The Middle-Wing Wacko: Because nobody is quite right after all...

Hi and welcome to my blog. If you don't already know, you'll soon find out that I disagree with you on something. Probably most things. In which case I especially hope you'll read and comment often. If you have a blog on your own, and respond to something I've written here, please drop a comment to let me know so that I can be sure to read it (and prepare my own vicious riposte, right?).

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Location: Bessemer, Alabama, United States

You could say I have a somewhat diverse background. I was born in Chattanooga, TN; raised in the suburbs of Boston, MA; grew into an adult in a small city in Alabama called Tuscaloosa; and recently returned to the USA after living in the United Kingdom.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Modern Marriage: The Teenage Dilemma

After I posted Modern Marriage: America's Social Disease, I realized I had only addressed two of the four root causes of the failure of the institution of marriage today. Like the first two problems, these two are interrelated...

3. Infantilization and the Myth of Youthful Innocence

An additional reason for marriage is due to a disturbing disparity between the ages of social and physical maturity.

In the state where I live, a person is not legally permitted to apply for most jobs until the age of 16, with a very small selection of jobs permitted to 14 and 15 year olds. The political system does not consider someone a person until they reach the age of 18. A person cannot make legal decisions for him or herself until the age of 19. In some states this is as high as 21. And large portions of the establishment will continue to refer to a person as a "kid", etc., until they are in their mid-thirties.

Contrast this to the fact that puberty generally takes place between the ages of nine to fourteen for girls and ten to seventeen for boys. So it is often even before the teen years that youths begin to be flooded with hormones, which invoke powerful sexual urges, etc. Sexual appetite generally reaches its peak somewhere in the late teens.

These biological facts are at odds with the facts of social practice today. Marriages typically occur much later in life - statistically in the very-late twenties. This is because it has become expected that the husband and wife be more or less self-sufficient and "established" enough to provide for a new family unit before they marry.

Now, that is all well and good economically speaking. I myself have chosen to follow this model for economic reasons. But late in the game, I realize that this is not the optimal model for marriage.

Consider this. By the late twenties, both the male and female are well past their sexual peak...on a definite decline in both physical attractiveness as well as appetite. Their "best years" have already passed. If they have saved themselves for each other, then they have essentially allowed the beautiful gift God gave them (to give to their spouse) to go to waste. If they did not...worse...then they have squandered the best part of that beautiful gift on others and left the moldy leftovers for their spouse - and the memories left to be made with their spouse will be lessened. That's speaking in terms of sex, of course.

The traditional and biblical model for marriage was authored for a society in which marriages occurred much earlier in life. In some cases, before puberty! YES, they married when they were still (by today's standards) children, and grew up together (either still living in their respective parents homes, or in the home of the husband or wife's parents), went through adolescence as a couple.

Not such a bad idea, in my opinion. It seems there would be a strong, powerful bond that could grow out of such a joined experience. God certainly seemed to think it was a good thing - the Bible was very protective of it in the exhortations to young men about "the wife of your youth".

In contrast to this, today our moral leaders teach our youth that sex is only acceptable in marriage (correct) and counsel our "youngsters" that they shouldn't get married "too young" for fear that they are not mature enough. In effect, they condemn these desperate, hormone-crazed sexual adults to "wait". "True love waits." FOR YEARS!!! In fact, they are expected to wait until the optimal (physical) window for that amazing and powerful event called "consummation" has long passed...and then finally do it when he doesn't want it quite as bad he used to, and she isn't nearly as hot as she used to be.

We wonder why pre-marital sex is the norm in our society? I'll tell you why. It's because we refuse to acknowledge the facts of biology. Children grow up physically/sexually in their early teens - well before they are usually emotionally mature. By using that fact against them, parents rob children of the chance to grow up emotionally with their spouse. As a result, they share that traumatic experience primarily with their parents, as prisoners locked away from the proper remedy for their turmoil.

The resentment from this treatment absolutely natural and well-deserved, it amounts to essentially stomping all over a biological function God created by prohibiting (or delaying) the legitimate purpose it was created for. Parents may cite Ephesians 6:1 all they wish as authority, but they must not forget the following verse - it's a two-way relationship (much like marriage, actually).

There's only so much that preaching and guilt-tripping can do when "the way of escape" God promises to provide has been so effectively blocked off by a society of over-protective parents who still want to believe their young adult is still a child.

I suspect most parents feel threatened by the fact that their sons wife or their daughters husband will suddenly replace them as the most important figure in his/her life?

If you're a parent, guess what? That's exactly how it's supposed to happen. And sooner, rather than later. If your child is old enough to want a boyfriend or a girlfriend...your godly duty is to channel that desire for sex into its proper outlet - the search for a lifetime mate.

4. Liquid Relationships and the Dating Culture

Last year at Manchester University, i researched and wrote a paper exploring the way the nature of relationships has changed with the advent of globalization. In my research, I found that a word has been coined that is used by sociologists to describe it. "Liquidity"

In an interview published in The Future of Social Theory Bauman comments on how the transformation of a formerly solid (structured and routinized) society into a liquid (transient and constantly changing) one has effected the way in which the former “solid” concept of “relationship” has been replaced with the more temporary process of relating. (Future of Social Theory: 22) The commercial attitude of “shopping around” for goods seems to have invaded the world of romance, and in Liquid Love Bauman explores this innovation with little affection, describing the modern form of love as “fragile and emaciated, haunted by the ambivalence that there might be someone better to ‘invest your time in’ just around the corner.” (Radice 2004: 2)

The modern practice of finding a "significant other" as a temporary source of companionship is learned at a very young age. Consider the modern junior high school. This maelstrom of relationships is an abyss of liquidity that defies most adult observation - merely keeping track of who is speaking with whom, and who is "going out" with whom is a full time job.

The practice of acquiring a "boyfriend" or "girlfriend" is, of course, both a learned trait and an unfortunate side-effect of the gap in sexual/social maturity I discussed in the last section. The need for a "significant other" is most definitely there at a young age. Unfortunately adults fail to channel this desire towards the pursuit of a meaningful permanent relationship until much later. Instead, in order to avoid that unwanted outcome, parents and teachers encourage the relationships that form to be treated as temporary and relatively unimportant.

This attitude survives into adulthood, of course. The sudden switch of moral leaders from "don't get too close, don't let a temporary romantic feeling ruin your future" to "now be faithful to your spouse" somewhere around the mid-twenties is most incongruous.

After nearly ten years of being socialized to view relationships as temporary, and preferably of a casual character more akin to friendship, of course this attitude prevails! The result is that the actual inclination and capability to commit to a truly stable, permanent relationship often does not resolve itself until some ten more years of this new message being preached have passed!

