Progress 11 years on

How has the economy been doing for the since the bust of 2001? It is pertinent question for we often hear of Japan’s lost decade but not much of America’s. And while our situation may not be as dire as theirs (and our demographic nightmare of babyboom plus SS and Medicare is nothing compared to theirs), adjusting for inflation, assuming that government doesn’t actually contribute anything to the economy, and adjusting for population growth the US economy hasn’t grown in 11 years. And real after tax income per person hasn’t increased for about half of that (The spike in incomes in the middle of the last recession is bankruptcy which is counted as income).

This isn’t the great recession of 2007+, this is the great recession of 2001+.


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A Summary of Jervell’s Perspective on Acts

Jacob Jervell’s work Luke and the People of God: A New Look at Luke-Acts has transformed studies of first century christianity and early jewish-christian relations. It informs and is informed by the new perspective on Paul as we continue trying to read the New Testament in the original context, not in a post-Constantine, post-Reformation, post-Enlightenment, post-Modern context.

Before explaining Jervell’s view on the missions to the Jews and to the Gentiles in Acts it is important to understand the prevailing view for most of the Christian period. The dominant view has been that because the Jews rejected the gospel the evangelists then, disappointed, turn towards the Gentiles. The evangelists dust off their feet at this rejection and move on to a more receptive audience because the rejection of the Messiah by the jews justifies them in doing so. This view is present in early Christian thought as well as Catholic tradition. Catholic tradition then developed upon this idea of a “spiritual Israel” a role that the church supplanted the physical nation of Israel in. Jervell maintains that this is not the case and cannot be supported by the text of Acts.

Taking Acts chapter 1 verse 81 as a thesis statement for the book and tracing it through to the end he comes to a quite different conclusion.

First Jervell dismisses the idea that Jews rejected the gospel wholesale. Throughout Luke’s Acts masses of Jews accept the gospel and therefore Christ. From Peter’s pentecostal sermon through to the end2 Luke has interspersed accounts of Jews accepting Christ in increasing number3. Jervell concludes that there were tens of thousands of Jewish Christians around Jerusalem by the end of the Acts account. This corresponds with other estimates I have seen putting the Church of Jerusalem at about fifty-thousand by the time of the destruction of Jerusalem. Luke is always at pains to recognize that it is the most faithful, the most law-abiding, the most jewish Jews that accept the good news. The devout from across the world at Pentecost, many of the priests, and the converts continuing in the synagogues and faithfulness in great devotion to the scriptures4.

Second Jervell writes the gentile mission is not tacked on as an afterthought. The gospel must be preached to the Jews first because it is through Israel, which Jervell takes to be the plural nation and not the singular Christ, that the Gentiles will be saved. Even before Peter’s vision of the clean and the unclean leading to the conversion of Cornelius5 Peter speaks about the gentile mission. Luke records the gentiles coming to Christ through their connections to Judaism and in much smaller numbers than the mass acceptance of the Jews. When the gospel is taken out into the gentile world it is always first to the Jews in the synagogues and then to God-fearing Gentiles before being taken into the pagan agora.

Third Jervell dismisses the idea that the, gentile, church is the new Israel. Luke always uses Israel to refer to Jews who have accepted Christ, never more broadly to include gentile converts and never in a figurative sense. As he was at pains to show that it is the most jewish Jews who accept the gospel he is demonstrating that those Jews who accept Christ are the proper inheritors of the covenant and to defend against any questioning of why the Jewish establishment has not accepted Jesus as the Messiah. Those who reject Jesus are cut off from the inheritance and are no longer properly part of Israel. Also now faith in Christ allows Gentiles to be grafted into that inheritance. In this same vein Jervell notes that no evangelist uses brothers to refer to Gentiles but only to those who were sons of Abraham, greetings are always seperated, “brothers, and …”.

Finally, but tied to the previous point, Jervell provides a new conception of jewish conversion. Jews don’t convert to Christianity. Properly speaking Christianity is the continuation of Judaism and its fulfillment. Judaism has been anticipating the messiah and, in a reversal of common understanding, for a Jew to reject Christ is to be cut off from the covenant. Jews accept (and continue) or reject (and leave). Jervell claims that Luke paints a picture not of Jews rejecting Christ but being divided into the penitent faithful and the obdurate unfaithful. The confusing accounts of Jewish mass acceptance of Christ and vicious persecution of Christians, often in subsequent verses, is thus reconciled.


