Sunday, December 12, 2010

The not-so-contradictory nature of mercy and justice

I read a tweet today from a person I know to be a self-professing atheist that I want to address. I want to address it because at first glance, it was like a little mental thorn whose apprent truth irritated me, but then after I thought about it for a bit, pulling the thorn out and alleviating myself of the irritation turned out to be pretty straightforward. The comment:
A being cannot be both just and merciful. They are contradictions. Mercy is the suspension of justice.
So I'll be clear and say that I assume that what is specifically being attacked here is the Christian view that God demonstrates both mercy and justice in His dealings with people. That is, those that are saved by grace through faith and redeemed by the the blood of Christ are shown mercy (thereby avoiding the just consequences of their sins) being allowed to enter into Heaven upon death, remaining there for eternity. In contrast, those that are not saved from their rebellious life of sinfullness are, upon death, banished to an eternal existence in Hell, thus being given just punishment for their life of disobedience and moral lawbreaking.

Allow me to frame my response by being explicit and grabbing the definitions for the two key words here from Merriam Webster. I'll choose the ones that I think fit the contextual useage best.

justice - 1a. the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments

mercy - 1a. compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one's power; also : lenient or compassionate treatment

Another definition worth making note of (because I'll mention it later) is that of the Law of Non-Contradiction  - It is not possible that something be both true and not true at the same time and in the same context.

Before going farther, I will agree to the accuracy and correctness of the commenter's abridged definition of the two terms - namely that "Mercy is the suspension of justice".

That being said, I submit that the succint conclusion - that "A being cannot be both just and merciful." - is at worst, false, and at best, ambiguous (and therefore it's not possible to deal with it clearly).

First, let's look at how this statement is obviously false (in it's current ambiguous form). For example, I am a father, I have three children. I can think of numerous times in the course of their lives where they've done something that they should justly be punished for, and then I punished them. I can also think of numerous times in the course of their lives where they've done something that they should justly be punished for, but for my own reasons at that particular time, I chose to not punish them, but rather show them mercy and simply discuss with them why what they did was wrong and attempt to help them understand how that particular kind of behavior is unacceptable. This clearly demonstrates that I, a 'being', am both just and merciful, in that I've been both just and merciful in my dealings with my children at different times. This is enough to serve as proof that the original statement - 'A being cannot be both just and merciful' - is simply false.

Let's deal with the ambiguity angle. One way to more clearly articulate here (not to be too hard on the original author for not being more verbose, I get that it it was twitter and he has a limited number of characters to work with) would be to say the following:
A being cannot be both just and merciful at the same time and in the same context. They are contradictions. Mercy is the suspension of justice.
The only difference here is the "at the same time and in the same context" portion of the first sentence, a snippet taken directly from the Law of Non-Contradiction.

If this had been the way the conclusion had been stated, I couldn't help but agree with it. It seems obvious, that with it put more clearly in that manner, that it is true. Now that we've agreed that the more verbose and clear statment is true (no one has actually agreed with me, I'm just presuming that the original author would), my follow up to that would be: So what?

By 'So What?' I mean to say that Christianity does not claim that God is both merciful and just at the same time and in the same context. For God to be that way would mean that He is both merciful and just with the same individual... which would mean that same individual would spend eternity in both Heaven (being shown mercy) and Hell (being shown justice). Clearly this is not possible, no more possible than it is for me to for me to turn both left and right (at the same time and in the same way) or be both wet and dry (at the same time and in the same way).

No Christian doctrine or theological understanding that I am aware of makes such a claim. It would be completely illogical, the same as if I had claimed to punish my child for lieing to me but also claimed to have shown the child mercy for the same exact act. This is obviously not possible, I either punished them justly or I dealt with them mercifully.

The claim Christianity does make is that God deals with some people mercifully and others justly, thus He is a being that is merciful when he deals mercifully and He is a being that is just when he deals justly.

Thorn out, irritant gone.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Big Oil - Excessive Profits - Clarity

I'm currently reading the book Calvin and Commerce, and in the chapter entitled 'Creation', under the heading 'Wealth Is Not Morally Evil', the authors present some noteworthy commentary on 'big oil', or more specifically, commentary in response to both secular and Christian efforts to cast wealth - or at least 'excessive profits' - in an immoral light.

Direct quote from the book:

Almost as an annual rite, Congress berates Exxon and the other members of the cabal they call "big oil." But are their profits truly excessive? In 2007 ExxonMobile made $40.6 billion, the net profit margin for 2007 was 11.3%. The table below shows financial data for the top ten stocks in the S&P 500 based upon market capitalization.

