Saturday, October 1, 2016

Finding Her Mind

The Soul, Our Hope For Glory
My mom has Alzheimer's Disease.

Most of us have read about it or seen movies about it, but until you experience what it does to a loved one, those are nothing but detached observations that can't possibly describe the evil tyrant that Alzheimer's is. Yes, its attack is relentless and debilitating. But the person who has the disease is not its only victim. In fact, the sad reality is that the victim seems blissfully unaware that anything is wrong with them -- at least I pray that is the case -- while those who love them must stand helplessly by and watch the one they love drift further and further away, even while they're sitting right in front of you.

My mom tells stories from years ago but can't remember that she just ate dinner. The stories are jumbled and intertwined. Sometimes she laughs or gets sad as she tells them, whether the emotion is appropriate to the story she's telling or not. She warns us about imaginary problems and wonders why people who have been dead for many years haven't stopped by to see her. We go along with the stories and ask questions to hear her tell more. We love to hear her tell them. We heed her warnings and encourage her to tells us more. We remind her who we are and where we live -- several times a day. We tell her about the five grandsons she is shocked to learn she has -- even as she can recite us their names in order if we prompt her in the right way. My wife and I explain that yes, we really did invite her to our wedding 30 years ago and, yes, that man over there has been her husband since 1956.

There are glimpses of coherence that pop in and out, but those moments seem to be showing themselves less often.

She loves to watch old movies. The beauty of that love is that you can tune into the American Movie Classics channel on TV at any point during a broadcast and she becomes completely engrossed in the story from that point forward. Unfortunately, it also means the TV is on a lot -- and not just replaying old movies. The incessant news. The sports. The blathering chatter and audio pollution is ever-present in her family room. Her ears never get a rest from it. Sadly, both she, and we, have gotten too used to hearing it. It's background noise.

But last Sunday morning we turned it off.

This was not some well planned attempt to remove an agitating source of tension from the room. The truth is we simply hadn't turned the TV on yet when my mom came in and sat down in her favorite chair. For no apparent reason, I noticed a stack of CDs sitting on top of my parents' Bose stereo system. I picked the top one up and read it: "Susan Boyle: The Gift"

I had never listened to Susan Boyle before so instead of pushing a button on the TV remote, I slipped the CD in the slot and hit "play." The first song was titled, "Perfect Day." I had never heard it before but the music was haunting and the lyrics captivated all of us.



My mom's reaction to Susan's voice was instantaneous. Utter calm. Her countenance went blank. Her shoulder's relaxed. Her eyes looked up but there was nothing there to see except a melody floating on the air.

And then she started to sing.

At times she was muted and subdued, but at others she sang out with strength and confidence. I didn't remember what a beautiful singing voice my mom had. I was stunned. The Christmas songs she loved bubbled up out of her heart. Susan Boyle was accompanying her. Song after glorious song.
"O holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
'Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn'
Fall on your knees, O hear the angels' voices
O night divine, O night when Christ was born
O night divine, O night, O night divine"
All the words. In the right order. Thirty minutes of heaven on Earth, not with the incoherent lady who had sat down in her chair, but with the mom -- the person -- I've always known and loved.

The scientists can scan my mother's brain and they will find a corroded mass of neurons crisscrossing one another on a wild goose chase to nowhere. They can tell me her prognosis is nothing but addled chaos because her machinery is falling apart. But they are wrong because my mom is not a machine; she is not just a computer made of meat.

None of us are. We are more than that. We have minds and souls that animate and make us who we really are -- human beings made in the image of God. The theologians can argue about the implications of the Imago Dei. The philosophers can tell us if, and how, saying such a thing makes sense. The scientists can tell us that it is just an illusion. But the union of body and soul is the only way to make sense of the totality of what it means to be human ... and it is the reason addled chaos is not my mom's, or anyone else's, only future. There is more to her than that.

She does not just have ears that interpret vibrations; she is a being who experiences music. She does not just accept inputs from a digital processor whose circuits have gotten corroded; she is a sentient creature whose personality comprises will and emotion. The words to those songs and the tunes that accompany them are not stored on some magnetized, spinning disk in her head. They are possessed by a mind that can access them even when its hardware is malfunctioning.

There is something about us that is not mechanical -- a part of us that animates and transcends the physical things we see. Something that provides us with a continuity of personhood that extends beyond our rotting parts and attaches us to the glorious divine. It is this that gives us a future and the hope of glory. Nothing else explains what we witnessed with my mom last Sunday morning.

Yes, she is in there. And her Father can hear her sing.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Please, Give Them An Answer

Recently, I saw the following quote offered as one reason that its author, Richard Rohr, should be considered a "go-to guy" if you are interested in demonstrating the story of Christianity to the world around you:
"Jesus is asked over 183 questions in the Gospels and only answers 3 of them. We are not meant to be answer givers."
~ Richard Rohr
I saw the quote on a public forum. Plenty of people were commenting about it's wisdom and relevance. I chimed in and questioned the legitimacy of the quote. I asked for an explanation as to why anyone would consider the quote so wonderful ... but nobody would give me an answer.

See what they did there?

I don't know anything about Richard Rohr but I do know that, as a professing Christian, I find this idea to be indefensible drivel. Not only is it in complete opposition to what the Bible says in 1 Peter 3:15 ("always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have"), but also to what the Apostles did when they went about implementing the Great Commission Jesus gave them in Matthew 28. Paul himself made it a point to "reason with them from the Scriptures" in every town he entered. He did it in front of the professional philosophers in Athens and in the backwater towns in Galatia. He got beaten up and left for dead because of it.

You don't get beaten up unless you're giving answers somebody doesn't want to hear.

I don't just think Richard Rohr's quip is wrong; I think it's dangerous. It's a reflection of a trend that has become popular within the church at large, that sees getting along as superior to telling the truth. It's the same kind of nonsense that many attribute to St. Francis of Assisi when they offer his famous saying, "Preach the gospel always, if necessary, use words." You can see this little aphorism repeated everywhere and it sounds pretty cool. It is used by plenty of well-meaning Christians to emphasize that our actions speak louder than our words. It even seems to imply that talking the talk may be detrimental to the cause. "Keep your mouth shut," the quip seems to tell us, "and just walk the walk."

There is no arguing with that simple fact and on one level I completely agree. I have written elsewhere about the idea that "who we are speaks so loudly that no one hears what we say." This is meant as a warning against the false pronouncements of a believer whose life denies everything the believer claims to represent. We can, in fact, diminish the message to insignificance by our own hypocrisy.

But does that mean the reverse is true? Can we proclaim the message simply through our actions?

Here's the problem: the Good News (a.k.a. the Gospel) is a propositional declaration about our status as rebels and the way in which our rebelliousness against a perfect Creator can be forgiven by the sacrifice of a perfect Redeemer. It is about redemption. And it is "good news" because without it we are all doomed to eternal separation from our God. So here is my question:

How can we "preach" that message and explain its implications without using words?

We can't.

There is no denying that our actions support our representation of the Gospel message. But that doesn't change the fact that it is a message that needs pronouncement.

I honestly don't know the context of St. Francis's quip but I find it hard to believe that a thinker like him meant it in the way contemporary Christians use it. A little research confirms this. For starters, we have the quote wrong! What Francis actually said was:
 "Preach the Gospel always and when necessary use words."
Notice that St. Francis himself did not render preaching of the gospel as a contingent option, nor did he separate it from the act of living it out. He didn't say, "if," (as the famous aphorism puts it) he said, "when." He linked the preaching and the actions directly together. We are the ones who have attributed an improper context to his words.

