Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas, Everybody!

From Stevie and Sophia Pinheads, and all the Pinhead Clan!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Origins of the Jewish Holiday Tree

Lincoln Chaffee has offended some people by insisting on calling the Statehouse Christmas tree a “Holiday” tree. Now, some of us may be wondering why all the fuss? After all, lots of religions other than Christianity decorate trees with lights and ornaments and put them up in their homes this time of year. Now, thanks to the intrepid reporters at the Colbert Report, we have finally uncovered the true origins of the Hanukkah tree as seen in the picture below.

So, you see, calling our seasonal, coniferous, living room decoration a Christmas tree instead of a Holiday tree is really just WASPy prejudice. All religions are basically the same, right down to the little trees they decorate and place in their living rooms and their desire to pollute their most holy days with crass
while ignoring the true meaning of the holiday.

Next in our series on the origins of the Holiday tree: the Kwanza and Diwali trees. Because inventing history is far more interesting than pretending our culture appeared out of thin air 10 years ago.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Marriage and the Single Life in Theology and Practice

In the past, I have attempted a tongue-in-cheek explanation for why so many women who want to marry end up single and frustrated. Today I'm going to attempt to critique a much smaller subset of the problem, though one that I think is important for several reasons.

By basically ignoring passages in Scripture such as I Corinthians 7:1-9 and never developing a robust theology and practice of the consecrated single life, Protestantism condemns numerous women to either 1) a lifetime of seemingly purposeless singlehood/second class life compared to married people or 2) marrying men who are entirely unserious about their faith.

Throughout history the percentage of men who are serious about their faith has always been smaller than the percentage of women, especially after leaving the home. In the Catholic and Orthodox worlds, offering the option of becoming a nun to young women helps to balance the marriage market and increases the odds of young women finding a partner with whom they can be "equally yoked."

It is incredibly ironic to me that a subset of Christianity which has accepted contraception, in practice even the kind that sometimes stops implantation, has no visible representation of the consecrated single life which Scripture and the early church recommend so highly. I suppose though, it makes sense that a society which finds it unrealistic for married people to practice periodic abstinence would also have difficulty creating a vibrant culture where the unmarried could enjoy a meaningful, joyful sexless existence while feeling just as valued in their churches as their married comrades.

Anyway, that's my reaction to having been on both sides of the Protestant/Historic Christianity divide and hearing far more Protestant women complain bitterly about the lack of Godly men than Catholic/Orthodox. While the pain of not finding one's spouse/vocation can be visceral and real on both sides of the 16th century theological divide (especially in today's culture where many men are still living the life of an adolescent into their thirties), in my limited experience, it seems to run deeper and to be more common on the Protestant side of things... and the only (mainstream) answer seems to be "Don't Give Up on Marriage," which strikes me as entirely inadequate.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Flat Tax? 9-9-9?

Is this the year when a scrap-and-rewrite of the tax code will finally come to reality? It seems like a rite of passage in the Republican primaries for at least one less-popular candidate to get attention by announcing some version of tax simplification. This year we've got two. Herman Cain started the fun with his 9-9-9 tax proposal. Rick Perry is now trying to resurrect his campaign with a more "traditional" flat-tax proposal.

I can't imagine either plan ever being enacted, even in a modified form, and I'm not at all sure I would want either one, or anything like them. But, I've had a difficult time clearly understanding my hesitancy. Scott Adams (he of the Dilbert comics) helped me out today with a post on his blog.

Flat Tax

The quote that really stood out to me:

"I think most people like the idea of a simpler tax code. No argument there. But I've never met a person who would volunteer to pay higher taxes in exchange for simplicity."

He goes on to explain that these ideas play on a vague impression many of us have that the rich in our country pay a lower tax rate than the middle class, because they find some way to trick the system. That may be true for a few, but it is probably not true for most.

If we are going to simplify the tax code, I think we need to do it gradually over about 20 years, systematically removing tax exemptions, addon taxes, and other tax complexities, and compensating for each change with slight increases in the base tax rates.

Adams also makes a great point about the use of the word "fair", and how both sides of the argument use it for their own purposes. It has not real meaning in itself (it means whatever the hearer thinks it should mean), but it carries great emotional power. That gives it a unique power to be divisive.

What do you think? Do you have a great suggestion for revolutionizing our tax code? How would you define "fair" taxation? Flat tax? Progressive tax? Something else?


