Thursday, June 9, 2011

I moved, again

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I promised it wouldn't happen. I'm really done this time. I promise this is the last time, really. Read about why i moved and all by clicking "Blog"


Click the link. Yeah, up there. Click it. You know, with your mouse. Come on, just click it already...

Sunday, June 5, 2011

I Know When the World's Ending!

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Consider with me Psalm 90:10, which says “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty.”  Consider also Job 7:7, which states “Remember that my life is a breath.”  Taken together, these two verses are vital to our understanding of eschatology.  As the time span of the average human breath is significantly small, we can readily assume that Job employs this metaphor with respect to time.  Understanding that a human’s breaths can only take place within the defined region of their breather’s life, we can also assume there is a distinct and obvious contrast between the length of a breath and the length of a man’s life. Interestingly enough, there is also a mathematical ratio. Job’s statement indicates that man’s life is indeed short: just as a man’s breath is short compared to the span of his life, so the span of man’s life is short: but compared to what? Considering that the life span of the containing world has, it can be argued through analogy, its breath through its inhabitants, a logical analysis leads us to believe that ratio runs like so: man’s breath is to man’s life as man’s life is to the world’s life.  When we combine this with the information on the average length of a man’s life provided in Psalms, we unearth some interesting mathematical data.  Since the average adult breathes 12-20 times per minute (which gives the average breath a lifespan of 3.75 seconds), and since this adult lives, according to Psalms, an average of 75 years, we can express the ratio explained earlier as:
3.75 sec / (75 yrs * 365.25 days * 24 hrs * 60 min *60 sec) = 1.584404391 x 10-9
Continuing the mathematical equality…
(75 yrs * 365.25 days * 24 hrs * 60 min *60 sec) / (World Life Span in Seconds) =  1.584404391 x 10-9
WorldLife-Span-Seconds = (75 yrs * 365.25 days * 24 hrs * 60 min *60 sec) / 1.584404391 x 10-9 = 1.493823177 x 1018 sec
1.493823177 x 1018 sec = 4.73364 x 1010 years
This of course is the number forty-seven billion, three hundred thirty-six million, four hundred thousand.  Of course, given that 75 is only an average between 70 and 80, and that 16 is only an average between 12 and 20, the numbers could vary by as much as 42%, meaning the world’s life span could be as long as 67.3 billion years and as short as 30.9 billion.  If we accept an “Old-Earth” view, in which the age of the earth is roughly 4.54 billion years, Judgment Day could be a mere 26.4 billion years away, though the other extremes of the data place it more than 62.7 billion years away.  A “Young-Earth” view of the earth’s age barely chips at the massive length of time between now and the Messiah’s return, leaving Christians and young-earth creationists speechless.



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This post was a joke. If you didn't get it, there's not much point in you perusing the rest of my blog. Thanks for stopping by, though. :-)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Drive Us To Distraction

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This was a (super fun!!) paper for my rhetoric/writing class.  Please read it. Why are you here if you aren’t going to read one of my posts anyway? Oh, you have to send an email? No you don’t. Focus on one thing at a time. That’s what the article’s about anyway.

Thomas Shields
April 18, 2011
Drive Us to Distraction
Classical Writing Herodotus Week 24 Argumentative Essay

When Ray Tomlinson sent the first email in late 1971[1], he and fellow researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology introduced a new era of communication and, though they didn’t know it, a new lens on reality. When, nineteen years later, MIT Professor and British Physicist Tim Berners Lee set up the first website[2], the Internet had begun. Three years later the World Wide Web opened for use by anyone with the technical knack and knowhow.[3] This new way of storing and retrieving information was intriguing, and it wasn’t long before a virtual community was formed. In 1995, just two years after the general availability of the Web, Classmates.com was formed. It was followed up by a plethora of ‘social networking’ sites such as SixDegrees, Friendster, Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter.[4] Facebook reports that people spend over 700 billion minutes on Facebook each month.[5] One can’t help but wonder what people used those 700 billion minutes for before the creation of the Internet. Google has about 350 million users, Facebook about 210 million, and Twitter 42 million. These numbers combined only account for 11% of Internet use.[6] These numbers are already outdated, with sites gaining hundreds of thousands of users every day. This increasing and ever-pervasive use of the Internet has introduced distractions never before known to man, distractions that bring with them a fragmented, multi-track view and approach to even the most serious of activities.

The problem with the Internet is not an inherent one, to be sure. It stems from improper use and a characteristic that enables users to do something very convenient: multitask. As computers evolved, software and hardware improvements allowed users to perform multiple tasks simultaneously. Listening to music, chatting with friends, and writing school reports are no longer mutually exclusive, as non-aural, text-based communication replaces face-to-face conversation. It is now extremely easy to retrieve information, but this simplicity comes at the expense of relevance, as text messages, tweets, Facebook ‘pokes’, and dates for a history project all come flying in at once.

