Category Archives: Bible and Theology

#88: Sheep and Goats

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #88, on the subject of Sheep and Goats.

Some years back I was again listening to a wonderful collection of Keith Green songs, but came to one I never much liked in which he plays the piano, cleverly retells Jesus’ parable of separating the sheep from the goats, and preaches a conclusion from it.  This time I asked myself why it bothered me, and it struck me that he had to be wrong:  what Keith was drawing from the story was not the gospel of Christ.  So I looked up the parable (it is in Matthew 25:31ff) and read it once again–and indeed, Keith had it wrong.  So, it occurred to me, did most of the people I had ever heard talk about it.

I talked about it in more than one venue, and got some interesting responses to what I taught, but it continued to nag me.  So I am now sharing it here, so more of you can read what the parable really says, instead of what so many seem to think it says.

img0088Flock

Let’s start with the way the parable is understood by too many people.  It appears that at the end of the world Jesus separates everyone into two groups.  He puts all the people who did good things over on his right, and all the people who did bad things to His left.  Then he says to the people on His right, “You people, because you did all these good things, I recognize that you are sheep.”  Those people say, “Thank you, Lord, yes, we worked hard to be sheep, and are pleased that you noticed.”  So the Lord says, “Come into the Kingdom, you’ve earned your reward.”

Then he turns to the other group on his left, and says, “Because you did all these bad things, I recognize that you are goats.”  They replied, “Yes, well, we liked doing bad things, made an effort to be bad, and don’t really care what you think of us.”  So He says to them, “Go away, you deserve your punishment.”

If you think that’s what the parable says, I hope I can disillusion you of this.  It says something that is almost the complete opposite of that in the most important ways.

First, we got the part right that it is the end of the world and Jesus is separating everyone into two groups–but He does so strictly on the basis of whether they are sheep or goats, not on anything they do.  That is, like any shepherd with at least a day of experience, He can tell the difference between a sheep and a goat by looking at it, and doesn’t have to observe what it is doing.  In the picture above you can clearly recognize the goat in the bottom left corner foreground as distinctly different from the other animals in the flock, most of which are obviously sheep.  So he looks at each animal and puts it in the right group, sheep to the right, goats to the left.

Now Jesus talks to the sheep.  What He says is, “You know, I’ve noticed something about you sheep:  you are always doing all these kind things for me.  It’s as if you can’t help yourself.  You see people in need, and you reach out and do something.”  The sheep, now, reply, “What are you talking about?  We don’t remember doing anything out of the ordinary.  We just did what we did, what sheep naturally do.”  He says, “Yes, but what you sheep naturally do for everyone makes you the kind of creatures I want to have in the Kingdom, so come.”

It’s time to talk to the goats, and you know what He says, but you might still have it wrong.  He begins, “I noticed something about you goats, too.”  What He noticed about the goats, though, is not “You are always doing bad things.”  No, not at all.  He says, “You never showed Me any kindness.”  It was the absence of those kind acts that Jesus noticed.  And notice the reply:  they say, “We never saw You in need of any kindness.”  The goats aren’t cruel; they’re oblivious to the needs of others.  Those needs never come onto their radar.  It does not occur to them to do anything for anyone else.  It is entirely natural for them to be completely self-absorbed.  Then Jesus says to them, “Your attitude toward others prevents you from being good members of this Kingdom, so I’m going to have to send you away.”

The important point to notice here about both the sheep and the goats is that neither of them is trying to do what they do.  The sheep are acting like sheep, and the goats are acting like goats, and both are doing so completely oblivious to the fact that they are doing something unusual.  Sheep show kindness to others because they are sheep and naturally see needs and try to meet them; goats do not show kindness because being goats they are oblivious to anything that is not about them.  Neither is really aware of what he is doing; he does it because it seems the natural thing to do.  You don’t try to become a sheep by doing something; if you are a sheep, you act like one.

I taught this in a small worship service at the Ubercon game convention some years ago, and one of the attendees I’ll call Avian shared a story from her own experience.  She had been invited to what was something of a house gathering, possibly a meeting or something like a service, by a Wiccan.  She accepted the invitation, and arrived to find the home filled with people she didn’t know, but a hostess who was obviously rather sick trying to make everyone comfortable as they interacted with each other.  Avian immediately saw that the hostess was exhausted, struggling against some kind of head cold or allergies or something, and said, “You don’t look well.  Come on, show me your kitchen, I’m going to make you a cup of tea.”  She took the hostess into the kitchen, and with a bit of coaching on where to find things soon served her a cup of hot tea and sat with her to see what else she could do.

The others at the meeting were flabbergasted.  They asked why she was doing this.  She was confused.  “What do you mean, why am I doing this?  Why aren’t you doing this?  It seems the thing anyone would do, that this woman is not feeling well and she needs someone to help her feel better.”  They didn’t get it.  It strikes me that they were all goats, completely oblivious either that their hostess had a need or that they might want to do something about it.  Avian was a sheep, someone who sees a need and looks for a way to help meet it, because that’s what she thinks people do, because she is a sheep and that’s what sheep do.

Obviously at this point I can’t tell you to act more like sheep.  That would be putting us back to where we were with Keith Green’s error.  You don’t become a sheep by acting like one.  Either you are a sheep or you are not.  But Paul tells us that if anyone is in Christ he is a new creature, old things passed away and new things come.  That is, God changes us from goats to sheep when we look to Him to save us; part of being saved is being turned from our selfish self-absorption to see the needs of others.  We are changed by the renewing of our minds, by the softening of our hearts, by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  He teaches us compassion, gives us compassion, causes us to become sheep, and then we act like sheep–and probably don’t even realize we’re doing it, because like Jesus being moved with compassion we try to help.  Whether we give money or time or effort, we do so to meet needs we perceive, to make the lives of others better.  So let your guard down, let God give you that concern for others, and allow yourself to take the risk of becoming a sheep.

It will seem the most natural thing in the world.

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#84: Man-Made Religion

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #84, on the subject of Man-Made Religion

A significant (at least to me) discussion was budding on a thread about something else on Facebook with Nikolaj Bourguignon and William Bing Ingram, and Facebook is already not a very good place for such deep discussions and the less so when they are buried in a thread about something else. So I am addressing it here, and if they’re interested perhaps we can discuss it on a new thread there or here.  (I know Nikolaj has a lot on his plate at the moment, so I’ll understand if he’s unavailable.  Everyone is welcome to join.  Initial comments here are moderated, so don’t expect that they’ll post immediately if you aren’t already an approved commenter on this web log, but I usually get to them pretty quickly.)

William suggested:

…one of the things about religion is that nobody ever discovers religion on their own; they always have to be told about it before they “suddenly” find religion.

This is unlike subjects such as math….

Religion is a completely man-made idea. I mean, consider early civilizations. They developed independent of each other and each one developed widely different religions. If there really was one true religion, each culture would have discovered the same one independently.

I take exception to that idea, and hope he will afford me the opportunity to explain why.

img0084Crucifix

It is certainly reasonable to reject religion for rational reasons.  It is entirely different to do so based on errors of fact, and that appears to be what we have here.

Certainly it is true that there are many religions all over the world, and they have often been at odds with each other concerning which is the truth.  However, it is important that we grasp those arguments.  When Missouri Synod Lutherans argue with Wisconsin Synod Lutherans, the points at issue are generally about what is appropriate in church services; they agree on much much more than that on which they disagree.  When Missouri Synod Lutherans argue with atheists about the existence of God, the Lutherans are much closer to the Baptists, the Catholics, even the Muslims, than any of these are to the atheists.  Theologians often talk about the case of the single iota of difference–from a church split that happened largely over whether the right word was homoousios (“same substance”, used in the Nicene Creed and adopted by the western Christian church) or homoiousios (“similar substance”, used by Eusebius of Caesarea and considered the better choice by the eastern Christian church).  After all, if I say that the paint color we chose was lavender and my wife says it was lilac, apart from the fact that I suspect she would be right it doesn’t really prove that we didn’t choose a paint color.  It only means that we disagree in the minutiae.

It will also certainly help if we recognize that nearly all religions can be divided into the ethical portion, the spiritual portion, and the ritual portion.  Certainly they are all different in all three portions–but it must be noted that they are not really so different as we might expect.

Looking first at the ethical portion, we find that there are universal principles underlying all religions from all over the world.  I recommend the appendix in C. S. Lewis’ wonderful book The Abolition of Man, in which he details many of these principles and demonstrates their presence in religions from every continent over many centuries.  We might suppose that the sanctity of life and the protection of property were obvious, but loyalty to family over strangers, obligation of hospitality to strangers, sanctity of marriage, protection of the weak and particularly of children, deference to elders, sacrifice of self, and quite a few other less obvious principles are well represented universally.  The specifics of how these are applied from one culture to another certainly varies, but the ethic itself seems to be universally understood, and discovered by peoples throughout the world.

The ritual aspect is certainly far more varied, but even here we have some haunting similarities.  Nearly all religions recognize some significance in sacrifice.  Nearly all include feasts but also fasts, self-deprivations of some sort and celebrations of some sort.  The rest is generally application of culture and human abilities–the inclusion of music, chanting, speech, body positions indicating deference, and many other aspects which develop.  Modern sociologists are intrigued by the concept of the creation of a “sacred space”, a collection of ritual which humans use to divide part of life from everything else, which is found universally and involves ritual.  It seems that we have all discovered the same thing, and applied it in different ways.

The spiritual portion is the most difficult, but to some degree it also has shared elements.  As noted, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Polytheists, Jews, and many, many others all agree that there is some kind of spirit world, a God or gods; we are all much closer to each other than any of us are to atheism, despite how very different we are from each other.  The atheist would claim that our diversity comes from the fact that we are all inventing ideas to explain realities that we did not understand, but fails to account for the similarities between those ideas.  Certainly in some theologies the gods are like super-people, and in others they are so far beyond our reality as to be unlike people at all.  Some see the afterlife as a lot of individual people continuing an earth-like existence, others see it as everyone losing his selfhood and becoming part of one selfless unity, and others–religious people who believe in a spirit world–see no afterlife at all.  Yet this is the area in which we have the least information, because any of us who might have gone and returned have failed to bring back anything all of us accept as proof.

