Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Randy Pausch's Religion.

Coinciding with Randy Pausch's passing last week, many have been searching the net for clues about his religion. I know this because many searches have ended up on my site with the following search terms, "Randy Pausch religion" or some combination, since I have reviewed his book, "last lecture" and commencement address in May, 2008, and the blog title includes the word religion.

I didn't previously comment on his religion in part because he downplayed it. However, in viewing his "last lecture" and reading his book of the same name some clues emerge. Dr. Pausch wrote about his family: "We were Presbyterians." He called his father "the most 'Christian' man [he] ever met." He further stated that "unlike [his] mom, [his father] didn't easily embrace organized religion."

Also, consistent with being a Presbyterian or other Protestant, Dr. Pausch referenced his "minister." "And since my diagnosis, my minister has been very helpful." His minister told him that Dr. Pausch also needed emotional insurance to supplement his life insurance. The minister "explained that the premiums of emotional insurance would be paid for with [Dr. Pausch's] time, not [his] money." To this end, the minister suggested that Dr. Pausch make videotapes of himself with his young kids so "they'll have a record of how [they] played and laughed."

Eschewing the opportunity to evangelize, Dr. Pausch explained that his religious views would not be explicated in the last lecture or book because he believed religion is a private matter.

He did allow he had a "deathbed conversion." It, however, pertained to his conversion to a Mac after his diagnosis.

Finally, Dr. Pausch referred to "karma" in his lecture and book in the following fashion: "It's not about achieving your dreams. It's about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you." He also said in the lecture: "I believe in karma."

I think Dr. Pausch here was referring to "karma" in the generic and not religious (or new age) sense.

UPDATE: A Unitarian Universalist website asserts he was one:

UPDATE 2: Here's the pertinent excerpt from the interview linked above:

" What is your religious background, and what is it about being a Unitarian Universalist that attracted you to this faith?

"Pausch: I was raised Presbyterian and attended church regularly until I was about 17. I like the fact that [Unitarian Universalism] appeals to reason and thought more than dogma."


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Book Review: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.

I have just completed a trilogy.

Not C.S. Lewis' "Space" or Narnia trilogies. Nor the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I have read the so-called "New Atheist Trilogy," comprised of g-D is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens, The End of Faith by Sam Harris and now The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.

Although the books contain many similarities and cross-reference themselves, each brings a different emphasis borne of the distinct backgrounds of the authors.

Dawkins brings the perspective of a biologist; Hitchens shows his status as a man of letters; and Harris incorporates his philosophical background.

Dawkins, however, marries at least two backgrounds better than the others, although Hitchens touches on all three. Dawkins especially demonstrates his knowledge of science and letters. However, Dawkins isn't especially skilled at rhetoric or argument because he overargues and thereby shows weaknesses in his polemic.

A hallmark of modern atheist argument is to claim that they are governed by the evidence. They assert that they cannot make a "leap of faith" because they need hard evidence to be convinced. Dawkins abandons this position when he turns the argument on its head by ridiculing those who aren't convinced of macroevolution because of interspecies gaps in the evolutionary chain or record as "gap worshippers." "The creationists' love affair with 'gaps' in the fossil record symbolizes their whole gap theology." (p. 127.) Given the gap in the record, isn't it more like an atheistic or agnostic to demand proof, any proof, of a bridge in this gap? At bottom, then, both sides are making some leaps in filling in gaps. Therefore, atheists or agnostics are unentitled to seize the ground of claiming they are only following the evidence.

Dawkins' book brought to mind a trial strategy. When an attorney makes promises during opening statement, he or she better deliver. The failure to do so can crater that advocate's credibility before the jury. It's very effective to quote those promises and then demonstrate they remain unfulfilled in the closing argument.

Dawkins' introduction offers that opportunity. Dawkins makes high claims at the outset. For example, "Perhaps you have been taught that philosophers and theologians have put forward good reasons to believe in God. If you think that, you might enjoy Chapter 3 on 'Arguments for God's existence'-the arguments turn out to be spectacularly weak." (p. 2.) Regarding the next chapter, Dawkins promises: "I hope you will gain enlightenment from Chapter 4 on 'Why there almost certainly is no God'." (p. 2.)

