On Wine and Wealth

On Wine

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus warns of the coming day of judgement and encourages his audience to be mindful and aware so that it does not come as a surprise. The following verse comes about halfway through the message:

And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.

~Luke 21:34

This verse is significant because it represents the only time that Jesus spoke of drunkenness in a negative way. Obviously there are other passages in both the New and Old Testament that mention the dangers of drunkenness, but this is the only time that Jesus Christ himself mentioned the issue.

On Wealth

Let us now consider the teachings of Jesus concerning wealth.

First we have the section of Matthew 6 where Jesus encourages his followers to look beyond the treasures of the current life, to not worry about how we will live, and to trust in and seek after God first and foremost. We are explicitly told “You cannot serve God and mammon.” Given that mammon can translate into money, wealth, or possessions, it is a strong statement against materialism. The same statement is found in Luke 16, as well.

Wealth is again mentioned as a part of the parable of the sower and the seeds. After describing seeds that are planted among and eventually destroyed by thorns, Jesus explains the meaning in Matthew 13:22: “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.” Jesus clearly sees the riches and wealth of this world as a danger to a believer’s faith and eternal life.

We even have the story of the rich young ruler who comes to Jesus asking what he should do to be saved. Jesus tells him that he needs to sell his possessions and give to the the poor (a command also given in Luke 12:33 in a separate context,) a command that the young ruler is unable to accept. After he leaves, Jesus tells his disciples that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. The same story is found in both Luke 18 and in Matthew 19, and the focus on wealth is inescapable.

A Comparison

Jesus Christ, the Chief Corner Stone, the Son of God, the Great High Priest, the Good Shepherd, the Light of the World, was obviously very concerned with how his followers would deal with the wealth and riches of the physical world. He spoke explicitly of the danger of allowing wealth to take priority in our lives and so supplant our hope of salvation. He called out the issue by name and focused his attention and teaching on that subject alone. The danger of wealth was not mentioned casually or as an offhand comment, it was what teachers call the lesson objective, the focus of attention.

I know I’m already in dangerous waters, but I’m going to wade in a little deeper. It seems as though Jesus was very concerned about the issues of wealth when it came to living rightly. More so, it would seem, than in the issue of alcohol and drunkenness. He only mentions drunkenness once, and even then it is only as part of a list of examples in a lesson on something larger. The difference in coverage and focus is distinct, and I would argue it to be intentional as well.

Some Questions

If Jesus was so much more concerned with wealth, why not us?

Why is a DUI considered a disgrace, but tax evasion is merely an embarrassment?

Why do we forbid our children alcohol but encourage them to hoard money?

Why is a drunken father abhorred while the father who sacrifices his children to the altar of work respected?

Why is it hypocrisy when a Christian drinks in public, but not when a Christian walks past a homeless man begging for change?

Why does the Bible need to be taken literally when it mentions drunkenness and figuratively when it calls us to give up our possessions?

Why would you react differently to a man coming to church obviously drunk than to a man coming to church obviously wealthy? And which happens more?

Why are there interventions and rehabs for those who struggle with alcohol, but not for those who struggle with greed?

The Backpedaling

The questions above are obviously pretty inflammatory, and intentionally so. Of course the issues surrounding money and alcohol are nuanced and not easily understood. Of course alcohol and money are not the same thing. Of course alcohol can do terrible things to people and we can see the pain it causes. Of course it would be difficult to live without money or careers. Of course most of the good things Christians can do for the world require money.

But maybe the current system of looking at these issues is not the best one. Maybe we need to be more concerned about our fellow Christians who are on the path to serving mammon. Maybe we need to reconsider our priorities. Maybe we don’t have it all figured out yet. Maybe…

So What?

To be a Christian is to be a follower of Christ. It seems that a follower of Christ would be concerned with making His teachings a fundamental part of the way we live out our lives and the way that we view our world. When we look at the emphasis of Christ’s teachings and look at the things we emphasize, there should probably be a noticeable similarity. Unfortunately, when it comes to our perceptions of wealth, there doesn’t seem to be as much in common as there could be.



On the Myth of the Wandering Jew

The Myth

For at least 8 centuries, people have been telling stories about a mysterious man who is destined to wander the earth until it ends. Some tales describe a tortured soul paying penance, others a witness who uses his immortality to enlighten others. Different names have been suggested, different descriptions are given, and different origin stories can be found in varying European cultures. There is agreement on several points, however. It is generally agreed that the man was born a Jew, and has been alive since the time of Christ. The story was to become the foundation of many short stories, poems, ballads, art, and even comic books.

