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Written by: C. W. Booth

Monday, December 17, 2012

What Should a Christian Do with the Santa Story?

At the root of the issue are at least two principal questions:

1) Is the Western Santa Claus an historical figure or a fictional mythical figure?

2) Should we teach our children that fictional figures are “real”?

To be sure, some elements of the Santa Claus mythology can be traced back to a saint named Nicholas (circa A.D. 300), a pastor in Myra (now in Turkey) and participant in the Council of Nicaea where he was outspoken against Arius. His reputation was one of doctrinal orthodoxy, generosity, and altruism.

However, today’s shopping-mall Santa Claus mythology has nothing whatsoever to do with teaching, commemorating, or celebrating the historical life of the pastor of Myra. Today’s magical and mythical figure is entirely a cartoon-esque fiction.

Should we as Christians teach our children to adore fictional myths as one might adore a living breathing human? Is there any spiritual conflict in doing so? Is God pleased with parents who propagate the Santa Claus mythology or with those who dispel it?

To investigate more fully those questions, I would invite you to read this aticle: http://thefaithfulword.org/santa.html




Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Cause of Violence and Its Cure

Whenever the innocent die it is a tragedy. My heart melted when I heard about the massacre in Connecticut.

Yet, instead of mourning along with me, within hours of the sad news breaking anti-gun protest groups had politicized the tragedy and organized rallies with pre-printed signs ready to go. Obama did the same, making speeches promising to leverage all the power of his mighty office to take action to see that such tragedies never happen again, a timid euphemism for implementing gun control. This is a non-solution for a real problem.

Forums and blogs joined in and became filled with the usual debate rhetoric, alternately calling for a ban on guns with others citing the constitutional right to own weapons. Still others noted that all murderers are mentally ill even as the psychologists protested that mental illness only rarely leads to violence and it is discriminatory to single them out.

Does no one understand where violence comes from and how to actually end it? If highly restrictive laws and banning the carrying and use of guns outside of one's own property were the answer then Mexico, a no-carry no-use country (except by the state), would be a violence-free paradise and Connecticut would be close behind it, having the most stringent gun control laws in our country. Moreover, the thousands of people killed on 9/11 were butchered without the use of even a single gun.

Merely possessing firearms does not obligate people to use them illicitly. Those with violence in their hearts will use them violently. Violent people will also use cars, bombs, swords, and saran gas to kill. Narrowly focusing a ban to be on semi-automatic weapons will not help because lever-action rifles (like the old Winchester rifle of Western movies) and revolving cylinder handguns (like Dirty Harry’s) are just about as fast as any modern non-semiautomatic firearm can be.

So, let’s get real. What will actually stop violence at the root? Violence grows from the human heart. The human heart is essentially selfish, proud, hedonistic, and envious.

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. (James 4:1-2a)

To end violence one must change the human heart from its natural ugly state, to a new reformed one. Teaching the wrong things to children and adults will simply perpetuate the problem of violence, like fostering self-pride and self-esteem instead of instilling in them esteem for others and a proper self-image as imperfect and fallible people. Self-esteem programs build within the student a sense that they “deserve” better treatment by others instead of teaching them that others deserve to be treated well by them. When people feel they are not getting the esteem they “deserve” from others they become resentful of others, a first step toward violence.

Transformation of the human heart begins by acknowledging that we are essentially born selfish, proud, and rebellious toward God. Selfishness and self-pride leads to arrogance, violence, and further rebellion. When we confront this truth about our own hearts, and when we realize that God expects us to change, to become something new and better, to become born again, only then can we begin to disarm the violent nature that lurks inside the human heart.

Hide Your face from my sins And blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners will be converted to You. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation; Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness. (Psalms 51:9-14)

To learn more about attaining a reformed or reborn heart from God, you are invited to read this article: http://thefaithfulword.org/salvation.html




Wednesday, December 19, 2012

How to Win the Gun Control Debate, or Not

A Starting Point Before Debate Begins

Frankly, I do not care which side of the gun control debate you support, it is always inexcusable to voice an opinion while being ignorant about the topic. Even worse, there are some things you could do during a verbal exchange that would guarantee your humiliation and thus cause you to lose your smaller personal gun control debate.

