Criticism that Counts

By John C. Maxwell
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Americans have a warped view of criticism. Unfortunately, most of us see criticism almost exclusively in a negative light. We dish it out tactlessly, use it to tear down rivals, and attack others with it even when we have no authority to do so.

It certainly doesn’t help that we are inundated with poor examples of criticism in the media. For starters, consider American Idol’s British judge, Simon Cowell. It’s not uncommon for Simon’s scathing criticisms to elicit tears from contestants. His words are given sincerely, but heartlessly. Watching Simon, it’s as if he relishes finding faults in another’s imperfections.

Election season paints another ugly picture of criticism. Politicians wield it like an ax to cut down their opponents. Instead of debating ideas in a civil forum, too often politicians lower themselves into a mudslinging contest.

Another media avenue, the blogosphere, has become criticism central in America. Bloggers attack the character of leaders they don’t know and rail against decisions made in circumstances they could never understand. Far too frequently, their inflammatory tone escalates conflict without adding any substantial value to the interplay of ideas.

Criticism defined

Given the less than stellar models of criticism prevailing in society, we need a healthy definition of criticism along with practical guidance for giving and receiving it. In an April 1st article for BusinessWeek, Dr. Bruce Weinstein gives us exactly that. Here’s how he describes the value of criticism:

“The goal of true criticism is to help someone be the best they can be …When criticism is done appropriately, the person who has been criticized will understand what he or she has done wrong and will feel inspired to make a change for the better. Not only should we not avoid being criticized, we should embrace criticism because it is the only way we can continue to grow professionally and personally.”

The following practical tips are intended to flesh out the ways we can begin to embrace and wisely employ criticism as leaders.

When giving criticism

Encouragement helps criticism to land

Before a pilot lands an aircraft, she goes through a series of procedures to make the plane touch down as smoothly as possible. The pilot gently drops altitude, gradually cuts back on speed, and lowers landing gear at just the right moment. If these steps are handled incorrectly, the ride is certain to be turbulent and may end up in disaster.

For criticism to “land” well, it must be preceded by encouragement. Leaders deafen their people to criticism when they neglect to encourage them regularly. If leaders are silent after victory but outspoken during defeat, then team morale plummets. It’s difficult to stay open to suggestions for improvement under what feels like a constant barrage of negativity. [...]

Click here to read full text.


Water-powered Fuel Cell Car: A technology that will render OPEC dispensable

OPEC’s Insatiable Appetite for Profit
By Alfredo G. Rosario

Opinion - The Manila Times

In a speech before the Asian-European Editors Forum in Bangkok last Friday, Sebastian Paust, executive director of the Asian Development Bank, quoted a World Bank report that 33 countries have been facing political and social unrest due to “skyrocketing” oil and food prices.

There were riots in 22 countries affected by the energy crisis, according to Paust. The Philippines, for one, is reeling from the increase in oil prices, causing the sale of rice and other prime commodities at prohibitive costs.

No end to the rise in oil prices seems to be in sight. Almost every day, the country’s oil companies announce an increase in the cost of gasoline, causing new rounds of increases in the price of consumer goods, utilities and services.

Economists say the price of gasoline is determined by market forces. But the world’s oil price today has broken all records. While the price hike has met the seemingly insatiable appetite of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) for huge profits, it has disrupted the social and economic life of many nations.

The oil cartel was organized initially by Venezuela and four other nations around the Persian Gulf. Today, the OPEC has 13 members—Algeria, Ecuador, Gabon, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela. It has gone beyond its main goal to counteract falling oil prices when it brought a four-fold increase in the world price of the commodity in 1973 to 1974.

The continuing price increase has been causing a chronic inflation that has worsened over the years, affecting many nations around the world. [...]

Click here to read full text.

Read also: New Fuel Cell System 'Generates Electricity with Only Water, Air'

Academic Freedom

By Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino
Manila Standard Today

Michael Polanyi explains his principle of the “coordination of independent initiatives” by a very interesting analogy. If a considerably large group of people were to work on a considerably large jigsaw puzzle, each holding a piece, the only way the pieces could come meaningfully together would be to leave each free, in full view of others, to try to fit the piece into the whole, to confer, to exchange and to discuss with others, until all pieces fit together. Let us assume, of course, that no one really knows what the puzzle pictures when fully assembled. Then the result of the collective endeavor will be unpremeditated. It will not do to lay down rules on how each player moves; this would hinder efficiency. But it is equally clear that what the coordinated effort will achieve far exceeds what any single individual can.

From this, Polanyi argues, the scientific endeavor is most fruitful when each scientist is left to his own initiative and when there is self-coordination, with scientists engaged in non-regulated exchange and collaboration free of all forms of constraint or restraint. Any authority directing the autonomy of the scientist and of the scientific community would bring growth to a standstill. So it is that while there are things we would prefer scientists to get to work on—the cure for dreaded maladies, for example—rather than what in difficult times may seem to be mindless luxuries like the latest in anti-ageing unguents and enhancers of sexual prowess, on the whole, it is still best to leave the scientific community to itself and to its self-regulation.

Academic freedom is a kindred spirit. In a sense, the human mind needs no law to convince it of its freedom. Rahner puts it wonderfully: The horizon of questioning is infinite, and questions may be directed at anything, including the questioner himself. But the concept had to be articulated with some degree of judicial precision because of what politics and law may do to the freedom of inquiry and the liberty of research. The great and perennial problems of humankind as well as its quotidian concerns are best addressed when thinking men and women are free to ask, free to exchange, free to propose answers and free to convince others of the correctness of their answers. Paradoxically what pushes human inquiry toward infinite frontiers is the ever-present awareness of the finiteness of human knowledge. Science, Popper usefully instructs, consists not in the accumulation of theories but in their constant overthrow and their replacement by new and better ones. This view may receive a more sympathetic listening among post-moderns for whom textuality means one reading among different possible variant readings to which we must now pay heed, if we muster the courage and the integrity to depart from the canonized readings by which the powerful have ruled the earth. There is, as I have always insisted, a social dimension to academic freedom in that it allows what the majority or the dominant may think to be unworthy of attention and credence a fair hearing—and a chance to become the narrative of choice, at least for now. [...]

Click here to read full text


A Short Introduction to Atheism

By Carl E. Olson
Ignatius Insight

In Dominum et Vivificantem, his encyclical on the Holy Spirit, Pope John Paul II stated that atheism "is the striking phenomenon of our time" (par 56). He then points readers to Gaudium et Spes, Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, which observes that "atheism must be accounted among the most serious problems of this age, and is deserving of closer examination" (GS 19).

In fact, in three compact but rich paragraphs (GS 19-21), Gaudium et Spes made a number of observations about atheism which are helpful for all Catholics. The Council Fathers recognized that atheism is complex and multifaceted, embracing numerous perspectives loosely bound around a core disbelief or denial of God.

