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…)

The Golden Rule and Political Discussion

This has been the most difficult election season, at least since 1948, perhaps since 1860.

For that reason, may I request that, when someone didn’t vote the way you or I did, that we not automatically respond:

  • “Oh, that means you don’t care at all about ____.”
  • “Oh, you’re ignoring the sins of your candidate, and damning the sins of mine.”
  • “Oh, you’re deluded by your choice of news outlet.”
  • “Oh, you only look at information that backs your candidate.”
  • “Oh, only imbeciles and morons vote for ____ (not my terms, I’m quoting).”
  • “Oh, only people with zero education vote for____.” When I tell people I have a college education, some reply, “Well, there are plenty of stupid people with degrees, they don’t mean anything!”
  • “Oh, you must be brainwashed or a ‘useful idiot’ or politically-correct or anti-politically-correct.”
  • “Oh, you must be a lemming (or some other slow-witted mammal).”
  • “Oh, why would you vote for the devil” or “the antichrist?”
  • “Oh, you must be morally corrupt.”
  • “Oh, you have an agenda! (And I sure don’t).”
  • “Oh, you can’t possible be a Christian if you voted like that!”
  • “Oh, God told me how to vote, so if you voted differently, you must not love the Lord!”
  • “Oh, prayed about my vote, and if you did not vote the same, you must not have prayed.”
  • “Oh, that means you are a (communist, fascist, Nazi, etc.).”
  • “Oh, you just threw your vote away (maybe on a Third-Party Candidate).”

These are all more or less quotes from things I’ve seen the last few days. From Christians and non-Christians.

Personally, I can’t think of anyone I know who found this election easy. Maybe you didn’t have to think hard about whom to choose, I certainly did. This isn’t a math problem, where 2 + 2 = 4 every time, there are hundreds of variables, and I know thoughtful people who have come up with different answers. That’s not “moral relativism,” it’s a nod to the difficulty of the problem we are trying to solve.

The Golden Rule would suggest that I should do unto others (I should assume they had wrestle through this) as I would have them do unto me (I want people to assume that I had to wrestle through this).

May we please – for the nation’s sake – assume until we hear otherwise, that perhaps, just perhaps, the person who voted for the other team really does care, really did look into things, and really did have to struggle about how to vote.

Yes, it works in politics, too

Yes, it works in politics, too

“The Golden Rule and Political Discussion,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Is the Earth a flat disc after all?

Is it just me, or is anyone else running into Flat Earth proponents lately? (Check this ARTICLE) People who think NASA is doing mind control over us, that no one has ever been to space, that the Bible teaches the earth is a disc? Yeah, it’s a thing. It’s conspiracy thinking at heart. Basically an extension of the chemtrail/anti-flouridation/man-never-landed-on-the-moon approach to truth and reality. Airlines supposedly fake their travel times, no-one has ever been to the South Pole, all of those outer space pictures were Photoshopped, all Aussies lie about how long their country is (see the map below to deduce why – in a FE model, it would have to be the size of Russia), time zones are a fake, and the stars are just points of light in an umbrella, fixed maybe a few hundred miles up.

01 Flat Earth Society Map (Charles K. Johnson).jpg

Like so

Just for one example, here is a meme I ran into this week, one which “proves absolutely” that the world is flat and the center of the cosmos, and that the stars whirl about us in unchanging position.

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One can disprove it, I think, with a 10th-grader’s knowledge of math and the stars.

To begin with, the first two figures are a smokescreen, since our daily rotation and our annual revolution around the sun would not be expected to alter the shape of constellations in any way. So these two are moot and can be put aside.

As for the third datum, the rate of speed is relevant, although it’s off by a factor of 10! It should be 45,000 mph; this goof doesn’t fill me with confidence in the meme. In cosmic terms, by the way, 45,000 mph is a creeping pace, a little bit more than twice the speed of the space shuttle. The same shuttle that, at top speed, would need 165,000 years to reach the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri.

Anyway, the sun is moving at 45,000 mph in relation to an imaginary fixed point in space, but the meme fails to take into account that the other stars in our sector of the galaxy are all in motion through space as well, and more or less in the same direction. So it’s a bit like asking, “If that horsie on the merry-go-round is really moving at 10 feet per second, then how come he doesn’t move further and further away from the other horsies??? Therefore, the horsie is not moving at all, and if NASA tells you otherwise, they’re lying!!

"I full-out gallop, but the others keep right up with me! What gives??"

“I full-out gallop, but the others keep right up with me! Neigh! What gi-i-i-i=ves??”

