Wednesday, July 23, 2014

When an atheist says it's OK to rape her sister

I couldn't believe my ears. Did she really just say that? I was standing in front of a young woman and her sister on the University of California, Berkeley campus. A friend and I had engaged her in a conversation about objective morality and here she was saying it wasn't even objectively wrong if a person wanted to rape her sister—and she was saying this right in front of her!

Let me give you the whole story. As part of our apologetics missions trips, we go to places like the Berkeley campus, engage people in conversation, and share Christianity. If Christian students learn how to defend their beliefs in a place like this, they will have no problem doing so in their own colleges.

On this trip, I saw a young woman holding a campaign sign for her friend who was running for student council, and I struck up a conversation. We began with simple questions such as "Do you believe in absolute right and wrong?" She replied that right and wrong are relative to the individual. I asked, "But you're campaigning for your friend. By campaigning, you are implying that he would do a better job representing students than the other candidates. Doesn't that imply a concept of right and wrong?" She quickly deferred, stating that the reason she was helping him is simply because he had helped her in the past. He asked her to help, and so she is doing so. There's no admission of an objective right or wrong in this.

I pressed on, "What about absolute morality? Are there not certain things that are always wrong?"

"No," she said. "I hold to certain values because of my culture and what works for her, but there is no absolute standard for all people."

"So stealing isn't wrong? If something of yours I stolen, you wouldn't think the person is wrong that did it?"

"It's wrong for me to steal, but another person may need to."

I'm familiar with such dodges. It's easy to try and justify certain circumstances where a crime like stealing can be used to wiggle out of an uncomfortable situation. Therefore, I pushed for a more black and white example. "What about something like rape? Isn't that always wrong? If a man came up to your sister and grabbed here, and he fully believed that he had the right to take her. He felt convinced that he should be able to force sex upon her, wouldn't it still be wrong for that man to rape your sister? You wouldn't try to stop him?"

She simply replied "Well, I guess if he truly believed he had the right, then it wouldn't be wrong for him."

Calling out ridiculousness

As you can imagine, her sister wasn't very comfortable at that response, yet she stayed silent through the exchange. Here's the point, though. This girl was intelligent. She had been indoctrinated with a relativist view of morality and she didn't want to abandon her views. As I've written in the past, it is really hard to change a belief. In our discussion, she was not willing to give up on her relativism no matter what I said. Even in the rape example, she had to admit that rape can be OK if she was going to save face. I've had similar experiences with other topics, such as people trying to justify homosexuality even when their position leads to incongruities like the permissibility of incest or bestiality.

Sometimes, Christians who wind up in a discussion that takes such a turn throw up their hands in frustration. They simply don't know what to do next! How do you argue with that?

Here's my solution: call their bluff. A lot of people see these kinds of talks like a chess match. You make a move and they counter with a move of their own. The woman above was trying to remain consistent, but she was doing so because to her the entire conversation was in the abstract. The best thing to do is to break that mindset and bring it back to reality.

Upon her reply, I looked her straight in the eye and said, "You're lying. There's no way that if a man was really attacking your sister you would excuse it. You'd be screaming your head off calling for police or anyone to come and help because you really believe that rape is wrong. While you have an intellectual argument for the opposite, in real life you would never let that happen. There are people who truly believe that what's right is whatever is right for them. We call the sociopaths and we lock them up because they are a danger to society. Right now, in our discussion, you're simply trying to win the argument, but you're doing so at a tremendous cost to the truth. I am truly scared if you really believe that something like rape has any permissible circumstances."

At all times I kept the conversation civil and never yelled or pointed a finger. I did make my final statement with some level of authority. She didn't agree with me, though. She maintained that this is what she believed so I thanked her for her time and walked on.

You may believe such interactions are wasted, but they are not. That woman will continue to think about that conversation and what she said. (Her sister probably wanted to have a conversation with her, too!) But God can use small things like this to provoke people to reexamine their position. Changing beliefs takes time and one must have patience even when the other person's position shows a contradiction.As you go to defend your faith with others, don't let silly statement get a pass. The statement that rape can sometimes be OK is an outrageous statement to make. Imagine any newspaper or politician announcing such a thing. Outrageous statements need to be met with an appropriate amount of incredulity. Be courteous and respectful, but don't accept them in these conversations any more than you would anywhere else. Ideas have consequences; don't allow for their abuse.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Atrocity Against Christians in Iraq

There are only two books in the Bible that end in a question. The first is the book of Jonah, which tells the story of God going to remarkable lengths to share the message of redemption with a seemingly irredeemable people. Because the prophet Jonah was Jewish, he rebels against God's command to preach repentance to the Ninevites who were ruthlessly cruel and would inflict that cruelty upon the Northern Kingdom of Israel some years later. Jonah wants to see the Assyrian capital judged by the Almighty. However, God knew that if the right person delivered His message those people would be saved.

