Archive for April, 2014

Brown Dwarf

April 29, 2014

Astronomers have recently discovered a previously unknown star only 7.2 light years away. You might wonder how they could miss a star that close to us. Well, Wise J085510.83-071442.5 is not a regular star. It is a brown dwarf, a star that doesn’t actually shine. Here is the story according to the Daily Mail

A brown dwarf star that appears to be the coldest of its kind – as frosty as Earth’s North Pole – has been spotted by an American astronomer.

The discovery was made using Nasa’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (Wise) and the Spitzer Space Telescope.

Images from the space telescopes also pinpointed the object’s distance at 7.2 light years away, making it the fourth closest system to our sun.

‘It is very exciting to discover a new neighbour of our solar system that is so close,’ said Kevin Luhman, an associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State and a researcher in the Penn State Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds.

‘In addition, its extreme temperature should tell us a lot about the atmospheres of planets, which often have similarly cold temperatures.’

Brown dwarfs start their lives like stars, as collapsing balls of gas, but they lack the mass to burn nuclear fuel and radiate starlight.

The newly-found brown dwarf, named Wise J085510.83-071442.5, is thought to have a chilly temperature between -48°C to -13°C (-54°F to 9°F).

Previous record holders for coldest brown dwarfs, also found by Wise and Spitzer, were about room temperature.

To understand what a brown dwarf actually is, you must realize that like people, stars are born, they live, and eventually they die. A star’s lifespan is measured in eons rather than years and they take little notice of such microscopic mayflies such as we are. A star is born when a massive cloud of gas collapses in on itself. If you recall your high school physics class, you may remember that when a gas is compressed, in this case by the protostar’s gravity, it will heat up. The energy used in compressing the gas is converted into heat. If the protostar’s mass is greater than about .08 solar masses (8% of our Sun), the center of the cloud will become dense enough and hot enough to begin fusing hydrogen into helium. A new star is born. If the mass is less than .08 solar masses than fusion will never begin and the star is stillborn. It becomes a brown dwarf.

Some of the more massive brown dwarves, around 13 to 65 Jupiter masses may fuse deuterium and lithium. They emit mostly infrared radiation. Interestingly, brown dwarves are about the same volume as Jupiter, regardless of their masses. Gravity compresses them to about the same volume. In a way, Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune could be considered to be very low mass brown dwarves. They emit more energy than they receive from the sun. Perhaps the precise line between a massive planet and a very low mass star is not so easy to define.

General size comparison between a low mass sta...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A brown dwarf should not be confused with a red dwarf or a white dwarf. A red dwarf is a real star with a mass from about .08 to .5 solar masses. They are small and dim but they do fuse hydrogen in their core and they emit visible light. A white dwarf is a dead star. It has run out of fuel and has collapsed under its own mass until only electron degeneracy, the pressure of electrons crammed together, prevents it from collapsing any further.

But stellar corpses are another topic which I will have to write about another time.

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The Church and the Mainstream

April 27, 2014

Last week there was an article at YahooNews asking the question whether Evangelicals are out of  touch with mainstream views.

As a part of a special Easter week discussion on religion, Graham told ABC News’ Martha Raddatz that gays could go to heaven if they repent.

“Maybe gays that are watching want to know, ‘Can God forgive me? Or can I go to heaven as a gay person?’ Absolutely. But the same for any of us. We have to repent of our sins in turn. A person cannot stay in adultery and be accepted by God. You’ll have to repent,” said Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

“Franklin Graham is a sinner, and I’m no better than a gay person. I’m a sinner,” he added. “But I’ve been forgiven, and I’ve turned from my sins. For any person that’s willing to repent in turn, God will forgive.”

ABC News’ Cokie Roberts replied: “A lot of gay people feel that they are sinners, but not because they’re gay.”

In the last decade, public opinion has swung dramatically on key issues pertaining to gay rights, including gay marriage and adoption. An ABC News/Washington Post poll from March found approval for same-sex marriage at an all-time high: 59 percent of total respondents said they approve, including 75 percent of respondents under 30 years old.

While evangelical Christians overall are more likely to disapprove of same-sex marriage, younger evangelicals are nearly split on this issue: 43 percent of evangelicals under 30 years old said they approve of the idea.

The same poll also found that a majority of Americans, 61 percent, also now approve of gay adoption.

“The reason the numbers have changed so fast and so dramatically on this question of gay marriage is because everybody in America now has experience with someone who is gay,” Roberts said. “People have come out of the closet and said, ‘I am your brother. I am your sister. I am your cousin. I am your friend.’ And then they have seen these families raising children and see these loving families.”

Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, noted that overwhelmingly states still define marriage as being between a man and woman, while voicing his belief that laws should be written based on an “ideal” for families.

“I think that the social science is just simply not in yet on same-sex couples, and I think the law has every right to set an ideal, and the ideal is a mother and father,” he said.

Politically, the majority of evangelical leaders – 82 percent – think evangelicals’ influence is waning in the U.S., according to a 2011 Pew poll. Simultaneously, church attendance and membership is at record lows in the U.S.

Putting aside the questions of same-sex marriage and homosexuality generally, of which too much has been written, the question asked is whether the Church should strive to conform with what is popular, mainstream, or politically correct or should the Church uphold the teachings of the Gospel even if they are considered to be unpopular, strange, or hateful. I think that anyone who has studied the Bible to any extent must conclude that the Christian Church must take the latter position. I would even go so far to say that a church that is considered popular and mainstream by the world may not be doing its job very well.

Jesus himself said that Christians ought not to expect to be popular.

