Sunday, September 29, 2013

Perspectives on North Dakota

 The odd thing is, North Dakota is not that photogenic, by and large.  (Sorry, natives, I call 'em as I see 'em.)  The state is flat, almost treeless, and weak on oceans, glaciers, deserts, buttes, taiga forests, alpine valleys, jungles, wildlife, big cities, ports, ancient ruins, or much else that places an exclamation mark on a landscape.  Yet I found so much of interest in the state, that I'm going to split this in two, and offer perspectives from Teddy Roosevelt National Park in a later post. 

I began the day at a camp ground just off of dilapidated downtown Crookstown, Minnesota, with the old Catholic church looming over us, along with trees.  "Crooks' town?"  Refreshingly honest, these pioneers seem to have been -- Bad River was another of several geographical markers I noticed in the area.  Talked a bit with an eccentric Vietnam vet with a broken down mountain bike and a tent, slept in my car, and hit the road early, eager to get my first view of a state where I think some of my ancestors once lived, before they got cold and came to Seattle. 

Highway Two across the northern tier of the state turned out to be under construction, more or less all at once, four hundred miles of bad pavement, big trucks, and cones.  The big trucks had apparently come with the oil derricks, which started showing up about half way across.  This is the famous (or should be famous) Bakken formation, which has already vaulted North Dakota to second-leading oil state in the nation, a little less than a million barrels per day in July.  (Logistics may keep the number from climbing much higher, for a while.)  The shales and dolomites two miles beneath the wheat fields of North Dakota oil and natural gas are transforming the American economy and challenging the geopolitical status quo as despots with oil lose their leverage over the world economy.

But it struck me how harmoniously these wells fit into the landscape.  Every so often there would be a reddish dirt road leading off the highway, a little plot for parking trucks and six or so vertical reservoirs, like midget grain silos, and the drill, along perhaps with a basin for burning off natural gas.  (You could occasionally see a flare of flame across the wheat fields, or across sunflower fields in one case.)  But the fields all seem intact: the farmers evidently aren't going to let a flood of money from beneath the ground, stop them from growing crops in the Above World. 

Which made North Dakota rather picturesque, after all.  (Though Williston and parts south were overrun with trucks with license plates from around the country.) 

And then I came to the sun flower fields.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Did Michael Behe Admit that Astrology is Science?

The vast ranks of those who despise Intelligent Design are made up of frustrated Perry Mason fans, I think, pining for real-life court-room drama.  Thus the popularity of pseudo-historical dramas like Inherit the Wind, and numerous references to the 2005 Dover Trial and the heroic Judge Jones, who ruled that Intelligent Design is not science, thus single-handedly saving the tattered remains of American democracy from conquest by IDiot zombies growling, squinting scared faces, and scaling the sacred fences of public education.  Since folks who tell such horror stories are seldom historians, the tales grow into urban legends quickly (radical New Testament scholars appear to be right in supposing this can happen almost overnight), and live on in mutated form as enduringly as the dawn redwood.

One such legend is that in order to classify Intelligent Design as a scientific theory, in his testimony in the quasi-mythical Dover courtroom, Michael Behe admitted that astrology is science, too.  And since astrology is manifest nonsense, not real science, obviously ID must be nonsense, too, worthy of all scoffing.  Here's one succinct form in which I recently encountered this urban myth:

"The problem is that Intelligent Design is not science. Even Michael Behe admitted in the Kitzmiller trial that for ID to be considered science, then astrology would have to be considered science." 

"Yes!  I admit it!   ID
is witchcraft!" 
Is that really what Michael Behe admitted?  Did Perry Mason -- or was it Tom Cruise -- some suited hero or other, really break the witness on the stand till he yelled "You're damned right ID is witchcraft!", revealing "creationism" for the pernicious silliness that it is? 

Let's read the transcript, obtained from Talk Origins, and see what really happened, and what Behe really admitted. 

I'll highlight phrases that prove key, and provide occasional commentary.   

Monday, September 23, 2013

Was Hitler a Christian? JP Holding answers questions.

