Friday, February 29, 2008

Reinhold Niebuhr and Italian Socialist Pacifists

I just finished taking a test for my Christian Ethics class. One of the books we read for class is Reinhold Niebuhr's Moral Man & Immoral Society. I don't think most of my readers are interested in a lengthy expose about Niebuhr's societal overview, but I did find a tidbit that I thought was worth sharing and worth reading.

Niebuhr is not a pacifist. He believed that people in groups always act out of self-interest, and that sometimes it is necessary to use coercion, violent or not, to bring about needed changes in order to make the world a better place. His critique of pacifism is that it doesn't work in really changing anything. Hauerwas came along later and argued for a form of pacifism that is a bit different than what Niebuhr seems to think pacifism is about, but that's for another post.

I wanted to share an example that Niebuhr gave. He is not critical of the principles given below, but he argues against their effectiveness in bringing about change. The situation is that in Italy, fascism was rising to power, and to combat it, the socialist leaders adopted pacifist principles as their strategy. Here are those principles:
  1. Create a void around fascism.
  2. Do not provoke; suffer any provocation with serenity.
  3. To win, be better than your adversary.
  4. Do not use the weapons of your enemy. Do not follow in his footsteps.
  5. Remember that the blood of guerrilla warfare falls upon those who shed it.
  6. Remember that in a struggle between brothers those are victors who conquer themselves.
  7. Be convinced that it is better to suffer a wrong than to commit it.
  8. Don't be impatient. Impatience is extremely egoistical; it is instinct; it is yielding to one's ego urge.
  9. Do not forget that socialism wins the more when it suffers, because it was born in pain and lives on its hopes.
  10. Listen to the mind and to the heart which advises you that the working people should be nearer to sacrifice than to vengeance.
Niebuhr concludes by saying that despite how noble this list is, the Italian socialists were annihilated by the fascists, their organizations were destroyed, and their workers were subjected to a state which is governed by their enemies. "Insofar as they exclude coercive means they are ineffectual before the brutal will-to-power of fascism."

I find some principles in that list that I think are worth applying to my own philosophies and ethics as a Christian. At the same time, Niebuhr's realism is pretty overwhelming.

Pacifists and non-pacifists tend to disagree about whether the rightness and wrongness of actions is determined by their ontological value versus their teleological value. Are things inherently wrong, or if we do wrong things for the right reason, does that make them ok?

Another facet I find very interesting is individual ethics versus societal ethics. I don't believe in vigilante justice, but I believe that government is appointed by God to "carry the sword." I can't do it, but we can. Niebuhr has some really fascinating observations about the general badness of mankind when groups go unchecked by other groups.

One of those cutesy forwarded e-mails

A friend at church sent me this. I thought it was amusing. Sorry if you already saw this e-mail.

Answers given by 2nd grade school children to the following questions:

Why did God make mothers?
1. She's the only one who knows where the scotch tape is.
2. Mostly to clean the house.
3. To help us out of there when we were getting born.

How did God make mothers?

1. He used dirt, just like for the rest of us.
2. Magic plus super powers and a lot of stirring.
3. God made my Mom just the same like he made me. He just used bigger parts.

What ingredients are mothers made of ?

1. God makes mothers out of clouds and angel hair and everything nice in the world and one dab of mean.
2. They had to get their start from men's bones. Then they mostly use string, I think.

Why did God give you your mother and not some other mom?

1. W e're related.
2. God knew she likes me a lot more than other people's moms like me.

What kind of little girl was your mom?

1. My Mom has always been my mom and none of that other stuff.
2. I don't know because I wasn't there, but my guess would be pretty bossy.

3. They say she used to be nice.

What did mom need to know about dad before she married him?

1. His last name.
2. She had to know his background. Like is he a crook? Does he get drunk on beer?
3. Does he make at least $800 a year? Did he say NO to drugs and YES to chores?

Why did your mom marry your dad?

1. My dad makes the best spaghetti in the world. And my Mom eats a lot.
2. She got too old to do anything else with him.
3. My grandma says that Mom didn't have her thinking cap on.

Who's the boss at your house?

1. Mom doesn't want to be boss, but she has to because dad's such a goof ball.
2. Mom. You can tell by room inspection. She sees the stuff under the bed.
3. I guess Mom is, but only because she has a lot more to do than dad.

What's the difference between moms & dads?

1. Moms work at work and work at home and dads just go to work at work.
2. Moms know how to talk to teachers without scaring them.
3. Dads are taller & stronger, but moms have all the real power 'cause that's who you got to ask if you want to sleep over at your friend's.
4. Moms have magic, they make you feel better without medicine.

