Systematic Living; the bird who would be caged

6 07 2010

A man named Leo once told me that he thought he would love to have a bird, but he thought it cruel to keep one trapped in a cage.  The beast was made to fly and be free, and here it is, stuck in a tiny little prison.  I asked him if he believed that caged birds were unhappy.  He believed that they must be.  I asked him if he had ever owned a bird, and he had not.  Then I asked him what he thought would happen if a person were to open the door to the cage and walk away.  He said he imagined that the bird would just fly right out.

Now, I’m not a bird expert.  I’ve heard that the zebra finch is very difficult to keep caged if the opportunity presents itself for the bird to escape.  I’ve never owned a zebra finch, but every other caged bird I’ve seen, including the few that I’ve owned, have been very much opposed to leaving their cages for any reason.  I’ve seen cage doors left open for hours, with the bird sitting as far from the door as possible, refusing to even consider leaving.  I’ve seen them fight like mad their owners when they were being forcibly removed.  Once removed, I’ve seen them return immediately to their cages.  In the best of circumstances, the bird might be content to merely sit atop the cage without going in.  When we imagine ourselves as the bird, we assume an eagerness to get out of there and never return, but to the bird, it is a home.  The cage is safe.  We use the cage to keep the bird in, but the bird uses the cage to keep everything else out.

This seems insane to us, doesn’t it?  Who would prefer captivity?  Yet, we sacrifice freedom for security all week.  Let’s start with that mortgage, shall we?  We happily imprison ourselves in debt, assuring that we cannot simply leave our homes at will.  Rather, we are stuck in these abodes so long as we cannot find someone to buy them from us.  We become obligated to a bank, because we like to sleep in the same place every night.  Bad comparison, you say?  Imagine living as a vagabond, a nomad without a permanent home.  Such people have a great deal more freedom, minus the security.

Five days a week, we go to work at the same place, doing the same thing, day after day, after day.  We complain about our jobs regularly, until we lose them.  Then we complain about losing our jobs until we have a new one to complain about.  When we have one, we miss our freedom, and when we don’t have one, we miss our security.  Unrealistic would be the effort to find a new job every day, though many people do it.  I have seen them on the street corner, these migrant workers, waiting for a stranger to show up and offer them an arduous job for not enough money.  They have the freedom, and they prefer it over the security.  When offered a more permanent job, I’ve known of them to refuse in favor of the freedom to retire for a couple of weeks until their money runs out.

When we choose to work the same job every day, no matter how much we hate it, we make a choice to live systematically.  I know what I’m going to do tomorrow, because it will be about the same as what I did today.  The next day will be the same.  The day after that will be no different.  The repetition is painful, but I’ve got an income.  I don’t need to waste time looking for a new job each day.  When I come home from work, I return to the same home every day.  I don’t need to waste time looking for a safe cave or overhang to take shelter in each day.  As a result, my life is more efficient, and my systematic living has bought me greater prosperity.

What may not reason so well into this pattern is the tendency that so many people have of spending their free time in the evenings the same way every night.  For most, it’s a night on the couch in front of the television, watching the same shows each night, as actors pretend to live glamorous lives.  As the actors pretend, the viewers pretend with them, living vicariously through the television.  Yet, no one is actually living life.  When the rest of life is an empty repetition, one should wonder why we would waste the time, that precious little time, when we could do anything with complete freedom without sacrificing security.  What we do for fun need not be the same today as it was yesterday.  It doesn’t even help in the slightest.

What we do in our spare time doesn’t even need to be particularly fun.  It could be anything at all.  It could be productive or frivolous.  We are completely free to do something different with that fraction of each day.  Generally, though, we tend to repeat ourselves in the end, the same as we did in the beginning.

True, we have our preferences.  True, we have our hobbies.  I tend to think, though, that the real driving force is not our inclination toward what we do, so much as it is the security found in lazy repetition.

Our lives are generally repetitious, because we are a systematic people.  It makes us effective in what we do.  It makes us wealthier, and it improves our standard of living, generally.  We love the cage that we have built for ourselves, and we dare not leave it, even when the door has been opened for us.  My cage may be keeping me in, confining me to the drudgery of daily living, but it may also be keeping out the things that frighten me, the insecurities and uncertainties of spontaneous living.

There is a value in systematic living, and our society thrives on it.  However, there is also a danger to it.  When the stables are on fire, the horses are frightened and run into them for security.  They prefer the conflagration over survival, because the stables are a symbol of security for them, even when they are really an execution chamber.  When the government goes mad makes us do what we ought not do, we choose the security of compliance over the need for freedom and rebellion.  Thankfully, we are not there yet, but we will be eventually, and there will be cows among us who wander wherever they are herded.  Going along with the crowd feels safe, even if it deprives us of our freedom.