Friday, September 23, 2011

Abraham, Noah, Pain and Suffering

Some people listen to music while at work. I've never been very musically inclined, but I like to listen to Radiolab while doing something that doesn't require my full attention. I was listening to Robert Krulwich's sermon on Abraham, Isaac and Mount Moriah this afternoon while putting together an FE model, and something struck me: well, lots of things actually. His telling of the story is probably the most thoughtful and impassioned I have ever heard in my life. While a Christian could not but say that Mr. Krulwich misses something by not being able to shed the light of Hebrews on the telling of the tale, still, it is moving, thoughtful and the best I've ever heard. Along the way, when telling the story of Abraham and Isaac on Mt. Moriah, he mentions a bit of the story of Noah that really caught my attention.

He tells of how Noah was the holiest man on the earth, how God spoke to him and told him to build an ark, and how Noah obeyed. Noah obeyed God in a way that I doubt I would ever have the faith to do. He obeyed in the midst of mocking from his peers while doing something that appeared to all rational creatures as a totally ludicrous and even stupid act. And he kept it up for a hundred years or so (I forget the exact amount of time). Anyway, then, with Noah and 2 or 7 of every animal in the ark, God kills everything else on the earth. If we think of the pleading that Abraham did for Sodom and Gomorah, and if we think of the pleading that we would do for our relatives and loved ones who have turned their backs on God, that had to have hurt. Noah had to have hurt. Robert Krulwich posits that you can't be a good man and not question "Why?!?!" at a time like that. No matter how much we trust in the omnipotence of God, he has made us to seek understanding, and a mark of the goodness of our humanity is to hurt and question why in times like that.

And so, it is that light which helps bring understanding to another of the most puzzling passages of Scripture I've run across in all my life. What did Noah do after he got out of the ark? Well, the first thing he did after sacrificing to God in thanksgiving for saving him and his family was to plant a vineyard. And with the grapes from that vineyard he made wine. And with the wine he went and got wasted. Not just drunk, but sloppy drunk. Not just sloppy drunk, but hammered, wasted, blasted, bombed and tanked: he passes out half naked in his tent. The holiest man on the earth. A man far holier and better than I will ever be. A man willing to obey God to a degree I doubt I ever will got hammered and passed out half naked on the ground: committing a sin that I swore to myself long, long ago I would never commit. How could he fall like that?

And then one of Noah's sons comes along, sees Noah passed out in his indecency and makes fun of him to his brothers. Noah, upon finding out about it, curses him. And apparently, God agrees. This was another part of the story that I've never understood. I mean, the man was hammered. I don't know how many readers out there have ever seen their own father drunk, but speaking for myself, I have never hated my father more, nor respected him less, than when he was drunk. Now, I know being disrespectful to one's parents is bad, but was it really that bad? Did it really deserve a curse not just for himself but for his descendants. I mean, look at what Noah did. The guy got drunk and made a darn fool of himself. He sinned, for crying out loud. Doesn't Scripture say that drunkards won't go to heaven? Doesn't it say that we are not to get drunk but to be filled with the Spirit? Doesn't it say, "Do not drink wine to excess or let drunkenness go with you on your way." Yes, it does. So, from my perspective, in my experience, the punishment does not fit the crime. At all. If God is a just God, if Noah was a just man, how could his son and all his son's descendants get cursed for one lousy slip, when his dad had so grievously sinned himself? The double standard invokes a palpable sense of outrage in so many people, especially those whose parents have struggled with drink.

So, for me, this is where Krulwich's sermon helps make sense of the story in a way that I had never seen before. Noah didn't just go out and get hammered one day. He saw and experienced the death and destruction of the entire world. He watched as his neighbors and relatives made fun of him for decade upon decade upon decade as he built the ark. Then he watched as they were all put to death by God via drowning or starvation: them, and their teenagers, and their toddlers, and their babies and their children in the womb, and their pets and every friggin' animal on earth that wasn't in the ark. He sat there in his safe little boat while they all suffered and died: every blasted one of them. Innocent or guilty. Past the age of reason, below the age of reason and incapable at any age of reason. He watched as God killed them all, and almost the first thing he did after he got out of that ark was to plant a vineyard. And the first thing he did after harvesting those grapes was to make wine and get wasted.

And that brought to mind another passage of Scripture that has always bothered me.