To stereotype atheists simply as immoral unbelievers guarantees frustration and failure in dealing with them. Gaudium et Spes describes some of the varieties of unbelievers, including those who deny God outright, ambivalent agnostics, wary skeptics, calculating rationalists, doubtful philosophers, sensual materialists and virulent anti-Christians. And then there are those who "never get to the point of raising questions about God, since they seem to experience no religious stirrings nor do they see why they should trouble themselves about religion" (GS 19). No doubt this describes some of our neighbors, co-workers and even family members.

At the heart of atheism is an unbalanced desire for human independence that excludes the reality of God. Man becomes the end of all things and the "sole artisan and creator of his own history" (GS 20). John Paul II made remarks in a similar vein, saying, "Being an atheist . . . means not knowing the true nature of created reality but absolutizing it, and therefore ‘idolizing’ it, instead of considering it a mark of the Creator and the path that leads to him." ("Christian Response to Atheism," April 14, 1999 at the General Audience). Along with this exclusive focus on humanity, modern atheism strongly emphasizes technology, science, and certain political philosophies. These are held up as evidence of man’s autonomy and his ability to achieve earthly utopia.

As Many Atheisms as Atheists

Atheists often disagree among themselves about what it means to be an atheist. Ignace Lepp, a convert to Catholicism from Marxism and atheism, observed, "It would not be at all false to say that there are as many atheisms as atheists." (Atheism In Our Time [New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1963] 12). This presents a formidable challenge to the Catholic who encounters atheism and attempts to address it.

Among the many different types of atheism are weak atheism (lacking a belief in a God), strong atheism (believing God cannot exist), disproof atheism (believing most evidence points to God’s nonexistence), methodological atheism (claiming theists fail to give sufficient proof for God’s existence), mystical atheism (based on a private, subjective experience), and faith atheism (believing in nonexistence of God based on "faith"). Forms of atheisms range from political ideologies (Marxism) to scientific perspectives (Darwinian evolution) to existential viewpoints (nihilism).

Michael Martin, an atheist author and apologist, notes that atheism is not necessarily the rejection of God’s existence, but rejection of faith in God: "In Greek ‘a’ means ‘without’ or ‘not’ and ‘theos’ means ‘god.’ From this standpoint an atheist would simply be someone without a belief in God, not necessarily someone who believes that God does not exist. According to its Greek roots, then, atheism is a negative view, characterized by the absence of belief in God." (Atheism: A Philosophical Justification [Temple University Press, 1990) 463).

For this reason some atheists prefer to be called freethinkers, rationalists, humanists, or agnostics. Often the differences appear to be little more than semantics. But agnostics, who traditionally are ambivalent about man’s ability to know whether God exists or not, are often scorned by staunch atheists, such as the infamous Madalyn Murray O’Hair, who once sneered that "the agnostic is gutless and prefers to keep one safe foot in the god camp." (from www.infidels.org).

Rejection of God, Worship of Man

Regardless of the varieties of atheism, most atheists do share a rejection (either of existence of or faith in) of a god or gods – but almost always the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition. While atheists sometimes say that they give equal time to all gods (and goddesses), in reality this usually isn’t so. Most atheists are anti-Christian and mostly focus on the God of Jews and Christians.

This focus emphasizes the fact that atheism, at the core, is a negative that relies upon the positive it rejects. "Atheism is the supreme example of a simple faith," wrote G.K. Chesterton, "The truth is that the atmosphere of excitement by which the atheist lives, is an atmosphere of thrilled and shuttering theism, and not of atheism at all; it is an atmosphere of defiance and not of denial. . . . If there were not God, there would be no atheists." ("Where All Roads Lead," Collected Works, vol. 3 [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990] 37-38). This sort of rebellious spirit was summed up by Margaret Sanger, the American freethinker who pioneered "birth control rights" whose motto was "No gods, no masters."

Just as there are many forms of atheism, there are numerous reasons given for being an atheist. Not surprisingly, many atheists claim that logic and clear thinking have led them to their disbelief in God. But Lepp, an atheist for most of his young adult years and also a psychotherapist, doesn’t agree: "As a matter of fact, most atheists pretend to be rationalists," he observes, "They criticize religion from the point of view of history or of the natural sciences. . . But in fact there are few atheists, especially among educated men, who are so for rigorously rational motives." (Lepp, 14).

Vatican II stated that people become atheists due to a "variety of causes, including a critical reaction against religious beliefs, and in some places against the Christian religion in particular" (GS 19). That seems obvious, but the next sentence is crucial: "Hence believers can have more than a little to do with the birth of atheism. To the extent that they neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine, or are deficient in their religious, moral or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion" (GS 19).

Practically Atheist

Perhaps the most prevalent form of atheism is also the most subtle: practical atheism. What is it? In the essay "What Does Vatican II Teach About Atheism," the theologian Karl Rahner, S.J., explained that "a man, even a ‘Christian’, can accept God objectively in his understanding and his freedom, declare that he is a ‘theist’ and think that he observes the moral norms of God, and yet deny God in his heart either morally or as a believer." Put another way, a practical atheist may say he believes in God – and may even Mass – but he acts and thinks as though God does not exist.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church points out that what sometimes called agnosticism – the belief that we cannot know anything about God or if He exists –" is all too often equivalent to practical atheism" (CCC 2128). This marks a refusal to ask the ultimate questions about existence and reality.

Practical atheism has often been equated with religious indifference by Pope John Paul II and others. The late Holy Father wrote, in his "Christian Response to Modern Atheism," that "the contemporary era has known particularly devastating forms of ‘theoretical’ and ‘practical’ atheism (cf. Encyclical Letter Fides et ratio, nn. 46-47). Secularism proves particularly ruinous with its indifference to ultimate questions and to faith: it in fact expresses a model of man lacking all reference to the transcendent. ‘Practical’ atheism is thus a bitter and concrete reality."

The Challenge of Disbelief

Atheist literature, websites and arguments reflect this fact loudly and clearly. Atheists take special issue with Catholicism because they see it as detached, ultra-authoritarian and out of touch with the modern world. Not surprisingly, most atheists demonstrate a faulty understanding of most Church teaching and a sharp cynicism about the perceived hypocrisy of most (if not all) Catholics.

While some of these perceptions are rooted in unfair bias and dislike, the failure of Catholics to adequately explain and live the Faith is also to blame. Each Christian also has an obligation to address atheism as best they can, especially in how they present the Faith in words and deeds. The Council Fathers explained, "The remedy which must be applied to atheism, however, is to be sought in a proper presentation of the Church's teaching as well as in the integral life of the Church and her members" (GS 21). In this way Catholics can be in accord, through patience and prayer, with the heart and mind of the Church, who "courteously invites atheists to examine the Gospel of Christ with an open mind." (GS 21).

Which Atheism Do You Not Believe In?

By Carl E. Olson
Ignatius Insight

The modern atheist is, Archbishop Fulton Sheen observed in Peace of Soul, "always angered when he hears anything said about God and religion--he would be incapable of such a resentment if God were only a myth." The great Sheen likely borrowed this point from G.K. Chesterton, himself a former agnostic of sorts, who wrote, in Where All Road Lead:

“Atheism is the supreme example of a simple faith. The truth is that the atmosphere of excitement by which the atheist lives, is an atmosphere of thrilled and shuttering theism, and not of atheism at all; it is an atmosphere of defiance and not of denial... If there were not God, there would be no atheists.”

