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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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Monday, November 30, 2015

Culture Has Created A Selfish Kind Of Rebel



It's no secret that Western societies is pulling away from their Christian roots. How did modern culture get to this point and what does it mean? In this short clip, Lenny reviews how the culture shifted as we became more successful and how authors like G.K. Chesterton predicted the meaninglessness that would result.




Image courtesy Dave Winer and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Who is God? Infinite, Personal, Transcendent



In his masterful book The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, James Sire begins by explaining Christian theism, and there he starts with the basic attributes of God. As Sire notes, it used to be that everyone knew what the concept of God was within the western world, but that cannot be taken as true any more. People think they know what the concept of the Christian God entails, but they either misunderstand or leave out key characteristics. In the passage below, Sire offers a definition of the God of the Bible and then unpacks it:
Prime reality is the infinite, personal God revealed in the Holy Scriptures. This God is triune, transcendent and immanent, omniscient, sovereign, and good.

Let's break this proposition down into its parts.

God is infinite. This means that he is beyond scope, beyond measure, as far as we are concerned. No other being in the universe can challenge him in his nature. All else is secondary. He has no twin but is alone the be-all and end-all of existence. He is, in fact, the only self-existent being," as he spoke to Moses out of the burning bush: "I AM WHO I AM" (Ex 3:14). He is in a way that none else is. As Moses proclaimed, "Hear, 0 Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD" (Deut 6:4 KJV). SO God is the one prime existent, the one prime reality and, as will be discussed at some length later, the one source of all other reality.

God is personal. This means God is not mere force or energy or existent "substance." God is personal. Personality requires two basic characteristics: self-reflection and self-determination. In other words, God is personal in that he knows himself to be (he is self-conscious) and he possesses the characteristics of self-determination (he "thinks" and "acts").

One implication of the personality of God is that he is like us. In a way, this puts the cart before the horse. Actually, we are like him, but it is helpful to put it the other way around at least for a brief comment. He is like us. That means there is Someone ultimate who is there to ground our highest aspirations, our most precious possession-personality. But more on this under proposition 3.

Another implication of the personality of God is that God is not a simple unity, an integer. He has attributes, characteristics. He is a unity, yes, but a unity of complexity.

Actually, in Christian theism (not Judaism or Islam) God is not only personal but triune. That is, "within the one essence of the Godhead we have to distinguish three 'persons' who are neither three gods on the one side, not three parts or modes of God on the other, but coequally and coeternally God." The Trinity is certainly a great mystery, and I cannot even begin to elucidate it now. What is important here is to note that the Trinity confirms the communal, "personal" nature of ultimate being. God is not only there-an actually existent being; he is personal and we can relate to him in a personal way. To know God, therefore, means knowing more than that he exists. It means knowing him as we know a brother or, better, our own father.

God is transcendent. This means God is beyond us and our world. He is otherly. Look at a stone: God is not it; God is beyond it Look at a man: God is not he; God is beyond him. Yet God is not so beyond that he bears no relation to us and our world. It is likewise true that God is immanent, and this means that he is with us. Look at a stone: God is present. Look at a person: God is present. Is this, then, a contradiction? Is theism nonsense at this point? I think not.

My daughter Carol, when she was five years old, taught me a lot here. She and her mother were in the kitchen, and her mother was teaching her about God's being everywhere. So Carol asked, "Is God in the living room?"

"Yes," her mother replied.

"Is he in the kitchen?"

God's goodness means then, first, that there is an absolute and personal standard of righteousness (it is found in God's character) and, second, that there is hope for humanity (because God is love and will not abandon his creation). These twin observations will become especially significant as we trace the results of rejecting the theistic worldview.1
One point that Sire makes in his summation at the top that he didn't draw out beneath is that God is the prime reality of all things. So many people today make the mistake of including God within some larger reality of existence. That's what fosters questions like "If God is the answer to 'who made the universe' then who made God?" That's a category error. God is the starting point. Without God, existence doesn't even make sense.

I highly recommend Sire's book. It's a great way to understand how worldviews affect not only how one views God, but how it changes the way one interprets all of reality.

References

Sire, James W. The Universe next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 1997. Print. 28-30.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Make Your Thanksgiving Meaningful: A Collection of Writings



Thanksgiving is a unique holiday in the United States. It recognizes and promotes religious observance in the form of thanking God for His provision not only for our personal lives but for our nation as a whole. In reality, the United States is still a nation of people who hold the spiritual in high regard. You can see that by reviewing some of the past proclamations by our elected representatives as well as how Thanksgiving came to be a recognized holiday in America.

While I'm sure some atheist factions have complained about the supposed conflict between church and state on this one, none have been able to effectively challenge the holiday in a meaningful manner. However, what the atheists have not been able to accomplish, the merchants very well may.

Below, I've collected many of the Thanksgiving observations, quotes, and reflections to help you find the true meaning of the holiday. I personally make sure I reflect and thank God for all he has done for me and blessed me with in the past years and in the years to come.

Reflecting on the Meaning of Thanksgiving

Past Thanksgiving Proclamations

How We're Losing the Thanksgiving Tradition

From all of us at Come Reason, have a very happy and blessed Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

William Bradford on the Spirit of Thanksgiving


Thanksgiving is tomorrow and across the nation, people will be gathering and reflecting on the blessings they've had over the year. Such a tradition goes all the way back to the very first Pilgrims who had far less to be thankful for. William Bradford, the leader of the Plymouth Colony, wrote in his diary just how large the toll was upon the settlers at Plymouth. Reflecting on the hardships of that first year, he writes:
But here I cannot but stay and make a pause, and stand half amazed at this poor people's present condition; and so I think will the reader too, when he well considers the same. Being thus passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before in their preparation (as may be remembered by that which went before), they had now no friends to welcome them, nor inns to entertain or refresh their weather-beaten bodies, no houses or much less towns to repair to, to seek for succor. It is recorded in scripture as a mercy to the apostle and his shipwrecked company, that the barbarians showed no small kindness in refreshing them, but these savage barbarians, when they met with them (as after will appear) were readier to fill their sides full of arrows then otherwise. And for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of that country know them to be sharp and violent and subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search an unknown coast. Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men? …

Let it also be considered what weak hopes of supply and succor they left behind them, that might bear up their minds in this sad condition and trials they were under; and they could not but be very small. It is true, indeed, the affections and love of their brethren at Leyden was cordial and entire towards them, but they had little power to help them, or themselves; and how the case stood between them and the merchants at their coming away, hath already been declared. What could now sustain them but the spirit of God and his grace?

May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: "Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and he heard their voice, and looked on their adversity, etc. Let them therefore praise the Lord, because he is good, and his mercies endure forever. Yea, let them which have been redeemed of the Lord, show how he hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressor. When they wandered in the desert wilderness out of the way, and found no city to dwell in, both hungry, and thirsty, their soul was overwhelmed in them. Let them confess before the Lord his loving kindness, and his wonderful works before the sons of men.1
Of the 102 passengers that boarded the Mayflower for the new world, 51 died prior to that first Thanksgiving. 2 There were only seven dwellings erected the first year3, meaning the Pilgrims dug seven times more graves than built houses, yet they give thanks to God for "his loving kindness, and his wonderful works before the sons of men." Something to remember as you give thanks.

