Who’s Better At Science?

No one. Stop it. No seriously, stop.

The story of this thought starts here. Dan Kahan over at the Cultural Cognition blog found in his studies that, counter to his expectations, “identifying with the Tea Party correlates positively (r = 0.05,p = 0.05) with scores on the science comprehension measure.” Aha, take that Democrats! Except Kahan very clearly states “the relationship is trivially small, and can’t possibly be contributing in any way to the ferocious conflicts over decision-relevant science that we are experiencing.” So what does the Tea Party do? Runs with it anyways like the Democrats have done before.

This is dumb and has to stop. Using statistics with zero understanding of both the particular study and statistics in general is going to show exactly one thing: your preexisting biases. But more importantly, this arguing back and forth about whose group is “better” at science or whose group “accepts” more science is often nothing more than an attempt to be “good” at science by osmosis. If my group is better at science, that must mean that I personally am better at science, right? Or if I accept more scientific conclusions, that must mean I am better at science? No, and no. For example:

…there is zero correlation between saying one “believes” in evolution & understanding the rudiments of modern evolutionary science.

Those who say they do “believe” are no more likely to be able to be able to give a high-school-exam passing account of natural selection, genetic variance, and random mutation — the basic elements of the modern synthesis — than than those who say they “don’t” believe.

In fact, neither is very likely to be able to, which means that those who “believe” in evolution are professing their assent to something they don’t understand.

That’s really nothing to be embarrassed about: if one wants to live a decent life — or just live, really –one has to accept much more as known by science than one can comprehend to any meaningful degree.

What is embarrassing, though, is for those who don’t understand something to claim that their “belief” in it demonstrates that they have a greater comprehension of science than someone who says he or she “doesn’t” believe it.

I agree with Kahan. Accepting at least some of the conclusions of science–and authorities in general–beyond our personal ability to verify is essentially prerequisite to functioning in this world. But let’s not pretend that means we understand science merely because we accept it. And let’s definitely not make science into another piece in the age old war of “who is the better, smarter, and more handsome group.” If you’re worried about the state of science, I can promise you that even a large number of yahoos believing silly things won’t destroy science, but politicizing science most certainly will.

Understanding the Cosmological Argument

I try to avoid Difficult Run posts that essentially regurgitate someone else’s blog post, but Edward Feser’s So you think you understand the cosmological argument? constitutes the best post I have read on both the cosmological argument itself and the general state of philosophy in the modern Western world. I’ll highlight my favorite parts (it’s decently long for a blog post) and comment.

1. The argument does NOT rest on the premise that “Everything has a cause.”

Lots of people – probably most people who have an opinion on the matter – think that the cosmological argument goes like this: Everything has a cause; so the universe has a cause; so God exists.  They then have no trouble at all poking holes in it.  If everything has a cause, then what caused God?  Why assume in the first place that everything has to have a cause?  Why assume the cause is God?  Etc.

Here’s the funny thing, though.  People who attack this argument never tell you where they got it from.  They never quote anyone defending it.  There’s a reason for that.  The reason is that none of the best-known proponents of the cosmological argument in the history of philosophy and theology ever gave this stupid argument.  Not Plato, not Aristotle, not al-Ghazali, not Maimonides, not Aquinas, not Duns Scotus, not Leibniz, not Samuel Clarke, not Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, not Mortimer Adler, not William Lane Craig, not Richard Swinburne.  And not anyone else either, as far as I know.  (Your Pastor Bob doesn’t count.  I mean no one among prominent philosophers.)  And yet it is constantly presented, not only by popular writers but even by some professional philosophers, as if it were “the” “basic” version of the cosmological argument, and as if every other version were essentially just a variation on it.

What defenders of the cosmological argument do say is that what comes into existence has a cause, or that what is contingent has a cause.  These claims are as different from “Everything has a cause” as “Whatever has color is extended” is different from “Everything is extended.”  Defenders of the cosmological argument also providearguments for these claims about causation.  You may disagree with the claims – though if you think they are falsified by modern physics, you are sorely mistaken – but you cannot justly accuse the defender of the cosmological argument either of saying something manifestly silly or of contradicting himself when he goes on to say that God is uncaused.