Accordingly, Dawkins essentially assures he will demolish the arguments for God's existence and go further to establish "there [is] almost certainly ... no God." He sets the bar high. And then he doesn't deliver. While he does discredit some of the weaker arguments that have been posited for God's existence, such as St. Anselm's ontological argument (pp. 80-83), he fails to disprove that God could have created the universe. In my mind, this is one of the linchpins of the debate (the other is what to make of Jesus). Everything else--such as whether religion has been perverted--is window dressing.

And his effort to deliver constituted the core of this book. Thereafter, the book tapers off with related, but essentially tangential, excursions about whether religion constitutes child abuse or leads to other abuses. (See, e.g., Chapters 8 and 9.)

An aspect of modern atheist literature is to call those who claim to be governed by scripture to account for not reading it or understanding it. This criticism could just have likely been leveled within the church but it is amusing to read it from those outside of it. Dawkins too proffers this critique, but to his credit, he goes further. He underscores the literary value of the Bible, and encourages nonbelievers to read it. (pp. 340-44.) "[A]n atheistic world-view provides no justification for cutting the Bible, and other sacred books, out of our education." (p. 344.)

Dawkins' book provides a perspective that any critical thinker--especially those with a Christian world-view--needs to read and process. Unchallenged, naive belief does no service to the Church.

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Cognitive Dissonance.

That someone stole a church's trailer isn't funny.

The pastor's response is.

"To the people who stole our trailer:

First let me say, God loves you. Second let me say we forgive you. We really don’t want to forgive you, but God says we should so we do. Third of all I want you to know that I think you are scum bags. I think you are lowlife degenerates who need a good butt kicking. Matter of fact I feel so strongly about the fact that you need a good butt kicking that I am volunteering to do it. I hope you believe in God because you should get on your knees and cry out to Him like never before because if we find you, I can promise we will kick the crap out of you. It won’t be pretty, it won’t be over quickly, and it will be very painful. I know that doesn’t sound very nice but I feel pretty strongly that is what you need.

I am curious what kind of lowlife you must be? Trust me, I have been around some pretty low ones before but never one that would be so low as to steal from a church. I understand you probably need some crack or something like that but stealing from a church would scare me. It would scare me more once I realized which church I stole it from. We are probably the only church you have ever heard of that will honestly break your legs once you are found.

Let me say again that we DO forgive you. But there are still consequences for your sin and your consequence will be toting a butt kicking. It is obvious you aren’t very smart so let me give you some advice. Get that trailer out of the county QUICK. As soon as I hit publish on this blog post a church of about 1000 crazy people will know that our black, children’s trailer has been stolen and I can promise they will be on the lookout for it. You would much rather me find you then one of them.

Best Wishes,

Gary Lamb

Lead Pastor, Revolution Church"


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Technology Review: Nike+iPod Sports Kit.

Athletic shoes and portable music are runners' best friends.

Hence, it makes sense that they join forces in the form of Nike and Apple's Nike+iPod Sports Kit. The Kit consists of two pieces, an accelerometer (sometimes called a "pebble") that is placed in the shoe to record times and distances, and a receiver that plugs into the iPod Nano and receives information from the accelerometer.

1. Cost. At sub-$30, the Kit packs a lot of bang for the buck. It can elevate an iPod Nano into a sophisticated workout tool. However, the special Nike+ shoes--with the bed carved out of the sole--must be purchased separately, and seem to be priced about $20 more than regular Nike running shoes. Some have reported modifying other brands to hold the accelerometer, but the Nike+ shoes are specially designed for this purpose and promise the necessary snug fit.

2. Conveniences. This device converts what many already have--an iPod Nano--into a multifaceted runner's tool. In addition to incorporating music into the workouts, the Nano now displays visual information about the workouts (e.g. miles run and time elapsed) and provides human voice feedback. For example, when a personal best is achieved, prerecorded congratulations play through the ear buds from such luminaries as Paula Radcliffe and Lance Armstrong. Information about workouts can be transferred from the Nano to one's computer as well as a website to track progress and compare to others'.

3. Critiques. My only critique is a slight variation in workout distances reported. For instance, one of my routes is a 4-mile lap. Since the distance should be the same for each run of this same 4-mile route, when the total reported for this route varies, it causes concern. However, because the variations are minor, and I'm not training for the Olympics, I'm not overly troubled by the discrepancies.