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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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Showing posts with label beliefs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label beliefs. Show all posts

Friday, May 15, 2015

Christianity and the Disappearing Millennials: Exclusive Interview with Barna's David Kinnaman


Just this week, The Pew Research Group released the latest statistics on the state of faith in America from its massive study. Many interesting trends emerged. While fewer Americans identified as Christian than did so seven years ago, those who consider themselves evangelical held steady. Yet even here, the make-up of this segment is older, and the largest exodus from faith came from Millennials - young people born after 1980.

In this exclusive interview, I speak with the President of the Barna Research Group, David Kinnaman. In both this interview and in his book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church...and Rethinking Faith he distills the findings from years of study on the Millennial exodus, and he talks about how we can reach a generation raised in Digital Babylon with the timeless truth of the Gospel message.



To download this audio file, click here.

To access some of the resources and materials mentioned in the interview, follow the links below:;

Thursday, May 14, 2015

How Society is Regressing: Pushing Equality over Excellence

Are people smarter today than in centuries prior? That's the assumption of many today, including those atheists who assert that the modern era of science and technology proves our society has progressed to a higher position than previous eras. I'm not so sure. While we have greater control over our environment, we have been intellectually stunted by emphasizing feelings over reason. We live in the Age of Feeling, and that has caused society to regress, not progress.



To support my position, I've already offered two points of evidence that this society holds feelings above facts. The first was we are relinquishing our rights instead of offending and the second is in our current political climate, sympathy trumps science. Today I would like to offer a third proof: modern culture pushes for equality over excellence.

Destroying Opportunity

Bigotry is wrong. I think most people would agree with that statement, especially if they fall victim to bigotry themselves. But just what do we mean by bigotry? What do we mean by discrimination? Today, the term bigot is usually associated with a person who is racist or prejudiced because of inconsequential factors. The OED states that a bigot is "A person considered to adhere unreasonably or obstinately to a particular religious belief, practice, etc."1The key in this definition is the concept or unreasonableness or obstinacy. One may be charged with an act of unfair discrimination if they exclude one person from an employment position because they pre-judged a person based on nothing more than their ethnic heritage or the amount of melanin contained in their skin.

People all have an equal inherent worth because they are made in God's image. If one person is better able to perform a task than another, he or she should be allowed the opportunity to perform it, all else being equal. Today, though, people have distorted the idea that all people have equal worth to try and say that anything but equal outcomes is discriminatory. For example, the United States congress passed the Title IX act in 1972 to try and make any discriminatory exclusion of girls from participating in things like school sports. But the legislation has had terribly unintended consequences. Instead of merely opening the door of opportunity for women's sports program to flourish, it had the opposite effect of destroying many men's sports teams, especially in college. Men's teams were cut simply to achieve parity; the in the number of men participating in college sports must equal the number of women participating in sports at the same institution.2 Forget the fact that far fewer women in college desire to participate in sports, if the counts are off, sports teams for men are eliminated.

Equalizing Mediocrity

One of the clearest and most egregious examples of how the drive for equality actually destroys excellence is how philosopher Adam Swift began studying the questions of social justice, equality, and opportunity for children. In an ABC interview he states:
I had done some work on social mobility and the evidence is overwhelmingly that the reason why children born to different families have very different chances in life is because of what happens in those families…

What we realised we needed was a way of thinking about what it was we wanted to allow parents to do for their children, and what it was that we didn't need to allow parents to do for their children, if allowing those activities would create unfairnesses for other people's children. 3
Basically, what Smith is asserting is parents who try to provide the best opportunities for their children by doing thing as like reading to them at night, engaging with their schooling and possibly even sending them to private schools or hiring tutors are giving those children an unfair advantage over children whose parents don't provide such attention. The article goes on to record Smith saying:
Private schooling cannot be justified by appeal to these familial relationship goods. It's just not the case that in order for a family to realise these intimate, loving, authoritative, affectionate, love-based relationships you need to be able to send your child to an elite private school.4
This kind of thinking is insanity. We should cripple all children's education because some don't have parents who can give them the same learning tools as others? Why should we limit the minds of all kids? Shouldn't we encourage excellence and reward hard work no matter how the person was able to achieve it? Do you care whether your doctor went to a prep school in order to be an excellent surgeon or do you want all doctors to be equally but only moderately skilled? Why quash excellence for equality?

In his satiric response to Swift's arguments, Hans Fiene says that we might encourage additional ways of leveling the playing field for children by not bathing them or not feeding them fruits and vegetables when junk food will do. Personally, I thought Adam Swift's suggestions were so ludicrous to be satire themselves. I had to check twice to make sure his name was Adam Swift, not Jonathan Swift. He truly wants us to consume our children's opportunities for the sake of making the least common denominator the standard.

I realize that Adam Swift's modest proposal will not go anywhere. However, the fact that Swift can even offer it seriously in our culture says volumes about just how warped our culture has become on issues of equality and discrimination. We feel for the disadvantaged, but such solutions prove that we aren't thinking about the damage done in following those feelings. Society is truly regressing and when every child must receive a medal for their accomplishments, the medals become as worthless as the accomplishments they were awarded for.

References

1. "bigot, n. and adj." OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 14 May 2015. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/18890?redirectedFrom=bigot&
2. "NCAA Men's Athletic Programs Cut To Comply With Title IX." College Sports Scholarships. College Sports Scholarships, 2012. Web. 14 May 2015. http://www.collegesportsscholarships.com/ncaa-mens-sports-cut-title-ix.htm.
3. Gelonesi, Joe. "Is Having a Loving Family an Unfair Advantage?" Radio National. Australian Broadcasting Company, 30 Apr. 2015. Web. 11 May 2015. http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/philosopherszone/new-family-values/6437058.
4. Gelonesi, 2015.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Something Stinks in the Media's Reporting of the Pew Survey


Yesterday, the Pew Research Center released its latest findings on the state of religion in the United States. They noted in the report that those who describe themselves as Christians had decreased by eight percentage points in the last seven years. This prompted many different news outlets to run stories proclaiming that Christianity is slipping as a religion and the rise of secularism is upon us. CNN declared, "Millennials leaving church in droves."1 Today's Los Angeles Times carried the headline "US has become notably less Christian."2 The Times story reports:
The erosion in traditional religious ranks seems likely to continue. Among Americans aged 18 to 33, slightly more than half identify as Christian, compared with roughly 8 in 10 in the baby boom generation and older age groups, the new data show…

Almost 1 in 5 American adults was raised in a religious tradition but is now unaffiliated, the study found. By contrast, only 4% have moved in the other direction.3
In the fact that less Americans are identifying as Christian, the times gets the Pew Report correct. However, the story also claims "The decline in traditional religious belief adds to the demographic challenges facing the GOP, which already faces difficulties because of its reliance on white voters in a country that has grown more racially diverse."4 Notice the shift between the quotes, though. The first excerpts talk about "traditional religious ranks" and adults being "unaffiliated" with a specific religious tradition. That isn't the same thing as declining religious beliefs.

Is the Church Dying?

When analyzing the numbers, there are certain trends that immediately stick out. First is that the declines in Christianity come from the more liberal mainline denominations. Those who identify as Evangelicals are statistically level with prior years, even though the population has grown while mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic denominations show a 3% to 4% decrease. This is no surprise as we have seen these denominations lose members for years.

Further, while the group identifying as Unaffiliated grew to 22.8% of the population, those who claim to specifically be atheist or agnostic were 7.1% of the population. That means there are a lot of folks who don't identify with a Christian denomination, but they may still hold to the existence of God and the importance of specific beliefs.

