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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 worldview. Show all posts
Showing posts with label worldview. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Three Ways The Last Jedi Reflects Troubling Trends in Culture



It should be no surprise that The Last Jedi, the latest installment in the Star Wars franchise, is by all measures an instant success. I went to see the film and was optimistic based on the initial buzz and reviews. And while I didn't walk away hating the movie, I didn't walk away for the theater inspired or excited as I had after the A New Hope or The Empire Strikes Back.

Then something funny happened. The more I thought about it, the more the film began to bother me. After a second viewing, I became more convinced that there are some serious worldview issues with The Last Jedi that sit at direct odds against the original trilogy. I want to go over three of them with you below. However, in order to do so, there will be spoilers so stop reading now if you haven't yet seen the film.

1. Faith and tradition are disposable

Most people know that George Lucas was a friend and fan of Joseph Campbell and his teaching on universal myth. Campbell knew that the traditions and teachings passed from one generation to the next shape humanity. Lucas picked up on this in his original saga; Luke Skywalker typifies Campbell's mythic hero.

Yet in The Last Jedi, the accumulated wisdom of experience over millennia doesn't matter. In fact, what's called for is a clean slate. Writer and director Rian Johnson shows this time and again with his “burn down the canon” script. The most telling scene in the film is that Luke, The Last Jedi Master, has been hiding away on the very planet that contains the original texts laying the foundation for the Jedi faith. He is shown as their guardian, but he is contemplating destroying them so the Jedi faith would be no more. He worries that the faith can be abused and therefore be an origin for evil as well as for good. Luke thinks that by ridding the world of the Jedi, he will likewise rid the world of the Sith.

Such a point could've been a rich vein for development. However, Johnson takes away the opportunity for thoughtful discussion and instead has the apparition of Yoda set fire to the texts himself, justifying it to Luke by asking “Have you read them? Page-turners they were not.”

I think the scene is indicative of the modern view towards religion in general and Christianity in particular. Christians are called “People of the Book” because of the central place Scripture holds in instruction and training in righteousness. The Bible tells us that human beings are born with a nature that gravitates toward evil. We learn that selflessness rather than our natural drive towards selfishness is the proper attitude to hold. But if it doesn't entertain us—if it isn't a page turner—then get rid of it. It's the modern attitude of “tl;dr yet I can comment on whether it's valuable or not.”

2. You don't really need to put in years of work to be competent

Much has been made about how quickly Rey became proficient with the Force. She can match any of Snoke's Praetorian Guard, theoretically the best of the best that Snoke could muster. Heck, on the island she is able to duel against Luke Skywalker and come to a draw. We saw Luke continue to try and fail to lift even one rock via the Force during his training, yet Rey is able to remove a landslide immediately without pause. Yet, given the timeline of the events in the film and how Rey had to get back to the action, she couldn't have been gone more than a few months at most. Her training seemed to last only days.

The concept of instant gratification is endemic in our culture. So many people today believe that happiness and comfort are the default position and any tragedy or hardship means someone else is holding you back. That isn't how the world works. The security you enjoyed growing up came at the expense of years of your parents' sacrifice and toil, working day by day for the eventual success they then enjoyed. There are no cheat-codes to life.

3. Men are inconsequential

The most obvious message The Last Jedi sends is the one that Johnson clearly sought to send, that is that men offer nothing uniquely beneficial to society. The main protagonist, Rey, is female. So are all the leadership of the Resistance. Kylo Ren and Snoke are bad guys and are men. The double-dealing code-breaker is a man. The arms dealer is a man.

Even in the first few moments of the film I had a hard time believing that only women would be in the top levels of command. As the film progressed, its agenda became more overt and more satirical. It is the women in this film who time and again save the day while the men just mess everything up. Poe is a hotshot who recklessly expends a number of lives taking out a ship that makes no difference in the rest of the film. His later plans are shown to be useless as Laura Dern's Vice Admiral Holdo had a plan in the works all along. Even Finn, in his bravado charging the enemy, needs to be saved by Rose.

The egregiousness of this fiction is distressing. Men have long been the punching bags of media. War is an ugly thing, but it is and has always been men who time and again put their lives on the line to protect us from the evils that threaten our way of life. Men would willingly die to save women and children because they understood the weaker needed protection by the stronger. But now our society says the unique thing that makes men men is itself dangerous. It needs to be checked and men need to behave more like women. When you take away a man's self-understanding as provider and protector, you rob him of his place in the world. Why then would men in this or future generations stand up and put their lives on the line when a real enemy threatens?

Image courtesy LearningLark [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, January 01, 2018

Two Jan 1 Law Changes Show How Jesus Changed Everything



January 1 marks the beginning of a new year and with it the promise of new opportunities to better ourselves. Of course the beginning of the New Year means many new laws begin to take effect. This has been true ever since Julius Caesar changed the calendars back in 45 B.C. when January 1 first marked the beginning of the year. Just three years later following Caesar's assassination, it was on January 1 that he was posthumously proclaimed divine by the Roman Senate.

The move to make Caesar divine was a political one. Caesar's grand-nephew and heir Octavian wanted to capitalize on Caesar's popularity with the common people and leverage it in his favor as he engage in a power struggle for the empire against Caesar's enemies. After his success, Octavian became known as Caesar Augustus ("the venerable") which "had a religious significance as designating one worthy of reverence, and marked him as more than man."1

The act of declaring Caesar a god was a key moment in the history of Rome. The Romans, unlike the Greeks, Egyptians, and other eastern cultures didn't have a tradition that a ruler would be a descendant of the gods.2 They held Romans to be superior to all other groups, and like all other cultures of their day, believed the aristocracy was superior to the underclass. But they didn't see the Roman leadership as direct descendants of the Roman pantheon.3 It was Octavian's political maneuver that established the Roman Imperial Cult where the emperor would be worshiped as divine. Later Caesars actually began to believe their own propaganda, and grew even bolder in their proclamation of being from the gods.

Another January 1 Wathershed Law

January 1 marks the anniversary of another watershed law, this one more recent in history. On January 1, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln gave an executive order affecting more than three million people in the Civil War-torn United States south. The Emancipation Proclamation as it is known officially declared "all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons." While the Civil War wouldn't be settled for another two years, Lincoln's executive order legally marked the end of slavery in the United States of America.

