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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Islam, Jihad, and Claims of a Religion of Peace



Is Islam a religion of peace? Realize that is not the same question as "are Muslims peaceful?" I have many Muslim friends and I can answer with assurance that they are not only peaceful, but they stand aghast at the various terrorist atrocities taking place in the name of Islam across the globe. They hate the fact that the religion with which they identify would be associated with such wanton evil.

While it is possible that for the most part the second question may be answered affirmatively, it doesn't follow that the answer to the first question is also yes. Islam has a history and an ethic beginning with the teachings of the Qur'an  and continuing through the lives of Muhammad and his successors that must also be weighed.

Nabeel Qureshi grew up in a devoutly Muslim home. He was passionate about his faith, frequently engaging Christians in conversations and defending his faith against any detractors, usually with considerable success. However,when Nabeel went to investigate the teachings of Islam regarding jihad, he discovered a disjunct between what he thought his faith held versus its enshrined teachings. In his book Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward. he explains how the monumental event of September 11 caused a seismic shift in his understanding of his faith:
When the twin towers fell, the eyes of the nation turned to American Muslims for an explanation. I sincerely believe September 11 was a greater shock for American Muslims like my family than for the average American. Not only did we newly perceive our lack of security from jihadists, as did everyone else, we also faced a latent threat of retaliation from would-be vigilantes. It felt as if we were hemmed in on all sides. In the midst of this, while mourning our fallen compatriots and considering our own security, we had to defend the faith we knew and loved. We had to assure everyone that Islam was a religion of peace, just as we had always known. I remember hearing a slogan at my mosque that I shared with many: "The terrorists who hijacked the planes on September 11 also hijacked Islam."

Many Americans proved understanding and received our responses graciously. They joined us in denouncing terrorists, asserting that they were not representative of Islam. Others, including friends at my university, were not so compliant. They pushed back, pointing to the violence in Islamic history. Given the prevalence of warfare throughout the history of Islam, they asked how I could argue that Islam was a religion of peace.

In that defensive posture, discussing the matter with people who appeared unfriendly to my faith, it was a knee-jerk reaction for me to say whatever I could to defend Islam. But when I was alone with my thoughts, I could ask myself honestly: What does Islam really teach about jihad? Is Islam really a religion of peace?

I began to investigate the Quran and the traditions of Muhammad's life, and to my genuine surprise, I found the pages of Islamic history dripping with violence. How could I reconcile this with what I had always been taught about Islam? When I asked teachers in the Muslim community for help, they usually rationalized the violence as necessary or dismissed the historicity of the accounts. At first I followed their reasoning, but after hearing the same explanations for dozens if not hundreds of accounts, I began to realize that these were facile responses. Their explanations were similar to my own knee-jerk responses to non-Muslims who questioned Islam. Of course, I understood why they were doing it. We truly believed Islam was a religion of peace, and we were interpreting the data to fit what we knew to be true.

But was it true? After years of investigation, I had to face the reality. There is a great deal of violence in Islam, even in the very foundations of the faith, and it is not all defensive. Quite to the contrary, if the traditions about the prophet of Islam are in any way reliable, then Islam glorifies violent jihad arguably more than any other action a Muslim can take.1
Many Muslims, especially those in the West, have been deeply influenced over the centuries by Western thought and ideals. It shouldn't surprise people if Muslims then interpret Islam in a more peaceful way, even if that isn't the authoritative teaching of the faith. I've made the point before that since the Qur'an calls for violence and Muhammad—the model of living out the Islamic ideal—practiced it, it is more reasonable to understand Islam as a violent warrior faith.

I recommend Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward. It provides a sensitive yet clear understanding of Islam's teaching on Jihad and how Christians can respond to such an important topic.

References

1. Qureshi, Nabeel. Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016. Kindle Edition. 15-16.
Image courtesy Day Donaldson and licensed via the Creative Commons CC-by-2.0 license.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Five Reasons Why God's Hiddenness is a Good Thing



"If God exists, why doesn't he make himself more obvious?" I've heard this question countless times from atheists and skeptics of Christianity. They seem to think that what is known as the hiddenness of God is an argument against his existence. Many claim one should only accept what they have evidence to believe. Of course, you may then ask what evidence they've examined which proves that criteria is true, the lack of which highlights the arbitrariness of applying their own principle.

However, God's hiddenness is an important point to consider for even Christians struggle with God feeling distant at times causing believers to become unsure of what God's will could be for this or that particular situation. If God wants his faithful to follow him, why doesn't he make himself and his desires more obvious?