Was Adolf Hitler a Christian?  The Internet apologist, JP Holding, recently wrote an e-book answering this important and oft-raised question, Hitler's Christianity.  He kindly sent me a copy.  Somewhat to my surprise (JP is not known for gentleness in on-line discussions, nor does this subject naturally lend itself to moderation), I found the book reasonable, fair, and informative.  Holding rebuts the notions that the Nazis were all occultists or atheists, for instance, and admits that Hitler may indeed have thought of himself, in some perverse and convoluted way, as a "Christian." 

But what does that mean?  Did he read his Bible, or tear it to pieces looking for affirmation?  Did he pray to God?  How did orthodox Christianity fare in Nazi Germany?  What did Hitler think of Jesus -- the man who told his followers to "turn the other cheek?" 

JP explained his argument, and answered a bunch of questions that came to mind, even after reading the book, by e-mail. 

Why are you asking whether Adolf Hitler was a Christian?  I've been to lots of churches, and have yet to hear a preacher tell me to put people in concentration camps.  Nor do I find Jesus telling us to invade Poland and the Low Countries.    
I looked into this initially because there's a recurring claim by certain Skeptics that Hitler was a Christian. From what I can gather the goal of this is to somehow suggest that Christianity was responsible for Hitler's actions. I'm thinking here of websites like "" as well as YouTube personalities like Matt Dillahunty, for example. Once I had an initial look, I realized this was a rather fascinating topic that very few people knew a lot about, so I decided to do some more serious research on it. Hitler's Christianity is the result.

The main reason is, quite simply, that he self-identified as a Christian, and referred to God and Jesus in his writings and speeches, and also quoted the Bible. It's not an exaggeration to say that Hitler's theological language is the primary reason he is identified as a Christian. Other than that, there are a few peripheral arguments, like that the German army wore belt buckles that read, "God with us." But those are less important on the scale.
Adolf Hitler was one of the great liars of modern times.  Why should we accept his testimony about what he believed, any more than we should kiss a snake on the lips?  Can anyone claim to know what the man really thought about God and Christ?   

When you deal with a liar, you have to ask about things like motive: Did the lie benefit them in any way? In the case of Hitler, there's not much reason for him to lie about having the beliefs associated with Positive Christianity. It was in accord with what he wanted to believe and do on other accounts (e.g., anti-Semitism); it didn't make things any easier on him (in fact, it just made it harder for him to get acceptance by the churches in Germany, especially the Catholic Church), and he never showed any signs of hypocrisy in terms of his Positive Christian beliefs. I'd say it'd be the burden of the doubter to explain why Hitler lied about his beliefs in this instance.

