Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Myth of the Egalitarianism of Opinion

This topic came up as I was reading "Religion and Alienation" by Gregory Baum. He mentions in passing how, in modern egalitarian society, people feel empowered by the idea that "all Men are created equal." While I wholeheartedly agree with this statement (as evidenced by previous blogs), modern society has made the jump from "all Men" to "the opinions of all Men" being created equal. This is an inaccurate and dangerous concept.

While all Men are truly equal and should have the same rights across the board, it is downright silly to view the opinions of all Men as being equal. To suggest that the technical opinion on John Coltrane of a law school graduate is equal to a music school graduate is ludicrous. This analogy could be substituted with any combinations of educational level and subject matter. In modern society, the distribution of labor has become more and more compartmentalized. The result is a higher and higher degree of specizliation among each individual in society.

I found a good example on Google books speaking directly to this point. "Intellectual Trust in Oneself and Others" by Richard Foley is an epistemlogical look on the subject at hand. He begins by pointing to John Locke, who, in an age where clerical authority was deemed the final answer, called on idividuals to decide their own opinion in defferance to the clerical elite. Foley accurately points out that the society in the time of Locke is not completely analogous to modern society. The questions Locke was calling on individuals to ponder were nowhere near as complex or small in technical scope as ours today.

Foley realizes the importance of the society at large having a say in technical matters. To bridge the gap between the vox populi and the technical experts, Foley suggests it is important for individuals to "form credible opinions about the overall workings of the system that produces specialized knowledge claims." I think we've got a pretty good grasp on this. We are able to ascertain, when we put our minds to it, the sort of person or group of people that come out with a scientific claim. There are various "watchdogs" that are looking into the source of research funding to see if it affected the result of the research, etc.

Foley next points out that modern science is its own corrector. With such a heavy emphasis placed on reproducable experiments and peer reviewed journals, the general public can rest assured that even if mistakes are made, they will sooner or later be corrected. This is all under the caveat that science will be able to continue functioning freely without censorship, etc.

When considering the most important topics at hand that have an expert opinion, I doubt there is any more important than global climate change. Everyone and their dog has an opinion on global climate change; yet few of us even approach the level of technical knowledge needed to form an expert opinion on the subject. Anyone who took a high school chemistry class is (hopefully) able to understand the process behind the "green house effect," regardless if they believe it is happening or not. The fact that it CAN happen is what is important to establish.

Heading to anyone with internet access can read for themselves the report produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This organization was sponsored by the World Meterological Organization and the United Nations Environmental Program. This organization does not conduct their own research, but serves as a clearinghouse for any research done on global climate change. Here we have a body that provides all the checks and balances Foley mentions when forming expert opinions on technical matters. The first report from the IPCC in 1990 stated that "certain that emissions resulting from human activities are substantially increasing the atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gases, resulting on average in an additional warming of the Earth's surface."

Now we arrive at the unfortunate point where this all-too-important topic becomes political. Why on Earth the discussion of whether Mankind has an effect on the environment and thus climate is beyond me. But it unfortunately has happened and become so divisive it makes almost any discussion on the topic impossible.

Now the whole point this post is getting at is: if there are people with Ph.D's doing years worth of research in a field requiring such intense specialization, and these people are coming up with their opinion that it is probable that Mankind is influencing the Earth's climate in a way that could cause irreparable harm, then who the **** are we to disagree? Sure, you could point to the minority of scientists who say that it is impossible, even with all the forests we're chopping down and the sub-$2000 cars that are now available, and the tons of solid waste floating in the ocean between California and Hawaii, that Manking isn't effecting the environment in any detrimental way. I'm sure these scientists have equal Ph.D's and similar numbers of years doing research in specialized fields. So let's agree that there are some scientists on each side.

Now let's return for a second to how science does it's job--it hypothesizes, conducts experiments, and then analyzes the results. What, exactly, would the experiment be to test the hypothesis "Mankind does NOT effect global climates"? Is it "let's wait 50-100 years and see what happens"? I think we can all see the danger in that idea.

Now let's imagine for a second we pluck 100 of these specialists in global climate, and we say "those who think Mankind is causing climate change stand on the left side of the room, those who don't stand on the right." And we end up with 50 scientists on the left and 50 on the right. Then what do we do?

Well the answer seems obvious. If we act based on the opinions of those who believe Man IS causing climate change, then we make changes in energy production and use. We act on deforestation. We become STEWARDS (yes, for those religious people out there--you are commanded to take care of this Earth!) of the environment. And climate change does NOT occur and the tree huggers say "we saved the Earth!" and the rest say "nothing would have happened anyway!" and all is right with the world.

