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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.
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Murray lays out his goal in Grand Central Question early. Following Ravi Zacharias, he defines a worldview as an overarching belief system that must cogently answer the four questions of 1) Why do we exist, 2) Is there a purpose to human life, 3) What accounts for the human condition, and 4) Is there something better than what we now experience. These four questions make up Murray's rubric to weigh the three primary worldviews above and see how they compare to the Christian position.
He does a fine job of confronting secular humanism, providing many quotes and comments from leading proponents such as Dawkins, Singer, Hawking and others. He also pulls from the different Humanist Manifesto statements, which serve as the closest thing to humanism's scripture since Darwin's Origin of Species. Next, Murray turns his gaze eastward. While he talks about Eastern views such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and other pantheistic faiths, his primary focus is on the Western understanding of these belief systems, and thus he covers New Age spirituality and even Scientology in his critique. The last area, and the one most well-developed, is the section on Islam. This is natural as Murray is a former Muslim himself and he holds key insights into both the Muslim and Christian understanding of reality.
Murray's background is that of a lawyer, and it shows through in his exploration of idea as well as seeking out the motives of holding those ideas. The real power of the book, though, is not in the detached arguments for or against a position, but in Murray's emphasis on the human cost in holding to or changing one's belief. Even in the first chapter, he tells of visiting a Muslim man who may be dying, but while Christianity appealed to him, he was deeply concerned with losing his children and their respect. This is truly where apologetics meets evangelism. Sometimes, one can get caught up in all the arguments and counter-arguments and forget that there are real, flesh and blood human beings who will really suffer if they were to leave their current religion to follow Christ. Murray continues to remind us that even in the 21st century counting all things as loss for the sake of Christ can be very difficult, as the loss may be extreme.
The book is an easy read and not too long, weighing in at 244 pages plus notes. Murray's anecdotes and examples prove to be good illustrations of conversational apologetics in practice, giving his readers a more clear view of the different aspects sharing ones' faith make take. Murray provides comparison tables to counter some of the Muslim claims of biblical corruption or that Jesus taught something different than Paul. He also takes the last two chapters to make the concept of the trinity and the idea of Christ's incarnation accessible, especially to a Muslim mind.
In all, I think Grand Central Question is an important work. There is no debate that we live in a post-Christian society. That means our apologetics cannot begin with the Bible, but must begin further back at the level of primary assumptions on how the world works. Abdu Murray has done a great job of helping the reader lay that foundation in conversational contexts. I find it a fine addition to the thoughtful Christian's library.
Thursday, February 28, 2013
|Image courtesy smallbones.|
Trying to protect chimps from extinction is not an unworthy cause. However, there is another group that has seen a similar loss in numbers in the last twenty years. In 1990, there were between 1.2 million to 1.4 million Christians living in Iraq. Today there are less than 200,000, according to Dr. Rupert Shortt. In his recent article Christianophobia, Shortt make the startling claim that "Christians are targeted more than any other body of believers" in the world today, and thus Christianity has surpassed Judaism as the most persecuted faith. He says that in the Middle East Christianity is so persecuted that it could become extinct in the place of its birth. "There is now a serious risk that Christianity will disappear from its biblical heartlands. Anthony O'Mahony of Heythrop College, London, echoes other scholars in estimating that between a half and two-thirds of Christians in the region have left or been killed over the past century."2
In her article on the report, Evelyn Gordon observes:
There are two reasons why Christianity has displaced Judaism as the world's most persecuted religion. One, obviously, is increased persecution of Christians, which stems largely from the rise of radical Islam: Though non-Islamic countries like China also repress Christians, only radical Islamists kill them wholesale. The other is that today, Jews face less persecution than ever before in history. And that is entirely due to the existence of the State of Israel.3It is evident that Islam is a primary reason for the growing persecution of Christians specifically. Shortt's report offers a detailed look at seven nations (Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, India, Burma, and China) to bolster his argument of the persecution Christians face. He concludes by noting that religious freedoms are commonly found in countries that are traditionally Christian, while the countries with the most persecutions are those that are either traditionally Islam or those with Communist governments.