References

1. Bradford, William. "Of Plymouth Plantation: 1620-1647." The Plymouth Colony Archive Project. Patricia Scott Deetz and Christopher Fennell, 26 April 2003. Web. 25 Nov. 2015. http://www.histarch.illinois.edu/plymouth/bradford.html#nine.
2. "List of Mayflower Passengers Who Died in the Winter of 1620–21." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Nov. 2015. Web. 25 Nov. 2015. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Mayflower_passengers_who_died_in_the_winter_of_1620%E2%80%9321
3. Gale, Nahum. The Pilgrims' First Year in New England. Boston: Massachusetts Sabbath School Society, 1857. Print. 145.
Image courtesy freefoto.com and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Is There Such a Thing as Rational Faith?


 A woman once told me "It doesn't really matter which religion you follow; if you're sincere, your beliefs are just as valid as mine." She struck me as a very genuine person in her view, but she was dead wrong. Sincerity never makes a belief true. Sincerity has merit, but one can be sincerely wrong. Her beliefs clashed with logic, and what she needed was a logical faith.

What is a logical faith? Is it possible to even reconcile those ideas? Society views people who can be rational in difficult situations as heroic, intelligent and in control. However, in matters of faith we seem to put up a wall, segregating the virtue of logical thought from the earnestness of religion. We tend to hold a view that reason and faith are much like oil and water and can't be mixed. But that is only because people think that logical reasoning will undermine their beliefs. If this is so, it's possible they might not have a good reason for their faith. 

I maintain there is no good reason for holding any belief system, save one. A person should believe something only if it's true. What good does it do someone to hold a belief if it's not the way things really are? A person can't be proud of believing what doesn't correspond with reality. If I told you I still believe in Santa Claus you might smile, pat me on the head and say, "Dear boy, that's nice" but you'd never take me seriously. If I refuse to let go of a belief even though it doesn't match reality, then you'd rightly conclude I'm deluding myself.

At this point some may say "Yes, but you don't understand that truth is relative. My truth is different from your truth, and these things are true for me." This kind of statement sounds good on the surface but when you really examine it, it makes no sense. For one thing, people cannot hold this view consistently. They still have to look both ways before they cross the street. Their reality may not include the car that's barreling toward them, but they're going to get hit nonetheless. That's what reality does—it affects our lives whether we want it to or not.

Now all religions are in the business of making truth-claims. Religion seeks to accurately describe God, the world, and our relationship to them. If each religion is about truth, then we should be able to examine their claims and see which ones hold up. Good belief systems tend to make good sense and have good evidence, and they can withstand thoughtful, honest examination. If a belief system falls apart under scrutiny, then it probably wasn't true.

For instance, some people believe all faiths are equally valid and they all are using different labels for the same God. Is this statement true? Hinduism believes in millions of gods while Judaism and Christianity believe in only one God. Both beliefs can't be true. One denies the other and therefore at least one must be wrong. That means all faiths cannot lead to the same God. If some people still maintain they do, they might as well still believe in Santa Claus. That's why the woman I told you about was wrong in her opinion. She hadn't thought through what she believed.

Christianity is a faith that has always been very uncompromising in its demand for truth. In writing to the Thessalonian church, the Apostle Paul admonished the believers there to "examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good (1Thess 5:21)." He also wrote "If Christ be not raised [from the dead], your faith is vain." These two verses demonstrate that reason and faith aren't necessarily contradictory but complimentary toward each other. Paul expected believers in the Christian religion to believe only what's true.

One of our primary goals at Come Reason Ministries is to get the Christian church thinking about what they believe and why. We feel that in examining the claims of historic Christianity, along with those of other faiths, Christianity can be shown to be the most plausible. However, we also engage questions and opinions from people of all worldviews. We feel that discussion is healthy and when done honestly and openly it will bring all the participants closer to the truth.

So is there such a thing as a rational faith? Yes, there is. A faith that is true is rational. In matters of faith, what one believes can influence life decisions, actions, emotions, and even destinies. No belief system is above inquiry, and in matters of faith the only belief worth having is a true one.

Image courtesy innoxiuss [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, November 23, 2015

Did the New Testament Authors Know They Were Writing Scripture?


The New Testament is crucial to Christianity. It provides the basis of knowledge not simply for Jesus's life and ministry, but also for how we are to relate to God and order our lives. Of course, one of the primary drivers of the Protestant Reformation was sola scriptura or the authority of scripture alone. However, all Christian traditions look to scripture as authoritative in matters of faith and practice. All of Christendom shares this idea; it is only on the question of whether additional centers of authority exist where we differ.

Another point of agreement within Christianity is the make-up of the scriptures that form the New Testament canon. Those twenty seven books are also universally recognized as scripture. They were shared between churches to be rad to the congregations as instructive from the earliest days of the Christian faith. Even if a letter was addressed to a specific congregation and written to answer specific questions, such as 1 Corinthians, or specific problems like Galatians, all the churches would look to these writings as scriptural.

That brings up a question, though. Did the writes of these texts realize the would be used in such a broad way? Would Paul be horrified that a specific letter he sent to a specific group in Asia would also be applied by those in Rome? What about the 21st century church in America leveraging a text written for a first century middle-eastern culture? Just how aware were the writers of the New Testament that the letters and history they were composing would be looked to with the same authority as the Old Testament?

According to Peter Balla, the evidence shows they actually expected their writings to be used in this way. In his essay "Evidence for an Early Christian Canon (Second and Third Century)," Balla notes that not only did the early church immediately apply the apostles' writings to their lives, but the apostles themselves instructed them to do so:
At some time in the first century Paul's letters were collected. We do not know when and who collected them first, but it is possible that at least some of them were collected and edited for publication by Paul himself. Perhaps the collecting occurred decades later, we do not know. It is known, however, that either in the first century, or in the second (when many scholars argue 2 Peter was written), the collection was held to be authoritative as it was put alongside other "scriptures," i.e., sacred writings of the Old Testament. In 2 Pet 3: 15– 16 we read: "So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures."

Paul clearly distinguishes between Jesus' authority and his own. However, through that very distinction we can see not only that he regarded Jesus' message as authoritative, but that he claimed authority for himself as well. In 1 Cor 7, this distinction appears repeatedly. In 1 Cor 7: 12 we read: "To the rest I say, not the Lord, . . ." but in verse 17 we learn that Paul himself had the authority to give instructions for the congregations: "This is my rule in all the churches." Even when Paul does not give rulings, just advice, he expects that because of God's grace and Spirit given to him the congregation will obey him. Verses 25 and 40 can be cited as examples: "Now concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy . . . and I think that I have the Spirit of God."

We can suppose that similar authority was claimed for all the epistles that were circulated as written by apostles. The authority of apostles stood behind those gospels which the early church held were written by apostles (Matthew and John) or by companions of apostles (Mark as Peter's companion, and Luke as Paul's). The Gospels were accorded authority not only because of their supposed authorship, but because of their content: they claimed to have reported events related to the coming of the Messiah, and his words and deeds.1
Balla explains that given the internal evidence and the way the texts were so quickly distributed among the early churches, the apostles absolutely knew they were writing scripture.

I think that knowledge actually lends credibility to their use. The Jewish background of the apostles means they held the Old Testament in very high regard. If their writings were being misappropriated as scripture while they were still alive, it seems implausible that they wouldn't take steps to stop the abuse, much in the way Paul sought to stop the Jewish rituals that the Galatian church sought to require. Instead, the apostles placed their writings on par with the Old Testament. This means they may have been trying to intentionally deceive the church, they may have been earnestly wring that they were wring scripture, or they were truly inspired by the Holy Spirit to produce scripture. But the claim that the churches took as authoritative what was only meant as a local interaction is not open to us.