The Barna Research organization last month published findings on specific beliefs people held concerning Jesus. They found that 95% of Americans believe Jesus was a real person, 56% believe Jesus was/is God incarnate, and 62% say they have made a commitment to Jesus Christ. Barna says "roughly two out of five Americans have confessed their sinfulness and professed faith in Christ (a group Barna classifies as ‘born again Christians')." Interestingly, Barna notes "Fewer than half of Millennials say they have made such a commitment (46%), compared to six in 10 Gen-Xers (59%), two-thirds of Boomers (65%) and seven in 10 Elders (71%)."5

Christianity is No Longer the Default Position

I think some of the shakeup in the polling statistics is due to the way generations have historically identified themselves. Older generations would call themselves "Methodist" or "Episcopal" even when they held errant views and hadn't darkened the doorway of a church for decades. If they were baptized into a specific denomination or were taken as a child with their parents, they saw themselves with that identification.

Millennials don't do that. If we compare the Barna and the Pew statistics together, we can see that more Millennials are defining themselves by their current beliefs. the Pew Report says about 56% of Millennials define themselves as Christian while Barna says 46% of Millennials claim to have confessed their sinfulness and professed faith in Christ. What this means is those who identify as Christians are taking the beliefs of Christianity seriously. Those who marginally believe are leaving Christianity altogether.

One thing the Pew survey does show is that people are increasingly uncomfortable being labeled Christian if they don't hold to orthodox Christian beliefs. In some ways, that's a good thing. It's honest and makes evangelism efforts more clear. However, the poll also shows that the Church more than ever needs to reach out to the younger generation and provide evidence of why Christianity is true, using reasons and evidence. The Millennials are not simply going to follow in Mom and Dad's footsteps because they've always done it this way. They are going to want to believe things for good reasons. Therefore, it is increasingly crucial Christians are able to provide an answer to those who ask about the hope within you. Are you ready?

References

1. Burke, Daniel. "Millennials Leaving Church in Droves, Study Says." CNN. Cable News Network, 13 May 2015. Web. 13 May 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/12/living/pew-religion-study/.
2. Lauter, David, and Hailey Branson-Potts. "U.S. Has Become Notably Less Christian, Major Study Finds." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 13 May 2015. Web. 13 May 2015. http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-us-religion-20150512-story.html#page=1.
3. Lauter, 2015.
4. Lauter, 2015
5. "What Do Americans Believe About Jesus? 5 Popular Beliefs." Barna Group. Barna Group, 1 Apr. 2015. Web. 13 May 2015. https://www.barna.org/barna-update/culture/714-what-do-americans-believe-about-jesus-5-popular-beliefs.
Image courtesy Emma (abandoned church) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, May 11, 2015

Proofs Society Is Regressing: Abdicating Our Right to Speak

Imagine you had two children. One became a philosophy professor, the other an engineer. Which would you say chose the more valuable occupation? Would the choice of their respective careers demonstrate which child was more intelligent? Which one knew the world better? Today, it is the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses that are emphasized in schools. The humanities, like literature, history, and philosophy are considered additions to the sciences, not equally necessary to them. But that's because our society is terribly biased.



The bias stems from a widespread belief that society always progresses forward. That is, the beliefs and knowledge we have today supersedes those of a century ago. Three hundred years ago humanity was even more superstitious and ignorant than the people of the last century and a thousand years ago they were even worse. Humanity has been marching in an upward trajectory and we've never been smarter or understood our world better than we do today.

I think that such a belief is itself indicative of the poor intellectual shape to which modern culture has succumbed. Of course we know more about science. We can do things that were heretofore unimaginable. But while it is true we know more about the workings of our world, it is equally true we know less about the workings of ourselves and what makes civilizations prosper. We've emphasized our ability to manipulate our environment while abandoning the values and philosophies that allowed us to achieve such feats in the first place.

Living in The Age of Feeling

Historians sometimes classify human history into specific ages where the culture stresses specific aspects of their society. We had the Age of Empires with Greece and Rome. Then, as Fulton J. Sheen notes, the Middle Ages would be classified as the Age of Faith. After the renaissance, humanity entered the Age of Reason. So, what age now we are living now? Sheen says we are now living in the Age of Feeling.1 We are living is what Sorokin labeled a sensate culture. We place too much value on the feelings we and others feel, and it is making us stupider as a culture.

I can think of at least three ways our culture has demonstrated it values feeling about all else:
  1. We would sacrifice our rights rather than feel uncomfortable
  2. We would ignore our biology instead of recognize human limitations
  3. We would sacrifice excellence in exchange for parity
Let's look at the first of these; our society is giving up our rights as human beings in order to promote the comfort of others.

Uncomfortable Speech is No Longer Tolerated

During the Age of Reason, very intelligent people recognized that a free and modern society could only prosper through the free exchange of ideas. This meant that freedom to express unpopular ideas would be crucial to advancement. Today, we have taken the opposite position, and this has been never more apparent than in our institutions of higher educations. Colleges were viewed as the place that promoted the free exchange of ideas. Now, they shelter and cloister their students from anything that a small elite defines as "hateful" or offensive.  Schools like Oberlin College offer "trigger-warnings" on course material that may upset a student.

Other schools like Rutgers University and Smith College have disinvited speakers because a small group of students and faculty disagreed with their political positions. Oberlin did host Christina Hoff Sommers, only to have students protest her presence, try to shout her down, or like those at Georgetown create "safe spaces" for students where they wouldn't listen to the speaker and instead take comfort in the seclusion of comfortable ignorance. How is this helping to shape the future leaders in society? How can we take Oberlin or its students seriously when instead of listening to an intelligent, articulate adult present her case on a position you may disagree with, you instead want to act like a child and hold your fingers in your ears? That isn't progress; that regress.

There are two additional ways our society demonstrates that it is becoming less advanced rather than more advanced. I will look at each ibn upcoming blog posts. But for now, pray that enough people become sickened by such antics that they stand up for our right to free speech, even speech with which they disagree. One good way of doing this is to not give money to any college or university that upholds things like speech codes on campus. See the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's latest report to find out which schools meet this criterion.

Continue to part two of this article ».

References

1. Sheen, Fulton J. Treasure in Clay: The Autobiography of Fulton J. Sheen. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980. Print. 23.
Image courtesy Emanuela Franchini and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) License.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Understanding Eastern Orthodoxy (podcast)


A surprising trend among a segment of young Evangelicals is their conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is probably one of the most misunderstood divisions within Christianity. This class will compare and contrast the beliefs of Christian Evangelicalism with Eastern Orthodoxy, as well as provide you with ways to defend your Evangelical convictions when discussing the Bible with an Orthodox friend.
If you haven't yet subscribed to the podcast, you can do so via iTunes or by RSS.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Evil of Scientology (video)



You've probably seen the commercials for Dianetics or walked past some folks offering a free personality test. Both are ways to entice you into the Church of Scientology. But the sheen of the commercials hide a deadly secret that we must warn our friends and family against. Watch this comprehensive video where Lenny exposes the background and the insidious nature of Scientology, while warning believers about how easily duped one can become when facing the tactics of the cults.


Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Christianity May Be Right, Even If We Don't Like It

Frank Bruni was the New York Times restaurant critic early in his career. Such a job has the particular advantage of focusing on one's preferences as defining. If a person disagrees with his assessment of a dish, it is easy to dismiss him or her as someone uncultured, a person with an unrefined palette or without enough sophistication to expand his or her tastes. The critic can speak about those things that are subjective, yet they seek to do so authoritatively.