Though it seems that these scenarios should be easy to avoid, the growing egocentricity of the culture gets in the way. With the Internet came a sudden, inexplicable urge to ‘share’ information with ‘friends,’ which they probably don’t care about. People are unwilling to turn off the phone or log off because they just can’t miss that important status update. The Internet makes multitasking possible, narcissism makes it feasible, and laziness makes it deadly.

In the words of John R. Muether, “Multitasking fragments our thinking, and moments of reflection are punctured by the urgent text message. Concentration drifts after a few paragraphs, and we have lost the art of deep and thoughtful reading.”[7] When one’s thinking becomes fragmented, he becomes like a poorly operating hard drive – slow, jerky, and unreliable. The lines in thought that divide thoughts, people, names, information, and facts get blurred, containers get dumped out and mixed about, and too many things are at the forefront of the mind simultaneously. Besides causing a lack of relevance in activity and conversation, fragmented thinking makes it easy to drift. When multitasking, stopping to think about the task at hand is an activity virtually extinct: one simply stops, and moves on. When thinking about too many things at once, the Christian loses sight of the ultimate mindset he is to have, set forth in 1 Corinthians 10:31 “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Human frailty makes distraction possible, the Internet makes it feasible, and together they make it deadly.

The problem with this distraction is that, quite frankly, it wastes time. Andrew Sullivan comments, “When it comes to sitting down and actually reading a multiple-page print-out, or even, God help us, a book, however, my mind seizes for a moment. After a paragraph, I’m ready for a new link. But the prose in front of my nose stretches on. I get antsy. I skim the footnotes for the quick info high that I’m used to. No good. I scan the acknowledgments, hoping for a name I recognise. I start again. A few paragraphs later, I reach for the laptop. It’s not that I cannot find the time for real reading, for a leisurely absorption of argument or narrative. It’s more that my mind has been conditioned to resist it.”[8]

With previous advances in communication, such as the printing press and the telephone, only the method of exchange was modified. The same book was handwritten and block-typed, the same note of urgency sensed in a face-to-face conversation or over Bell’s telephone. But the Internet is not only changing the method of communication; it is changing the substance as well. Nicholas Carr states:
“[The Internet] suppl[ies] the stuff of thought, but [it] also shape[s] the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”[9]

Because of the unique way the Internet channels information, a person no longer controls the information he receives. Previously one would be presented with text that, though decked in a fancy cover or spruced up with artful illustrations, contained merely the information the author intended to convey. Now, websites can decorate information with more than pretty pictures. Hyperlinks, advertisements, and helpful ‘related’ links often take up more space on a page than the actual article. Information is pumped into a person’s brain with the method, style, frequency, rate, and decoration that the sender chooses. The information source is suddenly in complete control of where, when, and how information is viewed, whereas previously it controlled only the actual content. A book picked up at a store was guaranteed to remain as it was at its purchase, but a page on the Internet can lead to helpful information one day and a cluttered mess of unrelated links the next.

Carr explains the disastrous result of succumbing to this means of information communication:
“When the Net absorbs a medium, that medium is re-created in the Net’s image. It injects the medium’s content with hyperlinks, blinking ads, and other digital gewgaws, and it surrounds the content with the content of all the other media it has absorbed. A new e-mail message, for instance, may announce its arrival as we’re glancing over the latest headlines at a newspaper’s site. The result is to scatter our attention and diffuse our concentration. The Net’s influence doesn’t end at the edges of a computer screen, either. As people’s minds become attuned to the crazy quilt of Internet media, traditional media have to adapt to the audience’s new expectations. Television programs add text crawls and pop-up ads, and magazines and newspapers shorten their articles, introduce capsule summaries, and crowd their pages with easy-to-browse info-snippets.”[10]

Information fragmentation seeps into more circles than just the internet, as Carr points out. Surrounding now even newspaper articles are sports scores, breaking news, and crossword puzzles. Shortened article or information length leads to a shortened time of focus and a rapidly changing information input. This is a hard habit to break, and when longer, important things are encountered, they’re often discarded as too time consuming or tackled half-heartedly with a constant eye on the cell-phone text messages.

