Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Death of Ancient Studies: Part 1

The following was sent to me this week:
Study Programmes at Copenhagen University in Danger of Closing

The Situation
The Minister for Higher Education and Science plans to lower the student intake at the Humanities in order to prevent future over-unemployment of highly qualified young people. This entails a 30% cut of students at the M.A. level. Danish law, however, insists that every B.A. graduate has the right to an M.A. course of study. Logically, then, cutting the M.A. intake will automatically mean a huge cut in the B.A. intake since the M.A, intake is generally (and understandably) only a small portion of the B.A. intake for the subjects below.

For large subjects such a cut is difficult but not life-threatening. For the subjects at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies the plans announced by the Ministry and to be implemented by the Faculty are a disaster.

The following table illustrates what will happen to the subjects at the Department from 2015:

                                            BA intake 2014    BA-intake 2015     Reduction

Middle Eastern Studies     50                          10                            80%         
Japanese Studies                25                          5                              80%         
China Studies                     50                          10                            80%         
Russian                                25                          5                              80%         
Religion                               70                          20                            70%         
(Thai and Indonesian)       15                          0                              100%         closure
Korean Studies                   15                          0                              100%         closure
Indology                              10                          0                              100%         closure
Tibetology                           10                          0                              100%         closure
Iranian Studies                   15                          0                              100%         closure
Turkish Studies                  15                          0                              100%         closure
Hebrew Studies                  10                          0                              100%         closure
ANE Studies
(Assyriology, Egyptology,
NE archaeology)                 30                          10                            67%         
Greek Studies                     10                          0                              100%         closure
Balkan Studies                    15                          0                              100%         closure
Polish                                   10                          0                              100%         closure
Arctic Studies                      10                          0                              100%         closure
American Indian Studies   10                          0                              100%         closure

                                            395                        60                            85%         
I treasure my contacts with both the people and the institutions of the University of Copenhagen and its Carsten Niebuhr Institute for Near Eastern Studies. They have done some impressive work in the past and have a tremendous amount of important work in progress. This is not encouraging news.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Mormon Version of Cheap Grace

An amateur theologian hiding behind the ironic pseudonym "Um, Not Quite the Truth" (in the comments here) is advocating a form of cheap grace for Mormons:
Dan [Peterson] wrote: "[C. S.] Lewis’s observation rings absolutely true for anybody who has ever been the surprised victim of scheming intrigue and betrayal by false friends."

Thank goodness this type of behavior is few and far between among LDS, thanks in large part to living the Gospel.

Also, on those rare occasions when this does happen, we've been taught to quickly forgive and move on. Just as the Savior has done with us and our trespasses to others.
A little later, this armchair theologian observed:
No one knows more about "double-dealing" and "betrayal" more than the Savior. That's why it's so fundamentally important to quickly forgive and move on. Just the Savior has commanded.
These are watered-down and potentially self-serving sentiments. They fall into the category of what Elder Jeffery R. Holland here called "a kind of theological Twinkie—spiritually empty calories."

True, we are commanded to forgive. For example, God tells us:
I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. (D&C 64:10)
But one will search the scriptures in vain to find the adverb quickly applied to the verb forgive. Neither the Savior nor anyone else in the scriptures commanded us to forgive quickly. I think God, who is wiser than we are and knows much more about repentance and forgiveness than we do, knows that some things are not easy to forgive and may not be possible for us to forgive without God specifically bestowing grace on us to forgive.

Let us take the specific example of betrayal. Jesus, whom we betray from day to day in our own petty way, suffered betrayals both large and small. Thus, it might be worth looking at what he had to say about betrayal:
And as they did eat, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.

And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?

And he answered and said, He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me.

The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born.

Then Judas, which betrayed him, answered and said, Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said. (Matthew 26:21–25)
The same sentiment is repeated in the other gospels:
woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born. (Mark 14:21)
And truly the Son of man goeth, as it was determined: but woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed! (Luke 22:22)
Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve. (John 6:70–71)
In every one of the gospels, Jesus condemns his former friend who betrayed him. We are never told that he forgave him at all ("I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive"), much less that he forgave him quickly and moved on. Jesus explicitly said it would have been better for the betrayer never to have been born.

God tells us that for certain sins it is difficult to obtain forgiveness and for one or two it is not even possible. But he reserves those decisions for himself. He commands us to forgive, but knows that in some circumstances this can be a very difficult thing to do.

The Coptic expression for forgiving is kō ebol. One could translate it with the popular expression "Let it go!" but that makes it look easy. One could also translate it with the verb abandon as though we needed only leave others' sins by the wayside. But it is also the expression used in pre-Christian legal contracts for divorce, which even then were sometimes ugly, messy, difficult and protracted affairs. Forgiveness can be like trying to get a messy divorce from a forced marriage to someone we never liked or wanted to be married to in the first place.

To some individuals is granted the grace to be able to forgive even awful things like abuse, molestation, rape, betrayal, infidelity, murder, torture, or persecution quickly and easily. We stand in awe of those who can do so. Yet, for others forgiveness is a protracted and difficult process. Those of us who are untouched by their afflictions should not stand by unmoved by their afflictions and pat ourselves on the back about what better Christians we are for being unwilling or unable to shoulder their cross.

And now we come to where forgiveness can be like cheap grace. Some people want others (including God) to forgive them cheaply and easily for deep and grievous wounds without producing any fruits of repentance, without trying in the least to repair the wrong that they have done or even acknowledging that they have done it (see Alma 39:13 in the critical text). Expecting forgiveness without repentance denies repentance, one of the core elements of the gospel of Christ (3 Nephi 27:13-21). Cheap grace also denies repentance by claiming that God dispenses unmerited grace while we persist in our sin. Both cheap grace and telling others to forgive without repentance deny the gospel of Christ.

