Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Why Democrats and Republicans are Both Wrong

{Caveats}
I realize this is over-simplifying things, but contrary to what Democrats and Republicans believe about each other, the other side is sincerely trying to help society. Neither side is evil or is trying to prevent people from getting the help they need. They just have different methods for accomplishing it.

So, for example, both Democrats and Republicans want to help the poor, they just have different views on how to do it. Democrats think if people need financial help, the best thing to do is ... give them financial help. Very understandable, but it only works in the short-term: "eventually you run out of other people's money". Republicans think if people need financial help, the best thing to do is create more opportunities for people to be able to make money. Also very understandable, but it only works in the long-term: if you need help paying rent now, buying groceries now, help that may come several months or years down the line, and which could still pass you by, doesn't offer much solace. Of course, neither side thinks that we should only do one or the other, but Democrats focus on the former and Republicans focus on the latter.

The obvious point is that both must be made equal, since both are of equal importance. The reason both Democrats and Republicans are wrong is because both are incomplete without the other. Indeed, they need each other. If either side had complete government control, society would fall apart. Apparently, it's just impossible to hold both the short-term and long-term plans in mind as equal, so we inevitably tend to think one is more important than the other. If you see people living in poverty, then of course you're going to want to get them the help they need as soon as possible. But if you see people living on the government dole for long enough, you see them become dependent with no sense of self-reliance -- so of course you're going to want to get them a long-term solution that respects their value as human beings, and which keeps them from being mere leeches on society. Both sides are obviously right. Therefore, both sides are obviously wrong.

Incidentally, the Bible affirms both of these precepts. One of its more common themes is that we should go out of our way to help others; indeed, to not do so is to, in effect, deny Christ. However, this should be done willingly: we should not force others to help and we should not be forced to do so ourselves. Yet it also says we should do everything we can to be self-sufficient, not dependent on anyone else, and not leech off of others.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Thought of the Day

Babies are socialists.
Toddlers are libertarians.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

More on Jewish Fantasy Literature

I posted about an excellent essay by Michael Weingrad at Portland State University about Judaism and fantasy literature here, entitled "Why There Is No Jewish Narnia". It received some criticism which Elliot sums up over at CotC. Weingrad has written an enlightening response here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Terrorists are Morons

A friend of mine told me a few years ago that terrorists are morons. I think he was just giving a knee-jerk reaction, but the more I've thought about it, the more I think it's true. Terrorist attacks are so horrible that it's often difficult to see how much worse they could have been. But when you do see this, and see that the only reason they weren't worse is because the terrorists were just mind-numbingly inept, it becomes difficult to ascribe any degree of intelligence to them.

Everyone tells me that 9/11 was an incredibly sophisticated operation, and this shows how organized and intelligent the terrorists were. I remain unimpressed. I mean, if you want to hijack several airplanes, then isn't it kind of obvious that you should do it with planes that are taking off at about the same time? And they didn't even get that right: by the time the fourth plane was hijacked, the passengers had heard about the other three, and were able to thwart the terrorists.

As far as I can tell, the "brilliance" of 9/11 is that they used the planes as missiles and they chose long-distance flights so that the planes would have more jet fuel when they crashed them. I do think those are moderately intelligent insights, but I suspect pretty much anyone who seriously thought about how to do as much damage as possible by hijacking airplanes would come up with something along those lines after a few minutes. It's not like people hadn't thought of using planes this way before (ever hear of kamikazes?). It hardly ranks as "evil genius" territory.

At any rate, this pales in comparison to the dim-witted tiny-brained sheer stupidity that the terrorists exhibited. Probably the most obvious example is thinking that if you kill a bunch of innocent people you'll get on God's good side. That's God "Hi there, I'm the ground of morality" God. Morons.

Another thing: if you're planning to fly the plane into things, maybe the Pentagon wasn't the wisest choice. I mean, first of all, planes tend to fly in the air, and five-story buildings tend to be very close to the ground. In order to crash the plane into it, you're almost certainly going to bump the plane on the ground, which will significantly decrease your forward momentum enough that you'll do much less damage. In order to avoid this, you'd have to be very careful, meaning you'd have to slow down of your own accord ... and do much less damage.