The counterargument ‘so what caused God?’ is probably the single most common and the single most silly answer to the cosmological argument. And yet it’s so prominent that just a few months ago I heard Michael Shermer use it as a rebuttal in a debate at Oregon State University on the existence of God. I like to joke that asking ‘so what caused God?’ is equivalent to saying ‘I was asleep while my opponent gave the premises of the cosmological argument.’ Edward Feser goes on:

What [the cosmological argument] seeks to show is that if there is to be an ultimate explanation of things, then there must be a cause of everything else which not only happens to exist, but which could not even in principle have failed to exist.  And that is why it is said to be uncaused – not because it is an arbitrary exception to a general rule, not because it merely happens to be uncaused, but rather because it is not the sort of thing that can even in principle be said to have had a cause, precisely because it could not even in principle have failed to exist in the first place.  And the argument doesn’t merely assume or stipulate that the first cause is like this; on the contrary, the whole point of the argument is to try to show that there must be something like this.

The above, to me, has always been the power of the cosmological argument. The argument is not one of probability or likelihood. Rather, the cosmological argument posits an uncaused cause that must exist, and that no other possibility is logically coherent with existence. Onward and forward…
3. “Why assume that the universe had a beginning?” is not a serious objection to the argument.

The reason this is not a serious objection is that no version of the cosmological argument assumes this at all.  Of course, the kalām cosmological argument does claim that the universe had a beginning, but it doesn’t merely assume it.  Rather, the whole point of that version of the cosmological argument is to establish through detailed argument that the universe must have had a beginning.  You can try to rebut those arguments, but to pretend that one can dismiss the argument merely by raising the possibility of an infinite series of universes (say) is to miss the whole point.

The main reason this is a bad objection, though, is that most versions of the cosmological argument do not even claim that the universe had a beginning.  Aristotelian, Neo-Platonic, Thomistic, and Leibnizian cosmological arguments are all concerned to show that there must be an uncaused cause even if the universe has always existed.  Of course, Aquinas did believe that the world had a beginning, but (as all Aquinas scholars know) that is not a claim that plays any role in his versions of the cosmological argument.  When he argues there that there must be a First Cause, he doesn’t mean “first” in the order of events extending backwards into the past.  What he means is that there must be a most fundamental cause of things which keeps them in existence at every moment, whether or not the series of moments extends backwards into the past without a beginning.

I’ll be honest. I didn’t even know the above. I thought the universe having a beginning played an important role in the cosmological argument. Turns out, the universe need not have a beginning for the most important forms of the cosmological argument to be just fine.

Later on Feser switches gears to challenging materialism in general. I appreciate the critiques down there as well, but they’re too long to re-quote here. I’d summarize them as the following:

1) Non-religious people are just as potentially motivated by desire for religion not to be true as religious people are motivated by desire for religion to be true. You’d think this point is obvious, since we’re all human beings with preconceptions and biases, but on a regular basis religious philosophers are suspected of bias while the same standard somehow doesn’t apply to non-religious philosophers.

2) Metaphysical naturalism cannot be taken for granted as the ‘correct’ or ‘neutral’ view of reality, yet many philosophers do so, particularly philosophers who do not specialize in the philosophy of religion.

3) Science in no way proves metaphysical naturalism or disproves supernaturalism. Rather, the very common starting assumption of metaphysical naturalism causes people to circle science back around as ‘proof’ of metaphysical naturalism. I’ve also written on this topic before.

So there you have it. If you have time, give the full post a read.

The Sign of Prometheus

Thomas Merton has remained one of my favorite spiritual writers for some time now. I often contemplate one passage in particular from his writings:

The West has lived for thousands of years under the sign of the Titan, Prometheus, the fire stealer, the man of power who defies heaven in order to get what he himself desires. The West has lived under the sign of will, the love of power, action, and domination. Hence, Western Christianity has often been associated with a spiritual will-to-power and an instinct for organization and authority. This has taken good forms, in devotion to works of education, healing the sick, building schools, order and organization in religion itself. But even the good side of activism has tended toward an overemphasis on will, on action, on conquest, on “getting things done” and this in turn has resulted in a sort of religious restlessness, pragmatism, and the worship of visible results.