It is also interesting that Francis of Assisi (birth name: Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone) devoted himself to the kind of life for which he is now known ... after being convicted by a sermon he heard in 1209. His vow to a life of poverty; his connection to nature and the beauty of the creation; his empathy for others -- all these were rooted in a sense of community and shared redemption that he learned from study and experience. In fact, St. Francis himself was known for the powerful sermons he delivered in his pursuit of that noble goal.

It is fashionable these days to label those who defend the gospel with logic, philosophy and confidence as displaying some level of arrogance in their attempt to do so. But let's not over-spiritualize or look down our collective noses at the relevancy of proclaiming the truth. Preaching the gospel and living the gospel are not mutually exclusive projects. Our choice is not an "either/or" dilemma -- it is a "both/and" duty.

So, when a follower of Christ tells us that we are not to be "answer givers," one has to wonder how in the world they ever came to such a conclusion and thought it wise to say so. The reality is that the post-Christian world we live in demands that we demonstrate grace, but also that we deliver truth.

And that includes giving answers.

Preach the Gospel using words ... and act it out as you do. The world is watching, but it's listening too.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Truth About Warren Davidson

I live in the 8th congressional district of Ohio. Anyone who knows anything about the American political landscape knows about Ohio 8 even if they don't realize it. That's because, for the last 26 years, our representative in Washington has been John Boehner, the man who has been Speaker of the House since 2011. We moved to West Chester the year John Boehner was first elected. Before that, I was politically ignorant. But that election was when I was first awakened to the importance of politics and the need for me to be informed and involved in the world my kids would grow up in. John Boehner was impressive. He (along with Rick Santorum) was part of "The Gang of Seven" who, as freshmen congressmen, exposed the cronyism in Washington and broke the House Banking Scandal. Four years later they were heavily involved with the very successful Contract With America.

I have friends who know John Boehner and will tell you he is a great guy. I have no reason to doubt that. But, after 26 years in Washington, D.C., I believe anyone can and will become politically flawed simply because they have been operating in The System so long they forget why they were sent there to try to change it. It's the water they swim in. Like fish, they don't even know they're wet. Nobody embodies that phenomenon more completely than John Boehner. He's a great guy, but he ceased being the guy bringing new solutions to the problems in Washington. Instead, he became part of the problem. I wish him all the best, but it was time for him to go.

So, for the first time in 26 years, we in Ohio's 8th District have a realistic chance of making a massive statement about who want to replace our congressman. We don't just need to replace the person; we need to reset the system. The problems our nation faces are too big and too threatening to our children's future to leave them to the cronies of the system John Boehner just left behind.

Enter Warren Davidson.

You can read about Warren at Warren Davidson for Congress. Go see if he is someone you agree with. I did, and I have met him twice. He is the real deal. If you're a conservative, he's the most conservative candidate in the race. That's not my judgement, it's the judgement of the independent iVoterGuide.com. You may have to input some information to get to the actual comparison page so I have taken a screen shot of it:

Warren Davidson is the most conservative candidate in our local Ohio 8 race

You may agree or disagree with either Warren Davidson, or with my assessment of him. That's OK. Vote accordingly.

But that's not the reason I'm writing this.

I'm writing this because of what Warren Davidson's opponents are doing to him. To put it as gently as I possibly can, they are lying through their teeth.

Today I received a mailer with a dark, ominous looking picture of Warren that made the following points about him:

THE LIE: "Warren Davidson ships American jobs overseas. He has a manufacturing facility in China and even owns a website CheapAsianTools.com -- boasting about his use of cheap Chinese manufacturing ... Like is big-money special interest backers, Warren Davidson favors profits over the American people, operating his company in China to boost his profits instead of creating U. S. jobs.

THE TRUTH:

1)  Warren Davidson’s company has 3 manufacturing plants. All three are in Ohio’s 8th district, and employ more than 200 Ohioans. Those companies are Global Source Manufacturing, West Troy, and RK Metals. While these companies have international customers and suppliers, none of them have any jobs or facilities in China.

2)  Yes, Warren's company does own a website named CheapAsianTools.com. He bought the domain name as a marketing move. Go ahead. Type that name in your browser and see where it takes you ...

You see, when someone types in that name, they are redirected to a webpage on Warren's own Global Source Molds company website. Check it out for yourself. It's a page that encourages you to stop buying cheap, low quality tools from China and instead buy American tools made by his company here in the U.S.

In other words, not only is the mailer I received a complete lie, but the truth about Warren Davidson is exactly the opposite of what the mailer claims.

Why do you think that is? Do you think the people who sent me this mailer are unaware of these facts? Do you think they are incapable of typing CheapAsianTools.com into their own browsers to see where it leads?

No folks, this is intentional. Read the fine print at the bottom of your mailer and you will see that it was produced by a Political Action Committee called, "Defending Main Street." I went to their website and searched. Here's a screenshot of what I found:

Warren Davidson is a "Targeted Candidate"

Now, two questions:

Q: Why would the most conservative candidate in the race for Ohio's 8th district be directly targeted by a supposedly Republican lobbying group who spends over $169,000 spouting lies that are so easily exposed? And why would they start spouting those blatant lies right at the end of the campaign?

A: Because they don't think you'll take the time to research it and because they know Warren Davidson doesn't have the time or the resources to respond and explain it before the election.

Q: Who would be behind such an effort?

A: The very people who want to keep the status quo in Washington.

I don't know which candidates in this race are behind the lies being perpetrated by those who claim to be "Defending Main Street," but I can guess. They are the people with political influence, power, and money in our district just like every other district in America. These people want keep their influence, power, and money right where it is.

But I can tell you that someone like Warren Davidson wants no part of their influence, power, and money. That's why they lie about him. They can't control him. 

Warren Davidson has no intention of making Washington D.C. his new "career." He is what we all thought our public servants were supposed to be -- servants. He wants to be a part of finding solutions for the travesties Washington D.C. is perfectly content to kick down the road to our children and grandchildren.

That's why Warren Davidson is a threat. He is what we all thought John Boehner was 26 years ago -- a non-politician with a heart.

The cronies can't have that.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Trump as Yogi Berra: The Danger of Pro-Life Consequentialism

Trump on abortion
After the 2009 presidential election, the Catholic Church spent a ton of money promoting its pro-life stance by running the following ad nationwide. It was a heart-tugging appeal to "imagine the potential" that would have been squandered if our newly-elected president's mother had decided to to have him aborted in light of the difficulties she faced in bringing him into this world:



Though many praised the ad for the power of its message, thinking pro-lifers criticized it for good reason -- it is based on a consequentialist ethic that is vulnerable to a thoughtful pro-abortion argument to the opposite effect. Here's why:

Consequentialism is a view of morality that looks at results and makes "ethical" decisions based on whether or not we like the outcomes we achieve from them. In the case of the Catholic ad above, the outcome was the first African American president. Because forgoing an abortion allowed us to achieve the result we liked, we should be against abortion. Sounds good.

But what if Barack Obama had turned out to be a street punk, drug-dealer who engaged in gangland violence and ended up in jail at age 17? Would hindsight lead us to the opposite conclusion? Would these negative consequences lead us to the conclusion that abortion is a great idea?

Absolutely not. Careful pro-life advocates insist that abortion is wrong not because of the possible consequences that may follow from it, but because of what it is in and of itself. Abortion is wrong in the same way rape, or murder, or child abuse is wrong. It is an objective moral wrong whether Barack Obama becomes president of the United States or a gangland murderer.

So, why do I bring this up today?

Take a look at the "evolving" view of abortion as articulated by today's leading Republican presidential candidate in 1999:


In 1999, Donald Trump was "very pro-choice." Today, he claims to be "very, very proud to say that [he is] pro-life." What changed?

