The price of knowing good and evil

In Genesis 2:17 God tells Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Then in Genesis 3:5 the serpent deceived Eve into desiring the fruit of that tree, so she ate from it. Verse 7 states that the eyes of Adam and Eve were immediately opened to know that they were naked. Presumably this realisation of their nakedness is a result of knowing good and evil, so it was an instant impartation of the knowledge.

However, in thinking about this recently I started to wonder if perhaps the sin and evil which resulted from this event are the expected effect: Adam and Eve were already experiencing ‘good’ even if they were unaware of any other state of being. To understand the knowledge of good and evil they would also have to experience evil.

One of the fundamental questions people have regarding belief in God is, “How can a good God allow evil?” The explanation must surely be that evil was demanded by the first humans reaching out to take the knowledge of good and evil. We cannot have such knowledge without knowing both what good is and what evil is.

I assume that theologians have discussed this at great length and explained it far better than my stumbling thoughts, but this is a new idea to me.

What if all I want is a mediocre life?

I posted a link to this blog post by Krista O’Reilly Davi-Digui some time ago on Facebook but want to link to it here because I think it expresses well how I often feel myself about the idea of ‘getting ahead’ or ‘success’. Read the whole post, it’s worth it.

What if All I Want is a Mediocre Life?

What if all I want is a small, slow, simple life? What if I am most happy in the space of in between? Where calm lives. What if I am mediocre and choose to be at peace with that?

What if all the striving for excellence leaves me sad, worn out, depleted? Drained of joy. Am I simply not enough?

Eliminating human interaction

I’ve only this week become aware of a retail revolution that causes me significant anxiety the more I learn about it.

The poster child of this revolution is Amazon Go, a cashier-less grocery store in downtown Seattle which opened to the public on 22 January 2018.

There are cameras and sensors, to detect when you’ve walked in and when items are removed from shelves, and there are check-in kiosks near the entrance for scanning your phone to register your presence via Amazon Prime. (Nick Statt on The Verge)

For an idea of what the sensors are like check out the article: Amazon Go cashierless convenience store opens in the Seattle Times. The idea of computers and artificial intelligence tracking my every movement in a shop has a distinctly Orwellian tone to it, but on the other hand being able to just walk in, pick up what you need and then walk out without waiting in queues is appealing.

Amazon is not the only online retail giant playing with this sort of technology, Alibaba  has also trailed a checkout-free store which uses facial recognition to charge customers for their purchases automatically: Alibaba’s cash-free Tao Cafe

I want to emphasise that I am not a conspiracy theorist, I think the development of ways to avoid checkout queues and reduce staffing costs is an obvious progression based on human nature. Customers want secure ways to pay that minimise waiting times, and retailers want whatever mechanism they can find to maximise profit, reduce theft and streamline accounting. The hardware and software used in these cashier-less stores facilitates advantages for both retailers and customers.

For the majority of people, convenience subtly but strongly influences behaviour, gradually altering social norms with things like cars, ATMs, and contactless payment now quite normal. It’s not difficult to envisage a progression to biometric and implanted technology which enables people to completely do without credit or debit cards, cash or cheques. A completely cashless society is still decades away in my estimate (it was predicted when the first EFT-POS machines arrived), but probably inevitable.

The convenience of not having to worry about carrying cash or cards would be nice, but I do have some concerns about the whole thing. Obviously for Christians there is the scary spectre of Revelation 13:16-17, but even without that I worry that our technological ‘progress’ is taking us too quickly into realms in which our psychological wellbeing is unable to cope.

Humans have always lived in community, to be alone is risky for survival and useless for propagating the species. Because we are social beings, we are finely tuned to the reactions of people around us and the relationships we have with them. By automating everything they can get their hands on, engineers are interfering with this dynamic and may end up driving increasing numbers of people into serious psychological distress. Maybe this seems like an over reaction, but it is not difficult to find reports of people who live alone and only really interact with shop attendants and bus drivers, is it a good thing to eliminate even these few personal interactions?

A few relevant links:

The Serpent was cunning

Reading in Genesis chapter 3 yesterday I noticed a couple of things about Satan’s temptation of Eve.

Firstly, it is stated that the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. This implies that the manner in which the temptation occurred was no chance encounter but was most likely well considered and chosen to have maximal impact.

Secondly, the serpent chose to target the person furthest removed from the event he was trying to cast doubt upon. It is Adam who was directly told by God not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Presumably Eve knew of the prohibition because Adam told her (there is no indication in the text that God directly told her Himself).