If God calls us to pull up stakes and travel the world to spread the Gospel, then this is at once a horrible shattering of all security and an unfettering of boundless freedom.  Would that we had the courage.

In the meantime, should we feel tempted to complain about this little Eden that we’ve constructed for ourselves, let us at least appreciate the security that we’ve been granted.  When this Eden is shattered, let us be thankful for the freedom we’ve been leased.  Either way, we could complain, but either way, we could be grateful.





The Problem with Divination

29 06 2010

A man came back from vacation telling of his trip to the top of Half Dome, a great mountain of rock with a sheer cliff on one side.  According to him, a man was seen feeding a marmot by placing the tidbit on his foot and offering it to the small furry creature.  The marmot, used to the generosity of humans, approached the man and gratefully took the piece of food.  A second later, the man kicked the poor animal right off the edge of the sheer cliff, where it fell to its death.  “Don’t feed the animals,” the park rangers say.  In fact, they’ll land you with a hefty fine if they catch you doing it.  Few people understand the harm done by taming the wildlife.  When the cute little beast approaches you with his plaintive pitiable stare, you might find yourself offering a piece of your granola bar, or a small morsel of trail mix.  What harm could it do?  The poor thing is starving, and it was brave enough to beg from a human.  It behaves as though it were your own pet, and, in a sense, that’s exactly what it has become.  You certainly wouldn’t hurt the little creature.  You know I wouldn’t hurt it.  Most people would not dream of harming it.  But while its trust in you may be well-founded, it’s trust in the next hiker is a gamble.

Rattlesnakes are dangerous, but squirrels are safe.  Is a human safe?

Up in a small town called Sierra City, there lies a small pond teeming with trout.  Next to the pond stands a gumball machine that dispenses food for the fish.  All day, people buy a handful of pellets for a quarter, tossing them in, one at a time, for the merriment of watching the fish attack the bait.  Most of the people who visit the pond would not harm the fish.  To them, the fish are a joy to watch and a pleasure to feed.  Sometimes, a person comes to the pond with a fishing rod.  They aren’t there for more than a couple of seconds before getting a bite from some unsuspecting fish.  Where humans were known to be harmless, the fish swallowed anything that they were fed, and they did it aggressively.  The safe humans made life more dangerous for the fish by teaching them to trust humans, in general, and unsafe humans, in particular.

A scorpion is dangerous.  A polar bear is dangerous.  A black widow is dangerous.  A hummingbird is safe.  A rabbit is safe.  A mouse is safe, even if it is a pest.  Is a human safe?

Generalizations can be made about each species with regard to its relative safety to other species.  In fact, generalizations can be made about the temperament of each species if it is wild, or each breed if it is domesticated.  If a squirrel were to ask you if you were safe, you might say “yes,” and you might be telling the truth.  What the animal may not realize is that while one human may be safe, then next one, a kid with a new bee-bee gun, might pose a serious hazard, even if his aim is bad.  Animals are predictable creatures, and they expect the same from other animals.  Humans, on the other hand, display a unique tendency toward individualism.  That is to say we have a propensity to make our own decisions and carve out our own nature, independent of the nature of our species, as a whole.  If you don’t believe me, just ask the marmot.

The human marmot is a woman who attempts to communicate with her guardian angel.  It is a boy who tries to use his Ouija Board to contact the spirit world.  They beg and they plead, and if they got what they wanted, then they would learn to beg and plead more fearlessly.  Most of the angels are faithful to God.  Only a third rebelled with Satan, and yet, on any given day if a person managed to get a message from the other world through active divination, that message would almost always be from an evil one.  The reason is simple.

Are angels safe?

Angels have one thing in common with humans that they have in common with nothing else.  They had and have the ability to choose between good and evil, and some, but not all, have chosen evil over good.  They cannot be generalized as a species in the same way that humans cannot be generalized as a species.  That being the case, anything that a good angel feeds an eager audience merely serves to make people more vulnerable to the fallen angels.  As I have said before, we are clearly at a disadvantage in our relationship to the spirit realm.  Unless we approach the matter with a healthy dose of fear, we stumble blindly into a dark room with lions and lambs.

A divine law has been set that, except under special circumstances, the angels are not to feed bits of communication to the humans, lest they become tame and vulnerable.  Unlike the human campers, the angels tend to do as they’re told.  That’s the problem with divination: invite the spirit world to your party and the demons will come to crash it.  I do say facetiously that the angels are commanded not to participate in our divination.  This I cannot verify, except to say that the outcome of such involvement would be certain evil.  God has commanded us not to engage in divination, and one must consider that no good being would encourage disobedience to God.

