Saturday, August 04, 2012

Andrew at City of God reflects on music

http://www.cityofgodblog.com/2012/08/a-meditation-on-music/

I would urge you to read Andrew's short post first and then come back to this one.


Deuteronomy 31: 15,19
Then the Lord appeared at the tent in a pillar of cloud, and the cloud stood over the entrance to the tent.
... 
Now write down this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it, so that it may be a witness for me against them. 



2 Kings 3:15
But now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him. 

1 Samuel 16:14-23


Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil[a] spirit from the Lord tormented him. Saul’s attendants said to him, “See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you.  Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the lyre. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes on you, and you will feel better.”


So Saul said to his attendants, “Find someone who plays well and bring him to me.”


One of the servants answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the Lord is with him.” Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep. ”  So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul.


David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers.  Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.”


Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.


One theory I have about the significance of music is that music is not merely some "right" brain experience, that there is a "left" brain element.  The composer Paul Hindemith wrote that in order to perceive any emotional impact for music we must be capable of forming a musical impression within the memory through which we can develop emotional associations.  Realizing that not many people thrill to Hindemith's symphonic suite Mathis der Maler I nevertheless suggest that Hindemith's proposal that emotional engagement with music is predicated on the understanding of the mind before the heart can be stirred has merit.

I would build a step or two beyond Hindemith's ideas and away from them.  I happen to think that where some people want to go with these sort of ideas would be to try to prove from "nature" that this or that method of pitch organization is the "right" one.  Believe me, I've seen it done and it tends to be done for the relatively recent innovation of major and minor diatonic keys by people in Idaho who don't know as much musical history as they may think they do.

Now, having said that, what I think can be said is that associative memory is a vital component of music and that this can be what makes it so powerful.  God instructs Israel to learn a song so as to have it be a witness against them both to remind them of the Lord and to remind them of their wayward hearts.  The prophet Elisha sent for a musician and as the musician played the hand of the Lord came upon the prophet.  Saul found the Spirit of the Lord left him and was replaced by an evil spirit from the Lord, an evil spirit whose torments were ameliorated by David's music.

I leave it to you, dear reader, to look into ways in which music is considered to have therapeutic and restorative effects.  The power of music to lodge in the memory is such that even people whose memories have been ravaged by Alzheimer's or dementia can up to a point remember their favorite songs.  Though I admit I don't get this part, lovers often have songs they share through which hearing the song reminds them of each other.  Perhaps I may get that legendarily potent catalyst of associative memory some time in the future, perhaps not.

The Psalms are an entire collection of texts that were set to music, music which was obviously intended to impress within the hearts of God's people a memory of God's ways and nature.

This may risk being too sweeping an observation in light of the reality that there have been protest songs but generally speaking music tends to be about the things that are most ritualized into our societies.  Music may be thought of as a giant collection of the songs we sing about the things and people we hold dear, the things and people we love, and the values and people and experiences we want or cherish.  We tend to imagine this will apply to the most high-minded ideals and values which was why Hindemith writing an opera with an aria devoted to praising hot running water and indoor plumbing was a subversive gesture.  We still prefer to have our songs be about endless love and not flushable toilets. We still want our songs to be about freedom and romantic love and ideals rather than about dishwashing detergent or baby wipes or toys.

But we still remember those jingles, don't we?   More than meets the eye, right?

it's been a bit of a Double X day ...

http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/books/2012/08/talking_to_your_children_about_sex_sinikka_elliott_s_not_my_kid_reviewed.single.html


... But I don’t recognize myself, or the parents I know, in Elliott’s portrait of naiveté. As the mother of a teenaged girl, and inspired by my Slate colleague Hanna Rosin’s deeply researched work on why modern males are crapping out, I offer my own pet theory on the failure of high-school-aged boys to perform as well academically as girls. Next time you drop your high-schooler off, take a look around at the other kids. In warm weather, standard girls’ attire is Daisy Dukes and some minimalist chest covering. When it gets cold, they switch to leggings so sheer they make me think of that nightmare in which you show up in class having forgotten to put on your skirt. Sure, I’ve tried to make the case to my own child that more clothing would be better, but she responds that all the girls are dressed this way. And she’s right! But I am not under the misconception that these girls aren’t fully aware that their male classmates, suffering reduced blood flow to the brain, are walking into walls.  