[4] It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
it is not for kings to drink wine,
or for rulers to desire strong drink;
[5] lest they drink and forget what has been decreed,
and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.
[6] Give strong drink to him who is perishing,
and wine to those in bitter distress;
[7] let them drink and forget their poverty,
and remember their misery no more.
Proverbs 31: 4-7

Is there anyone with more misery to forget than Noah?

Yesterday, I thought Noah acted like a stupid fool and sinned against God when he went and got wasted. I thought his son got a pretty raw deal when he and all his descendants got cursed for mocking the old man. Today, I'm not so sure. Today, I'm wondering if whether the reason Noah went and got wasted was precisely because he was a good and holy man who suffered unimaginable anguish when God killed all his neighbors and relatives, guilty or innocent. Today, I'm wondering of the reason his son was cursed was because he wasn't a good and holy man and his own anguish at the suffering of others was shallow or nonexistent. Perhaps, he was bitter and angry for all the times he had been mocked for obeying his father and helping him out in the crazy task God had given to Noah. Whatever the case, it is certainly true that he didn't understand the depths of his own father's misery and pain.

And so I thank Robert Krulwich for helping to shed light on a series of stories which had always puzzled me. It is hard to make sense of the pain and suffering in our lives. Even in the light of the suffering of God's own Son, it is hard. And it is helpful for me to realize that even the Giants of the faith, whom I could never measure up to, struggled with the same things.

What do you think?

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Religion and Epidemics

I found this article on epidemics and religion fascinating in light of Rodney Stark's theories in The Rise of Christianity.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

An Interview with Shaun Groves

Shaun Groves is releasing a new album called Third World Symphony with songs drawn from his numerous years working for Compassion International and leading blogger mission trips/tours to see the work that Compassion does in developing countries. If you want to learn more about how this album came to be, there is a brief video here. It's worth a look.

As part of the record promotion, Shaun is allowing bloggers to interview him and ask 3 questions. All my questions focus on Compassion's work, so if you want a background on what child sponsorship is, you can read about that here.

Switch Interview
Case {'Q1','Question_1'}
'Doug: Having been in several third world countries, do you ever
get the feeling that educational advancement is outpacing economic
development in certain countries? I’m not speaking about the value
of education in and of itself (my wife has a bachelors in
engineering and stays home with our 4 kids). I’m speaking of the
utilitarian quality of people being able to use their education
in the working world when they get a paying job.

Shaun: I haven't been traveling long enough to notice a change in
the value of education. So, I cannot answer the pacing portion of
the question. But I can speak to the value of education provided
by Compassion. In addition to receiving a standard education -
the kind I received, reading writing, social studies, science, math,
language, etc - child served by Compassion receive vocational
training. Every community, child and family is different. Some will
be able to put their science studies to use, go to college, work
in the sciences. Others will do the same with language, math, etc.
But some students will work as cobblers, repairmen, beauticians,
barbers, farmers - and for these jobs a basic education is
certainly valuable but the more technical vocational training they
receive because of Compassion's sponsorships program is priceless.

Compassion's aim is to develop the whole child, in part to
foster independence. In the cognitive and economic realms both
a basic education and a vocational training are essential to reaching
this goal.')

Case {'Q2','Question_2'}
Doug: How do the sponsored kids you've met refer to their
sponsors? I've heard many people refer to their sponsored
kids as "our kids" or "our grandkids" but that has never felt right
to me. I understand the sentiment, but the kids already have
parents, and I feel that would be a slight to their parents, many
of whom are working extremely hard to provide for their family in
circumstances I can't even imagine having lived my entire life in
the US. At the same time sponsored kid/sponsor, pen pal and other
titles seem impersonal and inadequate to describe the unique,
long-distance friendship that can develop over the many years of
sponsorship. How do kids you have met in Compassion's program
describe their sponsors? What sorts of titles and descriptions do
they use to describe the people and the relationship that develops?

Shaun: Almost every sponsored child I've ever talked to simply
calls their sponsor their "sponsor." But, once, when I was in
Ethiopia, I was at a Compassion child development center on the
day that a sponsor was coming to visit their sponsored child. A
party was planned with cake and balloons. And all around the
center were signs welcoming the child's "mother." It bothered me
so I asked the center's director about it and he explained that
in their culture caregivers are called "mother" or "father" - not
only the man and woman who conceived the child. So, culturally,
it was not at all strange that a sponsor, someone who had been
part of caring for a child, would be called "mother" or "father."
It was an honorable thing for the Ethiopian staff and child to do.')

