Category Archives: Personal Reflection

Whither our Universities? Part 2

Is the sun setting on our universities?

Here are some additional links to columnists speaking about the sanctioning of Professor Tomas Hudlicky:

Barbara Kay at the National Post … https://bit.ly/2Vtq7Tx-Kay

Jordan Peterson at the National Post … https://bit.ly/3g7HbGK-Peterson

Chapter 9, “The Aberhardt Constant” From The Battle for Halcyon

I did not want to distract from the discussion of the facts around the Tomas Hudlicky sanctioning by talking about the “What If” questions in my writing. In this snippet from The Battle for Halcyon, the faculty are using what they know to gradually move the student body to think a certain way. The fictitious Professor Aberhardt appears before the university senate to complain that they are moving too quickly. As a sociologist he had developed a metric (called by others The Aberhardt Constant) for how fast one can change a subject’s thinking without the subject realizing what is going on. This, of course, is fiction but here is the dialogue:

“What’s all this about Darwin?” asked John Hobbs, wiping his pudgy face with a handkerchief.

Darwin Blackmore considered his colleague for a moment. John Hobbs was short and his extra weight made him look as if he did not have a waist.

Blackmore caught himself stroking his goatee and put his hands down on the conference table in front of him.

“John, I don’t really know what Aberhardt wants to talk to us about. He asked to meet with the Senate Executive Committee on a matter of some urgency. Since he’s a member of the Senate I couldn’t say ‘no.’ I have given him twenty minutes.”

The door opened and Blackmore’s pretty Executive Assistant, Bernice Le Blanc entered and closed the door behind her.

“Professor Aberhardt has arrived for his appointment. Is it convenient for me to bring him in now, or do you need more discussion time?” asked Bernice.

Blackmore looked around the table. “Shall I have him brought in?” Everyone was nodding. Blackmore turned and nodded to Bernice as well.

A few moments later, Bernice ushered Aberhardt into the conference room. Blackmore rose to shake his hand as Bernice left and closed the door behind her. Frederick Aberhardt was an austere man with a long thin face crowned with thin, wild, scraggly hair. His chin was defined by a brown goatee that was as wild as the hair on his head.

“Professor Aberhardt how good it is to see you,” said Blackmore. Blackmore hoped he sounded sincere.

Aberhardt took his hand, but only nodded in acknowledgement.

“Please have a seat at the table,” said Blackmore.

“I’m used to lecturing, so I’ll stand,” said Aberhardt.

Blackmore felt his face getting warm. The pompous swine!

Blackmore turned toward the others and cleared his throat as he tried to regain his composure. With long practice, he made his face impassive.

“Friends, it gives me great pleasure to welcome the distinguished Professor Aberhardt to our council chambers. He is one of the most eminent sociologists of our time. He has written the book The Sociology of Democratic Governance, which received the President’s Award shortly before we were dislocated. Even before the award, the book had become obligatory reading in all serious sociology and political science courses.”

He turned to Professor Aberhardt. “Welcome to our meeting, Frederick. Please tell us about the urgent matter you wanted to talk to us about.” Blackmore sat down and leaned back in his chair.

Aberhardt had a surprisingly loud voice for a thin man and glowered at his audience with piercing eyes.

“As Darwin has said,” began Aberhardt, “I am the pre-eminent sociologist at Halcyon. I’m here to warn you that you are taking a dangerous course. As I listened to our senate deliberations over the last few weeks, it has become clear to me that we are contemplating taking more direct action to bring resisters or rebels into line. WE MUST NOT DO THAT.”

The shock of Aberhardt’s shout, made Hobbs, who had begun to doodle on his note pad, drop his pencil on the floor. He frowned at Aberhardt and shifted his position.

“I’m not sure I follow you, Frederick,” said Blackmore in a soft voice.

“In my book, The Sociology of Democratic Governance, I go to great lengths to define what has subsequently been named the Aberhardt Constant.

“Perhaps you should explain, Frederick, since not everyone here has read your magnificent work recently.”

Aberhardt’s eyes bored into Blackmore, as if questioning whether or not he was being mocked.

Blackmore gave him his most reassuring smile.

Apparently satisfied, Aberhardt went on. “Many governments in the past have tried to direct the thinking of their subjects. They have used force and coercion. Although they appeared successful for a time, they ultimately failed. Why?” Here he thrust his index finger into the air.

“They failed because coercion achieves outward compliance, but had no control over what happened in the minds of their citizens. Thus, their thoughts unmodified, the subjects became increasingly rebellious until the opposition gained power to revolt.”

“Through our empirical studies we know better. We encourage people to express their opinions. We welcome them. When they criticize us, the nature of their criticism tells us to what degree our persuasion is working. By using the media, the arts, and education, we can change the prevailing public opinion in the direction we want at a rate given by the effectiveness of these tools. I have measured that effectiveness. That rate is defined by Aberhardt’s Constant. As long as we only make changes at a rate less than this time constant, then the average person, even though he grumbles about some of the things he sees going on, doesn’t become alarmed enough to take action because the change is happening slowly. He doesn’t realize that his opinion is being incrementally being shifted for him by unending repetition in the direction of the next behavior modification step through school, through television and every other thing in his environment he sees or hears. We can study him, poll his attitude and opinions, and if one message doesn’t work, we’ll try another. We can always measure our effectiveness because he’s willing to tell us what he likes and what he doesn’t like.”

Blackmore shifted in his seat uncomfortably. He heard Lydia Pendergast beginning to tap her foot on the floor.

Maybe I shouldn’t have sat down. Now that Aberhardt has the floor he could go on and on.

Aberhardt continued. “This gradual thinking modifcation works splendidly as long as we don’t go too fast. Some changes are so significant and so difficult, we actually have to wait for a new generation to grow up under our tutelage to achieve change. But, here is the critical point.

“If we try to go faster by coercion, then not only will we build up the subject’s resentment, but by its very nature, coercion causes the subject to hide his true feelings from us. When that happens we no longer accurately measure public opinion…” Aberhardt again stabbed the air with his finger for emphasis. “And so we will be governing in a vacuum, being forced to use stronger and stronger measures to maintain compliance until the system collapses in a revolt or an unwelcome opposition party.

“All of this is explained in my book …

“Yes, yes, yes!” muttered Lydia Pendergast. “We know all that.”