Today, the city that occupies Nineveh's location is named Mosul. Mosul is famous for its long history of Christianity, which goes back to within a 100 years of Jesus' death1. Both the Catholic and the Orthodox faiths have early roots there and the city was the capital of Nestorianism since the sixth century. Christians are a significant part of the historic fabric of the city.

But all that has changed. With the recent takeover of the city by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a militant Jihadist group, Christians have been targeted. ISIS has purged the city of Christians, forcing them to either convert to Islam, agree to second-class status, or die. ISIS terrorists, echoing the Gestapo's branding of Jewish houses with a Star of David, were marking every door identified as Christian with the Arabic letter N for followers of the Nazarene, Jesus. Ironically, Nazareth is also the area where the prophet Jonah was from.

The UK Telegraph passed along a report from the local news agency that "ISIS troops entered the house of a poor Christian and, when they didn't get what they wanted, the soldiers raped the mother and daughter in front of their husband and father." 2 The New York Times reports that "at least 1,531 civilians were killed in June alone" in Mosul and the city's Christian population has gone from 30,000 in 2003 to zero.3 While major media outlets continue to splash headlines decrying the nearly 500 dead in Gaza, the fate of Christians in Mosul gets no such preference. This when the crisis is a direct result of US troop toppling the Iraqi government then abandoning the country.4

As I said, Jonah is one of only two books of the Bible ending in a question. It records the redemption of a people. The other is the book of Nahum, which records the utter destruction that was heaped upon Nineveh as judgment came. Today, Christians are faced with a question. Will we as the body of Christ be reluctant to intervene or will we extend ourselves to minister to those who are suffering because of His name?

What Christians Can Do

The horror ISIS is inflicting on our brothers and sisters in Christ is staggering and the church needs to act. The Apostle Paul instructs us "as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Gal 6:10). Here then are three things we can do to help Christians fleeing Mosul:

1. Support the Christian Refugees

Christians can support those fleeing their homes in Mosul. We first support our brothers and sisters by praying fervently for them. Pray daily. Pray before each meal as you thank God for your blessings that He would offer compassion and shelter to the refugees as well. But you can support the refugees in more concrete ways as well. Currently I've found two Christian organizations that are providing relief efforts to the displaced Christians from Iraq. You may donate to either  International Christian Concern or the Barnabas Fund. Both are registered with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

2. Write Your Congressional Representative

We need to speak up for those people who are being murdered and displaced from their homes. I recommend you write to your federal congressional representative and let them know that you have serious concerns about the suffering in Mosul. Be respectful and keep your letter short and on point. I have created a sample letter here. For US citizens, if you don't know who your representative is, you may find out here.

3. Talk about it

Let's raise the awareness of this atrocity to the level of national discourse. Post about the plight of Iraqi Christians. Update your status on social media platforms and share links. Encourage others to do the same. If you're a pastor, talk about this from the pulpit. The more attention we draw to those afflicted by evil, the more other people will join with us to help.

References

1. See Rassam, Suha. Christianity in Iraq: Its Origins and Development to the Present Day.(Herefordshire, UK: Gracewing, 2005). 24-26.    
2. Stanley, Tim. "Iraqi Christians are raped, murdered and driven from their homes — and the West is silent." The Telegraph. 21 July 2014. http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/timstanley/100280803/iraqi-christians-are-raped-murdered-and-driven-from-their-homes-and-the-west-is-silent/
3. Rubin, Alissa J. "ISIS Forces Last Iraqi Christians to Flee Mosul." The New York Times, 18 July 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/19/world/middleeast/isis-forces-last-iraqi-christians-to-flee-mosul.html?_r=0
4. Stanley, Ibid.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Why mixing belief systems can be dangerous

Friday the Vancouver Sun ran a book review of In Praise of Mixed Religion: The Syncretism Solution in a Multifaith World (McGill-Queen's University Publishing) by William Harrison. Syncretism is a fifty-cent word that simply means combining elements of more than one faith to forge something new, a task not at all unfamiliar to the postmodern mindset of today, even if they don't know the label.

Reviewer Douglas Todd speaks highly of the book's premise of taking various elements from different belief systems and combining them, claiming the book "maps out an important path for truth seekers."1 He writes:
Citing Christianity's and Islam's transformative encounter with Greek thought and Buddhism's adaptation to China, Harrison reveals the many ways that religions, as well as secular world views, have gained wisdom by borrowing from outside their own movements.