Except that this is where the Judeo-Christian concept of revealed religion becomes involved.  Unlike so many others, the scriptures of the Jews and the Christians present themselves as historic documents recounting events in the lives of real people, who reportedly interacted with representatives of God.  All those efforts to figure out what the spirit world is like were doomed to failure without information from the spirit world, but Christianity claims that it was provided.  If so, then the Christian faith has an advantage:  first-hand information.

What is the more interesting about this, to me at least, is that what the Christian faith claims as revealed religion seems to be saying that everyone had it partly right.  God is not a monolithic being, but He is a single being with a complex existence best described as three people perpetually interacting with each other.  (There are spirits who are not God nor gods, but in some sense greater than humans, who interact with God and possibly on occasion with humans, and not all of them are friendly.)  The reality of the polytheists contains some truth but not all the truth.  The opposite reality, that God is vastly incomprehensible and beyond anything we would understand as a person also contains some truth but not all the truth.  The image of the afterlife as many individuals living together is affirmed, but so is the image of everyone joined in one entity (the body of Christ).  It tells us that so much that we guessed about the spirit world is true, but not exclusively true, and gives us an image that is barely comprehensible of a place that by definition ought to be completely outside our experience or understanding.

C. S. Lewis seems to have become a Christian (he was an atheist) in large part because he saw that the Christian message provided the critical piece of reality that united everything.  I see some of that sometimes, and I see it here:  if the Christian concept of the spirit world is correct, all the other attempts to understand it are partly correct, capturing some aspects and missing some.  It also suggests that none of these religions are “made up”; they are, in fact, all glimpses of a reality–something akin to the poem about the blind men and the elephant, written to express a similar idea, but when the poem says that the blind men are describing something they have never seen, it fails to recognize that they have experienced something, and so are accurately describing part of something.  That seems to be what is happening in the diversity of religions:  We have all (generally if not individually) experienced something and attempted to understand it.  The fact that we understand it differently does not mean we did not experience the same thing–any more than the fact that Aristotle’s physics is significantly different from that of Galileo and Newton, and Einstein’s different again, does not mean they all lived in different universes.  They simply did not notice the points that others did.

I have other reasons for preferring Christianity, but they are beyond the scope of the present discussion, which is really about whether the diversity of religions proves they are all “made up”.  I think that you can’t support that conclusion on the evidence.

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#83: Help! I’m a Lesbian Trapped in a Man’s Body!

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #83, on the subject of Help!  I’m a Lesbian Trapped in a Man’s Body!

The new view of sexual identity has me examining myself, and wondering if I have been misunderstood all these decades.  I have always perceived myself to be a boy (well, I grew up to be a man, I think), but perhaps that’s only because in those years everyone assumed that if you had male, er, parts, you were male.  We did not then understand that you could really be one gender inside and a different sex on the outside.  Now, apparently, we do, and that might really change things for me.  I might be a girl.  I have the attestation of most of my peers in my elementary school, who repeatedly asserted that I was a girl:  I ran like a girl, fought like a girl, threw, batted, kicked, did everything like a girl.  And I liked to sing–how girly, to like music class.  I might have had a boy’s body, but I didn’t use it like a boy; I was obviously a girl hiding in a boy’s body, pretending to be a boy.

Yet even then, I was always attracted to girls.  Starting in second grade I had a terrible crush on Christina Newcomb (I’ve always wondered what became of her).  By fourth grade I was spending a lot of time at her house down by the brook on Broad Street up near Lambert’s Mill Road.  She was particularly fond of The Beatles, and had a stack of Beatles cards between three and four inches thick.  There were other girls who caught my attention before that, and many more thereafter–moving away from Scotch Plains separated us, although our relationship had fizzled by then.  No other boys were attracted to girls–in fifth grade they used to dare me to wait for her outside the school and try to kiss her, which is what I wanted to do anyway so I usually took that dare and listened to their peals of disgust when I succeeded (although at least as often she ran away laughing).

So then the conclusion is inescapable:  if I am a girl, as all the boys thought, I must be a lesbian.

img0083Scouts

I think this understanding might have changed my youth significantly–maybe not then, when people always thought that someone in a boy’s body was a boy, and to be a girl you had to have a girl’s body.  But Society has recognized, now, that this is not always the case, and the Girl Scouts of America are doing their level best to keep up with progress:  you can be a Girl Scout if you are a girl on the inside, even if you, like me, are trapped in a boy’s body.  I can’t tell you how much different my teen years might have been had I actually been able to go camping with the Girl Scouts instead of the Boy Scouts.  Not that I don’t treasure the hundreds of miles of canoeing and hiking, the places I saw and things I learned in scouts, but really, every Boy Scout I knew wished we could go camping with the girls.  I certainly saw advantages to the idea.

So I think were I that age today I would simply explain it to them.  I’m not really a boy, I’m a girl in a boy’s body, but I’m attracted to girls, so that makes me a lesbian.  Trapped in a boy’s body.  I should be allowed to be a Girl Scout.  From what I understand of their present policies, I think they would agree and let me go camping with the girls.  I think we would have a wonderful time–and since I am, after all, a lesbian, I can’t promise that other things wouldn’t happen on those camping trips, since I would be bound to find all those girls attractive, and particularly whoever wound up as my tent-mate.  She might find that she, too, is a lesbian, attracted to another girl, at least when the girl in question is trapped in a boy’s body.  I know some girls are uncomfortable, being naked around a lesbian, but it might be different if the lesbian has the body of a boy.

I won’t say more about that, because I’m sure there are millions of Boy Scouts wishing they had already thought of this.

I expect that some of the parents would object; parents can be so old-fashioned, insisting that their children be protected from such situations.  They don’t understand that the world has changed, that what you are on the outside is meaningless, it’s the person on the inside that counts, even for such matters as which bathroom you should use, which Scouting organizations you can join, for what social services you qualify, and everything else, really.  If I say I am a lesbian inside a man’s body, how can anyone argue with that?  It could well be the real me.

And if it would have gotten me into those Girl Scout tents, I could have been very comfortable with that idea.

Shame on me?  Is that because you think I’m mocking a very serious matter, that someone could be one gender inside and a different sex outside, and ought to be treated as the kind of person he or she supposes him- or herself to be?  Or is it because you actually do think that girls and boys are different because of biological and physiological characteristics defined by their bodies, and society needs to make that distinction for the protection of its girls and its boys?

I think those peers of mine were wrong, that I was never a girl at all, as much as I was different from them.  This business about really being the other gender on the inside has nothing to do with biology or psychology; it has everything to do with gender stereotypes.  We think some man might be a woman inside because his interests go in directions more common to women–because we have created definitions of male and female “personality types” and then tried to fit people into them.  We persuade people that they are really not the gender of their body’s sex because their character does not fit our stereotypes, and they believe us.  Boys will be boys and girls will be girls, and we need to recognize that the first difference is biological.  Otherwise we lose some basic structures of human interaction, and face some serious social problems.  From there, we need to understand that a man does not have to conform to what we think are manly traits, nor a woman to womanly traits, and understand that bodies are sexually defined but people are individuals.

Without that, talk of sexuality devolves into this kind of nonsense.

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#79: Normal Promiscuity

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #79, on the subject of Normal Promiscuity.

A few weeks before his death, my father forwarded a link to an article which seemed to bother him.  It included interview excerpts from young women, and put forward the notion that now that the governmnent was providing full coverage for birth control they felt free to sleep with as many men as they liked, and were taking advantage of this new-felt freedom by doing so.  His comment to the link was a question as to whether this was really happening, and I was not at the time certain (and never did determine) whether he realized that the article was from one of the sites that rather poorly attempts to do what The Onion does so well:  create parody that looks like news.  They weren’t seriously suggesting that the availability of free contraception caused an abrupt upswing in the sexual activities of young women; they were rather facetiously suggesting the reverse, that those who thought this might happen were being foolish.

Yet the notion returned to my thoughts periodically.  There was something there that bothered me.

L0059976 Model of a contraceptive pill, Europe, c. 1970 Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org
L0059976 Model of a contraceptive pill, Europe, c. 1970
Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images
images@wellcome.ac.uk
http://wellcomeimages.org

Some years ago one of my then-teenaged sons was dating a girl in about as serious a relationship as teenagers have.  On his first visit to her home, her slightly older sister gave him a tour of the house which included what I gather was a laundry and utility room in a finished basement, identified by the sister as the room where you go when you want to have sex.

I was not present; I heard this second or third hand.  I suppose it might have been the sister’s idea of a joke:  “I know you want to have sex with my little sister, well, this is the place for it.”  Somehow I did not think so at the time.  I was a bit upset, but did not know whether it should concern me more if their divorced mother did not know that her teenaged daughters were so open about having sex with boyfriends in the house, or if she did.

That latter possibility reminded me of another woman I had known some years before, a friend of my wife, who had a daughter.  I never had a high opinion of her.  From what I gathered she was certainly no virgin when, in high school, she seduced the boy she hoped to marry and then reported that she was pregnant with his son (it was sometimes questioned whether it was his child), but having failed thereby to induce him to marry her she decided to live with him.  She was believed, even by him, to have had a series of affairs, but when their relationship was struggling she got pregant again and had the daughter (no one doubted that she was his) and finally got the marriage certificate.  (That might be an oversimplification and I might have the wedding in the wrong place; it’s been a couple decades by now.)  Again in what is second-hand knowledge I gather she had a talk with her daughter about having sex, when the girl was about twelve or thirteen.  The gist of it was, “I know you’re going to have sex, so I want to make sure you do so safely.”

