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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 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 secularism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label secularism. Show all posts

Monday, October 31, 2016

Why the Post-Christian Culture Can't Understand Us

Since its beginnings in first century Judea, Christianity has always been a proselyting faith. Jesus's followers, having been charged by their master to be his witnesses "in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (English Standard Version, Acts 1:8), effectively followed his command for centuries. But while the Great Commission has been understood to begin at evangelism, it shouldn't be understood to end there. Christian evangelists spreading across the Roman Empire shared not simply a way of salvation, but an entire worldview that was so strange and foreign to its hearers, it was labeled a "deadly superstition" and "hatred for mankind." 1 Larry Hurtado explains how the Romans saw the Christian belief system as "a dangerous development that challenged what were then accepted notions of religion, piety, identity, and behavior.2"

Of course, Rome wasn't the only culture in which Christianity was deemed anti-social and dangerous. Across the centuries and across the globe, a similar theme would play out: Christian missionaries seeking out unreached peoples to save with a message deemed most peculiar. From Patrick in Ireland to Jim Elliot in Brazil, the struggle to communicate the ideas foundational to the Christian faith met significant resistance. Even so, Christian evangelists were successful in penetrating so many pagan societies that the adoption of their weltanschauung ultimately transformed the world.3

The Need for a New Communication Strategy

Evangelism in the Western world today faces a similar issue. While the West has been built upon the Judeo-Christian worldview, it is increasingly abandoning its heritage. Growing more and more secular, basic Christian tenets now sound foreign and are not well understood, especially among the young adults.4

However, today's culture in which Christians now find themselves as outliers has one significant difference. To turn Chesterton on his head, most secularists believe Christianity is not something new and untried; it has been tried and found wanting. They oppose not just Christian belief, but formal religion as an idea while pagan cultures reviled Christianity because they felt it undermined religious piety. Tacitus, Seutonius, and Pliny all used the word superstitio to describe the burgeoning Christian sect. 5 Robert Wilken notes this is a significant term, communicating groundless and irrational beliefs as opposed to a "pious worship of the gods" that gave justification for Christian persecution.6

Unlike the ancients who sought to protect their religious practices, young people today are more likely to hold religious belief as superstition in the modern sense of the term. The Barna Group's recent study The Bible in America - Six Year Trends found:
  • Millennials (22%) and Gen-Xers (18%) are significantly more likely to say the Bible doesn't qualify as a holy book, even as they reject other books as holy.
  • There is rising skepticism about the Bible as a sufficient guide for living a meaningful life.
  • Trust in the Bible's reliability is dropping. Barna first asked American adults in 1991 if they agreed or disagreed that "the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches." The percentage of those who strongly disagree has nearly doubled in six years.7
One need only look to the best-selling titles of Hitchens and Dawkins to see how the charge that religion poisons everything or how characterizing God as a "sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully" 8 are attractive to millions. Or, as the Barna Group summarized, "the steady rise of skepticism is creating a cultural atmosphere that is becoming unfriendly to claims of faith; the adoption of self-fulfillment as our culture's ultimate measure of good is re-orienting moral authority."9

While those hostile to all religion may be in the minority, another problem exists in communicating Gospel truths to a post-Christian culture. People are less and less likely to understand broader Christian concepts. The explosion of moral relativism offers one example, but it isn't the only one. Even the very idea of personal responsibility can be questioned and justified. In his The Secular Age, Charles Taylor offers an example of how actions are now interpreted not as consequences of personal failure, but as signs of missing fulfillment:
[Religious Sociologist Wade Clark] Roof points to new approaches to dieting, and the control of obesity, in contemporary spiritual culture. On the older "deadly sin" understanding, obesity comes from gluttony, a temptation which must be rigorously controlled. Medicalization resituated this temptation as a kind of abnormality, the kind of thing which arises with deviant kinds of development. The contemporary understanding will often look beyond the craving to the deeper unmet spiritual needs that trigger anxious eating.10
Taylor clarifies that the dieter's missing spirituality referenced above sits in contrast to "religion," where the latter is rejected as institutional and authoritarian instead of self-fulfilling, subjective, and feelings-based. Such concepts are barriers to sharing one's faith, as the very vocabulary one uses is no longer effective. Taylor concludes:
Whatever the level of religious belief and practice, on an uneven but many-sloped playing field, the debate between different forms of belief and unbelief goes on. In this debate, modes of belief are disadvantaged by the memory of their previously dominant forms.… They are even more severely disadvantaged by an unintended byproduct of the climate of the fragmented search: the fact that the falling off of practice has meant that rising generations have lost touch with traditional religious languages.11
In order to reach the next generation effectively with the Gospel message, the church must communicate in a way that can relate the big ideas of Christianity but also won't be disadvantaged by negative bias the listener has toward religion.


