Political books 17

Right is Wrong                  Arianna Huffington           Oct 2008
What Makes People Vote Republican?         Jonathan Haidt     Oct 2008
God's Problem                   Bart D. Ehrman                Oct. 2008
Hot, Flat, and Crowded    Thomas L. Friedman         Nov 2008

Right is Wrong      Arianna Huffington           Oct 2008
Subtitle:  How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe (and what you need to know to the the madness)

C1  The Right Goes Wrong  

The Radical Takeover  

The Only Thing We Have to Fear  

The Fear-Mongering Hall of Shame  

Big Brothers and our Lizard Brain  

C2  The Media: Equal Time for Lies

Unbalanced Balance  

The Pontius Pilate Press

Right vs. Left vs. Right vs. Wrong  

On the One Hand, the Truth  

The National Intelligence Estimate Exposes the Unintelligent National Media  

The Pro-and-Con Con  

Titillated by Terror  

Broken News  

The News Cycle's Appeals Court  

Libby Scoots, Press Snoozes  
Antiwar Hero in the Crosshairs

The Day the Press Fought Back 

As the Press Room Turns: Scott and David--A Lovers' Quarrel  

A Mine Collapses, the Media Misses the Story  

Hurricane Katrina Blows Off the Front Page  

The Right's Horror Double Feature: Conventional Wisdom and Zombie Lies   

C3  The Media: Snoozers, Losers, and the Honor Roll

How Wong Do You Have to Be to Get Kicked Out of the Media?  

Trying to Win the War on Words  

Not everyone Was Wrong About the War  

The Fool's Gold Standard

C4  Dim Bulbs: Congress's Low-Wattage Energy Bill

Coal in the Stocking--the Christmas Energy Bill of 2007 

Corporate Welfare Gone Wild 

Heads in the Sand of the Middle East 

Lining the Pockets of Terrorists and Tyrants 


Bush's Dangerous Addiction to Dishonesty 

Oil's Fair in Love and ANWR 

Why the Right Is Wrong on Energy Policy

C5  The Right's War on Science

Requiem for an Atoll 

Evolution Devolves into Evil-ution 

Not Even Warm on Global Warming 

Bush Takes the Public's Temperature 

Pro-Life Becomes Pro-Cell 

Why the Right Is Wrong About Science 

C6  Iraq: The Beginning of a War Without End

American Waterloo

The Iraq Obsession 

The Imperial Delusion: Crazy Talk from the Right 

Kristol Unclear 

Sweets and Flowers 

Cakewalk: Days of Shock and Awe 

Mission Accomplished! 

Facts?  We Don't Need No Stinkin' Facts 

A Factual Quagmire 

Why the Right Was Wrong About Iraq--the Beginning 

C7  Iraq: The Long Hard Slog Gets Longer and Sloggier

When in Doubt, Revise Your Talking Points 

Defining Victory Down 

Karl Rove's Remorseless, Soulless Attempt to Rewrite History 

Cut and Run 


Sunnis and Shiites Step Up Violence in Iraq to Affect the 2006 Election 

In the Rear with Gear 

Civil War, Insurgency, and "Last Throes" 


Why the Right Was Wrong About Iraq

C8  Iraq: Petraeus Ex Machina

An Escalation by Any Other Name 

Surgin' General 

A New, Improved Iraq War 

Selling the Surge, Surging the Sell 

Clouds Still Outnumber Silver Linings 

The Highly Offensive Optimistic Offensive 

Petraeus Storms Capitol Hill, Congress and the Press Surrender Without a Fight 

"Surge Mission Accomplished" 

Why the Right Is Still Wrong About Iraq  

C9  Casualties of War: Neglecting Afghanistan Empowering Iran

Axis of Error 

Iran-dioactive Dreams 

Groundhog Day in the Middle East 

The Persian Carpet Gets Pulled 

Afghanistan, the Other Debacle 

Why the Right is Wrong About Iran, Afghanistan and Endless War  

C10  Torture: America Loses the Moral High Ground

The Nea-Cons Embrace Torture 

It Depends on What Your Definition of "Torture" Is 

Make It Sound Benign 

Make Sure It Doesn't Show 

"You Don't Understand What We Are Dealing With" 

Giving Torture the Third Degree 

Why the Right Is Wrong About Torture  

C11 Xenophobia 2.0: The Immigration Fixation

The Return of the Ugly American 

The Strange Case of the 2005 CNN Leprosy Epidemic 

Denying Drivers' Licenses: A Head-On Collision 

Giant Barbed-Wire Fences Make for Great Neighbors 

The Jobs Americans Don't Want to Do? 

