iBook Publish Announcement: The Language of Suffering

Screen Shot 2018-08-28 at 5.09.24 AMI have published an eBook on iBooks.  If you do not use an iOS device, a PDF version can be found on this blog’s “Document Repository” page using this link.

The Language of Suffering

We have all experienced suffering. Too often though, we leave unexamined the spiritual implications of these difficult life events. In this book we will seek to gain an understanding of suffering within the framework of God’s will through a topical study of Scripture. In the process, we may begin to place our own experiences within the context of a Christian mystery that delivers redemption from affliction, hope from anguish, and power from weakness.

 

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The Surprising Good News About World Poverty

Child's Hands Under Water Tap
At a recent Bible Study we covered Proverbs 26, which deals with the issue of foolishness and purposeful deceit. One person commented that, based on polling results, there appears to be a small percentage of the population who will support even the most ludicrous of positions. In fact, they cited a number, 12%.  I suspect that this is generally correct.

World Poverty Rate

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 7.50.52 AMI recently came across a polling result that appears to confirm this observation. A survey by Glocalities (see top left-hand chart) asked people if poverty had (a) increased by 25% or more, (b) stayed the same, (c) decreased by 25% or (d) decreased by more than 25% since 1990. It turns out that 13% believe that poverty has decreased by 25% or more.

Intrigued, I looked for corroborating data. I found similar results in a United Kingdom survey (see left-hand bottom chart) that asks a very similar question.  There’s that ignorant 12% again, right?

Igonorace-in-UK-on-Global-Poverty-University-populationWrong.

It turns out that over the last 25 years extreme poverty in the world has been reduced by more than 50%, and, that whereas in 1880 ~90% of the world population lived in extreme poverty today that number is below 10% (see the following chart, much more information at this link)!

1200px-World-population-in-extreme-poverty-absolute

How could so many people think that poverty is significantly increasing when the opposite is actually occurring? Well, most likely because we are constantly bombarded with the false, contrary position by people who claim to have authoritative knowledge on such matters.

The same people (primarily but not exclusively the Progressive Left) who claim that poverty is increasing consistently blame that (untrue) outcome on the United States. The United States became a world super-power at the end of World War II (1945). Note that by the above chart it is between then and now that the improvement in world poverty occurred. And, the massive absolute (i.e., number of people) reduction in extreme poverty occurred shortly after Communism collapsed in the then U.S.S.R. and Communist China reformed it’s economy to allow more economic (if not political) freedom (i.e., around 1990).

World Middle Class

World-Middle-Class

Washington Post

Then

World-Middle-Class-Lede

Lede paragraph

there’s

World-Middle-Class-2

Paragraphs 3 & 4

this (see left-hand figure) recent article from the Washington Post. The title is “Middle-class to make up half of planet’s population?”  The answer according to the article is “Yes!

Here’s the lede paragraph (see right-hand top figure).   Is this not amazing information?  For, if generally true, this means that not only has tremendous progress been made to reduce world extreme poverty, but also in increasing world household wealth!

But, there’s more here to challenge the Progressive narrative of the current world-order being unjust.  Paragraphs three and four deliver the shocking (to Progressives at least) news that it was the Industrial Revolution (and thus the Capitalism upon which it was based) that enabled this rise from almost universal serfdom and poverty to today’s amazing economic  “miracle” of decreasing poverty and increasing wealth.

And yet the Progressive-Left maintains that human economic freedom is an illusion by which evil Capitalists fool the general population into becoming poor so that the Capitalists can become rich.  This data argues the opposite, that economic freedom is a necessary means which, by allowing some to become very rich, allows most to experience greatly increased well-being.  But, as I have previously discussed, this reality is anathema to the Progressive movement.

Discussion and Implications

Venezuela-SocialismDoesn’t all of this suggest that there is a high burden of proof required to be met by those on the Left who demand that we scrap our current political/economic/social systems to solve the problem of world poverty? If they actually care about improved living conditions for flesh and blood humans shouldn’t they be celebrating this amazing progress rather than denying it? And, shouldn’t they have to prove to a high standard that their alternate solutions (i.e., socialism, more government power, less economic freedom, etc.) would actually improve the situation (or at least not make is far worse, see Venezuela)?

Finally, none of this changes the fact that poverty still exists at unacceptable rates throughout the world. Yes, Christians and all people of good faith should work together to eradicate poverty in ways that significantly improve human well being. Issues like clean water, proper sanitation, hunger, education, government corruption, war, energy availability, civil rights, medical care, rule of law, etc. all need continued attention.