What do you mean by "Christian?"  Can't people define words in a variety of legitimate ways?  
When I refer to a "Christian" I mean, generally, someone who has formed a covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Now that's a short way of putting it, but one of the issues I discuss in the e-book is how even a simple explanation like that one can become a minefield, precisely because of how people define words. For instance, in that sentence, if a person defines "Jesus Christ" as, "an alien from Mars who came down to Earth to fool a bunch of primitive people by pretending to rise from the dead," then it becomes problematic, to say the least, to call them a "Christian." The problem with calling Hitler a Christian is that Skeptics who argue this want as broad a definition of the word "Christian" as possible, and wish to include under that umbrella even someone like Hitler who had highly deviant beliefs about God, Jesus, and the Bible. But as I also explain, the same kind of stretching of terms could also arguably define someone like Osama bin Laden as a "loyal American patriot."
What are the best three reasons for denying this link? 
The best three reasons correspond with Hitler's three major deviant beliefs, which were at the heart of what was called "positive Christianity." The first was that the Bible ought to be severely edited. Positive Christians of the Nazi era rejected all of the Old Testament, and enormous chunks of the New Testament. The second was that Jesus was not a Jew, but an Aryan, a member of the Nazi "master race." The third deviant belief was an utter neglect of doctrine. The Positive Christians didn't have aberrant beliefs about things like the Trinity or the atonement -- they simply didn't care about them.
What would that leave -- a tenth of the Bible?  Didn't you say they actually printed their version?  Wouldn't that be rather conspicuous, having this thin tract in the pews in church?  It's hard to believe that really caught on. 
About a tenth would be a fair estimate. And yes, their scholarly "apologetics" Institute did indeed produce a Bible. It wasn't as big a seller as Mein Kampf, by any means, but it sold a few tens of thousands of copies,especially among the so-called "German Christians," who were the rank and file adherents to Positive Christianity.
What is your sense of how the historical scholarship on Hitler, what you have read of it, breaks on this issue?  
Strangely enough, even the best biographers of Hitler, like Kershaw, Toland, and Fest, don't spend a lot of time discussing Hitler's religious beliefs. What little they do say, does tend to affirm that his beliefs were deviant.  Each of them wrote hundreds of pages, and you could have fit what they said about Hitler's religious beliefs on maybe two pages. In terms of specialists on the subject of religion in Nazi Germany, though -- scholars like Bergen, and Stiegmann-Gall, and Heschel -- it's unanimous concerning the deviant nature of Positive Christianity.
I get the sense, at some points, that you feel some historians who deal with Hitler's religion are insufficiently sophisticated in the theological understanding they bring to the issue.  What perspective do you bring to that subject?   
I have some background in dealing with cults, particularly Mormonism. So I've had some experience in applying theological understanding to deviant systems. 
Let me question your use of "cult" and "deviate" here.  New belief systems appear because they "deviate" from earlier systems, whether by reforming those systems for the better, as Christ and Confucius, maybe even Buddha, I think did, or for the worse, as I would say Islam, Communism, Nazism, and yes Mormonism did.  But Joseph Smith was a petty con man compared to Hitler.  I criticize him because his religion was inferior to Christianity, not merely because it was an innovation -- it would probably have been a step up from Mesoamerican religions of human sacrifice.  So I'm a little leery of how you use the word "cult" in this book: it seems more pejorative than anthropologically precise.      
I'm sensitive to this point, having dealt with Mormons on how they regard the use of the word "cult," so to be sure on it, I did consult with some experts, including one of the leading countercult apologists in the nation. He agreed that Positive Christianity would have qualified as a cult. In fact one of the comments I made, which he liked, was that if Walter Martin had been around at the time, he would have given Positive Christianity its own chapter in Kingdom of the Cults!
In addition, contemporaries of  the movement like Karl Barth termed Positive Christianity a cult. Of course the term can be used pejoratively, but it is anthropologically accurate to apply the term to Positive Christianity.
To the best of your knowledge, did Hitler ever speak approvingly of central Christian doctrines like the Incarnation, propitiary sacrifice, or the physical Resurrection of Jesus?
To the best of my knowledge, he said nothing about any of those at all. I consulted several major biographies of Hitler, which included doing electronic searches for any terms used with reference to such doctrines. It just wasn't there, and if any critic can find any such comments, I'd like to know about them!
You say the Nazis wanted to get rid of the Old Testament, probably Paul (a little unclear on that), and some parts of the gospels.  Secular Humanists like the Jesus Seminar also prefer their favorite gospel stories over Paul, but for reasons Hitler would disapprove: they think Jesus was unusually kind to people on the margins, and "trampled indifferently on the social dividers that enforced segregation," as Jesus Seminar founder Robert Funk put it.  The Nazis were not known for trampling on social dividers or unusual kindness.  How could they read the gospels without either throwing them down in disgust, or repenting?  
The Positive Christians themselves were a little unclear on whether they wanted to get rid of Paul! Some did, some didn't. Theologically, the movement was highly chaotic and slapdash. But as far as reading the Gospels goes, there were times when they might resort to arguing that some Gospel verse here or there was interpolated by a Jewish scribe, or something like that. Since their theology was a slapdash affair, they didn't have any problem coming up with ad hoc explanations or reinterpretations. I might also add that they would show kindness within their own ranks, and to those of "approved" racial and social groups.

