An Epiphany About Liberty

A few folks in our culture prod us to restore our liberty, standing up against the constant encroachments of the federal government and the bankers who seem to own those who govern, driving their behavior.  I have certainly been among such activists, even in recent years, but my understanding of the situation has continued to evolve with further study.

What these “liberty movement” activists don’t seem to understand—and what I have not understood until recently— Continue reading

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To Critics of Home Schooling

With suspicion you question people’s motives for and methods of home schooling. You are fairly certain that something must be wrong with it. It only seems right to you, since what we do is so different from what you do. So when you see a home-schooled kid walking the dog at 9:00 a.m. on a Wednesday, it’s obvious to you that his parents aren’t taking his education seriously. When you see that another has time to be in several plays a year, it just affirms your suspicions that his school day is one of goofing off and that he sleeps in as late as he likes.
 
When you get around homeschooled kids, you like to quiz them, certain that they are not really learning what ought to be learned. And if you find, to your surprise, that they do know what you think they ought to know, you switch the game and label them as “nerds” or “geeks”. Surely, you must be right in one way or another—even if you can’t quite nail it down—that what is happening with their education is a travesty. You even think about reporting them to the authorities—not so much because you see any evidence of wrongdoing, but because it just doesn’t sit right with you that they are doing what they are doing. You really want them to be like you—perhaps even for reasons that you cannot explain.
 
So I thought I’d take a minute and give you some information that will help you—if you are willing—to understand what’s really going on in a great many home-schooling families.
 
We decided to be extravagant with our kid’s education. We decided it was worth a great deal to have it be as excellent as we could discover how to make it. We saw certain downsides to public education, and decided it was worth the risk and sacrifice to see to his education ourselves.
 
So we gave up a lot of things to make it happen. And I mean a lot. We gave up the typical American family lifestyle of 2 parents working full time. We struggle financially to make it happen, and it’s worth it. We don’t drive the new cars we’re expected to drive, or live in the new houses we’re expected to live in. Those things just aren’t as important to us as our child’s education. So we do without.
 
We also do without so many of the conventions that you find to be perfectly normal, while we find them to be needless or even counterproductive. We don’t tell our kid to quit asking questions because questions are disruptive to the rest of the class. We don’t force him (whether he is brilliant or dull) to operate above or below his potential on account of it being easier to manage him (and 20-something others) that way. We don’t read him books about books; we read him the books about which the books are written. We don’t fill his weeks with tests, but with learning. We can’t tell you his IQ (because we don’t know it), but we can stand by and let him tell you what he knows. We can watch him have a full conversation with a 2-year-old or a 92-year-old—forthright, alert, respectful, curious, and kind. And all this, while you insist that he is not properly “socialized”.
 
We are always teaching—at the grocery store, on the road, doing chores. We share with our kid what we ourselves are learning—what we wonder about, what we wish we knew, what we have discovered we are wrong about. We get our kid to look up things for us. We bounce ideas off of him and sometimes get some amazing input in return. We are learning partners—all together in a confederacy of life-long learning.
 
And we notice things. We notice fallacious arguments, inauthentic behavior, redundancy, nonsense, cognitive bias, misinformation, disinformation, presumption, bald assertions, double standards, and the like. We see such things all around us, and rather than to pretend that they are not there, we call them for what they are and avoid participating in them ourselves. This is where we are often at odds with what the rest of the world is doing, and yet even so, we ourselves are not invulnerable to such error. Where we stand out, however, is that we consider ourselves free to walk away from error, whether so many others take it as some rite of passage—something to be obligatorily tolerated while doing one’s rightful time in the societal traditions.
 
But we don’t just notice the bad; we also notice excellence—and we have made the time for it. We can stop at any point in the day to further examine an excellent point, and excellent idea, an excellent question. We can take the time to look up the song that was brought to mind by the lesson, or to check out whether our memory of such and such is accurate. We read from some of the greatest minds ever to live on this planet, considering their ideas directly, and just as they put them forth—as opposed to some version filtered through the mind of a textbook editor.
 
We take the time to talk. Our kid narrates back what he has learned, and we discuss it. At five years old, he would initiate, “Dad, can we talk about the government?” At 12, he is noting the fallacies in the TV commercials, in political debates, in TV preachers and the like. All this learning, these skills, these moments—they are all very important. They are also fun and they bring us closer together.
 