We wonder why men have committment issues? There it is in a nutshell - their parents, teachers, and pastors teach them to have committment problems from the first onset of puberty. Disturbing, no?

Consider this. My 15 year old sister, who has a very sweet and loving Christian spirit, has gone through at least three hugely dramatic breakups in the last year alone. I'd say she now qualifies as an expert on ending a relationship. By the time she gets married around the age of 20, lets say, we could project some 10-15 more guys that she may meet, give her heart to, and either break their heart, have her heart broken, or part amicably because they "dont work out".

The same is true of the overwhelmingly vast majority of boys and girls in America today. By the time they get married, they'll all be old pros at ending relationships that are no longer enjoyable to them anymore.

What would you say their future spouses' chances are about a year after, when they suddenly discover they aren't the "match made in heaven" they envisioned on their wedding night?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Modern Marriage: America's social disease

Lately I've noticed that there's a lot of buzz going around about marriage and family values - specifically the decline of those values in America. Now, this issue has been an issue for a very, very long time. It probably will always be one. But lately it has been pushed ever more to the front.

I first noticed this as an upcoming major issue when I was working on my BA at the University of Alabama...say...three years ago. In my sociology classes there was a lot of talk about the divorce rate. Apparently, one out of every 1.8 marriages is likely to end in divorce. That's more than half of all marriages. (And no, there doesn't appear to be any difference in that statistic between Christians and non-Christians, etc.)

Well, I have to say that is an alarming trait in our society. If marriage is such a dicey proposal that there's a better-than-even chance one or both parties will decide to "cancel" it later on (not to mention the majority of those that don't divorce, but whose marriages are dysfunctional)...well...that's a strong indication that it is NOT working! And I don't mean it's not working for the ones that divorce. I mean that the institution of marriage is not working on a national, societal scale.

Let me say this now. I have some very strong opinions about marriage.

I think it is the most serious oath a human being can take in his or her lifetime. Breaking that oath, especially "changing your mind" and turning your back on that oath...I think that's about the most horrible thing a person could ever do. I'd easily trust a murderer before I'd trust a cheater or divorcer. As far as I'm concerned, someone who has an affair behind their spouse's back murders more than their body, but their heart (spirit) - one that was trustingly given into their hands!

I say someone who would do that for their own selfish reasons, someone who would break an oath that sacred, is completely untrustworthy. I am additionally rather frightened by the fact that most who are actually parties to such oaths do not seem to share my revulsion for the concept.

Well, since I noticed that marriage isn't working, I've been taking care to notice clues to why it isnt working. Especially with an eye to hopefully fixing the problem before I myself enter into that sort of oath. I certainly don't want to become the thing I despise. I think it all boils down to a few things...some easy to fix, some may be impossible.

1. Androgenization of the Sexes

Marriage as it exists in the Bible, at least, is a very specific relationship between a male and a female. The very nature of that relationship defines the male and female in relation to each other. But the "male" and "female" of that age don't really seem to exist in our society.

Over the past several hundred years, both sexes have been evolving. I don't mean as in genetic mutation evolution, but social evolution. Each sex has been forced by society, over many generations, to integrate aspects common to the opposite sex in order to function.

Women are now expected to be strong, confident, well-educated and intelligent, competent, quite capable of independent action (or even making their own way in the world), have their own opinions and ready to defend them. Looking for a mate most men look for the same qualities they would want in a close friend or co-worker.

And men now are expected to be good-looking (or even beautiful?), charming, suave and smooth, have good taste, able to cook/clean/etc., for themselves if necessary, and emotionally open.

To be honest I don't think this is a bad development. I think both sexes are far better off having learned and integrated the skills traditionally attributed to their opposites. But this also means that the traditional marriage, with the patriarch firmly dominating a submissive and worshipful and dependent wife, etc., is no longer going to work.

There are only two ways to solve this problem.

One way is for men to go back to being wild, unkempt, and unsophisticated and women back to being barefoot, ignorant, and pregnant. I don't think that's likely to happen.

The other way is to redefine the relations part of marriage. Obviously it is no longer a dependent, subservient, assymetrical relationship. That only works if one is so much better than the other that the other is left in awe of and dependence on the one for their self-worth.

Now though, we have an ample supply of women who are quite capable of competing with their husbands. Husbands who still have this idea somewhere in there of being the patriarch with the worshipful little wife at home. That idea has to disappear, because it completely destroys a relationship between equals. Still different, perhaps, but nevertheless equal.

The new marriage is not a hierarchy but a partnership. Well, obviously, a partnership taken to an extreme level, such that it becomes a union.

The laws set up to enable the hierarchical form of marriage were quite rigorous in that enforcement. Women were often unable to own property, except in their husbands name (the exception being widows, of course). The had no voice in politics - this was the realm exercised by the husband in his vote. In the church they were required to be silent and ask their husbands any questions privately.

Those laws have been torn down, as a part of womens liberation. Women are now treated equally to men - and well they should because in today's society females are every bit as capable and valuable in almost any job role as are males. Yet that development has made hierarchical marriage relationships impractical - they are now only supported by the bare surface of the law.

In order to support partnership-type marriages, new institutionalizing laws are needed that will make the union something more significant and real than a mere legal acknowledgement of union and cohabitation. There must be an actual legal incorporation that so firmly welds the interests of both parties together that there can be no conflict of interests because gain or loss for one will be by definition a gain or loss for the other. And these unions should be permanent - irreversible. That brings me to the other root cause of the failure of marriage.

2. Government Interference

Yes, the government is to blame. But this goes back to before the United States ever became a country. It goes all the way back to King Henry VIII of England, who wanted to divorce his wife Catherine in order to marry a younger woman. Of course, in those days marriage was completely a religious matter. And religious decisions were made by the Pope.

Henry petitioned the Pope to grant him a divorce from Catherine, and the Pope refused. Not to be deterred, Henry ruled that England was no longer under the religious authority of the Pope. In fact, he started the Anglican Church (which was basically catholicism without the Pope) and placed himself, as King, in the position of spiritual ruler for the country.

And of course, he was quite happy to grant himself a divorce and then unite himself with the younger, nubile royal bride in Holy Matrimony.

I will probably say this again, but here goes.

The government has no business involving itself in religious matters. When it does so, it will end up screwing up the religious matter to such an extent that it will be very difficult to save any remnant of goodness in that religious matter. And marriage is obviously, overwhelmingly a fundamentally religious matter.