References

1. Balla, Peter. "Evidence for an Early Christian Canon (Second and Third Century)." The Canon Debate. By Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002. Kindle. Kindle Locations 8382-8398

Friday, November 20, 2015

Here's a Tip: Use Analogies Cut to the Heart of Controversies


It's difficult to discuss hot-button issues today. On certain topics, people hold positions which make communicating the underlying principles much more difficult. Take the conflict between same sex unions and the wedding photographers or cake bakers as an example. Because the conflict has been framed in terms of bigotry and discrimination, the question of whether the state has a right to enforce people to violate their consciousness or their beliefs can become lost. Rather than debating the principles of the freedom the act in a way consistent to one's own beliefs, the discussion usually gets mired in the rights of two people to marry whomever they wish, which is beside the point.

I had the opportunity to share breakfast this morning with Dr. Francis Beckwith, and he noted that in cases where the rhetoric overwhelms the discussion, it helps to draw upon analogies or thought experiments. If the analogy is drawn well, one can construct a similar situation that calls upon the same ideological parameters but offers a different circumstance, perhaps one in which the recipient isn't as emotionally invested.

Beckwith said he has effectively used this type of approach with his students or in conferences when talking about the question of a Christian photographer being compelled by the state to photograph a same sex wedding. As I mentioned, the whole topic of same sex unions has been beaten down with overheated rhetoric and it can really overshadow what is a different issue here—whether a person has a right to be faithful to his or her conscience. So, if I'm concerned about keeping the sanctity to make choices that are faithful to my own conscience, a good way to communicate that is to use a situation that removes the same sex marriage component completely but still displays the conflict.

A Beef About A Bris

One example he gave is to imagine a Jewish couple hiring a photographer to record their eight-day-old son's bris. The bris is a religious ceremony that includes the circumcision of the infant. It is deeply significant, especially to those holding to Jewish orthodoxy, and signals the addition of the child to the Jewish covenant and to the community. However, circumcision is actually pretty controversial these days, with organizations believing that the cutting of the child's foreskin amounts to genital mutilation and coupled with the fact that the child cannot give consent to such a procedure, it is immoral.1

In his thought experiment, Beckwith asks the listener to imagine that the photographer has some deeply held beliefs that circumcision is child abuse and mutilation and therefore he cannot on good conscience photograph the bris. Does he have the right to refuse this request? Given the central importance circumcision plays in the Jewish identity, is it bigotry on the part of the photographer to refuse this couple? What would you think if they sued him on grounds of discriminating against their Jewish heritage and forced him to take pictures of the bris? Would such a judgment be right in your eyes?

As you can see, this thought experiment puts the very issue of fidelity to one's moral beliefs at the center of the discussion. If the principle should be applied in a specific way in the circumcision case, we can then apply it in the same-sex union case.

Be Careful with Your Analogies

One note of caution you should keep in mind when offering an analogy in this way: the analogy must be as close as possible to the original situation. In both cases above, you will note that both marriage and the bris are identifying, major life events. For a segment of society both are steeped in religious meaning; marriage is a sacrament in the Roman Catholic Church and the bris is fundamental to the Jewish faith. Both are real modern-day issues with a diversity of sincerely held opinions. Even the photographer's job is the same. The only variable is the circumstance in which the photographer is being asked to violate his or her conscience. This makes the analogy particularly effective and it focuses the debate where it should be, on the issue at hand.

Analogies and thought experiments are useful tools in gaining understanding for abstract concepts wile dodging the emotional reactions that can accompany controversial topics. Sometimes, they don't form immediately. They may be developed and refined over time to increase their effectiveness. But their power to cut through much of the rhetoric and get to the central conflict makes those efforts more worthwhile.

References

1. Robbins, Martin. "Infant Male Circumcision Is Genital Mutilation." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 6 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 Nov. 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/science/the-lay-scientist/2011/dec/06/1.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Demand for Choice Can Diminish Humanity



I wrote yesterday how human dignity is being redefined and how individual autonomy is what is regarded as the most sacred thing. One way this is playing out in the broader culture is in the way people choose to define themselves.  Most believe that self-definition should be completely free of all restrictions. So, we have Bruce Jenner who now chooses to identify as a woman and Rachel Dolezal, who while born to a Caucasian family has chosen to identify as African American.

Traditionally, one would say that these choices are not one's to make. People have certain attributes and sex or race describe biology and heritage. They are not malleable. Yet, today others claim that to restrict someone from being able to choose one's own identity diminishes his or her personhood. It is the choice that matters more.

In his masterpiece Orthodoxy, Chesterton took on the claim that limiting choices somehow diminishes an individual. He noted that it is the limitations that shape one's identity, not the absolute freedom. He explains that "every act is an irrevocable selection and exclusion. Just as when you marry one woman you give up all the others, so when you take one course of action you give up all the other courses." 1 He goes on to explain that even religious moral laws limit choices and while those who extol choice above all else (people whom he labels as "will –worshipper" ) sound nonsensical when examining the defining effect of limiting oneself in choice:
For instance, Mr. John Davidson tells us to have nothing to do with "Thou shalt not"; but it is surely obvious that "Thou shalt not" is only one of the necessary corollaries of "I will." "I will go to the Lord Mayor's Show, and thou shalt not stop me." Anarchism adjures us to be bold creative artists, and care for no laws or limits. But it is impossible to be an artist and not care for laws and limits. Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe.

The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits. You can free things from alien or accidental laws, but not from the laws of their own nature. You may, if you like, free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes.

Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump: you may be freeing him from being a camel. Do not go about as a demagogue, encouraging triangles to break out of the prison of their three sides. If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end. Somebody wrote a work called "The Loves of the Triangles"; I never read it, but I am sure that if triangles ever were loved, they were loved for being triangular. This is certainly the case with all artistic creation, which is in some ways the most decisive example of pure will. The artist loves his limitations: they constitute the THING he is doing. The painter is glad that the canvas is flat. The sculptor is glad that the clay is colourless.2
I think Chesterton is right here. Being human means there are certain limitations to our nature. It is the best of man not to choose to opt out of that thing that makes one uncomfortable but to find a path to live with the discomfort. We don't applaud the paraplegic who gets my with a personal servant attending twenty four hours a day. We applaud those who embrace a vibrant life and who have overcome the struggles in which their unfortunate circumstance has placed them. Thus I don't see Jenner or Dolezal as ones to be lauded. By trying to lose their limitations, they don't add to the human condition, they detract from it.

References

1. Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy. Public Domain Books, 1994. Kindle Edition. 32.
2.Chesterton, 32-33.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Losing Human Dignity Through the Culture Wars



I'm currently attending the Evangelical Philosophical Society's Annual Meeting which is being held this year in Atlanta. This is the place where all the top scholars come together to share ideas and discuss their research, like this morning's panel entitled "Sexuality and the Crisis of Religious Liberty." One of the speakers was Dr. Greg Forster who drew out an interesting distinction on how people understand basic human worth and how it's changed in the past half century or so.

