The 85% / 15% Un-solution: What a Technique!

Here’s an interesting paradigm to ponder: the 85/15. If you spend any time at all following political or social debate in America, you have experienced 85/15. You might not realize it, but you have probably succumbed to it many times. It doesn’t mean you’re dull-witted or even easily fooled. It means that 85/15 is potent – and works like a charm.

As an educator, I spent upwards of 30 years with the 85/15. One of the unlikely underpinnings of 85/15 is the notion that we can and should reach perfection. In fact, lacking that albeit impossible perfection, most enterprises can be deemed failures. The 85/15 works really well in education because everyone has gone to school and has had, 12 plus 4 or more years of education — some of it disappointment. Many have not re-translated their child-like perceptions of their teachers into adult reality. They still see the teacher sitting leisurely at a desk with a book with all the answers filled in while students slave away at too much work. To make matters worse, a certain type of hyper-consumerism tends to disempower educators enough that keeping people “happy” takes up way too much of their time. Let’s look at some examples.

Colleges are expected to be a perfect student paradise. Most students “expect” an A. They demand justification for not getting one. Not doing the work isn’t necessarily a reason for denying that A either. Many college students also expect 24/7 access to their professors. Never mind how ridiculous an expectation this is. The rationale: Simple, they (well, really mostly their parents) pay tuition so the entire university is their employee and usually doesn’t pass the job performance review.

Perfection In K-12: One only has to look at No Child Left Behind. Every student in America – regardless of ability or disability – is expected to be proficient in reading, mathematics, science, and a few other areas by 2014. Barring that, schools are failures. And who’s going to admit that that goal isn’t attainable? Further, school districts are expected to consult with and be responsive to parents. Not a bad thing unless there is a clearly defined point where parent input becomes inappropriate. Many parents are too busy advocating for their offspring to define that boundary well. Essentially, anybody, for any reason can label an education enterprise a failure merely by pointing to its lack of perfection.

This perfection principle works just as well in business, politics, and social arenas. No level of unemployment is acceptable even though there will always be a certain percentage that are unemployed. No society can be deemed just if there is one complainant. A business without consumer complaints is rare and so they all lack perfection. Unless a group is granted their demands, society is unjust no matter the demands. So this inevitable lack of perfection breeds the 85/15 paradigm. It’s more than lack of perfection though. It’s the way we think.

Let me tell you how I “discovered” the 85/15. While attending about my millionth presentation on improving schools, it suddenly became clear that in that presentation, 85% of the time was spent defining what was wrong, and about 15% on solutions. The solutions were vague and only slightly conceived. It then hit me that this was true of most presentations. Aha! A paradigm! People were usually so revved up by the criticisms that they rarely noticed the lack of a solution.

So here’s the magic: On any topic, spend 85% of your time hammering the negative. Once you’ve got the crowd with you on that, put in a few suggestions for reform. The 15% rarely is sufficient to provide a solution. Most won’t notice however. This type of “problem solving” is rampant in education, academe, and many other idea-places. I started paying attention and noticed that everywhere I looked I found 85/15. These percentages vary slightly, but the key point is that most of the discussion is about what’s wrong and a very small portion about what is a good solution.

I really can’t give example after example without revealing my bias. So let’s just say, a real whole lot of political campaigning is 85/15. What constitutes “change” is really not well-developed, but everybody knows that’s what we need.

OH NO!!!!!! Even this post could be accused of 85/15! So let me propose at least 15% solutions.

The best thing you can do is increase your awareness. Look for 85/15 discourse. You’ll find it. You might even be able topress for a bigger dose of solutions – well-developed.

Practice some personal soul searching. If there is not an apparent, reasonable solution for a “problem,” then maybe more than bellyaching about it is called for. Don’t let demagogues manipulate you. Don’t let yourself get sucked or suckered into the paradigm. This, of course, will involve liberal use of the Mute Button near election time.

Regardless of what field you’re in, scope out the 85/15. Hey, 85/15 detector sounds a lot more genteel than Neil Postman’s “crap detector.”

–Joe Johnston Sr.

Merry Xmas – I Mean, chi mas, I mean Χριστός mas, I mean Christmas — 2010

Several paragraphs are a repost from last year’s Christmas related posts.  Specifically, how the use of Xmas really isn’t a strategy for taking Christ out of Christmas or the holydays, I mean, holidays.

Many people get themselves in an uproar when someone uses the abbreviation Xmas.  To them, it symbolizes the effort to remove the Christ from Christmas – if not to obliterate Christian overtones to the holiday.  And clearly, there are those who use Xmas with that intention.

 It seems legitimate for committed Christians to get exacerbated about attempts to hijack Christmas.  However, If you are a Christian – and even if you’re not – the Creator of the Universe is more than capable of defending the holiday if it even needs defending.

 * * * * *

 (Personal mode on.)  It was a bleak Christmas season around 1995.  In a public school there were some “power brokers” clearly desiring to downgrade Christmas.  There was a serious proposal from the un-Christmas crowd that the school adopt a policy prohibiting gifts to teachers.  The “rationale” involved thoughts that giving gifts created selfishness in children.  Can you say “huh?”  The parent organization had to go over some heads to display a Christmas tree in the lobby. As things tend to work out, there was some backlash against this anti-Christmas movement resulting in bombastic Christmas decorating in many classrooms.  Not overtly Christian symbols, but assertions of Christmas nonetheless.

In a seemingly unconnected occurrence, a group of “bell ringers” were invited to the school for a “holiday assembly.”   These bell ringers were from a well-known group home for profoundly retarded children.  The program leader had developed the admittedly challenged students’ ability to produce songs with their bells. 

At the beginning of the program, the director unashamedly had each “bell ringer” introduce themselves.  This caused a little stirring in the audience. The director then told a little about the bell ringing group and stated boldly and with no ambivalence that “We don’t believe God makes any mistakes.”  We were then treated to quite a nice selection of – you guessed it — Christmas carols presented with dignity and grace.  Apparently, for all to see, God wasn’t planning  an absence from this school during this Christmas Season.

* * * * *

So back to Xmas.  While not wanting to recommend the X without knowledge , it might surprise a lot of people that far from being an attempt to take the Christ out of Christmas, it puts or keeps Christ right there.  It originated from the use of the Greek letter chi, Χ, as an abbreviation of Christ (Χριστός). Chi was simply for Christ not instead of Christ.  So cheer up, all you Xmas mourners, the Creator of the Universe isn’t concerned about being “Xed” out.  Another common misconception is that the X is supposed to be representative of the cross of Easter.  While not true, this is certainly a kinder explanation for the X than the X out.

We tend to see everything with “today” eyes.  So we jump to conclusions about an X that really isn’t an X at all.  Here’s another example of a Christian symbol many don’t really understand.  You know the Christian symbol of the fish.  There are many unstories about it.  One involves the miracle of the loaves and the fish.  Another involves a certain post-resurrection meal by the sea. Yet another involves an espionage-like undercover symbol so that persecuted Christians could recognize each other in a rather unfriendly Rome.   These make sense to our “today” minds, but here’s the real story:

 Fish in Greek is the word ichthus (“ΙΧΘΥΣ”).  Look at this phrase:  Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter (“Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ”).  You guessed it, the first letter of each Greek word in the phrase, ICTYS ((“ΙΧΘΥΣ”) create the word fish.  The English translation of that phrase is “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” Ichthus (ICTYS) is an acrostic for a phrase which sums up the person, character, diety, and work of Jesus Christ during His incarnation.  Those who practice the seven fish on Christmas Eve may have no idea how symbolic it is — fish in Greek standing for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior” and 7 being the number of perfection.

Perceived “attacks” on Christmas – annoying like little repeated pin pricks in the elbow –  are the result of overzealous self-censorship, not-too-under-the-surface prejudice against the Christian aspects of Christmas, and sometimes, the harshest critics are Christians.  Often these criticisms and efforts have the opposite effect.  Namely, they bring more attention to the Christian version of Christmas.

I started this post before Christmas, but got too involved with Christmas to finish it.  My intention was to repent of my 2009 lambasting of Christmas critics and to assert that the holiday celebrates such a stunning event in history that it needs no defense.

I was also going to try to shed a new light on some of the things that are termed secular, but can be seen in the light of the real Christmas story — gift-giving, for example.

But those who tarry …  Talk show host and columnist, Andrew Tallman beat me to the punch in his post, The Worst Christmas Gift Givers.

As obnoxious as some Christmas critics can be, let’s all remember that the blessings of Christmas far outshine ANY negatives — even watching thousands of television commercials with obnoxious little cartoony store mascots essentially screaming “buy, buy, buy.”

–Joe Johnston Sr.

Repost: Merry Chistmas, Happy Holydays

(This is a repost of a blog written last December 17,)

The holiday season is upon us.  It does start earlier and earlier each year – at least in the stores.  In the good old days, you didn’t see Christmas decorations until Thanksgiving.  You didn’t see Halloween stuff in the stores until October.  Well, it’s a lot different now.

The store displays relating to holidays are now a year round affair.  As soon as the Christmas regalia is tucked away, I expect to see Valentines Day burst through.  By February 15, everything will be green for St.Patrick’s Day.  Hmm…There might be a Spring-Is-Here thing, but we can depend on Mother’s and Father’s Day before Independence Day.  I believe the Halloween festivities then begin right after Labor Day.  Have holidays been secularized and commercialized?  No doubt.

What’s unique about the August through New Year’s season is that there are so many holidays.  There are at least 20 holidays from August through New Years.  Some are exclusively secular.  Some are secular/religious.  Some are all religious.  Some are even what could be called restricted-religious.  Some would even argue that certain holidays believed to be secular are really religious. Yet, there appears to be a lot of commotion about Christmas AS IF it were the pinnacle of holidays that are solely and exclusively Christian.

Using a randomly selected calendar on the internet, 20 holidays were listed from August through December.  13 of those holidays have religious significance. If you don’t want to include Thanksgiving, then it’s 12.

Getting to the point …… Of those 20 holidays, the most controversial seems to be Christmas.  In terms of lawsuits, certainly.  In terms of “policies’ – also certainly.  In terms of supposed offense – MOST CERTAINLY!

The lawsuits about Christmas have gone every which way and don’t provide us with any clear guidelines.  Most of the policies revolve around schools and businesses in terms of decorations, songs, and greetings.  We are going to zero in on offense.  There seems to be arising in America a doctrine of “you can’t offend me.”  It doesn’t really matter if the offense is something you “should” be protected from.  Offense seems to have developed its own stature.