Quoting from the Pew Forum and the World Evangelical Alliance, Dr. Shortt estimates that "200 million Christians (10 per cent of the global total) are socially disadvantaged, harassed or actively oppressed for their beliefs."4 He also highlights the fact that religious freedom is important, because it serves as a barometer for the general amount of freedom a country offers its citizens. "Religious freedom is the canary in the mine for human rights generally."5
So, with Christians in Nigeria being bombed inside their churches, the killing of Christian converts in Pakistan, or Copts being burned alive in Egypt, there is a crisis in the world due to religious persecution. So, how valuable are these Christians who face life-threatening conditions? Are we willing to do as much for them as for the chimpanzees? Should there not be an outcry from citizens of free nations so that western governments demand such atrocities stop? If the canary in the mine dies, you know that it will be only a matter of time before you will, too. Perhaps we had better take these warnings seriously.
2. Shortt, Rupert. Christianophobia. (London: Civitas: Institute for the Study of Civil Society, 2012). Available online at http://www.civitas.org.uk/pdf/Shortt_Christianophobia.pdf viii.
3. Gordon, Evelyn. "Religious Persecution and Safe Havens." Commentary. , http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2013/02/26/religious-persecution-and-safe-havens/ 2/26/2013.
Monday, May 02, 2011
As you can see, there is much confusion on just how Christians should respond to such news. If we are to follow the command of Christ, we should love our enemies. However, we also need to reflect God's desire for justice in the world.
I think that in order to gain a better perspective on this issue we may need to look at the Bible a little more carefully than merely pulling our favorite proof text out for either side of the issue. Fortunately, there are many passages where these kinds of issues have already been explored by commentators. One such passage is Psalm 58:
Do you judge uprightly, O sons of men?
2No, in heart you work unrighteousness;
On earth you weigh out the violence of your hands.
3The wicked are estranged from the womb;
These who speak lies go astray from birth.
4They have venom like the venom of a serpent;
Like a deaf cobra that stops up its ear,
5So that it does not hear the voice of charmers,
Or a skillful caster of spells.
6O God, shatter their teeth in their mouth;
Break out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD.
7Let them flow away like water that runs off;
When he aims his arrows, let them be as headless shafts.
8Let them be as a snail which melts away as it goes along,
Like the miscarriages of a woman which never see the sun.
9Before your pots can feel the fire of thorns
He will sweep them away with a whirlwind, the green and the burning alike.
10The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
He will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.
11And men will say, "Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
Surely there is a God who judges on earth!"
Imprecatory psalms have several elements that are unique to them:
1. None of these psalms should be read with the notion that the Psalmist is calling for revenge or individual retribution.In all the imprecatory psalms, the psalmist is motivated by seeing God's justice served. David models this himself in other psalms that call for the destruction of his enemies. In Psalm 31 David writes "In your righteousness deliver me!" and in Psalm 109 he writes , "They have also surrounded me with words of hatred, And fought against me without cause. In return for my love they act as my accusers; But I am in prayer." He also modeled this both when Saul pursued him unjustly and when Absalom usurped his throne. Asking God that justice be done is not the same thing as carrying out an individual vendetta. Such distinctions are important.
2. God Hates SinAnother thing the imprecatory psalms do is underline the notion that God hates sin. Sin is real, and it's truly offensive to our Father in heaven. Osama bin Laden was a murderer who took glee in snuffing out those made in the image of God. Sometimes as Christians we are so concerned with not offending anyone that we overlook this fact. However, Jesus used strong and condemning language to underscore sin's heinous nature. He took the Pharisees to task several times, going so far as to call them children of the devil and only seeking to do the devil's will (John 8:44). He said to the citizens of Capernaum that they would go straight to hell, since Sodom would have believed had they seen the miracles he performed (Matt 11:23). He took a whip and drove out the moneychangers from the temple (John 2:15). Sin provokes a pretty strong reaction from our Lord and it should also provoke one in us, too.
Note that sometimes the language in the psalms is hyperbole – meaning it uses overblown images to make a point. I don't think we should take the passage "shatter their teeth in their moths" literally any more than when David writes in Psalm 6 "Every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears." Jewish poetic style uses hyperbole in this way, and we should understand it as such. It does, though, make a strong point about God's view of sin.
