Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Denotative Definition of <i>Moron</i>

I know it's not nice to say unkind things about people, but the individuals in this story go out of their way to invite it:

GOLD HILL, Ore. - A teen who pinched and twisted another boy's nipple while standing in line at a deli has been sentenced to four days in juvenile detention because he refused to write a letter that explained his actions. The 16-year-old, was convicted of offensive physical touching in July 2005, after the victim's parents complained to Gold Hill police. The Crater High School student paid a $67 fine and served three days of community service.

"I emptied trash cans, mowed lawns and shoveled gravel," the teen said.

But the teen's refusal to comply with the final piece of his sentence will cost him four days in detention. He was required to write the letter during four classes put on by Mediation Works, which operates the victim-offender program for Jackson County Community Justice.

Mary Miller, executive director of Mediation Works, said the purpose of the letter is to prepare teens to be accountable for their offenses.

"They don't have to apologize," she said. "But they are required to be accountable."

The offender is required to describe the act in detail, explain "thinking errors," "express empathy" and describe any resultant life changes.

Miller said the program is "often a very, very healing experience between the victim and youth offender."

The teen said he presented a rough draft of his letter in the third session. He said he balked when told he must also describe his "criminal thought processes."

He said that would imply malicious or criminal intent, and "none of that applied to my feelings or actions."

The teen said he had no criminal intent because he considered the victim to be a friend at the time of the incident - which he deemed horseplay. Including the language sought by Mediation Works, he said, would turn his prior court statements into lies.

"It was a matter of conscience," the teen said. "I figure the worst is already over."

Ken Chapman, a Community Justice juvenile probation supervisor, verified the teen's sentence.

"The judge found a willful violation of the court order," Chapman said.

The only person mentioned in this piece that sounds like he has an IQ above the retirement age is the twister. His "friend" and, by implication, his friend's parents sound more than a little weird, but the people involved in adjudicating this asinine saga, particularly Mary Miller and the unnamed judge, sound worse than weird, they sound like absolute imbeciles. How do such individuals rise to positions of responsibility in our society?

It's a good thing Curly, Moe and Larry are all deceased because otherwise the Oregon justice system would have them serving life sentences for their countless "thinking errors."

Another Step Closer

This report in the British Telegraph is illuminating. The Iranians have played the Europeans for fools and are so sure that the world will do nothing about their nuclear program that they're laughing out loud about it. They seem so absolutely confident that Allah is blessing their ambitions, and that he will defeat any measures the infidels take to derail them, that they have no fear of Western reprisal. Of course, they have good reason not to fear Europe which could not stop Iran even had they the spunk to try it:

The man who for two years led Iran's nuclear negotiations has laid out in unprecedented detail how the regime took advantage of talks with Britain, France and Germany to forge ahead with its secret atomic programme. In a speech to a closed meeting of leading Islamic clerics and academics, Hassan Rowhani, who headed talks with the so-called EU3 until last year, revealed how Teheran played for time and tried to dupe the West after its secret nuclear programme was uncovered by the Iranian opposition in 2002.

He boasted that while talks were taking place in Teheran, Iran was able to complete the installation of equipment for conversion of yellowcake - a key stage in the nuclear fuel process - at its Isfahan plant but at the same time convince European diplomats that nothing was afoot. "From the outset, the Americans kept telling the Europeans, 'The Iranians are lying and deceiving you and they have not told you everything.' The Europeans used to respond, 'We trust them'," he said.

Revelation of Mr Rowhani's remarks comes at an awkward moment for the Iranian government, ahead of a meeting tomorrow of the United Nations' atomic watchdog, which must make a fresh assessment of Iran's banned nuclear operations. The judgment of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is the final step before Iran's case is passed to the UN Security Council, where sanctions may be considered.

In his address to the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution, Mr Rowhani appears to have been seeking to rebut criticism from hardliners that he gave too much ground in talks with the European troika. The contents of the speech were published in a regime journal that circulates among the ruling elite.

He told his audience: "When we were negotiating with the Europeans in Teheran we were still installing some of the equipment at the Isfahan site. There was plenty of work to be done to complete the site and finish the work there. In reality, by creating a tame situation, we could finish Isfahan."