The result is twofold. First, it makes people into machines. Information is received at blazing speeds in bursts and random assortments, is retained for the present occasion, and disposed of. The human brain is being morphed into a kind of computer: receiving information, loading commands into memory, executing a process, and disposing of the information when the event is complete. Information is retrieved on demand and replaced. Communication is automated and impersonal. Microsoft Bing’s director Stefan Weitz hypothesized glasses that would retrieve information about a person when they recognized him and feed it to the wearer.[11] In this transactional[12] view of relationship, a friend becomes a ‘Facebook friend,’ then a ‘contact,’ ultimately deteriorating into nothing more than an information source. Ultimately, this is linked to a flaming narcissism. Even for those who still claim ‘friends,’ they “collect friends in [their] desire to build status. Online personalities (even to the point of multiple identities and gender-bending) are carefully constructed as [they] crave the attention [they] hope it stirs.”[13]

It’s not just that the Internet is fulfilling a request, giving the world bucket loads of information that they can’t often handle and generating a fragmented multitasking interface. People never asked for it. But, as Carr explains, it’s a little more:
“The idea that our minds should operate as high-speed data-processing machines is not only built into the workings of the Internet, it is the network’s reigning business model as well. The faster we surf across the Web—the more links we click and pages we view—the more opportunities Google and other companies gain to collect information about us and to feed us advertisements. Most of the proprietors of the commercial Internet have a financial stake in collecting the crumbs of data we leave behind as we flit from link to link—the more crumbs, the better. The last thing these companies want is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. It’s in their economic interest to drive us to distraction.” As long as multitasking provides a positive business model, it will be hard to change. The widespread hearty welcome of the fragmentation, multitasking, information overload, and shallow relationships the Internet provides surely will not help the problem go away either.

The second and more detrimental result of this all-pervasive fragmentation is its effect on Christians. When distraction reigns and diversion of attention is the norm, it becomes very difficult for a Christian to have the right kinds of relationships with family, friends, and ultimately God. Meditation on God’s Word (Joshua 1:8) and earnest and continuous prayer (Ephesians 6:18, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) become difficult and cumbersome. At the heart of this problem lies the inherent narcissism of mankind (Romans 3:23), as mentioned previously. Mankind likes to display himself, to show himself off. Internet social networking sites only feed that desire, and the increasing portability of devices increases the accessibility of a person. No longer can a person sit down to read the Bible, for the moment he looks up he is confronted with so many new emails, however many text messages, and a few phone calls to boot.

Ultimately, the Internet, multitasking, and virtual interaction serve only to isolate people. Now they live in a world of their own imagination, choosing not only their styles, but their friends, their contacts, their universe. Shane Hipps writes “Digital social networking inoculates people against the desire to be physically present with others in real social networks – networks like a church or a meal at someone’s home.”[14] John Muether states that “Contrary to the inconvenience and inefficiency of genuine community, virtual communities have the advantage of allowing one to leave as easily as one joined. Disappearing can be as simple as not responding to an email…Or there is a one-click means of ‘unfriending’ a cyberpest. With these exit strategies, social networks are less communities than life-style enclaves. One sociologist has aptly described them as ‘networked individualism.’”[15]

The Internet is not a bad thing. The speed of communication is much greater, and a wealth of information is easily accessible. Lots of tasks that would never have been thought to be computer-operated are taking advantage of computers and networking to increase their efficiency. But these things come at a price. High-level data processing and blazing fast communication and information exchange bring about multitasking, and with it a mindset of fragmentation which seeps into everyday life. Muether begins his article by saying “Let’s begin with a reasonably safe prediction: you are not likely to finish this article. That is not merely because of the prose of the author (though I concede it doesn’t help). It is based on reliable statistics that indicate how attention spans have shortened.” He ends with a challenge: “Our challenge is to reckon with the multitasking, split-screen, ringtone culture of the internet…Technological restraint is good for the soul, the mind, and the church. We need to reshape our environment to enlarge our attention spans and deepen our commitments to friends and community. You made a small start by finishing this article. Now read the next. Then write a letter to a friend. Texting or blogging is cheating.”[16]

Bibliography

John Muether, Virtual Friendship, Tabletalk April 2010, Vol. 34, No. 4.
The Gospel Coalition, http://thegospelcoalition.org
Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/6868/
The Reformation Study Bible, ESV, Ligonier Ministries
Nicholas Carr: Internet, Brains, & Social Networks, Mars Hill Audio Journal 105, Track 2
“The First Email”, Ray Tomlinson http://openmap.bbn.com/~tomlinso/ray/firstemailframe.html
“Tim Berners-Lee” on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Berners-Lee http://info.cern.ch/ Cailliau, Robert. "A Little History of the World Wide Web". http://www.w3.org/History.html, via Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Website
Timeline: a history of social networking, Laura Davies: http://lauramdavies.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/timeline-a-history-of-social-networking-sites/ Facebook Press Statistics - http://www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics
Superpower: Visualizing The Internet, BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8562801.stm
HuffPost Tech – Huffington Post - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/04/bing-director-stefan-weit_n_844004.html


[1] “The First Email”, Ray Tomlinson http://openmap.bbn.com/~tomlinso/ray/firstemailframe.html

[2] http://info.cern.ch/, “Tim Berners-Lee” on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Berners-Lee

[3] Cailliau, Robert. "A Little History of the World Wide Web". http://www.w3.org/History.html, via Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Website

[4] Timeline: a history of social networking, Laura Davies: http://lauramdavies.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/timeline-a-history-of-social-networking-sites/

[5] Facebook Press Statistics - http://www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics

[6] Superpower: Visualizing The Internet – BBC News - http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8562801.stm

[7]John Muether, Virtual Friendship, Tabletalk April 2010, Vol. 34, No. 4.

