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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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Showing posts with label America. Show all posts
Showing posts with label America. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Something Stinks in the Media's Reporting of the Pew Survey


Yesterday, the Pew Research Center released its latest findings on the state of religion in the United States. They noted in the report that those who describe themselves as Christians had decreased by eight percentage points in the last seven years. This prompted many different news outlets to run stories proclaiming that Christianity is slipping as a religion and the rise of secularism is upon us. CNN declared, "Millennials leaving church in droves."1 Today's Los Angeles Times carried the headline "US has become notably less Christian."2 The Times story reports:
The erosion in traditional religious ranks seems likely to continue. Among Americans aged 18 to 33, slightly more than half identify as Christian, compared with roughly 8 in 10 in the baby boom generation and older age groups, the new data show…

Almost 1 in 5 American adults was raised in a religious tradition but is now unaffiliated, the study found. By contrast, only 4% have moved in the other direction.3
In the fact that less Americans are identifying as Christian, the times gets the Pew Report correct. However, the story also claims "The decline in traditional religious belief adds to the demographic challenges facing the GOP, which already faces difficulties because of its reliance on white voters in a country that has grown more racially diverse."4 Notice the shift between the quotes, though. The first excerpts talk about "traditional religious ranks" and adults being "unaffiliated" with a specific religious tradition. That isn't the same thing as declining religious beliefs.

Is the Church Dying?

When analyzing the numbers, there are certain trends that immediately stick out. First is that the declines in Christianity come from the more liberal mainline denominations. Those who identify as Evangelicals are statistically level with prior years, even though the population has grown while mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic denominations show a 3% to 4% decrease. This is no surprise as we have seen these denominations lose members for years.

Further, while the group identifying as Unaffiliated grew to 22.8% of the population, those who claim to specifically be atheist or agnostic were 7.1% of the population. That means there are a lot of folks who don't identify with a Christian denomination, but they may still hold to the existence of God and the importance of specific beliefs.

The Barna Research organization last month published findings on specific beliefs people held concerning Jesus. They found that 95% of Americans believe Jesus was a real person, 56% believe Jesus was/is God incarnate, and 62% say they have made a commitment to Jesus Christ. Barna says "roughly two out of five Americans have confessed their sinfulness and professed faith in Christ (a group Barna classifies as ‘born again Christians')." Interestingly, Barna notes "Fewer than half of Millennials say they have made such a commitment (46%), compared to six in 10 Gen-Xers (59%), two-thirds of Boomers (65%) and seven in 10 Elders (71%)."5

Christianity is No Longer the Default Position

I think some of the shakeup in the polling statistics is due to the way generations have historically identified themselves. Older generations would call themselves "Methodist" or "Episcopal" even when they held errant views and hadn't darkened the doorway of a church for decades. If they were baptized into a specific denomination or were taken as a child with their parents, they saw themselves with that identification.

Millennials don't do that. If we compare the Barna and the Pew statistics together, we can see that more Millennials are defining themselves by their current beliefs. the Pew Report says about 56% of Millennials define themselves as Christian while Barna says 46% of Millennials claim to have confessed their sinfulness and professed faith in Christ. What this means is those who identify as Christians are taking the beliefs of Christianity seriously. Those who marginally believe are leaving Christianity altogether.

One thing the Pew survey does show is that people are increasingly uncomfortable being labeled Christian if they don't hold to orthodox Christian beliefs. In some ways, that's a good thing. It's honest and makes evangelism efforts more clear. However, the poll also shows that the Church more than ever needs to reach out to the younger generation and provide evidence of why Christianity is true, using reasons and evidence. The Millennials are not simply going to follow in Mom and Dad's footsteps because they've always done it this way. They are going to want to believe things for good reasons. Therefore, it is increasingly crucial Christians are able to provide an answer to those who ask about the hope within you. Are you ready?

References

1. Burke, Daniel. "Millennials Leaving Church in Droves, Study Says." CNN. Cable News Network, 13 May 2015. Web. 13 May 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/12/living/pew-religion-study/.
2. Lauter, David, and Hailey Branson-Potts. "U.S. Has Become Notably Less Christian, Major Study Finds." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 13 May 2015. Web. 13 May 2015. http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-us-religion-20150512-story.html#page=1.
3. Lauter, 2015.
4. Lauter, 2015
5. "What Do Americans Believe About Jesus? 5 Popular Beliefs." Barna Group. Barna Group, 1 Apr. 2015. Web. 13 May 2015. https://www.barna.org/barna-update/culture/714-what-do-americans-believe-about-jesus-5-popular-beliefs.
Image courtesy Emma (abandoned church) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, April 20, 2015

Why God is the Foundation of American Liberty


In the United States, the Pledge of Allegiance has been a part of American life since 1942 when congress passed the Flag Code into law, describing the proper ways to display and treat the nation's flag. 1 At that time, the pledge did not contain the words "under God" in it. It also originally stipulated that citizens should say the pledge with their right hands outstretched toward the flag. However, given that salute's eerie similarity to the Nazi salute, the wartime congress quickly amended the law to have citizens place their right hands over their hearts. 2

It wasn't until 1953, when Democratic Congressman Louis Rabaut and Republican Senator Homer Ferguson introduced a bill to congress to amend the Pledge to include the words "under God" that the national debate was brought center stage. During this time, many different voices contributed to the debate. While a lot of media today explain away the addition as simply a knee-jerk response to those "Godless communists" in the Soviet Union, I think there is much more to the addition than that. Several civic groups, most noticeably the Roman Catholic Knights of Columbus had decided to include the phrase in their recitation of the Pledge a few years prior, modeling it after Abraham Lincoln's use of the term in his Gettysburg address.3 Other groups began to do likewise.

God and the Constitution

In general, the question of how God relates to American government was swirling at the time. In 1952, the U.S. Supreme Court had just decided a case (Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306) stating school children should be excused from attending public school for reasons of religious education or religious observance. Justice William O. Douglas, in writing for the majority said:
The First Amendment, however, does not say that in every and all respects there shall be a separation of Church and State. Rather, it studiously defines the manner, the specific ways, in which there shall be no concern or union or dependency one on the other. That is the common sense of the matter. Otherwise the State and religion would be aliens to each other—hostile, suspicious, and even unfriendly…

We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. We guarantee the freedom to worship as one chooses. We make room for as wide a variety of beliefs and creeds as the spiritual needs of man deem necessary. We sponsor an attitude on the part of government that shows no partiality to any one group and that lets each flourish according to the zeal of its adherents and the appeal of its dogma. When the state [343 U.S. 306, 314] encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, it follows the best of our traditions.4

Liberty Relies on the Natural Rights that God Bestows

As one can see, it was widely recognized that the United States was a nation founded upon certain principles, and those principles had at their root the belief that God exists and he is the source of those natural rights that this country holds so dear.

