Weekly Must-Reads {2.12.14} | Creation, Masturbation, & Communism


Well, it’s been a good long while since I’ve posted a Reading List for you all to enjoy–too long, in fact. These were some of my favorite things I read this week. What were some of yours?


In defense of creationists | The Week
Michael Brendan Dougherty

I referenced this at the end of my post yesterday, but this is a stunningly beautiful piece that wrestles with humanizing those that frustrate us the most in the Christian family. A must-read for sure.

Escaping the Prison of the Self: C.S. Lewis on Masturbation | First Things
Wesley Hill

Don’t overlook this piece too quickly. It is an incredibly powerful piece that speaks to how all of us–married, single, gay, straight–engage our sexuality in this world. It showed me how having celibate unmarried people in the world is necessary for healthy marriages, as well as how masturbation ruins even good friendships.

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This is why Genesis was written (and Ken Ham doesn’t see it)

Bosch-Garden-Earthly-Delights-Outer-Wings-Creation-WorldIf my Facebook feed is representative of the general population at all, then I can confidently say that most of you have heard about the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye about creationism and evolution.

On this blog, I try not to get too much into issues of great contention in the church family when I don’t think it’s necessary, especially when I think it would unnecessarily prevent someone from reading this blog with a free conscience, or just mess with their head too much. But this is the one issue that I have felt the freedom to be blunt, bold, consistent, and loud about my opinion. So, I don’t have too much to add to everyone else out there that was more or less lamenting this debate more than celebrating it. Maybe I’ll have some thoughts next week coming at it from a different angle, but we’ll see.

Today, I wanted to share with you a video from the in-person portion of my Hebrew class a couple of weeks ago. To get an A in the class I have to translate, memorize, and recite a section of the Genesis 1 in the Hebrew. To help us with that, my professor made a video of him reciting it and acting out the recitation in front of us.
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I just had a war with my phone. And I won. [BRAGGING]

paul-droid-warI’m sorry. This has nothing to do with anything I ever talk about on this blog. I just had to share. I feel like I just reached a whole new level of nerd ‘lite-dom.

A couple of days ago, I dropped my phone twice in one day. Now, I’ve dropped my phone before, and there have been no problems, save for a scratch here or there. But this time, something happened, and I couldn’t click the power button in. I spent hours Googling solutions. I ended up being able to download apps to let me put the phone to sleep, and even use my volume buttons to wake the phone. But, if my phone ever died or otherwise turned off, there was absolutely no way to turn it back on.

I checked into getting it repaired professionally, but between price and time, that wasn’t a realistic option. I slowly began to realize I only had two options: start looking for a new phone (when this one still isn’t paid off), or take it apart myself and see if I could fix it.

I’ll admit it: I really like my phone. It’s a (take a deep breath) Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD. (What a terrible name.) I got it off Ebay for full price so I could keep my unlimited data. It has a great screen, amazing battery life, and it still running smoothly after a year or so of pretty intense usage.
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Good News! I have a new & improved Twitter user name!

twitter-home-paulLast week, I put up a post asking for some help. For the past few years, I’ve had a terrible Twitter user name. I told the story of this previous name, and asked for some feedback on getting a new one. Well, that was a real help, because most people confirmed that using my full name (or some mixture thereof) was certainly the best, and I had totally forgotten than Twitter accepts underscores (“_”) (thanks, Jake Belder). So here is my new Twitter handle:


Profound, I know.

Anyway, for some reason, i end up posting more on Twitter than I do other places (and being a little bit more honest and blunt than in other venues). So let’s follow each other and become best friends, 160 characters at a time.

Oh, and if you notice any of my other sites that I haven’t updated to this new user name, please let me know. Thanks!

Regarding Obama’s Surveillance Views

Listening to President Obama’s press conference today, as he outlined “reforms” to the intelligence-gathering if the N.S.A., I had this thought:

He’s missing that people aren’t simply worried that abuse might be happening in the N.S.A. programs. Rather, people think the programs themselves are the abuse. People want the programs changed and limited, not simply to be more awareness of them.

What do you all think?

I need a new Twitter name, and I’m at a loss. Help? (casual friday)

twitter-Good-BadHey, if you don’t care about the rest of this post, feel free to skip it and just follow me and Twitter!

Yeah, I feel a little narcissistic writing this post (that’s why I save posts like this for Fridays!), but I’ve finally reached the point of annoyance that something has to happen.

When I first went to seminary, I went to Westminster Theological Seminary, which is a Presbyterian school. I had a really good (who is recently engaged) friend from Lancaster, Pennsylvania that I had met in Richmond. He moved back to Lancaster around the same time I came up to Pennsylvania myself to go to school. And so, naturally, I made some visits to Lancaster to see him and meet his friends.