Second of all, crashing a plane into the sturdiest building in the world is going to make you look like an idiot. Especially if you fly it into the one part of the building that had just been reinforced and made especially sturdy -- something you could have discovered with 30 seconds of research. If you fly a 757 into a building, and it makes such a tiny hole that people only slightly smarter than you actually think it must have been made by a much, much smaller object instead (apparently thinking of how, when Wile E. Coyote runs through a wall, he leaves a Wile E. Coyote-shaped hole), you did something wrong. Moreover, and more importantly, because of the recent construction, more than 80% of the people who usually work in that section weren't there. If you're trying to kill as many people as possible, and you crash the plane into the one part of the building that's mostly empty, you just basically announced to the world that you are an absolute and utter moron.

But the twin towers were much worse, right? They killed 2600 people there. That shows that the 9/11 masterminds were intellects of the highest caliber right?

Not so much. The first thing that occurred to me when I saw the news reports about the twin towers was to thank God that the first plane flew into the first building at about 8:45 in the morning. You see, people who aren't morons know that the typical American working day starts at 9:00, and most people don't arrive at work 15 minutes early. At 9:00 or 9:10 there would have been a lot more people there, and if they had just waited until 10:00 or 11:00, there would have been about 30,000 people in the twin towers. But the terrorists gave all of these people a big "Hey, we're about to 'splode some stuff" heads-up by crashing a plane into the first building while most of them were still on their way to work. Most of the people who worked in the first building never went in. Most of the people who worked in the second building didn't go in either because, holy crap, a plane just flew into the building next to the one where I work! They were all standing around outside and saw the second plane crash. I don't mean to make light of this; nearly 3000 people died on 9/11, and that's mind-boggling. But if the terrorists were just trying to do as much damage and kill as many people as they possibly could, they were abject failures because they could have killed ten times that number. The only reason they failed so miserably is because they weren't smart enough to think of some very obvious things that would have occurred to anyone with an IQ higher than their age. They spent years thinking about every last detail, and it never occurred to them to hijack the planes around 10:00 instead of 8:15-8:30 and cause ten times the damage. You know why? Because they were morons.

A final point on 9/11: what do you think the result of such an act would be? If you committed an act of terrorism against a country that has one of the largest and deadliest militaries in human history, wouldn't you think, "You know, killing lots of people we've never even met is cool and all, but we're pretty much guaranteeing that American troops are going to take over our countries. All of our families will have to live in a world with even more American and Western intrusion into our culture than what we're trying to combat here." Of course you would think that. That's called "looking before you leap". Children learn to do that when they're about four years old, after the first few stupid things they do have consequences they didn't intend. But terrorists -- who, again, spent years planning their operation -- didn't think of this. It didn't occur to them that horrifically evil acts would maybe have, oh I don't know, negative consequences. Because they were morons.

Here's another example: the Columbine High School shootings. These two morons made a bunch of bombs and placed them all over the school. The main bomb was in a duffel bag in the cafeteria, and it would have killed the over 500 students that were present at the time it went off. Except, oopsy, it didn't go off. In fact, almost none of the bombs did, and those that did go off only caused property damage.

The morons were waiting outside to shoot their fellow students as they ran away from the carnage. When said carnage failed to materialize, they had to devise a new plan on the spot. Now, if they had thought about it for five seconds, they would have put their guns back in the trunk, gone inside, taken the duffel bag out to their car, and figured out what went wrong. Then they could have replaced it in time to kill plenty of their classmates. But they didn't. They were morons.

OK, so ignore that. Say you just want to kill a buttload of people, and your bomb doesn't go off because you're an idiot. What's the next step? Again, if they had thought about it for five seconds they would have concealed their weapons, casually walked into the cafeteria, stationed themselves at the exits at opposite ends of the room, and then started shooting. Piece of cake.

Except that they were morons. The bomb didn't go off so they started walking towards the cafeteria, and started shooting as soon as they were in range. This resulted in a few people being killed or injured in the courtyard, and the 500 students who were inside the cafeteria running out the other way to safety. Basically, they did the one thing that guaranteed a minimal number of casualties. I don't mean to make light of this either: they killed thirteen people before killing themselves, more were injured, and that's just horrific. But considering that they were planning to kill hundreds and that the only reason they didn't is because they were slack-jawed brain-dead morons, I'm just amazed at how pathetically impotent their shooting spree was.

