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Language Clarity or Confusion? The Protestant Reformation

10 Oct
October 2017 has arrived and along with it another century’s culminating celebration of the birth of the Protestant Reformation.  Books, articles, conferences, and tours have focused on educating and further reforming our generation of believers who are 500 years closer to Jesus’ return.
My favorite British podcast, ‘Unbelievable’ hosted by Justin Brierley recently featured a polite conversation between a nominal Protestant-turned-believing Catholic and a religiously-raised Catholic who embraced historical and Biblical Protestantism.  Speaking with restraint, both sincerely believe their church’s doctrine and did indeed explain their beliefs with clarity.
My curiosity mounted as I waited to learn what compelled the current Catholic to hold to what appears to me as false teaching.  At first, he ticked off what my reformed denomination holds is true:
  • We are saved by grace alone, through Christ alone
  • Jesus alone saves; our works don’t earn us salvation
  • Salvation is a gift of God, even the faith to believe God is a gift
So far…..so good. But then came the ‘hic’, the point of diversion:
  •     We must ‘cooperate’ with God’s grace.
Voilà!  Here is one place where historic, Biblical Protestantism parts company with Rome and her teachings.  What in the heck does ‘cooperate’ mean and how is that a gift or good news?
I imagine a spectrum, a continuing line of required effort.  On one end the energy to be expended is minimal:  “Don’t hinder,  interfere with or try to block God’s work”
Moving along the COOPERATION line I picture the next bit of advice: “Actively work with God!”
Passing that polite but not yet desperate midpoint, the pleas for greater exertion and more good works grow insistent: “If you don’t join in, God won’t be able to succeed in placing you in His eternal presence!”
Really?  Does the Catholic Church actually think we dependent, derivative, created beings have the power to thwart Almighty God’s purpose?
Cooperating with God’s grace sounds nice, non-threatening and civilized.  But as a concept that Catholic leaders use to teach and encourage their followers, it misleads millions about God.
Words matter.  Especially about eternal issues.  Either God saves us and our forever destination depends solely on Him as the Bible teaches OR we have a key role to play in the outcome. This is how the issue must be framed.  By the way, this hypothetical proposition is called a Disjunctive Proposition.  In the way I believe this argument must be framed, either the first disjunct is true or the 2nd one.  They both cannot be true.
Whatever degree of human effort the Catholic Church teaches is necessary for salvation, this idea that one must ‘cooperate with God’s grace’ continues to mislead generations toward eternal separation from God.  Words can be cruel albeit comforting in their confusion.  And the Bible teaches that God will judge teachers harshly who have twisted His word.
Since words matter and can have eternal consequences, let us as logic lovers be careful in how we use God’s gift of language.

What does ‘progressive’ mean?

20 Aug

I heard a news story that Cal State Sacramento decided to drop their Intermediate Algebra requirement for non-math/science majors.  Having to add remedial Intermediate Algebra to one’s course load has hurt the institute’s graduation statistics. Apparently, the number of undergraduates completing degree requirements in the normal 4 years is at an all-time low of 21%.

When asked in an interview about the change in required courses, one of the school’s administrators apparently explained:

“It’s a little radical. It’s a change. It’s progressive, but we think that it’s really needed.”

Progressive – that’s a term one hears bandied about.  I happen to teach in a school that prides itself in its adherence to ‘progressive education’.  When pushed to explain what that means, the usual answer is to juxtapose our ways of learning as different from ‘traditional’ schools, those who focus on delivering content via textbooks or lecture to mostly passive students.

As any logical Joe or Jane knows by now, step one of any discussion is to define one’s terms. So let’s start with this current adjective, ‘progressive’.

The top hit on Google defined progressive this way:

  1. Happening or developing gradually or in stages; proceeding step by step.  “A progressive decline in popularity”
  2. (of a group, person, or idea) Favoring or implementing social reform or new, liberal ideas.  “A relatively progressive governor”

Next, I scrolled down a bit further and landed on Merriam-Webster’s site: 

Possibility c seems to fit with the Cal State guy’s reflection:

a :  of, relating to, or characterized by progress  b :  making use of or interested in new ideas, findings, or opportunities  c :  of, relating to, or constituting an educational theory marked by emphasis on the individual child, informality of classroom procedure, and encouragement of self-expression.

