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Category Archives: Society

Cultural critique and racism

It is impossible, I suppose, to discuss issues of race calmly. Nonetheless, that is my intent. Furthermore, I want to add this preface: racism is real, and I would not claim for a moment to really understand what it’s like to be discriminated against based on skin color. In addition, we all have blind spots to sin; the proper response, when someone draws attention to that blind spot (in this case, inadvertent racism) is repentance.

Now, I am on record in any number of places as being quite critical of the culture of fundamentalism. Fundamentalist culture is shot through with sentimentality and brutality, materialism, gluttony, and misguided individualism, among many other sins; in short, I believe that fundamentalists have absorbed much of the broader American, democratic ideals and attempted to synchronize them with the Christian faith.

Fundamentalists are also, overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly, almost unexceptionally white.

So my question: does criticism of the culture of fundamentalism imply anything about my opinion of white people as white people? If so, how? If not, why then is an accusation of racism an almost automatic response to the critique of other cultures?

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2011 in Music, Society

 

On the general intelligence of folks

Once upon a time, on some discussion website, I saw a commenter’s signature that included this gem:

Consider how dumb the average person is. And now consider that half of the people are dumber than that.

Now, in all honesty, I find this quite funny; I also recognize that it’s supposed to be funny, and that it’s not intended to be subjected to analysis. But analysis is what I do, so let’s consider why it’s funny.

It seems to me that this quip works only because of the Lake Wobegon effect: many people tend to think that “most folks” (a category from which we exclude ourselves, naturally) ain’t too bright.

Making a quick application, it seems to me that this (mis)perception diminishes expectations for our congregations. I have heard, on many occasions, that some hymn or teaching or book or whatnot ought not be thrust upon a congregation, because, after all, “Most people just wouldn’t get it.” Our helpful advisor nearly always exempts himself from great unlearned hoard; he would understand, of course, but they wouldn’t.

I’m certainly not prepared to base an entire philosophy of ministry on this observation: I’m merely contending that too many ministries have built their philosophies of ministry on the assumption that average people are below average.

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2010 in Society

 

A link, posted with envy

I don’t own a real smartphone, but that doesn’t stop me from being jealous of this writer, who managed to turn off his phone. Some thoughts worthy of consideration there.

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2010 in Random links, Society

 

Online education

Unfortunately, I don’t have access to the paper referenced here, but the conclusions of a recent study are heavily against internet-based education.

The medium is the metaphor.

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2010 in Random links, Society

 

On losing faith, in the ministry

This article, on five men in ministry who have given up belief in God (in any normal sense of the term), is interesting for all sorts of reasons. At the very least, it shows that Machen’s antithesis between Christianity and liberalism is alive and well in modern American churches. The faith-destroying role of seminary in these men’s lives is also striking, as is the seeming assumption that scholarship cannot be genuine and conservative.

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2010 in Society, Theology

 

On Weaver’s Ideas, part 2

My Master of Divinity is from Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. Some time after I completed that degree, I began to make a number of friends from Central Baptist Theological Seminary, including Ryan Martin and Kevin Bauder (whose writings are linked on the sidebar).

Early in my contact with the Centralians (that does sound like a race of sci-fi aliens, no?), I (along with most of the rest of the known world) was accused of being a nominalist. This charge irritated me, partly because I couldn’t figure out what those from Central meant by the term, and partly because I just don’t like being called a name that I know is a meant as a term of derision (even if I don’t know why).

And then I was introduced to Richard Weaver (likely by Kevin, although I don’t recall any particulars). After reading Ideas Have Consequences, I had a much clearer picture of the nature of the charges against me. In fact, at the time, I considered writing a series of blog posts showing the relationship of Weaver and Cornelius Van Til, and I wanted to call the series “What Hath Detroit to do with Minneapolis?”

Key to understanding the thought of both Van Til and Weaver is the concept of the problem of the one and the many. My next post will attempt to introduce that concept, and then we will consider how each thinker addresses the problem.

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2009 in Society, Worship

 

On Weaver’s Ideas

I am a conservative, but that label is at least as misattributed, muddled, and problematic as is the label fundamentalist. The label conservative lumps me in with a host of people with whom my disagreements are profoundly sharp.

Even among those who own the label in a manner similar to me, there are differences. In my blogroll to the right, however, I have listed a number of other bloggers who share this same worldview (there are exceptions even on that list; not every man listed in my blogroll would consider himself a conservative in my very restricted sense; some would actively oppose my thinking on these topics).

