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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.
Thursday, April 30, 2020
Thursday, April 09, 2020
One of the more interesting byproducts of the sheltering laws during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is how much it underscores the fact we are not simply our bodies. I know that on its face this may seem counter intuitive, but let's think about our situation and what we are learning through our collective ordeal.
For weeks now, all the reporting on coronavirus and its ramifications have been from primarily a materialist point of view. Essential services have been defined to include bodily health, shelter, and transportation areas—all with the goal of preserving our physical selves. In my state of California, marijuana shops are classified as essential while churches are not.
Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that churches should be meeting together. I think in light of the dangers of contagion, restricting groups temporarily is prudent and biblical. (Remember, God took Jewish temple worship away from his people for seventy years while they were captives in Babylon.) My observations are more focused on how little consideration the spiritual costs have received during the whole crisis. News reports hunt down experts in biology, medicine, and epidemiology to update us on how to protect our bodies, but how many give equal time to faith leaders for advice on bolstering the spiritual health of those cloistered at home?
Isolation and IntimacySpiritual health is an essential aspect of being human, though. The interesting thing is that as our social distancing and sheltering-in-place stretch from a couple of weeks into months, we are realizing more and more how much it does. While churches can hold virtual services, everyone feels how incomplete such electronically simulated gatherings are. One of the reasons we need to assemble together physically (Heb. 10:25) is because it helps us relate to one another. That difference is becoming more and more apparent as we are limited to pictures instead of proximity. I'd rather have my family sitting in the same room with me without a lot of conversation than having Zoom engagements sans intimacy.
But just what is it that makes physical proximity more meaningful than virtual proximity? The difference is hard to explain in a purely materialist worldview. If all we are can be reduced to chemical reactions, then a virtual version of yourself should be just as good as the real thing. The same physical senses of sight and sound are engaged whether you see someone in front of you or on a screen. Sure, we cannot touch or smell others (perhaps the latter is a good thing!), but why is it more satisfying to have your friend from church sitting across from you rather than on a computer monitor? You're not touching in either instance.
Soulish ExperiencesThere seems to be a shared aspect of who we are spiritually when we come together in one space. That's why the Christian concept of koinonia or fellowship played such a vital role in the church's formation. Acts 2:42 tells us this was a doctrine of the church, rooted in the Apostles themselves. In John 4:24, Jesus instructs how since God is spirit, our worship must be based not in our physical behavior but in our spirit, our very essence. The Psalms also command us to praise God together with one voice (Psa. 47 & 95), and Paul echoes this in 1 Corinthians 14:26 and Ephesians 5:18-19. There is a unique aspect to us being together that cannot be replicated separately, as our souls are aligned towards the one true God and to the building up of each other.
One of the ways to realize the value of something is to make it scarce. If we are simply bodies, then our electronic communication channels should be as valuable as being close to one another. But we know that isn't true. We can feel there's something missing, a piece of reality that isn't measurable by sight or sound, or even touch or smell. There's the presence of individuals in one's life that is real and missing. I think as our proximity to one another becomes scarcer, we'll feel our need for soulish interactions will become more acute. Human beings are both body and soul. While screens can provide a replication of our bodies for one another, it cannot replicate that immaterial bonding between our souls. Our souls need to be in contact with one another, and it's this missing element we will need to address.
Tuesday, August 13, 2019
What should we think about the increase in mass-shootings that have been plaguing the United States? Most recently, three different young men opened fire on the public over the course of one week in Gilroy, California; El Paso, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio. The shock and grief of these tragedies cannot be understated.
In a recent Los Angeles Times article, criminologists Jillian Peterson and James Densley laid out four consistent features common to nearly all mass shooters.1 They are:
- Each had experienced early childhood trauma and exposure to violence at a young age. This includes parental abuse, suicide, domestic violence and bullying.
- Each experienced an identifiable crisis point, making them angry or depressed, prior to the shooting.
- Each studied other shooters and sought validation or notoriety for their motives, many times through social media.
- All had the means to carry out their plans.
Unraveling the FamilyThe primary building block of any society is the family. Biology dictated that a man and a woman were joined together as only that coupling can produce children. Offspring then reinforce the connection of the man and woman when each seeks their progeny’s protection and welfare.