Perhaps Bruni lapsed back into that mindset when he wrote his op-ed piece for the Times last Friday. There, he made the claim that "homosexuality and Christianity don't have to be in conflict in any church anywhere."1 Where would Bruni get an idea like that? The Bible very clearly teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman and homosexual acts are not just wrong but contrary to nature.2

Making an Icky Face at Christianity

The problem is that Bruni seems to view these biblical commands like a child would view a plate of Brussel sprouts: something he would never order given the choice. He writes, "Our debate about religious freedom should include a conversation about freeing religions and religious people from prejudices that they needn't cling to and can indeed jettison, much as they've jettisoned other aspects of their faith's history, rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity."3 Note his choice of words here. He describes Christian beliefs on human sexuality as "prejudices," things Christians "needn't cling to" and commands to be "jettisoned." Bruni sees the command for sexual purity as something not pleasing to his palette, and just like the child, he makes an icky face at it and says Christians should do the same.

Of course he's completely wrong here.

Any parent who has lived through a similar situation with their children will know that it is important for kids to eat their vegetables. While rich white sauces, fine wines and tiramisu are great, a diet focused on those things is going to severely shorten your life. Of course Bruni tries to muster his argument by offering a couple of Christians who agree with him, but this is as convincing as the child who points to his friend, claiming "Jimmy's parents don't make him eat these things!"

 Truth Requires Us to Eat Our Vegetables

It is quickly evident that for Bruni, he would rather have Christians order a la carte. But Christianity isn't offered that way. Christianity makes claims about the truth, about the way the world really works. If one is a faithful Christian, it means that he has recognized God as the authority in his life. God knows what's best for us and we follow his commands because we love him enough to be obedient. Does that mean we must follow command that we wouldn't normally choose left to ourselves? Of course. But, just because we don't like it doesn't make it untrue. Mom is ultimately right that eating your vegetables is going to make you healthier because that's how our bodies work. The CDC has also shown that men who have sex with men are at an astronomically high risk for a slew of life-threatening diseases. In his piece, Bruni appeals to "the advances of science and knowledge."4 Yet, it seems here that the science of the CDC argue to the opposite conclusion.

Bruni then complains that Christians view homosexuals as sinners. But Christians view themselves as sinners, just as they view all of humanity as sinners. What follows from that? He misses the point that religious belief has an interconnecting set of truth claims. If you assent to the fact that God exists, then you are forced to assent to the idea that he knows more than we do. If we believe that Jesus died for our salvation, then it will naturally follow that we will seek to be obedient to his teachings.

While there may be some Christians who, like Jimmy, feel that Brussel sprouts are not for them, they either have misunderstood God's command or they're simply acting like defiant children. Either way, religious freedom requires that those who are faithfully trying to live out their beliefs in a consistent manner must be allowed to clean their plates as it were. To extend the analogy, Bruni seems to demand that all restaurants remove from their menus anything that offends him or face being closed down by the government.  Just how reasonable is that?

References

1. Bruni, Frank. "Bigotry, the Bible and the Lessons of Indiana." The New York Times. The New York Times, 04 Apr. 2015. Web. 06 Apr. 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/opinion/sunday/frank-bruni-same-sex-sinners.html.
2. In Matthew 19:6-7, Jesus quoted Genesis 2:24 and affirmed that marriage is the joining of the bodies ("flesh") f man and woman. This joining is the act of intercourse which will ultimately produce offspring that is literally the one flesh derived from the genes of both parents. There are several places that condemn homosexual relations, the most clear being Paul's writing in Romans 1:26-27.
3. Bruni, 2015.
4. Bruni, 2015. photo credit: resist via photopin (license)

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Putting Christianity to the Test (video)



Of all the religions in the world, Christianity is unique. It bases its entire existence on a historical event that we can check out for ourselves. In this short introduction, Lenny talks of how the Apostle Paul hangs the entire Christian faith on the single thread of Jesus's resurrection from the dead, and how others have tried to topple the faith, but wound up being converted themselves when they investigated the evidence.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Five Things Your Worldview Must Account For

Recently, Tom Gilson posted an open question on his blog. He asked those that identify themselves as atheist or agnostics, "What does your worldview explain better than Christianity?" Gilson was careful to distinguish an atheistic belief from a worldview, given that atheism is the denial of God's existence but isn't robust enough in itself to qualify as a worldview.



There have been many answers to the question received so far from atheists, but most have been disheartening. It isn't because I may or may not disagree with them. They are disheartening because none of them describe a worldview. They each take on one aspect of understanding the world, namely the scientific enterprise, but leave so much more out of their answers.

I've explained before that a worldview is the way one sees and interprets the way the world works. It's basically a framework for understanding and interpreting the various facts we encounter in our lives. That's why any attempt to outline a worldview must account for at least the following five things. I'd like to go over each of these quickly.

1. One's understanding of origins

The concept of origins is central to interpreting many things in the world. Some of the key questions of origins include: Where did we come from? Why is there something rather than nothing? What is reality? Where do good and evil find their foundations? These are all crucial when seeking to make sense of people and situations. For example, if you hold that human beings bear God's image, you are going to have a different perspective on the nature and dignity of issues like assisted suicide, abortion, and the equality of all people.

2. One's understanding of rationality

Reason is a key component of understanding our world, so providing an account of rationality and why or if we can rely on our reasoning skills is important. How does reason work in the world? Is it a reliable way of knowing things? How can one know that?

3. One's understanding of purpose

Another primary factor in interpreting the world is identifying if there is any kind of purpose to our world and if so, how can one discover that purpose. The understanding of telos—that there is a design or an ultimate end to the cosmos, humanity, or even to each individual will play a huge part in how one values others, the environment, and many other areas.

4. One's understanding of morality

Morality and its grounding has been something I've written about quite a bit, but every worldview must have some kind of understanding of what morality is and where it comes from. Societies simply cannot function without certain agreed upon notions of right and wrong. Even if your worldview holds that objective morality doesn't exist, it must be expressed and integrated into your explanation of how society determines values.

5. One's understanding of ultimate ends

Lastly, every worldview has some kind of account of what our ultimate ends are. Is there a reality beyond this world? Do we cease to be when we die? How does one discover this end and how does this life relate to any our ultimate end? This along with the question of purpose are key to helping us decide how to act in various circumstances.

One of the reasons I hold to the Christian worldview is it answers each of the five questions and does so in a way where each area is integrated with the others to form a coherent whole. Christianity gives a single picture of the world, where each of these five areas makes sense with 1) the way we observe our world to work and 2) makes sense with each other. They follow naturally from one to the next. Without an integrated, coherent worldview, values and judgments become confused or contradictory.

So, what's your worldview? Have you thought about each of these five areas? Does your worldview not only account for each, but does it do so in a way that isn't ad hoc, or happenstance?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Cruelty of Karma

Yesterday, the Apologetics Missions Team went to visit the Temple of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (more commonly known as the Hare Krishnas) in Berkeley. This is one strain of Hinduism that teaches the ultimate reality of the universe is a "supreme all-attractive person" whom they call Krishna1 and the devotees of ISKCON believe that all living beings should place their focus of worship on Krishna as the way to help them attain enlightenment and escape the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.



As a school of Hinduism, this isn't all that uncommon. While there are many gods and demi-gods in Hinduism as well as a wide variety of practices and rituals designed to please and appease them. However, one thing common to all forms of Hinduism (as well as Buddhism) is the concept of karma, and the cycle of rebirths. The concept has been sometimes misunderstood in the West, so let me take a moment to explain it.

