Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Britain From A to Z: N


Several days into our tour, I realized that I had not seen any Mexican restaurants. I thought perhaps that was just a Scotland thing, but later realized it was not. In fact, I do not recall seeing one single Mexican restaurant on the entire UK trip. However, I know for a fact that at least one exists, because our tour guide said he ate at one one evening. I don’t recall where we were at the time, but it was probably in a bigger city. A lack of Mexican restaurants wouldn’t sit well with me since I love Mexican food.

We did see a number of American restaurants in the UK, particularly fast food chains such as McDonald’s, KFC, and others. I guess seeing a McDonald’s in Scotland is no surprise since McDonald is a Scottish name. I’m not quite sure what the origins of the name KFC are, but it could be Welsh. And like most Welsh words, I definitely don’t know how to pronounce it.

McDonald’s in Glasgow, Scotland

KFC in Glasgow, Scotland

I wanted to do a cost comparison of the food in the UK with that in the US. It really wasn’t feasible to do this in independent restaurants as prices can vary greatly across these types of restaurants throughout just the US. So, I had to do my comparison at American restaurants. It turns out that the number of pounds a meal costs at McDonald’s in London is about the same number of dollars it would cost here in my hometown. Given that the exchange rate was about 1.5 dollars per pound when we were there, the cost of food was about 1.5 times more expensive. Of course, I’m sure that varies quite a bit in different locations. Since I kept up with how much I spent in the UK, I was able to figure up the average cost of our meals. It was about $13 per person per meal including tip. Keep in mind that most of these meals were lunches since most of our dinners were included in the cost of the tour. That’s about 1.5 times what I typically spend on a lunch meal here at home, so it matches my McDonald’s calculation.

Expectedly, there are quite a few pubs and unique restaurants throughout the UK. Tea rooms are quite common also. Interestingly, we were told that while tipping was standard procedure in restaurants, it was not in pubs. However, that was not a hard and fast rule. Since we couldn’t really tell where it was okay to not tip, we usually ended up tipping everywhere.

Kathy at a Tea Room in Rhayader, Wales

One last thing. It is fairly common for mid-range restaurants in America to have steaks on their menus. Here in the south, a 6-ounce sirloin with sides will usually cost about $8.00 to $11.00. Steak on menus in the UK was rare. And when it did appear, it was typically some type of chopped steak rather than a particular cut. I’m sure real steaks exist at the pricier restaurants, but sometimes I just want a cheap sirloin.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Britain From A to Z: M


The UK is known for its great universities. Places like Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial College London, St Andrews, York, Cardiff, King’s College London, and so forth. People travel from all over the world to attend these schools. Interestingly, people travel from all over the world to attend our local university, the University of North Alabama. So, perhaps this is more due to the quality of the university’s outreach program than to its name recognition.

It is humbling to think about the great minds that were once part of those prestigious British schools. John Locke attended Westminster School, Christ Church, and Oxford. Charles Darwin went to Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh. Isaac Newton attended Trinity and Cambridge. Margaret Thatcher matriculated at City Law School and Oxford. Marty Feldman attended the School of Hard Knocks in London. I’m assuming here, of course, that Marty Feldman actually had a mind.

On our tour of Britain, we didn’t specifically target schools for visits, but we did see several along the way. It would have been interesting to actually visit some of the campuses, but there were too many other things to see. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, “Sometimes there just aren’t enough days.” 
The University of Glasgow

One thing we learned that I found very interesting was that public schools in Britain are called state schools while private schools are called public schools. The former makes sense, but the latter at first seemed bizarre. But on further thought it made some sense. Schools not run by the state were being run by the people in the public. Yet, I still had occasional lapses while trying to keep this in mind.

We have a friend who attends the University of Oxford. He’s also a Rhodes Scholar, so he definitely has the brains to go there. The interesting thing about the city of Oxford is that it is full of schools. Just bring up Oxford on Google Maps and see how many schools you can find. It’s amazing. We attempted to meet up with our friend while there, but he was back in the States at the time. Oh well.

As I’ve mentioned in some previous posts, my son Andrew loves Wales and would like to study and teach there someday. I guess time will tell.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Britain From A to Z: L


It's difficult to find another country to travel to where the language is exactly the same as your native country. Hey, in larger countries, like the US, it's difficult to travel to other parts of the same country and have the language be the same. Yeah, a lot of it will be the same, but accents will differ, pronunciations will vary, and some idioms may be unique. Since Britain is mostly an English speaking place, these were the differences we noticed there. However, some Scots speak Scottish Gaelic, and some Welsh people speak Welsh.

For instance, to say "Good Afternoon" in Scottish Gaelic you say "Feasgar Math". Personally, I would have thought you were talking about some type of math invented by a guy named Feasgar. "Good Afternoon" in Welsh is "Prynhawn Da". To me, you might as well be a parent talking gibberish to a baby.

But things were different for my son, Andrew. He became interested in the Welsh language some time ago and can converse with others to a limited degree. It's still a mystery to me why he became interested in Welsh, but I do know the Finch name most likely comes from either England or Wales. Perhaps some long dormant gene activated in my son that took him back to his roots from many generations ago. I do know that he was extremely excited about visiting Wales, and he made an impression on a number of natives as a Welsh speaking Alabamian. Heck, he even impressed me seeing him in action. A telltale indicator that a dormant gene has activated in Andrew was his response to my wife's statement near the end of the trip. Kathy said, "I'm ready to go home." Andrew responded, "I am home."