So let’s talk a little about offense.  Offense about holidays will necessarily derive from one’s worldview and whether one chooses to take offense.

If you’re an atheist, you have Labor Day, Columbus Day, Election Day, Veterans Day, and New Year’s Eve in terms of non-religious holidays.  You “might” also have Kwanzaa and Thanksgiving – depending on your ethnicity and/or who you agree to thank.  If you choose, you can take offense at the other 15 holidays.

A Jewish person might be offended by Christmas – secular or Christian because of its pervasive qualities.  Some Jewish offendees claim that Chanukah wouldn’t be such an important holiday were it not for Christmas.  Of those 20 holidays, 5 could be guaranteed not to offend Jewish sensibilities – I think.

A follower of Islam, would possess 3 of the holidays.  Two of those holidays each last for a month, however.  They “might” be offended by fundamentally Jewish or Christian holidays or they might dismiss them.

The only Hindu holiday appearing on this clearly “holidays in America” calendar is Diwali – a Hindu Festival of Lights.  Hindu sensibility probably would not be offended by this holiday although they might take offense that no other Hindu holidays appeared on the calendar.

A big question is whether there is ANY holiday that doesn’t have the potential for offense:

  • Labor Day is basically a union holiday that might offend management. 
  • Election Day and Veterans Day appear on this calendar, but they also – albeit fundamentally secular – cause offense.  Election Day might be wrongly classified as a holiday and it might cause offense depending on its outcome or whether you get the day off.  If you’re rabidly anti-war or anti-military, you might not be too thrilled with Veterans Day or you might use Veterans Day as a platform for anti-war activities (while still supporting the troops, of course).  If you do, you will offend.
  • Columbus Day could and has offended Native Americans.  You might also be offended by this holiday because it was probably first celebrated by the notorious political machine, Tammany Hall.
  • Halloween has definitely grown exponentially in popularity in America.  Over 4.75 billion dollars has been spent on this holiday in one year.  But it is not without offense.  Many ofject to its pagan roots as well as its glorification of some of the more unsavory aspects of life.  It has also become somewhat dangerous in terms of trick-or-treating.  Halloween has been characterized by some as the high holiday of evil.
  • All Saints Day is listed on the calendar.  Many object to this holiday because of its religious connotation, but it remains pretty much within the church “reservation.”  Even some Christians object to this primarily Roman Catholic and Anglican holiday venerating saints.
  • If you are African American, Kwanzaa is your holiday – maybe.  There are a number of things, however, that might offend you.  First, it might bother you that its creator had some issues.  Black Studies professor Dr. Maulana Karenga developed the holiday.  He was convicted of two counts of felonious assault and one count of false imprisonment as a result of the torture of two black women. He has been accused of other crimes before he remade himself into an academic type. If you don’t think the shortcomings of its creator should diminish the importance of the holiday (certainly valid), you or someone else could be troubled by the extent the holiday embraces Marxism.  Non-African-Americans could be uncomfortable with some of Dr. Karenga’s writings.
  • If you are a Jehovah’s Witness, pretty much all holidays are offensive to you as idolatry.

The main point here is that almost any holiday has the potential to offend someone. If we strive to remove offense from holidays, we really need to abandon all holidays.

The Christian supposed ownership of Christmas has contributed to the controversies surrounding Christmas.  But do Christians own any holiday celebrated outside the confines of the church?  Some would claim that it is no accident “Christian holidays” have been so secularized.

The Christian would definitely claim – let’s see …….. I’m not sure. Surprisingly, the only holiday that is exclusively Christian is Advent.  Advent is a holiday that primarily resides within church celebrations (firmly on the reservation). 

Thanksgiving might be considered a Christian holiday only if one attributes to the primacy of the Pilgrim story or one makes a deliberate effort to clarify who is being thanked. 

One could argue that Christmas has degenerated into a predominantly secular celebration more like the Winter Solstice (December 21) or Saturnalia (December 17).  Due to the mixture of religious and pagan traditions around Christmas, the Puritans banned Christmas celebrations in Massachusetts Bay as did the English Parliament when led by Puritans.

The point of this post is this:  Could we all lighten up about holidays – Christmas in particular.  Opponents of Christmas don’t seem to be satisfied unless both Christian and secular aspects are marginalized or eliminated.  If I know you don’t celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, it is not invalid still to say Merry Christmas.  Everybody lives through December 25.  It would be easy –but not essential — to take offense at almost anything involving holidays.

The multiculturalism and tolerance everyone is always talking about needs to be applied more fairly.  Let’s be a bit more understanding to those who view Christmas as an important religious observance. 

Holidays are part of the fabric of this society.  Holidays are an opportunity to be tolerant rather than intolerant.  If you think “your” holiday has gotten an unfair deal, that’s a different issue than de-Christianizing Christmas or simply ignoring or recasting it.  The only fair alternative is to eliminate all holidays as they might offend.

Joe Johnston Sr.

Rebranding: International Blasphemy Day / Blasphemy Rights Day – Hmmm – Maybe not!

(Before you read this post, you might want to have a look at my writing about the 2009 International Blasphemy Day — Happy International Blasphemy Day (Well maybe not so happy.).

Hoooooray (not)! It’s September 30, International Blasphemy Day, I mean, Blasphemy Rights Day.

Yes, whoda thunk – a little rebranding for the proponents of blasphemy. Last year, it didn’t quite work out. The sponsoring organization, the Center for Inquiry, seemed to have gotten their feelings hurt by the many negative comments they had to endure. “The Friendly Atheist” blog commented on last year’s festivities:

What was supposed to be a day celebrating the right to free speech — including criticism of religion — became a free-for-all for mocking faith. To me, it was counter-productive to the actual goal of getting people to think seriously about the problems with faith. (http://friendlyatheist.com/2010/08/17/from-blasphemy-to-blasphemy-rights/)

What the Friendly Atheist didn’t say was that there might be a problem with the goal and the blasphemy day concept. The former head of CFI, Paul Kurtz, lambasted last year’s CFI sponsorship and characterized it as bordering on hate speech. (CFI Founder Paul Kurtz Blasts CFI’s Sponsorship of International Blasphemy Day)

The current leader of CFI, the again-sponsor of this year’s celebration, Ronald H. Lindsay, seems to be stinging a bit. They decided that they needed to “rebrand” their holiday. Instead of International Blasphemy Day, it is International Blasphemy Rights Day. It looks like Dr. Lindsay is a little sad in this quote. It sounds like some opposition (definitely wearing black hats or some religious garb) didn’t see a synch between what they said their goals were
and what the holiday actually was. It’s so hard when you’re misunderstood.

But in a textbook example of poisoning the well, soon after CFI’s announcement of Blasphemy Day some opposed to CFI’s mission
redefined the purpose of Blasphemy Day, claiming that CFI was sponsoring Blasphemy Day solely to ridicule and belittle believers. Unfortunately, this tactic had some success. Mud does stick. In an effort to eliminate any confusion about the purpose of this holiday, CFI decided to insert the word “Rights” in its name. The name change does not in any way imply muting our support for the freedom to blaspheme. It’s a new name, but the underlying message remains the same. (Commemorate Blasphemy Rights Day—Have a Bake Sale or Read the Bible)

“Freedom to blaspheme,” Ron, is such a noble thing!? I’m practicing my right to be condescending right now. It’s a new name, but the holiday is no different than last year’s event. The rebranding doesn’t alter the character of the day.

There are a few fundamental mischaracterizations of the opposition. First of all, it is doubtful that opposition had anything at all to do with “CFI’s mission.” I’d be surprised if the opposition was even aware of it. Second, the opposition didn’t redefine the day. CFI and its affiliates did what they did. The types of blasphemous activities promoted in the 2009 “celebration” were precisely all about “ridicule and belittling of believers.”

On the CFI website promoting the 2010 International Blasphemy Rights Day, the same contradictory statements are being made.

The goal is not out to promote hate or violence. (Not violence, but probably yes to little hate.) While many perceive blasphemy as insulting and offensive, it isn’t about getting enjoyment out of ridiculing and insulting others. The day was created as a reaction against those who would seek to take away the right to satirize and criticize a particular set of beliefs given a privileged status over other beliefs. Criticism and dissent towards opposing views is the only way in which any nation with any modicum of freedom can exist. (Nice try, wrapping yourself in the flag, but “freedom of speech” is not synonymous with “freedom to blaspheme.”) (International Blasphemy Rights Day 2010)

Let me get this straight……Are they saying the problem lies with “perceiving” what blasphemy is? It’s definitional!!!!!!!!! Blasphemy is what it is. Satirize and criticize are so gentle-sounding to describe the activities that CFI is promoting, but those activities speak for themselves.

This quote was mentioned in last year’s writing, but it is still very, very pertinent. Back in the 1920′s, during Prohibition, Dashiell Hammett had The Continental Op sitting in a bar reading a sign that said:

“ONLY GENUINE PRE-WAR AMERICAN AND BRITISH WHISKEYS SERVED HERE”

The Op started counting the lies in that sign and found, I believe, seven before abandoning the task. It seems the rebranding of a day for blasphemy into a day for blasphemy rights is a lot like that sign. No matter what Ron or CFI says, it’s not International Free Speech Day, promoting freedom of speech. It is about blasphemy. Blasphemy is, by definition, insulting and offensive and does consist of ridiculing and insulting – sorry, satirizing and criticizing.

Tucker Phelps, writing about Blasphemy Rights Day 2010, defines blasphemy as follows:

It’s the verbal or physical violation of something sacred, whether that “thing” is the former site of the Twin Towers, your wedding vows, the Eucharist, a well-worn and highly sentimental copy of your favorite book, or the Prophet Muhammad.

Unlike CFI, Phelps has a broader definition for blasphemy. CFI seems to be focused on the religious. As they said above, they are concerned about the right to say whatever they want against “a particular set of beliefs given a privileged status over other beliefs.”

Phelps then gives a more truthful description, and prescription of the day:

(Description) “It’s the day where people across the world denounce, debase, ridicule, mock and criticize whatever the hell they want.”

This description certainly sounds like there’s some “getting enjoyment out of ridiculing and insulting others.” Don’t you think, Ron. Tucker Phelps, by the way, is not necessarily a fan of religion. He is the Oakland Skepticism Examiner at examiner.com. See his post at (Celebrating Blasphemy). Let’s take a look at his prescription for the day:

Want to burn a flag? Go for it. Want to torch a Qu’ran? Here’s a match. Put a nail through a Eucharist, call the President a nigger, claim masturbation is adultery, tell the world there is no God, draw Muhammad with a bomb, picket with a list of sinners, condemn people to hell, deny the Holy Spirit; is it offensive? Yes. Do we have the right? Absolutely.