I’m writing a book about the philosophy of rational thinking and the whole family–including our 12-year-old has discussed almost every detail of it extensively for nearly four years now. We think about our thinking–which makes us odd birds in this culture, to be sure. We try to catch our own cognitive biases in action, and we do pretty well with it. We’re quite used to the idea that we’re going to mess up in thinking from time to time, so when we do, we don’t get defensive about it; we just fix it. We share this goal in common–to be in our right minds on all matters at all times. Formally, we put our paradigm like this: “The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, wherever it may lead.”
 
And that brings me back to the public schools that we have avoided by home schooling. It’s that “wherever it may lead” part that makes us such radicals. In public society, a great many untruths are silently swallowed or tolerated. Many know these things are false, and they put up with them anyway. They know the speech is bloviated rhetoric, yet they don’t call it out for what it is. They know the policy is hypocritical and inconsistently enforced, yet they will not insist that the policy be improved accordingly. They know that not all the kids in the class were guilty, yet they sit silently by while the entire class is punished. They know the rules are arbitrary, yet they do nothing to see to it that the rules are improved.
 
That’s the kind of mental compromise that we just weren’t willing to take. Another paradigm of ours is this: “Self correction is the rightful duty of all people.” Yet people from that culture think that WE are the strange ones. We broke free from it, and are not dependent upon anyone else to educate our kid for us. Even when we do put him in some class or lessons, we pay for it from our own pockets. This is how we do it—because we are not willing to tolerate the systemic problems of public education. To us, “free” is simply not an irresistible draw. In fact, our taxes pay for schools that we do not even use—the schools that your kids attend—the schools where so many systemic problems fester.
 
Interestingly, however, you who are just fine with those systemic problems—you who will tolerate them and not lift a finger to fix them—you are deliberately rising to action, not for a cause that is your own natural business, but for another: the cause of proving that there must be something wrong with us homeschoolers. You gloss over the occurrences of corruption and bad teacher behavior and ever-failing initiatives in the public schools, as if that were all to be expected, yet you dig to find some manner of fault with us home schooling families—as if it would be unconscionable not to get involved with problems, should any be discovered.
 
We do not spend out time by prying into the public schools to expose what all needs to be exposed there. No, we reached the conclusion that that was not for us, and we moved on from there to take care of our own business at our own expense. But this has drawn your suspicious eye, so you pursue us to accuse us of wrongdoing—adamant that the state would best be served if we were like you.
 
You should know that we are as put out by your overbearing suspicion and meddling as you are by our freedom from your conventions. In the mean time, however, we are very pleased with the results of our home-schooling efforts so far. We are raising a rational, responsible, and loving human being, and we’re doing it ourselves, as his parents. Although this has drawn criticism for years, no one has ever successfully demonstrated that it is wrong for parents to raise their own kids, and that it is better to hand them off to the government instead. Sure, you wouldn’t put it that way, but that’s exactly why you are so suspicious of us, it seems to me. Indeed, we do not hear you objecting that our son is smart, rational, clever, kind, respectful, conscientious, responsible, well-informed, self-disciplined, patient, wise, and can read an 800-page novel in under a week in his spare time (while your children are probably watching TV). So what else could it be? What else could be irritating you so much about us? It may be that that question will require a new level of honesty from you if you are to answer it accurately.
 
Meanwhile, however, we are raising our kid to be able to solve the very sorts of problems that you are helping to sustain and promote in your defense of the status quo. You THINK you want us to join you at the public school. You THINK you want us to “help fight for change”, even. But should we come and join you, you would quickly want us to shut up about the need for the schools to be honest, rational, and self-correcting.
 
Ours is a different philosophy from yours, and we were wise enough to see that and to part ways from the mainstream practices. If you really want to keep chasing us down to pick a fight, I could go on and on about what all is wrong with conventional educational philosophy and practice alike. I’m pretty sure you would not enjoy that exercise, even if you could benefit from it.
 