Apart from the alternative languages spoken by some in Britain, there were a lot of interesting differences in their version of English. The accent is the first you notice. There is a distinctly different accent in Scotland vs England vs Wales. There are also differences within countries. Some I can distinguish; some I cannot. My son is much more attune to this, sometimes being able to narrow a person's accent down to a specific area within an individual country.

There were many cases of the wording for things differing with what I am used to. One that really stood out was the restrooms. In Britain they are mostly called toilets. Even the signs in stores read "Toilets". They knew what you meant if you asked where the restrooms were, but that's just not how they referred to them. Later I noticed that places for rent had signs that said "To Let". Yes, we use that term here in the US, but not as much as "For Rent". Early in our trip, I saw a large "To Let" sign from a distance and thought it read "ToiLet". I was at a loss as to why a toilet sign was so big and why they would capitalize the L. But then I realized it actually read "To Let", and started laughing about the closeness of the signs "Toilet" and "To Let".

There were a couple of interesting statements made by our tour guide. He would say something like this, "We will be stopping in [city name], and we'll be here long enough for you to have a wander." Have a wander? You have to wonder what that means. It's really quite obvious. You can wander about. I just don't remember ever hearing someone say have a wander. Here in the US, we would more likely say "take a stroll" or "walk around" or even "wander around".

Our tour guide would also talk about the people who live "in the street" as opposed to "on the street". I'm quite certain he wasn't talking about homeless people. But when you think about it, "on the street" sounds just as much like being homeless as "in the street". It kind of reminds me of George Carlin talking about getting "on the plane". He said he wasn't about to do that, he was getting "in the plane". So, perhaps for people who reside in a house we should say that they live "alongside the street". What'da'ya think?

Another idiom we encountered came from automated voices in elevators. We would step in and the voice would say something like, "The doors are closing. Please mind the doors." Mind the doors? I've not heard that one before, but you know the words mean, "Watch the doors" or "Be aware of the doors". Of course, all of these really mean, "Get your butt inside and don't get caught when the doors close." But I guess that's a little too verbose and a bit too direct.

One last word: Yip! I don't remember hearing this in Scotland or Wales, but it was quite ubiquitous in England. It was used frequently by female servers at restaurants. Here's a typical exchange. (You might better understand it if you have already read the F in this series for Food at http://rcfinch.blogspot.com/2013/09/britain-from-to-z-f.html)

Server: Can I take your order?

Me: I'll have the Fish and Chips.

Server: Yip!

Me: Does it come with tartar sauce?

Server: Yip!

Me: I'll also have a Diet Coke with that.

Server: Yip!


Server: Would you like mushy peas with that?

Me: Yes.

Server: Yip.

This was then followed by a similar conversation with my wife and son. At first it seemed that these Yippee servers were being a bit curt with us, but I eventually realized that was simply their way of acknowledging they heard what we said.

Interestingly, we were recently dining at Ricatoni's, a local Italian restaurant. I noticed that our server had an English accent, so asked her where she was from. It was a small town in southern England. I told her about the Yippees we encountered in England and she was familiar with them. She could even Yip herself. Epic!

I'll stop at that. I will discuss more language differences in a later post. Yip!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Britain From A to Z: K


One thing that is always interesting to look out for while on a foreign trip is the clothing native to the country you are visiting. While most people we saw in the UK wore clothes similar to us in the US, there were occasions where we saw differing garb. The most prominent difference we encountered was in Scotland.

Most people are familiar with Scottish men wearing skirts. The Scots try to hide this by calling them kilts, but we Americans are not easily fooled. We know it is really a skirt. The kilt is usually made of wool--appropriate given the number of Edinburgh Woollen Mill stores we saw on our trip--in a tartan pattern. Of course, there has always been the question of whether or not kilted men wear underwear under that kilt. This question was immortalized in a song entitled "The Scotsman" written by Mike Cross. Give it a listen to get the answer.

The kilt is usually accompanied by a number of other elements of clothing. One is the purse. Yes, Scottish men carry purses. In an attempt to disguise this one, they are called sporrans. This is Scottish Gaelic word for purses. So, it's really only a disguise to outsiders. To complete the outfit, there is usually a dress shirt with either a tie or a tartan scarf, tall socks, shoes, and sometimes a cap. In more formal settings, things can be even fancier with jackets and so forth. This attire is typically called Highland Dress. Here are three photos of Scotsmen wearing kilts and differing accoutrements.

To their credit, Scotsmen don't eat quiche. And just in case that doesn't convince people they are real men, they sometimes carry a dirk, which is a long thrusting dagger. Just try to make fun of them when they are toting one of these.

In England, I didn't see much unique clothing except of course people wearing shirts sporting their favorite football team's logo. Of course, you do realize that football across the pond is what we in the US call soccer. Anglophiles like to call American football "handegg". I'm not sure if this is a compliment or an insult. Oh, well.

Come to think of it, one unusual type of clothing was the uniforms of the guards stationed at the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace. It's definitely different than anything I've seen the US military wear. But them guns be cool.

In Wales I don't recall seeing any unusual clothing except for the costumes worn by some of the performers at Cardiff Castle's Welsh banquet. But that doesn't really count since entertainers are know the world over for wearing unusual, even outlandish, getups. Think Elton John, Madonna, and Liberace. And now Miley Cyrus is trying to make her mark. The harpist / pianist at the banquet wore a nice traditional Welsh outfit known as the Welsh National Costume.

