February 27, 2005

Checking in - I'm still here

Sorry for the lack of posting lately. I usually don't like to talk about blogging, but my long absence is probably causing someone to wonder about the reason for the blank, white page.

Two reasons basically. I decided to forego posting during Lent (but neglected to say so in advance - sorry), and I've got a bad case of New Jersey writer's block. Oh, and a third reason -- the twelve Microsoft security fixes kept me pretty busy earlier this month with a little bit of overtime involved, though that's not an excuse for not blogging on a Sunday as I'm doing now.

So, what's up? Besides the IT work, I've been reading a bit more, re-reading the Chronicles of Narnia, in their controversial time-chronological order, reading The Magician's Nephew first, where Narnia is created, and the Witch from the dead world Charn is brought into Narnia by accident. I'm not through re-reading it, but since I read it several months ago, I think I can venture some thoughts on it.

Since I'm spoiling some details of the book (but not its ending), the rest of this entry is in the extended entry...

C.S. Lewis has a chapter dedicated to the symbol of The Deplorable Word, a word which, when uttered with the proper intonation and ceremonies (i.e. magic), would cause every living thing to die, except for the being saying the word. The Witch from Charn has killed that world by uttering that word, and later is brought to Narnia by the unwise actions of a young boy from England who stumbled into her world by magic.

The Deplorable Word is an apt description of evil, for at its foundation, evil is about destroying relationships. The First and Great Commandment is "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37 NKJV) and the second, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Matthew 22:39 NKJV). What could be a better symbol of utter evil than to be willing to kill all that exists apart from one's own self, for the satisfaction of an irrational lust for power?

The Magician's Nephew was written in the mid-1950's, while the US and the USSR were in the midst of The Cold War, and I think Lewis uses The Deplorable Word as a symbol of nuclear annihilation, as there was some talk back then of possibly winning a nuclear war, if one side had survivors and the other didn't. Not a very pretty scenario.

While the nuclear threat is certainly not what it once was (though it would be a mistake to ignore it completely, as North Korea and Iran bear out), the model is also applicable to suicide bombers (use expendable people to kill your opponents - hopefully killing all your opponents while you still have a few people left), and as evil as war is of itself (though not as evil as tyranny), the type of warfare exemplified by suicide bombings is an evil much greater. The story in the Bible of Samson killing himself along with a huge number of Philistines is no justification either. Samson is not portrayed in the Bible as a righteous man. None of the things Samson did, even though they accomplished God's intentions, were actually done for God's glory, but rather for the satisfaction of Samson's own imperfect human lusts.

In another way, though the allegory is not perfect here, this mode of evil is also exemplified by those who would be willing to kill for the sake of convenience, as in the case of Michael Schiavo's desire to end his wife's life, so that he could use the assets from his spouse's inheritance to support his children born of an adulterous relationship with another woman. And though this thinking is not going through the brain of every woman who has an abortion, I believe this mode of evil is inherent to the worldview that abortion is necessary to protect the right of a woman "to her own body" -- the view that the right to her body gives the right to kill another.

Posted by Joel Fuhrmann at 09:28 PM | Comments (0)

February 07, 2005

The Chronicles of Narnia

I've just completed my second reading of this wonderful work by C.S. Lewis, the first reading done while I was a young teenager. It was almost like reading the whole series again, I had forgotten a lot. I remembered The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe pretty well, but had forgotten all the details of the other books, except for one chapter from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Dragon Island.

I've got a new favorite in this series, no long The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, but now The Silver Chair. Why? I am Prince Rilian.

Read more below, but there are spoilers.

To recap:
Prince Rilian has been enchanted and taken away from the Kingdom of Narnia by an evil witch. Two schoolchildren, Eustace and Jill, are called by Aslan to rescue the Prince. They are given several signs to guide their way (and they mess these all up rather well, though they get the last and most important one right). Prince Rilian is released from his enchantment, but before escaping his underground prison, they all must face the evil witch for one last confrontation. They barely escape from another attack of evil magic, and Prince Rilian slays the witch. They escape back to Narnia and Prince Rilian sees his father, King Caspian, just before Caspian dies.

