Take it on faith

Sally Quinn marks 5 years of doing her On Faith discussions for the Washington Post.  She says after all of this religion coverage that she is no longer an atheist.  She doesn’t have a personal relationship with God, though, and she believes that all religions are equally valid.  Still, her reflections contain some good stories:

An atheist father was trying to explain to his son that there was no such thing as God. “But dad,” asked the boy, “how do you know?”

“You’ll just have to take it on faith,” said the father.

That says it all.

We are all taking our beliefs or lack of beliefs on faith. . . .

 

My friend, Welton Gaddy, a Southern Baptist minister, told me about a friend who informed him that she had absolutely no interest in religion. “Well,” he asked her, “are you interested in national politics or foreign policy?”

“Yes.”

“ What about abortion, gay marriage, immigration and the environment?” he asked.

Of course she was.

“Well, then,” he replied, “you’re interested in religion.”

Gaddy might well have added the financial bailout, poverty, disease, movies, music, holidays, separation of church and state, parenting, sexual abuse, animal rights, sports, books, the internet, the military, women’s rights, racism, violence, crime, marriage, families, science, medicine and on and on. Everyone is interested in religion. They just don’t know it. . . .

 

We are all searching for the transcendent, for a sense of the divine. Even those who claim no faith, no belief, cannot ignore the three questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What then must I do?

Life is hard. No matter whether you are religious or not, you will have periods of extreme doubt which will make you ask, “What is the point?” Nobody gets a pass.

Viktor Frankl, in his famous book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” written after the Holocaust, asks the question and answers it for himself. I think I know what gives my life meaning, what the sense of the divine is for me, what I find transcendent. I have found this out by studying religion. That doesn’t mean I have any answers. It only means I believe I know why I am here.

Newt as front-runner, so attacks begin

Newt Gingrich, according to some polls, has pulled ahead of Mitt Romney in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.  So, following form, the news stories are digging up unfavorable material about him.

But there is a difference this time:  The stories are about how he has violated conservative orthodoxy:  His think tank to propose free market solutions to health care issues once suggested–or maybe even came up with the idea–of mandatory insurance coverage, a hallmark of Obamacare.  He once proposed a cap and trade policy to control pollution.  He believes or once believed in global warming.

But these attacks may have a different effect:  They may make him more electable.  They show him not to be the conservative attack dog that he has been stereotyped as being.  Rather, he comes across as a pragmatic problem solver who is not as ideological as people might fear.

The problem is that Republican primary voters are dominated by us conservative purists.  Whereas the voting public is scared to death of conservative purists.  So we have the dilemma of anyone the Republicans may be willing to nominate cannot win, and anyone who could win cannot get the Republican nomination.

The fact is, Newt Gingrich is an idea machine.  He just churns them out.  (Notice, for example, in the link below, his idea about how school janitors.)  And think tanks, which he has been running, are idea factories.  Not all of the ideas work or survive long after further reflection.  (Who knows if his janitor idea would work?)  But Newt is certainly a creative guy with a massive intellect.  And certainly our problems today call for those skill sets.

And though one might fault him for having once proposed ideas that conservatives now oppose, no one would surely classify Newt as a liberal or even a moderate.  If Newt and Mitt Romney both fall short of conservative purity, surely Newt would be more acceptable, wouldn’t he?

Then again, there is the character issue.  Newt has been married three times, has been unmasked as an adulterer, has a reputation for arrogance and for not being disciplined.  He has expressed remorse for his misdeeds and has recently converted to Catholicism.  Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is a Mormon, and in accord with that non-Christian religion, he lives a very moral life.   His character, by all accounts, has been stellar, with a strong marriage and a strong family, and no external vices that anyone can see.  The man doesn’t even drink coffee.

What do you think?  Newt or Mitt?

Gingrich defends himself, says he can handle scrutiny – The Washington Post.