Today, when a couple gets married, there are two different steps that go on. First, they go to the church and get married by a pastor or priest. But today, this part is really just the showy, worthless bit that doesn't really effect their lives. Nobody asks to see something signed by their pastor when they want to live together at university next semester.

After the show ceremony, they go and do the real marriage - it's a document they both sign and they are legally wed by a judge or magistrate.

Today, marriage has become a political issue. A few weeks ago, Congress sat and debated an amendment to the Constitution to define marriage, of all ridiculous things! The fact is that matrimony is a religious ceremony where a man and a woman are united by authority vested in someone by God! That would be your ordained pastor or priest. Not the judge, or for that matter your congressman. Those people are appointed and delegated their authority by the people - by you!

The definition of marriage, especially since it concerns the Bible, is one to be made by pastors and priests - and for Congress to entertain the notion at all is a flagrant attempt by what is supposed to be a secular government to enforce religious guidelines on pastors and priests.

But that's just a warning bell. What really needs to happen is the opposite. Because the problem in the first place is that "marriage" is addressed in the law at all. If the government wants to make laws that encourage such unions, I think this is a good idea. Tax breaks, the right to each others medical records, default assignments in wills, etc. That makes sense.

But this has to be done in a way that avoids entanglement with what is essentially a Church matter. The solution is something much like what is done today - only with an important change of wording.

The government should certainly not be handing out "marriage certificates". It verges on blasphemy, actually. They should allow some way for couples to formalize their relationship under the law, and to get the law to enforce their union on each other because the Church does not have any way to force them to honor their religious vows.

There should be a civil union that takes place in the courtroom, in parallel to the religious marriage contract that takes place in the church. Atheists...can't get married. It's ridiculous. They can't ask God to be witness to an oath if they don't believe in Him. So they'll have to make do with just the legal partnership - and live in sin. It obviously doesn't bother them...they're atheists.

The important thing is that civil unions be treated and understood to be a very different thing from marriage. The religious contract is a contract enforced by God and upheld by personal integrity. The legal contract is a contract enforced by the State and upheld by the requirements of legal practicality. Two separate things, serving two separate functions.

That way, divorces are not a matter of the courts handing out cancellation papers. That idea is even legally silly to me. Contracts are supposed to be legally binding - how on earth can that marriage certificate be worth the paper it's printed on if the parties can just change their minds and have it repealed later on? That defeats the whole purpose of the contract!

Marriages should only be dissolvable by a pastor or priest. The same pastor or priest (or the successor of) whose authority wed the two in the first place. And civil unions...should be binding contracts that can't just be canceled because it's turning out to not be such a wonderful arrangment after all.

I suggest a new law be passed by Congress that states that from now on, no federal, state, or local official has the authority to issue a marriage contract. All federal, state, and local laws will be adjusted so that they refer only to contracted partnerships, and will honor and enforce the provisions of those unions as binding contracts. Marriage certificates shall be deemed a religious matter and will have no legal significance except as evidence of a relationship (not as legal documentation of it).

Oh yeah, and while they're at it, going back to the suggestions at the end of my first section of this article, they should pass a bill that sets out a way for a couple to really combine their legal identities to such a degree that they are essentially a unit. And that partnership should be legally binding and permanent.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Theocracy: Church and State

I found a very interesting discussion on the separation of Church and State
here and thought I'd write my own little spiel on it. (And, I did promise to write on this topic in my post on Judicial Independence the other day).

Of course, my spiels are too long and involved to put in someone's comments section.'s my very own post.

Now I've noticed in a lot of blogs on this topic, such as this one, a lot of people (usually religious conservatives) are drawing attention to the fact that the phrases our courts use ("separation of church and state" and "wall of separation") appear nowhere in the Constitution.

What does the Constitution say?

Congress shall make no law concerning an establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free practice thereof.

Now, obviously this is a two-pronged prohibition, and they work uniquely to balance each other quite a way that is often ignored by both sides of the issue today.

The Establishment clause is designed to prevent the government from endorsing or favoring or giving support to some particular religion. This isn't enough, however, to allow the free practice of religion as a personal choice by individuals. The Free Practice clause immediately follows, preventing the government from coming in against private religious practice.

The "wall of separation" used by our courts is actually a very good metaphor to describe the intended function these two clauses. Where does it come from?

In 1802, Thomas Jefferson engaged in a correespondence with the Danbury Baptist association. They were concerned that, with the advent of a federalist form of government, their freedom to worship as they chose would be curtailed. Remember, many of the settlers came to the New World for this very purpose - because elsewhere, religious minorities were subject to secular laws that limited how they could practice their religion. The Baptists were still a minority at this point, so they worried.

In his reply, Thomas Jefferson gave a careful explanation of what, exactly, the First Amendment means in regards to the Church and the State. Here's an important quote.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God...[this] act of the whole American people...declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.

In an earlier draft of the same letter, Jefferson also mentions that in setting forth the duties of the President, for example, he specifically refrained from prescribing the occaisonal devotionals that Executives of other nations usually perform as a part of their role. The government of the United States was to be, specifically, a secular one.

Obviously, Jefferson's letter is not a legal document in itself, and has no force of law. However, when trying to figure out what exactly the First Amendment means by "establishment of religion", etc., the Court is well-advised to pay close attention to how this clause was explained by the leaders of the Constitutional Convention when the citizenry asked them about it. Thus, the Danbury letter is a very, very important document for the purposes of understanding that phrase in the Bill of Rights.

The term "wall of separation between church and state" as used by our courts today is the meaning accepted by the vast majority of credible legal theorists for the Establishment Clause. In court, challenges to issues such as prayer in schools, the ten commandments, etc....there are usually two messages being given out.

One is to the uninformed, legally illiterate but militantly Christian portion of the public: We want God back in our schools, etc., and we think "separation of church and state" is an invention of evil atheistic ACLU lawyers trying to secularize everything.

But they make no such argument in front of an actual judge, with real lawyers and legal scholars present. In front of people who actually know the law, the case is based on technicalities and fine differences between certain meanings of certain words...these cases are very hard to win, honestly. The purpose for the first message is to build up enough public support that judges will feel pressured to decide a technical case based on results-based popular demand.

Because the public argument is completely silly and baseless under the law. The "wall of separation between Church and State" was actually coined by Thomas Jefferson, one of the leading delegates at the Constitutional Convention, and that phrase expresses the generally accepted meaning of the Establishment Clause as it was meant from the very beginning!

So why wasn't this an issue back then? After all, people were supposed to have been far more religious back then than they are now right?

