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Technical Difficulties With Automated Blog Posts

[20100131] The blog is still refusing mail from gmail. I've stopped the forwarders. When the mail server stops trying to deliver mail (probably by the 5th). I'll try another strategy.
I'm trying to find the equilibrium between Google News Alerts, Gmail and Blogger to permit automated posting of Google News Alerts to the blog so I can have them for reference and work on other things. My goal is not to focus on one news topic, but to have the varied topics in the news feeds automatically posted in the blog daily or weekly because I can capture more unique data that way.

Suicide Bomb News Feed

The Jihad News Feed

Witch News Feed

Ritual Abuse and Killing News Feed

Faith Heal News Feed

Female Genital Mutilation News

Exorcism News Feed

Child Bride or Marriage News Feed

Church Abuse News Feed

Animal Sacrifice News Feed

Religious Exemption News Feed

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Special Pleading For God

Compromising Ones Values And Principles To Support Christianity

When I was a Facilitator for Personal Responsibility Seminars we had an exercise where we arranged our values in an hierarchy. We would put two terms together, such as health and cigarettes, and say, for example, "If I could only have one, I would pick health", or "I like or prefer this over that". Then we would look at examples of behavior of the person and see if it matched the values. I think this and a few other thinking skills should be taught in school.

Some Books Where The Process Of Assessing Values Turns Up In Different Contexts
Over the past few months I've stumbled onto some books that have reminded me of some of the exercises we performed in those seminars. Three in particular are
"The Thinkers Toolkit" by Morgan D. Jones
"How To Measure Anything" by Douglas W. Hubbard
"How To Solve It" by George Polya
(if you read the other two you don't need this one. However as far as I can see, it was the first to detail a specific model for problem solving in mathematics which has since been adapted to other contexts such as the first two books).

Start By Defining Terms, Defining The Problem
Of course, in order to do the exercise you have to define those terms. Defining terms such as Good, Bad, Love, Health, Wealth, Success, Peace, Happiness are hard to do because they are subjective, however, common denominators can be found within a range of answers from a range of people and a set of minimum criteria can be derived. But this exercise is not only good for identifying where ones values do not correlate to ones behavior, it is also good for decision making. Its called "Weighted Ranking" and while it is true that this method has its limitations, when the right context arises, it is a powerful tool.

It can be used in evaluating how you really feel about something or someone which is useful in a real world context such as assessing the performance of employees or screening resumes for interviews.

Setting Up The Context Of The Exercise
Here's a silly example off the top of my head of how to do the exercise.
Ted has Diabetes and is overweight. He is out to lunch with friends and they are ordering the type of meals that Ted should not eat. He really wants to share the four cheese pizza with his friends but instead he thinks about what he wants out of life, what his hierarchy of values are and he orders the salad instead. Of course, one of his friends tries to pressure him to conform and eat the pizza too, but he politely declines. Another friend doesn't have as much money as they thought and Ted offers to pay the difference. When they leave the restaurant its raining and Ted offers his coat to a female friend wearing a sleeveless blouse.

How does this relate to Christianity? Thomas Bayes.
It has to do with defining terms, organizing an hierarchy of values and evaluating behavior. Thomas Bayes (1702-1761), a British mathematician, statistician and religious leader, identified and defined an algorithm for the process of belief that seems to be innate in humans. It goes something like the following.
"The probability or likelihood of A given B, C, D, E, F is...."
It doesn't have to be plugged into a mathematical formula, in fact that is not how it is used most of the time. We use it instinctively when deciding what we think about things every day all day. So lets apply it to how we should feel about Ted.

So, how should we feel about Ted? Should Ted be characterized as a "Good Person"?

My definition of a "good person" is .......(write them down).
Is Teds behavior consistent with what I think a good person is?

The likelihood of Ted being a "good person" given
* He chose the salad
* He politely declined when pressured
* He payed the difference in the check
* He gives his coat to his friend.

is high.

New Information About Ted!
The next time we see Ted, he calls Joe at six am on Friday and asks him to swing by on the way to work and pick him up. Ted said he is running late and asks Joe to park the car and come up to the apartment. When Joe gets there he finds that the fender and wheel of Teds car is damaged such that it can't be driven. When he gets up to the apartment Joe finds that the apartment smells like bourbon, the Dog is so thin his bones are showing, the apartment smells like dog urine, there are old dirty dishes in the sink, and Ted is just getting into the shower.

The likelihood of Ted being a "good person" given the new information
* He chose the salad
* He politely declined when pressured
* He payed the difference in the check
* He gives his coat to his friend.
* Teds car is damaged such that it can't be driven.
* The apartment smells like bourbon,
* The Dog is so thin his bones are showing,
* The apartment smells like dog urine,
* There are old dirty dishes in the sink, and
* Ted is just getting in the shower.

is not as high as it was.

Ted probably has personal problems and needs some help, but this forces a re-evaluation of Ted and tightening up of a definition of what a "Good Person" is.

I think where God is concerned, in Christians, this process is interrupted.
They will say that God is Good and Loving EVEN given examples of behavior that would reduce their esteem of a loved one.

One example of this is that fact that supposedly God created Adam and Eve, which means he decided how we would turn out, then when Adam and Eve disobeyed, He kicked them out of their home and put them in the wilderness.

Now if my brother kicked his teenage son and daughter out of the house for disobedience, that would reduce my confidence in his judgment and I would try to convince him that he made a mistake. I think most compassionate people would. But when it comes to God, this principle doesn't apply.

The honest compassionate person when reading through the Bible should see this and other behaviors by God as DISCONFIRMING EVIDENCE that God uses good judgment. If a soldier returns from war and we are told that he cut the baby out of the womb of a mother at the order of his commanding officer, both the officer and the soldier would likely go to court martial justifiably. Yet, God is forgiven of this atrocity.

So lets try it out. Lets do a value system exercise and see how our values correlate to our behavior.

Lets define what we think a good person is and come up with a list. We can define a range of characteristics for what a good person is. In the case that the person contradicts the characteristics by their behavior, their "goodness rating" will decrease. Now think of examples of Gods behavior in the Bible and list them.

Please come up with your own lists, and I invite you to post them in the comments for future reference.

Now try the following.
1. Is God a Person? Well, at least the song says he is: "God in three persons, blessed trinity!"
2. My idea of a Good person is....
3. Is Gods behavior consistent with what I think a good person is?
4. The likelihood that God is a good person given
* instance 1.
* instance 2.
* instance 3.
is [fill in the blank].

Based on my experience here over the past two years and seeing Christians put into this corner, I think this exercise will elicit cognitive dissonance and they will either refuse to do it, or begin special pleading about why it doesn't apply to God.

I'll expect them to say that we cannot judge God by human standards.
I have seen them say that God is good regardless. That he has a reason for his actions we just don't have access to what it is. We don't know what his reasons are. We are agnostic for his reasons but the Bible tells us he's good.

So to them I'll say, "Lets try a little exercise!"

If we are made in the image of God, what does that mean?
It should mean that we should have some things in common with God!
Come up with a list or characteristics that Humans have in common with God.

The likelihood that we are made in Gods image given....
* We can't understand his behavior
* A lot of Gods action don't fall into our definition of behaviors of a good person
* [fill in the blank]
* [fill in the blank]

is [fill in the blank]
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