Monday, July 28, 2008

Economics and the Holy Spirit

I was just sitting there watching my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter veeery slowly eat dinner, regretting having given her a lollipop about half an hour before her meal, and the thought struck me how well my daughter understands the economics of incentives. Sure, it's easy enough for even the smallest child to grasp the concept of reward, and act to earn that reward. But she already earned her reward in this case, apropos of nothing. Thus, she was no longer motivated to eat a good dinner, because she had nothing to gain from it (well, except tasty chili-cheese mashed potatoes, but apparently that's not her cup o' tea). Had I only showed her the sucker and told her that it would be given to her after she ate a good dinner, she would have eaten much faster.

What does this have to do with the Holy Spirit? Well, everything. We as Christians have received a free gift of eternal life from God through Christ Jesus. It is not the result of works or deeds which we have done in righteousness; Scripture is clear on this matter. Thus, our motivation for doing good and living moral lives is gone; we have received and been guaranteed our reward simply by faith in Jesus Christ. Sure, we are told to do good works, repeatedly and at great length. But because of this guarantee, there is no explicit incentive to do good. Both the carrot and the stick are removed; we already have eternal life, and Hell no longer awaits us.

Sure, there are groups among the Body of Christ who perhaps make too much of certain passages of Scripture, but now is not the time for that particular debate. Still others assert (and this I would vehemently debate to my last breath) that indeed our good deeds, our moral lives are indeed what save us; this is a debate that has unfortunately reared its head throughout the Church's history. But let us take it for a given that Scripture does indeed teach that eternal life is a free gift, and move on.

So stripped of all incentives, Christians by and large ought to be an indolent, loutish lot, right? After all, all they have to do is hurry up and die, and eternal bliss is theirs. Well, apparently the research is in, and this is not so. Now the article linked there, and the corresponding book by Arthur Brooks, focus more on the political divide, but let us make the assumption (which the liberal and secular left do on a daily basis, so why can't we?) that "conservative and religious" correlates quite highly with "orthodox Christian". I'd have to read the book itself to really see how it breaks down along specific religious lines, but since there are only so many hours in the day, I'll just say it's a safe assumption.

Thus, normal, human, natural incentives are stripped away from the Christian, and yet he continues to do good. Therefore, there must be some inhuman force at work in the life of the Christian that compels him to do good, not for a reward, but as an end unto itself. This force, of course, is the Holy Spirit, statistically writ large across Christian culture in comparison with others.

And this brings the argument of grace-based salvation full circle: if we include works as a necessary act for salvation, we can attribute man's good works to his own interal desire for eternal life; on the other hand, if the incentive for doing those works is taken away, the motivation to do good works is based solely on the indwelling and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In the former, man is glorified along with God; in the latter, the glory belongs to God alone.

Great, now I feel all Calviny again. But I'm really more of an Arminianist, I swear!

post script: The Wee One, sure as the day is long, didn't finish her dinner. When is that age of spiritual accountability again?

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Batman as Cypher

Now that The Dark Knight has indelibly etched himself in our collective social subconscious, articles and blog posts are aflutter with news of the newest "deeper meaning" of Batman (not the Batman. NEVER the Batman). First was this article trying to guess various superheroes' political affiliations, with this to say of Bruce Wayne's alter ego:
Bruce Wayne is pro-gun-control and against the death penalty, which places him among left-wing Democrats.
Source: Chicago Tribune. Very telling. Next we have Kyle Smith's review, wherein:
Liberals live in a world of “and.” Full security and full civil liberties. Universal health care and the best quality with no waiting. A dynamic economy and full welfare and unemployment benefits. Liberals, in other words, live in that scene in “Spider-Man” in which Spidey, forced to choose between saving a tram car full of innocent civilians and saving his girlfriend, chooses both. Liberals live in a fantasy.

Conservatives, though, live in a world of tradeoffs, of either/or. For having this relationship with reality, conservatives are caricatured as grumpy, stingy and negative. Surely all it takes is a bump in taxes on the wealthy and everything will be affordable? Where’s the Hope? Where’s the Dream? Yes, we can!

“The Dark Knight” lives on a razor edge of tradeoffs. In the coin flips of Harvey “Two-Face” Dent there is a message that not only can’t you choose both heads and tails, but sometimes you’re up against a trick coin that ensures you lose either way.