[8] Andrew Sullivan, UK Sunday Times, quoted on The Gospel Coalition, http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2008/06/29/is-google-making-us-stupid/

[9] Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/6868/, quoted on The Gospel Coalition

[10]Ibid

[11]HuffPost Tech – Huffington Post - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/04/bing-director-stefan-weit_n_844004.html

[12] Nicholas Carr: Internet, Brains, & Social Networks, Mars Hill Audio Journal 105, Track 2

[13] John Muether, Virtual Friendship, Tabletalk April 2010, Vol. 34, No. 4.

[14] Shane Hipps, Flickering Pixels, quoted in Ibid

[15] John Muether, Virtual Friendship, Tabletalk April 2010, Vol. 34, No. 4.

[16] Ibid

Friday, April 15, 2011

Why Theology?

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Fourth Omni V Pri. Paper.

Thomas Shields
4/15/2011
Omnibus V Primary Section B
In a world of pragmatism and a practical ideology, people don’t have a lot of room for absolute truth. Dogma of any sort and closed definitions are thrown out the window, and ‘openness’ and ‘tolerance’ are bywords. And despite Christ’s command to the church to be in but not of the world, these beliefs have seeped into Christian thinking. Spouting such phrases as “no creed but Christ” and “Me, Jesus and my Bible,” modern-day evangelicals have tried to blur the lines of distinct theology and embrace all touting the name of Christ in a big group hug. While putting aside disputes over lesser doctrines can be good, when peace comes at the expense of truth, something is wrong. Theology is a very important part of God’s Word. The bible is more than just motivational stories; it contains truth, a truth only acquired from God and the study of him. That is theology – the study of God. It is part of the definition of a Christian that he study the character and works of his Lord, Maker, and Savior.
Many often claim that they don’t need the nitty-gritty of theology; that they just love Jesus. But the dogma of theology and a passion for Christ are not mutually exclusive; they go hand-in-hand. Just as a husband and wife who love each other dearly long to find out more about each other, one who has true love for God will want to know more about him, to study him and his works and character. C.S Lewis says in Mere Christianity, “Theology means ‘the science of God,’ and I think any man who wants to think about God at all would like to have the clearest and most accurate ideas about Him which are available.”[1]
We are commanded to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” [2] If we are to ‘grow up into Christ,’ we must follow his rules for doing so. Peter explains: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” [3] Peter makes it quite clear that our love flows out of our knowledge. Anyone who tries to skip past the thick theology to ‘love’ is “blind” and has forgotten (or never even knew) the message of the gospel. Instead, theology informs our actions and living.
Theologians speak of the four parts of theology: biblical, historical, practical, and systematic. Our system of theology informs our practical theology. Each are equally important; you cannot live the Christian life rightly without a system of theology on which it is based, but the system is empty if it is simply a skeleton with no flesh of practical theology.
C.S Lewis again comments, “An old, hard-bitten officer got up and said, ‘I’ve no use for all that stuff. But, mind you, I’m a religious man too. I know there’s a God. I’ve felt Him: out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery.’ …Theology is like [a] map…Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who were really in touch with God – experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused. And secondly, if you want to get any further, you must use the map. You see, what happened to that man in the desert may have been real, and was certainly exciting, but nothing comes of it. It leads nowhere…you will not got to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic that way, and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music.” [4]
This idea of theology as a map builds on passages like John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” If we really love God, we’ll want to worship him in “spirit and truth” (John 4:24) and serve him as he commands. God makes this as easy as it gets: he gives us his own Word in the Scriptures. Without God’s Word (the ultimate theology handbook) we are clueless as to how to worship and love Him. Without God’s Word to guide us, our sin nature will win out. Left to themselves, depraved souls will only conjure up feeble and improper ways of ‘loving’ God. We are commanded in Hebrews 12:28-29 to “be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and…offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” It is theology that shows us what this acceptable worship is (Acts 2:42), as well as how to live the Christian life; it instructs us in Christian behavior (Romans 12:9-21, Philippians 4:4-9) and matters of the Church (Hebrews 10:24-25, Matthew 18:15-20).
The most important thing theology gives us, however, is a right understanding of Salvation. Theology, in its essence is, along with a biblical Anthropology, the backbone to Soteriology. In fact, it is theology that informs a right anthropology. Calvin states “Man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God…For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, and upright, and wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity. Convinced, however, we are not, if we look to ourselves only, and not to the Lord also – he being the only standard by the application of which this conviction can be produced.”[5] Without God and a study of him, we cannot understand our true nature, and unless we understand how truly sinful we are (Ephesians 2:1-3), we cannot recognize how great God’s grace really is. How can one expect to be saved by a mere love for God? A general view of God like this stems only from the General Revelation in creation. But Psalm 19 demonstrates that while General Revelation (Psalm 19:1-6) is enough to hold us accountable (Romans 1:20), the “law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” (vs. 7-8). God’s Word – theology – must be rightly understood for one to call oneself a Christian. Without theology telling us that an eternal God made us, and, despite our rebellion against him he redeemed us through the perfect life and death of Jesus Christ the Godman, we’ll think that “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”[6]
Calvin concludes: “For if we reflect how prone the human mind is to lapse into forgetfulness of God, how readily inclined to every kind of error, how bent every now and then on devising new and fictitious religions, it will be easy to understand how necessary it was to make such a depository of doctrine as would secure it from either perishing by the neglect, vanishing away amid the errors, or being corrupted by the presumptuous audacity of men. It being thus manifest that God…has given the assistance of his word to all whom he has ever been pleased to instruct effectually, we, too, must pursue this straight path, if we aspire in earnest to a genuine contemplation of God – we must go, I say, to the word, where the character of God, drawn from his works is described accurately and to the life; these works being estimated, not by our depraved judgment, but by the standard of eternal truth.” [7]
God has commanded us to study his Word and works. The theology contained in his Word instructs us how to live. If, then, we claim to love God, we must desire to know him and his works. Without his Word, written and incarnate, there is no Salvation.
 

