Hart on Christ’s Rabble

The below from David Bentley Hart, published last September in Commonweal.

Throughout the history of the church, Christians have keenly desired to believe that the New Testament affirms the kind of people we are, rather than—as is actually the case—the kind of people we are not, and really would not want to be. The first, perhaps most crucial thing to understand about the earliest generations of Christians is that they were a company of extremists, radical in their rejection of the values and priorities of society not only at its most degenerate, but often at its most reasonable and decent. They were rabble. They lightly cast off all their prior loyalties and attachments: religion, empire, nation, tribe, even family. In fact, far from teaching “family values,” Christ was remarkably dismissive of the family. And decent civic order, like social respectability, was apparently of no importance to him. Not only did he not promise his followers worldly success (even success in making things better for others); he told them to hope for a Kingdom not of this world, and promised them that in this world they would win only rejection, persecution, tribulation, and failure. Yet he instructed them also to take no thought for the morrow.

This was the pattern of life the early Christians believed had been given them by Christ. As I say, I doubt we would think highly of their kind if we met them today. Fortunately for us, those who have tried to be like them have always been few. Clement of Alexandria may have been making an honest attempt to accommodate the gospel to the realities of a Christian empire, but it was those other Egyptians, the Desert Fathers, who took the Gospel at its word. But how many of us can live like that? Who can imitate that obstinacy and perversity? To live as the New Testament requires, we should have to become strangers and sojourners on the earth, to have here no enduring city, to belong to a Kingdom truly not of this world.

Thoughts on Ehrman and Biblical inerrancy

I’m nearly done reading Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus.

In a nutshell, the book is a brief on alleged problems with the New Testament—how transcription errors, going back even to the first and second centuries, may have altered the original authors’ meaning.

If these errors exist, this is especially problematic for Christians today, as transcription errors compound over time. For example, if a second-century scribe of the Gospel of Mark made a small error when copying the original text, then further errors made on the same inaccurate copies theoretically may drive the text’s meaning further and further from the original meaning. Then when the text is translated from the original Greek into Latin, then into the language we speak today, the errors become fatal to our understanding of what the author intended to say.

Now, many copies of second- and -third century New Testament transcriptions exist, such that scholars are able to compare across versions to identify, and even correct, copyist errors. Trying to find the text’s original meaning is anything but a hopeless task. And much of what we read in study Bible footnotes today is a result of such research, helping to clarify the meaning of the text based on new developments in textual criticism of the Bible (some of which support Christians’ historical and accepted interpretations).

But Ehrman uses several examples to argue that errors do exist in the Bible, and that some of these errors alter the text’s meaning in arguably significant ways. Some of these errors may even have implications for how we interpret the Bible’s teachings about larger, central doctrines (the origin of Christ’s divinity, for example).

Whether Ehrman is right or wrong about these specific, his larger point about the possibility of copyist error is worth considering. It doesn’t have to steal from your belief in the Bible’s inerrancy, and it definitely does not serve, standing on its own, as a strong argument against the Bible’s historicity or overall accuracy, even in regards to its claims about Jesus as the Son of God. Again, the accuracy of almost the entire book is undisputed, and Erhman’s examples (conceivably the best ones he knows) are few and far between, and do not necessarily or directly alter the authors’ obvious and oft-repeated points about central Christian doctrines.

That said, here are my own thoughts and questions on the topic—some of which I’ve alluded to above. Some oppose Ehrman’s general argument (“anti-skeptic” below), and others support (“pro-skeptic”).

Anti-skeptic

  • Given the sheer word count of the New Testament, Ehrman’s handful of examples still leave almost the entire book untouched by error—at least given what we know from the set of ancient manuscripts we have today.
  • Was the possibility of copyist error not well-known to ancient Christians? Did they have no idea that their version of a text might be slightly altered? The third- and fourth-century Church Fathers discussed this heavily—wouldn’t such concerns have existed even in the first and second centuries, when extant copies were only one or two generations from the original? Would this influence the copies that Christians chose to keep, and would they not consider correcting errors they uncovered? Ehrman does note that early Christians were likely to come from lower, illiterate classes of people, but he also argues that it was likely wealthier, educated Christians who oversaw the texts’ transcriptions. Even if the first copyists weren’t “professionals,” how was error understood by educated people? Did they expect it from copies of other texts?