There are some fundamental questions of life that all faith systems try to answer: where did we come from, what happens to us after we die, what does this life mean, and what about all the evil and suffering we see in the world. Hinduism from its ancient roots answers these through their doctrine of karma. Karma is a fundamental principle of existence. Basically, karma teaches that for every action there is an effect. If you are kind to another, that may get you closer to the Ultimate good and advance you toward enlightenment. If you are mean or evil, you instead accumulate karmic debt that will be paid back in some way. Sometimes this plays out in the same life where the deed occurred mostly this karmic debt is paid back to you in subsequent lives.2

This is the way the Krishnas explain why bad things happen to good people, and how despots who caused tremendous suffering and then died will ultimately be repaid for their evil. It could take thousands of lives to pay back the karmic debt amassed by Pol Pot during his time running the Khmer Rouge. And since no one is perfect, it takes us thousands of lives to rid ourselves of the more mundane debt we build for lying or being prideful.

The Problems of Karma

I think one of the more attractive features of karma in its surface is the idea that no bad deed will escape judgment. Whatever is done has an effect. It seems fair; yet the concept of karma is a horribly cruel one if you think about it for a moment. First of all, karma is the way the Krishnas explain why the loving father contracted cancer or the generous retired couple lost their home during the financial meltdown. It wasn't really their fault in this life. They were evil in a previous life and their bill had come due.

But no one ever knows what specific evil was perpetrated that would subject the sufferer to such a sentence. How does this karmic justice help the victim improve? How can he or she learn to not again do the things that initiated the karmic retribution? The answer is unknowable. Cancer doesn't point to a specific evil act that must be corrected. Thus even the devoted follower must try and guess what rule he broke to receive such a heavy punishment, and it is highly likely he will guess wrong. How does this help anyone achieve enlightenment?

Punishing the Good

Secondly, karma offers no real comfort. One guide at the Temple explained to us that if a young couple has a child who dies shortly after birth, that was her karmic cycle. The baby needed just a short time in the material world to become that much more improved so it could move onto a different plane. Thus, the Krishna devotee will turn to the grieving parents who are asking why their child died in innocence and say "karma, karma." She stated "that is all the answer there is." It truly seems to be hollow idea, since it is the karma itself that is now causing pain and suffering in the lives of the parents! How can a law of justice be so cruel? How does karma itself pay its own karmic debt? These questions are never answered.

Our guide also told us that because of karma one must be careful of even good intentions. A man was asked by a relative to donate blood for that relative's operation. The teacher admonished the man against doing so. According to our guide, "He said to him, ‘Do you realize that in order for that man to pay you back the debt of you giving him your blood, you would need to somehow be in a life-threatening situation where you would now be the one who needs the blood donated!" The guide summarized the concept with the colloquialism "No good deed goes unpunished."

The ISKCON law of karma is not about justice, it's about stasis. No one owes anyone else anything, all is in balance. But kindness doesn't need balance. Goodness doesn't need to be repaid with sickness. Karma, this ultimate law, would itself be evil if it were true. That's why the Christian concept of justice is superior to the ISKCON one. Christianity teaches that God did not leave us to suffer whatever consequences we may have coming to us, and force us into an innumerable series of lives to suffer through until we get it all right. God sent his son to take our debt upon himself. He suffered so we don't have to and he rose from the grave, proving that he did indeed defeat death.

No, karma is not a good concept. It offers no real hope, and says suffering will continue in your life. That's not justice; that's unfeeling oppression.

References

1. "What Is Vaishnavism?" ISKCON The Hare Krishna Movement. International Society for Krishna Consciousness, n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2015. http://iskcon.org/what-is-vaishnavism/.
2. "Karma" ISKCON The Hare Krishna Movement. International Society for Krishna Consciousness, n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2015. http://iskcon.org/karma/.
Photo courtesy Eric B. and licensed via the Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Monkeys, Typewriters, and Assumptions

Have you ever heard the suggestion that given enough monkeys banging on enough typewriters with enough time, they will eventually produce something like a work of Shakespeare? That idea was first proposed by French mathematician Émile Borel1 and then used by British astronomer Arthur Eddington. Both were using the analogy to show while nothing can be considered impossible from a mathematical standpoint, certain ideas are so unlikely that they can be discounted.2



However, as what came to be known as the Infinite Monkey Theorem entered the popular culture, it seemed to be turned on its head. Many people seem to think that the analogy shows that absolutely nothing is impossible given enough time. The problem is m the analogy was used to show just how improbable a particular theory on gas movements really is by comparing it to something more easily pictured in people's minds: monkeys producing works of literature. That's why Eddington finished his version of the analogy with "The chance of the monkeys doing so is decidedly more favourable than the chance of the molecules returning to one half of the vessel."3

The folks over at Uncommon Descent have written a detailed response to the Infinite Monkey Theorem and how it applies to the origin of life, but that isn't my reason for writing this post. The more interesting point in my opinion is the assumptions that are carried along with the analogy itself. In Borel's day, there were no such things as computers that could generate purely random outputs of letters, so he used a theoretical monkey to make his case. But the folks over at the University of Plymouth were intrigued by the concept, so they thought they'd give it a try on a much smaller scale.

Real Monkeys and a Word Processor

In 2003, researchers placed a computer with monitor and keyboard in a cage of six monkeys at the Paignton Zoo for a month. The Associated Press report quoted lead researcher Mike Philips who said, "At first, the lead male got a stone and started bashing the hell out of it. Another thing they were interested in was in defecating and urinating all over the keyboard." 4

Eventually, the simians figured out that the screen would respond to a keyboard touch. Would this be the breakthrough to have the monkeys produce a word or two of English? Unfortunately, no as the primates only "produced five pages of text, composed primarily of the letter S. Later, the letters A, J, L and M crept in."5

How Our Assumptions Color Our Beliefs


The Infinite Monkey Theorem is interesting on several levels. While it is mathematically possible to generate something like Hamlet using an infinite number of computers for an infinite time, such actions would require more time and more matter than has been estimated in our universe since its beginning. It is therefore zero for all practical purposes. So such word pictures don't help on issues like the origin of life.

More importantly, it demonstrates how much we color scenarios with our assumptions. Most people picture putting a keyboard before a monkey and the animal will be pushing buttons before too long, not using it as a lavatory. Our humanity assumes that others will act like us. It's why many animal researchers make the mistake of anthropomorphizing animal behavior and what's responsible for the Clever Hans effect.

So, it's important to examine your own beliefs. Sometimes your biases are harder to spot than you think!

References

1. See http://www.informationphilosopher.com/solutions/scientists/borel/#monkeys. The analogy seems to have first appeared in Borel's "Mécanique Statistique et Irréversibilité," J. Phys. 5e série, vol. 3, 1913, pp.189-196.
A big thanks to Guillaume Bignon for providing me with his translation of Borel's analogy from : "Let's imagine that one trained a million monkeys to randomly hit strokes on a typewriter, and that, under the watch of unlettered slave-drivers, these typist monkeys work painstakingly 10 hours every day with a million typewriters of different types. The unlettered slave-drivers would gather the blackened sheets and bind them into volumes. And after a year, these volumes would contain the exact copy of the books of all natures and all languages, found in the riches libraries in the world. Such is the probability that during a very short instant, in a space of any given length, a notable spread occurs (away) from what statistical mechanics considers to be the most probable phenomenon."
2. Kairosfocus. "ID Foundations, 11: Borel's Infinite Monkeys Analysis and the Significance of the Log Reduced Chi Metric, Chi_500 = I*S – 500." Uncommon Descent. Uncommon Descent, Inc., 26 Nov. 2011. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/id-foundations-11-borels-infinite-monkeys-analysis-and-the-significance-of-the-log-reduced-chi-metric-chi_500-is-500/.
3. Eddington, A. S.. The Nature of the Physical World: The Gifford Lectures, 1927. New York: Macmillan, 1929. Print. 72.
4. Associated Press. "Plymouth Experiment's Monkeys Type No Shakespeare-like Text." Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, 10 May 2003. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. http://lubbockonline.com/stories/051003/ent_051003027.shtml
5. Associated Press, Ibid.