The contrast between these two acts is interesting. Both of these laws affected the history of civilization. One sought to elevate a man above other men. The other sought to recognize the equality of all men. While both gave their proponents certain political advantages, one ultimately resulted in more human suffering and enslavement of other cultures while the other brought freedom and dignity to a previously repressed group. What changed? Why is there such a difference in the basic view of human beings?

The unifying force between these two is Jesus. The true God-man came into the world of one who claimed himself to be divine and leveraged it to spread His message that all men are equally valuable. Instead of demanding worship from others, He humbled Himself to the point of death on the cross so that all men of every race would be set free from the slavery of sin and death.

As we jump into a new year, you will certainly see many new laws take effect. Some of them are selfish in nature, seeking to bolster our personal pleasures without regard for the wider effects on society. Others are more magnanimous. But don't forget about Christmas just yet. Without the Emmanuel, without the God with Us, it might be that New Year's would only mark the beginning of another period of forced worship to one more of the various despots human nature has always produced. And that is nothing with celebrating.

References

1. Henry Fairfield Burton. "The Worship of the Roman Emperors." The Biblical World, vol. 40, no. 2, 1912, pp. 80–91., doi:10.1086/474622.
2. Burton, Ibid.
3. Burton, Ibid.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

That Google Memo and the Glory of Motherhood



Saying that men and women are different is now a very dangerous thing. Notice I didn't say anything about one being inferior or another being better. Just calling out the fact that males and females as broad groups have differences in motivations, desires, and place different values aspects of life is something that can now get you fired, even though these findings are agreed upon by a consensus of scientists who study such issues.

Google employee James Damore wrote that now-famous (infamous?) Google Memo (read it here), asking some poignant questions of the company's diversity push. Damore did his homework and did not stereotype. He didn't say that women were biologically incapable of doing tech jobs, as is being repeated ad nauseam in the press. He simply talked about trends and interest differences between men and women. In fact, he explicitly wrote :
I'm not saying that all men differ from women in the following ways or that these differences are "just." I'm simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don't see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. Many of these differences are small and there' s significant overlap between men and women, so you can't say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.1
Damore cited his sources, too.  Scholar David P. Schmitt confirms there is scholarly evidence for Damore's claims and then observes:
Culturally universal sex differences in personal values and certain cognitive abilities are a bit larger in size (see here), and sex differences in occupational interests are quite large. It seems likely these culturally universal and biologically-linked sex differences play some role in the gendered hiring patterns of Google employees. For instance, in 2013, 18% of bachelor's degrees in computing were earned by women, and about 20% of Google technological jobs are currently held by women. Whatever affirmative action procedures Google is using appear to be working pretty well (at least at the tech job level).2
So 18% of women choose to graduate with a degree in computer science and Google' s hiring rate for jobs that would require this type of degree is 20% female. Why is this controversial?

The Unmentioned Assumption: Women without Powerful Careers are Losers

One has to wonder why there's such a virulent backlash against this memo. I think part of it is simply because many women hear that they are being repressed given the vast majority of tech jobs being held by men and they believe there is some kind of systemic sexism going on. However, they themselves may not personally want to become a computer programmer, they just don't like the way the numbers look.

The Guardian ran an interesting article where one woman was talking to her friend about the pressures placed upon women in today's drive for equality. The friend argued that since all the women now go to work, the country has seen a fairer distribution of jobs than before, but women aren't happier for it. She claimed that women who aspire to have children actually got the short end of the stick because the pressure to not be a stay-at-home mom was great.  The author reflected on this and concluded:
I avoided parenthood for the best part of 40 years, having been led to believe it would feel like a stultifying trap compared to the excitement of wage-earning work. Turns out, at the last minute before the door closed, to be more fulfilling than anything I have ever done!3
That's the unspoken piece in this whole debate. Maybe there are a lot of women who are like the author above, who think  that a successful career is the key defining metric for a woman and then become shockingly surprised to find out how natural and fulfilling it is to nurture and mold the very lives, values,  and sensibilities of the next generation can be.

When women argue about their value coming from their careers, they are really using a man's yardstick. Why should we assume that this is the best way to measure success? I think G.K. Chesterton summed the controversy up best. He wrote:
When domesticity, for instance, is called drudgery, all the difficulty arises from a double meaning in the word. If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman drudges in the home, as a man might drudge at the Cathedral of Amiens or drudge behind a gun at Trafalgar. But if it means that the hard work is more heavy because it is trifling, colorless and of small import to the soul, then as I say, I give it up; I do not know what the words mean. To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets, cakes. and books, to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people's children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman's function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.4

References

1. Damore, James. "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber." Letter. July 2017. Google Diversity Memo. N.p., July 2017. Web. 08 Aug. 2017. http://diversitymemo.com/.
2. Schmitt, David P. "On That Google Memo About Sex Differences." Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 07 Aug. 2017. Web. 08 Aug. 2017. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sexual-personalities/201708/google-memo-about-sex-differences.
3. Mitchell, Victoria Coren. "Women Can Still Have It All. Can't They?" The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 10 June 2017. Web. 08 Aug. 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/11/girls-depression-can-women-still-have-it-all.
4. Chesterton, Gilbert Keith. What's Wrong with the World? London: Cassell & Co. Ltd., 1910. Print. 132-133

Friday, January 13, 2017

Our Concept of Superheroes Comes from Christianity



Many scholars have categorized the superhero tale as a type of grand myth,1 and the hero is a common archetype in myth.2 However, the modern superhero is different from Homer's heroes. The hero in ancient myths was more driven by self-interest or in protecting the state of the polis or the societal norms from change. Larry Siedentop explains how "the ancient hero had been Odsessyus-like—an aristocrat. Springing from a leading family and often associated with the foundation of cities, the ancient hero was typically male, strong, wily, and successful."3 So, Jason seeks out the Golden Fleece to return to his family and receive the crown, Heracles seeks to perform labors to pay for his sins, and Theseus seeks to restore his birthright.

Siedentop argues the concept of what a hero is morphed as Christians began to topple the values of the Roman Empire. He states the Christian martyr didn't reinforce the established societal expectations, but rebelled against them by refusing to "bend under the claims of family and civic piety or to worship the Emperor." Instead of strengthening the social order of the polis, they "disregarded gender, class, and status."4 Their very public deaths were the epitome of selflessness to the underclass:
In making martyrs of Christians, the ancient world was consecrating what it sought to destroy and destroying what it sought to preserve. For Christian martyrs gained a hold over the popular imagination. And it was easy to see why that should have been so. The martyrs offered a model of heroism. As Tertullian remarked early in the third century, the martyr's blood provided "the seed of the church."5
Siedentop summarized it was the cult of the martyrs that "began to redefine heroism."6 Self-sacrifice is the most uniquely Christian aspect for all superheroes. Every hero sacrifices his own happiness or comfort in some way. Superman could rule the planet given his powers. Instead, he accepts being humiliated as Clark Kent in order to serve humanity as Superman.

