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Friday, February 26, 2010

God is Imaginary: #20 Notice Your Church

Notice Your Church.

Much that they say in this "proof" is true, but it is not the whole truth. The church does waste copious amounts of money that should be used to further the church's mission. With that said, I'll offer a couple of common reasons for the waste:

  • The church is filled with human beings who are full of pride and conceit. In that regard, however, the church is the right place for them: On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. Mark 2:17.
  • The church has adopted the "church growth" mantra, and is trying to use the appeals of the world--entertainment, social situations, etc.--to further its mission. It doesn't work very well, but not everyone is as single minded as St. Paul: For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1 Corinthians 2:2.

However, we do need to make a distinction between the "church" as an organization, and the "church" as a community of believers, which is traditionally referred to as the visible and invisible church. The invisible church exists where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them (Matthew 18:20). It does not need any sort of building, or permanent location.

The visible church was established as an institution (not a building), to fulfill the mandate given through St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40. It has continued to this day because, despite its flaws, it serves a useful function. One of those functions for which I am particular grateful is the expertise, education, and training. As a lay scholar, I do not have the background in Biblical languages necessary to study the original Scriptures. I am entirely reliant on the dedicated men who do such translation. I by myself cannot fund such scholarship, but that is one reason why an organized church was established in Scripture.

The focus of their ire in the above post was on lavish church buildings. Are such buildings sinful? No. The Old Testament believers built the Tabernacle and various temples--of which Solomon's was the most lavish and magnificent (perhaps more magnificent than anything ever built). Yet these buildings were built by the command of God for his worship and glory. Therefore, they cannot be inherently sinful.

It is easy for us to dismiss the worship of God. Surely, we imagine, we, and God, have more useful things to do than to spend time worshiping. We could be helping others, or studying Scriptures, or doing anything but worshiping. I won't spend much time on the definition of worship, other than to refer you to 1 Corinthians 10:31. However, just as we can glorify God with our voices, we can also give glory to God in the buildings we build and the worship we give to Him there. Building a beautiful building to the glory of God is an act of worship, and should be treated as such.

However, does including a basketball court fall under that mandate? I'm leaning towards probably not.

Back to the Fifty Reasons.

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How to Green the Post Office - UPDATED

Solving problems is what I do, so I thought I'd put a little more work into responding to this comment:

Yes, and make mail theft incredibly easy and undetectable, unless I suppose you install locks on each box, and install a security camera.

Below is my diagram. You have the road on one side, a sidewalk on the other. Ever mailbox would be individually locked with a door on both sides, and there would be a lockable lid on the mailboxes for the post office. They'd open the lid, pop the mail into the boxes, close the lid and lock them back up. The mail would be secure--more secure than the current arrangement--and no pedestrians would have to go out into the street to get their mail.





How to Green the Post Office

It's simple, really. Rather than having a mailbox on every house, you put them all on the corners of the blocks. No one would be farther than half a block from their mailbox, and most people would just pick up their mail on the way home (just like they stop at the mailbox before heading down the driveway). It would take far fewer vehicles, miles traveled, and personnel, and thus reduce costs tremendously.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Book Review: The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life


Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life. New York: International Bible Students Association, 1968.

Reading this book was surreal. Every chapter started out well, and then veered deeply off course. Whether by mistranslation, selective quotation, or failures in logic, this book was mistaken from beginning to end. This post isn't going to be a true fisking, because I'd be writing more than the book itself. I'm going to restrict myself to one major problem per chapter (okay, maybe per section for long chapters).

Chapter One: Grand Blessings from God Near at Hand!

I don't have a lot to say about this first chapter (an appeal to read the Bible is hard to argue with), except that 1 Timothy 2:4 does NOT say that God wants "all sorts of men" to be saved. It says that he wants "ALL" men to be saved. Why the difference? For starters, ALL is a heck of a lot more than 144,000.

Chapter Two: Why it is Wise to Examine Your Religion.

"Knowledge of the Bible and of God's will is essential for God's approval. But, as Jesus said, it is doing of that will that counts. One must have works that are consistent with what one has learned."

As my father would say, "Close but no cigar." It is faith alone that saves, though faith is never alone. That is why Isaiah 64:6 says, "And all our righteous acts are like filthy rags." Measured on its own, doing counts for nothing.

Chapter Three: Who is God?

This chapter depends on willful ignorance of the Scriptures. They ignore other titles which God takes for himself, and other names which are used, to focus on the exclusive use of Jehovah. It is obvious, for example, that "The Angel of the Lord", is God, for he accepted worship, which no angel elsewhere in Scripture would permit.

Chapter Four: Why We Grow Old and Die.

It is actually refreshing to hear someone blame our problems on sin. I have grown to detest hearing, "God works in mysterious ways" as an explanation for suffering. It is so roundly misunderstood as to be counter-productive.

Chapter Five: Where are the Dead?

The thrust of this chapter is based on poor translation. They took poetical works concerning the dead--in the case of a quotation from Ecclesiastes, a portion which was rejected as a false hypothesis later in the book--and made it the sedes doctrinae. They've got a real problem explaining Matthew 22:23 "He is not the God of the dead, but of the living."