1. Wilken, Robert Louis. The Christians as the Romans Saw Them. New Haven: Yale UP, 1984. Print. 49, 60.
2. Hurtado, Larry W. Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World. Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2016. Print.
3. See  Alvin J. Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. Print.
4. Barna Group. "The Bible in America: 6-Year Trends." Barna Group, 15 June 2016. Web. 01 Oct. 2016. .
5. Wilken, 1984. 49-50. Print.
6. Wilken, 1984. 60.
7. Barna Group. 2016.
8. Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. 51. Print.
9. Barna Group. 2016.
10. Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 2007. Print. 507.
11. Taylor, 2009. 533.
Image courtesy Brian Talbot and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Banning God from Government isn't Neutral

At the last Republican presidential primary debate in Iowa, atheist groups plan on holding a demonstration entitled "Keep Your Theocracy Out of Our Democracy." According to a press release by the Coalition of Reason, the event is a way of "demanding a separation of religion from government" as well as "to raise the visibility of the voice of non-theistic voters and the issues that they care about."1 ;The theme of separation of church and state plays prominently in the press release and will do so at the event as well.

The theme of; Eastern Iowa COR spokesman Rocky Gissler summed up, "An elected government official takes an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution that applies to all citizens, and their 'sincerely-held beliefs' should not supersede the supreme law of this country. When religious bias is allowed to influence our laws, it can result not only in discriminatory actions toward whole groups of people, such as the LGBTQ community, but grievous harm to individuals."

The complaint that religious belief should have no influence on governmental decision-making is a recurring one among atheist groups today. That's exactly what the title of this protest communicates. I also just wrote about how atheist Justin Scott has been quizzing the various candidates on whether they plan to cater to atheist values and telling Marco Rubio "there's talks in our community about you running as Pastor-in Chief instead of Commander-in-Chief." When engaging with Mike Huckabee, Huckabee asked Scott whether he thought the public schools should be anti-religious. Scott's reply is telling. He said, "Not anti-religious. I believe there's value in teaching religion in terms of history, in terms of literature, but not in terms of 'This is truth.'"

Secularism Makes Truth-Claims about the World

What Gissler, Scott, and others like them fail to realize is the sentiment of holding religion as an untruth is not taking a neutral position. There's a big assumption that because something may be classified as secular it is unbiased, but that simply doesn't follow. For example, Gissler's statement above takes a particular moral stance on the same-sex marriage debate. He is allowing his secularism to inform him of what legislation he deems appropriate and which legislation he deems discriminatory.

When one looks at education, we can find the same trend. To teach evolution as the dominant explanation for the diversity of life on the earth is understandable in a science class. However, by labeling evolution as "secular" and any and all competition theories as "religious," an inherent bias is set up. That's problematic, because neo-Darwinism needs to be falsifiable to be a scientifically solid explanatory theory. ;But what would the parameters of what falsification look like? Instead of blind natural processes, diversity would require some kind of purposeful creator. Atheist claim this is forbidden.

The preference of atheists to assert secularism over other types of beliefs are clear. Atheists demand that none of their tax dollars goes to anything even remotely resembling faith. Nativity scenes, crosses existing on public lands, and even food pantries for the poor have all been targeted by atheist groups who hate any association of tax dollars with even the hint of a theistic belief system. But what about Christians who are supposed to support secular programs in schools to the exclusion of their beliefs? Why should only those who make the claim "God does not exist" get the free ride? That's what the protesters are really demanding; they want their beliefs to be the only ones in government. But our government is founded upon the belief that it is God who gives us certain rights . Take God away and all those rights the atheists are demanding fold like a house of cards.