There has been much talk, including on this blog, about recent books by Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, whose disdain for Christianity specifically and religion in general would be hard to overstate (although, it should be noted, Harris has a certain soft spot for Buddhism). Now Christopher Hitchens has entered the ring with a new book titled God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, which is selling briskly at amazon.com (#4 as of this writing). Evangelical historian Preston Jones reviews the book for Christianity Today and points out that Hitchens using a broad and convenient brush when it comes to the subject at hand:

But then, what does Hitchens mean by religion? Under the same umbrella he groups Mother Teresa, voodoo, the pope, "fear-ridden peasants of antiquity," Muslim suicide bombers, animists, "arid monotheism," the archbishop of Canterbury, séances, Thomas Aquinas, an evangelical huckster "dressed in a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit," Muhammad, the "tawdry myths of Bethlehem," the "vapid and annoying holiday known as 'Hanukah,'" Mormons, "hysterical Jewish congregations," the "sordid" theology of Pascal, Martin Luther King, rednecks, "cobbled-together ancient Jewish books" (i.e., the Bible), WWII-era Japanese emperor worship, and male circumcision (which Hitchens describes as "mutilation of a powerless infant with the aim of ruining its future sex life").

It's true that readers would expect a review of a book titled God Is Not Great, published in a place like this, to be unfriendly. But if Hitchens had anything new and persuasive to tell us, I would say so. Alas, as the preceding paragraph suggests, we are dealing with a very intelligent and well-read author who, when it comes to "religion," is simply incapable of reason. Hitchens admires Socrates' claim to be certain only of his own ignorance. The reader wishes that Hitchens would exchange admiration for emulation. The effect of his not doing so is the feeling that one is rather in the presence of an exceedingly angry sophist, and that is sad. But it also sometimes evokes a brief giggle, as when Hitchens writes that "many religions force themselves to think of the birth canal as a one-way street, and even the Koran treats the Virgin Mary with reverence." (It must have seemed funny at the time.)

Hitchens wants to make us laugh; everyone acknowledges his skill at delivering zingers. And given his fluency and astonishing cerebral quickness, he makes for a formidable conversationalist and debater. The problem often comes when one actually pays attention to what he says. Hitchens notices that human beings have a need to worship, but he denies that anything is to be worshipped. He criticizes the Bible for not standing up to the rigors of contemporary forensics, but he knows that ancient literature is fundamentally different from government reports. (It really is absurd to critique Genesis for not mentioning plesiosaurs and pterodactyls.) Hitchens hymns the praises of the knowledge gained from the Human Genome Project, but he doesn't mention what he surely knows—that the project's leader, Francis Collins, has made his Christian commitment quite public. Indeed, Hitchens does not recognize or allude to other highly respected scientists who, like Collins, have written on the compatibility of Christian faith and scientific discovery.

Meanwhile, this recent piece from the Associated Press points out that Hichens, Harris, and Co. are being criticized "for being too militant, for not just disbelieving in religious faith but for trying to eradicate it. And who’s leveling these accusations? Other atheists, it turns out." Jay Lindsay continues:

Among the millions of Americans who don’t believe God exists, there’s a split between people such as Greg Epstein, who holds the partially endowed post of humanist chaplain at Harvard University, and so-called “New Atheists.”

Epstein and other humanists feel their movement is on verge of explosive growth, but are concerned it will be dragged down by what they see as the militancy of New Atheism.

The most pre-eminent New Atheists include best-selling authors Richard Dawkins, who has called the God of the Old Testament “a psychotic delinquent,” and Sam Harris, who foresees global catastrophe unless faith is renounced. They say religious belief is so harmful it must be defeated and replaced by science and reason.

Epstein calls them “atheist fundamentalists.” He sees them as rigid in their dogma, and as intolerant as some of the faith leaders with whom atheists share the most obvious differences.

Next month, as Harvard celebrates the 30th anniversary of its humanist chaplaincy, Epstein will use the occasion to provide a counterpoint to the New Atheists.

“Humanism is not about erasing religion,” he said. “It’s an embracing philosophy.” ....

A 2006 Baylor University survey estimates about 15 million atheists in the United States.

Not all nonbelievers identify as humanists or atheists, with some calling themselves agnostics, freethinkers or skeptics. But humanists see the potential for unifying the groups under their banner, creating a large, powerful minority that can’t be ignored or disdained by mainstream political and social thinkers.

This point about different types of atheism is an important one, but is often missed or ignored, including by many Christians. Although I don't claim to be an expert on atheism, I've rashly written some pieces about it, and this very point was one of the most important things that I learned in the process. In a 2005 piece about atheism writen for Our Sunday Visitor (based, in part, on an older article for Envoy magazine; read the entire piece here), I wrote:

Atheists often disagree among themselves about what it means to be an atheist. Ignace Lepp, a convert to Catholicism from Marxism and atheism, observed, “It would not be at all false to say that there are as many atheisms as atheists.” (Atheism In Our Time [New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1963] 12). This presents a formidable challenge to the Catholic who encounters atheism and attempts to address it.

Among the many different types of atheism are weak atheism (lacking a belief in a God), strong atheism (believing God cannot exist), disproof atheism (believing most evidence points to God’s nonexistence), methodological atheism (claiming theists fail to give sufficient proof for God’s existence), mystical atheism (based on a private, subjective experience), and faith atheism (believing in nonexistence of God based on “faith”). Forms of atheisms range from political ideologies (Marxism) to scientific perspectives (Darwinian evolution) to existential viewpoints (nihilism).

Michael Martin, an atheist author and apologist, notes that atheism is not necessarily the rejection of God’s existence, but rejection of faith in God: “In Greek ‘a’ means ‘without’ or ‘not’ and ‘theos’ means ‘god.’ From this standpoint an atheist would simply be someone without a belief in God, not necessarily someone who believes that God does not exist. According to its Greek roots, then, atheism is a negative view, characterized by the absence of belief in God.” (Atheism: A Philosophical Justification [Temple University Press, 1990) 463).

For this reason some atheists prefer to be called freethinkers, rationalists, humanists, or agnostics. Often the differences appear to be little more than semantics. But agnostics, who traditionally are ambivalent about man’s ability to know whether God exists or not, are often scorned by staunch atheists, such as the infamous Madalyn Murray O’Hair, who once sneered that “the agnostic is gutless and prefers to keep one safe foot in the god camp.” (from www.infidels.org).

As Mark Brumley has hinted at and as more and more apologetically-minded folks are recognizing, Catholics and other Christians need to take seriously the philosophical and even polemical arguments made by atheists, not to so much to put more strident atheists in their place, but to show, in a variety of ways, that Christianity is not only not contrary to reason, goodness, and order, but is an essential reason why they still exist today in the face of irrationality, evil, and chaos. This means, among others things, a decent understanding of Church history and a basic grounding in philosophy, both of which can be obtained, to a large degree, through reading books and articles by authors such as Chesterton, Sheen, C.S. Lewis, Peter Kreeft, James V. Schall, S.J., Frank Sheed, Thomas Howard, Josef Pieper, Thomas Dubay, S.M., and others.