18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. ( John 15:18-20)

And:

12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

The Apostle John writes:

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

And the Apostle Paul:

14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? (2 Cor 6:14-16)

Christians, then, must be counter-cultural. We live in the world but are not of the world. Our true citizenship is of Heaven and it is Heaven’s values we must follow. Since the world and Heaven oppose each other, we ought not to expect to be politically correct. I think C. S. Lewis put it very well in Mere Christianity.

One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe—a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease, and sin. The difference is that Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong. Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living ma part of the universe occupied by the rebel. 
    Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening–in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going. He does it by playing on our conceit and laziness and intellectual snobbery. I know someone will ask me, ‘Do you really mean, at this time of day, to re-introduce our old friend the devil-—hoofs and horns and all?’ Well, what the time of day has to do with it I do not know. And I am not particular about the hoofs and horns. But in other respects my answer is ‘Yes, I do. I do not claim to know anything about his personal appearance. If anybody really wants to know him better I would say to that person. ‘Don’t worry. If you really want to, you will. Whether you’ll like it when you do is another question.’

If I could extend Lewis’s World War II analogy a bit further, as Christians we are members of the resistance fighting for our King against a usurper. When we go to church we are attending meetings of our cell. The Bible is the secret instructions from our true King. If a church strives to uphold the values of this world, it is in effect taking instructions from collaborators working for the invaders.If you look back through the history of Christianity, it is always when the Church follows the world that Christianity goes bad. Think of the horrible medieval popes who were more concerned with Italian politics than proclaiming the Word of God. Think of the religious wars during the Reformation gave up on God’s way of settling differences and decided to use the world’s way of bloodshed. Think of corrupt television preachers, more concerned with living well instead of doing good or liberal denominations who are so intent on following the world that their churches are empty.

The decline in attendance is a concern; obviously we want to reach as many people as possible. Still, we must not forget the mission of the Church. The whole purpose of the Christian Church is to get souls into Heaven. Everything else is secondary. It does no one any good at all if a church fills its pews by watering down or diluting the Gospel. In fact, to continue the analogy, such a church is a little like agents provocateur send by the enemy to capture would be resistance fighters. We want to make the message attractive to save as many as possible, but we must always make such that we are proclaiming the true message that saves.

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The Paradise of the Real

April 26, 2014

That is the title of  an article by Kevin D Williamson at National Review Online that should be required reading for anyone who has ever had a discussion about economics with a liberal. I can’t even begin to express how informative this article is and can only provide a few excerpts. You really have to read it all.

Word Problem No. 1: It’s lunchtime for Mrs.Piketty’s second-grade class. Bobby has 20 GummiWorms, and Jenny has 20 SweeTarts. Bobby and Jenny both like Gummi Worms and SweeTarts, but both like SweeTarts a little bit more, so Jenny trades three of her SweeTarts for four of Bobby’s GummiWorms. Both are happy with this trade, so they do it again. Question: How many pieces of candy do the two students end up with for dessert?

Word Problem No. 2: Mrs. Piketty is unhappy with the inequality in her second-grade classroom. Jenny’s 20 SweeTarts are valued much more highly than are Bobby’s 20 Gummi Worms, trading at a rate of 3:4. To even things out, Mrs.Piketty gives Bobby a voucher for seven SweeTarts. Question: How many pieces of candy do the two students end up with for dessert?

Word Problem No. 3: Mrs. Piketty’sattempt to solve the problem of inequality in her classroom has yielded unsatisfactory results. Bobby has his 20 Gummi Worms, and Jenny has her 20 SweeTarts, and SweeTarts still trade for Gummi Worms at a rate of 3:4. So Mrs. Piketty enacts some new policies. First, she hires Bobby as a hall monitor and decrees that hall monitors receive a minimum income of at least ten SweeTarts or the equivalent value in Gummi Worms. Also, she decrees that the high price of SweeTarts — three of them cost four Gummi Worms — is oppressive, but she’s not an all-the-way-to-the-wall outright red, either, more of a social-democrat type with a subscription to The Nation, so she simply enacts some counteracting price supports for Gummi Worms, decreeing that they cannot be traded at a price less than 13/15th of a SweeTart. She enlists Mrs. Yellen from the next classroom over to provide zero-interest financing for the purchase of up to fiveSweeTarts per lunch period, increases Bobby’s voucher allowance to nineSweeTarts per lunch period, and offsets that on her budget with a “fairness” tax of two SweeTarts per lunch period on Jenny, who is the sole member of her tax bracket. Question: How many pieces of candy do the two students end up with for dessert?

Answers: (1.) 40; (2.) 40; (3.) 40. There are only 40 pieces of candy, and rules, vouchers, taxes, zero-interest loans, redistribution, and mandates do not magic more pieces of candy into existence. If Jenny does not like the trading price imposed by Mrs. Piketty, she can keep all of her SweeTarts, while Bobby gets none. If Mrs.Piketty sends out her second-grade tactical SWAT unit to seize Jenny’s SweeTartsand put some serious asset-forfeiture and social-by-God-justice up in her smug little1-percenter face, Jenny can still leave her SweeTarts at home, eating them before or after school, and maybe even save them up in the hopes that her third-grade teacher next year will not be a howling moonbat.

Forty is forty is forty, 10 times 4, 8 times 5, 6.32455532034 squared, 23 plus 17. You can set the trading ratio of apples to oranges however you like, but if you have 20 of each, you have 40 pieces of fruit at any price — and the only way to bring more of it into the world is to plant trees, cultivate them, and pick the fruit.

The whole of progressive economics, as well social policy is to deny that two plus two equals four. Naturally the person who insists that two and two make four is a racist, bigoted, homophobic, sexist hater.

