Monday, February 23, 2015

Take a Religious Development Survey for a PhD Candidate

I'm posting this for a friend who is doing research, especially directed toward those who were raised in church, but have left church, for whatever reason.  This survey takes special interest in the home life and experience with one's parents with respect to religious training, beliefs, and development.  Do please take the survey (see the age limitations).  
Study of the Development of Religious Views in Young Adults
If you are an American between 18-30 years old, you are invited to participate in an online research study on the development of religious views among young adults.  Identity protection is provided. 

Every 20th participant (up to 20 participants) will receive a $10 gift card to Amazon if you are willing to leave a mailing address.  Anyone who asks may receive information about the study findings.  Just leave an email, twitter handle, or mailing address when prompted at the end of the study.

To participate in the survey, please access the Web link below.  You will then be directed to complete the study, requiring no more than 15-20 minutes.

Thanks for your help!  
Beth Matthews
PhD candidate
Liberty University

Lynchburg, VA

Saturday, February 21, 2015

My Opinion on the Dewey Hill Cross

My Opinion on the Dewey Hill Cross.
From a former resident of Grand Haven.

Obviously, I like the cross because I am a Christian and think it should stay.  I will try to explain those reasons here.  As a caveat, it makes sense that such a symbol on display atop a place like Dewey Hill should appeal to me: it is a fitting crown on the crest of that giant knoll across the river from which many fellow believers worship on Sunday mornings and evenings (on public property!) during the summer.  Still, fairness to others behooves us to consider those who either do not identify with the symbol, or are offended by it, for whatever reason, whether personal or allegedly legal.  So, what if instead of a cross, fastened upon the peak of Dewey Hill stood a looming hammer and sickle, the symbol of Soviet Communism—and a few people liked it?  Or, what if the symbol was that of a giant molecule, with protons, neutrons, and electrons circling around a giant letter A, where A stands for atheism—and a few people liked it?  And so on with the Star of David, and symbols for Hinduism, Islam, etc.—and a few people liked it?   These questions are raised by many, actually.  And even though those scenarios are a bit zany, the point is made: it’s about fairness to all. Well, in order to resolve the issue, we have to ground the argument in three principles: (1) the symbol of the cross and its meaning, and (2) the law: the Establishment Clause, and (3) the will of the people. 

First, the cross is first and foremost an obvious symbol of Christian belief: that Jesus, the divine son of God, atoned for the sins of the world, and is risen from the dead, being victorious over the grave, and coming again to judge the world, putting an end to evil, and making things right.  The cross, from this perspective, communicates an entire metanarrative that makes astounding claims over the true nature of reality, and hence history, and consequently, our individual lives.  The majority of people who “get in the fight” either for or against things like the Dewey Hill cross understand it according to this paradigm.  A second view however, is that the cross is simply a symbol of American heritage, freedom, and prosperity, and it does not necessarily carry the deep, personal devotion of the aforementioned worldview.  Finally, a third view is that the cross is a symbol of hope, good luck, or fortune.  This third category appeals to people who aren’t necessarily “followers of Jesus” per se (similar to folks in the second group), but they simply like the symbol because it stands, in the abstract, apart from a Christian worldview, for victory over oppression, overcoming addictions (for example), or even good karma.  Or, they may simply “like it” for no reason whatsoever.  And that’s ok, too. 

Now, some would argue that in order to keep the peace in Grand Haven, no religious symbols should be allowed in the public square at all, because in order to be fair to all religions, all religions would need space for display in a particular chosen area.  This is impossible, and dies the death of a thousand qualifications.  After all, who wants to see a circus of religious symbols atop Dewey Hill competing for attention?  Therefore, the argument goes, no religious symbols should be had on public property.  This keeps it fair.  Call this view “Thousand Island Nihilism.”  For a thousand religions, let none be present on public property, lest we have the eyesores of kitch scattered like broken teeth along the otherwise pleasant, undulating landscape of Pure Michigan.  However, there are two problems with this view.  First, declaring a symbol to be “religious” is not as easy as it seems, as seen in the prior paragraph: not everyone thinks of a (or, “the”) cross in the same way.  Heck, the ancient Romans had an idea about crosses, and so did Jewish victims or anyone else who got in the way of Caesar.  (Enter here a fourth category: instrument of torture imposed by the State upon dissenters!).  

