Thursday, December 20, 2012

Two moments of miracles

The light of the solstice pierces to the heart of the tomb at Newgrange, and then, soon after, the Light of World arrives. Two moments that remind us of the many manifest miracles of God. Reminders that no winter is without end and that The Gift is given to us again. If we can but receive it.
Gerard Vanderleun

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Why is Christmas in December? - Slate Magazine

Why is Christmas in December? - Slate Magazine:
The reasoning goes that the growing church, recognizing the popularity of the winter festivals, attached its own Christmas celebration to encourage the spread of Christianity. Business historian John Steele Gordon has described the December dating of the Nativity as a kind of ancient-world marketing ploy ...

This alternative explanation is sometimes deployed to dismiss the notion that the holiday had pagan roots. In a 2003 article in the journal Touchstone, for example, historian William Tighe called the pagan origin of Christmas “a myth without historical substance.” He argued at least one pagan festival, the Roman Natalis Solis Invictus, instituted by Emperor Aurelian on Dec. 25, 274, was introduced in response to the Christian observance. The pagan festival “was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians.” According to Tighe, the pagans co-opted the Christian holiday, not the other way around.
But there seem to be mathematical reasons for the Dec. 25 date that rest upon modern computational science, not legend.

Update: Many of the detailed explanations of these planetary and stellar phenomena, such as this one, do not seem to account for the fact that Dec. 25 on our calendar today is an altogether different date in the ancient world. December 25 on our calendar is 13 days further along than on the Roman Julian calendar used at the time the Pope officially designated Dec. 25 as Christmas Day. The original Dec. 25 date then corresponds to Jan. 7 on our calendar. So to be historically picky about it, the Russian church and others that still use the Julian calendar for religious dating are correctly celebrating the date on Jan. 7.

But wait! There's more! When modern astronomers say that Jupiter's "full stop" occurred on Dec. 25, 2 BC, which Dec. 25 do they mean, Gregorian (modern) or Julian (ancient)? They mean modern. If Jupiter's progression/retrogression transition was in process on Dec. 25 Gregorian, that means that the Magi arrived in Bethlehem on Dec. 12 or so Julian.

They did not get there the day Jesus was born. We know from Matthew that Jesus was born in a barn and laid by his parents in a manger, or feeding trough, after birth. Yet Matthew 2 clearly states, "On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, .. ."

How old was Jesus by then? We have insufficient information to know. Presumably, Joseph, Mary and Jesus could have moved from the barn to the house the day after Jesus was born. It's not far fetched to imagine that room for a newborn and parents was made somehow.
One clue, however, lies in that Herod directed the Magi to come back and report to him once they found the one whom the Magi had referred to as the "one who has been born king of the Jews."

The Magi did not go back to Herod. Herod, never one to countenance potential rivals to his throne (he had even executed his own sons), ordered soldiers to Bethlehem:
[H]e was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
In my view, the best interpretation of this narrative is that the Magi had no idea specifically when Jesus was born, but based on their sequence of astronomical observations concluded it had to have been within the two years prior to their arrival at Herod's court. Another key may be that Matthew quotes the Magi as referring to Jesus as "born king of the Jews," not "newborn" king of the Jews. Hence, Herod's order to slaughter boys up to the age of two.

It is important, from an historical and biblical perspective, though not necessarily from a practical one for the Church, to confirm Dec. 25 (Julian, anyway) as the date the Wise Men got to Bethlehem, not the date Jesus was born. That date, I'm afraid will likely forever remain unknown.
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Monday, December 17, 2012

An Advent sermon after Sandy Hook

Delivered on Dec. 16, 2012

I have said before that the season of Advent is not about Christmas per se. It is about the coming of Christ into the world in his totality of all his offices. Advent is supposed to be to Christmas as Lent and Holy Week are to Easter – a time of spiritual introspection and self examination.

That’s why the traditional passages for Advent are not exclusively about what happened one holy night in Bethlehem. We move to that story during the church season of Christmas, but by then our culture has moved on to New Year’s looming revelry and football bowl games. And most of us have moved right along with it, too.

Understanding that Advent is not merely about Christmas is why two Sundays before Christmas the lectionary passage is the foreboding tidings of John the Baptist. His news of the Advent of Christ is a warning. It is not filled with singing angels or dazzled shepherds.

Luke 3:7-18:
   7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
   10 And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?"
   11 In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise."
   12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?"
   13 He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you."
   14 Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages."
   15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." 18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
That is our passage, this third Sunday of Advent, two days after a 20-year-old man – I shall not honor his name from this pulpit – murdered his mother and then broke in to Sandy Hook Elementary school where he gunned down 12 first-grade girls and eight boys plus six women. I hope you understand that the sermon I originally had planned for today is one I cannot give.

I try not to rely on headlines for sermon topics. That is a sort of lazy way to preach, I think. A preacher’s first calling is to proclaim the resurrection and to try to help the congregation discover biblical truths. People are astute enough to connect the Scriptures with their own lives. But Friday was a national punch to the gut. The horror beggars description.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells his disciples, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27a). In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, we have to ask ourselves, Whose voice are we following?

In the coming days the editorialists and TV commentators will have a lot more to say. I do not expect their offerings to be much different from what they said after Aurora, Colorado’s theater massacre or Virginia Tech’s massacre or ... well, pick one. The media’s talking heads will recycle the same things they said before. We’ll hear a lot about America’s gun culture, and all the talk will be about guns and not about the culture.

I want to talk about the culture:

This movie was to open in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, the
day of the killing rampage in Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Warner Bros. pulled the opening
After 1999's massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, Boston Globe editorialist John Ellis wrote,
Ours is a culture that glorifies violence, profits from it, sells it with the most advanced technology known to mankind. Violence bounces off satellites in outer space and beams into every American home, every hour of every day, every month of every year.
Researchers say that each week American children converse with their parents for about 40 minutes but watch television about 1,500 minutes. The average teenager spends nine hundred hours in school per year and fifteen hundred hours watching television. These hours do not include the time kids may spend listening to  heavy metal or “gangsta” rap, which glorifies killing cops and raping women, or playing computer games both violent and occultic, or watching violent movies on video or in theaters.