Here is something for those concerned about  increasing income inequality.

Measured by money, things look relatively grim for the American middle class and the poor. Men’s inflation-adjusted average wages peaked in 1973, and inflation-adjusted household incomes for much of the middle class have shown little or no growth in some time. The incomes of those at the top of the distribution (which is not composed of a stable group of individuals, political rhetoric notwithstanding) continue to pull away from those in the middle and those at the bottom. The difference between a CEO’s compensation and the average worker’s compensation continues to grow.

But much of that is written into the code. If, for example, you measure inequality by comparing the number of dollars it takes to land at a certain income percentile, with a hard floor on the low end (that being $0.00 per year in wages) but no ceiling on the top end, and if you have growth in the economy, then it is a mathematical inevitability that incomes at the top will continue to pull away from incomes at the bottom, for the same reason that any point on the surface of a balloon will get farther and farther away from the imaginary fixed point at its center as the balloon is inflated. 

The rich are getting richer but the poor are also getting richer. What people are complaining about amounts to the fact that the rich are getting richer faster than the poor. That may be a concern but it is not true that the rich are getting richer by stealing from the poor. When the economy grows, everyone benefits, some more than others but I would be wary of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs by pursuing policies of redistribution.

With economic models, we are a little like Neo in The Matrix, before he takes the red pill: We are not in the real world, but in a simulacrum of it, one that has rules, but rules that can be manipulated by those who understand the code. Economic models and analysis are very useful, but it’s worth taking the occasional red-pill tour, leaving behind the world of pure symbolism and taking a look at the physical economy.

That is an important point to remember.

The physical economy — the world of actual goods and services — looks radically different from the symbolic economy. Measured by practically any physical metric, from the quality of the food we eat to the health care we receive to the cars we drive and the houses we live in, Americans are not only wildly rich, but radically richer than we were 30 years ago, to say nothing of 50 or 75 years ago. And so is much of the rest of the world. That such progress is largely invisible to us is part of the genius of capitalism — and it is intricately bound up with why, under the system based on selfishness, avarice, and greed, we do such a remarkably good job taking care of one another, while systems based on sharing and common property turn into miserable, hungry prison camps.

We treat the physical results of capitalism as though they were an inevitability. In 1955, no captain of industry, prince, or potentate could buy a car as good as a Toyota Camry, to say nothing of a 2014 Mustang, the quintessential American Everyman’s car. But who notices the marvel that is a Toyota Camry? In the 1980s, no chairman of the board, president, or prime minister could buy a computer as good as the cheapest one for sale today at Best Buy. In the 1950s, American millionaires did not have access to the quality and variety of food consumed by Americans of relatively modest means today, and the average middle-class household spent a much larger share of its income buying far inferior groceries. Between 1973 and 2008, the average size of an American house increased by more than 50 percent, even as the average number of people living in it declined. Things like swimming pools and air conditioning went from being extravagances for tycoons and movie stars to being common or near-universal. In his heyday, Howard Hughes didn’t have as good a television as you do, and the children of millionaires for generations died from diseases that for your children are at most an inconvenience. As the first 199,746 or so years of human history show, there is no force of nature ensuring that radical material progress happens as it has for the past 250 years. Technological progress does not drive capitalism; capitalism drives technological progress — and most other kinds of progress, too.

Read those last paragraphs over and over until you get it. We are living in an age of unprecedented peace and prosperity. A lot of people have come to believe that this is the norm. It is not. The norm is poverty and misery. There is a lot more here on this but I will skip ahead a little.

For the conservative, people are anasset — in the coldest economic terms, a potentially productive unit of labor. For the progressive, people are aliability — a mouth to be fed, a problem in need of a solution. Understanding that difference of perspective renders understandable the sometimes wildly different views that conservatives and progressives have about things like employment policy. For the conservative, the value of a job is what the worker produces; for the progressive, the value of a job is what the worker is paid. Politicians on both sides frequently talk about jobs as though they were economic products rather than contributors to economic output, as though they were ends rather than means. The phrase “there aren’t enough jobs” is almost completely meaningless, but it is a common refrain.

Remember all the talk about overpopulation that was popular a couple of decades ago. The people who worry about that sort of thing see people only as blind consumers, stomachs that need to be fed. The truth is that a more people is a net asset since each person has two hands that can work and a brain that can think.

This next part is great.

For example, The Nation yesterday published a hilariously illiterate essay by Raúl Carrillo, who is a graduate student at Columbia, a Harvard graduate, and an organizer of something called the Modern Money Network, “an interdisciplinary educational initiative for understanding money, finance, law, and the economy.” All three of those institutions should be embarrassed. Mr. Carrillo is the sort of man who thinks that 40 pieces of candy can be divided and recombined in such a way as to arrive at a number greater than 40. His essay, “Your Government Owes You a Job,” argues that the federal government should create a guaranteed-job program, “becoming our employer of last resort.” Mr. Carrillo’s middle-school-quality prose must be read to be appreciated — “Would jobs for all skyrocket wages and prices, spurring inflation? Such unfounded belief holds the jobless hostage to hysteria” — but his thinking is positively elementary. It does, however, almost perfectly sum up the symbolism-over-literal-substance progressive worldview: “You need dollars to eat,” he writes, “and unless you steal the dollars, you generally have to earn them.”

But you do not need dollars to eat. You need food to eat. Experiment: Spend six months locked in room with nothing other than a very large pile of dollars; measure subsequent weight loss.

