2015-02-25

What does it mean to be Christian?

Left elsewhere, while discussing the meaning of the label "Christian":

About the distinction between "Christian is someone who is mostly a good person" and "Christian is someone who believes the Creed, and has repented and received God's grace.":  I feel like I've met this discussion before.
In Colonial America, during the lead-up to the First Great Awakening, many churches were struggling about how to define membership.
Most churches had charters which required prospective members to profess some sort of personal experience in receiving God's grace. A "born-again experience". Many of the original settlers had such a story.
However, fewer of the grand-children and great-grand-children of the original settlers had such a story. But they wanted church membership. 
A compromise was reached: some sort of half-way covenant. People who didn't live "notorious lifestyles" could become partial members of the church, even if they had no personal experience of repentance and receiving God's grace.
The Great Awakening ended this practice. Mostly because of the large number of people who repented of sinful attitudes, received God's grace, and gave glad testimony about entering into a new relationship with Jesus.
Tellingly, the mark of a Christian became "professes repentance, shows evidence of changed life and receiving God's grace". Instead of "doesn't live a lifestyle that is too far from our social norms."
(I may be over-simplifying the story...the history of the transition from fervent Puritan settlers to the half-way-covenant, and then to the Great Awakening, is a complex one.)

I'm not much of a preacher, but I'm becoming more and more a student of living out the Christian life. And I'm surprised at how little most Americans know about things like the Great Awakening.

The Great Awakening was part of a tumult of cultural changes. (Which may have sowed the seeds that sprouted, a generation later, into the American Revolution.) One of those changes was a re-awakening of the understanding that social respectability is not the key to being right with God.

This emphasis has been lost, and re-awakened, and lost again, several times in American history. The religiosity of the Second Great Awakening also heralded great social change. (Among those changes: a Temperance movement and an Abolition movement.)

Other, lesser awakenings of religious fervor have come in many regions of the nation. When social acceptability meant acceptance of slavery, a growth in religious fervor pushed against that.

When social acceptability meant arguing in favor of no-fault divorce, or relaxing the boundaries of socially-accceptable sexual behavior, religious fervor pushed against that also.

Not all such religious movements have been cultural winners in America. Nor did every part of American history see fervor like the original Great Awakening.

It is worth remembering that these things have happened before, even if it leads me to lament the confusion between socially-acceptable behavior and the life that God approves of.

2015-02-17

The past is a foreign country

While reading online over the weekend, I saw this post come up at the TOFSpot.

It's part of a series of articles on Hypatia, philosopher and social leader of Alexandria during the 4th Century.

Reading the careful review of original sources, and the historical narrative, reminded me yet again: the past is a foreign country.

Especially the past of Egypt, during late-Roman times.

The story of Hypatia is strange an interesting.

It is also a story that seems ripe to be embellished into an anti-Christian story. (Or anti-Catholic story, for those who don't recall that Alexandria was part of the Orthodox, and later Coptic, branches of Christianity.)

Mike Flynn does his best to demolish the simplistic, anti-Christian story about Hypatia. It's an interesting story, even for those people who are only dimly aware of Hypatia, or of the history of Eastern Christianity.

2015-01-13

Oddity seen on TV

Over the past few weeks, I've done a little bit of binge-watching of old TV shows.

On an old presentation of Top Gear, the team did a trip to the magnetic North Pole (or its 1996 location) in a special truck. The course they followed was roughly that of the biennial Polar Race.

The problems of traveling in such cold regions were many. Apparently, the Top Gear team was the first team to attempt to take a wheeled vehicle on that route.

The dog-sled was slower, but less hampered by the terrain.

The truck was severely hampered by thick fields of ice-boulders. Several times, I wondered whether they would have done better with a SnowTrac, or other tracked vehicle.

The thing which caught my eye the most was a downed airplane. The crew found what looked like a DC-3. James May correctly identified it as a C-47, since it bore the emblems of a military plane.

After some research, I found that the crash site was known. The crash was within a few miles of the (now-abandoned) Isachsen weather station. The airplane crashed during takeoff from the runway associated with the weather station. Most of the passengers on board the plane survived, and were rescued.

It was a surprising find.

I almost expected the show to contain a few jokes about Captain America. Then I realized that the Top Gear Polar Challenge had been filmed in 2007, and the film I was thinking of had been released in 2011.

I wonder if the sight of Arctic explorers happening on the scene of an airplane crash inspired any script-writers.

2014-12-24

Not your usual Christmas story

Local to me: a news story about a life-saving donation of a kidney.

From an unexpected source: the man was compatible with his own wife.

I first heard of this shortly before the operation, through friends and a list of weekly-prayers at church. While the blood type of the wife and husband are compatible, I highly doubt that the blood type is the reason that her kidney was compatible with his body.

Still, that is an amazing gift to give. And a very uplifting Christmas story.

2014-12-22

Holiday non-Blues

Last week at the office, I had a few conversations about holiday season. One of them went something like this:

[Co-Worker]: "What are you doing over the holidays?"
[Self]: "Taking a few days off. Maybe doing some minor home improvement stuff."
[Co-Worker]: "Visiting with family?"
[Self]: "Yes. Brothers, sister, and parent. Planning on visiting a special Holiday event at a local museum."
[Co-Worker]: "I thought you had a girlfriend."
[Self]: "I thought so, too."
{Pause...}
[Co-Worker]: "That's sad."
[Self]: "...somewhat."

It does feel kind of sad. The Ex-girlfriend, turned former-Ex over the summer, went back to Ex- status in early fall.

Though I feel a pang of remorse every time I hear a certain song on the radio, I don't feel a deep sadness.

Things could have ended better. And I still stumble, emotionally and mentally, over many things that I had been planning on sharing with her.

But the season isn't a season of sadness for me.

2014-12-16

Links to data: Rapes, reported rapes, and false reports of rape.

While I spent a week or two reading heavily on the (discredited) story of gang-rape at the University of Virginia, I found several interesting links.

This post, which is a decade old, discusses a study released by an internal investigative team at the U.S. Air Force.

This study, released in 2008 in the Annals of Psychotherapy, compares the same study from the Air Force to another study done by a Police department in a small Midwestern town.

Neither study is large enough to be applied to the entire United States. However, both studies provide false-allegation rates well above 20%. One mentions a diverse array of studies with false-allegation rates from 2% to 90%.

Another link: Instapundit notes the changes in rape rates as reported to the Police, since 1975. If women were less likely to report rapes in the past, then why is the reported-rate-of-rape so much higher in the 1990s than it has been since?

A final link: according to a crime-victimization survey by the US DOJ, college-age women are less likely to be raped if they are attending college than if they are not attending college.

All of these provide evidence that the usual narrative of "rape culture" does not match the reality that exists.

2014-12-11

Advent: a reader

A friend of the family sent this around on FaceBook.

It's a book recently published on the Season of Advent. Looks interesting, and worth acquiring.