The Parents’ Television Council says that,
by the time an average child leaves elementary school, he or she will have witnessed 8,000 murders and over 100,000 other acts of violence.  By the time that child is 18 years-of-age; he or she will witness 200,000 acts of violence, including 40,000 murders.  One 17-year longitudinal study concluded that teens who watched more than one hour of TV a day were almost four times as likely as other teens to commit aggressive acts in adulthood.
The Hollywood gun culture:
Business Insider reprints part of an AskMen piece on
The 99 Most Desirable Women Of The Year."
Here is no. 99, 
Bérénice Marlohe, who plays Severine in Skyfall.
Eight out of ten television producers say there is a link between television violence and real-life violence. Wrote Boston Globe’s Ellis,
In the 1980s, evangelical groups tried to lead boycotts against entertainment and media companies that produced and broadcast gratuitously violent fare. Their efforts met with some success at the grass roots and nothing but scorn from media elites. Hollywood’s contempt for public concern about the ceaseless stream of violent media was perfectly captured in a quote from Ted Field, co-founder of Interscope. ‘You can tell the people who want to stop us from releasing controversial rap music one thing,’ said Field: ‘Kiss my ‘blank.’
We call ourselves a Christian nation. Yet events like Sandy Hook keep occurring and force us to ask: if America is so Christian, and Christians are redeemed and transformed, why is our culture so filled with destruction?

That’s where John the Baptist comes in. The Advent he foretells is not one of Jesus meek and mild. It is of a righteous judge whose “winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” It is a Christ who has already placed an axe at the foot of the unfruitful tree and is getting ready to swing it.

How dare we sing Christmas carols as those 20 children are about to be buried? God save us from pride in personal piety. “Scriptural holiness entails more than personal piety; love of  God is always linked with love of  neighbor, a passion for justice and renewal in the life of  the world. We insist that personal salvation always involves Christian mission and service to the world” (United Methodist Book of Discipline).

In the week before Jesus was crucified, he entered the Temple and overturned the tables of the moneychangers. People must have been highly offended at his actions. Who did he think he was? What right did he have to impose his views on others? Jesus never worried about what people would think about him. Enough was enough! It was time for direct action.

Have we finally had enough now? Are we willing to overturn the structures of death and violence in our society? Are we willing to be called vile names for the sake of Christ? Are we willing to ignore the outraged howls of the Ted Fields of the world in the name of Christian activism? Or would we rather listen to the agonized cries of "Rachel, weeping for her children"?

Whose voice are our kids listening to? The massacres at Sandy Hook and other schools didn't happen for no reason. We cannot pretend they are unconnected to our culture. We have to raise our voices as Christian disciples, calling to our children and our nation, offering voices of life, of hope, of peace. We have to raise our voices in judgment against death dealers who promote violence and breed despair, especially in our children.

No more chickening out by hiding behind mealy-mouthed phrases like, Who are we to judge?

No more moral relativism that Christian values for life and peace are really no better than others.

No more copping out with excuses that we’re too busy with work right now.

It’s time to stare into our own souls and ask ourselves what do we really believe, what do we really value. It’s long past time to make our voices heard. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world,” wrote Paul (Rom 12:2). “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules. . .?” (Eph 6:12).

If we just hunker down and do nothing but take care of ourselves, we have no right to shed a single tear when the next Sandy Hook happens, and one after that, and another one after that. At funerals of children shot down in the library of another school, remember: we knew it could happen, and we did nothing.

John tells us to flee from the wrath to come and bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not say to ourselves, 'We are church members in good standing'; for I tell you, God is able make church members from empty beer cans lying on the roadside. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

He's talking about you and me, church people. You and me. So how can we sing this cantata and our carols on this day?

We sing as an act of defiance against this world’s covenant of sin and death.

We sing to announce a covenant of life more abundant.

We sing to acknowledge that we of the church are under judgment for our fruitfulness of discipleship, or its lack.

We sing in repentance for our failures to obey God.

We sing to praise God for a Savior who redeems the world.

We sing to say that there is a Light that shines even in darkest night and that the darkness cannot overcome it.

We sing because not even the worst that this would can do can make us mute our voices to announce that "Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given and the government shall be upon his shoulders, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father – the Prince of Peace!"

A closing thought: I will be much more sympathetic to calls for more gun control when those same people are just as adamant about culture control. Sort of like what Glenn Reynolds has said in another context: "I'll believe it's a crisis when the people who say it's a crisis start acting like it's a crisis." But the Left has actually been working on culture control for a long time:

Maybe we need to ask in the manner of Dr. Phil, "How's that been working out for us?"

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Mayans missed

Newfound Asteroid Buzzes Earth Inside Moon's Orbit |

As near misses go in space, this was razor close:

A newfound asteroid gave Earth a close shave early today, zipping between our planet and the moon just two days after astronomers first spotted it.
The near-Earth asteroid 2012 XE54, which was discovered Sunday (Dec. 9), came within 140,000 miles (230,000 kilometers) of our planet at about 5 a.m. EST (1000 GMT) Tuesday (Dec. 11), researchers said. For comparison, the moon orbits Earth at an average distance of 240,000 miles or so (386,000 km).
A 60-second exposure of near-Earth asteroid 2012 XE54
streaking through the sky on Dec. 11, 2012, during a close
flyby that brought it inside the moon's orbit.

CREDIT: Ernesto Guido & Nick Howes, Remanzacco Observatory 
Astronomers estimate that 2012 XE54 is about 120 feet (36 meters) wide — big enough to cause substantial damage if it slams into Earth someday. An object of similar size flattened 800 square miles (2,000 square km) of forest when it exploded above Siberia's Podkamennaya Tunguska River in 1908.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why I am an armed pastor

Recently I purchased, at a licensed dealer's store, a Ruger semiauto pistol, model LC9 with Lasermax, right. Ruger's page is here.

It is probably the smallest 9mm parabellum semiauto pistol you can buy, at least it is nearly so. It holds a maximum of seven rounds in the magazine plus one in the chamber, "seven plus one" in handgun parlance. I chose this model over a larger, greater-capacity model, because of its size.