Chapter Six: Jesus Christ, The One Through Whom God Blesses Mankind.

They've got another real problem in this chapter. You can't have Christ be the sinless Son of God who is not divine, and yet have him blaspheme by describing himself as God. How does John 14:6-9 fit in with there interpretation: "Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, 'Show us the Father'?" Or again in John 10:30 "I and the Father are one."

Chapter Seven: Are There Wicked Spirits?

Yes. They agree, though they misinterpret the section in Genesis shortly before the Flood that describes the sons of God and the daughters of men. By context, you can clearly see it is a reference to intermarriage between the Sethite and the Cainite branches of humanity. I think the reason the other interpretation survives is that "touched by an angel" in that sense appeals to our prurient interest.

Chapter Eight: Why Has God Permitted Wickedness Until Our Day?

Once again, with selective quotation, they take the account of Jesus being tempted and expand it into an entire doctrine--that all governments are creations of the devil. I wonder how they deal with Romans 13:6 "This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing."

Chapter Nine: The Reason Why a "Little Flock" Goes to Heaven

This chapter had one of the strangest misinterpretations I've ever run across. It is based entirely on moving a comma, which changes the English meaning, but not the original Greek (yet another reminder why you need to return to the original languages). In their interpretation, Jesus said to the thief on the cross, "I tell you the truth today, you will be with me in Paradise." See how that differs from the real version: "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise." They needed to move that comma to (a) support that those who die remain in the grave, and (b) as part of their theology of heaven, of which more could be said, but I'm long-winded already.

Chapter Ten: God's Kingdom Comes to Power in the Midst of Its Enemies

1914 was the beginning of the end times. Good to know. I'm sure it'll end in 2012 when the Mayans predicted too.

Chapter Eleven: The Last Days of this Wicked System of Things

Elsewhere in the book, they describe Hell as a myth. I wonder where exactly they think that God is going to banish Satan.

Chapter Twelve: Righteous Rule Makes Earth a Paradise

Meh. Eschatology doesn't really interest me, so I'll leave this one alone.

Chapter Thirteen: The True Church and Its Foundation

As a good Lutheran, I must give credit for their assault on the primacy of the Pope and their support of the priesthood of all believers. However, they then went to an unsupportable extreme in emphasizing the unity of the faith. I won't quote the whole thing, but go read 1 Corinthians 12 if you want to see for yourself that they're wrong.

Chapter Fourteen: How to Identify the True Religion

Oh! Oh! Oh! Call on me! Call on me! I know it! It's Matthew 7:15-20! Really? It's a question about ecclesiastical organization? Well, I'll know better next time.

Chapter Fifteen: "Get Out From Among Them."

I'll try again with this one. Are they going to cite Matthew 13:30, "Let both grow together until the harvest." Nope. They cited 2 Corinthians 6:14-17. However, selective quotation is once again their downfall. Let's go one better--1 Corinthians 7:12-16--if you are not supposed to sever yourself from an unbelieving spouse, why should a much less important relationship be severed? You have to balance the risk with the rewards. If an unbeliever would lead you astray, by all means sever that relationship; yet if you can save that person, severing the relationship is sinful.

Chapter Sixteen: Popular Customs that Displease God

Third time lucky, you know? How about Colossians 2:16-17? Oh shoot, I missed it again.

Chapter Seventeen: How to Pray and be Heard by God

John 14:6? I guess not coming to the Father except through Christ means something different than actually coming to the Father through Christ.

Chapter Eighteen: Christian Obedience to the Law

I'm not going to cite any verses, because there are far too many. How can they claim that participation in government is contrary to the will of God, when the kings of Israel and Judah served God in government? And in the New Testament, we have guards, soldiers, scribes, etc., all in the employ of a pagan government. It does not compute.

Chapter Nineteen: Godly Respect for Life and Blood

Then he asked them, "If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out? Luke 14:5. But if that son needs a blood transfusion after you pull him from the well, oh darn. Guess you broke the Sabbath for nothing.

Chapter Twenty: Building a Happy Family Life

I can't really object to the building a happy life, now can I? I will say it'd be an easier task if you ignored much of what they said thus far.

Chapter Twenty-One: Your Decision to Serve God

Ephesians 2:8-9. It's not a decision.

Chapter Twenty-Two: True Worship - A Way of Life

1 Corinthians 10:31 In other words, I agree, your excellency.



In conclusion, I wonder how long this book would be if I cut out all the distortions, mistranslations, selective quotations, and misinterpretations. Would I even need chapters?

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Book Review: One Up On Wall Street


Lynch, Peter. One Up On Wall Street: How To Use What You Already Know to Make Money in the Market. 1st Fireside ed. New York; Simon & Schuster, 1989.

I'm not really going to say much about this one. It's a phenomenal book, and I would be writing several chapters in summary, so I'm not going to waste time. Instead, I'm going to buy the book, and read it again so I can underline things. That's how good it is.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Book Review: The Coastal War

Chaitin, Peter M. The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande. The Civil War. New York; Time-Life Books, 1984.

