The New Evangelical Outpost

In the very first post on EO—in October 2003—I noted that the inspiration for this blog was Hugh Hewitt’s book, In, But Not Of: A Guide to Christian Ambition and the Desire to Influence the World. At the time I wrote:

This blog was inspired by #32 (Start and maintain your own Web log (blog)). “At present,” Hewitt notes, “no great blogger has emerged with a distinctly evangelical worldview.” Point noted, Mr. Hewitt.

I’ll be here, holding down the fort, until such a blogger shows up.

I have to confess that I initially harbored delusions of grandeur, thinking that maybe I might become that rarefied blogger. But that—as anyone who has followed this site can attest—never happened. Instead, I found my true role as a blogger in another section of Hewitt’s vade mecum, chapter #33: Find Interesting People.

Over the past five and a half years I’ve found hundreds of interesting people—including dozens of great evangelical bloggers. The real value and benefit of EO has always been in helping to introduce readers of this site to the interesting people I’ve found.

In keeping with that mission, I’ve partnered with John Mark Reynolds and Dustin Steeve to change the format of this blog into an online journal. The change reflects our intention to introduce you a broad lists of young, up-and-coming evangelical authors who hail primarily from the site’s sponsors, the Torrey Honors Institute and Biola University.

Matthew Anderson—one of my oldest blog buddies—will be joining me as a senior editor. Together we hope to help shape these young writers, honing their writing and reasoning skills and preparing them to provide thoughtful reflections on culture, politics, and religion from an evangelical Christian worldview. Our goal is to make EO an incubator for developing intriguing opinions and introducing interesting individuals.

In the process, we plan to bring you an engaging and entertaining mix of content, from book reviews and essays to opinion pieces and link lists (i.e., the return of 33 Things) and much, much more. We especially want to provide critical reflection on matters—daycare, cremation, etc.—that few of us stop to consider.  Most of all, though, we plan to introduce you to interesting people—our contributors, our commenters, and our friends in the community of Christian bloggers. ‘

Culture11 and the Future of EO

A long time ago I learned that it was vanity to apologize for not blogging. As one longtime blogger famously said, “I hate to be the one to tell you … but we will survive. Really. With support of my family, I think I will be able to get by the next day or two without an update from ‘YourDailyNanoBlogPundit.com.”

Still, I can’t help but feel guilty for running off and abandoning this blog without giving an account of what I was doing. So here is my long overdue explanation…

A few months ago I took a job as the managing editor for Culture11, a new online magazine/social network. We launched the site last Wednesday with the goal of building a community around 11 key areas of culture: arts, commerce, community, education, faith, family, ideas, leisure, media, politics, and technology.

One of the reasons we started Culture11 was to provide an online destination where cultural conservatives could reunite content and community. I believe this is the future of new media.

When I started EO (almost five years ago) my network of friends and acquaintances was limited to my neighbors, high school buddies, and my fellow Marines. Because of blogging I was able to establish regular contact with pastors, professors, lawyers, doctors, journalists, engineers, editors, stay-at-home parents, scientists, theologians, etc. While I still maintain contact with these people, the interactions now tend to occur on social networks (socnet) like Facebook and LinkedIn or on social tools like Twitter. Although I still read blogs, my contact with the bloggers now almost always occurs on a socnet; the content and camaraderie have been separated.

Part of the reason for the changes is the emphasis on RSS feeds. Five years ago I relied exclusively on my blogroll to keep up with the blogs I read; now the posts come to me and are saved in my Google Reader. This has led to a shift away from the medium (an individual blog) to the individual content (whether a post, mass email, entry on a Facebook Wall, etc.). The future of the new media, in my opinion, is moving away from personal sites toward online collectives that are focused on particular interests. (The political left has been doing this for years (see: DailyKos) but the other areas of the blogging community have been slow to follow this approach.)

One of the reasons we started Culture11 was to provide an online destination where cultural conservatives could reunite both content and community around both broad topics and niche interests. We’re still in the beta stage and working out a few bugs, both in our content and features. we also recognize that we are a long way from rivaling Facebook (though over the next few months we’ll be rolling out an number of innovative features). But we believe that we’re slightly ahead of the curve and that the future of online activity will move to “planned communities” rather than, for example, the “ghettos” that Christian bloggers have been trying to break out of for years.

However, such a project is built from the bottom-up, rather than from the top-down. Which is why I need your help to make this a reality. I hope that you’ll visit and engage in the site. Read, rate, and comment on the articles; create a profile; start and join groups; and most importantly for bloggers, cross-post your blog entries on our “Diary” section (remember to put a link to your site on the bottom so that readers will learn where they can find more).I really encourage you to make this your online “third-place” (even if its your second or third, third place).

You’ll also be able to find me there full-time. I’ll be doing all of my blogging (real blogging for a change!) on Kuo & Joe, the blog I share with Culture11’s CEO, David Kuo.