Do I really need to multiply examples? Isn't it obvious by now? Terrorists. Are. Morons.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Wagner and Evolution

I've mentioned a couple of times how Western culture was permeated with the concept of evolution long before Darwin, and this undoubtedly had some effect on how Darwin's claims were received (this isn't meant to call evolution into question). Both times the primary example I gave was Wagner's Ring Cycle, his tetralogy of four massive operas, comprising over sixteen hours of music, which were well underway by the time Darwin published Origin of Species.

The first opera of the Ring Cycle is Das Rheingold, and the Vorspiel (prelude) with which it begins illustrates this idea beautifully. It starts with the basses playing a low E-flat which is held throughout the whole piece. Then the bassoons come in a fifth above them in B-flat. Then the brass instruments start. Slowly it builds, more instruments, more notes being added. Eventually, emanating from that low E-flat, you have an indescribably beautiful harmony, harmony in the fullest sense: many different voices, coming together without clashing with each other, and creating a greater sound through their confluence than the mere adding of their parts together.

And then some women start singing and ruin it.

Now, Wagner intended the low bass note to symbolize the flowing of the Rhine River, and the whole cycle is really an expression of paganism (as well as anti-Semitism). But I think the prelude -- with the low E-flat devloping into a complex and yet fully sonorous euphony -- illustrates the evolutionary concept that from a single and simple form of life all of the diversity of life on Earth arises, which fit together into an enormously complex ecosystem. Moreover, I also think this piece can equally illustrate God's creation of the universe: the E-flat is the ground or source or base (bass?), from which everything else flows. In that sense, it could almost be understood as neo-Platonic where all existence is an emanation or overflowing of the divine nature. Yet I still think it can be understood according to the Christian paradigm as well. You could call this piece "Genesis 1" without any incongruity.

In fact, to read even more into it, the fact that this piece can fit so easily with both interpretations may show that these two concepts -- evolution and creation -- are not in conflict at all. Indeed, when I listen to this piece, I think of God creating the universe via evolution.

You can listen to the Vorspiel here. If you're able to, turn the volume up as loud as you can, close your eyes, and make sure you're not interrupted for the next few minutes. It's just glorious.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

More links

I've made a few additions to the sidebar recently. Under "Website Seeing" I've added the Planetary Society and a site that provides links to nearly all of William Lane Craig's debates. To my blogroll I've added Friendly Humanist, Laodicea, Maverick Philosopher (Bill Vallicella's blog), Mike Flynn's Journal (which parallels The TOF Spot), and the Prosblogion, a blog written by multiple philosophers of religion. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mind and Physicalism

I think Jaegwon Kim is the clearest contemporary expositor of philosophy of mind, not to mention one of its most important contributors. If you're interested in this subject at all, I highly recommend his books. For one thing, he really exposes the difficulties in accounting for the properties of the mind in physicalistic terms.

For example, in Philosophy of Mind and Physicalism, or Something Near Enough he discusses the problem of qualia. These are basically the first person experience of things, the "what it is like" to have a particular experience or be a particular entity (a bat, say). So when you experience pain, the qualia is not the firing of C-fibers, it's not the nerve endings, it's not your response to move away from whatever is causing it. The qualia is the pain, the "this hurts" experience. The difficulty in explaining qualia as physical properties is notorious, so much so that some philosophers feel it necessary to deny their existence (I guess the thinking is, if your philosophy conflicts with reality, the problem must be in the latter). The problem of qualia really opens the floodgates to the problems of explaining consciousness in general in terms of physical phenomena and processes.

Another example is where Kim discusses the difficulties in reconciling the causal closure of the physical with mental causation. Mental causation is simply the idea that the mind can cause a physical event (for example, that I can decide to pick up a pencil). But if the physical realm is causally closed, we are led to the problem of causal exclusion. In Mind in a Physical World: An Essay on the Mind-Body Problem and Mental Causation, he writes,

To acknowledge mental event m (occurring at t) as a cause of physical event p but deny that p has a physical cause at t would be a clear violation of the causal closure of the physical domain, a relapse into Cartesian interactionist dualism which mixes physical and nonphysical events in a single causal chain. But to acknowledge that p has also a physical cause, p*, at t is to invite the question: Given that p has a physical cause p*, what causal work is left for m to contribute? The physical cause therefore threatens to exclude, and preempt, the mental cause. This is the problem of causal exclusion. The antireductive physicalist who wants to remain a mental realist, therefore, must give an account of how the mental cause and the physical cause of one and the same event are related to each other. ... Thus the problem of causal exclusion is to answer this question: Given that every physical event that has a cause has a physical cause, how is a mental cause also possible?

