Monthly Archives: July 2010

My butt is allergic to Church pews.

“The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.” – Alfred Hitchcock.

I believe Mr Hitchcock was right.

I also think that we can say something similar in regards to sermons in church:

“The length of a sermon should be directly related to the endurance of the human butt.” -Wes Widner

Sadly, judging from my butt’s endurance I would be forced to conclude that sermons should not be longer than 5 minutes.

Yes, 5 minutes.

That is about how long it takes for me to start to doze off whenever I am seated in a Church pew quietly staring at the back of the person in front of me’s head, listening to a preacher deliver “God’s word” to “his congregation”.

Why is it that God gives so many preachers so many dreadfully boring messages?

One wonders if any of the prophets were so butt-numbingly boring.

Did men like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isiah, etc. provide temporary healing for the insomniacs of their day?

In all seriousness, I have to point out that failure to endure a sermon is one guilt trip I’ve happily left behind since discovering the whole concept of organic/house church. It is very hard to doze off when you are in a meeting where something more is expected if you than simply warming a bench while examining the back of the head of the person in front of you.

In other words, the cure to what ails my butt is open participatory church meetings like the kind found in 1 Corinthians 14 where everyone is portrayed bringing something, a song, a teaching, a word of encouragement, something to the meeting.

What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.
1 Corinthians 14:26

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Why do people behave differently online than they do in person?

I was recently asked via Google Buzz:

@Wes Widner unfortunately I think that some people when hidden behind their computers do not fill obliged to follow accepted social norms, however I think that compromising such rules here is completely inappropriate, why should people be allowed to say more or behave differently here than in real life?1

This is a very good question. One that comes up fairly often, actually. At first I decided not to reply, figuring the question was largely rhetorical. But then I ran across this quote from Marshall McLuhan, the czar of communication.

So here is my response as to why people act differently in person than they do online (or even on the phone):

I would argue that the medium, and how we interact with it has a lot to do with it.

In many ways I would argue that our interaction in non-physical mediums such as the internet or on the phone where we are a disembodied mind or voice respectively invites a sort of coarse frankness we would otherwise have given the necessity of transferring our thoughts to our mouths and forming words.

In other words, it is so easy to communicate our thoughts in an electronic medium so we tend to do so much more freely than if we were in person. This, I believe, tends to create a condition wherein we place more of a value in what they say than in communication as a whole. The latter being only the content of their message whereas the former combines the content being communicated plus the method in which it is communicated along with the parties involved in the communication (sender/receiver).

And here is the quote from McLuhan:

By putting our physical bodies inside our extended nervous systems, by means of electric media, we set up a dynamic by which all previous technologies that are mere extensions of hands and feet and teeth, will be translated into information systems. Electromagnetic technology requires utter human docility and quiescence of meditation such as befits an organism that now wears its brain outside its skull and its nerves outside its hide. We must serve our electric technology with the same servo-mechanistic fidelity with which we once served our coracle, our canoe, our typography, and all other extensions of our physical organs. But, there is a difference here. Those previous technologies were partial and fragmentary. The electric is total and inclusive. An external consensus or conscience is now as necessary as private consciousness. With the new media, however, it is now possible to store and to translate everything; and as for speed, that is no problem. No further acceleration is possible this side of the light barrier. –Mcluhan, Understanding Media – The Extensions of Man, 1963

  1. emphasis mine []
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On counseling

At the core, all counseling is religious or, at the least, pseudo religious. Counseling, by its very nature, deals with ultimate purpose and teleological design so that any advice one gives a person in a counseling setting is necessarily moving them towards what they believe to be the ultimate meaning and/or purpose in life. -Wes Widner

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A brief exposition of John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. -John 3:16

World is not merely nations in this text. Such a distinction, while required in order to prop up the doctrine of limited atonement, is simply not found in the text. What the text does say, however, is that God loves the whole world (without distinction so that we understand God to love all men, as is his revealed character throughout Scripture) in such a way as to give his only begotten son for the same (that is, all men without distinction, elect and non-elect, chosen and non-chosen) and that whosoever will may believe in Jesus and be saved (indicating how one may go from being one of the not-saved to one of the saved or non-elect to elect “in Christ”).

The glory of God here is that God is both willing (so loved) and able (that he sent) to save all men without distinction so that there is hope (whosoever will) for all men.

Curiously this verse does not say that God only loved the elect, only died for the elect, and that only the elect will (through irresistible and forceful changing of a person’s will against their desires/wishes/choice) be saved.

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Resources for the home church

What do we believe? How do we operate? What sort of structure do we abide by?

