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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

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Are Christians Like Atheists With Respect to Islam?

In his book Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris makes the claim that Christians know just what it's like to be non-believers. In fact, he asserts they are non-believers if one is considering the Muslim god. Harris writes:
Why don't you lose any sleep over whether to convert to Islam? Can you prove that Allah is not the one, true God? Can you prove that the archangel Gabriel did not visit Muhammad in his cave? Of course not. But you need not prove any of these things to reject the beliefs of Muslims as absurd. The truth is, you know exactly what it is like to be an atheist with respect to the beliefs of Muslims. You think that Muslims are fooling themselves? You think that anyone who thinks that the Koran is the perfect word of the creator of the universe is misguided? Understand that the way you view Islam is precisely the way Atheists view Christianity, and in fact the way we view all other religions.1


Harris seems to make a convincing claim. Is this right? Are we rejecting Islam in the same way that atheists reject Christianity? Actually, no. Harris offers a false analogy here; Christians have very strong reasons for rejecting Islam while still holding to Christianity as the one true faith.

Evaluating the Evidence

Harris first tries to stack the deck with his claim that Christians cannot prove that the angel Gabriel didn't visit Muhammad in a cave to unveil the first verses of the Qur'an. That story is itself not part of the Qur'an, but in the later written collections of traditions about Muhammad known as the Hadith.2 These stories were compiled by al-Bukari some 200 years after Muhammad's life.3 While this doesn't exclusively invalidate the Islamic revelation tale, it certainly doesn't put it on the same footing as the Gospel accounts that were written within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses to Jesus's resurrection.

More importantly, the Qur'an references the Bible throughout its pages. Note that the angel claimed to visit Muhammad is the Arch-angel Gabriel. Gabriel is mentioned in both the Old Testament (Daniel 8:16, 9:21) and the New Testament (Luke 1:19,26). Jesus (Isa) is talked about repeatedly as is acknowledged as a messenger from God. Further, the Qur'an points to the Gospels and even instructs Muhammad to verify his doubts with “those who have read the book before you” (Sura 10:94) meaning Muhammad should check with the Christians and Jews who had the Word of God in their book.

Contradictory Claims

Given that Muhammed is to compare his teachings with those of the Bible, it is reasonable to say that the Qur'an recognized and leverages the authority of the Bible. Yet, as Muhammad's teachings evolved over the years, they became more and more unlike those found in Scripture. Islam's description of God is nothing like that found in either testament. So, it is reasonable to reject Islam on the basis that the very authority of their faith (the Qur'an) extols that Bible as the confirmation of the truth, yet contradicts the Bible on the essentials of who God is and what his message is. The Qur'an gives us the test as to whether Muhammad's message is reliable itself: compare it to the Bible. All Christians know that Islam and Christianity are simply incompatible belief systems. They cannot both be true. Since the Qur'an relies upon the Bible and holds it up as a preexisting standard, one is more reasonable to believe the Bible rather than the Qur'an.

The Category Error of Harris' Atheism

There's one other point I want to make in Harris' charge. Believing in no God at all is markedly different than believing in one specific God over another. The fact that there is a Creator of the universe has been recognized throughout all of human history. Getting attributes of the Creator wrong is not the same thing as dismissing any chance of a creator at all.

Other atheists I've engaged with have offered a more sweeping but similar charge, something like “There have been thousands of gods people have believed in across history; you don't believe in Thor or Zeus or Ra. While you're an atheist regarding all these, we just believe in one less god than you.” Such a retort is silly. Imagine turning in your math quiz blank and telling your teacher, “There are thousands of answers to those problems that you don't believe are right. You reject them all. I just believe in one less right answer than you.” I don't think such logic would carry you very far.

Atheists like Harris are categorically different than theists like Christians and Muslims. We recognize that the problem of “Why is there something rather than nothing” is a problem on the table and needs an answer. As a Christian, I will work out the problem with the factors that are set before me. The evidence adds up to Christianity. Harris turns in his blank page and smugly walks away telling everyone else he aced the test.

References

1. Harris, Sam. Letter to a Christian Nation. New York: Knopf, 2006. Print.7
2. Al_Bukarhi , Muhammad.“The Revelation.” Sahih al_Bukarhi, (Vol 1, Book 1, Num 3). Web. http://www.sahih-bukhari.com/Pages/Bukhari_1_01.php
3. "Sahih Bukhari."SahihBukhari.com, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2015. http://www.sahih-bukhari.com/.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Hidden Factors in Atheism

Professor of Psychology Paul Vitz was an atheist. Though he was raised in a minimally Christian home, he identified as an atheist during his college years and into his adult life. Vitz went on to study the motivations of atheists past and present, ultimately producing the book Faith of the Fatherless, where he lays out his theory that "in most cases alienation from God was a reaction to an absent or defective father."1 Vitz himself credits his strong relationship with his father for helping him come out of atheism.



While Vitz’s theory is fascinating, I think that Vitz’s personal story is just as informative. In a short paper entitled, "The Psychology of Atheism," Vitz provides a brief summary of the factors that contributed to his own denial of God. He notes that he wasn’t aware of these factors playing in his decision to abandon belief, yet upon retrospect they were the main contributors to his atheism. He writes:
The major factors involved in my becoming an atheist-although I wasn't really aware of them at the time-were as follows:

General socialization. An important influence on me in my youth was a significant social unease. I was somewhat embarrassed to be from the Midwest, for it seemed terribly dull, narrow, and provincial. There was certainly nothing romantic or impressive about being from Cincinnati, Ohio and from a vague mixed German-English-Swiss background. Terribly middle class. Further, besides escape from a dull, and according to me unworthy, socially embarrassing past, I wanted to take part in, in fact to be comfortable in, the new, exciting, even glamorous, secular world into which I was moving. I am sure that similar motives have strongly influenced the lives of countless upwardly mobile young people in the last two centuries. Consider Voltaire, who moved into the glittery, aristocratic, sophisticated world of Paris, and who always felt embarrassed about his provincial and nonaristocratic origin; or the Jewish ghettos that so many assimilating Jews have fled, or the latest young arrival in New York, embarrassed about his fundamentalist parents. This kind of socialization pressure has pushed many away from belief in God and all that this belief is associated with for them.