There is another essential aspect of Christianity: the interior, the silent, the contemplative, in which hidden wisdom is more important than practical organizational science, and in which love replaces the will to get visible results. The New Man must not be a one-sided and aggressive activist: he must also have depth, he must be able to be silent, to listen to the secret voice of the Spirit. He must renounce his own will to dominate and let the Spirit act secretly in and through him…

I have seen this attitude both within myself and within Western Christianity in general. We are the do-something Christians, the sons and daughters of Protestant work ethic (even when we’re Catholic!). And like Merton says, this attitude has its positives. We are called to live out our faith in works of mercy and education.

Yet more and more I have come to appreciate that all the work in the world is fruitless and possibly dangerous without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, without interior direction from prayer and contemplation. Without this guidance, we can go out and do one thousand things, and for all we know, all one thousand of those things are misguided, unhelpful, or just wrong. I think this is especially true in our everyday actions, where we’re running on auto-pilot or caught off guard. In those moments when we’re not actively thinking, whatever resides in our innermost being will come out, and if our innermost being is not attuned to Christ, something less-than-helpful is probably going to come out. And whereas people without any particular belief are only responsible for themselves, we affect how people view the entire body of Christ. The stakes have been raised. Our need for direction is dire.

Prayer and contemplation also do more than preventing missteps. We can focus in on the parts of our lives that really matter, that bring us closer to Christ, and discard what does not matter. We can lay ourselves bare to the will of Christ in ways that we cannot do in passing daily thought. Speak, Lord, your servant is listening. Truly, only from love of Christ can all good things come. We cannot earn it. We cannot win it. We cannot buy it.

How indeed those persons delude themselves who locate holiness anywhere but in loving God. Some see perfection in austerities, others in almsgiving, others in prayer, others in frequenting the sacraments. For my part, I know of no other perfection than that of loving God with all the heart, because without love all the other virtues are nothing but a pile of stones. – Saint Frances de Sales

The action attitude also bleeds into other aspects of Christian life. For example, how often have we felt, even though we know better, that praying isn’t ‘doing something.’  I know I’ve had this thought before. As a Christian, this has got to be the silliest thing I can think if I know anything about the Gospels or the Bible in general, and yet I still sometimes have to walk myself through the simple logic of prayer. If God exists, and if God is a personal God who listens to prayers and answers them, then prayer is doing something. I recall the words of the Centurion in Luke 7:

Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

The centurion says “I am a man set under authority.” In other words, I know how these things work. I will that something be done, and it is done. You, Lord, have ultimate power and authority. If you will it to be so, shall it not be so? So prayer goes. We need but ask and trust that the Lord will see it done, although not always in ways and times that we expect.

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light for my path.

So let us turn at all times and listen to what the Lord is saying. We live in a busy world, busy with works, busy with responsibilities, busy with the thoughts of the day. Let’s step back for a moment. What do I want done, and what does the Lord want done. I abdicate my will. Let thy will be done this day.

An Instructive Biblical Contradiction

I ran across a particularly instructive apparent Biblical contradiction while I was reading Mark the other day. Jesus’ disciples have just gleaned on the Sabbath, which is unlawful according to the Pharisees. Jesus responds to the Pharisees:

Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, when Abi′athar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?”

But we have a problem here. Abi’athar wasn’t the high priest during this episode of the Old Testament. His father Ahim’elech was. Abi’athar was present during this episode, but as a priest under his father. Jesus seems to have misremembered history, or possibly Mark (the recorder of this Gospel) or Peter (the traditional source of this Gospel) made a mistake.

A quick note before I launch into analyzing this passage. The first and most important goal of exegesis is understanding what the author meant, not resolving difficulties or attempting to harmonize the Gospels with each other or the Bible as a whole. An explanation that is logically coherent can still fail utterly because it doesn’t mesh with the speaker or author’s historical background and, most importantly, why the speaker or author would word a passage a certain way.

Anyways, the first layer to peel back is the actual Greek. In particular, translating the word ‘when’ here is tricky because ‘when’ in English conveys a more precise timing than the Greek word used (ἐπὶ). An equally valid translation renders the word “in the days of”, as attested to by other translations and ancient Greek sources.