There are some of the questions I had after deciding that the way I had always “Done church” just wasn’t cutting it. But what was a viable Biblical alternative?

Over the past couple of years, I’ve compiled a few helpful resources for studying and learning about the home or organic church movement. Some of these authors and works contain contradictory views, especially when it comes to issues such as the role of women in the meeting, how elders are to be chosen and function, and how new fellowships are to be formed. In spite of this, however, I have found a fairly unified core of teachings, centered on the accounts and practices of the early church recorded in Scripture.

So without further ado, here are the best resources I’ve found when it comes to home church.

Sites:

Books:

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The medium is the message

Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian author who lived between 1911-1980, is widely credited at the first “media critic” whose work in dissecting the epistemological effects of the TV on society is still in use today in many classrooms (particularly the advertisement or marketing classrooms).

In The Medium is the Message McLuhan defines a medium as anything that has the capacity to produce social change. Thus a medium could extend beyond things designed to or even capable of conveying information like newspapers and TVs to seemingly innocuous items such as light bulbs. For example a light bulb enables people to create spaces during nighttime that would otherwise be enveloped by darkness, thus having an impact on everything from our social habits to our sleep patterns.

This concept was made clear to me in a recent family vacation to Cumberland Island. During the tour of the mostly deserted and well-preserved island we learned that the Carnegie’s used to own most of the island and used it as their primary summer vacation destination. Being wealthy and powerful the Carnegie’s added state-of-the-art amenities to the island such as an ice-house where they imported ice from as far north as Maine. The Carnegie’s also invested in one of the earliest forms of electric outdoor lighting and had one of the earliest designs installed on their island near their luxurious mansion. Our guide told us how, in their journals, guests described these lights as emitting a very loud buzzing, sometimes to the point of drowning out conversations that were several feet away. My initial reaction to this was to think how unfortunate this was (given modern lighting technology) but our guide went on to mention how the guest didn’t mind putting up with the relatively minor nuisance since the lights allowed them to carry on well into the night.

The lights created an environment that had not previously existed, a true social ‘night life’.

Of course this means that the concept of “medium”, by this understanding, ends up being very broad and abstract. However I believe that in spite of it’s vagueness it is still able to help awaken us to the world around us and how every aspect of it communicates something.

This shouldn’t really come as a surprise, after all, Romans 1:18-21 tells us that all of nature reveals something about it’s Creator.

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Another defense of capitalism

A friend of mine recently commented on Facebook:

Capitalism looks at developing countries in the same way that Britian looked at colonized countries. They were places to steal resources from. The bible tells us “not to show favoritism” and to consider the least as equal with the greatest. Here in America we waste so much we have to take other’s portion.

Since conservatives believe in not spending more than we have capital for, I wonder if they will submit that same ideology to natural resources? Only use what you can produce.

My reply:

Capitalism does not look anywhere and the reality is that while some companies have unfortunately decided to exploit the resources (which includes human capital) of other nations such a practice is not in accord with traditional capitalism because it is not sustainable in the long term.

Conversely, it is remarkable that if given the choice nations unilaterally turn to capitalism as the exclusive economic system for pulling themselves out of poverty. Take India, China, Russia, etc. as examples and contrast this with the corrupt practices found in many African nations where it is not capitalism that is at fault but the corrupt governments that do not allow free trade.

Further, conservatives who believe in spending more than we have capital for are, by definition not conservatives.

And finally, the whole concept of “use only what you can produce” is a red herring simply because in an economic system. Particularly a free-market economic system demand regulates and drives supply and supply is determined by degree of scarcity of resources. All that to say that the whole concept of “raping the environment” by taking more than we need is, by definition, false.

Simply put, supply and demand subjugates no one. Economic forces in a free-market capitalistic system harm no one.

Faulty businesses can and do harm people but markets and governments are responsible for keeping them in check. Likewise markets (consumers, aka us) and governments also play a big role in the whole free market system.

However, at the end of the day we are not dealing with a zero-sum game where if i make a dollar you loose a dollar. One of the beauties of a free market system is that everyone wins because everyone is getting something they desire.

Law of supply and demand does wonders. If the price of water/gas were to rise in proportion to the degree of scarcity that people claim then demand would necessarily be diminished in direct proportion to the corresponding rise in price.

To me:

I don’t think we are against PROPER use of resources, but in America, we want to drive gas guzzlers as long as we can pay for them, not understanding the excess consumption of gas bleeds the overall resource pool down for everyone. We want to water our lawns and wash our cars as long as we “pay the bill” not thinking that the water pool for our neighbors shrinks also. So we over consume and have to buy from the middle east. We almost run out of water here in the ATL, but we cry about our dirty cars and whine about our brown lawns.