I remember a small seminar in graduate school where almost every member there at some time expressed this kind of embarrassment and response to the pressures of socialization into "modern life." One student was trying to escape his Southern Baptist background, another a small town Mormon environment, a third was trying to get out of a very Jewish Brooklyn ghetto, and the fourth was me.

Specific socialization. Another major reason for my wanting to become an atheist was that I desired to be accepted by the powerful and influential scientists in the field of psychology. In particular, I wanted to be accepted by my professors in graduate school. As a graduate student I was thoroughly socialized by the specific "culture" of academic research psychology. My professors at Stanford, however much they might disagree on psychological theory, were, as far as I could tell, united in only two things-their intense personal career ambition and their rejection of religion. As the psalmist says, ". . . The man greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord. In the pride of his countenance the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, 'There is no God'" (Psalm 10:3-4).

In this environment, just as I had learned how to dress like a college student by putting on the right clothes, I also learned to "think" like a proper psychologist by putting on the right-that is, atheistic-ideas and attitudes.

Personal convenience. Finally, in this list of superficial, but nevertheless, strong irrational pressures to become an atheist, I must list simple personal convenience. The fact is that it is quite inconvenient to be a serious believer in today's powerful secular and neo-pagan world. I would have had to give up many pleasures and a good deal of time.2
One of the most popular statistics that atheists have shared with me is the fact that the vast majority of scientists alive today don’t believe in God. For example, according to a 2009 Pew study, only one in three of those who are members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science believe on God. 3 Looking at the motivations that Vitz describes, it isn’t a big stretch to think that many who jump into the various fields of scientific study face the same pressures and will also succumb to them. In fact, these factors may be prevalent in a lot of areas, not just in scientific academics.

The fact that biased environments can increase bias among its population shouldn’t be a surprise. The fact that most atheists may not even realize unspoken factors of socialization have a real influence on their lack of belief is important for Christians to understand. When sharing our faith, hidden reasons for atheism may be very common. What’s unique is Vitz’s candor and introspection. That’s because examination of hidden motivations is difficult and can leave people vulnerable. I wonder how many atheists are willing to risk such dangerous undertaking.

References

1. Van Hove, Brian, S.J. "Atheism and Fatherlessness | A Review of Paul Vitz's "Faith of the Fatherless"" IgnatiusInsight.com. Ignatius Press, 8 Jan. 2008. Web. 15 Jan. 2015. http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2008/vanhove_vitzreview_jan08.asp.
2. Vitz, Paul C. "The Psychology of Atheism." LeaderU. Faculty Commons, 9 Jan. 1996. Web. 12 Jan. 2015. http://www.leaderu.com/truth/1truth12.html.
3. Masci, David. "Scientists and Belief." Pew Research Centers Religion Public Life Project RSS. Pew Research Center, 04 Nov. 2009. Web. 15 Jan. 2015. http://www.pewforum.org/2009/11/05/scientists-and-belief/.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Heresies and Scripture - Podcast

What are heresies and why are they so important to avoid? During the first 400 years of the Christianity's existence, the church fathers wanted to ensure that the doctrine passed down from Christ and his apostles would remain uncorrupted. Thus, heresies were a significant concern.

In my most recent podcast series, I reviewed a few of the significant heresies that the early church answered and why a proper understanding of who Jesus is can make all the difference. All four podcasts are available for download by following the links below.



If you would like to subscribe to the Come Reason podcast, just grab the RSS feed here.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Christianity Properly Diagnoses the Human Conditon

Dr. J.P Moreland, in an article he wrote for Focus on the Family, offered four specific principles that one should use when weighing different religions. In the third of four, he points to the human condition and notes that religion should offer a solution to the problems we face as human beings.

He writes:
Principle 3: A religion's diagnosis of and solution for the human condition should be more profound than its rivals.

A student of mine came from India to study at Talbot School of Theology. Having been raised a Hindu, he began an intense search for religious truth as a teenager. His search led him to study the religious texts of the world's leading religions. His search also led him to Jesus Christ. Why? He said that, by comparison, the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament towered over the others for their depth, profundity and power. While all religions have some truths in them, one should choose a religion that does the best job of diagnosing what is wrong with human beings and how their condition can be solved. 
When one does a cross-cultural study of the human condition, one finds the following universal human experiences and desires: All humans (1) experience threefold alienation — they feel alienated from God, from other people (including those they love), and from themselves; (2) experience deep and abiding shame and guilt; (3) desire personal life after death in which their loves and ideals may continue to be a part of their experience; (4) desire that their individual lives have meaning and purpose; (5) desire a life of beauty and drama, to be a part of something big and important, to be part of the struggle between good and evil; and (6) experience the need for help and empowerment to live a life of virtue and character. 
I believe that if one carefully compares the New Testament with other religious approaches (including atheism), like my student, one will discover that the religion of Jesus of Nazareth provides the deepest, most penetrating analysis of these six factors, along with the richest solution to these longings of the human heart. 
Principle 3 points straight to Christianity.
You may read the entire article on J.P.'s web site here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Islam's Claims of Biblical Corruption Actually Impeach the Qur'an

Islam began in the early seventh century, when Muhammad supposedly received many revelations providing him with the Qur'an. Given that Christianity and Judaism had been in existence for centuries, it's easy to see why Muhammad would have found it attractive to try and co-opt these monotheistic faiths as part of his own. To this end there are many places in the Qur'an that address Christians and Jews, and their holy books.