Another point, is that in fact constellations do shape-shift over time, but it takes so long that they wouldn’t have seemed to move much in the few thousand years that people have been imagining patterns in them. HERE’s a good short article on the phenomenon, showing that stars have slightly changed their positions over the past couple of thousand years. And thousands of years from now, the Big Dipper will look slightly less like a dipper.

Not that this evidence will change anyone’s mind. As with all such theories, you can cut off one head (or disprove one meme!) and a hundred others will grow up to replace it. That’s one reason why I’m not going to attempt to prove that the earth is really a sphere: I’m following my Golden Rule, “Cans of Worms shall not be Opened on This Blog.”

imagesToxicity warning: Flat Eartherism as such is a relatively harmless notion, but it does seem to come tangled up with anti-Semitism (the Zionists control NASA!), Nephilim mythology, Who Really Killed Diana theories, “Fold up a dollar bill and tell me you don’t see the Illuminati!” handcrafts, and other conspiracy thinking. As careful study has shown, “people who believe in one conspiracy are prone to believe others.” If we need proof, Alex Jones is Exhibit A. Conspiracy thinking is, as the earlier article notes, almost resembles a religion, with a fervor that rivals jihadism for its fury, single-mindedness, and closed thinking. In this case, NASA is the Flat Earther’s Antichrist, Galileo really was a heretic, and “Like the tobacco companies, NASA is now trying to target children with their lies!”

Strange days indeed.

Recommended Link

IBRI has excellent studies on science and faith

Our friend Dr. Bob Newman has a fine article; the title gives it away, but he takes a gentle, pastoral approach to alternative science: Evangelicals and Crackpot Science

Related Posts

Christians and Myths

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

“Is the Earth a flat disc after all?” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

An Epidemic of the Ethical Woulda-Dones

sad_docThe doctor has paid a house call and left, shaking his head. The diagnosis? American Christians have come down with a bad case of the Woulda-Dones. The symptoms? We are irresolute about making tough, righteous decisions today, but we know exactly what we bravely and clearly and boldly “woulda-done” if we had faced the moral dilemmas facing Christians in days gone by.

It’s easy to Dare to Be a Daniel – so long as we limit it to “I woulda defied the king like Daniel did, back, y’know, in the 500s BC!” The truism is right – “We are always fighting the last battle.” (more…)

Did your pastor/teacher/expert/YouTube guru set a wrong date for the Second Coming? Don’t let them off the hook

It appears to be the busy season of people telling us when Jesus will return. I have seen five dates for the period of September-December 2015 and others for 2016 or 2017. Four of those dates have already passed us by. Whether these date-setters claim to be prophets or not, they all transgress the Lord’s warning – “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.” (Matt 24:23); and Paul’s statement that we shouldn’t let anyone confuse us with their predictions (2 Thess 2:1-2).

As I have written at length elsewhere, these Date Setters tend to fall into predictable behaviors. Download the entire article here: “Shogren_How to calculate when Jesus will come without even being a prophet!”

First, people speak with great confidence ahead of time, naming dates or months or years and offering incontrovertible proof that the Lord will return as they predicted.

130909-signs-end-times

Second, when he does not return, what happens? Most date-setters have a strong psychological (more…)

Published in: on September 30, 2015 at 3:36 pm  Comments (2)  
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How to Calculate when Jesus will Come – without even being a prophet!

Download the entire article here: Shogren_How to calculate when Jesus will come

What follows is my response to the outbreak of Blood Moon Fever and the Shemitah Virus, and more broadly, to the rapidly-spreading epidemic of predictions of Jesus’ near return between 2015-2017. I offer it to the Christ whose coming I love.

Something like 41% of the American people believe that Jesus will definitely or probably return by 2050. That figure shoots up to 58% when the pollster asked white evangelical Americans.[1] So, once someone starts with that basic assumption, that we must be in the Latter Days, very few will question it: it now becomes a question of detail and voilà, a whole End Times cottage industry springs up.[2]

My readers know that I am a “Matthew 24:36 Strict Constructionist”: that when Jesus said that no human – or angel, or the Son of Man – knows the time of the Second Coming, his original intent was to forbid all date-setting, not just the “day or hour” but any time at all; and that he meant that we should leave off amateur predictions of the End Times.

I mention this verse, which is found in my Bible in Matthew 24; but I suspect that some imp has gone around and whited out v. 36 from many copies.

There are two types of individuals who set dates for the Second Coming: the one who regards him or herself as a “prophet” who receives messages from God; the one who insists that he or she not be called “prophet”. I break them down as follows:

Date-Setter by Revelation – an early example is that in the 2nd century, a man named Montanus claimed that Jesus would soon return, to a little town in Asia Minor; more recently, all sorts of prophets – and psychics – predict the Second Coming – we can probably put Emanuel Swedenborg in this group, also Edgar Cayce; so did Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter-Day Saints. Just go on YouTube and you’ll find plenty of these dreams and visions, and most are not cult leaders.