Why the Right is Wrong on Immigration  

C12  The Right's Recession

Poverty as a Punch Line 

Subprime Chickens Home to Roost 

The Iraq Recession 

Katrina Relief: Iraq on the Bayou 

The Tax Cut Cult 

Government as the Enemy 

The New Robber Barons 

Right-Wing Foxes Guarding the Regulatory Henhouse 

Deregulation Disasters 

Why the Right Is Wrong About the Economy  

C13  Sick, Sick, Sick: The Right's Unhealthy Approach to Health Care

Budget Cuts Bleed the Old, the Poor, and the Ill 

Emergency in the ER 

Our Sick Society 

SCHIP Crumbles 

The Right Swift-Boats a Twelve-Year-Old 

America's Top Doc Gets Quarantined 

The Flat-Earth Anti-Condom Chorus 

America's Real Drug Problem 

Medicare Mess: Part D Gets an F 

Lowering Costs: Hooray for the VA 

The Right's Health Care Elixir: Another Tax Cut 

Why the Right Is Wrong About Health Care  

C14  Gods, Guns, and the Right's New Democracy

Democracy for Dummies 

Executive Power Run Amok 

Justice on Earth and in Heaven 


The Terror Top Ten List 

Fear as an Applause Line 

Gun Crazy 

Putting the Good Book to Bad Use 

The Right's Perverted Priorities 

The Real Obscenity 

The Real Moral Values of Values Voters 

Why the Right is Wrong About Civil Liberties and Moral Values  

C15  John McCain: Hijacked by the Right

Righting the Wrongs of the Right

The book contains 42 pages of source notes and 12 pages of index.  

Return to   Top Directory       Main Directory File

What Makes People Vote Republican?            [9.9.08] By Jonathan Haidt

What Makes People Vote Republican? (excerpts) Submitted by Jack Miller

I have long asked "Why to people vote against their own self interest?"  And "Why are facts far less important than perception?"  Here are some insights.

...the second rule of moral psychology is that morality is not just about how we treat each other (as most liberals think); it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way. When Republicans say that Democrats "just don't get it," this is the "it" to which they refer.


JONATHAN HAIDT is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, where he does research on morality and emotion and how they vary across cultures. He is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom.


What makes people vote Republican? Why in particular do working class and rural Americans usually vote for pro-business Republicans when their economic interests would seem better served by Democratic policies? We psychologists have been examining the origins of ideology ever since Hitler sent us Germany's best psychologists, and we long ago reported that strict parenting and a variety of personal insecurities work together to turn people against liberalism, diversity, and progress. But now that we can map the brains, genes, and unconscious attitudes of conservatives, we have refined our diagnosis: conservatism is a partially heritable personality trait that predisposes some people to be cognitively inflexible, fond of hierarchy, and inordinately afraid of uncertainty, change, and death. People vote Republican because Republicans offer "moral clarity"—a simple vision of good and evil that activates deep seated fears in much of the electorate. Democrats, in contrast, appeal to reason with their long-winded explorations of policy options for a complex world.

Diagnosis is a pleasure. It is a thrill to solve a mystery from scattered clues, and it is empowering to know what makes others tick. In the psychological community, where almost all of us are politically liberal, our diagnosis of conservatism gives us the additional pleasure of shared righteous anger. We can explain how Republicans exploit frames, phrases, and fears to trick Americans into supporting policies (such as the "war on terror" and repeal of the "death tax") that damage the national interest for partisan advantage.

But with pleasure comes seduction, and with righteous pleasure comes seduction wearing a halo. Our diagnosis explains away Republican successes while convincing us and our fellow liberals that we hold the moral high ground. Our diagnosis tells us that we have nothing to learn from other ideologies, and it blinds us to what I think is one of the main reasons that so many Americans voted Republican over the last 30 years: they honestly prefer the Republican vision of a moral order to the one offered by Democrats. To see what Democrats have been missing, it helps to take off the halo, step back for a moment, and think about what morality really is.

For my dissertation research, I made up stories about people who did things that were disgusting or disrespectful yet perfectly harmless. For example, what do you think about a woman who can't find any rags in her house so she cuts up an old American flag and uses the pieces to clean her toilet, in private? Or how about a family whose dog is killed by a car, so they dismember the body and cook it for dinner? I read these stories to 180 young adults and 180 eleven-year-old children, half from higher social classes and half from lower, in the USA and in Brazil. I found that most of the people I interviewed said that the actions in these stories were morally wrong, even when nobody was harmed. Only one group—college students at Penn—consistently exemplified Turiel's definition of morality and overrode their own feelings of disgust to say that harmless acts were not wrong. (A few even praised the efficiency of recycling the flag and the dog).

This research led me to two conclusions. First, when gut feelings are present, dispassionate reasoning is rare. In fact, many people struggled to fabricate harmful consequences that could justify their gut-based condemnation. I often had to correct people when they said things like "it's wrong because… um…eating dog meat would make you sick" or "it's wrong to use the flag because… um… the rags might clog the toilet." These obviously post-hoc rationalizations illustrate the philosopher David Hume's dictum that reason is "the slave of the passions, and can pretend to no other office than to serve and obey them." This is the first rule of moral psychology: feelings come first and tilt the mental playing field on which reasons and arguments compete. If people want to reach a conclusion, they can usually find a way to do so. The Democrats have historically failed to grasp this rule, choosing uninspiring and aloof candidates who thought that policy arguments were forms of persuasion.

The second conclusion was that the moral domain varies across cultures. Turiel's description of morality as being about justice, rights, and human welfare worked perfectly for the college students I interviewed at Penn, but it simply did not capture the moral concerns of the less elite groups—the working-class people in both countries who were more likely to justify their judgments with talk about respect, duty, and family roles...I would say that the second rule of moral psychology is that morality is not just about how we treat each other (as most liberals think); it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way.

When Republicans say that Democrats "just don't get it," this is the "it" to which they refer. Conservative positions on gays, guns, god, and immigration must be understood as means to achieve one kind of morally ordered society. When Democrats try to explain away these positions using pop psychology they err, they alienate, and they earn the label "elitist." But how can Democrats learn to see—let alone respect—a moral order they regard as narrow-minded, racist, and dumb?