Now speaking generally, Jesus has a reason for mentioning Abi’athar over his father Ahim’elech. According to the commentary from the Second Catholic Edition RSV New Testament:

Jesus probably mentioned Abiathar instead of Ahimelech to post a warning for the Pharisees. Abiathar is infamous in OT history as the last high priest of his line, who was banished from Jerusalem and the priesthood for opposing Solomon, the son of David and the heir of his kingdom (1 Kings 2:26-27). He thus represents the end of an older order that passes away with the coming of David’s royal successor. As Jesus compares himself and the disciples with David and his men, he likewise draws the Pharisees into the story by casting them as figures like Abiathar….Jesus’ allusion to this OT tradition was a subtle yet strategic way to caution the Pharisees against their antagonism to his ministry.

I read many other explanations online (here and here), but I find this explanation the most compelling because, in accordance with the criteria above, it actually provides a reason for why Jesus would speak this way. This manner of interpretation then fits in well with general scholarly understanding of the Gospels: If Jesus said something and the Evangelists mention it in their gospels, those words are mentioned for a reason. The Evangelists mention non-essential actions of Jesus (Like Jesus doodling in the sand), but his quotes are chosen more carefully.

This interpretation also has an added point to commend it: Jesus begins his story with a massive insult towards the Pharisees in saying “Have you never read…” The Pharisees, being learned Jewish men, would be incensed at the implication that they haven’t read the Jewish Scriptures. So he begins his story with a massive internet-worthy insult towards the Pharisees, and ends it with a not-so-veiled warning towards that same group. We thus have coherence of tone. We also have a case of Jesus being sassy, which for the record is more common than people seem to expect of Jesus meek and mild.

I hope this walkthrough was instructive. I don’t claim to have expertise in exegesis, but I figured an amateur with the backing of scholars isn’t too much presumption. Mostly, I wanted to show how even seemingly blatant Biblical errors can make sense without straining credulity given a little research. Overall, that’s the attitude I try to take towards all scriptures, even ones I don’t consider inspired (The Qur’an, The Book of Mormon, etc.). If they don’t make sense, I first need to check that I’m not the one who is missing something.

Livestreaming “Does God Exist” Debate

Michael Shermer will debate “Does God Exist” with Father Lucas Laborde today at 7 PM PST at the Oregon State University Socratic Club. The debate will livestream at the link below:

Speaker bios:

Dr. Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, and Presidential Fellow at Chapman University. Dr. Shermer received his Ph.D. in the history of science from Claremont Graduate University. He has authored many books, including Why Darwin Matters: Evolution and the Case Against Intelligent Design

Fr. Lucas Laborde is the pastor of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Portland. He earned his M.A. in Philosophy at the Universidad del Norte Santo Tomás de Aquino, Argentina, and studied Theology at San Carlos Borromeo Seminary in Rosario, Argentina. Fr. Laborde also spent five years as a Campus Minister at the Oregon State University Newman Center.

Tune in and enjoy. I will be at the debate in person and may even sneak in a question.

New Christianity and Old Imperialism

Catholic Africans have made themselves heard at the recent Synod on the Family:

What was new at the extraordinary synod—and what helped make it “extraordinary” in the ordinary sense of that word—was the emergence of African Catholicism as a major factor in shaping the future of global Catholicism. African synod fathers were among the leaders in challenging the Kasper proposals [regarding divorce and receiving the Eucharist], arguing forcefully that the Christian idea of marriage had come to their cultures as a liberating force, especially for women. They also suggested, implicitly if not explicitly, that bishops representing dying local churches ought not be exporting Western decadence to the Global South, where Catholicism was growing exponentially by preaching the truths of the Gospel with compassion but also without compromise.

And representation of Asian countries in the Catholic hierarchy is growing along with the numbers of Catholics in those countries:

Pope Francis has just named 15 new “voting cardinals” to the body of prelates who will elect his successor, and his choices represent a further dilution of the power of the Italian bureaucracy which has hitherto constituted the hard core of global Catholicism. The new cardinal-electors hail from a total of 14 countries; only five come from Europe, and the European choices are somewhat unconventional.

