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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.
Monday, December 24, 2012
Important moments in life have been marked throughout the ages with ceremony and tradition. I recently told my just-married son that his wedding day is the one day in his life where more of his friends and family will gather together to celebrate his life-change than any other. We recognize that marriage changes you; you must abandon living for only yourself and put the needs of another above your own. You are no longer a child but a fully engaged member of society who will be expected to contribute to the community. And as parents, we want to see our progeny grow into mature adults. So we celebrate the event with a wedding… a ceremony filled with ritual, symbols, and festivities.
It is through celebration and tradition that we mark significance and pass our culture to future generations. Certainly we may write about the importance of certain occasions, but it is only when we vest them with our time and efforts that we most powerfully convey the depth of their magnitude. Think about it. Does a congratulatory card mean more than the presence of a loved one at your wedding?
Because purposeful celebration is important, we even mark our national heritage with nationally recognized holidays such as the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving. But no holiday eclipses Christmas. It is simply the single largest celebrated event in humanity, with weeks of preparation and anticipation by Christian adherents and many others. There are vast amounts of time devoted not only to shopping and parties, but to preparing meals and treats ("the way our mothers made them for us"), reflection, attending church services, or traveling thousands of miles to simply be with friends and family. Our media is saturated with songs and movies that supposedly capture the "true spirit of Christmas." But what is the true spirit of Christmas? Since Christmas holds such a high place in human culture, it is important for us to correctly understand the message these ceremonies and traditions are trying to communicate.
Misunderstanding Christmas is easily done. Just this year, the group American Atheists placed a billboard in New York with the images of Santa and Jesus and a caption that read "Keep the Merry! Dump the Myth!" Of course, it wasn't Santa but to Jesus that the myth reference referred. The group issued a press release saying "The true beauty of the season — family, friends, and love — have nothing to do with the gods of yesteryear. Indeed, the season is far more enjoyable without the religious baggage of guilt and judgmentalism." Much of the made for TV holiday fare also boils down the true meaning of Christmas to some similarly amorphous "be-kind-to-others" message. But these obviously do not convey the true spirit of Christmas when you consider how the holiday is celebrated and how it is held in such high regard. The traditions associated with the holiday simply speak to a different meaning. There must be something more, something bigger than a simplistic axiom we all learned in kindergarten.
No, Christmas captures so much attention because it celebrates a fundamental change in humanity. The coming of Jesus is a milestone in the history of mankind unlike any other. While Christians would argue (and I would agree) that the death and resurrection of Christ are more central to our salvation, the Incarnation marks a shift in the way God reaches out to His sinful creation. In the fullness of time God sent His Son to be born of a woman so that we could be freed from the curse of sin and adopted into God's own family. Paul doesn't say that such an action was for the Jewish people only, but that God did so for all of humanity. That's why the angels proclaim it as good news for all people, and we reflect that in our traditions. We adopt the German tradition of the Christmas tree, celebrating the life of Jesus among us. We give gifts to one another to recognize the importance they play in our lives mimicking the Magi who gave gifts to the Christ-child to signify His importance. We also deem Christmas significant enough to want to share it with those whom we cherish the most. We understand that it is difficult to spend Christmas apart from them. We know that this celebration unites not just family, but strangers in some way that is different from any other time of the year.
Christmas celebrates humanity because it recognizes that God offered the first gift in Jesus Christ, and began the process of reconciling us to Him. There can be peace on earth because the Prince of Peace has come; there can be joy to the world because Jesus, the Joy of Man's desiring is here. And even the fact that the atheists want to keep Christmas demonstrates its power within humanity. We have even marked all of time in reference to His birth.
Though the glory of our technical advancements and medical breakthroughs is trumpeted, we can find ourselves poorer than past generations. All the noise and wonder of the modern age can distract us and make us miss the message our traditions bring, offering the poor substitute of "be nice, love one another." Don't miss the message of Christmas this year. The real meaning of Christmas can only be found in Immanuel, God with Us. Jesus has come and He changes who we are and what our position with God can be: those in whom God finds favor. May you and those you love celebrate a very Merry Christmas and may your traditions speak more about the true meaning that Christmas brings.