High school was decades ago so I don't know how distracted I really was at that age.  I am going to have risk making an inaccurate guess, I was at least but ultimately not more than moderately distracted.  I managed to read the unabridged Moby Dick, The Trial, T. S. Eliot, Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby, fun, Tender is the Night, tedious). I admit I don't remember algebra any more.  I did learn to type.  Taking a typing class was one of the better choices I made in high school.  I remember that the number of guys who took typing seemed small and that seemed like a strange thing.  I remember being in a cooking class where the girls wouldn't let me do anything except maybe carve a turkey, which I didn't really feel like doing when I was sixteen or seventeen.  But perhaps all that means nothing if I can say I was just moderately distracted.  Anyway

...


Elliott calls for a world in which parents chill out and teenagers are free to be sexually “agentic.” But sometimes she seems to forget that even the most “self-regulated” of teenagers make terrible decisions, and even the most understanding and communicative parents will never stop worrying about all the bad things that can happen when kids start getting agentic all over each other. In the end, Not My Kid—even though this surely was not the author’s intention—made me feel better about my own attempts to celebrate, monitor, and sometimes throw cold water on my daughter’s burgeoning sexuality. Despite Elliott’s frequent scorn for the parents in her study, I often identified with them—we’re just stumbling around, trying to do our best, keeping our kids out of trouble, and delaying, for now, the day we become grandparents.



It may be that some authors are reacting to other kinds of caricatures of parents, eh? 

Hanna Rosin's observations on bad mom books and reacting to a caricature of the ideal mom gets me thinking

http://www.doublex.com/section/arts/why-are-moms-such-bummer
http://www.doublex.com/section/arts/why-are-moms-such-bummer?page=0,1


Remembers to serve fruit at breakfast, is always cheerful, and never yells, manages not to project her own neuroses and inadequacies onto her children, is an active and loved member of the community who volunteers, she remembers to make playdates, her children's clothes fit, she does art projects with them and enjoys all their games. And she is never too tired for sex.
Waldman develops this caricature with some degree of hostility. But why even bother feeling hostile? I've never met such a mother, and I bet you haven't either. Such a person doesn't exist, and if she did she'd also be ordering matching mother/daughter Pooh pajamas from the Disney catalogue and be really, really boring. So why do we modern mothers need to create her? And why does the culture devote so much attention to arguments between "good mothers" and "bad mothers"? Do you think it's because all of us are a little unsure where to stand, so we need clear markers—octomom, bad; Angelina Jolie breastfeeding, good?
I'm not a parent and so many of these things are curiosities to me rather than things to which I can relate.  
I have, however, come to a possibly curious observation as a single guy that most single guys who talk on and on about how they wish they were married are emphatically not thinking of how fun it will be to clean the kitchen.  I mean, I wouldn't wistfully talk about how wonderful it would be to clean the kitchen because nobody I've met in my life has ever said or probably even thought that, least of all people who have worked in the food service industry.  Who genuinely enjoys housecleaning?  Okay ... uh ... I know a couple of women who enjoy it just enough to get paid for it and they're pretty cool but they're also pretty unusual.  They do not, however, thrill to the idea of being the only ones to change their babies diapers.  I have noticed some not-so-very sidelong glances from these moms when dad tried to start a conversation with some company (me, in one case) to dodge a certain paternal "opportunity".  I may be a single guy but I know how to say "Let me think about this for a minute" as a way to give the guy's wife a window in which to remind her hubby that he does get to change diapers once in a while.  
As I was saying, many a single guy who has pined for marital bliss seems to be thinking of date night and sex and in some cases "emotional intimacy".  I have been more than a bit of a wet blanket on that topic because it seems to me you can obtain and maintain emotional intimacy with people in various ways without ever being married.  As a Christian it sometimes seems that in the United States there's this weird bill of goods that marriage is at this higher, more glorious plane of existence than other relationships.  A certain preacher or two will talk as though friendship within marriage is important, as though nobody in the world before this preacher somehow thought that friendship is important.  A certain person I know said the trouble with this kind of spiel is that the focus is still obsessively about marriage and not the actual friendship.  If you and your spouse are friends then the sex is better could be a deliberately unfair way to put it.  
I've pointed out to a single friend or two that the idea of "intimacy" in marriage can sound like it's spoken of as something that comes with the deal.  It seems to me entirely opposite, whatever capacity you have for intimacy (or incapacity) is what you'll bring into a relationship, not something you'll find in it.  If you were terrible at truly being a friend to someone before you got married you're not likely to discover how to be a good friend to someone just because you got married and decided at some point that friendship was an important way to sustain your marriage.  Lots of people were friends and eventually got married.  Presenting the mundane as a profound key to the universe making sense probably never gets old.  I myself have written that it is important to never underestimate the obvious.  
I've lived with some single guys for a while and a couple of the guys got married over time.  I'm not one of them, just to be clear, and I've noticed that there are concerns that the eventually-married guys took up that seems to have set them apart.  One of the concerns was to simply not spend all disposable income.  That may seem basic but it may be important to note.  Another was, well, housecleaning.  They tended to keep their places decently tidy, tidy enough that women were willing to set foot in the houses.  I've never been that sort myself.  
Another trait that I'm struggling to define is a sense of work, by that I mean these are guys who grasped that if a relationship is serious that life with the special someone was as much or more about working together than "just" playing together.  This is a quality that, honestly, I can't recall ever really seeing in the never-married guys I know, particularly not the most bitter never-married guys I've met. 
Decades ago Joan Didion wrote an essay on the women's movement.  She wrote that in what may be called by now second wave feminism there was this idea, and it struck Didion as a distinctly Marxist idea that, somehow, half the human species constituted an oppressed minority.  She set her sights on how this could be imagined and noted various situations in which women wanted to be rid of the ball and chain and maybe become a sculptor or a painter or a writer.  Didion noted,, in her characteristically dry and even brutal way that these sorts of fantasies are not all that prominent in the lives of actual consenting adults.  They were, however, the sorts of dreams and fantasies frequently expressed by children.  Didion concluded with the proposal that the women's movement in the 1970s had stopped being a cause and had started looking more like a symptom.  Didion got more than a bit of flak for that from some authors.  
Didion and Dunne nearly divorced but stayed together.  Didion's point, mundane as it is, was that the real world just doesn't live up to ideals.  Her use of the term "consenting adults" brought with it the observation that there will invariably be disappointments.  I could ramble on this for a while but I have other posts I'd like to write.  