So perhaps its best for you simply to leave us be. We promise not to quiz your kids to prove to ourselves that their education is worse than what we provide to our own. And we promise not to call the authorities to tell them that we’re pretty sure something really bad is going on in your house since you send off your kids to compromised government schools, rather than seeing to their education yourselves. We respect that you are in the position of making those decisions for yourself. And even though we think our decision is better than yours, we do not make it our business to follow you around looking for fault.
 
So how about a little Golden Rule here? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Somehow, even though you continue to pry, I don’t really think that’s what you want me to do to you. But if I have got you wrong, and you really do think you’re providing a necessary service to me and my family by continuing to harass, I’m pretty sure you would change your mind after just a short time of having the tables turned in your direction.
 
If after all this, you’re still convinced that we are messed up and that your way of thinking about government-run education is superior, then here’s an idea for you: Why don’t you actually DEMONSTRATE that? Why don’t you actually do some studies and write us a book proving that your way is better? That, of course, would mean that you should resist the urge to cherry pick the worst examples of homeschooling you can find, while ignoring the veritable ocean of good examples. And that would mean that your findings would fall under the scrutiny of peer review. It would also mean that you’d have committed your argument to print, where any error in it can be on perpetual display for the world to see—even past the point at which it will have become obvious whether your own kids have turned out to be the excellent people that one would expect to be the outcome of an educational system that you taut as being so worthy of our investment. These are the same kids, mind you, who are currently bullying the homeschooled kids for being different.
 
And that brings me to my conclusion. While I have hopes that this short article might influence a few and change their minds, my primary reason for writing it was to encourage those who home school, lest they be worn down by your constant criticisms and challenges. They are doing what they think is right—and they are doing it themselves, rather than handing it off for someone else to do for them. You are actively working to discourage such people. And to what end? To make yourself feel better that you have done so little yourself? If you are so uncomfortable at having done so little, perhaps the better option would be to reform yourself, rather than to attempt to drag down those who have done what you yourself are neglecting to do.
 
We home schoolers are by no means perfect people, but we have done something you have never managed to do—and by and large, it is working quite well for us and for our children. We do it because we think it is right, and not because we long to be approved of by you.
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Facebook! Facebook!

Facebook! Facebook! Every day!
‘Tis here we while our lives away.
Posting, liking, sharing—we
Our vanishing humanity.

Posting memes, and sharing, too,
There’s always something more to do.
It’s oh such fun! And wait, there’s more;
Now potty time is fun galore!

And that’s not all; old drudgeries
Have now become our times of ease.
E’en driving, which was once a bore,
With Facebook now is so much more!

And endless hours once spent at work
Now seem but few. And he’s a jerk
Who ‘llows us not this Facebook joy,
But makes us work in his employ!

Posting, sharing, checking in.
Our lives have never better been.
Redefining “substance”, we
Now find it in the “likes” we see.

Schools are failing. Law’s astray.
Honor’s rarer every day.
Government’s stark raving mad.
Inflation’s high and times are bad.

Freedom’s waning; so are we—
This land of opportunity—.
While truth and reason, love and care,
And diligence are now so rare.

Now, I’m not saying it’s a sin
To chat on Facebook with your friends.
And maybe this will make you mad,
But I’ll explain how you’ve been had.

You’ve been sold a bill of goods—
This idea that our our children could
Have happy lives here anyway,
Despite the mess we leave today.

Sure, it’s tough to think about
Just what to do to work it out,
But you’re not thinking much at all;
Instead, you answer Facebook’s call.

Meme me this and meme me that.
Share your supper. Share your cat.
Share you party. Wave the flag.
Share your faith. Boldly brag.

Complain about the way things are.
Complain that things have gone too far.
Complain that “they” should have it solved.
But leave it there; don’t get involved.

Don’t right the wrongs or find the facts,
Expose the lies, or judge the acts
That really cause what ails us most;
Stay “positive” in every post.

One big, lovely country, we—
Our grand exceptionality!
No need to fret these woes that loom;
No worries for our children’s doom.

Facebook! Facebook! Every day.
It’s here we while our kids away.
Their future’s firm—that we pretend.
While here on Facebook with our friends.