For me, a larger pistol would have just turned into a museum piece. I do have a couple of guns suitable for home defense, one being a semiauto shotgun that I bought for sport shooting, which makes a pistol somewhat needless. As someone said, if you have both a pistol and a shotgun, the  pistol's purpose is to enable you to fight your way to the shotgun.

However, I did not buy those guns, nor the LC9, with the aim (heh!) in mind of defending myself against home intruders or criminals when I am away from home. The small Tennessee town where I live is rural in character. There are extremely few crimes against persons here. Crimes against property are the norm (and not many of them)  but those rarely involve personal confrontations. Legally-armed men and women around here are practically normative and evildoers darn well know it. So if someone decides to burgle my house he will 99-percent certainly do it when I am not home. Same with other homes.

So why the small 9mm semiauto? Back in 2009, Peter at Bayou Renaissance Man posted, "Muggers aren't the only reason to be armed."
A former college professor and his wife were apparently attacked and killed by nearly a dozen dogs along a rural road where their bodies were found mutilated, authorities said Monday. 

Preliminary autopsy results from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation showed Sherry Schweder, 65, likely died of injuries suffered in a dog attack, Oglethorpe County Sheriff Mike Smith said. Autopsy results for her husband, Lothar Karl Schweder, 77, were not yet available, but Smith said it's likely he  was also attacked by dogs because the scene was so grisly. 

Smith said officials were going to round up at least 11 dogs seen in the area in northeastern Georgia, where the couple's mutilated bodies were found Saturday morning by five passersby.
Last year, my wife and I were out for a long walk in the local streets around our house, with Wesley, my daughter's 14-pound dog. You would not believe the number of really big dogs people keep around here. And they all want to eat Wesley for a snack.

Less than a half mile away lives a guy who keeps five (count 'em, five!) pit bulls in his back yard. It is fenced, but on that day one got loose and instantly streaked across the yard to attack Wesley when we unknowingly walked by. Cathy had the leash, and she quickly picked Wesley up. The pit bull leaped up to bite Wesley in two and was pawing and snapping all over Cathy. I was trying to kick the dog away but Cathy kept backing away (understandably enough) and the pit kept pursuing. I finally connected with a solid hit under the pit's chin and he dropped. Just then the owner appeared and took control of the pit. We were pretty shaken, frankly.

I thought at the time that if I had been armed that problem would have been solved pretty quick. I did order two hardwood walking sticks with a metal jabbing tips and we have always carried them since. I also began carrying a locking blade fighting knife honed to razor edge.

Then last summer my next-door neighbor, "Fred," was in his front yard when two pit bulls ran from across the street and charged straight at him. He ran for his front porch and had to kick one dog away before he got inside. He grabbed his 20-ga. shotgun and went back to the porch. The dogs charged him again and he shot one (just birdshot in the gun). They both ran away. Fred went inside and called the cops. Animal control located the dogs as belonging to residents across the street.

My town has a low crime rate. I am not really worried about a human attacker but I am legitimately concerned about the four-legged kind. The vast majority around here are penned and under control, but it only takes one or two that are not, as we and my neighbor came very close to finding out the hard way. With the walking sticks and the knife, I would have to do hand-to-hand combat with an attacking animal (or hand to paw, as it were). That is not a good plan.

Armed with the 9mm, we are a lot more secure on our walks with a buffer zone of maybe 25 feet around us, which is about the maximum effective range of the LC9 with its three-inch barrel. We still carry the sticks and certainly do not want to harm someone else's animal, but we will not be victims when we are able otherwise. (Actually, I'd feel most secure carrying a light machine gun, but one does what one can.)

(BTW, Peter, cited above, is a combat veteran turned Catholic priest, now retired, who goes armed, too. He spent some time as a full-time prison chaplain and told me, "If you begin prison ministry on Monday, by Friday you'll be getting a carry permit.")

Some other thoughts about going armed:

1. I carry a pistol to defend myself and my loved ones, not to defend you. A carry permit does not make me the Fist of Justice. It does not give me police powers. If I face criminal danger in public, my number one choice will be to flee, not fight. Having no other choice, I will draw or use my pistol to save my children, my wife, myself. Not you.

2. I will not put my life at risk to protect property. Nothing I own is worth risking death for. Nor is it worth killing for. So I will not shoot someone just to protect property. But if someone attempts to rob me or invade my home, my default setting is that they also mean to do me and/or my family harm. That by no means indicates that I will automatically engage the threat. It does mean that the threat should not count on my forebearance.

I have thought pretty hard and long about going armed in light of my pastoral vocation. Back in 2003, I posted a long piece (elsewhere) exploring the issues related to a controversy in the Battle of Baghdad when a US Army chaplain took over firing a .50-caliber machine gun during an intense firefight. The bearing of arms by chaplains is strictly forbidden in the US military, admitting of no exceptions. I explored not only the military considerations but mainly the theology of why this is so, dating back to Thomas Aquinas.
According to Prof. Darrell Cole in "Good Wars," Aquinas reasoned that
. . . bishops and clerics cannot be soldiers because these occupations cannot "be fittingly exercised at the same time." Aquinas offers two reasons why. First, warlike pursuits keep clergy from their proper duties. In other words, their participation is unlawful, not because war is evil, but because warlike pursuits prevent them from doing their jobs.
(Note the Navy's requirement, above, that chaplains "must at all times, both in time of war and in time of peace, be engaged exclusively in religious duties.") Cole continues:
Second [according to Aquinas], it is "unbecoming" for those who give the Eucharist to shed blood, even if they do so without sin (i.e., in a just war). Unlike Calvin, then, Aquinas finds the duties of clergy to be more meritorious than the duties of soldiers. However, this does not mean that, in Aquinas' view, the soldier's duties have no merit. Rather, he employs an analogy to make quite the opposite point: it is meritorious to marry but better still to remain a virgin and thus dedicate yourself wholly to spiritual concerns. Likewise, it is meritorious to fight just wars and restrain evil as a soldier, but more meritorious still to serve as a bishop who provides the Eucharist to the faithful.
Here is one root of the custom against, later the prohibition, of chaplains bearing and using arms: to wield the sword in a just cause, justly employed, was no sin, but for clergy both to wield the sword and to offer the Eucharist (Lord's Supper) meant that the chaplain had abandoned his particular calling as a disciple of Christ. Both Reformer John Calvin and Aquinas (and for that matter, Martin Luther), held that soldiering justly could be considered a form of the Christian ministry of charity. But at least in Catholic theology, the battlefield forces a choice: the same person may not offer the Eucharist in ministry and also fight as a soldier. The two ministries were not contradictory, but they were incompatible in the same person.
Obviously, the circumstances of a civilian minister are different than of a military chaplain. In orthodox Christian theology, deadly force is justifiable (though deplorable) only in self defense or defense of helpless, innocent victims of aggression and even then may be used only when there is no realistic alternative.