Innocents get killed, civil liberties are infringed, and Batman ardently defends lies over truth in the pursuit of propaganda. Extremism in the defense of liberty is Batman’s virtue, and he ventures much farther into the wilds of lawlessness than any politician would dare. Moreover, his Gotham is a place where some believe that chaos can be managed, that giving into a simple demand from the Joker that Batman turn himself in might be a workable alternative in the long run.
In other words, Batman serves as a justification of the George Bush administration and the whole GWOT. Further thinking along this line here. Finally, this very evening, I come across an article by Ilya Somin in which libertarian aspects of Batman are detected and dissected, with quotes from the comments:
"Superman seems like more of a cultural conservative superhero, someone who has supernatural powers in whom to grant authoritarian trust. Batman seems libertarian, a private party using his skills and intelligence to overcome wrong, outside the government." Plus: "The only villains Batman goes after are those who have themselves violated the harm principle (usually by killing innocent people). He doesn't go after perpetrators of purely victimless crimes or people he dislikes because disapproves of the way they live their private lives."
(Quotes dragged up via Instapundit).

So there you have it. Batman is both a liberal scion, a conservative hero, AND a libertarian crusader! Now where have I heard this before: a lone hero with amazing powers and capabilities beyond normal human capacity, changing the world for the better, in whom everyone sees something of their selves, and projects their own hopes and beliefs onto the blank slate of his personality?

Holy projection, Batman! You're Barack Hussein Obama!

Okay, okay, now I feel bad, because Batman is totally awesome, and I just compared him to someone who may well yet prove to be the Antichrist. Ugh.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Beside Myself With Nerd-Joy

Now, I've never been much of a Joss Whedon (Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) follower, and I know he's got those in droves. But the following is just so chock-full of super-duper, amazing, geeky awesome that I'm truly at a loss for words. As a social conservative, I can't say I'm thrilled with Neil Patrick Harris' recent coming-out, but I must say I'm quite enjoying his career renaissance, as I'm a big fan of How I Met Your Mother, particularly with regard to his character, and his cameo in Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle was comedy gold. Anywho, I give you, without further ado:

Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.

He may bat for the other team, but he sure plays straight pretty well.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Lighter Side of Derb

Much light has been made recently of Barack Hussein Obama's almost total humorlessness, on both sides of the aisle, in fact. Well, increasingly shrill and unreadable (due to his steadfast godless stick-in-the-muddery) John Derbyshire over at The Corner has provided some much-needed relief (both in the comic sense, and in terms of my esteem for him) by posting this little bit:
Since Obama humor seems to be this week's topic, I suggest we have a contest. Readers are invited to supply the punch line to any or all of the following Obama-joke openers. Prizes to be announced.

How many members of the Obama household does it take to screw in a light bulb?

"Knock, knock."
"Who's there?"
"Barack Hussein Obama."
"Barack Hussein Obama who?"
[The "Hussein" can be omitted if necessary to improve the punch line, or for contestants who are actually members of the Obama campaign staff.]

A priest, a rabbi, an imam, and Barack Obama are in a plane when the engines fail and the plane begins to go down. Opening the emergency locker, they find only three parachutes.

Arrested and imprisoned by a racist criminal-justice system, Barack Obama finds himself in the maximum-security wing among a group of lifers swapping jokes. "43," says one lifer. The others all roar with laughter. "17," says another. More laughter. Obama: "Excuse me, I don't get it. What's so funny about those numbers?" One of the lifers explains: "We've been here so long, see, we all know each other's jokes. So to save ourselves trouble, we've just numbered them. Everyone knows which joke is which number." Obama: "I see. All right, may I tell a joke?" The lifers nod agreement. "Um, 89," says Obama. Nobody laughs. Obama: "Why is nobody laughing?"

Barack Obama's sitting at a bar when a man comes up to him and says: "Wanna hear a Barack Obama joke?" Obama: "Er, hold on there, buddy — I am Barack Obama."
Of course, never give readers an inch, or they shall take up the whole room. So that they don't fall down the memory hole, here are a set of his first-responders:
Entry #1

How many members of the Obama household does it take to screw in a light bulb?
— What light bulbs? The house is illumined by the light of his countenance.

Entry #2

Barack Obama's sitting at a bar when a man comes up to him and says: "Wanna hear a Barack Obama joke?" Obama: "Er, hold on there, buddy — I am Barack Obama." "Oh. all right then, I'll tell it in Spanish."