Demanding Freedom or Oppression?

It's easy to try and play off secularism as a neutral position, but secularism isn't neutral. It stands opposed to most religious belief systems. If our country is truly going to be a free one, then its citizens must be able to draw upon their first freedom of the free exercise of religion. We must be able to exercise that freedom in our workplaces, in our schools, and in the voting booth. And those whom we elect should be able to exercise their beliefs and draw upon those beliefs to inform their views while in office. Anything less is demanding as oppressive a government as the one our Founders fled.


1. "Godless Expression of Free Speech from Atheist Voters at Final GOP Debate." United Coalition of Reason. 26 Jan 2016. Web. 28 Jan 2016.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Defending Your Faith in the Classroom

Last week, I told you about someone who asked for help when his Sociology professor broached the subject of religion, but basically dismissed it as a fabrication. The student wrote:
Some notable points he brought up, which are straight from the Sociology textbook, is that all religion is "socially constructed" and that faith is "belief without scientific evidence." ...

He stated that religion is constantly evolving and falsely asserted that Christianity was the first to develop monotheism. His final statement was made near the end of the lecture that "we all need to exercise some level of spirituality in order to survive" since religion provides comfort in the case of tragedy.

How does one, especially as a student, respond to such claims? It's apparent the professor has already chosen where he stands concerning religion. When another spoke up during the lecture, it was clear all he wants to do is debate. As Christians, should we speak up or not cast our pearls before swine?
For the answer to the main charges, you can read my last article here. As to the question of engagement, let me say that I've received more and more of these kinds of questions in recent years. Sometimes, they even come in the form of a plea, where the Christian really wants to defend his or her faith but doesn't know how. There's a real conflict here. On one hand, we want to share the truth of the Gospel message with others and not let mischaracterizations about our faith remain unanswered. On the other, the student recognizes the professor holds the position of power, not only in terms of stature and who gets to speak in class, but ultimately because the prof assigns the final grade for the course.

First, Pick Your Battles

My first piece of advice to this student is to be thoughtful. Exchanges with those in authority need to be judicious and part of that is weighing what the reaction to an objection may be. Jesus told us, "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matt 10:16, ESV) and that applies here. The professor is the "man with the microphone," which means he controls the conversation. That also means you probably won't be able to have a sustained argument in class, which is appropriate since that's really not what the class is for anyway.

We have a couple of good examples of how Christians faced such conditions in the New Testament. Peter and John faced the Jewish rulers. Paul was also brought before the Jewish High Council and later before Felix. In each of these cases, the Christians never tried to steamroll the questioning authority. Instead, they first waited until it was the appropriate time for them to speak. Notice that Peter and John don't respond until questioned by the elders (Acts 4:6). Paul waits five days until he is summoned and even then only speaks when the Roman governor Felix "nodded to him to speak" (Acts 24:1,10). So, it is important to have a good "feel" for both the prof and the teaching style of the class before trying to engage at all.

Clarify Through Questions

Next, in each instance they pointed to their own good conduct (Acts 4:8, 23:1, 24:12) and asked questions about exactly what the main issue was. This is so important that I want to emphasize it again. Questions are the primary way to open a conversation in a respectful and open manner. They can be hugely effective when engaging someone who is antagonistic to your point of view, as demonstrated here.

In the classroom especially, questions are expected. They allow you to not make assertions but ask for clarification which can serve to show a contradiction in the teacher's positions. For example, compare the two opening charges listed above. The prof claimed 1) religion is "socially constructed" and 2) faith is "belief without scientific evidence." The prof clearly mis-defined faith, as has been argued multiple times in the past. Leaving that aside, I would ask for clarification of his point. When the prof talks about religion, does he mean the various expressions people may produce in trying to reach out to the divine? I don't think it's controversial to recognize that the worship music of 21st century America will be colored by our current culture and be very different from the practices of a second century church in Antioch.

The question isn't how culture affects our stretch toward the divine, the question rally is whether God really exists and what is the most appropriate way to know how he has revealed himself. Feuerbach and Freud would say God isn't real, and I think this is also the professor's claim. If that is so, the next question should be "If scientific evidence is the standard for believing a claim, then what scientific evidence can be offered for holding that God does not exist, but is simply a socially constructed belief?"

