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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 religion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label religion. Show all posts

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Pornography, Cannibalism, and Debasing Humanity through Non-Belief



In the early 1970s, there was a concerted effort to mainstream pornography. Not only did several mainstream studio/high production value films choose to feature nudity and overt sex scenes, but the pornographic film Deep Throat became the center of attention across the nation. Even trusted middle American publication Time magazine produced a feature on Deep Throat,1 giving a smut film the air of credibility.2 The New York Times writer Ralph Blumenthal commented that the film had "become a premier topic of cocktail‐party and dinner‐table conversation in Manhattan drawing rooms, Long Island beach cottages and ski country A‐frames. It has, in short, engendered a kind of porno chic."3 Not discussed were the countless number of victims in pornography's wake. Linda Boreman, billed as Lovelace in the film, has said "When you see the movie Deep Throat you are watching me being raped. It is a crime that movie is still showing; there was a gun to my head the entire time."

The trend towards porno-chic should have served as a caution. Sexual freedom advocates claimed licentiousness as liberation, arguing that old-fashioned morals were repressive and holding society back. However, the opposite has proven true. Today, one doesn't even have to look at naked people to see it.

Reza Aslan's interaction with a small extremist Hindu group of Aghori nomads where his face is smeared with the cremated ashes of the dead and he actually joins them in eating brains from the deceased and drinking from a human skull4 is as offensive and pornographic as any sexually explicit scene ever filmed. Aslan's choosing to capture the grotesque rituals of this tiny sect, not even representative of Hindus, is offered for shock value and to titillate. It reminds me of citizen spectators who stretch to view mangled bodies after an automobile accident: they feign horror as they struggle to see the carnage up close.

Robbing Human Worth for Ratings

Christianity has always held that human beings are intrinsically valuable. Human bodies are not a tool separate from the person, but part of what makes a person complete. Therefore the human body has intrinsic worth. Aslan's participation in eating brains is like a news reporter decrying the tragedy of the accident while zooming in for a close-up of the corpse. The very act itself is defiling and debases the value of the deceased. The Aztecs were noted for their human sacrifices, but we certainly don't need to recreate that today in order to understand their faith. Neither does any civilized person need to participate in cannibalism to understand the faith of this sect.

Here's the point: as our society abandons its Judeo-Christian ethic, it becomes more uncivilized by tolerating more and more acts of degradation. Pornography was previously seen as a vice that caters to man's animal instincts rather than his higher nature as a rational, civilized being. Newspapers wouldn't run pornography advertisements and "smut" carried a strong social stigma. Now, we have the most popular sit-coms writing full episodes about how the protagonists get to obsessively watch the free porn channel on their television set for a week.

Atheists are quick to charge that religion poisons everything and the world would be better without its constraints. They're wrong. No one would like to see their beloved parent or grandparent's body used as food for ritual or for ratings. It robs them of their dignity. Aslan is a secularist and he isn't behaving any better than these Aghori. CNN, in airing the piece, is also culpable. Porno-chic now includes mainstreaming cannibalism. What will be next?

References

1. "The Sexes: Wonder Woman." Time. Time Inc., 15 Jan. 1973. Web. 04 Apr. 2017. http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,906765,00.html.
2. See this quote from Carolyn Bronstein: "The editors of the Los Angeles Times decided to stop bowdlerizing the Pussycat copy, figuring if small-town America could tolerate exposure to Deep Throat in the pages of its hallowed news weekly, then Californians could surely handle some movie ads." in Battling Pornography: The American Feminist Anti-pornography Movement; 1976 - 1986. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013. 63. Print.
3. Blumenthal, Ralph. ""Hard‐core" Grows Fashionable—and Very Profitable." The New York Times. The New York Times, 21 Jan. 1973. Web. 04 Apr. 2017. http://www.nytimes.com/1973/01/21/archives/pornochic-hardcore-grows-fashionableand-very-profitable.html.
4. Safi, Michael. "Reza Aslan Outrages Hindus by Eating Human Brains in CNN Documentary." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 10 Mar. 2017. Web. 06 Apr. 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/10/reza-aslan-criticised-for-documentary-on-cannibalistic-hindus.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Does Religion "Fly You Into Buildings"?


Physicist and anti-theist Victor Stenger famously claimed "Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings." This kind of throwaway line is standard fare for the new atheist types and is often repeated via memes shared on social media sites. Stenger isn't the only one who thinks religion is a way to manipulate others into doing immoral acts. Sam Harris claimed "One of the most pernicious effects of religion is that it tends to divorce morality from the reality of human and animal suffering. Religion allows people to imagine that their concerns are moral when they are not."1

I'm not sure how Harris concluded that religion divorces morality from suffering. If he were a true student of world religions he would recognize that the question of human suffering is the primary focus of most faiths. Hindus seek to be come closer to the divine, eliminating the suffering associated with the cycle of reincarnation. Buddhists teach balance to avoid pain and suffering. Islam holds suffering as Christianity focuses on eliminating suffering by eliminating sin and its consequences. While I don't agree with the underlying assumptions of other faiths, it is disingenuous to say that religion divorces morality from suffering. The problem of human suffering is front and center in religious faith.

What about Jihadists?

 So how do we explain the ISIS or Al Qaeda suicide bombers then? Isn't it obvious that such horrendous acts are religiously motivated? I would say it's true only in part. Islam is a faith that offers Muhammad as its exemplar—the model Muslim to which all others should aspire. Muhammad was a warrior who slaughtered innocents and the famous "sword verses" of the Qur'an commands the faithful to "slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush." (Sura 9:5) and "When you encounter the unbeliever, strike off their heads until you have made a great slaughter among them" (Sura 47:4). Also, the Qur'an promises a reward to the warrior who dies in his fight for Islam: "So let them fight in the way of God who sell the present life for the world to come; and whosoever fights in the way of God and is slain, or conquers, We shall bring him a mighty wage" (Sura 4:74).

