Author Archives: Paul

About Paul

Addison Road reader and commenter for a year or so. Husband of Teri (Grammy) for 32 years and counting. Family physician for the same length of time. (We were married the day after medical school graduation.) Father of one of the Dailies vocalists, and enthusiastic grandfather. A few books during my spare time. Focus on the Family Physicians Resource Council member since 1990. Film geek and would-be critic (aren't we all?).

Hey, What’s Everybody Reading?

We’re nearing the apex of summer (i.e., July 4th), and that means that we’re all well into our summer reading program, right? Shamelessly copying a great idea from one of my wife’s posts last year, I thought this would be a good time to ask what everyone is reading. This could include bedtime, quiet time, potty-time, beach time, drive-time (books on CD or tape), iPod time, etc.

I’ll lead off – and the number of books in play reflects only the wonders of ADD, not any great literary aspirations on my part.

Quiet time / bedtime:

The Great Omission by Dallas Willard. Insightful as always, but in smaller bites – great for ADD.

Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey. As always, thoughtful, provocative, wide in scope, wonderfully written.

Potty-time: The Calendar section and Entertainment Weekly, as always. At the office I just read an incredible National Geographic article about malaria. I know that this isn’t really a book and just sounds weird, but I was blown away by the worldwide devastation caused by this disease.

Drive time: Three books on CD in rotation.

Babylon Rising by Tim LaHaye. I have a perverse interest in popular Christian fiction. This one involves an Indiana-Jones type evangelical archeologist, and some really powerful bad guys who utilize a hit-man known simply as Talon. See, he has this artificial finger with a really sharp nail… Don’t all run out and get this one at once.

A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. You’ve seen this one for sale at Starbuck’s. A horrifying first person account by an ex-boy soldier during the insane civil war in Sierra Leone. Like the LaHaye book, I can only take this one in small quantities, but for different reasons.

A History of Britain, Part 3 – The Fate of Empire (1776-2000) by Simon Schama. I had trouble getting into this one, so I skipped to disc 6 or 7. Heard an incredible story (no kidding) about medical care during the Crimean War, and now I’m in. Right now I’m hearing about how Prince Albert was really running things for Queen Victoria.

Okay, who’s next?

Hostile about “Hostel”

June 8 marks a gloomy day on the summer movie calendar — the opening at your local multiplex of “Hostel 2,” the latest in a genre variously known as “torture-porn” or “gorno.” In recent years we’ve seen a glut of these – the “Saw” movies, and the remake of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” for example – that feature prolonged and extremely graphic scenes of people being tortured. Needless to say, these go well beyond the old Freddie and Jason drive-in slasher junk from the 70s and 80s.

The “Hostel” films deal with dumb Americans who are lured into a death trap in which wealthy sadists pay large sums to torture and kill them. Sunday’s LA Times Calendar section offered a breezy article (called “A Queasy Does It Guy”) about Eli Roth, the director of both “Hostel” films, and featured a full page ad showing the anguished face and shoulders of a bound and gagged nude woman hanging upside down, neck veins bulging, mucus draining from her nose. Today’s LA Times ad shows a hulky guy in a leather suit, holding a drill.

For the record, I have not seen any of these films. I will not watch them or their previews. I don’t want these images in my brain. It’s all I can do to read the reviews, or the above-noted article, which are disturbing enough.

That being said, there are several things that make me hostile about “Hostel” and other torture porn films:

These films get an R rating instead of an NC-17 — shame on the MPAA. Their target audience is young males, who are being desensitized to horrific, personal violence. They make obscene amounts of money, which is a sure sign of the decline of civilization. They play at your neighborhood multiplex, where kids will sneak in when the ushers aren’t looking, or (worse) where idiot parents will bring younger children with them because they can’t find a sitter. After they have had their way with theater audiences, thousands of copies of these films (usually in “unrated” versions, and God help us with what those contain) will be bought by people who apparently enjoy watching torture over and over. At least some of these fools will be careless about where they leave their DVDs, and so horrific images will be seared into the brains of other young viewers when their parents, or whoever is in charge of them, aren’t paying attention.