It is this underlying presumption that bothers me, this belief that everyone is having sex.  What we once somewhat derisively called “promiscuity” is now regarded as normal.  It was previously regarded as abberant, and I think that in an historical context we might have good reason to consider our age abberant in this regard.  Of course, the majority in any era considers itself normal, its ancestors in error, and its future descendants extensions of its own values.  The third being demonstrably false on the evidence of the second, we should doubt the first.

I understand the logic of the situation.  It is asserted, correctly, that teenagers have always engaged in sex, hidden from their parents, and that single adults have similarly managed secret sexual liasons.  Too, there have always been extramarital affairs, infidelities, as husbands and wives have taken lovers, either those single persons who are looking for sexual partners or the spouses of others.  It has always been so; it is the norm.  The difference, we are told, is that today we admit it and in most cases no longer attempt to hide it.

The error in this logic is evident when you realize that the statement “teenagers have always engaged in sex” is then taken to mean “all teenagers have always engaged in sex.”  That was a misperception when I was a teenager.  I think–I do not know–that there were among my peers some who were having sex, perhaps sporadically, perhaps frequently or even regularly.  For any who were, I suspect that they thought everyone was doing it and they were thus no different; for those of us who were not, I think we thought that everyone else was doing it save for a few of us unfortunates who had been excluded.  In retrospect, the facts of the case then were that very few of my peers were engaged in sexual relationships or activities despite the fact that we were in high school on the tail end of the “sexual revolution”, had regular “sex ed” classes explaining how it worked, and knew something about how to obtain and use birth control.  I don’t know what percentage of us were virgins, but I gather it was considerably larger than even we thought, and that the majority of those who were not had very little actual experience.

I cannot say that my experience even then was typical in a country in which there are so many social and economic variables; I know it was not atypical.  I also know that the idea that “all teenagers are having sex” is not true now.  Nor is it true that all single adults are engaged in sexual activities, or that all married people are having or even have had sexual liasons with other partners.  The supposed facts are untrue.  Yes, there have always been some who have been what we called promiscuous.  It may depend on how you count, but it was certainly not a majority in the past.  It is not even certain whether it is a majority in the present.

However, because of the general attitude in the present, it is likely to be a majority in the future.

We once told our children that sex was a very natural part of being married.  Then somehow we decided that this was too prudish, and started telling them instead that sex was a very natural part of being in love, and that if they were in love they should not be embarrassed about sex.  There are good reasons for the old idea, that sex was part of being married, quite apart from the legal issues of responsibility and legitimacy.  We, as a society, forgot them, and promoted a lesser standard, that sex was fine between any two people who were truly in love.  Then that became too limited–as the Tina Turner song demanded, What’s Love Got To Do With It?  Sex became a recreational activity, something people did for fun, and any suggestion that it was other than that was considered prudish.

Barry McGuire spoke somewhere of his own youth.  His generation was raised by adults who had long lists of things one did not do, who were never taught why you did not do them.  Thus he and his peers were told you do not do these things, and when they asked why not no one had an answer beyond, “You just don’t.”  That being an entirely inadequate answer, he said, “we went out and did them all–and we discovered that you don’t do them because they end in death.”  That has literally been the outcome for many who have lost control of their “recreational” drug use or their “social” alcohol consumption, and of many infected by the human immunodeficiency virus or other sexually transmitted diseases.  It has also been true of many who live in the shadow of death, whose lives have lost meaning because they are so destroyed by these misperceptions–the world teaches them that alcohol, drugs, or sex will make them happy, and when it does not deliver beyond a moment of pleasure (and momentary pleasure is not at all the same as happiness) they wind up seeking the pleasure and abandoning any hope of anything more.

And so today we are teaching our children that sex is nothing more than a recreational activity they should feel free to enjoy carefully–like drinking alcohol or using drugs.  We have lost the moral compass, the moral foundation, of a world in which some things were disapproved because they were ill-advised, hazardous, and thus wrong in the same sense that it is wrong to stick tableware in electrical outlets.

So we have created a world in which promiscuity is normative.

I mentioned earlier that it is a mistake to believe that our descendants will be extensions of our own values.  We cannot predict what will happen even in the next generation.  Perhaps the world will realize its mistake, and some sense of decency will return; perhaps, as with other cultures before ours, the deterioration will continue to snowball and the world as we know it will collapse into chaos from which some new order will arise.  What we do know is that the future will be different.  Our best hope is that we can inform it with values that will make it better.  They are not likely to come from the mainstream of our present society.

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#76: Intelligent Simulation

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #76, on the subject of Intelligent Simulation.

I saw a news item a few hours ago (I linked it from my Facebook page at the time) reporting on the 2016 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate.  The headline was that Neil DeGrasse Tyson expressed the opinion that there was a “very high” chance that the universe was just “a simulation”.

Director of the Hayden Planetarium Neil deGrasse Tyson speaks as host of the Apollo 40th anniversary celebration held at the National Air and Space Museum, Monday, July 20, 2009 in Washington. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
Director of the Hayden Planetarium Neil deGrasse Tyson speaks as host of the Apollo 40th anniversary celebration held at the National Air and Space Museum, Monday, July 20, 2009 in Washington. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Tyson is not alone in his opinion, although it is not the dominant opinion among scientists.  However, the essence of it, that the world we perceive is not real but is a programmed simulation of a reality (something like The Matrix) is not considered to be as ridiculous as it sounds to laymen.  According to the report, Tyson says he would not be surprised if the universe was designed by someone.

I hope he did not use those actual words.  He is cited for defending the notion that the world we know might be a simulation, and thus that someone else is responsible for its existence.  That certainly would mean that someone designed it, and frankly whether or not it is a simulation, I agree with the conclusion (expressed long ago by many, notably William Paley) that someone (at least very probably) designed it.  The reason I hope Tyson did not say those words is for his sake, because he is constantly arguing that “Intelligent Design”–the theory that the universe was created by an intelligent being who had a purpose for the act of creation–is nonsense.  He hosted the second Cosmos television series in large part to refute any notion that anything like God or a god might be responsible for the creation of the universe.

Yet now it seems he wants it both ways:  it is not possible that there might be a creative omnipotent divine being who designed and fashioned the real universe as it is, but that same universe might be an unreal simulation of a reality created by a vastly superior being of some sort, and we might be the equivalent of computer simulated intelligences within it.  How can the one be impossible and the other highly likely?

This warrants further consideration.

At the base of the issue of whether the universe is a simulation is the fact that it is probably impossible to prove it is not.  The characters in the video game do not know that they are characters in a video game, and could not possibly reason their way to the conclusion that there is a reality beyond them (Tron notwithstanding).  I have discussed this some in my (hopefully forthcoming) book Why I Believe:

When I was perhaps fourteen or fifteen, several friends and I created “The Great Meditators Society”, which is probably a silly name for a silly group of young teenagers trying to be intellectual.  Our greatest discussion considered the fact that we could not prove that the world around us existed, that is, that what we thought we knew, even our conversations with each other, were not completely illusory.  It might be, we concluded, that we exist as a floating non-corporeal consciousness—that is, one of us has such existence—and that there is some other being who creates the illusion of a universe and of interactions with other persons, giving us all of our sensory information very like a dream.

If you want me to prove that God exists, it cannot be done; I cannot even prove that you exist.  This we realized as teenagers.  My experience is better if I assume the illusion to be true, but a good artificial intelligence driving a direct-to-mind virtual reality would provide the same outcome.  Cooperation with the rules of the illusion makes the game more enjoyable, but this does not prove the reality of the perceived world.  (I should mention that The Matrix would not exist for decades, and was not part of our discussion.)

We of course were unaware that we were rehashing intellectual ground much more ably covered by others, particularly Rene Descartes.  This was the starting point for his major treatise, in which he went beyond us to doubt his own existence, but then found a basis to believe that he, at least, existed in the one statement he made which is known by most people, “I think, therefore I am.”  That then becomes the starting point for his own exposition of the ontological argument, possibly the earliest and certainly the most basic of the formal arguments for the existence of God, propounded earlier by Athanasius.

Yet with our own efforts at creating artificial intelligence, we are forced to ask whether being able to think demonstrates existence.  Descartes recognized that the proof of his own existence was not in itself proof of his self-perception–that is, he could still be simply one mind interacting with a simulation created by another mind.  He argued beyond that to the existence of God and thence to the existence of the perceived reality, but not everyone accepts his argument.  It could be a simulation.

Yet it cannot be a simulation without the existence of someone–the programmer, the simulator, the Intelligent Designer.  Paley’s Watchmaker is more necessary if the universe is not real than if it is.

Fundamental in the discussion at the scientific level is the idea that we are gradually discovering the rules, that is, how the universe “works”.  The thought is advanced that if we can indeed determine how it works that increases the probability that it is a simulation, since it means that we could create an identical simulation given sufficient technology to implement it.  I find this ironic.  In the foundations of western science is the fundamentally religious tenet that a rational intelligence (the Greeks called it the Logos, “word” or “reason”) designed the universe and created us as similarly rational beings, and thus that sharing to a lesser degree the same kind of rational mind that was responsible for the creation of the world we ought to be able to grasp to some degree how that world works.  Now the science that is based on the assumption that the creator of reality is a rational being in the same sense (to a greater degree) as we are is being turned on its head to say that if we can prove that reality follows rational rules we increase the probability that it is not real.  To some degree, we would be completely unaware that the world followed rational rules had we not begun with the assumption that it was rationally designed to work by rules which were rationally discoverable.  How does demonstrating the truth of the assumption invalidate it?

It is certainly a connundrum for Tyson.  If the world might be a simulation, then it must be intelligently designed.  Every scrap of evidence that supports the notion that someone designed our world as a simulation as equally supports the notion that someone designed it as a reality.