And so naturally, he had to give his friends a heads up as to who I was, and naturally, he said I was going to a Presbyterian seminary. And so, they just started calling me “The Presbyterian”. And then it became “Presbyterian Paul”. And then “Presby”. And then “PresbyPaul”. There was just one problem:

I have never been, am not, and will never be a Presbyterian. And that’s what made this funny.
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“Simplistic Atheism: a final response” by Daniel Bastian [GUEST POST]

de Goya-fight with cudgels"

(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

Well, it seems that we were not in fact done with this little series. After my final post, Daniel chose to take me up on my offer to have the final word (as I normally try to do in exchanges like this). He has chosen to respond, point-by-point, to my list of what things would lead me to embrace Atheism. If you feel like any of the points still demand a reply from me, or if you have any questions about what Daniel says, feel free to to comment here, on Facebook, or get in touch with me privately. For my part, though, I consider this particular set of exchanges finished. Once again, I thank Daniel for this exchange. I hope you enjoyed it as well.


When I initially decided to compile a list of criteria that would convince me my conclusion on the question of theism was wrong, I had sincere hope that a Christian, Muslim or other person of faith would tally up a corresponding register. I am glad to see you rose to the challenge and enrolled in this dialogue. It has been a wonderfully enlightening experience for me, and I do hope that sentiment is mutual.

I read your piece the day it was posted and while at first I found much of it persuasive, the more I reflected the more I realized it was probably the list I would have drafted two years ago, before I renounced my faith. Much of your criteria seems to rest firmly on the aesthetic appeal of the Christian narrative. And this would seem to slot right in line with your epistemological moorings-a concern for the communal connection, compelling force and overall mesmerism of a worldview over against its underlying facticity.

Yet it seems this only holds true up to a certain threshold, given a few of the items on your list. You seem to be OK with affirming the faith given its impact on your life, the power of influence you’ve seen it have on history, and the way it has shaped others with which you’ve crossed paths. But if you were to discover beyond reasonable doubt that this narrative was based on so much myth, that this loosely corroborated Yeshua the gospels are based on was a mere mortal (item #1), you would relinquish the faith forthwith.

Thus it seems to me that our epistemic divergence is one of degree, not of type. With that in mind, I’ll attach some brief notes beside the items in your list. Continue reading

A Christian & An Atheist: A Discussion [a table of contents]


I had the privilege over the past couple of weeks of engaging in a spirited back-and-forth with a good friend of mine, Daniel Bastian. Unfortunately, in the speed with which this exchange occurred, I know it was hard for people to keep track of the writings, the arguments, and the comments. And so, I’m writing this post in hopes of making it easier for people to follow. Here you will find a “Table of Contents” of sorts for the entire exchange, as it appeared on this blog.

Sadly, much was said over Facebook comments (and even blog comments) that cannot be sorted out and highlighted in their proper place. Comments on each post were scattered among different places and sites and posts, and so to try and consolidate them and make any sense of them for the reader would be nearly impossible. These long-form pieces will have to do, though I’ve provided the link to the Facebook comments when able, in case the interested reader wants to wade in.

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Simplistic Atheism {4}: What could make me an Atheist?


(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

In this series of exchanges with my friend Daniel, I’ve tried to argue that his Facebook post on why he is an Atheist expressed an overall view of the world that is too small and too simplistic. I think this is because of his empiricist method and materialist conclusion about reality–that all there is is what we can see, touch, feel, etc.

Some concluding remarks

My whole point has not simply been that Daniel’s facts or even his method is wrong. But rather, it finds its proper place, meaning, fullness, and possibility within the Christian view of reality. I have argued in each of my posts that Christianity does not “refute” reason, science, history, skepticism, textual messiness, historical difficulty, or even doubt. Instead, the Gospel encompasses it all, and each of those things find a greater fulfillment in their use, cohesion in the whole of the world, and reality within that place.

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“The Cocoon of Unfalsifiability” by Daniel Bastian [GUEST POST]

stone-light-hallway-cave(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)


I thoroughly enjoyed reading your most recent piece. It’s the best one yet in the series. You actually (finally) lay down some things we can really sink our teeth into. Something tells me you should have started with this one…

However, after the opening paragraphs my hopes were dashed as I found that much of the rhetoric here is beset by the same pitfalls that have been addressed time and again. Most importantly, (and what I will focus on in my response), is that the above piece suffers from what I will call the doctrine of unfalsifiability.

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Simplistic Atheism {2}: Science “versus” Theology


(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

I’m doing a little series this week responding to a Facebook post by a friend of mine named Daniel Bastian. He outlined twenty things that would make him change his mind about Atheism. The piece is well-organized and thought out, I encourage everyone to read it and wrestle through it themselves.

In line with my belief that these sorts of discussions always seem to end up at differences in hermeneutics (interpretive filters) rather than facts, I wrote a post talking about what appeared to be Daniel’s bigger commitments and understandings of the world, human reason, and assumptions about spirituality (also read the Facebook comments).