Well, during the first Republican presidential debate last fall, Trump explained:
"Friends of mine years ago were going to have a child, and it was going to be aborted. And it wasn't aborted. And that child today is a total superstar, a great, great child. And I saw that. And I saw other instances ..."*
So, maybe Donald Trump had a legitimate change of heart. I certainly hope so. But let's just say I have reason to be skeptical. Here's why.

In his September 3, 2015 interview with The Donald, Daily Caller editor Jamie Weinstein asked Trump specifically about his change of heart experience and if he "would have changed his view on abortion if the child [referred to above] had become a 'total loser?'"

Donald Trump's response:
"I've never thought of it. That's an interesting question. I've never thought of it. Probably not, but I've never thought of it. I would say no, but in this case it was an easy one because he's such an outstanding person." (emphasis mine)
I have to accept Donald Trump's assertion that he has "never thought of it," but that's not a good thing. This is where consequentialism leads. Or, as Yogi Berra might describe Trump's "evolving view" on abortion: "When he sees a fork in the road, he takes it."

Maybe Donald Trump would be a solid pro-life president. Maybe he wouldn't. That's the problem with consequentialism; you never know where you'll end up when you follow it.


_________________
* These comments are quoted by Justin Taylor in his column of January 20, 2016 at The Gospel Coalition.

Friday, December 4, 2015

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Taqiyya?

The leadership of this country needs to wake up.

We are engaged in a war wherein our nation's greatest treasure -- our young men and women -- are being maimed and killed overseas every day while we drive through Starbucks and update our iPods. As if that isn't bad enough, we are also engaged in a war that is going right under our noses -- right here where we live. Those two wars are inextricably connected and most of us have no idea how they are.

We rightly argue about economic and political ideas, but more and more we seem to do so in blissful ignorance about a threat to our common life and liberty that is much greater than anything being discussed in our internal political debates. The threat may one day include nuclear, biological, chemical or some other kind of active and obviously violent force. But for now this threat is insidious, and therefore a much more dangerous one. It is the threat that has consequences far graver than most of us can imagine.

And that is just the way our enemy likes it.

Most of us have heard of jihad, the concept of an ongoing "struggle" that motivates Islamic fundamentalists to fly airplanes into buildings and blow themselves up in the streets of the Middle East. No doubt, jihad is a threat to us here in the United States also. But, since September 11, 2001 you may have noticed that bold, blatant physical attacks like we experienced that day are few and far between. That is because a different, more effective tactic is at work. It is the concept of taqiyya, and it will be the downfall of this nation if we don't wake up to it.

If you want to a quick primer on this issue, the first thing you need to do is listen to this radio interview with Strategic Engagement Group's John Guandolo, a former Marine and SWAT Team member who now does strategic security consulting for all levels of government law enforcement about the threat of the Global Islamic Movement.

Guandolo is the kind of guy who gives credence to this issue as someone like me never could. My point is that when I talk about this topic (as I plan to do quite often) it will not just be the rantings of some loony, fringe conspiracy theorist. It will not just be my opinion or the result of my imagination. The information I hope to present here will always be supported by reasonable, credible sources. I will not speculate or extrapolate beyond what the evidence allows.

As a way of introducing this threat, I remind you of the knuckle-headed Florida "pastor," Terry Jones, who thought that burning the Koran would be a wonderful display of his Christian maturity. The vacuousness in Jones' thinking defies explanation and I think it is the wrong thing to do, but not because of any lofty respect I have for the Koran. I say this for exactly the opposite reason. Instead of burning it, I think we should encourage people to read it.

Christianity is a thinking religion. Despite the accusations brought against it by our "new atheist" friends, Christianity welcomes questions and seeks to provide answers to those who ask about the reason for the hope that we have. We are called to love our God "with all our mind," and to defend the faith intellectually, respectfully. It is therefore un-Christian and anti-evangelistic to insult, rather than persuade, and inflame anger rather than promote a loving dialogue with anyone.

The fact is that mocking or dismissing the claims of other religions does nothing to lead those who believe them back to the real Truth. When you read the Koran, you find a striking contrast between it and the Bible. The Koran reads more like a stream on consciousness than a historical account of actual events that took place. It is confusing and disjointed. In addition to that, reading the Koran and its associated texts reveals some interesting facts like the theory of abrogation.

This Islamic doctrine claims states that those parts of the Koran written after 622 AD (when Muhammad returned to Medina) overrule earlier verses. When you read these passages you find that it is the later passages that contain the commands to:
  • "fight and slay the unbelievers wherever you find them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem of war" (Surah 9, verse 5) or ...
  • "Fight those who do not believe in Allah nor the Last Day, nor So, nor hold that forbidden which has been forbidden by Allah and His Apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of truth (Islam), even if they are of the 40 people of the Book, until they pay the jizya (Islamic tax) with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued."
So, where we are constantly told that Islam is "a religion of peace," actually reading it reveals quite the opposite.

You will also find Muslims who deny the reality of the theory of abrogation. There is a reason for that too -- a reason that becomes obvious when you consider a second doctrine that compels me to start talking about these issues. The theory of abrogation is an obvious concern to non-Muslims, but it is as least something that we can see being used against us. This second doctrine is the insidious one. It is the doctrine of taqiyya (Surah 3, verse 28), which holds that Muslims should not be friends with infidels except as a deception, always with the end goal of converting, subduing, or destroying them.

Taqiyya is what encourages Muslims to use our own system of freedom, liberty, and justice against us with the goal of destroying western civilization in general, and American society in particular, from within. When we understand that, and then look around with skeptical eyes at the actions of Muslim leaders, this deception begins to stand out in ways that are hard to miss. Taqiyya tells us that we should watch what Muslim leaders do, compare it to what some Muslim leaders say, and realize that the two exist in radically different universes.

Let me make something else perfectly clear. In my attempt to uncover the practice of taqiyya I do not meant to disparage or insult most Muslims who live and work among us here in this country. Actually, I am sure that those we know would vehemently disagree with the claims I am making. I don't blame them -- for the same reasons that I don't blame most Christians who operate completely unaware of many of the central claims of Christianity. The fact is that it is a minority of Christians who hold to an orthodox Christian view of the world. Likewise, many (if not most) Muslims operate in ignorance to the doctrine of taqiyya and would disagree with it if they heard about it. But that doesn't change our need to be vigilant.

My hope is that all of us -- including those Muslims who are unaware -- would wake up to the threat of the Islamist agenda that is hiding right in front of our eyes.

Friday, November 13, 2015

An Extra Chromosome And A Cause For Hope

Modern medicine has found many ways to test for problems with unborn children. This is a good thing. It allows for prenatal diagnosis, treatment, and even surgery to address medical issues for babies in the womb. But it also has some diabolical consequences -- like the fact that about 90% of unborn children who are diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted.

90%

If you happen to be among those who don't think that's a problem -- who don't think that's a sad and horrendous injustice -- I give you Karen Gaffney. Karen can speak for herself but, before you listen to what she has to say, let me give you a few facts about Ms. Gaffney:
  • Karen is 38 years old
  • Karen is president of the Karen Gaffney Foundation which is funded in part by honorariums she receives for her public speaking engagements (like the one below)
  • Karen has swum across Lake Tahoe, Boston Harbor, and 16 times across San Francisco Bay
  • Karen is a graduate of the University of Portland
  • Karen received and honorary doctorate in 2013
  • Karen advocates for people with Down Syndrome
  • Karen "rocks the extra chromosome"


I realize that Karen is unique because she represents a "high functioning" case of Down Syndrome and I am in no way attempting to represent her as the norm. And let me be clear that I don't tout Karen's success story and inspirational life as the reason to oppose abortion.