With the growth of Catholicism and Christianity in general in Africa and Asia, Europeans and Americans are also finding something out: The new Christianity is the old Christianity. The Christianity of Africa and Asia is not the intellectualized Christianity of late Europe. It’s the Christianity of the New and Old Testament, complete with belief in miracles, the power of prayer, the importance of communal worship,the existence of angels and demons, and in the case of Catholicism, all the traditional Church views on abortion, marriage, divorce, and other topics.

Catholicism and Christianity are growing into a more truly global belief with voices heard from all nations. All Christians should be happy, right? Wrong.

In the interview [Cardinal] Kasper tries to dismiss the opinions of African bishops (which need not be accepted in whole to be taken seriously) as the product of mere taboo:

“Africa is totally different from the West. Also Asian and Muslim countries, they’re very different, especially about gays. You can’t speak about this with Africans and people of Muslim countries. It’s not possible. It’s a taboo. For us, we say we ought not to discriminate, we don’t want to discriminate in certain respects.”

Cardinal Kasper then went on to say how Africans “should not tell us too much what we have to do.” Turns out, Cardinal Kasper isn’t alone in his views on non-European Christians:

Ekeocha perceived Kasper’s words as typical of the dismissals she has encountered as an African Christian living in Europe. She’s heard it before, and now she hears it again:

“Reading this interview brought much tears to my eyes and much sadness to my heart because as an African woman now living in Europe, I am used to having my moral views and values ignored or put down as an ‘African issue’or an ‘African view point.’ I have had people imply that I am not sophisticated or evolved enough in my understanding of human sexuality, homosexuality, marriage, sanctity of human life from conception, openness to life and the so called ‘over-population.’

So as a result, in many circles, any contributions I make in discussions are placed in second or third rung. How can Africa stand shoulder to shoulder with other cultures if our views are considered uncouth or uncool by a standard strictly scripted by Western, worldly and wealthy nations?”

So as a bonus to finding out the new Christianity is just like the old Christianity, we’re also finding out that, for all the talk of diversity and respecting different points of view, we have the same old imperialism. Europe knows best, and anyone who disagrees just isn’t enlightened enough. It couldn’t possibly be that Europe is decaying while Africa and Asia are growing and renewing, even though all demographics and personal testimonies point to that conclusion. It couldn’t possibly be that Africa and Asia are holding to enduring values while Europe is busy progressing itself into cultural oblivion. Which reminds me of a favorite C.S. Lewis quote:

We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.

I’m willing to bet Africans and Asians are the most progressive Christians on the planet by that definition.

Sitting is the New Smoking

A friend sent me this article, which I found fascinating. I figure the article is also a nice break from the generally political, socioeconomic, and philosophical bent of Difficult Run.

But wait, you’re a runner. You needn’t worry about the harms of sedentary living because you’re active, right? Well, not so fast. A growing body of research shows that people who spend many hours of the day glued to a seat die at an earlier age than those who sit less—even if those sitters exercise.

“Up until very recently, if you exercised for 60 minutes or more a day, you were considered physically active, case closed,” says Travis Saunders, a Ph.D. student and certified exercise physiologist at the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. “Now a consistent body of emerging research suggests it is entirely possible to meet current physical activity guidelines while still being incredibly sedentary, and that sitting increases your risk of death and disease, even if you are getting plenty of physical activity. It’s a bit like smoking. Smoking is bad for you even if you get lots of exercise. So is sitting too much.”

So inserting exercise chunks into an otherwise sedentary lifestyle might help control calories and weight but not the big issues like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, depression, etc. What I want to figure out next, then, is how can we help people who are essentially trapped by their job sitting for 8-10 hours a day? Will standing desks make a difference? Would trying to avoid sitting everywhere outside the office make a big enough difference? How attainable is a non-sedentary lifestyle for the population at large? The costs of poor health are real, making this research extremely worthwhile and also proving that not a single Difficult Run article can pass without tying back to economics or politics somehow.

Catholics and Polls

How often have we heard the statistic cited along the lines of “98% of Catholic women use contraceptives.” It seems come up every time the word ‘Catholic’ and ‘contraceptives’ appear in the same sentence. Here’s the original study.