I was, of course, accused of still not engaging with his specific points, even as I sought to talk about principles behind the points. And so, I’m excited to say that with today and tomorrow, we will be hitting many of Daniel’s specific points
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Simplistic Atheism {1}: a Reason & Spirituality that’s too small


(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

Last week a friend of mine named Daniel Bastian posted a well thought-out catalog of the reasons why he is an Atheist (let me know if the link doesn’t work). This list includes items that don’t usually pop up in similar offerings, and I encourage every Christian to read this list and wrestle through the realities of what he says.

As I thought about it, though, and thought through how I would respond to some of these things, I found a consistent theme to what I would critique to each of his points: over-simplicity. In this series of posts, rather than going through each of the writer’s twenty points, I’d like to go through some broader ideas he touches on, and offer my thoughts.

By the time I was done writing everything up, I had at least four parts to this response. Today, we’ll briefly talk about how Daniel’s post represents an over-simplifying of human reason and spirituality..
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Make Amazing Poetry on Google & Your Bookshelf [casual fri]


We’ve had an intense week on the blog. It was my first week back to blogging each day. We talked about everything from engagements to suffering, from NSA surveillance to harshing everyone’s 4th of July buzz.

So let’s have some fun.

I fully believe that poetry is one of the most powerful forces in our world today. When engaged with fully, it can get around our normal defenses and speak to our souls like few other things can. (It could even convert you to Christianity.) I also try my hand at it time to time.

Anyway, I just wanted to give you all two unexpected places you can find amazing poetry to brighten up your Friday and send you into the weekend right.
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Trash Spotify, get Google Music (discount ends 6/30) [casual fri]


A few years ago, I wrote about my own personal, internal struggle over online music services. Well now, I have a winner.

I’ve told several friends about Google Music. For the past couple of years it’s been my go-to mobile music manager. Long story short, this is how it has worked: Google uploads your entire library of music to their own servers (a.k.a. “the cloud”) and then you can listen to it on any device with a browser (including iOS devices). This is absolutely free.

And it’s been amazing. I can stream my own music over my phone, I can go to work and play my entire library in any web browser on my work computer, and it syncs up with my iTunes for continued integration with all my offline music listening. And again, all this is free.

And now it’s even better (even though the name is ridiculous). A month ago, Google announced an expansion of this service, and it’s called (take a deep breath): Google Play Music All Access. Basically, what it is is the above Google Music thing that I described (now called “Google Music Standard”), plus a Spotify-like element built-in.
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Some random scribblings & musings on NSA surveillance

Blindfolded-ManIt seems that every few days, the basic understanding of the NSA surveillance leaks changes. At first, it was just phone records, but really, how many of us use our phones to call all that much any more? Then, it included nearly all internet traffic, but we were assured there were “meaningful safeguards in place”. And then, last week (to far too little fanfare) we found out just how meaningless these “safeguards” really are.

And still, the journalists at The Guardian say they are preparing their “next round” of articles, and so who knows where we’ll be, come next week.

To a large extent, this prevents truly meaningful and lasting commentary that can sustain a discussion for more than a few days. And so, instead of trying to do that, I will just put up some random, disjointed nuggets of thought on this issue; things that, hopefully, can offer us some food for thought. Respond as you like in the comments below.


I realized I’m a racist. I realized in the course of these leaks that I have some latent racism. The US government kept assuring us that these spy capabilities were not ever turned on Americans (this is false), but were only turned on “foreign entities”. It wasn’t until a day or so went by that I realized that whenever I saw that assurance, I automatically had an image in my head of Middle-Eastern “foreign entities”. This isn’t at all true.

We spy on our allies. Most of the spying powers are used on our allies, not on the “big bad terrorists” that we use to justify this surveillance.

Germany is awesome, but the NSA is suspicious. A new friend of mine who lives in Germany told me this past weekend that, in Germany, an employer is not allowed to see or know about any email that an employee sends, even if it is sent using the company’s own software, email addresses, computers, or servers. That’s crazy. I couldn’t imagine that here.

And yet, Germany is the European country that America spies on the most, conspicuously more than everyone else. Perhaps it’s precisely because they don’t make their data so easily accessible to America that we just have to go in and take it?

And so, it’s America’s fault that no one sympathizes with their Snowden woes. Edward Snowden, the leaker of all this stuff, is globe-hopping, trying to find asylum, and no nation is willing to arrest him and extradite him to America. American authorities, meanwhile, are flabbergasted that this could happen. If you’re a bully in the rest of the world, spying on everyone without their knowledge or consent, you’re not going to have too many friends. Do you, reader, feel America has a “right” to spy on everyone else? How does telling our allies that America is spying on them fall in line with “espionage” as Snowden has been charged?