If we act based on the opinions of the scientists who say Man is NOT causing climate change, then we maintain the status quo. We keep going through oil as if it were a renewable resource. We continue to destroy forest. And two possiblilties arise: everything goes on as normal and the tree huggers hide their heads in shame, or . . ..

There seems only one logical choice regardless of anyone's individual opinion OR the scientists expert opinion.

(Google Books link to Foley's work: link )

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

John Wesley's Advice For Church Singing

The June 2009 issue of The American Organist (journal of the American Guild of Organists) ended with 7 tips John Wesley gave for congregation singing. Some of them remain incredibly salient. I'm changing the order and leaving some out.

"Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half-dead or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength."

This is the easiest thing someone can do to make their singing better. I had a professor always say "if you're going to be wrong, be loud and wrong." Everyone knows the "joyful noise" psalm. Do it. I also don't like the excuse "I didn't know that hymn." Most hymns have at least 4 verses. If you're singing with good courage, you will doubtless know the hymn by the last verse.

"Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself."

Every religion in the word has song. God loves song. Wesley ended his advice with this. I'll end with the following:

"Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a single degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find a blessing."

Well put Mr. Wesley! If you find singing in public difficult, then you will get that much more out of it when you do it. The most important part of this advice is the word "congregation." Christian faith is built on groups of people worshipping together. Singing is a fundamental part of worship. Not participating in that part of the service means something is lacking.

Why is singing so important? We can start by looking at the roll breath plays in countless religions. Breath is an intergral part of God's creative power. Genesis 1:2states "the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." Breath is often symbolic of the Holy Spirit. In Genesis 2:7 God had finished creating the form of Man, but Man wasn't alive until God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life." Breath is life giving.

So how do we get to singing from breath? The vocalized word is equally powerful. It is breath with the added power of vibration. God did not think, imagine, or will the world into existence. "God said let there be light." The vocalized word is powerful.

The most moving parts of any service are when words are said and sung. There is extra power in these words when we do it together. Don't let embarassment, fear, or lack of courage keep you from sharing in the gift of song.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

With Liberty And Justice For All

This is a sermon given by my great-uncle, Dr. Emmanuel Hoover, on a July 4th many years ago. It was entered into the Congressional record as the text indicates. This was imported to word processor from a scan so there are some anomalies.

