Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 387

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

This is volume 387, which I learned today is the lowest number with a sort-then-add persistence of 10, which is a really weird concept. Take 387 and add it to 378 (the digits sorted) and you get 765. Take 765 and add it to 567 to get 1332. Then sort that to add 1233. Keep doing that until you get an answer whose digits are already sorted (appear in increasing order). It takes 10 iterations to get there. Someone discovered this. Mathematicians are both wonderful and weird.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. Under Municipal Regulations, UK Abortion Clinics ‘Safe’ From Silent Prayer (David Roach, Christianity Today): “Adam Smith-Connor prayed silently on a public street in Bournemouth, England, earlier this month, his back to an abortion clinic. When community safety officers asked what he was doing, he told them he was ‘praying for [his] son, who is deceased.’ The officers expressed condolences but then said Smith-Connor, a 49-year-old physical therapist and British army veteran, was ‘in breach’ of a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO), according to a video of the incident. Later he was fined.”
    • I’ve been following these stories on social media, this is the first decent writeup of them that I’ve seen. It blew my mind when I first saw it and I assumed some cops misunderstood a policy. Nope. Insane and demonic. I’ve long known that you don’t have the right to free speech in the U.K. I didn’t realize you also lacked the right to free silence.
  2. AI Stuff
    • OY, A.I. (Jaron Lanier, Tablet): “The problem wasn’t that Israelites wanted to craft a calf, but that they worshipped it, even though it was a thing they had just made. The calf was social narcissism and amnesia. Jews have always had a problem of getting bored, of not getting enough of a charge from whatever is going on. The Israelites waiting for Moses to come back down were bored enough to go nuts. We people, not just Jews, still make golden calves all the time. Adam Smith’s invisible hand, corporations-as-persons, the Chinese Communist Party, Wikipedia, the latest AI programs. All the same. All a bunch of people being subsumed to create an imaginary superhero.” An interesting theological reflection on AI by a guy I don’t remember hearing of before but clearly should have: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaron_Lanier
    • What if you could talk to the Bible? (Andrew Gao, Twitter): See biblegpt.org
    • AI Sermon Outline Generator (John Dyer, OpenBible): “To start, please enter up to 5 Bible passages. The AI will then generate 4 sermon thesis statements, or main arguments, based on the passages. After you choose a thesis statement you like, it will generate an outline for you.”
    • Put Not Your Trust in ChatGPT, for Now (Emily Belz, Christianity Today): “Here is a system that will turn my head: You take an empty system, and it has the capability of learning language at the speed of a child. The way kids acquire language is truly mind-blowing. And not just language, but even if you go open the cupboard door—they see something once, and they figure out how to do it. The system that this Google engineer was talking about, it was given trillions of examples in order to get some sense of intelligence out of it. It consumed ridiculous amounts of energy, whereas a little kid’s brain requires the power of a flashlight, and it’s able to learn language. We’re not anywhere close to that kind of general AI.” The interviewee has a PhD in physics and works in AI -https://www.linkedin.com/in/tomkehler
    • Five Days in Class with ChatGPT (Thomas Rid, The Alperovitch Institute): “Last week brought two related features of artificial intelligence in education into sharp relief: the first is that all that talk about plagiarism and cheating and abuse is uninspiring and counterproductive. Yes, some unambitious students will use this new tool to cover subpar performance, and yes, we could talk about how to detect or disincentivize such behavior. The far more inspiring conversation is a different one: how can the most creative, the most ambitious, and the most brilliant students achieve even better results faster?” An engaging and thought-provoking case study.
  3. Five Rules for an Aging World (Ross Douthat, New York Times): “There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who believe the defining challenge of the 21st century will be climate change, and those who know that it will be the birth dearth, the population bust, the old age of the world.”
  4. Whatever Happened to Light Verse? (Kevin Mims, Quillette): “Part of this seems to be due to what has lately been termed ‘elite overproduction.’ In previous eras, much of America’s journalism, poetry, and fiction were written by people who not only lacked an elite college education, many of them lacked any college education at all. Neither Ogden Nash nor Dorothy Parker earned a college degree (nor, for that matter, did Emily Dickinson, H.D., Robert Frost, and any number of other ‘serious’ poets of previous eras). But for half a century now, most of America’s most prominent journalists, poets, and novelists have been graduates of elite universities. And, because the lecture is a primary method of delivering education at schools like Harvard and Yale and Stanford, much contemporary journalism, poetry, and fiction reads like a lecture.”