Double X: Four myths about single mothers

http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2012/08/myths_about_single_mothers_what_bloggers_and_pundits_are_getting_wrong_about_them_.single.html

Discussions of single mothers, this author notes, tend to be predicated on a series of myths that are not necessarily true about what goes on in the lives of single mothers.  Single mothers, it seems, can often be useful to pundits and bloggers and the like as a way to remark on what has gone wrong in society.  Some discuss what is wrong with me, others discuss what is wrong with education, still others discuss what is wrong with other things.

One of the myths the author considers to be widespread but inaccurate is that ignorance about contraception accounts for unplanned pregnancies but this is problematic on two fronts. The first problem is that "unplanned" can be a statistical category mistake in itself.  Here I digress into an anecdote about a married friend of mine.  He and his wife were expecting a new child.  A mutual friend asked, "So was this one planned?"  The man smiled and dryly said, "Sort of, in the sense that we know this was likely to happen."  That, dear readers, can be construed as an unplanned pregnancy as much as the mythological teenager or 20-something who doesn't use birth control and somehow imagines that she won't get pregnant.

The second problem is that, as studies have indicated, single motherhood is less and less a teen situation and that single motherhood is tending to be more of a 20-something thing. There are three sorts of single mothers: 1) the career-established woman in her 30s or 40s who chooses motherhood without having a spouse and who is financially stable 2) the mother who was once in a relationship, is no longer, and has the kids from that earlier, failed relationship and 3) the never-married woman who ended up as a mother.

Myth 4 is interesting because the myth is presented as "if people would just get married things would go better."  The reason this is presented as a myth is not because some couples wouldn't be better off marrying but for another reason, a reason social conservatives would probably agree with--that many of these couples are people who should have thought better about being sexually active to begin with because they were not going to go the distance anyway.  There is something to be said for "first comes love then comes marriage then comes the baby in the baby carriage."

Friday, August 03, 2012

Mockingbird: Loss Aversion and the Limits of Self-Knowledge

http://www.mbird.com/2011/11/fourth-down-fears-loss-aversion-and-the-limits-of-self-knowledge/

This is an oldie but it's worth linking to.  I finished reading Thinking Fast and Slow this year, thanks to a brother, and it's a fantastic book.

