Elsewhere, September 27, 2010

Elsewhere: A collection of interesting links and articles that I’ve come across in the last week or so. Follow me on Twitter for more of the same.

Kathryn Applegate: “Sin in the Church”

On the Day of Judgment, we won’t be judged by how we interpreted the days of Creation in Genesis 1, but by how deeply we loved the Creator and cared for his Creation — including one another. Unfortunately, we live in a fallen, broken world. There is no perfect church, no fully Christ-like Christian. I have to repent daily for preferring my own “kingdom” to God’s, and for not loving others above myself. But rather than feel despair at my failings, I feel a tremendous sense of assurance and hope because I have an unfailing advocate in Jesus Christ.

IO9: “The haunting beauty of abandoned playground rockets”

Once, these rocket ships helped countless schoolchildren to conquer the vast reaches of space. Now, they look like a good way to get tetanus, with their rusty distressed metal. Photographer Lauren Orchowski’s new book Rocket Science documents their beautiful decrepitude.

Joe Carter: “Under Which God?”

America has done a fine job of incorporating Rousseau’s “dogmas of civil religion,” keeping them “few, simple, and exactly worded.” We have restricted such sentiments to the most unobtrusive areas, allowing “In God We Trust’ to be printed on our coins and the phrase “under God” into our Pledge of Allegiance. We allow recognition for a “Divinity, possessed of foresight and providence.”

What we don’t allow is the recognition of the Christian God. And that is what should give Christians pause.

There is a vast and unbridgeable chasm between America’s civil religion and Christianity. If we claim that “under God” refers to the Christian conception of God, we are either being unduly intolerant or, more likely, simply kidding ourselves. Do we truly think that the Hindu, Wiccan, Muslim, or Buddhist American is claiming to be under the same deity as we are?

This is why I have so many issues with calling America a “Christian” nation.

Joe Carter: “Founding Believers”

The leaders during the revolutionary era may have subscribed to a Judeo-Christian view of morality, but few of them were orthodox believers. The majority subscribed to a religious view that we would nowadays classify as Unitarianism. A rejection of Trinitarianism clearly puts one outside the bounds of orthodox Christianity. We should not claim that a historical figure is a Christian when he held heretical views of the central Christian dogma.

However, while we Christians can claim few founding fathers as fellow believers, the atheists and secularists can claim none. Not one of the significant leaders was an atheist, much less subscribed to the modern idea of secularism.


The views of the Deistic founding fathers would have been as repugnant to the modern secularist as those of the so-called Religious Right. The founding believers considered belief in a deity to be necessary for good citizenship, believed in intelligent design, had few qualms about establishment of state churches, and took a low view of atheists. They might not pass muster as orthodox Christians, but if they were around today they would considered theocrats.

Ed Bott: “Internet Explorer 9 beta review: Microsoft reinvents the browser”

Internet Explorer 9 represents a nearly complete break with the past for Microsoft. It is the most standards-compliant browser Microsoft has ever created, with nearly complete support for the CSS3 and HTML5 standards. Smart, forward-thinking developers, Microsoft argues, will be able to write their markup for a web page once and be confident that it will work the same in IE9 as it does in any modern browser.


Ironically, the very best candidates for this beta are those who use Windows 7 but gave up on Internet Explorer in favor of another browser. In that scenario, you can continue using Firefox or Chrome or Opera and use IE9 as a backup browser. You can even create pinned site shortcuts to run some sites in IE9 without affecting your default browser choice. It’s an ideal testing scenario.

Personally, I find the performance and usability improvements in IE9 nearly irresistible. They easily outweigh the minor rendering issues and incompatibilities with some sites. If you’re a happy IE8 user, I predict you’ll be just as impressed with IE9 as I am.

Whatever else I may think of IE9 — I haven’t used the beta yet — I do find it impressive how much Microsoft is trimming down and streamlining the browser’s UI.

Doug Cummings: “Collective Memory, Shifting Moods: Tarkovsky’s THE MIRROR”

Long before Christopher Nolan was plotting time and memory, narrative filmmakers were experimenting with film’s linear, imagistic qualities to express deeper psychological truths; one such masterpiece is Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Mirror (1974). Long in development starting in the mid-’60s, the film — co-written by Alexander Misharin and originally intended to focus on an interview with Tarkovsky’s mother — went through a series of titles (Bright, Bright Day and Confession), rewrites, and at least twenty-one different edits before becoming the form we know today. This was a film Tarkovsky intuitively constructed as he both resisted and appeased the Soviet censors, who requested numerous changes, culminating in the decidedly ambiguous: “Relieve the entire film of mysticism.”

Alok Jha: “Pope’s astronomer says he would baptise an alien if it asked him”:

Guy Consolmagno, who is one of the pope’s astronomers, said he would be “delighted” if intelligent life was found among the stars. “But the odds of us finding it, of it being intelligent and us being able to communicate with it — when you add them up it’s probably not a practical question.”

Speaking ahead of a talk at the British Science Festival in Birmingham tomorrow, he said that the traditional definition of a soul was to have intelligence, free will, freedom to love and freedom to make decisions. “Any entity — no matter how many tentacles it has — has a soul.” Would he baptise an alien? “Only if they asked.”