Aberhardt glared murderously at Pendergast.

Undaunted Pendergast continued. “Halcyon is a closed, controlled environment. We have broken down many of the institutions that have caused us so much grief. We know that religion poisons everything and so we have been careful to make the practice of religion a private affair, excluded from all public discussion, and so thanks to our excellent management, religion has almost disappeared. We won’t have any Martin Luthers rocking our boat…”

“Undoubtedly that has been an excellent development,” said Aberhardt.

“We have suppressed the family,” continued Pendergast. “Isn’t that important?”

“It’s true, that suppression is very important for sociological evolution. The stable family is a sociologically self-contained unit which means we don’t really know what ideas are taking root there. They don’t need us to care for them. In our new order, we create state dependency by ensuring there are almost no close familial relationships…”

“Exactly my point,” interrupted Pendergast.

“Let me continue,” interrupted Aberhardt in turn, “the subjects now look to Halcyon to raise their offspring. If they are sick they come to our doctors. If they are depressed they talk to our psychologists. At every turn we are able to influence them. These are all excellent steps but with our current actions we are jeopardizing all of our progress…”

“Really Frederick, I’m sure you’re right about the basic facts and your theory is brilliant,” said Trevor Huxley cleaning his glasses. “But it will take twenty or thirty years to make the kind of changes we want if we follow your infinitesimal steps, even given the rather substantial control we have over the Halcyon media, the few artistic endeavors we have left and of course our educational activities. We simply don’t have twenty years. This army of Apemen we have heard about could be here any day now and we need to make sure that everyone is on board. We can’t have any disunity. We can’t have our decisions questioned. Only the strong will survive and we need to govern strongly.”

“Besides,” added Pendergast, “your problem Aberhardt is that you’re working through social influences. Biology is more fundamental than sociology. Give me the right neurotransmitters and I can make our people believe anything you want.”

“Enough,” said Darwin Blackmore. He stroked his unruly goatee. “Thank you Professor Aberhardt for you valuable and insightful discourse. I will weigh your suggestions as well as those of Professor Pendergast and Administrator Huxley carefully.”

Aberhardt scowled. “You’re not going to take my warning seriously, are you?”

“Nonsense,” said Blackmore. “You have given us much food for thought. As I recall, Aberhardt’s Constant is a constant in name only and can be increased; perhaps you and Dr. Pendergast should have more discussions. With the right kind of psychopharmacopeia one could make the changes much sooner and so modify the magnitude of the Aberhardt Constant. Thank you for your time.”

Blackmore’s best smile was wasted on Aberhardt’s back as he stomped out.

As the door slammed, Pendergast muttered, “When I make this work, we’ll have to rename it the Pendergast-Aberhardt constant.”

Blackmore, ignoring Pendergast’s mumblings, went on:

“I have one more item to discuss. Do you remember after the first Halcyon River expedition returned and reported about the City of the Dead? There was a fellow on that expedition, Albert Gleeson. Subsequently because of his bizarre religious ideas, Jonathan Boyd, the psychiatrist at Halcyon Medical Center, decided he was delusional and needed to be protected. Boyd sedated him because of his illness, but then Gleeson mysteriously vanished from Halcyon. He reappeared on the Second Halcyon River expedition, and then after that disaster, joined the rebels in the new colony. Well I have reliable information that he has secretly returned to Halcyon.”

“Is this a problem?” asked Huxley. “After all he is only one person. I presume there is only one, am I right.”

“No, he’s not a problem,” said Blackmore. “Indeed, now that we know he’s here, he’s even less of a problem, but still this colony he and his fellow rebels have set up is an annoyance. Furthermore as Professor Aberhardt has so eloquently pointed out, we persuade people to our way of thinking through the media, the arts, and through education. But this colony is beyond our reach on all three fronts. We want to mold and shape our society by controlling the story that everyone believes. Who knows what peculiar ideas, indeed, what dangerous and inimical ideas they may come up with, in the absence of our guidance. We can’t lose control of our conditioning program because of these uncontrolled upstarts.”

 “So what do you propose?” asked Pendergast.

“Propose? I propose we watch him discreetly. That way we can locate all of his contacts. We may not need to do anything, but if he does cause trouble, we’ll pick him up. Now if we have no further business, I still have some excellent wine in my cellar that I think we should try.”

A Collision of Two Imperfect Causes

I have read and enjoyed The Last Castle several times. I enjoyed it so much, I am reading it now in its much longer, original, unedited version. The title MacDonald originally chose was St. George and St. Michael.

MacDonald’s story begins in 1641 shortly after Thomas Wentworth, The Earl of Stafford was arrested by Parliament, tried for treason, and beheaded. King Charles I, a personal friend of Stafford, signed the order for the execution and regretted his decision to his dying day.

MacDonald, as a masterful storyteller, does not chose the easy road and cast the conflict between Parliament (Roundheads, Puritans) and the King as a one dimensional conflict between Good and Evil, but rather he shows how two groups of people, the Heywoods on one hand, and Henry Somerset , the Earl of Worchester, and his subjects on the other hand, find themselves by differing honorable convictions on opposite sides. Although on opposing sides, they fought each other for noble and altruistic reasons.

The Earl of Worchester, a catholic, and his followers had given their allegiance to the King and would stand by him to the bitter end. Hence St George is in the title, representing the red cross of England and the crown.

On the other hand, Richard Heywood and his father, believed their first allegiance was to their conscience and truth. For that reason they chose the side of Parliament and the Puritans. The archangel St. Michael stands for truth.

Although they were on opposite sides of this great civil war, when they met they respected each other since they saw a true man, a man of principle in the other. They were taking part in a war that was a collision of two imperfect causes (I think this phrase was used by MacDonald but I cannot locate the reference).

Indeed when Richard Heywood is captured inside Worchester’s Raglan Castle, The Earl now a Marquis offers him freedom if he would renounce his cause or even share his secret how he came to get into the castle. Richard declines and is sent to the dungeons.

After Richard is taken away the honorable Marquis says to himself:

“I doubt not the boy would tell everything rather than see his mare whipped. He’s a fine fellow, and it were a thousand pities he turned coward and gave in. But the affair is not mine–it is the King’s. Would to God the rascal were on our side! He’s the right old English breed.”