(url in case table doesn't show up: Big Oil)

Comparing Exxon's profit margin to that of the other nine companies in the top ten, we can see that Exxon is actually the third least profitable. If Exxon is guilty of excessive profits, then what of Microsoft, Google, and Bank of America, which have established corporations that withhold over 20% of the consumer's dollar? Note also that Exxon paid out over $7 billion in the form of dividends in 2007. Once the playing field is leveled by the magic of analysis, Google, Microsoft, and other corporations earn more than Exxon per dollar spent and return less to shareholders.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Cash for Clunkers UPDATE: Cash for Casas or Dollars for Debt?

I recently posted my thoughts concerning Cash for Clunkers here. One point I made was essentially that, not only is it wrong for the government to be offering such a program, it is wrong for individuals to be participating in such a program. I read a column today that's making me wonder if I'd have the ability to resist in terms of taking advantage of something I still think the government ought not to offer.

The case that may make me consider my consider re-thinking my principled stance (or at least holding the position, but ignoring it in terms of my actions) that I ought not to be participating in such government programs.

Obama and the 'B' Ark economy


The "success" of the automotive scheme suggests that we will eventually see some sort of "Cash for Casas" program and perhaps even a "Dollars for Debt" offer wherein the federal government provides dollar-for-dollar matching contributions for federally approved purchases financed with consumer loans.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Fishy Health Care Information

I'm just hoping the title - Fishy Health Care Information - is enough to get me reported.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cash for Clunkers: Repeating immoral and idiotic Great Depression history

This entire Cash for Clunkers debacle needs to be dressed down for the immoral idiocy that it is, so here goes. Bear in mind that I'm no economist, mostly just a person who feels like he is observing the obvious consequences of a bad idea. The facts I've gathered have not been gathered through in-depth research, but from the layman's avenues of reading a bit on the web and in newspapers and hearing a bit on the radio. Hopefully someone will kindly correct me if I get something factually incorrect.

The Good - in no particular order (as spouted by the proponents of the program):
  1. This will 'stimulate' the economy because it will result in more people purchasing new vehicles than would otherwise be doing so.
  2. This is good for the environment because vehicles that get somewhere in the 16-18 MPG range will be replaced by vehicles that get somewhere in the 20-24 MPG range.

The Bad - in no particular order (as seems obvious to me):
  1. Car dealers give somewhere close to blue book for a 'clunker' and in turn the government steals money from citizens so that they can then give the dealer that same blue book amount the dealer paid for the car. Seems self evidently wrong. There's no getting around the fact the government is stealing money from individuals to purchase clunkers... especially in the light of the fact that...
  2. ... the government is destroying the clunkers once they take possession of them. Destroying, as in, draining the oil from them and then starting them and letting them run until the engine blows. What the hell? In what kind of bizarro world do we live where being wasteful and squanderous like this is not viewed as wrong? Seems like not long ago being thrifty and resourceful was seen as a virtue (special note here to those of you who read this and don't buy into objective morality - in your model, we have no call to be disgusted with the current behavior or expectation for an embracing of the thrifty behavior). Seriously, replace 'cars' with some other commodity, such as 'grain' and see if it dawns on you how stupid, bizarre and wrong this is.
  3. Because the government is simply destroying all these 'clunkers', this means there will be less inexpensive used vehicles on the market for folks who either can't afford brand new vehicles or who choose to purchase inexpensive used vehicles and do other things they see as more important with their money. Note that this must also mean - assuming that for every clunker destroyed a brand new car is in the market place - that the average price of all vehicles will be going up (number of inexpensive cars decreases by X and number of expensive cars increases by X, I don't see how it could work any other way).
  4. Related to 3. The government is implicitly encouraging irresponsible behavior in the citizens in that, in general, citizens are being encouraged to acquire large loans for expensive cars as opposed to either acquiring smaller loans for inexpensive cars or simply saving enough money to pay cash for an inexpensive car. Again we run into the objective morality problem here. It's not a problem for me so much, as my external source of objective morality makes it quite clear that obtaining debt, especially unnecessary debt, is not a good thing.
  5. Related to 4. Not only are they implicitly encouraging the type of behavior described in 4, but this is the EXACT BEHAVIOR that got the economy into this mess. People getting money too cheaply and easily to spend on crap they can't afford.
  6. Related to 5. Umm... what percentage of people who traded their 'clunker' for a new car will be defaulting on the new car loan in 6-12 months time. My bet is that the percentage will be higher than the average. At this time, that category of people will have their new car repossessed, and their clunker will be gone, so they will either have to go carless or purchase another vehicle from a pool that no longer includes as many inexpensive options (see item 3).
  7. Related to 1. The government simply does not have the money to do this. By 'not have the money' I mean they are already running a huge deficit and they can't find foreign entities interested in financing their expenditures as it is. The only possible way to pay for this joke at this point then would be to either increase tax revenue by raising taxes or to print more dollars.
  8. Rarely will you see me squawking about the government missing an opportunity for tax revenue, but due to the sheer contradictory nature of one aspect of the whole plan, I feel obligated to mention it. The government is both A) purchasing clunkers from dealers (as mentioned in 1) and B) giving a $3500-$4500 tax break to any person who participates in the program. Is this contradiction not bizarre to anyone else? They're simultaneously spending money and ensuring that they receive less tax revenue because of the tax breaks. (One opposing factor to this is the likely bump in tax revenue from the sales tax harvested from the sale of all these vehicles. I'm skeptical that this bump makes up for the loss incurred because of A and B, but would love to see the math if someone has done it.)
  9. Regarding 'the Good', #1. This will only 'stimulate' in the same sense that steroids stimulate a person's body. It works in the short term to cause muscle gain (increased sales of vehicles) but in the long term causes issues - as listed in items 1-8. People need to quit thinking of the word 'stimulate' when used in an economic context as something that's undeniably and necessarily positive.
  10. Regarding 'the Good', #2. So, better for the environment huh? That's quite an assertion. Given the light speed with which crappy legislation travels through Congress these days, I'm fairly sure nobody did the math to see what was better for the environment... keeping the 'clunker' on the road for another 5-10 years and NOT using energy to manufacture the new vehicle vs. destroying the clunker and using the energy to manufacture the new vehicle.

