Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Review of Bad Religion by Ross Douthat

Bad Religion in a nutshell is a book about the interplay between Christian Orthodoxy and heresy, where heresy is defined as going against Christian doctrine as laid out in the Bible. The author did a fantastic job at explaining how there has always been this interplay in the church between orthodoxy and heresy which kept things in the center. Lean too much to the orthodox side as and cause the Church to be legalistic. This has been balanced with individuals who might push the boundaries of Christian teachings but whom have been brought back and/or constrained by the orthodox teachings. However, in this post modern era, there has been a movement to lean all the way to the heretical side with a complete rejection of Christian orthodoxy. This rejection has led to moral failings in society which were usually addressed by the power of Christian belief. This power is best seen in the Civil Rights Movement where Christians regardless of political party or denomination came together to address a moral issue. The heresy that is embraced in this post modern era however, is shown to be as smooth talking as the snake in the Garden of Eden. The preaching of prosperity preacher Joel Osteen or feel good guru Oprah Winfrey are shown as heretical examples who regularly quote scripture but either provide a heretical form of Christian teachings or provide the end user with a religion that is less about asking what can you do for the church/ spiritual group but more about what that entity can do for you. Oprah's views as expressed through Eckhart Tolle and other authors are obviously more about spirituality and definitely not Christian but at it's core is about letting man define right or wrong based on how they feel that day, instead of following anything absolute.

I felt that Mr. Douthat did an excellent job of portraying the issues at stake and adequately showing the true power of Christian orthodoxy. I assume (forgive me for assuming) that Mr. Douthat is Catholic but he did a good job of not advocating for a particular brand of Christianity but remained in the "halls" of Christian teachings as C.S. Lewis put it in Mere Christianity. His history of orthodoxy and heresy in the church, especially the Catholic church was fascinating and really puts a new perspective on the Catholic child abuse scandal. A broad range of topics are addressed but Mr. Douthat's writing on politics and religion really gave me something to think about. Christianity should transcend party politics. He made the correct point that our theology should inform our political opinions and not the other way around. I have not done this book justice in my ramblings. I highly recommend Christians and non-believers alike to grab this book. Also, since this is a review and I have only said positive things I guess I should say some negative points. When you begin to read this book, make sure you have a dictionary or dictionary app ready because you can get lost in a few of the technical terms. Don't fret if you have read ten pages and feel like it took you and abnormally long amount of time to get through. I had the same feeling.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


I'm currently enrolled in a public health program at one of the top Schools of Public Health in the country.  I don't at all mean to brag, but I do want to touch on the idea of education and it's role in our world.  I have the idea that rankings matter only in so far as humans like to rank things and we have this notion that things ranked at the top must be better than those ranked at the bottom.  Is there any truth to this?  Not at all.  Usually these rankings take into account endowment, class size, selectivity, research dollars, etc.  No where in these rankings is there a measure for contribution to society.  No where in these rankings is how well these academic institutions prepare you for jobs.  The STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) are useful in preparing students for jobs but what about the rest of the educational establishment?  I'm not at all saying that we need to get rid of our political science programs.  However, it would be nice to have less "experts" commenting on the upcoming election.  I'm saying that we need to get back to the basics in how we train our students, especially undergraduates.  For example, I took a course in biology on the evolution of vertebrate species.  I did horrible in the class.  I did well on the parts about why certain features evolved the way they did because I could apply those principles to everyday life.  However, I did horrible when forced to memorize species names of long extinct animals.  I'm glad someone knows them, but as an introductory student in biology, is that a crucial thing to know?  Instead of focusing on the what and when, introductory education needs to focus on the how and why.  The process of science for an introductory student is much more important than the end product.  Life-long learning skills should be emphasized.  Education for the sole purpose of education is always a good idea.  However, I feel we do a disservice to young people when we give them the knowledge but deprive them of the understanding of how that knowledge came about and how to make new knowledge for themselves.  There's so much more to discuss about this topic.  Maybe in future posts!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Small Samples

Another book I'm currently reading is called Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman who was a winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics.  It's a very insightful book, he touches on so many interesting topics that he really doesn't have space to discuss all the possible implications of the theories.  One chapter talked about small samples.  I think the best way to describe the problem of small samples is by discussing one of the examples he used in the book.