Case {'Q3','Question_3'}
Doug: Does Compassion have numerical goals for sponsorship in
individual communities? If so, what sorts of factors go into
making that decision? For instance, does Compassion aim to
simply sponsor everyone who needs help, or do they aim for a
percentage of kids before moving on (e.g. 50% of kids in poverty,
etc.). Does Compassion prefer to spread out the help throughout
the many countries they serve or to saturate particular areas to
provide more concentrated help? What sorts of things go into
such the decision to grow a particular program or to start a new

Shaun: As far as I know there is no percentage goal. Each country
arrives at measures to define the poorest of the poor. Church
partners in communities where these poorest children live are
sought after. And once the partnership exists, Compassion staff
work closely with the church to locate and register the poorest
children in that church's community.

For instance, Compassion's work in India and the Philippines
began in East India and Northern Philippines where there were
more church partners and plenty of impoverished children to
serve. But the long term goal is to grow out from these regions
into Western India and Southern Philippines where there is also
a great deal of poverty but where there are fewer churches with
which to partner. There is no percentage goal that I'm aware of
in place. The progression across the country is a practical one
- start where there are qualified church partners surrounded by
impoverished children and as progress is made in these regions
continue that work but expand to areas where the work will be a
bit harder due to there being fewer potential church partners.')

End % Switch Interview

If you've read this far, I hope you found that helpful and informative. Thanks to Shaun Groves for taking the time to read and answer my rather verbose questions. If you want to listen to or purchase Shaun's latest album, that would be fabulous. If by some miracle you want to change a child's life through Compassion's Child Sponsorship Program, that would be even better.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why the Apostles Didn't Read Their Bibles/Torahs

Scott Kistler posted a month ago about efforts to evangelize people in oral cultures. There seems be be some amount of debate about the best methods to go about doing this. What struck me at the time was the total absence of reference to the early church's methodology. Here was a group of people with almost unparalleled success in evangelism. They literally took Christianity from a rag-tag band of at most 100 misfits to half the Roman Empire in just 300 years. While perhaps one can point to the evangelism of the New World in Spanish speaking territories as another highly successful example of evangelism to an oral culture (7 million converts in less than 10 years), that happened in the wake of the apparition at Guadalupe and was not something whose methods can ever be duplicated or used as a pattern. I really can't think of another outreach to an oral culture that was as consistently successful as what was accomplished by the Holy Spirit through the early Church, so I would think that people studying this would give it more attention than they do.

That got me thinking that perhaps the reason the early church gets short shrift is the extreme reliance in some Protestant circles on the extraBiblical doctrine of Sola Scriptura. People look at the book of Acts and say, "The Bereans went home and read for themselves what the Prophets said, and that is what we need to do." This is assumed to be taken as the pattern for what we should all do as individuals. Therefore, any evangelistic activity that does not bring the individual into close personal literary contact with the Scriptures is doing something dangerous and setting these people up for a fall.

However, I think if one looks at the passage closely, one sees that things were really quite different than what is conveyed in the popular imagination. The Scriptures say in Acts 17, "[10] The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Beroe'a; and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. [11] Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessaloni'ca, for they received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so. [12] Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men."

Notice where the preaching was done: in the synagogue. That is also where the examination of Scriptures was done. Ancient Jewish culture, Roman culture, Greek culture, and indeed all ancient cultures were oral cultures in very important ways. They had to be, because the cost of books meant only the most wealthy could own one personally. All reading and study of the Scriptures was done in community because books were scarce and extraordinarily expensive resources. People might ponder the Scriptures when at home or at prayer, but they didn't actually study them on their own. That's why we read in several places about Jesus going off by himself to pray, but we never read about him going off by himself to read the Scriptures. He couldn't have afforded it and neither could his disciples. Pretty much nobody, not Jesus, not the apostles, not anyone but the most wealthy could have afforded to have the Scriptures in their home. Incidentally, I haven't read this and don't know it for a fact, but I would doubt that any but the oldest and most established house churches could have afforded a complete set of the Scriptures. Given growth rates in the early church, I think this pretty much precludes a large percentage of congregations from obtaining a complete set of the Scriptures in the earliest years. They would have had to share and pass around well-worn copies until they grew enough to be able to afford a full set, which also strikes me as a great promoter of unity... but I digress.