…My first few weeks in Bhubaneswar were therefore filled with feelings of shock and confusion. I dined with men whose wives silently served us and then retreated to the kitchen. My hosts gave me a servant of my own and told me to stop thanking him when he served me. I watched people bathe in and cook with visibly polluted water that was held to be sacred. In short, I was immersed in a sex-segregated, hierarchically stratified, devoutly religious society, and I was committed to understanding it on its own terms, not on mine.

It only took a few weeks for my shock to disappear, not because I was a natural anthropologist but because the normal human capacity for empathy kicked in. I liked these people who were hosting me, helping me, and teaching me. And once I liked them (remember that first principle of moral psychology) it was easy to take their perspective and to consider with an open mind the virtues they thought they were enacting. Rather than automatically rejecting the men as sexist oppressors and pitying the women, children, and servants as helpless victims, I was able to see a moral world in which families, not individuals, are the basic unit of society, and the members of each extended family (including its servants) are intensely interdependent. In this world, equality and personal autonomy were not sacred values. Honoring elders, gods, and guests, and fulfilling one's role-based duties, were more important…

…In The Political Brain, Drew Westen points out that the Republicans have become the party of the sacred, appropriating not just the issues of God, faith, and religion, but also the sacred symbols of the nation such as the Flag and the military. The Democrats, in the process, have become the party of the profane—of secular life and material interests. Democrats often seem to think of voters as consumers; they rely on polls to choose a set of policy positions that will convince 51% of the electorate to buy. Most Democrats don't understand that politics is more like religion than it is like shopping.

Religion and political leadership are so intertwined across eras and cultures because they are about the same thing: performing the miracle of converting unrelated individuals into a group. Durkheim long ago said that God is really society projected up into the heavens, a collective delusion that enables collectives to exist, suppress selfishness, and endure. The three Durkheimian foundations (ingroup, authority, and purity) play a crucial role in most religions. When they are banished entirely from political life, what remains is a nation of individuals striving to maximize utility while respecting the rules. What remains is a cold but fair social contract, which can easily degenerate into a nation of shoppers.

The Democrats must find a way to close the sacredness gap that goes beyond occasional and strategic uses of the words "God" and "faith." But if Durkheim is right, then sacredness is really about society and its collective concerns. God is useful but not necessary. The Democrats could close much of the gap if they simply learned to see society not just as a collection of individuals—each with a panoply of rights--but as an entity in itself, an entity that needs some tending and caring. Our national motto is e pluribus unum ("from many, one"). Whenever Democrats support policies that weaken the integrity and identity of the collective (such as multiculturalism, bilingualism, and immigration), they show that they care more about pluribus than unum. They widen the sacredness gap.

…The ingroup/loyalty foundation supports virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice that can lead to dangerous nationalism, but in moderate doses a sense that "we are all one" is a recipe for high social capital and civic well-being. A recent study by Robert Putnam (titled E Pluribus Unum) found that ethnic diversity increases anomie and social isolation by decreasing people's sense of belonging to a shared community. Democrats should think carefully, therefore, about why they celebrate diversity. If the purpose of diversity programs is to fight racism and discrimination (worthy goals based on fairness concerns), then these goals might be better served by encouraging assimilation and a sense of shared identity…

If Democrats want to understand what makes people vote Republican, they must first understand the full spectrum of American moral concerns. They should then consider whether they can use more of that spectrum themselves. The Democrats would lose their souls if they ever abandoned their commitment to social justice, but social justice is about getting fair relationships among the parts of the nation. This often divisive struggle among the parts must be balanced by a clear and oft-repeated commitment to guarding the precious coherence of the whole. America lacks the long history, small size, ethnic homogeneity, and soccer mania that holds many other nations together, so our flag, our founding fathers, our military, and our common language take on a moral importance that many liberals find hard to fathom.

Unity is not the great need of the hour; it is the eternal struggle of our immigrant nation. The three Durkheimian foundations of ingroup, authority, and purity are powerful tools in that struggle. Until Democrats understand this point, they will be vulnerable to the seductive but false belief that Americans vote for Republicans primarily because they have been duped into doing so.

Return to   Top Directory       Main Directory File

God's Problem                     Bart D. Ehrman       Oct. 2008
            How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer
            James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the
            University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

From the front flap:  What do various biblical writers say?
C1  Suffering and a Crisis of Faith  If there is an all-powerful and loving God in this world, why is there so much excruciating pain and unspeakable suffering?  This is the question that caused the author's crises of faith.  Ehrman was a devout Christian, an ordained minister who attended some of the most prestigious schools of theology and holds a PhD of New Testament studies from Princeton.  The last time he attended church was a Christmas Eve service in England.  The congregational prayer was specifically written for the occasion and given by a layperson.  It was delivered wonderfully and it brought tears to his eyes.  They were not tears of joy, but tears of frustration.  Why had the God who presumably answered prayers and delivered the people of the Old Testament seemingly forgotten us now?  During the period it took for the prayer more than 700 children died of hunger; 250 died from drinking unsafe water, and nearly 300 people died from malaria.  And that doesn't count those who had been raped, mutilated, tortured, dismembered, murdered, were caught up in the human trade industry, the hungry, the homeless, and those with mental disease not to mention all other causes of suffering.