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I decided that the frequent asides are cluttering the blog, so I will delete all of the previous asides (links preserved below) and from now on instead do irregular posts of a collection of links with, I hope, some commentary to put the links in context.

Longevity and Health Care systems

Dead Sea Scrolls online

Our bipartisan apathy towards civilian drone deaths

Public school teachers are in fact over paid

Also teachers are sexist

And schools are bloated bureaucracies 

The church is more fun than I thought

According to the New York Times the right minimum wage is zero dollars

Gun control should mean controlling the governments guns

The Winner of the Election: George W. Bush

Disney buys Lucasfilm new Star Wars movies in the works

Diamonds are worthless 

The case for abolishing patents

Revolutionary Road

Why no one should vote for Obama

Alzheimer’s and diabetes

A map of childhood’s end

Legs broken Crutches distributed

China’s rise America’s fall

Neil Armstrong R.I.P.

Prehistoric brain found pickled in bog

The Grand Shi strategy of Ron Paul

American Class Mobility

How Norwegians react to terrorism

Google Street view in Antarctica

 I hate traffic lights

The strongest trade union in america

God the hidden tyrant?

Population density

Geography of government benefits

Faking the moon landings

Losing the war on people who use non-approved intoxicants

Ray Bradbury R.I.P.

Princeton students love Hitler

American evangelicals (not) behaving badly

Defined as a problem

Mother’s day behind bars

N.T. Wright sings Dylan

Tufte on the iPhone

Who profits from the drug war?

The cost of incarceration



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Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in a Nutshell

In a nutshell 1 Corinthians is concerned with factionalism and paganism in the church of God at Corinth.

The first, factionalism, is revealed as the focus of Chloe’s report in the first chapter and taken up in chapters one through four. After addressing some other topics-mainly purity: sexual , marital, meat offered to idols-Paul returns to divisions again in Chapter 11.

It is interesting that Paul’s teaching on the perversion of the Lord’s Supper by the Corinthian believers comes after his mentioning pagan banquet halls and altars, for the Corinthian believers were falling into their pre-conversion, pagan patterns of banqueting when partaking of the Lord’s supper.

Even pagan writer’s such as Plutarch bemoan the “rich lording over the poor” at in the banquet halls. Where the rich would be served by the poor (slaves) and within the rich there was a seating arrangement to show finely discerned degrees of status. Plutarch presents a view of a better arrangement in his humanistic Banquet of the Seven Sages

Paul condemns their practice of socio-economic stratification and cliquishness during their so-called agape feasts. Paul declares that if the rich are humiliating the poor it is certainly not the Lord’s supper/meal/feast they are eating.

The rich Corinthian believers seem to have had an overly vertical conception of the Lord’s Supper, so when Paul directs them to discern the body this is not incipient transubstantiation but instructions to discern the body-that-is-the-church.

As Paul comments elsewhere on the body and jealousy, here we might likewise insert “certainly the noble parts will not starve the feet and legs so that they atrophy and die”. Paul insists that at the table of the Lord every member of the body is to be equal.

If the rich are so weak that they cannot wait for the poor to arrive6 then they should eat before the gathering so that they can wait on the poor for the meal of the Lord. This is not to say that the solution is to have a sliver of cracker and a sip of wine, that is everyone starves together, but that in the feast/meal/supper of the Lord the priority should be on the poor getting their fill of the food that the rich provide.

Whereas the earlier discussion of divisions in 1-4 is primarily on cults of personality, this division (which is more important for our context) is over the withdrawal of association from the poor by the rich.

In addition to chapters five, six, and seven’s focus on reforming a formerly pagan sexual ethic, chapters eight through fourteen (overlapping with the factionalism in eleven mentioned above) reform a pagan mindset of worship.

Roman Corinth was a pagan city, and the church there seems to have been majority converts out of paganism, for example see the discussion in chapter 10 of pre-conversion practices by the letter’s addressees of idol worship and pagan sacrifices. This leads to their worship of Yahweh being influenced and corrupted by a pagan worldview.

Ecstatic speech, here ‘speaking in tongues’7, was, and is, not limited to Christian practice. Speaking in tongues was a hallmark of both the indwelling of God’s spirit and of the daemonic8 possession of oracles in the Greco-Roman pagan world.