Such a concept shouldn't be shocking to anyone who has read the Declaration of independence. Even though Thomas Jefferson was a deist, he recognized that God alone grounds our rights. In writing about the revolution, he said "The god who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time: the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them."5 Jefferson in another letter goes on to reinforce this view. When speaking on the issue of slavery, one that had begun to divide the nation, he said:
And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever. 6
Because the liberties of Americans depend on God and the foundational recognition that all governments must be held to this standard, which is a standard above themselves, the pressure increased to add the words "under God" to the pledge.

A New Birth of Freedom

On Feb 7, 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower attended a service at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church where he heard Rev. George Docherty deliver a sermon entitled "A New Birth of Freedom," highlighting this distinction and drawing on Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. While Docherty did say "I could hear little Muscovites repeat a similar pledge to their hammer-and-sickle flag in Moscow with equal solemnity," to assume that was the focus of his reasoning would be to do him and President Eisenhower a disservice. You may real Docherty's entire sermon here, but for conciseness, here is the relevant portion:
There is no religious examination on entering the United States of America- no persecution because a man's faith differs even from the Christian religion. So, it must be 'under God' to include the great Jewish Community, and the people of the Moslem faith, and the myriad of denominations of Christians in the land.

What then of the honest atheist?

Philosophically speaking, an atheistic American is a contradiction in terms. Now don't misunderstand me. This age has thrown up a new type of man-we call him a secular; he does not believe in God; not because he is a wicked man, but because he is dialectically honest, and would rather walk with the unbelievers than sit hypocritically with people of the faith. These men, and many have I known, are fine in character; and in their obligations as citizens and good neighbors, quite excellent.

But they really are spiritual parasites. And I mean no term of abuse in this. I'm simply classifying them. A parasite is an organism that lives upon the life force of another organism without contributing to the life of the other. These excellent ethical seculars are living upon the accumulated spiritual capital of Judeo-Christian civilization, and at the same time, deny the God who revealed the divine principles upon which the ethics of this country grow. The dilemma of the secular is quite simple.

He cannot deny the Christian revelation and logically live by the Christian ethic.

And if he denies the Christian ethic, he falls short of the American ideal of life.

In Jefferson's phrase, if we deny the existence of the god who gave us life how can we live by the liberty he gave us at the same time? This is a God-fearing nation. On our coins, bearing the imprint of Lincoln and Jefferson are the words "In God we trust." Congress is opened with prayer. It is upon the Holy Bible the President takes his oath of office. Naturalized citizens, when they take their oath of allegiance, conclude solemnly, with the words "so help me God."

This is the issue we face today: A freedom that respects the rights of the minorities, but is defined by a fundamental belief in God. A way of life that sees man, not as the ultimate outcome of a mysterious concatenation of evolutionary process, but a sentient being created by God and seeking to know His will, and "Whose soul is restless till he rest in God."

In this land, there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female, for we are one nation indivisible under God, and humbly as God has given us the light we seek liberty and justice for all. This quest is not only within these United States, but to the four corners of the glove wherever man will lift up his head toward the vision of his true and divine manhood.7
After that sermon, President Eisenhower went to congress and asked them to reintroduce the amendment to the Flag Code, which he signed into law on May 28, 1954.

References

1. Streufert, Duane. "United States Code." USFlag.org. Duane Streufert, 8 July 1995. Web. 20 Apr. 2015. http://www.usflag.org/uscode36.html.
2. "Historical Timeline - Under God in the Pledge." ProCon.org. ProCon.org, 2015. Web. 20 Apr. 2015. http://undergod.procon.org/view.timeline.php?timelineID=000029.
3. "Historical Timeline", 2015.
4. Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306 (1952). United States Supreme Court. 28 Apr. 1952. Web. http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=343&invol=306
5. Looney, J. Jefferson, ed. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series. Princeton: Princeton University http://www.monticello.org/Press, 2004. Web.
6. Looney, 2004.
7. Docherty, George. "A New Birth of Freedom." Virtue, Liberty, and Independence. City-On-A-Hill, 7 Feb. 1954. Web. 20 Apr. 2015. http://liberty-virtue-independence.blogspot.com/2012/02/new-birth-of-freedom-rev-george.html.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Evil of Scientology (video)



You've probably seen the commercials for Dianetics or walked past some folks offering a free personality test. Both are ways to entice you into the Church of Scientology. But the sheen of the commercials hide a deadly secret that we must warn our friends and family against. Watch this comprehensive video where Lenny exposes the background and the insidious nature of Scientology, while warning believers about how easily duped one can become when facing the tactics of the cults.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Atheists Contradict Themselves by Seeking Invocations


Many times when I have debated atheists, they assert that they don't need to prove their atheism. As Richard Carrier put it, "It is not necessarily incumbent upon me to provide evidence for atheism. I mean if we say that aliens don't exist, then I don't have to prove to you that they don't exist; rather, you need to prove to me they do, or that there are fairies in the woods or demons or so forth. The claimant has to actually establish the fact."1 The common refrain that atheism is not a belief but simply a lack of belief shows up over and over, even though atheists are making a truth-claim about the world.

Here's the interesting thing, though. When placed in other contexts, atheists themselves deny this position. Take government meetings as an example. After the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year in Greece v. Galloway that opening local legislative meetings in prayer was constitutional2, the Central Florida Freethought Community took a different tack; they decided to petition to offer invocations at various government meetings, even providing a model letter so that other atheist groups could do likewise.

Justice Kennedy, in writing for the majority on Greece v. Galloway, captured the purpose of offering an invocation:

The principal audience for these invocations is not, indeed, the public but lawmakers themselves, who may find that a moment of prayer or quiet reflection sets the mind to a higher purpose and thereby eases the task of governing…

The inclusion of a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition suggests that its purpose and effect are to acknowledge religious leaders and the institutions they represent rather than to exclude or coerce nonbelievers.

Ceremonial prayer is but a recognition that, since this Nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond the authority of government to alter or define and that willing participation can be done with a brief acknowledgement of their belief in a higher power, always with due respect for those who adhere to other beliefs. 3
But this is exactly where the atheist has a problem. If an invocation is to point to a higher purpose and to recognize specific religious beliefs, then it follows that invocations are ways of communicating a faith, which means that there are real claims being made about the nature of the world. The freethinkers, in asking to offer invocations, are asserting a belief system. Therefore, to claim that they bear no burden of proof is absurd.

Imagine a group petitioning a city council to provide an invocation on the grounds that there are no aliens or fairies in the world. They would immediately be rejected because the fact that they don't believe such things cannot support any kind of meaningful invocation. It would do exactly what Kennedy said invocations shouldn't: it would mock other belief systems.

Atheists here are caught in a contradiction. Either they are simply holding to the non-existence of an entity or they are advancing a particular belief system, complete with claims about man, the universe, origins, morality, and the nature of reality. They can't have it both ways. Seeking invocation opportunities betrays the atheist's claim that they simply lack belief. it's a contradiction, and contradictions about the fundamental nature of a worldview by its adherents underscore its implausibility.