I learned a new word from this book: merlon. That's the part in between the crenels in a battlement. Now I'll go out and never use it again.

I knew there were more ironclads used than just the Monitor and the Merrimac (sorry, the Virgina), but I hadn't realized how many. There were entire fleets of Monitors (both single and double turreted).

But the real thing this book made me wonder, are we entirely sure that McClellan wasn't a Confederate double-agent? His entire lack of aggressiveness you can ascribe to character flaw, but his deliberate impeding of other projects that were successful, even when they would materially benefit his front, were reduced or downgraded. For example, the seaborne invasion of North Carolina, which almost severed the sole rail link supporting Lee's army, was curtailed a few miles short of its objective because McClellan demanded the troops needed. He then concocted the peninsular campaign, which tied up a huge portion of the navy's resources, and thereby inhibited further coastal campaigns. The coastal campaigns, which were hugely successful, all proceeded in spite of McClellan, using the dregs of the army to hold their positions.

You know, had someone shot McClellan before he ever led the troops into the field, he would hold a place of high honor in the American pantheon. The military would laud him as the hero who saved the army from being a disorganized rabble. As it is, he's recognized for having an uncanny knack for doing the wrong thing.

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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Book Review: Mission Accomplished?

Maxfield, Jennifer J. Ed. Mission Accomplished?: Challenges to and Opportunities for Lutheran Missions in the 21st Century. Congress on the Lutheran Confessions. St. Louis, MO; The Luther Academy, 2008.

That's a really lousy image, isn't it? Oh well, it'll have to do.

A series of papers didn't really inspire me, but there were a few choice bits.

In "From Wittenberg with Love: Martin Luther's Theology of Missions," Klaus Detlev Schulz reiterated an argument I have used many times on this blog: "We have a tendency to see the Word of God in its static form, as doctrine laying down what is to be believed and against which other teachings are measured. ... In Luther's theology, the Word of God has a dynamic missionary character, being constantly in motion and not limited to time and space."

In "Neuendettelsau and Hermannsburg: What we can learn," Roland Ziegler had this pithy quotation from Louis Harms: "Money does not drive the mission, prayer drives the mission; for where God drives the mission, then money comes automatically (by itself). Contrary, where money is the main subject, where one always cries: give money, give money--there men drive the mission, and it will soon fall. The mission that converts heathen and takes them out of the power of Satan is a miracle of God. Therefore, if you love our mission, I ask you: pray, pray for our mission, pray in faith, pray with reconciled hearts, then our mission cannot perish, as surely as God's Word cannot perish."

And here's something that was quite shocking to me, in "Open and Closed Doors: Opportunities in Global Missions Today," by Timothy C. J. Quill: "In Sweden there are no longer any Lutheran bishops who will ordain men opposed to the novelty of women's ordination. Before a candidate will be ordained, he is required to receive communion from a woman priest."

Of course, when it comes to missions, as one of them quoted, "Why is it, that so many people who claim to be born again make you wish they had never been born the first time?"

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

Yet another reason why the gold standard fails.

Ideally, you want a currency that tracks your economy very closely. When things are going well and the economy is growing, you want a currency that's increasing in value to avoid overheating. When things are going poorly you want a currency that's decreasing in value to support your trade position.

Gold, as a store of value, behaves in exactly the wrong manner. When things are going badly, politically and economically, gold rises quickly. When things are going well, and people are buying gold in order to use it, the price falls.

A gold standard, besides its other deleterious effects, would automatically heighten the booms and prolong the busts.

Whoops.

When does cutting taxes make sense?

I'm involved in a debate on the wisdom of cutting taxes elsewhere on the web, so I thought I'd post a summary of when cutting taxes makes sense.

Cutting Taxes Makes Sense... when taxes are already very high.

Cutting taxes from 60% of GDP to 50% is much more productive than cutting taxes from 30% of GDP to 20%, even though it's the same 10% of GDP. The difference is, people's take-home pay, and thus investment potential, is increased by 25% in the first example, but only 14.3% in the second. If you go one better, and cut from 20% of GDP to 10%, you'll only provide a 12.5% increase. It's the same 10%, but it provides twice the return when taxes are already high. Eventually, you'll get to a tipping point where the economic growth generated by the tax cut does not compensate for the lost revenue in any reasonable time horizon.


Cutting Taxes Makes Sense... when you're a developing country.

This is the law of diminishing returns at work. Investments in developing countries produce very high returns. Investments in developed countries don't. The total revenue gains from economic growth are much larger in developing countries.


Cutting Taxes Makes Sense... when you're not running a deficit.

If you're running a deficit, you're not releasing any more investment money into the economy because you're sucking it all up again in the form of borrowing.


Cutting Taxes Makes Sense... when you can simplify the tax code.

If you can reduce the distorting effect of the tax code by cutting taxes, e.g., eliminating a tax entirely, then it is beneficial.


So did the Bush tax cuts make sense? No. We're a comparatively low-tax, developed country that's running a deficit, and we made the tax code more complex in the process.

Go team!