Sunday, December 16, 2012
That's the word that people keep falling back upon. Insanity. Certainly, no one in their right mind would do such a thing to such precious children. Some discover that Lanza had Asperger's syndrome, which is a mental condition, and conclude that this must be the cause. I have a different word for Lanza's evil, a word that has lost much of its power in our modern discourse. Lanza's actions were sinful.
We don't like to label this tragedy as simply "sinful". It doesn't seem, well, extreme enough. But why is that? It is most likely because we recognize that we are sinful ourselves. There are enough remnants of the Christian worldview left in our society that we can remember phrases such as "He who is without sin cast the first stone" and we know that we have failed. We know that we have sinned.
Because Lanza had some type of mental condition, we try to separate his actions from our own. He's not like us, we say. Except that he is. Lanza's actions were driven by a selfish need. All sin is ultimately selfish, it seeks one's own feelings, one's own desires above God or another person. The base motivation is the same; it simply becomes a matter of degree afterwards.
Before Christianity was prevalent in the world, slaughtering innocents was a much more commonplace occurrence. Canaanites and Israelites would sacrifice their children to the fires of Molech. There is evidence of the Incas performing child sacrifice in ancient America. Romans would abandon unwanted infants so they would die of exposure. Modern Americans abort their children so it won't interfere with their personal plans and desires.
Because we live in a post-Christian society, sin is a word we wink at. Las Vegas is known as Sin City and whatever you do there better stay there. The City developed the idea as a marketing catchphrase. But why? Because the idea is that while in Vegas one should live for him or herself. To find out the things we did, the selfish pursuit of pleasure, we could damage our reputation. We could hurt someone with whom we have a relationship. We could hurt other people. Think about that. Selfishness damaging another. It happens every day.
Lanza's actions are horrific. But this is why God takes sin so seriously. He knows how sin damages lives and he cares about those lives. We see the immediate devastation of families in Connecticut and immediately recognize that the pain they experience will be with them for life. We look at a pornographic image and don't think about the life-inflicting pain on the girl who has to live with her objectification or how it encourages acts such as sexting by our young.
Sin is real. Sin is dangerous. We need to recognize that. We need to start thinking about the Christian concept that we are all sinners, capable of things that are horrific to a God who sees the end result.
Pray for the families in Newtown. Pray for their comfort and their loss. Then, pray for the rest of our society. For by seeking to dismiss Lanza's actions as insane instead of sinful; by trying to escape the fact that Lanza is not so different from the rest of us, we lull ourselves into a position where such incidents could happen again. May God have mercy on our souls.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Sarah Josepha Hale was a poet, an editor, and a writer. Every school child has heard her nursery rhyme "Mary had a Little Lamb", but few know that it was this author who was determined to see Thanksgiving reach beyond its traditional New England roots and become an official holiday for all of the United States. She campaigned tirelessly and her efforts proved successful when her editorials and letters reached President Lincoln. On October 3, 1863 Lincoln set aside the last Thursday in November "as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens… offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience." 1
It takes but little to make one happy when the heart is right: but a repining disposition never yet enjoyed a Thanksgiving. There is always some accident or occurrence that mars the festival. The turkey is over-roasted, or the sermon has been too long; or, perchance, the ball-dress of a young lady has not been sent home; or the hair-dresser has failed in finishing the beau; — many are made wretched by trifles light as these. But the heart is not in such troubles. It is sheer selfishness that makes the grief and vexations of which two-thirds of the world complain. It is chagrin, not sorrow, people feel; and they endure it, because they will not cultivate the disposition to be happy.2
Many are the sayings of the wise,
In ancient and in modern books enroll'd,
Extolling patience as the truest fortitude.
But with the afflicted, in his pangs, their sound
Little prevails, or rather seems a tone,
Harsh and of dissonant mood from his complaint;
Unless he feels within
Some source of consolation from above.
Secret refreshings that repair his strength.
And fainting spirits uphold. 3
-Sarah Josepha Hale.
Philadelphia: E.L. Carey & A. Hart, 1835. 210. Available online at https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=hjrY9eWC4lIC&printsec=frontcover&output=reader&authuser=0&hl=en&pg=GBS.PA210
Monday, November 05, 2012
On the other points, I can understand some people's misgivings. But I think we need to better understand just what is happening during a presidential election and why voting is crucially important and possibly even commanded by God for all faithful Christians.
