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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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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Banning Religious Books in Prison

Have you ever heard those "scare stories" of how believers will one day have most of their books banned by overreaching zealots? Normally, Christians think "well, I can see that coming down the line, when Christianity is outlawed in this country and Christians have to hide underground. Today, in countries like China, such things go on all the time, but in most Western nations we believe that we're decades away from such actions. Well, that time has arrived.

The New York Times recently reported that earlier this year the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons have banned most religious texts from all its chapel libraries. According to the Times, the chaplains were instructed to "the shelves of any books, tapes, CDs and videos that are not on a list of approved resources." The goal, according to BOP spokesperson Traci Billingsley is to deny access to materials that may "discriminate, disparage, advocate violence or radicalize."

Immediately, my reaction is one of amazement. Limiting access to thousands of titles of religious literature in case a title may incite terrorism or violence? I understand that the Department of Justice needs to be careful and control some of the materials that prisoners have access to. I mean, I understand books promoting governmental overthrow or how to build a bomb wouldn't be made readily available to convicted felons.

However, it seems to me that we shouldn't ban everything then create a list of approved books for access. Instead, ban the problematic titles. Prison Fellowship president Mark Earley summed it up when he said "It's swatting a fly with a sledgehammer. There's no need to get rid of literally hundreds of thousands of books that are fine simply because you have a problem with an isolated book or piece of literature that presents extremism."

As an apologist, I always encourage the examination of ideas. Truth has a way of holding up under scrutiny. Granted, sometimes you need a guide, but barring works that show the weaknesses within a belief system gives you a warped view of that system. Similarly, what about new titles? Why should prisoners have to wait to read the newest Lee Strobel book until some committee approves it?

Of course, the bigger issue is, if this type of screening exists today then what's down the road?

Photo courtesy and licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Ten Movies Every Christian Should See But Probably Hasn't

Many people I've spoken with bemoan the state of Hollywood and the poor entertainment choices out there. However there are a good number of films with subtle or even overt Christian themes that most haven't seen. So, if you're going to the video store or organizing your Netfilx queue, make sure that these are in there.

1. Sergeant York (1941)
Gary Cooper won his first Oscar in this movie, based on the real-life exploits of Alvin York, a hard-drinking Tennessean who gets saved and is so radically changed he is torn between serving in WWI or being a contentious objector since the Bible commands "Thou Shalt Not Kill." Great story and a very powerful treatment of taking one's faith seriously in difficult situations. Even more amazing since York was awarded the Medal of Honor for leading an attack on a German machine gun nest, killing 20 German soldiers and capturing 132 others and did it nearly single-handed.

2. The Robe (1953)
Hardened Roman Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton) oversees the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem. But problems arise when Marcellus wins Christ's robe in a dice game, played beneath the dying man. Haunted by guilt, Marcellus hopes that destroying the garment—now in the possession of his escaped slave (Victor Mature)—will cure his hallucinations.

3. Chariots of Fire (1981)
Fueled by disparate desires, long-distance runners Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) and Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) face off in a quest to bring Olympic glory to Great Britain. Liddell—a staunch Christian—seeks victory as a tribute to God, while Jewish student Abrahams views winning as a repudiation of anti-Semitism. An amazing study of personal conviction versus immediate opportunity – something with which we all struggle.

4. Shadowlands (1993)
Anthony Hopkins plays the great Christian Apologist C.S. Lewis in this true story of his meeting and eventual marriage to Joy Gresham. Lewis drew from this experience in his books The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed. It also shows how life for the Christian isn't neat and tidy and that knowing theology is different from putting it into practice.

5. A Man Called Peter (1955)
Based on a true story (and adapted from the best-selling book by Catherine Wood), this drama centers on young Scotsman Peter Marshall who heeds his calling from God to be a minister. Marshall leaves Scotland and travels to America, where he lands the position of pastor of the Church of the presidents in Washington, D.C., on his way to becoming chaplain of the U.S. Senate.

6. Black Robe (1991)
In 1634, Jesuit missionary Father Laforgue (Lothair Bluteau) arrives in the Canadian wilderness to convert the Huron and Algonquin Indians to Catholicism. This is probably the most historically accurate account of the attempts to convert the Native American peoples. It also puts to rest the myth of the "noble savage" that was developed in Europe. CAUTION: there are some difficult scenes in this R-rated movie, so watch it after the kids are in bed.