The point is that the study of Scripture during the most sustained growth ever experienced in Christian history was entirely communal in nature, and this has tremendous repercussions on how they would have viewed interpretive authority. The primary reason for discomfort with oral methods among Protestants, I believe, lies in the difference conceptions of the place of interpretive authority between the early Church and Protestantism.

Protestantism says, "4. Will we clarify for them that, although all other holy books may have some helpful religious insights, nevertheless they do not have any final authority from God, but only the Bible does?"

The pre-100 AD church said, "But I shall not be unwilling to put down, along with my interpretations, whatsoever instructions I received with care at any time from the elders, and stored up with care in my memory, assuring you at the same time of their truth. For I did not, like the multitude, take pleasure in those who spoke much, but in those who taught the truth; nor in those who related strange commandments, but in those who rehearsed the commandments given by the Lord to faith, and proceeding from truth itself. If, then, any one who had attended on the elders came, I asked minutely after their sayings,--what Andrew or Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the Lord's disciples: which things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I imagined that what was to be got from books was not so profitable to me as what came from the living and abiding voice."

and the early 100's church said, "See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is[administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude[of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid."

and the late 100's church said, "It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about. For if the apostles had known hidden mysteries, which they were in the habit of imparting to "the perfect" apart and privily from the rest, they would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were also committing the Churches themselves. For they were desirous that these men should be very perfect and blameless in all things, whom also they were leaving behind as their successors, delivering up their own place of government to these men; which men, if they discharged their functions honestly, would be a great boon [to the Church], but if they should fall away, the direst calamity.

2. Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre- eminent authority,6 that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere."

So, what's the point? Are the Scriptures not to be read by individuals, now that books are cheap and we have the opportunity? Of course they should be regularly read by individuals. The Scriptures are the Word of God, supremely authoritative for our lives. However, I think there is a danger in pridefully imagining that because we have personal access to the Scriptures, we actually understand the gospel better than those who relied primarily on congregational reading and preaching to learn about Christ, or better than the bishop God placed over us.

My main point in writing this is to point out how odd it is that people who acknowledge that the world of Jesus was an oral world and spend millions on conferences sharing the latest methods to spread the gospel in oral cultures have near zero interest in the most sustainably successful evangelistic effort to oral learners of all time. I suspect it is because what Newman wrote 100 years ago is as true today as it was back then, "And this utter incongruity between Protestantism and historical Christianity is a plain fact, whether the latter be regarded in its earlier or in its later centuries. Protestants can as little bear its Ante-nicene as its Post-tridentine period."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What's in a name?

Glenn Beck recently commented on Campus Crusade for Christ's decision to change their name to Cru, saying,

"They decided Christ might be offensive. . . . They decided Christ could be offensive and Crusade has negative connotations. So what are they now? Campus? No. No, that was too focused; it was more global than local. So, after 60 years, what did the organization decide? The 3-letter word 'Cru.'"

He went on to joke about how they would no longer be talking about Jesus Christ or telling what He did because it might be offensive.

According to Cru's FAQs about the name change,
"Although the words Campus and Crusade served as hindrances, there was never any intentional decision to remove the word “Christ.” Yet as we considered hundreds of name possibilities, our experience confirmed that Cru would provide greater opportunity to connect men and women with the heart of Jesus, and to help them consider the good news of the gospel.

For those who may be concerned we have lost moorings, please rest assured that we are the same organization with over 6 billion exposures to the gospel through the JESUS film, and who on any given day counts up to a million exposures to the gospel via the internet and face-to-face contacts around the world.

As an organization, we exist for the sole purpose of helping individuals experience the transforming grace and forgiveness of the gospel through Jesus Christ."
"We were not trying to eliminate the word Christ from our name."

Yet on Glenn Beck's show, in the comments thread under his post titled, "Campus Crusade for Christ drops ‘Christ’ from the title" (which makes it sound like they just changed the name to "Campus Crusade" instead of completely changing the name), in posts from friends on Facebook and elsewhere, I have seen people in an uproar over what they believe to be a denial of Christ and a belief by the organization that the name and message of Christ is offensive.

Words like "apostacy" and "antichrist" are being used to refer to CCC/Cru, and many people have stated publicly that they are withdrawing their previous support for the organization--all over a name change!

People are quoting passages like "If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels." Mark 8:38 and "But whoever denies me before men, I will deny before my Father in heaven." Matthew 10:33

As far as I can tell, the doctrine and mission of the organization has not changed.