How-can-we-shape-capitalism-to-increase-human-well-being_knowledge_standardHowever, if our goal is to actually make improvements to human life then we have an obligation to acknowledge and honor (and yes, reform and improve when necessary) that which has actually worked rather than denying because it doesn’t meet pre-determined ideological constructs.  For, if we prioritize our own desire for self-esteem over the actual improvement for human life then it is no longer humanitarianism but rather self-aggrandizement.

 

Glimpses into the Progressive Psyche (6)

battles2Closing Thoughts

The encounters described in the previous four posts (and numerous others) have profoundly affected me.  When I began attending Presbytery of Chicago assemblies in 2012 I hadn’t given much thought to just how and why the PCUSA was being fundamentally transformed.  Yes, I knew that a revolution was occurring to enable first homosexual ordination and then marriage.  But I assumed that there was hope that the tide could be stopped and eventually reversed.  After all, the Bible and derived Confessions were so clearly on the side of opposition that they would eventually prevail.

What I found out, to my shock and sorrow, was that the Bible and Confessions had been rendered irrelevant by a combination of postmodern philosophy and Progressive politics.  There was simply no center of Christian orthodoxy, Reformed or otherwise, left to hold.  In its place was a secular-driven ideology that sees the PCUSA’s civilizational value to be the “Christianization” of any and all political policies embraced by the Progressive Left — from abortion on demand (and soon infanticide) to the destruction of Israel to Socialism to gun confiscation to open borders to destruction of free speech to gay marriage and on and on.

I challenge anyone to demonstrate that the PCUSA elite has ever opposed a significant Progressive political policy.  Yes, sometimes they have argued that the secular Progressives are pursuing a common goal too quickly or slowly or in the wrong way.  This is an internal argument over tactics.  I am talking about them standing athwart a Progressive goal and clearly saying that it is wrong and must be stopped.  Go ahead, I’m waiting.

But because they had jettisoned the Bible and Confessions, other means of achieving their ends had to be found.  Those means were abuse of the PCUSA’s rules, turning their democratic assumptions into cudgels by which to beat any opposition into submission.  This was accomplished by making life miserable for any majority that opposed their radical ends, and eventually, to drive them out of the church.  Here’s what the Presbytery of Santa Barbara had to say about one aspect of this abysmal situation at the 2014 General Assembly (emphasis added).

Official committees of the PC(USA), like the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) and the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), have failed to recognize the spirit and intent of prior General Assembly actions and have continued to promote the very kind of negative approach to peacemaking that prior General Assemblies have rejected. This is wrong and must end.

This situation is ending, not because of a change in heart by our leadership, but rather because so many orthodox-minded Presbyterians have been driven out of the PCUSA that there is no longer the realistic possibility for majority opposition to their schemes.

The preponderance of evidence supports this theory.  Recall from a post on the a recent GA how the progressive camp chose to self-identify (excerpt from When We Gather at the Table: A PC(USA) Snapshot).

They are less tolerant of conservative theologies within the denomination. Some remain hopeful that conservatives who are upset with the 221st General Assembly (2014) decisions on marriage will see that there are different ways to interpret scripture, and will choose to stay and accept the changes, over time. Others would simply be happy if the conservatives left the PC(USA), and a few offered suggestions for helping dissenting congregations to leave the denomination with grace and dignity.

Thus there are only two options for orthodox Christians described in the thinking of these “Purposeful Progressives,” (1) conform and stay and (2) get out! I’d say that the loss of 1,126 churches is well aligned with the “get out!” goal.

We clearly saw this strategy in practice on same-gender marriage in a Rational paragraph from the Presbytery of Chicago (Amending Marriage).

Overtures directly addressing marriage equality in the United States and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have come before the last two General Assemblies. The 219th Assembly (2010) completely failed to substantively address the marriage-related overtures that were before it. The 220th General Assembly (2012) failed to substantively address overtures related to authoritative interpretation of the marriage provisions at issue in this overture and, by a narrow margin, failed to approve changes to W-4.9000.

Note how failure to approve same-gender marriage is viewed as failure to do the “right thing,” thus requiring continual debate, ending only when the “right thing” has been done.

Thus, the personal encounters that I have described were only isolated skirmishes within a larger battle.  The elite Progressive strategic goal was always to deceive, discredit, demoralize and ultimately destroy any and all opposition from orthodox-minded Christians.

In this cruel goal they have succeeded.  Now they undisputedly control the PCUSA.  To accomplish this end they have made it into a theological laughing stock and a pathetic little appendage to the secular Progressive political machine.  And, having illegitimately achieved this position they now demand that those of us in opposition shut up or leave.

