Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Meditation on Good Friday

Some time ago we did a post based on a remark made by a woman named Tanya at another blog. I thought that as we approach Good Friday it might be worth running the post again, slightly edited.

Tanya's comment was provoked by an atheist at the other blog who had issued a mild rebuke to his fellow non-believers for their attempts to use the occasion of Christian holidays to deride Christian belief. In so doing, he exemplified the sort of attitude toward those with whom he disagrees that one might wish all people, atheists and Christians alike, would adopt. Unfortunately, Tanya spoiled the mellow, can't-we-all-just-get-along, mood by manifesting a petulant asperity toward, and an unfortunate ignorance of, the traditional Christian understanding of the atonement.

She wrote:
I've lived my life in a more holy way than most Christians I know. If it turns out I'm wrong, and some pissy little whiner god wants to send me away just because I didn't worship him, even though I lived a clean, decent life, he can bite me. I wouldn't want to live in that kind of "heaven" anyway. So sorry.
Tanya evidently thinks that "heaven" is, or should be, all about living a "clean, decent life". Perhaps the following tale will illustrate the shallowness of her misconception:
Once upon a time there was a handsome prince who was deeply in love with a young woman. We'll call her Tanya. The prince wanted Tanya to come and live with him in the wonderful city his father, the king, had built, but Tanya wasn't interested in either the prince or the city. The city was beautiful and wondrous, to be sure, but the inhabitants weren't particularly fun to be around, and she wanted to stay out in the countryside where the wild things grow. Even though the prince wooed Tanya with every gift he could think of, it was to no avail. She wasn't smitten at all by the "pissy little whiner" prince. She obeyed the laws of the kingdom and paid her taxes and was convinced that that should be good enough.

Out beyond the countryside, however, dwelt dreadful, orc-like creatures who hated the king and wanted nothing more than to be rid of him and his heirs. One day they learned of the prince's love for Tanya and set upon a plan. They snuck into her village, kidnapped Tanya, and sent a note to the king telling him that they would be willing to exchange her for the prince, but if their offer was refused they would torture Tanya until she was dead.

The king, distraught beyond words, told the prince the horrible news.

Despite all the rejections the prince had experienced from Tanya, he still loved her deeply, and his heart broke at the thought of her peril. With tears he resolved to his father that he would do the exchange. The father wept bitterly because the prince was his only son, but he knew that his love for Tanya would not allow him to let her suffer the torment to which the ugly people would surely subject her. The prince asked only that the father try his best to persuade Tanya to live safely in the beautiful city once she was ransomed.

And so the day came for the exchange, and the prince rode bravely and proudly bestride his mount out of the beautiful city to meet the ugly creatures. As he crossed an expansive meadow toward the camp of his mortal enemy he stopped to make sure they released Tanya. He waited until she was out of the camp, fleeing toward the safety of the king's city, oblivious in her near-panic that it was the prince himself she was running past as she hurried to the safety of the city walls. He could easily turn back now that Tanya was safe, but he had given his word that he would do the exchange, and the ugly people knew he would never go back on his word.

The prince continued stoically and resolutely into their midst, giving himself for Tanya as he had promised. Surrounding his steed they set upon him, stripped him of his princely raiment, and tortured him for three days in the most excruciating manner. Not once did any sound louder than a moan pass his lips. His courage and determination to endure whatever agonies to which he was subjected were strengthened by the assurance that he was doing it for Tanya and that because of his sacrifice she was safe.

Finally, wearying of their sport, they cut off his head and threw his body onto a garbage heap.

Meanwhile, the grief-stricken king, his heart melting like ice within his breast, called Tanya into his court. He told her nothing of what his son had done, his pride in the prince not permitting him to use his son's heroic sacrifice as a bribe. Even so, he pleaded with Tanya, as he had promised the prince he would, to remain with him within the walls of the wondrous and beautiful city where she'd be safe forevermore.

Tanya considered the offer, but decided that she liked life on the outside far too much, even if it was risky, and she really didn't want to be in too close proximity to the prince, and "By the way," she asked the king, "where is that pissy little whiner son of yours anyway?"
Have a meaningful Good Friday. You, too, Tanya.

Warming Oceans and Sick Skeptics

Last week we mentioned a study that showed that the Medieval Warming Period which had heretofore been thought to have been a local phenomenon was in fact global in extent and was thus an example of serious warming that could not have been caused by human activity, given the time period in which it occurred. Now Live Science reports on another study that shows that the world's oceans have been warming for at least 135 years, more than twice as long as previously thought and suggesting that ocean warming began independently of human activity.