References

1. Transcript from "Esposito vs. Carrier, The Great God Debate: Does God Exist?" Come Reason Ministries. 2012. Available at http://www.comereason.org/tools/default.asp?mode=category&dt=4&pcid=20

2. Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway et al. 572 U.S. ___. Supreme Court of the United States.
2014. http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-696_bpm1.pdf . Web. 5 Mar. 2014.

3 Town of Greece, 19, 23.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Thinking Less About Stuff and More About God (video)



Is pragmatism replacing piety in the church today? There are six megathemes—shifts in the way Christians think and act—that show how much the world's ideas are corrupting the church today. In the third of our six-part series, Lenny notes that growing numbers of people are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life. But by avoiding wrestling with ethical and theological questions, we are doomed to hold a very superficial view of both Christianity AND life. That is not only sin, it is a travesty of living.


 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Atrocity Against Christians in Iraq

There are only two books in the Bible that end in a question. The first is the book of Jonah, which tells the story of God going to remarkable lengths to share the message of redemption with a seemingly irredeemable people. Because the prophet Jonah was Jewish, he rebels against God's command to preach repentance to the Ninevites who were ruthlessly cruel and would inflict that cruelty upon the Northern Kingdom of Israel some years later. Jonah wants to see the Assyrian capital judged by the Almighty. However, God knew that if the right person delivered His message those people would be saved.

Today, the city that occupies Nineveh's location is named Mosul. Mosul is famous for its long history of Christianity, which goes back to within a 100 years of Jesus' death1. Both the Catholic and the Orthodox faiths have early roots there and the city was the capital of Nestorianism since the sixth century. Christians are a significant part of the historic fabric of the city.

But all that has changed. With the recent takeover of the city by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a militant Jihadist group, Christians have been targeted. ISIS has purged the city of Christians, forcing them to either convert to Islam, agree to second-class status, or die. ISIS terrorists, echoing the Gestapo's branding of Jewish houses with a Star of David, were marking every door identified as Christian with the Arabic letter N for followers of the Nazarene, Jesus. Ironically, Nazareth is also the area where the prophet Jonah was from.

The UK Telegraph passed along a report from the local news agency that "ISIS troops entered the house of a poor Christian and, when they didn't get what they wanted, the soldiers raped the mother and daughter in front of their husband and father." 2 The New York Times reports that "at least 1,531 civilians were killed in June alone" in Mosul and the city's Christian population has gone from 30,000 in 2003 to zero.3 While major media outlets continue to splash headlines decrying the nearly 500 dead in Gaza, the fate of Christians in Mosul gets no such preference. This when the crisis is a direct result of US troop toppling the Iraqi government then abandoning the country.4

As I said, Jonah is one of only two books of the Bible ending in a question. It records the redemption of a people. The other is the book of Nahum, which records the utter destruction that was heaped upon Nineveh as judgment came. Today, Christians are faced with a question. Will we as the body of Christ be reluctant to intervene or will we extend ourselves to minister to those who are suffering because of His name?

What Christians Can Do

The horror ISIS is inflicting on our brothers and sisters in Christ is staggering and the church needs to act. The Apostle Paul instructs us "as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Gal 6:10). Here then are three things we can do to help Christians fleeing Mosul:

1. Support the Christian Refugees

Christians can support those fleeing their homes in Mosul. We first support our brothers and sisters by praying fervently for them. Pray daily. Pray before each meal as you thank God for your blessings that He would offer compassion and shelter to the refugees as well. But you can support the refugees in more concrete ways as well. Currently I've found two Christian organizations that are providing relief efforts to the displaced Christians from Iraq. You may donate to either  International Christian Concern or the Barnabas Fund. Both are registered with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

2. Write Your Congressional Representative

We need to speak up for those people who are being murdered and displaced from their homes. I recommend you write to your federal congressional representative and let them know that you have serious concerns about the suffering in Mosul. Be respectful and keep your letter short and on point. I have created a sample letter here. For US citizens, if you don't know who your representative is, you may find out here.

3. Talk about it

Let's raise the awareness of this atrocity to the level of national discourse. Post about the plight of Iraqi Christians. Update your status on social media platforms and share links. Encourage others to do the same. If you're a pastor, talk about this from the pulpit. The more attention we draw to those afflicted by evil, the more other people will join with us to help.

References

1. See Rassam, Suha. Christianity in Iraq: Its Origins and Development to the Present Day.(Herefordshire, UK: Gracewing, 2005). 24-26.    
2. Stanley, Tim. "Iraqi Christians are raped, murdered and driven from their homes — and the West is silent." The Telegraph. 21 July 2014. http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/timstanley/100280803/iraqi-christians-are-raped-murdered-and-driven-from-their-homes-and-the-west-is-silent/
3. Rubin, Alissa J. "ISIS Forces Last Iraqi Christians to Flee Mosul." The New York Times, 18 July 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/19/world/middleeast/isis-forces-last-iraqi-christians-to-flee-mosul.html?_r=0
4. Stanley, Ibid.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Rights and Their Freedoms Come from God Alone

Today, millions of Americans will celebrate the 4th of July, marking the founding of our nation. Many others across the world will also take note of the day because of the uniqueness of the founding of this country. This is the first and only nation in the history of mankind not to come about because its citizens share a certain family or ethnic heritage. It didn't form because of geographic boundaries or as a group of people coalesced from war. The United States of America is the only country on earth that was founded expressly on certain ideals.



Today, Americans celebrate not simply the birth of our nation, but also the freedoms this nation offers. It is the freedoms that we cherish that make a difference. But, where do those freedoms come from? The Founders unanimously agreed that that all men "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."1 But if God doesn't exist, would the Declaration make any sense? From where could we derive our rights if not from God alone?

In thinking about this question, it seems to me that one has only four options when arguing for the rights of persons: Our freedoms either derive from the inalienable rights granted to us by the government, the common consent of the governed, by nature, or by God alone. In the next couple of posts I intend to argue that none of the first three options make any sense. Only God can grant inalienable rights and thus it is only through God that we have any right to the freedoms we enjoy. Then, I'd like to look at a couple of those rights specifically in light of the liberal backlash against the recent Hobby Lobby court decision.

Rights don't come from governments

The first option one has in establishing our rights is the claim that they are bestowed upon us by the government. This seems problematic on its face, though, for if a government can bestow rights on an individual, then that same government can take them away. Such actions are no longer rights, but should be considered privileges that the government allows the governed. I had heard this often in high school when I was taking drivers education classes. "A driver's license is a privilege, not a right."2 The state may revoke the license if it deems you unfit to drive or if you are uncooperative by not submitting to an alcohol test, for example.

Rights are different than privileges. They are things that cannot be removed by fiat. While a government may trample on one's rights or ignore one's rights, the right itself remains. For those individuals, such as criminals who are incarcerated, they may have their rights curtailed, but that is only after a trial that shows others' rights were being infringed upon by their actions. However, no one is divorced from his or her rights.