There are three statements that need to be solved to explain suffering in the world.  These are: God is all powerful.  God is all loving.  There is suffering.  How can all three be true?  If God is all powerful then he can remove suffering.  If he is all loving then he wants the best for people.  Yet there is suffering.  How can this be?  Epicurus stated the problem 2,500 years ago.  
Is God willing to prevent evil but not able?  Then he is impotent.
Is he able but not willing?  Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing:  Whence, then, evil?
One of the simplest solutions that most people come up with very quickly, but it very seldom mentioned in the Bible is that of free will.  It is easy to demonstrate that much evil which causes suffering it the result of the evil done by people.  However this cannot explain all suffering.  

Because of his own experiences and the experience of teaching classes on this subject he decided to write a book on the subject.  It is important for several reasons:
Many people believe that the Bible has one simple answer to every problem, this is not so.  It is also true that many only follow selected parts of the Bible.  For example: the same books that condemn same-sex relations also require people to stone their children to death if they are disobedient, to execute anyone who does any work on Saturday, who eats port chops, or who wears shirts of two kinds of fabric.  Therefore it is important to see what the Bible actually says, and not to pretend it doesn't say something that happens to contradict one's own particular point of view.  

Ehrman doesn't want to provide easy solutions or to attack the question philosophically.  He simply wants to ask a series of questions.
C2  Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God: The Classical View of Suffering  
            Suffering and the Holocaust  Eleven million people were killed, six million Jews and five million others.  How can we explain all of these people being killed just for who they were?  How can this be justified in a biblical context?

            Suffering as Punishment: The Biblical Background  The books of the Pentateuch were based on ancient stories passed down verbally and finally placed into written form about 500 BCE.  The next set of books (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings) are more of a later history and description of God's relationship with the Israelites.  The later prophets were more concerned with the destruction of Israel by Assyrians and the Babylonians.  This is the major place where suffering comes to the Jews.  

            Introduction to the Prophets  Contrary to the beliefs of many conservative Christians today the prophets were strictly concerned with events occurring in their own time, 2700 - 2500 years ago.  They saw themselves as delivering God's word to the Jews.  They were giving God's instructions to the people and telling of the consequences if these instructions were not followed - at that time.  

            Amos of Tekoa  He promises defeat to Israel's neighbors and then he tells what God will do to Israel if his laws are not followed.  Suffering is the result of sin.  Many of these sins were social sins, wealthy oppressing the poor, etc.

            Hosea Son of Beeri  Similar to Amos, suffering will come because of your sins, however these were primarily worshiping other gods.

            Other Prophets, Same Refrain  Most of the later prophets had a similar message.  He quotes from Jeremiah and Isaiah.  However they have the same hopeful message, if you return to God your suffering will end.  

            An Initial Assessment  Almost all of the messages of the prophets are of the form, you have sinned against God, you are (and will be punished), and if you repent and change your ways your suffering will end.  However they are talking strictly to the people of Israel and not to other peoples, they have their own Gods and they are not His concern.

C3  More Sin and More Wrath: The Dominance of the Classical View of Suffering  How can we explain the deaths of 15 million in WW I and 50-60 million in WW II?  He described his fathers experiences in WW II.  

            The Prophetic View Revised  The Book of Proverbs has many sayings that repeat the prophets, sin results in suffering.  However they also say that the virtuous will be blessed.  How about the virtuous who are not blessed?  

            Illustration: Some Familiar Stories from the Beginning  Adam and Eve are tempted by the Serpent.  Adam will now be forced to work, Eve will have the pains of childbirth, and the serpent will loose its legs and slither on its belly.  Question? How can childbirth not be somewhat painful if that is the penalty of God?  Other similar events occur with Noah and Lot.  

            At the End of the Pentateuch  Deuteronomy tells the story of Moses giving the people the Law the second time.  Again, blessed if you obey the law, suffering if you do not.

            Other Historical Books of Scripture  The books following Deuteronomy (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings) accept the basic outlook of Deuteronomy.  

            The Jewish Sacrifice System  Today most people think of religion as belief however in ancient Israel and in most other ancient societies religion was about worshiping God properly.  This meant performing sacred rituals in divinely ordinated ways.  The religion of Israel was a religion of sacrifice.  If you sinned you must perform the correct sacrifice.  Early sacrifice was a human (Abraham and his son), later it would become animals, and Christians believe that Jesus was sacrificed for our sins.  

            Substitutionary Sacrifice in Second Isaiah  (Isaiah 40-55)  You have sinned and suffered for it, with sacrifice your kingdom will be restored.  Side note - the servant is never mentioned as the messiah.  The servant is Israel which is the servant of God.  

            The Christian Understanding of Atonement  Second Isaiah was speaking to Israel in exile to show that the punishment from god was sufficient for a reconciliation but later Christians thought that his words were a future reference to a messiah.  The concept of sacrifice has changed from one offered after the sin to a sacrifice before the sin.  

            Other Instances of the Classical View in the New Testament  Also we have a change, the payment for sin no longer comes in this life, but in the afterlife.  

            A Tentative Evaluation  The classical view of sinning against the laws of God in the Old Testament and part of the New Testament bringing punishment, in life for the Old Testament and in the afterlife for the New Testament are very similar.  Unfortunately in the Hebrew Bible God didn't keep his part of the bargain.  This caused great distress to many, how have we offended him?  