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Absurdity of Describing Oneself as an Agnostic Atheist

Imagine meeting a man who traveled to your town from a far country after his nation was destroyed by a war. All the records of civil ceremonies had been wiped out. In talking with this gentleman, you ask if he has a wife. He answers, "I don't know if I am currently married, but I know that I'm a bachelor!"



You'd probably look at them with more than a bit of confusion. "How can that be?" you ask.

He replies, "Well, I may or may not have gone through a marriage ceremony in my home country. However, there's no way to tell, since all the records are destroyed. However, you don't see me with a wife now, I like to date a lot, and I don't want to answer to a wife or have to check in every night. Therefore, I've chosen to be a bachelor, but I may be married, too."

"But you don't understand," you reply. "The very concept of being a bachelor precludes you from being married. You are either married or you aren't, regardless of what records exist. Therefore, if you don't know whether you're married, then you don't know whether you're a bachelor. Conversely, if you know that you're a bachelor, you then know that you aren't married. "

He replies, "No, I am a bachelor who is open to the fact that I may also be married."

 You try to persist. "The word 'bachelor' refers to whether or not you have committed to another person in marriage. That either happened or it didn't. Claiming that you may be a married bachelor is just as absurd as saying you may have found a triangle with only two sides! I can tell you right now that such a triangle doesn't exist and neither does a married bachelor. Your standing regarding marriage defines whether or not you're a bachelor."

Defining Theism, Atheism, Agnosticism

While the above conversation seems farcical, I have been running into a similar issue recently with people who describe themselves as "agnostic atheists." As a Christian, I describe myself as a theist. A theist is someone who believes in God. There are many types of theists (Jews, Muslims, Deists, etc.) They all fall within the category of someone who holds that God exists. Being a theist doesn't mean the person can argue for or even prove that God exists; it simply defines the fact that they believe God exists.

On the other end of the spectrum are atheists. The word means "One who denies or disbelieves the existence of a God" and, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, came from combining the word theist (belief in God) with the negative prefix "a-" meaning without1. So, "without " + "belief in God" = atheist. Simple, right?

But there is a third term that can be used to describe ones relation to a belief in God, and that's the word "agnostic." That word derives from the same "a-" (without) but the second word is gnosis, which is a Greek word for knowledge. So an agnostic means someone who is without knowledge on a topic or issue. If you don't know whether there's a God (or perhaps you don't care), you would be considered an agnostic.

Because the word agnostic simply means one who doesn't know, it is used in contexts other than God's existence. For example, as a hockey fan, I am agnostic towards which teams will play in the Super Bowl this year. I am not rooting for one over another, and I don't have any knowledge as to which ones stand the better chance. If my wife asks whether she should buy chicken sausage or turkey sausage at the store, I would tell her "it doesn't matter at all; I'm agnostic on that issue." However, if I have even a slight leaning towards one choice over the other, then I am no longer agnostic. My indifference is gone and I do have a belief, albeit a small one.

Thus the Oxford English Dictionary's primary definition of agnosticism reads, "A person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of immaterial things, especially of the existence or nature of God. Distinguished from atheist."2

Notice that even the OED states that the term agnostic is to distinguish lack of knowledge as to whether God exist as opposed to atheist which says one disbelieves in God's existence.  While I don't believe the OED is the end authority on this matter, philosophers have been using these terms in a similar way for many years as well. (The irony here is that Huxley coined the term agnostic by borrowing from Paul's speech about God in Acts 17:23)3.

So as more and more atheists describe themselves as "agnostic atheists," they are simply trying to claim too much.  Each of these terms describes a single state of belief: whether one believes in God, one doesn't believe in God, or one simply doesn't know whether God exists. It doesn't matter whether you can prove His existence or if you even care to. To be agnostic is to make a claim that distinguishes one from an atheist. It is just as incoherent to claim to be an agnostic atheist as it is to be a married bachelor or finding a two-sided triangle. Such contradictions don't demonstrate a value for rationalism but quite the reverse.

References

1. "Atheist." Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press, n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2014. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/12450.
2. "Agnostic." Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press, n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2014. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/4073.
3. Smart, J. J. C. "Atheism and Agnosticism." Stanford University. Stanford University, 09 Mar. 2004. Web. 08 Dec. 2014. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/atheism-agnosticism/.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Tips for Sharing Your Faith: #3 – Give them enough rope

I've been gathering several tips for Christians to better share and defend their faith when talking with those who hold to different beliefs. If you've missed any of the other posts, you can read them all here.

One of the biggest errors Christians make in faith conversations is they think they are the ones who have to do all of the defending. I've heard from so many Christians how they would be talking with a skeptic who would shoot off about four or five objections to the faith, like "how can you really believe a man rose from the dead, " "How can you know the Bible is from God," or "What makes you think your interpretation is true?" In many of these situations, the Christian will try to answer every objection thrown at him only to find that the objector has many more waiting in the wings.



Sometimes objections are simply thrown out as stall tactics, something I will talk about next time. However, more often it's a signal that the person is desperately trying to hold onto his or her own belief by undercutting yours. But real dialogue doesn't work that way. I have always held that the reason-giving game goes two ways. If someone wants to know why you think the Christian worldview makes sense, you may answer, but then you have every right to ask them about the problems within their own worldview.

Make sure they know what they're talking about

Napoleon has been quoted as saying "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake." When you begin to ask questions, you may be surprised to find that the skeptic doesn't know quite as much about his own beliefs as he thinks. As an example, columnist Thomas Sowell tells of a time where he asked the simple question of "what do you mean by that" and it completely unraveled his challenger:
As someone who has taught at several colleges, I am all too painfully aware of the erosion of thinking over the years. But even after leaving the classroom, I have continued to encounter the same mindlessness everywhere. For example, an environmentalist to whom I presented certain facts responded by saying, "But, they're raping the planet!"

"What specifically does that mean?" I asked.

He was as speechless as someone who had just played the ace of trumps and was then told it was not enough to win.1
When in conversations, you should always make sure the other person can define their terms appropriately. "What do you mean by that?" is a very powerful question that asks the skeptic to go beyond trite or repackaged objection. It also helps you see if they truly have understood the issues involved. It cuts down on misinterpretation, as well. Many times what they mean when they say words that can carry a technical meaning and what we hear can be two different things. Mormons will freely admit there is one god – but they mean one god for them. Clearing up these types of confusion can be a big step forward.

Look for self-refuting statements

Beyond misdefinitions, another key to showing the problems with other worldviews is to identify positions that the skeptic holds that contradict each other. In other words, there are certain positions that cannot possibly both be true at the same time.

Sometimes you can even find contradictions even in single statements. These kinds of statements are known as self-refuting or self-defeating statements. A self-refuting statement is one that is so broad it actually cuts its own legs out from underneath itself. A classic example would be someone saying something like "I cannot say one sentence in English." Obviously, that statement is itself a sentence in English so it cannot possibly be true.