The Biblical Basis

The foundation of the myth is Biblical, with several verses hinting at individuals with gifts of extended life. In Matthew 16:28 Jesus told his disciples:

“Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.”

Similar phrases are found in Mark 9:1 and Luke 9:27. Many theologians take the view that these verses indicate some of the disciples would live to see the fall of Jerusalem, or live to see the physical christian church take root and begin to grow.

There were some, especially in the middle ages, who took the verses far more literally. They held that Jesus actually meant that there were people who would live until Jesus returned to Earth. It was not a large step for some fertile imaginations to begin conjuring stories of those destined to live until the return, and the myths of the Wandering Jew began to develop.

Assorted Iterations


One of the oldest accounts1 on record comes from an Armenian Archbishop who was visiting England in the middle of the 13th century. He told his hosts of a man called Joseph who lived in Armenia, spending his time in the company of the church leaders and scholars.

According to the Archbishop, this Joseph was originally named Cartaphilus and worked as a porter for Pilate. When Jesus was being taken from Pilate, this porter struck Jesus on the back and said something impudent about going faster. The story says that Jesus responded “I am going, and you shall wait till my return.” Cartaphilus was later baptized by Ananias and given the name of Joseph. The account also mentions that he ages like a normal man, but only until he turns 100. Then he returns to the age of 30 and begins again. (Fun fact, that particular cycle would place Joseph at around 60 this year).


Another version of the tale comes from Turkey, and is told in a Jewish mystical text2. According to this tale, a Muslim commander was praying in his camp when he was approached by a bald man who called himself Bassi Hadut Issa. This man told the commander that he had been commanded by the Lord Jesus to walk the earth until Jesus returned again. When the commander further questioned the man, he was told of the signs that would precede the coming of the end.

This particular story is most unique in that it came from a Muslim source and was recorded by a Jew. The Jewish writer believed the mysterious stranger to be the prophet Elijah, who has a substantial mythology of his own in Jewish literature.


There are tales from Switzerland3 as well, that speak of the Eternal Jew and his passing through the Alps. According to these local legends, each time he passed through an area, it would become more and more desolate and barren. His footsteps are blamed for ice-fields and his tears are used to explain mountain lakes.


The idea of the Wandering Jew has even provided fodder for authors of short stories such as the “The Holy Cross” by Eugene Field. In this particular story4, the author has the Wandering Jew meet a group of Spanish soldiers in the New World. The soldiers initially wish nothing to do with him, but the priest in their company urges kindness and mercy until they allow the Jew to rest in their midst. Moved with compassion, the entire company prays on behalf of the lone traveler, that his curse would be lifted. Their prayers are heard, and soon after he leaves them, they find his body and provide him with a proper burial. On the spot where the old man was buried there was forever after a cross made of pure snow that never melts.

There are also miscellaneous tales from Italy, Germany, Russia, Denmark, and elsewhere which are similar to those given here.

Darker Implications

In more recent times, the mythology of the Wandering Jew has taken a more sinister turn as it has become co-opted by antisemitism. In the late 1800s the tale of the Wandering Jew began to see itself used as an allegory for all Jews. Instead of one man serving penance for a sin committed in ignorance, it became an entire people group that must be punished. Stories even arrived to the point of claiming the Wandering Jew was a messenger between Satan and the Jewish people. The tale was even abused by the Nazis of Germany, who stole the myth to name a rabidly antisemitic art exhibit and movie.

What started as a fable or cautionary tale about being rude or unkind to strangers has morphed into a vindictive tool for abuse and persecution. In an age where religious persecution seems to be as strong as ever, let each of us be on guard that we are not corrupted by hatred in disguise.



  1. Baring-Gould, S. Curious Myths of the Middle Ages. University Press: Welch, Bigelow, & Co, Cambridge, 1867. 
  2. Baring-Gould, S. Legends of the Old Testament from the Talmud and Other Sources. MacMillan and Co., London, 1871. 
  3. Guerber, Helene Adeline. Legends of Switzerland. Dodd, Mead and Company, New York, 1905. 
  4. Field, Eugene. The Holy Cross and Other Tales. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1899. 

On Correlation vs. Causation

German made cars cause suicides, and I have the data to prove it!

Consider the following data collected from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control. For the 10 year period from 1999 to 2009, there is an undeniable connection between the number of German passenger cars sold and the number of people who committed suicide by crashing their vehicles.