First, I think that the idea of the "lesser of two evils" has no merit. I actually think it doesn't apply in the U.S. political process. Our entire political system is not structured to find a single position on all issues. It by nature takes into account those who differ, as they are represented and their disagreements should be included and weighed in the discussion.
The point of American politics is much like football; it is a game of inches. One strives towards his goal line, but understands that forward progress is better than backward progress. That's why I currently oppose promoting legislation that bans all abortions. I am personally against elective abortion in any form except when the life of the mother is in jeopardy. However, to seek to advance legislation at this point would actually set the pro-life movement back and more babies would be lost as a result. The goal isn't the laws; it’s the lives of the children at stake. This is why compromise is a key part of congress passing laws, something I think both sides of the aisle have forgotten. Ideology is great; it gives you a goal to focus on. But any team that is only throwing to the end zone will soon have their game figured out and be quickly defeated.
Choosing a president, a senator, or any elected official plays out the same way. The office of president is especially powerful in this aspect. Either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will lead our nation for the next four years, there's no escaping that. Gary Johnson and other candidates may have been seen as more palatable, but they simply won't win. So, I would urge you to vote for the candidate that you deem more closely aligned to your goals and beliefs as a Christian. We choose presidents, not kings, and we are able to re-choose every four years for the express purpose that no one man will ever be the candidate that is perfect.
Lastly, I would note that in Romans 13 God tells us that the governing authorities are provided the sword by God to do good. We tend to read that verse and think of the president or the government writ large as that governing authority. However, in our nation it is we the people that are the ultimate seat of authority. We decide who is president and who sits in congress. That means that God has given us the sword—the sword of the vote—to wield for the good. As a believer I think we would be remiss in our duties if we were to keep it in its sheath because we disliked both candidates. On some issues Romney and Obama are close. On other issues, they are not. There are more issues where both have sought to reflect the views of their constituency when in the past they have held a different view. (That last item is not a "flip-flop" or pandering as is often portrayed in the press. I think it is appropriate as long as the candidate keeps his word and actually does what he promised after the election.) But there are enough clear differences between the two to know what they are and to be able to make a choice.
I urge you to exercise your sword, for God does not give it in vain.
Friday, November 02, 2012
British pro-homosexual group creates "bigot" award, despite objections from sponsors. So who's being bigoted now? http://bit.ly/ScyR6Y
One response I received was from Adam Preston, who on his Twitter page describes himself as "atheist. bibliophile. interested in military history, secularism, evolutionary psychology, LGBT rights. member of Labour Party & National Secular Society." Below is our entire exchange. I think this is helpful in showing why asking questions can play a key role in discussions with others.
@comereason: What're the essential attributes of a bigot? People throw these terms around too much without clearly knowing what they mean.
@adam_preston: I'd say wanting to deny equal rights to LGBT people because of your religion constitutes bigotry
@comereason: That's not what I asked. What are the necessary conditions to be labeled a bigot in any sense? Don't deflect the issue.
@adam_preston: Inflexibile intolerance and prejudice towards a group of people. I think that applies to most vocal anti-equalmarriage people
@comereason: By using prejudice you beg the question. Regardless, I am intolerant of serial killers. Is that bigotry?
@adam_preston: Was expecting that response. Although usually it's paedophiles, not serial killers. Intolerance of serial killers is RATIONAL
@comereason: So if the intolerance against a person is rational, it is not bigotry. Is that your view?
@adam_preston: In the sense that intolerance of child abusers & serial killers is not bigotry, while racism and sexism are, yes.
@comereason: Can you tell me why racism or sexism is irrational while the others aren't? What makes one belief rational and another isn't?
@adam_preston: Child abuse and murder are clearly harmful to individuals and society. How is equality harmful and how are gays dangerous?
@comereason: Is physical harm the only basis for rational intolerance? Can I be intolerant of cheaters or drunks if they harm no one else?
@adam_preston: Intolerance of them would be wrong, yes. Believing it's wrong to CHEAT is one thing. Intolerance of all who have is different
@comereason: I completely agree!! Being intolerant of the actions of cheating is different than being bigoted against the cheaters.
Do I think the above exchange has changed Adam's mind and he will stop labeling those who are for traditional marriage bigots? No, I don't. But it may help clarify the issue in the minds of others reading the exchange and it does allow me to hold Adam to his own standard if he confronts me again.
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