The Corinthians in their over-realized eschatology latched onto the ‘already’ to the exclusion of the ‘not yet’. The took the regeneration and resurrection of the gospel promise to have already occurred in the pouring out of the spirit and thereby rejected a future physical regeneration, physical resurrection of the dead9. The Corinthian believers were especially enamored with the more ostentatious, self-centered gifts of the spirit.

Backing up to chapter 12 were the discussion of gifts begins, in the context of unity Paul states that the primary gift is teaching. Teaching is an other centered gift. This is carried through chapter 13, the love chapter, and into 14 where un-interpretted tongues are decried as the least of all gifts, and the most self centered.

Contrary to pagan worship where divine madness and ecstatic speech, glossalia, were celebrated, in Christianity Paul writes that worship is to be rational, of both spirit and mind. He asserts that it is better to keep quiet than to confuse visitors with displays of irrationality. Paul directs the Corinthian Church to limit tongue speaking at their gatherings, to only allow one person at a time to speak, to only allow glossalia if someone present is able to interpret it.

Order is more important than tongues, so is the interpretation which completes it, and prophecy which is better still. This is not to be taken to say that Paul denies the indwelling of God’s spirit or gifts of the spirit-he “speaks in tongues more than any”-but rather to remember that our focus should be on building up the body not glorifying one part.

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A Summary of the New Perspective on Romans

To understand the new view on Romans, and its bedfellow the new view on Paul, one must understand the old view (“of course it wasn’t called that at the time”). Prior to the work of Sanders, Dunn (who coined the term), and Wright for four hundred years a special position accorded to Paul’s letter to the Romans has shaped the dominant view of Pauline theology.

The early reformers looked to the New Testament in order to find a foundation for their, rightful, critique of late medieval/renaissance Catholicism and saw in Romans a letter that seemed heaven-sent for their context. Forgetting that the New Testament was written for them but not to them they embraced Romans as expositing true Christian theology contra the Roman perversion. They saw the catholic view of salvation based on meritous works in the judaizer/jewish view Paul was condemning as trusting in “works of the law”.

This lead to the aforementioned 400 years of viewing Romans as special. Romans was supposed to be a systematic, propositional treatise on the nature of Christianity divorced from any context, situation, or occasion; after all Paul had not previously visited Rome, he was writing to make sure that this major church understood everything. Paul intended to visit them but wanted to make sure that they were on the same page when he showed up. Therefore this is an exposition of salvation, grace, and election10.

We must remember that the scriptures are written for us but not to us. The new perspective on Romans maintains that the reformers didn’t just pull some verses out of context in their proof-texting efforts but an entire book.

Sanders, Dunn, and Wright write: to understand Romans we must approach it not with the questions that we want answered but with the questions and context of the original occasion. Thankfully we now have a better understanding of the occasion and situation of the letter.

Broadly the context is tied to the new perspective on Paul. First century Judaism was not a legalistic religion (for the most part marginal Jews like the Qumran community were legalists who seemed to think they could merit salvation 11, just as some throughout the history Christianity have been legalists). Judaism was a religion of grace and grateful obedience, for the elect (that is the nation of Israel). Surveys of first century Judaism show that God’s choosing Israel was seen as an act of grace, God’s gift of the Torah was seen as an act of grace, God’s repeated deliverance of Israel from its enemies was seen as an act of Grace, God’s system of animal sacrifice for sin was seen as an act of Grace. The same surveys show that obedience to the law was seen as an expression of gratitude, and most importantly to distinguish the chosen nation from others. The works of the law are not considered to be good deeds meriting salvation but ethnic boundary markers.

Bringing the context into focus on Rome in the middle of the first century highlights the occasional nature of the letter.

Seutonius writes in his account of the life of Claudius that Claudius expelled the Jews at the instigation of one “Chrestus”12 in 49 AD. The church in Rome was seemingly well established at the time, perhaps having been founded by penitent Jewish Christians who had received the Gospel from Peter at Pentecost, but Roman authorities were not yet distinguishing between Christians and Jews. While Rome did not contain as much of the diaspora as Alexandria did, a significant number of Jews were expelled by the order13. Among those expelled were the Jewish Christians including Priscilla and Aquilla.

Roman edicts such as this seem not to have been to long lasting and only enforced so long as the issuing Emperor was still in power. When Claudius died in 54 AD those Jews and Jewish Christians who had been expelled returned to Rome. When the Jewish Christians came back they were uncomfortable with what they found.