The prof has alluded to the standard of science to determine truth value it seems to me. But there are a lot of things I believe that science has no bearing on. I believe I'm not in the Matrix, for example. I believe my memories for the most part accurately represent what happened to me previously. I believe that when I see the color green I have the same experience as you do.

A Little is a Lot

Lastly, know when to be done. One or two key questions are usually enough to break the façade of assurance originally presented by the prof but not so much that the exchange begins to feel like a confrontation. Paul would wait for Felix to call him and they would then have conversations. But Paul didn't try to "eat the entire elephant" at once. Be patient and trust that God will provide the proper opportunities and the proper words for such times. Those are the marks of wisdom and gentleness, as Jesus commanded.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Demand for Choice Can Diminish Humanity

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

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

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

'Secular' Nations are Coasting Off Christian Fuel

"No one need fear that the Titanic will go down. Even though all her former compartments and bulkheads were stove in by the iceberg, she would still float indefinitely. She might go down a little at the bow, but she would float. I am free to say that no matter how bad the collision with an iceberg, the Titanic would float. She is an unsinkable ship." 1

Those words were offered by P.A.S. Franklin, Vice President of the International Mercantile Marine on the morning of April 15, after reports started coming in that the R.M.S. Titanic stuck an iceberg and was in need of rescue. Franklin assured the public that would be rescued. Of course, his assumption was completely wrong, as was the Titanic's captain who proceeded at full speed even though the Titanic had received six separate warnings of heavy ice before she was struck. Captain Smith, a seasoned leader, knew of the ice in the water before he left port.2 Both men were assuming future success on their past history. Smith even previously said that modern shipbuilding had "gone beyond" any condition causing a ship to sink. 3

Christianity is What Shaped These Societies

I offer the example of the Titanic not to berate the assumptions of the men above, but that they should serve as a caution. Today, we recognize such statements as hubris, perhaps even ridiculous but hindsight is easy. When I read things like Phil Zuckerman's claim that secular societies fare better than religious ones, I have to shake my head. Zuckerman offers several statistics, both on a state level within the U.S. and on a global scale comparing 'secular' nations to those whose citizens are religiously engaged and concludes that on many different benchmarks, such as economic indicators and reported levels of happiness, the secular nations are better. Scandinavian countries are held high in Zuckerman's writings as prime examples of secular nations. While that may be a debatable point, I will grant that for all practical purposes, the Scandinavian nations have a dominant secular population.

I've already discussed the first problem with the claim: what counts as 'better?' Today, I want to take on the heart of the matter, though. These secular nations (and the less religious states Zuckerman offers) are as successful as they are not because they've turned secular, but because of the centuries of Christian history and values that have shaped them into what they are today. It is the Christian tradition that has made the Scandinavian countries value all people as equals. Before Christianity, the Viking culture saw pillaging monasteries of far off countries acceptable and slavery was part of the business. It took some 150-250 years for the Scandinavian nations to convert to Christianity, and during that time the culture gradually changed to adopt Christian principles.4

Jumping to Conclusions

The length of time it takes to change a culture fits appropriately with sociologist Robert Woodberry's findings on how Christian missionaries positively affected third world nations. What makes his study so significant is that Woodberry has researched his claim so carefully no critic can find a hole in it. You can read more here, but as Christianity Today summarized:
Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.

In short: Want a blossoming democracy today? The solution is simple—if you have a time machine: Send a 19th-century missionary.5
Zuckerman has offered his criteria for "better" by using measures like a nation's democracy, the equality of women, or its level of literacy. But these are results of the Christian worldview. So are education, the value for children and orphans, and the idea that all men are created equal. The secular nations that Zuckerman highlights have had a long history of Christianity as their primary societal driver. There simply has not been enough time for secular values that Christians warn of to do the damage they can ultimately inflict.

Once the Titanic struck the iceberg, it didn't sink right away. It took over two hours before she went down and in the immediate minutes after the hit, I would imagine certain crew would still have voiced the same hope as P.A.S. Franklin. Their assumptions were equally wrong. I've shown how the so-call model secular nations have devalued life already. The question for us today is where will this new secularism take us when enough time has passed for the culture to be drowning in it?