  5. Has Church Abuse Activism Taken a Wrong Turn? (Samuel D. James, Substack): “So why do so few people want to say ‘evil’ and so many more seem to say ‘toxic’? Because the word ‘evil’ evokes moral absolutes, whereas the word ‘toxic’ is impression-coded. An evil regime merits opposition, even sacrificial opposition. A toxic culture merits quiet quitting and self-care afterwards.”
  6. A cluster of LGBT-related articles I stumbled upon this week:
    • The first of two reactions to an honest conversation about LGBT issues: L’Esprit d’Escalier, Dishcast Edition (Rod Dreher, The American Conservative): “I did not give an argument about why the Christian sexual ethic is good. I realize that it’s because for me, it’s totally a matter of obedience. As I’ve explained many times, and did again on Andrew’s show, once I understood that my own sexual activity was the only barrier to accepting Christ, and once I saw what a mess I was making of my life by standing firm for what I believed was my sexual freedom, I knew that I had a choice to make: I could have my sexual freedom, or I could have Christ. Anything short of making that sacrifice was dishonest.”
    • The other guy’s perspective (along with fascinating commentary from listeners): Rod Dreher On His Crises Of Faith And Family (Andrew Sullivan, Substack): “He’s currently writing a book about bringing the enchantment back to Christianity in a time of growing secularism. He was enchanted himself after taking LSD in college, putting him on the path to Christianity — something he hasn’t talked about in public until now. We’ve been sparring online for a couple of decades, while remaining friends.”
    • ‘Isla Bryson’ and the madness of Scotland’s gender bill (Alex Massie, The Spectator): “Moreover, some 50 per cent of Scottish inmates only discovered their new gender identity after they were charged by police. Bryson now adds to this number. This seems dubiously convenient to the point of being suspicious and it cannot sensibly be thought ‘transphobic’ to think so. Something is happening here, even if it is considered indecorous to speculate on precisely what is occurring.… Ultimately, this is a disagreement between fantasists and realists and it is deplorable to realise that the majority of Scottish parliamentarians are signed-up members of the fantasy club.”
    • Ivan Provorov jerseys sell out days after NHL player refuses to wear LGBT pride jersey (Luke Gentile, Washington Examiner): “Jerseys for Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov have sold out online days after the 26-year-old refused to wear a gay pride-themed jersey for religious reasons. Both NHL Shop and Fanatics have listed Provorov’s jerseys as ‘almost gone,’ and there are no longer any men’s jerseys with his name and number available. On Fanatics, the defenseman is listed as having the most popular men’s jersey, women’s jersey, and sweatshirt, and his Branded Backer shirt is being advertised as the most popular seller related to the Philadelphia Flyers, according to the online store.”
    • The Myth of “Reliable Research” in Pediatric Gender Medicine: A critical evaluation of the Dutch Studies—and research that has followed (Abbruzzese, Levine & Mason, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy): “Our analysis of the Dutch protocol has been written with three goals in mind. First, we wanted to definitively refute the claims that the foundational Dutch research represents ‘solid prospective research’ that provides reliable evidence of net benefits of youth gender transition. In fact, it is much better described as case series—one of the lowest levels of evidence available (Dekkers et al., 2012, Mathes & Pieper, 2017). Second, we aimed to demonstrate that the type of non-comparative, short-term research that the gender medicine establishment continues to pursue is incapable of generating reliable information. And third and most importantly, we wanted to remind the medical community that medicine is a double-edged sword capable of both much good and much harm. The burden of proof—demonstrating that a treatment does more good than harm—is on those promoting the intervention, not on those concerned about the harms.” I am sure there will be articles critiquing this in coming days, but wow. The authors did not come to play.
    • You Don’t Want A Purely Biological, Apolitical Taxonomy Of Mental Disorders (Scott Alexander, Astral Codex Ten):  “The people asking for apolitical taxonomies want an incoherent thing. They want something which doesn’t think about politics at all, and which simultaneously is more politically correct than any other taxonomy. Or if ‘political correctness’ sounds too dismissive, we can rephrase it as: ‘they want something that doesn’t think about ethics and practicality at all, but which is simultaneously more ethically correct and pragmatically correct than other taxonomies’.” Super spicy, short, and says things out loud which most people avoid.
  7. Who’s More Irrational — The Religious or the Irreligious? (Dennis Prager, syndicated column): “The truth is that today the secular have a virtual monopoly on irrational beliefs. One proof is that colleges have become the most irrational institutions in the country. Not coincidentally, they are also the most secular institutions in our society. In fact, the former is a result of the latter.” Recommended by a student.