The five year period without Jewish direction of the Roman church meant an accelerated rate of change towards a gentile flavored church. When the Jews returned they insisted on Jew first, Christian second.

The new perspective maintains that Jew first means enforcing the old ethnic boundary markers, the “works of the law”. This new view of Romans meshes nicely with Galatians, the “little Romans” in the old view, which deals more explicitly with circumcision as a demarcation of group affiliation.

The old proposition that this is not a situational letter but a treatise demands an answer to the question “even if we now know what was going on at the time that Paul wrote Romans how could he gain knowledge sufficient to address their needs?” Contrary to the idea that Paul had no idea of the internal strife, divisions, and problems in the Roman church his acquaintance, during and after the time when Claudius edict was enforced, with Priscilla and Aquilla and others from the Roman church mentioned in his closing remarks at the end of Romans would have informed him of the pastoral needs of the Roman Church.

As a libertarian I find the new view of Romans especially enlightening regarding the “pro-government” passages in chapter 13 within Paul’s prescriptions of chapters 12-14. Given that the Jews were expelled from Rome because of “Chrestus”, that is Christ, Paul is concerned that the actions of the Jewish Christians, now that they have returned, might bring further shame upon the name of Christ. Therefore Paul’s writing about the Christians relationship to the Roman state is occasional as well.

Thus Romans is really about the nature of the covenant, submission to christ (faith) versus submission to ethnic boundary markers (works of the law). Further Paul insists that gentiles are fully Christian and not subordinate like they had been under the old system. Finally he insists there should be no boasting on either side. All of this occasioned by the specific needs of a Roman church suffering from a clash of cultures.

Criticism of the new view comes mainly from Lutheran/Calvinist/Reformed circles who don’t want to see their foundation go.

But in the new view of Romans all letters of paul are respected. There is no longer a two tier system of Pauline writings: Romans and Galatians versus everything else; everything else treated as mere criticisms and encouragement with not much to offer to our theological understanding.

The new view has elevated the position of Paul’s other letters, not demoted Romans.


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Romney creator of Obamacare

Romney signing RomneyCare into law in MA in 2006

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A rehash of Capital-Gains-less Effective income tax rates

A little late for tax season.

In response to an article at the NBER highlighting the difference between income inequality and consumption inequality in the states I decided to look into effective federal tax rates as a function of income.

If you look at the effects of the earned income tax credit the EITC which has been called the most effective (ahem) welfare program in the US (and recently written about byMankiw and Greenstein) then for poor people with children income after taxes and credit is over 50% greater than earned income financing quite a bit of the NBER’s consumption-income gap (other programs-like food stamps and housing assistance-and off the books income closing the rest).

Why not an even broader estimation of the effects of federal income taxation and benefits though?

Why not include unemployment taxes, and “employer contributions” to medicare and social security in addition to Gross income, exemptions, deductions, personal FICA, EITC, and refundable child tax credits?

I assume a very simple tax return:

  1. standard deductions only
  2. no capital gains
  3. no AMT
  4. no state taxation

Then compute the effective tax rate from zero to a million dollars. Realizing that employers employ others only if they produce more than the costs of employment salary and overhead included.

Money an employer allocates to salary must also cover the hidden taxes of unemployment and FICA, money the employee would otherwise receive. Therefore I sum total taxes paid “by the employee” and “on behalf of the employee” and refundable credits received by the employee and divide by gross wages plus taxes paid “on behalf of the employee” to come up with the effective tax rate. The y-axis of the chart is the effective federal tax rate as a function of the x-axis (compressed roughly logarithmically) which is nominal gross income.

Naively the blue line is how much you benefit/detriment as a result of tax and refundable credits. But, the blue line fails to account for unemployment and “employer” FICA. The Orange line is how much money one would be compensated in the absence of any government intervention. Where the blue line crosses the orange line (Which is the same as where the green line crosses 100%) is the break even point, households left of this don’t pay (income) taxes, people right of this do. The x-axis is properly log scaled now.


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God’s Love and God’s Hate

How to reconcile God’s Mercy and Compassion and Love and God’s Holiness and Justice and Hate is a difficult question we should not just gloss over.

If words when used in relation to God flatly contradict the plain language understanding of those words when used of others then to use them of God is an abuse of language. We would be better off with a tautology, that “God’s godliness is godly.” A tautology is better than nonsense. When we say things like God’s wrath on sinners is an act of love it is an abuse of language. Perhaps love spurned (like an unfaithful spouse) may motivate someone to wrath, but an expression of wrath is never considered an act of love from anyone except God.