How does Prince Rilian's life describe me?
Prince Rilian's spell which holds him fast is unconfessed sin and doubt. In my case, it crept into my life when I began to doubt the truth of Christianity, and began to think of all religions and all points of view as valid searches for truth. I expressed that doubt by attending a church in a liberal denomination which prides itself on rejecting orthodox belief and replacing it with a "free and responsible search for truth and meaning". Now I respect that a little bit, but the way it is put into practice, in this worldview, one can't find the truth. It doesn't exist, or if it does exist, it only exists for oneself, and of course, since your search is never ending, one can always toss it aside and search for a different truth. Even the Principles and Purposes of this religion cannot be considered absolutes, but rather mere postulates.

Something happened in my belief system which told me that truth really does matter. How did it happen? Well, one author who had an effect on me was Ayn Rand, whose philosophy emphasized the existence of objective truth (though I have since rejected her atheism and extreme individualism). I realized that a search for truth should acknowledge the existence of a destination, and the willingess to stop searching (but not to stop learning and growing) when we get there. Otherwise one is just emulating Brownian motion, and not getting anywhere. I didn't think that was a good model for life. I've studied other religions and philosophies, and the one which seems to be most grounded in reality, is the one I believed in as a child, the one described by the Apostles' Creed, and by this creed I wrote after hearing a childrens' sermon on the First and Great Commandment.


Love God with all you've got.
Loving Jesus is loving God.
The Holy Spirit is God in us.

I recommitted my life to Christ just two years before the passing of my mother, and three years before the passing of my father. Reading through some of my mom's letters, I found out that one thing that made her very happy was my wife's decision to follow Jesus just a few months after my decision. I'm glad for the wisdom my parents passed on to me, and glad that we recognized its truth in time to share it with them.

Posted by Joel Fuhrmann at 10:29 PM | Comments (1)

Two views of abortion

From the Institute on Religion & Democracy:

Religious Left Celebrates Roe vs. Wade.
I find it pretty hard to see that Jesus would have been a Roe vs. Wade supporter, given His words about the sanctity of marriage and His compassion for children.

United Methodist Bishop Denounces Abortion.
Bishop Timothy Whitaker has made a strong statement denouncing the "moral horror" of abortion, and decries the involvement of the United Methodist Church in the RCRC.

Posted by Joel Fuhrmann at 05:11 PM | Comments (2)

February 03, 2005

Thoughts on the SOTU

I want to put down some of my thoughts quickly this morning before I read a lot of other opinions. I thought it was a great speech, and I think the President, together with the recent Iraqi election, came out with a complete vindication of his case for the war against Saddam Hussein.

The scene of the Safia Taleb al-Souhail, whose father was killed by the Hussein regime, and Janet Norwood, whose son was killed in Iraq, hugging and crying together was moving, showing that our war was not against the people of Iraq, but rather against a tyrant who was denying them the liberty which is their right.

President Bush made his case for private retirement accounts clearly. The Democrats who booed him were pathetic. Several years ago, under President Clinton, it was undisputed that Social Security would need to be fixed. Now that we have a Republican President who actually has made a proposal to do just that, all of a sudden Social Security is solvent? No way. The Democrat's response to the President's proposal is pure partisan bickering. And those who think all the money is going to be invested in Enron are distorting the issue too. Enron is not representative of the investments which will be made with these private accounts, nor is it representative of the US stock market in general. A more accurate picture would be a mixture of investments in the Standard & Poors (S&P) 500 Index and investment grade bonds, balanced appropriately for one's age. The S&P 500 Index growth rate is overwhelmingly positive and consistent when looked at in the long term. Even the stock market crash of 1929 is a small blip in the constant growth of this index. To look at it another way, if something catastrophic were to happen to make the stock market go into an unrecoverable decline, it would have to be such an overpowering economic event, more severe than the Depression, that nothing in America would have any value. Basically, it would be the end of the American economic system. Social Security in its current state would not be a sustainable option in that scenario either.