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have The Church Forests of Ethiopia (YouTube): nine minutes. This commentary by Rod Dreher was what brought the video to my attention. Watch the video before you read the commentary. These forests are a beautiful picture of the way the Church blesses the world around it, and what the Church must do to thrive in the environment we find ourselves in. From volume 262.

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.

Disclaimer

Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda — we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it). And to the extent you can discern my opinions, please understand that they are my own and not necessarily those of Chi Alpha or any other organization I may be perceived to represent. Also, remember that I’m not reporting news — I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it. If this was forwarded to you and you want to receive future emails, sign up here. You can also view the archives.

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 352

a heartbreaking week

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

This is volume 352, which is (I am informed) the number of ways to place 9 queens on a 9×9 chessboard so that they cannot attack each other.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. The Southern Baptist abuse crisis:
    • Southern Baptists Refused to Act on Abuse, Despite Secret List of Pastors (Kate Shellnutt, Christianity Today): “Guidepost Solutions, the third-party investigative firm, wants the 13-million-member denomination to create an online database of abusers, offer compensation for survivors, sharply limit non-disclosure agreements, and establish a new entity dedicated to responding to abuse. The directives in the 288-page report will sound familiar for survivors and advocates, who have been calling for those measures all along.”
    • This Is the Southern Baptist Apocalypse (Russell Moore, Christianity Today): “Indeed, the very ones who rebuked me and others for using the word crisis in reference to Southern Baptist sexual abuse not only knew that there was such a crisis but were quietly documenting it, even as they told those fighting for reform that such crimes rarely happened among “people like us.” When I read the back-and-forth between some of these presidents, high-ranking staff, and their lawyers, I cannot help but wonder what else this can be called but a criminal conspiracy.”
    • No Atheist Has Done This Much Damage to the Christian Faith (Peter Wehner, The Atlantic): “It’s nearly impossible to overstate how much damage these new revelations—these necessary and long-overdue revelations—are doing to the Christian witness. No atheist, no secularists or materialists, could inflict nearly as much damage to the Christian faith as these leaders within the Christian Church have done.“This is a general principle: skeptics rarely hurt the Church. Christians, though, hurt the Church all the time.
    • Avoiding Financial And Governance Disasters (Warren Cole Smith, Ministry Watch): “…in some very important ways, sexual abuse and sexual harassment in the church are effects. They are consequences. They are fruits, not the root, of the problem.So what’s the cause? It’s pretty un-glamorous. It doesn’t generate as many headlines, and when it does generate a headline, that headline tends to be ignored, or quickly forgotten. And that cause is money. More specifically, the love of money.… So, at a minimum, I think we evangelicals should be spending as much time understanding and uncovering financial fraud as we spend on sexual abuse and toxic leadership.”
    • How the ‘Apocalyptic’ Southern Baptist Report Almost Didn’t Happen (Bob Smietana, MinistryWatch): “In other words, the Executive Committee would be put in charge of investigating itself. Then-President J.D. Greear was ready to move on when Benkert stood up at a microphone with a motion of his own, based on another section of bylaw 29. ‘I would like the opportunity to make a motion to overrule the Committee on Order of Business at the appropriate time,’ he said. Benkert’s motion was met with applause. Then a second, and then almost all of the 15,000 local church delegates, known as messengers, raised their yellow voting cards in the air—far more than the two-thirds majority needed to overrule the committee.”
    • In reference to the immediately preceding article: knowing how the system works is really important. I’ve seen shady stuff happen at some meetings but wasn’t quick enough to get to the floor or wasn’t sure enough of the rules to intervene. In a business meeting knowledge truly is power.
