Friday, July 13, 2012

I like to stop by my friend Peter G. Klein's group blog, Organizations and Markets. I'm a hack and an amateur in economics, and more than that, I do an injustice to those words. But I love Peter's willingness to stand up for economic freedom and sound economics. Anyway, there was this exchange in the comments on a post thanking Steve Jobs:

C. Ahlstrom | 8 October 2011 at 7:42 pm
“Neither Steve Jobs nor Bill Gates nor Linus Torvalds nor anyone else decided what products we all should use and made us use them.”
Actually, Bill Gates did… just try going to a store and buying a Mac or Linux box. The actions of Microsoft are well documented.
Of course, Steve Jobs offered an alternative for those who wish to pay a lot more for their hardware, and Linus Torvalds offered an alternative for those willing to risk their warranty and install an alternative operating system. For that, I thank them (especially Linus). But only a small percentage of people are willing to go over those “small” hurdles to avoid Windows.

  • 4.Peter Klein | 8 October 2011 at 10:27 pm
    No, actually, Bill Gates didn’t. Note that I’m using “made” in the dictionary sense of “coerce,” as in the government “making” you pay its taxes and fees, not the euphemistic sense of contemporary competition policy, where it means “failing to offer exactly the products certain buyers want at exactly the prices they want to pay.”
  • 5.C.Ahlstrom | 9 October 2011 at 7:26 am
    Whaaa? “Antitrust” means /nothing/ to you?
  • 6.Peter Klein | 9 October 2011 at 4:03 pm
    Sure, it means a lot — a lot of horribly designed, inefficient, arbitrary, and grossly unfair rules to protect politically connected, failing firms from competition.

  • [Me] ZING! In your face, likely liberal guy! You got served!
    I love Andrew Preslar. And not in the general way we're supposed to love all Christians. I mean, he's awesome. I'm sure we could find tons of stuff to argue about, and for all I know, he'd be a horrible roommate or whatever. We've only met once, on one trip, but I'm pumped we became friends. The way he approaches life and discussion and faith just inspires me. Anyway, I'll stop gushing now. I made my way to the interwebs this morning, and I found his Facebook status. It says something I guess I wanted to say but couldn't, and I think it captures what many converts from Protestantism feel about a fundamental unfairness in the way others attempt to understand "why they did it." I give it here to you:

    Several weeks ago, Reformed theologian Michael Horton wrote a series of article [sic] "explaining" and criticizing the motives of persons who convert to Catholicism, and challenging key teachings of the Catholic Church. I don't mind the latter aspect of these articles at all. Iron sharpens iron. But I do mind the former aspect--the gratuitous psychoanalysis. I wonder how my Protestant friends would feel if someone were to write an article entitled "Why Protestants Remain Protestant," which proceeded to attribute to them motives and reasons that they themselves have not claimed as their own reasons and motives.

    I suspect that my friends would consider such a move to be patronizing and unnecessary, since "grown folks" of whatever religious (or non-religious) convictions can explain their own motives and reasons--just ask them. As Bryan Cross wrote in his response to Horton:

    "... persons who seek to explain why other ... Christians become Catholic should let these persons explain their decision on their own terms, rather than engaging in a ‘just-so’ psychoanalysis, which is a kind of ad hominem in that it avoids dealing with the actual problems, evidence, and arguments these persons bring up, and instead treats their bringing up these problems and evidence as symptoms of some intellectual vice involving unreal ideals and expectations. Horton needs, for example, to address the real problems with sola scriptura, and the real problems with sola fide. The psychoanalysis response is uncharitable and unhelpful because the Catholic could do the very same thing to Horton, i.e. claim that he is saying what he is saying because of rebellion or insecurity or comfort or money or reputation or fear of men, or whatever. Horton would easily and immediately recognize such a response as uncharitable, and patronizing. So the Golden Rule calls us not to respond to our interlocutor’s reasons, evidence, and argumentation with deconstructive psychoanalysis of him or her. Insofar as Horton construes the ultimate motivation of these converts to Catholicism as anything less than the love of the truth, unless they themselves claim that their ultimate motivation is anything less than the love of truth, his construal is contrary to charity...."