One key passage may be found in Sura 10:94, where Muhammad writes, "But if you are in doubt as to what We have revealed to you, ask those who read the Book before you; certainly the truth has come to you from your Lord, therefore you should not be of the disputers."1 Here, Muhammad is addressing the children of Israel, and appealing to the Bible in the phrase "the Book" as a way to authenticate his message.

There are many such passages in the Qur'an, some of which point specifically to the New Testament writings. The Arabic word for gospel is Injeel and Muhammad lifts up its authority as well:
If only they had stood fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that was sent to them from their Lord, they would have enjoyed happiness from every side. There is from among them a party on the right course: but many of them follow a course that is evil. O Messenger! proclaim the (message) which hath been sent to thee from thy Lord. If thou didst not, thou wouldst not have fulfilled and proclaimed His mission. And Allah will defend thee from men (who mean mischief). For Allah guideth not those who reject Faith. Say: "O People of the Book! ye have no ground to stand upon unless ye stand fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that has come to you from your Lord." It is the revelation that cometh to thee from thy Lord, that increaseth in most of them their obstinate rebellion and blasphemy. But sorrow thou not over (these) people without Faith. (Sura 5:66-68, emphasis added.)2
Another passage advocating study of the Bible is found in Sura 4:136:
O you who believe! believe in Allah and His Messenger and the Book which He has revealed to His Messenger and the Book which He revealed before; and whoever disbelieves in Allah and His angels and His messengers and the last day, he indeed strays off into a remote error.3
Notice how this verse places the Bible (the "book which He revealed before") as equal with the Qur'an ("the Book which He has revealed to His Messenger.) Clearly we are to believe both books, otherwise this verse makes no sense.

Recommending a Corrupt Guide?

The problem that the Qur'an has is that other writings of Muhammad contradict the idea that the Bible is an accurate guide to God. Sura 2:75-79 is a good example:
Do you then hope that they would believe in you, and a party from among them indeed used to hear the Word of Allah, then altered it after they had understood it, and they know (this) And when they meet those who believe they say: We believe, and when they are alone one with another they say: Do you talk to them of what Allah has disclosed to you that they may contend with you by this before your Lord? Do you not then understand?… Woe, then, to those who write the book with their hands and then say: This is from Allah, so that they may take for it a small price; therefore woe to them for what their hands have written and woe to them for what they earn (emphasis added).4
But why would the Qur'an itself recommend people to follow the Old and New Testaments if these are supposedly corrupt? If I receive a set of directions that promises to lead me to a destination, but I know that they've been corrupted, it would be silly for me to either follow them or provide them to another. Corrupt directions leads a person astray.

Because of the tension in the Qur'an, Muslim apologists have had to resort to a bit of double-talk in seeking to reconcile their stance. This is a good example:
The reason why the "gospels" of the bible are named as such today is because they were named after the original Revelations that Jesus had. So in other words, the real Gospel is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Everything else is a fabrication on the mouths of Jesus and his disciples. There is no such thing, in Islam, called "gospel of Matthew", "gospel of John", etc... Now whether or not there is actually a gospel out there with the name "The Gospel of Jesus", in the scriptures outside the bible, that is something I don't know, and certainly, even if it does, we still couldn't be sure that it too didn't get corrupt. The original teachings are simply lost from this earth. Only the Glorious Qur'an is the original Word of Allah Almighty. Nothing else stands. All of the other books contain corruptions and lies in them (emphasis in the original.)5
However, such an explanation is hopelessly confused. This is primarily because we know that the New Testament preceded Muhammad by some three hundred years.6 By the time of Muhammad's writing, the scriptures were firmly established and the text is the same then as what we have now. This leaves the Muslim with quite a dilemma: either the Qur'an in those verses that recommend believers to seek out the Gospel and the Bible were telling them that the Bible as it now stands is reliable or it is instructing believers to read a collection of books that simply don't exist and didn't exist even in Muhammad's day. Wither you are to gain guidance from corruption or you are to seek out guidance from a non-existent entity.

Following the Map to Atlantis

Most Muslims that I speak with take the latter choice. They claim that the true Gospel has been hidden, but one can find it in the pages of the Qur'an. However, that doesn't solve their problem. Why does the Qur'an then command people to look to the Gospels and the Bible for truth? It's like telling someone that they must find and follow the map to Atlantis. Because Atlantis is a mythical place, there's no way that any map can lead them to truth.

Altering the Words of Allah

The last problem that Muslims run into when making the claim is that they undercut their Qur'an in another way, for as Sura 2 claimed above, Go d gave His word to the prophets, but it was nearly immediately corrupted. But why would Allah allow his holy word to be corrupted at all? The Qur'an itself teaches against this idea. In Sura 6:34 we find the statement "There is none that can alter the words of Allah" and in Sura 10:64 Muhammad writes "No change can there be in the words of Allah." So, how could these people have changed what it unchangeable? How can this be?

If the word of Allah is unchangeable, then the Bible cannot be corrupted. However, if men have the ability to change Allah's word, then the Qur'an itself must be understood as under the same suspicion of change as the other books that Allah gave to his prophets. That means that the Qur'an must withstand certain scrutiny, such as whether it is internally contradictory. Given its claims on the Bible, I don't see how it could pass that test.

References

1. Shakir, M. H. The Qur'an Translation. New York: Tahrike Tarsile Qur'an, 2002. N. pag. Print. 136-137.
2. Shakir, 72-73.
3. Shakir, 61.
4. Shakir, 7.
5. "Were the "gospels" of the Bible the Original Injil?" Answering Christianity. Answering Christianity, n.d. Web. 29 Oct. 2014. http://www.answering-christianity.com/injil_and_gospels_according_to_islam.htm.
6. See the section entitled "Internal Evidence for the Reliability of the Bible" at http://www.comereason.org/is-the-bible-true.asp

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.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Why Modern Man is More Gullible than Christian Believers

Many times skeptics charge that people of previous ages believed in the bible and Jesus' resurrection because they were somehow more gullible than the "reasoned" minds of today. Malcolm Muggeridge, in a lecture entitled "The Bible Today" answers this charge with his own counter-charge: modern man is not more skeptical and reasonable. In fact, the opposite is true; as media projects a more authoritative voice, it makes more people willing to believe in anything at all.