Know the Vocabulary

Few things will humiliate a debater of gun control, particularly an advocate of stricter gun control laws, than calling a class of gun by the wrong label. This is critical because weapon laws are built around these classifications. It is impossible to advocate for a law if you have no clue what it is that you want to regulate.

Below are some basic foundational terms and definitions.

Term: Firearm

A firearm is an arm / armament (a generally lethal battle weapon) that uses fire (hot burning gunpowder and expanding gas) to propel a bullet projectile at very high speeds (somewhere between 800 feet per second to 3000 feet per second or more).

“Guns” that use cold compressed air or springs to throw a solid pellet or a paint ball are NOT firearms and are rarely subject to federal gun control laws. Compressed air guns are not firearms because they do not use hot burning gunpowder (fire) and only rarely prove to be lethal, making them generally ineffective as a true arm / armament.

Confusing the matter, the media at times mixes and matches all kinds of things into the firearms statistics they broadcast. It is not uncommon to find they have included superficial compressed air pellet gun injuries into their firearms wounds statistics which has the effect of driving up the numbers. Similarly, firearm fatalities numbers will sometimes include the rather large number of police action shootings and homeowner self-defense shootings which again makes the numbers look more sinister than if they had just cited the number of fatalities from firearms used by criminals.

Term: Assault Weapon and Assault Weapon Look-alikes

This term, “assault weapon,” is a problematic term due to its extreme ambiguity as employed by the popular press. A true assault weapon is one that the military or paramilitary routinely uses to attack (assault) enemy troop positions. The majority of true assault weapons can fire as fully automatic (machine guns) where one pull of the trigger permits the weapon to continuously fire bullets until the trigger is released.

Many civilian firearms are made to cosmetically look like assault weapons, but cannot fire in fully automatic mode. The militaries of the world do not use civilian assault weapon look-alikes due to their inferior functionality and sometimes inferior quality.

Collectors enjoy acquiring, displaying, and target shooting assault weapon look-alikes. Assault weapon look-alikes are often semiautomatic (one trigger pull fires one bullet and then the gun positions another bullet and waits for the user to pull the trigger again). These assault weapon look-alikes are not machine guns (that is they are not fully automatic).

If one is to call for a ban on assault weapons one absolutely must define if he means that machine guns ought to be banned or that any firearm that is made to look like a military gun is to be banned. Of course, then comes the problem of addressing what makes one civilian gun look like its military model, which was always a controversial element of the so-called “Assault Weapons Ban.”

Assault weapons can be long barreled rifle-style fully automatic machine guns (like the M-16), short barreled handguns, and repeating shotguns. With regard to the long barreled guns, the civilian versions are not fully automatic machine guns. However, civilian handguns and shotguns, while not fully automatic machine guns, are virtually the same as those employed by the military.

Term: Large Capacity Magazines

A magazine or clip is the container that holds the bullets so the gun can eventually fire them. Magazines can be detachable or built right into the gun (most shotgun magazines are built into the gun itself). Those magazines that can hold many bullets are said to be large or high capacity. There is no standard to define the number that makes a magazine large or high in capacity.

Olympic target rifles often hold five bullets. Civilian small caliber pistols often hold between six to ten bullets on the low end and a dozen or two on the high end. Civilian rifles often accommodate magazines that hold a minimum of five bullets to a rather typical thirty bullets, up to extremes of sixty or more.

Target shooters often prefer magazines that hold between ten and thirty bullets because it allows for more concentration on aiming and shooting than on removing clips and loading in more bullets. Many target shooters would be quite upset to have to be limited to magazines that hold less than thirty bullets.

Term: Rounds / Bullets / Cartridges

A bullet is the solid projectile shot out the end of a firearm barrel. The bullet, when assembled to the metal cylinder casing that holds its gunpowder, is often referred to as a “round.” The word round is a hold over from the days of muskets when bullets were literally round balls that were pushed down the barrel with a ramrod.

Term: Fully Automatic / Machine Gun

A fully automatic weapon is a military grade assault weapon that fires a continuous burst of bullets with one pull of the trigger. It only stops firing when the trigger is released or the magazine runs out of bullets.

Term: Semiautomatic

This is the most popular class of civilian guns. For every pull of the trigger one bullet is fired. The term semiautomatic refers to the fact that the gun positions the next bullet and then waits for the trigger to be pulled again before firing it.

