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2023 January 30 -- Catholics: A Fable

With a title like that, you'd think the author had some kind of moral message to convey, but if he did, I don't know what it was. *I* saw a moral message, but not many people see things as I do. Not even many Christians see things as I do. So this is about what *I* got from the flick.

The scene is an isolated island off the coast of Ireland, an obscure monastery of a (probably fictitious) order, and it opens on a priest -- perhaps the monastery Abbot -- offering mass in Latin in the open air, I think on the mainland near the boat dock serving the island. The congregants are holding protest signs calling for the return of the mass in Latin. That is the point of conflict around which the story revolves. The people want the mass in Latin, and the priests are serving the people.

The two main characters are that Abbot and a representative from Rome, there to deliver an ultimatum: stop doing the mass in Latin or get replaced.

The Roman rep appears to have lost his faith: he does not cross himself upon entering the church, he does not sing the hymns everybody else sings, and in his room he meditates while sitting in the lotus position with burning incense. And he is there to deliver a message that does not serve the people of the Church, who are thronging from all over the world to this tiny monastery -- or at least to the hillside over the dock, because the boatman has instructions to let only priests ride his boat (the rep doesn't look like a priest, no robe, no clerical collar, so not even he is allowed) -- to get their mass in Latin.

The change in policy, we are told, is a political expedient. The Latin mass and the doctrine of transubstantiation -- in traditional Catholic theology the wafer and the wine become the actual body and blood of Christ when the little bell rings, when the priest utters the magical "hocus pocus" (his actual words are Latin, 'hoc est corpus meam' = "this is my body" = the words of Christ in the Bible, which to the untrained ear literally sounds like "hocus pocus") -- are being deprecated to pacify the nonCatholics at the ecumenical table. Evangelicals are (like these monks) unwilling to give up the essentials of our faith, and most of us refused to join these ecumenical meetings when they happened. When Chuck Colson later participated in meetings with Catholics, neither side was asked to give up their own essentials.

The Abbot, we find out later, had actually lost his faith, some incident at Lourdes where he could not bring himself to believe that any miracle was happening, and subsequently could no longer believe in the miracle of transubstantiation, but he had underling priests do the mass and nobody was the wiser. His entire reason for being there was to serve the simple faith of the people and his own priests. But he honored his vow to serve the Father General whom the rep represented, and he enforced that same vow on his underling priests when he required them to conform to the rep's edict. Yet somehow he could not in good conscience continue on as Abbot under that circumstance.

The primary message I take away from this flick is the reason I am Protestant, not Catholic. The Abbot (or maybe his secretary, sometimes I confuse people who look similar) quoted Luther's famous conscience line against conforming to the edict from Rome, while denying that he had any intention like Luther's break (Luther also had no such intention, but things got out of hand). The Catholics and the Mormons alike have this continuing problem, that they do not allow for the possibility of moral absolutes like Truth, so they both require a Pope (or in the case of the Mormons, Apostle) to tell them what is "true" today. If there is such a thing as moral absolutes -- and I have yet to find nor hear of anybody who doesn't in their heart really believe in them, at least not when they buy a $2 item in a store and pay with a $5 bill, and expect $3, not $2 in change, because 2+3=5 is a moral absolute applying to all people everywhere and in every time without exception -- then Truth is a moral absolute because God Himself cannot lie. That means we can accept the Bible as unconditionally "True in all that it teaches," and therefore takes precedence over any Pope or Apostle or Pastor. Most people are tribal in the support of their pastor, because tribalism is a Relationship, and they are Reliationshipists in preference to Truth, but that's a different story for a different place.

I'm not saying the Bible is without problems, but there are far fewer than the atheists and crypto-atheists want to claim, and the few I cannot explain to my own satisfaction, I can point out that if I understood everything God wrote, then I would be a god, which I clearly am not.

Bottom line, the Catholics got themselves into this problem because they gave man (the Pope) authority over Truth, which breaks Truth as a moral absolute. Or rather it breaks on the fact that Truth is a moral absolute, not subject to individual human acts. God did not (in His Bible) make Peter or anybody else an exception. That's their problem, not mine.

I do have problems, not in defining moral absolutes, not in understanding God's Righteous requirement of all people everywhere and in all times without exception to comply with them, nor even in having the power to Do The Right Thing once I understand it and ask God's help by His indwelling Spirit -- those are all relatively simple -- but sometimes it's harder in the selfishness of the situation to see how this particular action is a violation, so that I can consciously choose The Right Thing. sigh
 
 

2023 January 28 -- Lies, D* Lies, and WIRED

Not particularly known for their scientific acccuracy, the current WIRED magazine hit a new low.
Climate experts [sic] estimate that 2030 is also the year by which much of Georgetown [capital of Guyana] and coastal Guyana will be underwater as a result of unchecked global warming.
Recall that I actually did the math three years ago. If all the ice in the world eventually melted, it would raise sea levels something like 70 meters. Google tells us that current rate is 0.14 inches per year (slightly over an eighth of an inch), and that it doubled in the last ten years. If it doubled ever year (not every ten), then by seven years from now (that is, in year 2030, the year mentioned in that article), the sea would have risen a little over two feet, less than the height of an average wave on a calm day. No capital city is going to be inundated by that much sea rise unless they are already under water from the waves every day today.