Atheism and the Purely "Human" Ethic

By Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Ignatius Insight

"Some have reached the point of theorizing on the absolute sovereignty of reason and freedom in the context of moral norms: they presume that these norms constitute the context of a purely ‘human’ ethic, in other words, the expression of a law that man makes for himself by himself. The advocates of this ‘secular morality’ say that man as a rational being not only can but must decide freely on the value of his behavior." — Benedict XVI, Address to Biblical Commission, April 27, 2006


C. S. Lewis wrote in Surprised By Joy that "a young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading" (and, later, that "a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully.") It is a great and amusing statement. We are accustomed to being warned about reading enticing materials that, it is said, might corrupt our minds or our morals. It seldom occurs to us that the person who is, as it were, already "corrupted" in either sphere has the same reading problem if he wants to continue on his merry way with a clear conscience. While evil and disorder may be quite alluring, we sometimes forget that what is good is more so – so much so that it often surprises and shocks us into reality, into seeing what is. The fact that we can read at all, in whatever language, we need to be reminded, itself opens us not only to what is disoriented and corrupting, but also to what is noble and elevating. The fact that the world was made in the Word and this same Word became flesh, whether we like it or not, impinges on every sentence we read or speak, on every being we encounter in our daily lives.

Our minds are made to recognize the truth, even if we choose to live in error and make every effort, as we do, to claim that our chosen error is, paradoxically, the truth. Few there are who do not seek to defend in thought and words how they choose to live. This defense is, I suppose, but another way of saying that we have to attempt to justify our lives, no matter how we choose to live them. And once we have presented our presumably reasonable justification for the way we live, we find that this very explication is open to inspection to whoever else has mind and wants to examine what we claim is true. Our word about ourselves is not the final word, even when it is our final word.

It is little consolation to us, I suspect, that no one else in the world can imagine why anyone in his right mind would hold what we do hold. The only and last-ditch defense of our ways, as it turns out, is a kind of multiculturalism in which we agree never to inquire anything of another or let them inquire anything of us. We become, not "social" beings, but "enclosed" beings because we cannot bear to hear how we live as critiqued by someone else. Silently, no doubt, we suspect contradictions in ourselves when we try not to see them because we do not want to change how we live.

Philosophical literature is filled with the notion of "humanism," a word that goes back at least to Cicero. At its best, humanism means man’s intellectual effort to state to himself what he is. We are the beings who not only exist but who must state to themselves why they exist as they do – as men, not toads or angels. We are not complete with our existence alone. We need the effort to illuminate what this existence is as it appears in us. Obviously, this endeavor is self-reflective, but not for that reason necessarily "subjective" in the pejorative sense. That is, as Etienne Gilson once said of "Augustinian metaphysics," it is possible, though not always easy, to be objective even about oneself.

This objectivity indicates our inner awareness that we did not make ourselves to be what we are. We have the raw material and capacity for making this judgment in our very selves. In this sense, we have a "laboratory" within our being that can be illuminated by our own minds as they seek to know what is not themselves alone. Indeed, the first task of the "mind" is to decide in particular whether what we are is already given to us. Only when we make this reflective judgment can we proceed to decide how we ought to act, then how we will act in this light. We are aware, as St. Paul also told us, that we do not always "will" to do what we ought, even while knowing what we "should" do. Paul graphically spoke of two "laws" in our members to illustrate this awareness of what each of us experiences.

We are all faced with common perplexities. How can we be "free" if we must "obey" the "law?" Are there not different kinds of law? In our age, this apparent opposition between law and liberty is particularly confusing. Since Rousseau, many have tried to solve it by defining law in such a way that law only means what we want it to mean. In other words, no such thing as a natural or universal law binds us or is even known to us. This negative approach, of course, eliminates any conflict except on the basis of confrontation with other absolutely free wills defining differently what they choose.

Rousseau solved his problem by proposing a blind spiritual obedience to the majority will. He wanted no conflict between our outer and inner selves. He was haunted with the loss of spiritual communion caused by the individualist presuppositions of previous thinkers since Machavelli and Hobbes. What Rousseau lost in the process of proposing his own solution was precisely the individual human person himself with his own order of soul and nobility that he did not give himself. This latter was what had itself also to judge civil law and custom, even of the majority. Freedom was not contrasted with law but with "force." We are to be "forced" to be free if we cannot accept whatever is willed by the law of the majority that we give to ourselves.

Freedom, obedience, and law, in much modern thought, are thus seen to contrast with – not to compliment – one another. When we do not properly spell out these relations between freedom, obedience, and law, especially if we are Christians, we become less free, even slave-like. If we obey a law, particularly a revealed law, we are said to lose our liberty, whereas, in the best sense, the opposite is the case. We gain it. It is still the truth that makes us free. How this increased freedom stemming from revealed law happens is what we most need to understand.

We find ourselves in something of a dilemma. To really be what we are involves a component of obedience to a law we did not make. One can either look upon this situation as a tyranny or a gift. If we look on it as a tyranny – that is, "who is to tell us what we are?" sort of approach – we will spend our time and effort erecting a theory of our being designed in opposition to the obedience that is based on a normative givenness of what-it-is-to-be-human. We will find, in short, that in some odd sense our freely chosen principles turn out to be the reverse of how we are taught to act in natural law or divine revelation. This situation should at least strike us as odd.

By contrast, if we look upon our being, its very what it is, as something given to us as a gift (which is the case) we will suspect that we are more of what we are – more human – by accepting the gift. We make the effort to see what the gift is. We live by its terms. Indeed, on this latter premise, our intellectual life will be not filled with the frantic efforts to define and justify other criteria about how to live, criteria opposite of the law of our being. Rather it will be able to see that obedience to the given law is itself in every instance the more reasonable thing about us, the more choice-worthy.

We will begin to discover, in the very use of our minds, an uncanny relation between what is law and what is reasonable. We learn that it is not our reason that makes our being. Our reason is already in the being we have. Our reason discovers what we are more easily by observing the law of our nature and of revelation addressed to it. Revelational norms or laws, we begin to suspect, have behind them the same overarching reason that we find in our given nature, though we must often use the most subtle intelligence to see this relationship. The young atheist, in this sense, does need to be very careful about what he reads. He never quite knows what he will find on carefully examining even his favorite vice, which, to be sure, he is free to do.


In his recent address to the Biblical Commission, Pope Benedict XVI noted that the commission was engaged in studying the relation between the "Bible and morals," no doubt an ancient and abiding enterprise. A long and well thought out tradition of precisely "Christian humanism" argued that no necessary opposition exists between humanism and revelation. This tradition did not deny, however, the existence of what Henri de Lubac, S.J., called "atheistic humanism," or "secular humanism." The principled assumptions of these latter two forms of humanism present a philosophical problem for the Christian mind. Once we understand what they hold, we can see why the atheist positions proposed. The Christian intelligence is not impeded from understanding the arguments of atheist – or anyone else, for that matter. As Aristotle remarked, when we see why an error is made, we are more prepared to see why the truth is truth.