To me these observations suggest that we Christians in the 21st century are likely to be targeted with similar doubts of the style, “Did God really say…?” We are far removed from eyewitness accounts of Jesus or the Apostles so are prime targets for this type of suggestion.

Examples that come to mind are:
“Is a God of love truly opposed to homosexual men loving each other?”
“Would a loving God actually condemn anyone to hell?”

I also suspect that each of us can think of even more personally relevant doubts which commonly come to mind regarding temptations we find especially powerful. In these situations it may help to remember how cunning that serpent is and that his aim is to separate us from God, not to maximise our pleasure.

Why Aussies hate church

The actual name of the infographic I’m discussing today is the ‘Australian Communities Report’, but I suspect I found it through a link with the more provocative title of Why Aussies Hate Church and I kind of like that.

I have no idea where I downloaded this infographic from, but it is available here at the McCrindle Research website, along with a bunch of other interesting infographic resources.

Why it is of interest

I’m quite interested in this because Australia is culturally similar to New Zealand and so social attitudes are likely to be comparable between the two nations and I’ve not stumbled across much demographic research into the religious beliefs of Kiwis.

Overview

I’m cautious of taking infographics at face value because the don’t indicate how the data were collected, what analyses were used and in this one there is nothing stating what error margins may underly the numbers presented. But all I want is a general indication of social values so none of that is particularly important.

This is a 4 page document and very busy so I will go through it section by section and see what we can discover.

Australians and religion

Half of Australians do not identify with any religion. This includes two main groups; those who have no religion at all, and those who say they are spiritual but have no main religion. ‘Spirituality’ is described as self awareness and a deeper connection, whereas ‘religion’ is summarised by attendance, tasks and obligation.

There are still a lot of people who said they do have a religion and 40% of Aussies identify with a form of Christianity, 18% are protestant or evangelical, and 22% are Catholic or Orthodox. Other religions such as Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and the catchall ‘other’ each represent less than 5% of Australians.

How actively involved are religious people?

Christians have a slight edge at actively practicing their faith, 23% of protestant of evangelical Christians regularly attend a place of worship in comparison to 13% of those claiming other religious beliefs. (I don’t know what happened to the Catholics, they have vanished from this section!)

There are a big chunk of people claiming a belief but not doing much with it, around 60%, whether Christian or other faiths.

Influences on religious views

Current ‘religious status’

The question asked here seems odd to me: “What best describes your current religious status?” My answer would have been, “huh?”

Anyway, they have divided the responses into:

  • Never been religious (24%)
  • Not now religious (29%)
  • Synthesizer (11%) [beliefs don’t fit any one religion]
  • Adopter (4%) [Non-religious prior to choosing current religion]
  • Converter (5%) [Switched from a different religion]
  • Continuer (27%) [Committed to religion raised in]

The heading for this section is ‘Outgrowing Religion’, I guess meaning the not now religious, adopters and converters (38% of people surveyed) have all moved on from the beliefs they were raised with.

Resistant to change

Despite the results immediately above, 51% of Australians are not open at all to changing their religious worldview. You could probably add the 31% who are slightly open to that number, meaning 82% of Australians would be very difficult to convert. However, the many of the people who are not open at all to changing could well be Christians so it’s hard to make a solid conclusion.

What influences views of Christianity

The question was: Who or what has most influenced your perceptions & opinions of Christians & Christianity? (Respondents could select multiple options)

Parents and family have the most influence by far, 67% selected this option. Mass media and social media, networks and relationships, other, and books and articles all had around 20 to 25% responses.

The results of this question are hard to interpret. It stands to reason that for most people their parents will have an influence on their views of Christians, but it is quite possible that people also selected other options and these may have had a significant impact on their views.

Conversations about faith

Do you ever talk about spirituality or religion when you gather with friends? For a lot of people (47%) the answer was “no”. A further 46% ‘occasionally’ talk about religion with their friends. Overall, Australians don’t typically talk about religion or faith. I’d imagine the same applies to New Zealanders, it certainly does in my experience and generally when they do talk about religion it is not positive.

Attitude towards Christianity

The heading for this question is: “Significant ‘warmth’ towards Christianity”. The numbers don’t back this up. A small proportion of respondents (4%) were passionately opposed to Christianity, 37% have some or strong reservations, and 25% had a more positive view. The other 33% considered themselves Christian. So if those who are already Christians are excluded, the general viewpoint is pretty negative towards our faith.

Belief blockers

The next page of the infographic is about aspects of Christianity that repel people from Christianity.

