Christians and “Coincidences” or Is There a Hex in the Patternicity?

This article has many images and footnotes; I encourage the reader to download it as a pdf here: Shogren_Christians and Coincidences

It happened just the other day: I had been thinking about James Bond, and later when I pulled out a form of identification for the bank teller, I noticed that my ID number began with 007! Was I a secret agent? Perhaps one suffering from amnesia?

Or, let’s say a man “has a system” for beating the Vegas roulette table. He has noticed that black has come up eight times in a row. So he bets everything on black, because “there’s clearly a pattern to the wheel tonight.” Meanwhile, a man across from him is thinking to himself, “I’d better put everything on red, since it looks like it’s due to come up.”

A child and her companion lie on their backs, looking up at the clouds. “That one looks like a giraffe!” she says. “And that one a camel!” “No, not a camel, look at it upside-down, it looks just like an octopus.” One child says, “An angel!”; another says, “Actually, it looks quite like Charles Darwin!”

We have all played this game without realizing that we were doing pattern recognition. As Paul Simon wrote many years back, in the song “Patterns”:

The night sets softly
With the hush of falling leaves,
Casting shivering shadows
On the houses through the trees,
And the light from a street lamp
Paints a pattern on my wall,
Like the pieces of a puzzle
Or a child’s uneven scrawl.

Leaves, shadows, trees, indecipherable scrawling – these can all seem like messages because of our human tendency for patternicity. So can tortillas and numbers and corporate logos, as we shall see.

This is why astronomers speak of the Horsehead Nebula, which was not modeled after a terrestrial animal, but just sort of looks like a horse!

From ages past, people have imagined patterns in the stars and constructed “constellations” of animals, gods, heroes. And we can get a cross-check on patternicity by seeing how different cultures “read” the same stars –  it’s Orion in European legend, but the same stars are a hunter and his dogs chasing a deer in India. Mr. Rorschach invented his famous ink blots on the basis of human pattern recognition (“Ummm…is it, maybe, two ducks kissing?” “Okay, Mr. Anderson, we’d better make it three sessions per week!”)

We are wired to quickly detect patterns in the data we see and hear. This is a huge help to get us through the day: when our alarm clock goes off, we don’t have to puzzle over, “Now, what could that buzzer possibly mean?”

But for some people, that recognition faculty goes beyond what is useful (more…)

What I read in 2016, the short list

I have always been a big reader, but never anything close to my list for 2016. That’s when I began to use the wonderful online group, Goodreads.com, to log the books that I have read, am reading, and want to read. I am up over 1900 books that I have logged as “read” in my lifetime, so far, but I know there are hundreds I cannot remember; I imagine the number should be more like 2500.

“Do you want that reading list Super-Sized?”

Over Christmas break 2015 I decided to join their Reading Challenge for 2016, and set a (as it turns out, too ambitious!) personal goal of 150 books/plays this year, including the complete works of Shakespeare, the Koran, and others, let alone material for class prep. Typically I am reading eight books at a clip; some short documents, some long tomes, some Audible recorded books from Amazon.

Overall, I read a lot more non-fiction this year than I usually do, although I also read some marvelous fiction.

Here are some of the highlights, in no particular order:

Russian themed. Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons (1862) was excellent. I am about a third of the way through the fictionalized biography of Trotsky by Leonardo Padura, The Man who Loved Dogs. Dostoyevsky, The Idiot (1868-69) is a Christ-allegory. All are available on Kindle.

George Orwell beyond 1984 and Animal Farm. I have read 1984 a dozen times since Junior High, and decided I should branch out. Keep the Aspidistra Flying is a novel (more…)

My Time with the Koran, April 2016

Read the whole file here shogren_my-time-with-the-koran or download it on your phone. my-time-with-the-koran

My reading the Koran is like a rock-and-roller trying to figure out what in the world that jazz trio is up to. Still, if I will opine that the Koran is right, wrong, or indifferent, I feel I should have at least a basic, first-hand awareness of what it actually says. This, even though people all the time comment on books they haven’t yet gotten around to; the Bible in particular, unread by many Bible-believers.[i]

I bring this up because, like you, I have seen certain Facebook memes and books that “prove” that all Muslims are “really” in a jihad against the West; and that when some (apparently very nice) Muslims claim they are not planning to blow stuff up, well, they are lying, since everyone knows that in Islam it’s cool to lie about not being involved in jihad in order to be more effective in jihad. See my dilemma?