My point is simply that the pro-life cause has its foundation in the idea that all members of the human family are valuable, not because of what they do, but because of who they are -- human beings made in the image of God.

Karen is an exceptional human being and she would still be an exceptional human being if she didn't have Down Syndrome. She is proof that all human beings are valuable. Let's pray that her message reaches far and wide as an example of the value of every human life and that Karen's story becomes a cry that will awaken those who would have never given her the chance to prove it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Strong To Save

It's always been one of my favorite songs, and not just because it's the "Navy Hymn." The stanzas about about "every peril to the Corps," and "for those in peril in the air" especially hit home. The tone and heaviness of they hymn are poignant and powerful. But, until today, I had never known the story behind the song. Thanks to Eric Metaxas's Breakpoint column on Veteran's Day, 2015, that is no longer the case. Enjoy ...




Metaxas: On this Veterans Day, I want to tell you the back story to one of the great hymns—one that resonates particularly for many of our veterans. It’s one of the most famous hymns in Christendom: “Eternal Father Strong to Save.” It’s often called “the Navy hymn” because it’s sung at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. But how many of us know the story behind this moving hymn?

The hymn’s author was an Anglican churchman named William Whiting, who was born in England in 1825. As a child, Whiting dodged in and out of the waves as they crashed along England’s shoreline. But years later, on a journey by sea, Whiting learned the true and terrifying power of those waves. A powerful storm blew in, so violent that the crew lost control of the vessel. During these desperate hours, as the waves roared over the decks, Whiting’s faith in God helped him to stay calm. When the storm subsided, the ship, badly damaged, limped back to port. The experience had a galvanizing effect on Whiting. As one hymn historian put it, “Whiting was changed by this experience. He respected the power of the ocean nearly as much as he respected the God who made it and controls it.”

The memory of this voyage allowed Whiting to provide comfort to one of the boys he taught at a training school in Winchester. One day, a young man confided that he was about to embark on a journey to America—a voyage fraught with danger at that time. The boy was filled with dread at the thought of the ordeal to come. A sympathetic Whiting described his own frightening experience, and he and the other boys prayed for the terrified student. And then Whiting told him, “Before you depart, I will give you something to anchor your faith.” Whiting, an experienced poet, put pen to paper, writing a poem reminding the boys of God’s power even over the mighty oceans. It begins:
"Eternal Father, strong to save, Whose arm hath bound the restless wave
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep, its own appointed limits keep.
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee For those in peril on the sea!"
Scholars believe Whiting was inspired in part by Psalm 107, which describes God’s deliverance from a great storm on the sea: In verses 28 and 29, we read: “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble [and] he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.” This thought is of course echoed in the New Testament, when Jesus and his disciples are caught in a sudden storm on the Sea of Galilee; Jesus “rebuked the wind and calmed the sea.” (Mark 4:39)

In 1861, Whiting’s poem was set to music by the Rev. John Dykes. The hymn became enormously popular; British, French, and American sailors all adopted it. Winston Churchill loved it, and the hymn was performed at the funerals of Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and Richard Nixon.

Over the years, those who love the hymn and the men and women it honors have written additional stanzas—verses that ask for God’s protection over Marines, Seabees, submariners, flyers, the Coast Guard and Navy SEALS. They ask God to remember the needs of wounded warriors, asking: “By power of thy breath restore, the ill and those with wounds of war.” Touchingly, one newer stanza asks God’s protection for the families of those who serve, asking, “Oh Father, hear us when we pray, for those we love so far away.”

Veterans Day is a reminder that we should be praying regularly for those who put themselves in harm’s way for our sake, for their families, and for those who suffer the after effects of combat. And as we sing the Navy hymn, as many of us will on Sundays around Veterans’ Day, its words should also recall to our minds the fact that none of us will escape the storms and tempests of life. Its verses offer comfort and help us “anchor our faith,” as William Whiting put it, when the winds and waves of our own lives threaten to capsize us.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

On Pointy Hats And Politics

Last month the head of the worldwide Catholic Church visited America riding on a very public image as a champion of the poor and downtrodden whose calls for various forms of "social justice" have put him at odds with the conservative wing of his church, even as his refusal to capitulate on abortion has angered his more liberal members. That's all fine and dandy.

But one would hope that the man whose office and reputation very much make him the face of Christianity worldwide would also be willing to take a stand for the seemingly uncontroversial idea that members of the human family should not be abused or imprisoned simply because what they believe happens to disagree with the political class that happens to run their country.

One would hope.

Unfortunately, Pope Francis made a side trip to Cuba while he was here and:
... the Castros were ready for him. The dictatorship arrested between 250 and 300 dissidents, or potential dissidents, who might have caused a disturbance. They arrested them violently, too. Berta Soler, for example, was dragged away by the hair and neck when she tried to attend the papal Mass. Soler is the leader of the Ladies in White, a group of faithful Catholics who campaign for the release of political prisoners. Later, Pope Francis said he was not aware of any arrests. That was a little odd, since state security tackled a man, Zaqueo Baez, right in front of him and dragged him away violently. Baez is a dissident. The pope did not meet with any of them, though he had a happy meeting with Fidel Castro.

As one democracy group on the island put it, "The pope did not utter a phrase of solidarity with the victims of repression." [Where John Paul II had mentioned "freedom" and "justice" dozens of times during his visit] ... Francis did not say "freedom" or "justice" at all.

Jose Daniel Ferrer, another democracy leader, noted that, "The pope discussed 'the glory of God in heaven' but said 'nothing about the hell for us on Earth.'"*
By definition, there are many ways in which the poor and downtrodden cannot care for themselves. Even in an open and free society history has shown that a government's ability to do so is limited, corrupting, wasteful, and inept. So, if there is any hope to actually be effective in the mission the pope claims to pursue, it resides in the church. When the leader of a huge portion of that church is more enamored with playing politics with tyrannical thugs like the Castros than with proclaiming the fate of the Castro's political victims, a huge opportunity to achieve his stated goals gets flushed right out into the open sewer that is the Cuban regime's "vision" for society.

I am not a Catholic. I disagree with several of the Catholic Church's teachings. But forget the whole Catholic/Protestant thing. In fact, forget the whole Christianity thing. As a human being who is seen as a de facto leader to much of the free world, the fact that the pope intentionally ignored the dissidents and political prisoners of the brutal, barbarian Castro regime is disgusting.

The pope should be ashamed of himself.


____________________

* National Review, October 19, 2015, p. 10-11.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Abortion By The Numbers

As a follow-up to my last post, and thanks to an article that my fellow CIA agent (and classmate), John Ferrer, contributed in the latest issue of  Salvo Magazine ("The Big Kill," Salvo Issue 34, p. 10), I've found a new resource for showing people the impact of abortion.

In a format similar to the mind-boggling real-time numbers of the U.S. National Debt Clock, but with infinitely more moral impact, the website NumberOfAbortions.com gives a continuously updated count of the number of abortions in the U.S. and worldwide. The numbers are staggering. Just a few examples (as of September 25, 2015 at 10:30 pm):

Abortions performed today: 2,806.1
(as a point of reference, 2,977 people were killed in the U. S. on September 11, 2001)

Abortions performed by Planned Parenthood since 1970: 6,877,845.2
Abortions performed in the U.S. since Roe-v-Wade (1973):  58,293,265

Abortions performed worldwide today: 103,043
Abortions performed worldwide this year: 29,754,477
Abortions performed worldwide since 1980: 1,349,402,839

Like most statistics, they can make your eyes glaze over. They are literally incomprehensible. But I have also found a unique way to make the overwhelming numbers a little more real. It is self-explanatory ... but that doesn't make it anymore understandable that many in our culture are happy to defend every bee-bee that hits the tin can:

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

1000 Words

Several years ago, the local scientific apologetics group I belong to learned that I was involved in doing some pro-life teaching and speaking. As a result, they asked me to give a presentation about how the apologetic case for Christianity in general might relate to making the pro-life case as well. That was an easy one.