When sales of German cars increased, so did the number of suicides. When German car sales dropped, the number of suicides by car also dropped! Considering the pattern continues for over 10 years, it cannot be mere coincidence. Therefore, German made cars must in some way influence motorists to commit suicide!

Except I don’t

This data and corresponding graph come from, a site dedicated to spurious correlations. Simply put, spurious correlations are when two things follow similar patterns and appear to be related, but aren’t. I can’t explain why sales of German cars and the number of car suicides follow the same pattern for a decade, because they aren’t connected. Their relationship is a coincidence, nothing more.

This example illustrates the fallacy of believing that if two items appear related, one must cause the other. My first experience with this concept occurred in my Junior year of high school, when my AP statistics teacher made us repeat the mantra “Correlation does not imply causation!” day after day to stress it’s importance. It worked.

In formal logic this mistake in reasoning is known as the cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy which is Latin for “with this, therefore because of this.”1  While the formal logic aspect of this fallacy is fun, it’s easier to explain using the statistical understanding.

Some More Examples

Correlation does not imply causation, and there are several reasons why it might not. The first reason is the possibility of coincidences, as shown in the introductory example. Yes, the number of lawyers in North Carolina may have an almost perfect correlation with the number of deaths by strangulation in the U. S., but I can say with a fair degree of certainty that the two are not related!

The second reason that correlation might not be enough evidence for causation comes in the form of lurking variables. Lurking variables are the things that you didn’t measure, and it is always possible that one of the lurking variables is the true cause. for example, check out this chart showing the average daily rainfall for New York and Vermont.


There is a very strong correlation in the data. The average rainfall for New York is always very close that Vermont, but that does not mean that rain in Vermont causes rain in New York, or that New York rain causes Vermont rain. Neither one cause the other because both are impacted by a third party. Because the two states are so close together, they often share local weather systems. The shared weather is the true cause of the rainfall similarity between the two states.

Another example of common cause is one that many teachers use. Throughout the year, sales of ice cream and crime statistics rise and fall together. While it might be tempting to immediately assume that ice cream inspires criminals to act, there is actually a separate factor at work. That separate factor is temperature. As summer rolls around, ice cream sales increase, as do the crime rates.


There is an old saying that runs: “There are three types of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics!”2 There is a degree of truth to this statement, because many dishonest people have abused statistics. There have always been, and always will be, people who force the numbers to support their claims. But the numbers themselves do not lie. The data, the numbers, the statistics, they are all tools, and like any other tool they can be used for good or for ill.

Ultimately, the best defense against one who would abuse statistics is to be informed enough to recognize when it is happening. Be wary of those who would use correlation to prove causation!


  1. There is also the very similar post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, which means “after this, therefore because of this. This is the fallacy of believing that if A happened, then B happened, A must have caused B. 
  2. While this is often incorrectly attributed to Mark Twain, he was not the origin of the sentiment. Nobody is certain of who first said it, and the quip appears to have been widely in use before Twain ever penned it. 

On Marrying the Wrong Person

A few months ago an article appeared in the New York Times with the title “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person.” (Read it here)  In it, author and philosopher Alain de Botton explores some of the motivations and expectations that are associated with marriage in our modern society. Factors such as our fear of loneliness, our inability to see our own faults, our skewed perceptions of love from childhood, and our desire to capture the passion of a new romance all work together to push us into the arms of the wrong people.

Marriage ends up as a hopeful, generous, infinitely kind gamble taken by two people who don’t know yet who they are or who the other might be, binding themselves to a future they cannot conceive of and have carefully avoided investigating. ~Alain de Botton

The article ends by arguing for a shift in expectations. We should stop expecting to find the perfect spouse or to have the perfect marriage, and instead accept the reality that both we and every person we come in contact with are flawed.

What It Means for the Married

In this world only fairy tales end in happily ever after, and no marriage is an exception. There is little doubt that at some point reality will stray from the perfect ideal of wedded bliss. For the person who has fully invested in the concept of soulmates or the power of romantic love, these moments can be devastatingly painful. Conflict can be seen as evidence of a failed relationship and normal character flaws can take on the appearance of grievous sins. Much unhappiness can come as a result of the unfortunate combination of romanticized expectations and the imperfect human world.

This unhappiness could be avoided with a healthier set of expectations. Instead of expecting a life free from conflict, one should anticipate conflict and be prepared to deal with it in a healthy way. One should be prepared for a spouse who is going to occasionally disappoint instead of planning on a spouse that never makes mistakes, always understands, and always loves. When the inevitable difficulties arise in a relationship, more realistic expectations keep the difficulties from being seen more as temporary hurdles than cataclysmic failures.