Date-Setter by Calculation – these are the people whom we will study in this article. They base their predictions principally on the Bible text or some strained reading of the Bible text. They dazzle us with numbers, dozens of verses, references to lunar eclipses, killer asteroids, flip-flopping magnetic fields, RFIDs,[3] chemtrails, earthquakes, assertions about how many years a “generation” really is, and so on. Let’s call them End-Time Number Crunchers or ETNCs.[4]

I guess we could consider a third group the Blended Date-Setters; they appeal now to their calculations, now to dreams and visions. Here’s one, a man who sets dates according to Jewish feasts, and also collects testimonies of “Dreams and Visions of September [2015] Rapture”; for example, he tells of one dream about how Puerto Rico was covered by snow – hence the End is Nigh.[5]

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Who are the End-Time Number Crunchers (ETNCs)?

One of the reasons ETNCs are dicey about the label of “prophet” is because Deut 18:15-22 prescribes the death penalty for all who make “presumptuous” predictions, that is, “if the word does not come to pass or come true.”[6] I have run across a number of these date setters, some of whom use the title Watchman or Watchman on the Wall (see Isa 62:6, Ezek 3:17, 33:6). The idea is that they have a Get out of a Stoning Free card if they make mistakes in their calculations. (more…)

Published in: on September 10, 2015 at 5:47 pm  Comments (16)  
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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 – “Mago 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…)

Christians and myths

Gullibility is not a fruit of the Spirit. Yes, Paul did say that a Christian “believes all things” (1 Cor 13:7), but what he meant was, “to whatever extent possible, believe the best about other people”.

It’s important to establish this up front, since Christians are regularly bombarded by rumors, many of which are false. Wait ‘til you hear this! someone breathlessly informs us:

They are banning all Christian radio! A guest preacher spoke in our church. “The famous atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair is leading a movement to take away our freedom!” he exclaimed. “If we don’t act now, then Christian radio programs will be banned!” He gave some details of the crisis, and I signed the petition to the FCC to reject the atheistic petition RM-2493 and keep the gospel message on the airwaves.

The only trouble is, I was sixteen when I put my signature on the petition. Yet decades later, that same warning keeps circulating, given new life by email and then Facebook. (more…)

The World according to Facebook

I’m in touch with a lot of people, mostly around North and Latin America. Here’s what I learned from FaceBook and other media this week. It was an eye-opener to read postings from various friends, and to see what we write about. Please, no intended criticism intended for anyone, since my FB postings too are sometimes trivial.

From North American friends: remarks about the weather; purchases we need to make; sports; food, and its partner, exercise; movies and TV; political issues; family news; spiritual issues. Nothing particularly sinister, mind you, it’s all good wholesome stuff.

From outside of North America I’ve received in the last 48 hours: a note from a former student; she’s working with an isolated group of people in Guatemala, and a boy who uses a prosthetic leg has outgrown it and needs another – there are no resources to get one; another friend, in Africa: “spent the afternoon on bumpy dirt roads in 90+ degree heat with a ministry partner trying to follow up on the status of a former victim of human trafficking [enforced prostitution, I imagine]; another friend who works with “children at risk,” working through issues of street children in India; another friend, a new transcultural worker, fighting through sleep deprivation as she tries to learn a second language; a student from ESEPA, where I teach, is just now organizing a trip to Honduras (18 hours in the bus each way) to help several isolated villages. The cost for each person who takes the trip is a mere $200, but there are a number of people who would like to go for whom that figure will be a lot of money.

What’s striking is that this is a normal day of FB postings and emails.

As I believe, there is One who sees the 7 billion of us all at one time. For me, I’ve got a list of about 550 FB friends, plus emails and other media – I get a very tiny glimpse of what people around the world are doing. But it’s plain that I’m looking at two worlds – one world where a person can live more or less anticipating that he/she will be able to eat, find a doctor, achieve literacy, buy a book, enjoy freedom of speech, conscience, religion, and so forth. In the other world, the people who cannot count on those privileges.

Far be it from me to tell one person that he/she has trivial concerns in comparison with others. Yet, I hope that my FB friends in North America will take a broad view of the globe; pledge themselves to be grateful to be where they are; seek to focus on the crippling issues that others in the world face, problems not of their own making; put their resources to the benefit of those who cannot crawl out of their situation by their own effort or creativity.

I would also like to recommend to American Christians that they read an essay on how Christians in other countries are suffering (this month, particularly in Egypt). See “Martyrdom Fantasy Camp” at https://openoureyeslord.wordpress.com/2011/01/03/martyrdom-fantasy-camp/

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…)