We live in a world where from all directions, especially in the social media, we see quotations taken out of context. I love the new usage of “cherry-picked,” a term that is often applied during election years. According to the Urban Dictionary, it is “When only select evidence is presented in order to persuade the audience to accept a position, and evidence that would go against the position is withheld. The stronger the withheld evidence, the more fallacious the argument.”

Jefferson’s well-known statement that “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing” is usually taken out of context; when Lincoln “said” that he was not concerned about slavery, but maintaining the Union, that’s cherry-picking; and when the Lincoln meme tells us “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet,” that’s just a fake. We run into supposed quotes from George Washington, Albert Einstein, Gandhi, Joe Stalin, even George Carlin. A snatch of a phrase from Alexis de Tocqueville or Gibbon’s Rise and Fall, also practically useless unless read in context.

At any rate, I have had on my reading list for some time to go ad fontes (Latin, “back to the sources”) and read books of other faiths, not objectively—which is unattainable for anybody—but directly and unmediated. I have a copy of the Book of Mormon waiting in the wings; a dear Hindu friend gave me a beautiful edition of the Bhagavad-Gita, also on my list; Confucius’s Analects I read long ago, also the Mishnah and the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gnostic literature. On the wackier side, I have read the prophetic quatrains of Nostradamus (meh) and looked over some of the “exposés” of the Catholic Church by Charles Chiniquy (yow!). I read Pope Francis’s Laudato Sii on environmental issues and later on his Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee: the latter in part because I heard somewhere that it promised to send Protestants to the guillotine in a 21st-century Inquisition; turns out, it did not mention decapitation or any bloodshed; who knew?

I also wanted to read the Koran because of a phenomenon that is very obvious from a Google search, that there are Muslims apologists who carefully read the Bible—in order to refute it.[ii]

So, this was my first time through the Koran, and I went cover to cover. I looked up some points to clarify what I was looking at, but tried to avoid the Hadith interpretations or other viewpoints, except for the ones I read afterward about jihad. It was “Back to the Koran” time.

s-l1000

Let me give some broad observations, from a Christian for Christians, and then address specific topics. (more…)

“The Paranoid Style in American Politics” has its 50th Anniversary

[One of my few blog entries on politics, and how it relates to psychology, sociology, and modern apocalyptic eschatology. Here is a full pdf version: Paranoid Style Turns 50_Shogren]

Because of his ability to describe and predict American political behavior, Richard Hofstadter’s “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” should be required reading for the citizen. And except for Sacred Scriptures and the US Constitution, I never say any text should be mandatory. “Paranoid Style” was a short, dynamite article in the November 1964 issue of Harper’s, and is still available on their website archive. [1] We will look at some of its insights for today, and in particular, its implications for the evangelical church.

His immediate interest was the conservative movement that backed Barry Goldwater for president in the 1964 election. As a confirmed liberal of the old style, that is, to the left of typical Democrats of today, Hofstadter argued that he was not simply being anti-conservative – and that he was! – but rather: “I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing.”

I offer my own summary of the script of the “paranoid style”:

Nothing is what it seems to be: there are evil forces at work, carrying out their treacherous actions and shielding themselves from the attention of the general public;

I and a small group of whistle-blowers are even now revealing this hidden reality;

the proofs are extraordinarily complex and interwoven, but the central truth is simple and can be explained in a few sentences;

we who are “in the know” are continually hampered or even checkmated due to powerful enemies and widespread public apathy and gullibility.

“Nothing is what it seems to be – there are evil forces at work, carrying out their treacherous actions and shielding themselves from the attention of the general public”

conspiracy-theory-top-secretExamples from recent decades would have to include Senator Joe McCarthy, who argued that the loss of Eastern Europe and China to the Reds could not reasonably have happened by accident, or by normal political (more…)

Published in: on December 19, 2014 at 7:29 pm  Comments (16)  
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Gog of Magog is dead…and I have seen his grave

Link – How to calculate when Jesus will come – without even being a prophet!