There are a number of things that go into that. At the time the Constitution was written, the fear was of religious persecution of religious minorities by a religious majority. Atheism as such probably existed, but only as an oddity of the extremely eccentric, etc. The colonists that formed the young United States had fled persecution that was of a religious nature - that is, the majority religions were (because they controlled the government) able to use the government to push their particular brand of religious practice on the religious minorities. To alienate, stigmatize, or even punish those who did not participate in the majority religious practice.

As a result, they sought to place in the Constitution safeguards that would prevent a majority from using the government power and influence as a religious tool. And they were quite successful.

At the time, however, because the most different form of belief seemed to be Deism or Universalism, there was still a strong theistic component to daily life. No one had any objection to the use of the Bible to teach reading in schools matter what religious minority you were from, you at least believed in the Bible. "In God We Trust"...there was no concept of this being problematic because it was inclusive - there was nobody to object, everyone believed in God.

Today, this is not the case. There now exist religious minorities in the United States that are not based on the Bible. There are even religious minorities that do not believe in God. As a result, there is some upheaval because practices and ideas that were once nationally inclusive are now exclusive. Thus, if the government sponsors Bible teaching, it makes itself a sponsor of the Judeo-Christian religion against all other religions. There is no difference between this and if it were Catholicism at the expense of Protestants, or Methodism at the expense of Calvinists, etc. Under the First Amendment, the government cannot become a tool for the religious minority to use in order to prosyletize, pressure, or alienate members of religious minorities.

Now, there is a clear line to be drawn between what exactly is a part of the government, and what exactly is the realm of individual choice. Can the President quote Scripture in his speeches? Obviously. And if he were muslim he could quote from the Koran. Just as clearly, it would be inappropriate for a verse from the Bible to appear in legislation before Congress. If such a bill passed, it would have to be struck down by the courts.

But then there are grey areas. Government buildings: can they be used to display religious messages? Well...that depends, is there a plurality of religions represented there, or is this publicly-owned property being used only for one particular religion? It has to either be fair and even for everybody, or it has to avoid the whole topic altogether. And then, what about the school system? Where does the government-prescribed curriculum end and the individual teacher's personal beliefs begin? Hard to judge, really.

Actually, Dr. James Otteson, (who was incidentally one of my favorite philosophy lecturers at the University of Alabama) has published a very interesting article arguing that it's impossible for public education to be neutral on religion, advocating privatization as the only way to avoid violating the First Amendment.

The main problem is that over the years, the government has pushed its greedy fingers into so many pies that when these new religious minorities (such as atheism) started demanding their legitimate rights under the First Amendment...the project of secularizing the government suddenly looked a lot like secularizing everything.

The problem isn's the atheists. The problem isn't how the Courts are interpreting the First Amendment. The problem is that the government has managed to entangle itself so thoroughly with affairs that should be handled by churches, the private sector, and community organizations that it's going to take major upheaval to fix things so that the government isn't violating the First Amendment.

Christians should not be trying to stop or reverse the secularization of government. That process is inevitable, and it is thoroughly required by the supreme law of the land. If we really want to preserve our heritage and values, we should instead be trying to disentangle our government from functions it has no business being involved in.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Hue and Cry: "Activist" Judges and the Rule of Law

I ran across an interesting speech by federal judge John E. Jones to the Anti-Defamation League that touched on a subject I've had some great conversations about with some of the more conservative politicians in Alabama.

That subject is Judicial Independence. Judge Jones's complaint? People either do not understand the concept, or are trying to subvert it. Likely a combination of the two.

Here are a couple of interesting quotes:

"Ms. Schlafly authored a January 2006 column and within her column she noted that, and I'm quoting here, that I 'owed my position as a Federal Judge entirely to the evangelical Christians who pulled the lever for George W. Bush in 2002' and that I, I'm still quoting here, 'stuck the knife in those who brought me to the dance in Kitzmiller versus Dover Area School District.'"

(Note, Ms. Schlafly was referring to the recent case Kitzmiller v Dover, in which the court ruled it unconstitutional for government schools to teach Intelligent Design.)

In his speech, Judge Jones indicated that he respected the point of view this author was representing, and also mentioned that he is aware that her interpretation of the establishment clause is a widely-held one.

His speech did not actually address that disagreement, but rather pointed out a more basic problem in the way people seem to think about the role of judges today.

"...the way that she conducted her analysis is instructive, and points out a problem which is pervasive and therefore threatens to, I think, tear at the fabric of our system of justice in the United States....The premise of Ms. Schlafly and some others seems to be that judges can and should act in a partisan matter rather than strictly adhering to the rule of law. Now, to those who believe that judges must cast aside precedents and rule as according to an agenda, let me say that I believe that the public's dependence upon the impartiality and the integrity of judges is absolutely essential to its confidence in our system of justice. It is especially important for our citizens to understand that judges must be impartial and that the independence of the judiciary is premised on a judge's pledge of freedom from partisan influences."

Now, I've read the relevant opinion, and I happen to disagree with some of the logic of the precedents that the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision was based on. But critics should remember that Judge Jones is required by his office to interpret the Constitution according to precedents set by earlier decisions by other judges. That is how the system works, and it is very important that it works that way - I'll explain why in a moment.

Now, according to precedent, there are two things Judge Jones is bound to base his interpretation of the Constitution on.

In this case, he has to adhere to the principle of the "wall of separation between church and state". No, that phrase is not in the Constitution itself. I'll be writing another article explaining why we use this phrase later. For now, let us go on the fact that previous decisions have hammered home again and again that this is how the 1st Amendment is to be interpreted.

The other basis a judge has to found his ruling on is the tests that have been developed for determining if a particular government policy is a breach of that wall. These are the Endorsement Test and the Lemon Test. When the judge applied those tests, the policy of teaching Intelligent Design failed those tests, and was therefore ruled unconstitutional. This is how the legal system works, and how it was intended to work.

Now, I don't particularly care for exactly how those tests have evolved...they were both good tests when they were originally developed but there are some judges that have rather twisted their function over time (not including Judge Jones, by the way). Unfortunately, what is done is done, and every judge is constrained to follow those tests in the manner that has been prescribed.

What disturbs me is the public reaction to this and similar unpopular decisions. It is one thing to express disappointment in the decisions. This is good and healthy. If the law when interpreted by the courts turns out to have undesirable consequences, by all means, change the law. Since this is constitutional law, this calls for amendments to the constitution according to the method set out.

And disagreeing with the legal reasoning behind it...that's good too. The legal community is a pretty diverse set, and judges do have a certain amount of wiggle room to exercise their various innovations in legal reasoning as they interpret the law. When they are nominated and chosen for their office, their particular style of legal reasoning should be scrutinized, along with their committment to that legal reasoning as a lens through which to view the law and apply language and precedent in new decisions.