As for the future of EO, this site will also be moving toward a group content format. My friends at Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute have generously offered to take over and refurbish this blog into an online destination for evangelicals and other Christians. How that vision is implemented is still being fleshed out, but I have the utmost faith that they will transform this site in a way that will be invaluable for the blogging community.

Finally, I want to say that I am incredibly thankful for each and every person who has ever read this blog. God has used your encouragement and friendship to help me achieve successes in my life that I never could have imagined. You are the ones that are responsible not only for giving me a career, but for helping me land the job of my dreams. I can truly never thank you enough for all you have done for me.

Rather than saying goodbye, though, I’m merely inviting you to to follow me as I move to a new neighborhood. Ironically, leaving this blog will mean that my blogging and interaction with readers will increase tremendously. I’ll be reading more, linking more, and engaging with you more than ever.

So while I hope you won’t abandon EO, I hope you’ll join in my new online home. We have a community to build. Let’s get started.

Thirty Three Things (v. 70)

1. How the digital age is destroying us by ruining our ability to concentrate

Chronic distraction, from which we all now suffer, kills you more slowly. Meyer says there is evidence that people in chronically distracted jobs are, in early middle age, appearing with the same symptoms of burn-out as air traffic controllers. They might have stress-related diseases, even irreversible brain damage. But the damage is not caused by overwork, it’s caused by multiple distracted work. One American study found that interruptions take up 2.1 hours of the average knowledge worker’s day. This, it was estimated, cost the US economy $588 billion a year. Yet the rabidly multitasking distractee is seen as some kind of social and economic ideal.

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2. Michael Wyly, a retired Marine Colonel, on professionalism:

It was during the European Renaissance that the professional class emerged and defined itself. It was during the Renaissance that the birthright nobility began to give way to a society led by persons respected for their merits — for what they did instead of who they were. Each profession had standards for entry, they professed something, and their study of it was daily, continual and life-long. They served their society. Medicine, law, the clergy and military leadership became during the 15th and 16th centuries — and still stand as — the classically defined professions. When we speak of a professional ball player or a professional musician, we are corrupting the term, for it means far more than getting a paycheck for what you do. A profession must be applied for and joined after being accepted, and its moral standards are as important as its philosophy.

(HT: Acton Institute PowerBlog)

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3. World’s youth more religious than reputed (except in Europe)

Worldwide, more than four out of five young adults (85 percent) are religious and almost half (44 percent) are deeply religious. Only 13 percent have no appreciation for God or faith in general.

However, there are large differences between individual countries and among the various denominations. Whereas young adults in Islamic states and developing countries in particular are deeply religious, young Christians in Europe especially are comparatively unreligious. For example, 80 percent of all young Protestants outside of Europe are deeply religious and 18 percent are religious, compared to just seven percent of young Protestants in Europe who are deeply religious, and 25 percent can only be classified as nominal members of their church.

It is a similar picture with young Catholics. Although the proportion of deeply religious Catholics in Europe is 25 percent, outside Europe this figure is 68 percent. Only a third of young people in Eastern Europe and Russia have been christened, and most young people have no connection at all to faith and the Church. Only 13 percent are deeply religious.

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4. If physical theories were women:

0. Newtonian gravity is your high-school girlfriend. As your first encounter with physics, she’s amazing. You will never forget Newtonian gravity, even if you’re not in touch very much anymore.

1. Electrodynamics is your college girlfriend. Pretty complex, you probably won’t date long enough to really understand her.

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5. Cassettes still a multi-million dollar industry… in prison

[W]ho is buying Paris’ cassettes? America’s 2.3 million prisoners. Which brings us to the second advantage of tape over compact disc: a tape can’t be broken apart and used as a shiv. Prisoners are allowed to have them. 60% of Paris’ business is in cassette tapes.

Paris’ excited conclusion: “[By selling cassette tapes] I have dodged every conventional bullet that has hit most music retailers,” Paris says. “I don’t have to worry about downloading, legal or illegally. The beauty of it is that prisoners don’t have Internet access and never will.”

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6. See yourself, know yourself?

Other researchers have determined that mirrors can subtly affect human behavior, often in surprisingly positive ways. Subjects tested in a room with a mirror have been found to work harder, to be more helpful and to be less inclined to cheat, compared with control groups performing the same exercises in nonmirrored settings. Reporting in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, C. Neil Macrae, Galen V. Bodenhausen and Alan B. Milne found that people in a room with a mirror were comparatively less likely to judge others based on social stereotypes about, for example, sex, race or religion.

“When people are made to be self-aware, they are likelier to stop and think about what they are doing,” Dr. Bodenhausen said. “A byproduct of that awareness may be a shift away from acting on autopilot toward more desirable ways of behaving.” Physical self-reflection, in other words, encourages philosophical self-reflection, a crash course in the Socratic notion that you cannot know or appreciate others until you know yourself.