Nazism, as you point out, picks what it likes of Christianity and leaves the rest.  Isn't it true that everyone emphasizes certain parts of the Bible -- Romans for Martin Luther, the Beatitudes for Francis of Assisi?  
Emphasis can and does indeed differ, and do so legitimately, but there can be an enormous difference between emphasis on one hand, and deletion or modification on the other. The Positive Christians were much more radical in their bowdlerization of Christianity, beyond what could be properly called a differing emphasis.

 Speaking of Luther, what do you make of Hector Avalos' claim that the Holocaust accomplished what Luther advocated towards the Jews?  He writes:
"Luther's murderous seven-point plan, which is nearly identical to that of Nazism, proves beyond a doubt that Darwinism certainly was not 'necessary' to achieve a Nazi vision (see chart below). Nazism, indeed, was very much at home in a long tradition of Christian anti-Judaism."
I purposely did not deal with Luther and medieval anti-Semitism because I did consider doing so for the e-book, and quickly found that it was complex enough to deserve a much deeper treatment than I could give it at the time. I also didn't deal with any claimed connections between Nazism and Darwinism, for the same reason. So any comments I make on Luther would not have any authority.
Is it not likely that even if Hitler was not a Christian in "our sense," or the sense of any sane reader of the Bible, Nazism was historically influenced by an anti-Semitic streak that traces through the Reformation and Medieval Church to early Christianity, with plausible origins in panegyrics against "the Jews" in some of those passages you "explain away?" 
There's absolutely no doubt that there was influence of this sort from the medieval era. I didn't research this particular aspect in depth, but it is, however, worth pointing out that while the anti-Semitism of the medieval age was motivated on religious grounds, Nazi anti-Semitism was rooted in racial factors. That didn't stop them from using the religious aspects of anti-Semitism, of course, but for the Nazis, Jewishness as a race was what was central. This is shown by the fact that their prejudices were also extended to Jews who converted to Christianity.
In terms of origins in Biblical references to "the Jews," that would also require some depth research I didn't do for this project, but I think it's fair to say that we'd be able to trace a line of post-Biblical misinterpretations rather easily.  After all, deviant beliefs sprang up even in the first century while Paul was around, otherwise he wouldn't have had to write a single epistle!
Why do you suppose God would allow such ambiguous phrasing in his Word, if He knew what people would do with it?  
My answer to questions like that has always been that the phrasing isn't the least bit ambiguous -- people just need to handle the text more responsibly, and not use the Biblical texts to justify what it is they have decided they want to be true. By way of analogy, none of what I offered in Hitler's Christianity was hidden in some far off corner. Any Skeptic or other critic could have found the same resources I did.  As I see it, blaming God for "ambiguous phrasing" reflects a poor sense of responsibility on the part of a reader.
What would you say to a Jew who reads your book and says (apologies to the Jewish Dad in Independence Day), "So many sects of Christian -- racist Southern Baptist Christians, Orthodox Christians with their pogroms, Medieval Christians and their inquisition, and now your Positive Christians who gassed my people in the furnace.  What do I care if all these Christians are all heretics?  How come your Jesus can't find a few real Christians to follow him, already?  And you're some other kind of Christian, I suppose?"  
I've had answers like that, although from atheists rather than Jews, and what that tells me is that the person really isn't interested in the truth of the matter. Phrases like "what do I care" seem to me to be the same as saying, "All right, you've shown that I was wrong about Hitler being a Christian, but I want to remain angry about it, so now solve all these other issues for me, too." It's an example of what I like to call "hurling the elephant" and the assumption is that you can't provide answers to all these other issues (like pogroms and the Inquisition), and so they can remain dissatisfied.
Anders Breivik
One contemporary European who came to mind, while reading your book, was the Norwegian nationalist and mass-murderer, Anders Brevik.  Brevik also saw himself as a "Christian" in some cultural sense, believing himself to be fighting for Norwegian tradition against secular leftists and invading Islamists, though he was agnostic about God.  In fact, reading sociologist Phil Zuckerman, that sort of "cultural Christianity" seems quite common in Scandinavia today.  Is that how we should understand the furor with the mustache?  
From what I know of Brevik, that would be a fair analysis. I do point out that one can readily and justiably still call Hitler a Christian in terms of anthropological categories, which is much the same thing.
What does that mean, "anthropological categories?" 
I found that "Christian" was broadly used in two senses. One was a historical and theological sense, which concerned itself with how closely a given person adhered to the beliefs articulated by the first century movement founded by Jesus. The other sense was anthropological, in which any movement that recognized Jesus as a founding figure, even if deviating from the historical and theological beliefs of that first century movement, was deemed "Christian." The anthropological category would include movements otherwise deemed cultic or heretical, like the Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses. The category recognizes a sort of social evolution as its basis for creating a category, rather than theology or history.
What are the chances that American Christianity may be twisted in some such shape?  Any contemporary movements that concern you? 
We have a few fringe groups like Westboro Baptist that would be as severely twisted as Positive Christianity. Then we have a fair number of teachers like Joel Osteen, who, while not "twisted" as such, do neglect some of the more important aspects of discipleship. What concerns me most about American Christianity in general is what  Thomas Bergler has called the "juvenilization" of American Christianity. In a sense, American Christianity isn't "developed" enough to get as dangerous as Positive Christianity!
What do you mean by that?  It sounds like what made Positive Christianity dangerous was not well-developed theological reflection -- the thinking sounds ad hoc and half-hearted, frankly -- but the seductive pull of a particularly ill-tempered Zeitgeist. 
"Ad hoc" would indeed be a good way to put it, and is quite similar to the language used by some of the scholars like Bergen to describe Positive Christianity. The point of the movement was really to justify certain presuppositions inherent in German hypernationalism -- so it's not surprising that it was indifferent to establishing an objective doctrinal foundation.
How about on a personal level?  We "apologists," and I think we're in the same boat on this, spend a lot of time arguing against people whose arguments, and sometimes persons, do not always seem to appear in a favorable light.  Does "positive Christianity" flash any warning lights for us about "hating the sin and loving the sinner" or "speaking the truth in love?"