Personally, I find it on any showing quite ludicrous to suppose that, for nineteen of Christendom's twenty centuries, Christians were credulous idiots ready to believe any tomfoolery the Bible fostered, and that then, with the coming of Darwinism and all that followed therefrom, the scales fell from their eyes, and they realised that the Biblical truths they had been induced to accept were largely fraudulent and absurd. For one thing, it would seem to me that our twentieth century, far from being notable for scientific scepticism, is one of the most credulous eras in all history. It is not that people believe in nothing — which would be bad enough — but that they believe in anything — which is really terrible. Recoiling, as they do, from accepting the validity of miracles, and priding themselves on seeing the Incarnation as a transcendental con-trick, they will accept at its face value any proposition, however nonsensical, that is presented in scientific or sociological jargon — for instance, the existence of a population explosion, which has been so expertly and decisively demolished by Professor Colin Clark of Monash University. Could any mediaeval schoolman, I ask myself, sit through a universally applauded television series like Bronowski's Ascent of Man without a smile of derision at such infantile acceptance of unproven and unprovable assertions? Not to mention television advertisements, on a basis of which the most expensively educated populations in the western world alter their dietary and sartorial habits, puff happily at lethal cigarettes recommended as being conducive to romantic encounters by burbling waterfalls or on golden beaches washed by azure seas, and generally follow every whim and fancy wished upon them by the tellymasters.1

References

1. Muggeridge, Malcolm. "Is the Bible True?" The Gargoyle: The Journal of Malcom Muggeridge 10 (2006): 14. The Malcolm Muggeridge Society. The Malcolm Muggeridge Society, Apr. 2006. Web. 27 Sept. 2014. http://www.malcolmmuggeridge.org/gargoyle/gargoyle-10-200604.pdf

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

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Atheists Contradict Themselves by Seeking Invocations


Many times when I have debated atheists, they assert that they don't need to prove their atheism. As Richard Carrier put it, "It is not necessarily incumbent upon me to provide evidence for atheism. I mean if we say that aliens don't exist, then I don't have to prove to you that they don't exist; rather, you need to prove to me they do, or that there are fairies in the woods or demons or so forth. The claimant has to actually establish the fact."1 The common refrain that atheism is not a belief but simply a lack of belief shows up over and over, even though atheists are making a truth-claim about the world.

Here's the interesting thing, though. When placed in other contexts, atheists themselves deny this position. Take government meetings as an example. After the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year in Greece v. Galloway that opening local legislative meetings in prayer was constitutional2, the Central Florida Freethought Community took a different tack; they decided to petition to offer invocations at various government meetings, even providing a model letter so that other atheist groups could do likewise.

Justice Kennedy, in writing for the majority on Greece v. Galloway, captured the purpose of offering an invocation:

The principal audience for these invocations is not, indeed, the public but lawmakers themselves, who may find that a moment of prayer or quiet reflection sets the mind to a higher purpose and thereby eases the task of governing…

The inclusion of a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition suggests that its purpose and effect are to acknowledge religious leaders and the institutions they represent rather than to exclude or coerce nonbelievers.

Ceremonial prayer is but a recognition that, since this Nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond the authority of government to alter or define and that willing participation can be done with a brief acknowledgement of their belief in a higher power, always with due respect for those who adhere to other beliefs. 3
But this is exactly where the atheist has a problem. If an invocation is to point to a higher purpose and to recognize specific religious beliefs, then it follows that invocations are ways of communicating a faith, which means that there are real claims being made about the nature of the world. The freethinkers, in asking to offer invocations, are asserting a belief system. Therefore, to claim that they bear no burden of proof is absurd.

Imagine a group petitioning a city council to provide an invocation on the grounds that there are no aliens or fairies in the world. They would immediately be rejected because the fact that they don't believe such things cannot support any kind of meaningful invocation. It would do exactly what Kennedy said invocations shouldn't: it would mock other belief systems.

Atheists here are caught in a contradiction. Either they are simply holding to the non-existence of an entity or they are advancing a particular belief system, complete with claims about man, the universe, origins, morality, and the nature of reality. They can't have it both ways. Seeking invocation opportunities betrays the atheist's claim that they simply lack belief. it's a contradiction, and contradictions about the fundamental nature of a worldview by its adherents underscore its implausibility.

References

1. Transcript from "Esposito vs. Carrier, The Great God Debate: Does God Exist?" Come Reason Ministries. 2012. Available at http://www.comereason.org/tools/default.asp?mode=category&dt=4&pcid=20

2. Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway et al. 572 U.S. ___. Supreme Court of the United States.
2014. http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-696_bpm1.pdf . Web. 5 Mar. 2014.

3 Town of Greece, 19, 23.

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.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why would Gandhi reject Jesus?

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about why mixing belief systems is dangerous. The post stemmed from an article in the Vancouver Sun that held up Mahatma Gandhi as "one of the most famous people to openly promote mixing religions." 1 But, I don't think Gandhi's mixing of faith helped him. In fact, I think it may have caused him to miss the central message of Christianity.

In An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Gandhi discusses his various interactions with people of faith, his study of religion, and how it shaped his nonviolent resistance. He recounts in some detail his different conversations with Christians, and the impressions they made. He states the primary message of Christianity did not resonate with him:
One of the Plymouth Brethren confronted me with an argument for which I was not prepared:
You cannot understand the beauty of our religion.