I have to give Phelps some credit: he’s an equal opportunity blasphemer – unlike CFI. Once again, CFI can use all of the verbal gymnastics they want to deny they are encouraging, to say the least, bad behavior against religion. The fact is, they are trying to have their cake and eat it too.

For the record, I am more than a little uncomfortable with the above quote. All of those things are repugnant to me. However, this is a pretty good example of how the rebranding is meaningless.

This whole “Blasphemy Day” thing was a reaction to rioting upon the publication of depictions of Muhammad in cartoons in a Danish newspaper. The tendency to violence inherent in negative press to Islam could be a concern. CFI and others are also concerned with blasphemy laws around the world. Here’s the problem: Not all that many of the proposed activities of Blasphemy Rights Day have that much to do with either Islam directly or blasphemy laws. It seems CFI is sheepishly and timidly siting the Danish cartoons, while using that as a pretext to slam all religion – Christianity in particular.

CFI has a list of possible activities to celebrate Blasphemy Rights day. If you read last year’s post, you will note that, in spite of the alleged rebranding, virtually all of the activities are the same as last year:

For International Blasphemy Rights Day (September 20, 2010):

Free Speech demonstration in a public area of campus.  Some ideas:

  1. 90-Second Megaphone: Anyone can come up and use the megaphone for 90 seconds to say anything, no matter how blasphemous or offensive.  (You could also use a soapbox-style small platform for the speakers.) (ALL RELIGION)
  2. Blasphemy Boards: Hang posterboard or butcher paper for anyone to write on. (ALL RELIGION)
  3. Post-It Board display: Anyone can come up throughout the day to write on a Post-It note that is then stuck to a display board for the day. (ALL RELIGION)
  4. Blasphemous Art Display: Partner with the college Art Department or with art students and have a blasphemous art show or demonstration in a public area on campus. (ALL RELIGION)
  5. Blasphemous Day of Service: Curious as to how to turn this into a service project?  On the Sabbath (Sunday) preceding or following September 30th, your club can engage in a day of volunteer work!  After all, in Exodus 31:15 it says, “For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death.” (CHRISTIANITY AND JUDAISM)
  6. Blasphemy Game Night: Host a social game night with the games “Blasphemy: The Race to the Cross” and “Playing Gods: The Board Game of Divine Domination“; or, you can create your own Blasphemy Pictionary and Blasphemy Charades. (sounds like CHRISTIANITY)
  7. Screening of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, an irreverent film that has been banned in some areas for its blasphemous content. (CHRISTIANITY and JESUS in particular)
  8. Deity Drawing Contest: This is well-suited to tabling in a public area.  Provide basic drawing supplies (crayons, pencils, paper) for a contest where the best drawing of a deity wins a prize!  Drawings can, of course, be of deities like the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Zeus, or Cthulu.  Make sure to collect names and contact information for each submission so that the winner can be contacted. (ALL RELIGION)
  9. Soul Exchange: Invite people to trade their souls for delicious home-baked cookies. (ALL RELIGION)
  10. Pascal’s Wager Wheel: Create a spinner labeled with different gods.  Then, invite passers-by to spin the wheel to find out which deity Pascal’s wager applies to for that person. (ALL RELIGION)

There’s a lot of blasphemy in these suggestions but a fairly week tie to free speech issues. This is a list of suggestions for campus groups, but it shows how weak the rebranding actually is. To be fair, Ronald Lindsay does suggest, in a blog post, that sacred books be read on Blasphemy Day. His blog tries to have a soft respectful tone (unless you think “Blasphemy shows that we care.” is about the silliest idea of the day) such as:

The religious want us to consider their claims to know The Truth; they want us to take them seriously. Let’s do that. We owe them that much, as fellow members of our community. Let’s take their beliefs seriously—and point out their flaws. Blasphemy shows that we care. (Commemorate Blasphemy Rights Day—Have a Bake Sale or Read the Bible)

Blasphemy goes far beyond “pointing out their flaws.” Like most of the CFI material. Lindsay’s blog, attempting to soften and redefine Blasphemy Rights Day, but, simultaneously, also endorses some pretty harsh stuff. Earlier in the post he compliments CFI affiliates thusly:

…our branches and campus affiliates are showing creativity in how they go about it (celebrating), with some having discussions, some having performances by comedians, some creating free expression zones in which both the religious and nonreligious are invited to air their views, and some having bake sales. (I have not asked whether hot cross buns will be among the offerings.)

He then encourages people to go to the CFI Facebook Page to see many of the ideas he termed so creative. I’m not going to reproduce what’s on that page. Please feel free to go to the Facebook page endorsed by CFI’s leader, Ronald Lindsay, and witness what’s really going on. (http://www.facebook.com/blasphemyday). You’ll marvel at the creativity that Lindsay admires. I didn’t see too much mutual respect, but I did see a lot of very blasphemous stuff. “Hot cross buns,” oh brother!

In short, International Blasphemy Rights Day – in spite of the rebranding – is pretty much about what CFI claims it is not about and very little about what they claim it is about.

Tucker Phelps, in his post about the celebration, says a whole lot of things that I don’t agree. But I do agree with this one thing (at least part of it):

That self-censorship still exists today and it is not something anyone, of any persuasion, should be standing for. People have the right to offend – we do not have the right to not be offended.

Self-censorship is a bad concept if it is motivated by any kind of fear (like rioting, murder, shunning, etc.). But the opposite of self-censorship is not blaspheming. There are other alternatives that are a lot less, shall we say, demeaning than blasphemy. Blasphemy excludes mutual respect and mutual respect excludes blasphemy. The irony with the “right not to be offended” argument is that it is a favored tactic used to silence theists especially by the very same “freethinkers” who are all about their own free speech.

Joe Johnston, Sr.

Science, Schmience – Part 2

Read Part 1.

A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.—Francis Bacon

In part one of this post, we shared some fairly jarring quotes from respected "scientists" that made it very clear that "objectivity" as it is asserted by "scientists" is illusionary, and "science" had little to do with the fairly widespread and bold assertion that evolution is a given scientific fact.  The quotes also made it quite clear that the real issue was keeping the possibility of theism as a viable concept at bay.

This "Biology Ideology" seems to have more to do with an atheistic worldview than science.  But how does that work?  It couldn’t be that "scientists" lie, cheat, and distort (can you say global warming)!  Then again maybe.  Romans describes this "psychology of atheism (materialism)"

1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse

Notice the phrase suppress the truth.  The very people who have studied the creation and are in the best position to marvel at its complexity are the very ones who push aside things like no explanation of life from nonlife and the fine tuning of the universe in favor of one or more ruductionistic conceptualizations of humanity and creation.  God says the miracle of creation can be clearly perceived.

Greg Koukl, on his weekly radio show related an interesting fact about the "science" of evolution.  In terms of the life from nonlife issue, he was challenged by an audience member that the whole process is on display at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.  He was in Chicago shortly thereafter and went to the display.  He saw the following written about the origin of life:

The Beginning:  "Once upon a long, long, long long time ago, life began."

That was all that the display had to say about how life began from nonlife.  Are you kidding me?  A museum that boldly states that evolution is a scientific fact glosses over how life began from nonlife with a "once upon a time."  Anybody can tell a story and then ascribe factuality without proof.  If a theist used that argument legions of "scientists" would scream for proof.

But then why is that surprising.  Romans continues:

1:21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools,

If your preconception is materialism, then material it is regardless of how foolish one must be or how much one must filter reality.  Paul Campos, a professor of Law at the University of Colorado comments:

Materialism is the view that at bottom reality consists of nothing but particles in fields of force, and that all events are caused solely by the operation of mindless physical laws. Several things should be noted about this belief. First, believing in materialism is an act of faith like any other. The ultimate nature of reality isn’t a scientific question, and anyone who expects science to provide answers regarding such matters doesn’t understand either science or religion.

Second, the debate about whether the world is ultimately a meaningless flux or something more has been going on for thousands of years. The belief that materialism is a product of post-Enlightenment thought in general and modern science in particular is itself a product of historical ignorance.     Materialism’s Leap of Faith  Rocky Mountain News  November 29, 2005

You have to believe first that there is nothing beyond material, then you see mindless physical laws must be what explains everything.  Materialism is a faith, a religion requiring belief beyond proof.  Materialism isn’t a forgone conclusion of modern scientific inquiry – with requisite proofs,  It is an a priori presupposition without proof.

Science is not about telling stories – especially wrapping the origin of life into a scientific fairy tale which is not scientific at all.  Nobody has proved life from nonlife.  As to becoming fools, how about the brilliant theory of pansmermia — that the universe and life are the result of aliens.  This is speculative narrative, not science. And, by the way, what is the origin of the aliens and their universe?

Further, as much as scientists want to rule out the metaphysical and only talk about material (thereby short-circuiting any meaningful debate with opposing viewpoints), they actually must use the metaphysical to construct evolution theory.  Cornelius Hunder, with a  Ph.D. in Biophysics writes

There is, to be sure, plenty of evidence supporting evolution, but there is plenty of evidence for all sorts of discarded theories. In fact, one can formulate arguments against evolution, often using the same evidence, that are more persuasive than the supporting arguments. But there is, as we shall see, a line of nonscientific — metaphysical — reasoning that is consistently used to support evolution. It uses scientific observations to argue against the possibility of divine creation. Such negative theology is metaphysical because it requires certain premises about the nature of God. A great irony reveals itself here: evolution, the theory that made God unnecessary, is itself supported by arguments containing premises about the nature of God. There is a profound yet subtle religious influence in the theory of evolution. Darwin as well as today’s modern evolutionists appeal to these metaphysical arguments.    Darwin’s God  (2001)  p.9-10

You can’t have it both ways.  Science wants to rule out anything but the materialistic, but simultaneously is a debtor to metaphysics.  They will dismiss "creation science" as non-science because there are some metaphysical issues even though much of the methodology is as "scientific" as that used by evolutionists.  Presuming life from nonlife, with little explanation, is quite a metaphysical assertion.