    It is tempting to dismiss persons with whom we currently disagree by claiming that they are "confused" or "unrealistic" or in some other sense mentally maladjusted. This response is tempting because it is easy and comfortable; it sets aside the substance of the disagreement and rhetorically reinforces a sense of the intellectual and spiritual superiority of one's own convictions without taking the trouble to understand what the other person is actually saying. "Just-so" psychoanalysis requires neither courage, patience, nor humility. On the other hand, really understanding a position with which one disagrees, and carefully sorting through the reasons for the disagreement with people who hold that position, requires precisely these virtues.

    Obviously, none of us has the time to do this for each religious (or non-religious) position of which we are aware, or for each person with whom we disagree. But for those who choose to try to understand and engage other people on this level, it is important to do so in the right way. Otherwise, we will only further alienate one another. And whether or not we have the time or inclination for ecumencial dialogue, or to debate the merits of respective worldviews, or social philosophies, etc., we can all hope for and in some way contribute to a better, more civil society for purposes of the common good, and all Christians can hope and pray that everyone who confesses that Jesus is Lord would come to be in full communion with one another, so that the world might believe in Him (John 17:20-21).

    [Me again] Another thing about the way Andrew writes and speaks is that he's relentlessly measured. Doggedly measured. Comically even-keel. I wish I could do that more. I tend to punch people right in the face, and then rely on my trademark charm and goodwill to pick up the pieces if I go too far. My bad; it's just that I tend to say what a lot of us are thinking, but might be too afraid to say. I have a pretty low tolerance for unnecessary pleasantries and euphemism. But I could learn the kind of literary and rhetorical patience he has.

    Thursday, July 12, 2012

    One of the best things about looking at the question of whether the Catholic Church is the one Christ founded is that with respect to the Reformation, the claim on both sides is essentially the same: "We have the true continuity with the patristic faith." Since it's the same, it can be tested against the data.
    What it reveals is that the Protestant reading of pre-Reformation history makes it almost impossible to identify what orthodoxy is, much less a principle for distinguishing orthodoxy and error.
    Sola Scriptura is a disaster precisely because it makes the ultimate interpreter of all questions of faith the self, though admittedly it is claimed that the Holy Spirit is. You can't sever the link between the visible ecclesiastical authority and the man (which is what the Reformational ecclesiolology does) without losing the dogmatic principle itself, at least when applied beyond the self. You can see the man playing out the scenario in his head: "Well, my church says X about doctrine A, but I know that the Body of Christ as a whole doesn't, necessarily." See the move there? For me personally, it just didn't seem reasonable for me to hold the trump card in my spiritual life, while claiming to be submitted to God. Nor did it seem reasonable that God is indifferent to the truth or falsehood of very important questions, as our prevailing ecclesiology itself suggested.
    I felt the ad hoc nature of investing my local body or denomination with the divine protection that Catholics, for example, did, precisely because other doctrinal conclusions regarding the same questions with the same methods and principles could be easily found, and at the very least, not dismissed out of hand. This is why Sola Scriptura can be called "ecclesial fallibility." (h/t, Andrew Preslar) Even doing this would be a capitulation to the opposite ecclesial paradigm. It invites the authority question automatically. Is it reasonable to assume that the elders of Shady Pines Noncommittal Non-Denominational Church are infallible? Well, someone is. Either me, or someone else. Otherwise, God is protecting precisely squadoosh, despite his promise to the contrary. So either God enjoys watching us argue, and has left us no way to settle disputes of significant importance, or we were mistaken in holding to the principles that led us here.
