Wednesday, October 31, 2007

All Saints Alert: Reform Your Halloween Ideas!

Personally, I don't see any harm in dressing up like a cartoon hero or a fairy princess and getting people to give you candy for no apparent reason. Seems rather industrious to me.

However, I do understand the reluctance of some to promote and participate in Halloween festivities -- if only because doing so seems to trivialize and inoculate us against the actual existence of real evil incarnated in the world. So, for those who dislike the "celebration" of Halloween by church people, I have a couple of idea that (in my very humble opinion) beat the "Harvest Celebrations" or "Howl-elluiah" euphemisms for Halloween that many churches try to offer as alternatives.

The first is has historical significance in that it is the commemoration of an event that took place on the very day that Halloween has come to be celebrated. It was on October 31, 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, an act that set the Reformation in motion.

If that's not enough (or if you're Catholic and don't appreciate Luther as much as I do), consider this: In the early Christian church it was a practice to solemnize the anniversary of a the death of a martyr. In the fourth century, neighboring church districts began to interchange these memorial feasts and join together in doing so. As the church grew larger it became common for groups of martyrs to be massacred en masse (and especially under the more systematic persecution of the Roman Emperor, Diocletian), this led to joint commemorations. Soon however, the number of martyrs needing to be memorialized became so great that the church decided to establish a common day for all. As early as 411 A.D. there was a "Commemoratio Confessorum" insitutued on the calendar in use at that time for the Friday after Easter. Finally, Pope Gregory III (731-741 A.D.) consecrated a chapel in the Basilica of St. Peter to all the saints, fixed the anniversary for November 1, and named it All Saints Day. (source: New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia)

So there you have it. Two reasons (other than ghosts, witches and the like) to celebrate a real Christian holiday on October 31st ... even if neither will land you any candy.

Monday, October 29, 2007

You Will Enjoy This Book

Though I only half-heartedly pursued my faith for many years during, and after, my college days; and though I was fond of self-righteously avoiding any active participation in what I condescendingly referred to as "organized religion," my attitude changed one Sunday in December of 1989. That was the day my wife and I nonchalantly walked into a school cafeteria to check out a newly formed church in our area. After about 20 minutes of listening to Tony Thomas, I knew that my attitude toward church had forever been changed. Eighteen years later, we still attend that church.

Though Tony Thomas left many years ago, we will always fondly remember the humor, style and heart with which he delivered the Gospel message. I owe Tony Thomas a tremendous debt of gratitude for showing me that the only alternative to "organized religion" is "disorganized religion" and that organization and real world faith are in no way mutually exclusive. The path that led me back to an honest and committed pursuit of my faith began in a metal folding chair that Tony Thomas probably set up himself.

So it is with great pleasure that I want to announce that my dear friend Tony Thomas is now a published author! Tony is the Senior Preaching Minister at Woodland Heights Christian Church in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He writes a weekly column for The Paper of Montgomery County, and has used the wealth of experience gained there to churn out his first book, A Smidgeon of Religion.

I just ordered the book myself and I can't wait to read it. From what I can tell, the book will reflect the style, wit and outlook toward life that only Tony could convey. He writes like he preaches, which mean you won't be able to put the book down.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Practical Pro-Life Politics

Yesterday, in USA Today, Michael Medved made the case ("Abortion's Shades of Gray") that today's abortion beliefs "are much more nuanced ... [and that] it's no longer a black-and-white debate." While I may agree with him about today's beliefs and arguments, that does nothing to change the black and white facts about abortion. As Jay pointed out yesterday, there are clear distinctions between all the nuanced arguments, justifications and beliefs that people put forth and the simple issue of the moral status of an unborn, innocent human being. But that is not what I want to address.

Before I make my point, I want to make it crystal clear that, as a pro-life advocate and voter, I will do everything in my power to defeat Rudy Giuliani in the Republican primary process. I will do this for many reasons, not the least of which is his stance on abortion. But, when it comes to electing someone like Giuliani to the presidency (if it does come to that), all the talk of abandoning the Republican party to demonstrate our disgust for his views, or of launching a third-party in protest, are not only inane, but genuinely destructive to the pro-life cause. Let me explain.

Medved points out the key differences between Giuliani's platform and those of the leading Democratic candidates. Here's the list:
  • Giuliani has committed to preserve the Hyde Ammendment, banning taxpayer money for abortions ... the top Democrats urge repeal and favor federal funding.
  • Giuliani applauded the recent SCOTUS decision upholding the ban on partial-birth abortion ... all leading Democrats condemned it in harsh terms.
  • Giuliani supports tougher rules on parental notification for underage girls seeking abortion ... Clinton and Obama oppose such legislation.
  • Giuliani has specifically cited strict-constructionists like Scalia, Alito and Roberts as his models for future appointees to SCOTUS ... top Democrats regularly express conempt for the conservative jurists Giuliani admires and worked against all three of these.