This is what Jefferson meant when he invented the word "unalienable," it is impossible to erase rights or transfer them to another. All people have them, and that was precisely the argument the Founding Fathers were making. They were separating themselves from the government because their rights were being abused and their freedoms were being trampled. They felt it was necessary to dissolve the bonds with the government of England, so that their rights would be exercised freely. Therefore, rights cannot come from the government. Rights exist prior to governments.

Rights don't come from the governed

Because we understand that rights precede governments and that they must be unalienable, option two becomes fairly easy to dismiss. Rights cannot come from the common consent of the governed because if our rights are given by common consent, then they may be removed by common consent. The United States is a government as Lincoln put it "of the people, by the people and for the people," formed "by Authority of the good People of these Colonies" as the Declaration says. But it is not simply the agreement of the citizens of a country that bestows rights upon themselves. Such rights are again not unalienable. If they can be agreed upon my mutual consent, then they can be removed by mutual consent. Therefore, rights given by common consent are not inalienable. They are again not rights but simply agreed upon privileges.

Rights such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (not the happiness one feels when receiving a birthday gift, but the more sublime pursuit of contentment in life) must be unalienable if they are to be rights at all. That means they must transcend any human authority, for human authorities can never bestow anything unalienable. It is God alone who can do so. The Framers knew this and they appealed to God repeatedly in the Declaration. They declared that it was necessary for them to assume "the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them." They said that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." They even finished the Declaration with an appeal to God and His authority: "We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States."

In my next post, I will look at the idea that rights are not derived from nature, but for now we should remember that to celebrate the freedoms that we cherish as Americans means to celebrate the rights we recognize as the basis for those freedoms. But for rights to be real, they must be grounded in Almighty God. So, say a prayer during your holiday celebrations, and thank your Creator for giving brave men the wisdom to recognize where your rights come from. Without God, there can be no freedom.

References

1 The Declaration of Independence (transcript). The National Archives. Web. 4 July 1776. http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html Accessed 4 July 2014.

2 In the article "Law Talk: Who says driving is a privilege and not a right?" Barton Dieters cites the 9th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals decision in the case of Donald S. Miller v. the California Department of Motor Vehicles, where the court ruled that there simply is no "fundamental right to drive. See . http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2011/11/law_talk_who_says_driving_is_a.html for more.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Need For God in Government

A lot of attention has been given to the expression of religious belief in government institutions. We see people more and more claim that religion should not be part of the political process. Religion, they would argue, is personal while politics can affect us all. But politics uses legislation as its tool, and any legislation has a moral makeup. Politicians seek to pass laws "for the good of the people." But how can we understand what "the good" is? Are we justified in holding to any laws at all if we exclude God as the basis of their authority?


Now, this may seem like a strange question. "Of course we should have laws," you may think. "Without laws, how would society function?" That's fair. However, my query is based not on the pragmatic effects of laws, but on their authoritative nature. What right do legislatures have in making rules for me to live by? Why should I be obligated to follow rules created many times by people with whom I disagree? If you're a human being and I'm a human being, then what makes your rules better than mine?

1. Natural Law

Much of what we base western society on today is derived from the concept of natural law. Natural law says that the ideas of good and evil, justice and injustice are divine in origin. When God designed man, He created us in a way so that we can identify these concepts. St. Thomas Aquinas called the ability to discern good and evil "nothing else than an imprint on us of the divine light." 1

The English philosopher John Locke took the concept of natural law even further. Locke said that not only did God design us to recognize concepts of good and evil, but He also created us to be "free, equal, and independent." 2 However, Locke understood that man is also naturally a communal creature. Complete independence was impossible, partly because of the need for other people and partly because of man's sinful nature. Man was selfish and would seek his own benefit above that of his neighbor's. He writes "The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it... that, being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions."3 Locke goes on to explain that because we are God's creation and we serve His purposes every individual must try to "as much as he can, preserve the rest of mankind, and may not, unless it be to do justice on an offender, take away, or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another."4

2. The Need for Government

It is the need to do justice that creates the need for government. Philosopher John Locke wrote extensively on this concept. Locke felt that because man seeks selfish interests, a governing institution must exist to judge between individuals and to protect the liberties of all its citizenry. "The law of nature would, as all other laws that concern men in this world be in vain, if there were no body that in the state of nature had a power to execute that law, and thereby preserve the innocent and restrain offenders." 5

In forming  governmental structures, Locke said that individuals would willingly give up certain freedoms in order to gain the safety and advantage of living in a community. He termed this exchange a "social contract". We give up a small amount of freedom (such as driving as fast as I like) and instead obey the laws of our community, but in return we become safer on the road since we know other drivers are to also obey those laws. In the end, everyone benefits.

By continuing to live in the community, we continue to agree to that exchange- it is what Locke calls "tacit consent". We participate in and enjoy the benefits of the community's laws, so we therefore support the contract. But all this is predicated on the idea that the state should seek to preserve the rights of the individual as much as possible. When a political system fails to do so, the individuals have the right to dismiss that system as corrupt. 6

3. God and State

Notice that in Locke's view, the government becomes necessary to enforce laws out of a obligation to justice, a justice that is based on the concepts of right and wrong established by an omnipotent God who created all men as equal. If God is removed from the equation, then where does the authority and mandate for the existence of government come from?

Some have suggested that government is there to enforce the will of the majority, but this cannot be the entire basis of government. If it were, then where do the rights of the minority come from? Do we really believe that slavery was right because it was legal or that the majority held it to be correct? Was the extermination of Jews appropriate in WWII Germany because it was legal? Thinking the majority makes something right is a fallacy. Martin Luther King, Jr. said as much when he was questioned by church leaders as to whether his civil disobedience was the Christian thing to do. He wrote:
One may ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all".

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. 7
We hear so much about the separation of church and state today that I'm afraid we have forgotten the need for God as the basis to justify government's existence and our personal liberties. To be sure, this doesn't mean that we should mandate a specific religion for the citizenry, for that would be intruding on individual liberties. But it does mean that we cannot separate God from government or from liberty and equality. To do so would be to lose all justification for both.

References:

1.  Aquinas, Thomas, Summa Theologica as quoted in Questions That Matter Ed. L. Miller
McGraw Hill Companies, New York 1996 p.503
2.  Locke, John Second Treatise of Government, VIII, 95
http://www.constitution.org/jl/2ndtr08.txt
3.  Ibid. II, 6, 8
http://www.constitution.org/jl/2ndtr02.txt
4.  Ibid. II, 6
5.  Ibid. II, 7
6. The Founding Fathers of the United States appealed to this principle when they sought to gain independence from George III. Locke's influence on the Declaration of Independence is evident in its opening lines: "When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." As you can see, it is by appealing to God from which the ideas of freedom and equality stem.
7. King Jr., Martin Luther "Letter From the Birmingham Jail"
http://almaz.com/nobel/peace/MLK-jail.html

Monday, March 24, 2014

Does Religious Liberty End When Business Begins?

