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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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Monday, October 04, 2021

Thinking About What Truly Makes Life Worth Living


Last week, I had the blessing of escaping with my wife to the giant redwoods of northern California. We stayed right in the middle of the park and I was able to ride my bicycle through the Avenue of the Giants. It was an incredible experience, being dwarfed mile after mile by some of the oldest and tallest living things on earth.

These redwoods are a testament both to God’s creative power and to the beauty he weaves into his creation. Being there is breathtaking and humbling. I marveled at his good gift to us in the experience. It is one of those things that makes life worth living. Such a statement shouldn’t be shocking, as God’s grace has that effect.

One of the great things about such a getaway is it allows one to think about the important things of life and even life itself. For example, I began to ponder “just what is it that makes life meaningful?” What does it mean to say life has meaning? We may have a natural drive to survive, but so do most animals. Seeking meaning beyond our survival is something different. It’s seeking something higher.

The Human Drive for Meaning in Life

Such questions are nothing new. Humans have always desired to find meaning both individually and within their broader existence collectively. One way we do this is to seek out meaningful experiences. By that I don’t mean experiences that make one happy or feel good. Watching a funny television show, taking a ride on a roller coaster, or getting a new hairstyle can do that but it doesn’t mean these are meaningful. Alcohol and narcotics can also make you feel good.

No, meaningful experiences are those experiences that elevate an individual. They make him or her more in touch with unique qualities that in nature only humans hold. Experiencing the truly beautiful, like the beauty of the redwoods, is one example.

All people appreciate beauty. As I’ve written before, beauty is objective. By that I mean there is a standard of beauty that sits outside of ourselves. That’s because beauty finds its ultimate fulfillment in God Himself. It is what is known as one of the transcendentals. (The two other recognized transcendentals are truth and goodness—in the sense of justice and morality). Transcendentals, as the name implies, are fundamental to being human. They transcend subcategories and are foundational to understanding value as human beings. In other words, these are the core of living a meaningful life.

Transcendentals and Elevating Humanity

The transcendentals are fundamental because they represent the highest virtues for human experience. Just having a feel-good experience, as I noted above, doesn’t make an experience meaningful. Unfortunately, today there are an awful lot of people who confuse feeling good with living a good life. They think satisfying an appetite or urge is going to make them happy. But appetites and urges are simply base instincts. They are things we share with animals.  Dogs like belly rubs; snakes bask in the sunlight. All creatures want to have full stomachs and seek sex whenever and wherever they may find it. Animals are motivated by instinct, but for humans to behave this way cultivates a form of selfishness. Being human is to differentiate ourselves from animals and act in a way that is distinct, to emphasize aspects of who we are that separates us from animals.

Seeking out experiences that are grounded in truth, goodness, and beauty help us make that distinction because recognizing these things is unique to humans. Animals don’t care about beauty at all. While a female peacock might be attracted to a male with the more spectacular display of tail feathers, she is operating on an instinctual attraction, not seeing the display for its own sake. Neither of the birds would stop to ponder a richly hued sunset or the towering redwoods. We, on the other hand, see beauty for what it is in itself.

Recognizing transcendentals may be understood as something we share with God. They are part of what it means to be made in His image. God is not simply the source of all that is good; goodness finds its perfection in him as God is love. God is truth and God is beautiful.

Modern Culture’s Missing Piece

As I thought about all this, one thing I’ve realized is our culture no longer seeks to cultivate and develop truth, goodness, and beauty. We assume them then seek out the more base pleasures instead. That’s what the eruption over the U.S. abortion laws are all about. People want to feed their base nature for casual sex, but don’t want to be dealing with the natural outcome of such encounters. Yet, isn’t this animalistic? Doesn’t such a drive for immediate physical gratification rob us of expressing our uniquely human understanding that sex is good and beautiful because it bonds two people together who have committed to safeguarding the well-being of each other and any progeny that may result from that act?

What do people believe in today’s society are the things that truly makes life worth living? I’m seeing more and more people seeking an answer to that question and they cannot seem to find it. I’m beginning a project where I explore the transcendentals as not only an answer to that question, but as a way of evangelism. God is attractive because in him we can find all beauty, goodness, and truth. If people are longing for these things, I want to bring them to the source.

I will explore this topic in more detail in upcoming posts. For now, I hope that you seek out experiences in life that strengthen the Good, the True, or the Beautiful. You may just find your life has become more meaningful as a result.