The top 10 issues are:

  1. Church abuse
  2. Hypocrisy
  3. Judging others
  4. Religious views
  5. Suffering
  6. Money
  7. Outdated
  8. Hell & condemnation
  9. Homosexuality
  10. Exclusivity

It seems that the perception of Christians as being blinkered old fashioned hypocrites who like to judge people and think everyone except Christians are going to hell is pretty normal. We also have outdated views on homosexuality and sanction institutional sexual abuse by covering it up. And we wonder why nobody wants to join our happy club!

Beliefs about Jesus

Most non-Christians (69%) either think that Jesus did not really exist or that he was just an ordinary bloke. Though a surprising 35% do think he had divine powers and was actually the Son of God. So despite an overwhelmingly negative view of His followers, there is a significant proportion of people who respect Jesus.

Miracles

Yet when it comes to miracle attributed to Jesus thing get murky. A healthy 53% accept that Jesus died on a cross, but only 31% think he rose from the dead. A skeptical 47% say, “no way” to that idea. The virgin birth yields similar numbers, 50% reckon that is bollocks. Walking on water is obviously even more preposterous, 53% ‘do not at all believe’ in this.

Summary

I’m not surprised by the statistics shown in this infographic, and I do think that they would closely reflect how Kiwi’s view religion, Christianity, Christians and Jesus. Rationally I know plenty of people who have strongly negative opinions about the church and Christians, but I am still  bit gobsmacked at how strongly negative the perception of Christians is. We really have an appalling public image and while the popular media do play up stories about negative happenings in the church, all of those stories have some spark that started the fires.

Are all these people completely misinformed, or are we completely missing the mark in our ‘following Jesus’?

Bible reading times

How long does it take to read each book of the Bible? I found the graphic which prompted this post on the blog of Jeff Medders. There are also some fancier versions with the same numbers, an Old Testament one, and a New Testament version. As I was digging around the web researching this post I discovered that the source of the reading times appears to be the Desiring God article Three Tips for Better Bible Reading.

I also found another list with slightly different numbers here (if you click that link it will download the document).

What I have done is to combine the numbers to give a range of time to read each book, which I think is more realistic because we don’t all read at the same speed. Also, I suspect the Desiring God numbers may be a bit optimistic. For some books such as 1 & 2 Samuel, Desiring God only have one number for reading both books so I had to do a bit of an estimate to get the range. In these cases the time for reading both books as claimed by Desiring God is also listed.

I also found a list of the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Grade Level (lower is easier to read) for each book in the ESV (Crossway). The grade level is effectively equivalent to the expected reading level after that many years of school. This is more about how easy or difficult it is to parse each sentence rather than whether the passage is easy to understand. Also note that the algorithm chokes on poetry because it is weighted to assume short sentences are easier to read (hence the book of Job is rated as easy to read!)