Here are some other self-refuting statements that are common when talking about faith, as well as follow-up questions you can give:
  • "There is no such thing as absolute truth." Ask "is it absolutely true that there is no such thing as absolute truth?"
  • "The only real truth is that which can be proven by science" Ask "Can you tell me what kind of science you have performed to find that out? What experiments did you perform that gave the result of ‘any truth not proven by science is false.'"
  • "You shouldn't push your morality on others." Ask "Are you saying it is morally wrong to push one's morality on another person? Is that your moral position? Why are you trying to push that on me?"
There are many other ways to approach self-refuting statements. I've written a bit about other self-refuting positions here and here. But the big takeaway here is to make sure that you aren't only playing defense in your faith-talks with others. One of the biggest advantages you have as a Christian is the Christian worldview is both externally and internally coherent and it provides a better explanation of the world that other belief systems.

It is not only Christians have to account for and justify their beliefs; everyone does. The reason-giving game goes both ways. So probe a bit and see if you can uncover the other person's confusion about their beliefs. You might be surprised at what you find.

To see all the posts in this series, click here.

References

1. Sowell, Thomas. "Using The Church Burnings To Scapegoat Conservatives." The Seattle Times. The Seattle Times, 26 June 1996. Web. 14 Nov. 2014. http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19960626&slug=2336335.
Image courtesy Frits Ahlefeldt and licensed through the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 Internationa1.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Tips for Sharing Your Faith: #2 – Listen to People

One of the things that irritates me more and more these days is the push for "suggestive selling" at fast food restaurants. Whenever I pull up to a drive-thru, I've usually looked at the menu and I know what I want to order. But when the attendant comes on the speaker she or she first pummels me with asking if I'd enjoy whatever their new special item is. This causes me to regroup for a second and recall my original order. Sometimes even as I'm ordering, they ask "what size would you like" or "would you like to add a XXX for only $1.49?" They will talk right over me when I'm in the middle of an order! I've even had attendants miss my drink order because they were too busy following their script.



I understand that fast food chains want to introduce new options that I may not be aware of, and I understand that some cash registers require the options to be noted in a certain order, but talking over customers while they are trying to order is still terrible customer service. Customers can choose many different restaurants; they're the ones with the money and they should feel like the cashier cares enough to get their order right before offering any add-ons.

Learning to Listen

The same is true when sharing your faith. Yesterday, I began a series of tips to help Christians better share and defend their faith. I said in that article that asking questions is crucial to being an effective ambassador for Christ. When I was first starting out in apologetics, I know that one of my bad habits was to talk with people and as they brought up a certain point, I would try to muster my responses while they were still talking. I was looking at apologetics like a tennis match: if he drops back, I'll rush the net, if he moves to the left, I'll aim for the right.

But this is exactly the wrong way to go about having a conversation! You aren't conversing with another person when you are strategizing instead of listening. Just like the over-zealous cashier in the example above, then you starts planning your responses while the other person is still speaking, your mind isn't focused on what they're saying and you aren't really hearing them. For someone who isn't just trying to fight but really wants answers, this is off-putting and rude. They may not wish to talk about these things with you a second time if they think all you're interested is talking about your position regardless of what they say.

The Second Grade Class Photo Approach

This is why I encourage you to use the "Second Grade Class Photo" approach. Do you remember those awkward class photos that your entire class used to take in elementary school? You know, the ones with the rows of children and the teachers standing on either side. When the school photos were developed and passed back to the students, what's the very first thing you did? You looked for yourself in that picture! That's human nature; we care about how we look or how we are perceived.


When engaging other in conversation, you can use that knowledge to help make sure the other person feels heard and knows you're listening. As I said last time, start by simply asking a lot of questions. I always ask "tell me, why did you come to believe this position?" That's a key question and can take your conversation in a completely different direction. As you ask more questions, you may begin to see that they hold contradictory positions on certain things. This is where tactics like the Columbo tactic can be handy.

Repeat their argument back to them

The Class Photo technique accomplishes a few things. First, it makes the person you're talking with feel important. I've always been told I'm a great conversationalist when the topic is about that person. Secondly, it informs you of their beliefs.  But just as importantly, it makes sure you aren't mischaracterizing their position. We should never offer straw men of someone else's position. The best way to guard against that is to listen and ask if you've understood them correctly. You should be able to repeat the argument back to that person and have them say "Yes, that's what I mean."

Lastly, you should be looking for the main idea or concept that drives their belief. There is usually one real issue underlying a specific position. It could be their not wanting to answer to a god, a woman who is saddled with guilt over her abortion, or simply that they don't understand the historic Christian position. Whatever it is, ask questions like "and why do you hold that view" or "Do you think this is one of the more important reasons you believe in X? If not, what would you say is an important reason?" Many times the issue isn't intellectual but emotional, and finding that out will make for a very different conversation. So, let's learn to listen.

To see all the posts in this series, click here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Tips for Sharing Your Faith: #1 - Slow Down!

I don't think it's too hard to realize that in our secular culture, Christians have faced more and more resistance to their beliefs. Sharing one's faith can be difficult when others seem so antagonistic to it, but there are ways that we as Christians can be more effective in standing up for what we believe and sharing it with others.



In Matthew 11:16 Jesus said "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (ESV). Such a picture shows the adversarial nature that the Christian worldview faces. So, to be wise, we want to make sure we are planning on how to be more effective in having intelligent conversations. It's with that in mind that I want to offer eight tips for sharing and defending your faith to others. These techniques are ones I use all the time and they have been proven to be effective in real-world encounters with others. I'll spend the next couple of weeks going through each, so be sure to come back every day and follow the entire thread.

Many times Christians want to get to the "punch line" too soon!

The first tip is a crucial one because it's a mistake I see Christians make all the time: they go too fast. I've seen so many people who are talking with non-believers and they will jump straight from the question of "Are you a Christian?" to "You must recognize you're a sinner and Jesus came to save you." That's a big leap for someone who isn't familiar with the Christian concepts of the fallen nature of man or redemption. Heck, the person may not believe in the Bible, or that Jesus was even a real person! Christians can be too anxious to "get to the Gospel" when significant groundwork may need to be laid first.

So, my first tip is simply slow down. When Paul visited the synagogues during his missionary journeys, we see that he would sometimes spend weeks discussing why Jesus is the Messiah, and those people already accepted the ideas of God, the Old Testament Scripture, their sinfulness, and the need for a Messiah to come. The Christian today doesn't know if the one with whom they're speaking holds to any of those things.

It's hard to change beliefs

Remember that when you are discussing Christianity with another, what you are really doing is asking that person to change his or her beliefs. As I've written before, that's not an easy task. No one can force themselves to believe anything. Beliefs change only through the exposure to new evidence or experiences or seeing a contradiction in the belief itself. That means it takes time and purpose to provide new ideas and explore existing beliefs the other person holds.  Before you launch into a case for your own view, here are a few questions you should ask yourself to make sure you properly understand the other person's position:
  • What does this person actually believe?  Do I have it right?
  • Why do they believe that way?  Is this an emotional rather than intellectual position?
  • What do they know and what are they assuming?
This means that apologetics and evangelism starts by asking questions instead of making statements. Once you can answer each of the questions above, you should be able to build a better foundation for your arguments.

To see all the posts in this series, click here.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Hot Button Issues in Islam

When talking about Islam, certain issues always seem to rise to the top of everyone's minds. How does Muhammad compare with Jesus? Is Islam really a religion of peace? What does Jihad really mean? And what about the Crusades? In this podcast series, Lenny will equip Christians to better understand these trigger points when witnessing to your Muslim neighbor.