How Does This Speak to Me Today?

In Matthew 7:1-2 Jesus says:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”

The reason I am not to judge, is not because judgment must never happen, but rather because I am so poor at it. I am too ready to excuse myself and condemn others. I know nothing of the background, assumptions, or personal history that led to a particular action in others. If this is true of contemporaries I know reasonably well, it is much more true of historical figure in whose shoes I have never walked and whose motivations I could never fathom. Yet, as I get to know people from other eras through what they have written , that reading can be invaluable in finding out about myself, my own biases and about the uncritiqued assumptions that so plague my thinking.

Concluding Thoughts

We live in a time when the wholesale destruction of our history is taking place. Statues are torn down, graves desecrated, and places named after historical figures are being renamed. We act as if we  moderns are uniformly righteous and those that have gone before us are irredeemably evil. Even if that were true (we are too complex as human beings for that to be so clear cut) we would still be better off to leave our history intact and learn from our past both good and bad. It is better to have a view into the past from historical eyes than to leave the writing of history to the biased ideologues of today who desire us to think in a certain way.

Every war is a collision of two imperfect causes. Those on opposite sides may indeed be there for different, honorable reasons. I hope I continue to have the courage to respect that.

A Writer’s First Trip to the Holy Land: Gideon’s Springs also called Ein Harod

Gideon’s Spring

It was a rainy day when we arrived at Gideon’s Springs, a beautiful area with clear water bubbling up at the back of this shallow cave.

From there the water flowed across Ma’ayan Harod National park.

This enchantingly beautiful place was the likely the location (see Judges chapters 6-8) where Gideon selected the three hundred to begin the rout of the Midianites.

One of the many colorful flower placements in rock crevices along the trail
This bulb-shaped tree with spikes on the trunk is likely Ceiba speciosa, also called the Silk Floss Tree.

Personal Reflection

In a land of desert and stone such as Israel, the appearance of a well-watered place such as Ein Harod must have inspired reflections on God’s love and provision.

Here is one of my favorite passages:

Isaiah 41:17-21 English Standard Version (ESV)

17 When the poor and needy seek water,
    and there is none,
    and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them;
    I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
18 I will open rivers on the bare heights,
    and fountains in the midst of the valleys.
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
    and the dry land springs of water.
19 I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
    the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive.
I will set in the desert the cypress,
    the plane and the pine together,
20 that they may see and know,
    may consider and understand together,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
    the Holy One of Israel has created it.

Even when we are in a dry place and are driven to the border of death by thirst, Isaiah reminds us that when we are driven to ask, God will provide and provide abundantly. For me, Ein Harod is a beautiful picture of God opening up a fountain in the midst of the valley and the bounty and fruitfulness that living water can bring.

2019 Kazmaier Fall and Christmas Newsletter

It’s not often when we can get our immediate family all together in Ontario for a barbecue. It is even more seldom that we are able to take an impromptu family picture.

This picture was taken in August and includes the most recent addition to the Guelph Kazmaiers, their dog Rio.

Late this summer we took a trip to Calgary with Michael and Alyssa and their family. On our drive to Radium we had occasion to stop at Cascade Ponds, near Banff. This picture of the ponds with the Rockies in the background, reminded me of what I am missing here in Ontario.

Indeed, I overheard my Grandson, Nolen explaining to his father that what we call mountains in Ontario are really nothing more than hills. When the real comes, the shadow must pass away!

Cascade Ponds Near Banff

One of the difficult things about being so far away from my parents: I only get to see them perhaps once or twice a year. In between, I have to be content with frequent phone calls. I am glad to say, that although they are both 95 (my father is soon to be 96), they are still in reasonably good health.

Peter’s Fourth Book is Out

My fourth book, the third in The Halcyon Cycle, came out in June. I have reached a milestone of sorts: I have finished my first book series and am now on to writing about a different world with new characters. I have tentatively entitled the new book Coventry 2091. I’m just finishing the second draft, but I can see the manuscript is far from complete.

Wishing You and Your Family a Joyous Christmas and a Blessed New Year

Finally, since this newsletter has drifted into December, Kathy and I want to wish everyone, along with your extended family, a joyous Christmas and a blessed New Year. If you have read this far into the newsletter, I hope you take this moment to re-connect with us. Even a short email, a blog comment, or Facebook post would be so appreciated.We do so love to hear from you!

Reminds me of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

Interacting with Bruxy Cavey’s ORIGINS Week 2: Ribs, Ladders, and DNA

In week 2’s message on Origins, Bruxy Cavey focused on Genesis Chapter 2.

An important observation by a contributor to Bruxy’s Blog

In my week 1 Origins blog, I addressed an interesting and anonymous comment on Bruxy Cavey’s blog. Part of this comment also has relevance to my discussion of Origins Week 2.

Anonymous wrote:

“When I first heard that this series was coming, with special focus on Genesis, my initial reaction was “Uh-oh… this should be interesting.” While the stories seem to try and carry a message or lesson, I can’t take them literally…I just can’t. The only thing I can do to from dismissing them outright is telling myself that they’re essentially all symbolic, not to be taken literally; a way to try and explain something very complex in simple terms. Like trying to explain to a child why and how we do our taxes once a year…you can’t go into depth, so you sort of oversimplify and use symbols that they already understand; like, “we have to tell the mayor (to replace CRA or gov’t) how much money we made, this way they can decide if we give more or get some back,” etc. God is the alpha and omega: this, to me, means he’s like infinity, outside of the constraints of time and space. I can’t even understand what that would even mean, so how could I possibly understand how he actually started it all? Enter Genesis.”

Genesis Chapter 2 apparently provides an amplification of Day 6, Chapter 1 which closes with the creation of Man (Homo sapiens). Anonymous, like many, takes this as a figurative description. He points out, using the metaphor of an adult explaining to a child a complex subject (for example why we have to pay taxes) that an adult would be forced to use imprecise, figurative language to capture the limited vocabulary of the child. 

Specifically Anonymous says:

“Like trying to explain to a child why and how we do our taxes once a year…you can’t go into depth, so you sort of oversimplify and use symbols that they already understand; like, “we have to tell the mayor (to replace CRA or gov’t) how much money we made, this way they can decide if we give more or get some back,” etc.”