Thursday, April 01, 2021

Is Easter Rooted in Paganism? A Rapid Response Video Series

The Easter celebration is to mark the resurrection of Jesus, but some claim that it really is Christian repackaging of ancient pagan rituals. Do the bunnies and eggs prove Easter has pagan roots? What about all those fertility goddesses? In this Easter week rapid response video series, Lenny shows you just how to think through such outrageous claims without a lot of research, and how you can be smarter than Google.

Video 1 - The Rites of Srping

Video 2 - Ignoring Judaism

Video 3 - History's Documents

Video 4 - How to Be Smarter Than Google

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Three Rapid Reflections on Saint Patrick's Day

Three Rapid Reflections on Saint Patrick's Day
There are incredible hidden riches for us to glean today in the story of Patrick—a man who wasn't even Irish! Watch these three short videos as Lenny explains Patrick's mission, his method, and his model for reaching the seemingly unreachable.

I'll be releasing each of the three videos throughout the day today, so come back and watch them all!

Part 1 - Patrick's Mission

Part 2 - Patrick's Method

Part 3 - Patrick's Model

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Christmas Greetings, BLM, and Engaging Others


Does it bother you if a store clerk wishes you “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”? I guess it could depend on the context. If I was purchasing, say, Channukah candles then the clerk’s salutation would probably be seen as appropriate. However, what if it was just my Saturday grocery run? Should Merry Christmas be avoided because it could possibly cause offense to some people?

As our society has become less Christian and more politically correct, some argue there has been a push to wish everyone happy holidays as a safeguard against offending anyone. But I don’t see such a move as effective. Indeed, sometimes they have consequences opposing their intended effect.

Take for example the recent statement by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. After a video of President Trump wishing Georgia rally attendees a merry Christmas and encouraging the greeting’s use, Nessel took him to task on Twitter for the remark, writing:

I remember the first time I was at a store with my son and an employee said “Merry Christmas” to us. My son looked devastated as asked “Are we the only people who don’t celebrate Christmas?” I answered “No, and we are just as American as everyone else.” Glad @JoeBiden knows that.

Various conservative outlets jumped on the tweet, one that Nessel has since deleted. The Daily Wire lead with the headline “Michigan AG Slams People Wishing ‘Merry Christmas’ After Trump Warning.”1 Breitbart wrote “Michigan AG Dana Nessel Launches “2020’s War on ‘Christmas’.”2 It strikes most people that taking umbrage at another person wishing you Merry Christmas is silly. Her denouncing those who would draw upon a traditional greeting mentioning a Christian holiday celebrated by the vast majority of people in the country (be they Christians, atheists, and even some of other faiths) feels more than insensitive. It feels like an attack.

After deleting the original tweet, Nessel sought to justify her stance with this comment that is still available online:

Saying “Happy Holidays” this time of year does not denigrate Christianity. It simply acknowledges and respects the great diversity of our nation and includes each and everyone of us who call ourselves proud Americans.

Is this true? Her claim is worth investigating and thinking about this carefully can help shift through some of the more divisive rhetoric that’s been weaponized this year. It may even help Christians better their witnessing efforts.

The Ugliness of Sloganeering Salutations

While the Coronavirus pandemic may be the most top-of-mind crisis of 2020, the tensions over race and law enforcement are certainly in a close running. Part of the fallout from these events was the elevation of the slogan Black Lives Matter. Its originators, Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors saw the slogan as “A call to action, to make sure we are creating a world where black lives really do matter.”3 As the racial tensions and civic unrest elevated over this summer, the phrase morphed from a simply rally cry to a creed and a political movement. Some of the more radical activists began demanding people speak the phrase to show they are not racists. Garza and Cullors founded the Black Lies Matter Global Network Foundation and their web site began promoting far-left positions. She stated in a 2015 interview, “I think, is that we actually do have an ideological frame. Myself and Alicia in particular are trained organizers. We are trained Marxists.”4

People, not surprisingly, reacted against the slogan. Some didn’t like the idea that they must signal their virtuosity by saying the phrase. Others didn’t want to identify themselves with the radical politics of the movement. Still others felt that the phrase didn’t tell the whole story. A counter-slogan of All Lives Matter began to crescendo in response to the ubiquity of Black Lives Matter.