  • Genesis: 3 hrs 30 min – 4 hrs 35 min.
    (50 chapters, 32,046 words) Reading level 6.3
  • Exodus: 3 hours – 3 hrs 37 min.
    (40 chapters, 25,957 words) Reading level 7.3
  • Leviticus: 2 hours – 2 hrs 35 min.
    (27 chapters, 18,852 words) Reading level 8.7
  • Numbers: 3 hours – 3 hrs 35 min.
    (36 chapters, 25,048 words) Reading level 8.5
  • Deuteronomy: 2 hrs 30 min – 3 hrs 8 min.
    (34 chapters, 23,008 words) Reading level 8.7
  • Joshua: 1 hr 45 min – 2 hrs 8 min.
    (24 chapters, 15,671 words) Reading level 9.4
  • Judges: 1 hr 45 min – 2 hrs 5 min.
    (21 chapters, 15,385 words) Reading level 7.4
  • Ruth: 15 – 20 minutes.
    (4 chapters, 2,039 words) Reading level 6.3
  • 1 Samuel: 2 hrs 15 min – 2 hrs 45 min.
    (31 chapters, 20,837 words) Reading level 6.4
  • 2 Samuel: 1 hr 45 min – 2 hrs 18 min.
    (24 chapters, 17,170 words) Reading level 6.7
  • 1 & 2 Samuel: 4 hours
  • 1 Kings: 2 hrs 8 min – 2 hrs 47 min.
    (22 chapters, 20,361 words) Reading level 7.8
  • 2 Kings: 2 hrs 8 min – 2 hrs 40 min.
    (25 chapters, 18,784 words) Reading level 7.8
  • 1 & 2 Kings: 4.25 hours
  • 1 Chronicles: 2 hrs 15 min – 2 hrs 56 min
    (29 chapters, 16,664 words) Reading level 8.7
  • 2 Chronicles: 2 hrs 15 min – 3 hrs 2 min
    (36 chapters, 21,349 words) Reading level 9.3
  • 1 & 2 Chronicles: 4.5 hours
  • Ezra: 40 – 58 minutes
    (10 chapters, 5,605 words) Reading level 9.8
  • Nehemiah: 1 hour – 1 hr 20 min
    (13 chapters, 8,507 words) Reading level 8.9
  • Esther: 30 – 40 minutes
    (10 chapters, 4,932 words) Reading level 9.8
  • Job: 1 hr 45 min – 2 hrs 49 min
    (42 chapters, 12,674 words) Reading level 4.2
  • Psalms: 5 hours – 7 hrs 38 min
    (150 chapters, 30,147 words) Reading level 3.9
  • Proverbs: 1 hr 45 min – 2 hrs 45 min
    (31 chapters, 9,921 words) Reading level 5.3
  • Ecclesiastes: 30 – 48 minutes
    (12 chapters, 4,537 words) Reading level 6.0
  • Song of Songs: 20 – 32 minutes
    (8 chapters, 2,020 words) Reading level 4.9
  • Isaiah: 3 hrs 45 min – 5 hrs 47 min
    (66 chapters, 25,608 words) Reading level 5.5
  • Jeremiah: 4 hours – 5 hrs 36 min
    (52 chapters, 33,002 words) Reading level 7.5
  • Lamentations: 20 – 36 minutes
    (5 chapters, 2,324 words) Reading level 4.0
  • Ezekiel: 3 hrs 45 min – 4 hrs 25 min
    (48 chapters, 29,918 words) Reading level 7.1
  • Daniel: 1 hr 15 min – 1 hr 20 min
    (12 chapters, 9,001 words) Reading level 8.5
  • Hosea: 30 – 51 minutes
    (14 chapters, 3,615 words) Reading level 4.9
  • Joel: 12 – 22 minutes
    (3 chapters, 1,447 words) Reading level 5.6
  • Amos: 25 – 43 minutes
    (9 chapters, 3,027 words) Reading level 5.3
  • Obadiah: 4 – 7 minutes
    (1 chapter, 440 words) Reading level 6.1
  • Jonah: 8 – 11 minutes
    (4 chapters, 1082 words) Reading level 6.2
  • Micah: 20 – 33 minutes
    (7 chapters, 2,118 words) Reading level 5.6
  • Nahum: 8 – 14 minutes
    (3 chapters, 855 words) Reading level 3.8
  • Habakkuk: 9 – 16 minutes
    (3 chapters, 1,011 words) Reading level 4.3
  • Zephaniah: 10 –17 minutes
    (3 chapters, 1,141 words) Reading level 5.2
  • Haggai: 7 – 9 minutes
    (2 chapters, 926 words) Reading level 5.9
  • Zechariah: 40 – 47 minutes
    (14 chapters, 4,855 words) Reading level 6.9
  • Malachi: 11 – 15 minutes
    (4 chapters, 1,320 words) Reading level 6.3
  • Matthew: 2 hrs 30 min – 2 hrs 55 min
    (28 chapters, 18,346 words) Reading level 6.6
  • Mark: 1 hr 30 min – 1 hr 55 min
    (16 chapters, 11,304 words) Reading level 6.1
  • Luke: 2 hrs 30 min – 3 hrs 10 min
    (24 chapters, 19,482 words) Reading level 6.5
  • John: 2 hours – 2 hrs 20 min
    (21 chapters, 15,635 words) Reading level 5.6
  • Acts: 2 hrs 15 min – 2 hrs 55 min
    (28 chapters, 18,450 words) Reading level 8.3
  • Romans: 1 hour – 1 hr 18 min
    (16 chapters, 7,111 words) Reading level 7.1
  • 1 Corinthians: 1 hour – 1 hr 10 min
    (16 chapters, 6,830 words) Reading level 6.3
  • 2 Corinthians: 38 – 40 minutes
    (13 chapters, 4,477 words) Reading level 7.6
  • Galatians: 20 – 25 minutes
    (6 chapters, 2.230 words) Reading level 7.8
  • Ephesians: 20 – 25 minutes
    (6 chapters, 2,422 words) Reading level 11.7
  • Philippians: 14 – 18 minutes
    (4 chapters, 1,629 words) Reading level 9.0
  • Colossians: 13 – 18 minutes
    (4 chapters, 1,582 words) Reading level 9.0
  • 1 Thessalonians: 12 – 15 minutes
    (5 chapters, 1,481 words) Reading level 8.5
  • 2 Thessalonians: 7 – 10 minutes
    (3 chapters, 823 words) Reading level 8.8
  • 1 Timothy: 16 – 20 minutes
    (6 chapters, 1,591 words) Reading level 9.7
  • 2 Timothy: 11 – 15 minutes
    (4 chapters, 1,238 words) Reading level 9.1
  • Titus: 7 – 10 minutes
    (3 chapters, 659 words) Reading level 9.7
  • Philemon: 3 – 5 minutes
    (1 chapter, 335 words) Reading level 8.8
  • Hebrews: 45 – 60 minutes
    (13 chapters, 4,95 words) Reading level 9.5
  • James: 16 – 20 minutes
    (5 chapters, 1,742 words) Reading level 6.4
  • 1 Peter: 16 – 22 minutes
    (5 chapters, 1,684 words) Reading level 8.8
  • 2 Peter: 10 – 12 minutes
    (3 chapters, 1,099 words) Reading level 10.2
  • 1 John: 16 – 20 minutes
    (5 chapters, 2,141 words) Reading level 6.1
  • 2 John: 2 – 3 minutes
    (1 chapter, 245 words) Reading level 7.2
  • 3 John: 2 – 3 minutes
    (1 chapter, 219 words) Reading level 5.6
  • Jude: 4 – 6 minutes
    (1 chapter, 461 words) Reading level 8.5
  • Revelation: 1 hr 15 min – 1 hr 40 min
    (22 chapters, 9,851 words) Reading level 8.4