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7. Writing advice from Zadie Smith

When you finish your novel, if money is not a desperate priority, if you do not need to sell it at once or be published that very second – put it in a drawer. For as long as you can manage. A year of more is ideal – but even three months will do. Step away from the vehicle. The secret to editing your work is simple: you need to become its reader instead of its writer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat backstage with a line of novelists at some festival, all of us with red pens in hand, frantically editing our published novels into fit form so that we might go on stage and read from them. It’s an unfortunate thing, but it turns out that the perfect state of mind to edit your novel is two years after it’s published, ten minutes before you go on stage at a literary festival. At that moment every redundant phrase, each show-off, pointless metaphor, all of the pieces of dead wood, stupidity, vanity, and tedium are distressingly obvious to you.

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8. Volunteering Notes — The Fresh Air Fund, which has provided free summer vacations to New York City children from disadvantaged communities since 1877, is in need of host families. Unless all prospective host families are screened and vetted by the end of July these 200 children may miss out on an invaluable experience

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9. Philanthropy Notes — The Gerard Health Foundation recently unveiled a new award called Life Prizes – up to $600,000 will be given to up to six leaders who have succeeded in awakening the conscience of America to uphold and preserve the sanctity of human life. Philanthropist Raymond B. Ruddy is giving this inaugural award in honor of his parents, in an effort to encourage and inspire a new generation of leaders in the pro-life movement. The nomination progress is beginning this week.

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10. How Much Does It Cost You in Wages if You “Sound Black?”

Continue reading Thirty Three Things (v. 70)

100 Most Overrated/Underrated Films

[Note: I’m taking a brief vacation. Regular blogging will resume on July 21.]
“That movie was totally overrated. Now if you want to see a really worthwhile flick you should see…” Because film buffs like me say this type of thing all the time so I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to actually list 50 of the most overrated and 50 of the most underrated films of all time.
A few of the overrated films are just plain bad while most are merely undeserving of the critical or popular praise they receive. The underrated films, though, are all examples of excellent cinema and should be considered at least slightly more worthy than the corresponding “overrated” film with which they share a category. The categories, which range from the obvious to the just plain odd, are intended to cover a broad selection of interests but are not meant to be exhaustive.
Here then are 100 of the most overrated and underrated films of all time (overrated on the left, underrated on the right):
1. Most overated/underrated: Raging Bull | Metropolitan (Raging Bull is often referred to as one of the best films of the ’80s. Such people obviously do not like either a) movies or b) humanity. Raging Bull is is all style and no substance. Metropolitan, on the other hand, is nearly the opposite of Raging Bull in every way. It is urbane, witty, and subtle. But the main difference is that Whit Stillman’s charming little film shows a depth of understanding about the human condition that is completely lacking in Scorsese’s misanthropic “masterpiece.”)
2. Movie about fraternities: Animal House | PCU (I hesitate to include these two together simply because the criminally overhyped John Belushi shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath as comic genius Jeremy Piven.)
3. Disney movie about dogs: 101 Dalmations | The Fox and the Hound
4. John Wayne movie: The Searchers | Big Jake (Both are about the search for a kidnapped family member but Big Jake has two things missing from The Searchers: love and humor.)
5. Harrison Ford movie Witness | The Mosquito Coast
6. Movie about a rock band: Gimme Shelter | Some Kind of Monster (I’m not a fan of either the Rolling Stones or Metallica. But Gimme Shelter shows that deep down the Stones are uninteresting dullards while Monster reveals the members of Metallica to be fascinatingly neurotic.)
7. Cold war movie : Dr. Stangelove | Crimson Tide
8. Mobster movie: Scarface | Miller’s Crossing
9. Audrey Hepburn movie: Breakfast At Tiffany’s | Roman Holiday
10. Movie about a pig: Charlotte’s Web | Babe (As film critic critic Dann Gire once said, Babe is the Citizen Kane of talking pig movies.)

Continue reading 100 Most Overrated/Underrated Films

The Very Persistent Illusion:
Absurd and Amusing Rationalizations About Free Will

[Note: I’m taking a brief vacation. Regular blogging will resume on July 21.]
Last year while discussing bioethics with fellow blogger Jim Smalls, I expressed my disgust and dismay about ethicist Peter Singer. How could anyone with his intellect, I wondered, hold such bizarre and ridiculous beliefs? Jim has an M.D. and a Ph.D. He’s an extremely smart guy who is used to being around smart people so I expected him to confirm my suspicion that Singer may not be as intelligent as he seems. Instead, he said that I shouldn’t be surprised at all and provided an answer that floored me: “Increased intellect provides an increased power for rationalization.”
I was reminded of that insight while reading the New York Times piece, Free Will: Now You Have It, Now You Don’t. The author of the article, Dennis Overbye, discusses the issue of free will with several scientists, psychologists, and philosophers, almost all of whom hold materialism as an unshakable presupposition. The resulting rationalizations provide support for Jim’s claim and show how smart people can believe the dumbest things.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

Continue reading The Very Persistent Illusion:
Absurd and Amusing Rationalizations About Free Will

Thirty Three Things (v. 69)

1. God Is Not Dead Yet — How current philosophers argue for his existence.

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2. William F. Vallicella on God in the Declaration of Independence

By my count, there are four references to God in the Declaration of Independence.

