Thursday, June 24, 2004

Sacrosanct Change

There isan interesting post (as usual) over at Belmont Club on progressiveness. In particular, the first paragraph struck me as interesting. The idea presented is that many people think of social progression as irreversible (at least if one is sane). This idea basically assumes that any hard fought social change has overcome a mountain of natural corruption. In other words, significant changes are leading us to progressively better social laws. While these may not always appear better, eventually once these things become invisible within society, society will be better off.

For instance, sexism may be viewed this way. It is assumed that a society that doesn't discriminate based on sex is better than one that does. Anything that goes against this idea is considered barbaric. The problem with this idea is that things that ask for a reformulation of basic tenets are also struck down. They are usually considered equally barbaric because they could destroy something considered so valuable. What happens is that the difficulty inherit in creating change leads people to an overly zealous appreciation of its inherit worth.

Now many changes may in fact be quite valuable, and quite worthwhile. However, believing that these changes are absolutes is rather naive. Many changes may be better within their context, but not necessarily if another. For example, a move from nationalistic sentiments may be appropriate in many political situations, but it does not mean that lack of nationalism is better than the converse in an absolute sense.

This means, the problem as I see it is that many social changes are taken as being correct in an absolute sense. For example, personal freedom is taken as an absolute value, lack of racism is seen as an absolute value, lack of sexism is seen an an absolute value,...etc. To me the interesting corollary arises when we compare this to religion.

I think many protestant religions end up believing that, over the long run, the changes made will be positive. In effect, they lead closer to absolute truth. Perhaps this is the case. Perhaps what this also does is just make it harder for them to accept any flaws on their initial reasoning. In effect they reject any reformulations of significant ideas in much the same way that social progressives may refject any reformulations of social change.

This presents some interesting problems if we view religion as something that is designed to get one to change as efficiently as possible. One must ask the question, what is more valuable, getting 10%, 20% etc closer to an absolute truth, or being more pliable to change? I really wonder if the value we give to hard fought change is worth the consequence it carries?

As an aside, I believe there are a couple of people who are now wondering if ideas on the big bang have become so sacrosanct that they are leading to the unecessary creation of things like dark matter and dark energy. I think the new scientist had a couple of articles on this if anyone has the link.

Friday, June 18, 2004

A non-liberal definition

Freedom means being able to do what one wants. It, however, does not mean being able to pick and choose the consequences of your actions.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Favorite Posts

Are Mormon Christians - Gary Cooper has a nice summary of why Mormons usually don't return the slander to the un-Christ like name callers. Personally I think God must just shake his head at the things that usually go on in the name of Religion.

Bible Literalism Usually this debate seems to end up in philosophical meta-speak or a dogmatic pushing match. I find the stats pretty interesting. It is hard to be a literalist unless you literally believe everything you read.

Over Zealousness Obviously I have a fixed interest on this topic, however it really is a fairly interesting point.

Thoughts on the U.S. army How can you not enjoy a post that points out some over arching trends? Now if it can just help me win Axis & Allies...

Stun Guns And who says science is never pratical. Who would have thought joule lasers could be exciting to anyone other than a physicist on a Friday night.

Terrorist Racketeering As always an insightful post about thw current world situation. The last paragraph is the most interesting. Pretty soon it is going to be very beneficial to countries to have a small terrorist network so they can use it to start to extort money from the States.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Funny Church Sites

Perhaps I have too many serious posts. I thought a bit of humor would be nice. Here is a brief list of some of the funnier sites I have stumbled accross.

Landover Baptist
I found this one from Dave's Inquiry some time ago, but didn't appreciate it much initially. Once I started browsing the site more, it just kept getting funnier and funnier. Here are some of my favorite sections.

How does God recognize a Christian I scored a 6/10 on this. I found this hilarious after all the talk on how you can instantly recognize a Mormon by the glow on their face.

I hate cute cuddly stuffed animals I think the caption is pretty funny. I liked this one because of how often people take scriptures out of context. If I can figure out a moral stance on genetic engineering from the Bible, perhaps I am taking things just a mite further than they were originally intended.

Happy Birthday Cards I laughed quite outloud with this one. I have to admit the title seemed a bit irreverant, however the captioning got me. Things to think about if you go to hell for never having known about Christ. Perhaps it was also an amalgamation of the Wise Men's offerings and an idea of what you would hope for in return. That and I also get tired of Hallmark style cards.

Harry Potter As a teacher this is a regular concern. Ender's game was just banned by a parent because of the language. I am fine with the idea that a student may choose to not complete a unit, however the endless exceptions that start to occur in a class are truly starting to become problematic. How can you ever expect to do nothing offensive to people who take offensive at everything. Perhaps I am glad we have a good Home School program.