Pro-skeptic

  • Words do not speak for themselves. Our understanding of language—even our attempt to understand language in its original historical context—is shaped by our cultural and intellectual setting. Case in point: The impossibility of perfect translation across languages, and the inevitable shortcoming of our attempts to even convey these differences. This is an argument against the notion of an infallible text, in general, as a sensible and/or useful concept. What does it matter if a text is infallible if we can never be sure of the author’s true meaning?
  • Why “the Word of God”? From where does this idea come? Why inerrant? Why infallible? I’m sure there’s a specific answer to this—the origins of the notion (doctrine?) of Biblical inerrancy—but I don’t know it. My first guess, since I see no claim to inerrancy in the text itself, is that the concept arises out of necessity—that without it, we have nothing. Being 2,000 years removed from the New Testament’s writing, we have no way to argue against those who level new claims about Christ and his teaching. If we have have not Scripture, have we nothing? In general, the concept of inerrancy confuses me.

Random

  • If God’s hand was over the writing of the New Testament, why not over the translation(s) thereof? I make no allusion to what I actually believe with this statement. I’m simply raising the question both to those who claim the Bible is God’s Word and those who claim it is not.
  • When Constantine cemented the role of Christianity into Roman political life, beginning in 313 AD with the Edict of Milan, did that not create a huge incentive on the part of state leaders to perfectly define Christian doctrines and eliminate ambiguity about the text? Did not the Roman Church-State want to put down serious inquiries about the veracity of Scripture or the doctrines even the emperor himself believed? Did not transcribing the text then become an act with potentially severe political consequences, thereby encouraging nefarious copyists to alter or distort (or clarify, for that matter) the text where it helped the cause of one powerful force or another? I’m not a historian, and maybe someone will correct me on this point.

The power of humiliation (political correctness)

In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is…in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.

– Theodore Dalrymple

Collisions of this trivial sort

But the poetry of that kiss, the wonder of it, the magic that there was in life for hours after it–who can describe that? It is so easy for an Englishman to sneer at these chance collisions of human beings. To the insular cynic and the insular moralist they offer an equal opportunity. It is so easy to talk of ‘passing emotion,’ and how to forget how vivid the emotion was ere it passed. Our impulse to sneer, to forget, is at root a good one. We recognize that emotion is not enough, and that men and women are personalities capable of sustained relations, not mere opportunities for an electrical discharge. Yet we rate the impulse too highly. We do not admit that by collisions of this trivial sort the doors of heaven may be shaken open.”

-E.M. ForsterHowards End

The future of social media is…

The future of social media is anti-social media. That is, self-hosted content that only you own and that only you can take down.

I had this thought while sitting in on a marketing panel at WordCamp Jacksonville last month. We discussed using social media to market digital services, and it brought to mind a client of mine who has one of the largest Facebook pages in the world, but can claim only the login credentials for this page as an asset. The page itself is owned by Facebook, who reserves the right to take it down at any time—a fact which drastically diminishes the value of the page to potential buyers.

On Facebook, Twitter and Medium, you do not own your content. There is legally nothing stopping these companies from removing your profile, censoring your published materials, or acting in such a way as to skew and cloud your words.

Further, why do we need these companies? Except for ISPs, you don’t need any company to post content online. And posting your content on corporate-owned platforms, like Facebook, only means it’s less your own and more theirs. WordPress is a great alternative—open-source, shared code that enables you to easily publish online, but that does not permanently tie you into any network.

I’m convinced the future of social media is open-source, self-hosted. This is the next step in the decentralization of media. There is no reason why networking between proprietary domains can’t happen without massive companies like Facebook.

Like it or not, Trump is a strategic mastermind

I once explained my rationale (alongside my accurate election predictions) for believing that Donald Trump is not an idiot, but a strategic mastermind. He plays the fool just enough to incite scandal and dominate the news cycle, yet he maintains enough semblance of integrity in the eyes of his supporters to convince them—a good one-fourth of voters—that he’s 100% serious about “draining the swamp.”

Finally others are picking up on this. In today’s RCP, Bill Murray explains how the media is being played by Trump—especially his tweets:

As Michael Barone, the longtime co-editor of The Almanac of American Politics and senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, points out, “Early on, he [Trump] realized that by sending out a tweet early in the morning, that was very provocative, very in violation of political correctness, he could dominate an entire news cycle.” What’s more, Trump knew he could feed the media’s “addiction” to anything remotely resembling “breaking news,” all to his benefit.

This failure of U.S. broadcast media to use proper news judgment in covering Trump is among the gravest professional sins the industry has committed in recent memory because it fails to recognize the manipulation involved. George Lakoff, a professor emeritus of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, asserts that Trump’s tactics are “all strategic” in nature, “not crazy,” as many observers believe.