Today, things have changed. Marriage is less about what happens to future generations than about self-fulfillment. Traditional motherhood roles are dismissed as backwards and stifling. Children are looked upon more as the latest accessory. The trends in intentional single mothers and homosexual couples using sperm donors or surrogacy to make babies exemplifies this attitude.
Losing Real CommunityHumans seek community. We’re hard-wired as communal beings, sharing life and experiences with others who can support and reinforce one another physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But building a true community requires real-life, face-to-face interactions over an extended period of time. Long-term interactions with others teach you about the imperfections of people and how we can love them anyway. It is sharing experiences over time that deepens our relationships with one another, and it is the relationships that hold true meaning.
Our society today is speeding in the opposite direction. The hyper-individualism that our current culture celebrates is antithetical to community-building. Social media gives one the illusion of connectedness, but without all the messy and time-consuming face-to-face stuff.
Churches used to be the center of community-building. Many still function that way, but they are not valued as such by the larger culture anymore. It’s no wonder the U.S. has become a nation of lonely people and it’s no surprise that both suicide and drug addiction are becoming epidemics.
Abandoning VirtueIn his book Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged, Roger Scruton defines civilization as “a social entity that manifests religious, political, legal, and customary uniformity over an extended period, and which confers on its members the benefits of socially accumulated knowledge.”2 But what if a society abandoned the idea that socially accumulated knowledge is real knowledge? If virtue and morality are relative instead of absolute, then they don’t qualify as knowledge and they certainly cannot be passed down! Everyone has to find the truth for themselves.
We are losing the benefits of our former shared Judeo-Christian civilization because we are abandoning absolute morality. Without a foundational baseline, college students experience higher rates of sexual assaults even while its students hold that rape can be justified! Pitirim Sorokin rightly predicted that a culture driven by feelings instead of an understanding of innate truths will ultimately fall apart.
Adding in the CatalystRealize I am not saying that everyone in our cultural climate is going to become a mass shooter. I don’t believe that any more than I believe everyone is going to become a rapist. But, when the constraints that make killing or rape much more difficult are taken away, then it shouldn’t be a surprise to see more of those actions.
As a nerdy kid, I remember being excited when I stumbled upon the chemical elements needed to make nitroglycerin: you just combine nitric acid and glycerol. However, if you were to somehow be able to acquire nitric acid and then pour both chemicals in a flask directly, it wouldn’t do much. Like many chemical reactions, you need another ingredient that kicks the whole thing into gear; you need a catalyst. The catalyst for nitroglycerin is sulfuric acid. The sulfuric acid allows the proper chemical reactions to take place so the nitric acid molecules can bond properly with the glycerin.
Because the United States is a gun culture, mass shooters have access to guns. But that alone doesn’t make one a mass shooter. The other three ingredients need to be there, too. In prior generations, more people owned guns as a percentage of the population. The Washington Post reports that gun ownership is actually at a 40-year low. It is society that’s changed and the results have been explosive, to say the least.
2 Roger Scruton. Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged, New York: Encounter Books, 2007. 2.
Thursday, June 20, 2019
Have you ever wanted to ask the smartest person you know questions about God, the Bible, and how they fit with our world? What if you had a panel of nine? In this interview, Lenny Esposito talks with Kenneth Samples, author of Classic Christian Thinkers:An Introduction to highlight the ideas and impact that nine key Christian thinkers had on not only our faith but the wider world.
Wednesday, January 02, 2019
One of the more interesting and unexpected by-products of the tech boom is how much more technically aware people have become in their media consumption. Take special effects for example. Green screen effects that would’ve wowed audiences in past generations are today easily spotted and considered cheap and clumsy.
The same can be said for story-telling techniques. With the proliferation of media channels, ham-fisted clichés in scripts (such as all bombs being defused with one second left on the timer) are quickly noticed. In fact, many comedy films will spoof these tropes as a way of showing just how phony such situations are.