What we see instead is a lot of results oriented interrogation. How does the candidate lean on certain pet issues? Is he in favor of the rights of the unborn? Or does he support the woman's right to choose? Is he a bigot? Does he favor of affirmative action? Pro-family? Or a gay-rights activist? Will he uphold the separation of church and state? Or is he a really strong Christian?

All of these questions are inappropriate and horribly undermine the whole purpose of the Judicial Branch. If a judge leans certain ways on certain issues, he or she is a bad judge. As in, that is what an activist judge actually is. And activist judges can lean right just as well as they can lean left.

It doesn't matter which way they lean, the trouble is that they allow their personal preference for which way they would like a certain issue to go to influence what is supposed to be a purely legal perusal of the logical application of the law and of precedent to an individual case.

There are a lot of demagogues out there, on the right, the left, the middle, everywhere. And they love to appeal to the good old Hue and Cry of the uninformed masses. This judge has made a bad decision (i.e., he ruled against the parties we like), therefore he is a bad, activist judge.

The truth is, the only way to spot an activist judge is to actually follow their decisions, read them through, notice that their legal reasoning has unexplained gaps in it - that they are advocating for an issue rather than for an application of the law as it exists in code and precedent.

Of course, the only people who are really qualified to do this are those with some legal training. And seriously, the job of going through libraries of opinions and evaluating them...this is a massive undertaking. There are legal review boards that do this, and legal journals do this to some extent (limited to important cases), and of course, other judges do this as well.

The other judges are the key. After all, every decision isn't left up to one judge. There's a pretty decent collection of them in any decision, actually...and usually there's a wide range of judicial philosophies and hidden political bents at play in a group that large. And any important case is likely to be reviewed by higher courts as well.

The keys for detecting a bad judge are the exact ones that are officially used by review boards to evaluate candidates for federal appointments: How many times have this judge's peers found his legal reasoning to be inadequate? How many minority opinions? How many reversals by a higher court?

The judges that are commonly accused of being "activist" judges tend to be exemplary in this regard. The other experts agree that these judges are doing their job - applying the law according to precedent. The public, the media, the demagogues, and the angry masses do not like the results when law is applied according to precedent. Guess what? Too bad. Change the law, don't complain about the judges.

The truth is, the judge - the Judiciary Branch - exists for the purpose of preventing the angry masses from having an effect on the application of the law. Yes, they are there to prevent public opinion from being enforced on a case-by-case basis.

There's a simple reason for this. It's called "Common Law" and it goes like this. If the law is applied in one way to one person, and another way to another person, that is injustice - there might as well be no law. In order for there to be a Rule of Law, it has to be uniform in its application. If the law is vague in the way it is written, then the court must make its best judgment on how to apply it - and then once it makes that first application, it must continue to apply it in exactly the same way from then on. If the way to apply that previous decision is vague in a new case, then the court must define how such decisions shall be applied in new cases, and do so in all cases. And so on.

Why? Because the law has to be blind. And in order to operate blind, it has to operate according to program. If we allow judges to play by ear on a case to case basis...well that's fine as long as the cases have no similarity to each other at all. But if they do, and it's left up to the judge, the judge will end up going for whoever he's sympathetic for. The rich guy. The pretty girl. The pitiful widow. And the ugly, poor, disrespectful thugs with disgusting personal habits are not going to be treated the same way. Injustice.

That's why the judge has to be fair to the child-rapist, even though the man is the pits of humanity. Because he or another judge will have to apply the same principle to the sweet, pretty girl who was just brought up wrong and learned some bad things. Not popular, but it's the foundations of justice - equality under the law.

Now, the masses are not given to blind rational application of fair justice. In fact, for the masses, "justice" has an entirely different meaning - the bad guys getting what's coming to them, and the good guys getting what they deserve. And of course, that can be terribly subjective - especially these days when everybody is an expert at projecting "image" and spinning the truth.

The elected officials are, unfortunately, beholden to this lot. Well, also fortunately, because the elected officials do need a leash. They make the laws, after all. And the people need to be ultimately at the reigns of the government. But the government has to have certain safeties, when being handled by such an ill-tempered and impulsive infant as the mob tends to be. That is the Rule of Law, administered by the Judicial Branch.

As a part of my internship last spring, I had the opportunity to meet with some of our state-level leaders and interact with them. In one such meeting, I was able to discuss this issue with Attorney General Troy King - particularly the fact that Alabama judges (even Supreme Court justices) are elected, and even have to run for reelection on a regular basis! (And these elections are no informality either, these are massive campaigns complete with corporate donors, rallies, and even debates with their opponents bringing up any unpopular decisions they may have made in the last few years.)

When I suggested that a lifetime appointment, perhaps with regular evaluations by a competent legal review board, as a better system, I was surprised at the horror with which this idea was greeted. Mr. King was concerned that judges needed to be "accountable" to the general public for their decisions.

According to him, the people are ultimately at the reigns of the governmental system, and they have the right to decide about how our laws should be enforced. Judges have a tendency to make decisions that go against the way most people believe the law should be interpreted, as demonstrated by our federal Supreme Court. No fear of that here...if they make the wrong decisions, they won't get reelected.

Now, all respect to "the people"...but they aren't legal theorists, in fact, generally all they will even take the time to take in is their favorite demagogue's spin on the results of someone's legal theory. The bottom line. Results-oriented legal theory is essentially politics...exactly what the Judicial Branch is designed to avoid.

Separation of powers - the people who make the laws can't be the same ones in charge of enforcing and interpreting the laws. Because that will inevitably result in rule from the barrel of the gun - majority wins.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Romans: Judgement and Tolerance, Conscience and Circumcision

Well, I hadn't planned to write a series on Romans. My post on Faith, Logic, and Skepticism was actually copied from my personal journal, altered from personal ruminations into a proper article-like tone, simply because after I wrote it, it seemed meant for consumption.

But the discussion on that subject in the
Comments section for that post really took off. Actually, it ended up being continued in the comment section for an unrelated article as well. I've really enjoyed the argument back-and-forth in comments section much more than writing the post itself.

But in those comments my friend
Gavin Brown has apparently assumed that this post must surely be part of a series on Romans, and has recently informed me that I can post my article on Chapter 2 now if it's ready.

So, now that he's put it like, just kidding Gavin. I hadn't planned on writing a series but after the discussion we've had I agree, let's have some more. I'm even doing Romans 2 next, like you said. But I'm not committing to doing the whole book in sequence, necessarily!