In Iron Man, Tony Stark realizes that his weapons have been misappropriated by terrorists and his experiences change him so he is no longer driven to build more and profit from them. This even shows up in more complex Marvel storylines, such as Captain America: Civil War. There, the Hobbean Iron Man supports a government registration program for all super-powered beings while Capitan America believes freedom is the natural right of the superhuman. But both are driven to their positions in seeking what's right, not their own interests. This is the opposite of Roman and Greek myths. Leo Partiple observed "Whereas the god heroes of old were petty, cruel, or indifferent, the traditional superheroes try to mirror Christ. They stand against injustice and offer us a moral example to follow."7

Siedentop uses the hero as only one small example in his sweeping survey showing how Christian "moral beliefs have given a clear overall ‘direction' to Western history."8 Still, the Christian concept that every human has intrinsic worth stands in stark contrast to pagan societies who would do unconscionable things like discarding infants because they were the wrong sex,9 or selling them for profit or sacrifice.10

The sanctification of human life runs throughout the genre. The 1966 Batman movie has a scene where the caped crusader finds a lit bomb in a dive bar on the wharf and spends several minutes running around Gotham's ship docks seeking a place where he may dispose of the sparking globe without injuring bystanders. The scene is camp and played for laughs. However at the end of the sequence, after Batman is nearly blown to bits, Robin expresses his amazement at taking such a chance:

ROBIN: Holy strait jacket, Batman! You risked your life to save that …riff-raff in the bar!

BATMAN: They may be drinkers, Robin. But they're also human beings, and might still be salvaged. I had to do it.11

The intrinsic worth of all human beings is just one of the uniquely Christian values that are indispensable to creating costumed crusaders. Marco Arnaudo emphasizes this when writing "the traditions that have most profoundly made a mark on the development of the modern superhero genre are undoubtedly Judeo-Christian."12 Christianity changed the idea of what it means to be a hero, and thus opened the door, allowing the modern superhero to emerge.

References

1. See Marco Arnaudo and Jamie Richards. The Myth of the Superhero. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 2013; Ben Saunders. Do the Gods Wear Capes?: Spirituality, Fantasy, and Superheroes. London: Continuum, 2011; Zanne Domoney-Lyttle. "Comic Books as Religion: How Superheroes Connect Ancient and Contemporary Beliefs." Diss. U of Glasgow, School of Critical Studies, 2013.
2. See Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2008. Print.
3. Siedentop, Larry. Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism. London: Penguin Random House UK, 2014. 79. Print.
4. Siedentop, 2014. 79-80.
5. Siedentop, 2014. 80.
6. Siedentop, 2014.79
7. Partible, Leo. "Superheroes in Film and Pop-Culture." The Gospel According to Superheroes: Religion and Pop Culture. Ed. B. J. Oropeza. New York: Peter Lang, 2008. 251. Print.
8. Siedentop, 2014.2.
9. Schmidt, 2004. 49.
10. See Paul Chamberlain's summation of ancient infanticide in Why People Don't Believe: Confronting Seven Challenges to Christian Faith. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011. 130. Print.
11. Batman. Dir. Les Martinson. Perf. Adam West, Burt Ward. 20th Century Fox, 1966. Film.
12. Arnaudo, 2011. 27.

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.

References

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.org 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.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Let's Change our Message on Sex (video series)



We live in a sex-saturated culture, one which warps our and our children's understanding. Yet, the church hasn't done a very good job in expressing exactly what the Christian position on sex really is. We hear that sex is bad... unless it is confined to marriage. But that sends a confusing message to our kids. Instead, Christians should understand sex as a reflection of worship.

In this three part series, Lenny explains some of the subtle and not so subtle ways we've come to think about sex and why the standard Christian message of sex as "good when married, but bad any other time" is flawed. He then shows how the most consistent parallel the Bible draw to sex is not something that's dirty, but something that's holy. Finally, Lenny explores how changing our focus of sex from fun to holy changes the dynamic in relationships for husbands, for wives and elevates the calling for those who remain single.

Check out this provocative idea in the videos below:

Part 1 - Sending the Wrong Message



Part 2 - Sex as a Reflection of Worship



Part 3 - How Re-Messaging Sex Changes Relationships


Monday, June 06, 2016

For the Naturalist, Why Die for an Idea?



I'm writing this blog post on June 6, which is 72 years to the day that the Allied forces, led by the United States, invaded the beaches of Normandy, France. By all accounts, the Allied invasion proved to be the decisive turning point in the war, giving the Allies the upper hand. It also proved to be one of the costliest in terms of casualties with 2,500 Americans dying in the initial invasion, and most of those at Omaha beach. The British and Canadian troops saw about 1900 fatalities.1

It was no surprise that the invasion of a German stronghold would inflict heavy casualties. That's one reason why the invasion force was so large; the Allies knew they would lose a lot of men. But, why would those men—most of whom were less than 20 years old and had their entire lives ahead of them—assent to participate in something with such a high chance of death? How does this benefit them? Wouldn't being alive be better, even if it was alive with a dishonorable discharge or perhaps spending a few years in a military prison?

Freedom is the most common response given for the sacrifice made by these brave men. Both the veterans who survived the invasion and those who remember their deeds say they sacrificed their lives to allow others to live freely. Denis van den Brink, communications officer of the city of Carentan, France, a city that was an immediate beneficiary of the Allied efforts, put it well:
The allied army, more specifically, the American Army, they came to liberate, not to conquer. That's what it says in the Coleville cemetery, where 10,000 Americans are resting forever. That says it all, for the very first time in the history of mankind, they came to fight, die, win, victory, and then go home. That's the one and only example in the history of mankind and we had all these foreign Soldiers coming and dying and to fight for our land and then to free our land and then instead of staying they just went away. 2

How Does a Naturalist View of Life Make Sense of This?

