...are the ones that make the biggest difference


Evil and the Justice of God

A couple of posts ago, I indicated that I was reading Evil and the Justice of God by NT Wright and described it as a disappointingly slim tome. Can I change my answer to just disappointing?

The book is short; only 174 pages including the index with just 5 chapters. Some online reviewers have indicated that Wright intended to pursue a larger volume but eventually decided to offer up this condensed version for publication. Oh, would that he had stuck to his original plan. The book suffers not because Wright has too little to say, but because he has too much and fails to do justice to his arguments. He only skims the surface of a subject that should be dived.

The first chapter is entitled Evil is Still a Four-Letter Word. The brief introduction to the chapter is an interesting exploration of why Revelations describes a new creation minus the sea and gives a concise overview of Wrights views on modernity's understanding of the problem of evil. Which is, specifically, progress shall overcome. The modern western world believes in progress and the evolution of society. As Wright puts it:
"In this climate, the fact that we live in 'this day and age' means that certain things are now to be expected; we envision a steady march toward freedom and justice, conceived often in terms of the slow but sure triumph of Western-style liberal democracies and soft versions of socialism. Not to put too fine a point on it, when people say that certain things are unacceptable 'now that we're living in the twenty-first century,' they are appealing to an assumed doctrine of progress...and progress in a particular direction." (pg 22)
If we just wait long enough, the inevitable progression of our society will eventually eliminate evil. There may be bumps along the way but things will get sorted out in the end. Wright identifies three of these bumps that he thinks should have derailed this blind faith in human growth, but didn't. World Wars I and II are the primary event-bumps, while writers like Barth and Dostoyevsky, both of whom criticized belief in "the steady advance of the kingdom of God from within the historical process," provided the intellectual bump. This has left Western society ill-equipped to deal with the "new problem of evil" (the sub-title of this section). When evil does occur, then, we first try to ignore it until it rises up and makes its presence keenly felt. This willful ignorance makes us surprised when evil does present itself, which, third, leads us to respond in "immature and dangerous ways." One of the immature responses to evil Wright singles out is the dichotomy of blame; I am totally not to blame or totally to blame. Wright thinks, and I agree, that we need a more nuanced view of evil, one that takes seriously our individual and national complicities in evil but that also does not fail to take into account other people's (individual and corporate) evil actions. We have to be able to own up to our own failures while being willing to point out those of others. Adding fuel to our evil-blind fire is postmodernity.

Still in the first chapter, Wright's section on the nihilism of postmodernism is cutting but arguably betrays his stance as a modern thinker. I think he is correct in his argument that, while we "can't escape evil within postmodernity...you can't find anyone to blame either." By deconstructing all metanarratives, even the metanarrative of the individual self, postmodernity leads to a fluid, un-fixed understanding of "I". How can "I" be held responsible for my actions when the "I" of today is not the "I" of yesterday which committed those acts? Postmodernism further muddies the waters by deconstructing the myth of human progress. However, instead of replacing it with a more realistic view of humanity, growth and our future potential (in Christ), postmodernity spins a web of nihilism. There will be no progress, no change, no redemption. Instead of a nuanced view of evil, we have the mire of the status quo.

Wright thinks there are 3 elements key to the West getting a realistic understanding of evil. The first is coming to see that Western-style democracy is not perfect and certainly not a world panacea. We're having enough trouble doing it right ourselves to be foisting democracy off on everyone around the globe in disparate cultures. Democracy is likely the best form of government out there for today's world, but it may create as many problems as it solves, or at least proffer them up in a deceptively different guise. The second element is psychological; we must come to see the inherent ambivalence at the heart of man and that any individual can perform acts of great goodness and great wickedness. And some give themselves over entirely to the lure of wickedness. "What I think we must come to terms with is that when we talk about evil we must recognize, as neither modernity nor postmodernity seems to me to do, that there is such a thing as human evil and that it takes various forms." Which brings up the third element; the recognition that the line between good and evil, us and them, runs through each and every one of us as individuals. We must not make the mistake of moral equivalency, viewing each criminal act as inherently equal, but nor must we make the opposite mistake of supposing that the criminal acts of "our side" (or "me") aren't evil when done at the expense of the other.

Wright finishes the chapter by asking the church to start to try to make sense out of all of this. How can the church teach a nuanced view of evil in today's world, specifically today's America? I think most conservative churches would be very hard pressed to do this in our political environment, given their role in helping to create it. To turn to a nuanced view of evil, to recognize America's complicity in evil around the globe, would just be eating too much crow for some leaders and would not be tolerated by the more nationalistic Christians among their flock. Which brings up one of the shallow points of this work. I expected Wright to tackle these, and other pressing issues, in the subsequent chapters since he did not raise them here. He has started off on a great foot, but quickly starts to get tripped up as we shall see.



Baby registry

Over the weekend, the wife and I went out a registered at a Target and Babies 'R Us. Since we're going to wait until the delivery to find out what we're having, we ended up picking out a lot of stuff in greens & yellows. I realize now one reason so many people decide to find out the sex of the baby; much easier to register. But the thing that really struck me during these trips was how totally consumer-oriented this type of registry has become. Baby has become big business, and it is evident the moment the staff person hands you the checklist of things you'll "need" and "should" register for. The checklist contains dozens of items. You actually need, and I mean need in the conventional sense of stuff you actually require, maybe a third of them. Things like clothes, bottles, diapers, a crib, car seat - the basic stuff. But the list also includes no fewer than three different pieces of sleep furniture (crib, bassinet and portable bassinet) and their various linen requirements, as well as a long list of other items that the baby will likely outgrow within a few months. Knowing that most couples do not have more than 2 children, these items will have a short half-life in most families, ultimately heading for the landfill or the garage sale.