Lakoff has written several books on political speech and is an expert on the concept of idea framing, which has become an influential technique in the art of political persuasion. He asserts that Trump’s tweets embody one of four strategic communication tactics: preemptive framing, diversion, deflection and trial-ballooning.

I tell everyone who tells me Trump is an unhinged idiot to look beyond the commentary, look beyond the narrative. Look at the facts and the actions. Trump orchestrated a campaign the defied all odds. This takes genius. He successfully navigated multiple PR nightmares that would have meant the career end for any other politician I can imagine. This takes genius.

If you start to see Trump through this lens, you’ll be better at critiquing his policies, which fly under the radar—he’s reforming government massively while the media can’t stop talking about Russia and his “crazy” tweets. This is what we ought to be concerned about. Who cares if he’s an idiot. Who cares what he might possibly do to us if he keeps acting this way. What is he doing to us here and now?

Whether you believe his policies are helping or hurting, there’s no excuse for ignoring them in favor of the juicier, yet slowly crumbling, Russian-collusion narrative. Then it’s you who’s being played.

The problem with climate change alarmism

Jeffrey Tucker, a.k.a my pick for the most interesting man in the world, writing at FEE on the “amazing arrogance” of the Paris Accord:

But the “globalists” of the type that tried to make Paris work have a stunning lack of self-awareness. They pretend to be oblivious to the populist resentment they breed. They act as if there is not a single legitimate doubt about the problem, their analysis of cause and effect, the discernment of their selected experts, or their proposed coercive solution. And there certainly isn’t a doubt that their mighty combination of power, resources, and intelligence can cause all the forces in the universe to adapt to their will, including even the climate that King Canute himself said could not be controlled by kings and princes.

Now my own two cents…

Fighting man-made climate change is about two things:

  1. Identifying the true extent of man-made climate change and locating the point (not necessarily non-zero) at which it’s effects on the earth become a net drag on humanity’s collective quality of life.
  2. Determining the optimal trade-off between the alleged benefits of regulations designed to curb man-made climate change and any detriments they might have on our quality of life.

It’s simply wrong to say that we must do everything we can to prevent climate change. Frankly, stopping man-made climate change is not necessarily our most important short-, medium- or long-term priority. If it were, then what’s our response if scientists prove it’s in the planet’s best interest for mankind to simply cease to exist? Or if they say that automobiles, on net, are damaging and that we should stop using them immediately?

The problem with alarmist language on the Paris Accord (CNN today: “mass extinction”), and climate change generally, is that it throws out all other considerations. It ignores obvious trade-offs.

Indeed, everything is about trade-offs. If it’s true that regulating carbon emissions here and now will benefit the planet as a whole, those benefits need to be weighed against the harms of short-term job loss and other industry-killing mandates inherent in such laws.

In short, we need a balanced approach, not alarmism. What Trump and his supporters argue is not ridiculous or ignorant. They make reasonable arguments about the trade-offs inherent in regulations designed to curb climate change.

Finally, a related note on climate change from a previous blog post of mine:

Any serious discussion of climate change ought to talk about why global warming is bad—not take that idea for granted. Maybe such talk is about there, but I don’t see it from popular commentators except insofar as they paint scary pictures of flooding coastal cities and stronger hurricanes. That doesn’t sound good, but what happens to the world on net? What happens, if you will, to the human race’s prospects for long-term survival (if you like thinking in such terms…I don’t)? Is it possible that things will improve in this regard?

Let’s first establish exactly why climate change is bad, then talk about whether it’s worth fighting. Because neither of those goes without saying.

How to succeed on Upwork

My Upwork agency is extremely successful. In fact, it’s as successful as any Upwork agency could possibly be. Our job success score is 100%, which means every single client has been totally, 100% satisfied with our work. Over the past year, I’ve made as much using Upwork as I did the previous year working at a top market research firm in Washington, D.C.

I mentioned my success on Upwork to a fellow freelancer the other day. He was surprised I found any clients at all. He said he’s been on the platform for a year, applying here and there, but never found a single client.

That’s when I realized just how much I’ve learned about Upwork over the past year, and how much knowledge I have to impart to others. So here’s some tips on how to use Upwork successfully, whether full-time or on the side.