Practical Theology for Women: Christians who please the Lord and have peace with their enemies

http://www.theologyforwomen.org/2012/08/christians-who-please-lord-and-their.html

Jesus famously taught in Matthew 5:10-12


Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
 Now for some Christians this means that having enemies is a sign of righteousness and confirmation of election and of holiness.  It "can" be but then there's this proverb.

Proverbs 16:7
When a man's ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.

Now something that may be said here about "enemies". In Psalms we read of God delivering from enemies who are made to turn back, stumble and fall. God pursued David's enemies and broke them. David asked God to consider his many enemies and deliver him from them. The Psalmist noted how enemies would speak evil of him. Proverbs warn us to not rejoice when our enemy falls or the Lord might take pity on him and revive him.

Even within the people of God is it given that one will have enemies.  These are not enemies of the people of God but competitors and adversaries, who may well be within God's people.

Exodus 23:4-5
If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him.
If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.

Let's just point out the obvious here, even in the scriptures it is granted in the Law that one will have enemies even among fellow people of God.

The word here, and I'm not going to pretend to be a Hebrew scholar, is "oyeb", roughly.  The word means "enemy" and indicates someone who is an adversary, someone who shows hostility.   There are going to be fellow believers that you don't really like, as any number of preachers and teachers will have pointed out already.  You are supposed to love them.  I am tempted at this point to put love in scare quotes given the seriousness with which I take some professing Christians in their use of the term love with respect to those they consider enemies.

Now let's get back to the proverb at hand, Proverbs 16:7.  It is an axiom rather than a law.  Clearly the scriptures are full of men and women who had enemies with whom there is no peace because the adversaries have set themselves against the Lord.  However, if Proverbs advises us on practical matters within the people of God then it is not out of place to observe the reality that one will have adversaries even among God's people.  If a person respects the intent of the Law and appreciate its goals then one may show kindness to adversaries in a way where one may have peace with them, or at least as much peace as could be practical.  After all, if you have an enemy and you have taken steps to secure his or her welfare it becomes more difficult for that adversary to justify harming you or speaking maliciously about you even if he or she would wish to.  And they may still do so but by showing kindness even to enemies the enemy must make his or her animosity paramount over even demonstrable gestures of good will.

This will not necessarily mean you do not yourself consider that person or party an enemy.  The scriptures don't seem to indicate that.  It is possible to bless your enemies even when you realize they will never really mean you any good. You can hope their lives and hearts are transformed but you cannot simply expect it.

Decades ago when I was in high school there was a guy who I found annoying and who found me annoying.  I considered him an enemy for all practical purposes.  I found him frustrating as I'm sure he must have found me annoying.  Teenage boys and all that.  Well, I locked on to Proverbs 16:7 in my teen years and prayed about this proverb a lot.  My prayer was that if it were possible my ways would be pleasing enough to the Lord that this guy would no longer be my enemy and that he would no longer consider me some kind of enemy.  The first years of high school nothing changed but I was at the same high school until I graduated (which I didn't anticipate happening).  By the junior or senior year the acrimony was gone and we discovered we had a few more things in common than we thought.

Now depending on what Christian circles you're in the observation here was that prayer didn't change anyone's heart but mine.  Okay, sure, whatever.  The other guy turned out to be a Christian, too, if memory serves.  I suppose it might be useful to point out that meditating on a proverb may have helped me reconsider whether this guy was really an enemy to me after all.  I don't know any more seeing as I'm thinking back on things that happened twenty years ago.  I don't deny that the proverb may have had an effect on my heart and mind toward this person.  It must have.  I also note that the prayers got answered. There's a point where the bromide about prayer changing me can end up seeming like a curiously rationalistic explanation away of what, for me, was an actually answered prayer.  :)  Chew on that for a while if you care to.

But what has stuck with me decades later is that sometimes the enemy turns out to be a fellow believer.  We live in a fallen world, as the axiom has it, and that means that sometimes our competitors or adversaries will be fellow Christians and even our own flesh and blood.  Sibling rivalry is attested as far back as Cain and Abel.  Poisoning family relationships with parental favoritism goes back to at least Jacob and Esau and then to Joseph and his brothers.  Then there's the bitter rivalry between Rachel and Leah as wives of Jacob, right?