And furthermore:

Far too many mainstream critics give Eli Roth and the other “splat-pack” directors a pass, as long as they show some cinematic style. The Sunday Times article also noted that Roth has blamed President Bush for torture horror films, claiming that the “Hostel” films are “political commentary” and that they are “art responding to a world of ugly violence and a country disdainful of other cultures.” No, Mr. Roth, they are actually dehumanizing exploitative crap.

A few final thoughts:

People who enjoy torture porn movies should get counseling – immediately.

Those who make and profit from these films are sucking the life out of our culture.

I would love to see a major theater chain demonstrate some integrity and refuse to show this stuff. (They won’t show sexual porn, so why do they show torture porn?) Better yet, I would love to see this film utterly tank at the box office.

In my dreams.

Ask me how I really feel…

The Purpose of Civilization: Dance Class

Last Wednesday (May 30), the Dailies had a major gig in South Orange County – an outstanding evening in all respects, by the way – but it involved their early departure to the old O.C. to allow for equipment pick-up and set-up, rehearsal, and so on. That meant that yours truly had sole charge of their offspring beginning at 9:30 a.m., rather than my usual Wednesday start time of 2:30. No problem, says I. Furthermore, I remember that every Wednesday Erica takes Ella to a 10:30 dance class (with toddler Zion as an interested observer), followed by lunch (usually at Topper’s Pizza Palace). Erica assumed I would pass on this event, having had a knee arthroscopy five days before. But how hard could this be?

An important planning tip for future reference: It takes at least 45 minutes to prep and travel to dance class. There is a special outfit Ella must don for the occasion. Hair must be properly pulled up (definitely not part of my training). Zion must be dressed. The appropriate stuff must be packed in the diaper bag. A stroller must be loaded in the car. The kids must be buckled into their car seats. (Ella’s seat has a padded bar thing that must pass over her head, effectively dismantling my lame attempt at gathering her hair into a pony tail.) Then we have to find the dance studio, a nondescript destination amid dozens of similar-appearing industrial buildings near Amgen’s massive complex in Newbury Park.

Fortunately, Ella is able to direct me once we exit the freeway. Once we arrive, unbuckle, gather the gear and walk in, she makes a beeline for the door to her class. We’re 25 minutes late for a 45-minute class, but no matter. She joins the contingent of a dozen or so preschoolers in matching outfits and begins moving to the rhythm of “A Cup of Princess Tea.” Suddenly one child requests a potty break and several follow suit. The teacher takes pity on the pathetic state of Ella’s hair, no doubt wondering what male attempted to fix it, and efficiently restores order. The potty-relieved troupe now puts on tap shoes for “Be Our Guest,” complete with little trays, and begins their dance moves. The tapping isn’t in synch, sounding more like metallic popcorn, but no matter. I drink in the whole scene through the observation window. A thought crosses my mind, much like a similar reflection I had 25 years ago when I sat in on our daughter’s dance class on my day off.

This is the purpose of civilization.

I think of all that has to be in place for these little girls to dance and twirl, and for me to watch them and savor the moment. A whole lot of gallant people died more than 50 years ago so that we don’t have to live under swastikas. A whole lot of people have kept watch over our country since that time, so that we haven’t been bombed by some Grand Poobah who doesn’t like our culture or religion. A whole lot of people labored to develop immunizations so that none of these little girls have been killed by diphtheria or crippled by polio. A whole lot of people worked to create the infrastructure that allows us to have some income, a place to live, food to eat, and something left over to pay the people who run the dance studio.

I am well aware that far too many people in our world cannot watch enraptured while a granddaughter dances, or talk into the night with a beloved spouse over a glass of wine, or read whatever book they’d like, or sing worship songs in a public meeting. I marvel that I am the recipient of these and other privileges, and remain both humbled and grateful to God – and to a lot of people I’ll never know – who together have allowed me to experience them.