C4  The Consequences of Sin  Again, why do we have suffering without any obvious evidence of sin?  He discusses a survivor of Pol Pot's regime in Cambodia.  Why did this survivor and his family have to suffer so when the author had so few problems?

            The Consequences of Sin According to the Prophets  The prophets often described suffering that doesn't come from God because of God's wrath, but comes from other humans.  Sometimes they have violated God's law in terms of religious transgressions but other times because of social transgressions.  But for social transgressions, slavery, poverty, etc. the person who is transgressed against still suffers.  In this suffering comes not only from God, it comes from others.  

            The Consequences of Sin in the Historical Books  Again, most sins are sins against other people.  Much description of sins against people in the Hebrew Bible.

            The Consequences of Sin in the New Testament  The Gospels do not contain a detailed description of the crucification.  The people living at that time knew exactly what crucifixion was, they didn't need to describe it.  There are very few references to this in other writings from this time.  Stoning is also mentioned.  Paul uses his suffering to prove that he is a true apostle.  There are other stories of suffering to prove that one was holy.  

            Reactions to Suffering  The writers of Scripture reacted much like people do today, outrage, grief, frustration, helplessness, some thought that it made them stronger, some wanted God to avenge them by afflicting pain on others, some saw it as a test of faith and others saw it as a sign that the end of time would arrive soon.

            The Consequences of Sin:  An Assessment  If Adam and Eve were foreordained to eat the fruit, why were they punished for it?  If Judas betrayed Jesus and Pilate crucified him because that was God's will, how can they be held accountable?  None of the biblical authors deals with this type of paradox.  The biblical authors never directly mention free-will although they do allude to it.  Ancient Jews and Christians never questioned God's existence, they knew he existed.  They were trying to understand him and and how best to relate to him.  The question of whether suffering impedes belief in the existence of God is completely modern.  To the author the question of suffering cannot be examined without examining the lives of people who are our neighbors.  Abstract moral discussions are morally indefensible.  

C5  The Mystery of the Greater Good:  Redemptive Suffering  According to Ehrman, if there is a God, he is not the type of God that he believed in when he was a young evangelical Christian.  He no longer believes in a God who is actively involved with the problems of this world.  His conversion from an evangelical Christian to an Agnostic was very traumatic for him.  The saying of grace before dinner.  If I am thanking God because he give me food - and not because I have worked for it, why has God chosen to give it to me and not to others?  Why is God favoring me and not those who have no food?  If a father has 3 children and feeds only two of them, should they thank their father?  How about the child who gets no food?  Should not the father be jailed for abuse?  According to the UN one out of seven people do not have enough to eat - that is about 850 million people.  Every 5 seconds a child dies of starvation.  How can we thank someone who would let that many children starve?  

            Redemptive Suffering in the Story of Joseph  Joseph has a dream, his brothers sell him into slavery.  He is thrown into prison but he is able to interpret dreams and Pharaoh asks him to interpret his dream of seven "sleek and fat cows" who are devoured by seven "ugly and thin" cows.  It is of course 7 years of good crops followed by 7 years of famine.  Joseph is appointed to save supplies of food and when the famine hits his brothers come begging for food.  Joseph had had a hard life but he forgave everyone because he suffered so that he would be in the right place at the right time to save the people of Israel and Egypt.  God had caused him to suffer so that he could do good.

            Other Examples of Redemptive Suffering in Scripture The story of Moses and the people of Israel leaving Egypt.  According to Exodus all of the suffering of the Jews and the Egyptians is to show the Jews that God was the Lord.  It was to show them that God, not the kind-hearted Pharaoh, who delivered them from slavery.  Lazarus and his rising from the dead:  When Jesus learns that Lazarus is ill, he refuses to come promptly.  He waits until Lazarus has been dead for four days and is very obviously dead (after four days he is very, very obviously dead).  The purpose is not to cure Lazarus, it is to obviously resurrect him.  "So that the Son of God might be Glorified."  Suffering is experienced so that God can be glorified by it.  David and Bathsheba:  David seduces Bathsheba, she becomes pregnant, David has her husband killed.  There was a sin, there needed to be punishment, the child is made ill by God, David prayed, fasted, and spent the night on the ground for 7 days, the child dies (as well as the husband, Uriah).  This is how we punish people?  Kill their children?  

            Direct Links Between Suffering and Salvation  By the time we reach Second Isaiah salvation requires suffering.  Also it changes from the suffering being the lot of the sinner, it starts to become the lot of the people.  Then when we get to the New Testament and especially Paul the suffering gets transferred to Christ.  

            A Vivid Portrayal of Salvation Through Suffering  In Mark the centurion who has overseen the crucifixion cries out, "Truly this man was the son of God" (Mark 15:38-39).  Jesus' death, for Mark, is a redemptive event.  Many people in Mark's own community had suffered and they needed to be reassured that there was a purpose in the crucifixion.  

            Salvation That Comes Through Rejection  In Acts the people are told that they rejected Jesus and he was killed.  If they repent they can achieve salvation.  Later in Acts, Paul and Barnabas said, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you.  But since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, see--we are now turning to the Gentiles."...  Since they did not repent their rejection they will not be saved.