From what you say it appears that you must be brooding over your transgressions every moment of your life, always mending them and atoning for them. How can this ceaseless cycle of action bring you redemption? You can never have peace. You admit that we are all sinners. Now look at the perfection of our belief. Our attempts at improvement and atonement are futile. And yet redemption we must have. How can we bear the burden of sin? We can but throw it on Jesus. He is the only sinless Son of God. It Is His word that those who believe in Him shall have everlasting life. Therein lies God's infinite mercy. And as we believe in the atonement of Jesus, our own sins do not bind us. Sin we must. It is impossible to live in this world sinless. And therefore Jesus suffered and atoned for all the sins of mankind. Only he who accepts His great redemption can have eternal peace. Think what a life of restlessness Is yours, and what a promise of peace we have.
The argument utterly failed to convince me. I humbly replied:

If this be the Christianity acknowledged by all Christians, I cannot accept it. I do not seek redemption from the consequences of my sin. I seek to be redeemed from sin itself, or rather from the very thought of sin. 2

The Miscommunication of Christianity

Most Christians might believe that the Christian did a decent job of sharing the gospel. However, I think he rushed it because he first didn't find out what Gandhi already believed about humanity and sin. Gandhi's Eastern background made certain assumptions about sin, the nature of God, and of human beings that are incompatible with Christian teachings. He tells us a bit later:
My difficulties lay deeper. It was more than I could believe that Jesus was the only incarnate son of God, and that only he who believed in him would have everlasting life. If God could have sons, all of us were His sons. If Jesus was like God, or God Himself, then all men were like God and could be God Himself. My reason was not ready to believe literally that Jesus by his death and by his blood redeemed the sins of the world. Metaphorically there might be some truth in it. Again, according to Christianity only human beings had souls, and not other living beings, for whom death meant complete extinction; while I held a contrary belief. I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice, and a divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever born. His death on the Cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it my heart could not accept… From the point of view of sacrifice, it seemed to me that the Hindus greatly surpassed the Christians. It was impossible for me to regard Christianity as a perfect religion or the greatest of all religions.

I shared this mental churning with my Christian friends whenever there was an opportunity, but their answers could not satisfy me. 3
Gandhi was raised a nominal Hindu, but also had an understanding of Jainism. In both faiths, the law of karma applies and is inescapable. Good deeds are a credit to one's karmic account while bad deeds are a debt. One's own choices and actions are wholly responsible for the good or bad karma held against you. Therefore, the eastern mind would understand all sin as something someone can avoid by one's own power.4 Jainism specifically teaches that one can remove all their bad karma and become God. In fact, in Jainism the only Gods that exist are those humans who've rid themselves of their karmas5.

Given this background, one can see how the Gandhi's understanding of Jesus and the atonement would be confused. His explanation of his rejection makes perfect sense in an Eastern worldview, but completely misses the point of western theology.

Just reading the Bible won't help

Prior to this encounter, Gandhi writes that a friend challenged him to read the Bible. Because he had no background whatsoever with the Christian story, it didn't go well:
I began reading it, but I could not possibly read through the Old Testament. I read the book of Genesis, and the chapters that followed invariably sent me to sleep. But just for the sake of being able to say that I had read it, I plodded through the other books with much difficulty and without the least interest or understanding. I disliked reading the book of Numbers.6

Again, this isn't surprising. We understand that the story of Adam and Eve sets up the concept of man as a fallen creature, one incapable of being perfect on his own. The teaching is emphasized when Adam and Eve seek to don fig leaves for themselves but they're shown to be inadequate.

Let Gandhi's story serve as a caution to Christians today. We are living in a post-Christian culture and while the assumptions may be different, the gospel message may be just as foreign to Western secularists today as it was to Gandhi then. When you share your faith, you should assume nothing. Ask people what they believe about sin, justice, and God. Ask them if they think human beings can ever be perfect. Find out what they understand so you can provide the proper context for the biblical message. That's when true communication will happen.

References

1. Todd, Douglas. "In praise of mixing religion and world views." Postmedia Network Inc. 2014. Web http://www.vancouversun.com/life/Douglas+Todd+praise+mixing+religion+world+views/10042336/story.html
2. 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.
3. Gandhi, 119.
4. Huston Smith in The Religions of Man (New York: Harper Collins, 1986) writes, "This idea of karma and the complete moral universe it implies carries two important psychological corollaries. First, it commits the Hindu who understands it to complete persona responsibility. Each individual is wholly responsible for his present condition and will have exactly the future that he is creating." Pages 101-102.
5. "Liberation (Moksha)." Jainsworld.com Jainism Global Resource Center. http://www.jainworld.com/philosophy/liberation.asp Accessed 7/24/2014.
6. Gandhi, 68.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Why Mixing Belief Systems Can Be Dangerous

Friday the Vancouver Sun ran a book review of In Praise of Mixed Religion: The Syncretism Solution in a Multifaith World (McGill-Queen's University Publishing) by William Harrison. Syncretism is a fifty-cent word that simply means combining elements of more than one faith to forge something new, a task not at all unfamiliar to the postmodern mindset of today, even if they don't know the label.


Reviewer Douglas Todd speaks highly of the book's premise of taking various elements from different belief systems and combining them, claiming the book "maps out an important path for truth seekers."1 He writes:
Citing Christianity's and Islam's transformative encounter with Greek thought and Buddhism's adaptation to China, Harrison reveals the many ways that religions, as well as secular world views, have gained wisdom by borrowing from outside their own movements.