Congress fails again

Back in August, Congress averted a government shutdown at the last minute by kicking the can to a “Supercommittee” that was assigned to find $1.2 trillion in savings.  The incentive was a provision that if the bipartisan task force failed to do so, $1.2 trillion would automatically be cut, with half from social programs (to get the liberals to co-operate) and half from defense (to get the conservatives to co-operate).  The deadline for an agreement would be Thanksgiving.

Well, that would be this Thursday and it is evident that no agreement is likely, with the sticking points being the same ones that stymied Congress back in April:  Democrats want not only cuts but new revenue, and Republicans won’t agree to any tax increases.

But doing nothing will be just as good, given the automatic cuts that will take place (though not until 2013).  Right?  You would think so.  That was the agreement.

But now the word is that Congress will renege on that deal by adding back what would have been cut out of  social programs and national defense!

Supercommittee Expectations Wane on Tax Divide – Bloomberg.

Why no two snowflakes are identical

As if to put us in the mood for winter, the Washington Post has a fascinating feature explaining why no two snowflakes are the same:

Newly formed snow crystals with only a handful of molecules would be nearly impossible to distinguish. But that’s not really the issue. We’re talking about real snowflakes, which have something on the order of a quintillion molecules. (That’s the number 1 with 18 zeros.)

Now, it’s not a law of nature that no two snowflakes could be truly identical. So, on a very technical level, it’s possible for two snowflakes to be identical. And it’s entirely possible that two snowflakes have been visibly indistinguishable. But probability dictates that this is incredibly unlikely. Libbrecht draws a helpful visual comparison.

“There are a limited number of ways to arrange a handful of bricks,” he says. “But if you have a lot of bricks, the number of combinations grows very quickly. With enough of them, you can make a driveway, a sidewalk or a house.”

Water molecules in a snowflake are like those bricks. As the number of building blocks increases, the number of possible combinations increases at an incredible rate.

Consider the math, which Libbrecht helps explain using a bookshelf analogy. He points out that, if you have only three books on your bookshelf, there are only six orders in which you can arrange them. (That’s 3 times 2 times 1.) If you have 15 books, there are 1.3 trillion possible arrangements. (Fifteen times 14 times 13, etc.) With 100 books, the number of combinations increases to a number that is far, far greater than the estimated number of atoms in the universe.

An ordinary snowflake has hundreds of branches ribs, and ridges, all arranged in minutely different geometries. To be sure, lots of snowflakes have fallen in the world, but not nearly enough to render two identical snowflakes a reasonable possibility.

If you’re skeptical, you’re more than welcome to undertake your own study. But you might want to block off a pretty big chunk of time. Libbrecht estimates that around a septillion — that’s a 1 with 24 zeros — snowflakes fall every year.

via Why no two snowflakes are the same – The Washington Post.

This also makes me want to re-arrange the books on my bookshelves.  I think I’ll put 15 of them on a shelf and make it my life’s work to put them in every possible order!

 

 

snowflake

Would Calvin have Occupied Wall Street?

Would even liberal Lutherans say this of Martin Luther?

The cause of demonstrators involved in the “Occupy Wall Street” movement would have been supported by John Calvin, the 16th century church reformer who helped shape modern-day Protestantism, says the General Secretary of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC).

“I am sure he would have been in the streets of New York or London with a placard,” says Setri Nyomi of the French lawyer and theologian who wrote extensively about social and economic justice.

Nyomi makes his comments in a lecture delivered Tuesday at Princeton Theological Seminary in the United States. The Ghanaian theologian and Princeton graduate is delivering three lectures this week on the role of the church in the 21st century.

“Calvin expressed opposition to all forms of social oppression resulting from money”, Nyomi says. “Today, it is the global economic systems and practices that have more sophisticated forms of effects.”

Nyomi believes Calvin’s words resonate with life today. “The church of the 21st century needs to align itself with voices of justice … even if it means being out there in the streets,” he writes.

via John Calvin would have been in the Occupy Wall Street movement, says Reformed church leader | Bringing together 80 million Reformed Christians worldwide.