As a fun closeout, take a look at this short cartoon. My Bunny Lies Over The Sea.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Response to Joel Anderson's Critique of My Book, Part 5

Recently, Dr. Joel Anderson wrote a critique of the chapter "God is Omniscient" from my book "God Is: Exploring the Nature of the Biblical God". Here is my response.

Joel went quite easy on me this time, probably because he understood where I was coming from as far as my approach to the chapter went. I point out early on in my book that while much of what I critique is the Bible itself, a large part of it is more of a critique of some people's beliefs about the Bible. Joel is apparently not a fan of systematic theology in that it takes an a priori belief and attempts to find Biblical passages that support that belief. Joel believes in Biblical theology, where a person just accepts what is said without trying to read more into it than there is. I agree with this approach.

One of the biggest problems I see with some people's study of the Bible is how they rationalize certain parts of the Bible they don't like to make it fit with other parts they do like. I say let the words fall where they may even if you end up with a contradiction. Doing otherwise is akin to systematic theology in that you have a priori determined there are no contradictions in the Bible and therefore must reinterpret parts to make the whole consistent. This is a no-no in my mind. (NOTE: No-no does not here refer to a hair removal system regardless of what my head looks like. ;>) )

Concerning my comments about Jesus' lack of knowledge of certain things, Joel says that nowhere in Christian history was it taught that Jesus was omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, etc. I would say that is good, since Jesus was indeed none of these things. However, many Christians today teach that Jesus was all those things. They believe him to be God incarnate and thus in possession of all the attributes of God himself, which they believe include all those things. I believe Jesus was simply a man that was disgusted with the Jewish leadership of his day and spoke out against them. At most he was a man that perhaps had more insight into the mind of God than did most people of his day. He was rather like Martin Luther and his Ninety-Five Theses pointing out the errors of the religious leaders. Jesus' harsh commentaries eventually got him killed.

Regarding my concerns with God's omniscience and man's free will not being compatible, Joel says, "At some level beyond our finite human understanding these two things work together. We’ve just got to accept it." To Joel I paraphrase HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, "I'm sorry, Joel, I'm afraid I can't do that." It's by reasoning through some of these issues that we can conclude that certain ideas are untenable.

I was glad to hear that Joel sees Biblical prophecy the way I do. The OT prophecies were concerned with events that took place back in OT times, not NT times or current day. The linking of Jesus' life to OT prophecy was simply the writers' way of relating Jesus' life to that of their ancestors. But some might say that even if that is so, those original prophecies still came true back in OT times. Well, that's not necessarily true. When you have one writer relaying a prophecy as well as its fulfillment, things get problematic. The prophecy and its fulfillment could have just been made up or certain events simply interpreted as a fulfillment. But on the other hand it could simply be that there were many prophets predicting a variety of things. By pure chance, some would get it right, some would get it wrong. If the latter were killed as false prophets and the former kept alive and their writings preserved, it would appear they have special powers they in reality did not have. I am reminded of a story I heard from a friend.

Suppose you want to start a financial newsletter and charge people a large sum of money for your financial expertise. You might be pretty good at predicting markets, but you are by no means perfect. So, what do you do to make people think you are a financial wizard worthy of a substantial part of their income. Well, you first start out by sending out a sample newsletter. Half of them make one prediction, the other half the opposite. You'll lose the people that receive the wrong prediction, but get the attention of the other half. Now, send out another half and half newsletter to just the ones you sent the correct prediction. Soon you will have some fraction (1/4, 1/8, 1/16, or whatever) of the recipients thinking you to be a financial genius and willing to send their money to you for more advice. Something similar could explain the prophets of old. After eliminating the wrong ones, you'd still have some fraction of them appearing to be God's man of the hour. As Joel says, "The Jews kept the writings of Jeremiah because his prophecy about Jerusalem’s destruction came true; they ditched the prophecies of Hananiah because his prophecies about Judah breaking Babylon’s yoke was proven to be false."

To better understand my views of the Bible and Jehovah, be sure to read a copy of my book, God Is: Exploring the Nature of the Biblical God. I am also the author of two other books. Passion is a Harsh Taskmaster is a mystery romance novel. Beginnings to Endings is a humorous philosophy book written in the style of one of my favorite humorists, Dave Barry. I also have four photography books published. Check out the ads to the left and below for links to these books as well as my various Web sites.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Response to Joel Anderson's Critique of My Book, Part 4

About a week ago, Dr. Joel Anderson wrote a critique of the chapter "God is Sovereign" from my book "God Is: Exploring the Nature of the Biblical God". As usual, he was quite prolific. Below is my response.

Joel says this concerning Romans 9:10-21: "Randy finds this troubling, especially for anyone who claims the Bible is inerrant. How could God just predestine one person for salvation and another person for hell?"

Well, I didn't actually say in my book that the passage should be interpreted as predestining some to heaven and others for hell. My concern was that the passage indicates that God chooses some for mercy and others for hardening. In other words, some of the actions we take while on Earth in our human bodies are out of our control according to Paul. If you read Romans 9 carefully, you will see that that is exactly what Paul is saying. If not, then the translators really messed up. Paul knew what he was saying and knew that his readers would object to it. Look at Romans 9:14-21:

What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?

How much clearer can one be? Paul anticipated someone like me wanting to know how God could blame us for actions we took that were under God's control because we cannot resist his will. Paul could have explained why he didn't mean what it sounded like he meant, but he didn't. He just said God was the potter, we are the clay. We don't have the right to speak back to God and question his actions. Basically, God is in control, get over it.