I sometimes hear commercials on the radio and on the internet stating that the economy is due to collapse and therefore I should buy gold. If we end up in a sort of Mad Max style post-apocalyptic society, gold is going to be completely useless. You can’t eat gold. A dollar bill is just a piece of green paper. It is the goods and services that the dollar can buy that is important. Don’t confuse wealth with money.

Mr. Carrillo’s intellectual failure is catastrophic, but it is basic to the progressive approach. Mr. Carrillo argues that a guaranteed-job program would “pay for itself,” mitigate deficits, empower women, strengthen communities, liberate us from Walmart and McDonald’s — I half expected him to claim that it would turn asandwich into a banquet. But the question he never quite gets his head around is: Jobs doing what? Americans in guaranteed government jobs “needn’t construct trains or solar panels,” he writes. Instead, they could be employed in “non-capital intensive” sectors such as “child-care, eldercare, and” — focus in here, kids — “community gardening.” Experiment: Offer for sale at a price of $250 a voucher entitling its bearer to one year’s worth of meals at McDonald’s, one year’s worth of groceries at Walmart, or one year’s worth of produce from your local community garden; compare sales figures.

Mr. Carrillo cites William F. Buckley Jr., who once recommended that welfare dependents be put to work tidying up parks. What Mr. Carrillo does not understand is that Mr. Buckley’s case was not an economic one but a moral one; he believed idleness to be a sin. (“I get satisfaction of three kinds,” he said. “One is creating something, one is being paid for it, and one is the feeling that I haven’t just been sitting on my ass all afternoon.”) Mr. Carrillo’s argument is an explicitly economic one, and it is illiterate. The economic difference between paying a man to engage in “community gardening” and paying a man to sit on his ass all afternoon is negligible, as good as the spade in the soil might be for his soul. Our food does not come from community gardens for the same reason that we do not generate our own electricity at home or build automobiles in a million mom-and-pop shops across the fruited plains.

I think this is what Cliven Bundy was trying to express with his controversial remarks.

The more removed you are from actually producing anything, the more likely you are to be a progressive.

The farther away we move from the physical economy into the manipulation of symbols through public policy, the more progressive ideas make apparent sense. And symbolism is more comfortable for progressives in general, owing to a disinclination to literally get their hands dirty. There is, for example, no environmentally clean way to produce energy, and the really productive ways of producing energy — like fracking for gas in Pennsylvania — give them the fantods. There is no environmentally clean way to build a man a house, either, or provide him with clean drinking water, or to heat that house, or to grow a crop of wheat, or to make that wheat into bread. If you think you can have health care and electric cars without steel mills and oil refineries, you are mistaken. But actually expanding physical production within our own political boundaries, for instance by building more pipelines to connect petroleum producers with petroleum refiners, scandalizes the progressives. Every smokestack is another Barad-dûr to them — even as they bemoan the loss of “good factory jobs,” the largely mythical former prevalence of which provided their political forebears with a deep bucket of solutions to throw at the problem of potentially bumptious poor people. They detest the economic use of undeveloped lands, whether for energy or timber or grazing cattle — as though beef comes from Trader Joe’s. They refuse to understand that if you want more oranges and apples, you have to plant some trees — maybe even cutting down some other trees to make room for them, or, angels and ministers of grace defend us, harassing a tortoise in the process.

 

Though there are many exceptions, the closer a man’s occupation takes him to the physical economy, the more skeptical he is of progressive central-planning ambitions. You do not meet a great many left-wing corn farmers, copper-mine operators, oil drillers, or house builders. You do meet a fair number of progressives on Wall Street and Silicon Valley and on the campus of Harvard utterly failing to teach the likes of Mr. Carrillo the fundamentals of economics, prose composition, or anything else. Follow that road to its terminus and you end up at the place in which the secret to national prosperity appears, self-evidently, to be stimulating demand, as though the nation could grow wealthier by wanting more rather than by making more, as though we could consume that which has not been produced.

What can I say? Read the whole thing again and again, and remember that two plus two equals four. No politics can change that in the slightest. You cannot just legislate prosperity.

 

 

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Cliven Bundy

April 24, 2014

I haven’t written anything about the Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his standoff with federal agents because I really don’t know much about the situation and have not been interested enough to do the necessary research to learn more. As far as I can tell, both sides are at least partly in the wrong. Mr. Bundy has been grazing his cattle on federally owned land but has refused to pay the required fees since 1993, when the rules for grazing on public land were changed. It may well be that the rules were changed in such a way as to make grazing on public lands unprofitable, but Bundy simply does not have the legal option to refuse to pay the fees any more than I can legally refuse to pay taxes even if I disapprove of how the government is spending the money. Mr. Bundy also cannot simply refuse to recognize the authority of the federal government. It is their land that is in question and rightly or wrongly, they set the rules. Bundy has taken the matter to court and has lost, twice. He cannot simply ignore the rulings of a court just because they are not in his favor. The political system that Cliven Bundy and supporters appear to advocate is not libertarianism, ordered liberty under the rule of law, but anarchism where everyone can live under their own rules.

Having said all of that, I do not believe that the actions of the federal government come out all that well in this matter. I have to wonder why they decided to act right now after ignoring the problem for twenty years. I also have to wonder why they had to act in such an aggressive matter. Didn’t anyone consider that sending in armed agents to seize the man’s cattle could not possibly go well? There is simply no way this wasn’t going to look like jack booted thugs stealing a man’s property. Were they trying to provoke a confrontation?

Statements by Senator Harry Reid suggest that someone wanted a fight.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says “something is going to happen” to get Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy to stop letting his cattle graze on federal land.

“It’s obvious that you can’t just walk away from this. And we can speculate all we want to speculate to what’s going to happen next,” Reid told KSNV-TV. “But I don’t think it’s going to be tomorrow that something is going to happen, but something will happen. We are a nation of laws, not of men and women.”