In the most general terms, perhaps. But more poignant for me was the fact that Positive Christianity even had its own "Institute" staffed by Nazi scholars, which engaged in what amounted to apologetics for Positive Christianity. For the apologist, that should be a warning that arguments alone won't typically lead people down the right path. I know a few who claim to have become Christians because of arguments, but we can see by this example that argument also led some people deeper into the Nazi's heretical variations.
What most surprised you, in researching for this book?  
The very fact that there was, in fact, a separate cultic deviation such as Positive Christianity. I knew Hitler's beliefs were deviant in some way, but I never realized to what extent, until I did this research.

Did it give you a headache, reading so much about a psychopath?  

Ha, not at all. Most of the biographers and scholars whose works I read handled their material in a careful and sensitive way. I suppose they may have ended up with headaches, though.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The True Buddha Sect

Lei Zang temple in September, 2013.

Here's a sketch I wrote years ago of a True Buddha temple in Redmond, Washington, under the direction of Stevan Harrell, a scholar of Chinese religions and, at the time, head of the Anthropology Department at the University of Washington.  The temple was significant because it was at the time home temple for the True Buddha sect -- the founder lived in a mansion just east of North Bend.  The sect, which purported to have some four million followers around the world, is interesting because it joins traditional Mahayana philosophy (the kind you get in East Asia), with Tibetan Buddhism, Chinese fengshui and assorted occult practices, with the charisma, artistic talent, tall tales, and the razzle-dazzle of Lu Shengyan, the talented religious entrepreneur who founded it.  While Lu is from Taiwan, this gives a snapshot of Chinese religion in general, and how Buddhism continues to evolve among Chinese outside of China, to a less extent within China.  (Update: thousands of page views, so far, but no comments.  Who is reading this?  Comments in Chinese are welcome.)

I  include a portion of my original paper here. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013


John and I.  This was my first visit
to these lakes since I was his age,
or before. 