3. It is God's glory to provide justice.Note the end of Psalm 58 where David writes, "The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; He will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked. And men will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous; Surely there is a God who judges on earth!'" God's divine justice is served when evil doers are given their just due. The righteous can point to such actions and know that God will ultimately be a righteous judge and provide justice for His righteous ones. Unbelievers are given a witness of God's righteousness. And because Romans 13 claims that governing authorities can serve as God's servants, meting out His justice, we can be thankful that the action was done in an orderly way--not by wiping out entire sections of a foreign country, but through a surgical strike that respected those other people made in the image of God in Abbottabad. Reuters even reports that once dead, the U.S. handled his body in accord with Islamic customs.
So, how should we respond to the death of bin Laden? We should first lament the sin we see in the world, including our own. We should rejoice that God's justice was in fact carried out in this instance. We should grieve that the gospel hasn't penetrated the hearts of people like bin Laden and those who sincerely followed him. And we should, like David, pray for them. Pray that they would know the love of Christ. Pray that God's justice will ultimately be seen. And pray that no more would die in response to a lie. That would be truly loving one's enemies.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
There’s nothing wrong with trying to align ourselves with the teaching of the apostles as closely as possible; in fact I think it’s laudable. But for all the talk about modeling ourselves after the early church, I don’t think many truly capture what those early Christians had to give up for their Lord. A good example of that early Christians did face can be found in the story of Said Musa. Musa is a citizen of Afghanistan who converted the Christianity about eight years ago and is now sentenced to death for the “crime” of his conversion. While serving in the Afghan Army, he had one leg amputated, an experience which he then used to counsel other amputees while working for the Red Cross.
A recent National Review article paints his picture well:
He was forced to appear before a judge without any legal counsel and without knowledge of the charges against him. “Nobody [wanted to be my] defender before the court. When I said ‘I am a Christian man,’ he [a potential lawyer] immediately spat on me and abused me and mocked me. . . . I am alone between 400 [people with] terrible values in the jail, like a sheep.” He has been beaten, mocked, and subjected to sleep deprivation and sexual abuse while in prison. No Afghan lawyer will defend him and authorities denied him access to a foreign lawyer.To me, this is the true face of Christianity. Musa’s story reads like something right out of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. I laud him for his faith and his willingness to die for it, but it shouldn’t be this way. You see, this is no longer the first century and Christians are no longer in the minority. The United States is a nation built upon Christian principles and, given our presence and influence in Afghanistan now, WE should be able to help Said Musa. But help doesn’t seem to be coming. President Obama felt justified to personally step in when a single pastor threatened to burn some Qur’ans in Florida, but he remains silent on Said Musa –even after Musa pleaded with him directly in his letter. The U.S.is losing soldiers trying to help establish the Afghanistan government; and yet they insist on perpetrating this flagrant violation of human rights. Does this make sense at all? Silence by our president in such an instance is atrocious.
Any and every human being who is imprisoned, abused, or tortured for the free and peaceful expression of their faith deserves our support, but Musa is also a remarkable person and Christian. In a letter smuggled to the West, he says, “The authority and prisoners in jail did many bad behaviour with me about my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. For example, they did sexual things with me, beat me by wood, by hands, by legs, put some things on my head.”
He added a thing much more important to him, that they “mocked me ‘he’s Jesus Christ,’ spat on me, nobody let me for sleep night and day. . . . Please, please, for the sake of Lord Jesus Christ help me.” (View the full letter here)
He has not, in fact, even appealed to be released, only to be transferred to another prison. He has also stated that he is willing to give his life for his faith. “Please, please you should transfer me from this jail to a jail that supervises the believers. . . . I also agree . . . to sacrifice my life in public [where] I will tell [about my] faith in Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, [so] other believers will take courage and be strong in their faith.”
Said Musa’s attitude in the face of martyrdom, like Stephen’s in the book of Acts, shows what true Christians look like who have given everything for their Lord. I wonder to what degree our own government will allow the persecution of Christians and Christian ideals to continue without comment before all Christian churches start to resemble the New Testament church in ways that we may not like.