Yet another example comes from a passage in Philosophy of Mind where Kim gives some detail about Donald Davidson's anomalous monism, as can be found in his collection, Essays on Actions and Events (which is on my to-read list). The point is that rational processes must follow different rules than (mere) physical processes, and so the former cannot be reduced to the latter.

A crucial premise of Davidson's argument is the thesis that the ascription of intentional states, like beliefs and desires, is regulated by certain principles of rationality, principles to ensure that the total set of such states ascribed to a subject will be as rational and coherent as possible. This is why, for example, we refrain from attributing to a person flatly and obviously contradictory beliefs -- even when the sentences uttered have the surface logical form of a contradiction. When someone replies, "Well, I do and don't" when asked, "Do you like Ross Perot?" we do not take her to be expressing a literally contradictory belief, the belief that she both likes and does not like Perot; rather, we take her to be saying something like "I like some aspects of Perot (say, his economic agenda), but I don't like certain other aspects (say, his international policy)." If she were to insist: "No, I don't mean that; I really both do and don't like Perot, period," we wouldn't know what to make of her utterance; perhaps her "and" doesn't mean what the English "and" means. We cast about for some consistent interpretation of her meaning because an interpreter of a person's speech and mental states is under the mandate that an acceptable interpretation must make her come out with a consistent and reasonably coherent set of beliefs -- as coherent and rational as evidence permits. When we fail to come up with a consistent interpretation, we are likely to blame our unsuccessful interpretive efforts rather than accuse our subject of harboring explicitly inconsistent beliefs. We also attribute to a subject beliefs that are obvious logical consequences of beliefs already attributed to him. For example, if we have ascribed to a person the belief that Boston is less than 50 miles from Providence, we would, and should, ascribe to him the belief that Boston is less than 60 miles from Providence, the belief that Boston is less than 70 miles from Providence, and countless others. We do not need independent evidence for these further belief attributions; if we are not prepared to attribute any one of these further beliefs, we should be prepared to withdraw the original belief attribution as well. Our concept of belief does not allow us to say that someone believes that Boston is within 50 miles of Providence but doesn't believe that it is within 70 miles of Providence -- unless we are able to give an intelligible explanation of how this could happen in the particular case involved. This principle, which requires that the set of beliefs be "closed" under obvious logical entailment, goes beyond the simple requirement of consistency in a person's belief system; it requires the belief system to be coherent as a whole -- it must in some sense hang together, without unexplained gaps. In any case, Davidson's thesis is that the requirement of rationality and coherence is of the essence of the mental -- that is, it is constitutive of the mental in the sense that it is exactly what makes the mental mental.

But it is clear that the physical domain is subject to no such requirement; as Davidson says, the principle of rationality and coherence has "no echo" in physical theory. But suppose that we have laws connecting beliefs with brain states; in particular, suppose we have laws that specify a neural substrate for each of our beliefs -- a series of laws of the form "N occurs to a person at t if and only if B occurs to that person at t," where N is a neural state and B is a belief with a particular content (e.g., the belief that there are birches in your yard). If such laws were available, we could attribute beliefs to a subject, one by one, independently of the constraints of the rationality principle. For in order to determine whether she has a certain belief B, all we need to do would be to ascertain whether B's neural substrate N is present in her; there would be no need to check whether this belief makes sense in the context of her other beliefs or even what other beliefs she has. In short, we could read her beliefs off her brain. Thus, neurophysiology would preempt the rationality principle, and the practice of belief attribution would no longer need to be regulated by the rationality principle. By being connected by law with neural state N, belief B becomes hostage to the constraints of physical theory. On Davidson's view, as we saw, the rationality principle is constitutive of mentality, and beliefs that have escaped its jurisdiction can no longer be considered mental states. If, therefore, belief is to retain its identity and integrity as a mental phenomenon, its attribution must be regulated by the rationality principle and hence cannot be connected by law to a physical substrate.