Most of us are aware of fundamentalists, whether Christian, Muslim, Marxist or libertarian capitalist. Fundamentalists are big on ideological purity and separation. Like the Europeans who burned witches, they are disposed to excommunications, ostracizing and the condemning of "heretics."2
I think Todd has deeply missed the point here, at least with respect to Christianity. As he rightly points out, Christians have availed themselves of truth propositions where they may be found. The Apostle Paul quoted from two Greek poets when he was preaching to the Athenians on Mars' hill.3 Augustine found within Plato's teachings certain elements that explained the Christian understanding of the world quite well. The logic of Aristotle greatly informed Thomas Aquinas. Even Boethius, in his Consolation of Philosophy, implored one to "as far as possible, join faith to reason."

But that's the hook. These Christians weren't strolling through some theological salad bar simply placing whatever appealed to their appetites onto their plates. They first understood the Christian worldview and they sought to explore it and explain it with as much clarity of possible. So, because Augustine is familiar with the Neoplatonist understanding of evil as a privation of good, he compares it to the Christian teaching of an all good God who created a world now contaminated by evil and he sees that the definition applies and thus uses it.

It is a far different thing, however, to try and combine two different faiths that have competing claims. For example, Christianity teaches that only God is eternal. As created beings, we are distinct from God and we have a beginning. So, when early church father Origen adopted Plato's idea that all souls are pre-existent, the view was rightly condemned as heretical.4It simply cannot be that a finite, created being has no beginning. The two points are a contradiction and to hold both leads not to truth or clarity but to confusion.

Harrison's holds draw a much broader definition of syncretism than has been used traditionally. The book asserts "a 'religion' is almost any form of deep, distinct and comprehensive world view that maintains human life has purpose."5 Included in that seems to be economic and political concerns as much as theology proper. Well, maybe. I don't recall any Christian being labelled a heretic because they held to a certain economic theory. Perhaps one must define syncretism that broadly in order to make the premise of the book work, I don't know. The one thing I do know is that if one is interested in truth, then it's important to learn the distinctives of each faith before one tries to merge them. The differences are as vital as the similarities.

A chemist will tell you that an alkaline solution can be as caustic as an acidic solution. Throw the two together, and eventually you'll end up with water and salt—as well as a big boom. To encourage the blending of faiths without first understanding the basics of those faiths is like throwing a bunch of chemicals you find in the science lab together. Perhaps they might only create a pretty puff of smoke. I'm not willing to take that chance.

References

1. Todd, Douglas. "In praise of mixing religion and world views." Postmedia Network Inc. 2014. Web http://www.vancouversun.com/life/Douglas+Todd+praise+mixing+religion+world+views/10042336/story.html
2. Ibid.
3. In Acts 17:28, Paul quotes from Aratus' Phaenomena and from Epimenides. For more, see http://spindleworks.com/library/rfaber/aratus.htm
4. See Kenneth R. Calvert's "Origen: Model or Heretic?" Christianity Today. 01-07-1996. Web. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/1996/issue51/5135.html
5. Todd, Ibid.

Image credit: Amitchell125

Monday, July 14, 2014

Science and Religion Resources


Just recently, I received a request for content that deals with the supposed war between science and religion. That topic is very wide, but it is also one I have been speaking and writing on fairly regularly. As I pulled some of these resources together, I thought that it may benefit my readers, too.

While this isn’t all of the content that may be associated with that topic, it is a good sampling across the different media. Enjoy!

Web Site Articles

Podcasts:

Blog posts:

Series on Science versus Scientism:

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Challenge of Islam (podcast)


Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the world, but is still a mystery to most Christians. Is it a religion of peace and a breeding ground for terrorists? Join us as we examine Muslim beliefs and discuss how to effectively witness to Muslims.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Keep Your Maybes Away from Our Babies - Arguing when Life Begins

It is a common bromide for people to claim that taking a secular approach to moral issues is better since secular positions aren't as biased by dogma. They claim religion will yield conclusions that are unscientific and unproven. The abortion debate is a perfect example, with the pro-abortion side creating placards of "keep your rosaries off my ovaries" and other nonsense.

However, in the last couple of weeks it has been telling how much pro-abortion supporters don't want to face science; they are looking increasingly desperate in their attempts to shove the question of when a human life begins into the domain of dogma. The whole thing started when Florida Senator Marco Rubio made the statement, "Science is settled — it's not even a consensus, it is a unanimity, that human life begins at conception."1

Rubio is right, of course. Take any human being and trace their point of origin and that being begins his or her existence at the point of conception. A fertilized egg, left to its natural progression, has all the information within itself to develop into a fully functional human being. Pulling just one quote from many, The Harper Collins Illustrated Medical Dictionary defines an embryo as "An organism in the earliest stage of development; in a man, from the time of conception to the end of the second month in the uterus."2 This seems like a no-brainer, right?

As you can imagine, the pro-abortion crowd went into overdrive to try and counter Rubio's assertion. Phillip Bump of the Washington Post went to a single source (the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' Hal C Lawrence, III, MD) and derived a comment of when pregnancy begins, not life. Bump then concludes, "'Life' is something of a philosophical question."3 Planned Parenthood's president Cecile Richards at first refused to answer the question of when life begins, claiming it is a question "that will be debated through the centuries."4 She then said that for her her three children weren't alive until they were born.

While folks like Mollie Hemingway over at the Federalist has done a good job taking apart the claim of no scientific consensus, I wanted to approach the view from another angle. If the beginning of life is something that can be debated and relativized for each person, then it stands to reason that the end of life can also. If science cannot determine if a human zygote is alive, then they cannot identify the clear signs of life at all. So, does that mean that death is a "philosophical" question that doctors cannot answer? Should doctors refrain from judging a person who claims his beloved wife is not dead? How can one pronounce a scientific assessment of death, given all its ramifications, for such a philosophical issue? Perhaps every hospital should have a staff philosopher on hand to help declare things alive and things dead!