1. "She Cannot Sink, Says Official of White Star Line" The Evening World (New York, NY) 15 Apr. 1912, Final ed.: 1. Print. PDF version available at
2. Elverhøi, Peter. "There's a lot of ice out there, old boy." Acquitting the Iceberg. Encyclopedia Titanica, 15 Oct. 2013. Web. 04 Nov. 2015.
3. Butler, Daniel Allen. Unsinkable: The Full Story of the RMS Titanic. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 1998. Print. 48.
4. Stone, Ryan. "The Long Goodbye to Scandinavian Paganism and the Christianization of Three Realms." Ancient Origins. Ancient Origins, 16 Oct. 2014. Web. 04 Nov. 2015.
5. Dilley, Andrea Palpant. "The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries." Christianity Today. 1/8/2014.  Accessed 6/9/2014.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Deconstructing the "Atheist Nations are Better" Meme

Yesterday I wrote about a spate of memes on the Internet that assert countries with atheist majorities are faring better than those whose cultures reflect a religious majority. In that article, I distinguished that the concept of "better" is used pretty loosely, as suicides and the value of life itself seems to be much lower in Scandinavian counties offered as examples of secular states. Today, I'd like to approach some of the other problems with the assertion to provide a fuller response to those who would believe such hype.

Secularism is not Atheism

It must be mentioned at the outset that many of the memes out there are not accurate in their presentation of the facts. For example, the Iceland meme defines Iceland as an "Atheist majority population." According to the CIA World Factbook, the population of Iceland is actually "Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland (official) 73.8%, Roman Catholic 3.6%, Reykjavik Free Church 2.9%, Hafnarfjorour Free Church 2%, The Independent Congregation 1%, other religions 3.9% (includes Pentecostal and Asatru Association), none 5.6%, other or unspecified 7.2% (2015 est.)."1 Taking the Nones and the unspecified together, it means 12.8% of Iceland's nearly 332,000 citizens don't identify with any religious group.  That isn't even close to a majority.

The question changes if one makes a distinction between a secular culture and an atheist culture. Even sociologist Phil Zuckerman, from whose research most of these ideas were taken, tried to be a bit more careful in his definitions, defining an atheist as "someone who doesn't believe in God and/or finds the very concept of God meaningless or incoherent" and a secular person as "someone who is non-religious, irreligious, or generally uninterested in, indifferent to, or oblivious to religious beliefs, activities, and organizations."2 As Zuckerman rightly notes, there are a wide range of beliefs, self-identifications, and even overlapping views. So, while Iceland may have a population that is uninterested in religious beliefs (we don't know if that's the case as no statistics are provided in the meme), it cannot be claimed to be atheist.

Selective Sampling

In another article written for Psychology Today, Zuckerman claims "those democratic nations today that are the most secular, such as Scandinavia, Japan, Australia, the Netherlands, etc., are faring much better on nearly every single indicator of well-being imaginable than the most religious nations on earth today such as Colombia, Jamaica, El Salvador, Yemen, Malawi, Pakistan, the Philippines, etc."3 Interestingly, why did Zuckerman include the qualifier "democratic" in his assessment of secular nations but not of the religious ones? What about the human rights of the citizens of China or North Korea? Here, he doesn't say, but he does mention it in his other work. There, Zuckerman admits such nations "do miserably on various indicators of societal well-being" but he blames this on the dictatorships themselves.4 He may very well be right, but then what to do with including nations like Colombia and Yemen in the list above?

Also, while Zuckerman's article is written to counter what he says is a charge by "religious conservatives," the claim is too broad.  I don't claim that being religious or a belief in God is all one needs for a society to thrive. It is specifically Christian ethics and a society influenced by a Christian worldview that we must discuss.  Islamic nations have a whole host of other problems they must deal with.

In the next article, I focus specifically on the conclusion offered by Zuckerman that countries like the Scandinavian nations are faring better due to their secularism. For now, know that such claims rely more on assumption than fact.


