Monday, December 8, 2008

The God Train


subtitle: the trouble with metaphors.

It's surprising how often writers get into trouble with metaphors. In essence, a metaphor is a technique in writing where you describe one thing as being equal to a second thing in some essential way. I like the metaphor of bigotry being a double-edged sword: whenever you swing it, you damage yourself as much as your target. That is a metaphor that works. It describes exactly how I feel about bigotry, without implying anything unintended or unfortunate.

The metaphor of the following article, Crossing Paths with God by Dan Ecklund, is not so successful.

When a car tries to race a train to the crossing, and it ties for first place, it usually ends up as a loser. The odds the train will swerve to avoid the collision are zero, and the likelihood of the car winning the match up is slim. Most collisions usually leave the car and driver so mangled that the identity of both can’t be easily recognized. The power, speed, and weight to the train are taken out on a thin metal frame and glass. Millions are spent on warning lights and crossing arms, yet the warnings go unheeded on a daily basis as drivers try to shave a few seconds off their travel time.

I like this first paragraph. ". . . ties for first place" is understated, "The odds the train will swerve to avoid collision are zero . . ." is amusing and the rest is quite evokative. It's practially poetic, and it describes an event I've seen play out numerous times, though never ending with tragedy. I was hopeful that this article would be better than than any other I have seen on RaptureReady.


Alas, such was not to be.

In the lives in the life of blahblahblah, not the lives. this use of the plural implies that every person has multiple lives. for a hindu, this would be appropriate, not so much for a christian. of every person, we if you start with "in the lives of every person", you can't move to "we". either start with "in all of our lives" or end with "all of us". continue to try to beat the odds with God.

And that's where the metaphor falls apart. He just compared God, loving omnipotent, omniscient creator of all (hey, i don't believe that, but Mr. Ecklund does) with a train. He then compares meeting your maker with a train collision. I'm an atheist, and I find that metaphor unfortunate. Beyond the "impersonal and ultimately avoidable display of certain principles of physics" aspect to it, there is the implication that one could surviving "beating the odds with god". It is theoretically possible to survive a collision with a train. It's probably even happened. Could one possibly come out on top of a meeting with god. Really?

If you were to poll the average person living in America, you’d find the majority would list themselves as Christians. According to the US Census Bureau, in 2001 79.8% of USians self identified as christian. Numerous polls have ranked people who confess belief in God between 90 and 96 percent. Which polls? The US Census Bureau puts the number of atheists/agnostics at 15% in 2001. Admittedly, agnostics do believe in god, but I can't tell where he is getting that figure from. (Notice that I told you exactly where I got my figures from.) I also have to wonder if he is including Jews and Muslims in this statement. Yet despite the belief in a God, the population is divided in a moral standard that should accompany Him. More like completely fragmented. That 79.8% who self identify as christian, are divided into 18 different groups, not including the "other" percentage. People say things like “My god would never create Hell.” ”My god has told me He’s fine with my lifestyle.” “My god told me (insert sin here) is ok.” Who says these things? I looked at the tenents of every one of the 18 listed christian denominations and they all believe in hell and sin. In general, when people say "god told me", what comes next involves hatred or violence. One must concluded one of two things as truth, either one god has a personality disorder, or some of us have a different God. 18+ different christian denominations, plus judaism in its variations, islam in its variations, hinduism, buddhism, etc.? Yeah, well, duh!

Christians in Chaos BWA HA HA HA HA HA I don't know what it is about the word "chaos", but it comes with a villain laugh attached to it for me. Obviously, I can't discuss chaos BWA HA HA HA HA HA theory.

Statistics don't lie- but statisticans often do.

Even though most Christians will claim we serve the same God really, do they? i have no idea. i'm guessing this guy doesn't either., it becomes evident that we do not. is this some sort of polytheistic revelation? Mr. Ecklund is not a monotheist? (Oddly, neither christianity nor judaism require monotheism, which is the belief that there is only one god. Both religions only require that you don't worship any other gods, which is monolatrism. Hmmm) It’s shown by the design a person puts on their personal god of chose choice?, taken from the Christian God. ok, i have no idea what this sentence even means. Does he mean that all gods are only copies of the christian god? kinda sticky considering that Jesus was a jew. Barna the Barna Group is, according to their website, my partner for information, strategy, execution and transformation. Whatever that means. surveys support this view. Here’s a list of division within “confessing Christianity” the only reference to confessing christianity that i could find was in reference to a christian resistance organization in nazi germany. on key issues that are found within scripture.