Posted in Character, Parenting, Poetry, Politics, Religion | Leave a comment

This Week in Baltimore: A Showcase of Cognitive Biases

This past week has provided an excellent opportunity to observe people’s cognitive biases. The situation in Baltimore has prompted many to show those corrupted mini-programs of thinking that run automatically through their minds.

We have seen many various biases at work, such as the following 40 examples:

  1. All blacks are thugs. (With the possible exception of those who entertain us by playing sports.)
  2. All whites are racist..
  3. All police are thugs.
  4. All arrests of blacks by white police are racist acts.
  5. All arrests of blacks by white police are completely justified and proper.
  6. All people who get arrested had it coming.
  7. All protesting is wrong.
  8. I deserve to be violent and destructive and to steal because I am offended.
  9. If the police say it, it must be true.
  10. If it’s an attack against “us”, then it must be unwarranted.
  11. All criticisms against police are unwarranted.
  12. The “other side” can’t possibly have a good point to make.
  13. Even if the “other side” makes a good point, it cannot possibly weaken my position.
  14. I am right because of all these facts, and even if it turns out that these aren’t the facts at all, I’m still right.
  15. This is my opinion and I will not change it.
  16. All negative issues should be ignored.
  17. My side’s sins are less serious than your side’s sins.
  18. You are responsible for what your ancestors did—if it was bad.
  19. You are responsible for what people of your same skin color are doing now—-if it is bad.
  20. Because your skin color is different from mine, you are responsible for what is happening to people of my skin color.
  21. I am not responsible for what the government does during my watch as a citizen-overseer/voter.
  22. If people have been charged, they must be guilty.
  23. If people have been charged by someone who has an interest in the case, they must not be guilty.
  24. Any wrongdoing against a person of my skin color is the result of racism.
  25. The black cops who were charged in Freddie Gray’s death were exercising racism, too.
  26. Whatever the government does will be the right thing.
  27. Whatever the government does will be the wrong thing.
  28. Everything the media says is wrong.
  29. Everything the media says it right.
  30. Everything that my favorite news channel says is right, and everything that yours says is wrong.
  31. If it deeply offends me, it must be more important than issues that do not deeply offend me.
  32. Law and order is more important when it comes to keeping the public in line than it is when it comes to keeping government and law enforcement in line.
  33. Law and order is more important when it comes to keeping government and law enforcement in line than when it comes to keeping the public in line.
  34. I’m entitled to have one or more of these biases because I’ve been wronged.
  35. I’m entitled more entitled to have one or more of these biases than you are.
  36. Those people should overcome all their biases, but it is not necessary for my people to overcome all our biases.
  37. I pretty much understand how all my people think.
  38. I pretty much understand how all your people think.
  39. It is wrong for you to rush to judgment where I do not agree with that judgment, but it is not wrong for me to rush to judgment on other issues.
  40. No matter how much they say, my opponents have but one point, and it’s necessarily wrong.
  41. If I were wrong about any of this, I would know it.
  42. If I’m wrong about any of this, I’m less wrong than you are, so I deserve to maintain my position.
  43. If I admit on the record that any of these biases are wrong, then I show my fair-mindedness and I earn the right to continue to operate as if I believed in them anyway.
  44. Whatever I thought before, this whole Baltimore mess just confirms it.
  45. People of differing skin color will necessarily have differing characters.  The two are genetically linked.
  46. Racism is the fundamental problem in this whole mess.

The fundamental problem in this whole mess is that the American public stinks at thinking.  It is poor at logic and probability, it is loaded with biases such as the ones listed above, and even worse, it does not like to think, so it avoids reflecting on these things—cutting off nearly any chance to learn something.

This is the sad state that leads to all kinds of inhumanity and injustice, including, but not limited to, racism.  This is what leads churches to continue in practices that violate the facts of the very Bible they laud as the truth.  This is what leads people to support political parties that do not keep the promises they make.  This is what leads people to put off problems, rather than to solve them.

Right now, lots of people are mad at other people because of the “racism” being exercised by those other people.  This is not the foundation, however—not the core of the issue.  As it turns out, people of all skin color are vulnerable to this sort of cognitive laziness and error, and skin color is just one of many topics in which this lousy thinking raises its ugly head.  Meanwhile, however, many are pounding away at “racism” as a fundamental evil that needs to be solved—and they’re doing it without having solved in themselves the cognitive bias and error that we all must guard against if we want to be completely rational and honest people.