    Then enter the Catholic Church. She has a very convincing account of the data, and of her ongoing authority that emerges from the data itself. If she didn't, there'd be no point in insisting she was the Church. That's the thing about all of this: If I can't say, "God has spoken thus" in my daily walk as a Christian, I cannot go out with the "gospel" to the heathen. That's why "live with the tension" is a horrible answer to the problem of our divisions. You'd better be prepared to be actually agnostic if you're going to be ecclesiologically agnostic.
    Invariably, when there is a political post on Facebook from a prominent Christian leader, one or more people chime in with something like, "Bravo on your evenhandedness! God is not a member of one political party!" And everyone salutes themselves for their superior piety, especially over all those committed partisans, who are too passionate one way or the other to "get it." Well, you know what? Ideas have consequences. If one political party stands directly opposite to Christian morality, reason, and the common good, it's not my job to write glowing pieces about how it's all really OK. I don't promise to speak in measured tones about those things, as some Christian duty of misplaced civility. The bottom line is this: If the Democratic Party remains committed to abortion, the promotion of homosexuality, and the blurring of the line between Church and state, such that the Church doesn't really exist, and essentially the takeover of everything in American life, (especially the family) no Christian ought to vote for them.
    I don't know where people got this idea that I'm some uncritical partisan. And, by the way, it's OK and reasonable to be committed passionately to the lesser things that party believes, too. God may not be a capitalist or an Austrian School economist, but if reason and experience convince us that certain ideas are manifestly better than others, it's our right to say so.
    I've crossed party lines tons of times. I'm in agreement with so-called liberals on many things, like the death penalty, war, immigration, treaties, and the list goes on. But I have no instinct to find a middle position between two extremes, no instinct to be "moderate." Moderate is how people who don't know what they are talking about (or who don't care to inform themselves) define themselves.
    All a candidate is required to do is convince people he's a good man (or woman) who will try to balance everyone's interests as best he can, to defend our inalienable rights above all, and work for the common good. "Mainstream" or "extreme" are just chattering-class words used to further those they want to help or hinder those they hate. You want to be mainstream? Win.
    We do need to elevate the discourse in our nation, and I'd love to be a part of that. But it's not going to be an elevation of niceness or politeness; it will be an elevation of ideas. We need to stop deciding a priori which ideas and people are worth listening to and which are "extreme." As Christians, we need to be courageous enough to believe what we must, and to stand for it, even if it means that most of us vote for the same people. I don't believe--whatever the merits--climate change or rent control is more vital than the murder of human beings. It's also highly possible that you, unnamed progressive evangelical, do not understand the merits of the opposite positions, anyway. I know this because I've been accused of bad faith so many times, I lost count. You know, it really is possible to oppose affirmative action without being a racist, for example. You really can favor drastic cuts in social programs without being a poor-hating money-hoarder. Why? Because the opposite ideas don't work, or are unjust. Intending to do good does not automatically sanctify a policy choice. Nor does it make you morally superior to your opponents. Am I making you uncomfortable yet? I digress.
    When I'm talking straight-up policy, I can sound very moderate. Because so many things require a laying out of the pros and cons of things, the competing goods, and so forth. But our poltics has completely obliterated the line between the theater of politics, and the hard work of policy and governance. On the one hand, the process rewards people for cheap slogans and even cheaper shots at your opponent. On the other, our gatekeepers will savage anyone who attempt to explain themselves. I should call myself the Nuanced Extremist.