It's no secret there's a great conflict within our society on key moral issues. Homosexual unions, transgenderism, and euthanasia have all made the headlines recently, but these are part of a broader clash occurring in our culture today. Forster noted that these clashes aren't separate issues, especially as you see how they are argued against or defended in the public square. Most of the proponents of progressive moral issues believe laws that would bar same sex unions or euthanasia are assaults upon human dignity; people who oppose such things should be labeled bigots. Forster said that the root of the shift in understanding that has happened in the last fifty years or so is due to a shift in the understanding of just what human dignity is.

Traditional Human Dignity is Rooted in the Image of God

Traditional western ideas of human dignity are grounded in the fact that all human beings have an inherent worth simply due to the fact that they are human as I've explained before. Every human being bears the image of God and therefore holds this worth, regardless of his or her capacities or actions. It is this concept of human worth that recognized the importance of liberty for all. It is why racism is wrong. It is why one should not compel another to believe what violates his or her conscience, for to force someone to do what is against that person's will is to ignores the fact that human beings are moral agents intrinsically.

Such a concept of human dignity allows us to draw a distinction between a person as a human being and one's decisions, actions, or proclivities. I can disagree with an action, but the person doing the action still has full human dignity. This is the reasoning behind why civilized societies don't torture prisoners, no matter how heinous their crimes. Human beings have worth simply because they are human beings.

The New Dignity: Rooted in Choice

Of course, such a view of human dignity isn't shared universally. Many countries that don't have a Judeo-Christian heritage don't hold to this view and it isn't surprising their lack of this view would be reflected in other ways, such as the cruel treatment of prisoners. There are countries today that will cane people for graffiti or sentence a thief to have his hand cut off.

Forster argued that in the 20th century, western countries wanted some way to stop systemic abuses by other nations. They needed a reason that was authoritatively cross-cultural and cross-religious. Forster argues that the concept of human dignity was adapted for this task and it was redefined in order to do so. An example is the German Constitution that was written just after World War II. It opens with the words "Human dignity shall be inviolable"1 and then goes on to unpack what they mean by dignity. The very next article reads:
(1) Every person shall have the right to free development of his personality insofar as he does not violate the rights of others or offend against the constitutional order or the moral law.
(2) Every person shall have the right to life and physical integrity. Freedom of the person shall be inviolable. These rights may be interfered with only pursuant to a law.2
You can see this concept of human dignity is not rooted in the Imago Dei, but in the free choices people make. It's the choices that are significant drivers of dignity above. That is a radical diversion from the historic Christian understanding.

Forster went on to explain that as modern jurisprudence progressed, it has aligned itself with this much more secular version of dignity. Viewed in this light, when choices are denied, dignity is denied as well. Thus, denying someone of their choice to marry another of the same sex becomes an act that takes away the dignity of a person. If someone chooses to be recognized as another gender, their choice holds the value of that individual.

How Dignity Defined by Choice Robs Us

The interesting thing in rooting dignity on the capacity of individual choice is it will cut another way. Those that cannot choose will not be defined as humans with dignity. Since the unborn cannot choose but the mother can, we dehumanize the fetus. The elderly and inform don't have any inherent worth, but their choice to commit suicide is labeled "death with dignity." You can see how these competing concepts shape much of our culture wars today.

But this view flips everything on its head. It is the weakest and those without a voice who need the most protecting. Organizations would lobby on behalf of those who could not lobby for themselves stating they did so because of the worth of the individual. Those who are voiceless today have that dignity taken from them because they cannot voice a choice of their own.

Religious freedom also suffers as a result. Religious belief offers moral prescriptions for society. One should do thus and so but not this and that. Religious laws function in a way that limits certain choices or identifies certain choices as wrong. Therefore, religious values are under assault with some identifying them as corrosive to human dignity.

But we find ourselves in a Catch-22 here, for following one's religious teaching is also a choice. However, the secular view is that autonomous choices trump religious claims, thereby destroying the rights of religious people to choose to follow their conscience, even when the stakes are so low they amount to whether or not to bake a wedding cake or take pictures.

Rooting human dignity in freedom of choice will weaken society. It offers the weakest among us less power. It removes the distinction between the worth of the individual and the actions that individual makes. It eliminated the protection of conscience and a guarantee of religious liberty. Those with power will wield even greater threats, as the track record on euthanasia has already demonstrated. By changing the definition of human dignity, the concept of dignity for all will vanish.

References

1. Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, Article 1, Sect. 1 Translation at https://www.btg-bestellservice.de/pdf/80201000.pdf
2. Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, Article 2.

Image courtesy Cali4beach and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Three Intractable Problems for Atheism


Is science doing real work while people who posit a creator are being intellectually lazy? That's what atheists like Richard Dawkins would have you believe. In an interview with the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Connecticut, Dawkins claimed pointing to an intelligent designer is "a cowardly evasion, it's lazy. What we should be doing as scientists is rolling up our sleeves and saying, right, Darwin solved the big problem. Now let's take that as encouragement to solve the other big problems, like the origin of life and the origin of the cosmos."1

Is Dawkins right? In fact, he has the whole thing backwards. Darwin had the easier time constructing his evolutionary model because he didn't have the details to worry about. Scientists in Darwin's day didn't know about the complex structures of DNA or how the telltale evidence of the Big Bang proves the universe must've come into existence at a specific point in the past. Darwin could sluff over the biology. However atheists today don't have that luxury.

1. What Started the Universe?

The first problem is the most fundamental. Why does our universe exit? Why should it be here at all? Usually when bringing up this issue, you will hear people retreat to talk of the Big Bangs and quantum vacuums. But both of those things assume what is being asked.

You cannot have a bang unless there is something to go bang and something else to trigger the bang. If before the Big Bang there is nothing, then nothing cannot bang. Quantum vacuums, which have become the easy excuse in trying to solve this problem, are not nothing either. As I've explained before, these fluctuations have attributes and potentials. The fact that they fluctuate means they are in time and they have energy states. Just as an idea isn't nothing, to define quantum states as nothing is to misunderstand what nothing is. Out of nothing nothing comes is foundational to all scientific studies. If you give up on that, you're not doing science any more.

So, instead of starting with nothing, maybe we assume the thing that banged is the eternal thing. But if the singularity that banged existed from all eternity, then why didn't it bang earlier than when it did? We know the universe is using up its energy, so we know that it's only been around a limited amount of time. Why? What was that thing that changed to make the singularity explode into the universe we see? What ever it was that changed, it certainly wasn't nothing, because if nothing changed, then the universe would never have come to be.

2. What Started Life?

In 2011, John Horgan wrote an article for the Scientific American web site entitled "Pssst! Don't tell the creationists, but scientists don't have a clue how life began." There, Horgan explains how the search to understand the origin of life from nonliving chemicals has given science exactly zero answers.2 The problems are legion: the speed at which microorganisms emerged from the time that earth was capable of supporting any life is pretty fast. It really doesn't give the incredibly complex chains of molecules like DNA or RNA much time to "stumble" into the right configurations to start replicating, especially given the harsh environment and the capacity for destruction even after a fortuitous assembly.

Just what those things were that first came together is problematic, too. As David Berlinkski pointed out, there is a real chicken and the egg problem, given the need for proteins to assemble DNA or RNA and the need for DNA or RNA to carry the blueprint for those very proteins. Even the RNA Word hypotheses Horgan mentions are not immune to monstrous problems, such as the astronomical odds it would take to assemble any kind of self-replicating chain of RNA. That's why there is no functional model at all for how life came to be; there's merely a bunch of speculation containing an incredible number of holes.