In other words, when it comes to the abortion issue, a Giuliani presidency would look no different from that of George W. Bush. In fact, given the likelihood that the next president will appoint one or more justices to SCOTUS, positive (though incremental) steps toward the possibility of overturning Roe would move noticeably in the right direction. The alternative would be an utter disaster.

Along those lines, some have expressed dismay toward the seemingly opportunistic late change in Romney's abortion views. Point granted. But my sources tell me that Romney convened a meeting of several pro-life advocates and asked them to make their case. After that meeting(s), his view was changed. Given that organizations like the Life Training Institute exist to "persuasively communicate the pro-life message," does it make sense to chastise those for whom our message may actually have been persuasive? Can we not consider the fact that our arguments may be working? I have no way of knowing Mitt Romney's motivation for seeing the pro-life light. But motivations are irrelevant if his policy stance agrees with ours. Romney has never given any indication (that I know of) to doubt that point.

So, at risk of re-igniting the wrath of the purists out there, I simply propose that we keep our collective eyes on the mission at hand and take every practical and effective step we can to achieve it. As a former Marine, I hate the idea of losing tactical skirmishes. But, more importantly, I refuse to submit to strategies that have no hope of winning the war.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Balanced Flight

It is easy -- too easy -- for someone like me to get engrossed in all the arguments for God, the scientific evidence for God, promoting our intellectual assent to God, and pointing out the deficiencies that result in our removal of God from the culture. All these are the kinds of things that "float my boat." They are where I focus a lot of my energy, reading, teaching, and time. They are all fine and dandy -- except that they can also be distracting detours from what should be my primary purpose in this life -- The Pursuit of God.

I have been reminded of that recently as I've been reading a book that has been sitting in my bookcase, untouched, for several years. Greg Koukl mentioned the classic, Desiring God, by John Piper, in a recent radio broadcast and motivated me to dust it off and dig in. What a treat.

Some may have a negative reaction to Piper's call to "Christian Hedonism." I did. If so, I would encourage you to listen to his entire argument and the Biblical justification proposes for making it. Some of it is still sinking in. Some of it sounds disagreeable to me. I have to consider it more. Some of it though, is just eye-openingly on target. Though I have no intention of analyzing it point-by-point, the message that came through loud and clear to me was the recognition that there is an affective element to the Christian faith that people like me sometimes minimize to our own detriment.

To be honest, I have become jaded (even antagonistic?) toward this notion -- turned off by the feelings-based, thoughtlessness of the American church in general. History shows that many of the denominations that exist today in America were born in the Great Awakenings that occurred early in our nation's history. The emotional appeal of those "Awakenings" were relevant and proper, they also helped to produce an anti-intellectualism in the American church that is alive, well, and amplified in the contemporary "Oprahfied" culture. I believe and defend the claim that this trend is not only dangerous but unbiblical. Christianity has never been based on the mindless acceptance of a blind leap of faith. It has always been anchored in intellectual assent to objective truth, embodied in Christ himself -- a thoughtful, willful decision. But Piper makes a beautiful point in that regard (p. 247):
It is astonishing to me that so many people try to define true Christianity in terms of decisions and not affections. Not that decisions are unessential. The problem is that they require so little transformation to achieve. They are evidence of no true work of grace in the heart. People can make "decisions" about the truth of God while their hearts are far from him. (emphasis mine)

This is something we know but that is easy (at least for someone like me) to forget. A wooden, solely mind-centered faith is not only equally invalid, and equally dangerous -- it is also practically handicapped and unbiblical as well.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Let's Not Emulate The Opponents Of Free Thought

To follow up from my last post (and to demonstrate that I had no intention of "picking on" doctors, per se), I would like to point out that the proclivity for attaching ideology to a personal I-am-going-to-save-the world agenda is not limited to the "Cutthroats in White Coats" whom I addressed there. Rather, it is a trait that exists in abundance among the self-described intelligentsia who see themselves as superior in intellect to the rest of us and therefore not only immune to criticism from outside their little fiefdoms, but also from within them.

Peter Berkowitz, in his column "Ethics 101," in the October 8, 2007 Wall Street Journal, points out that while ...
Academics have a lot to say about how other professionals conduct business. They seem strangely incurious about themselves.
Berkowitz points out that, beside "a few defenses of affirmative action and multiculturalism ... 20 years of generously funding research in practical or applied ethics [at Harvard, Yale and others] has made no discernible contribution to illuminating the challenges of university governance." They don't need to consider such banalities you see, because ...
... ethics faculty may have convinced themselves that professors and administrators, because of their peculiar virtue, already confront and wisely dispose of all moral dilemmas and professional conflicts of interest that come before them.
Safely ensconced inside their self-constructed cocoons of self-righteousness, people like this have no use for debate concerning subjects about which they have already made up their minds. Their way of seeing things is morally superior and therefore unimpeachable. This kind of thinking is, as Roger Kimball points out in a National Review piece published the same day, the kind of thinking that leads to situations like the ongoing one at Hamilton College (New York) where the establishment of a center on its campus meant to promote "excellence in scholarship through the study of freedom, democracy, and capitalism" was denied. But the same school was fine with:
  • Inviting "post-porn feminist" Annie Sprinkle to demonstrate sex toys on campus