Fightin’ Fundies, Part 3: The Creation Museum

Fightin’ Fundies, Part 3: The Creation Museum

Sorry, I know this post arrived late in the day, but it’s still May 28…

Our last action-packed episode ended with mention of a major event today (May 28, 2007) that, in my humble opinion, will not help promote nuanced discourse about the origins of life. That event would be the grand opening of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. Sporting a $27 million budget, this multi-media walk-through extravaganza, designed by a former exhibit director at Universal Studies Florida (as in “King Kong” and “Jurassic Park” rides), will function as a showcase (I use the word advisedly) for the organization Answers in Genesis and will also serve as the group’s administrative and ministry headquarters. Both Answers in Genesis and The Creation Museum are dedicated to advancing an unapologetic and uncompromising “young earth” interpretation of the contents of the Bible overall and Genesis in particular. Specifically, they insist that the earth and apparently the entire universe were created about 6,000 years ago, over the course of six literal 24-hour days – and much more.

The Creation Museum website speaks for itself, but I would direct your attention to a couple of representative entries. A description for the Bible Authority Room on the virtual walk-through tour announces, “The Bible is true. No doubt about it! Paul explains God’s authoritative Word, and everyone who rejects His history — including six-day creation and Noah’s Flood — is ‘willfully’ ignorant.” The descriptive text for the Creation area declares, “…the Bible’s clear—heaven and earth in six 24-hour days, earth before sun, birds before lizards. Adam and apes share the same birthday. The first man walked with dinosaurs and named them all! God’s Word is true, or evolution is true. No millions of years. There’s no room for compromise.”

Now I have no doubt as to the sincerity and commitment of those involved in this project, but I still cannot rejoice in the debut of this particular enterprise. For one thing, it would appear to be one of the biggest, most irresistible targets for media ridicule of Christians in many months. Watch for unflattering attention on SNL or MAD TV or the Daily Show, for starters. (I’m surprised no one picked it up for Phreaky Friday this week, but I suspect the 3-day weekend was a distraction.) No doubt the staff of Answers in Genesis is prepared for this, and will probably consider comedic persecution to be part of the cost of taking their particular stand.

But more bothersome is the fact that those who won’t give an inch in their opposition to the idea that life might have a designer will have another glorious opportunity to lump everyone who questions naturalistic evolution into the six-day, young earth camp. This of course is not at all the case, but it’s certainly a convenient rhetorical device, somewhat like tarring all followers of Islam as terrorists or pro-lifers as clinic bombers. For example, a May 24 LA Times editorial dealing with the Creation Museum (mischievously titled “Yabba-Dabba Science”), notes with some alarm that “…three of the Republican candidates for president do not believe in evolution. Three men seeking to lead the last superpower on Earth reject the scientific consensus on cosmology, thermonuclear dynamics, geology and biology, believing instead that Bamm-Bamm and Dino played together.” In fact, the question “Do you believe in evolution?” was asked of John McCain at the 10-candidate Republican debate on May 3. He said, “Yes” and then a moment later noted that he “sees the hand of God” in a sunset or at the Grand Canyon. The moderator then asked for a show of hands of anyone on the platform who doesn’t believe in evolution. Three hands went up, prompting considerable ridicule in the press during the ensuing weeks. I don’t know if the three dissenting candidates are young-earth Creationists or people who (like me) are comfortable with a 4.5 billion year old earth and a 15 billion year old universe, but question the “we are the product of random, meaningless biochemical reactions” party line. There’s a big difference, but I doubt that we’ll hear much about it in the media.

I have one other concern about the thinking represented in the Creation Museum, and, believe it or not, it is actually well-stated in the aforementioned LA Times piece.

Religion and science can coexist. That the Earth is billions of years old is a fact. How the universe came into being and whether it operates by design are matters of faith. The problem is that people who deny science in one realm are unlikely to embrace it in another. Those who cannot accept that climate change may have caused the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago probably don’t put much stock in the fact that today it poses grave peril to the Earth as we know it.