What this sort of conservatism, the sort that I am advocating, has in common is best articulated by Richard Weaver’s profound work, Ideas Have Consequences. In my next several posts, I want to unpack (in a very cursory manner) the following three paragraphs, from the introduction of Weaver’s book:

Like Macbeth, Western man made an evil decision, which has become the efficient and final cause of other evil decisions. Have we forgotten our encounter with the witches on the heath? It occurred in the late fourteenth century, and what the witches said to the protagonist of this drama was that man could realize himself more fully if he would only abandon his belief in the existence of transcendentals. The powers of darkness were working subtly, as always, and they couched this proposition in the seemingly innocent form of an attack upon universals. The defeat of logical realism in the great medieval debate was the crucial event in the history of Western culture; from this flowed those acts which issue now in modern decadence.

One may be accused here of oversimplifying the historical process, but I take the view that the conscious policies of men and governments are not mere rationalizations of what has been brought about by unaccountable forces. They are rather deductions from our most basic ideas of human destiny, and they have a great, though not unobstructed, power to determine our course.

For this reason I turn to William of Occam as the best representative of a change which came over man’s conception of reality at this historic juncture. It was William of Occam who propounded the fateful doctrine of nominalism, which denies that universals have a real existence. His triumph tended to leave universal terms mere names serving our convenience. The issue ultimately involved is whether there is a source of truth higher than, and independent of, man; and the answer to the question is decisive for one’s view of the nature and destiny of humankind. The practical result of nominalist philosophy is to banish the reality which is perceived by the intellect and to posit as reality that which is perceived by the senses. With this change in the affirmation of what is real, the whole orientation of culture takes a turn, and we are on the road to modern empiricism.

I would contend that these lines are the core of everything that Weaver says in IHC; if he is right about the importance of universals, your affirmation or denial of universals (whether overt or assumed) determines much else about your understanding of the world.

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2009 in Society, Worship

 

Football

If you are a football fan, please read this article.

I thoroughly enjoy the sport of football, both as a fan of my local teams and by participating in fantasy football, but as more and more information comes out about the long-term effects of the brutality of the game, I am rethinking the degree to which it is acceptable, as a Christian, for me to derive entertainment from watching men maim themselves.

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2009 in Society

 

On September 11

What follows is a quotation from Neil Postman’s masterful Amusing Ourselves to Death. If you read nothing else, at least read the final paragraph.

As Thoreau implied, telegraphy made relevance irrelevant. The abundant flow of information had very little or nothing to do with those to whom it was addressed; that is, with any social or intellectual context in which their lives were embedded. Coleridge’s famous line about water everywhere without a drop to drink may serve as a metaphor of a decontextualized information environment: In a sea of information, there was very little of it to use. A man in Maine and a man in Texas could converse, but not about anything either of them knew or cared very much about. The telegraph may have made the country into “one neighborhood,” but it was a peculiar one, populated by strangers who knew nothing but the most superficial facts about each other.

Since we live today in just such a neighborhood (now sometimes called a “global village”), you may get a sense of what is meant by context-free information by asking yourself the following question: How often does it occur that information provided you on morning radio or television, or in the morning newspaper, causes you to alter your plans for the day, or to take some action you would not otherwise have taken, or provides insight into some problem you are required to solve? For most of us, news of the weather will sometimes have such consequences; for investors, news of the stock market; perhaps an occasional story about a crime will do it, if by chance the crime occurred near where you live or involved someone you know. But most of our daily news is inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action. This fact is the principal legacy of the telegraph: By generating an abundance of irrelevant information, it dramatically altered what may be called the “information-action ratio.”

You may get a sense of what this means by asking yourself another series of questions: What steps do you plan to take to reduce the conflict in the Middle East? Or the rates of inflation, crime, and unemployment? What are your plans for preserving the environment or reducing the risk of nuclear war? What do you plan to do about NATO, OPEC, the CIA, affirmative action, and the monstrous treatment of the Baha’is in Iran? I shall take the liberty of answering for you: You plan to do nothing about them. You may, of course, cast a ballot for someone who claims to have some plans, as well as the power to act. But this you can do only once every two or four years by giving one hour of your time, hardly a satisfying means of expressing the broad range of opinions you hold. Voting, we might even say, is the next to last refuge of the politically impotent. The last refuge is, of course, giving your opinion to a pollster, who will get a version of it through a desiccated question, and then will submerge it in a Niagara of similar opinions, and convert them into—what else?—another piece of news. Thus, we have here a great loop of impotence: The news elicits from you a variety of opinions about which you can do nothing except to offer them as more news, about which you can do nothing.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2009 in Society