Wow, Romans 2 is extremely dense as I read it. I don't think I'm grasping all of it despite reading it more times than I can count. I'll try to observe and comment on some of the wider themes that seem easiest to get ahold of though.

Paul starts off by explaining a fundamental principle that makes it impossible for a human being to fairly pass judgement on another.

"You therefore have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgement do the same things."

I find it interesting that this truth is also reflected in some of our (human) psychological theory today. One of the basic principles in regards to offense and guilt is that it tends to be reflexive. We notice and are most bothered by traits that reflect our own weaknesses. If someone gets all riled up about dishonesty in others, or is quick to point it out, it is very likely that they are a deceitful person themselves. This principle tends to apply most strongly in parenting studies, especially in father-son and mother-daughter relations. A "chip off the old block" will often have the same faults and weaknesses, which can be very volatile to the parent in question.

Paul continues to chastise the church (or church members?) for passing judgement on people when they themselves are guilty. I think a lot of church communities prefer to focus on this portion of the passage (a condemnation of hypocrisy) without combining it with the important counterpoint of the beginning of the passage (which indicates that judgment is always hypocritical).

This is, in my opinion, deeply erroneous and dangerous. The second point stems from the first, rather than being independent from it. Focusing on the second point on its own essentially twists its meaning to be, merely, an excuse to judge sinners within the church right along with (or more harshly than) those outside the church. This interpretation runs directly counter to the purpose of the entire passage, which is to explain why it would be wrong for any christian to pass judgment on another person.

(v.3)"So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things

[and it is already asserted that anyone who passes judgment is guilty of the same things, so this statement is universal rather than conditional]

do you think you will escape God's judgment?

[This is not referring to judgment for the original sin we might hypocritically condemn, since we are forgiven this sin and do escape that judgment. Rather this refers to divine chastisement for daring to usurp God's office, by passing judgment on those whom we are not worthy to judge.]

(v.4) Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance, and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you towards repentance?

[This refers to Jesus' parable of the unmerciful servant in Matt. 18:21-35. Paul mentions this again briefly in 14:4. "Who are you to judge someone else's servant?" conveys a certain sense of outrage on God's part, that human beings would (1) Fail to pass on on the grace and mercy he has granted us to others and (2) Dare presume to pass judgment on those whom only God can judge - and this after He has declined to pass judgment!

Thus this phrase has a double meaning. We show contempt for His kindness, tolerance and patience He has shown us by refusing to be kind, tolerant, and patient. We also show contempt for the kindness, tolerance, and patience He has chosen to show another by not going along with His decision - when we are not kind, tolerant, and patient we are essentially saying we are a better judge than God is! His dealings with us should lead us towards repentance (from our sin, and from the temptation to judge), and we should allow his dealings with another to lead them to repentance without our interference.]

In this context, the judgment spoken of in verses 5-11 takes on a very chilling aspect for the modern Christian church, since we are best known in the world for our judgmental attitude.

(v. 5) "But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart..."

[This applies to both types of expected repentance, of course. But in the context of verses 1-4 this appears to be especially aimed at our tenacious hold on our "right" to pass judgment. The mention of stubbornness is particularly important in light of the rest of this chapter, where Paul talks about the Law and Circumcision...the subject matter being addressed is an unwillingness to part from the legalism of old Judaism. Human beings do not like change.]

" are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed."

As I said, chilling.

Now starting in v.12 Paul starts to address the question of the Law.

"All who sin apart from the Law will also perish apart from the Law, and all who sin under the Law will be judged by the Law. For it is not those who hear the Law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the Law who will be declared righteous.

Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the Law, do by nature things required by the Law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the Law, since they show that the requirements of the Law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them."

Now I find this passage both intriguing and rather confusing. I'm just going to try to parse this and write it down as I think through it.

First Paul draws a distinction between those with the Law and those without it. Those without will still perish - but it is those with the Law who will be judged by it. This seems to imply that those who do not receive the Law are not judged by the Law, but by some other standard (which they still do not meet).

This suggests that the Law is contingent on some more basic measure of morality. Good versus Evil as opposed to Sinfulness versus Righteousness. When quizzed by the lawyer, Jesus implied that the physical demands of the Law were actually superficial guidelines that were based on the outward appearance that would be the fruit of some other, more basic spiritual requirements.

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your sould and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matt 22:37-40)

The bit about the requirements of the law being written on the Gentile's hearts is very interesting. This is clearly not a physical requirement (i.e., a certain way of acting) but a spiritual one, since Paul describes this as a heart matter.

This would seem to indicate that although these Gentiles do not have the Law, and are therefore not judged by the Law, they essentially construct their own law (they are a law unto themselves)! The way that they can legitimately do this is by basing their law on the same spiritual requirements as the Hebrew Law.

Thus it may not include such superficial specificities such as not eating pork, etc., but it will include things like not murdering, faithfulness to one's spouse, and a prohibition of idolatry, etc., because these are spiritually universal actions that gain a certain moral value or disvalue because of the relationship (with God or other persons) that they either preserve or dishonor. In any case, the conscience serves as a sort of moral compass in the absence of divine revelation, "now accusing, now even defending" their actions. In the end, God will judge where their heart was for each action, their secret motivations, etc.

Now verse 17 starts off one of those rare sections I mentioned to Gavin in one of our discussions on Apostolic infallibility, where I said that sometimes reading Paul I will wince a bit, because he could have phrased things in a more Christian manner.

Now, I agree with everything Paul says here. Don't get me wrong on that. And a certain part of me enjoys the sharp use of wit to cut down a few puffed-up hypocrites here. Because, read it for yourself, it really is a nice use of sarcasm here and I happen to have a weakness for sarcastic, cutting diatribes like this. But...alas, not something we should really be using on each other. It's a guilty pleasure and to be honest, in writing this rebuke in this way rather than in a more loving manner, Paul is making himself a stumbling block to those of us who struggle in that area.

That said, I think it is useful to momentarily go back and look at the beginning of this chapter again before reading this portion. The one-two punch of the two interlocking premises is still in force...Paul is now specifically applying the second part of that principle to practice...summing up with the reproach "God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you."

Let me mention, from my own experience "out there", from my conversations with non-Christians: athiests, agnostics, spiritualists, hindus, muslims, etc...this is very much in force today. The world has two major complaints against Christianity today - we are not genuine, and we are judgmental.