Okay, the last sentence is a little stretchy, but the point is worth pondering. In my own field I have repeatedly seen a disturbing tendency among some evangelicals to distrust scientific inquiry, and in particular to blow off a well-established body of knowledge about how the human body works in order to embrace eccentric or even bizarre therapies. I suppose I could be accused of doing the same with respect to evolutionary biology, but I see a major difference between understanding how cells work (and, for example, that they’re not influenced by “invisible energies” supposedly manipulated by someone waving their hands over the body) and claiming to understand how all of these intricate mechanisms assembled themselves randomly out of primordial soup.

I have to confess that I haven’t probed in depth to see how people who believe the planet must be 6,000 years old explain all of the evidence that suggests otherwise, but in this regard I find them in a similar position as the evolutionary fundamentalists, with a hard-core bottom line and a lot of ‘splainin’ to do about information that doesn’t readily conform to their doctrine. Put another way, I’m equally impatient with Christians who insist that a six 24-hour-day creation is the only way to understand Genesis 1 and with evolutionists who insist that they know that life has no designer.

To both I would say, “Really??…”

Fightin’ Fundies, Part 2: Evolutionary Fundamentalists

Posts in the Fightin' Fundies series

  1. Fightin’ Fundies, Part 1: Narrow My God to Thee
  2. Fightin’ Fundies, Part 2: Evolutionary Fundamentalists

At the conclusion of our last exciting episode, I noted that not all fundamentalism relates to deities and the dogmas surrounding them, and that I wanted to propose for membership in the Fightin’ Fundie Club a vocal group (not the Four Seasons) that claims no religious affiliation whatsoever. My nominees are (drum roll) the implacable proponents of naturalistic evolution, true believers in the fullest sense of the word. I’m not going to offer a systematic footnoted literature review here, but rather a personal meditation on the way the (non)discussion of the origin of life has been playing out recently in the mainstream media.

By way of introduction: I am a family physician focused on the daily care of people with various health issues and not an bioscience academician, but as such I have some degree of understanding of animal (though far less of plant) biology. I would submit that even the most casual study of any type of biological system – animal, plant, microbe – at any level – macro, micro, biochemical – and from any angle – structural, functional, dissected or integrated – reveals a level of complexity that is, in a word, staggering. Pick a topic – how the eye works, how blood clots, how nutrients are absorbed, how glucose enters cells, how white cells destroy microbial invaders, how viruses hijack cell nuclei to replicate themselves, how sound is converted into electrical impulses, how nerves communicate with each other, how cells divide – whatever the subject, study it in any detail: if you don’t experience awe and wonder, administer a good enema and try again. And we’re not even addressing the intricate play of astronomy, geophysics and climate that are finely tuned to allow these events to proceed.

Call me naive, but it has repeatedly struck me that the most intuitive and rational response to this information is that it seems incredibly unlikely that these systems would assemble themselves at random, no matter how much time one might give them to do so. If you make the random-assembly-over-billions-of-years assumption, there’s a whole lot of faith involved in the process, and a lot of ‘splainin’ to do in order to address how so many features of the above-noted complexity came to be. In recent years books such as Darwin’s Black Box have raised some reasonable questions about what the naturalistic evolutionists (NEs) are willing to accept on faith as they move from point A to point ZZZ despite the gaping uncertainties in between – a process that we used to call “hand waving” in math class.

Instead of responding reasonably and thoughtfully to these questions, however, I continue to hear (in the general public media, anyway) the NEs planting their flags and defending their position with startling, numbing ferocity, including routine rants about separation of church and state, political innuendo of all sorts and lots of ad hominem attacks (i.e., characterizing people who question the NE position are all Bible-wielding, IQ-impaired sub-hominids who want to take over the government and stamp out free speech). More than once in the past few weeks I have heard, with a clear rhetorical snort, references to the fact that X number of Republican presidential nominees don’t believe the naturalistic evolution gospel, as if that meant they also believe in Santa Claus and child sacrifice.