3. Where Did Consciousness Come From?

Even if one were to get chemicals to self-replicate, that wouldn't be the end of the difficulty to explain how beings like us got here. While reproduction is a defining feature of life, life has different levels. A plant is a living being, but it isn't conscious; it cannot think. Human beings are known as thinking creatures. But, just how does this consciousness arise from non-conscious material? What model is there for this? Again, there isn't one.

Consciousness is an incredibly tricky thing. A lot of materialists want to redefine consciousness as the electro-chemical reactions happening in the brain, but that makes no sense. Consciousness is something qualitatively different than electrical connections, otherwise we would have to consider that our tablets and smart phones are conscious right now. Consciousness is qualitatively different from physical processes, which means that it cannot be grounded in only the physical. It requires a completely different explanation, one that science cannot offer.

In his article, John Horgan is honest in reporting that science is completely in the dark concerning the beginning of life. Yet, he balks at one workable explanation available to him, the idea of a creator. At the end of the article he writes that creationists' "explanations suffer from the same flaw: What created the divine Creator? And at least scientists are making an honest effort to solve life's mystery instead of blaming it all on God." Of course, this is as old as it is uninformed. Asking what created the creator is like asking which golfer is going to win the Daytona 500. It's a clear category error and is really Horgan's way of ignoring the only other option out there.

These three problems should offer clear signs that there is more to the world than matter in motion. Science is a field that relies upon observation to draw conclusions. In our entire history, no human has ever seen a thing come from nothing, seen life emerge spontaneously from non-life, or seen consciousness emerge from unconscious matter. It just doesn't happen. So why would anyone think all three happened, and happened without the guidance of any intelligent entity? If you're a golfer in Daytona, you can pull your driver from your bag, but it won't do you much good in this competition. Scientists can continue to talk about these problems, but they won't get any closer to the answer.

References

1. Teitelbaum, Jeremy. "The Dean and Richard Dawkins." UConn Today. University of Connecticut, 10 Apr. 2014. Web. 16 Nov. 2015. http://today.uconn.edu/2014/04/the-dean-and-richard-dawkins/
2. Horgan, John. "Pssst! Don't Tell the Creationists, but Scientists Don't Have a Clue How Life Began." Scientific American. Scientific American, a Division of Nature America, Inc., 28 Feb. 2011. Web. 16 Nov. 2015. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/pssst-dont-tell-the-creationists-but-scientists-dont-have-a-clue-how-life-began/.
Image courtesy rosipaw and licensed via theCreative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Three Facts Showing the Incredible Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Life



William Lane Craig is one of Christendom's most effective spokesmen arguing for God's existence. One of his famed "five arguments for God's existence" is the fine tuning of the universe for intelligent life. But the term "fine-tuning" really falls very short of just how precise the initial conditions and the universal constants are that allow us to live. They are infinitesimally fine numbers.

In his short book Does God Exist? Craig offers some examples as well as a couple of comparisons to set the stage. He writes:
Before I share a few examples of fine-tuning by way of physics, here are some numbers to help us to appreciate the delicacy of the fine-tuning. The number of seconds in the entire history of the universe is around 1017 (that's 1 followed by seventeen zeroes: 100,000,000,000,000,000). The number of subatomic particles in the entire known universe is said to be around 1080 (1 followed by eighty zeroes). These are simply incomprehensible numbers.

Being mindful of those numbers, consider the following: The force of gravity is so finely tuned that an alteration in its value by even one part out of 1050 would have prevented a life-permitting universe. Similarly, a change in the value of the so-called cosmological constant, which drives the acceleration of the universe's expansion, by as little as one part in 10120 would have rendered the universe life-prohibiting. Now here's a corker: Roger Penrose of Oxford University has calculated that the odds of the universe's initial low entropy condition's existing by chance is on the order of one chance out of 1010 (123), a number which is so inconceivable that to call it astronomical would be a wild understatement.

The fine-tuning here is beyond comprehension. Having an accuracy of even one part out of 1060 is like firing a bullet toward the other side of the observable universe, twenty billion light years away, and nailing a one-inch target!

The examples of fine-tuning are so many and so various that they aren't likely to disappear with the advance of science. Like it or not, fine-tuning is just a fact of life which is scientifically well-established.

But, you might say, if the constants and quantities had had different values, then maybe different forms of life might have evolved! No, that underestimates the truly disastrous consequences of a change in the values of these constants and quantities. When scientists talk about a universe's being life-permitting, they're not talking about just present forms of life. By "life," scientists just mean the property of organisms to take in food, extract energy from it, grow, adapt to their environment, and reproduce. Anything that can fulfill those functions counts as life. And the point is, in order for life so-defined to exist, whatever form it might take, the constants and quantities of the universe have to be unbelievably fine-tuned; otherwise, disaster results. In the absence of fine-tuning, not even matter, not even chemistry, would exist, much less planets where life might evolve.

The question we face, then, is this: What is the best explanation of the cosmic fine-tuning? Many philosophers and scientists think that the reason that the universe is finely tuned for life is because it was designed to be life-permitting by an intelligent Designer.1
1. Craig, William Lane. Does God Exist?. Pine Mountain, GA: Impact 360 Institute, 2014. Kindle Edition. (Kindle Locations 524-546)

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Implosion of Secular Colleges: When Ideas Come Home to Roost



The state of higher education is changing rapidly. One cannot turn on the news or read social media without seeing all the protests and demands by students at schools like the University of Missouri, Yale, Oberlin, Ithica, and more. Some complain about being offended by epithets or Halloween costumes; others complain about a guest speaker who doesn't mirror their political or social outlook. The so-called "Million Student March" demonstrators are asking for free college education.

What's going on here?  At its base, the secular university is being eaten alive by a monster of its own making. Modern schools of higher education have been a bastion of liberal thought for about a century now. As progressives veered more and more to the left, they used the university to both teach and advance their ideas to a generation of students. Dallas Willard, in his book Renovation of the Heart, defines what I mean when I talk about these kinds of ideas and how they shaped the perceptions of individuals:
Ideas are very general models of or assumptions about reality. They are patterns of interpretation, historically developed and socially shared. They sometimes are involved with beliefs, but are much more than belief and do not depend upon it. They are ways of thinking about and interpreting things. They are so pervasive and essential to how we think about and how we approach life that we often do not even know they are there or understand when and how they are at work. Our idea system is a cultural artifact, growing up with us from earliest childhood out of the teachings, expectations, and observable behaviors of family and community.



Examples of ideas are freedom, education, happiness, "the American Dream," science, progress, death, home, the feminine or masculine, the religious, "Christian," "Muslim," church, democratic (form of government), fair, just, family, evolution, God, the secular, and so on. If you wish to see ideas in action, look closely at artistic endeavors in their various forms (especially today, movies and music, secular, and so on.

If you wish to see ideas in action, look closely at artistic endeavors in their various forms (especially today, movies and music, which encapsulate most of what is called "pop culture"), and at efforts to persuade (especially today, politics and commercials). Look, for example, at the place freedom, a major idea now, plays in automobile ads and rock lyrics. And look at our now largely paralyzed public education system to see what ideas are dominant in students and teachers.

Now, for all their importance to human life, ideas are never capable of definition or precise specification; and yet people never stop trying to define them, in their vain efforts to control them. They are broadly inclusive, historically developing ways of interpreting things and events, which, for all their power, often do not emerge into the consciousness of the individual. Therefore, it is extremely difficult for most people to recognize which ideas are governing their life and how those ideas are governing their life.