That, in turn, caused a similar backlash. Blacks felt that such a phrase diminished the point they were trying to make. The common analogy they offer is to picture yourself at the doctor’s office after you smashed your finger with a hammer. When he asks “which finger should I treat?” you would never respond with “Oh, doc, ALL finger matter!” Of course they all do, but the one that’s hurting needs the attention now.

 Good Housekeeping even ran an article stating that it’s problematic to say “All Lives Matter”:

While the intention of the phrase "All Lives Matter" may be to put everyone’s life on equal footing and convey a sense of unity, responding "All Lives Matter" to "Black Lives Matter" is actually more divisive than unifying. That's because it discounts and diminishes the focus on the violence and discrimination Black individuals face every day in this country.5

Switching from Slogans to Meaningful Conversation

This reaction to the reaction brings me back to my opening example. Let’s apply Nessel’s statement to the BLM slogan controversy. Without doing damage to her meaning, I can simply replace two terms and see if her argument is still appropriate:

Saying “All Lives Matter” this time of year does not denigrate black people. It simply acknowledges and respects the great diversity of our nation and includes each and everyone of us who call ourselves proud Americans.

Interestingly, there are a lot of people that would agree with Nessel’s original statement, but object to the revision and there are just as many on the other side of the political fence who would agree to the revision but reject the original! Yet, in both we have a group that offers a phrase of identity (either “Black Lives Matter” or “Merry Christmas”), a group that feels it has been in some way disparaged (Blacks or Christians), and a more encompassing category phrase (“Happy Holidays” or “All Lives Matter”) that becomes the substitute. If the logic is sound, it seems it should hold true in both sets of circumstances. So, an organization that instructs its employees not to say “Merry Christmas” but only “Happy Holidays” may be as offensive to Christians as hearing “all lives matter” as a retort to “Black Lives Matter.” 

However, there is a caveat because the phrase Black Lives Matter is also the name of an organization that promotes values antithetical to Christian beliefs. If I were to use the phrase Black Lives Matter, would I also be giving undo credibility or endorsement to the organization’s political stance? Even if I mean to affirm the broad concept, how do I know that’s what those who hear or read my reply will not assume I accept those stances? In our social media/soundbite world, being misunderstood is too common place and sloganeering on either side can lead to a breakdown in communication instead of a path to meaningful conversation.

If someone askes me if I think black lives matter, I usually respond with “I’ll go further than that. There are a lot of things that matter. Money matters. I say black lives have inestimable worth.”

Therefore, let me offer this alternative. If someone askes me if I think black lives matter, I usually respond with “I’ll go further than that. There are a lot of things that matter. Money matters. I say black lives have inestimable worth.” In using this reply I can accomplish three things: 1) I can affirm the real pain those in the black community feel, 2) I can avoid any misunderstandings of tying myself to a political stance or movement, and 3) I can stimulate additional conversation. It allows me to talk about the imago Dei and why human beings carry intrinsic value. It opens the door to evangelism opportunities.

Similarly, don’t wait for a clerk to wish you happy holidays. When you fist step up to the counter, you can wish them a merry Christmas. You can also ask them “why do you think this particular holiday draws so much more attention than any other? What is so special about Christmas?” By moving beyond slogans, we can communicate better, be understood more clearly, and inspire others to think more deeply. That would make Christmas the happiest of holidays.

References

1. Hank Berrien. “Michigan AG Slams People Wishing 'Merry Christmas' After Trump Warning.” The Daily Wire, The Daily Wire, 7 Dec. 2020, www.dailywire.com/news/michigan-ag-slams-people-wishing-merry-christmas-after-trump-warning.
2. John Nolte. “Nolte: Michigan AG Dana Nessel Launches 2020's War on 'Christmas'.” Breitbart, Breitbart, 7 Dec. 2020, www.breitbart.com/politics/2020/12/07/nolte-michigan-ag-dana-nessel-launches-2020s-war-christmas/.
3. Elizabeth Day. “#BlackLivesMatter: the Birth of a New Civil Rights Movement.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 19 July 2015, www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/19/blacklivesmatter-birth-civil-rights-movement.
4. Jared Ball. “A Short History of Black Lives Matter.” The Real News Network, The Real News Network, 23 July 2015, https://therealnews.com/pcullors0722blacklives
5. Lizz Schumer. “Saying That ‘Black Lives Matter’ Doesn't Mean That Other Lives Do Not.” Good Housekeeping, Hearst Magazine Media, Inc., 5 June 2020, www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/a32745051/what-black-lives-matter-means /.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

How COVID-19 Shows Utilitarianism's Big Flaw


What grounds morality? We all talk about whether actions are right or wrong, but what is it that makes something right or wrong to begin with? Christianity has traditionally held that goodness or rightness have their origin in God and he has revealed that to us. Atheists, on the other hand, cannot ground moral values in God. Yet, most atheists will say that morality is real. They believe that there are certain duties and obligations to which we should all adhere, such as holding the value of life above economic loss.