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#73: Authenticity of the New Testament Accounts

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #73, on the subject of Authenticity of the New Testament Accounts.

I have covered–or perhaps I should say I will be covering–this in my hopefully forthcoming book Why I Believe.  However, I recently read a work of fiction in which a widely embraced and repeated nineteenth century error was asserted, not once but twice, not casually but in the presence of a person trained in a presumably conservative seminary who instead of knowing better and saying so accepted the mistake and was significantly motivated by it.  The mistake is that the New Testament documents are not historically reliable, and specifically that the Bible contains four Gospel accounts written long after the first century pseudepigraphically (that is, by anonymous authors who took the names of famous persons), to tell the story the Church wanted at that point to tell.

There are so many problems with this view that it is difficult to know where to begin; however, the core problem is that attitude that the New Testament Gospels, which include the resurrection of Jesus, are not authentic historic accounts.

The "Jesus Papyrus", at Magdalen College, showing fragments of the Gospel of Matthew and plausibly dated to the mid first century.
The “Jesus Papyrus”, at Magdalen College, showing fragments of the Gospel of Matthew and plausibly dated to the mid first century.

The root of the problem is a circular argument that was the basis for a lot of what passed for nineteenth century scholarship:  miracles do not happen, and so we need to figure out why certain documents related to the Christian faith report that they did.  The obvious answer was that despite the fact that the church had always believed these documents were written by first century eyewitnesses or investigators, they were actually written centuries later by church leaders attempting to create a history that supported the religion they wanted.  At the same time, there were competing Christian sects which wrote their own similarly pseudepigraphal accounts which presented a different view of Jesus, which are just as valid–which is to say just as invalid–as those generally accepted.  The support for this theory is simply that it provides an adequate explanation for why accounts claiming to be, or be based on, eyewitness testimony report events we want to say never occurred:  the claims of historicity are invalidated by the late dates.

The fact that that is a circular argument is lost on most people, because most modern people buy the premise:  miracles do not happen, and therefore any account that claims miracles did happen must be false, and it’s just a matter of finding a plausible explanation for how such a false account could have been accepted as true.  That in turn is aided by the modern view that our forefathers were gullible idiots who believed many impossible things simply because they lacked the intellect for modern science.  The people who think this have never wrestled with the towering intellectual works of Augustine and Athanasius and Tertullian; they simply assume that people who believed in miracles must not have been very smart, because they don’t believe in miracles and have an inflated view of their own intellectual capabilities, and perhaps more defensibly because they know some other truly intelligent people who don’t believe in miracles.  Yet the events recounted in the Gospels are reported not because the writers thought miracles happened all the time, but precisely because the writers recognized that these were violations of the natural order, that events were occurring that ought to be impossible.  Our ancestors, and particularly the writers of these books, did not believe in miracles because they were gullible, but because the evidence available to them on the subject was overwhelmingly credible despite the seeming impossibility.

Let’s set aside the fact that the accounts read like eyewitness testimony.  There could be explanations for that–it is likely that at least parts, and sometimes substantial parts, of the Gospels themselves were compiled from source materials, short eyewitness accounts that had been put to paper before the Gospels themselves were composed.  This theory explains the kinds of similarities and differences we have, particularly between the three “synoptic” Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  At least part of their work involved compiling the earlier recorded accounts of others.  This, though, makes the accounts more, not less, reliable, as it suggests that the accounts were earlier than the Gospels themselves, and the Gospel writers selected those they thought most credible at the time.  We think that it is possible to invent something that sounds like an eyewitness account, filled with unimportant details, but such fictional accounts were unknown then, and certainly never attempted to report anything resembling historic events.  That is a feature of modern fiction not known in a time when things were written because they were important to someone.

Also, we must dispel the notion that the claimed writers were ignorant peasants who could not read nor write.  Luke is identified by Paul (we’ll get to him) as a “healer”, the word commonly taken to mean doctor, and the educated use of the Greek language in the two books attributed to him reflects that about him.  Matthew was said to be a tax collector, and it is unlikely that the Romans would have given the responsibility to assess and collect local taxes to someone who could not read and write.  What little we know about Mark suggests that he was the son of a wealthy Jewish family–Barnabas was a close relative, probably an uncle, and a propertied businessman.  The possibility of a wealthy Jewish boy not receiving an education in that era is non-existent.  People will claim that John was a poor peasant fisherman, pointing to places in the world in modern times where uneducated peasants eke out a living by lakesides.  However, John was co-owner of a fishing business (with his brother James and their friends, the brothers Peter and Andrew) which had employees, several boats and ample equipment, and was prosperous enough that the four owners could leave it in the care of their employees for most of several years while they took a sabbatical to learn from an itinerant teacher–and note that Peter, at least, had a family that would have to be supported by that business in his absence.  Our image of the peasant fisherman should be replaced by the image of a fishing magnate.  They were the Mrs. Paul’s, the Gorton’s of Gloucester, in their time.  They weren’t independently wealthy, but their business holdings were adequate to support them and their families while they took a couple years away from work.  They, too, were almost certainly educated; Jewish boys became Jewish men by proving at the age of 13 that they could read the Torah, Prophets, and Writings in public.  To think that they could not also work in the commercial language of the age is silly.

Besides, even very well educated persons, such as Paul (son of wealthy businessmen in a Roman city, student of one of the top Rabbis of all time), frequently dictated letters and books to a scribe, called an amanuensis, in the same way that twentieth century executives and authors dictated letters and books to stenographers (or later Dictaphones) to be typed, to ensure a clear and legible copy.  They did not need to write well physically to be the authors; they only needed to be able to tell the scribes what to write.

So these purported first century authors could have written these books; the more significant question is, did they?

To that, we have testimony as early as the end of the first century–Clement of Rome, writing c.90-110 AD, who asserted that there were four recognized accounts of the life of Jesus.  By the middle of the second century those four accounts had names, the same names as the books we have.  That testimony spreads across the Roman Empire, coming from sources in Alexandria (Egypt), Antioch (Syria), Smyrna (Turkey), Carthage (North Africa), and Rome (Italy), and from people who apparently had, and independently preserved, copies of them.  It is impossible to argue that these documents were not well known by the beginning of the second century, and almost as difficult to argue that the persons preserving them, separated as they were by long distances and relying on the documents to preserve the truth they believed, would have agreed to change them.  The hundreds of ancient copies of portions of the New Testament which we have today are traced back to origins in those diverse regions; they are the best attested ancient historic documents in the world.

There are also early fragments of these same books.  The ones pictured above in this article, sometimes called the Magdalen Fragments because they were stored at Magdalen College, more recently called the Jesus Papyrus, have recently been dated to sometime around fifty or sixty AD–the middle of the first century.  They show fragments of the Gospel of Matthew on both sides.  That makes them the earliest known extant copies of any part of any New Testament book–yet it is significant that they are copies, clearly showing evidence that they were copied from a previous version, and thus that the book was already in circulation and being copied and shared across long distances.  A well-known early first century original is thus virtually certain, based on this scholarship.

Yet even if we suppose that somehow they actually are later documents, that does not resolve the problem for those who deny the resurrection.  You still have to deal with the letters of Paul.  No one doubts that most of his letters to churches were written by someone of his name and description in the mid first century.  In almost every one of them the author reinforces the notion that Jesus arose from the grave, that that is the essence of the message; in several he asserts that he is one of the witnesses who saw Him, and he also tells us that he had met other witnesses, of which there were over five hundred.

The essential element of the Christian faith, that Jesus Christ was executed and arose from the grave, is incontrovertibly historically supported.  It is of course possible that it is not true–as it is possible that George Washington was not the first President of the United States, that Hitler did not run concentration camps in which Jews were exterminated, that Sir Isaac Newton did not create the famous laws of motion that are known by his name.  Everything that is historical is open to question on some level.  We evaluate the evidence and reach conclusions; we do not reach conclusions and then use them to discredit the evidence.

I hope to have the book available soon.  It goes into more detail on some of these issues and many others.  Meanwhile, don’t believe the disbelievers without examining the evidence.

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#72: Being an Author

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #72, on the subject of Being an Author.

One of my sons was in some sort of meeting or interview and was asked what his father did.  “He’s an author,” was his reply.

I wasn’t present, so I don’t know what was said or done at that moment, but my son got the distinct impression of disdain, a sort of, “Right, he’s a layabout who does nothing and thinks that people should give him money for scribbing on paper, but what does he have to show for it?”  My son, at least, felt that I was being insulted by the questioner’s attitude.

What strangers think of me is of no consequence, although I am concerned about the opinions of my readers and other fans (I am more than an author, being also a game designer and a musician and a Bible teacher).  I am more concerned that one of my other sons seems at times to be of the opinion that I waste my time trying to succeed at such a career, that I should have a “real” job that makes enough money to support the family.  He is not old enough to have known our lives when I was not making enough money to support the family working as a radio announcer, a microfilm technician, a drywall installer and painter, or a health insurance claims processor.  I suppose perhaps there are people who claim to be authors who lack any skill or talent in the field, and I think everyone in creative fields faces some self-doubt, some uncertainty as to whether they are really “good enough” to do this.  However, I think the notion that someone is not an author, or that this is a foolish idea, a flawed self-perception, is difficult to justify.  I am an author; I might not be terribly successful at it, but there are good reasons why the latter is not a good measure of the former.

img0072Novel

This is not really about whether or not I am an “author” so much as about what it takes to qualify for that title.  For my part, I thought I would be a musician, and had the idea of being an author on a distant back burner–in college, circa 1977, I took a class entited Creative Writing:  Fiction, and began work on a fantasy epic that quickly bogged down into trouble and wound up on that same distant back burner.  Either the Lord or happenstance, depending on your viewpoint, landed me at WNNN-FM, a contemporary Christian radio station, first as a disc jockey/announcer, working my way up ultimately to program director, with a side job editing (and largely writing) the radio station newsletter.  Along the way I developed a relationship with the associate editor of a local newspaper (The Elmer Times), which at some point published a couple of pieces of political satire I wrote, about 1983.  I was published, but I was not yet thinking of myself as an author.  I also started putting together some notes about the controversy over Dungeons & Dragons™, and somewhere around 1991 composed a draft of an article which I tried unsuccessfully to farm to a few Christian magazines, impeded perhaps by the fact that I didn’t actually subscribe to or regularly read any magazines.