The problem with humans is that they cannot be generalized as safe or unsafe.  The same is true for spirits.  The problem with divination is that only the evil ones respond.  The good thing about divination, ironically, is that only the evil ones respond, which keeps the sanest among us leery of anything that comes from it.





God Gave Rock and Roll to You

11 01 2010

Warning: Do you have a problem with photosensitive seizures?  If you do, then please navigate away from this page.

It was a rather informal gathering with John Schlitt and Bob Hartman, just two guys from Petra on vacation, doing some performances along the way.  Between songs, Schlitt told about an incident where some staunch Christian told Hartman that rock and roll is of the Devil.  During the telling, Hartman visibly wilted.  The thing happened years ago, and yet it still lingers painfully.  He didn’t have to say that it hurt him, because there was no hiding it.

“What’s wrong with getting excited about praising Jesus?” Hartman said, plaintively.  There’s nothing wrong with it.  Rock music may not be of the Devil, but discouragement certainly is.  Criticism comes easily.  Traveling the world to sing about God sounds glamorous, but it’s really just a lot of hard work and a huge inconvenience.  It means being away from home for months at a time, and only being at home just long enough to produce a new album and hit the road again.  The kind members of Petra gave so much to bring us encouragement through music.  In return, they were told that their contribution, their way of praising God, was of the Devil.  This was surely an undeserved cut.

I can imagine singing worship music in church and being told to stop because my worship was of the Devil.  What I might say in response could easily be of the Devil.  What right does any Christian have for blaspheming God in that way?

“As the Ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window.  And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.” (2 Samuel 6:16)

Now, not all music in the Christian rock genre is genuinely religious.  Some of it lacks anything even remotely related to the faith.  However, if that claim could be made against anyone, it certainly would not be Petra.  They were the forerunners of contemporary Christian music, revolutionizing the way we looked at worship, and their purpose was at once deeply reverent and thoroughly syncopated.  If this accusation could be leveled against them, then it could be leveled against anyone.  Clearly, the statement is a broad generalization not based in an objective assessment.  Either that, or the slander against God was intentional.

Is rock music worldly?

“…I will celebrate before the Lord.  I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.  But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.” (2 Samuel 6:22)

That Christian rock bands are held in high esteem by lowly teenagers or us ordinary folk is no reason that the typically religious among us should despise them.  They are not worldly for their choice in style.  Hymns were once the popular music style.  They were converted from old beer-drinking songs.  The tunes were the same, but the words were different.  Gregorian chants and even the music of the Old Testament were of the popular style of the time.  Style is nothing.  Some people figured out a new way to do music, and some people deemed it to be more advanced and more enjoyable.  Our elders heard it and plugged their ears.  Okay, so it isn’t for everyone.  That doesn’t make it evil.

The sense of evil is often a gut reaction rooted in nothing more than fear.  When has this fear ever been from God?  People fear change.  They fear the unfamiliar.  They even fear new technology.  When music changed, many Christians refused to change with it, and they even made their stubbornness a facet of their own doctrine.  It wasn’t enough to say that they were unaccustomed to it.  They had to make the outrageous claim that it was evil.  When technology marched onward, the Amish held to their old ways, fearful of the new.  They rejected mechanized agriculture.  They rejected the use of electricity.  It wasn’t enough that they were paralyzed by their fear of new ways, but they incorporated this fear into their faith, as though that fear were a tangible real problem and not just a matter of their own maladaptation.  We who saw the value in the new way of doing things are condemned as being worldly.

We need not fear anything but God.

We ought not condemn the ministry of others, unless it genuinely contradicts the law of our Lord.  I thank God for Christian rock.  I thank God for Petra.  I take joy in the day that such enthusiastic, energetic music entered my life and gave me encouragement when I was trapped between the head-splitting mundane church music and the nearly Satanic roar of secular rock.  When Christianity splits through the Iron Curtain, do we insist that the Chinese believers not worship in a pentatonic scale?  When Christianity breaks out in a revival in Africa, do we tell them to do away with their drums and dances, to stand still and sing the strophic verses written by people half a world away, long since dead and gone?  No, we should not.  Neither should we expect our own culture to worship according to someone else’s style.  Music is a language.  When we insist that the older style is more sacred, we force our church services to be held in an old, out-dated language.  We held our masses in Latin, a language that no one understands.  We rejected that dead practice long ago and for good reason.  If the faith is to grow and thrive, then it must be alive within us.  We must not be afraid to worship God in the purest, sincerest, rawest way.

We must worship God in our own language.  We must sing his praises like we mean it.  We must rebuke anyone who dares condemn us for honestly praising God.





