned and fell since it led to Christ’s redemption of the human race. Several very important Christian thinkers have explored this concept, including Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas, generally in the context of God’s ability to bring good out of evil. I do not believe that the act which led to the fall could be described as being good in itself. Good did come of it, since God can always turn evil into good, but it was not the good which God originally intended for humanity. A fire fighter who rescues a child from a burning house has done a good act, but it would have been better if the house had not caught on fire. No one would think to praise an arsonist who started the fire because his act led to the heroism of the fire fighter.

But, Adam Tod Brown makes the more specific statement that thanks to the temptation of the Serpent, Adam and Eve were granted the ability to learn things and ask questions. Surely, that was a great gain for humanity. If we have fallen into sin, at least we have the consolation of gaining wisdom as compensation. Is that true? Perhaps we should look at the third chapter of Genesis for the full story.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the [c]cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”10 He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” 11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the LordGod said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
Cursed are you more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you will go,
And dust you will eat
All the days of your life;
15 And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall [d]bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”
16 To the woman He said,
“I will greatly multiply
Your pain [e]in childbirth,
In pain you will bring forth children;
Yet your desire will be for your husband,
And he will rule over you.”

17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’;

Cursed is the ground because of you;
In [f]toil you will eat of it
All the days of your life.
18 “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;
And you will eat the plants of the field;
19 By the sweat of your face
You will eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.”

20 Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.

22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. 24 So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.

Painting from Manafi al-Hayawan (The Useful An...

Most depictions of Adma and Eve seem to be White. Here is something different. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Serpent promised Eve that she would be like God, knowing good and evil. She and Adam certainly learned about good and evil, but they were not made wiser or more like God. If anything, they lost the perfect communion with their Creator that they had formerly enjoyed and they had even become foolish enough to believe they could hide from God. The Serpent was lying to Eve.

The reason that we know things and can ask questions is because we have been given the faculty of reason by our Creator. This faculty was corrupted by the Fall as was every other aspect of being human. If it were not for the Fall, we would not be ignorant or simple-minded. Mind, body  and spirit would work in harmony with each other. It is possible that our thinking wouldn’t be subject to the sorts of superstitions or logical fallacies it is apt to fall into now. We would learn and discover new things not out of the necessities of survival, as is the case now, but out of the joy of learning about the good world our Creator gave us and we would have a better relationship with the One who knows all.

This is all speculation,of course. I do not and cannot know if that would really be the case, but I do know that we ought not to give the Devil credit for wisdom and knowledge he does not have, nor should we consider rebellion against our Creator to be in any sense a good act. Switching to Satan would be switching from light to darkness or knowledge to ignorance or being to nonbeing, not a good idea at all.


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