The hiddenness of God is actually important. God doesn't simply want us to believe he exists. James tells us even the demons believe and tremble. He wants us to trust him and form a deep bond with him. I can think of five ways God's hiddenness benefits us through trust:

1. In order for love to be real, one must have some trust in the beloved.

First, because we recognize that God is the creator of humanity, it doesn't do for humans to demand evidence from him. It would be as inappropriate for us, as children of God, to demand proof of God's actions as it would be a young child demanding proof that her parents are not torturing her because of their demand to have her eat her vegetables or to not cross the street alone. Such a child is self-centered and spoiled.

Human nature is such that disobedience will manifest itself in all children. Human beings in their fallen state naturally become selfish and demanding. Maturity may be measured in deferring one's current desires for a better outcome down the road. God knows trust must be practiced to become mature, and trusting God helps us develop that virtue.

2. Trust allows us to develop an honest relationship with God

Imagine a man who marries an attractive woman, one who seems to be hit upon by almost every man she meets. Right after marriage, he continually tracks her whereabouts via her cell phone's GPS, he places hidden cameras in her car and in the home, and makes her prove that she hasn't had an affair.

What kind of relationship would they have? Does such a man truly love this woman, or does he simply want to control her? Surely she can provide evidence to her husband that she hasn't been unfaithful, but that isn't a loving relationship. His love for her is better reflected I his trust that she is devoted to him. Similarly, trust is the key to faith for the Christian. It shows that we are committed to him in a loving relationship, one where he has made himself real through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, in his written word, and in the witness of the Spirit in our hearts. As we devote ourselves to him, trusting him more and more, our relationship with him grows more deeply.

3. Trust allows us to survive the dark times

We live in a fallen world where each of us will face difficulties. The person who trusts God and his word has confidence that such difficulties are able to be overcome. A believer can more bravely face his trials knowing that God is sovereign over them and that "the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Rom 8:18).

Without trust, one is faced with desperation and despair. Dark times test the trust one has in God and can steel their hearts to trust him.

4. Trust allows us to be more effective in our walk with God

Trust allows us to be effective Christians in the world. As a hockey fan, I know that a team needs trust to succeed. The forwards must trust their defense in order to be aggressive enough to rush the net. The defense, in order to block the player coming down the center, must trust their goalie to stop the outside shots. Everyone on the team has to trust their training and coaching to execute plays properly.

Likewise, Christians who are the most effective for the kingdom are those who trust that God will help them with the tasks he has called them to do. They can take some risks, they can work through the difficult times with the hope of better days and they can see how much God has done for them to this point.

5. Trust allows us to be blessed by God's faithfulness

To look back over your life and see God's hand working through the tough times and the times of blessing draw us ever closer to our Lord. Jesus said as much to Thomas who, after missing the Lord's first appearing, wanted to see the evidence of his crucifixion before he would believe. Thomas asked for no evidence that Jesus hadn't already provided the other disciples. Yet, when Jesus then appeared again he drew a distinction between the demand for evidence and the exercise of faith: "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

One final point: only those who trust God have the blessing of seeing their trust rewarded.

When God answers prayer, delivers one from a trial, or provides success in ministry, the one who trusted him can look back and glorify the God who keeps his promises. The blessing of seeing God work to the good of his people is impossible for someone who would never trust that God would make good on his word.

God's hiddenness allows each of us to trust him and grow as human beings. The atheist, like the insolent child, demands that evidence must be presented. But meeting that demand would stultify the person, lessening his ability to grow his relationship with God.

Image courtesy PiccoloNamek and licensed via the Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0 license.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Necessity of Humility for Racial Healing


It's no secret that racial tensions in this country are the highest they've been in many years. The different high profile shootings of black men and of police officers have raised tensions to extreme levels and both black and white Christians are trying to understand how they should respond.

It's clear that Christians should have a response. Christianity holds to a very clearly defined moral understanding of the nature of human beings as ones who reflect God's image, and the sanctity of life. Both issues are central to this crisis. Further, Christianity has always taught that differences of race, culture, sex, or socio-economic backgrounds matter little in the inherent worth of an individual (Gal. 3:28, 1 Cor 12:12-13).

I've previously written that the church should be the place where blacks can turn in their pain and fear. How we as Christians can reach out to our community and begin to promote healing is a little tougher question. Recently, I was able to attend an event hosted by Sandals Church and Pastor Matt Brown entitled "A Real Conversation About Race and the Church" that brought together several black pastors as well as law enforcement and local government officials to talk about the role of Christians in bridging the divide that seems to grow wider with each news cycle.