These tropes can even be found in written material. Imagine a story where the document is supposed to sound archaic. Many times, writes will lapse into what TVTropes.org called “Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe.” Here’s their explanation:
Be the tale set in glorious 1300s Scotland or vexing 1840s Cardiff, appropriately "old-fashioned" English shalt if based on the archaic King James Bible. Thine formula is simple: addeth thou "-eth" and "-est" to random verbs, scattereth thou silent Es like the leaves of autumne, bandyeth about the words "thee", "thou", "thine", "doth", "hast", and "forsooth", reverseth 'pon every other occasion thine noun-verb order, and strewth, thou doth be the next Billy Shakespeare!1I bring all this up because it became relevant after an ongoing conversation I had with a couple of Mormon missionaries. The young men had asked me to read 3 Nephi 11, as they found that chapter particularly moving. I went ahead and read the entire book of 3 Nephi to make certain I had the full context of the book. But in so doing, a glaring pattern emerged: over and over again, I kept reading the phrase “it came to pass.” The phrase appears fifteen times in chapter one alone! Moreover, the phrase wasn’t being used correctly. In the King James Bible, “it came to pass” was used as bridge to connect the prior narrative to the next section after some portion of time had elapsed, such as in 1 Kings 18:1 where it says “And it came to pass after many days…” In 3 Nephi, the phrase is being used sometimes for the immediate reaction of Nephi to an event that is now happening. The phrase just sticks out like a sore thumb.
This made me a bit more curious, though. If you go the online version of the Book of Mormon at LDS.org, you can search for the phrase “came to pass” (in quotes) and it will show the phrase is used 1824 times in the Book of Mormon. Compare that to the King James Bible, where the phrase is used 456 times in a work that is three times as long! That’s about a 1200% increase in frequency—which makes it kind of a tell that the phrase falls more into the trope category than it does appropriate translation.
The Mormon ResponseBYU Studies, however, thinks this proves Joseph Smith was a better translator than the King James translators. At this page, they created a chart mapping the frequency of the phrase “it came to pass” from each book in the BOM. They then write:
Some readers wonder why these words occur so often in the Book of Mormon compared with the Bible. Actually, the Hebrew word wayehi is translated in the King James Version of the Bible as "it came to pass," but it is also translated as "it happened, came, had come, became, arose, was, now," and so forth. Therefore, what was an extremely common phrase in the Bible appears to be less so because it was translated into various phrases instead of a single one. Apparently, Joseph Smith was quite consistent in translating it with the phrase "it came to pass" every time.2Here's the problem, though. The Hebrew וַיֶּ֑ה (wayehi ) would never have occurred in the original texts of the Book of Mormon at all. The book itself claims to have been written in reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics that were altered according to the language of the Nephites at that time. (Mormon 9:32). Mormon goes on to write that “none other people knoweth our language; and because that none other people knoweth our language, therefore he hath prepared means for the interpretation thereof” (Mormon 9:34). So the standard grammar of the Hebrew wayehi doesn’t apply. It’s the translation where we are to judge.
The word wayehi literally translates to “and it was.” If that was the phrase that appeared over and over in the BOM, then perhaps the above defense would have some validity. But translators are intentionally choosing to use the phrase “it came to pass” to denote a passage of time. In other words, if the translators were to translate wayehi only and exclusively into “it came to pass,” it would be bad translating. But since it was God who supposedly interpreted the reformed Egyptian language to Joseph Smith, revealing the meaning of each word to him, it would mean that God was guilty of bad translation.
The missionaries I spoke with didn’t seem that bothered with the problem of the “Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe” trope appearing in the Book of Mormon. Of course, that isn’t the only historically problematic thing about the work. To me, it’s pretty clear that BYU Studies is trying to impose damage control. We can apply Ockahm’s Razor to this instance. The best explanation for the overuse of “it came to pass” is Joseph Smith wasn’t sophisticated enough to understand how that language is properly used. He relied on the “Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe” trope to try and make his audience believe what he had written should be accepted as archaic.
2. "134 - ‘It Came to Pass’ Occurrences in the Book of Mormon.” BYU Studies, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 10 Nov. 2017, http://www.byustudies.byu.edu/charts/134-it-came-pass-occurrences-book-mormon. Accessed 2019-01-02.
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