The only other comments I have concern Joel's explanation of Romans 7:7-25. He said this passage was talking about Paul's life before he became a Christian. Perhaps, but if so, the translators messed up terribly. In the passage, Paul is talking in the present tense. He was not talking about the way he was, but the way he is. If he was talking about his past self, what he said doesn't seem to hold true. I hear of Christians all the time having internal struggles with staying on the straight path. In fact it is disconcerting how often I hear of Christians who fail in that struggle and turn to sin. If this warring struggle between right and wrong does not occur in believers, does that mean those who have that struggle and even give in to the dark side are not really Christians. That is not the message I hear coming from the churches. Most believers view Paul's statement as applying to post-conversion people, not just pre-conversion people.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Britain From A to Z: J


There are a number of countries around the world that place importance on jewels, in particular crown jewels. Usually they are of great value and have to be kept in a secure location. In some cases they are actually put on public display. That's assuming that the real jewels are the ones actually being displayed. As far as I know, they could use faux jewels for display. I wouldn't know any difference. While on our trip to Scotland, England, and Wales, I saw two collections of crown jewels: one in Scotland and one in England. According to Wikipedia, the original regalia of the Welsh princes have been lost.

The crown jewels of Scotland are located in one of the buildings associated with the Edinburgh Castle. I would show you a picture of them, but, hey, security did not allow commoners to take photos. However, they did sell photos of the jewels in the gift shop. That's kind of interesting isn't it. If they need money that bad, why don't they just sell some of those jewels on eBay. If they are not fake, like I suspect they may be, they should bring a pretty tidy sum. You can see a photo of some of the jewels on The Honours of Scotland Web site.

Fortunately, they did allow photos in the rooms before the one housing the jewels. Here's one I took.

In England, the crown jewels are located at the Tower of London in, you guessed it, London. Here, security was even more strict. Photo taking was not allowed anywhere in the building. So, I don't have anything to really show, except a photo of the outside of the building.

All those crowns, sceptres, orbs, rings, swords, etc. are kind of pretty, I guess. But they were just a little to blingy for my taste. I would much rather have the money they are worth than the jewels themselves. I don't know who could afford to buy them, but I think I would start with the Old Man, Rick, Corey, and Chumlee out in Vegas. They usually have a few million dollars laying around for those occasions when a surprising object is brought into their store. If they don't want them, I'd seek out Warren Buffett. Surely he would pay a pretty penny.

While we were in the UK, the royal family introduced a new jewel: Prince George of Cambridge. He was born on July 22 to Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge. This was just a few days after we arrived in Scotland. The news of the birth was on all the TVs at the pubs where we ate. One day young George's neck will become strong enough for him to try on one of those fancy crowns. Perhaps he will come to agree with me that it would be best to trade it for money. But probably not. Those royal types tend to like their royal things.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

I'm Going To Hell

Many years ago, when I was a mere teenager, an uncle of mine said to me, “I’m going to hell.” Being a bit stunned, I asked, “Why do you think that?” He said, “Because everyone knows the Bible is true. I don’t live by it, so I’ll be going to hell.” I queried, “If you really believe that, then why don’t you live by it?” He responded, “Because I don’t want to.”

This uncle was considered by many to be the black sheep of the family, living a pretty wild lifestyle. He was also known to take a provocative position on issues just to stir up emotions and drive a conversation. So, even though he seemed sincere with his statements concerning going to hell, I cannot be sure he really believed it. After all, why would anyone deliberately live in such a way as to end up in eternal torment?

Back in 1980, when I came to believe the Bible, I converted to Christianity. I certainly did not want to be tormented day and night forever and ever. Yet, when I told the good news to a friend of mine that I had discussed the Bible with frequently, I was not met with joy. Rather, I was confronted with a number of questions about what the church I joined believed in. After several questions, I realized that my friend was from an even more conservative wing of the Church of Christ than the one I joined. God forbid I had become a Baptist or a Methodist. Anyway, the bottom line was that apparently the beliefs I had adopted concerning the Bible weren’t totally correct. I still had a few doctrinal issues wrong, so I guessed I was still bound for hell.

This was my first remembered brush with Christian judgmentalism. By this I mean a person being judged unworthy of God’s salvation even though he himself believes he has done all God has told him to do to be worthy. It is quite disconcerting.

Over time I discovered that there were people claiming to be Christians that ranged from very liberal to very conservative. On the very liberal end of the spectrum were those who believed in universal salvation. Everyone would be saved in the end. On the very conservative end of the spectrum were those who believed that a person needed to have their doctrine 100% correct and live according to it perfectly to be saved. And, of course, there was a wide range of beliefs in between these extremes. I began to visualize this range of beliefs as being embodied in individuals standing next to each other in a long chorus-like line. Each person is turned toward the person on their more liberal side pleading with him to just give up his more liberal views in order for the two to be in fellowship. Of course, he is totally ignoring similar pleas from the person on his more conservative side directed at him.

These disparities in people’s thinking about whom God will save and whom he won’t made me curious about who thought I wasn’t saved. Whenever I would get into a discussion with someone of a Christian faith different from mine, I liked to ask if they thought I was going to hell. I recall one time when I engaged a Mormon acquaintance in a discussion. After a bit I asked, “So, what do you think will happen to me in eternity?” He hem hawed around as I continued to press for an answer. Finally I said, “Look, you won’t hurt my feelings whatever you believe. After all, it won’t be you judging me anyway.” Still I got no straight answer to my question. I had to assume that if he thought I was going to heaven, he would have been happy to say so. Therefore, I guessed he didn’t think I would fair well.