Because Islam offers both the commands of the Qur'an and the example of Muhammad, it allows for jihadists to kill themselves while killing the enemy in the name of martyrdom. But that doesn't mean suicide terrorism is the first resort of Muslims. In fact, it turns out that suicide terrorism isn't a historically popular strategy for followers of Islam. Robert Pape in his book Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism notes that there were no suicide attacks by Muslims or any other groups from 1945 to 1980. From 1980 through 2003, Pape catalogued 315 suicide terrorism campaigns around the world with 462 individual suicide terrorists.2 Pape notes that "every suicide campaign from 1980 to 2003 has had as a major objective –or as its central objective—coercing a foreign government that has military forces in what they see as their homeland to take those forces out." 3Pape concludes, "The bottom line, then, is that suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation."4 So, politics and power are the real motivation for terrorist campaigns. It thrives in Islam because the belief system doesn't contradict its use.

What about the Destructive Power of Science?

The biggest problem with Stenger's quip is it is so self-selective. It gives a rosy picture of science by the example of one of our greate3st achievements and then contrasts it with one of our greatest horrors. But it isn't "science" that flies us to the moon. It's human beings who do that. Science allows human beings to understand thrust and gravity. It is a tool to help us accomplish whatever goals we have. Humans used science to develop the planes that Stenger seems to be so worried about, but he doesn't mention that. We use science to construct better weapons, too, producing some of them most incredible destructive powers on earth. Without science, we would never have had a Hiroshima or Nagasaki.  And without religion, we would never have a Mother Theresa or a Father Damien.

The Golden Rule and the concept of the Good Samaritan find their origin in Christianity.  Dr. Alvin J. Schmidt explains that it was the teachings of Jesus that "elevated brutish standards of morality, halted infanticide, enhanced human life, emancipated women, abolished slavery, inspired charities and relief organizations, created hospitals, established orphanages, and founded schools."5

Harris and Stenger's comments not only show their bias, but they are demonstrably wrong. They have simply created straw men in order to easily knock them down. Perhaps if they showed a little more Christian charity toward those with whom they disagree, they wouldn't be so nasty and could see things a bit more clearly.

References

1. Harris, Sam. Letter to a Christian Nation. New York: Vintage, 2006. Print.
2. Pape, Robert Anthony. Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. New York: Random House, 2005. Print. 14-16.
3. Pape, 2005. 42.
4. Pape, 2005. 23.
5. Schmidt, Alvin J. How Christianity Changed the World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008. 8.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Christianity, Judaism, and Sharing the Messiah (podcast)



How should Christians witness to Jewish friend and neighbors? We share so much, yet the Judaism of today is not the same as what was practiced in the times of the Old Testament. Grab these lessons to learn ways we can share Jesus with the Jews.
To hear more podcasts from Come Reason, subscribe via iTunes or through our RSS feed. You can also visit our podcast page here.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Islam, Jihad, and Claims of a Religion of Peace



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

Monday, June 20, 2016

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?



Last December, a Wheaton College professor ignited a firestorm when she created a Facebook post including a statement that Muslims and Christians "worship the same God." This exposed a very interesting debate that has gone on within Christendom for some time with devote Christians and good thinkers coming down on both sides of the issue.

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? The question may not be as easy as it first appears. Certainly, there are vast differences in the way each faith understands the nature and attributes of God. Jews and Christians hold to a God that is all-loving and who revealed himself through the Old Testament prophets and writings. Christians would go on to distinguish God as a Triune being, one who is three in persons but single in essence. Muslims would reject these descriptions.

However, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam do share some beliefs about God. Each of the faiths are monotheistic in what can be termed a classically theistic way. That is, each understands God as a being who is eternal, self-existing, and necessary. There is no conceivable universe where God does not exist, for any possible universe must have its origin in God. Realize by defining God this way, one defines God as a unique being, distinct from everything else. There can only be one necessary being. So if each faith points to the necessary being as their God, doesn't that mean we worship the same God?

Getting God's Properties Wrong

Philosopher Francis Beckwith argues that we must be talking about the same being. At his blog, Beckwith argues that while Muslims may get many properties attributed to God wrong, that in itself doesn't invalidate the fact they are referring to the God recognized by Christians and Jews. He explains:
But doesn't Christianity affirm that God is a Trinity while Muslims deny it? Wouldn't this mean that they indeed worship different "Gods"? Not necessarily. Consider this example. Imagine that Fred believes that the evidence is convincing that Thomas Jefferson (TJ) sired several children with his slave Sally Hemings (SH), and thus Fred believes that TJ has the property of "being a father to several of SHs children." On the other hand, suppose Bob does not find the evidence convincing and thus believes that TJ does not have the property of "being a father to several of SHs children."

Would it follow from this that Fred and Bob do not believe that the Third President of the United States was the same man? Of course not. In the same way, Abraham and Moses did not believe that God is a Trinity, but St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Billy Graham do. Does that mean that Augustine, Aquinas, and Graham do not worship the same God as Abraham and Moses? Again, of course not. The fact that one may have incomplete knowledge or hold a false belief about another person – whether human or divine – does not mean that someone who has better or truer knowledge about that person is not thinking about the same person.1

Distorting God Beyond Recognition

I appreciate Beckwith's point. Are Christians willing to say that Abraham didn't worship the same God we do because he wouldn't have ascribed the property "Trinity" to him? Yet, I don't think his analogy is quite correct. The Trinity is not the only aspect of God where there is division. The points at which Fred and Bob disagree about Jefferson are not substantial to describing the third president one way or the other. However, if Fred held that TJ was born in Virginia in 1743 and wrote the Declaration of independence while Bob held that TJ was born in Chicago in 1920 and played a trumpet, then it is his assumption that he is speaking about the third president of the U.S. that is in error. There are too many points of difference between the descriptions.