There are some real oddities in this study, as people have noted since the study came out in 2011. I’ll highlight the two most prominent ones:

1) 11% of women are noted as using no method of contraception, and they mysteriously vanish from the math because only the 2% of women who are identified as using NFP are subtracted from 100% to reach the conclusion that 98% of Catholic women use contraception.

2) The data “[r]efers to sexually active women who are not pregnant, postpartum or trying to get pregnant.” So the study excludes women who are pregnant, postpartum, or trying to get pregnant. Since the Catholic Church teaches NFP as a way to space children, chances are NFP users are going to fall into one of these three categories for decent portions of their reproductive lives.

Normally, I would just put this case down as one more example in the ‘Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics’ folder. However, the proliferation of this statistic and similar statistics involving the Catholic Church are not simple mistakes. They serve a very clear purpose: To paint the Catholic Church as backward and out of touch with its members and therefore irrelevant. How do I know? Because this has been done before with abortion. Bernard Nathanson, a co-founder of NARAL who later became pro-life and then Catholic, lays out exactly what they did and why:

We systematically vilified the Catholic Church and its “socially backward ideas” and picked on the Catholic hierarchy as the villain in opposing abortion. This theme was played endlessly. We fed the media such lies as “we all know that opposition to abortion comes from the hierarchy and not from most Catholics” and “Polls prove time and again that most Catholics want abortion law reform”.

And the media drum-fired all this into the American people, persuading them that anyone opposing permissive abortion must be under the influence of the Catholic hierarchy and that Catholics in favour of abortion are enlightened and forward-looking.

Sound familiar? This tune is played endlessly on every issue involving in the Catholic Church. People who disagree with the Church are enlightened and forward-thinking. People who hold the Church position are brainwashed and backward. The Guttmacher study above even takes time in its short discussion to paint the Catholic hierarchy as out-of-touch and behind the times:

Even among married Catholic women, only 3% practice natural family planning, while a majority uses contraceptives that the Church hierarchy routinely denounces. This research suggests that the perception that strongly held religious beliefs and contraceptive use are antithetical is wrong—in fact, the two may be highly compatible.

I think it’s worth noting this tactic because it’s moving beyond the Catholic Church. I have been keeping track of the controversy in the Mormon church over women’s ordination, and the same narrative appears: The Mormon hierarchy is backward and authoritarian, bent on enforcing its will on regular Mormons. Those who oppose the hierarchy are free thinkers who want to liberate the church from its oppressive dogmas. This instance is even more obnoxious because, while I’m fairly certain a sizable majority of American Catholics use contraception (just not 98%), we know for a fact that the vast majority of Mormons oppose women’s ordination, and more Mormon women than men oppose it!

Any church that makes a habit of opposing the zeitgeist can expect similar treatment. So if people see some discrepancy between what they see in church and what the internet insists their fellow congregants believe, this is one reason why.

The Masculine Christian

…is probably not what you expect him to look like. Some of the more obnoxious misconceptions look like this:

“Week after week, Mooneyham uses the gospel to punch back against what he perceives to be a rising tide of emasculation,” the article reads. “He’s delivered a series of Sunday talks called ‘Grow a Pair’ and ‘Band of Brothers,’ and the church offers male leadership courses with titles like ‘Spartan’ and ‘Fight Club.’ He’s performed baptisms at Ignite-sponsored tailgate parties and instructed married couples to go home and have sex every day for a week. And there’s rarely a Sunday where Mooneyham doesn’t praise a big truck, a big gun or a pair of big balls in the same breath that praises Christ.”

…a conception so silly I don’t think I need to go into theological depth to point out its issues. However, I don’t go as far as some authors to discredit the warrior as a legitimate Christian archetype. The image of the warrior permeates scripture, and I believe for good reason. That being said, we must properly answer, “Who or what are we fighting?” Scripture gives some guidance:

12 For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Our true enemies are not people. They are, at very worst, servants of a darker power, and never beyond the redeeming power of God. We are fighting the power of Satan himself. And while I believe we are most definitely supposed to bring the fight to the external machinations of Satan and people or nations who would harm innocents, like I have said before I believe the internal battle is also of utmost importance and more often ignored. In that vein, I believe the masculine Christian is not a man who whoops and yells about balls of steel and guns. Rather, he is the man who brings the utmost violence upon Satan, in forgiveness, in hope, in love. He is the man who proclaims the Gospel, trusting his fears of rejection and ridicule to God, turning to peace and patience for counsel. That does not mean he cannot speak forcefully. Jesus had some choice words for the Pharisees and for Herod (“Go tell that fox [Herod]…”) . But we must measure our words carefully, ensuring we speak in righteousness rather than out of human pettiness or our own hurt feelings.