Reid called militias staying at Bundy’s Bunkerville ranch “domestic violent terrorist-wannabes.”

Is Harry Reid a ranking member of a distinguished legislative body of the greatest nation on Earth or a Mafia enforcer? Why does he feel the need to butt into an already tense situation with threatening and inflammatory comments? I would think that Senator Reid is the last person to start talking about the rule of law. I think it would be best if all the political figures in Nevada and elsewhere, whatever their sympathies might be, kept their mouths shut and let this situation be resolved without bloodshed.

Now it appears that Cliven Bundy has contracted a nasty case of foot in mouth disease from his cattle.

He said he would continue holding a daily news conference; on Saturday, it drew one reporter and one photographer, so Mr. Bundy used the time to officiate at what was in effect a town meeting with supporters, discussing, in a long, loping discourse, the prevalence of abortion, the abuses of welfare and his views on race.

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

Naturally the progressives are filled with glee over this heaven sent opportunity to muddy the waters. Now the debate won’t be over the proper role of the federal government in managing its extensive properties out west but over the racism of Cliven Bundy. There is the usual double standard here. Conservatives are expected to immediately denounce and disassociate themselves from Mr. Bundy. Somehow, Democrats are never required to denounce any fellow progressive no matter how hate filled and obnoxious their comments might be. You can be a notorious race baiter or even an Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan but if you have the right party affiliation, all is forgiven.

The relevant question that really needs to be asked about Mr. Bundy’s comments is not whether they are racist or offensive but whether they are true. Calling these comments racist is simply a matter of evading the question of whether or not he actually has a point. Bundy’s comments are certainly not cowardly and I can only wonder that Attorney General Eric Holder is not flying out to Nevada this minute to have that long awaited discussion on race.

I think I know what Cliven Bundy was trying to say, though he picked the worst possible way to say it. I would not go so far as to say that African-Americans were better off as slaves, freedom is obviously preferable to slavery, but I have wondered whether the Civil Rights Movement has really been an unmixed blessing for the Black community. Gaining legal and political equality with Whites is a great gain and many Blacks have benefited from the Civil Rights Movement. African-Americans have infinitely more opportunities to get ahead than before and can be found at the highest levels of our society, even the presidency. Yet, in all too many cases, the African-American community seems to have lost something, a certain knack for overcoming obstacles or prevailing despite facing the discrimination of  the past. Perhaps too many Blacks have come to believe the progressives when they say that they cannot succeed in a racist America without being dependent on the government. I wonder if they haven’t internalized this message and simply given up.

Maybe instead of automatically condemning Bundy’s comments as racist, we should use them as a starting point for a discussion on how to improve the prospects of those African-Americans who have somehow been left behind by the great progress we have made over the past decades. Of course, this is the discussion Eric Holder, Barack Obama, and other progressives don’t want to have. We can’t have the Darkies thinking for themselves and wandering off the plantation.

Well, for a subject I don’t know  much about, I sure have written a lot about it. Perhaps too much.

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Banning Hate Speech

April 23, 2014

 

Senator Edward Markey from Massachusetts wants to stop hate crimes. So, he has proposed legislation to study and recommend ways to stop hate crimes by stopping the hate speech that encourages such crimes. Some might argue that this would endanger freedom of speech but if you can’t trust Congress and the federal government to safeguard our liberties, who can you trust. I found this article in the Boston Herald, thanks to Instapundit.

 

U.S. Sen. Edward J. Markey wants the government to study and recommend ways to stop the Internet, TV and radio from “encouraging hate crimes,” but First Amendment advocates say the bill is a menace to free speech.

“This proposed legislation is worse than merely silly. It is dangerous,” said civil liberties lawyer Harvey A. Silverglate, arguing even hate speech is protected absent a crime. “It is not up to Sen. Markey, nor to the federal government, to define for a free people what speech is, and is not, acceptable.”

Markey’s bill would direct a government agency to identify hate speech and create recommendations. Markey in a statement yesterday said the bill makes “crystal clear that any recommendations must be consistent with the First Amendment’s free speech protections.”

Harvard Law professor Alan M. Dershowitz said, “He’s not going to be able to come up with legislation that sufficiently protects the First Amendment. We always have to be able to respond to the racists and bigots, but not at the expense of the First Amendment.”

Gene Policinski of the First Amendment Center and the Newseum Institute said, “Anytime government in any form or level looks to study our speech — even something that we might all consider detestable speech — we need to pay attention. The First Amendment really permits everyone in the marketplace to speak.”

Michael Lieberman of the Anti-Defamation League said he backs the bill, which is similar to a Markey-backed 1993 study that found hate crimes linked to media “scattered and largely anecdotal” and recommended no government bans.

“If we thought this legislation would result in censorship, we would not support it,” said Lieberman. “You could take the position that any legislation could lead to government censorship, but the way we’re looking at this is a net positive. This updates a study that is 20 years old.”

House co-sponsor U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said, “Those recommendations are simply recommendations unless they are acted on. … If there’s speech that’s protected by the First Amendment, Congress will presumably not act.”

English: Portrait of US Rep Ed Markey

Throw him out!  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Notice that the article never states which party Senator Markey belongs to. I am sure nobody will be very surprised to learn that a lawmaker who proposes censorship is a Democrat.

 

This is a really silly idea. I doubt if any such bill would even make it out of committee and if by some miracle both houses of Congress actually passed anything like it, the Supreme Court will declare it unconstitutional before the ink dries on the paper. I doubt very much if there is any actual evidence that any hate crime is inspired by hate speech and I doubt very much if attempting to ban hate speech from the internet, television and radio could possibly be effective.