The heroism of the soldiers at Normandy is beyond doubt. It is recognized by the theist and the atheist alike and I don't doubt the sincerity of either. However, how does a worldview such as naturalism make sense of fighting and dying for someone else for the sake of an idea? How does upholding the value of liberty, especially for a people you don't even know, become more valuable than life itself on a purely evolutionary paradigm? Why would freedom be so important?

I've heard some atheists try to explain away this difficulty by saying it is simply the law of reciprocity in action. You wouldn't want to be enslaved, so you act as you would have others act if you were the subjugated. I've shown why this claim fails before. If we evolved a sense of reciprocity, it may not benefit our survivability but it may in fact increase the number of individuals who die because they place themselves in life-threatening situations just because they see another person in a life-threatening situation. It would be very easy to see how such an instinct would lower then subsequent populations instead of bolstering them. And on a side note, it sure seems like such an instinct is pretty repressed especially when one considers experiments where witnesses do nothing other than watch when a person is being victimized.

Of course, the second question one must ask is by what criteria does one measure whether ideas such as freedom and liberty are truly valuable at all? As I said above, wouldn't survival be better? If the primary driving force for the advancement of human beings is their evolutionary growth, then they must be able to survive and reproduce. That would means survivability would be the highest moral calling, not massive self-sacrifice for an abstract concept like liberty. But we place ideas like freedom, liberty, and self-sacrifice above survival. Why? Who says these should be valued more highly? Where did that idea come from and how does it integrate within a naturalist worldview?

The sacrifices of D-Day can teach us much. It provides a stark contrast between human beings as rational, moral beings, and all other animals, whose highest motivation is only to survive. It shows that humans are different in kind and not simply by degree. And it shows there are values that naturalism cannot explain. I for one thank God for those who provided that sacrifice, and it makes me more confident that there is a God to thank.

References

1. Phipps, John. "Cost of the Battle." D-Day Revisited. D-Day Revisited, 2012. Web. 06 June 2016.
2. Mack, Christa. "72nd D-Day Liberation of Normandy Observed." www.army.mil. United States Army, 6 June 2016. Web. 06 June 2016.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Here's Why Target's Bathroom Policy Matters So Much



I get weary of the culture wars. It seems never-ending, doesn't it? There is always some new indignity to oppose or non-Christian position to resist. Things get worse when we look at the political support for-profit companies provide. There are so many that take a contrary stand to Christian ideals, if I were to boycott each one, it would be difficult to shop at all. Sometimes, I just want a pair of pants or cellular service or a hamburger. I don't want to have to figure out who's safe and who isn't.

That's why a recent blog post by Jaci Lambert caught my eye. Entitled "Target Bathrooms and the Straight, Conservative Preacher's Wife," Lambert argues Target has supported fairly liberal positions prior to implementing its transgender bathroom policy, the perverts and pedophiles won't care about Target's bathroom policies, it's therefore every parent's job to keep their kids safe in the bathroom, and transgender people are not the dangerous villains that they seem to be cast given these discussions, and such boycotts don't reflect Jesus to the outside world.1

Advocating for an Idea, not Just an Action

I appreciate Jaci's honesty and explanation. I think her points have validity, with the possible exception of the idea that pedophiles and perverts don't care. In the few months since this national conversation on bathrooms started there have already been reported problems of men inhabiting clothing store dressing rooms, in grocery store restrooms, and even in locker rooms where the activist tested Seattle's law by entering where underage girls were disrobing. Certainly it doesn't take much imagination to understand that such laws will embolden more perverts to attempt such entries if there's no threat of prosecution.

But, that's really beside the point. My concern with the blog post is it misses the bigger reason why this particular issue is so important. Yes, Christians will disagree with many stances Target takes. That shouldn't by itself be surprising or critical enough to yell "boycott!" Yes, parents must watch over their kids. Let's face it, many pedophiles are men looking to abuse young boys and holding to a traditional bathroom policy does absolutely nothing to address that danger. My concerns about safety are real, but they aren't the tipping point for me.

The biggest problem with the Target stance is it gives legitimacy to an idea that is both dangerous and abhorrent. That is, it legitimizes the idea that biology doesn't matter and every person's predilections are equally valid. It ignores the scientific data that gender dysphoria is a mental disorder that holds a high suicide rate, even after transitioning, and instead promotes the myth that gender can be whatever each individual wishes to define for him or herself. The policy ignores the discomfort of women who were raped or sexually assaulted that makes up 17.6% of the female population2 to accommodate 0.3% who identify as transgender3. In short, it says it's OK to ignore the truth for political correctness.

Some Ramifications So Far

It becomes easy to see how big the impact of the spread of these ideas is. Target's bathroom policy was announced on April 19, 2016. In less than one month from that announcement, President Obama's Department of Education issued what amounts to a threat to every public school in the country stating that all restrooms should be open to those who identify as whatever gender they please. I'm not saying that one caused the other, but the fact there was no immediate and overwhelming backlash to the Target policy made it easier on the DOE to do their dirty work.

Then there's the message such policies send to the larger culture. Harvard law professor Mark Tushnet believes that because homosexual marriage is now accepted in society, people should treat those who hold traditional views as they would Nazis:
The culture wars are over; they lost, we won…   For liberals, the question now is how to deal with the losers in the culture wars. That's mostly a question of tactics. My own judgment is that taking a hard line ("You lost, live with it") is better than trying to accommodate the losers, who – remember – defended, and are defending, positions that liberals regard as having no normative pull at all. Trying to be nice to the losers didn't work well after the Civil War, nor after Brown. (And taking a hard line seemed to work reasonably well in Germany and Japan after 1945.)
This is what capitulation leads to. It changes the society and allows those who wish to bankrupt Christian businesses or jail government employees for exercising their right of conscience. Ultimately, it denies the intrinsic worth of the human body, upon which human dignity itself is based.

As I said, I'm not a big boycott guy, but ideas have consequences. When the ideas a corporation are promoting undermine the core of human dignity itself, I think those are values worth fighting for.

References

1. Lambert, Jaci. "Target Bathrooms and the Straight, Conservative Preacher's Wife." Ministry in the Mommyhood. Jaci Lambert, 26 Apr. 2016. Web. 20 May 2016. http://www.ministryinthemommyhood.com/target-bathrooms-and-the-straight-conservative-preachers-wife/ .
2. Tjaden, Patricia, and Nancy Thoennes. "Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Rape Victimization: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey." PsycEXTRA Dataset. U.S. Department of Justice, Jan. 2006. Web. 20 May 2016.
3. Gates, Gary J. "How Many People Are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender?" Los Angeles, CA: Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, 2011. http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Gates-How-Many-People-LGBT-Apr-2011.pdf.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Culture Has Created a Selfish Kind of Rebel (video)



Modern society has emphasized the individual to an extreme. A person of previous generations aspired to become a certain type of individual, one who placed others before self and understood the culture wasn't there to cater to their personal desires. However, all that changed over the last sixty years as young people began to embrace the "me-first" philosophy that has taken over.