Ultimately it means that a married person should seek to form a bond with their spouse that is built to weather the difficulties of life, that is built upon mutual support and understanding, and that grows with them.

What It Means for the Singles

“You will marry the wrong person” in the ears of a single person probably sound a great deal like “Just give up already!” It sounds like a call to lower expectations, to leave compatibility to fate, to simply make a choice and make it work, or even give up on the institution of marriage. But it isn’t. At least it shouldn’t be.

No, this knowledge should not be perceived as a call to surrender or a death knell of all happy hopes and dreams. Instead, it should be seen as a promise of freedom from the fear of making a mistake, of marrying the wrong person. If a single person believes that there is one and only one “right” person for them, it places enormous pressure on him or her to find that soulmate. With that pressure comes the fear that they will never find that soulmate, that they might settle to quickly for the wrong person, or that they might unknowingly pass by the right one. Much of that fear and stress can be reduced by the knowledge that there is no perfect match.

Imagine you were shopping for a car with the knowledge that you would have to keep that car for the rest of your life. In the first scenario, you are wandering through extensive sales lots trying to find the mythical car that will never break down or require maintenance. You look at each car very carefully, trying to determine if it is the one. The slightest flaw makes you turn away and resume your search. Eventually you make a decision, but even that doesn’t bring you peace. Instead, you continue to scrutinize the car, constantly wondering if you made the right choice and looking for any possible sign that you were wrong. Now imagine a second scenario, where you are in the same lot, but now are secure in the knowledge that all cars will eventually need maintenance, upkeep, or repairs. The anxiety over finding perfection is replaced by a healthy concern for finding a car that fits your situation. Obviously the second scenario is the more pleasant of the two.

When a single person accepts that is no perfect match, they accept that all potential matches are imperfect to varying degrees. If all matches are imperfect, the task becomes finding one of the least flawed or imperfect instead of searching constantly for the flawless. Finding one of the best options is a much less stressful expectation than finding the perfect option.

History Bonus!

The original New York Times was written by Alain de Botton, well known for making philosophy more palatable to the public. There is little doubt that one of the philosophers who inspired this particular essay was the Danish theologian and writer Søren Kierkegaard.


Kierkegaard once wrote:

“Marry, and you will regret it; don’t marry, you will also regret it; marry or don’t marry, you will regret it either way.”

Kierkegaard spoke from experience, as his autobiographical works have shown. As a student he fell in love with a girl named Regine and after 2 years of pursuit asked her to marry him. She said ‘yes’ in spite of her relationship at that time with another man (whom she later married). After a year long engagement, Kierkegaard mailed her a letter containing his engagement ring and presumably his regrets.

His stated reason at the time for breaking off the engagement was that he saw himself unworthy and incapable of being a satisfactory husband due to his tendency to depression and his love of writing. Kierkegaard believed that she would be unhappy if she married him, and could not bear to bring himself to bring that upon her. He also later described how he fell in love with the idea or memory of Regine, and could not bear to see that fantasy love fade to be replaced by reality.

He maintained that love for the remainder of his life, even to the point of leaving everything to her in his will. His writings hint both at his regret over not marrying her and the strong belief that he would have regretted the marriage, making for an incredibly tragic and fascinating story.

For a more detailed account, see Anatomy of a Breakup by Susan Ardelie

For a super detailed account, see this book review of Regines gåde


On ‘Fool’s Talk’

Some time ago, I read a short book review in World magazine which interested me. I folded down the corner of the page, set the magazine down on the coffee table and promptly forgot about it. Several weeks later, while researching some curriculum online, Amazon suggested the same volume to me, and I caved to their well timed marketing. In this fashion I fell upon this most excellent book: Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion by Os Guinness.

Sir Francis Bacon once wrote “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” Fool’s Talk falls in the last category without a doubt. While some books contain a few major ideas with a great deal of filler material, this book is filled to overflowing with ideas. Far more time was spent holding the book and staring blankly into the distance trying to absorb the last page read than was spent actively reading. Many people have described Fool’s Talk as the magnum opus (Latin for ‘greatest work’) of its author, Os Guinness. The pages of this book contain the fruit of decades of reading, thinking, and speaking by an agile and capable mind.

So what exactly is this book about? Fool’s Talk is largely concerned with Christian persuasion. It should be noted that there are three ways to interpret this phrase. One could interpret it to mean persuasion techniques that are Christian in nature, or persuasion carried out by Christians, or one could interpret it to mean persuasion on behalf of Christianity. This book seeks to point out the necessity of all of those definitions working together.