Anybody listening about the education crisis in our country has heard the idea that we need "smaller" class sizes in order to effectively deliver a quality education.  Studies have shown comparing classes that the smaller classes usually tend to group towards the top of achievement.  However, the same studies have also shown that smaller classes also tend to group towards the bottom of achievement also.  What gives?  The reasoning is that in smaller sample sizes, there is an increased chance of outliers effecting the outcomes.  If you have a group of 10 students, 1 or 2 great students can make up for the performance of the others.  Inversely, 1 or 2 bad students can spoil the whole bunch.  It's a very interesting concept leading one to wonder what other biases have been influenced by this phenomena.  He was obviously not advocating that larger classes are better, but that we might be placing too much emphasis on one aspect of the education crisis.

Another topic I want to address in the future is the issue of home school vs traditional schooling.  As a Christian I think the structured environment of home schooling sounds enticing, but do we do kids a disservice in not letting them experience the world as it truly is?  I'm still on the fence about this.  I lean toward traditional schooling since that's how I went to school but there is no denying that negative peer influences can have a lasting impact on kids.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Comments about The Call

Unfinished Sculpture by Michelangelo

I'm currently reading The Call  by Os Guiness and it has been an awesome book so far.  I highly recommend it.  I try to take notes while reading about any ideas the author has mentioned or particular quotes I find interesting.  I've found myself actually transcribing entire passages!

So back to the book. I could spend a thousand posts on ideas that have been brought to mind, but I would like to spend a minute on a couple of quotes by John Cotton.  He was a Puritan writer in the 17th century who wrote on many topics but these quotes come from his writings on being called by God.  These are the first two criteria of seven he lays out to make sure that a person's calling is from God.

1. "it be a warrantable calling, wherein we may not only aim at our own, but at the public good
2. "that we are gifted for the job and guided toward it by God"

Os Guinness makes the point that people in today's time like to focus on the second criteria.  If we're good at it, then that's our calling.  I know that's how I approached my decision to go to Grad school.  However, this is a mistake because this leads down a road of selfishness.  A true calling from God only in comes in light of what we can do for HIM and his people which is the point of the first criteria.  Only after fulfilling and realizing this corporal calling can we proceed to the individual calling.  As Os points out correctly, our first call is always toward Jesus.  Only when we answer that call will we find fulfillment in our individual vocations.

Another point I found interesting is that we should NOT expect to find complete fulfillment in what we are called to do.  Firstly, we can only find complete fulfillment in Jesus and what he has done for us, but secondly after the Fall, work has become "partly creative and partly cursed."  For some people, their vocation is only periphery to what they are and do centrally.  Paul was an apostle, but that wasn't the best paying job back in the day.  He also made tents to support himself.

There is so much I left out, I highly recommend getting the book and reading it!  I have a link on the side of my blog to books I recommend and a link to Amazon.  Please check it out.  I want to leave you with the reason for the sculpture of Michelangelo at the top of my post.  Some people say it's unfinished, others say he left it unfinished on purpose because it gives the perspective of this wonderful sculpture struggling out of the rock.  I think this is a great example of how our call comes to us.  It's a process that takes a lifetime and for most people it is left unfinished, but thanks be to God that he still makes beautiful art out of our mess.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Annnnnnnnnnndddd I'm back

So initially this blog was started as a class project and like anything dealing with a class, once I'm done and have my grade then it's time to move on.  However, as I've matured, I've been slowly pulled back to this blogging thing.  Blogging is a powerful tool and even if no one reads anything I write, I think it will be beneficial for me to get my thoughts out there.  So I don't know where this will take me, but it should be fun.