 In this clip, Lenny takes a look at the shift in values modern culture has undergone and he cites the prescient wisdom of G.K. Chesterton, who saw the shift coming within the intellectual elite, which helped propel the cult of the individual.



Image courtesy Paško Tomić and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Exploring the Value of the Human Body



What value is the human body and how should we treat it? That's a big question, but it's one that should concern pretty much everyone, since everyone has a body. It should especially concern the Christian, as Christian theology has much to say about our bodies. Yet, I don't think a lot of Christians have given this particular topic a lot of thought.

First, there are a lot of voices in Western culture offering differing opinions of the value of our bodies. We see some demanding more organically grown crops and no GMO-modified foods; others encourage us to be good to ourselves through exercise and the reduction of stress. Yet at the same time these trends are increasing, so is the number of people who are modifying their bodies as a form of self-expression. Tattooing has become commonplace and unsurprising. Other types of modifications include implants, piercings, and ear tunnels. Some opt even more extreme changes like branding, scarification, tongue splitting, and so on.

Of course, one should never assume all these are part of the same continuum. They may not even be in the same category, depending on how one defines those categories. But this is my point in exploring these issues. I don't claim to have all the answers, but I'd like to at least more clearly define the questions and do so using a Christian perspective. Non-Christians may have a completely different take, one that may comport to their worldview, but I hope to find some common ground to begin the discussion between Christians here.

How Does One Ascribe Value?

What value does a body have? To answer that question, one must first understand what we mean by value. Value can either be extrinsic or intrinsic. Extrinsic value is the value bestowed by an external source. For example, a child can value an old blanket or a soldier values his fiancée's letter from home, but those are extrinsic values. The object is perceived as valuable by the valuer. Items like an iPhone, currency, and even gold are considered valuable because people place a value for those items. Perhaps the item's rarity or the fact a metal won't tarnish make people agree it's more valuable than not, but if those conditions change, the value of the item will change. That's why the price of gold fluctuates and you can't buy anything with Confederate money. Extrinsic value has no value in and of the thing.

Intrinsic value is different. Intrinsic value comes simply due to the nature of the thing itself. For example, human life has intrinsic value. That's why we won't take the life of a prisoner to use his organs to save research scientists. It's why we shudder at concepts like eugenics and cannibalism. Human life holds an intrinsic value because human beings are intrinsically valuable. We are beings made in the image of God and as image-bearers we are unique in God's creation. We are able to relate to ourselves, each other, and to God in a way no other part of his creation can. And because all human beings carry this image of God, it means all human beings are intrinsically valuable.

Human Beings as Body and Soul

As human beings, we must recognize we are made of two components: body and soul.1 God's design for humans is for us to exist as bodily beings.  God created us this way and h calls his creation good. While there are many passages in the Bible of people surviving their bodies (Gen 35:18, Ecc. 12:7, 1 Sam. 28:15, Luke 16:19-31,Rev.6:9), the Bible clearly shows these disembodied souls are in an intermediate state. Prior to eternity, both the saved and the lost will be resurrected, meaning they will be re-embodied, so they can live out eternity once again as body and soul. This means the body is a crucial component of what it means to be a human being. Wayne Grudem writes:
It is important to recognize that it is man himself who is created in the image of God, not just his spirit or his mind. Certainly our physical bodies are a very important part of our existence and, as transformed when Christ returns, , they will continue to be part of our existence for all eternity (see 1 Cor. 15-43-46, 51-55). Our bodies have therefore been created by God as suitable instruments to represent in a physical way our human nature, which has been made to be like God's own nature.2
Secondly, God himself became embodied in the person of Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:14). In one way, this sanctifies the human body, as it is seen as a fitting vessel for the Son of God to dwell in. Because Jesus is fully human, his body will also exist for all eternity. His body wasn't a temporary dwelling, but it is how we will experience him in heaven (Rev 5:6). Christ's redemption entails both our bodies and our souls, and just has Jesus resurrected with the same body he had before his death, we too will be resurrected with our own bodies. They may have new attributes. They may be healed or made whole, but they will essentially be our bodies.

The Value of the Human Body

Given these two criteria, I believe our bodies hold intrinsic worth, too. This means it is an especially heinous when groups like ISIS or Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front uses amputation and mutilation as tactics to instill terror on others.3 This is also why we see crimes like rape as abhorrent. While rape does have a psychologically damaging dimension, the physical act is a violation all by itself. Imagine a woman being raped while drunk or under anesthesia. Even if she is unconscious and cannot remember the trauma, the crime is in no way diminished. This is because her body has been violated by another.

All of this is to simply try to focus our minds on what kind of value we mean when we say the body is valuable. In subsequent posts, I'll try to tease out the incredibly wide range of ways we treat our bodies and ask what that means to their value. I'm interested in your thoughts as well. But let's first agree that Christians hold our bodies are not valuable because our minds would hate to part with them or some portion of them.  Our bodies are valuable intrinsically. They have value because of what they are.

References

1. I realize some Christians hold to a form of physicalism, whereby they see the soul as an attribute of the body instead of in distinction from it. However, even this belief doesn't damage my central argument.
2. Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, 1994. Print. 448.
3. Onishi, Norimitsu. "Sierra Leone Measures Terror in Severed Limbs." New York Times. New York Times, 22 Aug. 1999. Web. 22 Feb. 2016. http://partners.nytimes.com/library/world/africa/082299sierra-leone.html
Image courtesy LorenzoLivrieri and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) license.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

How Sci Fi Smuggles in a Godless Humanity (video)


Our media shapes our culture in many ways. Popular television and film can offer viewpoints that are antithetical to Christian beliefs. Sometimes this happens overtly. Other times it's more subtle.

In this short clip, Lenny highlights two key filmmakers—Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek and Joss Whedon who created Firefly and several wildly popular Marvel features—and demonstrates how their worldview leaks onto the screen, influencing their viewers.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Does "We Believe as We Are Taught" Explain Christianity's Popularity?