 

I have to wonder though, what is it about these people, especially the most liberal Democrats, that their first impulse is always to shut down and censor people. Perhaps we should make a law that anyone in Congress who proposes such obviously unconstitutional legislation should be immediately dismissed from their office and barred from any elective  office for life.

 

 

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Earth Day

April 23, 2014

I meant to write this yesterday, during Earth Day and I did start it, but I was busy and didn’t finish it until the next day.

From celebrating the Risen Lord we come now to a day to celebrate His creation, Earth Day. I am not a big fan of either Earth Day or the environmentalist movement for a number of reasons but one reason in particular that comes to mind, perhaps because Easter was two days ago, is that it seems to me that environmentalism is a sort of neo-pagan religion that worships the creation to the detriment of the Creator. I think that the Apostle Paul described our modern Greens fairly well when he wrote of the pagans of his own day.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. (Romans 1:21-25)

You see the parallel? Just as the pagans of ancient times worshiped trees, stones, and idols so do the modern pagans reverence nature and the Earth. There were many creation myths among the ancients. As far as I know none of them had the world created ex nihilo by an omnipotent deity. The creation of the world generally seems to predate the gods, either accomplished by an older generation of gods or by the same process that created the gods. The creation of the human race is generally something of an afterthought on the part of the gods. Humans are not very important. In like manner, our modern pagans believed that the Earth created itself. The Earth evolved. There is no need for a Creator. Some of the most mystical New Age Greens may reverence Gaia, but Gaia is not a creator.  Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that because these beliefs seem to resemble modern scientific theories on how the Earth developed that these beliefs are actually scientific. The environmentalists seek to use the mantle of science to advance their agenda. Their beliefs may be close to some scientific ideas but their methods of reasoning are not very scientific at all.

In Genesis, the creation of man is presented as the climax of God’s creative efforts. Human beings are creatures made in God’s own image and are set to rule over the Earth.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. (Gen 1:26-29)

Human beings are distinct from the other animals. Only the first human can name the animals.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. (Gen 2:15-22)

Human beings are something special in God’s eyes.

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas. (Psalms 8:1-8)

Even many pagans understood that there was something special about humanity. The Athenian dramatist Sophocles wrote in his play Antigone;

Numberless are the world’s wonders, but none
More wonderful than man; the storm-gray sea
Yields to his prows, the huge crests bear him high;
Earth, holy and inexhaustible, is graven
With shining furrows where his plows have gone
Year after year, the timeless labor of stallions.
The light-boned birds and beasts that cling to cover,
The lithe fish lighting their reaches of dim water,
All are taken, tamed in the net of his mind;
The lion on the hill, the wild horse windy-maned,
Resign to him; and his blunt yoke has broken
The sultry shoulders of the mountain bull.
Words also, and thought as rapid as air,
He fashions to his good use; statecraft is his
And his the skill that deflects the arrows of snow,
The spears of winter rain: from every wind
He has made himself secure – from all but one:
In the late wind of death he cannot stand.

The modern pagans, by contrast, don’t think that man is anything special at all. At best, we are just another animal. As Ingrid Newkirk of PETA has said;

Animal liberationists do not separate out the human animal, so there is no rational basis for saying that a human being has special rights. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. They are all mammals

At worst, human beings are vermin. We pollute the Earth, change the climate, drive numerous species to extinction. We are a cancer and a plague on the Earth. The fewer of us there are, the better.

It seems to me, then, that there is a choice between serving the Earth, as a modern pagan, or serving the Creator of the Earth as a Christian. You cannot do both. This does not mean, of course, that a Christian should deliberately pollute or damage the environment. If God has placed the human race over the Earth, then we are commanded to be good stewards and use the resources that God has given us with care and foresight. Part of being a good steward over creation is preserving the natural world and not wantonly destroying it. We must not worship the Earth, however, or subordinate the needs of our fellow human beings to any other needs. As Joshua might have put it, Choose for yourself this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

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Opinions

April 21, 2014

Not long ago, I was reading an article on Cracked.com titled the 4 Most Useless Pieces of Advice Everyone Believes. Like many Cracked articles this one combined humor with serious observations about life. Number two on the list is “You’re entitled to your opinion. As always when I quote from Cracked.com, please excuse the language.

Being entitled to something is saying you have a right or claim to it. There is justice in you having this thing. And what could denigrate that idea more than someone being entitled to a chucklefuck stupid opinion?

The modern world is rife with people convinced that their opinions are important and valid when, sadly, that just isn’t true. For any opinion to be valid and important, it needs to be informed, and good God do few people aspire to that.

I’ve said before that everyone will have an opinion — that’s inevitable — but you should reserve your opinion until after you have informed yourself on the matter at hand, and you should only respect the opinion of others if it passes that test.

I wish the writer would have taken his own advice. Everyone does indeed have a right to their own opinion, informed or otherwise. The question is whether you should pay any attention to what a given person has to say on a given subject. If a person has shown himself to be knowledgeable about economics or physics, then their opinion is worth listening to on those subjects. That same person’s opinion on history or entertainment may not be worth listening to.

The writer gives several examples of what he considers to be bad opinions that are self-evidently so wrong that only someone  ignorant could possibly hold them. The trouble is that each of these opinions is not self-evidently wrong and could be defended.

For evidence of this, please refer to people who are “not racist but raised to believe you stay with your own kind.” That’s their opinion. Other people have an opinion that gays shouldn’t get married. That the Earth is 6,000 years old. That climate change doesn’t exist. That women who lead you on deserve to be raped. These opinions are not informed. There is no logic behind them, no foundation on which to base them.