Bibliography

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Trans. Henry Beveridge. 2nd Printing. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008.
Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1960.
The Reformation Study Bible. English Standard Version. Ligonier Ministries.

[1] C.S Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book IV, Chapter 1, pg. 135
[2] Ephesians 4:15-16
[3] 2 Peter 1:3-9
[4] C.S Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book IV, Chapter 1, pgs. 135-136
[5] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.1.2, pg. 5
[6]H. Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America (1937), New York: Harper and Row, 1959, p. 193, via Wikipedia, via White Horse Inn (http://twitter.com/WhiteHorseInn)
[7] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.6.3, pg. 28

Thursday, April 14, 2011

2 comments
A pointless video. Sorry about the awful video quality.

video

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Random Bands!

2 comments
I got the following idea from a friend (i promptly forgot it and had to look it up online): basically you use the title of a random wikipedia article as a fake band name, the last few words of a random quote as the album name, and a random picture from flickr or photobucket or google as the album art. i'm bored (read: too lazy to do everything i SHOULD be doing) so i made one:








so yeah. :D

Monday, April 4, 2011

N.T Wright and the Trinity

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I wrote this yesterday (beware, I did very little proofreading or organization of thought, it’s a little scatterbrained) for an elder at church who jokingly asked me to.

Thomas Shields
4/3/2011
N.T Wright and the Trinity

New ideas and commentaries on biblical, Christian doctrines have always caused quite a stir, often simultaneously inciting hatred and affection, and termed as either heresy or ‘revolutionary.’ N.T Wright and his role in the ‘New Perspectives on Paul’ are no exception. His shocking ideas on Justification and his line-blurring markers he wields over Justification and Sanctification have gotten a lot of attention, if only because the better parts of his theology have lured in unsuspecting young ‘Calvinists.’ But perhaps a lesser known facet of the tainted diamond of his theology is his Christology.

The Westminster Confession declares that “In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost: the Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.” This simply reinstates the benedictions of New Testament epistles, as well as well-known passages like John 1 and John 15, and the ancient creeds of the apostles and Nicaea that refuted ancient heresies. These truths are clearly expressed in Scripture, and though many have questioned both the humanity and deity of Christ, orthodoxy has ultimately prevailed.

N.T Wright, it seems, quietly undermines the union between Father and Son. His error appears to lie in a misunderstanding of Old Testament and Covenant theology; and he looks at Christ through a lens at least partially tainted by a Jewish school of thought. The result is a Jesus who is purely a Jewish Messiah, simply a glorified Judas Maccabeus or an ├╝ber-Gideon. Because, he postulates, Jews would have had a purely singular view of God, the phrase ‘Son of God’ would not have meant, in their eyes, an equality with God, since angels and even David were called sons of God. Rather, Jesus has a very certain union with God, but he is still somehow very much distinct from the Father. Jesus of Nazareth was a man, an ultimate man, sent by God to fulfill a mission. He says ‘As in the Exodus, the true God reveals himself as who he is, putting the idols to shame (4:8-11). But the God who has now revealed himself in this way is the God who “sends the son” (4:4) and then “sends the Spirit of the Son” (4:6)… it is precisely in terms of Torah and Temple that the earthly Jesus acted symbolically and spoke cryptically to define his mission and hint at his own self understanding.’ This seems to put too great a divide between Christ and the Father, who are both simultaneously and singularly referred to as the creator and upholder of the world.