One of the most beautiful series of lakes on Earth, I would guess, is the Enchantments in the center of Washington State.  Rugged and wild granite peaks rise at strange angles as snow fields melt into a series of ten or more blue-green lakes, with crystalline waters flowing between boulders and flower fields from one to the other.  These are ranges dominated by softwoods (I counted nine species), most of which are evergreen.  But these high, relatively dry elevations (the lakes are up to 7500 feet above sea level, with peaks rising higher around them) are also graced with a generous scattering of larch trees, which turn golden in the fall. 

Aasgard Pass is that "flat" spot to the left of the central
peak in this photograph.  I hummed "Ride of the
Valkyries," but none appeared to fly us over it.  At least
we weren't carrying heavy packs. 
But central should not be confused, in this case, with accessible.  Sane people know that three days should be reserved for a visit to the Enchantments: after a hundred mile drive from the Seattle area, a long, hard day up, or two days if you ascend through the backdoor (more on this shortly), then a day of having fun without a backpack on your shoulders, then back down.

So here's fodder for those who question my sanity, or good judgment.  Yesterday, John I hiked up to the "back door" at Aasgard Pass (named after the country where Valhalla is placed in Nordic mythology, full of jewels and gold), into the Upper Enchantments.  We swam in one of the highest of those lakes, and hiked back down again, walking the last mile in the dark.  (John is back to the University of Washington today, so that was his send-off.)

Colchuck from above.  The larch are just
beginning to change color -- though still beautiful. 
In distance, our hike was probably no more than 15 miles.   But we gained some 5,000 feet on the day, perhaps more.  Furthermore, past Colchuck Lake - the gorgeous glacier-fed lake in the first three photos here -- much of that path is (a) over large granite boulders that one must scramble, or small rocks some of which may break loose, (b) almost invisible, with rock cairns marking what path there is, if you can find them, (c) a bit dangerous (such as when we went the wrong way around a rock outcropping), and (d) wicked steep. 

Was it worth it? 

Do you have to ask? 

Two of the first of the Enchantments, descending slightly from Valhalla.  Clearly the land exists, and
really does possess jewels.  The lower lakes are punctuated by oddly-shaped granite peaks, and of course
have more vegetation. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

History Alive: pro-Muslim, anti-Christian propaganda in school.

Last year I began a series on how the American public education system brainwashes young people against Christianity.   (Click the "education" label below for earlier installments.)  Some readers may approve of such public school biases.  But we like honest history here.  We despise intellectual bullying of defenseless young tykes.  And yes, we also tend to prefer Christianity to Islam, even on general moral grounds. 

Today I would like to explore the various lies I found in a popular history textbook used in our school district in Washington State, where I have worked as a substitute teacher.  The book is also used in other states.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Perspective: Michigan Lakes

I knew that Minnesota was known for its lakes, and in theory that Michigan was defined by them.  But on this trip, anyway, Michigan won out. 

Camping three nights at a campground near Kalamazoo with several lakes, I enjoyed long swims in the cool and reasonably clean water -- nicer than the shower rooms, with their creepy crawlers.  After a week or so speaking at churches in Michigan and Ohio, I headed north from almost the very bottom of the state.  What amazed me was that one could drive 340 miles up a peninsula created by two lakes, without ever catching site of either.  Finally, coming over a rise, there was the bridge across the isthmus between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.  After a brief and not very pleasant swim to the right of the bridge -- I take that to have been Huron -- I headed north, then the big swing west on Highway Two. 

What charmed me about northern Michigan were the trees.  They were mostly old friends: cottonwood, birch, aspen, maple, cedar, fir, pine, some hemlock -- pressed together like weeds in fertile soil, stunted perhaps because of the winters.  "How beautiful this will look in a month!"  I kept telling myself.  Every so often the road would take me through an attractive little town with white houses and old churches.  And then in the morning, past lakes like this one, with mist rising and only wanting a loon and a dusting of fall colors to make the scene perfect. 

The best part of those first days of driving west, was the swim in Lake Michigan: an ocean of fresh water, cool to the touch and clear, with sand under my feet, and other bathers shouting in the waves off to my left.  I should have stayed longer. 