Beginning with the Ten Commandments, the Bible is clearly replete with moral injunctions, many of which, we are now told, are backward, or out of date, or dangerous, or silly. Some think that this judgment of modernity is sufficient for us to reject this morality. We need not be concerned with anything else and need not worry about whether the rejection of classical morality is true. And for many, this is true, at least for a while.

One of the reasons for revelation, as St. Thomas told us, was so that ordinary folks could understand what it was they needed to know or do to reach the highest good in view of the fact that they were either too busy, too weak, too sinful, or too slow to see what the more learned might see. Revelation gave us access to truths that the culture often would ridicule or not tell us. But revelation was not intended to put a stop to reason. Quite the opposite, it was intended to provoke it so that it would see on its own terms what was clearly more "reasonable."

We may, for instance, be against abortion or birth control or lying because the Bible in some way or another tells us that these are wrong. But the fact is that careful examination of facts connected with the effects of abortion, birth control, or lying, or other vices, shows that a very convincing case can be made for the biblical injunctions on grounds of data and reason. Very often we would not pay careful attention to such studies if we were not prodded to make them or attend to them by the supposed conflict between revealed law and human law or custom or by the assurances that no one in their right minds held them.

Benedict XVI is always good at stating the exact dimensions of a position contrary to reason or revelation. One might reflect on what it might mean that a pope can do this quite well. Interestingly, Pope Ratzinger remarks that, in this particular issue, the relation of "Bible and morals," we are not concerned exclusively with the "believer," but with "every person as such." I would take this remark to mean that knowledge of what is in the Bible, the truth it contains, is not something for believers alone but, on their own terms, is something addressed to all human persons as such, be they Bible readers or not. The relation of the Bible and morals is also, as the Pope has said in other contexts (reiterating Fides et Ratio), an admonition to Biblical scholars that they too have to be familiar with philosophy. We must note here that the Bible, even in its most difficult terms, remains, at bottom, a teaching addressed to reason on its own terms, something that also involves freedom. Even those things beyond the power of human reason, such as the Trinity and Incarnation, are not presented as against reason but as something completing it.

Benedict next takes up the very first question of Aristotle in his Ethics, namely, "man’s first impulse is his desire for happiness and for fulfilment in life." Pope Ratzinger observes that what is different today, both from Aristotle and the Bible, at least in the West, is the assumption that this happiness "should be achieved absolutely autonomously, without any reference to God or to his law." Whether this same happiness can be reached by observing the Koran or other "laws," the Pope does not mention, though it is becoming evident that he must soon seriously address this issue in a more formal manner, especially as Islam moves into Europe.

Benedict’s statement of "a purely ‘human’ ethic" proposed as an alternate to classic reason and revelation is precise. We can only, it is said, obey a "law" that we give ourselves. "The advocates of this ‘secular morality’ say that man as a rational being not only can but must decide freely on the value of his behavior." No doubt, this position is the going rationale, taught on most campuses and presupposed by much of the intelligentsia. It is not Chesterton’s remark that, while yet an unbeliever, he had, by reading the heretics’ inconsistencies, almost invented Christianity by himself, only to discover happily that it was already invented. Rather this purely human ethic is a justification of what is held to be against natural and revealed law as itself what is the real human good. This enterprise of denying of natural law is itself "missionary," aggressively so.

But such a view is "erroneous." It is based, Benedict remarks, on a "presumed conflict between human freedom and every form of law." Thus, it is the burden of the Pope to suggest why freedom and law are not in conflict. He begins with a sentence right out of Aquinas: "The Creator, because we are creatures, has inscribed his ‘natural law,’ a reflection of his creative idea, in our hearts, in our very being, as a compass and inner guide for our life." From this background, the Pope concludes that "the vocation and complete fulfilment of the human being are not attained by rejecting God’s law, but by abiding by the new law that consists in the grace of the Holy Spirit." The Pope puts down a certain gauntlet here. He does so on the basis of law and reason, but he does not hesitate to include "the new law" and "grace," as if the happiness of which Aristotle spoke is not to be achieved without them.

Everything Benedict writes these days is seen in the light of his Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. No contradiction exits between God’s law, human freedom, and God’s love. "God’s law correctly interpreted neither attenuates nor, even less, eliminates man‘s freedom." If the reason we are given freedom in the first place is that we might freely receive the highest things, that we might choose to love them, then it is absurd to say that the law of God might itself be designed to eliminate it. The moral law was found in the Old Testament and no doubt in the philosophers. Its more complete fulfilment is in Christ in the New Testament. This completion is a "synthesis of perfect freedom in total obedience to God’s will." An ethic that listens to revelation "also seeks to be authentically rational." Reason and revelation are not opposed as what is rational to what is not rational, but as what is rational to what is more fully rational.

In this context, we are not given a tract to follow, but the example of Christ’s own life as the embodiment of law, love, faith, obedience, freedom, and finally happiness. Christ carried out His mission in obedience to His Father’s will. Christ in doing so reveals the Father as the origin of all being, including our own. At the same time, Christ reveals "the norms of upright human action." A "divine-human perfection" is possible to us, but not as something we concoct for ourselves. Jesus’ teaching is not an "externally imposed regulation." We are given the grace to "participate" in Christ’s own life and "put it into practice." The apostles, as we ourselves, are "invited" to follow Him. The invitation can be and quite often is evidently refused.

"Christ is the Incarnate Logos who enables us to share in his divine life and sustains us with his grace on the journey toward our fulfilment." John Paul II used to say that Christ "fully reveals to man to himself." Imagine telling us philosophers and humanists this outlandish statement, implying that what we definitely cannot figure out fully by ourselves is the very truth about us. Of course, every philosopher knows that somehow no philosopher has yet comprehended this whole truth by himself and about man and cannot, in his quiet moments, help but wonder why.

Benedict affirms the same thing that John Paul II did: "What man really is, appears definitively in the Logos made man; faith in Christ gives us the fulfilment of anthropology." This affirmation remains, on examination, the most revolutionary philosophic doctrine even in our time. "Anthropology" is the study of man and what he is, whether discovered by examining his historic record or by reflecting on his mind.

Indeed, as Benedict told the scripture scholars, the understanding of man includes what the Bible says of him. The Bible too is addressed to the truly open mind. "The relationship with Christ defines the loftiest realization of man’s moral action. This human action is directly based on obedience to God’s law, on union with Christ and on the indwelling of the Spirit in the believer’s soul. It is not an action dictated by merely exterior norms, but stems from the vital relationship that connects believers to Christ and to God." Obedience, freedom, happiness, law, faith, grace — these are words and realities that belong together. However much in opposition to each other they seem, it is we who make them so. In themselves, they all point in one direction.