I agree, God in his desire to reach out to us, uses our language and in some sense His communication is limited by the words and concepts available to His audience, just as the adult is limited in vocabulary and concepts in speaking to the child.

However, if I were that adult speaking to my child, I would choose my words very carefully since I realize my child will mature and remember my words when they are older. If I were clever enough, I might choose metaphors that had embedded in them concepts and understanding that go far beyond what the child can grasp, concepts that will only become much clearer later as the child’s knowledge and understanding grows. 

Of Ribs, Ladders and DNA

Why choose a rib in Genesis 2 to describe the creation of Eve?

The Hebrew word, transliterated Tsela means:

Definition
  1. side, rib, beam
    1. rib (of man)
    2. rib (of hill, ridge, etc)
    3. side-chambers or cells (of temple structure)
    4. rib, plank, board (of cedar or fir)
    5. leaves (of door)
    6. side (of ark)

Particularly interesting to me is the idea that Tsela refers to side as well as rib. If I imagine a side with ribs running from the backbone to the sternum. this picture, to me, a chemist, is reminiscent of Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA). You may be familiar with the alpha helical structure of DNA.

Helical Structure: By Zephyris – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15027555

How does this relate to ORIGINS?

If you straighten out the helix and look at the actual chemical structure the ladder or ribbed structure is apparent with each base pair as an individual rib. Perhaps God, in His desire to not only speak to ancient Homo sapiens using a rib cage also wanted to speak to modern Homo sapiens in such a way as to indicate He knew a great deal more about the biochemistry than the simplified language of Genesis might indicate.

By Madprime (talk · contribs) – Own workiThe source code of this SVG is valid.This vector image was created with Inkscape., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1848174

Equally interesting to me was the curious choice of the male as the source of both sexes. From my reading, I think most modern biologists would have identified the female as the more fundamental of the two sexes (I think this is based on reproduction being formally attributed to the female and that some species (for example social insects) have only a short-lived and transient role for males.

If one thinks of God genetically creating male and female, it makes sense to use the male as the genetic source code of the human race. In Homo sapiens, only the male has a complete set of chromosomes (including the sex chromosomes XY). To me this another one of those instances that would mean nothing to the early audience of Genesis but speaks to me.

Some final thoughts

Conviction and proof have limits that each person sets for themselves. Even though I find these correspondences in Genesis of great significance, I recognize that others would not do so. Indeed there are some who might set the bar so high that there is probably nothing anyone could find or say that would redeem Genesis in their eyes. I understand that. Still, this is meaningful to me and I share it in the hope that others might find it useful.

Tough Questions from a Reader of THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL

It’s no bother …

Accessibility to one’s readers is one of the benefits of being an indie author. So it’s no bother at all when someone sends me a question. Indeed it is a special delight.

I asked permission to share this conversation with my blog readers and it was granted providing I maintained the reader’s anonymity. I propose to do so by using the Latin name Aulaire (means well-spoken) for the reader.

The tough questions

Aulaire, you do ask me the toughest questions! Like you these situations you mention make me ask: “How can this be?”

Let me begin with a disclaimer: these are tough questions facing Christians (and for others too). I have some partial answers, but if we ever find ourselves in these these troubling situations, we will find out pretty quickly how hollow and incomplete my answers are.

Aulaire, on describing what troubled her about some passages, wrote:

“I find even in the old testament when God had Joshua going into the promised land [and] King David fighting nations opposed to Israel, how they slaughtered & killed whole people groups, even the women and children.”

1. We know that God is omnipotent. We often don’t realize, however, that omnipotence is inherently self-limiting. For example, when I write a book, I am, humanly speaking, omnipotent. I can write a romance, a book on economics etc. Indeed, I could write about anything at all. But as soon as I write my first line (“Dave Schuster sat in the Chancellor’s office …”), I have already limited my own “omnipotence” significantly. Many possible books are now ruled out. I believe God is in the same boat. As soon as He begins creating, He is limiting his own omnipotence. Thus Aslan (from Lewis’ Narnia books) growls when it is suggested the Emperor-Over-The-Sea not follow His own rules. This implies, particularly when sinful people are deciding for Him, that often God is left, in a given situation, with only bad choices on His plate. I believe He will, play His poor cards as well as He can at the time and still make it right when the story is complete, but in a given situation He may, because of our deal, only have poor cards to play (I know, Aulaire, you’re reading The Dragons of Sheol. You might check out the chapter on Al and Floyd’s discussion of God as a Bridge Partner).

2. I think genuine mercy was always an alternative to Old Testament law punishments. Joseph, as he sought to apply the Old Testament Law, could have had Mary stoned for adultery (betrothal had the weight of marriage) but he had a right to a merciful option and “resolved to put her away quietly.” The trouble in Joshua and David’s time: Israelites, acting like the people around them, had no problem exterminating their enemies. They sometimes showed a false mercy by sparing the bits they wanted (e.g. the cattle) and God condemned this self-serving, false mercy.

3. Jesus did not spare Himself our injustice. When God wrote Himself into our story, He took on all the bad bits. He grew up in a poor family in a subjugated nation.  He was thought an illegitimate child of sin. His father likely died when He was young. He was hated by his own people, and of course, He was crucified unjustly at the young age of 33. God didn’t spare Himself, so how can I complain?

4. We must not assume that if actions occur in the Old Testament without comment that God approves.

Aulaire, speaking of historical events that bother her, wrote:

“And also allowing Hitler to continue as long as he did to exterminate the Jewish people.”

Fifty-two million people lost their lives in WWII. Given my background I had friends and relatives who lived through this terrible time from inside the Third Reich. I have seen the scars it has left on their lives. Asking when God should intervene to override our foolish and downright evil decisions is a difficult question. I think we almost all agree, we wouldn’t want to lose our God-image-bearer humanity by having Him control all of our decisions. So where would we have Him draw the line? I don’t know. I trust He knows best.

A mentor of mine used to draw a dot with an arrow going to the right. He would say the dot is my life now; the arrow is eternity. I trust God will use eternity to make things right.

I want to end again with the disclaimer: I don’t really have a completely satisfying answer (to me and likely to anyone else) on your questions, Aulaire. This is the best I have. Others likely could say much more.