I suppose that the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan might have called out to the man on the side of the road that he needed to "quickly forgive and move on" but would that really have been practically different than passing by on the other side?

Just because forgiveness is essential does not mean that it is easy.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

There are Still Tickets Left

There are still tickets left to BYU's superb production of Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro."

It runs from 22-25 October 2014. Tickets are only $18.

More information here. More information and tickets available here.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Creating Distrust

The second edition of Shaye Cohen's important book, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, has a poignant postscript to the preface:
The first edition of this book was published by the Westminster Press in 1987 in the Library of Early Christianity series edited by Wayne Meeks. I was delighted then to be associated with a Presbyterian publishing house. It is one of the blessings of America that a Presbyterian publisher would commission a Jew to write a book on early Judaism for a series oriented to students of the New Testament. This never happened in the old country. Eighteen years later I am grateful to Westminster John Knox Press for publishing this second edition and remain grateful to the press for its courtesies to me over the years. I am no longer happy, however, to be associated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the parent body of WJK, because I am deeply pained by the recent anti-Israel turn in its policies. The fact that WJK is editorially and fiscally independent of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) afford small consolation; by publishing this book with WJK I am associating myself perforce with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), an organization whose anti-Israel policies I condemn and distrust.
(Shaye J. D. Cohen, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, 2nd ed. [Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006], xiii-xiv.)
Cohen did not elaborate the specific Church policies, but they are not difficult to find.

In 2004, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) adopted a policy of "selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel." They ostensibly backed down in 2006, but apparently this was only a PR stunt. According to this official document, the apology never happened and they have continued with divestment. In 2010, the denomination called for political demands against the Israeli government and in 2012 called for a "boycott of all Israeli products produced in the occupied Palestinian Territories."

This year the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) distributed a pamphlet by Kyle Christofalo pushing the boycott. Christofalo sends people to this site for a full list of companies that they think should be boycotted. Christofalo is vague about what he considers to be "illegal Israeli settlement;" his map seems to indicate that it includes almost the entire state of Israel. Christofalo not only urges people not to buy products but to write "to urge them not to sell products made in the settlements." (Sorry, you'll have to wade through the document to see the English errors associated with this sentence.)

Given the actions of the Presbyterian Church, I can see how Professor Cohen can be deeply pained and regard the Presbyterians with distrust.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Math is Hard: Grade School Edition

This is an article explaining why parents should not be upset with the new common core making the math more complicated. The common core is just trying to help the children understand how math works in a better way.
It's reasonable that parents will be confused by the new way of doing things, says Meyer, the former math teacher and Ph.D. student. But he says that parents' education wasn't particularly effective, even if they're confident in their arithmetic.
But that is why the common core is largely not going to work. If the parents' math education wasn't particularly effective, it is the same math education that the teachers had. So if the parents are confused can we expect the teachers to do any better?

Those who understand and are good at math usually end up majoring in something like physics, math or engineering, not math education. Usually the math education majors are not the same caliber as the math majors. But from the examples I have seen of common core math problems, the math education majors should be able to handle them.

The problem is that math education majors are often shooting for jobs as high school math teachers and the common core has to be taught in grade school as well. Grade school math teachers teach everything else as well and they come from elementary education majors. Unfortunately education majors tend to come from the bottom half of college students and tend to score particularly poorly on math. The mean SAT scores in math for education majors are below the mean scores for those majoring in things like English, theology, acting, trucking, and journalism (none of which are noted for math ability).

Before the common core, I ran into otherwise good elementary school teachers who did not understand math well. Trying to get these teachers to teach tricky ways of dealing with math problems seems to me to be a recipe for disaster.

I am in favor of better math education. I am in favor of children understanding math better. I am dubious that trying to get people who do not understand math well in the first place to teach unusual approaches to basic problems is the best way to do it.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Faith and the OED

Usually in English a monosyllabic word has a good chance of being a native English word, but faith is not. Although many French and Latin words were imported into English during the Hundred Year's War (AD 1337-1453), faith is actually brought in earlier. Here are the definitions of faith listed in the Oxford English Dictionary according to first usage:

1250 the duty of fulfilling one's trust, fealty, the obligation of a promise or engagement
1250 faithfulness, fidelity, loyalty
1300 confidence, reliance, trust
1300 the Christian faith
1325 a system of religious belief
1380 what is required to be believed on a subject
1382 assurance given, formal declaration, pledge, promise
1382 belief in the truths of religion
1393 attestation, confirmation, assurance
1551 belief preceding from reliance on testimony or authority
1638 power to produce belief

When the term faith entered the English language it meant loyalty (which the editors of the OED listed last). Later, it came to mean trust. After that time it came to mean a system of religious belief, about the same time when it came to mean a pledge or promise. Only much later did it come to be a belief based on something someone else said. (Ironically, the last meaning developed is listed as obsolete.)

So at first faith in God meant loyalty to God. A little later it came to mean trust in God. Only later did it weaken to belief in God. Far from being merely an intellectual assenting to the existence of God, faith in God was originally a loyalty to Him.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Quote from William Gay

I just stumbled on this quote from William Gay that I rather like:
Godly responsibility always precedes individual opportunity. Ours is a choice to see if we will take the talents, the resources, and the blessings God has given us and blaze new paths to realize His purposes or sit on the sidelines content in our individual successes or failures. … In the world of faith, you always stand at this crossroad.