We are all prone to cognitive error, and yet we do not have to make any particular error.  We can learn to do better.  We do not have to be biased and stubborn people.  No, that’s not something we’re doomed to be; that’s something we choose to be.

To solve or to correct a problem is better than to persist in it.  But he who hacks at the branches rather than at the root is wasting his time.

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Pelham’s Rule of Screaming

Screaming is for emergencies. It is for situations such as those in which the dad needs to bring the gun, or for which the fire department needs to be called. It is not for play any more than dialing 9-1-1 is for play.

Screaming is not for playing tag.  Nor is it for expressing delighted surprise.  It is not for story time or puppet shows—not even for scary ones. It is not for a wasp flying in the house or a non-venomous snake being handled by the zookeeper. It is not for backyard play or water balloons or for the pool—unless someone needs to go to the hospital.

Screaming is not for events to which one does not mean to invite the attention of everyone within earshot.  So if you don’t want me looking over the fence to find out what your kids are screaming about, then you need to teach them not to scream in non-emergencies.

Children can learn the appropriate time for screaming just as well as they can learn the appropriate time for any other manner of speech. And they can learn this from a very early age. There is no need to wait until their teen years to teach this—by which time they would have learned it themselves from direct observation and reflection.

Screaming is for emergencies—quite like car alarms or road flares.  So if you don’t think it’s a big deal that your kids are screaming for 30 minutes in the McDonald’s Playland, then I hope you won’t find it a big deal if I set off my car alarm to honk for 30 minutes on the curb in front of your house, or if I toss a lit road flare into your garage just for fun.

No, I wouldn’t really do such things.  But then, I wouldn’t let me kids go around screaming, either.  And that’s pretty much my point.

Non-emergency screaming is a needless breach of the public peace, and I would like to think that this fact would be self-evident to rational adults.

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Assigning Blame in Baltimore

The Baltimore riots provide the cognitive/moral miser with an excellent opportunity to exercise his bias. He will condemn the evil actions of one party while excusing—at least in a relativistic way—the evil actions of another. And worse, he’ll probably be two-faced in that excusing—admitting that the acts are bad, but then justifying them as “not as bad” as what the other guy is doing. Continue reading

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At The Mid-Life Crossroads of Crotchetiness vs. Usefulness

I just turned 50, and as I get older, I realize that more and more things about the culture and economy I live in are inauthentic, twisted, harmful, deceitful, erroneous, ignorant, ineffective, inefficient, or just plain stupid. So I reject them.  Yes, yes, I understand that this is the point where many aging men edge over that slippery slop to become “old codgers”, but I refuse to go there. I refuse to invest the remainder of my life in sulking about what is wrong with the world. Instead, it is my rightful aim do two things:

  1. to solve problems and
  2. to leave the place better than I found it.

It seems the more I learn—the more I study and dig and research and do the math—the more answers and solutions I come up with—that harder it is to find anybody who gives a damn about any of it.  I have learned that I can solve a lot of problems.   Indeed, I have solved a lot of problems—even things that other assume are impossible.  That’s the easy part, actually.  The second of my goals, however, is considerably harder because it doesn’t just depend on me.  Indeed, there is a very serious problem with making the world a better place than I found it:  We live in a world that does not seem to want to be better.

Sure, everybody’s griping about something or other—which fact might suggest to the casual bystander that these people do indeed want things reformed—yet they are all also seen to be contributors to the very quagmire about which they gripe.  And there’s your problem.

When you work to find answers that nobody cares about—to solve puzzles that nobody else is working—that’s a pretty lonely business.  I can certainly see how old men who don’t even try to solve anything turn into old codgers, but now I’m starting to see how even the few diligent puzzle-workers could end up being old codgers, too.  It’s because of loneliness and the demoralizing realization that practically nobody cares.  And in no place is this truth as painfully obvious as among most of those who say they care.  Sure, they can say it, but I’m looking right at their hole cards, seeing by the reality of their circumstances that it is just a bluff.