About seven years after becoming a Christian, I de-converted when I became convinced that the Bible was not the word of God. Then it became really interesting asking people where they thought I would spend eternity. Since the Church of Christ generally believes that one can lose his salvation if he falls away from his faith, the answer from them was obvious: “You’re going to hell.” But from other groups, such as Baptists, it was more interesting. Baptists generally believe that once a person becomes saved there is no way for them to become unsaved. So, opinions from Baptists tend to vary. Some think that I am still saved even though I don’t believe the necessary things to be saved. Others think that I was never saved to begin with, which is kind of odd when you think about it. That means that even though I actually had faith in Jesus and confessed and was baptized, I was still bound for hell even though I wasn't aware of that fact. If that is possible, could it be that some of those Baptists who thought I was never saved were themselves never saved. I’ll leave that one for National Enquirer to sort out.

In the mist of all this confusion, I do have a bit of good news, especially for those that are outside God’s favor, knowingly or unknowingly. If the Bible is true, don’t fear. Contrary to what I always believed about it, the Bible does not teach that the unsaved will be tormented forever and ever. Rather it teaches they will be annihilated, never to exist again. I discovered this when I was conducting research for my latest book, “God Is: Exploring the Nature of the Biblical God”. I would love for you to give my book a read and let me know what you think about it.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Luke, I Am Your Founding Father (Liberty and Healthcare)

The founding fathers of the United States were an amazing group of people. Many of them were wealthy, yet were willing to lay all on the line to extricate themselves from the tyranny of the British crown. (In many ways they are like Luke, Han, Leia, and others trying to rid themselves of the empire.) As they said in the Declaration of Independence: "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

These men had a love of liberty and a deep distrust of government. This distrust came about from personal experience. But they still understood that some level of government was necessary in order to insure freedom. Without a proper level of government oversight, society would descend into chaos and anarchy. They believed there had to be an ultimate authority to protect the country as a whole, create law, try and punish criminals, and act as a final arbiter for settling disputes.

The founders did three major things in an attempt to prevent government from growing too powerful. First, they set in place the idea that the country ultimately belonged to all citizens and that the government only operated at their behest. They backed up this idea by creating a Constitution starting with the words "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." The Articles following these words describe and delimit the powers of the Federal Government.

Second, still being distrustful, they created the Bill of Rights to further define the rights of individuals that could not be taken away by government. The Bill of Rights preamble says, "The Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added." And to put a stop to the notion that somehow all of the rights of man had been thought of and included in the Bill of Rights, they said this in the ninth amendment: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

Third, they left it for the states and the people themselves to handle any issues that the Federal Government was not authorized to handle. This was stated clearly in the tenth amendment: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

All of these safeguards took foresight. But, after all, it was Thomas Jefferson himself that said in 1788, "The natural progress of things is for liberty to yeild, and government to gain ground." Yet, the Constitution served the citizens well for many years. But somewhere along the line the politicians came to understand the words of Alexis de Tocqueville, "The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money." In other words, until the day Congress discovers that it can take money away from its citizens by force and then buy their votes by offering some of that money back to them in the form of giveaways and programs.

Today, de Tocqueville's words line the walls of Congress. Not as a reminder of the impending loss of our Republic, but as a reminder of how to get reelected. For many years now, Congress has violated its trust with the public by taking the public's money via taxes, levies, fees, or whatever, and giving it back to certain people in order to assure their votes. This is what I call the politicization of America. But this has happened with the approval of the White House, the Supreme Court, and the citizens themselves in direct opposition to the Constitution. Why? Because we citizens as a whole have bought into the politicians' bribes.

Today, the elephant in the room is national healthcare. It is presently being implemented in the form of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). This is better know as ObamaCare. Bear in mind that PPACA is not a government run healthcare system. It is rather a mandated healthcare system. Private insurers still sell the insurance, but with certain mandates associated with it. Yet, it is still a government controlled healthcare system. So, why be concerned? Two reasons. One is philosophical, the other practical.

Philosophically, we should be concerned with the government controlling anything that is not permitted under the Constitution because that means we the citizens did not authorize it. But didn't the Supreme Court rule that PPACA was Constitutional? Indeed they did. But, I believe they did so using tortured logic, just as they have done with many other government programs over the years. There is no clause in the Constitution or its Amendments that authorizes the Federal Government to be involved in healthcare in any way. The only way you can get that out of it is to greatly stretch the meaning of other clauses. Three commonly stretched clauses are the "general welfare", "regulate commerce", and "lay and collect taxes" clauses. But it seems clear to me that if those clauses can be stretched as far as they have, then there is essentially no need for the Constitution. Just let Congress do what they want. But, as you may have observed, politicians still like having that ole Constitution around. They like to use it to hammer opponents wanting something opposed to it and conveniently ignore it when they want something opposed to it.

Practically, I am skeptical of the long term success of the PPACA. Why? Because of how other government controlled systems have fared over the years. Look at Social Security and Medicare. Both are on the brink of failure. Why? Because, as usual, politicians have overpromised, expanding these programs in order to get elected. In other words, the programs have become politicized. Social Security was put into place at a time when most people didn't even live to see any money out of the system. Yet, even as lifespans increased and the number of children being born decreased, more benefits were added to the Social Security program. Medicare suffers from something similar. As people live longer and new technology keeps adding more medical costs to an aging person's life, fewer children are coming along to pay for it.

So, unless some radical changes are made to SS and Medicare, they will become unsustainable in a few years. Yet, the politicians keep talking about how successful these programs have been. Well, yes, perhaps for a while. But the politicians' meddling and unwillingness to change these systems in crisis will ultimately lead to their failure. What makes us think that the government will handle national healthcare any differently, whether it be government run or just government controlled?

