The Optimism of Total Depravity

Sometimes optimism shows up where we didn’t think to look for it:

Even though problems of theodicy are more troubling and more popular for debate, I maintain that for dour theologies, the problem of pleasure can be just as much of a problem to explain.  Perhaps the reason that the doctrine of total depravity isn’t immediately obvious is that for most people, they’ve found meaningful relationships and genuine pleasure among those that are outside the church.  If total depravity is taken without an awareness of God’s presence and distribution of common grace in the world, it’s difficult to explain why this is.  The traditional evangelical response that I grew up with is a denial that it exists, and it’s been my experience that this doesn’t survive many genuine encounters with friends and neighbors, coworkers, and the decent people that we don’t see on Sunday mornings.

If people are really that bad, how do we explain the happiness that we encounter in the world?  Rain falls on the just and unjust alike, and perhaps the presence of God – and His gifts to us – are more present everywhere in the world than we’re typically inclined to think.

Big Data and What Reviews Mean

One of the interesting effects of the abilities of big data has been the gradual, and probably unintentional, replacement of reviews and critiques by experts by aggregated data from people who may or may not have any particular expertise in whatever field they’re reviewing.  This is problematic if we treat these these reviews if they’re telling us the same sort of thing that the experts are saying.  Not only are they not the same thing, but the goals are entirely different.

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Easter and the Body of Christ

It’s worth noting that there are two different things in Christian theology are referred to as being the body of Christ: (a) The Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, Communion, or however your particular church tradition refers to it, and (b) the church, which is instructed to be the hands and feet of Christ to the world.

I’d never really thought about the significance that both of these things are referred to by the same metaphor, 1 but it was mentioned in a sermon this last Easter, and is worth pondering.

I don’t think that regarding both of these as the body of Christ is accidental:  both of these institutions were established by our Lord to minister:  the Eucharist is physical food that provides spiritual nourishment, and the church is – or at least should be – providing physical actions to the surrounding communities that result in spiritual benefits.  The Eucharist is the body of Christ for the church, and the church is the body of Christ to the world.  What the Eucharist is to the church, the church should be for the world.

Those that wish to denigrate the church have have a strong case that there are swaths of it within which Jesus would probably not be welcome:  stories abound of evangelicals endorsing Trump to the existence of Joel Osteen to the numerous moral failings of members of the clergy.  For me, it’s easy to become cynical and forget that the church was Jesus’s answer to suffering in the world.  If we are willing to take the Eucharist seriously, and not the church, perhaps we’ve missed Jesus’s point in using similar language.


  1. I’m aware that some faith traditions – Catholics, most notably – don’t think that the Eucharist as the body of Christ is a metaphor at all, but I don’t really have a better way of referring to this, considering that most traditions see it as a metaphor, and all faith traditions seems to this, when referring to the church, as a metaphor.

Apple and the FBI

Those that have followed the news over the last couple weeks are familiar with the the fight – currently on hiatus – between the FBI and Apple Computer. 1  For those that haven’t, here’s a brief summary of the events:

  1. The FBI discovers an iPhone belonging to Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the terrorists involved in the San Bernardino attack in December of 2015.
  2. The FBI asked for Apple’s help unlocking this iPhone by writing software that would allow them to bypass the encryption on it.
  3. Apple said no.
  4. The FBI said never mind, that they had been able to unlock it by using some sort of solution from a yet unnamed third party.

That’s where we are now.

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  1. Like quite a few fights lately, it has to do with the relationship between liberty and security:  I believe that Ben Franklin has a quote about that.

Brief thoughts on Zootopia

At the risk of sounding like a embittered old man, an observation on society:  the word “cool” is one of those words to which it’s difficult to assign a specific definition, as it’s usually used as shorthand for “I express approval of this thing,” rather than being used to assign a universally agreed attribute.  However, one of the better ways of describing what most people mean by this, at least as the word is represented in popular culture – and here I’m thinking of pop stars, or perhaps any Kardashian – is that the definition has a lot to do with the attribute of not visibly wanting something.  Wanting something risky, and working hard to get it, is not seen as particularly cool, and not caring (or at least pretending to) is one of the easier ways that we have of protecting ourselves – and, not coincidentally, of appearing to be cool.

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Morality in Aurora

Over the last day or so I’ve been reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2015 novel Aurora, which I’d highly recommend.  Robinson is one of the better hard science fiction writers of the last 20 or so years, and I read his Mars trilogy back when I was in college.  I haven’t read much of his since then, but Aurora is fantastic.  It’s the story of a generation ship 1 launched from Earth and headed to Tau Ceti, where at least one world similar to Earth has been detected.  Although science fiction has explored the concepts of generation ships before, I have a hard time imagining an author better suited for tackling this than Robinson, who takes the opportunity to explore the complications that might result from having people aboard a generation ship.

One of the issues that’s Robinson discusses is the complication of eventually having the ship populated entirely by people that did not choose to be on board.  For a substantial number of the crew on a voyage like Robinson describes, they will be born after the ship departs our solar system, and die before the ship ever arrives at its destination; because of this, a large number of options are closed to them.  No one would really have the option to not be a productive member of society, when society is only 2,000 people.

It makes sense that this would lead to practical problems on board the ship – as it does – but it also raises some interesting questions as to whether or not it is a moral decision to forcibly choose such a specific path for one’s children.  A substantial number of the people on board do not want to be there, and the specific differences between serving on such a ship and being shanghaied may seem more clear to those of us who still have our feet safely on a planet.

Robinson doesn’t offer a simple solution to this, which seems honest:  there isn’t one.  But it’s something that humanity will probably have to start thinking about as soon as the first person is born on Mars.


  1. If this is a term that’s unfamiliar to you, check out the wikipedia article:

Welcome Back

There’s been a blog here for years, but something happened awhile back – the WordPress installation stopped responding, for some reason – and as I was deciding that it was time to jump back in and reconstruct it, I realized that there’s not a lot of writing here that I really wanted to keep.

Anyway, we’ll see how this goes.