What does your mom do in her spare time?

1. Mothers don't do spare time.
2. To hear her tell it, she pays bills all day long.

What would it take to make your mom perfect?

1. On the inside she's already perfect. Outside, I think some kind of plastic surgery.
2. Diet. You know, her hair. I'd diet, maybe blue.

If you could change one thing about your mom, what would it be?

1. She has this weird thing about me keeping my room clean. I'd get rid of that.
2. I'd make my mom smarter. Then she would know it was my sister who did it and not me.
3. I would like for her to get rid of those invisible eyes on the back of her head.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

It's Nacho Cat: Snow Again & Some Ducks

We got some more snow yesterday. It wasn't sticky enough to make the road conditions bad, but all the kids got out of school anyway. Nacho isn't that passionate about snow, though I think she does find it intriguing.

I really like our neighborhood's entrance. Here is a picture of it from yesterday morning. It puts us a good distance off of the main road so that it's more quiet. There is a pretty good hill at the entrance, as you can see. We also have a nice little pond in the neighborhood where there are ducks and geese.

Just for the sake of it, I'm including some duck pictures, though they are from a couple of months ago and they don't involve Nacho. Though now that I think about it, having some "Nacho vs. Ducks" pictures might be entertaining.

When we bought our current house, we almost bought one whose back yard directly faced this pond. I thought it would be awesome, but Carolina felt like having Nacho & the ducks that close to each other was probably not a good idea. That, and the ducks can probably make some bad odors. In the end, I think she was right, and I'm glad we are where we are.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Pranksters at Starbucks

Some places you go, like Starbucks and Panera, they offer wireless internet access. People are always showing up with their laptops, trying to appear that they really have something more important to do than just check their e-mail.

Some guys brought their whopping desktop PCs complete with CRT monitors with them to a Starbucks, just to be funny.

I was amused.

Here's the story.

Monday, February 25, 2008

About my blog

It's been interesting for me to see the directions my blog has gone. I got started in October of 2005 with a post that I think was fairly astute about some measures of what a wise person is like.

I have since blogged on a variety of topics, usually based on my present experiences in life. I have some friends who have tried to use their blogs as key parts of their ministry. I have written quite a few posts on religious topics, though I view my blog more for the purpose of a diary (especially in posts such as this one) and like a messy file box where I throw everything I don't want to forget (like Youtube videos and technology stuff that I like). As of right now, I have 487 posts. (Less than 487 are visible to you, O Reader, because some of them I simply wrote to save as drafts for me to remember, not for anyone else to see. These are usually rants about either religion or politics that I decided wouldn't be productive to post publicly.)

I've noticed in the last few months that I have made many fewer posts about spiritual observations. I think this is largely because since I've been at Old Hickory, I offer the invitation devotional every Wednesday night. I've thought that I might start typing them out and placing them on here, because I generally discard them after I've delivered them. If I feel like they are of sufficient quality, I may post some of them.

Then again, I think since I have so many friends who do large amounts of blogging about spiritual matters, I don't want to do it just for the sake of doing it. It's also been hard on me since I have to make so many posts online each week for the two online classes I'm in right now.

As a way of giving me an increased sense of routine, I started my "Nacho Cat" posts, which I try to put up every Wednesday, and most Fridays I try to put a "Use Your Allusion" post up. Whether I do either of these often depends on how well caught up I am at work. I really enjoy blogging, but priorities have to be priorities.

My blog certainly doesn't have as much traffic as many who view blogging as a ministry, or as people who are in more of the public spotlight. That having said, my blog is currently averaging a little over 50 hits per day, and I've now had over 16,000 hits total. I find that really mind boggling.

To whoever has continued to read my blog: First of all, I am flattered that anyone cares what I have to say about anything. Thanks for reading this stuff. I primarily blog for myself, but I'm sure that if no one ever stopped by, I would have already given up on it by now. Secondly, is there anything you would like to see more of on here? I've had a couple of buddies joke with me that I take entirely too many pictures of my cat. This is probably true, but again, this blog is primarily a place for me to remember what I want to remember. Beyond that, though, I'm happy to oblige people if I'm able. Anything you want more of?