To be sure, Wright does not come right out and say that Jesus is not God, though he never precisely states his meaning. He hints at Christ’s view of himself in stressing his humanity: “At the human level, Jesus is like us precisely in this: he did not exist or think or feel or pray in a vacuum, but rather within a continuum, a web of socio-cultural symbolic resonances, a universe of discourse within which deeds, thoughts, and words carried layers of meaning.” Orthodox and reformed Christianity, of course, leave room for this type of thinking: Christ most certainly was 100% human as well as 100% God, and he thought and acted precisely as we would, yet without sin. Christ as a human was indeed ignorant of things, and yet he most definitely knew who he was and what his mission was. However, anything beyond acknowledging the paradox of his humanity and deity becomes pure speculation, an activity Wright dangerously recommends: “ I do not think we will find that the true Jesus is significantly different from the Jesus of the Gospels (as has now become literally a dogma in many critical circles), nor do I believe that we will know who the Jesus of the text of the Gospels actually was and is unless we go behind the text and find out what it actually means.” He quickly adds a hermeneutical and linguistic qualification to this statement, but it’s ultimately empty: how much more about Christ can be known simply because of a Greek idiom? The gospels are plain in the speaking and don’t try to use cultural idiosyncrasies to prove a point about Jesus.

But Wright again turns a corner and firmly states: “Did [Jesus] think he was going to die for the sins of the world? Did he think he was in any sense the embodiment of Israel’s God? I cannot myself see that an orthodox christology or atonement theology can give a negative answer to either of those questions without running into serious difficulties. Can you really be God incarnate and have no idea of it? But equally I cannot think that an orthodox christology, which takes Jesus’ humanity at least as seriously as Chalcedon did, can avoid asking how Jesus could think thoughts like that precisely as a second-Temple Jew?”
So far, so good, but he gets fuzzy again:
“Jesus believed he was Israel’s Messiah, the one in whom Israel’s history was to be summed up. Jesus believed he would win the messianic victory over the real enemy and would build the true messianic temple through taking Israel’s fate upon himself and going to the cross. Jesus believed that in doing so he was not just pointing to or talking about, but was actually embodying, the return of YHWH to Zion.”
Why would Wright use hazy terms like “embodying?” Why not simply state that Jesus Christ was Yahweh, returning to Zion not only for simply the sins of his own geographical nation, but his spiritual nation of Israel? Too much of Wright’s theology seems wrapped up in a purely physical Israel, instead of speaking of the greater Israel of the elect (Galatians 6:16).

Wright also seems to place too high a regard on human reason. He says “The question of “Jesus and God” is a huge and difficult matter.” But if we really read the Scripture, it’s not. It’s obvious and it’s clear (Jn. 5:18). From a purely philosophical standpoint it is very difficult, indeed impossible to comprehend. But God has given his people the Scripture; it is useless and ungrateful to debate points of theology with a logos-based or philosophically oriented point of view.

Wright ultimately is simply beating around the bush. He never once in 12,000 words simply says “Jesus is God.” But that (as well as “Jesus is a man”) are the only two declarative, simple, obvious, and thoroughly biblical statements we ever need to make about Jesus.

Wright says, ,Let me be clear, also, what I am not saying. I do not think Jesus “knew he was God” in the same sense that one knows one is tired or happy, male or female. He did not sit back and say to himself “Well I never! I’m the second person of the Trinity!” Rather, “as part of his human vocation grasped in faith, sustained in prayer, tested in confrontation, agonized over in further prayer and doubt, and implemented in action, he believed he had to do and be, for Israel and the world, that which according to scripture only YHWH himself could do and be.”[39] I commend to you this category of “vocation” as the appropriate way forward for talking about what Jesus knew and believed about himself. This Jesus is both thoroughly credible as a first century Jew and thoroughly comprehensible as the one to whom early, high, Jewish christology looked back.’ Why Wright says Jesus did not ‘know he was God’ just as we know some fact is rather obscure. It almost seems that Wright is afraid to come out and say Jesus is God, but he believes it anyways. His statements don’t really say definitively whether Wright believes Jesus is a super-human embodiment of Yahweh that stepped on the scene in 3 B.C, a docetic savior that took the form of various Israelite saviors, or really and fully the second person of the Godhead.