The famous French philosopher, Simone Weil, wrote in her posthumous Gravity and Grace, that "by redemptive suffering, God is present in extreme evil. For the absence of God is the mode of divine presence which corresponds to evil — absence which is felt. He who has not God within himself cannot feel this absence." The moral law, after all, is also about "avoiding evil." John Paul II said, in the context of human freedom, that the limit of evil is the divine mercy. The whole point of Christianity is that sins can be forgiven. What cannot be forgiven is what chooses to affirm in thought or in act that nothing needs to be forgiven.

"The absence of God is the mode of divine presence which corresponds to evil." The absence of God is "felt" even by atheists, especially the young ones, when they decide freely what their own values are and, with experience, realize that what they thought was theirs is not really what they wanted according to some "law" of their actual being that keeps their hearts unsettled. This evil is the absence that is felt by all philosophers, young and old, who seek by themselves alone to explain everything that is. Following this method, the first thing they end up with is knowing nothing about themselves.

The immediacy of God is the mode of divine presence that corresponds to what is. This truth is, ultimately, why the young atheist cannot be too careful in what he reads.

Dawkins' Delusions

An interview with Fr. Thomas Crean, O.P., author of God Is No Delusion: A Refutation of Richard Dawkins

In God Is No Delusion, Father Thomas Crean, O.P. takes on the claims of biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion. He examines Dawkins' "argument from complexity," his attacks on miracles and the Gospels, his inconsistent understanding of morality, and his notions of the origins of religion. "Fr. Crean is an excellent tutor" whose book exhibits "splendid lucidity," observes Dr. Thomas Howard. And Dr. Joseph Shaw, who teaches philosophy at Oxford University, praises Father Crean's book for being "calm and reflective, patient and charitable."

Carl E. Olson, editor of Ignatius Insight, recently interviewed Father Crean about his book, Dawkins, and atheism at large.

Ignatius Insight: Why did you decide to write a book-length response to Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion?

Fr. Crean: Normally I think it is better to leave extreme anti-Catholic or anti-theistic tracts unanswered, both to avoid giving them greater publicity and because they tend to undermine themselves more effectively than any Catholic apologist could undermine them, by their crassness or self-contradictions. Richard Dawkins's work, however, seemed to call for some reply. It was already very well-publicized, so it seemed unlikely that I should win it a wider circulation, and its author is a fairly well-known public figure.

He has, for example, a professorship at Oxford University dedicated to promoting "the public understanding of science", and he has also presented a television series attacking religion. In particular I was prompted to write a reply by seeing his book displayed in the most prominent place in the shop window of the main bookshop in Cambridge, near where I live. Whenever I passed this book-shop, I saw this challenge to our faith, and I was put in mind of the Philistine Goliath taunting the armies of Israel to come and do combat...

Ignatius Insight: Dawkins' field of expertise is biology. How would you rate him as, first, a philosopher, and, secondly, as an apologist for atheism?

Fr. Crean: I do not think he is very interested in philosophy. He refers occasionally to Daniel Dennett, but that is about all. He seems to take materialism as self-evident, but he doesn't make any serious effort to explain thought or free will. He refers at one point to St. Thomas's "five ways", but his discussion of them is extremely cursory, with major misunderstandings. There is no mention of Plato or Aristotle in his book. His impatience with "religion"is such that he is not really disposed to weigh carefully any arguments in its favor, which is obviously the very reverse of a philosophical frame of mind.

As an apologist for atheism he has some useful qualities, such as passion, a tone of conviction, a desire to make converts, ready invective and an apparent concern for the psychological (I almost said "spiritual") welfare of those whom he is trying to convert. On the other hand his stridency must surely reduce his influence with some people, and his lapses of logic with others.

Ignatius Insight: Throughout God Is No Delusion you point out numerous errors of logic and fact in Dawkins' work. In your opinion, what are some of the most egregious of those errors? Based on his book, what sort of research did Dawkins put into studying Christian history, theology, and philosophy?

Fr. Crean: I think one of his worst faults is the tendency to reason in a circle. For example, to explain why religion is so widespread even though in his opinion it is irrational, he says that it is evolutionarily useful. Why? Because it helps survival if, in general, one tends to adhere to the philosophy if life that one has once adopted. But the question at issue is precisely why so many people adopt theism as their philosophy of life, rather than atheism. So his explanation amounts to saying that theism is so widespread because so many people adopt it.

I suspect that he did very little research into Christian sources before writing his book. He quotes occasionally from the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia, which is of course available on the Internet. Sometimes his misunderstandings of it are quite funny, as when he quotes a passage in the entry on "Purgatory" called "proofs of Purgatory", where the author has referred to the immemorial Christian custom of praying for the dead. Professor Dawkins seriously supposes that the author intended this as a 'proof' that would convince an atheist such as himself!

What is perhaps more surprising is that he has not done more research using anti-Christian sources. I should have expected that there would have been more about the Crusades, for example, or the Inquisition. But in fact he doesn't seem to be very interested in history, any more than in philosophy.

Ignatius Insight: What is the best argument or point made by Dawkins?

Fr. Crean: An interesting question. I think that the most promising moment in his book is in his chapter on the origin of morality. He tries to explain morality—which he generally reduces to "altruism"—by the usual arguments from evolutionary psychology, i.e. certain apparently self-denying actions ultimately favor the replication of the genes of those who perform them. But at one point he becomes dissatisfied with himself and writes that wherever such tendencies may come from, there still needs to be some objective standard to distinguish good and evil: for he also believes that evolution has planted some unpleasant tendencies in human being, e.g., a tendency to xenophobia. He seems to think that we have a duty to follow some of our tendencies and not others.

So he is on the brink of admitting a transcendent source for morality; for a duty implies a lawgiver outside ourselves. Unfortunately, the next moment he goes off at a tangent and starts talking about the debate between utilitarians and their opponents, and the question of where duty—as opposed to "good tendencies"—comes from is not confronted.

Ignatius Insight: Why do you think books such as The God Delusion have been so popular? Is atheism actually growing? Or does it create news and garner attention because authors such as Dawkins use polemical language and thrive on creating controversy?

Fr. Crean: I think there is an inextricable relation between atheism, or more generally, dislike for religion, and moral decline. The collapse of public standards of morality makes people more prone to rejecting religion, and this in turn leads to further attacks on morality. Works such as Dawkins' no doubt do something to speed up this process, but a much greater responsibility would seem to lie with law-makers and their failure to defend the Christian heritage of society. Individual works of polemic (on either side) are ephemeral, but laws are lasting.

Ignatius Insight: Have you read any of the other recent books by the so-called "new atheists": Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris?

Fr. Crean: I have not read any of their works, though I was briefly interviewed by the BBC World Service, along with Christopher Hitchens. He did not want to talk to me because I was a priest, so it was not easy to have a discussion with him.

Ignatius Insight: In terms of approach, style, and content, how are the "new atheists" different from the popular atheists of the early 20th-century, such as H.G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, and George Bernard Shaw?