Here's the problem. The Muslim conception of God reminds me of what you get out of a pressed penny machine at Disney land or some other tourist spot. You start with a penny, which is recognized as legal tender and must be recognized as payment for debts in the U.S.2 If you owe a creditor $50, he is obligated to accept 5000 pennies as payment. However, let's say you ran all 5,000 pennies though the Disneyland penny press so they now look like the image at the top of this post. The press distorted the penny so much it can no longer be called a penny. It can no longer be used as legal tender; it's value is only measured by the price of  souvenir's copper bullion on the open market.3

This is exactly what Islam has done to the concept of God. While it began with the classically theist conception of God from the Jews and Christians, it has squished, stretched and distorted the description of God to the point where it has become unrecognizable by Christians or Jews. The Islamic God is capable of deception and evil (Surah 4.142, 14.4). He is not only non-Trinitarian, but anti-Trinitarian claiming that Christians are sentenced to hell (5.72). The Islamic god is not a father with whom one may develop a personal relationship (5.18).The Islamic God can and does change his mind, not in an anthropomorphized or conditional way, but a true change of intent. The God of Islam is actually capricious and not at all trustworthy.

When one looks at how the Allah is described in the Qur'an, it becomes clear that the properties he holds are not those of a necessary being. The descriptions don't fit; they're completely out of place and undermine the idea of a God who is the source of morality, love, and existence. To claim the Islamic God the same necessary being referred to by Christians like trying to use a pressed penny in a gumball machine. It simply doesn't fit.

References

1. Beckwith, Francis J. "Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?" The Catholic Thing. The Catholic Thing, 16 Dec. 2015. Web. 20 June 2016. https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2015/12/17/do-muslims-and-christians-worship-the-same-god/.
2. "Legal Tender Status." Resource Center. United States Treasury, 4 Jan. 2011. Web. 20 June 2016. https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/faqs/Currency/Pages/legal-tender.aspx.
3. "Mutilated Currency and Bent or Partial Coin." Federal Reserve Bank Services. Federal Reserve Banks, 2016. Web. 20 June 2016. https://www.frbservices.org/operations/currency/mutilated_currency_and_coin.html.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Attacking Prayer Shows How Far Culture Has Fallen

The news was overwhelming and sad. Fourteen people were killed by a man and woman in San Bernardino. As the events are still unfolding, we don't yet have a clear picture of what their motives were or how much of the attack was planned. We don't know if this was a planned terrorist target, a reaction by a disgruntled employee, or something else. It's best not to speculate until the facts are in.

However, the shock of the events had people wanting to express themselves so the first reaction people had was to pray for the comfort of the victims' families and any injured in the attack. Government officials and presidential candidates offered public statements to that effect. Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted "Please keep the victims of #SanBernardino, California in your prayers." Senator Ted Cruz tweeted, "Our prayers are with the victims, their families, and the first responders in San Bernardino who willingly go into harm's way to save others." These sentiments were joined by many thousands of others.

The turn in all this was the snide reaction of others to the idea of praying in response to a tragedy. Cruz's tweet was met with comments like these:

Those in the media also assaulted any public call for prayer, like the headline of the New York Daily News:


The Huffington Post ran a piece with the lede "Another Mass Shooting, Another Deluge Of Tweeted Prayers: Seems to have been an ineffective strategy so far."

The fact that one's commendation of prayer is now condemned by media and a segment of the general public shows just how far down the rabbit hole our culture has fallen. I realize that much of these railings against prayer are by people and organizations who want to establish gun control laws. But why would they choose the encouragement of prayer as their target when their motivations are a political stance? How does that follow? We don't know anything about where or how the killers got their guns, why they were shooting people, or what their ultimate objectives were. Therefore, we cannot know that any kind of gun control measures would be effectual at all. The killers had also constructed at least three bombs, which were defused by authorities. How come no one is asking for more bomb-control legislation?

More tellingly, this reaction shows just how out of touch these folks are with religious ideas as elementary as prayer. Notice the theme in the incendiary reactions to prayer. They all talk as if we are praying God would somehow stop all shootings. That isn't what people were being asked to do. They are praying for a safe resolution to the evil actions committed by sinful human beings. They are being asked to petition for a level of solace for the victims' families. They are praying for the recognition that whether it's a gun, homemade bombs, knives, airplanes, or something else, the evil inherent in mankind will continue to express itself in the death of others until Jesus comes back.

Prayer is one way we demonstrate that we as human beings don't have all the answers. We can try to reduce the evil we see in the world to some extent, but to think that we don't need prayer because we can legislate all evil away is an uncanny mix of stupidity and hubris. We need prayer not only so God may offer grace to those suffering, but to remind ourselves that we are beholden and answerable to an authority above ourselves. And those who pray are more likely to offer grace and mercy in other, more tangible ways as well. So, let's encourage prayer.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Three Ways Religions Pluralism Fails



Is it bigoted to claim that Christianity is the exclusive way God desires humanity to approach him? Many people think so, citing the importance of being tolerant of others' beliefs. But to simply allow a lot of different religious systems exist within a society would be a culture that allows for religious liberty or religious diversity. Episcopal Bishop John S. Spong has stated, "The idea that Jesus is the only way to God or that only those who have been washed in the blood of Christ are ever to be listed among the saved, has become anathema and even dangerous in our shrinking world."1