Peter

Some additional material from QUESTIONING YOUR WAY TO FAITH

Questioning Your Way to Faith is a short book that has two friends talk respectfully about some of life’s most difficult questions. I hope this chapter excerpt is of some value as it touches on the questions Aulaire raised. 

Chapter 5 The Problem of Evil Committed by Christians

Around five o’clock, Al said “How about supper?”

 “Why don’t you clean the fish,” responded Floyd, “and I’ll get the fire started.

“Sure thing; sea bass always tastes best when it’s fresh.”

Floyd nodded and headed to a sheltered dell beneath a rocky ridge to a small fire pit.

They had only kept one of the sea bass. Al began cleaning the fish. He heard twigs snapping.

Floyd reappeared. “Do you have any matches?”

“In the second drawer of my tackle box.” Al went back to his task. He deftly gutted the big sea bass and cut four generous fillets. He buried the head and entrails and carried the four fillets in the frying pan along with his knapsack into the dell. Floyd had a small fire going.

Al set the skillet down and unpacked a small grill, placing it between two rocks.

“You’ve obviously done this before,” said Floyd.

“This is one of my favorite things!” Al pulled out the small lunch cooler and produced a package of potato salad from the cafeteria.”

“What would you like to drink, Floyd?”

“What do you have?”

“My favorite wheat beer from Benson’s Microbrewery or cola?

“I’ll take the beer.”

Al flipped the fillets with his hunting knife and a freshly cut stick. He added salt and looked critically at the fillets. “I think they’re done.”

“Good. I’m starving.”

“Can you get the two plates in my knapsack, Floyd?”

“Sure. Boy I don’t normally like fish but that smells great.”

“There’s something special about fresh fish. Here, help yourself to the potato salad.”

They ate in silence. Then Al rinsed off their plates and the frying pan in the sea. When he came back, Floyd was nursing his beer and leaning back against a driftwood tree trunk looking up at the sky. “This is the life Al.”

“I couldn’t agree more, Floyd.” The evening sun tinged the sea orange.

The beauty of the sea and the sky is almost a meal on its own.

Floyd was silent for a while. Al looked at him. His friend seemed to be thinking.

Floyd cleared his throat.

“Al, going back to our previous discussion, your argument about God being good simply doesn’t add up. How many wars have been fought over religion? I remember reading that in the Thirty Years’ War, a Christian religious war between Catholics and Protestants, about two thirds of the population of what is now Germany was killed. The Philippines were converted to Catholicism from Islam by the sword, all except one island, which the Spanish couldn’t easily land on in force. Look how the Jews have been treated by Christians. How can God be the moral force you make Him out to be if so much evil is done by His followers in His name? Your argument would be much more convincing if Christians were actually a force for good rather than evil.”

“Floyd, in a great many ways you’re right. Much evil has been done in the name of Christianity. In fact G. K. Chesterton and others as I recall, made the point that the best argument against Christianity is Christians.

“Still I don’t think the argument against Christianity on this ground is as strong as you make it,” continued Al. “First of all, if you look at nations and peoples before the French Revolution, every one of them was religious. Therefore it’s easy to look at a multidimensional problem and say they committed evil because of religion. And what about politics? What about greed? What about power? Didn’t these play a role?”

“I’m sure they did. But the Thirty Years’ War was ostensibly a religious war wasn’t it?” asked Floyd.

“That’s exactly my point,” said Al. We pick from a host of causes and label it a ‘religious war’ when we could just as easily call it a war for political power and control. Have we stopped fighting just because we’re less religious?”

“I suppose not,” conceded Floyd.

“We haven’t,” said Al. “If we focus on governments that are openly antagonistic to religion, have they done any better? The French Revolution—after proclaiming the noble sentiments of equality, fraternity, and freedom—moved quickly on to the Reign of Terror, and then on to Napoleon’s long war to dominate Europe.

“Have the Communists done better? They’re avowedly atheistic and have killed a great many people in the pogroms and mass exterminations of dissenters. I think the root problem is not really religion, but a lack of respect for Freedom of Religion. If we respected the rights of people to make up their own minds without coercion, then we wouldn’t do these things. But all governments prefer a homogeneous populace. So there’s a tendency to make us all the same because then we’re easier to manage and govern. Coercion can just as easily be secular as religious.”

“How do those excesses excuse the Christians?” asked Floyd.

“They don’t, but I think people who raise this issue are overlooking an important fact.”

“What’s that?” asked Floyd.

“If you’re a power hungry tyrant, and you want your followers to join in a cause that’s dear to your heart, it will never do to say ‘Let’s beat up on our neighbors. I know they pose no threat. They haven’t done us a stitch of harm, but let’s kill them, take their land, and enslave them. Come on—it’ll be fun.’”

“Go on.”

“The vast majority of people are too fair minded to risk their own lives, and the lives of their children on such an escapade. But if the war monger builds a case that the neighbor poses a threat and will attack us, take our freedom, our children and our lands, then the call to war becomes much more credible. The appeal to religion has worked for tyrants because religion was so valuable to the people. It gave meaning to their lives. And so by having that threatened, one could bend them to commit atrocities because in their fear they succumbed to the argument that the end justified the means. Today with the decline of religion in the west, we make the same calls using our new values. The threat is that others will impose their unwanted religion on us, take away our wealth, our children and our freedoms. The same story works. The same people are pulling the strings. Still religion is not seen as being as valuable as it once was, so it’s no longer used to justify evil. But other things are.”

“Still that doesn’t excuse them,” said Floyd.

“No not at all. If you follow the teaching of Jesus, the end never justified the means. That is a great trap. What makes things worse is that our evil nature always makes it seem as if the injustices foisted on us are grievous beyond words. And yet when we do the very same thing to someone else, it was a justifiable necessity on our part. We are hopelessly unsymmetrical in our evaluations.”

“Still why did they fall for it?” asked Floyd.

“I don’t know. The New Testament teaches us to regard others—even those who think differently from us—as brothers. We are to return good for evil and love our enemies. The end never justifies the means—yet Christians still can be moved to do things that go against their fundamental teachings. Why do they do it? Why do I do it? I wish I knew. I’m far from perfect, and so are they, I guess.”

“Floyd, I think you and I could agree on this question a good deal more if you substituted “religion” for “God” and “Christians.”

“Al, I don’t see how that will help you. Isn’t Christianity a religion?”