On the other hand, perhaps there is no reason for concern. If we can just jury rig all these government programs so they last until after we die, who cares? We can benefit from these programs during our life and let our children worry about the fallout. Yeah, that's the ticket. Stick it to the younger generation! Well, that's tempting, but I don't roll that way. I believe that each generation should live within its own means and pass on a country that is better than the one it inherited. Call me old fashioned, but that's me.

So, based on the wisdom of the founding fathers and my knowledge of history and how governments operate, I believe that, over the long haul, liberty and charity work much better than all inclusive government programs.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Response to Joel Anderson's Critique of My Book, Part 3

Dr. Joel Anderson, ever the prolific author, has written a third post critiquing my book "God Is: Exploring the Nature of the Biblical God". Below is my response.

I enjoyed Joel's discussion about the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. It is amazing that after all these years people are still discussing the same issues that were discussed back then.

Briefly, I just wanted to say that I do not believe that the following statement from Joel is necessarily true: "But since we cannot cause our own change, our becoming must be caused by someone or something else—but that someone or something else must be pure actuality, without any potentiality." If the Universe is eternal, then it seems quite possible that the ability to move from a potential to an actual could be a part of its inherent nature.

I mainly wanted to touch on the difference between Joel and I concerning the Adam and Eve story being "fiction". It puzzled me at first, but I believe I know what's happening. When I said that the Adam and Eve story was fiction, I was speaking to reality rather than literature. I believe that events of the past and the present have either actually happened or they have not. I divide these into fact and fiction. So, my calling early Genesis fiction was intended solely as a statement about its actually happening, not what category of literature it belongs to. So, I believe Joel and I are mostly in agreement on this issue. I believe that early Genesis is an attempt on the author's part to create a narrative about the origins of the cosmos and man and how man first came to do evil. I believe that Joel believes this also. He can correct me if I am wrong on this.

I see two problems with early Genesis being myth rather than fact. First, there are many people who believe that the Adam and Eve story is literally true. How does one convince them otherwise? Secondly, given that the narrative is myth, it leaves the story open to many interpretations. For instance, what is to be made of the serpent given that the we are told that God had created a very good world, yet a part of that creation is an animal that can lead man astray? I can see many differing meanings one can draw. Perhaps Joel can enlighten me on that one given his more extensive study of the era in which Genesis was written.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Response to Joel Anderson's Critique of My Book, Part 2

Dr. Joel Anderson has written a second post critiquing my book "God Is: Exploring the Nature of the Biblical God". Below is my rebuttal.

Surprise! I don't actually have a rebuttal. Joel was pretty much in agreement with my conclusions in the "God is Self-Sufficient" chapter.

But I do want to add a couple of things.

Much of the "God is Self-Sufficient" chapter of my book centers around a discussion of God's perfection and why he would create anything if he is totally self-sufficient. In Christian literature, self-sufficiency seems to be one of the attributes defining perfection. However, I challenged the prevailing beliefs about perfection and Joel seemed to agree with that challenge.

The problem with humans discussing perfection is that we consider even ourselves imperfect, making mistakes fairly regularly. So, my question is, "Is it possible for imperfect people to recognize perfection given that our view of perfection is most likely imperfect?" In other words, can we humans even know what perfection entails? The perplexity of this simple question has profound implications.

Suppose a perfect person was born into this world, as it was claimed that Jesus Christ was. How would he be viewed? I think it obvious that a few would consider him to be perfect, others would see him as being slightly flawed, some would view him as just another flawed human that was no better or worse than any other human, and some might even consider him evil. And lo and behold, that is exactly how the responses to Jesus' life played out in the Gospels. But how could this be?

Simple. We all have a different idea of what constitutes perfection. But if this is so, how can we ever know who, if anyone, is perfect? The answer will be unsatisfactory to some. WE CAN'T! The only way to recognize perfection perfectly would be for there to exist some absolute standard of perfection of which everyone was aware.

Of course, some people claim that the God of their religion represents perfection. But there are many religions. The gods of each are different and incompatible. So, can they all be perfect? And within each religion there are many sects with differing views of the God they worship. This is even true on a congregational level. That being the case, whose view of God is the right one and thus the one pointing us to perfection? Who is qualified to make that determination?

All of the above assumes that God is indeed perfect. Most religions seem to believe this. For example, here's a quote from a recent "Questions Answered" from Bible Gateway: "Though the connection between God’s sovereignty and human freedom is mysterious from our perspective, we must remember that God is, by definition, completely good in his actions."

Where did this definition of God being completely good come from? Why is it necessary for God to always be good or perfect? Couldn't God be both good and bad and still be the creator of the Universe? And who gets to decide the answers to these questions?

If you haven't picked up on the real issue here, it's that the word "perfection" is a relative term like the word "cold". You can have a group of people in the same room at the same temperature and humidity and some would say it was warm, some would say it was cool, and some would say it was cold. Who's right? They all are. That's because "cold" is a term that relates how individual bodies respond to air temperature and humidity. Well, "perfection" is similar. Each person has a different view of perfection based on a combination of genetics and life experiences. Fortunately, there are some aspects of perfection that an overwhelming majority of people agree on. This allows us to live together as a community and a nation with laws that restrict certain imperfect behaviors.

That's all I have for now. There will probably be more discussion about this matter as Joel critiques additional chapters of my book.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Response to Joel Anderson's Critique of My Book, Part 1

My friend, Joel Anderson, has written his first blog post critiquing my book "God Is: Exploring the Nature of the Biblical God". For some reason, Google was not allowing me to post a response directly on his blog, so I am posting it here on mine.