What was most disturbing is how easily we started getting into adding to our list, and this with a mother-to-be who has spent ample time around small children and has a good idea of their actual needs. All these items of convenience just seem so, well, convenient. Which points to a sad reality that many people in this country seem to be looking at their children as either accessories or time-management problems. Which is why so many of the wares in these stores are geared towards fashion & decorating and child-warehousing. Your kid starts to bug you, put 'em in their bouncy seat, fashionably colored to match your existing decor. After we got home, we started mentally reviewing what we registered for and realized we probably didn't need most of it or that what it was ridiculously overpriced. How would a young mother or couple with no experience know you don't need some of this stuff or that its a waste of money? For me, the takeaway here is that its never too early to start teaching your children lessons about what's important in life, and it surely is not a $250 crib bedding set.



I turned 30 on Sunday. I turned 20 during my advanced training in the Army down at Ft Huachuca - needless to say a lot has happened in the last 1o years. I don't feel 30, though never having been 30 before, I'm not quite sure what 30 actually feels like. In the last few months, as I've contemplated this milestone, I suppose I've been rather uneasy with what this means. I'm 30 and still in school - for an associates degree, mind you - not established in any career (though both will change next May when I graduate and become an RN), not sure of where I want to live, am not well connected in any church, have few close friends and am really nowhere near where I thought I'd be when I turned 20. There are, mercifully, things I am quite clear on and happy about - my wonderful wife and coming child are at the top of that list. But all in all, there seemed rather more to be sad, or at least not happy, about. The day has come and gone, and aside from a few fun new things in my possession, it was a day like any other. And instead of making me sad, it oddly made me hopeful. These kinds of milestones give us a rod with which to measure our lives. In the last 10 years, have I become more like the person I want to be? Am I making progress towards my goals? What more do I need to accomplish? What do I need to change? This birthday has given me a reason to contemplate things that I may have been too busy to focus on otherwise and in my self-evaluation, I see new strengths and new possibilities within me as well as areas that need continued improvement. But on the whole, I think I am more like the person I want to be than I was 10 years ago. And that gives me hope.

It doesn't hurt that we just finished up a week in Florida, getting home somewhat late Saturday night. We drove down, which afforded us several opportunities to be incredibly grateful. On the way down, just inside of Tennessee, we got rear-ended on the highway going 70+ mph. A young guy in a black car came flying up behind us and hit us as he apparently mis-timed his move into the left lane. I was able to keep the car on the road but unable to get his license plate. Thankfully, the damage was minimal, mostly just paint, and we did not careen off the road to an untimely demise or serious injury. But that incident came to pretty much characterize the drivers we encountered down south. Even in pouring rain with horrible visibility, people were still driving well over 70mph and hanging out less than a car length behind other vehicles. It is no wonder we saw 1 definite and 2 likely fatal car accidents on the highway in Florida. We intended to drive up and stay with my uncle in Louisville on our way back, but about 30 miles south of the city, our car started squealing horribly. It only got worse when we slowed down and got off the highway. At first, I thought it was the power steering pump, but then noticed 2 bolts just sitting loose on top of the alternator. We had to get towed into a repair shop, which was by all external evaluations, a rather seedy place ran by a couple of unkempt individuals. First impressions did not inspire much trust. But these men proved me wrong, dead-wrong, fixing the vehicle right then and there and not charging me a dime. They could have easily taken me for a new power steering pump and belts, but they stayed open late to wave off any recompense. But if you are ever in the south Louisville area and need some auto repairs, I couldn't recommend BKC Auto enough.

Aside from those 2 unfortunate incidents, Florida was beautiful. The wife's uncle owns a condo that is about a 100 yard walk from a pristine, white-sand beach. Just gorgeous. I got a sunburn in a very weird pattern on either side of my chest where I apparently failed to apply sunscreen, but that didn't stop me from swimming and enjoying the beach most of the days we were there. We even made a little side-trip to St Petersburg, which is a pretty nice city. I haven't been to Louisville in at least 10 years, probably more like 15, and got to see cousins and their kids that I hadn't seen in that time. Louisville is also a nice city - not too big but with a lot going on. My uncle is an avid sailor, so we may get a chance to head down there and enjoy some time out on the water sometime this fall.

I've received or purchased several new books that I'm either presently reading or will be reading shortly. They are:

Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, by Anonymous. I'm about halfway through this. While many of the points about the Bush administration's failure to consider Afghani culture before the invasion and the West's consistent misunderstanding of bin Laden are trenchant and important, the author seems locked in a world where neither societies nor people are capable of any meaningful change. His is a rather pessimistic view of the human condition and the book is the poorer for it.

Evil and the Justice of God, by NT Wright. I generally enjoy Wright's books and essays, what I can understand of them, that is. He sometimes assumes his reader knows the positions and parties of various debates certainly more than I do, but such is not the case with this disappointingly thin tome. He is clear and concise, but I wish he would include fewer "but we don't have space for that here's" and more expansion on those subjects. I will likely give a fuller review after I finish it.

Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults and Swallow Citizens Whole, by Benjamin R. Barber. I have only briefly flipped through this book a couple of times, but with my growing awareness of how our consumeristic culture discourages faith, reasoned thought or mere satisfaction, I thought this looked like an interesting read.

A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini. I thought The Kite Runner was good and this is supposed to be even better. This novel covers a more contemporary period and I'm looking forward to seeing an Afghan's perception of the event in his country since 9/11.