Recently, the Los Angeles Times ran an Op-Ed piece once again denouncing the idea that privately-owned companies such as Hobby Lobby can set policy that reflects their deeply held moral convictions when that conviction is set at odds with some government mandate. Of course, the question wasn't phrased that way. David Gans wrote "Are secular, for-profit corporations free to violate the rights of their employees by claiming that the law violates their corporate religious conscience? That's the big question at the heart of the two blockbuster challenges to a key provision of Obamacare that will be heard by the Supreme Court next week."


As you can see, there's bias even in the way Gans chose to word the question. There is no violation of employees rights if one works for Hobby Lobby. Their employees are completely free to exercise any right they have, including their choice to use abortifacient drugs. They simply have to pay of that right themselves, instead of asking the company to do so.

While I hold a very firm stand on the immorality of elective abortion, that isn't the main idea I am concerned about in this article. My bigger concern is that much of the Western world has bought into the idea that religious beliefs are not anything truly important. Most people think that while individuals may feel passionately about their religious convictions, such beliefs are akin to the passion other people feel for a favorite sports team or music artist. These fan-addicts see themselves through their fandom and any criticism of their object of adoration will lead to hard feelings and harsh words.

Such thinking is ignorant in the extreme. No matter what one's religious persuasion is, one's understanding of truth and morality are shaped by one's religious views. This includes even those who would say they are "nones, " atheists, or humanists. As I've explained before, in order to make sense of the world, everyone has some kind of worldview. Thus, an atheists lack of belief in God will color his understanding of right and wrong as much as a Christian's understanding of God will color his. No one is immune to this.

The crucial respect for religious beliefs is why the pilgrims left Europe and endured suffering and pain to establish a society that would recognize that respect. It is why when the United States was founded the people demanded that the Constitution contain a statement guaranteeing the free exercise of religion without government intrusion.

The problem becomes when people trivialize those foundations of right and wrong, especially when it comes to business owners. In the article above, Gans claims "Corporations lack the basic human capacities — reason, dignity and conscience — at the core of the free exercise right. Corporations cannot pray, do not express devotion to God and do not have a religious conscience." I think Gans claims too much here. If corporations don't have religious conscience, then they have no conscience at all. There is no distinction between a religious conscience and a secular one, except for the basis of the worldview from which it is based. Therefore, if one were to take Gans' view of corporations as automatons that lack any kind of reason, dignity, and conscience, then Enron is morally equal to Tom's Shoes and we should quit pressuring manufacturers to care about pollution. A corporation is equal to the machines that it employs and nothing more.

Of course, no one would hold to such ridiculous views. We understand that behind corporations there are real people and those people don't become autonomous simply because they own a company. To cheer the principled ecological convictions of a company and then turn around and decry the principled religious convictions of another is contradictory. Both are morality based and both flow from the worldview of the company's owners. By seeking to gut Hobby Lobby's stance against paying for abortifacient drugs, we are in danger of gutting any grounding for holding companies accountable at all.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Should Oklahoma Allow a Satanic Statue on Public Lands?


On Monday, the Associated Press reported that a New York-based Satanic Temple has applied to have a seven foot tall statue of Satan erected on the Oklahoma state Capitol so that "people of all ages may sit on the lap of Satan for inspiration and contemplation." According to the report, the group claims that the state of Oklahoma opened the doors to such a display when they allowed a privately-funded Ten Commandments monument to be erected at the Capitol in 2012. The next day, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to restore a cross to the county seal. Meanwhile, the battle for the cross on Mount Soledad continues to rage.

In a pluralistic society such as ours, should we expect to purge all public or government-owned lands of any religious symbolism? Or should we expect a religious free-for-all where petitions by Hindus, Satanists, and even atheists to place Flying Spaghetti Monster symbols in public locations will be commonplace? Are such things even reasonable to consider?

It is obvious that the requests by the Satanists and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster are really nothing more than publicity stunts. No one actually believes that such a thing as the FSM exists. The concept was used as a rhetorical device by a college student in a letter he wrote to the Kansas Board of Education, and that is definitely not a sound basis for a belief system. Their church and all that follows from it is just a joke. As for the Satanic Temple, even spokesman Lucien Greaves admitted the petition "is in part to highlight what it says is hypocrisy of state leaders in Oklahoma," according to the report. Greaves claims the Temple is serious about having a monument placed there, which is no surprise since if you can get your protest installed as a permanent structure, it lasts much longer.

What is clear, though, is that none of these requests are taking into account the function of what public monuments are supposed to perform. Communities place monuments in public spaces to provide a link to relevant actions or ideas that helped shape that community. As Wikipedia puts it, "A monument is a type of structure that was explicitly created to commemorate a person or important event, or which has become important to a social group as a part of their remembrance of historic times or cultural heritage." While the Ten Commandments can be explicitly shown to have shaped both the values of the citizenry in the state of Oklahoma and also modern American jurisprudence, the church of Satan, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, nor even earnest practicing Hindus can make such a claim. The state of Oklahoma is well within it prevue to reject these proposals even while allowing the Ten Commandment monument on just such reasoning.

Similarly, Los Angeles County Supervisors Antonovich and Knabe argued that the cross is appropriate on the LA County seal because the seal depicts a mission, which has historically boasted a cross on its steeple. California history is simply incomplete if one were to ignore Father Junipero Serra and the California missions. Whether the supervisors were themselves sincere in their desire, I don't know. However, I do know that the mission with its cross does accurately reflect the history and the cultural forces that shaped the county. Spanish Jesuits are why Los Angeles is so named.

It strikes me as I see more and more attempts to purge our cultural markers of Christian symbols that such motives are endangering our collective memory as a society. Monuments are important because they serve as remembrances of important influences. Public lands are not like AYSO leagues; not everyone should get a medal for simply being there. There are good reasons why certain Christian symbols belong on a county seal or a capitol lawn. I see no benefit from New York Satanists, nor how their ideas have contributed to the welfare of Oklahomans.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Jesus or Skeptic? The New York Times Gets Confused


Adam Grant seems like a pretty smart guy. According to his CV, he received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in organizational psychology and his B.A. from Harvard University, magna cum laude with highest honors, Phi Beta Kappa honors, and the John Harvard Scholarship for highest academic achievement. He is a professor at Wharton College at the University of Pennsylvania and he's written a best-selling book. Grant's writings have also been features in the New York Times. In fact, his most recent piece, entitled "Why Men Need Women," just ran last Sunday—prime time in newspaper circles.