Three of these; people should stay with their own kind, gays should not marry, and women can deserve to be raped are questions of values rather than facts, or what ought to be done rather than what is. You may believe some or all of these statements are morally right or wrong based on the basic values you uphold, but they are not statements that can be shown to be true or false. It may be a fact that people prefer to associate with people who look like themselves, or that gays would like to marry, or that a woman may lead a man on but whether or not people should only associate with their own race, or gays should marry, or a woman who leads a man on should be raped cannot be facts and cannot be decided by observation or debate.

This is why such questions are so hard to resolve, at least when dealing with people with different cultures and values. There are few people in the United States who would say that a woman could ever deserve to be raped. In Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, people may have a different view. Nearly everyone agrees that slavery is obviously wrong. No one in ancient times thought that there was anything at all wrong with slavery.  This is not to say that we should adopt a position of moral relativism.Some things are right and some things are wrong. There is a difference, however, between right and wrong, and true and false. The one is easy to decide. The other is a little harder.

Whether or not climate change is occurring is a question of facts. One fact is relatively easy to discover. Obviously, the Earth’s climate has changed drastically throughout its history. The questions of how the climate is changing right now and to what extent human beings are changing the climate are harder to answer. The interactions of the Earth’s atmosphere and climate are extremely complex and not well understood. The question of what to do about any changes in climate is more of a matter of ought than is. It is believing that the science is settled and that the debate is over that is uninformed and illogical.

Geologists believe that the Earth is 4.57 billion years old. They have good reasons for believing this and there is a general consensus among the scientists that have studied the matter that the Earth is that old. People who believe the Earth is only 6000 years old may not be very knowledgeable about geology or  may believe that their interpretation of scripture is more authoritative than the theories of geologists, but they are not stupid or ignorant, as the writer seems to believe. They may be very knowledgeable and sensible on many subjects.

At the same time, believing that the Earth is 4.57 billion years old is not really a sign of superior intellect. I doubt very much that many of the people who believe the Earth so old have actually investigated why geologists believe that the Earth is so old or how they came to determine the age of the Earth. If a person believes that the Earth is 4.57 billion years old, that belief may be correct, or at least in line with current thinking on the subject, but they can hardly take credit for believing what they were taught in school without questioning. If they were taught the Moon was made of green cheese,  they would believe that too.

What seems to be happening here, besides poor thinking skills on the part of the writer of this piece, is another example of a trend that is becoming more noticeable recently, the tendency by leftists to declare that all debate on a given subject is over, in favor of the left wing position. Anyone who does not take the orthodox leftwing position on the subject does not simply happen to have a different opinion or is not simply mistaken about the facts, but is upholding a position that is so devoid of logic and decency that they shouldn’t even be allowed to express it in public. Their opinions are so noxious that they need never be listened to and ought never to be permitted any forum in which to express their hateful views. Thus, someone who opposes the idea of same-sex marriage does not simply value traditional ideas on marriage or have sincere religious views. All good people support same-sex marriage so that person can only be a hater and a bigot. Someone who does not believe that human beings are primarily responsible for changing the climate cannot have come to that  conclusion by examining the evidence. They can only be an either an ignoramus or in the pay of Big Oil.

It’s hard to imagine that this sort of casual disrespect could make our political discourse more civil. It is more likely to have the reverse effect. If your opponent is not simply a human being with different ideas but either the Devil or a complete idiot, you need not try to reason with them or try to understand them, or even treat them with minimal respect. You are more likely to seek to destroy or ruin them.

But, that is just my opinion. I could be wrong.

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Easter

April 20, 2014

We left the story of Jesus of Nazareth last Friday. He had been executed in the most painful and degrading way possible. His closest followers were disperse and in hiding. It must have seemed that Jesus and his movement had ended in utter failure. But then, something remarkable happened. This something is commemorated by the Easter holiday. Although Christmas is the more popular Christian holiday, Easter is actually the most important holiday in the liturgical year as the celebration of Christ’s resurrection is theologically more important than his Nativity. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The Gospel of Mark has the most concise account on what happened that first Easter.

1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

9 When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene,out of whom he had driven seven demons.10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping.11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.

12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country.13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.

14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.17 And these sign swill accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons;they will speak in new tongues;18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it. (Mark 16:1-20)

Mark 16:9-20 seems to be a later addition. At any rate the earliest manuscripts do not have those verses. Whether the original ending has been lost or Mark intended to end his account so abruptly is unknown.

Matthew has more details.

1After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

The Guards’ Report

11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

The Great Commission

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:1-20)

Luke and John have more to say of Jesus after His resurrection but I won’t quote them here.

The date of Easter has been a matter of some controversy in past centuries. The date of Easter is related to the date of Passover. The calculations on which the date of Easter is determined is based on a lunisolar cycle like the date of Passover but the cycle is not the Hebrew calendar. Generally Easter falls about a week after Passover but it occurs about a month later in three years of the nineteen year cycle. Various groups of Christians have had different methods of calculating Easter over the years and these differences have led to bitter disputes. There is still a different date for Easter among the Eastern churches since they use the Julian calendar for the liturgical year while Catholics and Protestants use the Gregorian calendar.

Among Catholics and some Protestants, Easter is generally celebrated by an Easter vigil beginning the previous evening. At dawn, a mass or service begins, etc.

And, of course, many people celebrate Easter by finding Easter eggs and eating candy delivered by the Easter Bunny.