It is a mindset that we our superior, and as long as we have the money, we make the rules. It is an anti-Christ mindset. We use more than we produce.

How can you square over cumsumption with a conservative philosphy?

My response:

As for the supposed anti-Christ mindset of “we have the money, we make the rules” I would like to point out that the Bible clearly states that A.) the borrower is a slave to the lender B.) economic systems that are based more on money simply changing hands (usury, interest, etc.) are heavily discouraged in Scripture C.) a hallmark of a free market system is the freedom of both parties such that neither party is forced to do business with the other.

As to your question of how I would square “over consumption” with my view on conservatism I would simply say that I do not believe there is such a thing as “over consumption” in the sense that we produce/consume too much in terms of raw economic output or input. Now individually you might be able to make that case in certain circumstances but I fear a big problem that comes into play when discussing an economic system is that too often people fall into the trap of defining the system (universal) by it’s individual parts/players (particulars).

For anyone who is wondering, I consider capitalism to be the best economic system we’ve come up with simply because it does the best job of accounting for human depravity and is the most fair when it comes to the unequal distribution of scare resources. In sum, it is built and based on freedom which is a principle that finds it’s root in God’s own character.

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Why Google’s plan to provide healthcare coverage for partners of homosexual employees is a bad idea

Google recently decided to increase the pay of their homosexual employees to cover a tax on health benefits given to domestic partners. What is this tax? According to the NY Times:

Under federal law, employer-provided health benefits for domestic partners are counted as taxable income, if the partner is not considered a dependent. The tax owed is based on the value of the partner’s coverage paid by the employer.

In other words, paying for a domestic partner’s healthcare is not treated the same as paying for your own healthcare. It is the same as paying for a random stranger’s healthcare. In other words this is not a tax.

But Google thinks it is. Why? Because it’s vogue to frame gay rights issues in terms of infractions of civil rights.

So what are the problems with this?

The following is an exscript of a conversation I had on Facebook regarding this issue. One caveat I need to point out is that when I wrote the following I was under the impression that Google’s new policy was to purchase the healthcare coverage for their homosexual employees’ partners as opposed to simply providing extra pay. Even so, the discrepancy in pay still makes valid much of what I argue below.

A friend starts off:

very progressive, I’d support it if I were in their company

Me:

Even if that means you make less just because you are married (for real, not a pretend same-sex civil contract)?

Even if I weren’t opposed to this for ideological reasons, I would still be opposed to it for financial reasons.

Friend #1:

We all make less to pay for the subsidized health of all employees, and I don;t see their union as any less valid than my own.

Me:

No, this is above and beyond what the insurance company’s costs. This is Google 1.) deciding public policy and 2.) imposing that public policy on it’s own workers

I hope someone actually sues them over this because I can’t see how this wouldn’t be an unfair practice.

And its not a question of which union is “more valid”. It is a question of whether a homosexual union can ever constitute a valid marriage in the first place.

Friend #2 joins in:

You don’t actually make less for being married. You make less for being in a domestic partnership because of increased healthcare costs, and this removes that inequality.

Me:

Yes, there is certainly a marriage penalty, and things like this don’t help that societally destructive imbalance any.

Friend #2:

Marriage penalty? Actually, people who are married pay LESS for healthcare, not more. I’m not sure how that counts as a penalty. And I still don’t understand why removing that inequality (and not by reducing pay or otherwise harming the married people in question, by the way) is in any way unfair. It seems like a case of marriage going from separate and special rights to equal rights, and that seems right to me.

Me:

I don’t think you understand. There IS no “healthcare inequality” here. Well, not until Google instituted their company policy that is.

Let me put it this way. Say I start at Google making $50,000/y as a married man. For whatever reason I decide to divorce my wife and find a gay lover and call it “marriage”. Now I am entitled to make $50,000 + whatever is needed to cover someone who is not my spouse and has no legal obligation or attachment to me.

This actually incurs more than just the medical cost of the “spouse”. Additional costs are incurred for any “children”. And insurance premiums skyrocket accordingly (because such coverage of non legally bound individuals carries with it a certain amount of legal liability in itself) which has a negative effect across the board for everyone.

So actually the married man at Google is not only getting stiffed the additional matching contribution (which, believe it or not, is real money as it counts towards your gross income) and being asked to tacitly endorse am immoral (yes, I realize that is debatable among some) risky lifestyle (which is a determination made by both the CDC and healthcare companies themselves) but is also being required to help foot the bill for the added risk and legal fees.

