Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Q & A

I went to a panel discussion organized by a local church and I was really impressed with most of the questions and answers. Of course there were the usual "problem of pain" questions, but I like to think I really threw the panel for a loop with my "Why can't we just have right and wrong, black and white" question. I like to stir pots. 

I've marked the panel answers (paraphrased, of course) with "A" unless I actually remembered the name of the person answering, in which case it's there. Rachael was there with me and we discussed our own questions and answers on the side.

Q: Why is there evil in the world? Why do bad things happen to good people?
A: Well, this presupposes that there are good people in the world. But since no one is wholly good, then the truth of the matter is, "bad things happen to bad people (which is all people)”. So, no bad things are “undeserved”.
Me: So...Does this mean, “Original Sin” or, "you got cancer because you deserve it"?

Q: So, why DO bad things happen?
A: To teach us to love him - to teach us right from wrong – everything happens for a reason.
Rachael: People keep score, and expect that if we're good, we deserve something good, or that if we get something bad, we must have done something bad.  
Rick: The rain falls on everyone, good or bad.
Me: Try telling a believer OR a nonbeliever that they got cancer so they could learn a valuable lesson. It's insensitive. Original Sin is nicer to our psyches, but I think this is the wrong question altogether. The question should be, how should we respond when bad stuff happens to anyone?

Q: How do I know what to do, what decisions to make? How do I know if I’m following God’s Will?
A: The questioning is actually a part of the process. You can never be completely sure either way, but you will learn what it is important to question and what is a likely answer. Also, in following Christ and becoming like Him, you will also learn to make decisions like Him and increase your own confidence.
Me: "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'" Isaiah 30:21. This means, that whatever you do, God’s Will can still envelop you. Mistakes, wrong turns, and missteps are all an acceptable part of God's larger plan.

Q: Is KJV "THE" bible?
A: "Did God really say that?" –One of Satan’s earliest strategies was to question, “What is God’s REAL word on the matter?”  - So the history of the bible is that the scholars did the best with what they had, and though the KJV doesn’t line up 100% with the fragments we’ve found in the years since, it was a great scholarly effort, and it’s not wrong, nor is it the only one that's right.
Me: Don’t forget that the KJV was the first bible that was accessible to and readable by the general public. Putting the Word of God in the hands of the lay people was a crucial moment in history.

Q: Why can't there be just right and wrong in the world? Why all the gray area?
A: Sometimes we don't even KNOW what's right or wrong. Discernment sucks sometimes because it's a process. And a faith-building exercise. Maybe we're not supposed to know what's the perfect response in every eventuality. The idea that there is no right and wrong is a very contemporary one, and not a historical one. In the Post-modern/Post-Christian era, we’ve begun to believe that there are no rights and wrongs as opposed to in the modern period, ending in 1800's.
Me: This is my question. I don’t have an answer. My only solution is to watch The People’s Court, where there is right and wrong for an hour a day.

Q: When is a sin not a sin?  
Rachael: What about doing the wrong thing for the right reasons?
A: Sometimes a white lie is a mercy, but sin is sin and there’s no loophole.
Me: The grace and mercy is the hardest thing to deal with. If something's wrong, it's wrong. It's not fair to me or anyone else to have forgiveness even exist.
Rick: "When is a sin not a sin? When it's forgiven.”

Q: Do Christians have to go to church?
A: Why wouldn't you want to spend time with like-minded people? Board games players play board games together. Hockey players play hockey together & talk hockey with other hockey fans. A major part of Christianity is community. We need other people.
Me: We do need people to mentor us, and challenge us. Not wanting to go to a certain church is sort of understandable, but one shouldn’t dislike the whole Church.
Nate: When you’re coming over to hang out with me at my house, would you say, “Hey, I don’t really like your wife, though, so can you ask her to stay in the back room?” – No. if you like me, you’ll like the person I love and married. Jesus says the same thing about His Bride, the Church.
Me: But sometimes it’s so hard to love the churchgoers!