1. "Iceland." CIA World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency, 28 Oct. 2015. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.
2. Zuckerman, Phil. "Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions." Sociology Compass 3.6 (2009): 951. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.
3. Zuckerman, Phil. "Secular Societies Fare Better Than Religious Societies." Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC, 13 Oct. 2014. Web. 02 Nov. 2015.
4. Zuckerman, 2009.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Keeping Crosses on Public Lands (audio debate)

Within the last ten years or so groups like the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have brought lawsuit after lawsuit seeking to remove crosses from various public lands. One recent skirmish hit very close to home for me, as AU attorneys sought to remove the historic Mt. Rubidoux cross in my home town of Riverside, CA.

When the cross was threatened, I was asked by radio host Lou Desmond to appear on his show and go toe to toe with the secularist attorney seeking to sue the city of Riverside. Listen in as we discuss the historic background that roots the cross in culture and see why arguments like those made by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State are inconsistent and ultimately unconvincing.

Download the mp3 file here.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Secularism's Undue Influence on Society

Yesterday, I discussed how secularism is not a neutral position. Secularism is a worldview, and as such it makes truth-claims about the nature of reality, the nature of man, and how people should derive their morals and their meaning.

Author Nancy Pearcy has recognized the influence that secularism has as well as the attempts of the secularists to spread their specific beliefs upon not only the political spectrum, but across a wide swatch of culture. Pearcy explains:
Among the worldviews competing in America's pluralistic society, there is one that we all encounter in some form. It has become nearly universal, crossing ethnic, racial, and national boundaries. Sociologists describe it as an emerging global secularism. "There is, without question, a globalized elite culture," writes sociologist Peter Berger, "an international subculture composed of people with Western-type higher education." They tend to congregate in large metropolitan areas, so that elites in New York City have essentially the same secular mind-set as their counterparts in London, Tokyo, and Sao Paulo.

These urban elites exert power far out of proportion to their numbers. As Berger writes, "They control the institutions that provide the 'official' definitions of reality," such as law, education, mass media, academia, and advertising. In short, they are society's gatekeepers. People who have the power to control the "'official' definitions of reality" are in a position to impose their own private worldview across an entire society.

As a consequence, global secularism is an international worldview that we all need to engage, no matter where we live or work. Political scientist Benjamin Barber dubbed it "McWorld," a homogenous global culture dominated by McDonalds, Macintosh, and MTV.1
Apologetics is one way of engaging the culture and showing how the Christian worldview can not only stand when compared to the secular worldview, but it offers better answers and a more consistent view of reality than secularism can. I will be highlighting some of these points in upcoming articles. For now, know that you, dear Christian are already drafted into the war of ideas, so you must takes steps to engage secularism as it continues to influence our laws, our kids, and our society.


1. Pearcey, Nancy. Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, & Meaning. Nashville: B&H, 2010. Print. 9.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Secularism isn't a Neutral Position

Should Christianity have a voice in politics, education, and the public square? Many people think so. They tend to believe that you can hold whatever belief you wish, as long as you don't "force your faith into a secular government."1 Organizations like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have been trying to systematically remove all crosses or any type of religious displays set up on city or county properties. The thought is that in public areas such as schools and government a secular viewpoint is neutral while a religious viewpoint is biased.

But I don't think that's true, and neither does philosopher Brendan Sweetman. In his book Why Politics Needs Religion, Sweetman discusses why secularism is anything but a neutral position. He first builds the case that secularism is a distinct worldview with its own specific beliefs. He states that every worldview is what he calls "a philosophy of life" In other words it is the grid through which we see and make sense of the world. Sweetman notes that every worldview holds the following traits:2
  1. It is concerned with three primary areas: nature of reality, the nature of persons, and the nature of moral and political values.
  2. It contains a number of life-regulating beliefs.
  3. Not all beliefs can be fully proven or demonstrated.
  4. It is exemplified by certain rituals, practices or behaviors.
  5. It offers a moral code.
  6. Proponents will explain, defend, and seek to persuade others to their understanding.
After outlining these traits, Sweetman notes how secularism clearly holds to each of the categories above. By denying the interjection of God or any kind of supernatural entities, secularists hold the nature of reality and the nature of persons are purely physical. Sweetman quotes the famous opening line from Carl Sagan in his Cosmos series, claiming "The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be." Sagan makes a clearly metaphysical claim yet secularists would never object to this series because of a distinctively religious viewpoint. Of course, secularists claim that the nature of values comes from ourselves.