Perhaps we will leave.  But while we remain we should clearly and loudly oppose the clique of false teachers who have seized control of what once was a vital Christian denomination.

Glimpses into the Progressive Psyche (5)

MargaretThatcher-PersonalAttacksThe Politics of Personal Destruction

The Encounter

I’m not going to dwell on the personal aspects of this encounter because what troubles me is less the incident itself than what is behind its occurrence.  Suffice it to say that I was in a debate regarding the PCUSA’s ordination of practicing homosexuals that turned into a vicious attack on my motives and character.  That is, because I was making the case that public unrepentant sin (in any dimension of Christian life) disqualified a person from ordination, I was accused of purposefully inciting hatred of and violence (including torture and murder) on homosexuals.  I was also accused of wishing such evil things to happen to homosexuals.  As with the case of the previous post, I forcefully and effectively repulsed these vile accusations.  But the fact that they were confidently made by a person with good standing in a Christian community is indeed troubling in profound ways.

The Implications

How, I wondered, could an individual with whom I had spent significant time have been spun up into an emotional state that justified such conduct?

Firstly, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that such conduct occurred.  For I had it on the authority of an overture from the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago titled “On honoring Christ in our relationships with one another” that this is was indeed the case.  This overture almost perfectly described my experience.

Some Presbyterians read the Scriptures to condemn all forms of same-gender sexual intimacy, and sometimes accuse other Presbyterians of abandoning the authority of Scripture, ignoring the need for repentance, and leading persons into serious sin.

Some Presbyterians read the Scriptures to bless committed same-gender relationships, and sometimes accuse other Presbyterians of bigotry, responsibility for bullying and suicides, and other harm caused by anti-gay attitudes.

The primary deviation is that I argued that God created male and female to be bound together by marriage, and, that this pattern for human relationship was instituted for our best good (see Matthew 19:4-6).  Thus, homosexual relationships by deviating from this God-ordained pattern are not serving our best good, and, fall under the category of sin.  I also regularly stated that Christianity had erred greatly by treating homosexuality to be a sort of “super-sin” that was worse than most other sins.  This is a position far short of “condemnation,” though it does maintain the boundary between righteousness and sin.

In my commentary from 2012 I focused on the issue of equivalence between these two positions, stating that:

A careful examination of the preceding two paragraphs’ content and relationship is called for. To begin, they apparently are designed to constitute the relevant end-points for comments that are deemed to be vilifying. Therefore, they would appear to be intended as equivalent.

But whereas the first paragraph describes a critique of the arguments of others, the second paragraph describes conclusions about other’s motives and culpability for acts of violence. The difference is striking, and disturbing. Apparently, to make a case for the authority of Scripture, the need for repentance and the seriousness of sin is an act of vilification. One is left to wonder under just what terms the authors propose to pursue “respectful dialogue,” when the central concerns of those opposing the current ordination standards are made equivalent to character assassination and accusation of fomenting violence.

This is the very dynamic within which I found myself.  However, over six years later I have come to believe that there is a second issue at play that had previously eluded my consciousness, that being incitement.

Note the order of the Rationale’s set up.  First, a Presbyterian makes the case for the orthodox understanding of Biblical authority, sin and repentance.  Second, the response is accusations of bigotry and culpability for violence.  In this ordering the Rationale makes the implicit case that it is the voicing of the first position that incites the second.

There is another great advantage to this ordering.  Consider the encounter from a third party’s point of view.  One Presbyterian says something to another and the response is an angry rebuke.  The uninformed assumption will often be that the first speaker must have said something very bad to elicit such a strong reaction from the second.  Even if the viewer is well informed, it is the first speaker who appears to have “started it.”  Finally, responding with anger and vile accusations discouraged orthodox Christians from voicing their views at all.

Thus, there existed a Progressive group in the PCUSA who considered the open argument for orthodox Christian positions on sexual sin and repentance to be an approval of hatred toward and violence against homosexuals.  They also saw the statement of these views to be an incitement.  With this mindset wouldn’t it be immoral not to confront the offending party for their assumed evil conduct?

I believe that this is what happened to me on that painful day.  In their eyes it wasn’t that I had a different understanding of the Bible’s teaching.  It was that I was a hateful, violence approving bigot who was camouflaging their evil in Biblical terms.  It was high time that someone called me out, and this person stepped up to do just that.  I should be personally destroyed because I was a vile, evil person.