Mr Rowhani described the regime's quandary in September 2003 when the IAEA had demanded a "complete picture" of its nuclear activities. "The dilemma was if we offered a complete picture, the picture itself could lead us to the UN Security Council," he said. "And not providing a complete picture would also be a violation of the resolution and we could have been referred to the Security Council for not implementing the resolution."

In a separate development, the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) has obtained a copy of a confidential parliamentary report making clear that Iranian MPs were also kept in the dark on the nuclear programme, which was funded secretly, outside the normal budgetary process.

Mohammad Mohaddessin, the NCRI's foreign affairs chief, told the Sunday Telegraph: "Rowhani's remarks show that the mullahs wanted to deceive the international community from the onset of negotiations with EU3 - and that the mullahs were fully aware that if they were transparent, the regime's nuclear file would be referred to the UN immediately."

War is not the next step in this Kubuki dance, and we hope it's ultimately not needed, but we've just moved a another step closer to that awful prospect. As we've said before, the only thing worse than war with Iran would be allowing Iran to build nuclear weapons.

Out Into the Cold

Reading this story in last Saturday's Washington Post reminded me of the 1963 Ingmar Bergman film Winter Light, the cold, grey, depressing tale of a Swedish pastor whose faith had slipped away from him. It was sad to watch this clergyman, self-centered oaf that he was, going through the motions of worship when he no longer believed that what he was doing meant anything. Bergman's film is a fascinating account of a man who cannot cope with the silence of God in the face of the existential absurdity of life.

The WaPo article is also a poignant tale of one man's loss of faith. It's a bit slanted toward affirming his decision to leave Christianity behind him, and it would have been better had the writer, Neely Tucker, remained a little more neutral on the question of whether the man, author and professor of religious studies Bart Ehrman, was deceived when he was a Christian, or whether he is deceived now that he no longer is. Nevertheless, Tucker gives us an interesting glimpse into Mr. Ehrman's thinking. The essay begins with these words:

Bart Ehrman is a sermon, a parable, but of what? He's a best-selling author, a New Testament expert and perhaps a cautionary tale: the fundamentalist scholar who peered so hard into the origins of Christianity that he lost his faith altogether.

Once he was a seminarian and graduate of the Moody Bible Institute, a pillar of conservative Christianity. Its doctrine states that the Bible "is a divine revelation, the original autographs of which were verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit."

But after three decades of research into that divine revelation, Ehrman became an agnostic. What he found in the ancient papyri of the scriptorium was not the greatest story ever told, but the crumbling dust of his own faith.

The reader expects that what follows will be an argument so compelling that Ehrman's loss of faith is almost a matter of course. What emerges in the following excerpts, however, is more like DaVinci Code stuff.

"Sometimes Christian apologists say there are only three options to who Jesus was: a liar, a lunatic or the Lord," he tells a packed auditorium here at the University of North Carolina, where he chairs the department of religious studies. "But there could be a fourth option -- legend."

Ehrman's latest book, "Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why," has become one of the unlikeliest bestsellers of the year. A slender book of textual criticism, currently at No. 16 on the New York Times bestseller list, it casts doubt on any number of New Testament episodes that most Christians take as, well, gospel. he paces back and forth across the stage [in front of his class], Ehrman ruthlessly pounces on the anomalies -- in this Gospel [John's], Jesus isn't born in Bethlehem, he doesn't tell any parables, he never casts out a demon, there's no last supper. "None of that is found in John!" The crucifixion stories are different -- in Mark, Jesus is terrified on the cross; in John, he's perfectly composed. Key dates are different. The resurrection stories are different. Ehrman reels them off, rapid-fire, shell bursts against the bulwark of tradition.

Why any of this should cast doubt on the reliability of the gospels is beyond me. It is perfectly conceivable that different authors chose to emphasize different aspects of the same events and the same history. It's almost as if Professor Ehrman is eager to find reasons for abandoning his faith and any hint that the gospels might have internal inconsistencies is seized upon as justification for pitching it aside.

"In Matthew, Mark and Luke, you find no trace of Jesus being divine," he says, his voice urgent. "In John, you do." He points out that in the other three books, it takes the disciples nearly half of Christ's ministry to learn who he is. John says no, no, everyone knew it from the beginning. "You shouldn't think something [is true] just because you believe it. You need reasons."