Secularists hold to particular beliefs such as all humans should have the freedom to do or not do as they please, as long as it doesn't harm others. Thus we see the push for same-sex marriage, and euthanasia laws become more prominent and offered as secular stances against religious convictions. Secularists also hold to beliefs they cannot prove, such as concepts like the existence of the multiverse or the belief that science alone can answer questions such as "where do we come from?"

Secularism as Religion

However, Sweetman goes further in his comparison. He argues that secularism is not merely a worldview; it can fall in to the category of religion. He outlines what religious beliefs entail and points out secular beliefs are formed in the same manner as other religious beliefs:
When a particular belief or view is described as religious, what is normally meant is that it is supported by or based upon or derived from some of the following sources: (1) a text, such as the Bible, the Qur'an, John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, Karl Marx's Das Kapital, John Rawls's A Theory of Justice, (2) the institutional churches), including representatives such as the priests and other authorities of the worldview (e.g., Billy Graham as a spokesman for Protestantism or Richard Dawkins as a spokesman for secularism); (3) a profound personal experience of some kind (e.g., the experience that God is near, the experience that people are fundamentally equal, etc.), (4) the tradition of the church in question (e.g., in Judaism by appeal to the Talmud; in secularism by [selective] appeal to the works of philosophers John Locke, Immanuel Kant or John Stuart Mill); (5) appeal to faith alone (e.g., believing that life is a gift from God on faith; believing that there is a scientific answer to the question of the origin of the universe on faith).

The reader will have noticed that I have deliberately included secularist examples of these sources, as well as examples from traditional religion, in order to illustrate that it is quite possible for a secularist to hold and to promote a belief based on these sources; these sources are not confined to religious believers. As long as a secularist belief is based on a similar type of appeal to the kinds of sources that religious believers might also use, then the arguments used to exclude religious beliefs because they come from these sources will also apply to secularist beliefs that come from the same kind of sources. Contemporary political theory, as we will see in chapter six, appeals frequently to the authority of liberal political tradition to support some of its important, indeed crucial, claims. These examples also serve to remind us and to emphasize again one of my main claims: that secularism is also a religion, and that it has the same formal structure as traditional religious belief.3
While it may be argued that Sweetman is really describing atheism as the belief system above, it has become increasingly difficult to separate secularism where no ideas based on a belief in God are allowed and atheism where no beliefs based on God can be found. If secularism is the default position in our political discussions, then isn't secularism elevating an atheistic viewpoint above other faiths?


1. Rosman, David. "Forcing Religion into Government Is Wrong." The Columbia Missourian. The Columbia Missourian, 3 June 2015. Web. 4 June 2015.
2. Sweetman, Brendan. Why Politics Needs Religion: The Place of Religious Arguments in the Public Square. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006. Print. 48.
3. Sweetman, 2003. 86-87. "
Image courtesy Jeffrey M Dean and licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Is There Such a Thing as Christian Terrorism?

The recent attacks on the French satirical periodical Charlie Hebdo resulted in a worldwide outpouring of support for the victims and condemnation of the terrorists. But the condemnation also came with a lot of confusion and rhetoric from both liberal and conservative factions. I don't believe it is right to paint all Muslims with the terrorist brush. As John A. Azumah explained in his recent piece, the Wahabbists follow a specific type of Islam, but they also shirk their own authority structures and seek to take matters into their own hands.1 Thus, the terrorists are both the natural outworking of Islamic beliefs and violators of its governing bodies.

While some on the right may have a penchant to see every Muslim as a terrorist, some on the left make two very different types of errors. The first is to see no connection between the terrorists and Islam at all. This is absurd to the point of ridicule. After Mohammad's conquering of Medina and Mecca, the Caliphite expansion across North Africa and into Spain, the Crusades, the Ottoman expansion, the attack on the Marine base in Lebanon, the attack on the USS Cole, 9/11, the London Subway bombings, the Madrid train bombings, and countless more attempts that have been thwarted, I think that any reasonable person can see a pattern developing. History shows that Islam was in fact spread by the sword, and it is easy to see how the children of the Hanbali tradition would see justification in continuing that tradition.