The Easter Bunny

 

Good Friday

April 18, 2014

Today is Good Friday, the day of Jesus’s crucifixion. It may seem strange to call it “Good” Friday since being crucified wouldn’t normally be considered as part of a good day but the word good is used in an obsolete sense meaning holy. Good Friday is generally celebrated with fasts and vigils. In the Roman Catholic church no mass is held on this day.

Once again, I will be using the Gospel of Mark to tell the story.

Mark 15

Jesus Before Pilate

1Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.

2 “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

3 The chief priests accused him of many things. 4 So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”

5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

6 Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.

9 “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, 10 knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.

12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.

13Crucify him!” they shouted.

14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. (Mark 15:1-15)

It would seem that this meeting of the Sanhedrin at night and before Passover was highly irregular and some have questioned the historicity of the Gospel accounts on that basis. I think that if the elders and priests of the Sanhedrin believe Jesus to be on the point of declaring himself the Messiah and leading a rebellion, they might not have been too concerned with fine points of legality in the face of a national emergency. Little is known of Pontius Pilate but in the historical accounts of Josephus and others, he does not seem to be the sort of man who had any scruples about putting a trouble maker to death even if he wasn’t certain of the man’s guilt. It is possible that he was impressed by Jesus’s force of personality. On the other hand, Josephus makes it clear that Pilate was a tactless man who did not like the Jews much. He was eventually recalled because his actions seemed likely to cause rebellions. Perhaps Pilate resented having the High Priest and others, who he might have considered semi-barbarians, insist on his crucifying a man. He might have refused just to be obstinate.

16 The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17 They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

The Crucifixion of Jesus

21 A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. 22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 23 Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

25 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS.

27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. [28][a]29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.(Mark 15:16-32)

Luke has one of the thieves taking Jesus’s side.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[d]

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)

Crucifixion is probably the most painful method method of execution ever devised. The victim is slowly asphyxiated as he hangs on the cross. It was not uncommon for a man to linger for days writhing in pain the whole time. In addition to the pain, crucifixion was meant to be a humiliating, shameful punishment. Only the lowest of the low were crucified, which might have been a stumbling block to early Christian proselytizing.

33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).[b]

35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died,[c] he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph,[d] and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

Those words were the first verse of Psalm 22. Matthew’s account parallels Mark’s but Luke and John report different last words.

46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”[e] When he had said this, he breathed his last.  (Luke 23:46)

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.(John 19:28-30)

John adds another detail.

31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,”[c]37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” (John 19:31-37)

Strange as it may seem, the breaking of their legs was an act of mercy since they would die sooner. It was surprising that Jesus had died after only being about six hours on the cross.

42 It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. 46 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid. (Mark 15:42-47)

To anyone on the scene, this must have seemed the end of the matter. Jesus of Nazareth was dead and his followers scattered. It would seem that, at best, he would only be a minor footnote in history.

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Holy Thursday

April 17, 2014

Easter Sunday is approaching and the Easter weekend begins today with Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday. This day commemorates Jesus’s last supper with his disciples. In the Roman Catholic church, they hold a chrism mass in each diocese in which the bishop consecrates the oils used in anointing of the sick, baptisms, etc.

The story of the last supper is found in all four Gospels with variations in detail. John has an extended discourse by Jesus in which he gives his final instructions to his disciples. John omits the introduction of the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist which is described in the other three Gospels. I am going to quote from Mark since it is the shortest and fastest paced Gospel.

12On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

13 So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. 14 Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.”

16 The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”

19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely you don’t mean me?”

20 “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”

23 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.

24 “This is my blood of the[c] covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

26 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Mark 14:12-26)

Various Christian denominations celebrate the Lord’s Supper in various ways. Many celebrate it every Sunday, others less often. The eucharist is a major source of controversy between Catholics and Protestants. Catholics take Jesus’s words literally and believe that the eucharist actually becomes the body and blood of Christ while Protestants believe it to be symbolic. This is the point of Catholic doctrine that Richard Dawkins was mocking at the Reason Rally.

27“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written:

“‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.’[d]

28 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

29 Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”

30 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice[e] you yourself will disown me three times.”

31 But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same. (Mark 14:27-31)

Despite their bluster, the disciples ran like scared rabbits when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus. Peter even denied knowing Jesus three times.

66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. 67When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him.

“You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said.

68 But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entryway.[g]

69 When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.” 70 Again he denied it.

After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”

71 He began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.”

72 Immediately the rooster crowed the second time.[h] Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice[i] you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept. (Mark 14:66-72)

After the last supper Jesus and the disciples went to the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed.

32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36“Abba,[f] Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

37 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

39 Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. 40 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.

41 Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Mark 14:32-42)

The betrayer is Judas, of course. They needed him to identify Jesus, since they wouldn’t want to arrest the wrong man. You might wonder why the Jewish leaders wanted to get rid of Jesus. It would  take another post to explain the historical and political background of first century Judea, but suffice it to say that they had good reason to fear anyone who might raise an insurrection against the Romans, since the Roman response would be devastating. The Jewish War, just forty years later showed their fears were justified.

43Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.

44 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” 45 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. 46 The men seized Jesus and arrested him. 47 Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

48 “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” 50 Then everyone deserted him and fled.

51 A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, 52 he fled naked, leaving his garment behind. (Mark 14:43-51)

The young man is not mentioned in any other Gospel and there is a tradition that he was Mark himself, who couldn’t resist mentioning himself. John identifies the disciple who attacked the guard as Peter.

10Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)

11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:10-11)

Luke mentions that Jesus healed the guard.

49 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” 50And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.

51 But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. (Luke 22:49-51)

Tomorrow the story continues with Good Friday.

 

 


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