    • In reference to the larger story, there are so many things happening here:
    • This is an occasion for lamentation. I have long said that the Protestant sexual abuse crisis will dwarf the Catholic Church’s (because we tend to have less control/screening of ministers) and that both will be dwarfed by the public school crisis (which is yet to fully reveal itself but I believe will be far worse).
    • The Southern Baptist executives genuinely had less control over the situation(s) than some of their critics allege, but they had far more control than they pretended and when they did act it was often to conceal wicked things.
    • The fact that the SBC commissioned this report and made it public is very much to their credit and over time will loom larger in the remembrance of this.
    • The scope of the abuse, while broad, appears to be less than I feared.
    •  The SBC legal team and the former executives come off looking like evil religious leaders written by a lazy hack writer. It’s staggeringly bad.
    • This entire debacle is germane to the Tim Keller/winsomeness debate: do we operate according to the standards of our culture or the standards of the Kingdom? Christ demands another way, and if that opens us up to negative cultural consequences (whether electoral defeats or ruinous lawsuits) then so be it.
  2. The school shooting:
    • A fourth-grader who survived the shooting says she smeared friend’s blood on herself to appear dead (Nora Neus, CNN): “Miah said she was scared the gunman would come back to kill her and a few other surviving friends. So, she put her hands in her friend’s blood, who laid next to her— and already looked dead—and then smeared it all over herself to appear dead.… She says afterwards, she overheard talk of police waiting outside the school. Recounting this during the interview, she started crying, saying she just didn’t understand why they didn’t come inside and get them.” Heartbreaking. Details are still coming out, and none of them are good.
    • Texas school shooter Salvador Ramos once cut up his face with knives ‘just for fun,’ friends say (Yaron Steinbuch, New York Post): “The gunman who slaughtered 19 kids and two teachers at a Texas elementary school reportedly exhibited increasingly bizarre behavior leading up to the rampage – including cutting up his face with knives just ‘for fun,’ friends said.”
    • Pass and Enforce Red Flag Laws. Now. (David French, The Dispatch): “Mass killings are their own thing. Mass shooters are frequently law-abiding, right up until the moment when they commit mass murder. Mass shootings are often meticulously planned, which means that they can circumvent common gun control laws. For example, the Buffalo shooter legally purchased the weapon he used and then illegally modified it to make it more lethal. So when we talk about common gun control proposals after mass shootings—whether we’re referring to expanded background checks, assault weapons bans, or limits on magazine capacity—the general rule is that none of those measures, even if implemented, would have actually prevented any recent mass shooting.” This is a thoughtful piece with a specific and constructive policy suggestion.
    • The Children Who Kill Children (Samuel D. James, First Things): “There are some who sneer at people, like me, who offer prayers in times like these. Prayer, they say, is non-action: an ineffective, meaningless piety meant to maintain the status quo on gun control. Yet it’s these same scoffers who instinctively pivot to the topic of gun control whenever a child takes the lives of other children, and their political rage is no less a religious recitation simply because they confuse Congress for God. An inability to talk about anything other than gun control threatens to deaden our lament and neutralize a vital conversation about why so many of our country’s most lost, most hateful people are boys with their whole lives ahead of them.” This is a strong article.
    • ‘The Onion’ has republished a grim headline about mass shootings 21 times since 2014 (Rachel Treisman, NPR): “There are a couple of inevitable responses to a mass shooting in America: funerals and fundraisers, prayers from politicians and the resurfacing of one particular article from satirical site The Onion. ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens’ has been republished 21 times in almost exactly eight years.” The repetition of this headline has probably shifted more hearts than any other argument I am aware of.