7. Lilies of the Field (1963)
Aimless ex-soldier Homer Smith (Sidney Poitier) is on his way to California when his car overheats in the desert. He stops to get some water at an isolated farm and soon finds himself building a chapel for the nuns who live there. The stern mother superior (Lilia Skala) is certain God has sent Smith for just that purpose, and all of Smith's words to the contrary fall on deaf ears. If you don't love the scene where Homer teaches the German nuns to sing black gospel, then you're not alive. Poitier won an Oscar for his performance.

8. Luther (2003)
This epic movie follows the life of Martin Luther (Joseph Fiennes), author of the then-controversial 95 Theses and founding father of the Protestant church who, with the courage of his convictions, faced the wrath of the church in the 16th century, all in the name of religious freedom. Thinking about standing before the most powerful men in the world and denying them to their faces. "Here I stand, I can do no other." Christian history at its most profound.

9. Twelve Angry Men (1957)
A guilty verdict means death—but the jury's not about to let that spoil their day. Twelve men must decide the fate of an 18-year-old boy accused of fatally stabbing his father. Only one (Henry Fonda) wants to take the time to coolly deliberate the case. Sidney Lumet (Network) made his directorial debut in this fiery drama that illuminates all the petty impediments on the path to justice. What a great study in the power of reason and persuasion when most are guided by the "easy facts". Every apologist can learn from this.

10. Witness (1985)
Cop John Book (Harrison Ford) goes undercover in an Amish community to protect a boy who witnessed a murder. Once inside, the faux-Amish Block must adjust to major culture shock while cautiously romancing the child's mother (Kelly McGillis). A great thriller and a look at how people can be devoted to their faith and one another. Blood and guts violence give this one an R rating, so be forewarned.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Protecting Extremists While Allowing Abuses

There were a couple of interesting stories that caught my eye in the international news lately. The first, from U.K.'s The Telegraph reported that the British government was asking academics and others at England's universities to look out for students falling under the influence of radical Islamic preachers. The University and College Union, which represents the academics, has labeled such actions as a "witch hunt" and will ask its members to refuse to take part in the proceedings. The UCU states, "Islamophobia and the attempts at increased surveillance on Muslim communities are not only encouraging racist and xenophobic tendencies in Britain but are also leading to measures that threaten civil liberties" according to the article.

Interestingly, The Telegraph's competition, the Times had reported the day before that 1,000 Muslims were legally practicing polygamy within the borders of the U.K. According to The Times, "Under British law, husbands and wives can have only one spouse at a time. Multiple simultaneous marriages constitute bigamy, a criminal offence." Britain's official position is to dissuade multiple marriages by only allowing entry into the country only one wife of a husband. However, other wives may enter separately through a student visas and other means. Adding to the problem is the fact that some Muslim communities within the U.K. hold unrecognized polygamous marriage ceremonies, so the true extent of polygamous marriages cannot be clearly ascertained.

Polygamy is a big concern for Britain, because families receive a housing allowance from the government based on the dependents in the house and if a husband has multiple wives, the family receives a larger allowance. But, that's not the only concern. Polygamy is illegal in western cultures because it is recognized as being inherently dangerous to women – putting all the power in the relationship within the control of the husband. Many marriages are arranged without the wife's consent and there is a real danger of unpleasing wives being abandoned by the husband, with no protections for her continuing welfare.

"The Government has no grip on the situation," said Humphrey Malins, the former Shadow Home Affairs Minister and founder of the Immigration Advisory Service. "This is quite clearly exploitation of women."

I note these facts to show the continuing dichotomy in thinking among those whose worldview is based on relativism. 51 people were killed in London by an indigenous Islamic terror cell in 2005. The British government is understandably uneasy about Islamic leaders who are promoting violence as an answer to what they perceive as threats against their religion, yet Britain's academic community feels that this would cause undue bigotry against what may be innocent followers of Islam. However, when a true moral concern such as polygamy is the focus, the concern over whether the individual's welfare is being harmed, in this case the woman's, their protection is secondary to the civil liberties of the community as a whole.