“That depends on the definition. If you think of religion as the institutions, the laws, the regulations that are supposed to bring us close to God, then Christianity, as far as I can tell from reading the New Testament, was never meant to be a religion. Indeed, in the Gospels, Jesus’ strongest words of censure were directed toward the Pharisees, the religious heavyweights of his day, and he accused them of keeping people who were truly seeking God away from God by loading them down with regulations, duties, and obligations which were the constructs of men and not of God. Christianity is much more about meeting a person, than following a program.”

“Okay you’re trying to draw a distinction between Christianity and religions. I’ve heard that before,” said Floyd.

“Floyd, getting back to the question about ‘religion being the root of all evil…’”

“I never said all evil, but I believe Christians are responsible for much of the evil in our world.”

“I can see why that behavior should bother me since I see clearly how they do not conform to the behavior God has set out for Christians. But why does it bother you? At the risk of being repetitive, if all people, including Christians, are the product of millions of years of evolution, through which we have been conditioned by our genes to eliminate competition and reproduce as prolifically as possible, then wouldn’t we expect the killing off of competition to be the most natural of activities? Would rape and pillaging not be entirely consistent with that conditioning? At their worst are these “Christians” from the Thirty Years’ War not acting exactly as one would have predicted based on evolution? So why the surprise? Why the expectation that they would be better?

“It seems to me the anomaly—from your point of view—would be those people who rise above this ‘ethic’ of me and mine first.”

“You have a point,” said Floyd. He shook himself and looked around. “It’s getting dark. We should be heading back. Will you put out the fire while I collect up our gear?”

George MacDonald – On the Importance of the Imagination

I am re-reading George MacDonald’s Thomas Wingfold-Curate again, and in another sense, for the first time. I previously read and enjoyed Michael R. Phillip’s excellent edited version entitled The Curate’s Awakening (which I would recommend for first-time readers of this series) but now I’m reading the original version which is much longer.

Some spoilers to the story

Thomas Wingfold is a curate who has slid into his clerical profession without much thought. His uncle gave him a complete set of detailed sermons which enabled Wingfold to provide messages and sermons for all occasions in the church year. The sermons were so numerous that when they were recycled, so much time would have passed that the word-for-word repetition would have been unobtrusive to the congregation.

Wingfold’s complacency is shaken

Two things happened to begin a crisis in Wingfold’s life:

  1. He was accosted by a self-assured, masterful, self-confident atheist who challenged him with words to the effect: “Surely you can’t believe all that nonsense you are spouting?”
  2. A dwarf who occasionally attended Wingfold’s church gently informed him that his sermons were plagiarized from a well-known minister called Jeremy Taylor.

The metaphor of a carriage

Wingfold, seeking to be honest, at first considers resigning his appointment, but Polwarth, the dwarf, encourages him to remain in his post until he completes his quest for faith, but, while there, to be honest in his sermons.

In Chapter III, as Wingfold prepares his second genuine sermon, he sees the progression of his intellectual quest through the metaphor of a carriage. His will has the reins; the guard beside the driver is his conscience. The dog running beside him is Fancy, which I take to mean his desire and feelings for beauty, order, and completeness. Imagination is the outrider that explores paths in all directions but can be called back at any time.

The importance of imagination

As I thought about this metaphor, I concur with MacDonald’s view that imagination is a necessary but not sufficient condition for progress in understanding our physical world (science) or understanding the spiritual world as in the case of Wingfold’s quest.

In my previous post, I talked about the importance of working very hard to disprove theories and hypotheses. in my own view (and I know many will disagree with me) I see defects with current explanations of our physical origins. Use of the imagination to come up with better explanations that describe all of the data are needed (again in my view).

Finally a caveat: imagination is useful only in generating possible explanations. After the work of imagination is done, one has to put on one’s skeptical hat and try to disprove the new hypothesis, just as one did with the old.

As Science Fiction author, I am able to let my imagination roam as I write my novels and don’t have the difficult obligation of disproving the backstory of my imaginary inventions.

Interacting with Bruxy Cavey’s ORIGINS Week 1: Love’s Great Choice

My Canadian public education, from elementary school, through high school and on through my university postgraduate studies, from the basis of inculcating a worldview, had a decidedly Materialistic bias. I was taught that all smart people were convinced by the overwhelming evidence of “science” that chance operating over billions of years produced “life, the universe, and everything.” They usually stopped short of explicitly stating that there was no room for God, but the extension of the teaching to this conclusion was easy and no barrier at all was set up to hinder this extension. 

It was only in high school and university that I began to realize that a great many dubious philosophical presuppositions had been smuggled in with the historical assertions I had been fed. The many remarkable successes of what I now call “Good Science” were used to justify (if I looked at the data) “Dubious Science.” However, in the minds of most students, who had been taught to regard all science to be of equal value and veracity, the word “science” or “scientists believe” was used as a certificate of reliability.

Into this difficult and heavily contested discussion arena, Bruxy Cavey has provided his own input. Having listened to the first message on the first two chapters of Genesis, I think his goal is modest: he does NOT want to specifically argue for one interpretation or another, but rather to explore the language and context of the Hebrew text to provide a boundary to the range of interpretations that are consistent with the text.

Given that objective, I learned a few things.

One had to do with the Hebrew word Yom (day). It was interesting how it was used differently in the accounts of the seven days:

  • Days 1-6 there was evening and morning cited after each creation event
  • Day 7 , the Sabbath Day when God is resting from creation seems to go on without end. In Hebrews 4:1-11 we are urged to enter that rest.
  • In Genesis 2, when the passage unpacks the creation of Man, the events such as naming the animals seem to require more than 24 hours.

Responding to Comments

I also wanted to interact with one of the interesting anonymous comments that appeared on Bruxy’s Blog. The comment is shown below in blue.

I was great at prayer and reading the bible when I was younger, but like so many, things changed when I went to university and studied science. Years later, I still love listening to science podcasts. I’m trying to reconcile what science says and what the bible says. I will never dismiss science because there is a lot to respect about the scientific method and the sweat, blood and tears that goes into understanding of the physical world around us, that is brought to us by relevant and worthy fellow human beings. While it can be said that science has just as much blood on its hands as religion, it has brought us the amazing technology I’m using to type this out, penicillin, the ability to “hear” remnants of the Big Bang and the understanding that a marble and a giant boulder will hit the ground at the same time when dropped from the same height (still blows my mind).