Determining life is actually easier than determining death, as two separate entities (egg and sperm) come together to form a new thing. Death doesn't always offer such a clear hallmark; there are cases where it is difficult to determine whether or not a person is dead. However, those are usually dealing with rare situations involving minutes or hours. A person who is dead for a week is definitively dead. In that sense it makes it even less plausible to beg off the beginning of life as "philosophical" while trying to retain a medical standard for the cessation of life.

It's obvious that pro-abortion advocates are running scared in this line of questioning. They are making bad excuses and trying hard to marginalize a significant question of human existence for political and profit motives. They are trying to create a new dogma about life, while seeking to ignore the clear science that agree with the position of those who hold to the biblical view of human life beginning with conception.

References

1 "Rubio: It's 'the left' that denies 'scientific consensus' — on abortion." Speed Reads. THE WEEK Publications, Inc. Web. 15 May 2014 http://theweek.com/speedreads/index/261630/speedreads-rubio-its-the-left-that-denies-scientific-consensus--on-abortion Accessed 20 June 2014.

2 Dox, Ida G. et al. The Harper Collins Illustrated Medical Dictionary. New York: Harper Perennial, 1993. 146 Taken from "Life Begins at Fertilization." Princeton University. Web. https://www.princeton.edu/~prolife/articles/embryoquotes2.html

3 Bump, Philip. "Marco Rubio demanded people look at the science on abortion. So we did." The Washington Post. Web. 15 May 2014.. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/05/15/marco-rubio-demanded-people-look-at-the-science-on-abortion-so-we-did/ Accessed 20 June 2014.

4 Ernst, Douglas. "Planned Parenthood president: Start of life not ‘really relevant' to abortion discussions." The Washington Times. 28 Feb. 2014. Web. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/feb/28/planned-parenthood-president-start-life-not-really/ Accessed 20 June 2014.

Friday, May 16, 2014

A Christian Must Believe That Jesus is God


I've begun a series of blog posts talking about the necessary beliefs one must hold to be considered a Christian. As a guide, I've been looking at the Nicean Creed to formulate the basic beliefs that define the Christian faith. One clear aspect of the Christian faith is the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Right on the heels of declaring monotheism, the church fathers also declare that Jesus is God:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.

Jesus is equal with the Father

Notice that the emphasis on this part of the creed is to place the Son on equal footing with the Father. That's why the repetition of "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God" is used. In the early days of Christianity there were several heresies that cropped up trying to claim that Jesus is in some way lesser than God the Father. The Arians, like the modern day Jehovah's Witnesses, held that Jesus was God's first creation. Jesus is a "mighty god" but not "Almighty God."

Christians had long held that Jesus is God as much as the Father is God. He claimed the honors afforded to God and the attributes ascribed to God. He forgave sins only God would and received worship that is reserved for God alone.1 Robert Wilken writes that the Greek philosopher Celsus was offended by the Christian view of God even in the second century. In discussing his views, Wilken says Celsus is fine with those who would hold Jesus in some type of divine status, such as that reserved for the Caesars. Celsus wasn't convinced that Jesus even deserved this level of honor, but as long as those worshippers recognize the "high God" as greater than lesser deities, it would be OK. Wilken then writes, "The Christians, however, made even more extravagant claims: they said that Jesus was unique among the gods and that he should be worshipped to the exclusion of all other gods. To Celsus such excessive adoration set up Jesus as a rival to God and undercut the worship of the one God." 2

Jesus is different from the Father

While Christians recognize Jesus as being fully God, equal with the Father, they recognize that Jesus is not the same person as the Father. He is not the Father, but the Son. In scripture, we see Jesus coming from the Father (Jn. 5:37, 12:49), He prays to the Father (Mt. 26:39, Lk 23:34,Jn 17:1), He obeys the Father (Lk 22:42, Jn 6:38), and He humbles Himself before the Father (Phil 2:4-8). Jesus is distinct from the Father but both He and the Father are recognized as God.

The Arian view of Jesus was the motivating issue that caused the church fathers to gather from across the globe and convene the first church council in Nicea. The formulation of the Nicean Creed was the result. Its purpose was to clearly establish the equality of Jesus with God the Father while still maintaining the concept of a single God. The church fathers did this by distinguishing between the concept of personhood and being. Next time, I'll unpack the teaching of the Trinity a bit more. For now, recognize that one must believe that Jesus is God in order to be a Christian.

References

1. For a more conmprehensive understanding of the biblical case for why Jesus is recognized as God, see my post "The HANDS Argument for the Deity of Jesus" at http://apologetics-notes.comereason.org/2014/05/the-hands-argument-for-deity-of-jesus.html
2. Wilken, Robert L. The Christians as the Romans Saw Them. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984). 120.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Is Christianity or Atheism the Virus?

As I've written before, the New Atheist movement and its proponents' goal is to proselytize the masses into believing that religion is not only untrue, but dangerous for society. The attitude is no more clearly on display than in the late Christopher Hitchens' book God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens took the same stance as Richard Dawkins who wrote that religion is a virus1. They are among a number of authors who continue their assault on religion in general and Christianity in particular as being, well, bad for us all. They categorize faith as dangerous, deadly and evil.



Let's examine the charge of religious belief as a virus. One way you can identify a viral infection is the individual will have symptoms that cause their bodies to not operate properly. It is only when one feels ill or aches or one exhibits some other condition where the body is not operating as it should that gives the person reason to go to the doctor and get an examination. Granted, there are viruses that will stay inert for years, but they do eventually present themselves in some way. The same can be said of poisons. They destroy or impair certain processes of the body which results in harm to the individual.

Using this understanding, it would be interesting to see how non-believers compare with the faithful in their effect on society. If religion is a poison or a virus then one would expect to see some negative ramifications those views are causing. The person who believes would be like an infected cell, and that view spread across a significant portion of the population would affect the health of the society. So, can we tell if  Christian belief is either aiding or hindering the overall health of the society at large? In looking at a recent study released by the Barna Group I think  we can. The Barna Group regularly deals with matters of faith and it has looked at those individuals in the United States "who openly identified themselves as an atheist, an agnostic, or who specifically said they have 'no faith'."2 They then compared their answers against active-faith adults, (those who have gone to church, read their Bible and prayed within the last week of the survey.)