My church doesn't have the word Christ in its name, but that doesn't mean it thinks Christ is offensive or doesn't teach the Gospel unashamedly.

What do you think about this?

Has anyone seen any evidence that anyone speaking for CCC/Cru has actually stated that they changed the name with the specific purpose of removing the word Christ and/or that they feel the name of Christ is offensive?

Monday, June 20, 2011

New rules regarding vaccine exemptions

There are several new laws in various states regarding vaccine exemptions recently.

You can see the new and old versions of the vaccine exemption forms for one state here.

Previously, a medical provider was only required to sign the form for medical exemptions. Now, as of July 22, 2011, a medical provider has to sign the form for all exemptions except for one very narrow and strictly-defined type of religious exemption.

There is a limited list of approved health care providers, and all of them routinely charge for visits.

Some clinics are requiring separate appointments for each child to get the forms signed even if they have previously given the parents information about the benefits and risks of vaccines. So there may be a significant cost in money and time off work, etc. to fulfill this requirement.

The reality is that for many people this law is going to result in doctor appointments that otherwise wouldn’t have been needed in order to get their forms signed. Some families will not be able to afford this cost.

Even before this law was passed, health care providers were already required by law to give parents information about the benefits and risks of vaccines. The point of this law has nothing to do with making sure people are making an informed decision, and everything to do with simply making vaccine exemptions more difficult.

My child was not due for any doctor appointment this year (I actually called to make an appointment, and they told me she wasn’t due for her next well-child check until next year). But our pediatrician’s office said that they cannot sign the form without a well-child visit for that child in the current year.

So we had to make an otherwise-unnecessary appointment specifically to get the signature on the exemption form. We had already discussed it extensively with the doctor and received plenty of information, and agreed to hold off on one of the newly-required vaccines until the child is a bit older, although all the other vaccines are current.

Even with insurance, it’s costing me half a day and a copay just to get a signature saying that the doctor did what he was required to do.

Multiply that by the number of children, and it can become quite costly in missed work and/or school as well as financially.

Considering that medical providers were already required by law to discuss the benefits and risks of vaccines with parents, this seems unreasonable to me.

What do you think?

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Apple Censors Historical Christianity as Hate Speech

Apple has such a tightly woven and well designed suite of products. I've seriously considered getting one or more of their products recently, but one thing always holds me back. Apple has taken it upon themselves censor robust and intellectual expressions of historical Christianity as hate speech. Of course, they don't do this with all Christian apps, but they have done so with the Manhattan Declaration app. Honestly, I figured when this happened that Apple would get egg on their face and back off. However, it's been over half a year and Apple doesn't seem to be backing off. Further, they seem to be completely recalcitrant to rational efforts of persuasion. And thus my quandry. I really like Apple products, but I refuse to purchase from a company that labels historical Christianity as hate speech and censors the free, robust and respectful expression of that faith. It bothers me that a company like Apple can so freely censor peoples' respectful expression of faith and continue their march on to ever greater profits. It bothers me more that the media would be running nonstop coverage of a similar group of liberals had put together a controversial app, but journalists ignore censorship when the people being censored are their political and religious enemies, and it is Steve Jobs doing the censoring.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Positive, Realistic Reform of the Sexual Revolution

Ross Douthat has a couple of interesting articles recently on the sexual revolution and what recovering some restraint in this area does to society (e.g., it makes people happier). I'm too busy to comment much, so I'll mostly reproduce some extended quotes that capture some of the more salient points.

"Among the young people Regnerus and Uecker studied, the happiest women were those with a current sexual partner and only one or two partners in their lifetime. Virgins were almost as happy, though not quite, and then a young woman’s likelihood of depression rose steadily as her number of partners climbed and the present stability of her sex life diminished.

When social conservatives talk about restoring the link between sex, monogamy and marriage, they often have these kinds of realities in mind...

This is what’s at stake, for instance, in debates over abstinence-based sex education. Successful abstinence-based programs (yes, they do exist) don’t necessarily make their teenage participants more likely to save themselves for marriage. But they make them more likely to save themselves for somebody, which in turn increases the odds that their adult sexual lives will be a source of joy rather than sorrow.

It’s also what’s at stake in the ongoing battle over whether the federal government should be subsidizing Planned Parenthood. Obviously, social conservatives don’t like seeing their tax dollars flow to an organization that performs roughly 300,000 abortions every year. But they also see Planned Parenthood’s larger worldview — in which teen sexual activity is taken for granted, and the most important judgment to be made about a sexual encounter is whether it’s clinically “safe” — as the enemy of the kind of sexual idealism they’re trying to restore."