I guess I’m a “divergent” of some sort.  Funny, but I grew up going to the same churches as everyone else, where I was told, like everyone else, that I should love the Bible.  So now I love the Bible and I have worked to solve a considerable many puzzles that often come up in the normal course of church business, yet nobody is interested in the solutions.  Where did I go wrong?  I guess I didn’t realize that I wasn’t really expected to love the Bible after all.  It was just empty talk.

And I went to the same elementary schools, where they taught me that I should have a great appreciation for heroes who would risk themselves in order to oppose injustice and tyranny.  Where I went wrong, however, was that I never figured out that it was supposed to stop merely at appreciation; somehow, what little Jack got from all those lessons is that we should be heroes today, too.  What was I thinking?!

As a result, there have been several chapters in my life where I took a stand against what I could demonstrate was wrong—and found myself standing alone or nearly alone as everyone else rushed to restore the sanctity of silence at the altar of the Status Quo.

I have been abandoned by the very world that got me started in this direction.

How ironic is that?

Or, alternately, I was handed the answers by a world that didn’t realize the usefulness of the answers it already had.

Again, how ironic is that?

While tens of thousands of problem-persistent preachers get paid to spin their exceedingly popular messages, there is simply not a sufficient market from which to gather a salary for mine:  authenticity.  And while many will be elected to public office this election cycle by popular support, nobody wants what I want:  actual reform in accordance with fact and logic and principle.  Indeed, when I write one political post, some friend shouts, “Jack for President!“, yet when I write the next, equally as logical and factual, he is certain that I am an idiot and promptly forgets his former euphoria.

It’s a counterfeit world where appearances are all that matter to most.  They wear their labels—things they fancy, like “Constitutionalist” or “Christian”, yet they don’t really care whether they turn out to be authentic representatives of those labels or not.  Not really.  And silly me; look how often I have taken the time to point out the ways in which one’s behavior and his label do not match.  And when I do, how often is the correction heeded?  Sadly, it happens almost …… never.

Yet that’s another idea I got from Sunday School—that our labels and our reality should match.  Apparently, some Sunday School axioms are like reference books in the library; they’re just for looking at while you’re there, and not for taking with you.  But I must have missed that memo, and nobody searched me on the way out of Sunday School to be sure I was not managing to sneak out with the lessons still in mind.

So where does this leave me?  Depressed?

No, not depressed.  But I must admit it’s quite a drag to live in this culture.  Life would be lots more fun if it were filled with life-long learners who share my paradigms, and who could be counted on to be working the puzzle, too.  I would be thrilled to find that my friends were doing their own work, and had learned things yet new to me.  What a glorious synergy that would bring!

Bitter?

Maybe, somewhat—at least at moments—but mostly frustrated over the senselessness of it all, and feeling sorry for people who are trapped in their own double-mindedness.

I figured out three years ago that the basis of our problem is that people do not routinely use epistemic rationality in all their thinking.  (Epistemic rationality is thinking/deciding/believing that deliberately jibes with reality—mapping onto the real world accurately.) This explains why a guy thinks it’s a mortal sin for that nasty Demublican Party to violate the Constitution, while he views his own Republicrat Party’s violation of it to have been defensible since it was “for a good cause”.  This is why you can’t reform anybody’s political  thinking—because like a 7-year-old constantly changing the rules to his own advantage while playing Go Fish!, they think in whatever way is necessary to maintain their existing beliefs—however smart or stupid those beliefs may be.  Nobody ever taught them to think responsibly.

And God help them when people like this get hold of the Bible.  They don’t care what all it says; they just care if they can find nuggets here and there that seem to suit them—at least when snatched from their context into this make-believe context of the modern-day 5,000-branded monster called “The Church”.

So what am I going to do now?

I’m going to finish writing my book this year:  Reality-Based Thinking:  How everyone—including you—can think better.  And then I’m going to write a companion study book because I’m utterly convinced—and please don’t tell the churches this—that the Bible is packed with information about the kind of high-end thinking that God expects from righteous people.  And whaddayaknow, that thinking has features such as responsibility, fairness, logic, evidence, diligence, comparison/contrast, truth/honest/reality, self-discipline, and so forth—just like epistemic rationality.  That book will be entitled What the Bible Says About Thinking.  In short, it will consist mostly of a boatload of excerpts from the Bible, highlighting these various aspects of godly thinking.  It’s ironic, of course, because all those passages are already quite available in the Bible—the same place I’ll be getting them from—so basically, it looks like I’ll be pulling them out for people who are too apathetic on the subject to find them for themselves.  But I have in mind also the potential reader who has decided that the Bible is probably stupid because he sees too many “Bible believers” acting stupidly.  Perhaps he will find the title intriguing.