  3. Covid was liberalism’s endgame (Matthew B. Crawford, Unherd): “The innovation achieved here is in the way government conceives its subjects: not as citizens whose considered consent must be secured, but as particles to be steered through a science of behaviour management that relies on our pre-reflective cognitive biases.”
  4. A Commitment to Kindness Does Not Mean Surrendering Your Convictions (David French, The Dispatch): “Time and again I read about how bad things are now, how vile the left has become, and how a commitment to ‘winsomeness’ or kindness is simply inadequate to the moment. Even worse, it’s sometimes seen as evidence of weakness or fear—an effort curry favor with people who hate you.  But the conversation consistently misconstrues what commitments to civility and decency do and don’t mean—that civility is somehow a shorthand for surrender on matters of deep conviction. It is not. Or that a commitment to civility implies an aversion to conflict and a timidity in the face of opposition. It does not.”
  5. The LGBTsQewing of America (Alexander Zubatov, The American Conservative): “We have strongly suggestive evidence, moreover, that social cues can play causal roles in swaying impressionable teens to adopt new sexual identities.… The simple message such research conveys is something that those of us who have not lost touch with our childhood and our awkward teen years will find unsurprising, and indeed, even obvious: Most kids and teens are works in progress and undecided and confused about many key aspects of their lives.”
  6. In Partial, Grudging Defense Of The Hearing Voices Movement (Scott Alexander, Astral Codex Ten): “I still remember a patient who asked me if I could cure his anxiety within a week. I told him absolutely not — medications take a few weeks to even kick in, and managing anxiety can be a lifelong process — and why did he need a cure in a week anyway? He said he was an inspirational speaker on the topic ‘How I Overcame My Anxiety’, and he had a speech scheduled next week, but was too anxious to work on it. I think about this person often.” Interesting throughout and the anecdote I excerpted is actually tangential to the main point.
  7. Why This Computer Scientist Says All Cryptocurrency Should “Die in a Fire” (Nathan Robinson interviewing Nicholas Weaver, Current Affairs): “Is it accurate to summarize what you were saying before as, essentially: There is no problem that cryptocurrency solves, and to the extent that it is functional, it does things worse than we can already do them with existing electronic payment systems. To the extent it has advantages, the advantage is doing crimes. And every other claim made for the superiority of cryptocurrency as currency falls apart if you scrutinize it.” This spicy meatball comes recommended by a student.
  8. Global religious persecution:
    • The faces from China’s Uyghur detention camps (John Sudworth, BBC): “The documents provide some of the strongest evidence to date for a policy targeting almost any expression of Uyghur identity, culture or Islamic faith — and of a chain of command running all the way up to the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping.”
    • Nigerian Christians Protest Deborah’s Death (Jayson Casper, Christianity Today): “Two weeks ago, in Nigeria’s northwestern-most state of Sokoto, Deborah Samuel was beaten to death and set on fire by fellow students at Shehu Shagari College of Education. Officials and police intervened in vain.”

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have Conservatives Clash on the Goal of Government (Jonathan Leeman, Providence): “There is no neutrality. The public square is a battleground of gods. Our culture wars are wars of religion. For the time being, liberalism keeps us from picking up sixteenth‐century swords for those wars, which is no small achievement. But don’t assume it won’t control us with the subtler tools of a twenty‐first century legal totalitarianism.” Insightful reflections on how Christians should form their political positions. First shared in volume 218.

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.

Disclaimer

Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda — we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it). And to the extent you can discern my opinions, please understand that they are my own and not necessarily those of Chi Alpha or any other organization I may be perceived to represent. Also, remember that I’m not reporting news — I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it. If this was forwarded to you and you want to receive future emails, sign up here. You can also view the archives.