This is the basis of Just War theory, which also dates in modern form to Aquinas. This line of thought also informs my personal rules of engagement, especially why I won't shoot to protect property and why using gunfire to defend my family or myself is an in extremis measure only. Aquinas' theology also could be used to justify me using gunfire to defend others away from my home but frankly, I do not use it that way.

If you are an adult, no one is more responsible for defending you than you. If you find yourself unarmed and needing defending, it is because you decided to be. Bluntly put, I am not going to put my life at risk to subsidize your stupid decision. I might be morally justified in defending you with lethal force, but I am not morally obligated to do so.

I also have wrestled quite a bit with Aquinas' insight that "it is 'unbecoming' for those who give the Eucharist to shed blood, even if they do so without sin" (i.e., in direct self defense). If I did have to defend myself, having no safe escape from someone meaning me lethal harm, and took that person's life, could I continue in sacramental ministry? Should hands that have shed blood, even guilty blood, continue to offer the body and blood of Christ? I simply do not have an answer. But I also came to realize that I'd have to be alive to confront the dilemma. I pray the day never comes. But you can bet that I see no moral or religious dilemma in shooting an attacking pit bull dog.

Update: Jim S. points out that in his state of Illinois, carrying a pistol even to defend against wildlife is verboten.
My only counter-argument is that perhaps he might consider also defending poor tourists from the only state stupid enough to still forbid carrying a pistol either openly or concealed. Oh, and he also might want to defend widows and orphans. God seems pretty cool with that throughout the Bible.
Which prompted me to leave this comment:
I did ponder the question of what to do if children are in danger because of criminal acts, such as the Oregon mall shooter this week. While the question's answer is highly situational, I think that I would engage in order to give the kids time to escape.  
I would not want to face myself in the mirror each day afterward knowing that I had done nothing to save the truly innocent and defenseless. Sometimes all courses of action are undesirable, but, within the law, it is sometimes true that "a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do." You have to do what you know you can live with, and what you know you can face Christ with unafraid. 
Somewhere in here is a nexus between "Who is my neighbor?" and "no greater love." And there is no way to know where that nexus is until the time.
Update: I could just faithfully adopt this little old lady's tactic.

Endnotes: Ruger makes a somewhat smaller pistol called the LCP in .380 ACP caliber. This caliber is also known as a "9mm short," having the dimensions of 9 X 17 mm. But "9mm" by itself means a round 9 X 19mm, referred to as the 9mm parabellum or 9mm Luger.

To make things even more confusing, the .380 is not actually a .38-caliber round. It and the 9mm parabellum are exactly .355 inch in diameter. So is the .357 magnum round. And both the .38 ACP and the .38 Super rounds are .356 inch in diameter. The round that actually is .357 inch in diameter is called the .38 Long Colt. Does any of this make sense? Actually, no.

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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Abe Lincoln was a racist bigot

Spielberg’s Upside-Down History: The Myth of Lincoln and the Thirteenth Amendment by Thomas DiLorenzo:

Despite her reputation resting on her book, Team of Rivals, about Abraham Lincoln's presidency, Doris Kearns Goodwin should not be accorded the accolade of an actual Lincoln scholar. The opening quotes of this article show why:
"Armies of scholars, meticulously investigating every aspect of [Lincoln’s] life, have failed to find a single act of racial bigotry on his part."~ Doris Kearns-Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, p. 207. 
"I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people . . . . I as much as any man am in favor of the superior position assigned to the white race."~ Abraham Lincoln, First Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Ottawa, Illinois, Sept. 18, 1858, in The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln vol.3, pp. 145-146.
That Lincoln deeply opposed slavery cannot be gainsaid. That he ever thought African Americans (they could truly be called that, then) should or even could gain legal, social or moral equality with whites is simply laughable. However, that did not distinguish him from about 99 percent of American whites, North or South, of his day. In fact, in his first inaugural address, Lincoln endorsed the first proposed 13th amendment to the Constitution, called the Corwin Amendment after Ohio Republican Thomas Corwin. This amendment, which was never ratified, specifically forbade altering the Constitution in any manner that would enable the Congress to interfere with slavery "within any state." The Corwin amendment's wording was ridiculous, but its intent was clear: slavery was to be enshrined in the Constitution forever. Why would Lincoln endorse such a measure? Also in his first inaugural, he stated flatly,
The Union must be preserved, and hence all indispensable means must be employed.
Preserving the Union was more than Lincoln's policy goal. It was his fetish, a religious-type quest. The South's argument in favor of its secession was based on a contract view of the Constitution. The Constitutional contract, they claimed, had been broken, hence they could withdraw from the Union if they wished. Lincoln's theoretical foundation for destroying the Southern states to compel them to stay within the union was based on his elevation of the Declaration of Independence above the Constitution. The Union, he held, was a binding covenant between the states, not a contract, and that covenant could neither be negated nor nullified. There is no doubt that for Lincoln preserving the Union was vastly more important than the rights of blacks. Writing to influential New York editor Horace Greeley in August 1862, Lincoln explained the relationship (Lincoln's italics):
As to the policy I "seem to be pursuing" as you say, I have not meant to leave any one in doubt. 
I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be "the Union as it was." If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.
As writer DiLorenzo explains, "So, go and see Spielberg’s Lincoln movie if you must, but keep in mind that it is just another left-wing Hollywood fantasy."