Therefore, while the cross on Dewey Hill is most certainly a Christian symbol for many, it means other things for others.  In other words, symbols derive their meanings from their history, usage, and interpretation of people, and are therefore not always what they may seem.  The same symbol can be both religious and secular simultaneously: it depends on the origin and history of the symbol, how it has been used by people throughout history, important epochs or events related to it, whether there is text (a written message) on it, and how current understanding is held by the people.  The Nazi swastika is a prime example.  It was a religious symbol rooted in eastern religion until the Nazis used it for their own evil purposes.  No one would try to use the swastika now for good intent as in the days prior to Hitler, because its meaning has been ruined by the Germans.  The point here is that religious symbols may mean one thing to one person, and an entirely different thing to another.  Therefore, the Dewey Hill cross is not necessarily a Christian symbol.  It has American heritage tied to it, and it also has "good karma" tied to it as well.  "But it's hoisted up on Sundays," you say.  Yes it is.  And?  Are Sundays a Christian day to you?  If not, then the time or day of the cross's appearance should make no difference to you.  

Secondly, to the Establishment Clause.  It reads,   

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Historically, this law was enacted so that people coming to America could worship freely without the Church of England imposing upon them any laws with respect to worship in a church (hence, “establishing religion”).  Separation of Church and State (not written in the founding documents) has taken precedent in our nation (rightly so), and merely states that the United States government would not establish a State Church, like the Church of England.  This in no way meant that public displays of religion could never manifest themselves on public property.  Heck, remember Puritan England?  One had to be a Christian in order to hold public office!  I’m not saying that should be the case today, but the point is clear: there is indeed a rich, Christian heritage in our nation, and therefore symbols of such a heritage (#2 above) are more than appropriate in the public square. 

Thirdly, the problem with both Thousand Island Nihilism the threat of a petty lawsuit dished out by a small minority of people that are offended by the cross whether due to personal reasons or by appealing to "Separation of Church and State," is that it leaves out the very important American ideal called the Voice of the People.  It seems clear from social media (at least) that the majority of people in Grand Haven desire the cross to remain.  In America, the people vote, and the majority wins.  That’s a principle that guides our nation, and has done so since its inception.  That's democracy.  Sadly, that cannot occur in Grand Haven with respect to the cross on Dewey Hill, merely due to the threat of a costly lawsuit. 

Lastly, I agree with Mayor of Grand Haven, Geri McCaleb, who is saddened by the petty threat of a lawsuit by Brian Plescher.  The Dewey Hill cross only gleaned attention and adoration from the gazing eyes of the good people of Grand Haven for 15 days out of an entire year: 10 days during summer on Sundays, and 3-5 times over Easter Weekend.  This fact adds more evidence to the obtuse nature of Plescher’s petty complaints. That the majority of the people of Grand Haven desire the cross, that religious symbols on public property do not necessarily violate the Establishment Clause,[1] and that the cross on Dewey Hill makes minimal appearances for a fraction of the year, make a strong, undeniable case that it belongs unchanged, and open to all for public viewing.  

There is an ironic twist to all of this:  the anchor is an adopted Christian symbol that stretches back to at least the 1st A.D.  The letter to the Hebrews makes reference to Jesus Christ as the anchor of our souls (6:19).  The early Christians adopted the anchor as a symbol for their salvation in Christ, and disguised the cross by means of the anchor, mostly decorating their tombs with the mariner's symbol.  I understand that the cross on Dewey Hill will be converted to an anchor.  I wonder if Plescher will be offended by the fact that the anchor has been used as a Christian symbol for nearly 2,000 years?  Will it remind him of the cross?  Will a future complaint be lodged as to the anchor's historical use as a religious symbol and therefore in violation of the Constitution?  The only thing that may rescue the people of Grand Haven from the likes of Plescher is the sheer ignorance that such a symbol is enjoys a rich, Christian heritage, stretching back into times of great Christian persecution, and undaunted Christian ingenuity and perseverance.    