    Wednesday, July 11, 2012

    It's 6:32 PM right now, as the tag will show. "Ribbon In The Sky" is playing in the background. I'm in some kind of mood, an oddly romantic mood. I say "oddly" because I don't have anyone to romance, on the record. Off the record, and after a beer or so, I'll probably gush like a deep chest wound about someone or other. I hate it when that happens.
    What an otherwise useless day! I wrote one sentence of an article I'm working on; as long as I get it (a draft) and the piece about Taylor Swift finished by the end of the week, we'll call it a win. I'm learning the hard way that I have to give projects a pretty wide berth in order to succeed. For my Master of Theological Studies degree, I get all the assignments at one time each month, and they are due at the same time. I realized that I was setting unrealistic goals for completing assignments, in a sense. I'd think, "Oh, I need 6 hours to get that done" when I really needed 24 or more. And I'd start with the assumption that I had lots of time. At the risk of stating the obvious, the task at hand must come first. I daresay that I am a bold, imaginative thinker who thrives on big ideas. But I had a tendency to distraction and for waiting until the lightning struck. This isn't good. Quite frankly, I don't work well under pressure. I can excel as a speaker and a writer (or theologian) based upon two advantages: I will be more aware of the relevant data than most others, (you'd be amazed how many people have influence that actually have no idea what they are talking about) and I'll retain more of that data than others. Preparation and giftedness. But I have to work around my tendency to distraction and digression, which is actually the engine of my creativity. So each task gets its own week in the month. My only rule is that the task gets done in the week. If each day is punctuated with manic bursts of activity sandwiched between periods of what looks like goofing off, that's fine by me.
    A friend told me that I have to be myself, that it is unwise to try to change myself or my habits radically (unless they are sinful). But I can make incremental changes that get me where I need to go. I do realize that my goofing off is different from others. It is never mindless; I am usually creating a memory trigger for something important. When I listened to the same two John Mayer albums before an exam, several vital facts were connected to the songs. There are times when it doesn't work; I just have to turn off the tunes and do a thing by brute force. But most often, something in the activity clarifies something I need to recall.
    I can remember writing outlines for sermons in homiletics, and no one believed my outlines. I got it down to where I could preach for 20 minutes with 10 words. Whatever you have to do to make yourself the most effective at whatever the thing is, do it. Don't care about what others say or do. It never helped me to spend a great deal of time crafting the written form of what I would say. I had to verbalize it, and do it many times. Then you come to realize that this moment with these people is entirely unique; no other moment is quite the same. All you can ask of yourself is to accomplish a few basic things. Beyond that, you let the moment be. No one else who wasn't there can lay claim to that uniqueness. Part of speaking effectively about anything is to sense the bond with your audience or to create it. Everyone hits a false note or word here and there, but an effective speaker does his best to connect with his hearers. If he does this, the hard things aren't so hard, and everyone goes with you even when they're not sure why or if they should.
    Evil people create a bond that is bad for the audience or those around the audience; good people create a beneficial kinship that endures beyond the moment. It could be distracting if one always took the temperature of the audience with a verbal cue, but if you must, then you must. But you must sense what people want and need from you, and do your best to provide it within the skeleton of your basic goals. That's what an outline or a notecard is: a reminder of the purpose for which you have come to speak.
    Wow, OK, this started as a confession of personal shortcomings, and it turned into a manifesto on how to move people. Alright. Anyway.
    5 Keys To A Successful Life

    5. Don't willingly believe lies. The father of lies is always busy, trying to convince you and I that we're not lovable in any sense. God does the exact opposite, especially in Jesus Christ.

    4. Seek forgiveness. First, seek it from God. Then others. Then give it. Work at it. You might mess up bad enough that someone you love walks away from you. They might even say things that aren't true in their pain. Let it go. You have to come to know that what you would do for them has nothing to do with what they do for you. If you don't know this, start over.

    3. Pray. How else are you gonna talk to God? Not to mention all the brethren in the intermediate state who have pleased God in an extraordinary way. Trust me, you need all the help you can get.

    2. Sing. You don't have to do it for other people, nor must you be good. Also, it need not be happy. But if the rocks would cry out to declare God's glory, maybe we should do it, too. Don't be afraid to realize that even this can put the world back in order.

    1. Love. There's natural love(s) and love for God. Do both in large measure as best you can. Realize that everything good comes from God, who is Love. Be prepared for the reality that you have no idea what God means. But be willing to find out.

    Tuesday, July 10, 2012

    A friend of mine has been accused of something horrible. Heinous. It's the sort of thing you never get your reputation back from, even if it isn't true. Even though I have gotten to know him, and the whole thing has the ring of someone accusing Mother Theresa of greed, I admit I have strongly considered the possibility of its truth. I'm compelled by harsh reality to prepare myself for that outcome. To be perfectly honest, even though I'm the biggest optimist I know, I have a little voice that says, "Trust no one." It may well be the voice of the evil one himself, for all I know. But you don't live these 32 years without admitting in all frankness that the voice has a point.
    This friend is prominent and important, so there is no shortage of opinions on the thing. But today I was shown again how the Scripture comes alive in the Catholic Church--for good and ill--in a special way. A woman approached me, asked me if I would be seeing so-and-so, and I replied in the affirmative. She then told me to tell them that she was starting a "Friends Of X" group if they or anyone else wanted to join. Then she gave her opinion. I knew right then I ought not pass that info on. I heard the Apostle Paul say by way of reminder, "I have heard there are factions among you."
    I love my friend. I hope the things people have said are not true. Even if they are, I'm pretty certain I'll still love him, even though I'll be sad and mad. That's what Jesus does to us: He shows us that God has never stopped loving us. We killed him, and He loves us more. It makes no sense, and yet it does.
    Do you know that you are special? You are special because Jesus loves you. He made you and me, and after we fouled ourselves and the creation, Jesus loved us to the point of death, death on a cross. As it is written, "God showed his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."