Vol. 116 WASHINGTON, FRIDAY, JULY 31, 1970 No. 131
Mr. TYDINGS. Mr. President, at times we must all be reminded of certain fundamental values which become clouded
The Reverend Emmanuel Hoover, pas tor of the Zion Lutheran Church in Middletown, Md., has written a stirring entreaty to all Americans to search their consciences—to see if they are actually the true patriots they claim to be.
He attributes the Nation’s divisions in part to the basic human failing of selfishness—selfishness of those who consider only their immediate group, be it sectional, ethnic, or racial, and not the Nation as a whole.
The Reverend Mr. Hoover’s words move each of us to abandon special interests and to strive toward greater unity.
I ask unanimous consent that the
sermon delivered by the Reverend Mr.
Hoover in the Zion Lutheran Church in
Middletown, Md., be printed in the
There being no objection, the sermon was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:
WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL (An Independence Day Sunday sermon delivered in Zion Lutheran Church, Middle town, Md., by the pastor, Rev. Emmanuel J. Hoover, S.T.D., July 5. 1970)
Text: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof!” (Leviticus 25:10.)
This weekend we celebrate the 194th anniversary of the founding of our nation with the signing or the Declaration of Independence and the formal beginning of the War for Independence
One hundred and ninety four long years have gone by and America has developed into the World’s greatest nation, having come to be known throughout the world as “the land of the free!”
There have been many American flags dis played this weekend in apparent commemoration of that event of one hundred and ninety four years ago. We have been encouraged to display the flag at our homes and on the rear and side windows of our automobiles in an effort to revive the sagging of patriot ism evident in our land. All of this Is fine, if, when we display we really believe what it represents and symbolizes; otherwise, It is gross hypocrisy and a cover-up!
When we salute the flag we say: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which
it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and Justice for all I” If we really believe those words, then we have a right to fly the flag, and to fly it as briskly and as often as we may desire. But if we do not really believe those words, then we have no right to fly the flag, for then to fly the flag becomes sheer hypocrisy saying by the outward display of the flag that we are believers in what it symbolizes when In our hearts and minds we do not so believe. And this is what the younger generation says concerning many of us of the older generation—that we are guilty of hypocrisy! By which they mean that we say many things we do not do, that we say many things we do not believe, so that they see us as guilty of gross hypocrisy.
Our nation was founded by religious men. If you will study the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and all the early documents leading up to them, you will find in each an overt recognition of the part God plays in the life and destinies of men and nations. God played a most important role in the events which led to the founding of America.
This Leviticus text, perhaps 2800 years old, is the Biblical text inscribed on the Liberty Bell. Our founding fathers took a text from the Bible and had it inscribed on the Liberty Bell when they had it made: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof!” This was not a new idea; it was an old idea, as old as the world because it existed in the mind of God. All men, by God’s Will, are to be free, and nations are to administer justice impartially for the benefit of each individual man. Liberty and justice are not just for a few, a privileged few; they are for all people, for all the citizens of the land, and for aliens too! God revealed those truths 2800 years ago, but it has taken hundreds and hundreds of years f1hé become evident reality for many peoples. America Was probably the first nation, and possibly the only one, to inscribe these words of the next on a bell which was to ring out liberty and justice for all its people!
It required 2800 years for God to develop a nation which came to be known as “the land of the free!” Other nations contributed to this historic development: there were the Greeks with their City States and ideas of freedom, and there were the British with their Magna Carta. But liberty is a precarious business. Nations which have had liberty and freedom can easily erode and vanish. It takes eternal vigilance and the kind of Ingredients which go into the making of true and lasting liberty!
America didn’t Just happen to happen! America became what she is because of the character of the people who founded America and who have kept America and the American dream alive througout one hundred and ninety-four years of history. They were people who believed that in America liberty should be proclaimed througout all the land to all the inhabitants thereof. If everybody in America today believed this, we would not be the divided nation we are. We are a divided nation because there are groups of citizens_who do not believe that liberty should be proclaimed throughout all the land
to all the inhabitants thereof, If the Liberty Bell were to be struck today, many would insist that the Leviticus inscription be eliminated!
Some folks want liberty and justice for themselves but are not In the least concerned about the same for others. There are groups that want liberty and justice to maintain their selfish interests, but who couldn’t care less about liberty and justice for the other groups in our society. Selfish interest groups who look out for their own welfare primarily and who do not consider the welfare of the nation as a whole constitute one of the major weaknesses in our American society today. Lobbies and lobbyists can very easily be dedicated not to what is good for America but solely what is good for the special interest they represent. Lobbying can easily become the most selfish expression of political exploitation. The result of much such selfish expression and self-seeking can be the erosion in liberty and freedom!
The Liberty Bell didn’t ring very long until it suffered a crack, and someone has suggested that we have a crack in the Liberty Bell today! It is quite true; America’s Liberty Bell is cracked for liberty and justice for all! No longer do we seem willing as a united people to proclaim liberty through out all the land to all the inhabitants thereof!
America was known for many years as “the melting pot of the world.” People came here
from all lands and diverse languages and represented differing
cultures. Here in the land of freedom and opportunity, after a generation or two, they were assimilated into our citizenry and many of them came to be recognized for unique contributions they gave to the life of the nation. Among these immigrants ware many of our immediate ancestors.
But we seem to have ceased being the world’s melting pot; instead of being assimilated into a living union and common wealth, we now seem to stand in opposition to one another and to withhold goodwill and opportunity to one another, especially so if the color of our skin is different. There are groups and individuals in America today who, looking back to the past, think of the wonderful life in America of fifty or seventy five years ago, an America which was much differentiated more desirable for living than the America of today, an America in which people did tolerate one another and respected differing opinions; and they wish to go back