Further, I have in mind for this book the reader who finds himself alone at church—believing that things should be rational in a church culture that is often irrational.

So that’s what I’m going to do now.  I’m going to finish these books and self publish them and see who all they might help.  And that’s a far cry from wasting away my latter years as a crotchety, old complainer.  If I can help even ten people, I will have truly helped them with the most fundamental lessons of life–things I have learned the hard way.  They will be grateful for the help, and I will be grateful for their company.

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How Would You Like To Be Executed Over NOT Being Upset About Something?

Once upon a time, in the day of the prophet Ezekiel, the city of Jerusalem was in great sin, with many abominations being committed in it.  God called for a man and said to him:

Ezekiel 9:4  “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.

And he said to six executioners: Continue reading

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Is Error a Serious Problem For Christians?

“Everybody makes mistakes!,” someone will say.

“Nobody’s perfect!,” chimes in another.

At this, most Christians nod along and satisfy themselves that that’s all there is to it.  That is, that making mistakes is simply not a serious problem for the Christian.  That’s what they tell themselves, and the moment they do it, all manner of passages about God’s grace and forgiveness come to mind, settling all over again in their minds what they had already settled—the idea that their mistakes are just not very important.

As with many things in Christian doctrine, however, it’s not that simple.  And who says so?  Well, the Bible.  That’s who.

Let’s take a look at a few passages about error and mistake that the casual Bible student may have never found or considered.  You’ll find my brief notes in red after each passage:

Numbers 15:28 And the priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the person who makes a mistake, when he sins unintentionally, to make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven.
Even unintentional error was considered a sin under the Old Covenant, and had to be atoned for.  Yes, God would forgive it, but only, it seems, if it were atoned for.  When we make errors, do we think they are such casual things that nothing need be done about them?  Do we assume that they will be forgiven automatically by God?  Or do we rather approach him in order to address the matter with some appropriate sense of gravity and repentance?

2 Samuel 6:7  And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. 
Uzzah is the one who had done quite a natural thing; he reached out to steady the Ark of the Covenant when it appear that it was going to topple off the cart on which it was being moved.  His error was that he did not know about, or did not follow, God’s decree that no one was to touch the Ark.

Job 4:18  Even in his servants he puts no trust,
    and his angels he charges with error;
19 how much more those who dwell in houses of clay,
    whose foundation is in the dust,
    who are crushed like the moth.
If God charges even his servant angels with error, then he will certainly also charge humans with error.  That seems to be the reasoning being voiced here.  (See 2 Peter 2:4-10 and Jude 1:6-7.)

Isaiah 32:6 For the fool speaks folly, and his heart is busy with iniquity, to practice ungodliness, to utter error concerning the Lord, to leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied, and to deprive the thirsty of drink.
Here, uttering error concerning God does not seem to be the simple mistake of the upright, but the work of fools.  How many preachers and teachers today make errors in their teaching about God?  The problem is of epidemic proportions.

Ezekiel 45:20 You shall do the same on the seventh day of the month for anyone who has sinned through error or ignorance; so you shall make atonement for the temple.
Under the Law of Moses, atonement was required for sins that came about because of error or ignorance.  Would these no longer be sins once the New Covenant was established?
I have to stop here and point out that ignorance is shown here as just as serious a problem as error.  Few believers recognize that God expected his people to know some things in both the Old and New Covenants.  Instead, ignorance is considered a non-sin today by a great many people.

Daniel 6:4  Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him.
Not even Daniel’s critics could find an error in him.  We should be careful to notice that Daniel was a human—even a human under the Old Covenant.  We must allow for the idea, therefore, that diligent believers can indeed–at least under some circumstances–reach a level of knowledge and righteousness at which they no longer operate in error. To pretend otherwise is to dishonestly dismiss the evidence in this passage.