This is partly because one commonly identifies his or her own governing ideas with reality, pure and simple. Ironically, it is often people who think of themselves as "practical" or as "men of action"— both, of course, major ideas— who are most in the grip of ideas: so far in that grip that they can't be bothered to think. They simply don't know what moves them. But ideas govern them and have their consequences anyway. Another illustration of "idea grip" would be how most people think of success in life in terms of promotions and possessions. One's culture is seen most clearly in what one thinks of as "natural" and as requiring no explanation or even thought.1
The secular universities have been so effective in transferring their concepts to their students. What they never anticipated is the students would take those ideas out of the abstract and seek to apply them back to the universities and their faculty. Now you have students successfully lobbying to have university administration and faculty lose their jobs, such as has happened to the Dean at Claremont McKenna, the Chancellor and system president  at the University of Missouri,  and similar calls for faculty heads are happening at other campuses as well. Meanwhile, students want all of the benefits of higher education, including the economic advantages a degree provides, but they don't want to pay for it. Just see how confused this student is about just who is supposed to pay for her education.

In short, in the university today liberalism is taken seriously. The result is it's cannibalizing itself. This kind of attitude cannot be sustained over the course of time. If it keeps growing at its present pace, the secular university will be a shell of its former self within a decade. It has already jumped the shark in regard to its message on morality and sex.  Add to that the increasingly warped views on free speech and economic realities and a disaster of their own making is about to boil over.

For Christian schools, this is an ideal time to reclaim the legacy of higher education which has its roots in the Christian world view.  The university was our idea.  Let's take it back.

References

1. Willard, Dallas. Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002. Kindle Edition. 96-97.
Image courtesy Roger Gordon and licened via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) License.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

These 12 Words Perfectly Demonstrate What's Wrong with Popular Discourse



Imagine a city that has several neighborhoods; some are poorer, some are middle class, and there are a few affluent areas. Just as in any city this one has standard comforts like parks for residents, but it also has its share of problems, like crime and drug-trafficking. Now imagine there is a city council meeting where the residents have the opportunity to air their grievances. 

The first lady steps up to the podium. While she lives in the more affluent part of town, she complains that the recent crime wave endangers the poor neighborhood's children. She asks the city to take action and approve funds for additional police offers to patrol the neighborhoods and curb the crime endangering the citizens.

Her request seems reasonable, yet a second lady steps up to the microphone and shouts "Wait! This crime problem has shown up fairly recently. Meanwhile, I've been writing letters for a year about the broken swing sets at our park. It's important for our children's health that they have working outdoor equipment to play on. This lady shouldn't be complaining about a neighborhood where she doesn't live. She needs to be concerned about the problems in her own backyard first."

I think anyone with an ounce of decency would be shocked at the reaction of the second lady. How can she believe the weight of something like swing sets is equal to the risk those in the poorer parts of the city are facing? Yet, in our hyper-political culture this kind of thing happens more often than not. For example, I recently linked to an article on my Facebook page defining some of the egregious abuses women in Muslim countries face because of Islamic jurisprudence. Written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who is no stranger to Muslim abuse herself, she documents how a 19 year-old girl was stoned to death in Afghanistan, how Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was sentenced to death for adultery in Iran, and girl in Saudi Arabia was gang raped, but it was she who was sentenced to 200 lashes for being in a room with a man who is not a relative.1

The Reality is Worse than the Hypothetical

The article sounds an alarm about the viciousness women face in countries controlled by Sharia law and Ali even outlines how these laws become so damaging to women and their freedom and notes that Sharia is supported by a wide majority of Muslim nations and is growing worldwide. It is a call to protect women from abuse and death. You can imagine how surprised I was when I received a comment from a follower who simply wrote, "Women's rights are being eroded in America also. Make your own bed."

Really?

These twelve words are all one has to say about these poor victims? Someone is actually comparing the stoning of women in Iran to the complaint that not all businesses want to pay for a woman's birth control pills? What other kind of women's rights could she be talking about? It isn't the opportunity for an education as more women than men enroll in college,2 more graduate from college and more earn graduate degrees, like masters and PhDs.3 Women enjoy all the rights to jobs and opportunity men do. They even make the same amount of money for the same jobs, regardless of the oft-debunked myth to the contrary.4

Seeing People as Black or White Hats

My point in highlighting this comment is not to point out one individual. This is a wider trend in our polarized, reactionary culture. Any feminist or progressive should want to do something about those women who are being abused and marginalized by governments. They should be the ones carrying the flag and supporting efforts to put pressure on the governments that allow or enforce such abuse. Conservatives should care about such things deeply as erosions of liberty. There's common ground here, but it was ignored to try and make a clever political jab.

Instead of thinking about the issue, seeing my link as a way to try and leverage one's political point isn't clever. It isn't thoughtful; it's infantile. It's a childish move to say "I want mine and then I'll worry about anybody else." Yet, this is the level of political discourse to which we've sunk. I don't offer this as a critique against liberals, either. I've seen conservatives do the exact same thing. Any person on the opposite side of the political spectrum is stupid or evil so it's OK to put them down. But if we are going to actually do some good in the world, we've got to stop labeling people as the black hats and the white hats.

Debate the issues. There are real evils in the world, like the stoning of women for wishing to marry the person she loves. Certainly we should be able to agree that is a heinous thing needing to be stopped. Anyone who thinks anything women in the U.S. face comes close to that isn't being genuine or reflective. They're adding to the problem instead of helping to solve it.

References

1. Ali, Ayaan Hirsi. "The Price of Modesty." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 6 Nov. 2015. Web. 12 Nov. 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ayaan-hirsi-ali/the-price-of-modesty_b_8481776.html.
2. Lopez, Mark Hugo, and Ana Gonzalez-Barrera. "Women's College Enrollment Gains Leave Men behind." Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center, 06 Mar. 2014. Web. 12 Nov. 2015. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/03/06/womens-college-enrollment-gains-leave-men-behind/.
3. Perry, Mark J. "Staggering College Degree Gap Favoring Women, Who Have Earned 9 Million More College Degrees than Men since 1982." AEI. American Enterprise Institute, 29 Jan. 2013. Web. 12 Nov. 2015. https://www.aei.org/publication/staggering-college-degree-gap-favoring-women-who-have-earned-9-million-more-college-degrees-than-men-since-1982/.
4. CONSAD Research Corporation. "An Analysis of the Reasons for the Disparity in Wages Between Men and Women." U.S. Department of Labor Employment Standards Administration Report. Pittsburgh, January 12, 2009. Web. http://templatelab.com/gender-wage-gap-final-report/

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Correcting the Idea We Must Avoid Every Form of Evil



1 Thessalonians 5:22 is a fairly popularly quoted verse. The King James Version's "Abstain from all appearance of evil" is probably the most well-known, but more modern translations, like the ESV's "abstain from every form of evil" are also familiar. Usually, those who quote the verse apply it to mean that a Christian shouldn't be found anywhere near any place or situation that seems to be sinful. Some have taken it even further, believing that any action that could be misconstrued as sinful by others should be avoided.

Such views are really misunderstanding the meaning of Paul's exhortation because they are ripping the verse out of its context. Often when I engage with Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons I will have to correct their faulty understanding of a verse that they have taken as a stand-alone admonition, when it is actually more specific and more nuanced. We recognize that taking verses out of context is the wrong way to try and bolster their views. However, if it's wrong for the Mormons and JWs, it's wrong for Christians, too. Therefore, it becomes important to correct the faulty understanding of passages such as the one above.