The treatment abstinence only programs get in the news media has always struck me as insincere. I've seen headlines that read "No Difference Between Abstinence Only and Regular Sex Ed Programs" that struck me as incredibly disingenuous. When you dig down, there were big differences. Besides, if there weren't differences in outcomes, why would the left be trying so hard to kill them when they account for such small portions of federal spending in this area? The STD incidence rates may be the same among both groups, but the number of sexual partners that the abstinence only ed groups have is measurably lower, and that makes a big difference in the quality of people's future relationships.

"Yes, an ethic of sexual restraint can be turned to patriarchal ends, but so can an ethic of sexual permissiveness, as anyone who’s hung out in a frat house for any length of time can attest. And the fact that smart feminists like Goldstein feel compelled to act all blasé about the pornography industry, lest they give an inch to the forces of reaction, seems like one of the more regrettable aspects of the contemporary cultural debate."

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Nanny State Meets the Kid Bicyclist

Last week I shared a laugh with a friend over a visit his wife received from the police. Apparently, a neighbor had called to report that his kids were riding their bikes in the street unsupervised. Oh the horror! Though the police couldn't actually ticket the family, they did show up to check on the situation and to warn the mother to make sure her kids were careful in their neighborhood wanderings. My friend and I had a good laugh, but I seriously wonder sometimes what has happened to our culture. As Anthony Esolen said, "you can deprive your child of a father and be cheered for it, but God help you if you let him ride a bike without a helmet"

Is it any wonder that obesity levels are rising in kids when the police show up over their riding their bikes in a rural neighborhood? Why the inordinate concern for suburban kids when ghetto kids walk can home from school surrounded by violence, drugs and prostitutes? We live in a society full of ludicrous dichotomies.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Increased Contraceptive Use Results in Increased Abortion Rates?

From 1997-2007 Spain increased contraceptive use rates from 50% to 80%. They doubled the abortion rate over the same time period.
(Dueñas, et. al., Contraception, January 2011 -

What gives? Apparently, people expected their contraceptives to work and planned their lives around that expectation. Apparently, they forgot that small risks taken repeatedly over long periods of time result in very large cumulative risks. A contraceptive method with a 1% failure rate results in a 70% chance of getting pregnant over 10 years. Or maybe they just don't understand the statistics of contraceptive use and most people who do are wedded to a theory of sexual freedom that doesn't allow them to point out such facts?
(Ross, Family Planning Perspectives, Nov/Dec. 1998 -

As I see it, what matters most in a country's abortion rate is the attitude toward unplanned pregnancies. Are they welcomed or at least accepted? Are they viewed as unacceptable hindrances to one's goals in life? For too many people, children are an unacceptable hindrance. Yet, they are under the illusion that they can control their fertility, even over long periods of time, (e.g., from college through the establishment of one's career and marriage). No wonder New Yorkers have an abortion rate of 39%.

When it comes right down to it, abortion is just backup birth control half the time. That is to say, half of all abortions happen to women who were using contraceptives in the month they got pregnant. For the vast majority of the other half of abortion cases, it is the only birth control used. Hardly any abortions are due to the "hard cases."

As the Supreme Court noted in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, "In some critical respects abortion is of the same character as the decision to use contraception." and "for two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail."

So, when I hear "experts" talk about increasing contraception use rates in the name of decreasing abortion, I gotta wonder if they know what they are talking about. If they don't, why are they the only "experts" one hears about in the MSM? If they do know what they are talking about, why don't they give the full picture. It's just not that simple. As Spain has reminded us once more, depending on the environment, increased contraceptive use can have exactly the opposite effect.

Friday, January 14, 2011

How Common is Muslim Extremism?

Only 35% of Americans think that Islam encourages violence more than other religions? I guess that 65% must consist almost entirely of people who've never read about the widespread "radical" interpretations on waging Jihad against infidels. I can't imagine over 50% of the residents of any Hindu, Christian or Buddhist country supporting their own version of Osama Bin Laden or Al Qaida, yet over 50% of the population of several countries do just that. As of 2005, over 60% of Jordanians trusted Osama Bin Laden to do the "right thing" in international affairs.

Such viewpoints aren't merely violently extremist, they are characteristically Muslim and astoundingly widespread.