One third of born again adults (33%) say that abortion is a morally acceptable behavior, compared with 45% of all adults, 4% of evangelicals, and 71% of atheists and agnostics. (2004)
I'm a little surprised that so many "born again" adults feel that way, but the rest of the numbers don't surprise me.

Half of born again Christians (46%) agree that Satan is "not a living being but is a symbol of evil." (2007) Where does satan appear in the bible? Not in the old testament at all. In fact, most of what you think of as religious fact concerning satan is taken from "Paradise Lost" by John Milton. Are epic 17th Century British poems scripture?

46% of born again Christians deny Satan's existence see above, i guess.
26% of born again agree that "while he lived on earth, Jesus committed sins, like other people he was rude to his mother once, which in Leviticus is supposed to be punished with death.
36% of born again said they believe in moral absolutes
37% of born again believe that if a person is good enough they can earn a place in Heaven. (2007)
only 37%? That explains a lot of behavior on the part of fundagelicals.

Focus on the last two of the 2007 polls first. 36% of born again believers say they believe in moral absolutes. That means for 64% of believers there are no moral grounds that can’t be adjusted. I found this very surprising until I thought about the problem with polls: the questions. (among other things) I cannot believe that 64% of any group believes that there are no, none, nada, zip moral absolutes. For example, unless you're polling NAMBLA, where would you find any group of people 64% of which think that "raping kids of bad" is in any way adjustable?

Let me put it another way. If you asked 100 random people "is killing someone bad?", I guarantee you that at least 95% of those people would say, "yes, killing people is bad." However, if you asked those same 100 people "could you think of a situation in which killing someone would be justified?", I guarantee you that at least 80% of them would say "well, yeah, if it were to save my life . . . "

See what I'm getting at? It's all in how you ask the question. I'd have to see the questions Barna asked, exactly as they were asked, to get a sense of what this means.

That in itself explains the division within Christianity. Not really. If want to, read about what caused Protestantism, the first break in christianity. It didn't have to do with biblical inerrancy. If God’s Law, written in stone, is not an absolute, then the person can decided what is morally acceptable to them. Does this guy not speak English natively? "then a person can decide" plus, if god's law is "written in stone" then it is necessarily absolute, that is the meaning of the phrase. If it is not absolute, then it is not written in stone. I would imagine Mr. Ecklund is referring to the ten commandments, and the various branches of christianity can't even agree what they are exactly. This is of key importance. If something is absolute truth, it must come from outside of mankind, as it’s obvious we change what’s right and wrong to fit our desires no, not obvious to me. you'll have to show you're work on this one. People don't change their minds on what is right and wrong to fit the situation. Well, normal people don't. What normal people do is excuse their own behavior based on "special circumstances. For example, cheating on my husband is wrong. I could decide that due to the circumstances in our relationship, however, that I am justified in doing so. I would still assert that cheating is wrong. (no, I don't cheat on my husband.). It is no different that saying we can decided if we can beat the train to the crossing, despite the arms being down and the lights are flashing. No, actually that's totally different. In every way. Saying that there are situations in which killing another human being is justified- war, self defense, defense of another-- is not the same as deciding that physics doesn't apply to me. May as well try to flap my arms and fly away. Which is in no way morally reprehensible.

Recently, some Texas Catholics went into an uproar. Two bishops wrote a letter on the churches standing on abortion. The bishops wrote that it was immoral to support the act, which had been the churches belief for the last 50 years. Upon some of the church members hearing the letter read during church, they left the service. Some of those who left that were interviewed on TV, and they demanded the churches be taxed for taking political sides. The former patrons had decided the issue of “life” was not a moral one, but a political choice, and the church itself had no right to tell them what to do.
Actually, that is not what happened. He is referring to two separate occurrences. During the election, the Catholic Church announced that good catholics would vote for McCain because of Obama's stance on abortion. (Killing people during a war? Just fine!). After the election, the Catholic Church announced that anyone who voted for Obama must receive confession prior to receiving the eucharist again. That is seriously blurring the line between church and state, and Ratzinger (or whatever he calls himself these days) does not want to go there.

Moving on.

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