My information on the S&P 500 and the benefits of long term investing are based on data presented by Jeremy Siegel in his book Stocks for the Long Run, which I recommend everyone read before calling the stock market a roulette wheel. And now the obligatory disclosure: I work in the financial services industry, however I am not a licensed financial advisor. I'm in IT.

Update: Joshua Claybourn notes that Paul Krugman quotes Jeremy Siegel, claiming he isn't as optimistic as before. Josh corrects the context of the quote, and I affirm it. I've heard Professor Siegel speak at an investing symposium, and I heard him answer a question about this quote. When he said, "returns on stocks over bonds won't be as large as in the past," he wasn't referring to a comparison to the long-term rate of return, which is consistently about 7% above inflation, but rather to the supersized returns of the 1990s.

Posted by Joel Fuhrmann at 11:25 AM | Comments (0)

February 01, 2005

(Sort of) Exposing Joel Osteen

Michael Spencer, The Internet Monk, is calling on the blogosphere to expose Joel Osteen.

I am not familiar with Joel Osteen, except for the Beliefnet and FaithfulReader interviews I just read before starting this post, so I don't feel like I should critique the Rev. Osteen specifically. Shayne Radnor, at Wesley Blog, has a good post with which I agree.

I do want to critique a certain mindset however - the mindset that Christians should be happy and prosperous all the time. Looking at Psalm 1, we read, in a verse describing a godly person,


"He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.
Ps 1:3 NKJV

On the surface, this looks like a Jabez-type prosperity promise, always bearing fruit, never fading, everything one does prospering. Match your experience? Not mine, so I'm not so fast to accept that Jabez-style promise. So what do I think it means? First of all, Jesus chose us to go and bear fruit, so I think it's reasonable to think we should be doing that. Withering? John says we all sin, and I'd call that a type of withering, and when we confess our sins, God forgives us and His living water restores us. I've got to admit that sometimes my fruit bearing and withering struggle a bit. Jesus tells us to abide in Him, and He in us, and we'll bear much fruit, but I sometimes wonder how I'm supposed to abide in Him in order to see that. I do know what I'm not supposed to do, which is what I did back in 1981, and just give up the struggle, turn my back on Jesus, and sin to my heart's content.

Now for the prosperity part. I don't for a minute believe that just because I'm a Christian that I can drive a Lexus, have a nice big home, and buy lots of toys for my family to play with, though I do believe that God does take care of us, Cast your burden on the Lord, And He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved. (Ps 55:22 NKJV) (and God has answered a big prayer of mine this last month having to do with paying the bills). The way I view that verse (from Ps 1) is that God grants us prosperity in doing His will. I believe that God never asks anything of us unless He will also provide the means to do it. If that means leading a church with a multi-million dollar budget and saving thousands of people, He will do that in a prominent display of evangelistic prosperity. If it means going into a foreign mission and doing without creature comforts in order to preach the gospel who would never hear it otherwise, a less prominent but no-less real prosperity there as well, the prosperity of God's harvest. So instead of interpreting that verse from Psalm 1 as describing material wealth, I believe we're better looking at it with a spiritual viewpoint. What's my spiritual balance?

Posted by Joel Fuhrmann at 09:50 PM | Comments (0)

Congratulations!

I wasn't ignoring the news, I've just been away from the blog, and I actually wrote this last night but kept it in draft mode, thinking I'd add to it today. I'm real happy to hear of the enthusiastic turnout for the Iraqi election. I pray for them, that they will have a government that respects righteousness, justice, and liberty.

My co-author and brother-in-law, Rick Penner, writes that this event is as big as the fall of the Berlin Wall. I think he's on the mark there, though I didn't have quite as intense a reaction as what I remember from November 9, 1989. Still it's wonderful, and making it sweeter still, according to the Washington Times (hat tip James Taranto at OpinionJournal's BOTW), we haven't heard from former President Carter, or his best friends Michael Moore and George Soros, whose silence speaks volumes about how American leftists really view "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness".

God bless Iraq.

Posted by Joel Fuhrmann at 09:28 PM | Comments (0)