We at the Life Training Institute (LTI) deliberately construct our arguments against abortion in a way that they can't be dismissed by abortion proponents as "just a religious opinion." We do that by using science and philosophy to show what the unborn is, why it is valuable, and why that makes taking its life a grave moral wrong. Our argument is not in the least bit "religious"; it is a rational and reasoned case that points to the most basic of all human rights -- the right to life. The fact that the case we make is perfectly compatible and consistent with what the Bible says is just one more reason to believe the Bible is a reflection of the truth about ultimate reality.

But I digress...

As part of the presentation, and only after we give a reasoned argument for our case, we at LTI give ample warning that we are about to show a 60-second video showing the aftermath of abortion. We do this carefully and compassionately. We warn the audience that the video is graphic and give anyone who wants it a chance to leave the room or cover their eyes before we show it. And then we play this:



 The presentation I gave that day was no different, nor was the reaction to it. But several months later, one of my friends from the group told me a story about what happened afterward. He said that he had never seen the argument against abortion presented in quite that way. It had moved him to put up a Facebook post about it with a link to the video. No big deal. But there's more to the story.

The post drew some attention and discussion. Little did he know that some of that attention was from a European lady whom my friend had never met or spoken to -- they both just happened to be bird lovers and members of the same on-line group of folks who shared that interest. The lady was an abortion supporter and the images had horrified her. She was also an atheist.

Because the post had provoked her, she contacted my friend through the bird-lover group to challenge him about posting it. Their back-and-forth discussion lasted for weeks. Eventually, the bird-loving lady not only changed her view on abortion, she was compelled by my friend's reasoning to reconsider her case against Christianity. By the time my friend told me this story, the European lady had become a Christian and was soliciting my friend's advice about how to approach her "hard-core atheist" son to invite him to do the same.

All because she saw an image.

I was reminded of this story during the uproar about The Center for Medical Progress's release of a series of videos documenting the barbarity of Planned Parenthood. The impact of these videos is monumental; so monumental that they, like the videos seen by the European bird lover, have prompted someone like Ruben Navarette ("I Don't Know If I'm Pro-Choice Anymore" at The Daily Beast website), a 30-year supporter of abortion rights, to challenge himself about his stance on what abortion is and what it does.

Make no mistake, the methods and tactics of the abortion industry have not changed, and neither has the truth content in the arguments we wield against it. What has changed is that the public has been allowed to see exactly what is going on. Seeing injustice has a way of connecting our intellects to our our emotions ... and the power in that connection is what compels us to change our behavior.

I would never advocate shoving pictures of aborted children in the face of an unsuspecting bystander on the street. I understand the motivation to do that because of its shock value. But I also understand that the shock value can rebound as anger and dismissal. It is shocking because it's rude.

I don't want to be rude. I don't just want to shock people.

But I will keep showing images of abortion because my goal is bigger than that.

I want to make them understand, through reasoned argumentation, what abortion is and why it's wrong. And then I want them to see its reality. I want to appeal to their humanity. I want their heads to connect with their hearts to not only change their personal feelings about it, but to motivate them to change the behavior of our society.

I don't just want to talk about it and I don't just want to make people look at it.

I want to make it stop.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Black And White Rainbows

Almost forty years ago I joined a youth group Bible study with a band of high school acquaintances who shared two things in common: life as military brats who all lived on the same base in Michigan, and a serious pursuit of the truth of our faith. We studied the Bible, went on retreats and, as a result, that group formed the core of our social life in high school. Many of us became close and lifelong friends. In fact, I met the girl who would later become my wife in that group in 1976.

Another girl in that group was a year younger than me, personable, athletic, outgoing, and deeply dedicated to knowing what was taught in The Book. She was a serious disciple. She went on to complete a distinguished and honorable career in the U.S. Army, entered seminary after she retired, and was ordained an Episcopal Minister. I haven't actually spoken to her in decades but from what I see on social media she doesn't seem to have changed much in those 39 years. She has a lot of friends who speak highly of her and love her dearly. She still sports a big smile. She seems to love her life and to serve God as fiercely as she ever did. I'm glad to see that but I really wish it was otherwise. If so, it would be much easier to say what I'm about to say and post it publicly. But that is not that case and as a result, it pains me to write this ... but I have to.

Last month my friend entered into a legalized, same-sex union with another woman.*

Now, I didn't know this because I heard it from her. Though I have only kept in touch with her tangentially and through social media, there was no public announcement of the event that I know of. No happy Facebook post or invitation to share her joy in what one would assume was the most cherished day of her life. The only information I saw about it came from other friends and family posting congratulations and pictures on her Facebook page. While she did comment regularly on the things others said about her, she never offered a single post or picture of her own. Not one. Doesn't that seem odd?

I don't think it is, and I say that because I think that, deep down, my friend knows that the union she entered is not a union that would be blessed by the God she serves.

I don't know if she will see this post or not. Honestly, it would be easier for me if she didn't. I don't want to hurt her feelings. No compassionate person would want to hurt a friend's feelings. At the same time, no honest person should shy away from seeking and defending the truth. When faced with the choice between hurting someone's feelings and acknowledging reality, I believe that all of us, whether we are devoted religious believers or hard-core secular atheists, must elevate the latter above the former.

Let me be clear in saying that it is a wonderful thing to see joy and happiness in another person; to see friends and family describe their ceremony as the most "moving and beautiful" thing they have ever witnessed. There is no doubt that the world needs to know that "love wins." There is no basis for questioning the devotion of two people to one another or to their professed religious convictions. I have no reason to doubt that their love is real or that their devotion is genuine.

I have absolutely no reason to disparage or belittle my friend or her partner (whom I've never met). In fact, if she is anything like she was when we were last in contact, my friend is a more knowledgeable and committed follower of Christ, and a more loving human being, than I am or ever will be. She has dedicated her life to serving the God we share our belief in, and has lived out and demonstrated those convictions in ways I never will. I have no reason to question any of that, and I wouldn't dare do such a thing.

But there are clear facts about what it means to be a human being made in the image of God that defy any biblical warrant for the acceptability of homosexual practice. That leads me to a perfectly logical question that I want to ask my friend:
Knowing that we both share a commitment to trust in the veracity of the Bible and to live out the precepts contained within it, on what basis would you defend either a shred of biblical support for the practice of homosexuality in general, or a defense of pseudogamy** in particular, from a straightforward reading of the text?
I have to say that I have never heard anyone who takes the Bible seriously give a legitimate answer to that question. The best response I have heard comes from Matthew Vines, who acknowledges that the Bible holds a clearly negative view of homosexual practice but claims that the homosexual practice that is addressed therein is an abusive, degrading form of homosexuality that existed at the time it was written, not the committed, monogamous relationships we see today. Vines' interpretation is just a little bit newer than the cell phone.

As I said, Vines' response is the best I have heard -- but that doesn't make it reasonable or acceptable. Notice that his defense of same-sex activity does not rely on anything the Bible says. Instead, it is fully dependent on something that Vines himself admits the Bible does not say.

When the best way to defend your position is to invoke a "new interpretation" of the biblical text that Christians have somehow missed for two millennia, doesn't it seem reasonable to pause to reconsider that view, no matter what the subject matter?