Friday, June 25, 2010
That's why a story in yesterday's Los Angeles Times caught my eye. Entitled "Women threaten to breastfeed drivers if they aren't allowed to drive", it shows the twists and permutations where wrong-thinking ideas lead when they are extended to their logical conclusion.
Saudi Arabia is the center of the Islamic world, a very strict nation ruled by Sharia law, and like most countries under Sharia, it subjugates its women. Women must have a male guardian at all times, they're not allowed to vote, must be covered from head to toe, legally cannot drive, and the sexes must be segregated, unless the company consists of immediate family members, such as mother and son or brother and sister. The Saudi government says these restrictions are to comply with the laws taught in Islam which is the basis of the Saudi government. As you can imagine, it becomes pretty hard to function when women and men cannot be in the same public place at the same time.
Given that Islam is a legalistic religion (your worthiness is judged by how well you perform against the requirements placed upon you), people have sought to study the laws and find "loopholes" to see if they can circumvent some of the consequences following from the law. One of the most interesting of these was a proclamation made by Saudi cleric Abdel Mohsen Obeikan, who on May 22 said that if a woman had breastfed a man, then she and the child would have a "maternal bond" and the grown man could be found with the woman, even if he is not a blood relation. Obeikan did not invent this idea; it is stated clearly in the Islamic Hadith that Mohammad was the one who first taught the practice. So, any man who wants to avoid a charge of "illicit mixing" of sexes merely needs to drink the woman's breast milk, thereby creating that maternal bond. 
Saudi women who are now seeking the right to drive have now taken Obeikan's thoughts one step further. According to the Times article, "if they're not granted the right to drive, the women are threatening to breastfeed their drivers to establish a symbolic maternal bond. ‘Is this is all that is left to us to do: to give our breasts to the foreign drivers?' a Saudi woman named Fatima Shammary was quoted as saying by Gulf News."
Although the statement seems ridiculous on its face, it follows naturally from the law and the cleric's previous reasoning. In order to maintain modesty and purity, women would have to allow strangers to suckle them so that they can get around if a family member isn't present. They cannot mix sexes in a car, and since all women cannot drive, there are no chauffeurs or taxis that would allow them transportation.
In looking at all this, the absurdities of the law become apparent. Granted, the legal ban on driving is a reaction to a group of protesters some 20 years ago, but the traditional view was in place long before that. The fact that in Islam women are seen as the sole problem in men's sexual temptation, thus men must be shielded from their looks and their company at every turn, is at the root of all these issues. And to think that just by passing a bodily fluid, all that temptation is somehow dissipated is as ridiculous as the former concept.
The bigger reason I point to this story is simply to show how bad belief systems not only harm real people, but they also lead the oppressed to desperation. When oppression mix with legalism the results are tragic and the fact that Saudi women would even threaten such a move shows the poverty of the Muslim viewpoint on women.
- See Katherine Zoepf. "Talk of Women's Rights Divides Saudi Arabia." New York Times. 5/31/2010 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/01/world/middleeast/01iht-saudi.html?pagewanted=1&src=me
- The Isamic Hadith, Book 008, Number 3424 records this exchange between Mohammad and a follower who raised an adopted boy, who would be considered a stranger in her home.
A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported that Sahla bint Suhail came to Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) and said: Messengerof Allah, I see on the face of Abu Hudhaifa (signs of disgust) on entering of Salim (who is an ally) into (our house), whereupon Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: Suckle him. She said: How can I suckle him as he is a grown-up man? Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) smiled and said: I already know that he is a young man 'Amr has made this addition in his narration that he participated in the Battle of Badr and in the narration of Ibn 'Umar (the words are): Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) laughed.For the full text, see http://www.usc.edu/schools/college/crcc/engagement/resources/texts/muslim/hadith/muslim/008.smt.html
- Sandels , Alexandra "Cleric in hot seat after calling for women to give men breast milk to avoid illicit mixing." Los Angeles Times. 6/10/2010 http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2010/06/saudi-arabia-clerics-call-for-women-to-give-men-breastmilk-to-avoid-unislamic-mixing.html
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