Late in I think 1992 Ed Jones approached me about co-authoring his game idea, “Multiverse”, which was ultimately to become Multiverser™.  I had been running original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons™ since 1980, and he had been playing in my game for perhaps a year (and I for a slightly shorter time in his) during which we had had discussed role playing games generally at length and I had become one of his Multiverser™ playtesters; he had read the unpublished article.  In the spring of 1997 he withdrew from the project due to complications in his personal life and left me to finish the work and publish the game later that fall.  I now had two books in print (the Referee’s Rules and The First Book of Worlds), but did not think of myself as an author so much as a game designer.  I started half a dozen web sites (now all either gone or consolidated here as various sections of M. J. Young Net) primarily to promote the game; that defense of Dungeons & Dragons™ article I’d drafted a decade before became one of the founding works under the title Confessions of a Dungeons & Dragons™ Addict, along with web sites on time travel, D&D, law and politics, and Bible.  Still, the publication of Multiverser led to invitations to write for role playing game related web sites–starting with Gaming Outpost and extending to include articles at RPGNet, Places to Go, People to Be, The Forge, Roleplayingtips.com, and perhaps half a dozen others which no longer exist.  I was also asked to become the Chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild, and contributed to their e-zine The Way, The Truth, and the Dice, and wrote a few articles mostly about such subjects as business, e-commerce, and morality in politics, which appeared on various sites around the web.  Multiverser:  The Second Book of Worlds went to print, confirming my authenticity as a game designer.

Sometime in 1998 Valdron Inc started discussing publishing a Multiverser comic book series, and since I was the in-house writer it fell to me to create the stories.  I began these, working as if they were comic books, writing individual panels.  I actually did not know that many authors who wrote books also wrote comic books and “illustrated novels”, but it was a short-lived endeavor–I wrote three issues, two episodes for each, and then the in-house artists said that there was no way that a comic could be produced on the kind of budget we had, and everything went onto that proverbial back burner, where it simmered.  However, this one started to boil over, and after consulting with Valdron’s people I rewrote those episodes and created Multiverser‘s first novel–my first novel–Verse Three, Chapter One.  Valdron put it into print, and we sold a few hardcover copies; I have no idea of the number.  However, at this point I thought of myself as an author:  I had a novel in print.

When I was in high school I worked stage crew (yeah, you probably guessed that, right?), as a sophomore for the junior class play.  At one point one of the characters questions another about a book he’d written.  It wasn’t a big deal, the author says; it only sold three hundred copies.  I’d like to read it, the questioner continued; where can I get it?  From me, the author responded; I have three hundred copies.  In the trade there has long been what is disdainfully called “vanity press”, the ability to write your own book and have it printed for a few thousand dollars, receiving a few hundred copies which you then can sell entirely on your own.  In the digital age that has become more complicated.  It is now possible to go through companies like Lulu.com and print your book at very little cost, get an international standard book number (ISBN), and have it listed through Amazon and other retailers.  That is not how those first four books went to press, but some might think they were “vanity press” anyway.  Having been through law school, I undertook the necessary steps to create a corporation, sold stock, got the stockholders to elect a board of directors who in turn appointed corporate officers, and spearheaded the effort to publish and promote the Multiverser game system and supplements.  I would say that none of us had a clue what we should do, but that’s not quite true–we all had a few clues, and we proceeded to stumble through the effort.  It would be wrong to say that the company was entirely comprised of my friends and family.  Many of the stockholders were family or friends, and most of the rest were friends of family or friends of friends, and of course it being a small company I ultimately met all of them, chatting with them at stockholder picnics and such.  My next few books were closer to the “vanity press” sort.  I wrote What Does God Expect?  A Gospel-based Approach to Christian Conduct, and when Valdron decided they did not want to be more closely associated with Christian book publishing I asked people for ideas on getting it in print, and thus was introduced to Lulu.com.  That was also the venue I used to release About the Fruit, and I have not quite completed the process of releasing a book entitled Do You Trust Me? due to a failure on my part to stick to the process.  Valdron released a book version of what might be called the first season of the Game Ideas Unlimited series from Gaming Outpost; at the same time I did the same for the series entitled Faith and Gaming that had been published at the Christian Gamers Guild web site.  Some time after that Blackwyrm Publishing approached me about permitting them to publish an expanded edition of Faith and Gaming, and thus one of my books is in print through a publishing house in which I hold no interest otherwise.

The question, then, is not really whether I am an author.  Depending on how you count them I have between eight and ten books in print (two titles were published in two different editions); some of my online articles have been translated and printed in the French gaming magazine Joie de Role, and I was for quite a few years paid for regular contributions to TheExaminer.com.  The question is at what point I became an author.

In this I am reminded that many authors struggle for many years.  Steven King’s financial problems were so great that even after he was famous and made a television commercial for them, American Express would not authorize a card for him; he kept a day job as a teacher until he sold the movie rights to Christine, which is when the tide turned for him.  Was he an author when his books were not bestsellers and he had to teach to support himself?  J. K. Rowling struggled as a single mother, and reportedly received a mere six thousand pounds for the rights to the first printing of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone; she is now reportedly wealthier than the Queen of England.  Was she an author when she was writing the book that started it all–and if so, who knew?

I have always been a musician; I have never made much money at it.  I have composed hundreds of songs, performed thousands times, been part of dozens of bands, choirs, combos, performing groups, and accompanist groups, and had some avid fans (in college some wanted to print Bach and Young T-shirts, but it was not so easy then).  I have one album, Collision Of Worlds, on the market.  Am I not a musician because I don’t make a living at it?  There are thousands upon thousands of singers and instrumentalists who play bars and nightclubs, weddings and parties, who hold regular jobs; it is a joke in the music industry to say to a young musician, “Don’t quit your day job.”  Are those not musicians, because they cannot support themselves doing what they love?

I am not an artist, but it is typical in the art world that painters and sculptors struggle for decades to make a name for themselves, to make a living creating artwork, only to die penniless–and then suddenly to have everything they ever created leap to new values.  Were they not really artists during their lives, but became so the moment they died?

In the creative world, people create, and it is that aspect of creating that makes them authors–or poets, artists, musicians.  Some authors eke out a living; some become incredibly wealthy; some spend more than they earn trying to become known.  That is true in all the creative arts, including filmmaking–for every Robert Townsend Hollywood Shuffle success story there are dozens of good but failed independent films.  Herman Melville was not well known prior to writing Moby Dick, despite having written for newspapers and magazines.  Being an author is not primarily defined by commercial success; it is defined by creative product.

I should footnote this by mentioning that that first novel has now been released on the Internet, and the second is following it in serialized format beginning today.  I am an author, even if I give away my product.  Your support through Patreon and otherwise helps make it possible for me to publish and you to enjoy some of that.  It does not change whether I am an author, only whether I am viewed as successful.

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#70: Writing Backwards and Forwards

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #70, on the subject of Writing Backwards and Forwards.

When I was at TheExaminer, I eventually took to creating indices of articles previously published; when I moved everything here last summer, I included those indices, and finished one that covered the first half of 2015 (through July).  On the last day of December I did a review piece indexing the rest of that year, as #34:  Happy Old Year.

It may seem premature to do another index; it is not even falling on a logical date (although as I write this I am not completely certain on which day it is going to be published).  However, some new “static” pages have made it to the web site, and quite a few more web log entries, and it seems to be a time of decision concerning what lies ahead.  Thus this post will take a look at everything that has been published so far this year, and give some consideration to options going forward.  You might find the informal index helpful; I do hope that you will read the latter part about the future of the site.

img0070Blog

Temporal Anomalies/Time Travel

The most popular part of the web site is probably still the temporal anomalies pages.  It certainly stimulates the most mail, and the five web log posts (including those in the previous index) addressing temporal issues received 30% of the blog post traffic.  We added one static page since then, a temporal analysis of the movie 41.  We also added post #56:  Temporal Observations on the book Outlander, briefly considering its time travel elements of the first book in the series that has made it to cable television.  We’d like to do more movies, and there are movies out there, but the budget at present does not pay for video copies.

This part of the site has been recognized oft by others (before it was a Sci-Fi Weekly Site of the Week it was an Event Horizon Hotspot), and the latest to do so is the new Time Travel Nexus, a promising effort to create a hub for all things time-travel related; we wish them well, and thank them for including links to our efforts here.  They recently invited me to write time travel articles for them, although if I do it will have to be something different, and we have not yet determined quite what.

Legal/Political

By sheer number of posts, this is the biggest section of the web log.  Although since the last of these indexing posts it has been running even with posts about writing and fiction, it has a significant head start, with half of the articles in that index connected to law or politics primarily.  Some of these have religious or theological connections as well–that can’t be helped, as even the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights recognizes that the protection of your right to believe what you wish, express that belief, and gather with others who share that belief is both a religious and a political right, and cannot always be distinguished.  (Anyone who says that religion and politics should always be kept separate misses this critical point, that they are really the same thing.  It’s a bit like saying that philosophy and theology should be kept separate–the difference is not whether God is involved, but how much emphasis is placed on Him.  So, too, politics is about religious beliefs in application.)