Evolutionists want to frame things they say as "objective" and residing in fact (like panspermia, maybe?), while dismissively asserting everything and everyone else is functioning below that level of "objectivity" and scientific rigor.  So-called objective investigation is at best illusionary, and at worst, deceit.  Dean Overman comments:

Complete objectivity in science is an illusion. Because so much of one’s analysis depends upon metaphysical assumptions, it should be acknowledged by this writer, and by all readers, that the answer one gives to a question depends to a great extent on the metaphysical position one has previously adopted. This is certainly true for theists and it is equally true for materialists. Frequently, the metaphysical conclusion is given as the rationale for a tortured interpretation of evidence. Theists and naturalists frequently refuse to follow evidence where it leads on the basis that to do so would result in a contradiction of their previous metaphysical conclusions.    A Case Against Accident and Self-Organization  (2001)  p.3

Everyone’s interpretations are affected by their own metaphysical presuppositions.  The point here is not so much that theists start off with a metaphysical framework, but the scientists start with non-provable assertions.  Scientists lie when they claim objective authority.  Science, schmience!

(Personal note:  I would have no problem conceding that theists might tend to see intelligent design while atheists (I mean materialistic scientists) would tend to see materialistic causes.  But the blatant falsity of materialists asserting an elite objective, scientific truth that trumps all other discussion is nothing less that scientific fascism – the big lie over and over again.)

Materialist science asserts a "gatekeeper" role which attempts to frame the debate by excluding much that might contradict their position.  The true gatekeeper is something else.  William Broad and Nicholas Wade comment:

The ultimate gatekeeper of science is neither peer reviews, nor referees, nor replication, nor the universalism implicit in all three mechanisms. It is time. In the end, bad theories don’t work, fraudulent ideas don’t explain the world so well as true ideas do. The ideal mechanisms by which science should work are applied to a large extent in retrospect… Time and the invisible boot that kicks out all useless science are the true gatekeepers of science. But these inexorable mechanisms take years, sometimes more than a millennium, to operate. During the interval, fraud may flourish, particularly if it can find shelter under the mantle of immunity that scientific elitism confers. Betrayers of the Truth  (1982)  p.106

It is quite likely that the seeming fascism in academe which punishes any who dare to question materialism is described quite well above.  The fact is that far too many scientific discoveries are undermining rather than supporting evolution.  To be sure, evolution was debunked in the nineteenth century, only to be clung to as a defense against theism.  Even evolutionary scientists sometimes let it slip.  "Chance" as an explanation seems more and more unlikely.  Fred Hoyle has stated:

At all events, anyone with even a nodding acquaintance with the Rubik cube will concede the near-impossibility of a solution being obtained by a blind person moving the cube faces at random. Now imagine 1050 blind persons each with a scrambled Rubik cube, and try to conceive of the chance of them all simultaneously arriving at the solved form. You then have the chance of arriving by random shuffling of just one of the many biopolymers on which life depends. The notion that not only the biopolymers but the operating program of a living cell could be arrived at by chance in a primordial organic soup here on the Earth is evidently nonsense of a high order.    "The Big Bang in Astronomy"  New Scientist  November 19, 1981  pp.521-527

"Chance" as a causal explanation can only be accepted with the utmost religious fervor (albeit materialistic).  Francis Crick further comments:

An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.    Life Itself  (1981)  p.88

An honest man who is not suppressing the truth would look at the ever widening awareness of the complexity of creation and probably have to rule out chance.

It may take a generation, but the hold evolution has on academe will eventually become so untenable – can you say panspermia or multiverse theory – that even entrenched members of the "scientific club" will find themselves standing around in their underwear with the Emperor. The mechanism of time as outlined above is clearly working against evolution.  Malcolm Muggeridge commented thusly:

I myself am convinced that the theory of evolution, especially the extent to which it’s been applied, will be one of the great jokes in the history books of the future. Posterity will marvel that so very flimsy and dubious an hypothesis could be accepted with the incredible credulity that it has.    The Advocate  March 8  1984  p. 17

People believe a lie because they want to.  Some believe a lie because it’s too much trouble not to.  Still others have so many cognitive compartments – separated very well – that conflicting views don’t cause any disequilibrium.

Outside of academe and the Atheist clubs worldwide, a significant percentage of people clearly don’t really believe we came from chance and will cease into nothingness.  Tragically, the thought police have succeeded in causing great existential angst in our young about the "Nausea" reality of no God.

Social conceptualizations are tough to fight (particularly when the educational establishment is so dominated by materialism).  It seems, however, that the tide is slowly turning against scientific dishonesty and biology ideology.

Many of the developments in science – in spite of materialism – are pointing away from Darwinist evolution. That’ll be the time when it will no longer be "science, schmience."

In China we can criticize Darwin but not the government. In America you can criticize the government, but not Darwin.    The Wall Street Journal  August 16, 1999   — Jun-Yuan Chen,
Research Professor  Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology (This would be biology idealogy.)

A current blog puts it a little more earthily:

Origin of Life (OOL) research is one of those areas in science where one doesn’t have to make any real progress, as long as he or she looks busy.  Anything the scientist says, no matter how speculative, or even foolish, is likely to be taken seriously, because the alternative – creation – has already been ruled out as "pseudoscience" by the ruling scientific elite. (Creation-Evolution Headlines)

Here’s something that’s hard to understand. The society has embraced relativism (no absolute truth, reality, etc.). The society has also embraced pluralism. But that same society allows materialistic "scientists" to operate as if they had a corner on absolute truth and reality, and there was no room for pluralism (multiplicity of viewpoints). Very puzzling (unless you read Romans 1).

–Joe Johnston Sr.

Science Schmience: The Stupid Lie of Objective Science

It’s usually bad policy to just find quotes from people to prove your argument.  If you look long enough, you can find someone, somewhere who says something so outrageous it proves your point.

But once in awhile quotes are so jolting that they can stand on their own.  The topic is science (in this case origins or evolution) and religion (creation).  Actually, the word science doesn’t even apply because the quotes make it clear that when you strip away not all that many layers, you’re really talking about the quite  not objective religion of science.

Right now – mostly because of aggressive atheists with a goal of removing theism from the world – evolution is quite the hot topic.  One of the leading militant atheists has suggested that Darwinism should be an a priori position.  Yet another of the “new atheists” has asserted that anyone who doesn’t accept Darwinism is just plain “stupid.”

This means what?  It sounds a lot like a bargain you have to strike to be considered in the scientific or intellectual fraternity.

Ernst Haeckel, one of the chief proponents of Darwinism, stated in 1876: "If we do not accept the hypothesis of spontaneous generation, then at this one point in the history of evolution we must have recourse to the miracle of a supernatural creation."

Apparently, spontaneous generation was debunked in the 1800’s.  But that little fact had to be “forgotten.”

Here’s a quote from George Wald (a Nobel Prize winning scientist from Harvard) you might find interesting:

"When it comes to the origin of life, we have only two possibilities as to how life arose. One is spontaneous generation arising to evolution; the other is a supernatural creative act of God. There is no third possibility…Spontaneous generation was scientifically disproved one hundred years ago by Louis Pasteur, Spellanzani, Reddy and others. That leads us scientifically to only one possible conclusion — that life arose as a supernatural creative act of God…I will not accept that philosophically because I do not want to believe in God. Therefore, I choose to believe in that which I know is scientifically impossible, spontaneous generation arising to evolution." – Scientific American, August, 1954.

Science is objective, right? Religion is backward, right? Another quote, this time from Richard Lewontin (also a noted Harvard scientist):

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.    "Billions and Billions of Demons"

So scientists, it appears, only find what they are looking for – for fear of the Divine Foot!  But even scientists can waver unless their commitment to their “religion of science” is strong.  Another quote from Richard Lewontin:

Theodosius Dobzhansky, the leading empirical evolutionary geneticist of the twentieth century, who spent most of his life staring down a microscope at chromosomes, vacillated between deism, Gnosticism, and membership in the Russian Orthodox Church. He could not understand how anyone on his or her deathbed could remain an unrepentant materialist. I, his student and scientific epigone, ingested my unwavering atheism and a priori materialism along with the spinach at the parental dinner table.     "The Wars Over Evolution"  New York Review of Books  October 20, 2005

C.S. Lewis (Christian intellectual), in private correspondence stated

I have read nearly the whole of Evolution [probably Acworth’s unpublished “The Lie of Evolution”] and am glad you sent it. I must confess it has shaken me: not in my belief in evolution, which was of the vaguest and most intermittent kind, but in my belief that the question was wholly unimportant. I wish I were younger. What inclines me now to think that you may be right in regarding it as the central and radical lie in the whole web of falsehood that now governs our lives is not so much your arguments against it as the fanatical and twisted attitudes of its defenders.     Letter to Bernard Acworth  September 13, 1951

And that “fanatical and twisted” set of attitudes is now on steroids by an intellectual “elite” that uses primarily ad hominem attacks as its argument.

You need to reach your own conclusions.  You might want to take a critical look at science’s claims of objectivity.  One more quote from Richard Leowontin:

Despite its claims to be above society, science, like the Church before it, is a supremely social institution, reflecting and reinforcing the dominant values and views of society at each historical epoch. Sometimes the source in social experience of a scientific theory and the way in which that scientific theory is a direct translation of social experience are completely evident, even at a detailed level. The most famous case is Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Biology as Ideology (1992) p.8-9

Biology as ideology, indeed.  Social Darwinism and the Industrial Revolution were made for each other.  Or maybe we should coin the phrase intellectual fascism.

–Joe Johnston Sr.

P.S.  "Emperor Science" wants us to fear admitting we don’t see his clothes.

This article has a part 2 – Click to read.

Church Shopping Isn’t Always a Bad Thing

It is almost axiomatic for discussions of leaving a church to turn negative.  Images of “what can I get out of this church,” “I’m leaving because you won’t do X, Y or Z,” “it’s the music,”  “it’s the people,” as they say in “The King and I’ etc, etc. etc.

Negative conceptions usually center around leaving for what can be characterized as “the wrong reasons.”  The “wrong reasons” usually boil down to self-centered, consumerist choices.  Many times the reasons don’t hold up.  There are others who can’t make a commitment and never join a church – they merely keep flitting, visiting, remaining unaccountable..

Once you become a Christian, a process of sanctification begins and will eventually take you to glorification.  Certainly you are not in charge of the process, but you are certainly responsible to co-operate in the process.  Your church is part of this.  It may very well be in your self-interest – as opposed to selfishness – to consider why you are staying or why you should consider leaving.

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I’m going to drop in and out of first person.  Just for the record, we – meaning our family unit – have attended five churches since 1982.  So in 28 years we have waved the goodbye wave four times.  There are many we have encountered who have been very longstanding members of church bodies and wouldn’t think of moving no matter what.  I respect that loyalty, but I fear that that level of loyalty isn’t always the best thing.

I believe the shortest term at a church for us was five years.  One of our moves was solely due to changing locations – the others were deliberate.  I think, but am not totally certain, we left for appropriate reasons.  We left quickly and quietly and didn’t attempt to take anyone with us.  We tried to respect those who didn’t see the need to leave.