The Other Omission and Commission

7 01 2010

By now, you may have read in other sources that there are two kinds of sin, the sin of commission and the sin of omission.  One is the transgression that you do, and the other is the thing that you didn’t do but should have.  However, there is another side to this story, for there are two unfavorable responses from God, along these lines.  There is a curse by commission, and there is a curse by omission.  There are the plagues that demonstrate a deliberate intent on God’s part, and there are the diseases that exist as a result of God’s lack of intervention.  We preach so easily on God’s love that we neglect his wrath.

As described in the previous post, there is old age that comes as a result of random effects from our environment, but there is also a more potent aging that comes from a deliberate function within our bodies to kill us.  On the one hand, we are weakened by God’s lack of intervention, by his doing nothing directly to heal us or maintain us in spite of our environment.  On the other hand, we have a deliberate mechanism to hasten our demise.  The same can be said of every disease.  Much as sickness looks like a shortfall of intelligent design, the tapeworm and the virus demonstrate definite design.  Unless the Devil has gotten into the business of bioengineering, which I am reluctant to accept, we might reason that God was in that detail.  This is a very hard idea to handle.

Bacteria can fall to one side or the other.  Some of them make us sick because they happened to be in the wrong place.  Sometimes there might be some ambiguity as to whether the toxins that they produce were a deliberate attack on our health or a means for some other function.  However, there exists an entire category of microbes that fall into the classification of gram-negative cocci, which can be described in no other way than that they exist to make us sick.  Specifically, they exist to make the promiscuous among us sick.  Remove these organisms from the body, and they die very quickly.  They have no natural home outside of a human.  The Evolutionist might not have trouble explaining this one, but there is a certain spirochete called syphilis that defies a naturalistic explanation.  It appeared suddenly, from seemingly nowhere, with no relatives, to infect an entire army of French soldiers after their conquest of a single Italian city.  One might say that sickness is not a function of intelligent design, but the design of a microorganism is clearly evident.  While sickness caused by microbes does not always indicate deliberate intent, there can be no question that this microbe was specifically designed to cause sickness.  It is a curse of commission.

Diabetes, many cancers, hemophilia and other genetic diseases all find their causes in the omission of an intelligent design.  There was supposed to be a function in the body to keep a person healthy, but random change destroyed that function, and God did not reverse that change.  We are not hurt by what God did, but by what he didn’t do.  We can easily overlook the rest of the genome that still serves to keep us alive.  We could easily see that one little missing thing as a direct attack on our health.  However, what it all comes down to is the original curse, the Fall of Man, when disorder was allowed to come into the world.  The curse, here, is not that God brought things into disorder, but that he does not actively keep it in order.  Fortunately, he did build within us a great many functions to resist random change.  As time produces random change that ruins a person, it also produces random change that ruins humanity as a whole.  We accumulate this drift, and what doesn’t kill us makes us weaker.  If any random change is beneficial, then it is only because it happens to partially reverse one of the many harmful changes that came before it.  This is a losing battle we fight.

The tapeworm has intelligent design.  We thank God for the daisies and the roses, but we never thank him for the tapeworm.  I don’t think we’re even expected to.  Yet, as disgusting as this creature is, it is only acting in that great war of nature known as the food chain.  Nature is not our mother.  It is a battleground.  Animals devour each other and parasitize each other as a result of entropy and the constant battle to fight the drive toward disorder.  The virus is no different.  One particular virus appeared out of nowhere, with no known relatives and no known history.  It infected one man, who traveled the world and infected many others.  Some have said it was God’s punishment against homosexuals.  The first person to suggest this was a homosexual with that disease, known as AIDS.  God does not hate the homosexual.  Let’s make that clear from the beginning.  If he hated homosexuals, then they would all cease to exist in a moment, for there is nothing preventing him from making that happen.  His only concern is eternity.  Whether a person’s life is longer or shorter, pleasant or full of trouble, the only thing that matters is what they do with the rest of eternity.

I used to feel critical of people who saw trouble and disease as having come from God as punishment for human depravity.  I especially felt critical of anyone who might suggest that AIDS was a curse from God against homosexuals.  Then, one day, a coworker asked me where the virus came from, and we were both at a loss.  It could not be explained by evolution, or any natural means.  I had to shrug my shoulders and suggest that maybe God had produced it.  It was a paradigm shift for me.  In truth, it is the modernist philosophy ingrained in each of us that causes us to lash out at the idea that plagues and disasters befall us at God’s direction.  It is not the blacksmith that hits the anvil, we say.  It is the hammer that hits the anvil.  We like to think that the blacksmith does not exist.  The hammer just happens to be there, and it just happens to hit the anvil over and over.  In truth, without the blacksmith, neither the hammer nor the anvil would exist.  Without God, neither the homosexual nor HIV would exist.  The fact is that God does love the homosexual, and that’s why HIV exists.  The alternative is to wipe out all sexually immoral people, or else let them go to Hell without threat or warning, had he hated them.  The fact is that, if we are objective and totally honest with ourselves, then we must see that HIV has intelligent design, and, crazy as it sounds, it does, in fact, seem to have been targeting homosexuals.