Trying to sort these into sub-categories is difficult.  Several had to do with legal regulation of health care, several with discrimination, and we had articles on freedom of expression, government and constitutional issues, election matters.  These twenty-seven articles together drew 35% of readers to the web log, but a substantial part of that–13%–went to the two articles about the X-Files discrimination flap.  One article on this list has received not a single visit since it posted.  Thus rather than attempt to make sense of them, I’ll just list them in the order they appeared, with a bit of explanation for each:

Bible/Theology

As mentioned, some of the political posts are simultaneously religious or theological, and I won’t repeat those here.  There is one post that is really about everything, about the very existence of this blog, but which I have decided to list as primarily in this category:  #51:  In Memoriam on Groundhog Day, 160202.  This is a eulogy of sorts for my father, Cornelius Bryant Young, Jr., who is certainly the reason for the existence of the political materials, as he significantly supported my law school education and then regaled me with questions about whether Barrack Obama was a legitimate President.  He is missed.

I also wrote #65:  Being Married, which is not exactly my advice but my choice of the best advice I’ve received over several decades of marriage.  I’m hoping some found it helpful.

It should be noted that five days a week I post a study of scripture, and on a sixth day I post another essentially religious/theological/devotional post, on the Christian Gamers Guild’s Chaplain’s Teaching List.  That is far too many links to include here, but if you’re interested you can find the group through this explanatory page.

Game-related

There were a couple game-related posts in the previous index, this time two of them specifically about Multiverser.  There was some discussion about some of its mechanics on a Facebook thread, and so I gave some explanations for how and why two aspects of the system work–the first, in #38:  Multiverser Magic, 160112:  addressing difficulties people expressed concerning its magic system, the second, in #40:  Multiverser Cover Value, 160114:  explaining the perhaps not as complicated as it seems way it determines the effect of armor.

There was also another game-related post, #44:  The Feeling of Victory, 160121:  which discussed a pinball game experience to illustrate a concept of fun game play.

The award-winning Dungeons & Dragons™ section of the site (most notably chosen as an old-school gem by Knights of the Dinner Table) continues to get occasional notice; someone recently asked to use part of the character creation materials for work they were doing on a different game, and someone asked if I had a copy of my house rules somewhere, in relation to some specific reference I made to them.  Although I’m running a game currently, I don’t know that anything new will appear there.  The good people at Places to Go, People to Be are continuing to unearth the lost Game Ideas Unlimited articles and translating for their French edition.  Unfortunately, Je parle un tres petit peux de francais; I can’t read my own work there.

Logic and Reasoning

Periodically a topic arises that is really only about thinking about things.  That came up a couple times in the past couple months.  first, someone wrote an article about the severe environmental impact of using the universal serial bus (USB) power port in your car to charge your smartphone while you drive, and in #45:  The Math of Charging Your Phone, 160122, we examined the math and found it at least a bit alarmist.  Then when people around here were frantically stripping local grocery store shelves of all the ingredients for French Toast (milk, bread, and eggs) because of a severe weather forecast, we published #46:  Blizzard Panic, 160124.

On Writing

I left this category for last for a couple of reasons, several of those reasons stemming from the fact that most of this connects to the free electronic publication of my book Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, and I just published the last installment of that to the site.  You can find it fully indexed, every chapter with a one-line reminder (not a summary, just a quip that will recall the events of a chapter to those who have read it but hopefully not spoil it for those who have not), here.  There have been about seventy-five chapters since the last of these posts, and that (like the Bible study posts) is too much to copy here when it is available there.  That index also includes links to these web log posts, but since this is here to provide links to the posts, I’ll include them here, and then continue with the part about the future of the site.

  1. #35:  Quiet on the Novel Front, 160101:  The eighth behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 43 through 48.
  2. #37:  Character Diversity, 160108:  The ninth behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 49 through Chapter 54.
  3. #39:  Character Futures, 160113:  The tenth behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 55 through 60.
  4. #43:  Novel Worlds, 160119:  The eleventh behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 61 through 66.
  5. #47:  Character Routines, 160125:  The twelfth behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 67 through 72.
  6. #50:  Stories Progress, 160131:  The thirteenth behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 73 through 78.
  7. #53:  Character Battles, 160206:  The fourteenth behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 79 through 84.
  8. #55:  Stories Winding Down, 160212:  The fifteenth behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 85 through 90.
  9. #57:  Multiverse Variety, 160218:  The sixteenth behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 91 through 96.
  10. #59:  Verser Lives and Deaths, 160218:  The seventeenth behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 97 through 102.
  11. #61:  World Transitions, 160301:  The eighteenth behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 103 through 108.
  12. #64:  Versers Gather, 160307:  The nineteenth behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 109 through 114.
  13. #66:  Character Quest, 160313:  The twentieth behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 115 through 120.
  14. #69:  Novel Conclusion, 160319:  The twenty-first and final behind-the-writings peek at Verse Three, Chapter One, Chapters 121 through 126.

The Future of the Site

I would like to be able to say that the future holds more of the same.  There are still plenty of time travel movies to analyze; I have started work on the analysis of a film entitled Time Lapse, but it will take at least a few days I expect.  This is a presidential election year and we have clowns to the left and jokers to the right, as the song said, and with the extreme and growing polarization of America there are plenty of hot issues, so there should be ample material for more political and legal columns.  The first novel has run its course, but there are more books in the pipeline which could possibly appear here.

However, it unfortunately all comes down to money.  My generous Patreon patrons are paying the hosting fees to keep this site alive, but I am a long way from meeting the costs of internet access and the other expenses of being here.  Time travel movies cost money even when viewed on Netflix.

The second novel, Old Verses New, is finished–sort of.  No artwork was ever done for it, and it is actually more difficult to promote articles on the Internet that do not have pictures (frustrating for someone who is a writer and musician but has no meaningful skill in the visual arts).  More complicating, Valdron Inc invested some money into it, paying an outside editor to go through it, and they still hope to find a way to recoup their investment at least.  I might have to buy their interest in it to be able to deliver it to you, and that again means more money.

So what can you do?

If you are not already a Patreon supporter, sign up.  A monthly dollar from every reader of the site would not make me wealthy, and probably would not cover all the bills, but it would go a long way in that direction.  Even a few more people giving five or ten dollars a month to keep me live would make a massive difference.  I think Patreon also has a means of making a one-time gift, and that also helps.

Even if you can’t do that, you can promote the site.  Whenever there is a new post or page here you think was worth a moment to read, take another moment to forward it–it is easy to do through most social media sites, some of which have buttons on the bottoms of the web log pages for quick posting, and in all cases I post new entries at Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, and even MySpace, all of which have some way of easily sharing or recommending posts.  Let people know if there’s a good political piece, or time travel article, or whatever it is.  Increased readership means, among other things, an increased potential donor base–support to keep us alive here.

There are other ways to help.  Several time travel fans have over the years provided DVD copies of movies, either from their own libraries or purchased and sent directly to me, all of which have been analyzed.  I now also have the ability (thanks to a gifted piece of not-quite-obsolete discarded technology) to watch YouTu.be and Netflix videos on my old (not widescreen) television, and with some difficulty to watch other internet videos on borrowed Chromecast equipment (not as satisfactory–can’t pause or rewind without leaving the room to access the desktop).  Links to (safe and legal) copies of theatrically-released time travel movies make it possible to cover them now, for as long as the money keeps me online.  (Yes, even “free” videos cost money to see.)  One reader very kindly gave me a Fandango gift card to see Terminator Genisys in the theatre, which was a great help and enabled me to do the quick temporal survey published here, although I had to obtain a copy of the DVD to do the full analysis web page (it is nigh impossible to take notes in a darkened movie theatre, and very difficult to get all the vital details from an audio recording).

You can also ask questions.  I don’t check e-mail very often (seriously, people started using it like an instant messaging system, I have cut back to every three to six weeks) but I do check it and will continue to do so as long as the hosting service and internet access can be maintained; I interact through Facebook and (to a much lesser degree) the other social media sites mentioned, and often take a question from elsewhere to address here.  That gives me material in which you, the readers, are interested.  I do write about things which interest me, but I do so in the hope that they also interest you, and if I know which ones do that helps more.

So here’s to the future, whatever it may bring, and to the hope that you will help it bring more to M. J. Young Net and the mark Joseph “young” web log.

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#65: Being Married

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #65, on the subject of Being Married.


img0065Silver

These young couples, they don’t know–
They just think we’re old.
We took the silver years ago–
We’re going for the gold!

Photos from cakepicturegallery.com
Photos from cakepicturegallery.com

I have often thought about writing a piece about being married.  My wife has argued that I am in no position to give people advice about marriage, and she has a point.  Ours has been a rough marriage from the beginning.  However, that beginning is now–well, these web pages stay up a long time, but as I begin this I note that we are closer to our golden anniversary than to our silver.  It has been a long time.  I have been married twice as long as I was single.

I don’t presume, though, to give you any insights I have learned for how to keep a marriage together from my own observations.  Rather, over the years I have heard a lot of advice, and I have found some of it to be quite valuable, incredibly valuable.  I do not remember where I got it all, but I’ll try to note those points I can credit.

  1. Before we married, my father said that I needed to ask one question, and have an answer:  why are you marrying this person?

    My father’s experience gave him this, and it’s worth recounting.  He had been dating a girl–I’m not certain whether he was still in high school or already in college, but she kept talking about what they were going to do when they got married.  Finally one day he interrupted this by saying that he was not certain he was ready to marry just yet.  He was quite surprised three months later to read that she was marrying someone else.  Some people, he suggested, were in love with the idea of being married.  That’s not a satisfactory reason to marry; you need a reason to marry this person.

    The value of this particular bit of advice cannot be overstated.  Believe me, the day will almost certainly come when you are going to ask yourself this question:  Why did I marry this person?  If you have already answered it, you will know the answer when the question comes.  It can get you past some serious complications, knowing the answer, and particularly if it’s a good answer.  Even if you are already married, take a moment and give yourself that answer if you can.  If you’ve answered it adequately in the good times, the answer will be there in the time of crisis.