Term: Single Shot and Manually Actuated Repeaters

This class of weapon covers such technologies as muzzle-loading muskets, bolt action rifles, pump shotguns, lever actuated rifles, and revolving cylinder pistols. What they all have in common is that the user must manually position the next bullet to be fired and while doing so must also manually compress the mainspring that powers the firing pin.

It is often forgotten that lever actuated rifles were the hot military assault weapon of cavalry troops following the Civil War. Bolt action rifles were the state-of-the-art assault weapon at the beginning of the WWI. For centuries the muzzle-loaded musket was the military assault weapon of choice, right next to the long saber.

Obsolete Terms

Note: If you were looking for the term “Saturday Night Special” you will be disappointed to find out that there is no such thing. The label was an invention of the popular media. It was meant to refer to an inexpensive handgun that had no sporting use and was only practical when used to commit crimes and thus the term was pressed into service as a straw man rallying point. It was hoped that everyone would want to pass a law to ban the Saturday Night Special, and so be the first step in outlawing all civilian handguns.

However, it eventually became evident that all firearms have some legitimate use as either sporting guns, security weapons, or in home defense. Moreover studies determined that only 3% of career criminals used that type of cheap handgun to commit crimes. The majority of inexpensive handguns are purchased by low income home dwellers for self defense. The fad to label some guns as Saturday Night Specials faded.

Know the Constitution / Bill of Rights

Private ownership of lethal weapons was literally written into the US constitution. The second amendment reads, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

The Supreme Court ruled that the purpose of the right was to grant to individual citizens the freedom to own (keep) and use (bear) lethal weapons. This resolved the old debate as to whether this right was a states-level right or an individual freedom right.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with the constitution on this matter, the right does exist. Even more striking is the fact that the constitution is not referring to the ownership of hunting rifles but to the kind of firearm needed by people to form military units (militias). In other words, the constitution grants to the individual citizen the right to un-infringed ownership of military grade weapons.

As repugnant as the last paragraph may be to some people, that is the constitutional stance. If we as a nation decide that this is no longer a good idea then the second amendment to the constitution must be challenged and repealed, not ignored. We are a land of laws and must not illegally violate our own constitution for the sake of expediency. That is where the real gun control debate must begin.

Know and Acknowledge Current Gun Control Laws

It is against federal law to sell a gun (except at gun shows/swaps, aka “the gun show loophole“) without completing a form 4473 on which a significant amount of personal biographical information is provided about the purchaser. Then, law enforcement must be notified, and at law enforcement's discretion they may do a background check, approve, or disapprove the purchase within a certain number of days/hours.

By federal law it is illegal for any gun store to sell guns to:

1) anyone but the actual end owner of the gun (you cannot buy a gun "for" someone else)

2) anyone under indictment for a felony

3) anyone convicted of a felony

4) a fugitive

5) a current user of illegal drugs

6) anyone who is or was mentally ill

7) anyone dishonorably discharged from any armed forces branch

8) anyone having a restraining order against them

9) anyone ever convicted of domestic violence, including hitting a spouse or child

10) anyone who has renounced their US citizenship

11) any illegal resident in the US

Moreover, fully automatic weapons (i.e. machine guns where you pull the trigger once to fire multiple bullets) require a stringent federal license application, review, and approval process lasting about a year and including a substantial amount of money (generally several hundreds of dollars).

Generally, semi-automatic weapons (pull the trigger once to fire one bullet, then the gun places the next bullet in position and awaits another trigger pull) are regulated by the various states, most of whom outlaw semi-automatic rifles for use in public hunting sports while allowing them for use on private grounds and at shooting ranges.

Single shot weapons (which require the user to manually move the next bullet into position before pulling the trigger...like bolt action or lever action rifles and revolver handguns) have the least number of restrictions on their use state-by-state.

Final Word

Go ahead and debate the gun issues. But keep the vocabulary accurate. Do not call for a ban on “assault weapons” without explaining whether you mean machine guns or semiautomatic civilian guns that merely look like military guns. And do stay within the boundaries of American constitutional law. Simply calling for a law to ban gun ownership is an obvious infringement of the second amendment.