There are those curses that result from our separation from God.  They exist because we change, and we don’t change according to his design.  We change as we will, because we and our world have been released to go our own way.  These are the curses of omission.  God is not our mechanic.  He does not keep us in order.  Then there are those curses that come about through causative agents containing intelligent design, like a virus or a worm, whose action against us is not accidental, but deliberate and part of the design.  These are curses of commission.  They happen because God does not want us to continue going our own way into oblivion.  He wants to get our attention, and he’s determined to do it even if it kills us.  Eternity is just on the other side of death, and we can’t afford to enter it heedlessly, as though it did not exist.

Christians hate the idea of a God that curses.  We like to see him as God the redeemer, lover of our souls.  Plagues and curses are a thing of the Old Testament, almost as though that were a different god.  Jesus came to break the curse, but his kingdom is not of this world.  Every day we still die, just like we have since the very first man breathed his last.  The laws of Moses have not been overturned, and neither has the curse, this side of death.  But there is a hope that goes beyond the grave.  Our treasure is not in this life.  No pleasure, no gratification in this life is worth the cost of losing our treasure in the next.

It is for that reason that we are scared out of our wits by the specter of a biological weapon engineered by God, himself.  If you think that cancer is scary, then you have no grasp of Hell.  If the wost thing you can imagine is losing your life, then you have no hope of Heaven.





The Single-Use Cipher

27 12 2009

No ship is too big to sink, as the passengers of the Titanic discovered.  No freedom is so well founded as to be impervious to corruption.  Every government and every establishment throughout history is and has been doomed to eventual collapse.  Freedom as we know it in a representative government will last only until someone strong enough manages to consolidate the power for himself.  When that happens, we will find ourselves back under the rule of a dictator.  Like Russia, it may still be paraded as a representative government, but it will, in truth, be governed by a select few, if not a singular individual.  This is the end that cannot be avoided.  Lament it later.  We don’t have time.  For all we know, we may already be there.  Our aim, then, should be to prepare ourselves for that eventuality.  We hope that it will not happen in our lifetime, but we fear that it might.

A key objective for us will be the development of a method for transmitting information secretly.  The strongest of encryption methods involve the use of computers and special software.  In the event of a complete social meltdown or an iron-fisted shutdown of the Internet, we must be prepared for the possibility that computers will not be available to all of us.  Further, we might find strength in an encryption technique that does not require special equipment, especially software, so that we might reach as many people as we require and under as many varied circumstances as we might encounter.

Probably the most widely-used and weakest of encryption techniques is the simple letter-substitution method.  You may have seen one in your local newspaper.  It’s so bad that a person of modest intelligence can solve it without a key.  Take the following example:

SRIRW JHR D HZUETR TRKKRW HJGHKZKJKZLS JSTRHH OLJ NDSK KL FRK BDJFVK

Translates to:

Never use a simple letter substitution unless you want to get caught.

Even if the spaces are removed, letter patterns and relative occurrence of letters is enough to allow the wrong person to decrypt it.  In the example above, the key was as follows:

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Q C F A P G B S V U T O D W Y J K E N L M H R Z X I

Despite the weakness of the simple letter substitution method, one of the best codes is a modification of this idea, called the single-use cipher.  It’s the same as a letter substitution, except that the key changes with every letter.  The letter A could represent the letter T one time and represent the letter X the next time.  Doing this requires a lot of keys, being that we need a new one for each letter.  If we wrote a key like the one above for each letter in the message, then the key would be a lot longer than the actual message.  It would hardly be worth the trouble.  To simplify things, the key is always a simple shifting of the alphabet, like the following:

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A B C D E F G H I J

In this example, the letter A is shifted over sixteen spaces.  So is every other letter.  If we were to use this key for the above message, then the letter N would be written as the letter D.  We try to think backward when writing it so that the receiver doesn’t have to.  Hence, we encrypt it from the bottom set to the top set, and they decrypt it from the top set to the bottom set.  They see the D, and they translate it to an N.  Like I said, though, the key changes with every letter to prevent anyone from detecting a pattern.  It’s always a simple shift of the alphabet, as above.