In today's parlance, tolerance doesn't mean we should allow others to practice their faith even though we believe it is false. Rather, it is interpreted to mean all religions are equally true or worthy. That seems to be the positon taken by Scotty McLennan, Dean of Religious Life at Stanford University, who preached a sermon entitled "Religious Pluralism as the Truth" at Stanford Memorial Church. He opened that message by declaring:
There are many roads to the top of the spiritual mountain. There's not just one way through Jesus Christ. As a Christian pluralist, I personally affirm Jesus as my way, as my Lord and Savior, but I also believe that the exclusivist claim is wrong. I have no doubt that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, at least figuratively speaking, but I believe that Moses, Muhammad, Krishna, the Buddha and Socrates do too, among others. They're all there at the top of the metaphorical spiritual mountain — they are all the way and the truth and the life — and no one comes to the Father except through a multitude of them, or by having walked in many footsteps, or by being in a large presence (whether one fully realizes that or not).2
I wonder just how carefully those who hold to such a view have considered their position. It seems to me that to hold the idea of equal worth of all religious faiths, one is forced into one of three positions: all faiths are true, all faiths are false, or the very concepts of true and false are meaningless. I'd like to look at these one at a time and see if they make any sense.

Knee-jerk Pluralism — "They're All True"

The first way one may intend the statement all religions are "way and the truth and the life' would be to make the claim that all religions are equally true. This may be what Dean McLennan is asserting above. However, as I demonstrated in a recent article, such claims make no logical sense. God cannot be the Christian's Triune deity and the Muslim's monadic deity and the Advaita's brahman (the non-personal ultimate soul of the universe3) as well. These are simply contradictory claims and logic tells us it is unreasonable to believe contradictions.

Sophisticated Pluralism — "They're All False"

Sometimes academics will recognize the contradictory nature of different faiths, but still hold a sincere belief that all religions offer the same worth. They are simply trying to communicate that all religions are in fact feeble attempts to express our approach to the divine. In other words, religions are simply cultural developments to explain the unknown or to establish certain moral guidelines and frameworks for the benefit of their particular society and the true reality is simply unknowable. One proponent of this view is philosopher John Hick who writes, "We cannot attribute to the Real a se any intrinsic attributes, such as being personal or nonpersonal, good or evil, purposive or nonpurposive, substance or process, even one or many… It is only as humanly thought or experienced that the Real fits into our human categories."4

This strikes me as an equivocation. It isn't illogical to hold the possibility that all faiths have it wrong, but it doesn't explain anything. It leaves us as agnostics who want to feel the warm-fuzzies of transcendence. But if everything is wrong, why should anyone believe there's a transcendent reality at all? Also, I don't think such a position takes the details of faith seriously enough. There are reasons why I am a Christian, good solid, rational reasons. Those should not be dismissed so easily.

Religious Relativism — "There Is No Truth"

The last option for the pluralist is to simply discount the notion of religious truth altogether. Alister McGrath summed up the view with the question, "How can Christianity's claims to truth be taken seriously when there are so many rival alternatives and when 'truth' itself has become a devalued notion? No one can lay claim to truth. It is all a question of perspective."5 Such a person would hold there is no way anyone can tell what is true since truth is different for each person. Therefore, beliefs are a personal matter based on the holder's perspective and they become true for that person.

However, to hold this is to become a relativist and give up any idea that statements of God have any significance at all. We cannot ascribe the existence of the universe, why there's something rather than nothing to God because we cannot make any meaningful statements about God that would be objectively true. The problem becomes in the grounding of the belief that "No one can lay claim to [religious] truth." How does the religious relativist know that claim is true? That strikes me as a claim about ultimate reality that applies to all people. How can one be so sure this belief objectively holds and then dismiss all other ultimate claims about reality as preferences and not objective?

Each of the three different approaches one must take to hold to religious pluralism fails in some way. Thus, exclusivist claims about religion are a much more rational position to hold.

References

1. Spong, John Shelby. A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith Is Dying and How a New Faith Is Being Born. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001. Print. 179.
2. McLellan, Scotty. "Religious Pluralism as the Truth." Stanford Office for Religious Life. Office for Religious Life, Stanford University. 22 May, 2011. Web. 14 Oct 2015. http://web.stanford.edu/group/religiouslife/cgi-bin/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/sermon_5-22-11_McLennan1.pdf
3. "Brahman | Hindu Concept." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 5 Mar. 2015. Web. 14 Oct. 2015. http://www.britannica.com/topic/brahman-Hindu-concept.
4. Hick, John. "A Pluralist View." Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World. Ed. Dennis L. Okholm and Timothy R. Phillips. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1996. 50. Print.
5. McGrath, Alister E. "Understanding and Responding to Moral Pluralism." Center for Applied Christian Ethic. Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois. February, 1994. 5. Web 14 Oct 2015. http://www.wheaton.edu/~/media/files/centers-and-institutes/cace/booklets/moralpluralism.pdf
Image courtesy Jyri Engestrom. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Is God An Egomaniac In Desiring Worship? (video)



One of the more flimsy objections to the concept of God I've heard is "Why would God create beings so they could just turn around and praise him? Doesn't that seem needy or egotistical? Why does an all-powerful God need us to worship him?" The question displays both a superficial understanding of what worship is and how it shapes the believer. It also demonstrates an amazing level of arrogance by the person who thinks that he should never have to show deference to his creator.

In this short video, Lenny explains why t is both decent and proper that human beings should worship a God of love who created them.