Bible scholar Walt Russell has written a great explanation of the context in which the Bible student should take 1 Thess 5:22. He says:
1 Thessalonians is the Apostle Paul's letter to a group of new Christians who have been persecuted by their fellow citizens in northern Greece for most of their six months in Christ. It is an adversarial context for the church, so Paul spends much of his time defending his church-planting team's integrity and actions in chapters 1-3. In chapters 4-5 ("the moral exhortation" section), he addresses five successive threats to the life of this body. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 is the fifth and final significant issue facing this fledgling church.

This last issue in vv. 12-22 deals broadly with the concerns that arise when the church gathers for her weekly assembly. Paul gives instructions about how to foster healthy body life in this context by rightly esteeming leaders (vv. 12-13), dealing sensitively with the varying needs of the saints (vv. 14-15), establishing a joyful assembly (vv. 16-18), and not quenching the ministry of the Holy Spirit in prophetic utterances (vv. 19-22).

Given the broader context, we are now ready to look at the immediate context for v. 22. Notice the logical flow of the argument about prophetic utterances in vv. 19-22:
  • "Do not quench the Spirit" (v. 19) (the general exhortation);
  • "Do not despise prophetic utterances (v. 20) (the specific negative aspect of the exhortation).
  • "But examine everything carefully" (v. 21) (the contrasting positive aspect of the exhortation);
  • "hold fast to that which is good" (v. 22) (what to do with good prophecies after examining);
  • "abstain from every form of evil" or "every evil form of utterance" (v. 23) (what to do with the evil prophetic utterances).
As is generally the case with Scripture, God and the human authors are very specific in their discussions. They seldom sprinkle broad moral sayings in free-standing fashion. By contrast, they usually speak in a closely-argued style, especially in the New Testament letters. Such is the case with 1 Thessalonians 5:22. By removing v. 22 from its very specific context, we abstract the language from its tightly reasoned moorings and create a much more general, vague concept.1
Russell goes on to note that if Christians were to abstain from all evil locations or people, it would severely hamper one's witnessing efforts. You could only seek to save those who came across your path in the "safe zones" instead of following Jesus's example of going where the sinners are. By having a proper understanding of verse 22, Christians can be free to go into those areas that most need Jesus in order to share Him with others. It has the added benefit of allowing the Christian to not live in a legalistic fashion, but make judgments on whether certain conditions could actually cause him or her to fall.

If you'd like to read more about how Christians have taken popular verses out of context, I recommend his book Playing With Fire: How the Bible Ignites Change in Your Soul.  Grab it. It will cange the way you read the Bible.

References

1. Russell, Walter. "'Avoid Every Appearance of Evil!' Toppling a Faulty Moral Pillar." The Good Book Blog. Biola University, 13 May 2011. Web. 10 Nov. 2015. http://www.thegoodbookblog.com/2011/may/13/avoid-every-appearance-of-evil-toppling-a-faulty-m/.
Image courtesy Tom Coates from London, United Kingdom [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, November 09, 2015

Make #MerryChristmasStarbucks Truly Meaningful

It seems the new Starbucks holiday cups are causing a bunch of Christians to see red. As first reported by the Breitbart website, the 2015 holiday cup design went with a minimalist approach, simply using a red cup with no markings other than the Starbucks logo. This is a deviation from past years where the cups featured pictures of snowmen, tree ornaments, reindeer, carolers, and snowflakes. Some immediately took the new design as a slap at Christmas. Breitbart quotes British Parliament member David Burroughs as saying, "The Starbucks coffee cup change smells more of political correctness than a consumer-led change. The public has a common sense grasp on the reality that at Christmas time, whether you have a Christian faith or not, Britain celebrates Christmas."1

Other Christians soon jumped on the bandwagon, wishing to present the cup as the latest salvo in the War on Christmas, an activity which seems to have become as much a tradition in Christian circles as Wal-Mart unveiling decorations in their stores two weeks before Halloween. One person even created a video where he "tricks" Starbucks employees into writing Merry Christmas on their cups by giving the phrase as his name when ordering.

I'm not certain such a move will cause Starbucks VPs to sit in a conference room and exclaim "Sneaky little hobbitses. Wicked, tricksy, false!" Yet, the claims of "anti-Christian" are being passed around the Internet faster than you can brew a Tall espresso, with cries of boycotts for Starbucks removing the Christian faith from Christmas. At the same time, mainstream outlets are providing additional high visibility with their stories like this one that point and mock, essentially stating, "Look at these stupid people! Aren't Christians out of touch?"

It's Not Surprising that Secular Companies Act in Secular Ways

Let's all take a breath, shall we? First, the cups. I'm not certain how having a plain red cup makes Starbucks any more anti-Christian than snowmen. Do snowflakes and reindeer signify the incarnation or are they neutral images that even atheists can use to decorate their homes? The reality is Starbucks wants people—Christians and everyone else—to get into the holiday spirit because Starbucks can sell more stuff and make more money that way. That's why they sell an Advent calendar (albeit disemboweling the word advent its meaning.) You don't need Christmas to learn that Starbucks is a secular company; their political positions demonstrate that. They commercialize Christmas because they are interested in the commercial benefits, just like almost every retail store you will come across. Plain red cups are not the issue here.

Secondly, while the corporation may be driven by the almighty dollar instead of almighty God, it doesn't mean the barista behind the bar holds those same opinions. I know Starbucks managers and baristas who love the Lord with all their hearts while working for Starbucks. You may even hear them tell you "Merry Christmas" if you gave them a chance.

Looking to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

Third, I think the complaint about the cups does the very thing that the Christians are supposedly rallying against: it trivializes the coming of Jesus by reducing such a monumental event of history to printing on a cup that will end up in the trash twenty minutes after it is presented. Do we need Christmas cups to celebrate God's gift of the Messiah to mankind? By winning the cup battle, will any more people come to know and trust in Jesus? How does this help our witness?

Let's face it, the early church celebrated the advent of Christ not by demanding that Roman merchants write it on their bags, but by telling others why the event is celebrated at all. Yes, Christmas is a Christian holiday; it always has been. Don't let talk of Saturnalia fool you. There is no historic support for the idea that Christmas was invented as an alternative to a pagan festival. Because it is a Christian celebration, it's OK to wrap yourself in all the traditions and trappings. But for those who are not Christian perhaps asking them why Christmas is such an important holiday would be a better approach than railing against them not having decorated enough.

How well can you explain the importance of Christmas? Are you equipped and ready to tell others why it means so much to you? Are you ready to say the Savior's coming is exciting because you desperately needed saving? By protesting and boycotting instead of changing minds and possibly changing hearts, Christians further alienate Christianity from the greater society, ironically strengthening the very problems they are complaining about.

Don't wait for Starbucks to say Merry Christmas to you; you need to tell those at Starbucks "Merry Christmas; and here's why it's indeed merry…"

References

1. Hallett, Nick. "MPs, Christian Groups Slam Starbucks 'Scrooges' Over Red Cups." Breitbart News. Breitbart News Network, LLC, 05 Nov. 2015. Web. 09 Nov. 2015. http://www.breitbart.com/london/2015/11/05/mps-christian-groups-slam-starbucks-scrooges-over-red-cups/.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Three Examples of Leveraging Hollywood While Witnessing



Communicating Christian truths is difficult, especially in this day and age when the Christian worldview is foreign to more and more people. Because many today don't understand the necessity of holding true beliefs or how unspoken expectations can bias one's views, apologetics and evangelism become that much more challenging.