As for me, I do not favor additional gun control laws. I would like for the laws we presently have on the books to be better enforced. For example, gun show sales should be subject to the same procedures as gun store sales.

Finally, the US constitution guarantees the right to citizens in good legal standing to not only own firearms, but to bear them (i.e. use them) without infringement by the government (though within certain practical limits). To place a virtual ban on guns (such as England and Australia have done) will first require changing the constitution in order to make such a move constitutionally legal. I am not at all in favor of tampering with the Bill of Rights, and especially while the current left-leaning Obama administration is in office.

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Post Script: Booth added this comment:

I have been listening to the "outrage" being expressed over the NRA's suggestion that schools should have armed guards. "Armed guards in schools...that will traumatize our children!!!"

Sigh. When I went to my east coast middle school, junior high, and senior high during the 1970's we had armed guards and steel security gates that were locked during classtime. And we were happy to have them. In fact, I was beaten several times, not at the protected schools but on the bus ride to school, for being the "wrong" skin color, but sadly there was no armed authority on the bus, so no one ever intervened. Every bus ride was Lord of the Flies time. It was not the presence of armed security guards that was traumatizing, it was the lack of them during the beatings.

Today, right now and for the past decade here in the midwest, our local schools where my own children went to school have armed police officers on duty every day the school is open.

What planet do people live on that they think there are not armed guards at many schools today????? It should be the norm.




Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christiane Amanpour’s Back to the Beginning--One Christian’s Review

Christiane Amanpour is a well respected war reporter. Many also know her for what they perceive as her blatant editorializing bias: anti-Israel, anti-Christian, and pro-Islam. Certainly her previous mini-series called God’s Warriors took some small criticism for those apparent biases.

Nonetheless, I watched the first two-hour segment of Back to the Beginning, her latest made-for-TV special. Part two is scheduled for broadcast next week.

To my surprise the approach Amanpour chose to take with this special seems to be the polar opposite as found in most similar PBS specials. PBS shows usually appear to begin with the philosophy, “Show us the evidences to disbelieve the supernatural elements of the biblical stories and entirely ignore any pro-Bible evidences.“ By way of contrast, in part one Amanpour’s theme seemed to be, “Show me the hard evidences for your belief in the truth of the Bible stories of Abraham, Joseph, Noah’s flood, and the birth of Jesus.”

This does not suggest that Amanpour believed any of the evidences presented, but she generally did not editorialize against them in part one. Further, I did not agree with all the conclusions drawn or opinions offered, but I did find many of the evidences intriguing.

One scientist explained the evidences that demonstrate a massive flood had encompassed the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Black Sea area. An Egyptian archeologist explained the evidences that debunk the idea that Jewish slaves participated in building the Great Pyramids, but then showed the rarely seen art that literally illustrates Hebrew tradesmen and slaves laboring inside Egypt around the same time.

This last discussion was of particular interest to me. I recalled that the Bible never indicates that the Jews worked on the pyramids. Rather, we know from Scriptures that the Jews began their time in Egypt with a mixed social standing, Joseph as a high administrator and his brethren as lowest-tier humble shepherds. Over time the Jews became slaves, but still tended the flocks, some of the flocks being their own posessions according to the Exodus story. They also made mud bricks as slaves, according to the Bible, but no hint of stone masonry or working on the pyramids. Archeology and biblical narrative were in full agreement.

All in all, it was an interesting and non-inflammatory look at why people still believe the Bible stories. Frankly, I appreciated this television show, even with its host being a skeptic of Christianity. What will part two bring with its look at the Exodus and at Noah, the Ark, and Mount Ararat? I have no idea, but I will be watching. Yes, watching with discernment to be sure, but watching.

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Post Script: Booth added the following comment:

One set of factoids did incite my interest, so I did some small research. There were a lack of camel remains found in the Canaan area until about 800-700 B.C. Since Abraham (circa 2000 B.C.) ostensibly first obtained camels from Egypt prior to entering the area (Genesis 12:16) it did seem like a disconnect. However, it seems the view presented on the TV show was a bit unbalanced.

Researchers have collected and identified artifacts and published their findings indicating that camels were used in the area, but only very rarely, from 3000 B.C. to about 800 B.C. The rarity of camels during that time explains the generalized lack of remains in the area. Around 800 B.C . camel herding exploded and camels became ubiquitous in the region.