So, how do they ground morality?

The question isn’t as abstract as it may at first seem. As the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shutdown of the economy have thrown real questions of morality into public discussion, one can quickly see grounding morality in something other than God creates real problems in the real world.

One of the more popular ways attempted to ground morality apart from God is to hold to a moral framework known as utilitarianism. Birthed by early 19th century thinkers Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, utilitarianism is an "ethical doctrine that an action is right if, and only if, it promotes the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people."1 What that means is one can define right and wrong by whether the action will produce the greatest level of happiness for most people in a specific situation.

I want to be clear here. When utilitarians talk about the word "happiness" or "pleasure," they aren’t meaning some immediate, shallow feeling of fun. Certainly, it’s more fun for kids to eat cake rather than vegetables or go and play than go to school. However, utilitarians would know that such short-term pleasures would cause greater pain in the future when the child is grown, sickly, and unemployable. Still, utilitarianism holds that what we call good is what is pleasurable, and therefore, after one weighs all factors, whatever produces the most pleasure/happiness for the most people is by definition good.

COVID-19 and "Ageism"

At first glance, utilitarianism seems common-sensical. Advancing happiness while reducing pain is a grid against which we make decisions all the time. However, the devil is always in the details, and real-life situations can underscore utilitarianism’s fatal flaw.

A recent Los Angeles Times column by Steve Lopez is a case in point.

Lopez recently published a commentary entitled, "Time for seniors to roll over and die so younger generations can get back to work? Not so fast." It opens with this:
I’ve got a Medicare card in my wallet and a target on my back.

"Sacrifice the weak, reopen," said a protest sign in Tennessee.

In Antioch, next door to the Bay Area town I grew up in, a planning commissioner said that "the sick, the old, the injured," along with the homeless, should be left to die from COVID-19 and ease the burden on society.

Even the 70-year-old lieutenant governor of Texas offered himself up as a sacrificial lamb, saying if more people have to die to save the economy for future generations, "I’m all in."2
Lopez goes on to note that the argue that "ageism is running amok" and how he believes "those who are saying we have to choose between returning to work and saving lives — as if we can’t do both — are in a minority" even though he admits "a majority of victims [are] up there in years."

Wrong is Defined as Right

I’m sure most people would side with Lopez that just because someone is in the final decades of life des not mean they are any less valuable than those who are in their thirties or forties. But that’s exactly the rub. You see, utilitarianism defines the good as the greatest happiness for the greatest number and which ever way one slices it, forcing millions and millions of younger people to lose employment, miss school, lose their life savings by closing their businesses, damage the next untold number of years of their future through the worst economic hardship since the Great Depression so the elderly can survive doesn’t measure up.

The fact is, if utilitarianism is true, then what we are doing to protect the elderly and frail among us would be defined as evil. It is morally wrong to intentionally not seek out the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number. Remember, this concept is the baseline for determining what is classified as moral or immoral. Society suffering for the sake of the few is always immoral in a utilitarian framework.

Of course, like Lopez, I don’t think most people would agree that the elderly should be expendable because of the pain inflicted on the many. In fact, seeking the pleasure of the masses at the expense of the frail, all other things being equal, is immoral. That means one cannot ground their moral values in utilitarianism since it can get morality exactly backwards, calling evil good and good evil. And without utilitarianism to fall back on, anyone who holds morality is real and objective will have a difficult time being consistent unless the foundation of right and wrong is found in God himself.

References

1. Ed. L. Miller. Questions That Matter: An Invitation to Philosophy. 4th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, 1996.447.
2. Steve Lopez. "Time for seniors to roll over and die so younger generations can get back to work? Not so fast." Los Angeles Times. May 6, 2020. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-05-06/time-for-seniors-to
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