   

Friday, October 09, 2015

Why "Many Ways to God" Makes No Sense



Oprah had a captive audience as she spoke on faith and belief. Referencing the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn she states "One of the mistakes that human beings make is that there is only one way to live, and that we don't accept that there are diverse ways of being in the world. There are millions of ways of being a human being and many paths to what you call God…"

I'm certain that many in the studio audience as well as at home agreed with her. The idea that the Christian faith could be the exclusive path to God usually spurs discomfort on the part of people who hear it explained that way. They don't like the idea of only one way and their immediate reaction is to think the Christian who holds to exclusivity is being biased in his or her own favor. But is this so? Let's take a look at a few reasons why people believe in Oprah's understanding of multiple paths to God and see if they make sense.

Exclusivity is Bigoted

In the Oprah quote above, you can immediately see how the television host reacts to the audience member who stated there is only one way to God. She called it a mistake and she tied the idea of communing with God to the diversity of human living on the globe. Many others I've spoken to have similarly challenged me, claiming that I was being bigoted by proposing my way as the only way to God. This concept has become even more prominent as we strive to become a more diverse and multicultural society.

Yet multiculturalism in and of itself tells us nothing about the truth value of any belief. For example, different belief systems vary greatly in how they understand even the fundamental aspects of who God is. Theraveda Buddhism doesn't hold to any kind of personal God at all while Judaism believes in a God who interacts with men. Islam is strictly monotheistic while Hinduism holds to a multiplicity of gods. How could these all be true?

All religions make exclusive claims about God. The fact that these claims exist tell us at least two things: not all religions can be right sine their claims about God stand in contradiction to one another and a claim of exclusivity does not automatically disqualify any belief from being right, lest they all be disqualified. The last point is simply logical and we recognize it in other areas. A lot of people wish to have children, but there's only one way to create a child and that involves combining male and female reproductive cells and gestation inside a womb. The process is exclusive. Men cannot become pregnant, but because it is exclusive doesn't mean that it is incorrect.

An All-Loving God Would Be More Accepting than Me

The second objection offered against an exclusive way to God is that an all-loving God would be more willing to look past the faults and flaws of individuals and see the desire to please him as enough. Such a position emphasizes one aspect of God's character at the expense of another; it touts God's grace and forgiveness without taking into account God's justice and holiness. It is very common for people to believe that all God needs is a sincere belief and a level of basic morality to please him. Of course, what counts as basic morality is left out of the discussion. Certain traditional Hindus would see the practice of sati (throwing a dead man's wife on his funeral pyre so she will burn with him) as proper. The word "sati" (sometimes transliterated "suttee") even means "good wife".1 Saudi Muslims believe that it is immoral for women to not be cloaked in a veil or in any space with a man that isn't an immediate relation. I'm sure that Oprah would see these kinds of subjugations as immoral, so the assertion strikes me as question-begging.

How do you know which actions done ion sincerity are the ones that would please God? Should God be angry with those who inflict female genital mutilation upon young girls? Would a just God allow that to "slide"? Does a perfectly holy God allow ANY sin a free pass or do they all need to be dealt with so that justice may be fully realized? Interestingly, only Christianity offers the solution to God's absolute holiness, God's full justice, and God's loving grace in the atoning death of Jesus.

The idea of many paths to God sounds good to our 21st century ears, but such a position usually shows the person who asserts such hasn't truly thought through the position carefully. God is not only forgiving, but holy and just. Any path to God must take those attributes into account before it can be considered viable.

References

1. Doniger, Wendy. "Suttee | Hindu Custom." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 08 Oct. 2015. http://www.britannica.com/topic/suttee.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Why Claiming Religion is False Undercuts Darwinism



According to atheists like Daniel Dennett, religious belief is a falsehood that arose via evolutionary processes. In his debate with Alvin Plantinga on the topic "Science and Religion: Are they Compatible?" Dennett said "I think that the natural sciences can provide us with a very compelling explanation of why and how people came to believe in God, which does not at all suppose that it would be a true belief. But if we can diagnose the etiology of the belief in God, we can even make predictions about how and why this would be the case and how it would work. Then, we have undercut the presumption that because so many people believe in it, it must be true."1

This kind of thinking is fairly prevalent in certain atheist circles, used mainly to explain why belief in a god or God is found across all cultures throughout all times in human history. The universal nature of religious belief poses a bit of a dilemma for the atheist, as it demonstrates the desire to reach out to a higher intelligence is as natural as wanting to fill one's stomach. C.S. Lewis famously observed:
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.2
If Lewis is wrong, it means that most of humanity has a false desire to believe in God. But given its falsehood, how can naturalists explain its universality? The answer that Dennett and others offer is that such a belief was in its way evolutionarily advantageous. Dennett argues for this view in his book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. In the debate he explained why he believes he's justified in looking to science to explain religious belief: "If we have a good theory that explains how massive systematic falsehoods could arise in the human population and be maintained over generations, then that in itself is a pretty good reason for supposing that we've got a good handle on this, better than their handle on science."3

The Elephant in the Room

So, Dennett and others holds that 1) religious belief arose naturally via evolutionary processes4 and 2) it is a belief that is false. It follows logically from those two premises that evolution produces false beliefs. Not only does evolution produce false beliefs in certain people or in a small population, but if the two premises are correct, evolution produces, to use Dennett's words, massive systematic falsehoods that arise in the human population and are maintained over generations.

Here's where Dennett runs into a wall, though. The very fact that our reasoning ability exists at all on a naturalistic understanding of the world is due to evolution on his view. We trust our reasoning abilities to give us true facts about the world. One of those true facts that Dennett and other naturalists hold is there is no God, evolution can account for our belief system. But why should I think that belief is any more true than the belief that God exists, if Dennett is right?

In fact, why should we place our trust in human reasoning ability at all if evolution produces huge whoppers of falsehood that permeate all of humanity? Why should we trust our evolved monkey-brains reason to ward s some kind of external truth about where we came from, given Dennett's explanation?