Halloween After the Harry Potter debacle around here, I found this more than a little too true. My fellow teacher's have had to wade through more than a few holidays with their consciouses (or better yet, phone lines) burdened by thoughts of hellfire.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Top Down Theology

Las week there was a good discussion on at T&S by Damon Linker. It really made me think how stupid it is to try and determine whether or not someone is Christian based on an acceptance of a creed or established theology. Whether or not someone is Christ like is determined by how they behave not what abstract beliefs they hold. Some lone African from 4000BC who never had heard of Christ or a Christian God could have been much more Christlike than a modern evangelical who has the Bible memorized. What matters is how similar they will be to Christ. Perhaps I am a bit too much of a universalist here, but I really dislike the relative importance given to "well established" theologies. Just because it is logicaly consistent doesn't make it any more real.

The thing I dislike about top down theology is the error that rapidly gets introduced as you branch out on topics. For instance every 5 years my church builds upon a previous belief using the best reasoning it has available. Let's assume that there is a 99% chance this new idea is correct. In 2000 years there is only an 18% chance that the new beliefs are now correct (.99^400). This is the poblem I see with undue emphasis on traditional theology. It usually doesn't take into account the amount of error that can get introduced. It assumes that God is directing things enough that new things never get built upon incorrect foundations.

I think constant reformulations are necessary to prevent people from getting carried away with religion. Everyone once in a while people have such a groundwork of tradition built up that mild pruning won't work. I think this happens because our natural incliinations for religious like institutions may be quite different than the way God wants us to practice religion. Basically I think we get too carried away with the letter of the law and whether or not people "beleive" the same things we do. We end up in the equivalent of a religious crusade rather than engaging in a constant effort of helping each other out. Hence I find the whole "are mormon christian" debate rather ironic. I don't think Christ ever gave much emphasis on the imporatance of theology over attitude and action.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Education Freedom

I thought I needed a break from endless Book of Mormon commentary. Luckily today’s math class gave me some motivation for another topic.

We are entering into the last two weeks of regular classes. This is the time all teachers start reviewing for their final exams. I give daily assignments and simple quizzes during this week to force students to do at least some review for their exams. In the past I have found that not taking this work in for marks meant that very few students would actually study for their exams.

The question raised by a number of students was “why do we need to spend time reviewing if we are going to get tested on it at the end anyways”. Basically some students thought that this would create a double penalty for those that didn’t feel like doing any work. They would get penalized this last week, and then penalized again during the exam. On the other hand, students that worked hard this week would, in effect, get a double bonus. In other words, all that this review week would do is to accentuate the value of the final exam.

Being the good teacher I am, I said something to the effect “ Yes, that is the way it works. You need to learn to work around the rules that have been set up”. As much as some would say this is nothing but forcing pupils to conform to the established hegemony, I think it is quite different. I next explained that I was doing this because in the past review that wasn’t marked meant that students became noisier making it impossible to do effective review, few students studied when marks weren’t taken, making the class average drop. In effect, I said I was making up for lack of motivation and a natural tendency to procrastinate in an effort to raise their marks. Of course I didn’t use those exact words. Of course a number of students still wondered why they weren’t being given the freedom to choose to do what they wanted with their grade. I responded with the most honest answer I could give them, “the whole idea of freedom that you have is an illusion. There is no freedom in the real world”.

I think that sums up why so many students see the world as unfair. Their idea of freedom requires an ability to create the consequences they see as appropriate for any given set of actions. Thus their idea of freedom gets mixed with experience, expectation , and idealism. I think in general, people tend to live in an idealistic world. If you don’t like the way things are, change it. In other words, people believe that they can change the consequences to most any set of actions. If you don’t like the idea of getting run over by a train at the station, set up so many gates and safety precautions that it becomes an impossibility. If you don’t like people being homeless, get some taxes that everyone has to pay that can be used to try and solve the problem.

The problem as I see it with this thinking is that this idea of freedom is way to individualistic. In order for you to be free, many people around you have to change. I think this is the big problem with liberalism; it only works if most people buy into it.

From a religious point of view, do the daily interactions of God in our life actually limit our freedom? Are they equivalent to the double review before the exam? Does God’s influence only affect our freedom if we take note of it? Personally I tend to not worry about changing anyone else’s beliefs or behaviour. I would rather just go out and do something, rather than worrying about getting everyone to buy into it. Thus you could say relative to some of my students, I create my own reality. To me the big question is, why do so many people expect everything around them to change instead of vice versa?