  • Church number one we left because after many confirming instances, it was clear that the “comfort level” of the people was more important than the Gospel.  Can you say “country club?” 
  • Church number two became embroiled in a power struggle between the pastor (who was not really seeking power) and some very Congregationalist people in the pews.  We left because – after others had gone — we were almost the only people under sixty and pretty much the only young family with kids.  The situation was also complicated by membership demands that our consciences were not convinced of.
  • Leaving church number three was because of a move, but this was a church that didn’t really want new members to upset the apple cart.  They got their wish as the church’s membership dwindled and it is now disbanded.
  • Church number four was a mistake.  Most of the evidence of that fact only became apparent late in our tenure there.  Unfortunately in hindsight, there were many signs unnoticed (to my personal discredit). The doctrine looked right on paper, but the entire church culture didn’t support this.
  • Church number five is our present church.  Finally…..

My intent was to write a rather philosophical piece summarizing appropriate whys and hows of moving to a new church.  This post will probably end up being much more visceral.

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There seem to be scores and scores of churches in America and elsewhere that are nothing less than treasonous to Jesus and the Gospel.  They are aided and abetted by seminaries, post-modern culture, church-growth experts, scores of individuals seeking to create God in their own image, and pastors who have sold out for a pension and a paycheck.

It is quite clear that there has been a dissonance between the people in the pews and the clergy and clergy power structure in many places.  The movements of the church such as liberalism are a top-down transformation. The tragedy of this is many people unknowingly change with it.  If your church is going down the wrong path and you actually notice it, you have two choices.

Choice number one is to stay and attempt to retard the “progress” down the wrong path.  This has been the sad state of many a church member watching things get gradually worse, but hoping and praying they don’t go too far.  Much worse than this is not noticing the so-gradual shifts.  The theological fog that exists in virtually all churches today makes this approach, at best, unfortunate and, at worst, doomed.  Nevertheless, it is the path for some.  The only caveat would be to make sure that the motivation for staying is a righteous one.  If you’re over 70 and have attended all your life, this can be very painful.

Choice number one – staying – can be facilitated by a very unfortunate idea.  That idea being that all of this a personal reality thing that isn’t subject to the whims of the church.  This semi-Gnostic idea renders the church as almost irrelevant to personal spirituality.

Choice number two is to leave.  This is often the choice that can be dangerous in its implications; dangerous in terms of assuring correct motives; dangerous in the “how” of leaving; and challenging in its execution.  Just as the choice to stay can require far too much denial, the choice to leave can have the proverbial “the grass is greener” aspects.

Here is a collection of bad reasons to stay when your church has clearly departed from or is lukewarm to orthodox Christianity:

  • “I’ve been a member my entire life.  How can I leave?”  While loyalty and tradition are to be respected, remaining does nothing but continue to enable the church’s wrong direction.
  • “I don’t believe that my personal relationship with God can be placed in jeopardy by this church.”  There is  truth to this.  However, your relationship to God can be negatively effected.  Hearing a weekly diet of unbiblical teaching.will certainly change your conceptualizations.  The Epistles are chocked full of teaching on this.  It is also very unwise to spend you entire life merely on “milk” and never getting any “meat.”
  • “If my local church is faithful to the Gospel, it doesn’t matter about the denomination.”  This statement requires a lot of cautions.  First, customarily local churches pay a type of “head tax” per member to the denomination.  This money is turned over for their use.  Your church contributions to God’s work may very well be used for purposes contradicting God’s work.  The denomination can make requirements of the local church which will have an effect on its teaching and practices.
  • Staying may have negative effects on your children and family.  It is being widely reported that 75% of youth who grew up in the church leave it sometime during college.  This is a rather shocking statistic.  It can happen for many reasons, but aiding and abetting a feel-good gospel, lukewarm gospel, lack of teaching, and too much “let’s have fun or they’ll not come” Sunday school and youth group leave youth with not enough background and breadth to stay the course.  Many times, not enough knowledge of what Christianity is can leave both youth and their parents in a fog of unknowingness.

There are  other bad reasons for staying in a church.  The most troubling aspect of this is that bad or lukewarm churches have produced at least one, but probably two or three generations of Biblically illiterate Christians “tossed about” by fads, faulty teaching, and disconnect.

It is crucial that people ask themselves regularly both “why am I staying” and “is it time to go.”  The American church is probably in much worse shape than the average Christian churchgoer realizes

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The church we belong to now is in a denomination that is probably irreconcilably apostate.  Our church people are routinely “booed” at regional denominational meetings.  There will clearly be a point where it will no longer be possible for our church to remain in the denomination.  There will probably also be a point when “stay and fight” makes sense no more.  Our church does not financially support denominational enterprises without designation.  So we can remain for now.

Much of the teaching in church number four – largely unbeknownst to us – created conflict in our children’s minds about Christianity.  We found out, for example, years later that one of ours was told there was nothing wrong with premarital sex by the pastor.  To our discredit, it never occurred to us we had to worry on this and similar scores.

We found that many churches say the right words but don’t mean the right words.

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So let’s get back to choice number two – leave a church.  Below are some things to think about.

  • To stay in a church or choose a new one, you should be very clear about whether their doctrinal statement is in line with biblical teachings.  This might require a little research on your part, but generally who they say Jesus is and what they say about justification by faith alone is key.
  • VERY IMPORTANT:  It should be clear your pastor and church leadership actually are believers.  This didn’t used to be as much of an issue as it is now.  What they SAY they believe and what they DO about that is important.
  • Your church’s stand on Biblical authority is very crucial.  If Biblical concepts tend to always be re-explained, allegorized, or downright contradicted, this might indicate potential treason.
  • If your church is “spinning” the concept of sin and punishment, it is possible they have departed from the gospel.  It is not necessary to phrase everything in the harshest way, but if sin has turned into mistakes; Jesus has turned from redeemer to “example of a Christian life;  God is redefined particularly relating to holiness; consequences are downplayed; and human insights have superseded Biblical truth, then your church is in serious trouble.  You may very well need to abandon ship.
  • If the finished work of Christ is being amended back into works righteousness, your church has lost the gospel.  This is not limited to so-called liberal churches.  Many “evangelical” types have been slipping back into “deeds not creeds.”
  • Seeker-sensitive isn’t necessarily a complete red flag, but the concept is seriously flawed.  People will stay in a church for the same reason they were drawn in.  If they were drawn in for self-improvement rather than Word and Sacrament, the church will morph into a self-help church.
  • Your “church culture” should be perceived as fundamentally Christian.  There should be observable differences in the people as a result of their Christianity.  Not talking about imperfections, but about a general milieu of “Christian-ness.”
  • This is a rough one:  If the focus of your worship service is you worshiping rather than God, this is a very bad sign.  Not only is it a very bad sign, but it is everywhere.  With the “help” of contemporary Christian music, many of the songs are about the worshipper rather than the object of worship.
  • At the risk of being repetitive, there are pastors all over who no longer or never did believe.  They have been instrumental in much of the liberalization (not in a good sense) of churches.  Your elders and even members should be vigilant in making sure the teaching and preaching are from belief.
  • If your church isn’t doing expository preaching, you are definitely missing something.  The teaching may only be sticking with “milk” and never getting to “meat.”  If you visit a church doing expository preaching, you will surely become aware of what you are missing.

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Let me be a little less tender to give examples.  At least two of the churches we attended had appropriate doctrinal statements without it translating to vibrant Christian Word and Sacrament..

The problem was that the doctrinal statement resided on the paper it was printed on, but was contradicted in practice (much of that being of omission).  Other things almost always took priority.  If your church seems to phrase everything in a therapeutic motif, it is quite likely the doctrinal statement is only that – a statement.

If your pastor, in particular, does not demonstrate belief or seems to be soft whenever there is an issue, then your church may have left or be leaving true Christianity.

It is in your self-interest to be involved in a church where you are not only fed, but where you can provide meaningful Christian service.  Self-interest with the goal of co-operating in your sanctification is not bad.. 

Final thought:  Be in the place God wants you to be.  But don’t be co-opted by churches and pastors who are nothing less than treasonous   Prayer and honesty will help a lot.  When we shop in stores, we usually look for the best deal for us.  When we shop for a church, we look for the best God has to offer us.

– Joe Johnston Sr,.

Are You Guilty of Being Obsolete? Part 2

Read Part 1 of this post.

The Obsolete Man – Part 2

In part 1 of this post, looking at The Twilight Zone episode, The Obsolete Man, concepts of statism and statolatry were discussed.  During the first ten minutes of the episode (part 1), librarian Romney Wordsworth was tried and convicted of being obsolete.

In the dystopian state of this episode, being obsolete was a capital crime.  Our hero, Mr. Wordsworth, confronted The State in three ways.  He asserted:  that his occupation (librarian) was more than a job, but was his identity;  that no human being could be characterized as obsolete — his assertion being based on the individual’s mere existence and inherent value.  He disagreed with The State’s declaration that God did not exist and indicated The State didn’t have the power to “erase God with an edict.”  In this part of the episode (part 2), we learn of other transgressions.  Wordsworth kept a Bible which was punishable by death.  His residence was full of books.  Books, you remember, were eliminated by The State.  Generally, he did not “fit” in The State.

In part 1 of this post, it became clear the distance between 2010 American culture and the statist / statolatrist State portrayed in the 1961 episode has narrowed.  Further, it was asserted that the most significant issue was the growth of a statist / statolatrist worldview in the America mind.

Wordworth’s assertions contradict fundamental principles of statism and statolatry.  The individual is subsumed by the group.  The State has the power to define truth.  The primary function of citizens is to serve The State.  So The State can be the only God because it is all-powerful and is unanswerable to any external authority.  Simple political/philosophical statism naturally and inevitably leads to statolatry.

In the second part of the episode, the location shifts to Romney Wordsworth’s living quarters.  It is full of books and homemade furniture.  Upon Wordsworth’s invitation, the Chancellor shows up and they discuss many things which reveal even more about The State.  The Chancellor is surprised and a little suspicious by the invite, given the situation:

Chancellor: Yes…I’m somewhat responsible for the finding in your case. Your…demise in less than an hour can be attributed to my decision. (Pause) I’ll tell you why I came here Mr. Wordsworth. Perhaps, to prove something to you.
Wordsworth: And that is…?

The Chancellor, it seems, found himself not really being able to decline the invite because of appearances.  He said he would prove something to Wordsworth:  “to prove to you that The State has no fears, none whatsoever… “  Appearances would continue to be very important as events unfolded.