In order to not have to write an entire alphabet twice for each and every letter of the message, we can simplify the key to a single letter.  All we need to do to write the key is to simply answer the question, “What does A equal?”  If we know what A equals, then we know what all of the other letters equal, because they’re all shifted over the same number of spaces.  In this case, A equals K.  The letter K can then represent the entire key.  The following is the B key:

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A

In this case, A = B.  Therefore, the letter D represents the second letter in our message, the letter E of the word, “Never.”  For every letter of our message, we have one letter that needs to be translated, and we have one letter that tells us which key we use to translate it.  We could generate a random series of letters to represent our random selection of keys:

KBDIEURYASUEJDKQPELXMRUHYXRWHICKMENWLOPQUAYHENRICOVIRUMPU

Each letter tells us what A equals for that key.  Each key is used only once, to decipher only one letter of the message.  Also, we always remove spaces and punctuation.  Using the series of keys, above, the message now translates to the following:

DDSWN ABG A AOIGIU VPPIHF BAUUWRXNLGEB QAPTED IUU YTJG CG EQY UJAUSZ

In a real situation, we would have removed the spaces, but they were used here for the sake of explanation.  In order to easily translate the message, a good practice is to type the alphabet twice in courier font, so that it all fits on one line.  Then, copy that line to the next line.  Print it out and cut the paper between the lines so that they can be shifted relative to each other.  Circle the middle letter A of the top line so you can find it easily.  Using the key, above, you would align the letter A with K for the first letter of the message.  Then align it with B for the next letter of the message.  Then align it with D, and so on.  Cross off each letter of the key as you use it, and never recycle it.  Each time you shift the alphabet, you translate a letter of the message.

Originally, when this method was devised, the single-use keys were printed as booklets of randomly generated letters.  Each booklet would only have two copies.  You would keep one and send the other to the recipient.  Each letter would be used once to translate a letter in a message, and it would never be used again.  The next message, probably the reply, would start where the other left off, until eventually the whole booklet was used up and a new one had to be sent.  It was virtually unbreakable, unless someone intercepted the book along the way and made copies.

Then someone got the bright idea of using common literature as a key.  That way, no special book was required to decipher the message.  The only thing that needed to be delivered was the encrypted message, itself.  If the other party knew which classic you were going to use, then they could find it in their local library, so long as you chose a work that was common, or that you knew they already had.  Better yet, you could tell them with one encrypted message what the key for the next encrypted message would be.  Once you finished using The Grapes Of Wrath to encrypt your messages, you could mention in the last message that you were switching to A Tale Of Two Cities.  After a long correspondence, there would be no way for anyone to know what you were using to encrypt your messages, because you will have only mentioned it in another encrypted message.  Only the first book would be mentioned, and you might even do that through a subtle hint.  Be careful to avoid using abridged versions or books translated from other languages, because they tend not to be the same from one publication to the next.  Let’s take A Tale Of Two Cities as our key:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdo….

In this case, A equals I, then T, then W, and so on.  If A equals I, then N equals F.  If A equals T, then E equals L.  If A equals W, then V equals Z, and so on.

FLZEZ BLA Z OQTBGL DSPBWY WUJZMEXGCQVZ PUDSOA QVY WIUM PO AAF XEMOEF

Again, we leave the spaces in place for now.  Normally we would remove them.  So, there you have it.  Take the message, “Never use a simple letter substitution unless you want to get caught,” and cross it with the line from Dickens’ book, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdo…” and what you have left is a code that would be hard to break.  The other person’s reply would start where you left off, at “…m, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair….” Then, even if the enemy knew what book you were using to decode with, they probably would have trouble finding the right part of the book to use.

Now, the only problem is getting the message to the other person.  Unfortunately, the message still looks like a secret message.  It would be up to the sender to be creative and find a way to hide the fact that it’s a coded message.  For example, it could be hidden in a web page.  To find it, you select from the menu bar View/Source, which will give you a long list of HTML.  Look for the message to be contained between “<!–“ and “–>”.  If the enemy knows that you have a web site, then they might find the code there, but they would neither be able to decode it, nor would they know whom you were talking to.  Anyone could access the page, and there’s no knowing which of them was the recipient and which was someone just visiting the site for what it appeared to be.  Moreover, unless they already suspected you, they would not be likely to find you by accident this way.  As an added plus, you could send the same message to several parties at once, and you would not have to jeopardize them by knowing dangerous information about who or where they are, in the event that you are captured and forced to leak their whereabouts.  Otherwise, one might consider the use of watermarks or invisible ink.

One might also consider a reverse-order cipher, whereby the two alphabets run in opposite directions to one another, as such:

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Z Y X W V U T S R Q P O N M L K J I H G F E D C B A

The advantage to this is that it works in both directions.  You can’t get confused as to whether you’re translating from the top to the bottom line, or the other way around, because it’s the same both ways.  The disadvantage is that it only provides half as much encryption strength.  I prefer the previous method, though, in all honesty, I hope we never need to use this.