In the initial paragraph, we find the phrase “…Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God….” The phrase ‘Nature’s God’ rules out pantheism: God is distinct from Nature. In the second paragraph, there is the phrase, “…endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights….” Combining these two references, we may infer that the God being referred to is not merely a deistic initiator of the temporally first segment of the physical universe, but a being involved in the creation of the human race. For if God endowed human beings with rights, this endowment had to occur at the time of the creation of human beings, which of course occurred later than the beginning of the physical universe. In traditional jargon, God is a creator continuans rather than a mere creator originans. He is not a mere cosmic starter-upper, but a being who is continuously involved in maintaining the universe in existence.

So if by ‘deism’ is meant the doctrine that God is a mere metaphysical cause of the universe’s beginning to exist who is thereafter uninvolved in its continuing to exist, then the God of the Declaration is non-deistic.

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3. How To Lose Belly Fat

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4. The problem with Prozac

…[T]he success of Prozac hasn’t simply transformed the treatment of depression: it has also transformed the science of depression. For decades, researchers struggled to identify the underlying cause of depression, and patients were forced to endure a series of ineffective treatments. But then came Prozac. Like many other antidepressants, Prozac increases the brain’s supply of serotonin, a neurotransmitter. The drug’s effectiveness inspired an elegant theory, known as the chemical hypothesis: Sadness is simply a lack of chemical happiness. The little blue pills cheer us up because they give the brain what it has been missing.

There’s only one problem with this theory of depression: it’s almost certainly wrong, or at the very least woefully incomplete. Experiments have since shown that lowering people’s serotonin levels does not make them depressed, nor does it does not make them depressed, nor does it worsen their symptoms if they are already depressed.

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5. The 11 Best Foods You Aren’t Eating

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6. Quote of the Week: “Here’s a fundamental irony: At about the time that the first empirical evidence is accumulating to support the Christian doctrine of dominion — that God has granted to the human race a delegated but effective authority over the planet, as evidenced by our impact on not just local but global environments — you see Christians shrinking back from the doctrine.” — Rusty Pritchard, ‘Dominion’ means dominion

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7. How are wines arranged in the store?

The wine aisle in your grocery store is probably organized this way. Yes, I know there is a California section and an Import section and even a jug/box wine spot, but look within each wine display and you’ll see the clear price stratification effect. The wines you have come to buy are probably on the shelf just below your natural eye level, so that you cannot help but see those special occasion wines just above them (and the higher priced wines above them on the top shelf). Cheaper wines are down below, near the floor, so that you have to stoop down to choose them.

The physical act of taking the wine from the shelf mirrors the psychological choice you make — reach up for better (more expensive) wines, stoop down for the cheaper products. The principle will be the same in upscale supermarkets and discount stores but the choices (what price wine will be at the bottom, middle and top) will differ as you might expect.

(HT: Marginal Revolution)

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8. Top Ten Things Kids Stick Up Their Noses

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9. What Happens To Your Body If You Drink A Coke Right Now? (HT: The Presurfer)

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10. How English Is Evolving Into a Language We May Not Even Understand

Continue reading Thirty Three Things (v. 69)

Do Tummy Aches Disprove God?

My tummy hurts. Ergo, there is no god.

This argument may be absurd but it is not intended as a reductio ad absurdum. Although a very simplistic form, this enthymeme encapsulates one of the primary atheological arguments — the argument from evil.

The structure of the argument becomes more obvious once we include the unstated premises:

1. Tummy aches are a form of harm being done to the physical and/or psychological well-being of a sentient creature.
2. Harm is evil.
3. God–an omniscient, wholly good being–would prevent evil.
4. God did not prevent my tummy ache
5. Ergo, there is no god.

This argument is a type known as the evidential problem of evil, the primary remaining form since the logical problem of evil has been solved.*

The evidential problem of evil is the problem of determining whether the existence of evil constitutes evidence against the existence of God. As the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains, “Evidential arguments purport to show that evil counts against theism in the sense that the existence of evil lowers the probability that God exists.”

One of the strongest and most famous examples of this type of argument can be found in William Rowe’s 1979 paper, “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism.” Rowe outlines his argument as follows:

Continue reading Do Tummy Aches Disprove God?