  2. I think I had already heard or read this somewhere before we married, but I remember that one of the many counselors we visited in attempting to work out our difficulties in the early days repeated and reinforced it:  divorce is not an option.  That was our attitude going into this, and it’s an important one.  Sure, people get divorced, even people who had no intention or expectation of doing so.  However, if your attitude is, “If it doesn’t work, we can get divorced,” you’ve got a vulnerability, a weak spot in your corporate armor.  The thing about marriage–about any commitment–is that it takes work, effort, in a word commitment.  If you’ve given yourself an emergency exit when you’ve built the thing, you’re going to be more inclined to use it when things get tough.  Face it, life has tough times, and there will be times when it will look like it would be easier to quit than to fight.  If quitting is off the table up front, fighting is the only choice, and you are more likely to put the effort into getting through.

    I should caveat that not every marriage can be saved.  Some relationships are so broken that one party or the other is not willing to embrace the grace and forgiveness needed to heal it.  Some people are so broken that they need to be mended themselves before they can be part of someone else’s life (but if you are that person, finding a different partner is just seeking to ruin someone else).

  3. This one comes from Bob Mumford, but I’m not entirely sure whether he was applying it to marriage or to church relationships.  It’s true either way:  God gives us the person we need, not the person we might want.  Mumford did say that God made one man and one woman, and they’re very different.  That’s an important part of it.  God is working to form you into his child; your spouse is part of that process, pressing you to become more loving.  That means it will sometimes be difficult–as someone has said, it’s easy to love those that are lovely, but God calls us to love when we really don’t feel loving at all.  You’re not always going to be happy with His choice, but ultimately His choice is going to be best for forming you into who you ought to be, and thus for your ultimate happiness.

  4. The ideal spouse is an illusion, and the more so when you think that it is some spouse other than the one you already have.

    C. S. Lewis addressed this somewhere, noting that to some degree the fact that you have been married has already been part of the process that makes this person your “other half”.  Be married to someone for a week, and both of you change–maybe not in the ways either of you wishes, but the process has begun.  That process is rocky, sometimes painful, sometimes seemingly counterproductive, but it is moving both of you toward what God wants you to be.

    Meanwhile, the axiom that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence does not mean that it is, but that it appears to be so.  When you look at your reality, you see the bad parts; when you look at your fantasy, you see the good.  The fantasy is unlikely to be as good as the reality.  For one thing, you will be bringing your self into the next relationship, and you have just as much potential to spoil that one as you had to spoil this one, plus a bit more because you have added a track record for failure in the first relationship.  If you could not make the first marriage work, you have less chance to succeed with the second.

    It is true that the percentage of marriages which end in divorce has been rising over the years.  However, part of that is because second marriages are less likely to survive than first ones, and third marriages less than seconds.  Your best shot at long-term marriage is usually your first one.  If you let that break, you prove that you are the kind of person who will let your marriage break.

  5. The way forward in life is always into God.  If our direction is taking us closer to God, it is moving us forward; if it is the right way forward, it will take us further into God.  That often can help as a measure of which is the right path, as if we can see that one path takes us toward and the other away from God we can be pretty certain that if we’re seeing it clearly the former is the right choice.  It also should be seen as assurance:  if this is the right path, whatever it looks like from here, it is going to bring us closer to God.  God says that He hates divorce.  As a rule of thumb, then, breaking a marriage is moving away from God, and affirming one is moving toward God.

  6. You are going to have to give up your expectations.

    You probably will say that you don’t really have any expectations, but that’s not really possible.  You formed an image of what a marriage is like, of how it works, from the relationships of your parents and other adults among whom you were raised.  You are to some degree going to emulate that, and to some degree reject it; but similarly you are going to expect that your spouse has some of the same expectations about how it works as you do–and your spouse is going to have different expectations, for both of you.

    That means the wife is not just going to fall into the role the husband expects, and the husband is not automatically going to be what the wife expects.  Here are some “typical” clashes:

    • Each party has a belief about which of them manages the money and pays the bills.  Sometimes they won’t agree, and money is one of the top tensions in marriages.  Even when it is agreed as to which of you will balance the checkbook and cover the regular bills, there is still going to be an issue concerning the control of the “extra” money–what do you have to do to be able to buy yourself a new outfit, or a quick lunch?  Your parents probably had systems for this, but it is probably not the case that you both grew up with the same system.
    • In some houses, the man is expected to fix anything that breaks, because that’s what men do; in other houses, if something breaks you call a repairman or buy a replacement.  This is a simple example, but your relationship will be filled with things each of you thought, without ever considering it or recognizing that you thought this, was the way it would work.
    • It has gotten more complicated.  In today’s world, we cannot assume we know who washes the dishes, or who cooks the dinners.  Child care expectations are no longer simple.  There are also cultural expectations.  Interracial marriages mean cross-cultural marriages, which means that his family and her family both have ideas about what a bride or a groom ought to be and do, and they are not going to match.  You both will find yourself trying to explain to your extended families that this is not how things work in your spouse’s family, and that you have to adjust–without making them think you married someone who does not know how to be your spouse.  Complicating it, you probably are not completely convinced that your family is wrong.  After all, that’s how it worked when you were younger.
    • Then there are the wealth of holidays.  It is not even just which holidays you celebrate, but how you celebrate them.  Do you have a Christmas Tree?  Is it cut, balled, or artificial?  Does it go up the day after Thanksgiving, or the last weekend in Advent, or Christmas Eve?  When and how does it come down?  On what holidays do you have a big dinner, and on which ones is snacking the order of the day?  You expect that such celebrations will continue as they did when you were young, but so does your spouse, and there’s not a very high probability that those expectations will match.

    These are just obvious ones.  The point is that you expect each other to be and do certain things, and you expect that you yourself will fall into a specific role, and the role you envision for yourself is not going to match the one envisioned by your spouse.  That’s normal.  All of us take years figuring out how to make our relationships work, and you should not expect less for yourselves.

  7. This was actually one of the first things I realized, and one of the hardest to apply; I still fail at this frequently.  You must learn to express your love in two languages–the one you understand, and the one your spouse understands.

    Near the end of Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye starts singing to his wife Goldie a song that asks, “Do you love me?”  Her first reaction amounts to, what kind of question is that and why are you asking me this now, but they have had three daughters reject parental guidance and marry for love (and a slippery slope it proved to be, as the first married a good Jewish boy and the third a gentile Marxist).  Ultimately, though, she lists all the ordinary household chores she has done for him, like cooking and cleaning and washing, along with bearing and raising his children, so she concludes that that she must love him:  “I suppose I do.”  He replies, “And I suppose I love you.”

    We learn two things from this; the first is about speaking two languages.

    You think that all those things you do, which on some level you are doing for your spouse and which on some level that fact that you are doing them means your spouse does not have to do them, is expressing your love.  Whether it’s going to work, paying the bills, cleaning the house, making the meals, raising the children, maintaining the yard, driving, shopping, washing, repairing, whatever it is you do, you do it, on some level, because of love, and you think that’s understood.  Your spouse thinks the same thing about everything of which you are spared because your spouse handles it.  Yet you don’t see that as an expression of love for you.  In fact, at least sometimes you think that your spouse likes to do those things.  It does not occur to you that he hates driving, she hates laundry, but does it because of love for you.  On the other hand, it sometimes occurs to you that you are doing the driving, the laundry, because of love.  You are expressing love in a language you understand.  That is important, because it reminds you that you love this person, and will do this because of that.  However, your expression of love is not being heard.

    You need to speak the other language, the language that will be understood.  Michelle, ma belle, sont les mots qui vont tres bien ensemble, sings Paul McCartney–in French, Michelle, my lovely, are the words which go very well together.  Most of us do not need to learn another spoken language; but we do need to communicate in a way that our spouse recognizes as an expression of love–whether it’s flowers and candy or dinner and a movie, or breakfast in bed or a sporting event, or simply saying the right words at the right time, the unexpected display of affection, some way of letting that person know that there is love here.

    It also helps if you can learn to perceive the expression of love your spouse is constantly making in the language you don’t understand.  It’s probably there, and it is a mystery to the other person why you don’t realize it, just as you don’t understand why your expressions of love go unrecognized.

  8. The other thing we learn from Tevye and Goldie is that for the purpose of marriage love is not primarily somethng you feel; it is something you choose and do.  Throughout history in most of the world, marriages were arranged:  families chose brides for grooms and grooms for brides.  It is really the “normal” way; selecting your own spouse is only a recent and limited practice.  That means that most people learned over time how to love, or show love to, spouses who were selected for them by someone else.  It is not really that difficult to decide to love your spouse.  In the modern world, most people in arranged marriages will tell you yes, they do love their spouses.  It is a choice you make.  Feelings are too erratic to be the basis for commitment, but they will follow from decision.

  9. In I Corinthians 7:32ff Paul comments that the unmarried man worries about pleasing the Lord but the married man worries about pleasing his woman, and then says the same (gender reversed) about the unmarried and married women.  What is interesting is that Paul does not say that this is wrong; rather, he seems to be indicating that if you are married, pleasing your spouse is (at least) as important to you as pleasing the Lord, and that’s as it ought to be.  Sure, he says that it is better not to marry for that reason, but he also says that for most people it is better to marry, and that means that for most people there is that one person in life, the spouse, who matters as much as Christ.  We don’t like to think of it that way, but Paul says that we act that way, and he does not condemn us for it.  Spouses are important.

I was developing this for a “permanent” web page in the Bible and Theology section of the site, but decided that that was not the best way to do it.  That’s partly because when I had eight points I kept thinking of a ninth and then forgetting it before I had the chance to write it down, and then while I was trying to think of it I remembered the one that falls ninth here, which I know is not the one I kept forgetting.  I conclude two things from this.