Whatever the case may be, Wright’s confusing and neither wholly orthodox nor fully heretical statements warn us of similar obscurity. Whether his theology is essentially Arian or Eutychian, Wright’s misleading statements can corrupt pure doctrine and must be taken with a large grain of salt.

Works Cited

Wright, N.T. "Jesus and the Identity of God." 1998. N.T Wright Page. http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_JIG.htm.
Wesminster Confession, Bible

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Machiavlli and Saruman

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My third Omnibus V Paper.

Thomas Shields
Omnibus V Primary Section B
3/10/11

In 1515 a disgusted Italian from Florence named Niccolo Machiavelli had had enough of the messed up politics of his day. Adhering to the old proverb, “If you want something done right, do it yourself,” Machiavelli wrote a treatise on the how a true ruler ought to govern his people. His work was a political and social bombshell, for in it he cast off all Christian idealism and helped to usher in a new age of cold pragmatism. Since this work, many literary characters and political leaders have been labeled as a ‘Machiavellian’ character, and it shall now be shown how Saruman, the wizard from J.R.R Tolkien’s renowned The Lord of the Rings, is one such character. First shall be elaborated the qualities of the ideal prince, and next how Saruman personifies one such prince.

Machiavelli’s ideal prince lives to the mantra of ‘balance.’ He rarely picks either end of the moral or political spectrum, but balances in between them to suit the situation, leaning toward one or the other as the occasion calls.

An important area in which this applies is combat, be it physical or political – in any situation where the ruler must accomplish something. Machiavelli distinguishes between using force and using law to accomplish a goal and assigns a ‘beast’ to each type. He says, “A prince is forced to know how to act like a beast, [so] he must learn from the fox and the lion; because the lion is defenseless against traps and a fox is defenseless against wolves. Therefore one must be a fox in order to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten off wolves.” (Machiavelli, 56-57) If a prince is to accomplish his ends, he must attain the perfect balance between force and cunning. His cunning must be able to use the laws of the land or the powers of rhetoric with utmost eloquence.

The prince must not be held to moral ties, but must be able to rapidly shift to moral, immoral, or amoral behavior, for then he is best equipped to handle any given situation. Machiavelli says a prince should “appear to be compassionate, faithful to his word, kind, guileless, and devout…but his disposition should be such that, if he needs to be the opposite, he knows how.” (Machiavelli, 57) To the idealistic bishop or prince of Machiavelli’s age, this seems counterintuitive. But Machiavelli insists that “a prince, and especially a new prince, cannot observe all those things which give men a reputation for virtue, because in order to maintain his state he is often forced to act in defiance of good faith, of charity, of kindness, of religion…men in general judge by their eyes… everyone sees what you appear to be...so let a prince set about the task of conquering, and maintaining his state; his methods will always be judged honorable and will be universally praised.” (Machiavelli, 57-58) In short, a prince ought to appear moral at all times, yet use whatever practical means he may to accomplish his goals. His apparent integrity will justify in the people’s eyes whatever ends he sets on.

Lastly, Machiavelli discusses the relationship between the prince and his people, posing the question: “Is it better to be feared or loved?” Once again, he answers this with his “middle path” option. However, because of his base premise that all man is depraved, Machiavelli knows that love is not as powerful as it should be, so fear is more important for a prince. He says “For love is secured by a bond of gratitude which men, wretched creatures that they are, break when it is to their advantage to do so; but fear is strengthened by a dread of punishment which is always effective. The prince must none the less make himself feared in such a way that, if he is not loved, at least he escapes being hated.” (Machiavelli, 54)

Ultimately, the prince must remember to appear as the populace’s ideal, yet act as best suits the occasion. Cunning, shrewd manipulation of the laws and a cold determination to beat out the fates that lesser princes would succumb to must characterize the prince. A perfect balance between compassion and cruelty must dominate the ruler’s relationship with his people in order that they do not disown him out of hatred, or overthrow him because of his softness. Machiavelli states that “because men are wretched creatures who would not keep their word to you, you need not keep your word to them.” (Machiavelli, 57)

With this groundwork, it can be seen how Saruman is truly a Machiavellian character. The head of his order, the White Council, Saruman was a wise and learned wizard. His knowledge of the enemy, Sauron, and of the Ring of power, surpassed all others. Yet as the Third Age of Middle Earth was drawing to a close, Saruman was lured by the power of the ring and went bad. Betraying his friends and forming large armies, Saruman attempted an alliance with Sauron, ultimately in hopes of taking the enemy’s Ring. His actions and methods truly embody Machiavelli’s ideal prince.