Librarian Wordsworth is slightly incredulous — There is some sweet irony in the situation:

Wordsworth: (laughing) Forgive me Chancellor, that has the elements of a joke….I mean you come to MY room to prove that The State…isn’t afraid of me!? Why what an incredible burden I must be! For The State to have to prove that it  isn’t afraid of an obsolete librarian like myself. (He sits)

Librarian Wordsworth considers the methodology of the state (statism and statolatry as well) and posits his own diagnosis of why The State needs to proclaim him obsolete.

Wordsworth: I don’t fit your formuli. Your state has everything categorized…indexed, TAGGED. People like you are the strength, people like me are the weakness. You control order and dictate and my kind…merely follow and obey. But something has gone wrong hasn’t it? I don’t fit, do I?

Wordsworth rightly concludes that his real crime is not some objective “sin,” but existing outside the closed classification system of The State.  He is supposed to grow beyond books and libraries.  He is supposed to agree to atheism.  Most importantly, he is supposed to be weak and submissive to the will of The State..

In the late years of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st century, American government has emphasized the importance of categorizing, indexing, and tagging people.  The citizens – rather than being seen as the source of power – are in many ways seen as at best, unenlightened; at worst, weak and a management problem.

The contemporary American state seems to have fallen into a pattern of  action to expand itself:

1. Defining a social problem (many times with the motif of “the children, the you-name-it social group, or impending catastrophe).
2.  Attributing it to the foibles of its citizens, or corporations, or you-name-the-group-needing-“help” or “guidance.” 
3. Classifying the problem as having the “compelling interest” of the state.
4. Developing programs and controls to fix the problem.

The “fix” almost always involves expanding the power of the state – I mean the nanny-state – I mean the enlightened legislators and their allies, the cultural elite.  This methodology is like a river – it always flows in the same direction.  America hasn’t gotten to the point of using execution as its primary solution strategy. Likewise, dissent hasn’t become vilified into obsolescence, but there are similarities nevertheless.

As was stated in part i of the post, 1961 viewers were looking at then current and historical totalitarian regimes.  The Chancellor claims them as The State’s heritage, and asserts these states erred:

Chancellor: …. But their error was not one of excess it was simply not going far enough!

This would be puzzling in 1961, in a sense, because even Communist USSR had renounced the excesses (like say mass executions) of Stalin.

The State had its reasons to declare many people obsolete.

Too many undesirables left around and undesirables eventually create a corps of resistance. Old people for example, clutch at the past and won’t accept the new. The sick, the maimed, the deformed, they fasten onto the healthy body and damage it. So WE eliminate them!  And people like yourself, they can perform no useful function for The State, so…we put an end to them.

Most totalitarian states in history have engaged in mass executions as cleansings of one kind or another.  Many Americans, however, might be surprised to notice that the above quote isn’t as unlike America as it may seem.

The modern eugenics — essentially an America originated product — movement sought to insure that only good genes were passed on.  They claimed Darwinism as their authority.  Some might be surprised to know that many states had forced sterilization programs.  Forced sterilization required declaring citizens to be socially defective (seems a bit like obsolete)

Accusations have recently been made that the real effect of legal abortion (read abortion industry) has been “thinning the herd” specifically of African-American births (Black Genocide), and female births (Gendercide).  It has  been alleged that baby selection has gotten out of hand.   (AbortionFacts.com).

Euthanasia is not nearly as unthinkable as it used to be.  It is even legal – in the form of assisted suicide — in several states.  We don’t send old people out on the ice flow, but we do a pretty good job of segregating them.  Someday it may become a compelling interest of the state when not enough “younger” people can pay the Social Security Tax for seniors.

And in spite of some progress, Americans, by and large, don’t do too well dealing with people with disabilities.  Check the employment percentages for many disabled.  Legally blind unemployment is at around 75% – and many of those employed are employed in sheltered (read exploitive low pay) workshops.  There are also some groups of disabled whose lives are being precluded via pre-birth screening.  The picture is a bit bleak, but still has the potential to go either way.

Librarian Wordsworth had a trick up his sleeve.  He could do nothing to change his fate (“liquidation”) at the hands of The State, but he could secretly lock his door and reveal to the Chancellor that a bomb would go off at midnight.  Thus leveling the playing field, Wordsworth and the Chancellor get to demonstrate what they’re made of on national television.

Wordsworth: Let the whole country see the strength of The State, the resilience of The State, the courage of The State. Let the whole country see the way a valiant man of steel faces his death.

Much of the remainder of the episode involves each man spending their last 20 minutes, waiting for midnight.  At this point, in a sense, Wordsworth and the Chancellor become symbols.  The Chancellor must exude the power of the state.  Wordsworth, the man who remains free even though powerless.  It is also likely that Wordsworth symbolizes the man whose ultimate authority is God – not State.  After midnight they will both be – perhaps – possessing the same power or lack thereof.

Wordsworth:  Why don’t you sit down, we’ll have a little chat.  Just you and me… and the great equalizer…..cause death is the great equalizer…(to the camera) So here you have this strong, handsome, uniformed, bemedaled symbol of giant authority and this little, insignificant, librarian…and suddenly in the eyes of God….there is precious little to distinguish us….

The two men await death in their own ways.  The Chancellor – representing the state – makes a valiant effort to live up to his expected role.  Given that Wordsworth committed the capital crime of keeping a Bible for twenty years, we can probably attribute to him Christian faith.  Believing in something that transcends the statolatry based state, he chooses to spend his last moments reading aloud for himself and the nation (including the Chancellor) his cherished Bible   The Bible reading and the “ticking” of the clock share the stage until 11:59.  Even so, the choice of verses juxtaposes the reality.

23:1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
 3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.
Psalm 23

(ESV)

TIME:  11:42
59:1
Deliver me from my enemies, O my God;
protect me from those who rise up against me;
2 deliver me from those who work evil,
and save me from bloodthirsty men.
3 For behold, they lie in wait for my life;
fierce men stir up strife against me.
For no transgression or sin of mine, O Lord,
4 for no fault of mine, they run and make ready.
Awake, come to meet me, and see!
5 You, Lord God of hosts, 
Psalm 59:1-5

(ESV)

TIME:  11:54
53:1
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity;
there is none who does good.
2 God looks down from heaven
on the children of man
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God
.
Psalm 53:1-2

(ESV)

TIME: 11:56
130:1
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
2 O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?

Psalm 130:1-3 (ESV)

Regardless of your opinions, Bible-wise, it is clear that Wordsworth’s calm reading supplies a fitting contrast to the brave symbol of The State with arms crossed, or trying to smoke the proverbial last cigarette – with no expectation of anything after death. Wordsworth is certain in the presence of his enemies (bloodthirsty men) who do abominable iniquity (like executing 1300 citizens in six hours) and the shadow of death.   He does not agree that he is guilty of being obsolete.  He has the understanding of authority beyond and above The State, as well as expectations beyond death.

There is a copy of the script on the internet (Script of The Obsolete Man).   It is clear that the transcriber wasn’t familiar with Bible verses.  There were a couple of transcription errors that were actually quite ironic and showed context to the story.

“Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (The episode used the King James Version.) was replaced with “By rod and by staff they come for me.”  In the former, the rod and staff were symbols of God’s sovereign love and care.  In the mistaken transcription, the rod and staff were more like weapons of The State.  The psalmist asks God to “be attentive to my supplications.”  The King James is very different from the ESV above.  The transcriber wrote “be attended to my suffocations.”  This certainly could apply to his impending death.

There are very many rather jarring foreshadows in this almost 60 year old tale:

  • The State is the source of all – defining truth, “protecting” citizens (at a price), enforcing conformity.  We are not yet “forcing” but the “pressuring”(like “political correctness”) has certainly increased.
  • Group and group-think are more important than individual.  While we pretend to exalt individual autonomy, easily ascertainable limiting is evident – usually also based on “political correctness.”
  • Many citizens have given over power to the state – willingly or otherwise.  This is in contrast to “forced,” but our state has frequently limited freedom for the “common good.”
  • Words are characterized as delusions. Words in our culture have given way to images.
  • Books have been eliminated. Literacy and critical thinking have diminished although books certainly have not.
  • In the episode, the Chancellor lashes out at language.  Language and its analysis has been a primary mode of attack on unpopular ideas.  Freire has defined language as a tool of the ruling class. This is clearly true also in attacks on the Bible.
  • Statism has become evident in the minds of the intelligentsia.  The secular viewpoint is making headway in superseding theistic religious thought.  We are clearly not yet in statolatry, but the statism mindset is evident in many ways.
  • The state declared God doesn’t exist.  Theistic religious thought is routinely criticized using the motif of obsolescence.  Some say both evolution and science have rendered religious thought as primitive.  The intelligentsia, with the support of many, have declared open season on theists.
  • The State proclaimed atheism.  There are serious efforts to preclude those with religious principles from participating in the mechanisms of culture.  We will have “freedom” of religion as long at it stays on the “religion reservation.”
  • The State demands total control of individuals.  American “individualism” is under attack in favor of membership in a group or culture.
  • Similarly, the definition of what it means to be human has gone from “one endowed by their Creator with certain alienable rights” to total of genes, all through merely evolutionary survival, not better than other animals,
  • The state has authority to define truth.  Absolutism (except for that of the intelligentsia) is under attack and, in many ways, is retreating.  Relativism – in spites of its inherent contradictions – is the accepted mode of thought.

The issue – far beyond the dystopian vision of the obsolete man – is whether a kind of avuncular statism and statolatry is emerging in the minds of many Americans.  This is not about a conspiracy theory, but how the issues in The State existing in 1961 in The Twilight Zone may be encroaching reality.  Rod Serling’s epilogue:

The Narrator: The chancellor … was only partly correct (about being obsolete). …(on being obsolete) but so is the State, the entity he worshiped. Any state, any entity, any ideology that fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of man, that state is obsolete. A case to be filed under “M” for mankind—in the Twilight Zone.

Serling’s comments in 1961 provide a “what should” kind-have analysis. The events from 1961 through the end of The Cold War proved that statism was expanding throughout the world.  Today, there is still plenty of statism in the world – even with fairly convincing historical proof that socialism doesn’t work.  It’s a bit of a different kind of statism, but statism nevertheless.   Clearly, statism and statolatry can be viewed as backward steps rather than progress.

I did a lot of tap dancing – particularly in the last quote – not to give away the ending.  Below is access to the ending which was not discussed.