I've mentioned three issues: the problem of qualia, the problem of mental causation, and the dichotomy between rational processes and physical processes. The difficulty in each case is reconciling some property of the mind with physicalism. One might be tempted to say, with Kim, that we can have Physicalism, or Something Near Enough; the fact that we have a few threads that are left hanging doesn't put the physicalist project in jeopardy. But the "hanging threads" metaphor implies that the threads are on the periphery. These three examples, however, are at the center of the cloth, touching, in some way, every other thread. If one of these threads were removed, the whole thing would unravel.

Next up is Kim's Supervenience and Mind. Wish me luck.

Now forgive me for getting on my hobby horse, but the problem of mental causation and the distinction between rational and physical processes sound strikingly similar to what C. S. Lewis argued a half century earlier. In "Bulverism", he claims that rationality cannot be explained by mere brute physical causality; it requires a "special kind of cause called “a reason.”". Similarly, in the third chapter of Miracles, he points out that there is a difference between a mental event being caused and being grounded. Specifically, it is the difference between it having a non-rational cause (i.e. a physical cause) and having a rational cause. For human rationality to be valid, we have to assume that at least some of our beliefs are rationally caused.

To be caused is not to be proved. Wishful thinkings, prejudices, and the delusions of madness, are all caused, but they are ungrounded. Indeed to be caused is so different from being proved that we behave in disputation as if they were mutually exclusive. The mere existence of causes for a belief is popularly treated as raising a presumption that it is groundless, and the most popular way of discrediting a person's opinions is to explain them causally -- "You say that because (Cause and Effect) you are a capitalist, or a hypochondriac, or a mere man, or only a woman." The implication is that if causes fully account for a belief, then, since causes work inevitably, the belief would have had to arise whether it had grounds or not. We need not, it is felt, consider grounds for something which can be fully explained without them.

But even if grounds do exist, what exactly have they got to do with the actual occurrence of the belief as a psychological event? If it is an event it must be caused. It must in fact be simply one link in a causal chain which stretches back to the beginning and forward to the end of time. How could such a trifle as lack of logical grounds prevent the belief's occurrence or how could the existence of grounds promote it?

(cross-posted at Quodlibeta)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Power of Fiction

Sometimes fiction can make a point more strongly than philosophy. For example, I've always thought (at least for as long as I've considered it) that free will is self-evident and that determinism could not be rationally maintained; but more than that, I think it would be utterly devastating to someone who truly grasped its consequences. I hope this isn't condescending, but it seems to me that determinists simply don't understand the magnitude of what they're saying. They think you can have a "determinism without tears" as J. R. Lucas puts it. But all the philosophical argumentation I've read still doesn't express this devastation.

However, a short story by Ted Chiang does. Chiang has only written a handful of stories (you can read some of them here), but they're all pretty much incredible. He addresses determinism and free will in "Story of Your Life", but the story I'm thinking of is only a page long: "What's Expected of Us". Click on that link and read it now.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

On recycling

My attitude towards recycling is similar to that of voting. Does it matter if I vote? Not really. If I refrained from voting, all of the same people would be elected, all of the same measures would pass, etc. But if everyone refrained from voting, our society would fall apart. Therefore, I vote as a civic responsibility. Similarly, if I don't recycle, the earth won't be able to sustain life for one second longer than it otherwise would. But if everyone didn't recycle, it could have a significant effect.

But now I read three disturbing posts at Sippican Cottage about the merits of recycling. It starts here where he states: "I've done more recycling than forty-five Ed Begleys, so I'll clue you in on a little secret: after you sort through your trash like a raccoon and put it on the curb to try to resurrect Bambi's mom through clean living, it all gets thrown in a landfill when you're not looking. It's a kabuki theater, not a real process."

It continues here where he follows up on that by stating he has actual, honest-to-God credentials in this subject:

You see, when I said I'd recycled more than all those Ed Begleys, I meant it. I do not mean it as an appeal to superior credentials, but I've been a Division Manager for a large Environmental and Construction company before. ... And me and all the dozens of employees that worked for me, including a few environmental scientists, had all sorts of training and the resultant credentials to handle all sorts of waste. I've had hardcore RCRA training. I doubt anyone else I've mentioned has. And I've had profit and loss responsibility for the safe disposal of beaucoup tonnage of wood, glass, metals, plastics, paper, cardboard, soil, contaminated soil, concrete, bituminous concrete, tile, asbestos, lead, waste oil...