  1. Undersell yourself (at first). An inherent feature of online freelancing is that your client really doesn’t know you. He sees your picture and profile and maybe some nice testimonials from other people he or she doesn’t know, but at the end of the day, you’re a total stranger. That said, you absolutely must discount your hourly rate to account for the risk your client is assuming. At the beginning, you won’t have any testimonials, which increases your potential clients’ risk. Start by working for half of what you’d normally work for, then slowly raise your rate as you gain more testimonials, hours worked, and a higher Upwork score.
  2. Always ask clients if they have more work for you. It can’t hurt to ask, and I’ve found the answer is usually yes. But be sure to keep this work on Upwork—it’s against their rules to work around their platform, and I promise you that Upwork’s fees are worth paying for the exposure they give you for doing good work. I get unsolicited invitations to interview for Upwork jobs almost every day.
  3. Respond to all invitations to interview as soon as possible. Upwork considers this when scoring your profile. I’m frankly not sure why it matters, but Upwork has its reasons. That said, leaving a request to interview hanging hurts you in many ways. If you’re going on vacation and don’t want to deal with unsolicited interviews, change your profile’s availability setting accordingly—then you won’t get invitations during your vacation.
  4. Explain your thinking to your clients. They should know your progress at all times, and should have a good sense of what’s going through your mind as you work on their stuff. And before you’re even hired, be open about your thoughts on how this job might be challenging, how you’re super busy, and how you are going to make time for this project if you do accept the offer. Again, this all has to do with the risk your client is taking on by hiring you. The more they can see into your mind, the more comfortable they will be hiring you.
  5. Partner with others. Don’t pass on a job opportunity on Upwork just because you can’t do all the work needed. If you need to use a friend or colleague’s help for parts of a job, say so. Be honest and upfront with your client about this. Of course, don’t skirt the rules* and misrepresent yourself, or pass off work entirely while pretending like you did it all yourself (not only is this against the rules, but it will come back to haunt you when the client has questions and you know little about how the work was done). But it’s fine to have a friend take a look at some code or trouble-shoot an error or give a second opinion and make tweaks to your design. Or better yet, engage another Upwork freelancer for help with particularly tough issues. Clients will appreciate the fact that you are taking their work seriously enough to engage another professional. Just be sure to handle any revenue-sharing on your end—don’t burden the client with paying little fees to others who help you here and there.

These might seem like simple rules, but simple rules are, after all, the hardest ones to follow.

One final rule is to use a good profile picture! This is something you should do on all your social profiles. I’ve hired on Upwork several times, and the picture is the first thing I see at when evaluating a proposal—both by nature and by Upwork’s design. So smile genuinely, clean background, camera at eye-level, and be sure your face fills most of, but not the entire, photo.

*Here’s Upwork’s rules. That’s a lot of text, but control+F to search for specific keywords and issues that interest you.

Defining “entrepreneur”

Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.

I love that definition. “Entrepreneur” is an overused term, but there really is nothing else that encapsulates the idea. And I’ve found no definition like the one above that so succinctly explains what it means to be an entrepreneur.

Since starting my own business almost one year ago, I find myself thinking differently. I think ahead—far ahead—and rarely think about the past. I think about my success in terms of not how many clients I have, or how much money I’m making, but what portion of the possible I’m turning into something real. And what is and isn’t possible means something very different than it did, for me, just a few years ago.

That’s what entrepreneurship is about, and that’s what this definition explains so well. What is possible and impossible is not an objective, set-in-stone list of things. Possible is an relative term. Entrepreneurs simply understand this more than do most other people.

I like to use the following illustration: Go back to an ancient Roman city. Survey the town members on the question: “Is it possible to talk with someone on the other side of the world?” I’ll bet the answer is a resounding no. But today, of course, we do this daily with our phones. It is possible, and it was never actually impossible. It was just beyond the limits of ancient people’s imagination. And probably those who did imagine such an ability, or such a technology, were considered insane.

Thank God for entrepreneurs, like Alexander Graham Bell (inventor of the telephone), who saw nothing impossible about their ambitions to change the world—who pursued an opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled or available.

For those who care, that definition was coined by Harvard Business School’s Howard Stevenson.

True failure counts

“Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.”

I love that phrase. I really believe it, and it gets me through tough times.

But please, please remember this: When you’re failing—actually, 100%, totally failing—it doesn’t feel good. You don’t believe that you’ll learn from it. You don’t believe you’ll ever get out of it. You may even believe that no one has ever failed as badly as you are failing.

That’s how true failure feels. But that’s also the only type of failure that teaches you to be better.

So when you feel like your world is literally ending, or that nobody has ever failed as badly as you’re failing, that’s when it matters. That’s true failure—the feeling you must (and will) learn to overcome. That’s when you learn. And that’s when you absolutely must make the decision to keep going.

You’ll get over it, I promise. In a few months, you’ll wonder how you ever believed this was going to end your world. You’ll be fine, and you’ll be a more powerful person than you were before. And in so many ways, this present feeling of failure is the surest sign you’re doing something

So press on!