12 June 2018 update:

Over the last couple of months I’ve been reading the King James Version of the Bible and realised that another factor that will have an impact on how long it takes to read the Bible is the translation you use. This probably is a reasonably consistent factor across all books of the Bible though so I guess that for some translations like the KJV you could just assume it will always take a bit longer to read than for others such as the NIV.

The Freedom Diaries

This book was recommended to me by someone I respect so when I got the opportunity to read it I did. Even now I’ve finished it I’m still unsure what to think of it. I actively chose to suspend disbelief while reading it and take what I read at face value without over-analysing it (something I’m prone to doing). So I’ve read with as much of an open mind as I can, and also with and open bible because that is the bedrock of my faith.

The basic premise of The Freedom Diaries is that we can have a conversation with God as we would with any other person. The method recommended is to write down a question to God and then start writing the beginning of an answer from God with the expectation that you can just keep writing and God will supply the words. (There is some information on this at The Freedom Assignment.) So the book is laid out as a series of ‘conversations with God’, fifty of them in fact, plus six ‘conversations’ in which God interviews the author!

Because what I’m reading is filtered through the human author as an intermediary, it carries his phrasing and grammar. I also notice that the book is independently published so the editing process may not have picked up some of the grammatical hiccups and oddities that caused me to baulk.

There are themes in this book which cause me concern, in numerous places God is portrayed as saying that sin is not an issue because it has already been taken care of on the cross. Another common thread is that God views church gatherings and small groups as acts of empty religion, in contrast to the strong New Testament emphasis on gathering together as the body of Christ. Both of these themes (and some other dodgy ones) run through the book, causing me to think that these are more likely to be the author’s biases showing through rather than being ideas revealed by God.

The inherent weakness of the prescribed method of conversing with God is that even if God is speaking back to the mind of the questioner, it is all within the mind and body of that person so is very open to interference by the human will, subconscious mind and even conscious biases of the person holding the pen.

Overall, I’m sceptical. I do want to pursue the topic of hearing from God further because it has huge implications for my faith. I don’t want to completely write off The Freedom Diaries as a hoax because god must have spoken clearly to people in order for us to have the Bible, but I cannot embrace what this book claims to say about God, I will stick with the Bible for now thanks.

Relevant Links:

 

Devotional Reading in the Digital Age

I was sent a link to this article: Devotional Reading in the Digital Age today by my friend Chris.

I could anticipate the likely conclusion of the author before I began reading, but was pleased to see a subtitle ‘Let’s not be luddites‘ towards the end of the piece. Overall, the argument is that a smartphone is designed for communication and makes this so easy to do that remaining undistracted while using one to read a digital bible is quite difficult when compared to reading a paper version.

Personally, I do find this to be the case for myself. Sometimes I purposely leave my phone in a different room to avoid the temptation to fart around on social media instead of reading the bible. However, I disagree that meditating on the word of God is better with a paper bible. What I actually find is that I meditate on God’s word when I have no bible in my hand – this is when I think about what I have read or remembered and try to understand it. I may refer back to a bible, but that is often on my phone while I am walking, so a case can be made that having the bible on a digital device that’s always with you enhances meditation.

Anyway, it is a good article and a topic worth being mindful of. There are also some interesting looking links at the bottom of the article that I will get around to reading some time.