These woods are inhabited by refuges from Scandinavia: Finns, Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes -- along with moose, bear, and deer.  The fly in the ointment, for me, was the fact that the deer often carry ticks, which in turn carry lyme disease, which made me cautious walking through the woods. 

Monday, September 09, 2013

Does "Junk Science" make Americans smarter?

Two and a half years ago, I rebutted the notion that Americans are worse at science than people in other developed countries, in this post.  It wasn't as hard as you might think.  As it turned out, the very article that an anti-Christian Australian, John Grove, cited to prove that Americans were numbskulls because of their religion, actually demonstrated pretty much the opposite: that adult Americans do better on international science surveys, than people in any other country, except for Sweden.

In addition, I pointed out, also rebutting the author of the study, Jon Miller (Michigan State University, who also obviously despises Christianity too), that if anything, "fringe science" like Intelligent Design and "Global Warming Denialism" may actually increase awareness of science.  While Miller's study was clearly biased against Christians, loaded with questions designed to yield "correct" results, the evidence for this was nevertheless evident in his results. 

Today I was wading through old files, prepping for my debate with Phil Zuckerman next month, and came across Miller's study again.  I can't resist combing through his results once more.  There's nothing quite as satisfying as being shot not only without effect, but with rubber bullets that bounce off one's chest and take out the vehicle your would-be assassin is driving.  Opposing arguments that actually support one's own view are worth quoting for three reasons: (1) Credibility.  One can't accuse someone so hostile to Christian influence as Miller of doctoring results to favor OUR theory. (2) Laziness.  As a Taoist Christian, it seems so much more convenient when the other side brings the heavy weapons to the battle for us. (3) Irony, a sense of which adds spice to life. 

Friday, September 06, 2013

Perspective on Cahokia

My last post was a little dark -- "Die, Marshall!" -- so let's try something else. 

On second thought, this one may not be much cheerier.  We're looking towards an industrial suburb of St. Louis, from the Monk's Mound, the largest Indian structure in what is now the United States.  Monk's Mound was one of dozens of such clay and soil proto-pyramids, built in this case from about 900 AD to 1100 AD.  (How many years would it take you, if you had to build a hundred foot pyramid in hand-woven baskets?) 

One thing that intrigues me about the city and the civilization that grew up around these mounds, was how they resemble Mesoamerican civilizations far to the south.  Corn, beans, and squash seem to have been staples, as further south.  Also, of course, there is the practice of raising mounds.  For another, in Hill 72, the most civilized Indians within what is now the United States practiced human sacrifice, burying some 200 victims here, along with some who died naturally. 

I don't know of a pre-Columbian American culture that reached a high level of civilization in a likable manner, frankly.  (As did China and Japan, under the influence of Confucianism.)   The artistry and lifestyle of Northwest Indians seems more attractive to me, but in some ways they were less advanced, and they also sometimes practiced human sacrifice.  While the germ holocausts that followed the arrival of Europeans was horrific, I have to say, it is probably better for the state of world civilization that the conquerors didn't move east across the Atlantic, instead. 

Well, so much for trying to be cheerful.  I'll try again in a day or two -- best pictures are definitely still to come, at any rate.   

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Tristan Vick: "Marshall, Go Kill Yourself!"

A zombie author (well, an author about zombies) named Tristan Vick earlier this year apparently told me to "go kill myself."  In one way this makes perfect sense, since it is no doubt in his best commercial interest to have as many dead people out and about as possible.  This came as the punch-line in what he apparently regarded as an argument (more a ghost than a zombie in terms of its visibility to mortals), or else perhaps a joke. 

But silly me, I can't find much of either.  Just to make sure, I'll quote almost the whole thing, and let you tell me whether I should laugh or cry at where the minds of foolish young atheists have gone, since that Zombie Apocalypse known as the New Atheism first dawned:

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Aslan Gets Bulverized!

Many of the early negative reviews of Reza Aslan's runaway bestseller, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, were embarrassing to those of us who think the real problem with Aslan's portrait of Jesus is that he gets his facts wrong: