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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.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Many have asked me previously "How can you teach younger kids about apologetics and defending the faith?" Well, here's one good way. I've taken my family on a vacation touring the American Southwest. Along with a rich look at our heritage, I'm finding many opportunities to examine worldviews and the way that they shape people's attitudes. I'll be blogging about my experiences and observations as we go, allowing you to come with us and see ways you can also discuss ideas with your families and friends.
Our first day consisted of one long day of driving—750 miles! We arrived in Durango, CO knowing nothing more than it's a picturesque location and that it would be a good spot to explore. At breakfast the next morning, an ex-native of Durango recommended the Mesa Verde National Park. This area holds the ruins from the Ancient Pueblo Indians, who built their villages tucked into cliffs. I had always wanted to see these ruins and we decided that it would be a great trip.
The park is some 34 miles from the hotel, and the actual cliff dwellings that you can tour are another 20 miles of winding road beyond that. We tour Balcony House and listen to the Ranger explain how the ancient Puebloans were nomadic peoples "whose security was in their journey." The Ranger notes that the people worshiped "Father Sky" and "Mother Earth" and how their lives were seeking balance - "that center place." He also notes how the dwellings used a solar calendar to note the spring and fall equinoxes where the day and the night were equally balanced, then adds "which may have some significance for those of some other faiths." Assuming he's unfamiliar with Zoroastrianism, I assume he's referring to some form of Confucianism or Taoism. However, these were a non-literate people, so much of their beliefs and practices are nothing but sheer speculation based on interviews with their descendants who are some 800 years removed. We really don't know as much about their beliefs as some would lead on.
The most confused ideas presented during the day was in the museum where a film discussing the history of these people was playing. At the end of the film, the narrator notes that since this area is not merely an ancient place of history, "it is hallowed ground"(emphasis in the original). This shows the complete confusion today with modern understanding of the sacred. While the cliff dwellings are amazing, and these people were the ancestors of the Hopi, the Navajo, the Ute and the Mesa Indians of today, the cliff dwellings are certainly not hallowed ground. It highlights a nomadic society whose existence in this area lasted only some 80-100 years. While there's much conjecture on why they left (severe drought and lack of firewood are offered primarily) these people were still controlled by their environments. The cliff-dwellings couldn't sustain them long-term and life must've been very difficult. It's not a jump to assume that famine from loss of game and crops during the drought would cause a tremendous amount of suffering, forcing these people to continue migrating. Ultimately, building and dwelling in the cliffs didn't work to find the Puebloans' "center place" - simply because we live in a fallen world. The effects of sin were still prevalent in their daily lives and they couldn't escape it even in the rocks.
To many today, seeing 800 year old ruins of a people who lived a prehistoric lifestyle and the wonder that it inspires makes them feel like such sites are somehow holy. I think this does a disservice to the concept of what true holiness is. Holiness stems from one true God. It is seeking Him and shunning sin. While the ruins of the Puebloans are certainly awe-inspiring, they no less tell the tale of how the effects of man's fall ravages societies. They needed to better understand who God is and how He created this world. When we mix up holiness with history we are in danger of losing the real meaning of both and the lessons they teach.
Friday, June 25, 2010
That's why a story in yesterday's Los Angeles Times caught my eye. Entitled "Women threaten to breastfeed drivers if they aren't allowed to drive", it shows the twists and permutations where wrong-thinking ideas lead when they are extended to their logical conclusion.
Saudi Arabia is the center of the Islamic world, a very strict nation ruled by Sharia law, and like most countries under Sharia, it subjugates its women. Women must have a male guardian at all times, they're not allowed to vote, must be covered from head to toe, legally cannot drive, and the sexes must be segregated, unless the company consists of immediate family members, such as mother and son or brother and sister. The Saudi government says these restrictions are to comply with the laws taught in Islam which is the basis of the Saudi government. As you can imagine, it becomes pretty hard to function when women and men cannot be in the same public place at the same time.
Given that Islam is a legalistic religion (your worthiness is judged by how well you perform against the requirements placed upon you), people have sought to study the laws and find "loopholes" to see if they can circumvent some of the consequences following from the law. One of the most interesting of these was a proclamation made by Saudi cleric Abdel Mohsen Obeikan, who on May 22 said that if a woman had breastfed a man, then she and the child would have a "maternal bond" and the grown man could be found with the woman, even if he is not a blood relation. Obeikan did not invent this idea; it is stated clearly in the Islamic Hadith that Mohammad was the one who first taught the practice. So, any man who wants to avoid a charge of "illicit mixing" of sexes merely needs to drink the woman's breast milk, thereby creating that maternal bond. 
Saudi women who are now seeking the right to drive have now taken Obeikan's thoughts one step further. According to the Times article, "if they're not granted the right to drive, the women are threatening to breastfeed their drivers to establish a symbolic maternal bond. ‘Is this is all that is left to us to do: to give our breasts to the foreign drivers?' a Saudi woman named Fatima Shammary was quoted as saying by Gulf News."
Although the statement seems ridiculous on its face, it follows naturally from the law and the cleric's previous reasoning. In order to maintain modesty and purity, women would have to allow strangers to suckle them so that they can get around if a family member isn't present. They cannot mix sexes in a car, and since all women cannot drive, there are no chauffeurs or taxis that would allow them transportation.
In looking at all this, the absurdities of the law become apparent. Granted, the legal ban on driving is a reaction to a group of protesters some 20 years ago, but the traditional view was in place long before that. The fact that in Islam women are seen as the sole problem in men's sexual temptation, thus men must be shielded from their looks and their company at every turn, is at the root of all these issues. And to think that just by passing a bodily fluid, all that temptation is somehow dissipated is as ridiculous as the former concept.
The bigger reason I point to this story is simply to show how bad belief systems not only harm real people, but they also lead the oppressed to desperation. When oppression mix with legalism the results are tragic and the fact that Saudi women would even threaten such a move shows the poverty of the Muslim viewpoint on women.
- See Katherine Zoepf. "Talk of Women's Rights Divides Saudi Arabia." New York Times. 5/31/2010 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/01/world/middleeast/01iht-saudi.html?pagewanted=1&src=me
- The Isamic Hadith, Book 008, Number 3424 records this exchange between Mohammad and a follower who raised an adopted boy, who would be considered a stranger in her home.
A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported that Sahla bint Suhail came to Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) and said: Messengerof Allah, I see on the face of Abu Hudhaifa (signs of disgust) on entering of Salim (who is an ally) into (our house), whereupon Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: Suckle him. She said: How can I suckle him as he is a grown-up man? Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) smiled and said: I already know that he is a young man 'Amr has made this addition in his narration that he participated in the Battle of Badr and in the narration of Ibn 'Umar (the words are): Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) laughed.For the full text, see http://www.usc.edu/schools/college/crcc/engagement/resources/texts/muslim/hadith/muslim/008.smt.html
- Sandels , Alexandra "Cleric in hot seat after calling for women to give men breast milk to avoid illicit mixing." Los Angeles Times. 6/10/2010 http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2010/06/saudi-arabia-clerics-call-for-women-to-give-men-breastmilk-to-avoid-unislamic-mixing.html
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
In this case, the truth comes from the definitively non-conservative online magazine Slate. In their article "The Sperm-Donor Kids Are Not Really All Right", authors Karen Clark and Elizabeth Marquardt look at how having a sperm donor father affects the emotional stability and overall well-being of a child, and the results are startling. Here is just a brief summary of some of Clark and Marquart's findings:
- Regardless of socioeconomic status, donor offspring are twice as likely as those raised by biological parents to report problems with the law before age 25.
- They are more than twice as likely to report having struggled with substance abuse.
- They are about 1.5 times as likely to report depression or other mental health problems.
As a group, the donor offspring in our study are suffering more than those who were adopted: hurting more, feeling more confused, and feeling more isolated from their families. (And our study found that the adoptees on average are struggling more than those raised by their biological parents.) The donor offspring are more likely than the adopted to have struggled with addiction and delinquency and, similar to the adopted, a significant number have confronted depression or other mental illness. Nearly half of donor offspring, and more than half of adoptees, agree, "It is better to adopt than to use donated sperm or eggs to have a child."
In the film (disclaimer: I've not seen the movie; I've only viewed the trailer) one of the children asks his father "Why did you donate your sperm?" The man replies "It seemed a whole lot more fun at the time than donating blood." This sums up much of what is wrong with our culture’s view of creating a family. People who take a frivolous approach to having a child (or providing the materials such as sperm or ovum to create them) are not looking toward the future child’s best interest. In fact, many people seem to believe that children are just one more accessory they are entitled to, so that their list of stuff is complete. But as we see, such frivolous attitudes lead to real, damaging consequences. And these consequences not only affect the sperm-donor kids, but they affect the society as a whole who has to cope with, treat, or jail the negative actions they perform as a result.
God's original design for marriage is a father and a mother committed for life, bringing up their biological offspring. Even in our "enlightened" era, it looks like that formula is still the best for raising strong, well-adjusted individuals. No matter what Hollywood preaches, the truth tells the tale.
You can read the entire Slate article here.
You can see the actual study from Clark and Marquart here.
Image courtesy Brendan Dolan-Gavitt and licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) License.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
There's something that feels so satisfying about a crook who gets caught by his own foolishness. That's because humans have an innate sense of morality within us. We not only have consciences, but we also feel the need to have right and wrong boundaries within which to live. The Bible tells us clearly that when people who never hear about the Bible instinctively do the things the Bible commands "they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them." We are hard-wired to be moral beings.
But we don't need to rely solely on the Bible to see this claim as true. Modern science is starting to discover this truth as well. Yale psychology professor Paul Bloom has been studying infant development and has come to the conclusion that human beings are hard-wired for morality. It exists and can be seen even before babies can speak.
In very careful experiments, 6 to 10 month-old babies were shown a puppet being helped by a "good" puppet friend and hindered by a "bad" puppet friend. The helper and hindering puppets were then placed on a tray and brought to the child, where they overwhelmingly reached for the "good" puppet. The results surprised Bloom who had previously believed that babies were blank slates upon which any type of morality could be impressed. Bloom concludes "Some sense of good and evil seems to be bred in the bone."1
Stop being so judgmental!The claims of relativism, however, deny this basic premise. Relativism holds that there is no inherent good or bad, right or wrong. Much like Bloom's initial belief, they think that morality is something denies the moral sensitivities we're born with. But no one can live this way in real life, and relativists contradict themselves even in the way they rear their own children. They set down rules – the biggest of which is "you shouldn't make other people feel bad." They worry about negative judgments affecting children's development. But, any statement that tells a person what they should or shouldn't do is by definition a prescriptive statement. It's a prescription for behavior and like a medicine that prescribed to cure an illness, the statement is given with the belief that by behaving a certain way will be better for those involved. However, this doesn't make sense. Medicine works because basic human biology is the same for everyone. A doctor doesn't dispense medicine made for animals, but discoveries made that treat human illnesses in Europe or Asia will work effectively in the US, too.
To believe that morality is not similarly universal means that the same prescriptions will not work in different cultures or contexts. But if we are to "stop being so judgmental" because such actions are "bad" for people, then the relativist has underscored the fact that they believe there is a right and wrong way for people to act. In fact, I would venture to guess that even a relativist would have a problem with parents who never corrected any of their children's naughty behavior, but allowed them to do whatever they wished. Our society would classify such parents as criminally negligent and they would be charged with a crime. That's because our society naturally recognizes that moral boundaries are essential in raising quality human beings and to remove them is actually harmful not beneficial.
For more on the inherent morality of babies and Paul Bloom's research, reach the New York Times article "The Moral Life of Babies" at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/09/magazine/09babies-t.html
Thursday, May 13, 2010
However, there is another aspect of apologetics that is often ignored - how to talk appropriately to people. 1 Peter 3:15 (the "apologetics verse") says that we "always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence "(emphasis added). People seem to forget that the "gentleness and reverence part are included in the verse. Knowing how to approach people is just as important as having all your facts together. Remember, people have intrinsic value, and approaching them that way is part of our biblical mandate.
My friend Brett Kunkle of Stand to Reason offers these six tips on engaging others in respectful, apologetically-driven conversations, tips we should always keep in mind when sharing our faith with others.
Apologetic Tip #2: Take the time necessary to get to know the other person's views. That might even be your first few conversations.
Apologetic Tip #3: Remember that people are image bearers to be valued, not merely apologetic targets to be conquered.
Apologetic Tip #4: Laugh. Joke around a little. Add a little sarcasm. This can take some of the tension out of a serious conversation.
Apologetic Tip #5: Talk over a meal. Table fellowship can communicate love, care, friendship--important things to undergird your apologetic.
Apologetic Tip #6: Don't sacrifice truth in the name of love. Don't sacrifice love in the name of truth. Need both 4 a powerful apologetic.
For more of Brett's writings and videos, check out www.strplace.com.
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