Certainly, an academic of this caliber knows how to properly cite his sources. But as smart as Professor Grant may seem, he made an egregious error in his Times piece. In discussing how Mary Gates, Bill Gates' mother, had inspired both him and his wife, Grant wrote:
"Mary read a letter aloud that she had written to Melinda about marriage. Her concluding message was reminiscent of the Voltaire (or Spiderman) mantra that great power implies great responsibility: ‘From those to whom much is given, much is expected.'"[1]
It's a great thought. Grant obviously thought it was powerful enough to include in his story. But, he's woefully confused on the origin of the teaching. The quote originates not with Mary Gates, Stan Lee, or Voltaire, but with Jesus Christ! The quote is taken from Luke 12:48 which reads in part "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more" (ESV).

Grant seems to be truly ignorant of the origin of Mrs. Gates' quote, instead attributing the idea to a much weaker concept that Voltaire helped popularize. How could an academic miss this? And how could the New York Times editors miss this? Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson claimed that rigorous fact-checking and truth-testing are "a fundamental part of our job as journalists."[2] I realize that one cannot source every quote by every individual, but we are talking about misattributing a quote from the man who changed the course of humanity more than any other in history!

The truth is that both an academic and the editors at The Times missed this is because there is a much more pervasive dearth of religious knowledge in our culture, especially in the news media. There have been books written on it. The folks at The Media Project continue to sound alarms over it. But, The Times and other mainstream news outlets continue to be willfully blind on the question of religion. They seem to be falling for the classic blunder, the one that thinks, "because religion isn't important to me, it really isn't important at all."

Of course, Jesus' teaching was important enough to Mary Gates that she would quote it. That same teaching then influenced Bill and Melinda Gates to give incredible amounts to charity. To me, that seems important. Perhaps The Times could hire someone with a little working knowledge with Jesus and His sayings, just in case they make a lasting mark on our society.

References

1. Grant, Adam. "Why Men Need Women." New York Times. July 21, 2013, page SR1. Accessed online at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/21/opinion/sunday/why-men-need-women.html?pagewanted=2&_r=0
2. Brisbane, Aurthur. "Update to my Previous Post on Truth Vigilantes." New York Times.
http://publiceditor.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/12/update-to-my-previous-post-on-truth-vigilantes/ Accessed 7/24/2013.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Why Are Christians So Obsessed with Homosexuality?

I've spent a lot of time on university campuses lately. I get to interact with students and hear what's on their minds when it comes to questions of faith in general and Christianity in particular. Nowadays, I expect that someone will raise the issue of homosexuality, particularly the debate over homosexual marriage as we talk. It's pretty much guaranteed to come up and many times it forms the whole of my discussion with the students. Because this is such a hot-button issue, I wanted to offer a couple of thoughts on the subject that could hopefully help others when their conversations shift this way.


Let's start off with one objection that I hear all the time: "Why are you Christians so obsessed with homosexuality?" You can see that even online, the question gets asked a lot. Just look here, here, and here for some examples. It is a common refrain I hear from students when I've been talking with them about the state of marriage.

Why are evangelical Christians so obsessed with homosexual acts? Is it because, as some have claimed, that Christians are secretly suppressing their own homosexual attractions? Well, no. Such an assertion is ridiculous on its face. The Gallup organization estimates that 3.5% of the U.S. population identifies as homosexual. Even if we double that stat, there would only be 7% of evangelicals who would make up the constituency that hold to this supposed secret homosexual desire. Such a group could never hold the political clout to pass the traditional marriage laws that passed with solid majorities in 32 states and the federal Defense of Marriage act. This is simply a fallacy (known as tu quoue) that ignores the biological and moral arguments that Christians offer about the topic. But then why are Christians so obsessed with homosexuality?

Here's the answer: we aren't.

You may be shocked at reading that. You may disagree and think I'm dishonest. You may say that all you hear is Christians opposing the right for same sex couples to marry. But believe me, the last thing I want to do when I walk onto a college campus is to talk about homosexuality. It's not in the forefront of my mind. I'd much rather talk about Jesus, what salvation by grace really means, how God wants all people to renounce their sin whatever that may be and follow Him because He has a better way.

Those are the things I would like to talk about, and that's what Christianity has done historically. We've reached out to the poor and homeless; most churches have ministries that help these people within their community. We have looked to help orphans and sent people on missionary projects. We work to help folks overcome alcohol addiction or drug abuse. All these areas have a long, vibrant history within Christianity which is reflected both in the many efforts and ministries of the local church and para-church organizations like The Salvation Army. How many churches have a homosexuality ministry? They are nearly non-existent.

Actually it is other people who keep bringing up the issue of homosexuality. Activists want to change the definition of marriage, and they want to require Christian photographers and florists to service homosexual weddings. They sue Christian psychotherapists must not only take on homosexual patients, but affirm their actions.  They even want to indoctrinate children by rewriting state educational standards so that homosexuality is taught from the first grade. There's been a concerted effort to consciously and determinedly change our society so that homosexuality will appear as benign even though the science shows that it is nothing of the sort. It should be no surprise, then, that Christians and parents would respond.

When I'm at a university, the floor is wide open for questions. People can come up and ask anything, and they immediately latch onto homosexuality and continue to ask about it over and over. They then ask, "Why are you guys so obsessed with this subject?" I tell them I will give them an answer, but I want to know what their motivation was in asking the question in the first place. I will say, "I think that the changes that we're being asked to make as a society are serious and they require thought and care before  we simply jump into them. But realize that YOU are asking this question and I'm responding to it. You brought up the issue of homosexuality, not me."

Christianity didn't initiate this conflict. We should as thoughtful people should respond to the demands that others are making, but we've been playing defense from the start. Homosexuality wasn't even on most Christians' radar before the 1980's when the media began covering it in response to the AIDS epidemic. Then, after the assembly  175 homosexual activists into a forum they themselves dubbed " the War Conference", activists Kirk and Madsen produced a published manifesto with the goal to "desensitize, jam, and convert" the American public on the issue of homosexuality. That turned into a book which further pushed what Dr. Charles W. Socarides  called a plan "chilling in its diabolism, chilling in its hatred of straight America, chilling in its advocacy of lack of conscience, chilling in its brutal and naked lust not for sex but for power."

So, no, Christians are not obsessed with homosexuality. Homosexual activists and the media are.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Why the Christian Church is Marginalized

I've talked before about the problems in the Christian church, namely that too many churches don't stand up for the truth. They feel that hey must not make waves with the culture at large, lest they be deemed 'intolerant "and repel even more followers. Some have said that this is especially true if we want to keep our young people engaged.


I don't believe a word of this. In our relativistic age, young people desire meaning and truth much more than they want complacency. This has bee true even in times of greatest generational change.  Rather than quote from some evangelical pastor or bloggers who have written on this point, I would like to draw your attention to an excerpt from Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." As I wrote previously, King was hoping that the white Christian Church would have enough of the Spirit to stand up to the immorality of the popular opinion of his day. In these paragraphs, King almost prophetically decries the contemporary church and sees its future marginalization.
"There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators."' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.
"But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust."
For a more thorough look at how much the world has gotten into the church, see this five part YouTube presentation.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Same-Sex Marriage Debate


CNN just posted a video of a debate concerning same-sex marriage pitting Sherif Girgis, one of the co-authors of What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense against Andrew Koppelman, author of Defending American Religious Neutrality. As the web site says "Mr. Sherif argued against same-sex marriage, saying the issue was not about equality but rather what marriage is and the reasons states are involved in the question. He said 'marriage is fulfilled by the bearing and rearing of whole new children.' Mr. Koppelman made his case in favor of same-sex marriage by refuting Mr. Sherif’s thesis. Following their prepared remarks they answered questions from moderator Richard Fallon and audience members."