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Friday, December 7, 2012

Why Jews Don't Believe In Jesus, why Jews reject Jesus

Why Jews Don't Believe In Jesus, why Jews reject Jesus:

A good explanation which begs and answer. When I find the time to answer it, I will. Even so, there are some serious biblical and theological errors in this piece. See whether you can spot them. More later!

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

10 things to know about Black Friday

10 Things Stores Won't Say About Black Friday -
  1. Crowds this year will be much larger than last year, based on surveys.
  2. Unless you're willing to surrender celebrating Thanksgiving entirely so you can wait in line from early that morning, you will miss the best sale prices that begin that evening or at "midnight madness." 
  3. Black Friday sales actually have already started, and if you haven't been shopping already, you've missed many of the special prices.
  4. You can get as good or better prices staying home and shopping online.
  5. Some other shoppers will kill you to get the item they want - literally.
  6. Some stores require you to surrender personal information such as an email address to get special prices.
  7. Best-quality merchandise is not on sale.The sales are oriented toward people whose only object is a low sale price, so only cheap stuff is marked down. Buy cheap, get cheap.
  8. The sales are marketed to women. Four times as many women respond to Black Friday advertising than men. Most of the things that women on Black Friday will definitely be cheaper three weeks later. 
  9. Stores push customers to take out a store charge account in exchange for an at-register, additional discount. Don't do it, sucker.
  10. Each store wants you to stay there all day. So they pace their sale prices all the day long. So sure, go to that big-box store at 4 a.m. to be early for the Magic Gottahavit advertised at 75 percent off. What you don't know is that tjhe price will not take effect until noon. 
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Who is communion for? The debate over the open table | The Christian Century

Who is communion for? The debate over the open table | The Christian Century:
Lately, however, what is or might be meant by open communion has shifted. The received understanding has always included a proviso, sometimes explicitly stated but often simply assumed: “All are welcome to receive” has been taken to mean “all Christians,” which in turn has been understood as including all (and only) those who have been baptized with water in the name of the Trinity. In other words, an open eucharistic service has been open irrespective of denominational status but not of baptismal status. That proviso is now under discussion in many quarters, to the point that to ask whether such-and-such a church practices open communion is apt to be ambiguous. The disputed question at present is how open the practice is or ought to be. 
The logic of what has been the accepted interpretation, which does in a sense limit the openness of open communion, is not hard to see. It stands to reason that if taking part in the Eucharist is a specifically Christian privilege, and if Christians are defined, minimally if not exhaustively, by their baptism, then those who would avail themselves of the privilege can be expected at least to have met this one objective criterion. Is this expectation indeed valid? That is the question at issue in the current discussion.
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Monday, November 12, 2012

The Grand Design? Fatal flaws in Stephen Hawkings atheism

The Grand Design? Fatal flaws in Stephen Hawkings atheism:
The introduction asserts that ‘Philosophy is dead’ (p.5) and science alone can provide ‘New answers to the ultimate questions of life’ (the book’s hubristic sub-title). But the authors then produce their own brand of humanistic philosophy, christen it ‘science’ and base their book upon it.
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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The electoral nightmare scenario

As of Sunday night, the RealClearPolitics electoral map shows Obama's electoral count at 201, Romney's at 191 and 146 votes as tossups spread among 11 states (the map will probably change today). If you click "No Toss Ups," eight of the 11 tossup (gray) states turn blue and Obama's count soars to 290. Romney sputters up to 248.

But let's turn the gray states either blue or red ourselves. If we accept RCP's 201-191 premise as a valid starting point, let's turn these gray states blue: Colorado, Nevada, Michigan. Obama goes to 232. Let's turn these gray states red: Iowa,cWisconsin, North Carolina. Romney goes to 222, still 10 votes behind.

Here are the remaining gray states: New Hampshire (4 votes), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), Virginia (13), Florida (29).

Of them, if Romney wins only Florida and Pennsylvania he wins the election. I'll predict a win for him in Florida, but for will leave Pennsylvania gray. That leaves Romney at 251, 19 votes short of the magic 270. Now for Obama, these states turn blue: New Hampshire, Virginia. Obama now has 249 and Romney 251. Only Ohio and Pennsylvania remain gray.

Romney's situation is then this: Win only Pennsylvania and become president. Win only Ohio and tie at 269 with Obama.

Obama's situation is less encouraging for him: He has to win both Ohio and Pennsylvania to win the election. If he wins only Ohio, he loses. If he wins only Pennsylvania, he ties at 269 with Romney.

If that happens:
House Selects the New President As directed by the 12th Amendment, the 435 -- many of them brand new -- members of the House of Representatives would find as their first official duty the selection of the next President of the United States. "Welcome to Congress!" 
Unlike the Electoral College system, where larger population equals more votes, each state in the House gets exactly one (1) vote when selecting the president. Even California, with its 53 Representatives, get one vote. The first candidate to win the votes of any 26 states is the new president. The 12th Amendment gives the House until the fourth day of March to select a president. 
The Senate elects the vice president, one vote per senator, with no time limit on its decision. As for the House, each state's delegation decides for itself how its single vote shall be cast. In states that have both Democrat and Republican representatives, expect that decision to be, um, tumultuous.

Under the scenario I have painted here, Obama wins 20 states' popular vote, Romney 30. One would think that the states' House members would agree that their vote shall be cast in favor of the candidate who won the state's vote. But that simply makes the House a sort of "super electoral college," which you can bet an awful lot of members don't want. So no matter which candidate receives the majority vote in certain states, expect sturm und drang among its House members over the single vote they get to cast.

Besides, no matter how many states each candidate carries, what counts is how many per party a state elects to the House. A given state could vote at the ballot for Romney but send more Democrats to Congress than Republicans and thus cast its single House vote for Obama rather than Romney.

The House is bound by nothing at all regarding the results of election day. In the 1824 election, Andrew Jackson received 42 percent more popular votes than John Quincy Adams and garnered 99 electoral votes to Adams' 84, yet the House elected Adams, largely because of the influence of Rep. Henry Clay, who was rewarded by Adams with the post of secretary of state. This became known as the "corrupt bargain," and helped doom Adam's presidency, coupled with his severe lack of popular support since a huge majority of voters had voted against him. Jackson crushed Adams in the 1828 election.