Nor should you base a belief on an argument from ignorance. Just because three gospel writers make no mention of Jesus' divinity proves nothing as to whether he was in fact divine. It was certainly a belief from the earliest days of the church that Jesus was divine, The gospel of John and the epistles of Paul and other New Testament writers are shot through with references to his divinity, and, contrary to what Ehrman says, there are indeed some indications of this belief in the synoptic writers.

For instance, Jesus was condemned to death because he arrogated to himself divine prerogatives (Mk. 14: 61-64) like accepting worship (Mat. 28:17) and the authority to forgive sins (Lk.7:48). These examples may not be conclusive, but they certainly rise to the level of "traces" of belief in Jesus' divinity.

The Bible simply wasn't error-free. The mistakes grew exponentially as he traced translations through the centuries. There are some 5,700 ancient Greek manuscripts that are the basis of the modern versions of the New Testament, and scholars have uncovered more than 200,000 differences in those texts.

Most of these are inconsequential errors in grammar or metaphor. But others are profound. The last 12 verses of the Gospel of Mark appear to have been added to the text years later -- and these are the only verses in that book that show Christ reappearing after his death.

Of course, most translations of the Bible note this later addition in Mark, and in any event it means nothing since all the other gospels discuss Christ's post-resurrection appearances. It's not clear what significance Professor Ehrman attaches to the fact that the oldest Marcan manuscripts omit it, but the overwhelming claim of the New Testament is that Jesus literally came back to life after being completely dead. If the New Testament is wrong about this Professor Ehrman needs to explain why. Perhaps he does in his books, but, if so, we hope his explanation goes beyond the standard question-begging argument that the miracle of the resurrection didn't happen because miracles are impossible.

Another critical passage is in 1 John, which explicitly sets out the Holy Trinity (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit). It is a cornerstone of Christian theology, and this is the only place where it is spelled out in the entire Bible -- but it appears to have been added to the text centuries later, by an unknown scribe.

The claim that this is the only place where the doctrine of the trinity is spelled out is misleading. It sounds as if Professor Ehrman is telling us that this is the only place in the Bible where a reference to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit can be found. Yet Jesus' words in the Great Commission (Mat. 28:19) clearly refer to them. Even so, doubts about whether God is an absolute unity or a tri-unity hardly seem to warrant a complete loss of faith in the reliability of the scriptures and of the existence of God.

[In] John Updike's novel of the fictional Rev. Clarence Arthur Wilmot, a Presbyterian minister, ...., [is] beset by doubt one afternoon in the rectory, [and] "felt the last particles of his faith leave him. The sensation was distinct -- a visceral surrender, a set of dark sparkling bubbles escaping upward . . . there was no God, nor should there be."

For Ehrman, the dark sparkling bubbles cascaded out of him while teaching a class at Rutgers University on "The Problem of Suffering in Biblical Traditions." It was the mid-1980s, the Ethiopian famine was in full swing. Starving infants, mass death. Ehrman came to believe that not only was there no evidence of Jesus being divine, but neither was there a God paying attention.

"I just began to lose it," Ehrman says now, in a conversation that stretches from late afternoon into the evening. "It wasn't for lack of trying. But I just couldn't believe there was a God in charge of this mess . . . It was so emotionally charged. This whole business of 'the Bible is your life, and anyone who doesn't believe it is going to roast in hell.'"

There is probably much more to Ehrman's slide from faith than what this newspaper article can plumb. Indeed, there has to be because otherwise we must conclude that Ehrman possesses a remarkable dearth of theological and philosophical sophistication for a university religion professor. Surely a scholar in religious studies understands that there are many views of salvation besides the one he adverts to above. Surely someone of his stature is aware that the existence of evil is, at very best, inconclusive as an argument against the existence of God.

Professor Ehrman seems to think that if he can no longer hold to a fundamentalist theology there must be no other options available to him and that he must consequently jettison even his belief in God. He sounds very much like a man who simply no longer wanted to believe and grasped whatever reasons lay readily to hand to justify his apostasy.

Bergman's movie about a pastor who embraces the cold, gloomy world of unbelief because, apparently, he can no longer feel God's presence and doesn't really want to believe in God anyway describes a man who seems very much like Bart Ehrman.