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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.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
On the other side of the long desert stands a lone town, Tonopah Nevada. We pull in for gas and I find myself standing in line behind Dennis Avner, who is considered to have one of the most extreme body modifications ever. He's had tattoos, various silicone implants, teeth modifications, and whisker implants among other things as he tries to make himself look as much like a tiger as possible. I had previously seen a documentary that highlighted Avner in one segment, so I recognized him immediately (who couldn't?) Later, I found out that Tonopah is his hometown.
In the article linked above, Avner states that his desire to be tiger-like is the dominant driving force of his life.When asked about any relationships, he responds "I'm seeing a couple of women at the moment. They understand that being a tiger is more important to me than humanity, which is difficult for many women to cope with." Being a cat is more important than humanity? Avner is clearly confused in his priorities. He IS human. He says he has an office job, so he conforms to some societal standards when they suit his needs. (He also obviouly doesn't shun medical procedures!) Changing one's physical appearance and wanting to feel like you are another animal are as shallow as the racist who also assigns value based on appearances or skin color. I cannot judge all of what drives Avner to his mania, but I do know that there is a desperation for God in every human heart - a God-shaped vacuum, Pascal called it. We can either recognize it, search for other things to try and fill it, or simply try to numb it so we can't feel it anymore.
The town of Tonopah is an oasis of humanity surrounded by hundreds of miles of lonely desert. Even there, no one can hide from their need for God. Avner can try to be a cat, but in reality he's a human bing who has to conform to some human societal precepts in order to live. He's seeking something in his appearance that will never be totally fulfilling. That's why we need to share the Gospel. Because no matter how big the oasis, people are still desperate for God.
We decided in the one day we had there, that we would walk the recommended Queen's Garden/Navajo trail combined hike. It's a 3 mile loop that allows one to get an up-close view of some of the more amazing areas of the park. When looking at all the incredible beauty surrounding you and the many geologic factors that must come together to create such landscapes, I couldn't help but think how amazing God is to provide us with such magnificent splendor, but I also thought about how the fact that beauty exists also argues for the existence of God.
Philosopher Peter Williams offers a great overview of the arguments for the existence of God from the aesthetic (beauty). First, the concept of beauty in some cases seems to be objective, as Williams notes when quoting J.P. Moreland. I cannot think of any situation where a person would look at the landscape of Bryce Canyon and feel it was anything other than beautiful. The fact that such beauty exists is in no way tied to survival, yet we all recognize it. If there is such a thing a true beauty, then it would need to stem from something that transcends humanity – much like true morality must transcend human opinion.
Secondly, Williams notes that the fact that we can recognize beauty is a key to understanding our need for finding the true beauty of a relationship with God. We long for and chase after the beautiful – and the beautiful things of this world only satisfy temporarily. What we really yearn for is the perfect beauty of a relationship with God. As Williams writes "That there is a deep need for God within the human heart was recognised by the biblical songwriter who wrote that 'As a deer longs for streams of cool water, so I long for you, O God.'"1
Monday, July 19, 2010
We went back through Four Corners (which was closed when we had passed it the first time) hoping to stand in Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico all at the same time. Alas, the Navajo Nation is doing construction on the monument so we could only walk around the fenced off circle. Still, I can now say I jogged across four states. Forrest Gump, look out!
Of course Utah has deep Mormon roots, from the names of towns and places (Mt. Carmel, Zion National Park) to the state highway signs which hold a beehive symbol. The state's population is 75% LDS, so I expect conversations to ensue. We check into our hotel (the clerk's name is Krishna!) and after a short swim, we all go out to dinner.
Even in popular culture, Mormonism and polygamy are intertwined. During dinner, my oldest asks a bit about this, allowing me to explain how Joseph Smith taught that polygamy was appropriate and himself took many wives, eleven of whom were already married to other men. One of the goals of polygamy was to produce as many children as possible to help increase the LDS population, but polygamy was illegal in the United States, so the Mormons practiced it secretly. However, it was an affront to the average citizen even then and this practice is primarily why the Mormons were driven out of Illinois.
Because Joseph Smith was killed while awaiting trial in Illinois, it was Brigham Young, the second LDS president, who lead the Mormons to the Utah territory, where they first began practicing polygamy openly. Although the U.S. government had been trying to stem these practices for some time, the Mormons continued them and saw them as a commanded by their faith. This continued until the Supreme Court ruled that the government had the right to seize all church assets and disincorporate the church because of their flagrant violation of the Edmunds-Tucker Act. In 1890, just after this ruling was handed down, LDS president Wilford Woodruf proclaimed a "revelation" form God disavowing further plural marriages within Mormonism.
In our discussion, I noted that modern day LDS become very uncomfortable when the practice of polygamy is brought up, usually saying that such things are far removed from what they believe now. However, apostle Richard Lyman claimed to have a plural marriage as recently as 1943! I also noted that many people splintered from the main Mormon Church once the proclamation was issued, spawning groups such as the FLDS and Warren Jeffs, who have recently been highlighted in the news.
A simple dinner was turned into a teachable moment as our family got to slow down and talk a little bit about what we were seeing around us. We also got to correct some misunderstandings and put a better focus on how beliefs will impact the way people live and how they understand right and wrong.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Now, my wife knows that any time we visit a new town, used bookstores are a definite stopping place. In Durango, they have a tiny house that's simply packed with stacks of books – so much so that you need to turn sideways to walk through some of the halls. The gentleman who runs the place seems to know the value of his books, too.
I find the philosophy section and look around a bit. Next, I search for the religious section wondering what treasures I may find. After some time, I find the area and am woefully disappointed. There are hundreds of books but not one Christian title – not one! Egyptology, Scientology, Buddhism, Karen Armstrong and others of this type are well represented. I think that there's a bias going on here!
When we stumble across the New Age book store, I walk in and talk a bit with its proprietor. She's sitting at a table with a deck of Tarot cards in front of her. Curious about the town's leanings, I ask her what the most popular title is she's currently selling. "Well, it all depends on the person and what energies you want to channel" she replies. Knowing that Riverside will probably be blazing hot when we get home, I'm thinking the energy to power my A/C would be nice. "What about authors?" I ask. She trots out the more common names of Marianne Williamson, Sylvia Brown, and the like. Unfortunately, this list seems to parallel Oprah's Book Club recommendations, too.
Hoping to get a little more insight into the current state of thinking among New Age adherents, I continue to inquire, this time asking which topics are big sellers. "Well, angels are always popular." I immediately believe this and am also troubled by it.
Our culture has turned angels into something opposite of what they really are – ministering spirits of God (Heb. 1:14). While God sends angels to sometimes help people, such as the one who freed Peter from prison in Acts 12, they are obeying God and His desires. But today, many make them out to be spiritual beings who are only to help us, as the popular license plate frame "Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly" attests. Hmm, I wonder what people who have those license plate frames would think of the two angels that destroyed Sodom or the one who wiped out 185,000 Assyrians in one night?
The real tragedy here is the only way this New Age lady or any of us know about angels is because they are portrayed in the Bible – yet we don't want to believe what the Bible actually says about them. We'd rather believe that we have carte blanche to do what we want while our guardian angels, acting as spiritual life guards, are always on duty to pull us out of danger.
If angels intrigue you, why not read about them from the source-the Bible? You'll find out how they really operate and what they're truly capable of. You will also discover that there's another caution you must be aware of – fallen angels with intent to murder and deceive(John 8:44). These are the ones that the New Age practitioners are more likely to channel.
For an excellent resource on this topic, I recommend Sense and Nonsense about Angels and Demons by Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman
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.
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