Sharif opens with the following argument:
  1. The main vision supporting same-sex marriage is mistaken. It's wrong on what marriage is, and in how it sets marriage apart from other bonds.
  2. Enshrining that new vision of marriage in law would be harmful for the common good, e.g. the reasons why the State gets involved at all in the marriage question.
  3. Mainstream arguments for same-sex marriage have a lot of internal contradictions that underscore their faulty reasoning.
This is a good exchange with respectful participants. The entire debate, which with Q &A runs just under an hour and can be found at http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/310722-1

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Has the Sexual Revolution Been Good for Women?

The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting couple of articles earlier this year discussing the pros and cons of the sexual revolution of the 1960s. It is clear to anyone who takes the time to look at history that humanity, and especially Western societies, underwent a fundamental change because of the separation of sexual activity from procreation.


In this article, Hoover Research Fellow Mary Eberstadt focuses on four myths that seem to still be prevalent today (especially by those with a certain political agenda) and she deftly knocks down each one.  The four she identifies are:
  1. The "war on women" consists of tyrannical men arrayed against oppressed but pluckily united women.
  2. If it weren't for the Catholic Church, no one would be talking about contraception anyway.
  3. The "social issues" are unwanted artifacts of a primitive religious past that will eventually just fade away.
  4. The sexual revolution has made women happier.
Eberstadt takes each of these in turn and shows how silly they are when looked at in real world contexts. She shows that even by looking at popular women's periodicals you can see these myths don't hold. You can read the short article here. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What Does Thanksgiving's First Mother Want Us to Know?

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and Americans of all faiths or no faith will come together to feast and perhaps reflect on their thankfulness for the blessings this nation provides. As I've said before, the very concept of being thankful requires someone to thank. Someone who had a keen understanding of this is also the one who more than any other is responsible for our annual celebration of Thanksgiving, though it's someone you have probably never heard of. The Mother of Thanksgiving is Sarah Josepha Hale.

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
Hale was pleased with the recognition of an annual day of thanks. She also had a true understanding of the danger that such a holiday could become focused on the trivial.  In her book Traits of American Life, published in 1835, she paints a thoroughly modern picture:
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
In either 1835 or 2012, Americans worry about the food presentation rather than God's deliverances and blessings. They concern themselves with the latest fashion rather than humble penitence. And they seek personal happiness rather than obedience. Of course Hales prescience is underscored when she writes "There is small danger of being starved in our land of plenty; but the danger of being stuffed is imminent… You may indulge any childish propensity with less injury to the intellect than gluttony."
May we humbly remember our God in Thanksgiving and reflect on the true meaning of why this holiday is set aside. God bless you and your family this Thanksgiving.
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.
If you would like to know more about the life of Sarah Josepha Hale, page through this article from The Pilgrim Hall Museum.

References

1. "President Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation of October 3, 1863 (Presidential Proclamation 106)., 10/03/1863 - 10/03/1863", National Archives. http://research.archives.gov/description/299960. Accessed Nov. 21, 2012.
2. Hale, Sarah Josepha. Traits of American Life. 
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
3. Ibid. Page 226-227.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Nature of Giving Thanks

"He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God." -Romans 14:6a


Thanksgiving is here again and many in the United States will give thanks for their abundant blessings before sharing a family meal with loved ones. Television shows will air episodes where the main characters will inevitably state how they are thankful for good friends, family and their contentment. Others around the world may also be prompted to reflect on the provisions and protection that has been afforded them. If you are reading this post, you have been blessed with modern conveniences such as a computer and the ability to tap into the largest collection of knowledge in history.

I'm glad to see a momentary repose where individuals recognize that we live in a time unlike an other in human history. Most in the western world don't worry about whether they will eat today; they are more concerned with more the opaque concerns of perhaps how they can afford the extravagances of Christmas. But I recognize that in the very concept of thanksgiving, there's a tacit recognition of giver and receiver. In other words, if you are thankful for your present advantages, you must be thankful to someone. It makes no sense to say that you are thankful, but that thanks is attributed to the laws of nature. Imagine being thankful to gravity for holding you to the earth.  Similarly, it makes no sense to be thankful to luck, for luck is simply a word we use to talk about an arbitrary outcome.  There's no motivation behind luck; it is by definition purposeless and blind. To be thankful for purposelessness is silly.

Giving thanks is in fact expressing the opposite of purposelessness—you are humbled by your advantages and acknowledge that someone provided the circumstances that allowed you to have such advantages. You are thankful that you were not merely  left to the hard laws of nature and the fickle fate of purposelessness. That means that you must be thankful to a someone who has control over those aspects of your situation. You can be thankful to your employer for hiring you, since he or she controls who gets hired.  But to be thankful for family, friends, and the blessings of the 21st century, that requires thanking a Someone who controls the very aspects of existence itself. By being thankful for such things, one must be thankful to God, for thanking anyone or anything else makes as much sense as thanking gravity or luck.

So, be thankful today. And if you're thankful, remember that it is in itself evidence for the existence of God, for only He can provide the reason for which we do give thanks.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Teaching What is Unnatural - California and Homosexual Instruction

I hate trying to do a job with the wrong tools. There have been times when, for lack of a screwdriver, I've resorted to a butter knife to try and tighten a screw. If the screw fits tightly, then I usually damage the tip of the butter knife. Using a butter knife as a screwdriver can be done in a pinch, but it certainly isn't recommended and no one would say that screwdrivers make good butter knives. Each was designed for completely different functions.


Distinguishing the functions of butter knives and screwdrivers is a pretty basic task; one we use in making decisions daily. Should someone to run a hair dryer in the shower? Of course not! You can simply look at how these items are built to see their functions.  Electric hair dryers will not function properly in water, it's simple and we consider it common sense.

Now, let's use this same grid when looking at homosexual unions. When it comes to intimacy, we can look and see that homosexual unions cannot function correctly. The parts simply are not there so that intimacy can be achieved and still have the couple's bodies fit as they were designed to fit. It's simply obvious that two male or two female bodies won't couple in the same way. Therefore, homosexuals are forced to find other ways to be intimate. Do heterosexuals practice some of these "techniques"? Yes, they do, but that's not my argument. Just like sometimes using a butter knife as a screwdriver, both heterosexual and homosexual couples can use alternative means to seek sexual fulfillment. However, homosexuals have one aspect of intimacy not available to them that is available to heterosexual couples. That's the natural coupling of bodies to fit in a way that they were designed to fit. This is a huge exception! To not have this aspect of intimacy available to any couple shows that no matter what way homosexuals seek physical intimacy, it won't be the way that nature intended their bodies to be used.