Yet what continues to leak through all of the rhetorical smoke, in my humble opinion, is that NE remains a philosophical assumption, a bottom line that was made the starting point and now has become iron-clad dogma, with no questions to be entertained, not even for a second. If the Scopes trial were held today, it would be the NEs who would be singing “Gimme that old time religion” and prosecuting the science teacher who had the temerity to ask students to think critically about NE’s assumptions. In other words, they’re acting like good old-fashioned Fightin’ Fundies.

Over the past decade some of the more nuanced and thoughtful questioning of NE has come from what is called the “Intelligent Design” camp, including authors such as Michael Behe (author of the above noted Darwin’s Black Box) and William Dembski. NE zealots routinely vilify these guys, and have seemed bent on avoiding at all cost an intelligent public dialogue about intelligent design. When I read op-ed pieces on this subject in the LA Times or even commentaries in medical journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine, I repeatedly sense the following subtext:

Naturalistic evolutionist (NE): Life assembled itself over billions of years from primordial elements.

Inquirer (I): How do you know?

NE: It just did!!

I: But how do you explai—

NE: DON’T INJECT YOUR RELIGIOUS DOGMA INTO A SCIENTIFIC DISCUSSION!

I: But I was just wondering—

NE: “Religious fundamentalism is on the rise around the world, and our own virulent domestic version of it, under the rubric of ‘intelligent design,’ by elbowing its way into the classroom abrogates the divide between church and state that has served this country so well for so long.” [Robert Lee Hotz, “Laws of Nature,” LA Times Book Review, July 30, 2006.]

I: But could we just talk a little about the idea of “irreducible complexity”—

NE: Shut up! This has all been settled! Go back to your pews!

Okay, I’m exaggerating a little, but see if you don’t notice a little of this venom in the op-ed pages of the Times and other media outlets in the coming weeks. There will be, I’m sorry to report, a spectacular opportunity for NE pundits to vent their spleens – beginning tomorrow (May 28).

And what will be the occasion that will cause a major setback for intelligent conversation about the origin of life? Stay tuned for tomorrow’s exciting installment!

Previous in series: Fightin’ Fundies, Part 1: Narrow My God to Thee

Fightin’ Fundies, Part 1: Narrow My God to Thee

Posts in the Fightin' Fundies series

  1. Fightin’ Fundies, Part 1: Narrow My God to Thee
  2. Fightin’ Fundies, Part 2: Evolutionary Fundamentalists

This is my first official Addison Road blog, and because it has been percolating in my brain for some time I feel a little like the youth pastor who gets the “big church” pulpit only once a year and feels the need to give a 36-point sermon. I’ve decided to divide my musings into three daily installments, sort of a serial without cliffhanger endings but perhaps a concluding teaser or two. I’ll strive for brevity in the future, but don’t count on it.

———

Last summer, while I was checking a reference for a Chuck Swindoll quote for a writing project, my friend Mr. Google led me to what I would have to nominate as the most fiercely fightin’ Christian fundamentalist website. I was surprised to find that the creator of the site lambasted Swindoll as a “full-fledged advocate of the gospel of religious humanism.” With a mix of curiosity and amazement I followed links to dozens of other pages within the site assailing the doctrinal integrity of every evangelical leader on the planet:

James Dobson – “…did not believe that the Scriptures were sufficient to communicate God’s will concerning families.”
Charles Colson – “A Catholic sympathizer… His blindness is incredible.”
R.C. Sproul – “…guilty of psychoheresy.”
Tony Campolo – a “pantheistic new-ager.”
Jack Hayford – “Evidence abounds of Hayford’s hyper-charismatic, ecumenical, and occultic tendencies…”
Billy Graham – guilty of “ecumenism” and “conforming to the world.”