The vast majority of people across the globe believe in some type of deity. However, much has been made of recent polls showing that in western nations such as Europe and the United States there is a growing number of people who do not believe in God. One recent article pointed to a poll of Icelanders that claimed no Icelander under the age of 25 believes God created the world. 1 Given the fact the poll was conducted by an atheist group and they also found 42% of those that same 25 and younger set identified as Christian, I would question the poll's methodology before making the grandiose claim of 0.0%.

But the desire of those like the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association to trumpet how more and more people are disbelieving God raises another issue. What are they trying to say? How does the fact we see some growth in the number of atheists and agnostics correlate with that is true and what is not? Certainly, such an argument would be counter-intuitive for the atheist. If truth was found by percentages, then the theists' numbers provide overwhelming evidence for God's existence.

Usually, atheists don't argue that point. They take the tact that religious beliefs are held because they are taught or caught like a virus. Richard Carrier claims "The most fundamental reason for the persistence of religious belief is the very simple fact that we believe as we are taught." 2 Atheists sometimes make the related argument that goes something along the lines of, "If you were born in Afghanistan, you'd be arguing for Allah's existence right now!"

However, there are several problems with this claim. We can look at least three:

1. It Commits the Genetic Fallacy

Just because we're taught something doesn't make it wrong. We believe other things, like molecules are comprised from atoms. We hold to that belief without having to do our own experiments. Even counter-intuitive beliefs like how quantum particles behave as if they know we're going to look at them before we do in double-slit experiments. Even if my fourth grade teacher was a crook and a liar, does that mean I shouldn't believe Father Serra was responsible for building the California Missions? There are a whole host of things people believe because they are taught. One cannot dismiss the belief simply by questioning the source.

2. Christianity's History Shows the Opposite

While it's true that some people will accept their faith system without question, it doesn't mean this was the way the faith system itself grew. Islam has a history of conquest and pressing its belief system onto subjugated groups. Christianity, however, grew differently. Christians for 2000 years have been going into places where people believed something else and converting them. Although a group such as the Greeks or the Irish or the Romans held to a particular belief system, one that they were taught, they converted to Christianity freely because they were presented with the truth of the Gospel. They changed their beliefs, even though it many times meant more danger and persecution.

3. Atheists Will Abandon Their Beliefs Today

Finally, there are beliefs that are abandoned as unsupportable EVEN THOUGH we've been taught them. Most every adult I know was taught that Santa Claus existed as a child, but I know of not a single individual who has remained committed to that belief. I certainly have never heard of an individual who grew up not believing in Santa Clause but decided at 35 Santa was real!

However, I know many very reasonable people who grew up atheist but as an adult abandoned atheism for Christianity. C.S. Lewis is one example. In countries like Afghanistan today, people are converting to Christianity though they were taught Islam and the punishment of apostasy is death. Ravi Zacharias was born in India, but he isn't arguing for Hinduism.

The claim that religion succeeds because of mental laziness is itself as lazy claim. It's also one that turns on itself; I could use the same concept to argue that the increase in non-belief isn't because of thoughtful reflection, but it is simply a reaction to what atheistic teachers are telling young people in colleges. In order to determine the truth about God, we mustn't look to polls. We need to investigate the truth claims each offers.

References

1. Staff. "0.0% of Icelanders 25 Years or Younger Believe God Created the World, New Poll Reveals." Iceland Magazine. Imag Ehf., 16 Jan. 2016. Web. 25 Jan. 2016. http://icelandmag.visir.is/article/00-icelanders-25-years-or-younger-believe-god-created-world-new-poll-reveals.
2. Carrier, Richard. Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism. Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse, 2005. Print. 261.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Overcoming the Conspiracy Against Christianity


Ideas matter. They matter because they shape how we understand the world in which we live. They matter because they motivate us to want to change or why we desire to keep things the same.

Dallas Willard made his living in a world of ideas. As a Christian philosopher he would routinely think through different ideas and how they could impact the larger society. His book, The Divine Conspiracy, is a masterful work provoking Christians to live their lives consistently with Christian ideals.

In one section, Willard underscores how powerful ideas are b quoting economic John Maynard-Keyes. Keyes states:
"…the ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back."

Willard then goes on to opine:
One could wish this were true only of economics and politics. But it is true of life in general. It is true of religion and education, of art and media. For life as a whole, Keynes's words apply: "I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas." Not immediately, as he acknowledges, but after a certain period of time. The ideas of people in current leadership positions are always those they took in during their youth. "But, soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil."1

The power of mere ideas is a matter about which intellectuals commonly deceive themselves and, intentionally or not, also mislead the public. They constantly take in hand the most powerful factors in human life, ideas, and most importantly, ideas about what is good and right. And how they handle and live them thoroughly pervades our world in its every aspect.2
People love to believe in conspiracies. Whether it's the grassy knoll, a faked moon landing, or the CIA blowing up the World Trade Center, it's easy to think that evil acts can only be brought on by some powerful group hiding in a secret back room.

The truth of the matter is that the "conspirators" are those who teach in classrooms or make subtle claims in otherwise benign entertainment. They want to remake society into their particular view. That shouldn't surprise anyone. If a person believes their views are true, of course they would seek to persuade others to hold it as well. But it does mean that Christians should also be prepared to argue how those views are not true and have good reasons demonstrating the truth of Christianity.

If Christianity tells us the truth about good and evil, man and morality, and the nature of the world, then we must inject our ideas into the public sphere. It's the best way to thwart a culture of evil.

References

1. Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998. 5. Kindle Edition.
2. Willard, 1998. 5-6.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Who is God? Infinite, Personal, Transcendent



In his masterful book The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, James Sire begins by explaining Christian theism, and there he starts with the basic attributes of God. As Sire notes, it used to be that everyone knew what the concept of God was within the western world, but that cannot be taken as true any more. People think they know what the concept of the Christian God entails, but they either misunderstand or leave out key characteristics. In the passage below, Sire offers a definition of the God of the Bible and then unpacks it:
Prime reality is the infinite, personal God revealed in the Holy Scriptures. This God is triune, transcendent and immanent, omniscient, sovereign, and good.

Let's break this proposition down into its parts.

God is infinite. This means that he is beyond scope, beyond measure, as far as we are concerned. No other being in the universe can challenge him in his nature. All else is secondary. He has no twin but is alone the be-all and end-all of existence. He is, in fact, the only self-existent being," as he spoke to Moses out of the burning bush: "I AM WHO I AM" (Ex 3:14). He is in a way that none else is. As Moses proclaimed, "Hear, 0 Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD" (Deut 6:4 KJV). SO God is the one prime existent, the one prime reality and, as will be discussed at some length later, the one source of all other reality.