            Rejection and Salvation in Paul  Many Christians wonder why Jews reject the suffering and resurrection of Jesus.  Jews look as Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 and read it carefully, the term messiah never occurs.  Messiah comes from the Hebrew mashiach which means "anointed one."  The Greek equivalent is christos from which we get Christ.  Jewish Kings were anointed with oil during their inauguration.  The Messiah to Jews would be the king who would lead Israel during a time of peace and prosperity.  

            Other Suffering and Its Benefits  Paul thought that only by suffering could he be a true apostle of Jesus.  God brought suffering to induce humility and to help him.  Paul thought that suffering as good, not as a punishment for sin, it came from God and it allowed God's own power to show forth.  

            Redemptive Suffering: An Assessment  Suffering can have positive benefits, salvation depends on suffering and suffering is redemptive.  In many ways it is the core message of the Bible.  However there is much suffering that is simply not redemptive for anybody, and he gives several examples.  

C6  Does Suffering Make Sense:  The Books of Job and Ecclesiastes  Why do people suffer illnesses, suffer and die?  He discusses his father and a friend who died of cancer.  He discusses the 1918 flu epidemic, the plague of Justinian in the 6th century, and the Black Death (bubonic plague) of the mid-fourteenth century.  Also the current AIDS crisis.  

            The Book of Job: An Overview  Job is at least two books put together.  The first and the last part are a prose narrative of the righteous suffering of Job, whose endurance is rewarded by god but the middle section is the poetic dialogues in which Job is not patient but defiant and God does not reward him but grinds him into submission.  God and "the adversary" (not Satan in the original Hebrew) discuss Job.  God lets "the adversary" take away everything that Job has and then at the end God gives it all (sort of) back when Job does not falter.  In the middle (most of the book) three friends come to Job and tell Job that he is being punished for his sins.  When Job questions this, God asks who he is to question the power and the knowledge of God.  

            The Folktale: The Suffering of Job as a Test of Faith  Job is not an Israelite, he lives in Uz; this is in Edom to the southeast of Israel.  The book is about wisdom: wealth and prosperity.  "The Adversary" is not the Devil, he is an advisor, someone who reports to God, he is only playing "Devils Advocate." After the adversary takes everything from Job, three friends come to sit with him.  Then the Bible switches to the alternate story.  When it switches back, God rewards Job for passing his tests by restoring everything that Job has including a new set of children.  A close reading of this shows that God authorizes the adversary does to Job.  

            Other Tests in the Bible  In genesis 22 Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his son Isaac.  When Abraham shows that he is ready to kill his own son God rewards him.  Jesus is of course the prime example of a human sacrifice in the New Testament.  

            The Poetic Dialogues of Job: There is No Answer  A long discussion with many parts.  The main point is that God can do what he wants because he is all powerful and mere morals have no right to question Him.  

            Ecclesiastes and our Ephemeral Existence.  Ecclesiastes is supposedly written by Solomon but most agree that it was written about the third century BCE (some 700 years after Solomon).  The text has been changed by later forms of Aramaic and it contains several Persian words.  He quotes a long section of Ecclesiastes (1:1-6, 8-11) which uses term "vanity" numerous times.  This is a single translation of the Hebrew word hevel which can also be translated "emptiness". "absurdity", "uselessness", "fleeting", or "ephemeral".  Hevel literally translates as a mist that evaporates.  A direct quote of a section is, "Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities!  All is vanity."  The author of this book, in the guise of Solomon, indicates that he tried everything in order to make life meaningful but in the end his conclusion was, "There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and to find enjoyment in their toil" (Eccles. 2:26).  His philosophy is pretty much summed up in the following, "The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no more reward and even the memory of them is lost.  Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished; never again will they have any share in all that happens under the sun" (Eccles. 9:5-6).  "This is what I have seen to be good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun for a few days of the life God gives us; for this is our lot. (Eccles. 5_18-19).  Eat, drink, and be merry for this is all we have.  

In the poetic dialogues of Job, God refuses to explain why Job is inflected with pain.  In Ecclesiastes God is not responsible for the pain at all.  We can't control pain and we can't understand why it occurs.

C7  God Has the Last Word:  Jewish-Christian Apocalypticism  When Ehrman told people that he was writing a book about suffering most people had one of two responses.  The first group said it was because we have free will, without it we would be mindless robots.  Then when he asked about hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, etc. they get a confused look and is either silent or changes the subject.  The second, which is more common, want to talk about something else.  

Another viewpoint is found in the last book of the Hebrew Bible.  It is called apocalypticism.  It originated among Jewish thinkers who had grown dissatisfied with the traditional answers.  They had noticed that suffering came even more noticeably to the people of god who tried to do God's will, and they had to find an answer.  

            The Background of Apocalyptic Thinking  A brief history of the Jews.  It became noticeable that Jews suffered because of their righteousnesss.  The Greek term, apocalypsis means "revealing" or "unveiling".  These thinkers believed that the truth had been revealed to them, the Jews were not suffering because God was punishing them, they were suffering because the enemies of god were punishing them.  The forces of good and evil were loose in the world and evil forced were causing suffering to the good people.  However God wood soon intervene and overthrow the forces of evil.  Jesus was clearly an apocalyptic thinker (see Mark 9:1 and Mark 13:30).

            The Origins of Apocalyptic Thought  It began about 150-170 years before the birth of Jesus during the Maccabean Revolt when the Jews of Palestine were ruled by Syria.  By this time they had been ruled by a series of the powers in the region for more than 500 years.  The ruler at that time, Antiochus Epiphantes was one of the worst.  This is described in 1 Maccabees.  