Sorry for belabouring the point on how much I enjoy science, but that’s not going away. And yet I want to make room for Jesus and his irreligious message. I love the focus on love and shifting my gaze from myself to others.

When I first heard that this series was coming, with special focus on Genesis, my initial reaction was “Uh-oh… this should be interesting.” While the stories seem to try and carry a message or lesson, I can’t take them literally…I just can’t. The only thing I can do to from dismissing them outright is telling myself that they’re essentially all symbolic, not to be taken literally; a way to try and explain something very complex in simple terms. Like trying to explain to a child why and how we do our taxes once a year…you can’t go into depth, so you sort of oversimplify and use symbols that they already understand; like, “we have to tell the mayor (to replace CRA or gov’t) how much money we made, this way they can decide if we give more or get some back,” etc. God is the alpha and omega: this, to me, means he’s like infinity, outside of the constraints of time and space. I can’t even understand what that would even mean, so how could I possibly understand how he actually started it all? Enter Genesis.

I guess I’m hoping for a Meeting House take on this and that I’m still allowed to show up

Anonymous stated:

I will never dismiss science because there is a lot to respect about the scientific method and the sweat, blood and tears that goes into understanding of the physical world around us, that is brought to us by relevant and worthy fellow human beings.

We should all be truth-seekers since truth is connected to reality. While I understand the sentiment expressed by anonymous, science is not a uniform endeavor. Indeed, I think we ought to respect science by putting its best practices into operation as we evaluate the merit of a particular theory or claim. It all comes down to the data and the integrity of the people who collect and discuss it. Scientists, like other people, are confronted with political pressure, political correctness imperatives, natural biases, and peer pressure.

Even if we haven’t measured a data point, it still behooves us to be skeptical and ask the hard questions and see if the data adds up. Especially we ought to see:

  1. If the scientific community has tried hard to disprove the theory or hypothesis (it is easy to fall into confirmation bias and collect more and more data points in support of our favorite theory).
  2. If sufficient attention has been paid to data points that don’t support the theory. Or have they conveniently shoved the data into the “to be explained” file, never published, and promptly forgotten.
  3. If scientists are being pressure to adopt a certain view or theory.  Look specifically for political pressure, political correctness imperatives, and peer pressure. Have scientists lost their jobs because of their hypotheses? Are there accusations of pseudo-science to keep you from looking carefully at the data and arguments? Have lectures been shut down? These considerations don’t over ride the power of the data but ought to cause us to dig deeper and find out what is being suppressed and pay particular attention to the voices that are being silenced.

Anonymous wrote:

it [science] has brought us the amazing technology I’m using to type this out, penicillin, the ability to “hear” remnants of the Big Bang and the understanding that a marble and a giant boulder will hit the ground at the same time when dropped from the same height (still blows my mind).

I generally agree. Notice, however, penicillin, and classical mechanics (i.e. gravitation and Newton’s Second Law) are qualitatively different from “the ability to ‘hear’ remnants of the Big Bang.”

The first category (isolating and characterizing penicillin or verifying classical mechanics) contain time-independent events and the critical experiments that can be reproduced in 2019, 2050, or 2200. The Big Bang is an historical event. A person with the proper resources can measure the background radiation, but they cannot perform the critical experiment (initiate a Big Bang and show it gives rise to the background radiation).

That doesn’t make the historical account incorrect, it just means the tools of scientific experimentation are not as well suited to these problems as they are to time-independent questions.

Anonymous wrote about reconciling what he has read in Genesis with the accounts that scientists propose:

When I first heard that this series was coming, with special focus on Genesis, my initial reaction was “Uh-oh… this should be interesting.” While the stories seem to try and carry a message or lesson, I can’t take them literally…I just can’t. The only thing I can do to from dismissing them outright is telling myself that they’re essentially all symbolic, not to be taken literally; a way to try and explain something very complex in simple terms.

That’s fair enough. My own reaction is somewhat different. I have significant personal experience that makes me trust what the Bible teaches. Still, as Bruxy stated, the Bible may be perfectly reliable, but that doesn’t guarantee my interpretation is correct. I line up all the historical theories of our origin side by side: evolution, intelligent design, and various creation theories and generate a plus/minus for each one. I think all theories have significant defects and so I am left with saying we don’t know the details.

Anonymous makes a very important point using his analogy of explaining the CRA to a child. Explanations are always constrained by the language and understanding of the audience. For me one of the great attributes of the God of the Bible: He reaches out to us. He uses the language and understanding of his audience to speak to us. I think we need to keep that in mind as we read Genesis.

I appreciate Anonymous’ comment and I appreciate my chance to interact with these ideas.

A useful link on bias

Avoiding a House-of-Cards Kind of Faith

A personal reflection on what it means to “have faith”

David Hershey writes a blog that I like to follow. Some time ago he posted a blog in which he talked about a house-of-cards kind of faith. [Link] Below is a picture that this metaphor brings to mind.

Attribution:
By Merzperson at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2570936

The concept is quite simple: pull any card out of the house-of-cards and the whole structure will collapse.

A house-of-cards faith then is a long list of assertions one has to affirm as a Christ-Follower. If one becomes convinced that even one assertion is wrong, then all of the items in the list are wrong and confidence collapses like the house of cards in the image.

So How Does that Apply to Me?

I think there are two extremes underlying this discussion, both of which must be avoided. On the one hand is the view that no truths are important, but rather it is the sentiment or intention of faith that matters. A version of this would assert that even if everything I believe as a Christ-Follower is utterly false, but if I believe it, it calms my anxiety and improves my quality of life, then everything is okay. I believe this view is utterly false and it is always better to be on the side of truth even if the truth is unpleasant or even abhorrent. Truth is connected to reality.

The other extreme is the view that Christian Faith means believing the many, many things about Jesus, the Bible, theology, one’s denomination, and perhaps, even christian history. If even one of these elements of this affirmation list is proven wrong in the believer’s eyes, then the whole faith-edifice collapses.

I believe the reality of genuine Christian Faith is intermediate between these two extremes. There are critical, foundational assertions about Jesus (such as the fact of His resurrection, His incarnate nature, and His redeeming work), that if false, undermine our whole faith. These are the things that C. S. Lewis called “Mere Christianity.”