So from my simplistic scenario above I have a few more questions that should help obviate the very real discrimination going on here:
1. Why is it only homosexual partners that get to enjoy this benefit? What about non-married boyfriend/girlfriends?
2. Why could I not divorce my wife and enjoy the benefits afforded to non-married “partners”?
3. If no legally binding relationship is required; Are any and all non-married persons now eligible for coverage under this plan?

This may be a trend, but it is a very bad trend both economically and socially. Hopefully we as a society will wake up from our foray into moral relativism before it is too late.

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Key texts affirming resistible grace

As I’ve been reading through the excellent rebuttal to 5 point Calvinism, Whosoever Will, I ran across a section that listed (with more explanation that I plan to give here, so buy the book if you want to learn more) a several key texts that provide evidence that God’s will is indeed resistible:

Additionally, here are several passages indicating Jesus’s understanding of resistible grace:

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Aldous Huxley on propaganda and why we fall for it

Reading through Aldous Huxley‘s follow-up to his popular (and insightful) work, A Brave New World, titled A Brave New World Revisited I came across a section where Huxley discusses the role and use of propaganda. Specifically how propaganda is the central means by which totalitarian regimes control their populace.

To do this he uses a well-known master of propaganda during his time, Adolf Hitler, to explore the role modern communication plays in the spread of propaganda. But first, Huxley’s definition of propaganda:

There are two kinds of propaganda — rational propaganda in favor of action that is consonant with the enlightened self-interest of those who make it and those to whom it is addressed, and non-rational propaganda that is not consonant with anybody’s enlightened self-interest, but is dictated by, and appeals to, passion.

To highlight the importance of this point, Huxley includes a quote from Thomas Jefferson:

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free,” said Jefferson, “it expects what never was and never will be.
. . . The people cannot be safe without information. Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe.”

From here Huxley discusses how intentional and continual distraction and the minimization of rational discourse is exploited in modern dictatorships:

In their propaganda today’s dictators rely for the most part on repetition, suppression and rationalization — the repetition of catchwords which they wish to be accepted as true, the suppression of facts which they wish to be ignored, the arousal and rationalization of passions which may be used in the interests of the Party or the State. As the art and science of manipulation come to be better understood, the dictators of the future will doubtless learn to combine these techniques with the non-stop distractions which, in the West, are now threatening to drown in a sea of irrelevance the rational propaganda essential to the maintenance of individual liberty and the survival of democratic institutions.

And from here Huxley discusses how propaganda was exploited with frightening effectiveness under Hitler (emphasis mine):

At his trial after the Second World War, Hitler’s Minister for Armaments, Albert Speer, delivered a long speech in which, with remarkable acuteness, he described the Nazi tyranny and analyzed its methods. “Hitler’s dictatorship,” he said, “differed in one fundamental point from all its predecessors in history. It was the first dictatorship in the present period of modern technical development, a dictatorship which made complete use of all technical means for the domination of its own country. Through technical devices like the radio and the loud-speaker, eighty million people were deprived of independent thought. It was thereby possible to subject them to the will of one man. . . . Earlier dictators needed highly qualified assistants even at the lowest level — men who could think and act independently. The totalitarian system in the period of modern technical development can dispense with such men; thanks to modern methods of communication, it is possible to mechanize the lower leadership. As a result of this there has arisen the new type of the uncritical recipient of orders.”

Today the art of mind-control is in the process of becoming a science. The practitioners of this science know what they are doing and why. They are guided in their work by theories and hypotheses solidly established on a massive foundation of experimental evidence. Thanks to the new insights and the new techniques made possible by these insights, the nightmare that was “all but realized in Hitler’s totalitarian system” may soon be completely realizable.

“Hitler,” wrote Hermann Rauschning in 1939, “has a deep respect for the Catholic church and the Jesuit order; not because of their Christian doctrine, but because of the ‘machinery’ they have elaborated and controlled, their hierarchical system, their extremely clever tactics, their knowledge of human nature and their wise use of human weaknesses in ruling over believers.” Ecclesiasticism without Christianity, the discipline of a monastic rule, not for God’s sake or in order to achieve personal salvation, but for the sake of the State and for the greater glory and power of the demagogue turned Leader — this was the goal toward which the systematic moving of the masses was to lead.

Let us see what Hitler thought of the masses he moved and how he did the moving. The first principle from which he started was a value judgment: the masses are utterly contemptible. They are incapable of abstract thinking and uninterested in any fact outside the circle of their immediate experience. Their behavior is determined, not by knowledge and reason, but by feelings and unconscious drives. It is in these drives and feelings that “the roots of their positive as well as their negative attitudes are implanted.” To be successful a propagandist must learn how to manipulate these instincts and emotions. “The driving force which has brought about the most tremendous revolutions on this earth has never been a body of scientific teaching which has gained power over the masses, but always a devotion which has inspired them, and often a kind of hysteria which has urged them into action. Whoever wishes to win over the masses must know the key that will open the door of their hearts.” . . . In post-Freudian jargon, of their unconscious.