Statism and statolatry in America will probably be more subtle than what we saw in The Obsolete Man.  It will be avuncular or nanny-like.  Many isolated segments of the society have succumbed to unreasonable regulation.  The trick is to create issue after issue which rise to “compelling interests of the State.”

It has been posited by historians of the eugenics movement that the quickest way to gain government power is to have a government that runs healthcare.  If the government has a compelling interest in healthcare, then anything, any behavior, must succumb to government regulation and probably taxation.

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The remainder of this post will look at the issues raised by this television episode from a Christian worldview.

Central to any evaluation of statism/statolatry is whether any state has the right to demand total allegiance.  In other words, where does power of the government reside?  The Founding Fathers believed it came with the consent of the governed.  Further, it was believed that the government received its right to rule from God.

Relativism, if it is interpreted that every individual creates his own reality and truth, renders all government as tyrannical.  The government would, in this view, be placing arbitrary limits on individual autonomy – limits without external justification.

Relativism, if viewed from the standpoint of social constructivism, would mean government would be obligated to codify into law the agreed norms of society.  This view precludes absolute morality from the equation.  There is, in this view, no injustice because each society has the right to its self-determinationMorality – rather than being externally prescribed – would be at best social constructs, and, at worse, nothing more than preference.  In this model, if a society deems female infanticide as morally justifiable (as several societies have), then there is no external principle to intervene.

It is impossible for statism to thrive without the removal of external standards.  Therefore, any society can easily become a statist society in the absence of absolute moral guidelines.  To embrace relativism, will eventually lead to some form of statism.

It is no accident that the chain goes

embrace relativism>
by removing external standards>
requires removing God>
creates a vacuum>
the state must intervene to prevent anarchy>
statism becomes the norm>
the state, to justify and increase its moral imperative>
morphs into statolatry.

And the fact is none of this can work without force being exerted by the state (coercive or gentle).  This force functions to remove external constraints (like Judeo-Christian principles) from the public “debate.” This would require a cultural elite that has embraced its right to statist power.  The cultural elite would – whether knowingly or not – be usurping Divine authority.  (If you disbelieve in Deity, this makes just as much sense because all government is then a matter of whose got the power.  Thus, statism and statolatry are almost guaranteed because lack of absolute principles create the necessary vacuum.)  Notice that the only moral principle in the world of The Obsolete Man was performing a function for The State.

Every totalitarian state has had to eliminate God, redefine God in light of its claims, or replace God.  Russia, China, and most Marxist regimes eliminated God.  They are also replacing God, but this is not necessarily overtly discussed (even though loyalty to The Party is demanded).  Any state that uses God as a rationalization for action is redefining God.  This has occurred in parts of the former Yugoslavia.  Note that rationalization is different than abiding by a God-given principle.  Statolatric states elevate their leader to God status.  This happened in Rome and many places that practiced “emperor worship.”  There is good reason to distrust very charismatic leaders who function primarily through their charisma and the public’s emotions.

Dystopian visions have looked at unbridled statism.  The world of 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 were worlds of brainwashing and coercion.  These are similar to the world of The Obsolete Man.

The world of Rollerball had an only slightly different form of coercion.  It certainly was brainwashing, but a far more subtle type.  They used sports to show the people that individual effort and identity were useless.  In present-day America, unrestrained bias and control of the stream of information seem to also look a lot like avuncular brainwashing.  Fortunately, there still remain other counteractive forces.

Another type of dystopian vision is to immobilize and control the population with pleasure and things unimportant.  The Brave New World had this.  Contemporary America shows signs of this hedonistic worldview.  Hedonistic philosophy has the potential to render a people helpless and unaware.  Clearly, a population bent on “entertaining itself to death” needs protection from a nanny-state to minimize self-destruction.  A hedonistic society lacking a sense of delayed gratification can be easily persuaded to let the government handle things.

In 2010, many Americans have allowed statism to creep into their minds.  It is likely that it is a mixture of the dystopian views presented above.  Whether it entered via hedonism, brainwashing, or the mere absence of universal guiding principles, it resides and facilitates the surrendering of “rights.”  Or, perhaps, the claiming of rather unimportant rights instead of essential rights.

Rod Serling – in 1961 – got it right.  He juxtaposed the state on one side and the individual with God-given status (the status of being made in the image of God) on the other.  The fact is, without God, the individual can be seen as “just one of the critters” or even less.

-Joe Johnston Sr.

Postscript:  The Obsolete Man story concept probably would have zero potential to be put on television in 2010.  Think about why!

The ending:  The Obsolete Man, Part 3 (Pay particular attention to the almost religious lilt of the pronunciation of the word obsolete.)

Trade Your Bible in for Porn – Scorn!

Speaking of shrill, an atheist student group has set up a table on the campus of the University of Texas at San Antonio.  Their project name is “Smut for Smut.”  If you turn in your Bible (which they consider smut), they will give you some real smut (a pornographic magazine).

Here’s the rationale in a quote from the sponsoring organization:

“The idea is that religious texts are so appalling. They are so full of genocide, misogyny and ludicrous ideas that far overshadow any banal common-sense platitudes like loving thy neighbor, that you are better off having porn, which isn’t nearly as smutty.”

One wonders where this idea came from.  It’s ripe with the same nasty anti-Christian sentiment that inspired International Blasphemy Day.

The university has decided this falls under “protected free speech.”  The university culture only tolerates certain free speech, however.  Their ”tolerance” would be quite different if this type of campaign were undertaken against other books.  One can only imagine the university’s quite different reaction if any of these types of writings were juxtaposed with “smut”:  feminist literature, gay/lesbian/transgender studies literature, African-American literature, non-Christian, yet religious literature (like, for example, Islam).

In fact it is quite likely that rather than being termed “protected free speech,” it would be termed “hate speech”  (not so much protected).  Visit the MSNBC.com link below and listen to the sponsoring organization’s president, Thomas Jackson.  If you don’t think it is “hate speech” or at the least venomously shrill, then maybe society’s tolerance for venomous talk against religion is a bit too high.

The reaction/protest to this on campus consisted of some Christian students who read the Bible and prayed.

To be fair, even though it was pretty obvious the Bible was the primary target, the display referred to “religious text.”  I have a suggestion for The Atheist Agenda.  It is important for them to remove all ambiguity from their “Smut for Smut” campaign.  This display was far to general.  Mr. Thomas Jackson, as president, should schedule separate events for each religious book he claims is equivalent to smut.

This is important for several reasons.  While many in the media correctly inferred that – located in the Bible Belt – his target was the Christian Bible, there is still some doubt.  Perhaps Jackson can provide for the world to see a list of what “religious smut” was exchanged.  We all need to know whether it was mostly Protestant Bibles, Catholic Bibles, Jewish Bibles, the Islamic Koran, or writings from other faiths.  It would also be helpful to know if Thomas Jackson turned away any texts that were not smutty enough.

Again, there was far too much ambiguity to this event.  It would be important for this atheist organization to hold separate events for each religious text – or perhaps a Bible Day, a Koran Day, etc.

Theists worldwide really need to know – as do atheists.  Of particular interest is the nature of the reaction of university officials (remember that “free speech” issue) and the nature of the protests.  There’s a likelihood that  one of the books might engender more than the hoped for acrimony.  It would, likewise, be enlightening to compare university reactions.

But even this doesn’t go far enough in removing the ambiguity of this “demonstration.”  The San Antonio demographics won’t provide a fair test.  Probably more Bibles are in students’ possession than any other religious text (a fact the organizers surely are aware on so many levels).

So Mr. Jackson and all of his atheist members, should schedule “Smut for Smut” demonstrations in population centers with the appropriate targeted population.  So let’s have a Catholic Bible for Smut demonstration right outside Vatican City; sacred Jewish literature in Tel Aviv; Hindu scripture in New Delhi, India; Koran for Smut in Iran, Iraq, or Saudi Arabia.  There are university campuses in each locale that will surely grant permission for this “free speech.”  And Mr… Jackson can count on headline-grabbing reactions from each faith community.

Hmmmmmm…….I am being unrealistic again.  But if Mr. Thomas Jackson and AA have enough guts to do this demonstration at the protected UTSA environment, then why would he and his group not be so bold in other locales.

–Joe Johnston Sr.

Bible-for Porn Stunt Draws Crowd at UTSA My SANews.com

Texas Students Argue Bible is Smut Atlanta Journal Constitution

Interview with sponsoring group’s President MSNBC.com

Bibles are Smut. WorldMag.com

Smut For Smut Is A Bad Idea The Friendly Atheist Blog

Atheists and Smut for Smut – Prayer Needed Blog of Campus Ministry Official

Are You Guilty of Being Obsolete? Prosecutor, The State – Part 1

Almost 60 years ago, on a popular TV show, The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling presented a dystopian tale entitled “The Obsolete Man.”  The broadcast in 1961 occurred in the middle of the Cold War – two plus months after the failed Bay of Pigs attempted invasion of Cuba, two plus months before the border between East Germany and West Berlin was closed, little over a year before the Cuban missile crisis.  At the time, it seemed the show was poking at Stalin, Hitler, Mao and other Cold War opponents.  This is interesting since Italy and Germany would be considered hard-right Fascists while Stalin and Mao represented far-left Marxist Communism.

Alarming, is looking at this episode in light of today.

It would certainly be helpful to be familiar with the episode before reading further.  It is key to focus on the word obsolete.  In this episode, obsolete is a very value laden term going far beyond a dictionary definition (obsolete, obsolescence, archaic).  If you choose to watch the episode before proceeding, assigning the term obsolete to a human will be an essential concern.

In Part 1 of this article, only the first ten minutes will be discussed.  The YouTube excerpt above will suffice.  But for those who want to see the full episode,  Click on one of the links below and watch it on CBS.com or Fancast.  These have the full episode along with some commercials.

The Obsolete Man from CBS.com (full episode)

The Obsolete Man from Fancast (full episode)

If you would prefer an episode synopsis, here is one from the ubiquitous wikipedia.com.  Or you can read the Script of The Obsolete Man (this script has its imperfections, but will get you 99% of the way).

Viewing The Obsolete Man in 2010, slightly less than 60 years later, provides some interesting insights.  We have seen many things become obsolete since 1961; technology-wise (vinyl LPs, VCRs, typewriters, even, some claim, thanks to technology, privacy); obsolete skills might include memorizing phone numbers, using a sliderule, cursive writing, using carbon papeer, or, soon, parallel parking.  Obsolete theories in science and elsewhere are too numerous to mention.  But how can a human be obsolete?  So view or read synopsis/script!  There is a real fear portrayed in literature and,, portrayed in the lives of some Americans, that robotics will erase livelihoods.