“Our urgent need today is to reunite evangelism and apologetics, to make sure our best arguments are directed toward winning people and not just winning arguments, and to seek to do all this in a manner that is true to the gospel itself.” (p 18)

This is a common theme that threads its way through many chapters. The evangelism of the heart needs to be combined with the apologetics of the mind.

This book also speaks out against turning evangelism into a technique or skill:

“Jesus never spoke to two people the same way, and neither should we. Every single person is unique and individual and deserves an approach that respects that uniqueness.” (p 33)

It also wrestles extensively with how unbelief works, and why most of our current evangelical practices are ineffective.

“In short, many of us today lack a vital part of a way of communicating that is prominent in the Gospels and throughout the Scriptures, but largely absent in the church today–persuasion, the art of speaking to people who, for whatever reason, are indifferent or resistant to what we have to say.” (p 18)

In a world where Christianity is viewed with more hostility and resistance than it has been for centuries, this message is an important one. Just as importantly, Os Guinness calls for a more careful examination of our own views. He urges the modern church to admit to and stamp out hypocrisy, to make our lives consistent with our proclaimed belief.

“Something has surely gone terribly wrong when Christians are the best atheist arguments against the Christian faith and Christendom their best argument for atheism.” (p 204)

Finally, Fool’s Talk advocates and comes to the defense of apologetics. Guinness describes the animosity towards apologetics for the past several generations in the church, and points out the dangerous effect such animosity has wrought.

“Some of today’s deadliest challenges to the Christian faith come from within the church itself, yet in many parts of the church Christian apologetics is weak, poorly understood and openly dismissed as an unworthy and a wrong-headed enterprise.” (p 210)

The defense of apologetics found within this book is thoughtful; willing to acknowledge the shortcomings while refusing to give up on its importance.

In conclusion, I found this book to be an exceptionally valuable work, and I would recommend it to all!


On “By their fruits…”

“By their fruits you shall know them.” It’s a verse found in both Matthew and Luke, and one that has suffered from some severe abuse. When used correctly, this verse is intended to help a Christian guard against false prophets and doctrines, but is often put to a more devious use. It is used to judge.

In the wrong hands, this verse becomes a weapon of cruelty. It becomes an excuse for slander or gossip, and a justification for self-righteousness. Christians use this verse to tear down others who have made mistakes, or they use it show themselves better by comparison.

Let’s take a look at the verse and the context from which it comes.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

Matthew 7:15-20 NKJV

So what does it all mean?

Who are the “them”?

First, the verses quoted above deal with false prophets, and how to identify them. It was not intended for use on a group of people, only individuals. To use this passage of scripture to evaluate a church or other organization is to use it outside of the original context. But what about individuals? Who qualifies as a prophet? The short answer is “not everybody.” (The long answer is here.) With this answer in mind, it is difficult to justify using this passage as an excuse to evaluate a stranger in the street or a random layperson in the church.

What are the “fruits”?

A common misconception is that the fruits are an individual’s actions and choices. They aren’t. The actions that a person takes are not a solid indication of their spiritual well-being, and the scripture passage immediately following this passage emphasizes that very point.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’    ~Matthew 7:21-23

This passage makes it clear that false prophets might be capable of doing good works, even miraculous ones. Therefore, works and actions are no sound indication of a false prophet. Good actions, good words,  and good works are the sheep’s clothing with which a false prophet would disguise himself and his wolf-like nature.

What then are the fruit? The apostle Paul gives us a good idea when he describes the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

This is the good fruit that comes from the the true Spirit residing in a person. None of these fruits are actions, they are the motivations behind the actions. The reasons why we act are of more importance than the actions themselves. It is those reasons and motivations that show the true nature of the heart, whether it be a good tree or bad.

What do we do when we “know”?

Finally, we come to the point where we ask what our response should be when we come upon a genuine false prophet as we wander through life. Unfortunately, that is a topic I have not yet come to a satisfactory answer on. There are arguments to be made for attempting to correct and redeem the false prophet, and also arguments that can be made for turning one’s back to them. What do you think? Comment away!


On That Bear Family

The Conflict

There is a very good chance that at some point in your life you have come into contact with a family of bears dedicated to teaching lessons about proper behavior and good morals to children. A family unit composed of Papa, Mama, Brother, and Sister Bear lived together in a tree house and lived lives very similar to the standard middle-class American family.