One way I like to get my point across is by using popular movies as common points of reference. Good filmmakers have a wonderful way of telling stories and getting the audience to all feel the same way about characters and unlike books, most people have watched blockbuster movies and are very familiar with them.

Below are three short videos I had the pleasure of shooting with Bobby Conway, the One Minute Apologist. Each uses a different film to tackle a different topic.  Watch all three to see how effective leveraging movies can be in your witness.  For more detail on this, you can listen to my podcast series "Using Hollywood Blockbusters to Share the Gospel."





Image courtesy  John Joh, aka Star5112 (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0],

Friday, November 06, 2015

Nature, Desire, and the Purpose of Marriage

Why is it important that natural laws be considered when passing legislation? In his book, Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law, J. Budziszewski outlines Thomas Aquinas' approach to natural law and how it should anchor our civil laws. Budziszewski first points out that natural laws function kind of like primary colors. They are foundational and all other colors can be developed by the mixing of red, blue, and yellow.


One confusing aspect of natural law is how Aquinas believed that all natural inclinations are good and should be pursued while seeking after unnatural inclinations should be avoided. Budzeszewski notes it sounds like Aquinas is teaching that whatever one's desire is, that should be fulfilled. However, that isn't what is meant. He then draw the distinction between any inclination, including those that may have resulted from our fallen nature, and natural inclinations. The difference is found in the teleology, that is the end purpose or design of the thing being discussed. Budziszewski explains:
In drawing the two sexes together, for instance, sexual desire serves two purposes, one called procreative and the other unitive. Why not a third: pleasure? Has Thomas got something against having a good time? No, but he follows Aristotle in viewing pleasure as a result of our activities rather than the purpose for which we do them—as a crowning grace, not a goal. The problem is that pleasure can result from doing wrong as well as from doing right. Therefore pleasure cannot be used as a criterion for judging between good and bad inclinations; rather the purposes of the inclinations must be used to judge between good and bad pleasures.

Now the procreative purpose of physical union is to bring children into a secure family in which they can be taught and cared for by a mother and father who love them. Only a man and a woman can procreate a child, and we sever the institution of marriage from the natural purpose of procreation only at our peril. Perhaps that is too obvious to require further discussion. The unitive purpose, however, is not so obvious. What we mean by saying that physical union has a unitive purpose is that it can also further a deeper union between the husband and wife.

To understand the unitive purpose we must recognize that the sexes are not only different but complementary. God could have made just one self-sufficient sex. Instead he made two, each of which feels itself incomplete and longs for the other. The canyon between them is deep, but bridging it is well worth the patience and discipline it requires.

To be sure, there are other ways to use the sexual powers, ways that do not bridge the canyon. For instance, solitary sex sinks a person more deeply in the self; sodomy sinks him into a looking-glass idol of the self; and promiscuity merely uses the other for the purposes of the self. By contrast, marriage holds forth the prospect of altogether forgetting the self in care and sacrifice for the other. We come to ourselves by losing ourselves. This extraordinary intimacy is among the profoundest of natural goods. Of course, Divine law goes even further, describing it as a foretaste of our supernatural good—that still deeper union to which we are invited with the wholly other, who is God—but that is another topic.1
This is a clear way to understand how the design of human beings points to a natural man/woman pairing, and how sexual function has primary and tertiary purposes. It doesn't deny sex for couples that may be infertile, since they are still acting within natural inclinations, even if no child will ever result. However, it also highlights the impossibility of any same-sex coupling to ever be able to make the same claim. This is why whenever I talk about marriage, I talk about natural marriage, because man/woman marriage reflects biology and natural law.

References

1. Budziszewski, J. Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1997. Print. 70-71.
IMage courtesy Ray Dumas and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Why Would God Command Women to Marry Their Rapists?


Recently I've had a few different people ask me about the passage in Deuteronomy dealing with a young woman who has been raped. One was by an atheist, the other by a Christian. Both thought that the passage painted God as a cruel misogynist who would have a woman doubly punished for a crime committed against her. Here is how the Christian lady phrased it:
Did God approve of moses law? I am referring to women. If a woman had a female child she was unclean double the time. If a girl was raped she had to marry her rapist. Seems like women were less than. I can't imagine God being ok with that? Thanks !!
While the idea of setting a law where the rapist marries his victim seems shocking to us today, once the passage is placed into its proper textual and historical context, one can see just how important the law was to protect women.

God Did Not Command Women to Marry Their Rapists

The passage in question comes from Deuteronomy 22, where God is laying out certain ways of dealing with different sexual sins. In verses 23-29, the law takes into account different scenarios of rape. Let's take the first two scenarios offered:
If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor's wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no offense punishable by death. For this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor, because he met her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her.
Notice that in neither of these cases is there mentioned anything about a woman marrying her rapist. In the first instance, the woman is betrothed and she is found with another man within a populated area, where she could've called for help but didn't. This law is to root out adulterous relationships whereby the female later claims it was rape. In the second instance, the woman is given the benefit of the doubt, since the area is unpopulated.
It is verses 28-29 that cause all the fuss:
If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.
The key to understanding this passage is twofold: understanding the opportunities available to women in this culture and understanding who the mandate is addressing. One must remember this law is written to govern the nation of Israel's legal system in the Late Bronze Age. A young woman who was not a virgin was not considered marriageable material. A young woman who was raped or was promiscuous would have been considered "damaged goods," especially since the land was to be passed down from father to son. The loss of virginity prior to marriage would call that direct line of paternity into question.

How Would Women in the Ancient World Survive?

Secondly, women had no real way to live independently from a man, especially if she had no land to live on. Without a husband, a woman who is unlikely to be married has nowhere to live except in the house of her father. She would be dependent upon either her father's kindness or her husband's to sustain her life. This is why in the book of Ruth we see Naomi telling her two young widowed daughters-in-law that they would fare better in their fathers' houses than risk fending for themselves in Israel.

Lastly, if the father felt his house was shamed by the crime (an unfortunate but very clear possibility), he may not even allow her to stay in the house. Understanding these concepts, it should be clear that rape in the Ancient Near East was not merely a crime against the personal autonomy and emotional well-being of a woman, but it could quite literally have been a death sentence for her!

Thus, when we look at the command given, we can read it with a proper perspective. Notice that the command is not to the woman. It does not say "you shall marry your rapist." What it says is any man who takes the virginity of the woman must be ready to provide for her for the rest of her life as a wife. Since he stole the most valuable of her possessions, her ability to marry, he is obligated to marry her himself so she won't die.

One more important point to remember; the obligation does not go both ways. Deuteronomy 22 is expanding on the law given in Exodus 22:16-17. There, we read. "If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins." Notice that the father of the girl has a right of refusal. He can say "You're a creep and you will have to pay, but you're not coming near her."

So the law on a man who takes the virginity of a woman must also be ready to marry her is not punitive for the woman; it's actually protective. It ensures she won't be tossed away as "damaged goods" but will be provided for. It also emphasizes that promiscuity is a serious matter. The father of the woman can protect his daughter from vicious rapists while also forcing kids who "were just fooling around" to make their relationship permanent. This isn't a misogynistic command but one meant to protect young girls' lives. We simply need to understand the culture in which it was applied.
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