Firstly, Saruman demonstrates the coldness a prince must have by breaking from his alliances. He breaks his promises and his word because it is advantageous for him to do so. Saruman “had a mind to capture the Ring, for himself.” (LOTR, Fellowship, pg. 101) In doing so, however, he attempts to maintain an important connection in his effort to woo his fellow yet subordinate wizard Gandalf. Saruman is careful to ally himself only with a weaker entity, something Machiavelli stresses as extremely important: “a prince should never join in an aggressive alliance with someone more powerful than himself…because if you are the victor, you emerge as his prisoner.” Saruman followed this rule by attempting to side with the weaker Gandalf, and when Gandalf refused, disposing of him. [1]

Secondly, Saruman uses the Machiavellian balance of fear and love in his relationship with the neighboring Rohirrim as well as with the Men of Dunland and his own Uruk-hai. Because the Uruk-hai were a special species, driven by hatred and fear, Saruman needed only to show them that he was their master, and they would fight for him against all odds and circumstances, driven by fear and not by love. In this he is essentially remaking the laws by creating an awful yet functional ‘species’ that is unfailingly loyal and horrifyingly brutal. But he balances this with his relationship with the men of Dunland, who, being long-time enemies of Rohan, were bonded, through their hatred for Rohan, in love to Saruman, who gave them a chance to fight against their enemies.[2] Also, Saruman again demonstrates a false promise by attacking nearby Rohan, breaking any former agreement of peace.

Saruman demonstrates the use of force in his assault on Helm’s Deep, yet he also attempts to use smooth talk and counsel to entice the victorious captains who confront him at Orthanc. “What have you to say, Theoden King? Will you have peace with me, and all the aid that my knowledge, founded in long years, can bring? Shall we make our counsels together against evil days, and repair our injuries with such good will that our estates shall both come to fairer flower than ever before?” (LOTR, Towers, 184) Eomer rightly calls him an “old liar with honey on his forked tongue,” (LOTR, Towers, 185) which is just the type of person Machiavelli would encourage a prince to be in such a situation.

Saruman again makes his own laws and skirts the dangerous precipices of Fate with his use of the Palantir, a ball made by the men of Westernesse for use by the seven Kings. Not only does Saruman use the ball against its proper use, but he uses it to communicate with Sauron and to see the plans of his enemies before their execution. [3]

Finally, Saruman’s cunning and fate-skirting shrewdness looked far ahead to the day that, if and when his plans went awry, he might have a safe haven. He began trading with the Shire very early on, and by the time the War of the Ring was over he had removed to Hobbiton and ‘renovated’ and reconstructed it, and so both recreated the laws of the land, dominated hobbits by sheer force with his ruffians, and beat out fate with his cunning. [4]

Saruman almost perfectly embodies a Machiavellian character, but he uses Machiavelli’s principles and personifies his traits on the wrong motive. Machiavelli wrote his book to be a guideline for the perfect prince, but Saruman uses his themes in a quest for power rather than to perfect his government. His thesis and motive were wrong, and it affected the results of his behavior. His pure greed for power pushed him to an attempted alliance with Sauron, an alliance Machiavelli would never recommend. He does nothing for the good of the people, but solely for the advancement of his own personal goals.

Despite his failure to found his actions on the basis of being a good ruler, Saruman otherwise nearly perfectly employs Machiavellian traits and feats. His cunning and manipulation of the people through fear and love demonstrate how he wholly exemplifies a Machiavellian character.

Bibliography

Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. London: Penguin Books, 2003.

Tolkien, J.R.R. "The Fellowship of the Ring." The Lord of the Rings. Vol. I. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1988. III vols.

Tolkien, J.R.R. "The Return of the King." The Lord of the Rings. Vol. III. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1988. III vols.

Tolkien, J.R.R. "The Two Towers." The Lord of the Rings. Vol. II. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1988. III vols.


[1] See LOTR, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2 Chapter 2, pgs. 269-275

[2] See LOTR, Two Towers, Book 3 Chapter 7, pg. 132

[3] See LOTR, Two Towers, Book 3, Chapter 10-11, pgs. 189-206

[4] See LOTR, The Return of the King, Book 6, Chapter 8, pgs. 297-300

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Recursion…Recursion…Recursion… Unhandled StackOverFlowException!

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Did I mean recursion? yes, I did…
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(For you non-nerds, a StackOverFlow exception in programming is essentially an infinite loop. For example, if you keep trying to load a file and your code that loads the file tries to load the file, it keeps looping back on itself until the ‘stack’ overflows.)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Introducing NerdComb™

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100_5301Introducing NerdComb™, the comb all you ugly nerds have been waiting for! With it’s unique bristle style and gold-plated bristles, this steel comb is designed just for nerds. How? See for yourself! That’s right, our
new comb doubles as a laptop Hard Disk, with the connector pins as bristles.  Wondering how this works?
100_5309 See the results below…









Before NerdComb™:                                      After:
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