Q: Could God forgive even the worst sins? Is there a sin that’s unforgivable?
A: Someone who says “my sins are too big to forgive” is revealing more about themselves than about the nature of God. False humility is a sin of the heart just as pride is. Apparently there is one apostasy (unforgivable sin), and that is, truly believing that Jesus can’t forgive your sins. Which is the dark side of the false humility.
Me: Okay, I get that if you don’t believe in Jesus, that you would believe that sin doesn’t exist or that he’s not the person to ask forgiveness from, and therefore you wouldn’t bother to even ask. You can’t ask a favor of someone who doesn’t exist, after all. But if you DO believe in Jesus, and just cannot imagine that he has the power to forgive, I guess that’s the sin?

Q: How can a baby have Original Sin? Why are we born sinful? Why are even babies not innocent?
A: Sin is a hereditary disease (in the genes?) that is passed down from the First generation. (They don’t use the words Original Sin, but the idea is the same.)
Rick: All sin comes from selfishness, Adam & Eve’s, even Satan’s fall originates in selfishness. And, yes, before a child learns to lie or cheat, they feel selfishness, that “I Need” that drives sinful actions.

Q: Christians in the First World have an advantage of having heard about Christianity. But what about the headhunter on Island X who never hears about God or Jesus?
A: Let’s talk about the “many paths” idea, using the elephant analogy: 5 blind guys describing an elephant. One says it’s tall and skinny, one says it’s flat and thin, one says it’s round and strong. They’re all right but they experience different aspects. The problem is that this analogy told from the viewpoint of a person with sight. Sounds good, but not really accurate, and definitely arrogant. Not all religions can be reconciled into one.
A: Now, about the Headhunter: Don’t make God small. Don’t say “God can’t”.  God can do whatever he pleases, and He’s merciful. Maybe he has another plan for the Headhunter.
Me: God, in the Old Testament, would have condemned the nonbelievers who hadn't even heard about the Israelites' god. Whether you know the rules or not, he judges you according to His rules. It doesn’t sound lovey-dovey, and it is not Post-modern, but it may be true, after all.

Q: All the world religions say they are the one. How can we Christians answer that when our friends suggest that Christianity is no better than any other religion for this very reason?
Rachael: It's a logical fallacy that religions are all wrong because they all each say they are the only right one. In fact, not even all religions say they are the only way.
Me: And ultimately, we get our free will. The point is, you get to choose. You have to search your heart to see what you believe. And you can be wrong. But that's your right.

As you can see, every answer begets more questions. I love these types of discussions, and I think people can learn a lot from them. My last question went unasked, but I'd like to leave you with it: 
Q: Is it a theological necessity for Jesus to have been unmarried? How would Christianity be different if he'd had a wife? Of course, if he had children, there would be some interesting things going on with birth-rights (think of any movie where either Jesus or Satan have children or descendants). But why is it crucial for our religion that Jesus remained unmarried?

Wednesday, 4 July 2012


*My husband's name has been changed because he thinks this is all “bunkum”.

My husband, Jerry*, and I have been arguing for some days now about the appropriate pronunciation of the word lure, as in fishing lures and lure the bunny with carrots. He maintains that “lurr” [lɜː(r)] is the correct form, and I am sure that there is a dipthong in there, making it sound like “looer” [l(j)ʊə(r)]. The vowel sounds in each are what makes the difference.

In order to prove my point, I first went to the Source of All Knowledge – the Oxford English Dictionary. OED agrees with me, and supplies the IPA reading you see above. To further prove my point, I consulted the Macmillan dictionary online, Wiktionary, and even the lowly Merriam-Webster. Furthermore, I played audio files from at least three English pronunciation websites to cement my win. (I might be considered a poor winner by these standards; I might be considered a poor winner by any standards.)