There is no reason not to expect backroom deals like Adams made from being offered this time, if the election does go to the House. But no matter how the House finally votes (if it comes to that) the representatives must bear in mind the precedent from 188 years ago: the candidate they select must be seen as legitimately elected if his presidency is to receive support from the people.

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Monday, October 29, 2012

The Methodist Church Is Exploding!

... in Cuba:
Here is what has been happening in the Methodist Church in Cuba:

>Since 1999, the Methodist Church has grown from 8,000 to 36,000 members.

>The median age of the average Methodist parishioner ranges from the mid thirties to mid forties.

>The average age of pastors is 30 years old. All clergy have started at least one new church.

>Bishop Ricardo Pereira says that the Methodist seminary in Cuba intentionally trains its pastors theologically that he describes as "eminently Methodist and Wesleyan."

>Many congregations worship in house churches where they practice "lively worship, contemplative prayer, theological formation, and Bible study."

>The Methodist Church also excels at a Wesleyan understanding of the gospel that is one and the same time evangelistic and social in character. Every Methodist is encouraged and taught to share their faith verbally and in living it out daily. The Methodist Church has outreach missions to seniors and vulnerable families and single mothers, among other ministries.

Bishop Pereira states, "In the 1970s we tried every program that came along, but the church continued to grow older and decline. We had no other option but to pray and fast with all our power."

"Methodists are called to have that burning heart. ... We can't sit still. … If your heart does not burn, no program is going to fix it."
Read those last quotes again slowly: ",,, we tried every program that came along, but the church continued to grow older and decline. We had no other option but to pray and fast with all our power."

"Methodists are called to have that burning heart. ... We can't sit still. … If your heart does not burn, no program is going to fix it."

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Life in the Socialist Paradise

Below is an embed of an excellent photo essay of what life was really like for millions of people in the old Soviet Union.

The embed below is only an intro; read the whole thing. This section reminded me of a joke a former member of the Czech politburo told me in the early 1990s:

The joke: A Russian laborer named Vasily saved and scrimped and black marketed for 20 years to buy a new Volga car. Finally, he had enough for a down payment.

So in March 1976 he went to the Volga order taker (there were no showrooms) and, beaming,  placed his order.

 Taking his money, the clerk consulted a small book and told him, "Very well, Comrade Vasily, your car will be delivered to you on ... June 16, 1987."

 Vasily mulled this over a moment, then said, "Morning or afternoon?"

Surprised, the clerk blurted, "What difference does it make?"

"I have a plumber coming by that afternoon."


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Monday, October 22, 2012

Top Ten Arguments for God

Top Ten Arguments for God: Jeff Cook:

"JEFF COOK teaches philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado and is the author ofEverything New: One Philosopher’s Search for a God Worth Believing in (Subversive 2012). He pastors Atlas Church in Greeley, Colorado."

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A physicist speaks on God

Research On Religion | Stephen Barr on Quantum Physics, Religion, & the God Particle.:

This is a link to a podcast by  Prof. Stephen M. Barr, professor of physics at the University of Delaware, on the relation of quantum physics to religious faith. A text article on the subject by Prof. Barr is here. Excerpts from the linked page's summary:
The discussion is highly accessible to anybody with a high school science background.  ... 
Prof. Barr helps us to understand that the “beginning” of the universe is not the same as the “origins” of the universe.  ... And what does quantum physics have to say about that and whether or not God exists?  In short, quantum mechanics cannot prove the existence of God, but it makes it more difficult to subscribe to a philosophy of materialism, which opens the door to the possibility of something beyond the material world, such as an “ultimate mind.”  Prof. Barr cites a number of other physicists who share this notion.  The final portion of our interview brings up the question of whether or not science can play a role in informing our faith, and Steve notes that many, many of the great scientists of the past and present have been ardently religious individuals.  The notion of a war between religion and science, often championed by the likes of Richard Dawkins, is once again the type of media hype that gave us the term “God particle.”  Prof. Barr then reflects on his own background and what it has been like to be a faithful Catholic in the world of academia, providing advice at the end to any religious individual thinking of making a career in science profession.  Recorded: October 10, 2012.

10 Things First-Time Church Visitors Don't Want to Hear

10 Things First-Time Church Visitors Don't Want to Hear:

Heh! I don't think we have a problem with these no-no's.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Six reasons why people reject Christianity

Six reasons why people reject Christianity « Wintery Knight:
Here’s a post on practical evangelism by Christian scholar Don Johnson.
His list of reasons why people often reject Christianity:
  1. Christians behaving badly
  2. Disappointment with God
  3. Weak or absent father
  4. Social pressure
  5. Cost of discipleship
  6. Immorality (especially sexual immorality)
And here’s the detail on #6:
Of all the motivations and reasons for skepticism that I encounter, immorality is easily the most common. In particular, sexual sin seems to be the largest single factor driving disbelief in our culture. Brant Hanson calls sex “The Big But” because he so often hears this from unbelievers: “’I like Jesus, BUT…’ and the ‘but’ is usually followed, one way or the other, with an objection about the Bible and… sex. People think something’s deeply messed-up with a belief system that says two consenting, unmarried adults should refrain from sex.” In other words, people simply do not want to follow the Christian teaching that sexual intercourse should take place only between and man and woman who are married, so they throw the whole religion out.
Read the whole thing.

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Baumgartner supersonic jump helmet video

A camera mounted on supersonic parachutist Felix Baumgartner's helmet shows what happened when, tens of thousands of feet above the earth, he went into an uncontrolled spin.

Baumgartner later related that he knew he was in trouble. The spinning could have pushed too much blood into his cranium, causing a blackout or possibly rupturing vessels in the brain. He considered deploying his drogue chute to stabilize but he knew that if he did, the attempt for a supersonic record would be gone forever.