As I've argued in True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism:
Basing our ability to reason on a cause-and-effect model doesn't make sense. Reason is not the kind of thing that can be explained by examining the makeup of the brain or its physical processes. Reason must be oriented toward an objective external reality and our ability to tap into that reality. In fact, if naturalism is true, it means either that what we take to be rationality is either in no way grounded in external, objective truth (and as such cannot be called rational), or we're fooling ourselves into thinking that rationality exists at all.5
It seems to me that by holding to religion as an evolutionarily produced falsehood, the naturalist loses his entire foundation to assert that his explanation is itself true. He's undermined not simply evolutionary belief but rationalism itself.

References

1. "Science and Religion: Are They Compatible? Alvin Plantinga vs. Daniel Dennett." YouTube. American Philosophical Association Central Region, 21 Feb. 2009. Web. 23 Sept. 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwnZRe8y-xg.
2. Lewis, C. S. "Mere Christianity." The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2002. 114.  Print.
3. "Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?", 2009.
4. Dennett, D. C. Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. New York: Viking, 2006. Print.
5. Esposito, Lenny. "Atheism and the Argument from Reason." True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism. Tom Gilson and Carson Weitnauer, eds. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2013. Print.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Defining What It Means To Be A Christian (video)



What does it mean to be a Christian? Just because someone claims to be a Christian, doesn't mean they are any more than claiming to be a superhero gives one super powers. Words matter and defining a Christian has become a more and more difficult thing. Listen to this short video—the second in our series on impostor Christianity—to learn more of why knowing what is required to be a Christian is crucial.


Friday, September 11, 2015

The Consequences of Beliefs



I've spent a lot of time on college campuses engaging with students and answering questions. Some are intrigued by a concept of Christianity they were unfamiliar with before our conversation. Most, though, don't see why I or Christians like me would seek to argue for our faith at all. They believe that people should be able to choose whatever faith they're comfortable with and everyone else should leave them alone. They think that beliefs are preferences akin to what flavor of ice cream they prefer.

But beliefs aren't preferences like ice cream. They deal with not simply what we like, but what's true. One may like cigarettes but still hold the belief that they will kill you and thus seek to quit smoking. Another may not believe this, and satisfy his or her liking for cigarettes. Beliefs are not simply preferences, they are what we think is true about something or not, and there are consequences for holding to one belief over another.

Because beliefs have consequences, it follows that the more important the issue, the more important the belief. If I hold a belief that shoe brand A is built better than that shoe brand B brand, I may purchase brand A only to find out my beliefs were wrong. The shoes wore out quickly and I've lost a few dollars in the process. But if I'm an oncologist and I believe in the medieval practice of bloodletting to cure cancer, that's a bigger issue and the consequences of my beliefs are going to have bigger effects on both myself and my patients.

Religious Beliefs Matter the Most

We've agreed that the importance of true beliefs rises along with the importance of the issue, but where do religious beliefs fit in? Are they, like those students on campus claim, just useful to give the believer a good feeling? The answer lies in the issues that are central to all religions and even to those who hold to no religion as well. The focus of one's religious belief or non-belief is basically the nature of reality itself. Why are we here? Is there some purpose to life? Should I live toward some end? How do I fit in a world of other people and what do I make of them? Where do moral laws come from? Is there a God or higher power to whom we are all ultimately accountable? These are serious questions on how we value ourselves, other people, and our world. They are the biggest questions humanity wrestles with.

Because the issues answered by religious belief are so important, it should be no surprise that the consequences of those beliefs will have a major impact upon the world as well. My wife and I had the opportunity to stay in Manhattan in June of 2001. We spent four days in the city, even walking around the World Trade Center. Of course we didn't realize then that within three months those buildings would fall along with the lives of nearly three thousand people simply because of the beliefs of a small group of men. If 9/11 has taught us anything, it should be that beliefs matter and the big beliefs matter quite a bit. Yet, I still hear students tell me that beliefs are akin to ice cream. How could they come to that conclusion?

As we reflect and mourn those lost on this day, we should also reflect on how important it is to examine our beliefs and see if we have good reasons to believe what we do. Everyone has beliefs; the real questions are why do you believe what you do and are you willing to inspect your own beliefs to see whether they are true? That's what a rational person would do.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Defending the Trinity Against World Religions (podcast)


The Trinity is the central doctrine of Christianity and the one belief that separates the Christian view of God from all other faiths. This class will help believers defend critical challenges against the Trinity such as the clam that it's a logical contradiction, the word Trinity is not found in the Bible, and the Trinity is too mysterious and unintelligible for us to understand.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Is Christianity Simply a Corrupted Form of Judaism?



Recently, more and more atheists are offering the objection that Christianity stole from ancient religions like Mithraism. They paint Christianity as plagiarized from other faiths, but as I've pointed out here and here; their similarities are more imagination than reality.

However, I recently received a question from a person that took a different tact on Christianity as a borrowed belief. She explains:
I am having a hard time explaining the difference between Judaism and Christianity. I have an ongoing argument with an atheist that goes like this:

He thinks Judaism precedes Christianity and therefore is the correct religion and way of thinking (he doesn't believe in either). He is claiming that Christianity came along later and changed the whole story and that makes Christianity false. "Since Judaism was one of the first religions why am I not following that way of thinking?" he asks.

I have been a Christian my whole life but I still have a lot to learn myself and also how to explain my faith to an atheist. I feel I am always defending my faith and it's very frustrating at times. I am very thankful for finding this ministry and all that you do! I am very blessed to be able to reach out. Thank you for everything! Any advice on how to tackle this argument?
Does the atheist have a point? If Judaism preceded Christianity by thousands of years, does it make sense that someone can be OK if they become Jewish instead of Christian? Did Christians "change the whole story" and is therefore a less reliable belief system than Judaism? The answer to all of these questions is no, and for a very simple reason: today's Judaism is not the same as the Judaism outlined in the Bible.