 The above text reads in Greek uncial script, Ichthus, which in an acrostic which stands for  Jesus (I=J) Christ (Ch), God's (Th) Son (U), Savior (S).  The Greek in the middle tier underneath the D and M reads, "Fish of the living."  This engraving is located on a tombstone of the second or third century: Museo Cristiano, Vatican Rome.  Photo taken from Clifford M. Jones, New Testament Illustrations, London: Cambridge University Press, 1966, p.144. 

[1] The Pew Research Center (June 2007) reports: “In 2005, the court ruled divergently in two cases involving permanent displays of the Ten Commandments. In one instance, the court decided that the relatively recent placement of the Ten Commandments in courthouses in two Kentucky counties violated the Establishment Clause because a “reasonable observer” would conclude that the counties intended to highlight the religious nature of the document. In the other case, however, the court ruled that a display of the Ten Commandments that had stood for more than 40 years on the grounds of the Texas state Capitol did not violate the Establishment Clause because a reasonable observer would not see the display as predominantly religious.”  See, Religious Displays and the Courts, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, June 2007,  Accessed February 21, 2015.   

Saturday, December 6, 2014

With Love from North Africa: St. Augustine on Math and the Existence of God

You like math?  Or, if your're from certain parts of the world: You like the maths?  Oh, don't turn away.
St. Augustine (354-430) has an argument for the existence of God based on the reality of number, of 
mathematical law.  Here it is in summary form below in 11 points.  Of utmost importance is the first 
premise, which states that God, as the Highest Being or Good, is greater than the human mind, and 
whatever is greater than the human mind would be the highest good.  Maybe you think the universe 
itself is greater than the human mind.  You'd be wrong, of course.  The universe doesn't contemplate the 
meaning of itself.  In this argument, the intellectual giant from modern day Algeria is having a 
conversation with his friend, Evodius.  Augustine already knows that people know God exists by the 
mere observation of nature, as it says in Psalm 19:1-6 and Romans 1:18-20.  But, just in case people 
need rational argument, Augustine is ready with the whip to snap people to attention of things greater 
than the human mind: wisdom and the laws of mathematics.  These, in turn, speak of Truth, and the 
Truth is the greatest good.  God is also the greatest good, and the embodiment of Truth in the person of 
Jesus Christ.  Here it is.  I wrote a paper on this subject, replete with Latin footnotes!  Doesn't that make 
me special?  I'll spare all that, and just let you contemplate the argument.  If you want a copy of the 
paper, just email me.  It's not been graded yet, so I can't say it's worth the read.  Augustine is 
worth reading though, and here is a summary of his argument in his discourse with Evodius in The Free 
Choice of the Will, Book II.  Pay special attention to point number 7.  

1)   “You (Evodius) granted that if I could prove that there was something above our minds, you would admit this is God, provided that there was still nothing higher.”[1]

2.    Augustine systematizes the natural order into three categories: a) things that exist, b) things that exist and live, and things that exist, live, and also understand. 

3)      The act of understanding is “most excellent”[2] among things that exist and live.
4)      Sense-perception (or, the five senses) exist in the human being, and in animals.

5)      Animals, as well as humans, share an “inner sense,” which we might call “instinct.”  (Instinct is that sense which enables an animal to “seek and acquire things that delight and to repel and avoid things that are obnoxious.”)[3]

6)      Reason exists in man only.  The “inner sense” of 4) is the servant of reason in the human knower.

7)   Numbers (or, mathematical laws), differentiated from corporeal bodies i.e. food and water, are infinite, unchanging, eternal truths.  Reason shows these things to exist.  For example, take any integer, n, and double it.  The distance between n and its double and n zero is the same, ad infinitum.  We know this to be true, of course, even though we cannot observe all numbers.  Therefore, this mathematical law, or "rule of the double" exists outside the human mind, for it is neither dependent upon the mind in order to be observed and named (nominalism), nor is it created by the human mind (conceptualism), for this would lead to epistemological relativism, which is self-refuting.  These things are real, ya'll (realism).  

8)      Number and Wisdom are identical (or, number is “contained” in wisdom).  And yet, even if they are not identical, or, if it cannot be shown that the former is contained in the latter or vice versa, it is certain that both number and wisdom are true and unchangeably true (immutable).  These truths are discovered, not invented, for if the latter, they would change with the human mind, which changes.