What some Christians may need to keep in mind is that we will have adversaries even among fellow believers.  We shouldn't, sure, and we all get that, but if laws regarding how to treat enemies and their property showed up in the Torah and Jesus instructs us to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us then the reality that enemies will be around is hard to skate over.  It is also important to remember that just because we have enemies does not mean we are pleasing the Lord, especially if our enemies happen to be among believers.  Thanks to some tools like the internet and the insularity it can promote we can be inclined to justify ourselves by the enemies we make in some online setting without realizing that these people are not really enemies most of the time, but people who disagree.  They may have good reasons to disagree.  They might even be right.

Now a proverb is not an ironclad law but if a man's ways are pleasing to the Lord He can make even his enemies to be at peace with him.  This is one of those "heart check" verses that isn't necessarily about your enemies but about you.  The peace spoken of in the proverb is not a detente or a temporary cease-fire but shalom.  I'm going to trust I don't have to "unpack" all of that for you if you've read this far.

None of what I have written here is intended to be a substitute for you actually reading what Wendy wrote, by the way.

A Path Through Three Prisons: Bruce Wayne in Nolan’s Batman Trilogy, Pt 2

http://www.mbird.com/2012/08/a-path-through-three-prisons-bruce-wayne-in-nolans-batman-trilogy-pt-2/


Thursday, August 02, 2012

Carl Trueman: Who benefits most from the idea that evangelicalism needs 'great leaders'? why, the 'great leaders', of course

http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2012/07/ahh-ted-that-would-be-the-grea.php

emphasis mine in all cases:

Finally, the cynical historian side of my brain leads me to wonder who benefits most from the idea that evangelicalism really exists as a movement and requires great leaders. Ahh, Ted, as Father Dougal would say, that would be the "great leaders" themselves, so it would. To clarify: at the risk of tautology, without an evangelicalism to lead, evangelicalism's leaders would have nothing to lead. The evangelical leader seminary professor would just be a seminary professor, albeit one that is widely read and influential; and the evangelical leader church pastor would just be a local church pastor, albeit one whose website receives above the average number of hits and whose sermons are a source of encouragement to many. And the free floating, self-appointed evangelical leader/pundit/life coach would, hopefully, disappear entirely. It might require some rethinking of strategic philosophy and it might dent a few egos but I do not think that would be a major setback to the kingdom or to the cause of church unity. In fact, quite the opposite.


A poem inspired by Ecclesiastes 1:2-11

Everything is just the fart of a fart.
There's not a single thing that doesn't stink.
What is the use of all this endless work
While the sun and moon always rise and sink?

Each generation vows to change the world
But air, water and dirt don't give a damn,
And after our lives are spent and spoiled
Will they have been changed by our brilliant plan?

The world is a silly radio ad
That runs on a never-ending repeat
The world is an endless video game
With a final boss you can't live to meet.

The world is like a show you think is new
But you don't realize you've seen it before.
The world is a movie that's been redone
And was no fun the first time, just a bore.

The worst thing about this fart of a fart,
the thing that everyone always forgets,
Is that there's no way to game the system
But people keep calling and placing bets.

A month ago I wrapped up reading Martin Shields' commentary on Ecclesiastes called The End of Wisdom. I got this idea of playfully recasting the ideas in Koholeth's words with an eye to removing the "pious bias" some teachers and interpreters have applied to the work.  I think that Shields' case that Koholeth's words represent a kind of Pentagon papers of a wisdom movement is a compelling one.

Rather than attempt to just dive into his exegetical comments about particular texts, fascinating though those are, I wanted to open up a rambling, intermittent set of posts about Ecclesiastes with a poem, a poem that I hope can convey the thoughts and sentiments of Koholeth that come across if we get rid of the traditional pious bias of proposing that Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes near the end of his life when he was repenting of a lot of his apostasies and so on.  The biblical texts nowhere indicate that this was the case.  The other problem with such an interpretation is what it brings to the text of Ecclesiastes.  Let's note that Ecclesiastes shows us Koholeth saying "I WAS king over Israel."  Solomon was not, according to Kings or Chronicles, successfully deposed and he didn't abdicate the throne.  "Son of David" eventually came to be applied even to people like Jesus and Israelite kings who had no direct connection to David.

There's quite a bit more I could write but rather than do that I figured I'd write a poem, post that, and then get to blogging about Shields' observations about Ecclesiastes some time later.