If we look at description a – having to do with progress, the first question that springs to mind is:  What are we progressing TOWARD?  What is the goal?  Does anyone even know?  Simply moving in a direction away from the way things have been done in the past does NOT imply a wise or good choice.  Deliberate thinking to evaluate what truly is in the best interests of the constituents is what counts.

This emphasis on constant movement and change brings up a very real danger that often leads to error.  That pitfall is called the Chronological Snobbery fallacy.  This sloppy thinking occurs when people automatically privilege something new JUST because of its newness. The counterpart can be equally faulty – valuing something JUST because it is old!    “The latest model!”  “A classic!”  Newness or oldness hold no value in and of themselves.  We must examine the benefits of an object, service, practice or idea to determine if it is praiseworthy.

Anyone with a legitimately good product or idea will not fear standing up to that kind of scrutiny.  Let’s not just reject or embrace something because it’s ‘progress’.

 

 

Logic in the Music Industry World

9 Aug

A man I know teaches home music recording.  He writes blog posts, records, and mixes songs, markets tutorials, and mentors small groups of musicians who write their own music.  His fellow musical artists tend to be a content group.  Nothing too controversial occupies their common blogosphere beyond personal preference for certain equipment.

A while back, as he tells me, he published his views on pirating music software.  He presented a case along with supporting reasons: that downloading a tool called a plugin without paying the technicians who labor months to create, test and perfect such devices amounted to theft.

Chill musicians suddenly revealed previously concealed claws and let fly demeaning epithets and ugly expletive-laced insults.

Among the kinder and gentler name-calling, also known in the Logic World as the Ad Hominem Fallacy were these frequent accusations: You’re just…..

  • judgmental
  • narrow
  • high and mighty
  • too black and white

….topped off with various riffs on this line:

  • It must be nice to be rich and able to afford these products!

Why do people default to mudslinging?  It’s easy and doesn’t require thinking.  Often a responder will use character defamation in lieu of offering a reasoned argument.  I’ve noticed that more often than not these folks don’t even HAVE a compelling argument!

Well, what about our ‘high and mighty’ blogger with a conscience – how did he reply? Silence.  He simply ignored the hurtful slander.

A different group of fellow musicians apparently felt more comfortable challenging my friend’s definition of THEFT.  This approach is more commendable because the fault finder is at least attempting to THINK!  Here’s the best of those who offered a counter argument:

If someone doesn’t have the money in the first place to buy this music-creation software, then whether he ‘pirates’ it or not, it amounts to the same thing for the software company.  If he had had the money, he would have purchased it. But he doesn’t.

This responder seems to be saying in essence – ‘it’s not theft if you’re poor and you download something without paying.  It would only be theft if you HAD the money and then didn’t purchase it.’

How should a Logical Joe challenge someone who advocates changing the definition of the critical term?  A handy tool is to use the ‘Reduce it to the ridiculous’ response:

So you’re saying that if I don’t have the money to rent or buy a house, and your vacation cottage happens to be vacant, then I should be able to stay in it without paying you or without you even knowing that I am ‘squatting’?   For since it wasn’t being rented out anyway, you haven’t lost any money.  You suffer no real harm!

I know that the above is not quite an exact replica of the original argument, but you get the idea.

One other ‘it’s not theft’ justification focused on the ‘high cost‘ of the product.  According to this line of reasoning:

If the software company sold their product at a more reasonable price, then people wouldn’t bypass paying for it.

This line of reasoning shouts: ‘Arrogance and Ignorance!  For how do YOU know how much money, time, frustration and skill a software team poured into the development and marketing of their software?   At the very least it is based on speculative presuppositions pulled out of thin air!

So what is a quick Logical Jane response?  When in doubt, ask a question:

  •  And just how do you know that? (that people wouldn’t steal the software plugin if the price were lower)

By the way, did you notice how our last reasoner redefined ‘theft’ as bypass paying for it?  That’s a clever tactic that you shouldn’t let slide.