The results are telling. When compared to those with an active faith, those in the no-faith camp are:
  • Less likely than active-faith Americans to be registered to vote (78% versus 89%)
  • Less likely to volunteer to help a non-church-related non-profit (20% versus 30%)
  • Less likely to describe themselves as "active in the community" (41% versus 68%)
  • Less likely to personally help or serve a homeless or poor person (41% versus 61%).
A big difference Barna notes is the huge disparity in giving between the groups.  In a 2012 study, Barna reports "More than three-quarters of evangelicals (79%) have donated money in the last year, and 65% and 60% of them have donated items or volunteer time, respectively. Additionally, only 1% of evangelicals say they made no charitable donation in the last 12 months." What about the non-religious Americans? The report goes on to say, "One-fifth of people who claimed no faith said they made no donation over the last year, still noticeably higher than the number for all Americans."3

So, is faith a virus, a deadly poison that is damaging humanity? It seems that looking at altruistic measurements – basically people helping those in need – that faith is a tonic to society. People of faith volunteer more, give more, and are more active in making their communities as better place than those of no faith. In these measures, it would seem that having no faith is the true virus that needs to be addressed. Dawkins, Hitchens, and other atheists claim to be basing their arguments on a rational review of the evidence, but it seems to me that they're ignoring the real-world test data that pollsters such as Barna have uncovered.

As an aside, it seems that external measurements aren't the only way no-faith adults don't measure up. When asked about an internal perception of contentment, voiced as a feeling of "being at peace", 67% of no-faith adults described themselves in this way, as opposed to 90% of active-faith adults. This was one of the largest gaps between the two groups in the study.

So, by certain internal as well as external measurements, people of faith are more active, more altruistic, and more "at peace" than their no-faith counterparts. If I was diagnosing a patient, I think I can tell which one has the real virus.

References

1. Dawkins, Richard. “Viruses of the Mind”. [Online] 1991. [Cited: July 7, 2007.] http://www.cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/Dawkins/viruses-of-the-mind.html.
2. “Atheists and Agnostics Take Aim at Christians.” The Barna Group. June 11, 2007.
https://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/12-faithspirituality/102-atheists-and-agnostics-take-aim-at-christians  Accessed 4/8/2014.
http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdate&BarnaUpdateID=272.
3. "American Donor Trends." The Barna Group. April 12, 2013.
https://www.barna.org/barna-update/culture/606-american-donor-trends Accessed 4/8/2014  

Friday, May 02, 2014

Beware the Thought Police Against Religion!

Although I'm considered an early-adopter on the technology front, I still subscribe to the newspaper and read it every day at breakfast. A story in this morning's Los Angeles Times almost made me spill my cereal. The Public Health Director for the city of Pasadena, Eric Walsh, was placed on administrative leave by city officials because the officials learned of "controversial statements" Walsh had made about evolution and homosexuality online.


It seems that Walsh, who also serves as a minister in the Seventh-Day Adventist church, has some prior sermons that speak against homosexuality as a sin and evolution "the religion of Satan" that are available to watch on YouTube. That was supposedly too much for a city official to believe and the city said they needed "to assess the impact those statements might have on his ability to effectively lead the city's Public Health Department." Forget the fact that Walsh has been effective at leading the department, even providing needed services to those in the community diagnosed with AIDS.

Of course, Walsh is only the latest in an increasingly long line of people who either have or are in danger of losing their jobs because their beliefs were not considered politically correct. Mozilla Corporation fired its CEO Brendan Eich not for anything he said, but simply because he gave money to support a proposition that the majority of California voters favored—and he did so six years before the dismissal. Frank Turek's consulting contracts with both Bank of America and Cisco Systems were terminated because of his pro-natural marriage views. And of course the whole Phil Robertson fiasco had A&E networks firing then backstepping quickly as they were threatened by the Robertson family with losing their cash cow entirely.

When did the First Amendment Require an Asterisk?

This whole idea deeply concerns me. Even the NBA's actions against Donald Sterling are troubling. Lest this be taken out of context, let me say that I find Sterling's comments repugnant. Most who knew the movers and shakers in L.A. will tell you that Sterling's racism was no secret. He's a pig. But, should a pig be denied their business when his comments were made in the privacy of his own home? Should those who disagree with the politically correct view of homosexuality or evolution when their track record shows they are more than capable of executing their positions effectively? When did the First Amendment require an asterisk linked to a disclaimer?

The concept of freedom of speech has been misunderstood by people today, partly because people are ignorant of the historical roots of the concept and partly because our society has been so awash in free speech that no one knows what the alternative looks like. In the united States, our Constitutional protection of freedom of speech is an outgrowth of John Locke's philosophy. His book On Liberty makes a great argument for even why opinions that are considered wrong need to be open and accessible:
Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development, and, if possible, prevent the formation, of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence; and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs, as protection against political despotism (emphasis added).[1]
Locke is right in this. Free speech means more than "protection against the tyranny of the magistrate." It also means keeping ideas other than the politically correct ones available without the threat of loss on wages. It means weighing the ideas and views of diverse opinions in a thoughtful manner, but always with a goal of finding truth, not silencing dissent.

Perhaps the most poignant comment came from @naughtnorris on Twitter. "Maybe Dr. Eric Walsh shouldn't preach personal beliefs on his own time. Maybe he shouldn't even have his own beliefs & he should have yours."

This is to what our culture has sunk.

References

1. Locke, John. On Liberty. The University of Adelaide Library.
http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/mill/john_stuart/m645o/chapter1.html

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