And with this background, he states that the majority of recycling is simply dumped in landfills.

Then it finishes here, where he recycles some news stories (his pun, not mine) to verify the point. The first one is the most bothersome: "Only 30 percent of paper, plastic, and cardboard that arrives at the Friedman recycling plant in east El Paso is actually recyclable, according to Ismael Barrera, manager of the Friedman Recycling Plant. This means that only about a third of all trash slated for recycling is actually being reused." Oy.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Arrrgh!

More computer problems. Actually, it's the same problem as before, although it is numerically distinct from it. I'll post when I can.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Quote of the Day

A pastor by the name of Florescu was tortured with red-hot iron pokers and with knives. He was beaten very badly. Then starving rats were driven into his cell through a large pipe. He could not sleep, but had to defend himself all the time. If he rested a moment, the rats would attack him.

He was forced to stand for two weeks, day and night. The communists wished to compel him to betray his brethren, but he resisted steadfastly. In the end, they brought his fourteen year-old son and began to whip the boy in front of his father, saying that they would continue to beat him until the pastor said what they wished him to say. The poor man was half mad. He bore it as long as he could. When he could not stand it any more, he cried to his son; "Alexander, I must say what they want! I can't bear your beating any more!" The son answered, "Father, don't do me the injustice to have a traitor as a parent. Withstand! If they kill me, I will die with the words, 'Jesus and my fatherland'." The communists, enraged, fell upon the child and beat him to death, with blood spattered over the walls of the cell. He died praising God. Our dear brother Florescu was never the same after seeing this.

Handcuffs which had sharp nails on the insides were put on our wrists. If we were totally still, they didn't cut us. But in bitterly cold cells, when we shook with cold, our wrists would be torn by the nails.

Christians were hung upside down on ropes and beaten so severely that their bodies swung back and forth under the blows. Christians were put in ice-box "refrigerator cells" which were so cold, frost and ice covered the inside. I was thrown into one with very little clothing on. Prison doctors would watch through an opening until they saw symptoms of freezing to death, then they would give a warning and guards would rush in to take us out and make us warm. When we were finally warmed, we would immediately be put back in the ice-box cells to freeze -- over and over again! Thawing out, then freezing to within just one minute or two of death, then being thawed out again. It continued endlessly. Even today sometimes I can't bear to open a refrigerator.

We Christians were put in wooden boxes only slightly larger than we were. This left no room to move. Dozens of sharp nails were driven into every side of the box, with their razor-sharp points sticking into the box. While we stood perfectly still, it was all right. We were forced to stand in these boxes for endless hours. But when we became fatigued and swayed with tiredness, the nails would go into our bodies. If we moved or twitched a muscle -- there were the horrible nails.

What the communists have done to Christians surpasses any possibility of human understanding.

I have seen communists torturing Christians and the faces of the torturers shone with rapturous joy. They cried out while torturing the Christians, "We are the devil."

We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers of evil. We saw that communism is not from men but from the devil. It is a spiritual force -- a force of evil -- and can only be countered by a greater spiritual force, the Spirit of God.

I often asked the torturers, "Don't you have pity in your hearts?" They usually answered with a quotation from Lenin that "you cannot make omelets without breaking the shells of eggs" and that "you cannot cut wood without making chips fly." I said again, "I know this quotation from Lenin. But there is a difference. When you cut a piece of wood it feels nothing. But here you are dealing with human beings. Every beating produces pain and there are mothers who weep." It was in vain. They are materialists. For them nothing besides matter exists and to them a man is like wood, like an egg-shell. With this belief they sink to unbelievable depths of cruelty.

The cruelty of atheism is hard to believe. When a man has no faith in the reward of good or the punishment of evil, there is no reason to be human. There is no restraint from the depths of evil which is in man. The communist torturers often said, "There is no God, no hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do what we wish." I heard one torturer say, "I thank God, in whom I don't believe that I have lived to this hour when I can express all the evil in my heart." He expressed it in unbelievable brutality and torture inflicted on prisoners.