Fr. Crean: Bernard Shaw I think would not have considered himself an atheist, though he did mock Christianity in some of his works. The most obvious difference between someone such as Russell and what one may read today is simply the higher level of virulence and invective which atheism has reached, together with the complete abandonment of Christian morality. The writers of a hundred years ago may have been no less hostile than modern writers, but since society at large was so much more Christian, they had to restrain themselves.There is almost no restraint in Professor Dawkins' writing. The God Delusion would undoubtedly have been banned as blasphemous a hundred years ago, and the author's views on sexual morality would have excluded him from ordinary society.

Possibly another difference is that the atheist writers of the past often promoted some form of "utopianism", Socialist or other. They believed that if Christianity could be expunged, the human race could enter a new era of peace and happiness. Wells at least promoted such ideas at first, until the experience of two world wars led him to write Mind at the end of its tether. I don't have the impression that utopianism is very fashionable among modern writers.

Ignatius Insight: In addition to your book, what are some basic resources for Catholics who want to be able to respond to popular arguments made by atheists and skeptics?

Fr. Crean:There are so many sources, it is hard to know how to answer. As Dr Johnson said, one can turn over a whole library to write a single book, or to respond to a single book. Among the classic works are St. Augustine's City of God, St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa contra Gentiles, St. Robert Bellarmine's Controversies, or Pascal's Pensees. Among modern works of apologetics, one that I esteem highly is called Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine. It was written in the 1930s by Archbishop Michael Sheehan, then updated about ten years ago by Fr. Peter Joseph, an Australian priest. The updated version was printed by the Saint Austin's Press, a small English publishing house, but unfortunately it has gone out of print, and there are no plans that I know of to print any more. (Perhaps Ignatius Press might consider buying the rights to it?) As for the Internet, the Catholic Answers website is a useful resource.

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles and Excerpts:

Professor Dawkins and the Origins of Religion | Fr. Thomas Crean, O.P. | From God Is No Delusion: A Refutation of Richard Dawkins
Are Truth, Faith, and Tolerance Compatible? | Joseph Ratzinger
Atheism and the Purely "Human" Ethic | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Is Religion Evil? Secularism's Pride and Irrational Prejudice | Carl E. Olson
A Short Introduction to Atheism | Carl E. Olson
C.S. Lewis’s Case for Christianity | An Interview with Richard Purtill
Paganism and the Conversion of C.S. Lewis | Clotilde Morhan
Designed Beauty and Evolutionary Theory | Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M.
The Universe is Meaning-full | An interview with Dr. Benjamin Wiker
The Mythological Conflict Between Christianity and Science | An interview with Dr. Stephen Barr
The Source of Certitude | Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M.
Deadly Architects | An Interview with Donald De Marco & Benjamin Wiker
The Mystery of Human Origins | Mark Brumley
Relativism 101: A Brief, Objective Guide | Carl E. Olson

Slowed Down For A Reason

Signs of Poor Governance: Is America Becoming One of the Worst?
By Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson

A recent International Monetary Fund research report listed the countries expected to suffer the worst currency depreciation—that is, the worst inflation—this year. Zimbabwe (a mind-boggling 300,000 percent-plus), Venezuela (25.7 percent), Bolivia (15.1 percent), Nicaragua (13.8 percent), and Argentina (9.2 percent) are the top five. What do these countries have in common? You could reply in two ways: 1) they are poorly governed; 2) they are leftist governments, which is simply another way of saying that they are poorly governed.

Indeed, it is difficult to think of any economic indicator that exceeds inflation as evidence that a country is poorly governed. Leftist governments—defined here as regimes unfriendly to private property, private enterprise, and private profits; regimes that constantly seek ways to redistribute wealth from the economically productive members of society to favored political constituencies; and regimes that reject free markets and instead expand government control over economic activity—invariably cripple production while increasing government spending. The inevitable result is inflation.

This is no mere academic discussion. It was less than 30 years ago that inflation in the United States was in the 13-14 percent range. Today, resurgent inflation in the United States is officially listed as 4 percent, but for many Americans, it feels much worse. Is it possible that we might break into the IMF’s list of the top-five inflation-plagued countries in the next year or two? To answer that, we should ask ourselves if we have sound governance or poor governance. Sadly, examples of the latter seem to be proliferating. The following are some examples:

- In just eight years, U.S. federal spending has ballooned from $2 trillion to $3 trillion—a 50 percent increase at a time when the average private income increased only 28 percent.

- At 35 percent, the United States now has the second-highest corporate profits tax in the world—absolute insanity in a time of intense global competition when Congress should be doing everything in its power to help domestic employers compete against foreign companies.

- At a time when formerly communist countries in central and eastern Europe have adopted flat-rate personal income taxes less than 20 percent, and are booming as a result, the United States clings to an outdated Marxian, growth-retarding, class-warfare, graduated income tax, and at least one presidential candidate wants to raise those rates even more.

- Last fall, Congress decided that financial institutions were making too large a profit on student loans, so they mandated lower returns on such loans. As a result, many private lenders have dropped out of the student loan market entirely, and Congress is now trying to bail out such lenders by empowering the Department of Education to purchase student loans directly from private lenders. Where will the Department of Education come up with the necessary funds? From higher tax revenues, of course.

- Congress recently passed a $307-billion farm-subsidy bill. President Bush tried to get Congress to limit subsidies to those making no more than $200,000 per year, but Congress rejected that proposal, paving the way for subsidies to those with annual incomes over $2 million. Some senators solemnly intoned that they were doing this to prevent bankruptcies. Apart from the fact that the centuries-old trend is toward fewer agricultural producers (i.e., farm bankruptcies) as a result of improved efficiencies and economies of scale, and in spite of the fact that many farm prices are at multi-year highs, we should ask why Congress, instead of the marketplace, should decide which businesses survive and which do not? Central planning, anyone?

Click here to read full text.

No, it is not poor governance although it appears so.

The bald eagle is being placed in a temporary state of holding because she has been moving so fast ahead of her time.

She has been injured significantly due to her carelessness as she tried to accomplish her latest difficult assignment because she overlooked some details and failed to accurately survey the hunting ground and complacently relied on the shorter-range sight of other birds of prey rather than using her own long-range and accurate powerful vision. She and the other raptors listened to and believed the wrong chirping of some songbirds in the ground. With her awesome skills and capabilities, that mistake should never had happened.

If she is left alone unchecked and allowed to continue moving at her own pace, she will miss the correct timing of one of the
difficult tasks she has been assigned to accomplish and then she will fail.

So, unless her beak is temporarily made broken for a while, what else would effectively and significantly slow her down from voraciously devouring those that she considers as her preys?

In her present condition, if she insist and persist on going for her preys, the powerful vision of her eyes is always able to guide her to her preys, the strength of her majestic wings is still very much able to carry her where she wants to go and the sharp claws of her talons can still pierce through the bodies of preys, but all of these awesome power and capabilities will not benefit her to the fullest because she is not yet able to tear and
eat the flesh of her preys with her broken beak.

She can still effectively hunt her preys down but it is the other competing birds that will benefit from her efforts because after all she still is not yet able to eat her catch for the time being. If she goes hunting without eating, in time she could lose strength and could die.