Most of us are aware of fundamentalists, whether Christian, Muslim, Marxist or libertarian capitalist. Fundamentalists are big on ideological purity and separation. Like the Europeans who burned witches, they are disposed to excommunications, ostracizing and the condemning of "heretics."2
I think Todd has deeply missed the point here, at least with respect to Christianity. As he rightly points out, Christians have availed themselves of truth propositions where they may be found. The Apostle Paul quoted from two Greek poets when he was preaching to the Athenians on Mars' hill.3 Augustine found within Plato's teachings certain elements that explained the Christian understanding of the world quite well. The logic of Aristotle greatly informed Thomas Aquinas. Even Boethius, in his Consolation of Philosophy, implored one to "as far as possible, join faith to reason."

But that's the hook. These Christians weren't strolling through some theological salad bar simply placing whatever appealed to their appetites onto their plates. They first understood the Christian worldview and they sought to explore it and explain it with as much clarity of possible. So, because Augustine is familiar with the Neoplatonist understanding of evil as a privation of good, he compares it to the Christian teaching of an all good God who created a world now contaminated by evil and he sees that the definition applies and thus uses it.

It is a far different thing, however, to try and combine two different faiths that have competing claims. For example, Christianity teaches that only God is eternal. As created beings, we are distinct from God and we have a beginning. So, when early church father Origen adopted Plato's idea that all souls are pre-existent, the view was rightly condemned as heretical.4It simply cannot be that a finite, created being has no beginning. The two points are a contradiction and to hold both leads not to truth or clarity but to confusion.

Harrison's holds draw a much broader definition of syncretism than has been used traditionally. The book asserts "a 'religion' is almost any form of deep, distinct and comprehensive world view that maintains human life has purpose."5 Included in that seems to be economic and political concerns as much as theology proper. Well, maybe. I don't recall any Christian being labelled a heretic because they held to a certain economic theory. Perhaps one must define syncretism that broadly in order to make the premise of the book work, I don't know. The one thing I do know is that if one is interested in truth, then it's important to learn the distinctives of each faith before one tries to merge them. The differences are as vital as the similarities.

A chemist will tell you that an alkaline solution can be as caustic as an acidic solution. Throw the two together, and eventually you'll end up with water and salt—as well as a big boom. To encourage the blending of faiths without first understanding the basics of those faiths is like throwing a bunch of chemicals you find in the science lab together. Perhaps they might only create a pretty puff of smoke. I'm not willing to take that chance.

References

1. Todd, Douglas. "In praise of mixing religion and world views." Postmedia Network Inc. 2014. Web http://www.vancouversun.com/life/Douglas+Todd+praise+mixing+religion+world+views/10042336/story.html
2. Ibid.
3. In Acts 17:28, Paul quotes from Aratus' Phaenomena and from Epimenides. For more, see http://spindleworks.com/library/rfaber/aratus.htm
4. See Kenneth R. Calvert's "Origen: Model or Heretic?" Christianity Today. 01-07-1996. Web. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/1996/issue51/5135.html
5. Todd, Ibid.

Image credit: Amitchell125

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

The danger of a media-driven worldview


Television personality and journalist Malcom Muggeridge had a prescient understanding of the power of media. When addressing the National Religious Broadcasters, he spoke on how Christ may be communicated in a media-driven culture, one that Muggeridge characterized as "increasingly given over to fantasy." In this quote, he makes clear just why drawing one's worldview from popular media is dangerous.
Simone Weil wrote: "Nothing is so beautiful, nothing is so continually fresh and surprising, so full of sweet and perpetual ecstasy, as the good, and no desert so dreary and monotonous and boring as evil. But with fantasy it is the other way around. Fictional good is boring and flat, while fictional evil is varied, intriguing, attractive, and full of charm."

Now the media, as it seems to me, strikingly bear out Simone Weil's contention. In their offerings it is almost invariably eros, rather than agape, that provides all the excitement; success and celebrity rather than a broken and a contrite heart that are made to seem desirable; and Jesus Christ Superstar rather than Jesus Christ on the cross who gets a folk hero's billing. Good and evil, after all, constitute the essential theme of our mortal existence. In this sense they may be compared with the positive and negative points that generate an electric current. Transpose the points, and the current fails. The lights go out. Darkness falls and all is confusion. It seems to me clear, beyond any shadow of doubt, that the darkness that is falling on our civilization is due precisely to such a transposition of good and evil, and that the media in furthering the transposition are a powerful influence—perhaps the most powerful in furthering the consequences.1

References

1. Muggeridge, Malcom. "Christ and Media." Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 12/3 (Sept. 1978).
Accessed online. http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/21/21-3/21-3-pp193-198_JETS.pdf 195.

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

We Don't Know What We Believe



Is the Church letting itself get corrupted by the world? There are six megathemes—shifts in the way Christians think and act—that show how much the world's ideas are corrupting the church today. The first is the fact that the Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate. We have Christians who don't even know why we celebrate Easter! See the danger this represents and what we can do about it by watching the clip below.




To read more about these Christian megathemes and a few simple steps individuals and the Church can take to walk more strongly with Christ, click here. For the complete video series on Christian megathemes, click here.

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