God is personal. This means God is not mere force or energy or existent "substance." God is personal. Personality requires two basic characteristics: self-reflection and self-determination. In other words, God is personal in that he knows himself to be (he is self-conscious) and he possesses the characteristics of self-determination (he "thinks" and "acts").

One implication of the personality of God is that he is like us. In a way, this puts the cart before the horse. Actually, we are like him, but it is helpful to put it the other way around at least for a brief comment. He is like us. That means there is Someone ultimate who is there to ground our highest aspirations, our most precious possession-personality. But more on this under proposition 3.

Another implication of the personality of God is that God is not a simple unity, an integer. He has attributes, characteristics. He is a unity, yes, but a unity of complexity.

Actually, in Christian theism (not Judaism or Islam) God is not only personal but triune. That is, "within the one essence of the Godhead we have to distinguish three 'persons' who are neither three gods on the one side, not three parts or modes of God on the other, but coequally and coeternally God." The Trinity is certainly a great mystery, and I cannot even begin to elucidate it now. What is important here is to note that the Trinity confirms the communal, "personal" nature of ultimate being. God is not only there-an actually existent being; he is personal and we can relate to him in a personal way. To know God, therefore, means knowing more than that he exists. It means knowing him as we know a brother or, better, our own father.

God is transcendent. This means God is beyond us and our world. He is otherly. Look at a stone: God is not it; God is beyond it Look at a man: God is not he; God is beyond him. Yet God is not so beyond that he bears no relation to us and our world. It is likewise true that God is immanent, and this means that he is with us. Look at a stone: God is present. Look at a person: God is present. Is this, then, a contradiction? Is theism nonsense at this point? I think not.

My daughter Carol, when she was five years old, taught me a lot here. She and her mother were in the kitchen, and her mother was teaching her about God's being everywhere. So Carol asked, "Is God in the living room?"

"Yes," her mother replied.

"Is he in the kitchen?"

God's goodness means then, first, that there is an absolute and personal standard of righteousness (it is found in God's character) and, second, that there is hope for humanity (because God is love and will not abandon his creation). These twin observations will become especially significant as we trace the results of rejecting the theistic worldview.1
One point that Sire makes in his summation at the top that he didn't draw out beneath is that God is the prime reality of all things. So many people today make the mistake of including God within some larger reality of existence. That's what fosters questions like "If God is the answer to 'who made the universe' then who made God?" That's a category error. God is the starting point. Without God, existence doesn't even make sense.

I highly recommend Sire's book. It's a great way to understand how worldviews affect not only how one views God, but how it changes the way one interprets all of reality.

References

Sire, James W. The Universe next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 1997. Print. 28-30.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Is There Such a Thing as Rational Faith?


 A woman once told me "It doesn't really matter which religion you follow; if you're sincere, your beliefs are just as valid as mine." She struck me as a very genuine person in her view, but she was dead wrong. Sincerity never makes a belief true. Sincerity has merit, but one can be sincerely wrong. Her beliefs clashed with logic, and what she needed was a logical faith.

What is a logical faith? Is it possible to even reconcile those ideas? Society views people who can be rational in difficult situations as heroic, intelligent and in control. However, in matters of faith we seem to put up a wall, segregating the virtue of logical thought from the earnestness of religion. We tend to hold a view that reason and faith are much like oil and water and can't be mixed. But that is only because people think that logical reasoning will undermine their beliefs. If this is so, it's possible they might not have a good reason for their faith. 

I maintain there is no good reason for holding any belief system, save one. A person should believe something only if it's true. What good does it do someone to hold a belief if it's not the way things really are? A person can't be proud of believing what doesn't correspond with reality. If I told you I still believe in Santa Claus you might smile, pat me on the head and say, "Dear boy, that's nice" but you'd never take me seriously. If I refuse to let go of a belief even though it doesn't match reality, then you'd rightly conclude I'm deluding myself.

At this point some may say "Yes, but you don't understand that truth is relative. My truth is different from your truth, and these things are true for me." This kind of statement sounds good on the surface but when you really examine it, it makes no sense. For one thing, people cannot hold this view consistently. They still have to look both ways before they cross the street. Their reality may not include the car that's barreling toward them, but they're going to get hit nonetheless. That's what reality does—it affects our lives whether we want it to or not.

Now all religions are in the business of making truth-claims. Religion seeks to accurately describe God, the world, and our relationship to them. If each religion is about truth, then we should be able to examine their claims and see which ones hold up. Good belief systems tend to make good sense and have good evidence, and they can withstand thoughtful, honest examination. If a belief system falls apart under scrutiny, then it probably wasn't true.

For instance, some people believe all faiths are equally valid and they all are using different labels for the same God. Is this statement true? Hinduism believes in millions of gods while Judaism and Christianity believe in only one God. Both beliefs can't be true. One denies the other and therefore at least one must be wrong. That means all faiths cannot lead to the same God. If some people still maintain they do, they might as well still believe in Santa Claus. That's why the woman I told you about was wrong in her opinion. She hadn't thought through what she believed.

Christianity is a faith that has always been very uncompromising in its demand for truth. In writing to the Thessalonian church, the Apostle Paul admonished the believers there to "examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good (1Thess 5:21)." He also wrote "If Christ be not raised [from the dead], your faith is vain." These two verses demonstrate that reason and faith aren't necessarily contradictory but complimentary toward each other. Paul expected believers in the Christian religion to believe only what's true.

One of our primary goals at Come Reason Ministries is to get the Christian church thinking about what they believe and why. We feel that in examining the claims of historic Christianity, along with those of other faiths, Christianity can be shown to be the most plausible. However, we also engage questions and opinions from people of all worldviews. We feel that discussion is healthy and when done honestly and openly it will bring all the participants closer to the truth.

So is there such a thing as a rational faith? Yes, there is. A faith that is true is rational. In matters of faith, what one believes can influence life decisions, actions, emotions, and even destinies. No belief system is above inquiry, and in matters of faith the only belief worth having is a true one.