Consolmagno curates the pope’s meteorite collection and is a trained astronomer and planetary scientist at the Vatican’s observatory. He dismissed the ideas of intelligent design — a pseudoscientific version of creationism. “The word has been hijacked by a narrow group of creationist fundamentalists in America to mean something it didn’t originally mean at all. It’s another form of the God of the gaps. It’s bad theology in that it turns God once again into the pagan god of thunder and lightning.”

Robert Wright: “The Meaning of the Koran”

…however big a role the Internet plays, it’s just amplifying something human: a tendency to latch onto evidence consistent with your worldview and ignore or downplay contrary evidence.

This side of human nature is generally labeled a bad thing, and it’s true that it sponsors a lot of bigotry, strife and war. But it actually has its upside. It means that the regrettable parts of the Koran — the regrettable parts of any religious scripture — don’t have to matter.

After all, the adherents of a given religion, like everyone else, focus on things that confirm their attitudes and ignore things that don’t. And they carry that tunnel vision into their own scripture; if there is hatred in their hearts, they’ll fasten onto the hateful parts of scripture, but if there’s not, they won’t. That’s why American Muslims of good will can describe Islam simply as a religion of love. They see the good parts of scripture, and either don’t see the bad or have ways of minimizing it.

So too with people who see in the Bible a loving and infinitely good God. They can maintain that view only by ignoring or downplaying parts of their scripture.

If this is your method of Biblical exegesis, you’re doing it wrong.

The Internet Monk: “The Myth of Independence”

With just a moment of thought, it becomes obvious that we take an extraordinary number of things for granted with each breath we take, with each simple act we perform. We fail to appreciate how dependent we are every moment of every day on billions of things beyond our control. We also fail to grasp what amazing complexity lies behind the simple statement, “God blessed me.”

If we would realize for one instant how vast and intricate the web is that leads to us enjoying the blessings of life, we would never hear the words, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life” in the same way again.

Yaron Brook and Onkar Ghate: “Our moral code is out of date”

Ask someone on the street to name a moral hero; if he isn’t at a loss, he’ll likely name someone like Jesus Christ or Mother Teresa. Why? Because they’re regarded as people of faith who shunned personal profit for the collective good. No one would dream of naming Galileo, Darwin, Thomas Edison or John D. Rockefeller.

Yet we should. It is they, not the Mother Teresas of the world, that we should strive to be like and teach our kids the same.

If morality is judgment to discern the truth and courage to act on it and make something of and for your own life, then these individuals, in their capacity as great creators, are moral exemplars. Put another way, if morality is a guide in the quest to achieve your own happiness by creating the values of mind and body that make a successful life, then morality is about personal profit, not its renunciation.


If morality is about the pursuit of your own success and happiness, then giving money away to strangers is, in comparison, not a morally significant act. (And it’s outright wrong if done on the premise that renunciation is moral.)

Those are some mighty big “if“s there.

Phillip Longman: “The Death of the Fittest”

Deeply influenced by Thomas Malthus’ theories of over-population, Darwin believed (and many high school biology textbooks still teach) that all organisms will breed up to the limits of their available resources if given a chance. From this premise follows Darwin’s concept of “the struggle of existence” — or as it was later popularized, “the survival of the fittest.” Whether talking about micro-organisms or man, the competition and death brought on by population pressure means only the fittest stand much chance of producing surviving offspring, which is supposed to be the prime mechanism by which evolution occurs.

Yet here is a curious fact we do not dwell upon enough. In today’s world, the best-fed, most prosperous, and seemingly “adapted” people are the least likely to have descendants. This is true even though the comparatively few children of the affluent are generally more likely to survive to adulthood and to be materially advantaged.

As with individuals, so with nations. Indeed, among many of the world’s richest, most industrialized countries, such as Japan and Germany, birthrates have fallen to well below the levels necessarily to prevent ongoing population decline. In the United States, meanwhile, close to one out of five Baby Boomers never had children, and another 17 percent only had one, despite experiencing a higher material standard of living and better health status than any generation in history.

What is going on? It’s strange that Darwin assumed that humans have a natural tendency to overpopulate unless checked by hunger, war, or disease. After all, what today’s demographers call “sub-replacement fertility” is hardly just a phenomenon of modern times. Indeed, it has always been strongly associated with luxury and abundance.

The whole article is intriguing, though I wish Longman had spent a little more time exploring the ideas that appear in the final paragraphs, i.e., “it is more often expanded luxury that turns the cycle toward decline.”

Roger Johansson: “A good CMS gives you total markup freedom”

A CMS should never, ever output HTML that is beyond the control of the developer. Every single tag and attribute should be possible to change by modifying templates or providing settings in function calls. If you have to use regular expressions and output buffers to get the HTML you want, something is wrong with the CMS. If you have to become a PHP or ASP.NET expert or install “cleanup plugins” to get the HTML you want, something is seriously wrong with the CMS.

This is one of the many reasons why I use ExpressionEngine.

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