Destruction of the Temple Destroyed Biblical Judaism

Before Judaism was an established religion, they were an ethnic group. When Moses delivered the Jewish people from their slavery in Egypt, he also delivered to them a system of worshiping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in a specific way. Even today, observant Jews recognize Moses' instructions given in the first five books of the Bible, known as the Torah, as the key texts defining what the Jewish faith is. Even the highly influential 12th century Rabbi Maimonides when listing his thirteen principle of faith underlined the central nature of these texts, declaring the prophecies of Moses are true, the Torah that exists today is the same Torah that Moses delivered, and the Torah cannot be changed.1

Yet the Torah poses a problem, even for Maimonides, because it outlines a sacrificial system of worship that places the Jewish priests and their service at the Altar of God right at the heart of the faith. The Israelites in the desert received this law and quickly built the Tabernacle to execute the commands of God. Later, David and Solomon erected the Temple in Jerusalem as a more permanent structure for Jewish worship. After the Jewish captivity by the Babylonians, another Temple was erected then expanded, but the Jewish faithful always had a temple where they could observe the laws Moses wrote down. That ceased in 70 A.D. when the Romans destroyed the Temple, just as Jesus had prophesied (Luke 21:6).

Rabbinic Judaism Cannot Offer Sacrifices

Given the destruction of the Jewish Temple, the priestly class was lost in the second dispersion of Jews around the world. In order to maintain their identity and hold on to some semblance of their faith, the local synagogue, which was a local house of worship and study, became the new spiritual center for faithful Jews, and the office of Rabbi (teacher) replaced the priest as the primary authority on how to live a devout life. As Dr. Rich Robinson writes, "It is best, however, to use the term 'Judaism' to refer to the religion of the rabbis that developed from about 200 B.C. onwards and crystallized following the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. In this way, Christianity is not described as a daughter religion to Judaism, but more correctly as a sister: both branched out from Old Testament Faith."2

This is a fair assessment, as the central commands of Moses concerning both the sacrifice and the Temple worship are not being practiced by any Jewish person today. Even the most orthodox follower cannot be orthodox in the key elements of their faith. Given this understanding of Judaism as it is practiced today, it is not older that Christianity. It formed at the same time as Christianity with both faiths anchoring their beliefs in the Old Testament.

Christianity as the Fulfillment of Judaism

However, there is a big difference between the two faiths. Another principle of Faith that Maimonides wrote was "I believe with perfect faith that all the words of the prophets are true," referencing not simply the Torah, but the entire Old Testament of the Bible. Those prophets clearly and repeatedly, promised a Jewish Messiah that would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), he would be "cut off" during the Temple period (Daniel 9:26), he would be rejected by his own people, (Psalm 22:6), and ultimately be the final sacrifice that takes away the sins of the people (Isaiah 53:5,8). In other words, Christianity is the logical outworking of the Jewish worship taught by Moses. While Rabbinic Judaism reduces the need for sacrifice to a symbolic act of self-denial, Christianity took the Jewish sacrificial system so seriously, the sacrifice of Jesus becomes the center of the Christian faith. As the Book of Hebrews, explains, Jesus fulfills the need for sacrifices and only this fulfillment explains why God would no longer require a temple whereby atonement for sin may be made.

Where to Go from Here?

For the atheist, he may or may not find any reason to rethink his objection to Christianity. However, the way the objection is phrased is problematic in itself. One doesn't discern the truth value of a belief by its age. To prove this, all you have to do is point out that a lot of what we believe about the world has been known only relatively recently. Science is learning new things all the time. Even atheism as we see it today is a very new point of view, only coming about in the past couple of centuries. It isn't the age of a proposition that makes it true, it's whether it fits the facts we do know. Christianity fits the prophecies and the need for sacrifice that are clear in the Old Testament. It fits the facts of why there is something rather than nothing, it fits the facts that good and evil are real things, and it fits the historical evidence we have for what happened after Jesus's death. "What fits the facts" is a better question to answer than "how old is it." Perhaps you can begin there.

References

1. Daum, Ahron. "Maimonides' Thirteen (13) Principles of Faith." bestjewishstudies.com, 24 Oct. 2013. Web. 10 Aug. 2015. http://www.bestjewishstudies.com/13-Principles-of-Faith.
2. Robinson, Rich. "Judaism and the Jewish People: A Religion Profile from International Students, Inc." Jews for Jesus. International Students, Inc. 1995. Web. 9 Aug. 2015. 1.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

In Weighing Beliefs, Only Monotheism Makes Sense


Hugo Grotius was by all accounts a brilliant mind. The 17th century philosopher, legal scholar, and political theorist who helped shape international law and concepts of the natural law referenced in philosophy.1 His Truth of the Christian Religion in Six Books demonstrated his keen skill in Christian apologetics as well.