            Daniel's Night Vision  Even though Daniel is said to have lived in the 6th century BCE the book itself was written during the rule of Antiochus.  Much of the book is devoted to Daniel's dream and its interpretation.  

            The Interpretation of the Vision  During this period many apocalypses were written and (falsly) ascribed to historic figures.  It is easier to have a historic figure (Adam, Moses, Isiah, Paul, etc.) write an apocalypse referring to his future when you already know what has happened.  The author is telling the current (160 +/- BCE) residents what is happening and why it is happening and how to react to it.

            Suffering in the Apocalyptic Tradition  A comparison of a classical writer (Amos 3-5) with Daniel 7.  Amos says that suffering comes from God when the people violate his law and he punishes them.  In Daniel suffering comes to God's people when the forces against God punishes those who do God's will.  In Amos suffering will stop when the people of God repent their sins and return to doing God's will.  In Daniel suffering will end (very soon!) when God intervenes to overthrow the forces of evil.  

            The Underlying Tenets of Apocalypticism  Between the time of the Maccabees and the end of the first century CE there were many apocalyptic texts written - but not all apocalypticists wrote them, Jesus and Paul did not even though they were strong apocalypticists.  Most Jewish apocalypticists subscribed to four main tenets.  
  1. Dualism:  There were two major forces, good and evil.  God was the force of good and Satan was the force of evil.  In Job the Adversary was carrying out God's will by causing suffering.  Now Satan was of great power, almost equal to God, and opposed God.  Satan was essentially invented between 160 BCE and 100 CE.  
  2. Pessimism:  We can not make progress ourselves.  God has relinquished control to the forces of evil and it will be this way until the end times.
  3. Vindication:  God will intervene.  He will send a savior from heaven, sometimes called the "messiah" and sometimes called "the Son of Man".  The messiah will punish the evil and reward the good.  (Ps.  Christians thought that Jesus was the messiah, Jews did not.)  During this period of time the concept of resurrection is first found.  
  4. Imminence:  When will God intervene?  When will the resurrection occur?  It will happen very soon.  "Truly I tell you, some of those standing here will not taste death before they see that the Kingdom of God has come in power. . . . Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place" (Mark 9:1, 13:30)
            Jesus as an Apocalypticist  Jesus was a Jewish apocalypticist - or at least that is how the Bible portrays him.  Jesus was not the first.  John the Baptist (Luke 3:7-9) was earlier.  Jesus' first words are apocalyptic (Mark 1:15) and this is repeated in many places.  

            The Relevance of an Apocalyptic View  We are living some 2000 years after Jesus was reported to have said these words.  The end has not yet come.  Every generation since the death of Jesus there have been self-styled prophets who have declared that the end will be coming very soon, within a year or two.  None of them have been right so far (they are still out there).  

C8  More Apocalyptic Views:  God's Ultimate Triumph over Evil  Some problems with many peoples understanding of the Bible.  "Free Will" as a cause for suffering.  This was never the conclusion of biblical writers.  "God helps those who help themselves."  This is old but the first recorded use that the author could find was  the 1736 edition of Poor Richard's Almanack by Benjamin Franklin.  Natural disasters kill huge numbers of people and leave many millions more to suffer.  The apocalyptic explanation is more reasonable than many others as an explanation.  

            Remembering the Apocalyptic Life of Jesus  "He saved others, but he is not able to save himself" (Mark 15:31).  This is not the "Are you saved?" of modern evangelicals, this is restoring a person to health and wholeness.  Jesus "saved" others when they were sick but he could not "save" himself because it was God's will that he suffer.  This is a reoccurring theme with the Gospel writers.  

            Suffering in the Writings of Paul  15 of the 27 books of the New Testament are either attributed to Paul, about Paul, or have been attributed to Paul.  Paul was probably an apocalypticist even before he was a follower of Jesus.  

            Paul as a Pharisee  Paul was brought up in the traditions of the Pharisees (Gal. 1-2; Phil. 2) which were very apocalypticistic.  They believed that God was going to intervene in the world very soon.  Then when the followers of Jesus said that Jesus had been resurrected this must mean that the end times were upon us, God is already signaling that the time of evil is ending.  

            Paul's Teaching of the Resurrection  This what Paul believed.  The Resurrection had already begun.  Jesus was the "first fruit" (1 Corinthians 20).  Farmers celebrated the harvest by bringing in the first fruits, the remainder of the crop would be harvested very soon.  Jesus' transformed body entered the kingdom of God.  

            Paul and the Imminence of the End  In 1 Thessalonians Paul is writing to the members of the church because he as promised that the end was coming very soon and they are growing confused because it had not come yet.  Paul is saying that the dead will rise first but that we who still remain will be rising very soon. (1 Thess. 4:17-17)

            Suffering in the Meantime  The end has begun, but it has not finished.  And until the end is finished there will be suffering below, we who are still waiting will continue to suffer.  (Rom. 8:18-23)  It is through suffering that the true apostles will prove themselves faithful to Jesus.  

            The Apocalypse of John  (The Book of Revelation)  When John (no relation to any other John in the Bible) wrote this Book he truly meant that the Lord Jesus "was coming soon" (Rev. 22:20) he meant "soon", not 2000 years later.  This end will come very soon but there is hell to pay first.

