Saturday, May 26, 2007

A Picture of Jesus

I'd love to have a talent like this guy does...

Violence and the X-Rated Bible

The last three chapters of Judges (Judges 19-21) tell one of the most violent stories in the whole Bible. It's the kind of story that would get a movie rated "R" or worse, and that would cause me to avoid it and recommend others do the same.

Matthew Henry captures it well:
Into the book of the wars of the Lord the story of this chapter must be brought, but it looks as sad and uncomfortable as any article in all that history; for there is nothing in it that looks in the least bright or pleasant...

I have to wonder what purpose there is in including such a story in the Bible. What spiritual benefit is there to reading such a story? It seems to be a pointless and offensive description of appalling behavior by a bunch of mostly anonymous Israelites.

In North America we live in a pretty safe and stable society. We are mostly insulated from evil on the scale described in this story. We hear about such things on the news, but they often don't impact us directly. We are shocked when we are confronted with the things that happened at the World Trade Center, Virginia Tech, Waco, and Oklahoma City.

Our personal experience of evil is more abstract, more lightweight. It revolves around things like gossip, greed, lust, lying, overeating, and cussing. Now these things are sin, but they don't seem to rise to the level of the rape, murder, and kidnapping that we find in the Bible. We have a tendency to trivialize the evil in our lives and see our sins as mostly minor and unimportant. That's a dangerous attitude.

So, what's the point of the story of the Levite and his concubine? Perhaps it shows us what happens when we take things into our own hands and make our own decisions. We think we're good people, but then the Israelites were God's chosen people and look how they behaved when "everyone did whatever they wanted." (Judges 21:25) Left to our own desires we seem to make poor choices about moral matters. If unrestrained, there seems to be no limit to the extent to which we will allow evil to spread until we are consumed.

The only solution to the dilemma seems to be that we constantly strive to figure out what God wants us to be doing. Even this is imperfect, because we aren't able to fully understand God, and so we will regularly misunderstand his instructions. Still, this is better than simply doing what ever we want.

Here are what others have to say on the topic...
Why is there evil in the world?
Violence in the Bible
Does biblical violence cause aggressive readers?

Friday, May 4, 2007

If A Little is Good, Is More Better?

Here's another economics book for you... Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future by Bill McKibben. Now, I haven't actually read the book, but I did read all the reviews on Amazon so I can speak with authority about its contents. :-)

McKibbin argues that as a society, the West is over-consuming resources and endangering the planet as a result. To me this sounds a bit like The Limits To Growth published in the early 1970s by The Club of Rome. It made somewhat similar arguments about the coming demise of the planet due to unbridled growth. Most of those predictions have not come to pass because they did not consider the advance of technology and our increasing ability to produce. McKibbon makes a more subtle argument, but perhaps falls victim to a similar extrapolation error.

The really interesting thing that he seems to be saying is that "more" is no longer making us happy, and that perhaps there's a better way. On his web page, McKibben makes the assertion, "For the first time in human history, 'more' is no longer synonymous with 'better'—indeed, for many of us, they have become almost opposites."

This then is the riddle. Most of us would agree that the unrestrained pursuit of material riches is not good and will not ultimately make us happy. Yet as a society we seem to be doing it anyway. According to an article in Slate, "the country now possesses some 1.875 billion square feet of personal storage." This has grown by 75% in the last 10 years, and these facilities boast a 90% occupancy rate. On top of this, in the last 20 years the size of the average American home has increased by about 700 sq ft. We have bigger homes and still feel the need to lease additional storage space for our "stuff."

You you see anything wrong with this picture?

And, by the way... do YOU have a storage locker?