I think that is a reasonable expectation ... unless one is trying to rationalize the Bible with their own behavior instead of evaluating their behavior against what the Bible teaches. I think my friend knows this. She has studied her faith too extensively to not know it.

However, even if one rejects the biblical prohibitions against homosexuality, the reality of human nature and purpose -- even when seen in a purely materialistic, godless universe -- tells us that homosexuality leads to a Darwinian dead end. Same-sex behavior defies human nature's purpose and design.

Pick your poison. For both biblical and natural law reasons, I believe there is a legitimate reason to hold to a negative view of the practice of homosexuality even if one admires the devotion and commitment of homosexuals. I also believe we can love someone who is homosexual but refuse to celebrate their same-sex union with another homosexual, whether the Supreme Court of the United States tells us it's legal or not. In other words, I believe we can simultaneously share a fondness and respect for our homosexual friends, but disapprove of their actions. Real friends do that. They value their friends so much, they feel compelled to tell them the truth. Sometimes, the greatest way to love someone is to do just that.

Unfortunately though, we live in a culture where that kind of view is not allowed. It's a culture in which saying anything negative about homosexuality is seen as uncalled for and mean-spirited. Our culture tells us that if you do what I'm doing right now you are a hate-filled, judgmental bigot. All I can say about that is that it is false. You can try to play that card if you want to but doing so is simply disingenuous. It's a dodge that demands a black-and-white choice between acknowledging the clear truths revealed in nature and in Scripture, or condoning -- yes, celebrating -- all homosexual activity up to and including the public redefinition of marriage itself.

I don't know if my friend would condemn me for disagreeing with her about the nature and purpose of marriage. It's been a long time, but I can't bring myself to believe she could have become a nasty, aggressive promoter of the idea that someone like me could never still be her friend. I hope that's not the case. I may never know and we certainly may never have a conversation about it. But if we did, I would remind her of our days studying the Bible by Lake St. Clair in Michigan, and I would ask her to answer my question.

I would hope that if we ever did have that conversation, it wouldn't turn ugly. I would hope that my friend would not approve of the way our culture in general addresses this debate. Because, even if she is an exception, the irony of this is that those who promote and celebrate the homosexual lifestyle use the rainbow as a symbol to demonstrate how they embrace a full spectrum of love and fellowship with everyone. But nothing could be further from the truth. Their rainbow is not really multi-colored. It has no hue that allows for a view like mine. It's a black-and-white rainbow -- a rainbow that demands adherence and celebration from all of us or promises retaliation and vilification against those who don't.

It's not a pretty rainbow at all. And the pot at the end of it is full of retribution for those who aren't singing the right song.







__________________


* I use the term "legalized, same-sex union" because I don't know what else to call it. What I won't call it is a "marriage." For reasons I will not get into here, the term "marriage" is not applicable to same-sex unions. Marriage is a specific thing. It is something we describe, not something we define. For those who may be interested in reading a full treatment of the case for marriage, I recommend the following:
What is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense, by Robert George, Ryan Anderson, and Sherif Girgis. [This is a detailed treatment of the issue by philosophically sophisticated authors. If you want to engage a serious study of the case for marriage, this is your book.]

Same Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God's Design for Marriage, by John Stonestreet and Sean McDowell. [This book is an easier read and exactly what it says -- a thoughtful approach by two excellent communicators. Great for lay readers who want to familiarize themselves with the issue and be able to discuss it winsomely but effectively.]

What Does The Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality?, by Kevin DeYoung [I have not read this book yet but Greg Koukl has called it the single best book on the topic that he knows of and I have never known Koukl's recommendations to be anything other than spot on.]
** As far as I know, pseudogamy is a term coined by Anthony Esolen, a writer for Touchstone Magazine and one of the most insightful, unapologetic, and powerful defenders of Christianity that I have ever read.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Empty Nest, Full Hearts


Jon comes home from the hospital
Our youngest son, Jon, starts college today. His brothers will say he has gotten away with gross transgressions of The Rules they all had to follow. Sorry guys, but it just ain't true. Actually, he has probably been more scrutinized -- and many times, rightfully so -- because he has been tail-end Charlie, the unfortunate victim of us knowing all the ways the other four found to get in trouble. But, whatever the case, the nest gets emptied today. This is supposed to be a time to do one of two things: Rejoice at our new found "freedom," or slide into a depressed funk about the sadness of it all.

We choose neither.

Our goal has never been to raise good kids. Our goal has always been to raise grounded, responsible adults. Like their parents, our boys have all made plenty of bad decisions. Like our parents, we have done our best to make them suffer the consequences of those decisions. So, while we are not thrilled about some of the things they have done, we could not be more proud of the young men they have become. Jon is no different from the other four in that respect. So, it is with bittersweet anticipation of the future that we watch him leave the nest. Maybe the departure of the previous four has dulled the sense sadness that comes with this day. We are hardened veteran parents now so the trauma of it all just rolls right off our backs.

No, that's not it.

We will still shed tears.
2010 Caribbean Cruise

But we will also be happy. Not in the way the culture likes to portray it -- leaping for joy because they're finally gone -- but with a sense of anticipation about seeing the fruits of our parenting labor. We look forward to celebrating their successes with them from the back of the room, watching them from behind their own future families and friends. We look forward to consoling them in their disappointments, knowing that those disappointments will make them stronger, even if they won't want to hear it from us. We look forward to offering our advice, but only if they ask for it.

This big house will seem even bigger now. The quiet will probably be deafening. But in our hearts, we will still hear the patter of tiny feet and the concussive thud of hands (and heads) bursting through the basement walls. We will look to a rusting backyard trampoline and long for the squeak of its springs. We will watch the trees grow bigger and the grocery bill get smaller. We will relish the productive, successful men they are, no matter how much money they earn or what kind of social status they achieve. We will take quiet pride in the courage and honor with which all of them have volunteered to serve.

The Band Perry
These are not reasons to be sad. They are reasons to rejoice in the life they've given us just by being our boys. We will cry because we miss them, not because we're glad they're gone. And we will use our new-found "freedom" to travel all over creation to see them wherever they end up. There are five of them for God's sake. We'll have plenty of traveling to do.

Our lives may never be the same after today but we wouldn't exchange it for anything. No one should ever question the gifts they get from God.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Mind Boggling Silence

There are two basic views (and some sub-categories of each) about how to understand the relationship between the brain and the mind. The first, physicalism, says that the mind is nothing more than an extension of the brain. The second, dualism, says that the mind and brain are different things altogether.

Physicalism insists that there is no difference between the mind and the brain -- that the "mind" is simply a way to refer to the results of chemical processes that go on in the neural network controlled by the gray matter between your ears.
"According to strict physicalism, a human being is merely a physical entity. The only things that exist are physical substances, properties and events ... The physical substance called the brain has physical properties such as a certain weight, volume, size, electrical activity, chemical composition and so forth ... when someone has an occasion of pain or an occurrence of a thought, physicalists hold that these are merely particular physical events -- events where certain C-fibers are firing or certain electrical and chemical events are happening in the brain and central nervous system."*
Since thoughts and feelings are nothing but physical events that result from electrical impulses between neural cells, we can actually connect electrodes to the brain, stimulate it in different ways, and observe which area of the brain "lights up." We can manipulate that area of the brain with surgery or chemicals and thereby alter behavior, or at least understand what made you act the way you did when you felt sad, or angry, or happy, or attracted to a mate.