Now, even though I do not reject the warrior archetype, I do believe people are right to point out that the warrior is not the completeness of the Christian man. In particular, I like this thought:

And the simple fact is, when God created Adam he didn’t make a warrior; he made a gardener.

Gardening isn’t easy work. It demands great labor and—since the Fall—requires the sweat of our brow. It’s dirty and it’s tiring. It involves careful, perhaps even painful, pruning. Ultimately, it even demands recognizing that your work on its own is not enough. You need the sun to shine. You need the rain to fall. You need God to make something out of your own weak and feeble efforts.

And then I believe the gardener and the warrior imagery are beautifully tied together by the top comment on the article:

I think it’s worth pointing out that ancient Roman infantry were mostly farmers. The essence of masculinity is probably something like Farmer-who-will-be-a-Warrior-when-he-must.

The Christian man is the gardener and the reluctant warrior. Not reluctant in the sense of ‘I’ll never put my heart into fighting.’ No, if we believe we must fight a battle, then we must fight it with all our strength and conviction. But we must be reluctant in that our prime calling is not the battle. We are not made for unending strife. Rather, we are called to toil patiently for the salvation of all mankind, working to bring God’s kingdom to fruition while trusting in God to make our efforts worthwhile, and if there is any violence to be had, it is upon the powers of darkness, not our fellow human beings.

Say, where have I seen this kind of imagery before?

Relieving Existential Anxiety

Psychologists hypothesize Tylenol may relieve existential anxiety as well as physical pain.

New research shows Tylenol may have the unseen psychological side-effect of easing existential dread. The findings suggest anxiety about finding meaning in life and feeling physical pain may be rooted in the same part of the brain.

“When people feel overwhelmed with uncertainty in life or distressed by a lack of purpose, what they’re feeling may actually be painful distress,” said study researcher Daniel Randles, a doctoral student in psychology the University of British Columbia.

“We think that Tylenol is blocking existential unease in the same way it prevents pain, because a similar neurological process is responsible for both types of distress,” Randles wrote in an email to LiveScience.

Previous studies have shown that acetaminophen may also ease the blow of social snubs, and some researchers have argued that both physical pain and feelings of rejection are caused by activation in the brain’s dorsal anterior cingulate cortex.

“We’ve suspected that this brain region also is central in managing violations of expectations and errors, and as such predicted Tylenol would have the same effect on manipulations of uncertainty or existential unease that it has on headaches or ostracism,” Randles said in an email.

Admittedly the sample sizes are small, consist of pre-existing groups (such as college students), and the methodologies are… odd, but this research raises some interesting implications. My immediate thoughts, as per usual, go to the book Brave New World, which features the omnipresent drug Soma:

In the book, soma is a hallucinogen that takes users on enjoyable, hangover-free “holidays”. It was developed by the World State to provide these inner-directed personal experiences within a socially managed context of State-run “religious” organisations; social clubs. The hypnopaedically inculcated affinity for the State-produced drug, as a self-medicating comfort mechanism in the face of stress or discomfort, thereby eliminates the need for religion or other personal allegiances outside or beyond the World State; the book describes it as having “all the advantages of Christianity and alcohol, none of their defects.”

Now this is the point in my post where I flail my arms and yell “We’ve arrived in the Brave New World, just as predicted!!!”

But seriously, I think this research, if true, reveals one more aspect of the trend in society where, instead of facing problems, we ignore them in the hopes that they’ll go away. We distract, we medicate, we divert, we do anything but actually build the emotional maturity necessary to face life’s difficulties because that would require experiencing unpleasant feelings and situations. And now we have one more tool to realize that goal, at least as far as the emotional implications of our actions and beliefs.

Or maybe I’m just old and grumpy.