I am very sorry if a crocodile eats a man, but I can't reproach the crocodile. He is not a moral being. So no reproaches can be made to the communists. Communism has destroyed any moral sense in them. They boasted they had no pity in their hearts.

I learned from them. As they allowed no place for Jesus in their hearts, I decided I would leave not the smallest place for Satan in mine.

I have testified before the Internal Security Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate. There I described awful things, such as Christians tied to crosses for four days and nights. The crosses were put on the floor and hundreds of prisoners had to fulfill their bodily necessities over the faces and bodies of the crucified ones. Then the crosses were erected again and the communists jeered and mocked: "Look at your Christ! How beautiful he is! What fragrance he brings from Heaven!" I described how, after being driven nearly insane with tortures, a priest was forced to consecrate human excrement and urine and give Holy Communion to Christians in this form. This happened in the Rumanian prison Pitesti. I asked the priest afterwards why he did not prefer to die rather than participate in this mockery. He answered, "Don't judge me please! I have suffered more than Christ!" All the Biblical descriptions of hell and the pains of Dante's Inferno are nothing in comparison with the tortures in communist prisons.
...
In the prison of Gherla, a Christian named Grecu was sentenced to be beaten to death. The process lasted a few weeks. He was beaten very slowly. He would be hit once at the bottom of the feet with a rubber club, and then left. After some minutes again a hit, after another few minutes again. He was beaten on the testicles. Then a doctor gave him an injection. He recovered and was given very good food to restore his strength, and then he was beaten again until he died under this slow, repeated beating. One who led this torture was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, whose name was Reck.

Now, at a certain moment, Reck would say something which the communists often said to Christians, "You know, I am God. I have power of life and death over you. The one who is in heaven cannot decide to keep you in life. Everything depends upon me. If I wish, you live. If I wish, you are killed. I am God!" So he mocked the Christian.

Brother Grecu, in this horrible situation, gave Reck a very interesting answer which I heard afterward from Reck himself. He said, "You don't know what a deep thing you have said. You are really a god. Every caterpillar is in reality a butterfly, if it develops rightly. You have not been created to be a torturer, a man who kills. You have been created to become a godlike being. Jesus said to the Jews of His time, 'Ye are gods.' The life of Godhead is in your heart. Many who have been like you, many persecutors, as the apostle Paul, have discovered at a certain moment that it is shameful for a man to commit atrocities, that they can do much better things. So they have become partakers of the divine nature. Believe me, Mr. Reck, your real calling is to be a god, godlike; not a torturer."

At that moment Reck did not pay much attention to the words of his victim, as Saul of Tarsus did not pay attention to the beautiful witness of Stephen being killed in his presence. But those words worked in his heart. And Reck later understood that this was his real calling.

One great lesson arose from all the beatings, tortures and butchery of the communists: that the spirit is master of the body. Often, when tortured, we felt the tortures, but it seemed as something distant and far removed from the spirit which was lost in the glory of Christ and His presence with us.

When we were given one slice of bread a week and dirty soup every day, we decided we would faithfully "tithe" even then. Every tenth week we took the slice of bread and gave it to weaker brethren as our "tithe" to the Master.

A Christian was sentenced to death. Before being executed, he was allowed to see his wife. His last words to his wife were, "You must know that I die loving those who kill me. They don't know what they do and my last request of you is to love them, too. Don't have bitterness in your heart because they kill your beloved one. We will meet in heaven." These words impressed the officer of the secret police who attended the discussion between the two. Afterward he told me the story in prison, where he had been put for becoming a Christian.

Richard Wurmbrand
Tortured for Christ

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Jewish Fantasy Literature

Michael Weingrad, a professor of Jewish Studies, has written an excellent essay on the dearth of fantasy literature written from a Jewish perspective: "Why There Is No Jewish Narnia". I'm more of a science-fiction kind of guy, but I was surprised by this. I mean, if Orson Scott Card can write fantasy from a Mormon perspective (the Alvin Maker series), why wouldn't there be much more written from a much older and deeper religious tradition? While science-fiction has tended in the past to be iconoclastic in terms of religion -- although I sense a change in direction in this recently, such as in the novels of John Scalzi and John Ringo -- there is still a significant amount of science-fiction written from a Jewish perspective, not to mention an Islamic perspective. So, again, why this absence of Jewish fantasy literature?