Domesticated Society

7 12 2009

The falconer is a talented individual, who knows how to release a patently independent creature and fully expect that it will not continue flying, never to return.  The bird, though it be freed from its tethers, is not free in its own mind.  The key to this, as any falconer knows, is to successfully prevent the bird from eating the fruits of its own labor directly.  In training, he must be there to snatch up the bait before the bird can eat it.  Everything that the bird eats must come from the owner’s hand, so that the poor beast never makes the connection between its kill and its food.  Otherwise, it might realize that it does not need the master at all, and the next time it is released, it might fly away and never return.  The falconer uses the bird to catch him his food.  The bird only thinks it needs the falconer for its own food.  In reality, this is a strictly parasitic relationship.  The bird acts as a voluntary, if unwitting, host.  The human cannot give it anything that he does not first take from the bird.  He contributes nothing to the relationship, other than psychological enslavement.

Oh, but this happens to you, too.  You are that bird.  When communism fell in Eastern Europe, people, at first, cherished their new found freedom, but with time they discovered the burden of having to fend for themselves.  These days, much of the populace is waxing nostalgic for the “good old days,” when a job was guaranteed to every person.  With time, those memories seem not so bad.  It’s like the Israelites leaving Egypt, saying, “We were better off in the land of Egypt, living as slaves, because at least then we had food and water…security…certain assurances.”  Egypt provided them nothing.  Everything that their masters gave them was the fruit of their own labor, minus whatever the masters took.  The security of a guaranteed meal was an illusion.  If the slaves stopped providing it, then the masters certainly would not have taken to the fields to provide for their slaves.  The essence of the problem was that the people were looking to other humans to fill a role that should have been occupied by God.

Jan, a Czech immigrant, and a few of his friends conversed with me over a few glasses of wine, while I sipped my coffee.  They lamented the waning of freedom in their homeland.  This freedom has not been weakening in the political field, so much as it has been in the psychological realm.  They fear that Communism is on its way back, and the worst part of it is that it is being invited back by the very people that it once enslaved.  The difference between them and Americans, they assure me, is that Americans put their faith in God.  The Czech Republic is overwhelmingly atheistic, and so to fill that void, they place government in the esteem of God, looking to corrupt greedy men for the assurance of security.  This is probably the essence of why the Communist regime worked so hard to kill religion.  If people have faith in God, then they do not look to the government for hope.  Kill God, and the government inherits godlike authority.  Ever wonder why the West has instituted atheism as the official, “scientific” explanation, the only thing that can be taught in public schools?  It isn’t actually scientific at all.  Rather, it is a tool for bringing more power to the government.

Through the first years of the United States, people lived quite successfully without any help from the government.  Life was a constant struggle for survival, but people put their faith in God, and they lived through it.  These days, one might think that the entire nation should have perished without publicly funded programs.  How did they ever survive?  As the faith in God wanes, the faith in government grows.  But, where God can give us what we did not sow, the government can only give us what it takes from us.  We are that falcon that brings food to its master, then accepts, gratefully, food in return.  We fail to see that we would be better, far better, able to care for ourselves if the money had not been taken from us in the first place.  With faith in God, we would have cared for our own needy.  With faith in government, we lose most of our forced contributions to administrative costs.  We catch the rabbit for the government, and it gives us our morsel in return.

Were people really guaranteed a job under communism?  Not really.  The government could not give what it did not first take.  When the economy ran dry, the government collapsed.  Instead of losing their jobs a little here and there, they all lost their jobs at once.  The bigger the beast, the harder it falls.

My Czech friends warn me of a ratchet effect in the United States, and I have thought as much, myself.  Change only happens in one direction.  The government never relinquishes power.  That domesticated falcon is never set free.  Little by little it promises more to us.  It feigns to be our omnipotent guardian.  It usurps God.  Little by little it takes our money and our freedom to pay for these vices.  The process never reverses.

As we lose our faith in God, so do we lose our freedom to men.

A wild animal is born knowing things.  It knows how to hunt, how to care for itself and how to live out in the middle of nowhere on practically nothing at all.  It needs no food dish, no doghouse, no litter box.  This animal is born to be free.  It takes a clever trainer to domesticate it.  The animal unlearns all of the skills that came to it instinctively.  It learns, instead, the ways of its new master, the human.  It learns to be helpless.  What does a horse need?  It’s surrounded by food, everywhere it goes.  Yet, it comes to depend on the human.  For what?  The human gives it a fraction of the fruit of its own labor.

But the domesticated mindset, once learned, is not forgotten.  To put it another way, the wild instinct, once forgotten, is not easily learned.  Once the animal learns to eat from the hand of a human, it forgets how to eat from the hand of God.