The report also notes that warming oceans are responsible for the rise in sea level around the globe because warm water is less dense than colder water. The article makes no mention of melting ice as a source of this rise. In other words, despite fears that warmer temperatures are causing polar and glacial ice to melt there seems to be no more water in the oceans today than in the past which seems paradoxical if global ice is in fact receding.

This is all irrelevant to people like professor Kari Norgaard, however, who opined last week that anyone who hasn't yet committed himself 100% to the view that humans are responsible for climate change is sick.
According to Ms Norgaard, a sociology and environmental studies professor at Oregon University, those who do not believe that global warming is real and is being caused by human existence are sick and need to be "treated."

Comparing global warming skepticism to racism, Professor Norgaard argued that "cultural resistance" to accepting human beings as being responsible for global warming "must be recognized and treated" as an aberrant sociological behavior.
Professor Norgaard is apparently oblivious to rule #1 of sound scientific theorizing, which is to hold one's hypotheses lightly and always be leery of any conclusions, tentative or otherwise, which run counter to the full body of evidence.

The professor seems already to have her mind made up, and when such people encounter others whose minds are not made up, or who ask uncomfortable questions, the time-tested tactic is to marginalize them by labeling them heretics or "sick".

Even though this ploy is very popular it reveals something unpleasant about the person who resorts to it. It's symptomatic of a deep insecurity concerning the beliefs the person is trying to defend. When one is confident that the facts are unambiguous in support of one's position one need not defame and slander those who disagree. One simply adduces the facts. When, however, one feels the need to employ insults and name-calling, it's usually because he or she is trying to mask a lack of confidence that their arguments are compelling.

Unleashing American Energy Production

Victor Davis Hanson explains the numerous advantages of drilling for domestic oil, something the Obama administration is unwilling to do:
The world was reinvented in the 1970s by soaring oil prices and massive transfers of national wealth. It could be again if the price of petroleum crashes — a real possibility given the amazing estimates about the new gas and oil reserves on the North American continent.

The Canadian tar sands, deepwater exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, horizontal drilling off the eastern and western American coastlines, fracking in once-untapped sites in North Dakota and new pipelines from Alaska and Canada could within a decade double North American gas and oil production.

Given that North America in general and the United States in particular might soon be completely autonomous in natural gas production and within a decade without much need of imported oil, life as we have known it for nearly the last half-century would change radically.

Take the Middle East. The U.S. currently devotes about $50 billion of its military budget to patrolling the Persian Gulf and stationing thousands of troops in the region.

But at a time of shrinking defense budgets, an oil-rich America might not need to protect Middle Eastern oil fields and lanes. U.S. foreign policy for once really could be predicated on the principle of supporting those nations that embrace constitutional government and human rights, without worry that offended dictators, theocrats and kings would turn off the spigots.

Curbing the voracious American appetite for imported oil could also help lower world petroleum prices for everyone. Poorer nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America would save billions of dollars on their imported-energy bills.

High-cost oil has warped the global system by rewarding luck and punishing accomplishment. Oil-poor countries that earned their wealth through hard work and innovation — China, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, for example — should be rewarded with reduced imported-energy costs, while those that became rich by having someone else find and develop the oil beneath their feet might find their windfalls reduced.

Americans tend to admire the earned wealth of China and Japan more than the accidental riches of Saudi Arabia and Iran. Without high-priced oil, Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are just neighborhood loudmouths rather than regional threats.

Unemployment here in the U.S. has not dipped below 5% since February 2008, during the last year of the Bush administration. But some estimates suggest that 3 million to 4 million jobs will follow from new gas and oil production alone.

That figure is aside from the greater employment that would accrue from reduced energy costs. Farmers, manufacturers and heavy industries could gain an edge on their overseas competitors, as everything from fertilizer and plastics to shipping and electrical power would become less expensive.

America is spending nearly a half-trillion dollars a year on imported oil — the greatest contributor to the massive annual U.S. trade deficit. We are also currently borrowing more than $1 trillion a year to finance chronic budget deficits, which in turn weaken the dollar and make oil imports even more expensive.

But without the drag of high-cost imported oil, the economy would grow more rapidly, and that could shrink both trade and budget deficits — lessening somewhat the need for spending cuts and new taxes.
Against all of this is the fear of environmentalists and the Obama administration that increasing oil production would increase the chance of an oil spill like the Deepwater Horizon accident and also postpone the day when we transition to green energy. In my view the advantages Hanson lists far outweigh the liabilities, and it's difficult to understand why the Obama administration does not think the same way.