Once we know where our different behaviors and inclinations reside, we are well on our way to solving all the mysteries of the origin and operation of imagination, concepts, thoughts, instincts, and morality. Since these are nothing but different kinds of chemical reactions, and "free will" is really nothing but an illusion about the responses the chemicals in your brain have to various inputs from physical events that preceded the actions you take, neuroscientists like will soon be able to explain and control each of them.

You are your brain and your brain is a computer made of meat.

With that in mind, meet Dr. Patricia Churchland. Churchland is one of the leading philosophers of neuroscience in the world. This means that her work focuses on philosophical questions about how consciousness relates to brain function. Listen to Dr. Churchland explain some exciting new discoveries and implications of neuroscience:



Very interesting stuff.

However, it's one thing to go on The Colbert Report and cite scientific research about oxytocin to a comedian and his audience. It's quite another thing to have to answer philosophical questions about your research to someone who actually knows how to ask them. You see, each of the phenomena Dr. Churchland talked about here are examples of correlation -- that certain actions and/or traits that we observe "correlate" to neurons firing in a specific location in the brain. No argument there.

The problem is that, as any scientists knows, correlation does not equal causation.

Just because we can correlate these things does not mean that one of them caused the other. To put it another way, smoke correlates to fire quite nicely, but that does not in any way mean that the smoke caused the fire.

The problem with physicalism is that there doesn't seem to be a way to reconcile the physical stuff we can observe going on in our brains with things like the thoughts, desires, plans, and intentions that make those things occur. In fact, when scientists perform the studies that correlate brain activity in certain areas of the brain with the thinking that correlates to that activity, they have absolutely no way to know what the subject of the study is thinking when the neural networks are firing -- unless, of course, they ask. In other words, neuroscientists can hook electrodes up to your brain all day long, but they can never know what you are thinking ... unless you tell them.

You, it seems, are something different than your brain.

So what about Dualism? This is a view of the relationship between mind and brain which holds that the brain is actually a different "substance" (philosophically speaking) that is not physical but that somehow interacts with the physical brain. This view would be compatible with the idea of the soul (the mind being some kind of subset of the soul) and offers a way to make sense of several phenomena we observe about human beings that, frankly, make no sense otherwise. Without getting into details (I will do that in a follow-on post), some of these things include: continuity of self, free will, agent causation, breakthroughs in the study and treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder, and near death experiences.

To be fair, no one is claiming to be able to explain exactly how this interaction takes place but it does seem to offer a way to make sense of several different phenomena that we observe and to also be perfectly consistent with the existence of the non-physical reality of the "self."

So, back to Dr. Churchland. What happens when she is forced to defend her physicalist view of the mind/brain problem against someone who not only knows the flaws in that view, but who can cite reliably qualified sources that completely contradict what Dr. Churchland can get away with saying on The Colbert Report? What happens when those sources include blatant misrepresentations of the work of others which have been made by Dr. Churchland herself? Watch and see ...



Maybe the fact that we can hear background noise from Dr. Churchland's end of the line while she claims the connection isn't working is the result of some kind of out-of-body experience that can only be understood by doctors of neuroscience. And maybe "the dog ate my internet connection" is an acceptable way to defend the physicalist view of the mind/brain interface to those who dare not question it. But, for those with minds that are open to whatever the truth happens to be true regarding the existence of non-physical realities like the soul, the mind, and God himself, this interview is truly something to behold.

Sometimes silence really is golden.

__________________

* J. P. Moreland, The Soul: How We Know It's Real And Why It Matters, p. 25

Monday, February 16, 2015

Ant That Somethin'?

If someone were to ask you what land dwelling creature possessed the greatest total mass on Earth today, I'm betting the word "ant" would not come to mind. According to Hugh Ross, "the ubiquitous ant comprises 15-25% of the total mass of living animal tissue on the continents ... [not only that but] both the ants' population size and behaviors have helped compensate for the Sun's increasing luminosity over the 3.5 billion years since life originated on the Earth."
 
Here's how.
 
The Sun, like any other star, is basically a nuclear furnace that emits heat and light from the continuous fusion of hydrogen into helium at its core. As this process becomes more efficient over the life of the star, it brightens. In fact, astronomers have calculated that our Sun burns 25% brighter today than it did 3.5 billion years ago.
 
"So what?"
 
Scientists also calculate that a mere 1-2% increase in the brightness of the Sun is enough to burn the Earth and render it uninhabitable for life. Yet, here we are.

Enter, ants.
 
It turns out that one of the many curious design features of our "Privileged Planet" is the delicate balance that has been maintained in the Earth's atmosphere as the Sun has progressively brightened. The Earth's ecosystem has simultaneously managed, through the combined efforts of organismal and geological processes, to compensate for the Sun's increased luminosity by removing heat-retaining gases from the atmosphere to maintain a livable temperature on the surface of the Earth.
 
According to Ross:
"weathering of silicates (silicon compounds) is the most effective way living creatures remove greenhouse gases. In this process, atmospheric carbon dioxide reacts with rainwater to make carbonic acid that, in turn, reacts with continental silicates to yield sand and carbonates. Depending on the life-forms involved, more or fewer continental silicates are exposed to rainwater and more or less carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere. Recently, a geologist discovered that ants may well be the latest major contributors to atmospheric carbon dioxide reduction.
During the Paleogene Era (66-23 million years ago), many new ant species emerged, greatly expanding their total biomass. Field studies establish that the weathering of calcium and magnesium silicates is enhanced by a factor of 50-300 times in the vicinity of ant colonies. Thus ants indirectly played a significant role in making it possible for life to persist [Yon the Earth]."*
I'm not trying to make a mountain out of an ant hill, but this is just one of many such design features that we find in the interwoven characteristics of our Solar System -- as well as in the delicate design of the Sun-Earth-Moon system that holds eerie "coincidences" that have to be just the way they are for life to be possible on the Earth. You can read more about these kinds of things in several of Hugh Ross's writings, as well as in "Privileged Planet ," by Jay Richards and Guillermo González (also available in video form at discovery.org).
 
It seems to me that it ought to make even the most serious skeptic pause to consider how it could be possible to establish and discover such a connection between the physics of nuclear fusion at the core of the Sun and the compensatory design features of plants ... and ants ... on the Earth.
 
I would never go so far as to say that the ant connection is a serious "proof" for the existence of God, but it is certainly consistent with the Design Argument for God ... especially when you consider that it is just one among many, many similar "coincidences."

I offer it for what it's worth ...

__________________

* This quote and the general idea of the post are based on the article, "Ants: Amazing Agents of Change," by Hugh Ross, Reasons To Believe Newsletter, January/February 2015.



Friday, January 2, 2015

Filling God-Shaped Holes

On December 2, 2014 at the Lake Worth, Florida City Commission Meeting, self-proclaimed "activist,” Preston Smith, offered the following invocation:
Mother Earth, we gather today in your redeeming and glorious presence, to invoke your eternal guidance in the universe, the original Creator of all things. May the efforts of this council blend the righteousness of Allah with the all-knowing wisdom of Satan. 
May Zeus, the great God of justice, grant us strength tonight. Jesus might forgive our shortcomings while Buddha enlightens us through His divine affection. We praise you, Krishna, for the sanguine sacrifice that freed us all. After all, if Almighty Thor is with us, who can ever be against us? 
And finally, for the bounty of logic, reason, and science, we simply thank the atheists, agnostics, Humanists, who now account for 1 in 5 Americans, and [are] growing rapidly. In closing, let us, above all, love one another, not to obtain mythical rewards for ourselves now, hereafter, or based on superstitious threats of eternal damnation, but rather, embrace secular-based principles of morality — and do good for goodness’ sake. 
And so we pray ... So, what?!