That's what I thought of off the top of my head. I'm left wondering if the government is actually this stupid or is willfully evil and doing what it does for very good and calculated reasons.

Another thing I'd like to address is people who take the position that goes something like "Well, I disagree with it and don't think the government should be offering this program, but since they are, I may as well take advantage of it, it's my money they're using to pay for the program anyway." People who take this position often consider themselves to be conservative and maybe even libertarianish. Let me say now that if you are this person, then you are wrong, and your conservative or libertarian (or classically liberal, I don't even know what word to use these days... I mean not socialist, not marxist, not fascist) principles are a joke and you don't have the gumption to actually let them affect your behavior, but instead you're willing to set them aside for selfish gain.

Last but not least, some links to other interesting blogs on the same topic.

For more fancy economic language like:

Once it hits the limits of demand, the shifting back of the curve to its place on the supply curve will be nasty because none of those new cars will need replacement as soon as the clunkers would have. There are some differences of course. Roosevelt was trying to reduce supply, whereas this program is just a means of consuming tomorrow's demand today.

Also, what I thought to be a very interesting anecdote from a commenter about his grandparents experience during the Great Depression:
My grandparents had a little pig farm. Maybe... 50 hogs? Federal agents came by one day and killed every single hog, and confiscated the meat. Looking to drive up the cost of pork... helping the big farms... screwing the poor folks that were trying to raise their own meat.

No one remembers this stuff anymore.

Back in the 1930s, the story goes that President Roosevelt was accused of being “dumber than a jackass” because the Feds were paying farmers to tear up their fields and some of their plow animals resisted it, having been trained over many years, sometimes by whip, not to destroy plants. Today, I guess one could say that President Obama cares less about the poor than a used-car salesman does.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Gold, silver or ammo for a rail kit

I recently posted a rail kit for a Dodge Caravan for sale on Craigslist. The following interchange was too good not to share.

Text of the original Craiglist ad:

Dodge Caravan Roof Rack Rail Kit. See the attached image for details. I bought these and they don't fit our van. They're brand new and haven't been used. Asking $100 OBO.

An email I received from Aguero Disanto regarding my ad:

just want to know if you still have this item available for sale.Let me know your final asking price and the present condition if it.Hope to read from you soon.


My response to Aguero (I should note that the not quite perfect English didn't surprise me because there is a fairly large Mexican population in the area where I live and I've sold things to not-quite-perfect English speakers on Craigslist before):

I'd go down to $80. It is in perfect condition. As I said in the ad, it's never even been used. I tried to install it and realized it was the wrong model for my particular van.

Aguero's response back to me:

Thank you for your response.I am satisfied with the conditions you have stated on the item.I have a schedule already,for i need to attend an important seminar outside state so i will not be able to come to check it at your place.Since i am ok with the conditions,i will be sending you a check payment that will cover the amount of the item and the moving funds.You are to deduct your money for the item from the payment after cleared by your bank within 2-3 days and have the rest sent to the mover via western union money transfer.You will be sending this amount to my mover because he will need the money to come for the pick up at your place and also pick up some other items for me in your city.For your inconvenience,i will include extra $100 with the payment to be your running around fee.I am always a busy person and i will not like to miss this item.The information of the mover will be sent to you after the check is received and he will be at your location for the pick up with a signed note explaining that he will be assuming responsibility for the property on my behalf.Get back to me with the following information for issuing of the payment............