HT: Jordan Ballor

Huntsman’s conservative credentials

The impression most people have is that Jon Huntsman is not conservative, that he is at best a moderate.  Not so, says Nichole Austin:

Despite scuttlebutt to the contrary, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman is not a Democrat in disguise, but was in fact a relatively ambitious conservative governor. And if he is “moderate,” he is not appreciably more moderate than other leading candidates or party leaders. If one compares records honestly and looks at policy positions realistically, one will find that in many ways, Huntsman is more conservative than Mitt Romney — who will likely receive the Republican nomination. A surreal juxtaposition to be sure.

As governor of Utah, Huntsman ushered in a boldly transformed tax system. He flattened the tax code, doing away with many, though not all, deductions and credits, and changing six-brackets of progressive income tax rates into one low 5% rate. (Compare with Rick Perry’s proposed 20% flat income tax and Herman Cain’s emblematic 9%.) According to PoliFact.com, this new system reduced taxes approximately 30% for the wealthiest residents, and due to remaining tax deductions “the effective tax rate [was] about 3 percent for Utah taxpayers earning $70,000 a year in 2008 and 4 percent for a household with $100,000 in taxable income[.]” He also eliminated the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit, a credit Reagan supported and which many Republicans today label “socialist.”

Also according to PolitiFact, which simply crunched Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, Utah was fourth in the nation for job creation during the period immediately preceding and including the 2008-2009 recession, right behind Texas, which was third in the nation.

This is just the beginning. One proposal in Washington that has seemingly become too radical for even many leading Republicans to fully sign on to is the “Ryan plan,” which would rein in unsustainable entitlements, most notably Medicare. Newt Gingrich has criticized the Ryan plan, and has vacillated considerably on the proposal — at best, he seems to think it’s too big, too soon, although at one point he said he would vote for it. Romney supports a weaker version of the Ryan plan, which would not phase out Medicare, but keep it as an option, allowing private carriers to compete with it — we might call it the “competitive option,” a Democratic euphemism for the “public option.” Michele Bachmann supports the Ryan plan, but also voiced reservations regarding potential changes to Medicare. Huntsman, on the other hand, wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal commending the Ryan plan, and has said he would vote for it. He has re-iterated, unequivocally, his support on multiple occasions. This puts Huntsman in the same camp as Herman Cain and, to some extent, Rick Perry, who wants states to be able to opt out of entitlements and believes they’re “Ponzi schemes.” Mitt Romney later criticized this very accurate characterization of entitlements, saying Perry’s rhetoric was over the top and frightening.

Of course, one other noteworthy item on Huntsman’s resume is that he pursued free market-based health care reform in Utah. The system primarily involved a competitive private health care exchange, diversified consumer options, and electronic medical records. Gregg Girvan of the Heritage Foundation praised it as a “blueprint” for state health care reform. Furthermore, the state did not impose a health insurance mandate on private citizens, although early on, Huntsman seemed to have favored a mandate, as did former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have endorsed insurance mandates of some kind and seem to think that they’re necessary features of a workable health care reform model. On a related note, like most other candidates, Huntsman also said he would repeal Obamacare.

Huntsman has also been consistently pro-life, and has spoken very passionately on the issue. He signed numerous pro-life laws while governor, including making second trimester abortions illegal, enacting fetal pain awareness legislation, and instituting a trigger to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade were overturned. He also supports a “right to life” amendment to the Constitution. He has not signed the Susan B. Anthony List pledge (Romney and Cain have not either), but his record speaks for itself, and he has been praised by numerous pro-life groups.

via PJ Media » Everything You Thought You Knew About Jon Huntsman Is Wrong.

Plus, the former ambassador to China does know a lot about foreign policy, unlike most of the rest of the field.   His only non-conservative positions, according to Austin, are his belief that global warming is real and his willingness to accept civil unions for gays.  I’m not sure what’s conservative about one’s position on global warming–surely that’s a matter of opinion and interpretation of data–and, indeed, Newt Gingrich, nobody’s liberal, has accepted that man-man global warming is real.  And civil unions at least stop a little short of  gay marriage.

So is the only real problem with Huntsman is that he, like Romney, is a Mormon?


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X