Stop Asserting Your Individuality

One of the more common themes mentioned by the participants throughout the evening was that of humility. Pastor Jonathan Bilima of Relevant Church told of how he would intentionally reach out to others in his community by not exercising his preferences or his freedoms, but by trying to present an atmosphere where others would be more comfortable. He said even in his church services, he would prefer more musical styles associated with traditionally black churches, he chose to "turn down a little bit of my identity in order to bridge the gap of ignorance."

I think Pastor Bilima put his finger on a key factor in reconciliation and healing. As Christians we have an amazing amount of freedom to worship and live. However, if we elevate those freedoms to be primary over the needs of another, we sin. The Corinthian church had the freedom to eat meat sacrificed to idols, as that's pretty much the only meat one could buy. The Apostle Paul understood that those idols were not real gods and told them they could do so. However, he added that if their freedom to eat the meat might stumble another, they should spit it out of their mouths. He wrote "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved" (1 Cor. 10:31-33).

The Ultimate Model of Humility

Jesus modeled such humility more than anyone else. He didn't regard equality with God something to be grasped, but he humbled himself so much that he submitted to his own torture and death in order to save those who were doing the torturing and killing. He understood that placing the needs of those who were in the wrong above his rights was the only way to reach them and heal them. This is the model we as Christians are called to follow.

Certainly, the pursuit of justice is important. I do not believe we as citizens should dismiss wrongdoing. However, that doesn't mean as Christians when engaging others in conversation, even in conversations online, we should begin our conversation with calls to justice. Perhaps beginning with calls for understanding and empathy would be better. Empathizing is a great way to build real relationships because it tells the other person you value their feelings and experiences. It is one way each of us can make a difference in the lives of those who see things differently from us. It is one way we can draw each other closer to Christ instead of drawing distinctions.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Irrational Faith of the Naturalist



Does man have an immaterial soul or is nature and the material world all there is? Atheists deny the existence of the supernatural, but they also tend to believe there is no fundamental immaterial substance to human beings, either. All our thoughts, feelings, and existence could be reduced to physical states like chemical reactions or electrical impulses. We call this belief philosophical naturalism as the person who holds it believes the natural world is all there is.

One of the greatest problems the naturalist faces is how to account for the fact that human beings are conscious creatures. We can think abstractly and conceive ideas. While many have attempted to explain the evolutionary biological development of man, no one seems able to offer any explanation of the evolution of consciousness, as Richard Swinburne has noted. They just assume that consciousness will pop into existence if the body is complex enough. But how is that science?

J.P. Moreland, in his book The Recalcitrant Imago Dei underscores the problem:
Prior to the emergence of consciousness, the universe contained nothing but aggregates of particles/waves standing in fields of forces relative to each other. The story of the development of the cosmos is told in terms of the rearrangement of micro-parts into increasingly more complex structures according to natural law. On a naturalist depiction of matter, it is brute mechanical, physical stuff. The emergence of consciousness seems to be a case of getting something from nothing. In general, physio-chemical reactions do not generate consciousness not even one little bit, but they do in the brain, yet brains seem similar to other parts of organisms' bodies (e.g., both are collections of cells totally describable in physical terms). How can like causes produce radically different effects? The appearance of mind is utterly unpredictable and inexplicable. This radical discontinuity seems like heterogeneous rupture in the natural world. Similarly, physical states have spatial extension and location but mental states seem to lack spatial features. Space and consciousness sit oddly together. How did spatially arranged matter conspire to produce non-spatial mental states? From a naturalist point of view, this seems utterly inexplicable.1
Thomas Nagel has also complained that naturalists are shirking their responsibility in assuming the appearance of consciousness. Although Nagel is an atheist, he also recognized consciousness is something fundamentally different than physical reactions which can be explained in materialist terms. In other words, your mind is not your brain. He concluded any account of consciousness on natural grounds alone would fail, writing "since a purely materialist explanation cannot do this, the materialist version of evolutionary theory cannot be the whole truth."2

Evolutionists and naturalists have left a gaping hole in their theories. The retort of "we'll find it; we just haven't yet" is akin to a man telling the IRS "I know I owe you money, but I'm going to win the lottery soon and when I do, I can pay you." It's another of those science-of-the-gaps claims. But the naturalist isn't even playing the right lottery as he keeps taking his chance betting on material items when the lottery is being played with immaterial numbers.