These things I had not been aware of previously. I once heard atheist Isaac Asimov speak in person and he admonished the assembled crowd to never stop learning else it was essentially taking an early death upon oneself--I agree.

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Post Script: Booth added the following comment:

Later I watched Christiane Amanpour’s second (final) installment in the two-part series and was disappointed that she seemed to greatly depart from the less-biased approach she applied to the first. I do not recommend part two.




Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Les Miserables, The Movie: One Christian’s Review

Can you hear the beating of the drums?…it is Les Miserables on the large screen calling you to join their revolution of love. As would be expected, the movie version of the play is a masterpiece in its own right, though far from a flawless one. It is musically superb, visually stunning, and emotionally evocative.

Since this is a movie version of a play the director and cinematographer took full advantage of an in-your-face shooting style. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, an in-the-actors’-face perspective. Personally, my own photography style favors the intimate close up (see my website for examples: lifetrekphotography.com), and so I very much appreciated this stylistic adaptation. Others with me on this Christmas Day presentation were not as pleased with the end result, feeling they missed too much of the background scenery and costuming by the camera lingering on faces.

Though lacking a bit of the period realism and detail that “Lincoln” brought to the screen, the costuming and background sets were excellent. It was most often impossible to tell where the live action left off and the CGI took up.

This cinema-graphic retelling of the Javert / Jean Valjean story is not rushed, neither does it dawdle or bog down. The direction and pacing are just about perfect and engaging. It is three hours of pure entertainment and contemplation. It even has its cathartic impact on the audience (trust me, you will hear it).

Some new music is introduced to the now-familiar musical. Though written by the original team the new words and composition do not seem equal to their earlier counterparts, coming off as sounding a bit schmaltzy.

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean simply eclipses Russell Crowe in vocal ability, delivery, power, and emotional depth. This is hard to write because I am a genuine fan of Russell Crowe in other films. The role had the appearance of making Crowe seem overwhelmed or intimidated, causing him to possibly under deliver. Anne Hathaway was unparalleled.

In fabricating the Thenardiers characters and interactions the Hollywood element of the production came out, and not in a pleasing way. While many will find the entire set of scenes quite amusing, there was far too much vomit and bathroom humor for my tastes, and the addition of a brief snippet of Santa Claus having sex (without showing any actual nudity) was disruptive. Moreover, the actors playing the Thenardiers generated subdued vocals and served up distracting cardboard acting.

There is a bit of violence in the movie, though far less than that of the Lord of Rings trilogy. Violence is not glorified, as it is in video games, and is counter to the message of the story proper. Even so, given the themes of death and suffering, the brief snippet of a bawdy Santa, and some swearing, many Christian parents will likely find the film to not be suitable for their younger children.

Sadly, the most disappointing element of the film was the artistic interpretation imposed onto the ending. Instead of matching the visuals to the words of the final song, calling the audience to join in the heavenly revolution of peace, forgiveness, and love, the closing song is reset back onto the earthbound blood-covered barricade. Patriotic revolutionary flags are vigorously being waved showing the color of angry men while blood encrusted combatants raise clenched fists in the air. This changes the dramatic conclusion of the original play from a promise of inheriting eternal life for persons with loving hearts to a conflicting message with voices calling for love while the visuals glorify bloody armed revolution. The ending badly misfires.

As entertainment the movie is still a classic in the making. The laudable story line itself remains in tact. And the other creative elements of the tale from the music to the visuals are simply so engaging that it is not improper to call this a masterpiece work of performance art.

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In a previous blog I took a look at the symbolic meaning of the play.

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Update: What Does the Barricade Symbolically Represent--Death or Rebellion?

Last night my wife opined that the barricade must be symbolic of death because in the movie a pair of coffins are incorporated into its base. However, the barricade seems more fittingly the symbol of rebellion itself, and not simply rebellion, but the rebellion of sin against God.

Rebellion always results in death. Sin always ends in death. Sin, and its rebellion are barriers (barricades) that prevent us from being holy and attaining love and forgiveness; they block us from God and His holiness.

This is why at the end of the play (opposite of what the movie shows visually) the words of the entire ensemble cast resound that the real crusade is that of love and forgiveness which are only found BEYOND the barricade, once one has moved past sin and rebellion.


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