Now I don't know if this was simply a not-so-clever attempt to mock religious believers who pray before public meetings or a demonstration of Smith's own deeply held personal beliefs but, either way, here's the question ... So what?!

Maybe Smith doesn't actually believe his "prayer." If so, he is apparently trying to demonstrate the equally ludicrous nature of all religious belief through sarcasm. There are two ways to respond to this possibility. First, we could push back on the notion that all religious beliefs are equally absurd as an assertion that is easily tested by comparing the claims of the different religious systems Smith is mocking to see what evidence there is to support them. This would be a little time-consuming, but would easily show his relativistic view of religious belief to be false. Just about every aspect of every religion Smith cites in his "prayer" is contradictory and/or mutually exclusive. But Smith, and those who support his nonsense, never take the time to actually evaluate the claims. They think their clever mockery does it for them because they are so intellectually dishonest they don't even realize that their position is itself a religious opinion that they have given no one any reason to take seriously.

Second, we could ask why the good people of Lake Worth, Florida would allow some random jackass to waste their time at a publicly funded meeting just to show how hilariously sarcastic he can be? Can anyone show up at a Lake Worth City Council meeting and be given the floor to do a comedy act? Why did the City Council put up with such a thing? The answer is simple -- intellectually dishonest cowards hide behind the threat of lawsuits and political correctness that dare people to try to stop them. They are bullies who know the current politically correct climate will allow them to get away with it wherever and whenever they please.

Shame on the Lake Worth City Council for letting it be so.

There is also the possibility that Smith does believe his "prayer," and this I find this to be a fascinating possibility. I'm afraid these "new atheist humanists" who keep mocking "religion" are not quite sure what that word means or how their attempts at mockery actually lend full support to the basic claims of theism.

Apparently, it's the new thing among those who claim to have no beliefs to engage in behavior like Smith and to attend Godless Church Services that are popping up all over the place and growing exponentially among those who claim to "believe in nothing." As Sanderson Jones puts it about his London "congregation" (his term):
"The thing that we’ve got is that we’re the only non-religious service that works. Rationality is part of it, but we also have the emotional connection," Jones said. "We are speaking to the whole human." Sunday Assembly is already talking to an awful lot of humans. Jones wonders if they might manage to start 2015 congregations by 2015. "It might just be a little bit historical if it goes on like this. We could have a profound impact," he said. "Throughout history there’s been these moments when an idea takes off: the Great Awakenings. We could suddenly create a great moment."
Or take this comment from an atheist blogger I have interacted with who is one of the nastiest, most profane, closed-minded individuals you could ever imagine.
"I’ve taken [my humanism] to the next level so to speak. I’ve actively sought out and joined a local humanist group. We’ve got a following of about 300ish on Facebook but only about 1-2% of them show up for any kind of meeting or get together. But hey, better than nothing I guess, eh?"
Why do those who mock the idea of religion or the reality of God simultaneously engage in projects that parallel those who do believe in Him? What would motivate them to go to such great lengths to replicate the actions of the faithful? After all, if they really believe their own proclamations, there is no standard by which their actions could be judged and no reasonable explanation for the need they seem to be filling.

Philosopher Peter Kreeft has formalized an explanation in his Argument From Desire:
Premise 1: Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire. 
Premise 2: But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy. 
Conclusion: Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can satisfy this desire.
Or, as C. S. Lewis so aptly put it, "Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists ... If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world." [Mere Christianity]

It turns out that what these "humanists" are actually doing is offering a sad demonstration of the reality of what has come to be known as Blaise Pascal's "God-shaped hole" in our hearts:
"What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself." [Pensées, Section I, X, 148]
Though most (like me) are more prone to get angry about stunts pulled by the likes of Preston Smith, anger should be the last emotion we feel. Instead, we should feel compassion for those whose sense of emptiness is so deep that they are compelled to respond with navel-gazing mockery toward the only reasonable way they could fill the God-shaped hole in their own hearts.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Take Christ Out Of Christmas

One of the favorite Christmas decorations in our house has always been a small statue of Santa kneeling at the side of the manger. His hat is off and his head is bowed in reverence. We place the figurine in a position of prominence in our family room, hoping to remind each of us to Whom our thoughts should be directed at this time of year. Unfortunately, I think the reminder is falling on deaf ears.

The music starts in October now. In November my company puts out a memo reminding us that we are allowed to wear "Holiday Ties" with our uniforms beginning December 1st. The mayhem starts in earnest on Black Friday, and now extends to Cyber Monday and then into the following week for on-line orders, and on, and on, and on ...

Recently, I dug through my file drawer and found a piece I wrote back in 1998 (before I had ever heard of blogging). The article was about a local Cincinnati story that went national when an atheist lawyer sued the federal government for violating the establishment of religion clause of the Constitution. Richard Ganulin was troubled about the "separation of church and state." Though this concept is nowhere to be found in the Constitution, Ganulin and his like-minded atheists were upset that Christmas had become a national holiday.

Said Ganulin: "Christmas is a religious holiday and the Congress of the United States is not constitutionally permitted to endorse or aid any religion, purposefully or otherwise, or [promote] entanglement between our government and religious beliefs." He sued to have it stopped and he lost his battle. But don't jingle your bells in celebration just yet.

In that case, U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott did rule against Ganulin. According to Religion Today (December 8, 1999), Judge Dlott decided "that Christmas can be observed as a federal holiday because non-Christians also mark the holiday by celebrating the arrival of Santa Claus. Since non-religious people also observe the holiday, giving federal workers a day off for Christmas does not elevate one religion over another." In her ruling, Judge Dlott invoked a cool, witty, original verse to show that the Christmas holiday does not amount to government establishment of religion:
"Christmas is about joy and giving and sharing.
It is about the child within us; it is mostly about caring.
There is room in this country and in all our hearts, too,
for different convictions and a day off, too."
Now ain't that sweet.

When Judge Dlott dismissed the case the local paper reported that "Santa Claus has at least temporarily saved Christmas, both for Christians and for others."

Really?

The actual goal in this case was to remove the religious nature of Christmas from our culture. Fifteen years later, I think the plaintiff's motives have been wholly met and then some. Judge Dlott justified her ruling with the spine-tingling claim that no reasonable person would see the federal holiday as an endorsement of Christianity in particular or religion in general. Did you get that? No reasonable person would see Christmas as an endorsement of Christianity. Ganulin may have lost his battle in 1998, but in 2014 his side has the war completely in hand.

Santa has crawled into the crib.

So that's why I say we let him have it. I say we take the Christ out of Christmas.

Let them have the pepper spray at Walmart and the stampedes through Toys 'R Us. Let them have the latest iWhatever. Let them have the little lights that work when you test them but not when you plug them in. Let them have the frustration and the dramatically higher suicide rate. Let them have their "celebrity advent calendars." Let them have the pressure to get "the right gift." Let them have the stress. Let them have the the unprecedented level of debt that skyrockets during the "holiday season." Let them have the marketing mayhem. Let them have their "Happy Holidays."

I don't want Christ to win this battle.

Christmas is about the miracle of a God so big, He chose to shrink Himself to save us. It's not about "Peace on Earth;" it's about an infinite sacrifice to make peace with earthlings. It's not about us being "happy;" it's about us being treated unfairly -- it's about deserving wrath but getting forgiveness. Christmas is not about "the child within us;" it's about rebel that is us. Christmas is not about us being cheerful givers of gifts; it's about the God of the Universe descending to dwell among us and choosing to die on a splintered cross.

Christmas doesn't want Christ because a God who demands repentance and obedience isn't marketable.

The thing we've made Christmas doesn't deserve Him ... and I don't want Christ in what Christmas has become.


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