But the day will come when she will be healed of her injury and then she will be set loosed once again that she might do what she used to do, and with greater chance of succeeding.


Email Purportedly from Yahoo is a Hoax

By The WindChime

There are chain emails which purportedly came from Yahoo that are spreading in the internet. Someone forwarded me one. It says that you have to be aware that Yahoo is running out of server resources and so Yahoo users are required to login to their account on or before a certain date or else their respective accounts will be automatically terminated and erased. The message looks something like this;

> Dear YAHOO User,
> Because of the sudden rush of people signing up to YAHOO, it has
> come to our attention that we are vastly running out of resources. So,
> within a month's time,anyone who does not receive this email with the
> exact subject heading,will be deleted off our server. Please forward this
> email so that we know you are still using this account.
> We want to find out which users are actually using their YAHOO
> accounts. So if you are using your account, please pass this e-mail to
> every YAHOO user that you can and IF YOU DO NOT PASS this letter to anyone
> we will delete your account.
> YAHOO Admin. Dept.
> Our YAHOO system is getting too crowded!! We need you to forward this
> to at least 20 people. I know this seems like a large number, but we need
> to find out who is really using their account. If you do not send this to
> at least 10 YAHOO members, we will delete your account. Sorry for this
> inconvenience.
> Sincerely, Director of YAHOO Services

Did you ever wonder why Yahoo users were told in this email to "spread the word" to at least 20 people when in fact Yahoo could just simply email all their users in the first place if the case is really so?

That purported Yahoo email is a hoax and it is instead originally a carrier of a sinister code. It is not from Yahoo. Yahoo would do better than that of informing their users if in case they would run out of resources the way it is mentioned in the email. The message probably has malicious intent considering that Microsoft is bidding to buy out and take over Yahoo but which Yahoo has not yet fully committed itself to and is not yet fully ready of being thoroughly absorbed easily.

This purported Yahoo message is a variation of an older similar message. The original version of the message contained an attachment but the wordings of the message is not about Yahoo running out of resources, rather it is about you winning some amount of money in some lottery draw and you are told to visit a website to confirm your identity. If you fall for the deception and actually proceed to visit the said website, another sinister code hidden somewhere in one of the website's page get executed as you click buttons in response to the informations asked in the website.

What happens in the overall scheme is this: The initial task done by the sinister code to your computer's operating system (inadvertently activated as you opened the attachment contained in the hoax email) gets completed by the execution of another sinister code hidden somewhere in the website. The result is that an exclusive and very "narrow entrance" to your computer's operating system, called "backdoor" or "wall crack" or "side slit" in computer hacking parlance, gets created without being detected by any resident anti-virus or firewall program. This is where the hacker-authors will gain possible entrance into your computer system while you are online. Using this technique, hackers found high probability of success in exploiting and bypassing many known anti-viruses and firewalls. (Firewalls are softwares that protect you computer system from outside intrusion while you are connected online.)

The website also automatically picks up and records vital information about your computer, particularly among others is your IP (Internet Protocol) address (this address tells your speicific location in the web), into a database to be used in the future for any possible intrusion attempts into your computer or for any other purposes that the hacker-authors of the sinister code may wish to utilize.

So, if in case you have received the version of the email that has the said attachment, you should scan your computer with the latest update of your anti-virus code signatures because the attachment contained a hidden sinister program code that quietly opens and activates a crude backdoor vulnerability in your operating system that can be exclusively exploited by the code authors (or any hacker who knew of the specific vulnerability) without you having any hint about it if in case your system is being intruded while you are connected online.

The sinister code is like a mal-ware in nature but also has a behavior of a spyware. It has various generic codenames depending on which anti-virus you are using. Some experts claimed that they discovered some versions of the code that have the capability of random mutation. Every time you visit websites which are infected by the host portion of the code, the code changes its signature. They theorized that the code has two parts, one part is spread primarily through email attachment. This is the part that infects your computer and is called the "client code". The second part of the code is the one that infects websites and is called the "host code". When the user of an infected computer browses an infected website, a client-host interaction occurs. The "host code" modifies the "client code" thereby changing its signature.

This capability of mutation poses even greater challenge to anti-virus developers in their efforts to detect and eradicate sinister codes such as this. To computer users, the impact of this mutation capability is that there is a possibility that by the time the users acquire the latest update for their anti-virus data containing newly added virus code signatures, the sinister code that may be infecting their computers may have already changed its signature before the users could apply the latest update to their anti-virus data. Thus, this situation makes the sinister code effectively undetectable by the updated anti-virus.


Debt: It Is A Spiritual Issue

By Rubel Shelly
FoodForThought - InJesus.com

My friend David has a simple little ditty about debt that everybody needs to commit to memory: WHEN YOUR OUTGO EXCEEDS YOUR INCOME, YOUR UPKEEP WILL BE YOUR DOWNFALL. It's straightforward, honest, and insightful about the unpleasant life situation of too many people -- probably all of us at one time or another.

The inability to handle money is as much a spiritual problem as one's mishandling of alcohol. It may even be more socially respectable. After all, let somebody mention "living paycheck to paycheck" or confess "being in debt up to my eyeballs" and somebody will likely laugh and say, "Let me tell you the mess I'm in. You won't believe this..." Is fiscal irresponsibility really so trivial?

According to the Nilson Report, Americans are using their credit cards quite freely. The average cardholder's outstanding balance is $4,400 -- up 123 percent in a decade which saw personal income rise a smaller 72 percent. (Since most households have more than one credit card, $4,400 may not be a fair estimate of total family debt on high-interest credit cards!) The United States government recently reported that personal savings have fallen to the lowest monthly level in our history. Meanwhile, more and more state governments are pumping money into TV ads to ask citizens to buy lotto tickets. It's bizarre, don't you think?

Maybe debt is the "respectable addiction" of this generation. Credit card companies mail out an estimated 3.3 billion credit card solicitations per year.

Tension rooted in debt will set you against your mate. It will distract you from your children. It will disrupt your spiritual life and become a barrier between you and God.

The Bible says: "Don't run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other" (Romans 13:8).

Sell an asset or create an extra stream of income to pay off the debt you already have. You'll be amazed by just writing down every dime you spend for a few weeks -- and eliminating the foolish and unnecessary impulse buying that drains so many pocketbooks.

Believe it or not, abusing credit is sinful -- just like abusing alcohol. And it is a spiritual victory to ask and receive God's help in bringing it to an end.

In these hard times, people should learn to save and limit their spending to only what are needed or necessary. Rainy days are here already. There is right time to spend more, but now is not it. Now is the time to save and conserve. Let go of the temptation to overspend. Pay in cash as much as possible and get rid of your credit cards if necessary.

As one TV evangelist said, "After the Lord frees you from the sinful credit card addiction, you need to do plastic surgery. Get yourself a sharp pair of surgical scissors and cut those debt-binding plastic cards into fine pieces!"

Consider honoring the Lord with the tenth portion of what you earn, and watch how He will honor (with multiplied blessing) your act of worship to Him by your obedience.