to that America, to the manifest patriotism which reigned In those former years. Well. we can go back to that America if we will but fulfill the same conditions which created that America of fifty or seventy five years ago, if we are willing to work together. to understand one another, to love one an other, and if we really will believe with our heart and soul in the freedom and justice for all for which the American flag stands!
There is a consistency between what we say when we repeat this ancient text from Leviticus and when we pledge allegiance to the American flag, and what we confess in both Instances is among the noblest acts and sentiments of man. It represents God as having a position of recognition and honor in the history and life of our nation: “One nation—under God!” Some citizens will hang out the flag on national holidays, affirming that they believe this nation’s life is built on a recognition of God, but they themselves are never found at worship in any house of God helping sustain the godly foundations of the nation—all of which has something of the air of hypocrisy about it! For to say that this is a nation under God and then refuse to do your little bit of this nation is indeed hyprocritical, is to one’s right to dis play the flag, because then one doesn’t really believe in this truth ad ideal which the flag symbolizes.
To display the flag is to believe in the unity of America: “One nation indivisible I” This is to mean that priority is given to the nation above all other national goals or local loyalties. The flag says that America is for “all the inhabitants of the land!” Americans are united regardless of the color of skin, of financial position, or of educational attainment, or of political opinion. All groupings and allegiances are subservient to the unity of the nation. In the true America no distinctions are made where unity, love and loyalty to nation is involved. And this is one of the great things we say when we salute the flag. Groups may separate us, but the nation should unite us. If we are a divided nation, you see, it is because some of us have fallen prey to the temptation to put local, sectional or group interests ahead of national interests, and to the degree we have done this we have violated the pledge of allegiance to the flag and nullified the will of God as set forth in the ancient Leviticus commandment to “pro claim liberty to all the people!”
There is something genuinely un-American about permitting local, sectional or personal interests to divide us as a people. In America there should be no North or South, no capital or labor, no rich or poor, no black or white to disrupt our unity or to delay the achievement of our national goals and idea]s. And we will believe this if we are honest when we salute our flag and seriously consider God’s Will for all men.
To genuinely salute the American flag means to accept the ancient Leviticus text as God’s command to us as a nation: that here liberty and justice shall be proclaimed and administered evenhandedly to all, The flag of our nation was bought with a great price; it is not something cheap, to be spit upon an torn into rags. Men by the thousands have died for the nation, believing in what the flag symbolizes: their blood is represented by the red stripes. The white strips are emblematic of the pure and lofty ideals for which our nation stands. And the blue should represent the loyalty of the living to those ideals for which our dead heroes shed their life blood. A great deal of dedicated living and heroic dying Is represented in the American flag; purchased at such a price, we dare not treat It lightly or desecrate it lightheartedly! Our loyalty does not mean perfect acceptance of the nation as it may be, but rather to the nation’s nigh and lofty ideals towards we should always be striving. It is not a blind loyalty, such as is evident in such catchwords as: “America: Love it or Leave It!” but a loyalty which ever works to make America’s perform more faithfully duplicate and attain its ideals. We dare never forget that America stands under the vast judgment of God just as do individual men, but we seem to have lost this sense of the judgment of God in the affairs of nations. One of the truly great traits of Abraham Lincoln was that he believed devoutly that God sits in judgment upon nations, as well as He sits in judgment upon individual men and women.
We are called upon always to try to make America live up to the high and lofty ideals represented by our flag and historic documents—the ideals that liberty, freedom and justice shall be proclaimed from one end of the nation to the other end, to every single citizen and inhabitant thereof.
There are many American citizens who consume civil, economic and political liberty for themselves, but who are not willing to grant similar liberties to the poor and underprivileged among our citizenry. At times when our government has tried to elevate the living standards and educational opportunities for the thirty million Americans living in Appalachia and in our ghettos, we have found some of our most highly privileged citizens among the most vocal opponents. We are not all equal when ft comes to economic and social opportunity; anyone who has been closely and sympathetically identified with the poor of our land, the depressed of Appalachia, the ill-treated American Indian, or the down-graded Mexican- Americans, knows full well that these in habitants of our land do not have the opportunity. they do not have the freedom, to develop themselves Into the most constructive citizens possible in a worthwhile society, That’s the heart of liberty—not license, not freedom to do as we please, or to be what we want to be—but freedom to become what we ought to be. freedom to become the best we can possibly be, to be elevated in mind, ennobled in spirit, upgraded In character, and motivated to be of positive usefulness in the society of man,
Yes, true Americanism consists in more than the periodic display of the flag. Not everyone who displays the flag is a good American, but only they who work daily in life to make America a better and more democratic society, who strive to assist their fellowmen in realizing the Ideals and hopes expressed in the flag. These ideals, rooted in Jewish and Christian history and teaching, can be summed up in Jesus’ great commandment: “Love God fully and love your neighbor as you love yourself!” Christ’s love consists of goodwill, tolerance and an under standing helpfulness towards our neighbor—. it means liberty, justice, goo and a helping hand for every soul striving to climb upward!
So, to truly obey this Leviticus command and to genuinely display the flag, one must not be viciously opposed to, must not hurt or harm a fellow citizen in any manner, but, as Luther said, must seek to assist him, to understand him, to wish only the best for him, and to put the most charitable construction on what he does and says!
This means that in America we will not call each other derogatory names and separate ourselves into opposing groups; but white and black, rich and poor, citizens and aliens, educated and illiterate, will live and work together, side by side, in understanding helpfulness, living and letting live, striving to achieve together what we cannot achieve alone—the American dream and the dream of God for all mankind!
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which It stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all!”
‘Proclaim liberty throughout all the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof!”
So, if you believe in these American Ideals, go home and display your flag as a testimony to your faith In these Ideals. But If you do not genuinely believe in these ideals, then go home and take down the flag you may be displaying, wrap It up in moth balls and store it In your attic until the time comes when you may be able to truthfully display it. But don’t be guilty of hypocrisy!