To subscribe to the Come Reason podcast, click here.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

ISIS, Jihad, and the Model of Muhammad

CNN just published an interview with Secretary of State John Kerry commenting on the recent US response to the Islamic State's barbarism in Syria and Iraq. At the beginning of the interview, Kerry stressed that the US is heading a coalition of forces, including Muslim nations, in its fight against ISIS (although the New York Times reports that the idea of a coalition may be overstated.)  Kerry said the effort to involve nations such as Saudi Arabia was a "major effort to reclaim Islam by Muslims, by those to whom it belongs."1


Obviously as Secretary of State, Kerry's first goal is to create as much consensus with the nations of the Middle East as possible, even though most have done nothing to stop the carnage ISIS is creating in their own back yards. However, his claim (echoing President Obama) that the Islamic State is somehow not Muslim or a distortion of Islam needs to be reconsidered. The same claims have been offered since 9/11, with many making the comparison that ISIS or Al Qaeda is to Islam as the KKK is to Christianity.

To be clear, I don't doubt that many Muslim groups have been shocked and horrified at the actions of ISIS.  It is also true that the vast majority of ISIS' targets have been Muslim.  And I believe the leaders of those sects of Islam that take a more moderate view of the Qur'an teach a form of Islam that would say the killing of civilians is wrong. However, that doesn't mean that these Muslims are the definitive version of Islam. The question actually is: "Whose interpretation of Islam is correct?"

The Problem of Context

When one looks at both Islam and Christianity, there are a couple of ways to establish whether the beliefs that one holds align with the teachings of the faith. The first is to look at the Scriptures of that faith itself and see how your actions line up. For example, the Bible contains passages such as Judges 19:22-29 where a Levite cut his concubine into twelve pieces after the men of Gibeah had raped her all night. But the context shows that neither the rape nor the response of sending the girl's dismembered body is approved in scripture. In fact, the refrain of "everyone did what was right in their own eyes" is replete throughout the text of Judges, and the writer here makes the actions of the Gibeonites parallel to the men of Sodom, which is a clear condemnation on them.

In the Qur'an there are many verses known as the "sword verses" that teach about fighting and conquering the enemy. Immediately, Sura 47:4-6 comes to mind:
Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks; At length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them): thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom: Until the war lays down its burdens. Thus (are ye commanded): but if it had been Allah's Will, He could certainly have exacted retribution from them (Himself); but (He lets you fight) in order to test you, some with others. But those who are slain in the Way of Allah,- He will never let their deeds be lost. Soon will He guide them and improve their condition, And admit them to the Garden which He has announced for them.2
The call to "smite at their necks" until the enemy is "subdued' (which many clerics read as "slaughtered") is completely natural from the text. More moderate Muslims would interpret these verses in a more poetic fashion, not calling on the actual beheading of unbelievers but as symbolic one. The problem is that unlike the Biblical books, the Qur'an isn't set up in a narrative style. Several verses may deal with one issue and the next set may switch topics completely. It's much more akin to reading the book of Proverbs than a historical narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. That means that either interpretation could be legitimately derived from the text.

The Model of Muhammad

Because context doesn't really answer the question of the meaning of Islam, one must look to another definitive source to get a better understanding of what the faith really teaches. The best way to do that is to look at the person that exemplifies that faith and see how he behaved and what he valued. For Christians, the model is Jesus Christ himself. Christians are to look at Jesus' life, see how he would sacrifice his own personal comfort for the benefit of others, and ultimately lay down his life for his friends.

In Islam, Muhammad is the model. In fact, the Qur'an teaches this as well.  Sura 33:21 reads, "Ye have indeed in the Apostle of God a beautiful pattern (of conduct) for anyone whose hope is in God and in the final day."3 So, we can glean more about Islam from the pattern of conduct of Muhammad himself. Looking there, we learn that Muhammad did in fact command beheadings. In fact, after Muhammad had taken control of Medina he still went out and beheaded the Jews who had resisted him there. He could have exiled them, but chose instead to kill all of the Jewish men and boys from around twelve and up. Realize that this was no small cohort, either, with estimates ranging from a low of 300 to possibly even 800 or 900 people. In the Muslim Hadith, which are holy books that recount the actions of Islam‘s prophet, one Jewish captive reports:
I was among the captives of Banu [tribe] Qurayzah. They (the Companions) examined us, and those who had begun to grow hair (pubes) were killed, and those who had not were not killed. I was among those who had not grown hair.4
Of course, this isn't the only record of Muhammad and his army. It is well known that Muhammad would lead raids on caravans heading toward Mecca, stealing whatever he wished and he ultimately marched his army into Mecca, conquering it with barely a fight. The Hadith of Abu Dawud explains, "The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: The best of the actions is to love for the sake of Allah and to hate for the sake of Allah."5

Who Models Islam More Closely?

Of course, ISIS has several other problems, such as killing Muslims, which is explicitly condemned in the Qur'an. But they would counter that because the moderates have reinterpreted the Qur'an and they have not followed the Islamic law on other issues, these should be considered unbelievers and therefore should be attacked accordingly.

All in all, it isn't fair to say that ISIS is the Muslim equivalent of the KKK. The Klan's actions are clearly the opposite of both the teachings and actions of Jesus, but ISIS is acting in ways that Muhammad himself acted when he faced his enemies. They may not believe other Muslims are faithful, and they would be wrong on that point, but they cannot be said to be a misrepresentation of Islam itself. They are simply being consistent with both their understanding of their scriptures and the model of their prophet.

References

1. Caldwell, Leigh Ann, Holly Yan, and Gul Tuysuz. "John Kerry: The Fight against ISIS Is 'going to Go On'" CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 25 Sept. 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/24/politics/kerry-on-isis/index.html .
2. Sura 47:4-6. Holy Qur'an (Yusuf Ali translation.) Quran.com. http://quran.com/47
3. Sura 33:21. Holy Qur'an (Yusuf Ali translation.) Quran.com. http://quran.com/33
4. Abu-Dawud, Book 38, Number 4390."(Prescribed Punishments)" Partial translation of Sunan Abu-Dawud. University of Southern California Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement. Sep 24, 2014. http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/hadith/abudawud/038-sat.php#038.4390
5. Abu-Dawud, Book 40, Number 4=4582."(Prescribed Punishments)" Partial translation of Sunan Abu-Dawud. University of Southern California Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement. Sep 24, 2014. http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/hadith/abudawud/040-sat.php#040.4582

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

10 Conflicting Beliefs of Modern Atheism

Recently, I saw an article by Ben Johnson on Life Site News listing "15 contradictions you have to believe to fit in with pop culture." The article was clever enough and it dealt mostly with the tension of conflicting beliefs of those who would hold up abortion as acceptable. I decided to take a stab at a similar list, looking at beliefs of the pop atheist community and how some of their views sit in conflict with one another. Below are ten beliefs that I've found most atheists to hold, and how they sit in conflict with other affirmations. I've provided links to articles I've written that explore each of these statements a bit more. For item #5, though, you'll have to grab a copy of True Reason and read my chapter on the argument from reason to get a fully developed argument.