Thanks, Joel. You are a man of your word, and I appreciate that.

I just wanted to make a few points of clarification.

Reason and logic are not a panacea. To live our lives 100% by R&L requires us to have all knowledge related to a topic and to be capable of flawless logic. In this temporal life, we rarely have the time to gather all relevant information and examine it thoroughly. We almost always make decisions based on partial knowledge. Faith bridges the gap. So R&L and faith are both needed to function properly in this life. That said, I believe the more we use R&L, the closer to the truth we will come.

When I say that we should examine the Bible through the filter of R&L, what I am saying is that if there are any obvious contradictions or irrationalities, it is not a good idea to just accept them by faith. It is best to say, "Well, the Bible has flaws in it" rather than say "I don't understand these seeming contradictions, but I know the Bible is 100% true, so I believe it anyway."

While some Christians believe the Bible should be accepted by faith alone, others actually believe in some combination of faith and reason. Once a Christian friend said to me, "People need to understand that the Bible should be believed by faith." I said, "If that's true, then why can't a person believe ANY religion by faith?" Knowing he was cornered he responded, "Well, I guess one needs to use faith and reason." I said, "Exactly! The problem is now how much of each?"

Also, notice that I didn't say in my book that only natural explanations should be accepted for reported supernatural events. I said if any natural explanations exist they are to be preferred. I fail to see how this is controversial. Even Christians do this when it comes to current day events. If someone says he killed another person because God commanded him to, even a Christian would not believe it without an abundance of proof. But when the Old Testament reports that God commanded the Israelites to kill people, they accept it without an abundance of proof. That is illogical to me. Be skeptical of both.

Since I have never experienced any supernatural events (something that defies the known laws of physics and nature) in my entire life, it seems reasonable to me that I should be skeptical of supernatural reports from others. After all, when many of these claims are actually investigated, a natural explanation is found. Other times we find that the person was fooled, exaggerating, or lying. But if the gospel stories are indeed true, then I am not nearly as skeptical as the apostles were of Jesus' resurrection. They disbelieved the testimony of their friends even though they had seen Jesus perform many miracles and had themselves performed them. They still had to see physical proof. I ask no more. (See http://www.rcfinch.com/philosophy/TheApostlesAreOurExample.pdf)

Finally, I am a skeptic, but more accurately I call myself a theistic leaning agnostic. That means that I don't know for sure if God exists, but I tend to believe he does. But based on all the evidence I have encountered along my space-time continuum path, I do not believe supernatural events occur. It doesn't mean they don't, it just means that I am very skeptical based on my experiences. The reason I mostly believe in a god (or creator), is that the Universe doesn't seem to be able to explain its own existence. That may change with more research, but currently it seems more knowledge just leads to more questions. What I don't believe is that God is any of the ones portrayed by the religions of the world. I believe the descriptions of the gods in religions are just how the writers of the holy books personally viewed God. A person in any of these religions would be just as skeptical as me about all other religions but their own. I am just skeptical of one more than they are.

If God exists, it appears he has given mankind the gift of reason to keep us from believing the unbelievable. Surely he would not want us to squander this ability.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Response to a Commentary by Tim Wildmon

Today on "Today's Issues with Tim Wildmon" on American Family Radio, Tim Wildmon was interviewing Sallie Hite McDaniel. During their discussion about McDaniel's new book Jesus is My Thesis, Wildmon asked some interesting questions. Paraphrasing: "Why are some atheists so militant about debunking the beliefs of Christians given that they do not believe in God and the set of morals given by Him? If there are no absolute morals, why would an atheist care what other people believe?" McDaniel's answer was the typical one. Atheists do not want to be burdened with a lifestyle mandated by God. They want to be able to do what pleases them without any restrictions.

I believe it is true that some atheists oppose religion simply because they do not want other people telling them how to live their lives. But for most of them I believe it only becomes a problem when certain behaviors are banned by law. In other words, I believe most atheists don't really have a problem with religious people expressing an opinion about what is moral and what is not as long as it remains an opinion. But if religious people are able to get a certain behavior banned by law where getting caught results in punishment, the atheist would then object. But even atheists would be opposed to such things as murder, rape, theft, etc., and would want them outlawed. What's the difference? Well, these latter activities involve using force against other people, which essentially everyone agrees should be punishable by law. It's those consensual activities such as homosexuality, premarital sex, and so on, that the atheist believes should remain outside the courtroom.

That being said, I realize that there are also some atheists that are trying to bring religion to its knees. They want religion destroyed. But if they truly believe that no set of morals is any better than another, then indeed this doesn't make any sense. How can a person justify trying to destroy other people's beliefs in the name of protecting his own? Even so, it seems that the justification for these atheists' animosity is that they believe religion as a whole is detrimental to society as a whole. And indeed, this is something I have pondered myself. History and my own observations show that many people do many good things in the name of their religion. But it is also true that much evil has been done in the name of religion. So, does the good outweigh the bad? To me, that is not an easy question to answer. In an overarching sense, I tend to believe it balances itself out. Good people will do good with or without religion. Bad people will do bad with or without religion. It is more a mental issue than a religious issue.