 

On top of these foundational truths, there is a whole superstructure of theology, that although important, is passionately debated by theologians and lay members of various denominations. Many disagree on these details and they cannot all be right. It is important to think through these assertions, but they do not carry the same weight as the foundational truths.

Some Final thoughts

So what are my personal take-aways from this discussion?

  1. In 2 Timothy 2:15, the Apostle Paul admonishes Timothy to be “a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (ESV). The answer is not less study and discussion of the Bible but more. But I have to do the hard work to get it right.
  2. Ultimately I have to have the attitude of a Truth-Seeker.
  3. I need to be humble and understand that I can be wrong about things and change my mind.
  4. Finally, learn to distinguish foundational truths, from the theological superstructure.

The Saddest Thing I Ever Read …

I belong to an Indie Publishing Group on Goodreads. One topic of discussion focuses on writers that are ready to quit. Of course some comments on this thread are encouragements to go on. Others reinforce the idea of “hanging up your quill.” I like to interact with some of the comments. I’m going to respectfully disagree with some of the points made by the author of the quote below, but I want to disagree with the ideas and assertions but not in any way pillory the person, so I propose to call her Cacia. Here is the quote:

Unless you have an independent income and treat writing as an amusement (you can afford) the outlook is very grim. And generally without appeal.

The average earnings for ‘published’ writers with book deals, but no big publicity behind their print books is $12,000 pa

Want to feel really depressed? Go to ebook tracker on kindle nation daily and set up to track so-called all time ‘best sellers’. It will take you months to build up the stats but you will be sickened by how FEW sales are made on Amazon of print and/or ebooks

In the last 10 years the world is awash with so much ebook trash the authors can’t even give away.

As for freebies – people who buy free books ONLY buy free books. With the amount available on any given day you’d need ten lifetimes to read them all

Shysters will tell you building a following on social media will sell books. Total BS. All you do is cater to time wasters INSTEAD of writing

You need a reputable agent with years of industry contacts to get to publishers. With a ‘product’ those publishers will make the real money on – selling the ‘rights’ to Hollywood.

Your agent and publisher need to be convinced you have a few more books where the first came from. And you are ‘presentable’ to the media and public for publicity stunts and promotion.
And won’t become suicidal with ‘writer’s block’.

Stick with your day job.

The saddest thing I ever read was some hopeful saying she had 400 copies of her book sitting in her garage.

Don’t let that be you

Cacia begins with the statement:

Unless you have an independent income and treat writing as an amusement (you can afford) the outlook is very grim. And generally without appeal.

I don’t think the situation is nearly so binary. It’s true that starting out is difficult. Indeed, building any independent small business is tough and success is not guaranteed. Certainly making a fortune in writing is not guaranteed and not even probable, but that is not the point. As a writer one has to have a story or message to get out. Like all small businesses, one has to build the business, and for a time, one has to augment one’s income with other activities as one publishes books. Perhaps the books will never sell in sufficient quantities, but you are following a dream and, perhaps like me, you are writing books you had wished to read, but no one had bothered to write them yet.

To me the key question I ask is not “Am I making lots of money?” but rather: whatever method I am using to publish my books, I ask: “Is my publishing method scale-able?” In other words, if I wrote a book so exciting, so deeply moving, so beautiful that readers just had to share it with their friends (it hasn’t happened to me yet), could the publisher supply 100,000 books if the demand were there? If the answer is ‘no,’ and I only have the hard copy books that I have purchased and can sell personally, then I humbly suggest you, as a writer, have some work to do, since I think you can do better.

Cacia then goes on to say:

In the last 10 years the world is awash with so much ebook trash the authors can’t even give away.

This I think is true, since e-books are easy to publish. However, trash has always been out there going back to the “penny dreadfuls” (not the television series but the small, serialized books that sold for one penny in the 1800’s). Readers have always had to discern where to spend there money. It may be worse now, but one can scan the titles so much more quickly too. Just make sure what you’re writing is well-edited and is of high quality.

Another quote from Cacia:

As for freebies – people who buy free books ONLY buy free books. With the amount available on any given day you’d need ten lifetimes to read them all

This is not true of me. I have downloaded freebies to check out an author I’m not sure about, but I then go on to buy their books if I like them.

My final quote from Cacia:

The saddest thing I ever read was some hopeful saying she had 400 copies of her book sitting in her garage.

There are many, many sad things in life. As far as writing goes, the saddest thing that I have encountered is an aspiring writer who has spent ten years perfecting a manuscript, spent another two years writing to publisher after publisher to get the manuscript accepted, only to face rejection after rejection. The aspiring author then gives up without ever getting the manuscript into the hands of the people who matter most – the reader. He will never count as a failed author. In the publishing world, he will not count at all because his book has never been published and never read. This, to me, is the fate that one ought to avoid. The woman with four hundred books is a published author.

A Personal Note

I’m grateful to Cacia for sharing her own experience. We are both authors and her comment has made me rethink the question that frequently pops up: Why do I keep writing? Why not stop?

I have written four fictional works. Three of the novels, the books in The Halcyon Cycle, are Science Fiction that reads like Fantasy. Why do I write? I don’t write for amusement. Nor do I expect to become rich because of my writing. I believe I write for two main reasons:

  1. I have been so blessed by reading the fictional works of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, George MacDonald, and Lucy Maud Montgomery (among many, many others). In writing their stories, they not only enthralled me, strengthened my faith, and imbued me with hope and a sense of beauty and wonder, but they left a great deal of themselves in their books. So much so, that I think I know them as friends even though I never met them in person. I want to give a bit of that back. I don’t write as well as they did, but I want to give something back.
  2. The second reason is more personal. No one in my family tree has ever written a book before (as far as I can tell). If some Kazmaier had written a book in ages past, I would get to know them in a personal way that goes far beyond even letters and correspondence that might be extant. I want my grandchildren to have that kind of a chance to know me through my books.

Disclaimer

I do not offer publishing, small business, or other financial advice. I offer my own history, observations, and comments up in the hope they will stimulate thinking and discussion.

Link to the comment thread on Goodreads.

If you’re thinking of giving one of my novels a try … follow this link.