That was probably enough information for you to identify the literary characters of which I speak. Now, try to imagine how their name was spelled. Write it down if you have a pen and paper handy.

How did you spell it? Were they the BerenstEin Bears or were they the BerenstAin Bears?

If you remember the name of the bears and their authors with an “e” you are aligned with a sizable portion of the general population. You would also be wrong. The correct spelling is Berenstain, with an “a”.

I came across this topic less than a year ago, and it was disconcerting because I was certain I remembered the author’s names on the front, and I was certain that they were spelled Berenstein! I would have been willing to wager small sums of money on that fact, my mind was so confident in my memory.

The one reassuring factor about the experience was the fact that there were so many people who were just as convinced of their mistake as I was. There were enough people that the issue became an internet topic of discussion on several forums, and eventually several news outlets commented on it.

The Hype

How could so many people be convinced so completely in something wrong? The question was raised and an onslaught of bizarre theories commenced.

The most popular theory posits the existence of a parallel universe or timeline in which almost everything is the same except for the spelling of Berenstain. According to adherents of this position, people who remember Berenstein leaked into this timeline and swapped places with their identical selves, who presumably now find themselves stuck with memories of Berenstain in a world that spells it Berenstein.

Then there are those who believe that our consciences are actually programs running in a massive simulation along the lines of the Matrix. 1 In this theory, the simulation has experienced a glitch and the spelling changed from Berenstein to Berenstain in all of the physical portions of the universe, such as the books, but left our memories intact.

There are even a few people who are convinced that time travel is to blame, and that someone went back in time and changed just the spelling of one name to prove that time travel was possible.

Then there are the conspiracy theorists. They explain that the government has been experimenting with mass hypnosis and mind control, and that significant portions of the world were convinced that the correct spelling is Berenstein as a test of one of the government’s secret methods. While I haven’t seen a conspiracy tying this to chemtrails 2 yet, I’m sure its only a matter of time. [Sigh…]

Finally, there is the possibility that a lot of us just made a mistake. Maybe our memories aren’t as perfect as we would like to believe. Maybe we aren’t perfect. According to Occam’s razor 3 it is the simplest, and therefore the best, explanation of those listed.

The Moral


There were people who held a position (Berenstein) who were then confronted with an opposing view (Berenstain). There was disagreement, and evidence was produced (book covers) by the opposing view. Upon seeing the evidence, some of the people holding the original view created arguments to reconcile the evidence with their view (parallel universes, etc.). They do so because they are convinced that they were right, and cannot conceive that they might be wrong.

The Berenstein/Berenstain controversy illustrates a common error that many of us are prone to. We begin to place too much value on our own opinions and understandings, and become trapped by them. When we refuse to admit we are wrong and refuse to change our minds, we stop learning and we stop growing.

How can we avoid becoming trapped by our opinions? The answer is simple. Humility. Humility does not mean total surrender in every argument. It does not mean we throw away everything we think every time it is challenged. Humility means that we recognize our potential for error and admit to ourselves that we are fallible. Humility is the key to avoiding the embarrassment of arguing for BerenstEin in a BerenstAin world.


  1. A science fiction trilogy that tells the story of the minds of all humanity trapped in a computer simulation by malevolent machines, and the few free humans who managed to free their minds and fight against the machines. 
  2. Chemtrails, or chemical trails, are the tracks you see in the sky left by airplanes. Conspiracy theorist believe those trails are full of chemicals being spread by the government. 
  3. Occam’s razor is a principle that suggests that if there are two arguments that work equally well, the simpler one is better. 

On Together 2016

On Saturday, July 16, a large gathering of Christians will be taking place in an event called Together 2016. The organizers of the event are hoping for over one million people to come together in the National Mall in Washington D.C. for a day of music, prayer, and speaking. Here are a few good and bad reasons for attending.


“It’s about putting Jesus first”

This is one of the good reasons. Today’s church is splintered and divided over many issues and arguments, but all of the church arises from the same foundation. Recognizing that fact and putting it ahead of our differences is an important step in resolving those differences.

“It’s about putting aside our differences”

While this seems similar to the reason given above. it means something a little different. Differences in opinion and understanding  do happen, and those differences should not be ignored. When two people disagree there is a good chance that one, or both, of them is wrong and needs to review their position. While wandering through the dreary landscape of internet comments sections, I came across quite a few zealots warning about a unified church conspiracy. It comes in a few different shades of crazy, but it highlights a possible danger, one of putting consensus above truth. Burying differences promotes mutual ignorance, and is a bad reason for attending.