Had I argued on their terms I might well have exited the debate personally destroyed.  But, I rather responded by pointing out the absurd cruelty and baseless justification for arguing along these lines.  Once they were forced into the position of explaining why such accusations were being made the bottom fell out.

So, yes, I survived this onslaught against my motives and character.  However, this and other similar experiences profoundly affected my understanding ofattitude towards and response to those in the Progressive camp who imagined themselves to to be at the pinnacle of Christian virtue.

Glimpses into the Progressive Psyche (4)

believe-anythingThe Corruption of Language

The Encounter

I found myself in debate with a committed Progressive on a topic that I can’t recall.  What I do clearly recall is the increasing frustration of my opponent as I stubbornly refused to submit to their position. Finally, in exasperation they blurted out that I was a totalitarian because I refused to admit that they were right.

Given that the word totalitarian is associated with the most bloody regimes and evil rulers in human history, I took great offense at being characterized in this manner.  So, the debate turned from the original topic to that of if I was indeed a totalitarian.  The discussion raged on until another member of the group looked up the definition on their smart phone.

Although I have no idea from what source the definition was then found, it was very similar to that of this dictionary site.

totalitarian
adjective
  1. of or relating to a centralized government that does not tolerate parties of differing opinion and that exercises dictatorial control over many aspects of life.
  2. exercising control over the freedom, will, or thought of others; authoritarian; autocratic.

Of course, this settled the question, as this is the exact opposite of what I was being accused.  That is, I was insisting that my differing opinion should be (at least) tolerated and that I had the freedom to state my opinion.

To this person’s great credit, they asked that we remain after the event to resolve the issue between us.  In that discussion they stressed that their personal definition of totalitarian was very different, and far less pejorative than that of the official definition.  I was taken so aback by this explanation that I wasn’t able to adequately respond in real time.  Later, after more thought, I sent the following note explaining my response (excised text [snip] to maximize anonymity).

I’m sending this note because the written word can in some cases be the best way to accurately explain a point of view.  I certainly will be happy to continue our discussion in person as well.

Firstly, I understand that by your internal definition of “totalitarian” you were not intending to label me with the generally understood meaning of this word.  This is a great comfort to me, and I’m thankful that you asked that we continue the discussion  [snip] .  However, since the other members [snip] were unlikely to understand that you were utilizing a highly individualized and non-standard definition (I didn’t come to understand this until we had had a significant discussion [snip]), it is reasonable to be concerned about such a term being applied to me.

Secondly, if we all started to utilize highly individualized and non-standard definitions of words, the communication benefits of language would break down.  That is, rather than being able to discuss and debate ideas, we would be continually bogged down in explaining to each other our individual, internal dictionaries.  That is, our communication would be only about semantics rather than ideas.

I certainly agree that human language is an imperfect tool of communication.  There are ambiguities and white spaces that cause real problems.  However, the existence of problems doesn’t invalidate language, nor give us leave to unnecessarily exacerbate them.

Finally, as Christians, shouldn’t we hold a high view of language?  After all, God has chosen to use the Word to bring the Gospel to humanity, and, the Bible highly extols the power of language, both to help and harm.

It’s my hope that this brief note has been useful in explaining the point of view that I bring to this issue.

This is where the discussion essentially ended.  I think that we achieved a greater understanding of one another, and, parted without rancor between us.  For this I am grateful and give this individual great credit for being the one who took the initiative to achieve this outcome.

The Implications

I don’t know the extent to which this person was actually unaware of totalitarian’s official definition.  I do find it hard to believe that an educated person wouldn’t understand the obvious connection between this word and the evil people / regimes with which it is inextricably associated.  On the other hand, I’m also well aware of the destruction that postmodern philosophy has wrought on rational thought and language.

My guess is that, in a state of exasperation, this person had groped for a label that would discredit my position.  In the heat of the moment they blurted out “totalitarian.”  However, they didn’t anticipate the extent of the offense that I took, or the force of my response.  I also believe that they quickly realized that they had gone too far, were truly sorry to have done so and took the initiative to make amends after the fact.

However, even ceding all of this, I still find it troubling that language was so irresponsibly used.  The sad fact is that, had I not so forcefully and effectively fought back, I could well have exited that debate labeled as a totalitarian.  Yes, it would have been a false label, but that would have been cold comfort.

I think that this encounter illuminates the extent to which our use of language has been undermined and corrupted by Progressive postmodern thought.  If you wonder how it is that we have lost the ability to effectively communicate across ideological lines, this encounter sheds significant light on one of the underlying causes.