For as long as I feel this is a helpful thing for me--I do find it very therapeutic--I will continue to post. I'm sure that within 10 years, some new thing may have replaced blogs, but I have this nice happy place in my head where I picture some of my descendants reading over some of this stuff long after I'm dead. I really wish my great-great-great-parents could have blogged during the 1800's. It would have been interesting to read now. Perhaps arrogantly, though hopefully not, I like to think that this might be interesting to someone who wonders what it was like to be me, living in this time.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Chucky Lives...sort of

Apparently, there are now Elmo dolls that you can link to a computer and upload new phrases for him to learn. Ideally, you teach Elmo your child's name. When this lady changed Elmo's batteries out, Elmo somehow learned a new phrase. "Kill James!"

Does Chucky still live?

Here is the video.

Does anybody IM any more?

When I was in high school, and my first year or two of college, instant messaging was a central part of my life. I would chat with friends for 4 to 5 hours sometimes in the evenings. Once I started dating Carolina, I did less of this, except for when she and I were apart in the summers. I'm noticed that I hadn't even thought of turning AIM on in a couple of years. Now I apparently prefer facebooking and blogging. I started turning back on my AIM name using Apple iChat when I'm at work. We have a family with a daughter who is in another state getting health care, and I've started using it to keep up with them some.

All of the old names of people I used to talk to are on here. It appears that a few of us still have the same user name. Do any of you still use instant messenger? I see that a lot of people use it on their mobile phones. Is this a purely high school-ish phenomenon, or is is something still used a lot by adults? What do you think?

Thursday, February 21, 2008


I've had an ongoing joke that I've continued to use here and there when someone who uses a Mac computer has problems with it. Carolina has an old iMac that has been cantankerous since the day she got it. Ever since we started having these Apple problems, I started referring to her computer as a "Crapple".

I thought I was being creative and witty. Now someone has apparently had the same idea, but has taken it much further.

I present to you: the iToilet

These guys really must have no life.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

It's Nacho Cat: Yoga Napping

I don't know how she does this, or why it is apparently comfortable.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Pico Pocket Projector

There is a company called microvision that is doing some incredible stuff in terms of displays for electronics. I think the coolest thing I've seen in a long time is a pocket-sized projector they are making that will use 3 lasers to produce a beautiful picture (848x480 pixels at 60 fps). It's called the Pico. So if you brought your iPod along with a video you want to show everyone, you plug in this puppy, and put it up on the wall! Because of how it displays the image, the image is always in focus, so all you have to do is decide how far you want to put the projector away from the surface it is projecting on. Check it out! Best of all, it's estimated that they will cost between $300-$500, which is extremely affordable for something as cool as this is!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

So I'm apparently an expert on what tastes good

I expect my friends to link to my blog from time to time, but I noticed I was getting some hits from a site I wasn't familiar with. I have now been quoted by some food blog for my recent post about Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce. No, they didn't ask my permission, and yes, it's creeping me out a little bit. Especially when I saw the title of the post. Then again, it's nice to know someone values your opinion. After all, I really do think it is fantastic hot sauce.

Random Observations from the FHU Lectureship

I was able to go this year to the FHU lectureship. I got to see some friends that I haven't seen in a while, and got to visit with my grandparents. When you registered, they gave you a cool name tag and a small leather notepad holder with paper. As I heard several different speakers, rather than taking extensive notes this time, I would try to just jot down what I thought was something new or different than what I've heard before. In no order whatsoever, here are a few of the things I noticed:

Angels - Ralph Gilmore pointed out that in Scripture, though angels bring messages to humans, angels never do the preaching. Whether it be prophets, the apostles, or Christ himself, God has always preferred for men to teach men, and has entrusted us with the Gospel to spread. I thought that was empowering to know that we get to do what angels don't.

Knowing Christ - In general, Freed has a tendency to be labeled as a bunch of ultra-conservatives with closed ears and closed minds. Though there is an element of that present, that has not been my experience. Ralph Gilmore had a fantastic grace-oriented sermon on Sunday night to open the lectures. Several times during the week, I heard it affirmed how important it is that we seek to know and really love Christ, not just to get everything right. I think K.C. Moser would have been proud to see the "Man" of salvation emphasized at least as much as the "plan" of salvation.

Feet Washing - I had never thought before about how when Jesus washed his disciples feet, it was just a short amount of time before they'd be using those same clean feet to abandon him to the devices of wicked men.

Capital Punishment - In a discussion about capital punishment, it was mentioned that some pacifists will go to Exodus 20 saying, "Thou shalt not murder." But it's significant that in Exodus 21, there are 7 different circumstances given under which killing is appropriate. It reminded me of the importance of reading passages holistically rather than just as proof texts.