Image courtesy innoxiuss [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Implosion of Secular Colleges: When Ideas Come Home to Roost



The state of higher education is changing rapidly. One cannot turn on the news or read social media without seeing all the protests and demands by students at schools like the University of Missouri, Yale, Oberlin, Ithica, and more. Some complain about being offended by epithets or Halloween costumes; others complain about a guest speaker who doesn't mirror their political or social outlook. The so-called "Million Student March" demonstrators are asking for free college education.

What's going on here?  At its base, the secular university is being eaten alive by a monster of its own making. Modern schools of higher education have been a bastion of liberal thought for about a century now. As progressives veered more and more to the left, they used the university to both teach and advance their ideas to a generation of students. Dallas Willard, in his book Renovation of the Heart, defines what I mean when I talk about these kinds of ideas and how they shaped the perceptions of individuals:
Ideas are very general models of or assumptions about reality. They are patterns of interpretation, historically developed and socially shared. They sometimes are involved with beliefs, but are much more than belief and do not depend upon it. They are ways of thinking about and interpreting things. They are so pervasive and essential to how we think about and how we approach life that we often do not even know they are there or understand when and how they are at work. Our idea system is a cultural artifact, growing up with us from earliest childhood out of the teachings, expectations, and observable behaviors of family and community.



Examples of ideas are freedom, education, happiness, "the American Dream," science, progress, death, home, the feminine or masculine, the religious, "Christian," "Muslim," church, democratic (form of government), fair, just, family, evolution, God, the secular, and so on. If you wish to see ideas in action, look closely at artistic endeavors in their various forms (especially today, movies and music, secular, and so on.

If you wish to see ideas in action, look closely at artistic endeavors in their various forms (especially today, movies and music, which encapsulate most of what is called "pop culture"), and at efforts to persuade (especially today, politics and commercials). Look, for example, at the place freedom, a major idea now, plays in automobile ads and rock lyrics. And look at our now largely paralyzed public education system to see what ideas are dominant in students and teachers.

Now, for all their importance to human life, ideas are never capable of definition or precise specification; and yet people never stop trying to define them, in their vain efforts to control them. They are broadly inclusive, historically developing ways of interpreting things and events, which, for all their power, often do not emerge into the consciousness of the individual. Therefore, it is extremely difficult for most people to recognize which ideas are governing their life and how those ideas are governing their life.

This is partly because one commonly identifies his or her own governing ideas with reality, pure and simple. Ironically, it is often people who think of themselves as "practical" or as "men of action"— both, of course, major ideas— who are most in the grip of ideas: so far in that grip that they can't be bothered to think. They simply don't know what moves them. But ideas govern them and have their consequences anyway. Another illustration of "idea grip" would be how most people think of success in life in terms of promotions and possessions. One's culture is seen most clearly in what one thinks of as "natural" and as requiring no explanation or even thought.1
The secular universities have been so effective in transferring their concepts to their students. What they never anticipated is the students would take those ideas out of the abstract and seek to apply them back to the universities and their faculty. Now you have students successfully lobbying to have university administration and faculty lose their jobs, such as has happened to the Dean at Claremont McKenna, the Chancellor and system president  at the University of Missouri,  and similar calls for faculty heads are happening at other campuses as well. Meanwhile, students want all of the benefits of higher education, including the economic advantages a degree provides, but they don't want to pay for it. Just see how confused this student is about just who is supposed to pay for her education.

In short, in the university today liberalism is taken seriously. The result is it's cannibalizing itself. This kind of attitude cannot be sustained over the course of time. If it keeps growing at its present pace, the secular university will be a shell of its former self within a decade. It has already jumped the shark in regard to its message on morality and sex.  Add to that the increasingly warped views on free speech and economic realities and a disaster of their own making is about to boil over.

For Christian schools, this is an ideal time to reclaim the legacy of higher education which has its roots in the Christian world view.  The university was our idea.  Let's take it back.

References

1. Willard, Dallas. Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002. Kindle Edition. 96-97.
Image courtesy Roger Gordon and licened via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) License.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Necessity of a Biblical Worldview (audio)



Recently, I was interviewed by Pastor Mike Spaulding of Soaring Eagle Radio on apologetics and how we are losing the Christian worldview, both in the church as well as in the greater culture. In this discussion, we discuss the need for apologetics in the church, how apologetics ministers to both believers and non-believers, how to answer questions nonbelievers offer, and ways you can grow in your own apologetics efforts. Listen to the recording below or click here to download the mp3 recording.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Thank Christianity for the Technology Revolution



The standard narrative of secularists is that religion offers a backwards view of the world that is outdated in our technologically advanced culture. But as historians have looked back upon the development of technology, one can see that Christianity creates the fertile soil in which technological advancements can grow. In his book The Book That Made Your World: How The Bible Created The Soul Of Western Civilization, Vishal Mangalwadi makes this point well.  He writes:

Professor David Landes studied clock making in China and concluded that the development of technology is not merely a matter of ingenuity. The Chinese had technical ability, yet clock making did not become an industry, nor did it become a source of continuing and growing technological innovations in China as it did in Europe. Why? The Chinese were keen neither to know time nor to organize their lives accordingly.


 The development of the watermill illustrates that culture is as important for the development of technology as ingenuity is. In 1935, Marc Bloch published his finding that the watermill had been invented at least a century before Christ. Later, its usefulness for grinding grain was known in Afghanistan, on the border of geographic India. Almost everyone needed to grind grain, yet the use of the watermill never spread in Hindu, Buddhist, or (later) Islamic cultures. Christian monks in Europe were the first to begin the widespread use of the watermill for grinding and for developing power machinery.


 The above question was the topic of a 1961 Oxford Symposium on Scientific Change, spearheaded by Alistair Crombie. The best answer was given by Marburg historian Ernst Benz, who published a seminal essay in 1964, “Fondamenti Christiani della Tecnica Occidentale.” It demonstrated that “Christian beliefs provided the rationale, and faith the motive energy for western technology.” Benz had studied and experienced Buddhism in Japan. The antitechnological impulses in Zen led him to explore whether Europe’s technological advances were somehow rooted in Christian beliefs and attitudes. His research led him to the conclusion that the biblical worldview was indeed the key to understanding Western technology.
Technology flourished just as science flourished in the West because Christianity valued God as creator and it valued seeking the understanding of God's creation. Following God's example, creating and mastering creation leads to the technological explosion we enjoy today. So no matter which technology you've chosen to read this post, the fact you can read it at all is a result of the Christian worldview. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Consequences of Beliefs



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

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

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

Religious Beliefs Matter the Most

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

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

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