Either of these is horribly detrimental to our evangelistic responsibility. Together they are create an incredible barrier to getting anyone to even listen to us, or to even be willing to be friends with one of us! Believe me, I've talked to a lot of people and you would not believe the amount of resistance that springs up at the mention of Christianity. We are hated, and it's not because everybody resents the fact that we are so right (as seems to be the popular way to explain that animosity). We've given good reason for everyone to distrust and hate us...we've spent decades judging them, and continue to do so, from behind an ugly mask of sanctimony and triumphalist condescension.

For the last verses, 25-29, Paul revisits the Law again, noting that it is the basic spiritual requirements beneath the Law that matter. Note that circumcision of all things is described as being an "outward" obedience. Of course, circumcision is probably the most private area encompassed by the physical requirements of the Law - that is, the things that are actually written in the Law. So in saying this, Paul indicates that when he contrasts "mere" circumcision with true observation of the Law, he is not talking about the actual written code here, but the spiritual condition that is implied by that code.

In fact, Paul goes so far as to say that the spiritual obedience of the basic requirements of the law (as summed up by Jesus in Matthew) supercedes, and overrides the physical compliance or noncompliance with the statutes of the Law! Thus, if a man is not circumcised physically, but is inwardly - having circumcision of the heart by the Spirit - then he is actually in compliance with the Law, regardless of that physical noncompliance. Of course, this form of compliance is invisible to men, and therefore will only be praised by God Himself.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Interfaith Cooperation

I just read and responded to a very interesting article by The Feminary on the subject of Interfaith Cooperation. Now, I am no moral or theological relativist, but I do think she makes some good points about our relationships with other faiths and with members of other faiths.

Over the past couple years, due to new contact with friends in the muslim community, I've begun studying that religion in an even, weighing manner rather than from the hostile presupposition I might have taken earlier in life.There are certainly parts of that religion (as well as others, I am sure) that resonate for me as a Christian, and in fact have caused me to notice things in the Bible that I had not noticed before I had taken a clear look at islam.

Consider. How do you carry on a conversation with someone if you do not respect them? You don't. At best you have a very polite fight. What about if you do not respect their beliefs? Well, then at best it's a debate or an argument. A lot of fun, but it's not going to end with one of you converting to the other side - you'll both go away even more entrenched than before the discussion.

As a group, we (Christians) have done a first-class job of building a reputation as bullies. I say this because I have spent a great deal of my time getting to know people outside of our faith. They have a certain view of us. We think we are right. We think everybody else is wrong. We think everybody else is so wrong, in fact, that they don't really even need to say anything, they should just keep their mouths shut so that we can bless them with the light of truth.

Now, actually, I think that the Christian doctrine is correct, if you allow for a few impurities we've picked up from our cultural and historical heritage. And I think that Jesus is the only way to Heaven.

That said, I also believe that God has placed knowledge of Himself in Nature, so that anyone can discover certain truths by simply observing and opening his mind. As a result of this, other world religions can be expected to have arrived on peices of the truth. Valuable nuggets that can be deduced and extrapolated from. In the absence of additional (directly revealed) information many of these religions have developed and integrated these nuggets into their lives more effectively than Christiandom has.

Yet the path to salvation, as revealed by prophecy and then physical fulfillment in Christ, is an additional step that is not replaceable. At best other religions can develop the law (see Romans 2:14-15 where Paul says that those who do not receive the law can still live righteously, guided by their conscience).

But salvation requires perfection in following that law, which cannot be achieved by human beings. The gift of grace, which depends on the historical fact of the crucifixion, cannot be deduced (because it was really an illogical thing for God to do, frankly) and is therefore missing from other religions.

These other religions of the world are good at their basis, but incomplete. The open-hearted Christian should be willing to cooperate with other faiths. More than that, we should reach out and understand, and yes, appreciate the good things in other faiths. Those are the glimmer of the distance they have already traveled in the right direction. Often they have traveled those first steps far better than we ourselves did, because those were all the steps they knew to travel.

The crucial step, salvation, remains to be communicated. And carefully. While our message is the only complete doctrine of salvation, and other doctrines are not going to get anyone into heaven, I believe we are held to certain standards of behavior as ambassadors of Christ.

Now, I think we should take a close look at that "ambassador" word. It's fun to think of the ambassador as the guy who gets up in Saddam's face and tells him to give up the MWD's or else, and then flip him off over the shoulder while climbing into a helicopter (to get out there before the cruise missiles arrive). But that is not an accurate picture of that job.

An ambassador is diplomatic. By that, I do not mean that he ignores the truth. Nor sugar-coats it, per se. But an ambassador speaks the truth in a way that is concilatory rather than offensive. In order to do this, he has to know a lot about what would be considered concilatory or offensive by the people he is talking to.

That brings up the other function of the ambassador. The diplomatic mission to any country functions as much as a means of cultural exchange as for negotiation. Throught the ambassador, the host country learns about the ambassadors culture/nation, learns to appreciate things that are good about them, to like them. And the ambassadorial members learn to do the exact same things in regard to their host country.

Now, as ambassadors of Christ to the world and to other religions, we are held to a standard by God for righteousness, and we are held to another standard by men to build goodwill and to open a door for us to share the Gospel. You don't do that with a hefty shove with your boot so you can lay some good old KJV scripture on them in a thundering tone before they can manage to shut it in your face. And yes that's a charicature but we do that in a number of ways. It can be as subtle as simple cultural snobbery, condescension.

The fact of the matter is that people of other faiths believe those faiths just as strongly as you believe yours. Actually, in many cases, much more strongly. And often follow it much more faithfully. So have some respect!

Beyond respect for their faith in that religion, there needs to be some level of respect and honor for that religion as well. I've seen enough books and pamphlets and blogs that refer to Islam as a "demonic religion" and Mohammed as an agent of Satan. The fact is that Islam was basically modeled as an extension of Judaism, and Mohammed actually describes the need for undeserved salvation given by God (only he mentions it as being an act of mercy rather than of grace). This is a huge logical leap he made, so presumably something from Jesus' message managed to snag a hold in him at some level. He did not grasp the importance of the crucifixion however, and this is where Islam fails.

Islam is not a demonic religion. It is not sufficient for salvation, obviously. But this is a falling-short, an incompletion rather than a leading astray. Because the tenets of Islam are very similar to the Law of the Old Testament. And the Law is important because it reveals the need for salvation. In the Queran, Mohammed recognizes this need but he does not unearth the source nor the mechanism of its working.

My above description of Islam is, of course, an object lesson that can be applied to most other religions, barring those that are actual adaptions of satanism. Even polytheistic religions contain some small germs of the full truth that exists fully in Christianity. And all of them can usually be counted on to contain a great deal of valuable wisdom as well.