Worse than wrath is hate. Are we going to say that hate really means love? God hates the idolatrous (Leviticus 20.23), God hates the unjust (Psalm 5.5), God hates the violent (Psalm 11.5), God hates liars and dissenters (Proverbs 6.16-19), God hates the wicked (Hosea 9.15). Or that by hating these people God is really loving them? God is love (1 John 4.8) but scriptures tell us he does hate.

To say that God would prefer that these repent and obey doesn’t solve the problem. He may want to save all and prefer all repent so that he can love them, he may be ready to forgive and love anyone, but, to hate sinners (Both Mao and Gandhi) and damn them-giving them eternal life to be able to torture them mercilessly and without end-is not a loving thing to do, however just it may be.

And many people we too hate and want to see them damned: Child molesters, murderers, genocidal tyrants, Wall Street Bankers. But we don’t pretend that thereby we love them. In fact, as Christians we feel that we are somehow not loving enough, that we are not enough like sunday-school-Jesus. Why do we pretend that God has somehow squared the circle?

Reconciling God’s hate and wrath with his predication as love is baffling, insisting they are the same thing is nonsensical. To pretend otherwise is Pollyannaish, and does disservice to christianity, reinforcing stereotypes of Christianity as muddle-headed wish-fulfillment.

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An online ethnography of China

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I am not a Calvinist for the same reason I am a Theist

In Christianity there are many views on the foreknowledge of God varieties of Reformed positions-Calvinism and Arminianism-and also the traditional Roman Catholic Augustinian view and Molinism a Roman Catholic compromise position. These can be sliced and diced many different ways but for me the question comes down to determinism.

The framework of my faith was laid by the evangelistic and apologetic writings of C.S. Lewis. In the context of this reflection Miracles is notable. Therein Lewis lays out the argument from reason, which is briefly that in a system of naturalism or materialism even mental states are determined by the state of the universe at time t-1 as is everything else in the universe back to the big bang. And if everything is causally determined, particularly mental states, then there cannot be propositions, true or false, and therefore even the statement “materialism is true” would be nothing but the sound of wind in the trees.

So materialistic determinism must be false as knowledge of my mind and propositions, judgements, and reason (even if fallen) therein is prior to my knowledge of the world and any argument that negates the unspoken axioms that make argumentation possible.

Of course you could always attempt to be a committed and consistent nihilist but only suicides manage that.

Something I realized sometime after coming to faith and a few years ago now is that one cannot affirm Calvinism for the same reason that one cannot affirm materialism. It isn’t materialism peculiarly that is self defeating but determinism in any form. It is incoherent to argue, a process that presumes libertarian freedom of the will, for a conclusion that contradicts it.

Now I wonder though, after my initial attraction, is Molinism much better? Considering Newcomb’s paradox if God perfectly predicts so called free choices (even across an infinite panoply of possible worlds, this does not affect the conclusion) and then acts to realize them is this any less deterministic? Contra William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantiga I currently doubt it.

Currently an open theist (that is “neo-molinist”) explanation a la Gregory Boyd seems to handle this philosophical mine field the best. God doesn’t know merely what will and won’t happen, but also what might and might not happen. There the future is not settled as it doesn’t yet exist.

As per Newcomb’s paradox to perfectly predict is to cause (even if the predictor is not acting to realize as in Molinism; thus Newcomb’s paradox similarly applies to any theory in which God perfectly predicts the future, including classical Arminianism), but as scripture concurs most predictions, that is prophecies or oracles, in the bible (especially those that regard humans and their desserts) are explicitly or implicitly contingent on current trends continuing. Further there are predictions made by God that are confirmed to have failed to have come true in the Bible, thus scripture itself affirms that God does not perfectly and totally know the future.

This is seen most explicitly in:

  • Judges 1.2 and 1.19
  • Jonah
  • Jeremiah 18.7-8
  • Jeremiah 22.18-19 and 36.30-31 and 2 Kings 24.6
  • Jeremiah 34.4-5 and 52.8-11
  • Ezekiel 26.7-14 and 29.17-20.

Further, these Old Testament scripture writers don’t seem the least bit perturbed that God doesn’t have perfect or complete foreknowledge.

Now, open theism is not without problems, see Peter’s 3 denials and Judas betrayal, but those problems are less than in any other view.


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