There's no avoiding the problem of consciousness for the naturalist. Any science that continues to assume one can get something from nothing isn't explaining anything; it's simply a statement of faith. And it's the most irrational kind of faith at that. Christians don't even believe that we can get a something from a nothing. We at least start with God.

References

1. Moreland, J.P. The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism. (London: SCM Press, 2009). 24.
2. Nagel, Thomas. Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. 45. Print

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Left is Intent on Making Us Less Human



One of the more famous stories in sports originates in Berkeley, California. The 1929 U.C. Berkeley football team had made its way to the famed Rose Bowl, playing for the championship against Georgia Tech. In the second quarter, while the game was still scoreless, Berkeley center Roy Riegels scooped up a fumble, bounced off a blocker, and ran 66 yards towards his own end zone. He would have crossed the goal line if it hadn't been for his teammate Benny Lom who chased after him and got him to change direction on the one yard line.1 The incident would become one of the most famous in Rose Bowl history.

When Reigels was running with the ball, he obviously thought he was going to be a hero. "Wrong Way" Riegels did become the stuff of legends, but not for the reason he had in mind. Today, I see a similar pattern with the Leftist movement in the United States. Especially in the last decade, the Left have been gaining ground on the cultural gridiron, scoring again and again what they believe are victories for human progress. They even have favored the label Progressives over the earlier Liberals as descriptive of their desires. However, I think th label is completely wrong. What they advocate does not advance the progress and dignity of humanity at all.

Rationality as the Essence of Man

What is the essence of man? Aristotle held that rationality is essential to being human. In his Metaphysics he explains rationality is something different than a skill, such as the ability to be musical. Some people have musical talent and some don't. But rational deliberation—the ability to take some set of facts and draw a proper conclusion from them—is a uniquely human capacity. Animals work off of their biological urges and appetites, not reason. That's why if you are visiting a friend's home and his dog tries to become intimate with your leg, you don't wonder why the dog didn't figure out that the mechanics of procreation wouldn't work that way; they must include the participation of a female dog. Animals cannot reason abstractly. The dog simply is seeking to satisfy his appetites.

It is enough that the animal feels the urge in order for it to act upon that urge. Humans recognize the need to train their pets to act differently, so they can associate a different action in the animal for the urge it feels. However, humans are not supposed to be slaves to our urges. We are not to react to our appetites without regard to consequences. It is our rationality that governs our actions and even if the feeling is new, we expect one to not simply act upon it without reflecting on what the result of those actions would be.

Arguing for Our Appetites

For centuries the concept of strengthening our rationality to govern our appetites has been the hallmark of civil society. Today the progressive agenda turns that idea on its head. For example, the LGBT community advanced by the Left today claims we should identify an entire segment of humanity by their sexual predilections. But certainly this is encouraging human beings to be defined by their appetites and not their rationality. Why should we label people by how they receive sexual pleasure as if that's the primary component of what makes them human? Sexual urges are in the appetites category. It seems to assume that such appetites are uncontrollable and must be satiated.

When one considers transgenderism, the case becomes worse. Not only do the self-identified progressives demand we believe a person who is suffering from gender dysphoria has no recourse but to live as the opposite sex, but they ask us against all reason to believe that biology is so malleable that some outward surgical changes are all that's necessary for that biology to be erased and replaced. Worse, there is sufficient data to show such reassignment surgeries are not medically efficacious as suicide rates for post-transition patients equal those of patients who hadn't had the surgery.

Where's the Reason?

Other examples from the Left can be brought to bear. There is no reason in the pro-abortion movement ever more desperately denying the established fact that a fetus is an unborn human being. Progressive college students now seek to silence any views that oppose their own in the name of tolerance. And universities that long ago threw away any restrictions on sexual promiscuity now are scratching their heads about what they themselves describe as a culture of rape on campuses.

In all these areas and more, any dispassionate observer should see the result of these movements isn't less appetite and more reason, but the reverse. Instead of progress we are getting regress. We are sliding back into a more animalistic approach where anyone's particular feeling must be met, sanctioned, and even cheered without regard to consequence.

How will humanity fare when all of this is said and done? Wrong Way Reigels was stopped before he crossed the goal line. However, he brought the ball close enough that Georgia Tech blocked a punt for a safety on the next play, ultimately allowing them to win the game 8-7. If we don't turn around soon, we may revert to a barbarism not seen since before the Christian era. That would really be a loss for the ages.

References

1. 09, August. "Wrong-Way Run Finally Turns Out." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 09 Aug. 1991. Web. 11 July 2016. http://articles.latimes.com/1991-08-09/sports/sp-257_1_rose-bowl-history.

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