That ploy raises an important point.  If two people on opposite sides of an issue cannot or will not agree on a mutual definition of a key term, then any discussion that follows is a waste of time and energy.

Rule # 1 in Logic: A clear and mutually accepted definition of a key term is the starting point for any productive exchange of ideas.

So how did my home recording entrepreneur friend deal with this surprise dust storm of contrary views?  Besides ignoring the name calling, he did engage in measured back and forth online conversation with one man who ‘attempted’ to offer a charitable and somewhat reasoned argument on behalf of ‘bypassing remunerating’ the software engineers. But when they couldn’t agree on just exactly what constitutes ‘theft’, they had to agree to disagree.  A very reasonable way to leave such an exchange.

 

 

God uses logic and evidence

28 Jul

The handwritten note peaked out between flyers and magazines as if to say, ‘Don’t miss me!’  I scanned the return address, quickly recalling a former student from Virginia.

Along with the graduation announcement and senior photo, he wrote an account of the four years just completed at this classical Christian school in Virginia.  I rejoiced to read his description of the long-term effect our 8th-grade logic and reasoning curriculum had exerted on his life. Encouraged and guided in HOW to question and to think logically had sparked the fuse that propelled him out of complacency in his studies.  Apparently, after I departed, hunger to grow intellectually had gripped him, for he had gained vision and a purpose for learning.  That kind of feedback would energize anyone!

I do give thanks that a middle school logic class birthed this young man’s interest in knowledge and ideas. Certainly, students need to know how to reason well and express themselves clearly in order to advance in academics.  But clear thinking is vital to all of us, even Christians.

Why do I say Christians must know how to express themselves clearly and evaluate arguments accurately?  Contemporary society bombards believers with the false and disreputable view that faith and science or faith and reason are antithetical.  Not true! But we people of the Book must be taught how to gently push back with the truth.  And that takes information and practice, in essence: ‘skill’.

Humans are not born knowing how to reason well. But just like my former 8th-grade student, we all can be taught and equipped with some basic tools and ways of evaluating both written and spoken thoughts.

Why is it important for Christians to use logic? Just today, in Isaiah 41, I read verse after verse where God exhorted His people to argue or reason on behalf of the efficacy of idols. Consider these 3 verses, 21-23 (NLT):

Present the case for your idols,”
    says the Lord.
“Let them show what they can do,”
    says the King of Israel.
22 “Let them try to tell us what happened long ago
    so that we may consider the evidence.
Or let them tell us what the future holds,
    so we can know what’s going to happen.
23 Yes, tell us what will occur in the days ahead.
    Then we will know you are gods.
In fact, do anything—good or bad!
    Do something that will amaze and frighten us.” 

God doesn’t want His people to fall back on ‘blind faith’.  He wants us to believe Him, count on Him, trust Him and thus obey Him having gained true knowledge. Like scientists who collect, observe, and study evidence we also must reason to likely conclusions. Listen to how He chides Jacob in Isaiah 40:26-28, encouraging the people to consider the evidence He provides:

Look up into the heavens.
    Who created all the stars?
He brings them out like an army, one after another,
    calling each by its name.
Because of his great power and incomparable strength,
    not a single one is missing.
27 O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
    O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
28 Have you never heard?
    Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of all the earth.

‘Use the eyes, ears, and mind I’ve given you!‘ God seems to argue. From God’s perspective and His true knowledge, only willful obstinacy and sinful desires can explain Jacob’s irrational behavior, since they had been given ample visual and historical proof.

My former logic student probably doesn’t know how learning (and subsequently teaching) logic also changed my life. I had never been taught to think or to reason. No course in grade school or college had guided me in how to begin to evaluate others’ assertions, let alone construct my own reason-based logical argument.  Those six years at that classical Christian school altered my life for good!  I grew into a better reader, listener, thinker, and writer.

Reading this young man’s sweet note re-ignited MY passion for advocating for thinking. As the bumper sticker trumpets:

Critical Thinking - national deficit

 

A Sabbath Summer

14 Jun

The good is the enemy of the best,” as the adage goes.  Some attribute it to Voltaire or Ben Franklin or even Shakespeare.