Entry #3 (For Monty Python fans)

"Knock, knock."
"Who's there?"
"Barack Hussein Obama."
"Barack Hussein Obama who?"
"Barack Hussein Obama Gambolputty de von Ausfern- schplenden- schlitter- crasscrenbon- fried- digger- dingle- dangle- dongle- dungle- burstein- von- knacker- thrasher- apple- banger- horowitz- ticolensic- grander- knotty- spelltinkle- grandlich- grumblemeyer- spelterwasser- kurstlich- himbleeisen- bahnwagen- gutenabend- bitte- ein- nürnburger- bratwustle- gerspurten- mitz- weimache- luber- hundsfut- gumberaber- shönedanker- kalbsfleisch- mittler- aucher von Hautkopft of Ulm."

Apparently Derb is posting more comprehensive results on a joke-by-joke basis. First up is the lightbulb joke, the cream of the crop of which may be found here, along with the requisite obscure turn-of-phrase by which Derb presumably measures his self-worth. My favorite so far? "None. They just declare the sudden darkness to be The Change We've Been Waiting For."

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I Really Don't Get It

Glenn "I Link To The Redshirt To Boost My Own Readership Numbers" Reynolds just recently posted a link to a story describing the state of crime in Chicago post-gun-ban (which ought not stand in the wake of the Heller decision, but we shall see), the point being that things are so bad that Illinois Gov. Blagojevich is thinking of calling in some troops to help out. As expected, post-ban, only outlaws will have outlawed guns.

Now, to fully understand the dimensions in any policy debate in which I'm interested, I always try to get inside the head of the opposition, and understand how they may have arrived at their conclusions -- either to better refine my own position, or to be able to neutralize their arguments. Even if I find fault in the logical progression that might lead to alternate conclusions, I at least try to see their side of the issue. I am able to perform this analysis satisfactorily on many controversial issues -- abortion, religion, the free market, the death penalty, the war in Iraq, etc. But on the issue of gun rights, I am truly at a loss in this regard -- I truly cannot fathom a rational line of thinking that would lead one to believe that outlawing firearms in a society already laden with them could ever be a good idea, for the simple reason outlined above: regardless of the penalties, criminals have virtually no impetus to "give up" their guns, unlike law-abiding citizens. And surely no one on either side of the issue is unfamiliar with that objection.

So my question to any readers (preferably liberal, if I have them) is as follows: what is a logical line of thought that could lead one to the conclusion that banning guns is going to make non-criminal people safer? Of course, the obvious follow up is "how does this line of thinking stand up in light of conditions everywhere that guns have been banned, most notably England, Washington D.C., and now Chicago?"


Monday, July 07, 2008

Thoughts from the Wilderness

Author's note: this post was written about a week ago while I was sitting offline at the airport. Please excuse the lateness in my getting around to posting it.

I'm sitting here in the Seattle Tacoma International airport, reading from the Gospel according to Matthew, and I've just finished the following passage:

[4:1]Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. [2]And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. [3]And the tempter came and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." [4]But He answered and said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.'"

[5]Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple [6]and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for it is written, 'He will command His angels concerning You'; and 'On their hands they will bear You up, so that You will not strike Your foot against stone.'" [7]Jesus said to him, "On the other hand, it is written, 'You shall not put the LORD your God to the test.'"

[8]Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world [9]and he said to Him, "All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me." [10]Then Jesus said to him, "Go Satan, for it is written, 'You shall worship the LORD your God, and serve Him only.'" [11]Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.

It is important to note that immediately (vs. 12, in fact) following this dialogue, Jesus Christ begins His earthly ministry. What struck me as particularly noteworthy about this passage was the nature of the three temptations that Satan offered Jesus. First (v. 3), Satan appeals to Christ's physical needs and desires: make food, and eat it. Christ, of course, rebuffs this temptation through the use of Scripture. Second, Satan appeals to Christ's intellect: logically, Scripture says this, so you're set. Again, the judicious application of Scripture provides the way of escape from this temptation. Finally, Satan makes an appeal to Jesus' pride and glorious nature: follow me and the Earth can be yours. And finally, Scripture once again comes through in a pinch.