Despite the abundance of evidence for my case, Jerry refused to give in. I put the vote to our Facebook friends. Six voted for my pronunciation; none for his. Jerry remained stubborn; he claims he “doesn’t believe in surveys”, especially when they don’t go his way.

One of these Facebook friends even looked it up in her own dictionary and said that lure is pronounced like cure, with the “oo-er” sound in both. That’s when we hit our breakthrough. Jerry considered this the proving point in his argument! He went on to say, over and over, “cure [kjʊə(r)], lure [lɜː(r)], cure [kjʊə(r)], lure [lɜː(r)], cure [kjʊə(r)], lure [lɜː(r)].”

That was when I realized that our argument was invalid. It wasn’t a pronunciation argument; it was a phonological argument. Jerry actually believed that the sounds were identical. So it’s not a problem of speaking, but of listening.

Phonology is the study of how the phonetics of a language are systematized. Along with vocabulary and syntax, every language (even sign language) has a pattern of phonology that dictates where and when certain sounds occur.

To give an example in English, the written words are as follows:

The native speaker knows that by adding the –s to the end of the word indicates pluralization, changing the meaning of the root word. The native speaker also knows how to pronounce the words, [kæts] and [dɒgz]. But look closely at the phonetics of the words. Whereas “cats” ends with an unvoiced alveolar fricative [s], “dogs” ends with a voiced alveolar fricative [z]. 
Why do we voice the fricative on one word and not the other? The answer is: phonology. By using phonological problem-solving techniques, we can come to the conclusion that English speakers voice the plural –s when it follows a voiced sound, and it is unvoiced after following an unvoiced sound. (In dogs and cats, the g and the t are voiced and unvoiced, respectively.) The native speaker knows this intuitively and actually makes no distinction between the two sounds, having been influenced by the spelling that they are the same. Nothing could be further from the truth in a phonetic sense. The sounds are distinct, though they make no difference to the meaning of the words.  

Have a look at the following word list and try to identify the occurrence of the voiced pairs of sounds and the unvoiced pairs of sounds.

Another example of a phonological system is in the following related words:
Breaths [brɛθs]
Breathes [briːðz]

Once again we have the –s­ in the writing of the word, but there is a [s]/[z] discrepancy in the pronunciation. Why, when the words both end in –th? Because there are two ways of pronouncing th. One is unvoiced, the [θ] at the beginning of thanks and throw; and the other is voiced, the [ð] in there and then. Try saying thanks with the voiced sound. It’s odd, and different, even if it still conveys the same meaning. (I have a friend who purposely uses this pronunciation to surprise people.) Well, the phonology of English tells us that whether we use the voiced or unvoiced sound, the meaning of the word remains the same. Not so in all languages, because one may exhibit two words which have differing meanings based on which of these sounds are uttered.

But back to Jerry, and his assertion that “cure” and “lure” sound the same, even though he uses different vowel sounds in each. The orthography of English and his native upbringing have conspired to convince him that his mouth is making the same movements for both. He could not be more wrong. What he doesn’t know about his own mouth movements is what makes phonology fascinating for the linguist. The native speakers have no clue that they are making different sounds, because the brain filters them according to meaning and not by the sound. It brings up a question of the nature of reality: can we trust that our brains are processing the raw sensations correctly? 

Jerry does, though, distinguish between rule and lure. "Rule has an oo-sound," he says, instantaneously confounding my argument in its entirety. 

However, in a sense, Jerry’s original argument is correct. Objectively, he and I are making different sounds with our mouths, but to any listener, we would both be repeating the same word. There is no alternate meaning for “l—r” based on our distinct pronunciations, so we will both still be able to be understood in communication.

In conclusion: tomayto, tomahto. However it's pronounced, it's the same word. He won’t stop saying lurr and I won’t stop hating it. He is also now calling me “Inspector Clouseau”, because he thinks I "sound like a dog with peanut butter on the roof of its mouth".