Because homosexuals cannot couple in a way nature intended, it follows that homosexual unions are not natural. Homosexual unions are like construction workers who only have butter knives in their tool belts. Without the tools to function properly, no one would hire such workers to work on his or her home. You would deem them incompetent. Worse, if your son or daughter's shop class instructed the students that butter knives were an acceptable substitute for screwdrivers, you would rightly complain to the principle that unsafe practices are passing as education, and probably pull your child out of shop until the situation changes.

Starting January 1st, though, California mandates that the state's elementary schools teach children, even first graders, that homosexuality is a legitimate way for couples to function.  As this recent L.A. Times article shows, even liberal school who have upheld homosexuality as acceptable are having a hard time figuring out how to work such indoctrination into the classroom. This is simply outrageous. The danger inherent in promoting this line of thinking is far more dangerous than teaching wrong concepts in shop class. This puts the very fabric of our culture in the cross-hairs, and would affect all.

The Times article ends with one of the school staff commenting on just how they will implement the new teaching mandates. "'We're looking for places of natural fit. We're not going to shoehorn in something gratuitous just to make a point.'" And that's my point exactly. The bodies of homosexuals don't fit, the instruction won't fit and entire law doesn't fit. it is a gratuitous law that is shoehorned into teaching standards just to appease  certain segment of the majority party's supporters. We are supposed to teach our kids that doing construction with butter knives is just another acceptable choice, no matter how many fingers you may lose. We should be outraged.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Should Christians Cheer the Death of bin Laden?

The web has once again been sent buzzing, this time by the announcement that U.S. Forces have killed Osama bin Laden, who masterminded the 9/11 attacks among others. Undoubtedly, bin Laden was responsible for the deaths of many thousands of people and the suffering of untold thousands more. But should Christians really revel in the death of anyone, even someone as wicked as bin Laden? Doesn't the Bible tell us to pray for those who persecute us? Did not Paul's command in 1 Timothy 2 to pray for those in power even include Nero, who persecuted the church mercilessly?



As you can see, there is much confusion on just how Christians should respond to such news. If we are to follow the command of Christ, we should love our enemies. However, we also need to reflect God's desire for justice in the world.

I think that in order to gain a better perspective on this issue we may need to look at the Bible a little more carefully than merely pulling our favorite proof text out for either side of the issue. Fortunately, there are many passages where these kinds of issues have already been explored by commentators. One such passage is Psalm 58:

   1Do you indeed speak righteousness, O gods?
        Do you judge uprightly, O sons of men?
   2No, in heart you work unrighteousness;
        On earth you weigh out the violence of your hands.
   3The wicked are estranged from the womb;
        These who speak lies go astray from birth.
   4They have venom like the venom of a serpent;
        Like a deaf cobra that stops up its ear,
   5So that it does not hear the voice of charmers,
        Or a skillful caster of spells.
   6O God, shatter their teeth in their mouth;
        Break out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD.
   7Let them flow away like water that runs off;
        When he aims his arrows, let them be as headless shafts.
   8Let them be as a snail which melts away as it goes along,
        Like the miscarriages of a woman which never see the sun.
   9Before your pots can feel the fire of thorns
        He will sweep them away with a whirlwind, the green and the burning alike.
   10The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
        He will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.
   11And men will say, "Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
        Surely there is a God who judges on earth!"
Psalms such as Psalm 58 are known by theologians as imprecatory psalms, which basically means the Psalmist is calling a curse from God down onto his enemies. These psalms have been the subject of many debates as to their meaning since they seemingly contradict the commands to love our enemies noted above. But we know that all Scripture is inspired by God (II Tim 3:16) and that this Psalm's author, David, was said to be empowered by the Holy Spirit when writing his psalms (Acts 2:33-35). So much about bin Laden's reign of terror and his subsequent death is reflected in Psalm 58, I think we can gain a better understanding of how we should react by studying it more closely.

Imprecatory psalms have several elements that are unique to them:

1. None of these psalms should be read with the notion that the Psalmist is calling for revenge or individual retribution.

In all the imprecatory psalms, the psalmist is motivated by seeing God's justice served. David models this himself in other psalms that call for the destruction of his enemies. In Psalm 31 David writes "In your righteousness deliver me!" and in Psalm 109 he writes , "They have also surrounded me with words of hatred, And fought against me without cause. In return for my love they act as my accusers; But I am in prayer." He also modeled this both when Saul pursued him unjustly and when Absalom usurped his throne. Asking God that justice be done is not the same thing as carrying out an individual vendetta. Such distinctions are important.

2. God Hates Sin

Another thing the imprecatory psalms do is underline the notion that God hates sin. Sin is real, and it's truly offensive to our Father in heaven. Osama bin Laden was a murderer who took glee in snuffing out those made in the image of God. Sometimes as Christians we are so concerned with not offending anyone that we overlook this fact. However, Jesus used strong and condemning language to underscore sin's heinous nature. He took the Pharisees to task several times, going so far as to call them children of the devil and only seeking to do the devil's will (John 8:44). He said to the citizens of Capernaum that they would go straight to hell, since Sodom would have believed had they seen the miracles he performed (Matt 11:23). He took a whip and drove out the moneychangers from the temple (John 2:15). Sin provokes a pretty strong reaction from our Lord and it should also provoke one in us, too.

Note that sometimes the language in the psalms is hyperbole – meaning it uses overblown images to make a point. I don't think we should take the passage "shatter their teeth in their moths" literally any more than when David writes in Psalm 6 "Every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears." Jewish poetic style uses hyperbole in this way, and we should understand it as such. It does, though, make a strong point about God's view of sin.

3. It is God's glory to provide justice.

Note the end of Psalm 58 where David writes, "The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; He will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked. And men will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous; Surely there is a God who judges on earth!'" God's divine justice is served when evil doers are given their just due. The righteous can point to such actions and know that God will ultimately be a righteous judge and provide justice for His righteous ones. Unbelievers are given a witness of God's righteousness. And because Romans 13 claims that governing authorities can serve as God's servants, meting out His justice, we can be thankful that the action was done in an orderly way--not by wiping out entire sections of a foreign country, but through a surgical strike that respected those other people made in the image of God in Abbottabad. Reuters even reports that once dead, the U.S. handled his body in accord with Islamic customs.

So, how should we respond to the death of bin Laden? We should first lament the sin we see in the world, including our own. We should rejoice that God's justice was in fact carried out in this instance. We should grieve that the gospel hasn't penetrated the hearts of people like bin Laden and those who sincerely followed him. And we should, like David, pray for them. Pray that they would know the love of Christ. Pray that God's justice will ultimately be seen. And pray that no more would die in response to a lie. That would be truly loving one's enemies.

Image courtesy Hamid Mir and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.
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