With only seconds to decide, Baumgartner got his fall sorted out, probably aided by entering denser air that enabled greater control from his arms and legs. He did keep accelerating, though, and went on to hit Mach 1.24 before landing safely.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

No More Blind Faith: 10 Quotes on Christian Apologetics

No More Blind Faith: 10 Quotes on Christian Apologetics:

This is key to know:
Apologetics QuotesThe “blind faith” concept is actually not biblical. Pistis, the Greek word translated as “faith” actually is defined as a conviction based on the facts. “Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6a) It would be impossible to please God unless our minds can accurately discern the facts.
Not only does Christianity have plenty of room for people to use their mind, but the Bible even commands us to. "Test everything. Hold on to the good." (1 Thes 5:21). Its really cool that God invites us to test Him and what He has said. There is nothing wrong with asking questions or looking for reasonable answers.
As Christians we should never be afraid to ask questions, and we should also never discourage unbelievers from asking questions. Answering the tough questions is one of the ways to "...go and make disciples of all nations..."
Apologetics is extremely important, but never the first step in leading someone to Christ. In fact, if someone does not have intellectual stumbling blocks, I don't wish to create them. Apologetics should only be used if and when I first identify that there is an intellectual stumbling block standing between the person and their belief in, trust in, and commitment to Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. – Luke Nix (from Why Apologetics?)
Read the whole thing.

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Argo is the best movie of 2012

My daughter is home for fall break from Tennessee Tech, where she is studying chemical engineering. So my wife and daughter and I went to see Argo, the Ben Affleck-directed flick about an amazing exfiltration of six American diplomatic staff from Tehran. When terrorists seized the US embassy there in 1979, the six staffers escaped and were taken by the Canadian ambassador into his home.

Argo is the best movie I have seen this year. Period. There is not a wasted line or throwaway scene in the whole thing. Affleck's direction is simply brilliant and his starring role as CIA exfiltrator Tony Mendez is extremely well played. And what a treat to see a movie that didn't start as a comic book.

The story is true, of course, and I cannot help but compare it very favorably to 1995's Apollo 13, starring Tom Hanks, which told the true story of the space mission of the same name and its near catastrophe en route to the moon. Like the latter movie, you know how Argo ends, but the tension is real.

Argo is one of the very few movies I have seen in which the audience (of about 400) actually applauded when the climactic scene was resolved. Another telling observation: When the end credits music started, only about three people in front of me arose, then they froze, and then they sat back down. No one moved a muscle. We sat silently, reading the credits for several minutes. I won't say why, that would be an unfair spoiler. But you will, too.

I give Argo nine out 10 CIA Intelligence Stars.
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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

America no longer majority Protestant

As Protestants decline, those with no religion gain:

Persons who identify themselves as Protestant in religious affiliation now comprise only 48 percent of the country's population.

Just under 20 percent of Americans say they have no religious denominational affiliation at all, a larger number than belong to any Protestant denomination. Among people under age 30, a third disdain any such affiliation.

See my 2010 essay, "Why 'Spirituality' Rather Than Religion?"

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Top brain surgeon says afterlife is real

Afterlife exists says top brain surgeon - Telegraph:
Afterlife exists says top brain surgeon
A prominent scientist who had previously dismissed the possibility of the afterlife says he has reconsidered his belief after experiencing an out of body experience which has convinced him that heaven exists. ...
"I've spent decades as a neurosurgeon at some of the most prestigous medical institutions in our country. I know that many of my peers hold as I myself did to the theory that the brain, and in particular the cortex, generates consciousness and that we live in a universe devoid of any kind of emotion, much less the unconditional love that I now know God and the universe have toward us. 
"But that belief, that theory, now lies broken at our feet. What happened to me destroyed it."
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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Is Misfortune God's Doing?

Is Misfortune God's Doing? An Excerpt From Harold Kushner's New Look at 'The Book of Job.' – Tablet Magazine:

There is one place in the Bible where serious theological conversation about the nature and thought process of God does take place, prompted by the conflict between the human wish to see the world as a moral sphere where people get what they deserve, where everything happens for a reason, and the inescapable reality that ours is a world where good people suffer for no apparent reason. The book of Job is a full-length argument about whether the misfortunes that befall ostensibly good people come to them from the hand of God. If we want to believe that ours is a moral world, the scene of justice and fairness, we need to confront the arguments presented in what is probably the most challenging book in the entire Bible: the book of Job. ...
The first thing you need to know about the biblical book of Job is that there are two of them. There is the Fable of Job, a very old, simple folktale of faith maintained and rewarded, found in chapters 1, 2, and 42 of the biblical book. And then there is the Poem of Job, a much later, more complicated work comprising the large middle section of the book. A lot of people reading the Bible don’t realize that. They assume it is a single work, a theological sandwich composed of two slices of pious theology wrapped around a dense filling of hard-to-follow religious poetry.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

"Jesus’ Wife" text fragment is a fake

Jesus’ Wife fragment judged a fake « Daniel B. Wallace:

Not that this is a surprise:

“News flash: Harvard Theological Review has decided not to publish Karen King¹s paper on the Coptic papyrus fragment on the grounds that the fragment is probably a fake.” This from an email Dr. Craig Evans, the Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Acadia University and Divinity College, sent to me earlier today. He said that Helmut Koester (Harvard University), Bentley Layton (Yale University), Stephen Emmel (University of Münster), and Gesine Robinson (Claremont Graduate School)–all first-rate scholars in Coptic studies–have weighed in and have found the fragment wanting. No doubt Francis Watson’s comprehensive work showing the fragment’s dependence on the Gospel of Thomas was a contributing factor for this judgment, as well as the rather odd look of the Coptic that already raised several questions as to its authenticity.

Does the Big Bang cosmology support God or atheism?

Stephen C. Meyer: does the Big Bang cosmology support God or atheism?

Hint: the answer is God

Summary at the link. The video is here:

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Close to the Big Bang

Here is the latest deep-field photo by the Hubble telescope.