I was glad to hear Wildmon say that he could respect an honest agnostic more than a militant atheist. That is because I am personally an honest agnostic. And not just any ole agnostic. I am a theistic leaning agnostic. By that I mean that I more believe there is a God than not. Specifically, it's 75.314159% theist and 24.685841% atheist. ;>) What I do not believe is that God intervenes in our natural world. Why? Because I have not personally experienced him doing so or seen any credible evidence of him doing so. And yes, I understand that just because I haven't seen any evidence doesn't necessarily make me right. Then why do I still lean toward believing in God? Because our Universe does not appear to be eternal, but cannot explain its own existence. The deeper physicists dig into the nature of the cosmos, the more questions there seem to be about its existence. Given our current state of knowledge, it makes more sense to me that a being outside our natural realm is responsible for creating the Universe than the Universe somehow created itself. Science seems to be good at learning how the Universe works, but not so good at learning why the Universe works.

So, if God exists, which one is it? Which religion got it right? I personally don't think any religion got it right. All religions appear to be based on the writings and thoughts of men. And as we all know, men are fallible and oftentimes believe things that simply aren't true. Since I grew up in a society that is mostly Christian, it was only natural that I spent most of my time reading the Bible. Being in agreement with apologists like Josh McDowell, I realized that my beliefs could not be based purely on faith since any religion can be believed by faith alone. Reasoned evidence must accompany my belief. After becoming a Christian in 1980, I began reading the Bible in earnest. After much study, I concluded that the God of the Bible was not real and that Jesus was not divine. The thought that finally allowed me to say without fear that I was no longer a Christian was, "What if God exists and Jesus was just a man, as the evidence indicates? Would God approve of me worshipping a fellow human being as though he were God himself?" To remain honest with myself, I had to de-convert.

So, based on my many years of study and observation, I have concluded, as did Thomas Paine, that God is only knowable by what he created, not by any revelation given to select individuals.

It is only in the Creation that all our ideas and conceptions of a word of God can unite. The Creation speaketh an universal language, independently of human speech or human language, multiplied and various as they may be. It is an ever-existing original, which every man can read. It cannot be forged; it cannot be counterfeited; it cannot be lost; it cannot be altered; it cannot be suppressed. It does not depend upon the will of man whether it shall be published or not; it publishes itself from one end of the earth to the other. It preaches to all nations and to all worlds; and this word of God reveals to man all that is necessary for man to know of God. (Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, p. 32)
This is a very insightful statement; one that I quote in my most recent book. If you want to learn more about my study of the Bible and the conclusions I drew, please read my book God Is: Exploring the Nature of the Biblical God.

Britain From A to Z: I


I’m not sure how often a particular musical instrument can be easily associated with a particular country, but in the case of bagpipes it seems to be true. Ask anyone where bagpipes originated and the great majority will certainly answer, “Outer Mongolia.” No, of course it would be Scotland. And there seemed to be no shortage of bagpipers in Scotland. In Edinburgh, we saw one at a Scottish show and another in a contemporary band at a park. We saw one on a video at a store. We even saw two at different roadside stops in the middle of nowhere in the highlands. That’s all good since I actually enjoy bagpipes…in moderation.
Roadside Bagpiper in Scottish Highlands

What you might not realize is that Scottish and Irish music heavily influenced bluegrass music here in the US. This is of interest to me since I used to play 5-string banjo in a band that played bluegrass music as part of an eclectic repertoire. We did not have the pleasure of visiting Ireland while on our UK trip, but we did get a taste of bluegrass sounding music while at Jamie’s Scottish Evening at the Thistle Hotel in Edinburgh. The fiddle player was both fast and excellent, providing a sound very similar to bluegrass music. The difference came from their having a drummer, keyboardist, and accordionist. Oh, and not to forget the occasional bagpiper. By the way, no bluegrass band members would be caught dead in a kilt. There was also dancing at the show. However, rather than clogging or square dancing, they did something I would call flying triangle dancing.

Musicians at Jamie's Scottish Evening

Flying Triangle Dancer

Apparently there is an instrument that is thought to be originally from Wales called a Crwth. I believe the name kind of gave it away. It’s a strangely shaped six-stringed instrument similar to a guitar, but has a fretless fingerboard and is played with a bow like a violin. If you ask me, it looks like something from an alien planet on Star Trek: The Original Series. I wish we’d had an opportunity to hear someone play this instrument. It would have been a great time to wear the James T. Kirk outfit I carried with me.

Although the harp is not considered exclusively a Welsh instrument, it seems to play a pretty large role in much of their music. The wife of the emcee at the Welsh banquet at Cardiff Castle played a harp during the show. This was a bit confusing since the emcee was the one that looked like Harpo Marx.

Harpist at the Cardiff Castle Welsh Banquet

Emcee, Comedian, and Flutist at the Cardiff Castle Welsh Banquet

So what about England? Well, I’m glad you asked. I have to say that I believe the most famous instruments to come out of England were the rhythm guitar, lead guitar, bass guitar, and drums. Actually, it wasn’t so much the instruments that were famous, but rather the people behind them. Perhaps you remember the names John, Paul, George, and Ringo. You know, the Herman’s Hermits. Nah, the HHs were big, but not as big as THE BEATLES, as you can see with the “all caps.” When we were in Liverpool we took a bus tour about the city, seeing a number of places that the Beatle boys frequented. We also went to The Beatles Story, a museum and a place of worship. Don’t laugh. Just look at the old clips of THE BEATLES first visit to the US as part of the British Invasion. People raising their hands, speaking in tongues, and being slain in the rock and roll spirit. However, it did originally appear to be mostly a female religion. The guys didn’t catch on until later.

Entrance to the Worship Center

Faux Paul, George, John, and Ringo

And that's all I have to say about that.