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As they would say on The Bullwinkle Show, “our hero” is Romney Wordsworth who claims to be a librarian (get it, Words Worth).  He is on trial not for murder, incest, theft, conspiracy, or treason, but the charge is obsolescence – thus the title The Obsolete Man.  Being obsolete in this dystopian world is punishable by death.  Obsolescence is primarily proven by Wordsworth’s assertion that his occupation is that of a librarian. He puts the icing on the cake by disagreeing with The State’s assertion that there is no God.  “The field investigators in your sector have classified you as obsolete.” Late in the episode we learn that his carpentry skills have kept him alive for 20 years, but those skills were insufficient.  Later in the episode we learn that the possession of a Bible is also a capital crime.

The reason that a librarian is obsolete is that books have been totally removed from the culture – thus who needs librarians.  In our culture, if you were in an obsolete profession or skill set, you’d either retrain, go on unemployment, or figure something out.  We haven’t yet executed anyone for being a cooper, lamplighter, pardoner, blacksmith  or whitesmith  — not literally (economically maybe). (List of Obsolete Occupations and Occupational Terms)

The program definitely points to 1960s Cold War concerns.  Most of the 1961 viewers would connect the Chancellor and even his uniform with then Communist or Fascist regimes.  The mass executions referred to in the episode are similar to executions in the Soviet Union under Stalin.  The loss of human self-determination to rapidly encroaching Marxist forces was a common fear.  But the episode pointed to much, much more.

In fact, what the program pointed to was at the minimum, statism, and probably more like statolatry.  Statism, according to Miriam-Webster’s dictionary is “concentration of economic controls and planning in the hands of a highly centralized government often extending to government ownership of industry”  Economic statism is fairly prevalent in varying degrees around the world.  Singapore’s government, reportedly, owns or controls around 60% of the country’s (city-state’s) GDP.  Economic statism is a bit less scary (but not much) than statism as a political philosophy.

…sovereignty is vested not in the people but in the national state, and that all individuals and associations exist only to enhance the power, the prestige, and the well-being of the state. The fascist concept of statism, which is seen as synonymous with the concept of nation, and corporatism repudiates individualism and exalts the nation as an organic body headed by the Supreme Leader and nurtured by unity, force, and discipline.”

This definition of political philosophical statism only falls a tiny bit short of statolatry.  Statolatry was defined in Omnipotent Goverment (1944) and summarized on Wikipedia:

Statolatry is literally worship of the State analogous to idolatry as worship of idols. It asserts that the glorification and aggrandizement of ‘State’ or ‘Nation’ is the object of all legitimate human aspiration at the expense of all else, including personal welfare and independent thought. Expansion of the power and influence of one’s State is to be achieved, if necessary, through aggressive war and colonial adventures (i.e. imperialism). It far exceeds the patriotism of those who recognize the rights of people other than themselves to self-determination, and might best be described as super-patriotism or nationalistic chauvinism.

In a classic Rod Serling introduction, The State is summarily described :

But like every one of the super states that preceded it, it has one iron rule: Logic is an enemy, and truth is a menace.

Let’s start with this quote.  In 1961, that statement could clearly be interpreted as applying to then contemporary and historical totalitarian states.  It was clear that both logic (and the individual autonomy implied by its use) and truth (the state has the prerogative to define truth) needed to be cast aside, co-opted, or in some way neutralized in statism / statolatry inspired cultures.

Today, in our 2010 culture, both logic and truth have been functionally co-opted.  Most Americans regard truth as nothing more than the way they choose to see things.  Truth, rather than describing what is in an external, absolute, existent concept, has become either individually prescribed or consensus constructed by a culture or group (social constructivism). People generally don’t reason through, but rather rely on their emotional responses.  The last half century or more has involved the discrediting of reasoning toward truth and substituted feelings, reactions, and choices of truth. (Relativism is widely accepted, but not applied to everything.)

Perhaps even the concept of objectivity, like the evening sun, has set.  If objectivity is defined as impossible and bias as inevitable, then, by all means, embrace bias and individuated truth.

In the typical dystopian vision of The State, not only must The State control truth and minimize thinking, it must reside as the “proper,” “enlightened,” arbiter of what is normative.  This is where the concept of statiolatry comes in.  It is necessary for the state to have the level of authority usually claimed by Deity.  In short, there must be a merging of State as religion in order for the state to legitimately (even if in appearance only) command total authority and allegiance.  This usually involves eliminating any and all competing claims, but it can be depicted exactly as Mr. Wordworth’s occupation.  The charge, obsolete.

Our hero, Wordsworth, could probably – but not necessarily – have helped himself out by defining his occupation as carpenter (unless that too is bad because it is reminiscent of Jesus) rather than a librarian.  In many dystopian fictions, books are taboo and demonized (see below).  In Fahrenheit 451, books were burned.  In this tale, books were eliminated. Another alternative to outlawing books would be to digitize everything and have the host computer gradually eliminate knowledge.  This seems to be the approach in the 1970’s version of the movie Rollerball.  This dystopia is one in which the corporate state centralizes knowledge and then imperceptibly minimizes it.

In the early part of the 21st century, books have been minimized in many ways.  People have been conditioned to have a short attention span – too short in many ways for books.  Sound bites have replaced in depth analysis – the image has become more important than the word.  A huge problem in America and elsewhere is aliteracy – lack of reading.  Even schools charged with teaching literacy have been complicit in neutralizing the written word as a source of information.

Getting back to obsolescence, the Chancellor makes this very clear

Chancellor: Since there are no more books, Mr. Wordsworth, there are no more libraries, and, of course, as it follows, there is very little call for the services of a librarian.

Since the charge is that of being obsolete, one could infer a very pragmatic law.  It is the individual’s duty to serve the state.  This might mean redefining one’s role (occupation) and think with total political correctness.  It may be that Wordsworth tried to change occupations, but failed to serve The State in that position (as a carpenter).  It appears, however, that having the identity of a librarian is much more to him.  In an earlier interchange, Wordsworth told the Chancellor

Wordsworth: I AM a librarian, that IS my occupation, that is my PROFESSION. If you people choose to call that obsolete…

There is indication that The State may have attempted to “retrain” or “reconfigure” Mr. Wordsworth.  There is a mandatory investigatory period of one year, eleven months. The Chancellor inquired whether Mr. Wordsworth had counsel and orientation.  One can only imagine the “orientation.”  The Chancellor also stated that Wordsworth didn’t cut it as a  carpenter (sorry, I had to)..

During his speech explaining to Wordsworth his obsolescence, the Chancellor gives an analogy:

Case in point:  A minister.  A minister would tell us that his function is that of preaching the word of God. And since it follows that since The State has proven that there is no God, that would make the function of a minister quite academic as well.

The State has eliminated – by its authority – God.  It has asserted, in essence, that God does not exist.  By implication, it would be a crime to contradict The State on this point.  The obsolete man lives in a culture where statism and statolatry are the norm.  Conforming to the norm is strictly enforced, it seems.  Violating the norm could be termed treason, but instead, The State has termed it being obsolete.

Not content with being executed for being a librarian, Wordsworth takes on the statolatry of The State:

Wordsworth: There IS a God!!
Crowd jeers in shock. The chancellor looks angry)
Chancellor: You are in error, Wordsworth. There is NO GOD! (To the crowd) The STATE HAS PROVEN THAT THERE IS NO GOD!!
Wordsworth: You cannot erase God, with an edict!

The State has indeed attempted to erase God.  The Chancellor was only slightly riled up until he was contradicted about God.  The interchange about the existence of God raised the volume quite a bit:

Chancellor:  You are obsolete, Mr.Wordsworth!
Wordsworth:  A lie, no man is obsolete!
Chancellor: You have no function, Mr.Wordsworth. You’re an anachronism, like a ghost from another time….
Wordsworth: I am nothing more than a reminder to you that you cannot destroy truth by burning pages!
Chancellor: You’re a bug, Mr.Wordsworth. A crawling insect. An ugly, misformed, little creature, that has no purpose here, no meaning!
Wordsworth: I am a human being

So Wordsworth has boldly asserted that truth exists apart from collective assertions of The State.  He also boldly claims that no human can be obsolete.  He is keenly aware that his real crime is not so much a useless occupation, but being a symbol of truth existing outside of the definition of the state.

In our 2010 culture where debate is usually shrill and full of ad hominem attacks, the Chancellor sounds all too familiar.  Some variation of obsolete is used for many things.  Your typical attack will allude to outmoded, irrelevant, old fashioned, superseded, superstitious.  The intellectual elite tend to function much like the Chancellor.

In many ways it remains astonishing how books can be so demonized.  The Chancellor gave Wordsworth an earful about books and those who align with them.

Chancellor: … You’re a dealer in books … in closed stacks in the musty finds of a language factory that spews meaningless words on an assembly line. WORDS, Mr. WORDSworth. That have no substance, no dimension, like air, like the wind. Like a vacuum, that you make believe have an existence, by scribbling index numbers on little cards. …
Chancellor: Delusions, Mr.Wordsworth, DELUSIONS!! That you inject into your veins with printer’s ink, the narcotics you call literature: The Bible, poetry, essays, all kinds, all of it are opiate to make you think you have a strength, when you have no strength at all!!! You are nothing, but spindly limbs and a dream, and The State has no use for your kind!!!!

So books are delusional, merely opiates.  This charge is routinely leveled in America in 2010 against many things.  Belief in God has been a principal target.  Religion has been called an opiate and recently has been defined as a lower state of evolution.  Certain theories in science have been summarized as obsolete (not referring to things that really are wrong).  Many customs and behaviors are routinely dismissed as obsolete.

For statism and statolatry to function the individual human must be diminished.  Traditionally, in America, humans were valued as unique and with rights.  In 2010, we are routinely diminished.  We are defined as mere products of genes, told we are no different than the “rest of the critters,” treated like idiots by the “nanny-state.”  We don’t have the State depicted in this TV episode, but far too many things have a familiar ring.

In spite of the efforts of politicians, America has not become an all-powerful State like the one portrayed in The Obsolete Man.  What might be a concern worth pondering is this:

There is a real possibility that the psychology behind statism and statolatry has grown in the hearts and minds of many 2010 Americans.  It seems to be everywhere – especially in the shrillness of cultural debate.  They don’t call it “culture wars” for nothing.

Try not to make any of your fellow human beings obsolete in your mind and heart for someone surely could do the same to you.

–Joe Johnston Sr.

Part 2 will concern itself with the rest of the episode as well as some applications to the debate on religion.

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