The first is that no matter how many things I remember and put in this page, I am going to miss something, something that undoubtedly helped me through one of the true rough spots in my life and marriage, and I’m going to wish I had included it.  I could hold the page until I died, and still not manage to include everything.  I thus hope these points will help you now, and perhaps before we reach our fiftieth (should we both live so long) I’ll post a few more.

The second is that I am not always going to remember all of these points–and neither are you.  Make note of them, come back and read them again (as long as we manage to keep the site online through your support), and think about them more than just on the read-through.  They are all worth remembering; they will all help keep your marriage together a little longer.

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#58: Acceptable Killing In Our Society

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #58, on the subject of Acceptable Killing In Our Society.

This began because someone of my acquaintance posted a video supporting abortion.  The blurb under the video read, in part:

There are many reasons why a woman might decide to end a pregnancy—and many barriers to safe and legal abortion.

I did not want to start a fight, but I found that statement quite offensive–offensive enough that I felt it necessary to reply:

There are many reasons why a parent might want to kill his or her own child, but that does not mean we as a society have to approve that.

The question is whether an unborn child is still a child.  The answer cannot be so easily presumed.

I included a link to mark Joseph “young” web log post #7:  The Most Persecuted Minority.

She replied:

You are close in trying to identify the correct question in regards to this issue.  The real question though, remains when in the stages of pregnancy do you develop a child?  Only when than [sic] can be determined, should it be appropriate to address your question.  In our society, the answer is yes.  It is acceptable to kill.  We kill in war.  We kill on the streets.  We allow for capital punishment.  We allow for assisted suicide.  I am never going to argue if abortion is morally correct.  But what you attempted to address is the one question others throw out there with buzz words like “kill,” and “child.”  If the question was simply, should a pregnant female be given rights to determine to carry a child to whatever capacity she chooses, then hotheads would have little to rage over.  What America is trying to measure with your argument Mark, is can we limit human potential, and if so, to what extent?

I could see that pursuing this in that format was going to become unwieldy, so I pondered for a while and decided to respond here.

img0058Guns

I will confess that I am not entirely certain of everything she meant in that post, particularly at the end concerning the phrase “limit human potential”.  Is she talking about limiting the potential of mothers by requiring them to bear the children they have conceived, or of children by killing them before they breathe the air, or something else?  That, though, is not the bulk of her comment, and it is the other part that particularly disturbs me.  She raises the question of whether in our society killing is acceptable, and affirms that it is, following this by a list of “acceptable” situations for killing.  I am going to change the sequence some, but I argue that killing people is not acceptable behavior in our society, despite her examples to the contrary.

Let’s begin with

We kill on the streets.

I doubt she means in traffic accidents.  Vehicular homicide frequently results in at least an involuntary manslaughter charge.  Certainly there are accidents in which someone dies and it is ruled that no one is at fault, just as if a bit of space debris happens to crash into your house you can’t sue NASA.  That amounts to an admission that we accept that modern technological life is a bit dangerous and some people are going to die through no one’s fault.  Yet clearly, although there are vehicular murders (and they are so treated), this is hardly an example of society accepting that we are permitted to kill each other.

Killing on the streets seems rather to imply the intentional action of killing each other, and we have a fair amount of that in gang warfare and drive-by shootings.  That we have them, though, does not mean we accept them.  Every such incident is treated as a homicide investigation with the intention of bringing murder charges against the perpetrator.  They are not all solved, and not all the perpetrators are convicted, but we don’t really accept that these killings are blameless despite their frequency in our society.  Sometimes we call it “terrorism” and make a federal case of it.

On the other hand, it is sometimes the case that the police shoot people on the street and are exonerated.  The famous cases are of course when a white police officer shoots a black person, but black police officers shoot white people also.  In every case of an “officer-involved shooting” there is an investigation, the officer is usually suspended pending the outcome of the investigation, and in some cases charges ranging from disciplinary actions to murder convictions follow.  That in most cases our officers are cleared of guilt indicates bias only sometimes; it more often commends the training they have been given.  After all, there are situations in which we excuse and even justify killings–self-defense and defense of third persons the two that most commonly apply in these cases.  Yet when a claim is made of self-defense or defense of third persons, there is always an investigation to determine whether indeed those claims are justifiable.

Our justification for killing the unborn is that they pose a threat to the life or physical well-being of the mother, but no one investigates whether that claim is justifiable, and “the health of the mother” has become a phrase with little more meaning than her convenience.

So what of this:

We allow for assisted suicide.

Do we?

The most current information available to me says that four states–California, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont–have passed legislation permitting physician-assisted suicide, with very specific guidelines (patient must be a resident of the state, at least 18 years of age, have not more than six months of life expectancy remaining, and have requested help from the physician at least once in writing and twice orally not less than fifteen days apart).  One state, Montana, has a state supreme court ruling allowing physician-assisted suicide for state residents, without any clear parameters otherwise.  There are four other states in which the law is uncertain–Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and North Carolina.  In the remaining forty-one states, if you assist someone in a suicide you may be charged with conspiracy to commit murder.  In no state is it lawful for someone who is not a physician to assist.  That hardly counts as “acceptable”.  It is also illegal in most countries around the world, although a few have permitted it under specified conditions.

Certainly there are a lot of people who think that we ought to permit suffering terminally ill persons to end their own lives, and allow medical professionals to help them.  There are also people who think we ought to do this for the severely handicapped, without their consent.  To this point, the bulk of public opinion is against the idea that people should be permitted to kill themselves, or to help others kill themselves, with impunity.

Our justification for assisted suicide, in those places where it is permitted, is that the patient wants to die, is suffering terribly, and will not live much longer anyway.  No one asks the unborn child if he would rather live or die.

The next might be more difficult:

We allow for capital punishment.

Yes, in many cases we do.  As of last year, thirty-one states had a legal death penalty; of those, four had such a law but with a moratorium declared by the governor so that there could be no executions until specific issues were resolved.  Nineteen states have made the death penalty illegal, and although they include populous states such as New York, New Jersey, and Illinois, they do not include the most populous California or the significant Ohio, Texas, and Florida.  Popular opinion seems to favor the death penalty.

However, death penalty cases involve what we call due process:  judges and juries must listen to the evidence and arguments presented by trained legal professionals, and reach the conclusion that this individual deserves to die.

One of the two objections to the death penalty, the one that is the more cogent in practice, is that given human fallibility it is entirely possible that we are killing the wrong person.  That criminals on death row are later released (not usually because they have been exonerated but because some flaw in the legal process leading to their conviction or sentencing has been identified) certainly demonstrates that fallibility.  That, though, only means that were we completely certain of the guilt and desert of the criminal the sentence would be accepted.  The more significant objection, in our present concern, is whether anyone ever deserves to be killed.  As Gandalf says to Frodo, many died fighting in the war who should have lived; if you are unable to restore them to life, do not be overly quick to take life from another, however guilty you might think him.  We might agree that someone ought to die, but object to the notion that any of us therefore ought to kill him.  So we have this argument, and gradually more and more of the country is rejecting capital punishment.

However, we are having this argument precisely because we have an agreed moral/ethical principle that it is wrong to kill another human being, and we disagree as to whether this is a viable exception to that rule.  Yet if it is, it is based on the conclusion that this person deserves to die.

No one has attempted to say that the aborted child deserved to die, or if they did it was by transference of hatred toward the parent to the child.

That leaves only the most difficult example:

We kill in war.

Yes, we do, and we consider such killing justified, at least when we do it.  Yet it is important to understand why.

There were quite a few wars in the twentieth century.  They occurred for one of two reasons:

  1. One group believed that their lives or freedoms were threatened or compromised by another group, and initiated a war to free themselves from this threat.
  2. One group desired to take possession of the territory, population, or resources of another group, usually based on some claim of right, and so initiated war to seize possession.

Throughout the twentieth century, the United States has always sided with groups we perceived as the oppressed or threatened and against the aggressors.  Our justification for being involved in the war was always the defense of third persons or, ultimately, defense of ourselves.  Our motives might be impugned in many instances–did we defend Kuwait for the sake of Kuwait or because of American oil interests?–but enough of us considered the defense of the people of one country from the aggressions of another a viable moral basis for becoming involved in a war that had already started that these fit the general pattern.  We do not approve war; we do not find it acceptable to wage war for any interests other than stopping someone else’s aggression or oppression.

The reasons for killing in war again do not apply to killing an unborn child.

There are ultimately only three questions concerning abortion:

  1. Is it wrong to kill a human being, absent some specific justification or excuse?  If you answer no to this question, you invalidate all laws against murder and manslaughter and all liability for accidental death.
  2. Is an unborn child a human being?  This is the usual point of the argument, to which I note first that in the absence of certainty we ought to err on the side of caution and defend the life of a “potential human being”, and second that most vegetarians who won’t eat chicken won’t eat eggs, either.
  3. Is the convenience of a parent a sufficient justification or excuse for killing a child?  If you answer yes to this, you justify infanticide, and must find a point at which that no longer applies.  People usually say “viability”, but on the one hand medical advances are pushing back the moment at which a child can survive outside the womb, and on the other hand if viability means the ability to survive completely unaided by anyone else, there are few adults in this country who could do so absent the infrastructural support of thousands of others who provide the necessities of life.  I’m not viable anymore; I could not survive a month in the wilderness unaided by supplies provided by others.

I thus disagree that our society has accepted killing, in the sense that it is acceptable to kill another human being.  If we had, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Boston Marathon would not have been crimes.  We pretend that abortion is a justifiable killing because the victim is unable to speak for himself.  That applies, though, to thousands of infant, handicapped, and elderly persons, and society is not ready to justify the killings of those people, because we recognize them to be people and do not regard the killing of people as “acceptable”.

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