But the sea rise isn't going up that fast. Google's chart showing the rise since 1880 -- I guess that's the first time they measured it in a repeatable way -- shows a miniscule average curve upward, not even as great as the doubling every century I based my math on three years ago. The line is jagged, sometimes up, sometimes down. If you want to sell fear and panic, tell people about the sharp upturns, not the downturns. "Figures don't lie, but liars figure." The sea rise went up two inches (50mm on the chart) in the last 20 years, no way is it going up enough to flood a whole city in seven more years. The waves on the beach go higher than that, and you can be sure the city has storm walls higher than than the worst case wave height. I don't know who these unnamed "climate experts" the author consulted are, but if they represent the best science we have for so-called climate change, there's nothing to worry about, not  in lowland countries like Guyana or Bangladesh, not even in below-sealevel Holland.

Needless to say, the author of the article is female. Guys would be embarrassed to print such nonsense over their own name. Women would be too, if they bothered to check, but they tend to be more gullible and less inclined to check the math. All the mathophobes I know are women. I cannot find any evidence WIRED even has an editor in charge of validating what they print, just (female) financial officers. In other words, not "Is it true?" but "Will it sell?"
 

2023 January 3 -- Gezer in the Bible

Last summer's BAR sat in the Reading Room for several months -- I don't regret the delay, the magazine has lost its compass since the founder passed on -- but the cover story (actually two articles, both mostly rehash of old facts) tells briefly of the authors (Ortiz and Wolff), their own excavation in Gezer, an Israeli city that Solomon fortified, and which Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah claimed to have destroyed both Gezer and all Israel a couple hundred years before Solomon.

The Bible makes no mention of Merneptah by name. It does say Pharaoh destroyed the Canaanites in Gezer and burned the city, then gave it as a wedding gift to his daughter when she married Solomon, which looks like a different chronology, maybe it is, maybe not. Gezer is also mentioned among the cities Joshua defeated (but did not destroy), and it is mentioned among the cities that still had Canaanites during the time of the Judges. When David was staying in the Philistine city of Ziklag, Gezer got mentioned as one of the places his band of men raided -- leaving no survivors to tell the Philistines about it while David himself told them he was raiding Judah. Those aren't the kinds of events that would leave much evidence for archaeologists to uncover. Pharaoh burning it to the ground is something else. So's the dating, which is pretty iffy in archaeology. The BAR article dates the destruction to late 13th century on the basis of a couple Egyptian artifacts found there. That matches the conventional dating for Merneptah's stele that mentioned the "destruction" of Israel.

If you take the conventional dating (both Biblical and secular) at face value, Merneptah's incursion into Israel would have happened during the time of the Judges, a time when Israelis "did what was right in their own eyes" (and by implication, WRONG in God's eyes) and God kept sending surrounding nations to oppress them, then they cried out to God, Who sent Judges to rescue them. But no mention of either Merneptah or Gezer in that context. Maybe that was west of the territory that the Israelis held during the time of the Judges, so it didn't count -- and Merneptah's boast was therefore unfounded -- or maybe Merneptah was indeed one of the surrounding nations to overrun Israel, but God did not raise up any Judge in Israel to run him off (perhaps it was unnecessary, since Merneptah himself was reaching the end of his own life, and he went home, leaving Israel to recover quietly), this article does not say, and neither did God. Lots of things happened around the world that God chose not to report in the Bible. They were irrelevant to what He was doing with His people in His chosen land.

But I wonder. At least these authors didn't seize this opportunity to diss the Bible, as others before them have so eagerly done.
 

2023 January 2 -- It CAN Be Done In Church

I guess most of the church staff was still on vacation, the preacher was one of the youth pastors getting his annual shot at the pulpit. It was the first Sunday in the month, the first day in the new year, and at the close of his Communion segment he invited us to join the praise team in a "love song." I mumbled to myself that "this church doesn't do love songs," but they did!

At least it started out that way: no drums, no syncopation, just a soft piano to match the love-song-like words. Then the words morphed into something more martial and the drummer kicked in. Modern drummers have a hard time doing anything but syncopated rock, and this guy was no exception. Eventually the words caught up with him, something about "Death could not hold You," and "You have no rival, You have no equal," which express separation and rejection and anger, the kinds of things appropriate to the emotions kindled by the heavy unsingable syncopated beat of rock music, and the drummer could -- and did -- do that.

My point is, different styles of music convey different emotions, and emotions drive the actions of the people expressing them. Play continuous rock, and everybody is angry all the time. It's hard on the culture, and it's hard on the people, but that's what we live in, and this church can do better -- we saw that yesterday -- but they don't have the will to on a regular basis. The regular music leaders were still on vacation, these were mostly people who I don't usually see up front. I don't think they even knew what they were doing (probably a "God thing"), perhaps like the two churches where I (in times past) parked my fanny, where men outnumbered the women, and the senior pastor in each case had no clue what he was doing to make that happen.

It wasn't a bad song, more about Jesus than "me-myself-and-I" with three times more 2nd-person pronouns referring to Jesus than 1st person pronouns (most CCM songs it's the other way around) but rather repetitious like the "7-11" taunt, (literally) "7 (in this case 6) words repeated 11 times." Whatever.

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