Is lying ever ok? - There was a prologued discussion about whether it could ever be appropriate for a Christian to lie. It was the classic old scenario about "what if you're in Germany, hiding Jews, and the Nazis come a knockin' on your door." Can you lie to protect people? Some insisted that even Rahab had not been dishonest, others insisted that sometimes there are levels of priorities where one has to be chosen as the lesser of two evils. I was not aware of the passage in I Samuel 16 where God tells Samuel to bring along a heifer with him and to say that he is going to sacrifice to God, when in reality he is planning to anoint a new king. It seems that God might have even been suggesting deception in this case.

My personal feelings are that this is a struggle between two different approaches to ethics. A deontological perspective will argue that actions are inherently wrong. A pacifist believes that violence is in and of itself wrong, and therefore cannot ever be an acceptable option. A teleological view says, "Do whatever is going to bring about the most good in the long run." People who hold these two different views will never be able to agree because their presuppositions are different, hence the discussion went on for way way way too long.

The problem with teleology is that you can end up saying, "The end justifies the means," which is terribly untrue. At the same time, I really believe that sometimes people get in situations where the only options are bad options, and if I catch someone trying to harm my family, though I'm committed to loving my neighbor, I'm just as committed to protecting my family, and would do so, feeling no remorse.

Head Coverings - This was part of the open forum where the questions came up about whether women should wear head coverings. I learned some things. (1) The Greek word used for what women should wear described a veil that covered the entire head and face. Women today who wear the little white thing on the top of their head, insisting on this continued practice, aren't actually practicing it in a way that is true to scripture. If women are to wear veils because of this passage, then we shouldn't be able to see their faces. Garland Elkins pointed out that John the Baptist was "Beheaded", not "Be-scalped." A head covering is a head covering.
(2) I got tickled at one man's comment that where in I Corinthians it says that it is sinful for a man to have his head covered, yet we have a lot of good brothers who wear toupees. :-)

General Characteristics of Bible Departments at FHU vs. HU - At Harding, I have been discouraged for some time at the low number of preaching or ministry majors that are being produced. Youth and Family ministry majors outnumber them 8 to 1. Most young people who want to be preachers seem to choose Freed. And honestly, I've met a lot of Freed graduates who have become excellent preachers and teachers. But as I've thought about the people I know from each place, it seems to me that both HU and FHU have different niches. Freed is probably turning out more people who go into preaching ministries, but I think Harding is doing a lot more producing of missionaries and church planters. I can hardly even count the number of people I know from Harding who are currently overseas, or who have moved to another part of the US to start new churches. Not that Harding doesn't produce preachers, or that Freed doesn't produce missionaries. I just think we're each doing really well in some different areas.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Beaver School

On the way to the Freed-Hardeman lectures, we drove past this place called Beaver School. That struck Carolina and I both as extremely funny. We figured that we already knew what the mascot most likely is. I just got this funny mental picture of all the area children coming to school in furry brown uniforms to practice building dams and chewing through logs.

It's Nacho Cat: Snow

This morning, as I was about to walk out the door, Carolina started shouting with glee that it was snowing outside, and boy was it. She let Nacho outside for a few minutes and took some pictures.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

I've Got More Rhythm Than Before

Here is my second installment, documenting my progress in learning Pete Huttlinger's arrangement of "I've Got Rhythm". Just as with my first post, I did this with no warm up. (I'm here at my office waiting on some guys to help me load chairs for a banquet we're setting up)

Friday, February 01, 2008

Use Your Allusion: King Log

Defined concisely: A king log is a ruler who is so peaceful and quiet in his reign that his subjects never feel his power.

It comes from a story attributed to Aesop about a group of frogs who became discontent with their life in the pond, and started begging Zeus to give them a king to rule over them. Zeus found their request humorous, and he sent them down a huge log which dropped into the pond.

At first they feared the log, but before long, since it never moved, they became less afraid of it and even began climbing on it. They cried out to Zeus again, begging him for a better king that would actually move. So Zeus sent them down a stork that promptly began devouring the frogs.

They pleaded with Zeus to take away the King Stork, but Zeus refused, saying that they had received what they requested, and should live with the consequences.

The moral of the story can be taken in different ways. Some would say, "Leave well enough alone." Others might say, "Be careful what you wish for."

There is a bit of humor that has been widely circulated, probably inspired by this story, of a stork attempting to eat a frog that is resisting him by choking the stork. It usually appears with the caption, "Never give up."

So depending on what you want out of your leaders, to have a "King Log" could be a good thing or a bad thing. It's nice to have a ruler who isn't afraid to step up and take action, but when the action comes at great cost to the citizens, perhaps having an inactive ruler might be a preferable option. It's also a good caveat about letting any one part of a government have too much power.