“It’s about showing that America is still a Christian nation”

Putting aside the whole discussion of whether showing off anything is a good reason, let’s just focus on the whole America as a Christian nation bit. The first problem is that being a Christian nation has meant a lot of different things to different people, so the parameters are incredibly unclear. Does a nation just need to have a Christian majority population wise? Does a nation need to take legislative and judicial actions in accordance with a Christian worldview? Even if the term was clearly defined, there would  be the difficulty of proving that America met that definition in the past, but no longer does. And all of that pales in the face of the most important problem of whether or not it even matters. In summary, this is a bad reason.

“It’s about establishing a cultural touchstone”

There are things which cross cultural and generational boundaries and provide something shareable to people with otherwise different experiences and values. These things could be historical events such as the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, or Woodstock. They can also take the form of literature that stands the test of time, from Homer’s epic poems to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Cultural touchstones provide bridges across the divides of age, gender, culture, or denomination. While it might be presumptuous to try to attain such a status, it isn’t a morally problematic reason.

“It’s about about showing…”

This reason can end lots of different ways, and some of them are very bad reasons. If this event is about showing piety or self-righteousness, that is wrong. I came across a particularly strident atheist who claimed that the Bible forbids Christians to publicly display their Christian faith based on Matthew 6:1-5. While this person’s interpretation is incorrect, they do bring up a good reminder about the importance of the motivation behind any actions, even good ones. In no circumstances should we base our decisions upon the motivation of showing off.

“It’s about being with my friends”

A good reason, but only if it is used with another good reason.


I’m going, and I hope to see you there! (For the right reasons)

For more information, visit




On Peculiar People

Simple things can become dangerous when handled incorrectly. My mother instilled this concept in me from a young age with an extensive library of worst case scenarios. There was the house that burned down when a candle was left unattended, the boy who was blinded when his brother threw a toy at him, the children who were taken away by Social Services when they were caught playing on the roof, and the masses of people struck by lightning under assorted circumstances. While the stories didn’t always keep me from making poor choices, they did teach me a great deal about unintended consequences and the power of seemingly insignificant things.

Words are certainly on the list of small things that can be trivial and unimportant, but can just as often be misused in dangerous ways. One phrase that happens to find itself being abused quite often is “a peculiar people,” a description of Christians found in several verses in the King James translation of the Holy Bible.

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;

1 Peter 2:9

The word peculiar is also used in Titus 2:14, Deuteronomy 14:2, Exodus 19:5, and elsewhere, but the verse in 1 Peter is the most well known.

According to language scholars, the word peculiar is derived from Latin and originally was meant to describe things that were unique to an individual, or specially owned. An item was peculiar to you if you were the only person who had it. Over time, the accepted meaning of peculiar came to focus more on uniqueness than on ownership, and so today peculiar is commonly understood to be a synonym of odd and strange. Not only that, several different Greek and Hebrew words were translated into the English word peculiar, but they all seem to indicate ownership, usually a special or complete ownership.

The original meaning of peculiar was a beautiful one. When first the Hebrews and later the early Christians were told they were a peculiar people, they were being told that God looked upon them as a prized possession, a group of people that were completely His and shared with no one and nothing else. Unfortunately, the phrase is often misused in our current age. Here are several ways that the descriptive word peculiar is being abused:

As a destination

The first misuse of the word peculiar involves making peculiarity a destination. In this instance, peculiarity turns into a goal that people strive towards. They believe that Christians are called to be peculiar, and that part of living the Christian life is to be peculiar. The definition of peculiar then becomes the topic of raging debates as people lose sight of the fact that the entire argument is based on a fiction. The truth is that Christians are not supposed to be peculiar, they already are peculiar in God’s eyes.

As legislation

Another way the concept of biblical peculiarity is abused comes in the form of legislation. This particular abuse often shows up when it comes to making rules that Christians should follow, usually in some sort of organization or church. There are many arguments surrounding such issues as dress codes, social interactions, or lifestyle choices; but none of those arguments should hinge on peculiarity. Being a peculiar people is not something that should (or can) be legislated.

As a justification

We live in a world full of different cultures, ideologies, beliefs, and understandings, all of which are competing. In a setting where more and more people are being exposed to ideas which conflict with their own, the potential for offending others is great. Unfortunately, there have been those who use the concept of peculiarity to justify actions that are inconsiderate, hateful, or offensive to people of cultures or faiths that are different from their own. Where to draw the line between holding fast to traditions and being polite to others is an issue to big to explore here, but one thing is certain. We should not use the modern definition of peculiarity to justify our decisions.