Hitler made his strongest appeal to those members of the lower middle classes who had been ruined by the inflation of 1923, and then ruined all over again by the depression of 1929 and the following years. “The masses” of whom he speaks were these bewildered, frustrated and chronically anxious millions. To make them more masslike, more homogeneously subhuman, he assembled them, by the thousands and the tens of thousands, in vast halls and arenas, where individuals could lose their personal identity, even their elementary humanity, and be merged with the crowd. A man or woman makes direct contact with society in two ways: as a member of some familial, professional or religious group, or as a member of a crowd. Groups are capable of being as moral and intelligent as the individuals who form them; a crowd is chaotic, has no purpose of its own and is capable of anything except intelligent action and realistic thinking. Assembled in a crowd, people lose their powers of reasoning and their capacity for moral choice. Their suggestibility is increased to the point where they cease to have any judgment or will of their own. They become very excitable, they lose all sense of individual or collective responsibility, they are subject to sudden accesses of rage, enthusiasm and panic. In a word, a man in a crowd behaves as though he had swallowed a large dose of some powerful intoxicant. He is a victim of what I have called “herd-poisoning.” Like alcohol, herd-poison is an active, extraverted drug. The crowd-intoxicated individual escapes from responsibility, intelligence and morality into a kind of frantic, animal mindlessness.

Twenty years before Madison Avenue embarked upon “Motivational Research,” Hitler was systematically exploring and exploiting the secret fears and hopes, the cravings, anxieties and frustrations of the German masses. It is by manipulating “hidden forces” that the advertising experts induce us to buy their wares — a toothpaste, a brand of cigarettes, a political candidate. And it is by appealing to the same hidden forces — and to others too dangerous for Madison Avenue to meddle with — that Hitler induced the German masses to buy themselves a Fuehrer, an insane philosophy and the Second World War.

“All effective propaganda,” Hitler wrote, “must be confined to a few bare necessities and then must be expressed in a few stereotyped formulas.” These stereotyped formulas must be constantly repeated, for “only constant repetition will finally succeed in imprinting an idea upon the memory of a crowd.” Philosophy teaches us to feel uncertain about the things that seem to us self-evident. Propaganda, on the other hand, teaches us to accept as self-evident matters about which it would be reasonable to suspend our judgment or to feel doubt. The aim of the demagogue is to create social coherence under his own leadership.

People may start out with an initial prejudice against tyrants; but when tyrants or would-be tyrants treat them to adrenalin-releasing propaganda about the wickedness of their enemies — particularly of enemies weak enough to be persecuted — they are ready to follow him with enthusiasm. In his speeches Hitler kept repeating such words as “hatred,” “force,” “ruthless,” “crush,” “smash”; and he would accompany these violent words with even more violent gestures. He would yell, he would scream, his veins would swell, his
face would turn purple. Strong emotion (as every actor and dramatist knows) is in the highest degree contagious. Infected by the malignant frenzy of the orator, the audience would groan and sob and scream in
an orgy of uninhibited passion. And these orgies were so enjoyable that most of those who had experienced them eagerly came back for more. Almost all of us long for peace and freedom; but very few of us have much enthusiasm for the thoughts, feelings and actions that make for peace and freedom. Conversely almost nobody wants war or tyranny; but a great many people find an intense pleasure in the thoughts, feelings and actions that make for war and tyranny. These thoughts, feelings and actions are too dangerous to be exploited for commercial purposes. Accepting this handicap, the advertising man must do the best he can with the less intoxicating emotions, the quieter forms of irrationality.

Why do people fall for fascist dictators? According to Huxley (and I believe he is right), most people prefer emotionally stimulating propaganda over and above intellectual argument as the basis for making their decisions.

Elsewhere Huxley discusses those who aren’t swayed by “herd poisoning” and how they are either A.) given rank and privledge and entrusted to serve (provided they have the trust of the dictator) B.) made to pretend to be as brainwashed as those around them, go with the flow, make no waves, or C.) they are eliminated outright, either through marginilization, social castigation, or execution.

So I suppose the question for those of us who recognize our society’s noticeable and definite shift towards being almost exclusively controlled by propaganda (mostly through means of entertainment) is this; How far are we willing to go to persuade our fellow countrymen to step back from the precipice and prevent a “Brave New World” from occurring here in America?

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