A few observations from Dan at City of God on religion and violence, and religion and abuse

http://www.cityofgodblog.com/2011/07/on-religion-and-violence/

I’d propose here that the impulse to resort to a religious, or at least some kind of absolute, claim about reality is inescapably human. That if it isn’t religion it will be something else. Maybe it will be that there will be future wars fought on the topic of how to be a better Atheist like South Park suggested. I don’t know, but we are not going to do away with absolute claims and we are not going to stop using violence to solve them. Here interestingly is where we come to a sort of entry point into the mind of Anders Breivik. He is not what most evangelicals would have called a “Christian” given that the evangelical emphasis is on conversion and on a personal relationship with Jesus. If not evangelical, is there some other way in which Breivik really does think of himself as Christian? Perhaps he is the final, decadent stage of Christendom. He appears to be Christian in the sense that he prefers Norway’s Christian heritage and he sees “Christian” as shorthand for various Western values of which he approves and which he believes are under immediate threat. His Christianity is a territorial, political, philosophical, and cultural entity, a sort of Christ-less Christendom.

The companion piece went up today.

http://www.cityofgodblog.com/2012/08/on-religion-and-abuse/



With the recent Sandusky case at Penn State we can see a similar parallel with the horrific cases of abuse in the Roman Catholic church and more secular institutions. If we use Rome as the stand-in for religion in this case there seems to be something that fits the charges of atheists: because the church offers transcendent metaphysical claims about life and the universe, because it is a model for understanding humanity’s role in the world and a hope for the future of course people would to anything to defend it. And tragically “anything” has included covering up the actions of numerous serial rapists by moving them around and buying off the victims. While the hierarchy does this, there are legions of lay-Catholics who are ready to get up and defend the church in the public eye (though there are legions more who are not). The New Atheist move is to say that this is because the church makes all kinds of absolute spiritual/metaphysical claims and so has a hold on otherwise reasonable people.


In the case of Sandusky though, we saw all kinds of people getting up to defend a pedophile and those who allegedly enabled him because of football.  Here the stock response is that in many parts of the US football is “like a religion” or something to that effect. We can even point to the Reformed tendency to see idolatry as the root of all sorts of evil and say that yes, football might look like an idol. But beyond that, how is football like a religion? It can’t save your soul. It doesn’t explain why humans are on earth or how we got here. It doesn’t explain what happens after we die. It makes no sorts of abstract metaphysical claims. People just seem to really, really like it, so much so that they may even say that it’s one of the things that gives their life meaning. 


But again, football has none of the features that the New Atheists suggest make religion so dangerous to humanity.[emphasis mine] It is possible to be a completely satisfied materialist and still be crazy about your football team. So what’s the takeaway for a New Atheist? Forget about religion, maybe people should just not care about stuff because when you care about stuff you can end up irrationally defending the indefensible?


Dan's comment about how it's possible to see football as like a religion or an idol, when informed by a Reformed tendency to see idolatry as the root of all sorts of evil is fascinating.  Let's note that seeing football as capable of being an idol is informed by religious categories of thought.  Religious thought and language, obviously, brings with it an internal capacity for critique of self and others.  Strip that away and with that we "should" strip away any completely secular critique of Penn State that attempts to frame the flaws in the culture in religious terms.  There would be plenty of room to say that Penn State overvalued football for other reasons.  "Religion" may be a useful word in the English language for a variety of reasons but the Sandunsky case doesn't seem like one where an actual religion, as Dan outlines religion, was the engine for covering up years of crimes.

Like Dan I don't think getting rid of religion will get rid of the human propensity toward violence.  Roy Baumeister wrote years ago that many psychologists and people on the street thought violence was due to low self-esteem.  Baumeister himself admits to having held this view but then he did research and surveyed studies of criminal activity and violence.  He concluded in the late 1990s that people with truly low self-esteem are simply not the sorts of people to resort to verbal or physical violence.  The people who are most violent, the greatest bullies, are people who generally have a very high self-esteem that isn't stable.  People with truly high self-esteem are rarely violent if their self-esteem is stable.  To put it another way, Superman knows he's amazing and so doesn't fight unless someone else is going to get hurt.  By contrast Lex Luthor keeps trying to kill Superman because Superman represents an ego threat.  Well, anyway, there's a comics nerd example of what Baumeister articulates about tendencies in people here in the real world.

I'm tempted to go off on a lengthy rabbit trail here about self-esteem, idolatry, "identity in Christ" and the diffusion of identity across multiple spheres ... but I'm going to resist that temptation ... maybe.