            The Flow of the Narrative  In Rev 1:12-13 Christ appears in the midst of "seven golden lamp stands" and he holds seven stars in his hand (which represent the guardian angels of the seven churches of Asia Minor that the book is addressed to.  We have many catastrophes (the Antichrist has appeared) and Babylon is destroyed and the last battle occurs in which the Antichrist is destroyed and we live in peace for a thousand years after which everyone faces the final judgment.   Christ is "coming soon" to bring this all to pass (Rev. 22:12).  

            The Audience of the Book  This book describes disasters which will symbolically happen in the very near future, not the far distant future which would be the twenty-first century.  First, who is the Abomination, the Whore of Babylon, the author believes that it must be the city of Rome.  The first emperor to persecute Christians was Caesar Nero.  After he died there were rumors that Nero was going to return from the dead and wreak even more havoc on the world.  When you spell the name Caesar Nero in Hebrew letters and add them up, they total 666.

            Suffering in the Book of Revelation  Times had been bad, Nero was killing Christians, times were going to get worse, but then God would intervene and evil would be destroyed.  And then God's people would live a heavenly existence, forever and ever.

            The Transformation of Apocalyptic Thinking  The earliest Christians believed they were living "in the last days."  But then the days of waiting turned into weeks, then into months, then into years, and then into decades.  What happens to a belief that is radically disconfirmed by the events of history?  The followers of Jesus transformed his message.  They changed this temporal dualism (this age versus the age to come) into a spatial dualism, between the world below and the world above.  To express it differently, from the world today versus the world tomorrow to the new concept of the worlds of heaven versus the world of hell.  

Judgment day is no longer a specific date, it is on the day that you die.  You make a record here on earth and when you die you will be judged and the good will go to heaven and the bad will go to hell.  The changing of this concept is found in the New Testament.  The last Gospel is that of John (another one) and he writes of our future in heaven, not a life of peace and prosperity on a transformed earth.  In this Jesus asks us to believe in him as a messenger who came from heaven and who returned to heaven with the promise that we can go to heaven after death.  The world on earth is, was, and will be an evil place but it is a place in which we are tested and if we are found to be good we will leave and go to heaven.  

Most of the Hebrew Bible authors, if they believed in the afterlife at all, thought it was a shadowy existence in Sheol for all humans, wicked or righteous.  Most of the authors of the New Testament thought that the afterlife was a transformed existence on earth in the coming Kingdom of God.  The Christian notions of heaven and hell are a transformation of this to the vertical plane, with heaven above and hell below.  

            The Apocalyptic Solution to Suffering: An Appraisal  Ehrman finds aspects of the apocalyptic vision appealing but there still exists the massive suffering that is inflicted on individuals with no obvious show of evil (unless it is God himself!).  The idea of a resurrection at the end of time is an idea that has failed miserably every time it has come up for well over 2000 years.  This type of religious certainty breeds a complacency that keeps them from seeking to improve the life on earth.  

C9  Suffering:  The Conclusion  A quick look at the stories in his local paper - pain and suffering.  He doesn't believe that a God could ever accept the evil that exists in the world.  He discusses at length a number of passages from The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky - I knew there was a good reason that I have never read the book.  He discusses Rabbi Harold Kushner's book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People.  Another book I have not read, but in it Kushner presumably thinks that God just simply cannot prevent all the bad things from happening (he is not omnipotent evidently) but he can give us the strength to deal with our suffering when we experience it (for a starving 2 year old?).

Ehrman wrote the book to show that there are a number of different explanations for suffering in the Bible.  In this he is successful.  Unfortunately for those who believe in the Bible, none of these are entirely convincing and they are different enough from one to the other that serious questions must be asked as to whether these are so dissimilar that the whole idea of whether there is any rational explanation of suffering in the Bible.

His personal view is pretty much that found in Ecclesiastes, There is a lot that we can't know about this world.  A lot of this world doesn't make sense.  We must just accept it and live life to its fullest and not expect much more.  We also do not need to accept the evil in the world, we can work to change it for the better.

There are 6 pages of notes, 5 pages of general index, and 4 pages of scripture index.  

Return to   Top Directory       Main Directory File

Hot, Flat, and Crowded    Thomas L. Friedman         Nov 2008
            Why We Need a Green Revolution -- And How It Can Renew America

Part I:  Where We Are
C1 Where Birds Don't Fly
C2  Today's Date 1 E.C.E. Today's Weather: Hot, Flat, and Crowded
Part II: How We Got Here
C3  Our carbon Copies (or, Too Many Americans)
C4  Fill 'Er Up with Dictators
C5  Global Weirding
C6  The Age of Noah
C7  Energy Poverty
C8  Green Is the New Red, White, and Blue
Part III  How We Move Forward
C9  205 Easy Ways to Save the Earth
C10  The Energy Internet: When IT Meet ET
C11  The Stone Age Didn't End Because We Ran Out of Stones
C12  If It Isn't Boring, It Isn't Green
C13  A Million Noahs, a Million Arks
C14  Outgreening al-Qaeda (or, Buy One, Get Four Free)
Part IV  China
C15  Can Red China Become Green China?
Part V  China
C16  China for a Day (but Not for Two)
C17  A Democratic China, or a Banana Republic
Return to   Top Directory       Main Directory File