As Christians, it is our duty to attempt to complete the incomplete understanding. However, we should also recognize that although in Christ we have the completion of the truth for salvation, we are not in the position of the wise teacher giving truth to students. We must approach our future brothers and sisters in Christ humbly as equals. We should first seek the points of compatibility before we try to explain our own religion. Talking to someone about their religion is a very personal and sensitive thing. It should be done gracefully and with respect.

Additionally, we should recognize that because they have been denied the completion of their faith for so long, they have had time to more fully contemplate the small portion they did have. And yes, we should take advantage of that. They may have discovered truths in their religions that we have not. That's a bitter pill to swallow. I am not saying that makes our religion incomplete, because we have what we need for salvation. But they do have something valuable to offer and we should credit it when we find something good in their incompleted belief system, and accept it gratefully as the product of generations of searching for the Truth we were given so easily.

Monday, May 29, 2006

"Kiln People" (book review)

I just finished a bit of pleasure reading, Kiln People by David Brin - which I actually picked up randomly off a shelf (along with several other books) because they were all hardcovers on sale for $1.

Very interesting premise. The book is science fiction, of course. And like all good science fiction it really uses the genre as a hypothetical playground to work with philosophical subjects that defy mundane explication.

His subject? The nature of the soul. The ethos and ethics of the relationship of Creator to Creation. The nature of the afterlife, including the essence of our eventual collective marriage to the Diety.

All of this with a remarkable multi-faceted and insightful perspective - yet somehow David Brin holds tenaciously to a fervent materialism that the tale goes into far-fetched intellectual acrobatics to support.

Okay, here's the plot. Obviously in order to deal with these subjects in a fiction format (rather than a really boring treatise on the nature of the soul, etc.) Brin has to get creative in his setting.

In the future, there is a technology that allows a person to make a copy of himself onto a clay blank (already, the reference to Genesis, where man is made of dirt). How? Someone has found a way to actually detect the human soul - they refer to it as a complex pattern, too complicated for any computer or technology to store or analyze. The Standing Soul Wave.

They can't understand the Standing Soul Wave, but somehow, they can get the thing to copy itself onto a properly prepared blank with the result that the blank becomes a ditto, a humaniform artificial being with the memories, personality, skills, and perhaps, even a small bit of the soul of the original, or rig as the dittos think of their creators.

Blatant creationist wet dreams, you say. Obviously. But it goes farther than that. Because these clay dittos only live about a day. After that, they either die forever, or they return to their original for inloading. That's where all the memories of the dittos day-long lifespan get downloaded back into their original's brain - reintegrated.

That reintegration is very important for the ditto. Remember, as far as the ditto is concerned, he is the continuation of the lifetime of experiences that were imprinted. Unless the ditto gets inloaded back to the original brain, from the ditto's perspective, his life ends after 24 hours. Survival instinct is one of those personality traits that gets transferred right? So reintegration means that "my story" continues for the personality in that ditto. It's the afterlife.

So, after integration, the original human being and the ditto are combined, so that the resulting person ends up with two sets of memories and experiences for one two days in a 24 hour span. Or more. Depending how many copies they make.

One of the antagonists in this novel is Queen Isabella, and she lives her entire life through proxies. The original is constantly pumping out new dittos and inloading the 24-hour-old ones so that she's always got a few hundred versions of her self out there living out her many parrallel lives for her. Interesting little scenario, of course. But she's just a side-show.

The society that exists as a result of this technology lives their multi-tracked lives faced with all sorts of complex questions of the nature of the soul, identity, individuality, and the afterlife. Not to mention questions of ethics. See, because making several copies of each person results in a pretty massive population, there are rules about dittos. They have no legal rights. Despite the fact that, from their own perspectives, they are the "me" that created them (and will retain their memories at the end of the day), they are sub-human and property. Killing one results in a fine for destruction of property or inconveniencing the owner. The police are not even summoned, its just an automatic transaction that is handled by banking computers when a complaint is registered by the owner.

Then there's the ethical question of sending a version of yourself on a suicide mission. The protagonist is a detective. At one point, someone contracts his services with the requirement that the original can never know the details of the service. Hence, a copy must do the investigation, and never reintegrate with the original - by agreeing to this the copy (or his original, on his behalf) condemns himself to death within 24 hours of his making.

Even worse, many people will have cheap copies of themselves made to do objectionable or tedious chores, or to go to work for them even. And of course, they don't want those memories, so they refuse to integrate. There are whole armies of dittos that go to work as waiters, garbage collectors, etc., that are routinely destroyed at the end of each day (to be replaced by another batch the next day).

Mass murder? Well, the originals do agree to have copies made, knowing that they have a 50/50 chance of "being" the ditto or the original. Why not allow a portion of themselves to be used up every day in order to avoid having to experience objectionable chores? Yet still, the protagonist is bothered at some level by the callousness of this practice - even as he sends his own ditto on an assignment it can never return from.

The parallels to the God/man relationship become abundantly clear (if they weren't already) when a few more developments occur. First, one of the four active copies of the protagonist witnesses the suicide of the dying Queen Isabella - who has her Soul Standing Wave electronically amplified at the moment of her death and beamed into the center of the galaxy by a gigantic transmitter array. The idea is that some scientists have detected some gigantic pattern similar to a Soul Standing Wave in the very fabric of the universe - and she wants an "afterlife" of her own. So she's going to try to inload to our very own "original" - the Creator in whose image we are made.

Brin takes it a step farther, though. Because there is a mad scientist in this plot, a renegade ditto (who has managed to tweak his clay body to survive the natural 24-hour lifespan) of one of the leading ditto-tech theorists, with a mad scheme to take all this ludicrously advanced technology to the next insane level. And this along similar lines to Queen Isabella's final option.

The plan? To become God. Or something like God, at least. He concludes that because the patterns in the cosmos are similar to a Soul Standard Wave, yet do not appear to be one, they are as yet unformed. He wants to imprint his own wave onto that pattern and become God. I was quite surprised (considering Brin's materialist stance) when God actually showed up, and observed aloud in an understated tone that the position is actually already taken.

The book is full of thought provoking treatments on the nature and role of religion, mortality, mankind's insatiable quest for more (wealth, power, and especially knowledge), decadence, the nature of technology, and a host of other interesting subjects. I suspect a critic would turn up their nose in horror at these though, because they would probably only appeal to people who would be willing to voluntarily read short articles on those subjects (as opposed to a purely entertaining tale). Expository lumps, tempting to skip over them, but the reader would be missing some really nice nuggets if they did.