Click image to view larger.
Called the eXtreme Deep Field, the picture captures a mass of galaxies stretching back almost to the time when the first stars began to shine. 
But this was no simple point and snap - some of the objects in this image are too distant and too faint for that. 
Rather, this view required Hubble to stare at a tiny patch of sky for more than 500 hours to detect all the light, 
"It's a really spectacular image," said Dr Michele Trenti, a science team member from the University of Cambridge, UK. 
"We stared at this patch of sky for about 22 days, and have obtained a very deep view of the distant Universe, and therefore we see how galaxies were looking in its infancy."
Most people know that the universe is expanding, but not many non-astronomers are familiar with the theory of inflation, which reveals that the term "Big Bang" is misleading. Instead, says NASA's "Universe 101" web site, the universe's creation "is better thought of as the simultaneous appearance" of the universe everywhere there is the universe.

Inflation theory holds that the universe went from nothing at all to more than 99 percent of its present size in less than one-billionth of a billionth of a second – which is to say, instantly. So while empirical data, especially the uniformity of cosmic background radiation, support the conclusion  the universe began from a single point, from any reasonable human perspective there was no explosion. The universe simply appeared everywhere at once, instantaneously.

Inflation theory explains how the image of the galaxy enclosed in a square, above, can be thought to be the galaxy when it was only 460 million years old (making it presumptively the oldest object ever photographed). Stars and galaxies did not form right away after creation, but this galaxy was already billions of light years distant from ours when it came together.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

What does the 'new' in 'new atheism' really mean?

What does the 'new' in 'new atheism' really mean? | Lois Lee | Comment is free |
We can get so waylaid in debates about what new atheism means, that we fail to notice what is the real problem with the "new" in "new atheism", namely that it suggests that this particular branch of contemporary atheist culture as the only one, that it is simply the most recent manifestation in a linear and one-track intellectual tradition. Instead, the emergence of new atheism seems far more about a moment of devolution rather than evolution: it should make clear the ways in which atheist cultures are proliferating and distinguishing themselves from one other. It should make clear that non-religion has its own denominations
What I see as the "new" part of the New Atheist movement is its adherents' eagerness to convert others, especially religious believers, into atheists, too. That is, the new part of New Atheism is not is atheism, for which they offer arguments that are neither new nor very compelling. It is their - dare I say it - evangelical zeal to make converts. (Richard Dawkins, for example, has said this explicitly.)

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Interview with a Cairo rioter

I must protect my sources and means, but I have this morning conducted an interview with a Cairo resident who took part in the riot against the American embassy in Cairo last week. In fact, he was one of the relative few who actually made it over the wall into the grounds of the embassy.

My interview was with a Cairo man, 28 years old, named Muhammad Achmed Mohammed. He speaks English well but not quickly and sometimes stops and restates his point. In the transcript, I have omitted those kinds of gaps or restarts in order to enhance clarity.

ME: Hello, Muhammad, thank you for agreeing to speak with me today. I hope my readers and I will understand better what happened last week with the events at the American embassy.

Muhammad: Yes, of course. I am happy to talk with you. We need to understand one another better, I agree with you.

ME: Well, then let's start there. What would you like Americans to understand most of all?

Muhammad: It is very simple: If you insult Muhammad the prophet, peace be upon him, we will kill you.

ME: So if I said to you, in person, not on the telephone – and please understand that I am not saying this, I am merely proposing a fictional situation for discussion, nothing more – that Muhammad was a false prophet, what would your reaction be?

Muhammad: I would have to kill you.

ME: Even though I am not a Muslim?

Muhammad: There is only the consideration that because you are not a Muslim of course you do not believe that Muhammad, peace be upon him, was a prophet. Nonetheless, you would deserve to die unless you immediately repented of you sin and made shahada that,"There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet." If you did that, of course then we would be brothers and you would live.

ME: What if someone who has already made shahada said that Muhammad was not a prophet after all?

Muhammad: That is apostasy and he would have to die without hesitation. So you see, Islam is actually more forgiving of nonbelievers than Muslims.

ME: But my fictional example was purely religious in nature, whether Muhammad was or was not a prophet. What if I said something not really religious, such as – another fictional example to help us understand, please remember – "Muhammad was a murderer and pedophile child rapist?"

Muhammad: It does not matter. You cannot insult the prophet in any way and expect to live.

ME: So, no claiming that Muhammad snorted cocaine?

Muhammad: Afraid not.

ME: Kited checks?

Muhammad: No.

ME: Voted for Obama?

Muhammad: Still death, except for that insult I would torture you first.

ME: Let's get back to the embassy matter. What did you do that first night?

Muhammad: As I was leaving my workplace that later afternoon, my friend Achmed Muhammad Achmed called me on my cell phone and told me that we were going to storm the American embassy later that evening. I told him I wanted to take part.

ME: Did he say why you were storming the embassy?

Muhammad: No, it was not necessary. We had been talking with the Salafis about it for a long time. They said that September 11 would be a good date. That made sense.

ME: When you said, "we" would be going against the embassy, who do you mean by we?

Muhammad: Achmed Muhammad Achmed and two thousand of our closest friends. There were more than that in the event, but I didn't know all of them. We are aligned with the Salafis but when the riot began, the Brotherhood tried to horn in. That was rude.

ME: Did you and the other Salafis riot because of the Youtube video?

Muhammad: Huh?

ME: Did you and the other Salafis riot because of the Youtube video? The one that was said to insult Islam?

Muhammad: Let me see . . . Oh, yes, that was the reason, certainly.

ME: The White House says that the riots in Cairo and Libya and eighteen or so other Muslim nations are not protests against America or the Obama administration. Your response?

Muhammad: Oh, yes, of course, that is correct. We love America and especially we love President Hussein.

ME: Obama.

Muhammad: Gesundheit. Is that the right word?

ME: No, I mean President Obama, not President Hussein.

Muhammad: Who?

ME: Obama!

Muhammad: What?

ME: I don't know! ... Okay, reset. You mentioned your workplace and that you love America and its president. What do you do for a living?

Muhammad: I own "Achmed's Flag Emporium," where my brother and my cousin make and sell American flags that are specially designed to burn easily and brightly. Business is excellent!

ME: But you love America?

Muhammad: Of course! Selling American flags to burn is making me rich!

Update: Jump ahead to 3:07


Endnote: Just to make sure - please realize that this is "interview" is a work of fiction, intended as satire. I did not actually speak to anyone in Egypt.

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