Seeking the best for me, I am taking a summer break from writing and reading on line.

I have NOT abandoned reading or thinking or journaling.  I’m choosing to give myself a gift. A most excellent gift.  A Sabbath rest or fast.

Risky, it feels, and sudden. But then again, maybe it is not so abrupt.  I turn 60 soon. For this entire past school year (I teach and my life is marked and bounded by a school calendar) I have pondered and traveled along deep and sometimes melancholy paths. Bouncing between two worlds:  the one beautiful, sad and fallen that I share with all of humanity, the other true, eternal and rich with promise that I enjoy with Christian brothers and sisters as a privileged child of God.

So I am going to read BOOKS and JOURNALS whose paper I can FEEL.  And walk, savoring this world that our good Father has created, tasting that the Lord is good.  And investing time talking with and listening to flesh and blood people.  I will cease rushing from God’s crowning creation to that slave master – my computer screen or iPhone.

Would you call that an addiction, to feel driven to get to the bottom of what feels like a perpetual To Do list?  Some of you know what I’m talking about – those self-curated email feeds, written by people to whom we are connected.  They and new posts on Facebook clamor to be read.  What if there is something I’ve never thought of before?  Or some news that changes my life?

And then there is that weekly goal I have assigned myself, to write posts for 2 different blogs, this one and Reflections on God’s Word .  Out of pride?  Probably. I know from Jeremiah 17:9 that my heart deceives me, daily.

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

So this summer, I will journal, but for ME, not because I want to remember a nugget or way of thinking that YOU might appreciate.

However, fellow logical friend, please don’t stop thinking and reading and giving thanks to God.  May we be like the Bereans:

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Acts 17:11

May God bless you this summer as you ponder whatever is True, Noble, Right, Pure, Lovely, Admirable, Excellent and Praiseworthy. Phil 4:8

Maria

 

Self-exhortations to think and feel correctly

7 Jun

I continue to be absorbed by the Triune God’s commands to trust Him.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding! Proverbs 3:5a

Why do we hesitate to actually do just that?  It certainly isn’t due to a paucity of evidence in Scripture.  David repeatedly recommends confident reliance on Yahweh as the way to experience joy.

Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord!  Psalm 40:4a

Looking inward I can only speculate that our reluctance is due to that universal insatiable hunger to control our lives!

Jesus’ counsel to His disciples in the upper room was:

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.  John 14:1

I re-read that verse this morning and then thought through to some ‘crunchy’ encouragement:

  • If Jesus tells me to do something, then as a Spirit-indwelt Christian, I CAN and MUST set myself to obey Him.
  • I am indeed a gal in union with Jesus, host to His Spirit
  • Therefore, not only am I capable of trusting God, I am obligated to.

I looked up ‘don’t let your heart be troubled’ in the Greek to see the original text.  ‘Troubled’ is rendered like this:  don’t suggest doubts to yourself.

What an apt description of how I feel when I am anxious and troubled.   I busy myself, imagining fears and ‘what-ifs,’ all the while discounting GOD!!

Here’s an example:  the other day I was called into my principal’s office.  My mind raced to think of a possible reason.  I’ve had ‘problems’ in the past when my ‘outspoken proselytizing’ was criticized and I was placed under scrutiny for a while.  I catalogued and scrolled through recent days seeking to locate any ‘event’.  I finally settled myself down by reminding myself that I have the Lord constantly with me, no matter what the trouble.  And I chose to trust Him.

That was relatively easy.  What is tougher to halt has been wrestling or ‘agitating my mind’ over something I said that I now regret.  As I thought about that episode, I spun out a ‘worst-case’ scenario in vivid color.  Enough to put a damper on my mood.  The ONLY way I could handle it was to confess the sin of betraying a confidence and to remind myself that God IS sovereign, even over my sin and mistakes.  Though I couldn’t undo what I had revealed, God could handle the outcome. Yes, there might be consequences that would be painful, but He would still be with me.  I confessed to God again and then sought relief in 1 John 1:9 and God’s promise to forgive confessed sin.