9)      These truths come from one Truth itself, which is higher than reason. Truth is the highest conceivable concept.

10)  This truth, as the highest good and most excellent thing, is God Himself, per the first premise. 

11)  Therefore, God exists, by reductio ad absurdum. It is absurd to believe that Truth does not exist, and it is impossible that anything is higher than Truth, which, according to the first premise, is God.[4]

Now, the greatest part of the argument that needs teasing out is the conflation of "many truths" found in 
mathematical laws and wisdom, with One Truth, from which all truths come.  A metaphysical system 
similar to the Aristotelian/Thomistic paradigm that deems Truth as Being would do the trick.  Or, a 
Principle of Sufficient Reason as a Cause of truth from which all truths come would do that as well.  The 
next time you look up at the stars or contemplate the rule of mathematical law, think on this argument, 
and the great wisdom in the Mind of God.


[1] Andrew B. Schoedinger, Reading in Medieval Philosophy, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), p.22.
[2] Ibid., p.6.
[3] Ibid., p. 7.
[4] Douglas Groothuis argues similarly for the ontological argument in Christian Apologetics, (Downers Grove, Ill: Intervarsity Press, IVP Academic, 2011), p.188. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How to Teach Hebrew to Your Children

My wife and I educate our children at home, and since I spent a lot of time and money in learning the languages of the Bible, I thought I'd put that to good use.  There are a number of reasons for teaching Hebrew to your children, and while this post is about how to teach it to them, here are a few reasons why it's a good idea.  First, it's helpful to the development of their minds.  Hebrew is a language that has symbols very different from English, and it's a good way to introduce an abstract (or at least, alternate) way of thinking for little ones.  This will in turn aid their conceptual and abstract thinking, enabling them to think in ways that require problem-solving.   Secondly, it's a great way to introduce children to the Bible, and get them "into" the biblical world.  Language is connected to reality, to history, to people, and culture (no matter what Wittgenstein says).  Third, reading the Bible in the original is the schizzle.

Ok, so how am I doing it? Well, I started out with the alphabet, and had them copy the letters for a few days until they got it down.  Then, I taught them how to sound out words, after teaching them the vowel pointings.   The girls like to do exercises on the board, so I began by spelling words for them, and they write it on the board.  Example, "Aleph, segol (vowel pointing), resh, segol, final tsade." Eretz.  Land! 

Here are some different exercises we do: 
  • Vocab flash cards. (Also preposition and vowel pointings).  
  • Reading Genesis 1 from the Hebrew Bible, explaining grammar and syntax as we go along. 
  • Say aloud spelling and vocab.  I say a word, and the girls write it on a piece of paper.  Example: I say, "Eretz."  Then the girls spell it in Hebrew and give the vocab definition. 
  • Grammar: I'll read a section from my Hebrew grammar books (Pratico and Van Pelt, Weingreen, Cook & Holmstead).  The Cook/Holmstead book is a great, new grammar that has all kinds of interesting exercises in it, including conversational Hebrew, crossword puzzles,  comic strips, and fill in the blank. 
I try to keep it simple.  I'm not plowing through the Grammar texts.  I mostly do reading from Genesis, and vocab flash cards.  From time to time, I'll do a grammar lesson.  We're taking it slowly, only 3 lessons per week, because on the other two days, the girls are learning Latin, and we don't want to overwhelm them.


Friday, August 29, 2014

An Ode to Bacon

Dear Bacon, 

I love you,
No matter what they say,
I dream of you, your thick slabs,
sliced to lip-smacking dabs
of delight, there is no fright
of parasites, for garlic is light
to the stomach as wine is to the soul
It'll kill after the thrill any semblance of malice
wrought by the chalice of your beneficence;
I'll take a plate, or rather a bowl
of bacon. My love, to thee I sing
I bring, my salivating glands and widening waist band
Here's a cup of coffee, and then a pancake (or five)
Then into a deep coma, I dive
and rest, for I am blessed by your love, my dear,
I'm in fifth gear, in perfect bliss,
I therefore dismiss anyone's remiss at your goodness,
Oh bacon, my help and comfort and joy.
Oh boy, it's bacon for breakfast!