In my first days as a Christian, they filled me in that the Soviet Union was predicted in Ezekiel 38-39 and that Russia and the Warsaw Pact countries would attack Israel at any time. Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth was the #1 bestseller; it had a chapter called “Russia is a Gog,” and said it was clear as could be that the Bible foretold a Soviet invasion more than 2500 years ago.[1]

great

With the Russian invasion of Crimea and Ukraine, this topic has come to the fore once again. Google Magog Russia and you will see how many “prophecy experts” take the Lindsey/Russia view as gospel, without doing any serious biblical or historical research of the basic facts. [2] For example, now Perry Stone seems to have invented an entire End Time scenario out of this interpretation; it includes, of course, the prediction that the current US president – Obama – is the linchpin of  the apocalypse; as I update this post, Obama only has 15 days left in office, so things had better speed up. I should also mention Joel Rosenberg’s Ezekiel Option; clearly, he too has done no independent research on this aspect of Ezekiel and depends on earlier, faulty, investigation.

Where did this idea that Magog is Russia come from? From an amateurish reading of certain Hebrew terms.

Rosh – this word is probably not in your Bible at Ezek 38:2 (unless you read the NKJV or the NASB), but the Hebrew word that is rendered “chief” is rosh = head. But others said, “Hey, think about it! Rosh…uh?? Roshuh? Russia, you see?”

Meshech – “Why, that sort of sounds like Moscow!”

Magog – “Magog was a Scythian city, and the Scythians later migrated into Russia, so Magog is Russia!” (Actually, they did no such thing, I later found out, but that is the accepted narrative among some prophecy buffs)

Tubal – “Well, this would have to be Tobolsk which (some wrongly stated) was the eastern capital of Russia!”

Gomer – “This must be East Germany!” (a country that no longer exists)

To cap it all off, these enemies come “from the north,” and Russia, at least its extreme western frontier, lies due north from Israel.

This meant, then, that Russia and its Warsaw Pact allies would attack Israel, immediately before or after the rapture

“Gog is dead and I have seen his grave”

of the church, and that Israel’s enemies would be totally eliminated, perhaps by nuclear weapons. Imagine the chills this gave me in October 1973, when the United States and Russia very nearly intervened with A-bombs in the Yom Kippur war between Israel and Egypt. (more…)

Martyrdom Fantasy Camp

Additional note on 6/27/15 – with the Supreme Court decision that gay marriage is a constitutional right, some believe that Christians will face direct persecution by standing against same-sex marriage. This may be, or it may not be, but my point in this article still stands – that the church in the US is today facing little to no persecution.

A Christian Pakistani woman named Asia Bibi was beaten and arrested in June, 2009. Her crime consisted of stating that Jesus was the resurrected savior, and that Mohammed could not save.  She was convicted of blasphemy on Nov 8, 2010 and sentenced to the death penalty. Asia is 44, and has a husband and two young children. She is being kept in prison while her attorney appeals the case. [Note: her death sentence was temporarily halted in July 2015 but she was still on death row as of April 2016].

On New Year’s, a bomb went off at a church in Egypt as worshipers were leaving a midnight service. It killed 21 and wounded 79.

Since the overthrow of Hussein, Iraqi Muslim extremists have begun open violent persecution against the church. On Oct 31, 2010, terrorists entered a church with automatic weapons, killing 59 and injuring 80 others. Hundreds of thousands have fled the country. (more…)

The First Amendment, beta version

By Gary Shogren, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Newt Gingrich is on record as saying: There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over.

I am not taking this out of context, as can be seen at http://www.newt.org/newt-direct/newt-gingrich-statement-proposed-mosqueislamic-community-center-near-ground-zero. Note that Mr. Gingrich is not arguing against the wisdom or the propriety of the Cordoba Center. What he says is that American citizens of Saudi origin should not enjoy freedom of religion – which has always included freedom to erect religious centers. (more…)