As a calculation

I freely admit, I sacrificed clearness for the sake of rhyme in this last heading. When I say that the last misuse of peculiarity involves calculation, I mean that some Christians have a tendency to use it as a measuring stick. There are some people who would look at other Christians and judge them by how peculiar they are when compared to some form of mainstream culture. Judging other Christians by their appearance and actions is yet another topic that has many arguments surrounding it, but any argument based on incorrect understanding of peculiar should be disposed of.


Each of the abuses listed above have a common error that goes even deeper than a simple misunderstanding of a definition. That common error lies in a belief that being a peculiar people is the result of our actions, that it is a status to be achieved. The truth is that when a person chooses to follow and place their faith in Jesus Christ they become one of the peculiar people. We are God’s special people and his prized possession, and we are because He declared us so, not because we have in any way earned that title or description.


On the Library of Babel

Infinite Monkey Theorem

A monkey randomly hitting keys on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time will eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare. This claim is known as the Infinite Monkey Theorem, a well known thought experiment that has several different variations. Some versions use more than one monkey, some versions have it eventually produce the contents of all the books in the British Museum, and some killjoys forgo monkeys entirely in favor of much more boring random letter generators.

No matter what form the Infinite Monkey Theorem takes, the intent is the same. The purpose of this thought experiment is to provide a physical example that can help us understand infinity and certain principles of probability. It’s also a lot of fun!

Imagine we have an immortal monkey slavishly typing away on a typewriter which impervious to the effects of time. We modify the typewriter to only have keys for the 26 letters of the alphabet, commas, periods, and the space. By eliminating numbers, capital letters, and pesky grammatical concepts like hyphens, colons, and quotation marks we end up with 29 possible outcomes for each keystroke.

This means that we have a 1/29 chance of getting the keystroke that we want at any conceivable time. For example, the chances of getting the monkey to type the letter “t” are 1 out of 29. Those odds don’t appear to be too bad, so let’s consider the odds of the monkey typing “to”. Now we have 29 options for the first letter, and another 29 options for the second letter. Our odds at this point drop to 1/29*29 or 1/841. We have 841 possible combinations of two keystrokes, only one of which is “to”!

As the number of keystrokes increases, the number of possible combinations quickly gets out of control. The phrase “osessays is my favorite blog.” has 30 keystrokes, making it occur once out of 74,462,898,441,675,122,902,293,018,227,199,467,668,020,601 possible 30 keystroke combinations.

That’s a really big number, so let’s take a little time to try to get our heads around it. If we had one trillion monkeys typing so fast that each of them could type 30 keystrokes every second, it would take them 2 SEPTILLION years to type all the 30 keystroke combinations. (And that’s only if the monkeys never repeated a single combination more than once!)

Feeling overwhelmed yet? I hope not, because we haven’t even gotten to the best part! Let’s bring our imagination back to small workable numbers again. Picture a standard sheet of paper covered in typed words, front and back, double spaced. Got it? Alright, there are about 3200 keystrokes on that page, which means that the number of different pages that can be created is 29^3200. That’s close to a 5 with about 4500 zeroes after it.


That’s a lot of pages. An incredibly huge number of pages. Still not impressed? Remember, that stack of pages contains every page that could possibly be typed.

Every. Page. That. Could. Possibly. Be. Typed.

That means that the stack of papers includes the complete works of William Shakespeare in English and translated into any other language that can be written using our alphabet. That stack of pages includes the Holy Bible, the cure for cancer, and every post on this blog. Somewhere buried in that stack of pages is your biography, from the date of your birth to the date and cause of your death. Written in that stack of pages is a perfect forecast of the future, and a copy of every book that has ever been written and every book that will be written.

In that stack of pages there are dictionaries for languages that no human has ever used. There are records of every conversation you have ever had, and there are transcripts of how every conversation would have gone if you had only said something else.

if that isn’t enough to blow your mind, all of those pages have been created. Using math and pretty powerful computers, an online library has been formed of all possible pages, and you can check it out in the link below.


The Library of Babel

Like the Biblical tower from which the library gains it’s name, the Library of Babel is beyond the scope of human control. We are overwhelmed by the sheer number of pages contained within the depths of those digital shelves. You could spend your entire life reading pages and never come across a single page that made any sense, and even if it did, you would have no way of knowing if it was true or false.

One final piece of information for you to reflect upon: the number of pages is finite. If you were given unlimited time, you could read every single page in the Library of Babel and your eternal life would have just begun.