Romans 1:27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
Here we see, in the first of our New Testament passages on this subject, that there was a penalty associated with at least this particular error.

1 Thessalonians 2:3  For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.
Paul assured his audience at Thessalonica that his message did not spring from error, but had been entrusted to him by God.  This was worth noting, as the rest of the world’s philosophy was indeed based in error, as the next passage below will show.  If the message did not issue forth from error, then with what level of diligence and care was it to be properly received?

2 Peter 2:18  For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error.
The apostles made it clear many times that the Christians were being called out of the world, and here we see that world being categorized as one that lived in error.

2 Peter 3:17  You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.
The error of the world was not something to be taken lightly, but something to be carefully avoided.  And those Christians who did not avoid it would be “carried away” and would lose their stability.  Is error any less serious today?

1 John 4:6  We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
This one is quite interesting as it seems to take error to a higher level of importance than so many might casually assign it today.  Here, John seems to set error apart as being some of the main business of the spiritual forces that were busy opposing God.  On the other side of that “error” coin, he offers up the “Spirit of truth”, which we can readily identify as the Holy Spirit because of our knowledge of the rest of the scriptures.  This makes it very hard to dismiss error as a mere inconvenience or bother or trifle for the believer.  Rather, it seems to elevate it to a matter of very high importance and seriousness.

There’s really nothing to be added to these passages; they speak quite strongly on this matter—and directly.  We don’t really need to infer much at all to understand this topic with an actionable understanding.

So many, however, do not.  So many believers today, it seems, do not believe that the topic of error is one with which they need concern themselves.  There’s a great quote that has been derived from something Winston Churchill once wrote in a letter:

“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.”

This is how it is with so very many believers today.  They will stumble across some passage in the Bible that flatly disagrees with some point of doctrine or practice that the believer has been holding to for quite some time.  Yet when they discover it, they do nothing of any consequence about it.

I’ve been watching this particular habit for a number of years now because it has become quite natural to the experience of sharing my Bible study findings with others.  For example, where many will tell you that the “foreign gods” of the Old Testament weren’t really gods at all—that they weren’t even real beings at all, but were just imagined entities that stupid idol worshipers were using for make-believe—I would find passages like this one:

Psalm 82

God has taken his place in the divine council;
    in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly
    and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
    maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
    deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
    they walk about in darkness;
    all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

I said, “You are gods,
    sons of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, like men you shall die,
    and fall like any prince.”

Arise, O God, judge the earth;
    for you shall inherit all the nations!

Here is Yahweh speaking to beings that he himself calls “gods”.  And these gods are clearly not inanimate idols, for he charges them with wrongdoing, explains to them what they should have been doing instead, and pronounces a death sentence on them, telling them that they would “die like men”, the fairly obvious alternative to which is to remain immortal.

But what do most believers do when they stumble across this new information?  Most whom I have observed simply pick themselves up and hurry off with rarely more than a “that’s interesting”.  Then the next time you hear them speaking on the subject of the “foreign gods”, you are apt to witness that they’re still engaging the same error with which they started.

If I understand the Bible correctly, that’s going to be a problem for these folks.  I know a great many people who are exceedingly nice and kind, and who have many admirable qualities, but who are dumb as a brick with regard to correcting themselves out of error—even once they have been told about it.

What’s up with that?

Apparently, they don’t think it’s as important as God does—which is itself an error!

 

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Love and Truth Go Together

We make many errors in life, so it’s no particular surprise when we make errors in the way we understand the teachings of the Bible.  If you ask some random believers what is the most important aspect of the Christian faith, it certainly won’t be long until you start hearing “love” in response to this question.  The idea of the importance of love has permeated our culture, even so far as to prompt the Beatles title, Love Is All You Need.  Our culture is filled with this and similar messages, and consequently, our churches are, too.

Obviously, the churches should be filled with the idea of the importance of love, for the Bible is filled with it.  The question, however, is whether the notion the churches have of love is the same as the notion held by the Bible’s authors and ultimately, by God himself.  So let’s take a look at what the world thinks about love, and then we’ll see what God says about it.  I’m going to give you a hint about the latter so that you can keep it in mind as you read about the former:  Godly love includes the element of truth. Continue reading

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