Civil liberties vs. security: It’s not a compromise. Two parts of this one. Obama said over and over again that we need to find a “balance” to our liberties and our security. That’s not how the Constitution lays out our rights. Our civil liberties are absolute. They are the boundaries within which the government must play to “keep us safe”. They are the lines on the field on which the game is played. A sport is not a “compromise” between the rules and your winning. You are given the rules and boundaries and then given free reign to work within those to win the game, not try and change the lines and rules as you go.

Secondly, there is no compromise here. The NSA begins this “compromise” with everything, sacrificing nothing. And then tells us to “deal with it, we’re compromising”.

You’re 14 times more likely to be killed by fireworks than by a terrorist attack. Look at these stats. You’re also 9 times more likely, as an American, to be killed by a police officer than a terrorist. So where’s our “War on Law Enforcement” or “War on Fireworks”? Really. All this surveillance stuff was put in place to save us from terrorism which, in 2011, killed 17 non-military Americans. Is it because it’s working so well, then? Maybe, but even before the “War on Terror” there weren’t many American fatalities from terrorism. Far more from poverty, cancer, and other things that could really use the money that is otherwise being spent on this “war”.

Imagine this in the hands of the politician you fear the most. Even if you’re inclined to be in favor of these policies, you have to imagine this apparatus in the hands of whatever politician you fear the most. Maybe you trust Obama. Do you trust Michelle Bachmann with these powers? Lindsey Graham? Hillary Clinton? Nancy Pelosi? Whatever system you put in place has to be “leader-neutral” so as to be safe no matter who’s in power. That’s why we have the Constitution.

I’m actually impressed with Obama. I’ll admit it. I’m really impressed with the safeguards he attempted to put in place here. In a sense, Congress was the one that gave him these powers and told him “use this to keep us safe”. And you know what? It really seems like he tried to put safeguards on these programs. I completely disagree with where he drew those lines, but at least he drew some.

Lindsey Graham is the most vile, morally bankrupt and twisted individual with any semblance of power in this nation. I just needed to say that.

We prefer Daddies to Mommies in our Government. It seems to me that there is a sort weird metaphor here. Republicans rail against the “nanny” or “mommy” state that lets its citizens “suckle at the federal breast”. So the government can’t do those “maternal” things like support, offer security, educate, care, feed, and clothe. But then those same Republicans (and many Democrats) feel like the government must be as big and intrusive as possible to do those “paternal” things like protect, punish, admonish, assert influence and control, and bestow authority upon. It seems like many of our leaders think America should be a “Daddy State” rather than a “Mommy State”. That explains a lot.

There really aren’t meaningful safeguards here. Read this excellent and readable summary of what we know so far about these program.

You really should care about this. All of you. This stink about all this isn’t about people “not having anything to hide”. It’s about a fundamental shift in how laws are enforced in this country. The burden of finding crimes has always fallen on the authorities. They were the ones that had to search out and prove wrongdoing, and no one could incriminate themselves. In a sense, the system has been this: everyone is going to be assumed innocent; if you do something wrong and we don’t find you, then it’s our fault–you’re still presumed innocent until we prove you otherwise.

With these NSA programs, however, that changes. It’s no longer “we consider you innocent until we prove you otherwise”, nor is it even “we think you’re guilty until we prove you innocent”. Rather, it’s a weird ambiguous, unprecedented middle space where we are all considered potentially guilty and kind of stay there until declaring us one way or the other becomes relevant.

You do have something to hide. This is sort of a lame argument, I know. But still, it could be important. Plenty of studies have shown that as more and more laws are made, there’s more of a chance that we break them without knowing. One book even estimates that the average American breaks at least three federal laws a day. The way these NSA programs are structured is that if at any point in the future that there is a reason to suspect you of anything (whether you’ve legitimately committed a crime, you are part of some marginalized group, or even if you’re running for office!), the NSA can–literally–“rewind” your entire communications and online history and find something–anything–that might actually break a law.

History, History, History. It’s well-known now that Martin Luther King, Jr. was the subject of surveillance like this, and tapes of him and his mistresses were used to try and get him to stay quiet. J. Edgar Hoover constantly did this to political enemies. Occupy Wall Street had these powers turned on them, and I’m sure the Tea Party has. You simply can’t assume that you will never find yourself in solidarity (or at least agreement) with a group that this apparatus would never be turned upon. History shows that governments can’t be trusted with powers like this.

Living Room Toilets: The best metaphor I’ve heard about all of this. I was listening to a radio show and one of the interviewers referenced this, and so I don’t know the exact source (please let me know if you do), but it was about how the whole “I have nothing to hide” reasoning is silly. I’ll end with this.

No one has a toilet in the open in their living room. Why? Not because people have anything to hide in their bathroom. But simply because some things inherently deserve to stay private.

[image credit]08