Hope i can trust you with my money?Have a pleasant day.


My response back to Aguero:

Oh, I should've been clearer before. I'm of the opinion that the American dollar will be collapsing soon, so I only take payments in ounces of gold, silver, or ammunition in the following calibers:
  • .308
  • .45
  • 9mm
THANK YOU... and have a nice day.

In case you were wondering, I didn't hear back from Aguero. Oh, and if you need a rail kit for a Dodge Caravan, it's still available here so hit me up:

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Heathen - The Problem of Evil - Proof for the Soul

I was directed to the organization Stand To Reason by a Marine friend of mine who is currently attending Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington DC several months ago when I was asking him about good Christian apologetics resources he knew of that I didn't. I'm really glad I found STR as I've thoroughly enjoyed many of the resources they have to offer since then.

As always, for Christmas my family and I trekked the 600 miles from where we live in Colorado to where my wife and I's parents live in Kansas. Ever since I've been aware of Stand To Reason and listened to a few of the audio resources they have, I've enjoyed them so much I've made it a point to make sure and have something on hand that I haven't yet listened to if I can for long road trips. This Christmas, I ordered several things before our trip and had a chance to listen to three of them on the drive. As is common with STR, the resources, IMO, were very good, something very capable of occupying my mind during the drive. Here's what I listened to and liked.

The Heathen and the Unknown God

This was one CD (yes, I bought CD's - I don't have an ipod or any other player yet - my wife has a nano - I have a CD player in the van -- STR does sell an MP3 version though). Not only does Koukl do the best job I've ever heard of answering the question that should make any Christian's heart ache about the heathen who never has a chance to hear the gospel, he builds on top of that answer to give one of the most clear and concise explanations of the gospel as well. Specifically, he does a fantastic job of communicating humanity's problem and solution in a crystal clear way that just... works. I think most believers would benefit greatly from this resource as well as nonbelievers. I personally found myself with a renewed appreciation for the work Christ accomplished on the cross.

Answering the Problem of Evil

This is a three CD set. The first is a lecture by Greg Koukl. The last two are lectures by William Lane Craig. The age old argument addressed here is this.
  • The God described by Christianity is said to be all-powerful and all-good.
  • Evil exists in the world.
  • An all-powerful God would be able to eliminate evil and an all-good God would want to.
  • Since evil exists, God is either not all-powerful (He wants to eliminate evil but can't, He is impotent) or not all-good (He can eliminate evil, but he doesn't want to).
  • Therefore, the God described by Christianity cannot possibly exist.
As always, Koukl is adept at answering the question. Not only does he answer the question, he turns the argument on its head and argues for the existence of God using the very existence of evil as the foundation to his argument. This line of argumentation is not uncommon, but Koukl distinguishes himself, as he commonly does, with his ability to communicate the message in such a clear, concise, laid-back, respectful way.

As for the last two CD's, these are good as well. William Lane Craig is a person that more hardcore logic and philosophy geeks would enjoy as opposed to the layman. His lectures here are true to his form. He's careful to distinguish between the emotional version of the argument from evil and the cold, hard logical one. Specifically he's careful to point out when one should offer the cold, hard logical version and when one shouldn't.

The Invisible Man: Is there Proof for the Soul?

This was a two CD set, both being lectures by Koukl. This one was probably the most intriguing to me before I listened to it simply because of what it purported to do in the title. I read the title and thought to myself... "How in the world is he going to prove the soul exists? What kind of evidence is he possibly going to be able to round up to show this?"

I should be getting used to it by now, but he did a great job of providing 5 specific pieces of evidence to show that the immaterial soul exists. I particularly liked this one, mostly because these were mostly new ideas/evidences to me, and got me thinking about things I hadn't thought much about before.

Of the 5 lines of evidence Koukl offers, one takes advantage of Leibniz's Law of the indiscernability of identicals and another uses the scientific study of a certain phenomenon that would seem to indicate that the immaterial soul exists independently of the material brain.

I would highly recommend any of the above three resources to both believers and unbelievers. I'm convinced that most believers would learn something new from each one of them and definitely gain some skills in the area of effectively communicating with unbelievers. For unbelievers, Koukl goes out of his way to say that he's not out to 'convert' anyone. His goal, instead, is to simply 'put an intellectual stone in your shoe' if you hold a position differently than the one he does on any of these topics. Admittedly, it's tough for me to say - I can't exactly relate - but I think if I was an unbeliever I wouldn't mind listening to this guy talk as he doesn't try to browbeat anyone into making a confession nor does he assault them with a barrage of scripture passages or any other kind of aggressive techniques. He simply offers up well reasoned, kindly communicated and compelling arguments in support of core pieces of his religious faith.