I began to wonder… Is there anyone who meets this person’s criteria for doctrinal purity? What about John MacArthur? Surely he would pass the test. No way… “His teachings border on heresy, if not blasphemy… One only has to browse around the Grace Church campus and/or listen to tapes or read the various publications emanating from The Master’s Fellowship complex of ministries to come to the conclusion that spiritual discernment there is a commodity in extremely short supply.”

Whoa…

The big surprise, though, was to find that Bob Jones University, the place I would consider the most unassailable bastion of fundamental viewpoints and theology, did not get the stamp of approval from this site. It turns out that one of the descendents of the first Mr. Jones (Bob IV) had attended (horror of horrors) Notre Dame. Also, BJU has a strong drama department, and the site’s author contends that plays cannot be used by God because the actors playing the various roles are lying. (Don’t ask). Worse, the University has an art collection containing some classical specimens that might be construed as expressing Catholic thinking or beliefs. “Can it please our Lord that any BJU student would be directed by Dr. Bob to learn how to be ‘cultured’ and ‘enrich’ his life through the appreciation and study of Catholic art depicting false Catholic doctrine?” (Emphasis in the original. Interestingly, a friend of mine who attended Bob Jones for a couple of years says that the art gallery was his one refuge of sanity on campus.)

The whole sad site, whose name and address I won’t even bother to identify, is epitomized in a diatribe against BJU’s 1996 affiliation with the Dominion Satellite Network:

But shouldn’t Christians also be concerned about the other so-called ‘Christian’ programming coming into their homes via the Dominion system? Who would want anyone in their family nurtured on the teachings of John Osteen, Jack Hayford, Pat Robertson, John Hagee, Kenneth & Gloria Copeland, Oral & Richard Roberts, Dwight Thompson, Tim LaHaye, Charles Stanley, Chuck Swindoll, David Jeremiah, Chuck Smith, Jerry Falwell, Tony Evans, Marilyn Hickey, Kay Arthur, James Robison, Fred K.C. Price, Bill Bright, Robert Schuller, John & Ann Gimenez, David Mains, Josh McDowell, Steve Arterburn, Frank Minirth & Paul Meier, James Dobson, Tony Campolo, Jack Van Impe, J.R. Church, Luis Palau, Greg Laurie, and a host of other DBS program providers? Or how about the “melodies” of Carman, Bill Gaither, ZMUSIC (Youth-Contemporary), THE BEAT (CCM), and SOLID ROCK V.D.O. (“Christian” rock-n-roll Music Videos)? To top it all off, Dominion allocated several programming time slots to two Catholic priests and a Catholic nun!

Obviously, this website is haunted by an infinitesimally limited number of people who have painted themselves into a very tight doctrinal corner. It reminds me of a verse in a satirical ditty sung by the Chad Mitchell Trio, back in the good old 60s, about the Communist-obsessed John Birch Society.

We’ll teach you how to spot ‘em in the cities or the sticks,
For even Jasper Junction is just full of Bolsheviks!
The CIA’s subversive and so’s the FCC –
There’s no one left but thee and we, and we’re not sure of thee!

This stuff is funny, and sad, and cautionary all at once. Among those we know (or don’t) in Christendom, we’ve all got our own “naughty and nice” lists, whether based on doctrinal or political stances, cultural attunement or cluelessness, vocal or musical cadences, or any number of other variables. If the opening chapters of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians – with its pointed rebuke of some early “Jesus camps” — is any clue, it would appear that the Founder of our faith isn’t terribly impressed with all of our various subgroups, especially when they engage in sniping at each other.

That being said, I would hasten to point out that fightin’ fundamentalism isn’t unique to zealots carrying their sputtering torches in the name of religious traditions, whether Christian, Islamic, Hindu or NASCAR. I would now like to nominate another vocal contingent, one that disingenuously claims a lack of any particular faith, for membership in the fundamentalist elite, with all of the rights and privileges appertaining thereto.

Who could that be? Stay tuned for tomorrow’s action-packed installment!

Next in series: Fightin’ Fundies, Part 2: Evolutionary Fundamentalists