You can see how relativism begins to really confuse the conception of morality. Since there is no consistent application of standards, protecting the possible persecution of an individual is held in one instance, but disregarded in another. Of course, the Islamic community doesn't suffer a similar confusion. Islam teaches an absolute morality. We see this most clearly in the third news story I saw, this time from the Jerusalem Post. The story tells of how a man was arrested in Mecca this week. His crime? He was a believing Christian in a city so holy only Muslims are allowed entry to it.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Spider-man Values

I took my family to see Spider-Man 3 this weekend – along with half the industrialized world, as it turns out. Now, there have been spates of super hero movies as of late, with Superman Returns, Batman Begins, The Fantastic Four, X-Men I, II, and III, not to mention the NBC series Heroes. Many of these modern films felt they had to update the superhero genre in order to appeal to a "more sophisticated, modern audience".

Many were worried that Superman was too much of a "Boy Scout" for the modern era. So director Bryan Singer makes Superman a little more self-absorbed and brooding. And of course, the movie ends with the revelation that Superman has an illegitimate child – some boy scout!

In contrast, Spider-Man 3 is different. Although there were some sappy elements, I was struck by the marked undercurrent of Judeo-Christian values in the film. The film opens with Spider-Man reveling in the fact that he has become a pop-culture celebrity, and Peter Parker lets all the fame and adulation go straight to his head. But the main focus of the film is how one can let their darker feelings control them or they can choose to overcome them.

Regardless of circumstances (symbiote or not), ultimately each person is in control of their own actions and feelings. In a culture where we are all victims, blaming our culture, economic status, or even the pressure of everyday life ("you just don’t know what I’m going though!!"), it was refreshing to see on screen someone who says none of that matters – I still am the one responsible for my own actions.

When Superman Returns was released last summer, many reviewers caught the not-so-subtle symbolism of Superman as a type of Christ. Singer decided to lay on the mythic elements of a savior since he is the only son of Krypton and he goes away for a while, only to return. However, Singer, being raised a "secular Jewish kid" really got a lot wrong. The new Spider-man really comes much closer to a Christian worldview in that it shows we all have a dark side, we all need to mind it, and everyone needs help. The vulnerability of Peter Parker shows how much all of us, no matter how super we are, are in need of a true Savior.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Theology That Makes a Difference

Last time, I told you about an opportunity I had to talk to a Mormon who was seeking answers after a lecture I had delivered on the problems in The Da Vinci Code. (If you are interested in that talk, you may purchase a copy on CD or DVD video from the Come Reason Store.)

As I said, she had been having a lot of difficulty digesting the concept of the Trinity. This is not unexpected. The Trinity is a difficult concept to grasp, even for Christians. I don't believe we'll ever fully understand it, even after we're with the Lord. However, that doesn't mean we should dismiss the idea as incomprehensible. The woman I spoke with told me that she had been asking Christians to better explain the Trinity for over eight years, and no one had ever been able to give her a satisfactory answer. Eight Years! Most, including pastors, when pressed for an explanation of the Trinity simply responded that "some things are just a mystery". Obviously, that wasn't good enough for her, but to her credit, she kept seeking.

Now, as I said, we don't fully comprehend the Trinity. But I believe we can apprehend the basic concepts and show that they aren't contradictory. In my talk with her, I highlighted the fact that a being is a single entity – something that has an essence. A being is a separate idea from personhood, which entails a center of consciousness. I also offered Frank Beckwith's example: a plant is a being with no personhood, a human is a being with one personhood and God is a being with three personhoods. God is single entity, but has three centers of consciousness – which is why the Son could pray to the Father and talk with the Spirit.

All of this is to exemplify my point that diligent study of the tough issues in theology is necessary for our evangelism. I haven't yet heard back from my discussion partner, but she said after our talk that for the first time she had received a response she felt gave her some answers. Because I had some credibility, I was also able to share God's plan of salvation with her. Now, she has a more informed view of two aspects of Christianity that she can think about and weigh more carefully. I will pray for her to come to that saving knowledge of Christ.

Knowing something about the Trinity allowed me to remove a stumbling block and witness more effectively. I pray that as you continue your studies, you will dig into the tough questions and not shy away from them because they are hard work. There can be much fruit gained from plowing rocky soil.

Photo courtesy CollegeDegrees360 and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.
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