  1. Apparent design in creation can usually be explained, even if the explanation appeals to transitions and development even when science has absolutely no clue as to how such development occurred. However, appealing to a designer should be immediately dismissed as a "God of the Gaps" argument.
  2. Good and evil are not objective, but simply the shared preferences of individual cultures and they can change from culture to culture – unless one is talking about the God of the Bible.  He's objectively evil.
  3. Since miracles are much more rare than our everyday experiences, it would be more reasonable to ascribe a seemingly inexplicable event to possible sources we know could account for the event. However, assuming something like the cell that shows fantastic complexity and apparent design is actually the product of design is completely unreasonable.
  4. The fact that divergent religious claims try to explain the existence of the cosmos prove that all religions are false while the fact that there are divergent scientific theories seeking to explain the existence of the cosmos is how knowledge is acquired and is necessary to eventually arrive at the right conclusion.
  5. Reason is the only reliable way to establish what is true, and we reason with brains that evolved only for survival value with no regard for the truth of a belief.
  6. Science is a field of study centered in experimentation and observation and science dictates that life came from nonliving material, even though in the entire history of mankind, no one has ever once observed life coming from non-life.
  7. It is only through planning, intelligence, and hard work that scientist have been able to extend the lives of human beings while the very life they extend is ultimately the product of no planning, no intelligence, and mere accident.
  8. The Universe came into existence from nothing – and that nothing is made up of at least two things: quantum fluctuations and time.
  9. All human beings are the product of evolutionary forces including survival of the fittest, which means that only those who hold the best attributes will advance the species, but all human beings are completely equal and no one is more valuable than another.
  10. Belief in God is a delusion, religion is a virus and it is morally wrong to push religious beliefs on other by expressing them in invocations or other community-centered meetings, which is why atheists seek to push their belief of the nonexistence of God upon all aspects of society.
Can you come up with any more? Let me know and I'll publish the best ones here.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Is Gandhi a Better Model for Christians?


A post from last week discussing the difficulties in communicating with those of different backgrounds inspired several comments from Nate. He commented three times (most of which were quotes taken out of context) but prefaced those with a couple of paragraphs that seemed antagonistic, even though nothing he wrote addresses the post's central argument. First off, Nate responds with a bit of confusion between outward actions versus beliefs:
I would say, let Gandhi serve as a caution to Christians today that when you embody the teachings of Jesus, you may starve, be beaten, ridiculed, misunderstood, alienated, be poor.....Gandhi lived more like Christ than any Christian I have ever seen (with my own eyes), and yet here we are cautioning other Christians to his story. Hmmm... seems as though it should be the other way around.
Nate seems to be upset that I would use Gandhi for a blog post discussing Christianity at all, although I'm not sure why. I never said Gandhi was a bad man nor did I say that he didn't do great things. I affirm he did. As to his caution, Nate is obviously unaware of the history of Christianity. Jesus taught that we would be starved, beaten, ridiculed, misunderstood (even in blog posts, perhaps?), alienated, and poor. The Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:1-11) starts with this and there is a HUGE historical record of Christians bettering society at extreme cost to themselves. Simply look at stories like St. Telemachus, David Livingstone, William Wilberforce, Father Damien, Corrie ten Boom, Mother Theresa, and Jim Elliott just to name a few. Paul the apostle recounts his sufferings as well in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, where he writes:
Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.1
Paul lays out just some of his sufferings in spreading the gospel, and they are more than nearly all Christians face today, to be sure. However, notice how Paul opens the list. He writes, "Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors." If one cares about what Paul is actually trying to communicate, he or she would stop and ask why the apostle qualified his list.

Christianity isn't about the suffering

The answer is simple; Paul is saying that it isn't suffering that makes a person a real Christian. Paul is continuing a thought he began in chapter 10 where he is defending his authority to correct the wayward church at Corinth. (He doesn't finish his thought until the end of chapter 12, so anyone who wishes to understand the passage above needs to read all three chapters.) Basically, Paul says that boasting in sufferings or what one does is nothing. It is what one believes about Jesus that matters. That's why he says his battle is spiritual and it is fought in the realm of beliefs: "We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5).

The big point here is that sufferings, beatings, and such are not the things that make one "live more like a Christian." That's not biblical; it's works-based nonsense. Nate didn't expressly say so, but it is what his comment (along with past comments) implied. Corinth was a city of great wealth, and the Christians there weren't poor like the church in Judea. That's why Paul in both his letters asks them to donate money for the Christians in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:1, 2 Cor. 9:6 ff). The Corinthians had huge problems with sexual immorality, too. Yet, even with a church in a prosperous city, where they had large feasts, and fell into unmentionable sexual sin, Paul still considered them Christians.

Of my post, Nate writes, "here we are cautioning other Christians to his story. Hmmm... seems as though it should be the other way around." Perhaps he needs to read the post again. The caution is about how we communicate with others, not how Gandhi lived. What I argued was that people with a western worldview and people with an eastern worldview could be talking past each other and not know it. The Christians in Gandhi's life failed to understand the Hindu and Janist concepts that all can become divine in the same way God is divine. (This is a mistake Nate makes in another comment, which I will address tomorrow.)

My caution was aimed towards Christians to make sure one asks instead of assumes what the other person believes. I would hope that such caution applies to carefully reading blog posts as well, to ensure one's criticism applies.

Gandhi is not a good model for Christians

Gandhi was not a Christian. He denied it himself and to say he lived more like Christ simply ignores the more fundamental teachings of Jesus. Jesus was asked once which is the greatest commandment? We're talking about the greatest commandment, now, the greatest. The most important one. I want to emphasize this so no one says "but what about this teaching on suffering or sacrifice?" This is the thing that Jesus holds as first and foremost. If you don't have this, you have nothing.

Jesus responded to this question with the definitive monotheistic text, quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment" (Matt 22:37). Gandhi failed at this. He didn't love the God of  Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the way that Jesus said. Gandhi was a polytheist who believed that even he could become God some day. Such talk was blasphemy. So, Gandhi is not Christ-like in the most important way. Therefore, Gandhi doesn't serve as a model for Christians, but Jesus served as a model for Gandhi. Just after Gandhi talked of his distaste for the Old Testament, he commented on the New:
But the New Testament produced a different impression, especially the Sermon on the Mount which went straight to my heart. I compared it with the Gita. The verses, 'But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man take away thy coat let him have thy cloak too,' delighted me beyond measure and put me in mind of Shamal Bhatt's 'For a bowl of water, give a goodly meal' etc. My young mind tried to unify the teaching of the Gita, The Light of Asia and the Sermon on the Mount. That renunciation was the highest form of religion appealed to me greatly.

This reading whetted my appetite for studying the lives of other religious teachers. A friend recommended Carlyle's Heroes and Hero-Worship. I read the chapter on the Hero as a prophet and learnt of the Prophet's greatness and bravery and austere living.

Beyond this acquaintance with religion I could not go at the moment, as reading for the examination left me scarcely any time for outside subjects. But I took mental note of the fact that I should read more religious books and acquaint myself with all the principal religions (emphasis added). 3
It was the Sermon on the Mount that spurred Gandhi to become more religiously aware. Jesus' words awakened him to even the teachings of Hinduism that had a parallel to the Sermon's. Selflessness and nonviolence were prompted in Gandhi from Jesus' teachings. Christian teachings had a huge influence on his nonviolent practice. So, Christians can look to Jesus' teachings and get everything that Nate has said wiithout ever looking to Gandhi. But one cannot take parts of Jesus' teachings in isolation. One must take all of Jesus' teachings to understand them. Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh and He said that His authority rested on the fact that he would rise again. As C. S. Lewis rightly pointed out:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.4
In my next post, I will address Nate's confusion on the deity of Jesus and his claim that Christianity somehow teaches we are all God in the same way that Jesus is God.

References

1. The ESV Study Bible, The English Standard Version. (Wheaton, Il: Crossway, 2008) Print. .2237-2238.
2Ibid.
3. Gandhi, Mahatma. An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth. (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Reprint of the Public Affairs Press, Washington, DC, 1948 edition). 107.

4Lewis, Clive Staples. Mere Christianity. (New York: Macmillian Pub. Co., 1952). 55-56.
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