Weingrad answers this by inserting his in-depth knowledge of Judaism and its history into an also in-depth knowledge of fantasy (as well as SF and related genres). The result is an outstanding essay that I simply can't quote in part. Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Posts of Interest

Every now and then, in conversation, I find myself saying, "I blogged about that." So below are links to my most frequently self-cited posts. I had them listed in the sidebar at one point, but I think it cluttered up an already-cluttered sidebar, and putting everything in a post just makes it easier. I'm keeping a few highlights listed on the sidebar though.

I intend to update this post whenever I write another masterpiece, without any further indication of such alteration than the current sentence. There's some overlap in the categories; for example, I put Some Shorter Statements of the AFR under C. S. Lewis, but it could just as easily have gone under Philosophy.

Philosophy
Camus and Christianity
Arguments and Authority
An Interesting Reaction
Infinite Amounts
But Who Made God?
Thus Spoke Cratylus
Book Review: The Achilles of Rationalist Arguments
Superman's Secret Identity
Mind and Physicalism
Causality and the Big Bang
Some Comments on Neurophilosophy
Doubting Darwin's Doubt
Minding God
A Millennia-old Scientific Prediction
Classical Global Skepticism and the EAAN
Skepticism and Agrippa's Trilemma
Proof Positive
Dennett, Darwin, and Deity
Lovejoy on Behaviorism

Science and Religion
Evolution and Islam
The Speed of Light and the Age of the Universe
A Case of Projection
The Tale of a Comet
The Anthropic Principle for Misanthropes, part 1; part 2; part 3; part 4
Mathematical Monks and the Multiverse
Size Doesn't Matter (thank God), part 1; part 2; part 3; addendum
Neo-geocentrism
Pre-Darwinian Evolution
Yes Virginia, There Are Flat-Earthers
"The alien who lives among you", part 1
Evolution and Information Theory
The Central Issue; or, Location Isn't Everything
A Spherical Argument
The Bible and the Age of the Universe, part 1; part 2; part 3
Multiversial Musings
On the Appearance of Age; or, Putting the "omph" in omphalos

Historical Jesus
William F. Buckley Jr. on Jesus' Resurrection
The Jesus Myth
Your Own Personal Jesus
Re: visions of the Historical Jesus
1 Corinthians 15:3-8
Was Jesus' Resurrection an Urban Legend?
Some Issues in NT Historiography, part 1; part 2; part 3; part 4; part 5
The Christ Myth Myth
I was told there would be no math myth
Consensus
When Could the New Testament Have Been Changed?

Christian Theology
The Gender of God
Two Points on Biblical Prophecy
On Drowning and Resistible Grace
Psalm 104 and the Early Chapters of Genesis
The Oddity and Audacity of Openness Theodicy
The Spiritual Disciplines, Edgar Allan Poe, and South Park
Two Faiths
General Revelation and Science

Islam and Christianity
Islamic Mysticism
Islam, Christianity, and Euthyphro
Christianity, Islam, and Science
Assurance of Salvation in Islam and Christianity
Violence in the Name of God
A Tale of Two Movies . . . and Two Prayers

C. S. Lewis
The Discarded Image
Some Shorter Statements of the AFR
C. S. Lewis's Fiction for Adults
Chesterton, Lewis, and the Argument from Reason
The Space Trilogy and the Argument from Reason
C.S. Lewis's Argument against Naturalism, part 1part 2part 3part 4part 5part 6part 7

Culture and Ethics
Man on Fire
The War on Terrorism
Prolegomena to Gay Marriage
Some Thoughts on the First Amendment
On Gay Marriage
Justifying Terrorism
Homophobia and Racism
The Rage against Identity
Internal vs. External Conditions

Miscellanea
Atheism and Conspiracy Theories
The Meaning of Life
Terrorists Are Morons
Images of Evil
Rant
Devil Dogs on a Plane: A Proposal

At Quodlibeta
Skepticism and Blind Faith
Blogging the Question
I find your lack of belief disturbing
The Bias Sphere; or, Turning Gould into Irony
Debate on Science and Religion
Defining Ignorance