But it is the other mistake some have made that concerns me even more deeply. There are some on the left who would argue that it isn't Islam that's the problem, but it is any type of dedicated religious belief. These people charge that Christians who take their faith seriously are just as much a terrorist threat as radicalized Muslims.

One case in point is an article written by Jack Jenkins that appeared on the Think Progress site a month before the Charlie Hebdo attack. Entitled "The Other Kind Of Religious Extremism: The Christian Terrorist Movement No One Wants To Talk About," Jenkins tries to link individual attacks, such as the white supremacist Larry McQuilliams who shot up several buildings (but no people) in Austin, Texas with groups like Al Queaeda, Boko Harem, and ISIS.

Jenkins knows that McQuilliams was following the teachings of the white supremacist group the Phineas Priesthood. But for him, that's more evidence that some Christians can be dangerous. He writes, "McQuilliams' possible ties to the Phineas Priesthood may sound strange, but it's actually unsettlingly common. In fact, his association with the hateful religious group highlights a very real — but often under-reported — issue: terrorism enacted in the name of Christ." 2

Wait a minute. Did Jenkins really enact terrorism in the name of Christ? Did he scream out "Jesus be praised" during his attack? Not at all. According to the Austin Chronicle, who interviewed FBI special agent Chris Combs, "he had a rooted motive. 'He could not find employment,' Combs said. 'He was also upset that – in his eyes – many immigrants had more services afforded to them than he had afforded to him.'"3 Yet, Jenkins is pretty quick to rush his judgment simply because he had a book published by a white supremacist movement with the word "Christendom" in the title. Jenkins then shows his hand by widening his scope:
But there is a long history of terrorist attacks resembling McQuilliams' rampage across Austin — where violence is carried out in the name of Christianity — in the United States and abroad. In America, the Ku Klux Klan is well-known for over a century of gruesome crimes against African Americans, Catholics, Jews, and others — all while ascribing to what they say is a Christian theology.4
Is he kidding? "All while ascribing to what they say is Christian theology?" Jenkins uses the IRA of Northern Ireland as one example of "terrorism enacted in the name of Christ." That's ridiculous; the IRA was very much a political group, described as "a militant nationalist organization" by the Encyclopedia Britannica.5 There was no ascribing their actions as the proper outworking of Christian theology. Likewise, the Klu Klux Klan cannot claim any verse that tells them to burn crosses or hang people because of the color of their skin. In order to demonize Christianity, Jenkins simply tries to grab hold of anything that seeks to use the word "Christian" while violating both the core teachings of Christianity and the example set by its founder, Jesus Christ.

When looking at the foundation of Christianity, one sees that the followers of Jesus died for their faith, and even during those times of early persecution they didn't form an army against their persecutors. The inherent worth of all men including those with physical or mental defects comes from Christianity. The teachings of Jesus such as the Golden Rule, to go the extra mile, or to "turn the other cheek" are the best values for a civilized and gracious society. Jesus Himself did not conquer with an army, but gave himself as a sacrifice for others. If an individual's acts with intent to terrorize or kill, you no longer have Christianity. You have something else entirely.

In perpetrating intentional distortions such as these, Jenkins himself engages in a kind of journalistic terrorism, seeking to ghettoize the faithful followers of Jesus as some kind of threat. The public would be better served with the truth than misleading articles such as his.


1. Azumah, John A. "An Explanation of Islam's Relation to Terrorism and Violence." First Things. First Things, Jan. 2015. Web. 13 Jan. 2015.
2. Jenkins, Jack. "The Christian Terrorist Movement No One Wants To Talk About." ThinkProgress. ThinkProgress, 4 Dec. 2014. Web. 13 Jan. 2015.
3. Hoffberger, Chase, and Michael King. "Shooter Had ‘Hate in His Heart'" The Austin Chronicle. The Austin Chronicle Corp., 5 Dec. 2014. Web. 13 Jan. 2015.
4. Jenkins., Think Progress, 2014.
5 "Irish Republican Army (IRA) | Irish Military Organization." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 12 Jan. 2015.

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