Festus, an old Roman governor, was a freed slave, but the Caesar remarked that he still had the mind of a slave.  What was this mindset?  To understand this, we must look to the slaves that we know.  When freed, they stayed with their masters and continued to work for them.  Years later, their children still largely look to the mastership of other humans to provide for them.  Predictably, they tend to vote for the party that not only enslaved them but even marginalized them through horrible racist laws.  The reason is that this party has become to them the new slave master.  It reaps what they sow, and it gives back to them what they need.  That government has become as God to them.  They look to it to fulfill their needs, never really grasping that they have surrendered their freedom, little by little, and never really accounting for the fact that they only receive a net loss in the transaction.  Like the Israelites, they long to return to Egypt, where a meal seemed guaranteed, where they trusted in the providence of men rather than God.

But the provision of men will certainly come to an end, and the provision of God is boundless.

When a natural disaster like hurricane Katrina hits, people whine and cry that the government is not there to rescue them.  It’s like complaining to an intestinal worm that it does not provide nourishment in a time of famine.  The parasite is not there for the host’s benefit.  It takes as much as it can, leaving just enough to keep the host alive.  It provides nothing in return.  We need not thank it for what it lets us keep.  It is not our savior.  The government is only human, like us, and as humans, it is vulnerable to all of the same troubles.  Its role as God is only a masquerade.

Choose, this moment, whom you will serve.





The hypocrisy of fighting proselytization

28 08 2008

There are those who think it a sin to try to convince others of one’s own religious beliefs.

I take that back. There are those who think that tying to convince others of one’s own religious beliefs is a sin, so long as those religious beliefs are Christian. These same people make no mention of other religious groups, so I must conclude that they are concerned only with Christians. In Iran, such people are prominent, being the highest political leaders in the nation. There, it is a crime punishable by death either to convert to Christianity or to attempt to convert another to it. I’m not going to waste time writing about Iran, here. I don’t speak Persian, and if I did, this blog would never get inside the country anyway. No, I am talking about a particularly open-minded class of American who believes that it is a Christian’s foremost duty to keep his religious beliefs to himself. We can talk football. We can discuss politics. We can even have a chat about the Eightfold Path. If we mention the name of Jesus in any other context than that of an expletive, then we’ve crossed the line into that deep and dangerous gray area of, and I quote, “shoving your religion down my throat.”

Ah, yes…America is built on the free exchange of ideas. We hold firmly to the value of free speech. In fact, we extend it so far as to say that the freedom of speech inherent in painting oneself green and running naked on the White House lawn is a sacred rite. Well, maybe not completely naked. However, any effort to share Christian values is not seen as free speech, but as an attempt to stifle others. I have been told not to share my faith, or that if I do that I am only reacting out of insecurity about my beliefs. The irony in this is that in telling me this, these same people have attempted to share their own beliefs with me, as an effort to actually change my behavior! (Gasp! Oh, the horror!) Oh, wait…I forgot, it’s okay for them to try to get me to change my views and actions, but the reverse is a form of oppression.

Let’s face it, folks: telling people that it’s wrong to share their views in an attempt to convince others is a self-contradictory lie. Yes, it’s even self-contradictory if they are Christians who share their beliefs. I know it’s convenient to have a double-standard, though.

Then there’s this notion that I’m full of myself if I think I have the truth and you don’t. Hmm…someone didn’t think that one through too carefully. Oh, wait, I forgot, I’m full of myself if I’m a Christian and I think I have the truth and you don’t. I knew I was missing something. Yes, because it would be silly to assume that I’d be trying to convince you of something that I did not believe in.

No, no, you have the truth. I’m wrong. I’m only trying to convince you otherwise.

You’re right. You have the truth. I have the truth. They both completely contradict each other, but neither of us are wrong! The laws of reason and logic just twisted themselves into a Gordian knot to accommodate you, and I am an ass!

(Deep breath) The person who tells me that I can not insist on having the truth that someone else does not, must, himself not believe that he has the truth that I do not, or he would be contradicting himself. I must therefore assume that he knows that he is wrong, and that he is attempting to convince me of something that even he does not believe, in which case I will not believe him. Therefore, I might logically continue to believe that I am right. I can not be proven wrong simply because I am wrong to believe that I am right. It’s a baseless argument.

I believe that the odds are that any given person reading this post is more likely on their way to Hell than Heaven.

Oops…I just did it. I shoved my religion down your throat.

Comments? Oh, well, if you agree with me, then there is nothing to say. If you disagree with me, then your only point would be that it is wrong to attempt to share your views with others, so I will spare you the temptation of betraying your own beliefs by posting a comment.