My first insight (undoubtedly an unoriginal one) was the apparent necessity for Christ to overcome His fragile, temptation-prone human Self before truly beginning His ministry. He did this by defying the physical needs of the body, the "rational" intellectual pursuits to which man is prone, and the desire for earthly glory in the place of glory in the hereafter. In fact, in Matthew's Gospel, it's our first glimpse of Christ in action. Very telling indeed.

Secondly, this occurs immediately after Christ's baptism at the hands of John the Baptist (3:13-17). This demonstrates the very Christian notion that justification precedes sanctification, in that Christ was baptized and declared "good" by God the Father prior to His rejection of typical human failure. A common stumbling block to those who might otherwise seek Christ's love is a sense of unworthiness that must somehow be overcome prior to conversion rather than after (one of Satan's most powerful tools, no doubt). This demonstrates the fallacy of that thinking.

Finally, and perhaps this is a bit of a stretch, but it appears to me that this might be prefiguring the three aspects of the Trinity. First is the physical, human aspect, which is the Christ made manifest in the flesh. Second is the intellectual side, which I see as the Holy Spirit: that aspect of God who inspired men (lit. "God-breathed", from the Greek πνευμα, breath, also spirit, as in Holy Spirit, Αγια Πνευμα) to use their intellects to create Scripture and great, God-glorifying works. Third, there is the idea of the greater Glory, rulership of Heaven and Earth, and that Glory comes from the Father alone. Thus Satan attempts to co-opt or subvert each aspect of the Trinity, each of which Christ perfectly deflects in turn.

Oh, and since He used Scripture and Scripture alone to accomplish this, score one more point for sola Scriptura. Booyah!

This post was cross-posted at Mazurland.


More Like InstaDummy!

Author's note: read this, and then read this. Then the following will make a little bit of sense.

That Glenn Reynolds is up to his pathetic lies again: "They told me that if George W. Bush were re-elected, the palace of Liberty would be shuttered. And they were right!", with an attendant picture of a boarded-up "Liberty Building". Why do you have to lie so much, Mr. Reynolds? I have half a mind to determine whether or not that building actually has anything to do with the abstract concept of "Liberty" at all! Why, I would even wager that George W. Bush had nothing to do with those shutters! And who are "they", Mr. Reynolds? The space aliens? Your neo-con handlers? I demand to know who this "they" really are! I am calling you out!

Update: Welcome, Instapundit readers! Please, kick up your feet and stay a while! <shameless plug>For more of my parodic stylings, check out this or this. There's also more serious stuff lying around if that's your bag. I also blog over at Mazurland, which you're welcome to check out as well.</shameless plug>

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O Canada Where Art Thou?

For some reason, the other day, I got the first couple of bars of the Canadian National Anthem stuck in my head. Only the first couple, mind you, because that's all I know (which is probably way more than any self-respecting American patriot ought to know, so please don't tell anyone). Of course, I only knew the first line lyrically speaking (i.e., "O Canada"), and was trying to remember the second ("our home and native land", the closest to which I got was "our dear and sainted land", which I knew wasn't right). Anywho, I looked up the lyrics to at least get it out of my head. For those of you non-Canadians out there, the lyrics, for future reference, are:
O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
From far and wide, O Canada,
We stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

Typical feel-good patriotic nationalism; nothing to complain about, really. But then I read the English translation of the official (and original, as they predate the English lyrics considerably) French lyrics:
O Canada!
Land of our forefathers
Thy brow is wreathed with a glorious garland of flowers.
As in thy arm ready to wield the sword,
So also is it ready to carry the cross.
Thy history is an epic
Of the most brilliant exploits.
Thy valour steeped in faith
Will protect our homes and our rights
Will protect our homes and our rights.

Wow! Talk about your bold statements! Those French-Canadians must really be some violent backwoods fundies! Sign me up!

Seriously though, what happened, Canada? How did you go from unabashed zeal for the "cross" and the "sword" to our nice-but-wimpy brother to the north? And how of all places did the original sentiments arise from the French? My mind... wobbles.

It's interesting to see the lyrics go from historical significance ("Thy history is an epic...") to mere geographical significance ("The True North strong and free!") and the (almost) total secularization and pacification from French to English. Also, the last bit may be noteworthy as well: from the collective valor of the nation protecting people's (individual, as I impute it) property and rights to the people acting to defend the collective? Maybe I'm reading too much into that. Is there some latent Conservatism within the Quebecois subconscious that we ought to be tapping, perhaps? Any Canadians reading this? Please comment!