Three more times, I replayed the ‘regrettable’ incident and wondered what would happen.  True heart-troubling behavior. But Jesus’ word to His brothers is: DON’T!!!

Instead, trust God.  And remember that for those who belong to Jesus, there is NOW no condemnation.

I had confessed my sin and Jesus had already paid for it on the cross.  Settled.  This is how I talked about to Satan who seemed to fling the event back into my face.

This is the logic battle we fight.  And let me assure you, logic is not cold and analytical and disconnected from feelings.  I’m a thinker, but I’m also a feeler and I see the power in logically, REASONably applying God’s Word to my heart so I hold on to Truth and tame those emotions.

Brothers and sisters, logical Joes and Janes, we MUST harness our minds.  And if God says we can, then empowered by Jesus’ Spirit, we can and must. But it’s a daily, hourly battle.

The abortion issue and missing compassion

31 May

We now read the New York Times Sunday paper.  It takes us 3 weeks to make our way through the articles and features.  I disagree with a some of what I read, but the writing is often excellent. I learn a lot and THINK hard.  Others’ contrary views certainly exercise my patience but sometimes they prove painful to tolerate kindly.

A self-proclaimed ‘abortion doula’ writes about the need to offer compassion for women who only want to make their own decisions, without judgment.

The author makes several remarkable assertions without reasons or statistics.  I do understand that her word budget probably limited her to around 700 words. But the danger in bald-faced statements is that the average UN-thinking Joe or Jane might swallow them down whole.

The most glaring paragraph offers these ‘facts’.

  • “When we are denied abortions, we are 3 times as likely to end up below the federal poverty line, compared to those who are able to get the abortions they want.”

I checked this ‘fact’ and found one study from which Sherman most likely drew.  The women supposedly denied abortions in this study numbered 182.  My first question focused on whether 182 is a significantly large enough sample size from which to draw valid conclusions.  Furthermore, I’m unclear whether the women in the study already lived below the poverty line before they became pregnant.  Doesn’t it make sense that after the birth of a baby, one’s ability/availability to hold down a job decreases?

  • “About 2/3 of people who have abortions are parents who want to give the children they already have the best life.”

How does she know what they intend for their other kids?  How does adding another child to the family automatically imply a degraded life for the older children? How is the one (assumed desire) related to the current condition (carrying another child)?

Finally the most dubious cited statistic:

  • “95% of women surveyed don’t regret their decisions, and it doesn’t affect our mental health.”

That statistic, I found, comes from one study of a carefully circumscribed group of women.  Here’s an analysis.  We should recognize how easy it is to find any study you want on the internet to back up your viewpoint.

So given the questionable reliability of ‘facts’ and studies out there in cyber space just what questions should a Logical Joe or Jane pose? Classic questions that fit the essay in question are:

  1. How do you know that?
  2. What is your evidence?

Questions provide you TIME to think and clearer understanding of your interlocutor’s point of view.  I find that people are more willing to engage when I ask questions.  My challenge is to REMEMBER to avoid direct statements and use the softer approach.

Finishing up what I saw in this essay, let me share its staggering conclusion:

The crux of the issue is not whether you would have an abortion yourself.  It’s whether you would stand in the way of someone else’s decision.”

Worded like this, readers are led to a conclusion that actually deflects them away from the essential issue of the life of the unborn to the arena of personal liberty.  And what about compassion, that ‘unconditional kindness’ the abortion doula says every woman who finds herself pregnant deserves?   Doesn’t the baby deserve compassion?  Where’s the kindness shown him or her?

Do you see the deeper moral question that has broad ramifications?

  • What do we do when ‘rights’ are in conflict with one another?  How do we decide between competing moral values?

Our Declaration of Independence promotes the protection of  ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’  How do we prioritize competing rights of life and liberty? What if someone’s right to life contradicts someone’s right to liberty?  Who gets to decide? What considerations inform the decision process?

Life is complex.  Certainly most issues are too layered to present anything coherent or rational in a tweet or even one 700-word opinion piece in the New York Times.  We need MORE thinkers.  And thinkers need to keep practicing their skills.

That’s why I read the New York Times Sunday paper!