Grotius begins his apologetic by demonstrating that one must believe there is a God. He argues from the concept of God as an Uncaused Cause, most likely influenced from Aquinas. He also argues that all human civilizations have held to some kind of creator to explain the existence of all other things. Thus, Grotius minimally defines God as the source of creation. From there, he moves to the fact that God must be a single deity. He writes:
Having proved the existence of the Deity, we come next to his attributes: the first whereof is, that there can be no more Gods than one; which may be gathered from hence; because, as was before said, God exists necessarily, or is self-existent. Now that which is necessary, or self-existent, cannot be considered as of any kind or species of beings, but as actually existing, and is therefore a single being; for, if you imagine many Gods, you will see that necessary existence belongs to none of them; nor can there be any reason why two should rather be believed than three, or ten than five: beside, the abundance of particular things of the same kind proceeds from the fruitfulness of the cause, in proportion to which more or less is produced; but God has no cause, or original. Further, particular different things are endued with peculiar properties, by which they are distinguished from each other; which do not belong to God, who is a necessary being. Neither do we find any signs of many Gods; for this whole universe makes but one world, in which there is but one thing that far exceeds the rest in beauty, viz. the sun: and in every man there is but one thing that governs, that is, the mind: moreover, if there could be two or more Gods, free agents, acting according to their own wills, they might will contrary to each other; and so one be hindered by the other front effecting his design; now, a possibility of being hindered is inconsistent with the notion of God.2
Just as I explained in a previous post, the concept of multiple gods really makes no sense. In this short paragraph, Grotius demonstrates how only monotheistic faiths are logically coherent. Thus a person is seeking to weigh all faiths in order to find the one true faith, eliminating all but monotheistic faiths quickly disposes of the vast majority of religions held throughout the ages.

References

1. Miller, Jon. "Hugo Grotius." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University, 28 Jul. 2011. Web. 26 July 2015. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/grotius/. 2. Grotius, Hugo. "Truth of the Christian Religion in Six Books." Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 22 Aug. 2007. Web. 26 July 2015. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/grotius/truth.iii.i.iii.html.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

How to Spot Impostor Christianity



One of the key things kids learning elementary science is the basic groups of backboned animals. You may remember how to differentiate fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals.
  • Birds have feathers, lay eggs, and have bills.
  • Reptiles are cold blooded, have scales, lay eggs, and some, like snakes, can inject venom.
  • Amphibians are cold-blooded, lay eggs, breathe air but live on the land and in the water.
  • Mammals are warm-blooded, have hair, give live births, and produce milk for their young
So when English naturalists had quite a quandary on their hands when in 1798 they received drawings and the hide of a platypus from the newly colonized Australia. Many believed the animal was too outrageous to be real; it had to be a hoax. Here was an animal that had a bill, webbed feet, and laid eggs like a bird. It lived in and out of the water. Its legs are not below it but come from the side of the body, its eggs are soft-shelled, and males could inject venom like a reptile. Yet, they are warm-blooded, are covered in hair and they nurse their young. One of the necessary characteristics of all mammal is the females have mammary glands that produce milk for their young. Because this was true of the platypus, it could confidently be classified as a mammal.

What Does It Mean to Be a Christian?

Understanding the various religious systems offered today can sometimes be as confusing to navigate as those naturalists who sought to classify the platypus, especially when it comes to what makes someone a Christian. It seems everybody wants to claim that they are following Jesus's teachings in some way. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the parent organization for Jehovah's Witnesses, claims to be Christian.1 Former Mormon president Gordon B. Hinckley, when asked whether Mormons were Christians, answered "We are Christians in a very real sense."2 Other organizations such as The Way International, the Restored Church of God, and various Oneness denominations all claim to be representing true Christianity.  Yet, they all have radically different beliefs.

How can you tell what is Christian and what isn't? Most people I speak with don't have a clear idea of just what classifies someone as a real Christian. They think as long as they claim Jesus and point in some way to his teachings, it is enough. But that's like calling a platypus a bird or a reptile. There's some resemblance, but it is still different and will lead you to a different belief, one that leads to judgment instead of salvation.

Just as with classifying animals, there are certain essential beliefs that define what a Christian is and while the various denominations within Christendom differ on many things, they all hold these specific beliefs as non-negotiable. These beliefs are reflected in the early church creeds from Nicaea and Chalcedon, which summarized the bare minimum of what being a Christian means, found in the outline below:

The Essential Beliefs of Christianity

Who God is
  • There is one God
  • God is eternal—without beginning or end.
  • God is transcendent—He is separate from his creation.
  • God is recognized as the Creator—God made all things.
  • God is Triune—a single being comprised of the three persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Who Jesus Is
  • Jesus is wholly (with all the attributes of) God.
  • Jesus is wholly (with all the attributes of) a human being.
  • Jesus is indivisible—one cannot separate his divinity and his humanity.
What Jesus Did
  • He Sacrifice Himself for Our Sins.
  • He rose bodily from the grave.
  • He fulfilled the promised of God in the Old Testament.
What Jesus Will Do
  • Jesus will return bodily to this earth.
  • Jesus will raise all people.
  • Jesus will judge all people.
The Unity of Believers
  • All believing Christians are part of Jesus's one true church.
  • All believing Christians will be raised by Jesus to eternal glory.
  • All believing Christians will dwell in fellowship with God in the world that is to come.

Why It Matters

I've written about some of these distinctions before and I will explore them in more detail in upcoming articles. My intent in this article is to show that there is a very specific set of beliefs to which all Christians must hold. While a lot of people or organizations claim to be Christian, they are really impostors offering a counterfeit Christianity. The JWs say they are Christians, they deny the deity of Jesus, making him a created being instead of eternal God. Gordon Hinckley and the LDS deny the triune nature of God, the transcendence of God, and the fact that there is only one God in all of existence.

Jesus warned the church to "beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matt 7:15). The Apostle Paul cautioned "there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ" (Gal. 1:7). The Apostle John warned the church of "those who are trying to deceive you" (1 John 2:26). We must be able to distinguish who is a sheep and who is a wolf. To not do so would be to betray Jesus, something no true Christian would ever desire.

References

1. "Are Jehovah's Witnesses Christians?" JW.ORG. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania., n.d. Web. 21 July 2015. http://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/are-jehovahs-witnesses-christians/.
2. "Are Mormons Christians?" Mormon.org. Intellectual Reserve, Inc., n.d. Web. 21 July 2015. http://www.mormon.org/faq/mormon-christian.

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:;

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 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.

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.
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