  • Allowing the radical, and former Weather Underground member, Susan Rosenberg to be an "artist and activist in-residence"

  • Permitting Ward Churchill (who labeled those who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11 as "little Eichmanns") to "enlighten the school about 9/11 and American culture"
It is from atop (within?) such an ivory tower that the Dean of an institute of higher learning such as Columbia University can extend a welcome to a dictator like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who: denies the Holocaust as a "myth," unabashedly calls for the annihilation of the state of Israel, allows the execution of homosexuals, supports international terrorism, imprisons critical scholars and journalists, suppresses the rights of women by force, and actively seeks nuclear weapons in pursuit of all of the above. This, we are told is OK because Columbia, in its pursuit of a liberal education, is a proud defender of the First Amendment right to free speech.

Really? Apparently the university does not extend that right to Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist, who was violently attacked on stage there while trying to speak about his organization's mission to protect the sovereignty of our national borders. Apparently, the university does also not extend that right to the very people who sacrifice their time (and sometimes their lives) in defense of the right Columbia claims to hold so dear:
Columbia welcomes Ahmadinejad to campus [but] Columbia students who want to serve their country cannot enroll in the Reserve Officers Training Corps at Columbia. Columbia students who want to enroll in ROTC must travel to other universities to fulfill their obligations. ROTC has been banned from the Columbia campus since 1969. In 2003, a majority of polled Columbia students supported reinstating ROTC on campus. But in 2005, when the Columbia faculty senate debated the issue, President Bollinger joined the opponents in defeating the effort to invite ROTC back on campus.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

First Do No Harm

Just under a year ago, Dr. Esam Omeish, President of the Muslim American Society, could be heard here defending the stance that moderate Muslims are the majority in this country, while denying the claim that extremists are making it their mission to recruit for the cause of jihad in American prisons. Fair enough. Because of his moderate stance, and because he is "a respected physician and community leader," Omeish was appointed by Virginia Governor Tim Kaine to the Virginia General Assembly's Commission on Immigration. Great ... until last week when he was forced to resign.

Here and here are a couple of speeches Dr. Omeish has given, one as recently as two weeks ago. Quite the "moderate," eh? Forget the political question concerning how it is possible that this guy could be on a panel that advises anyone on official U.S. immigration policy. That is not the point I want to address. What blows me away is this "respected physician's" call for "the jihad way."

Consider this. In July, the world watched as Scottish police unraveled a failed bomb plot by eight doctors in Glasgow. The leader of the radical Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, who was recently killed in an Israeli raid, was a trained pediatrician. Theodore Dalrymple, in his National Review piece, "Cutthroats In White Coats," reports on a few other infamous cases:
Dr. Petiot is suspected to have killed 60 people in Paris under the occupation, promising to arrange their escape to South America in return for 25,000 francs, which he pocketed while killing and incinerating them;

Dr. Shipman of Cheshire, England, is thought to have poisoned upwards of 200 patients during his career as a general practitioner, for motives that remain, and will probably forever remain, unclear.

Vera Figner, one of the assassins of Czar Alexander II, and a founder of the terrorist organization Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will), was a doctor.

The role of doctors in Nazi Germany and Japan during the Second World War was not such as to give the profession much cause for pride.

Dr. Ernesto “Che” Guevara took an excessive pleasure not only in revolution itself, but in post-revolutionary executions.

Osama bin Laden’s deputy, after all, is a surgeon.

George Habash, the founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and a man of unstintingly violent opinions and inclinations, trained as a pediatrician.
Admittedly, these are an infinitesimally small number of the actual doctors who have served humanity well. And Dr. Omeish has not committed any violent act. But recent events show us that the jihad he has been promoting has, shall we say, led to a little violence here and there. What strikes me as a little weird though, is that so many of those trained to "first do no harm" have also been some of the most violent criminals in history. Why would that be? In the same article, Dalrymple (a retired doctor, I might add) has some ideas.

First, he points out, "doctors must train themselves to be dispassionate in the face of suffering, and be prepared to do things that might cause their patients discomfort and even pain, for the purpose of the good of the patients." One need look no further than the infamous abortionist Dr. George Tiller of Kansas, to see this tendency incarnated. Tiller is the doctor who has (perversely) perfected the late term abortion procedures with which we have all become so familiar. Tiller's motivation?
"Specialists in 2nd Semester elective and 2nd/3rd trimester therapeutic abortion care" ... We have a national and international reputation for providing the highest quality abortion services in a safe and caring environment. Kindness, courtesy, justice, love and respect are the cornerstones of our patient-provider relationships.
... He's doing it for the women. Tiller, blinded by the "tree" of protecting a woman's "right to choose" what she does with her own body, fails to see the "forest" of a complete lack of regard for demonstrating "kindness, courtesy, justice, love and respect" to the pre-born human beings he destroys every day.

Second, Dalrymple says, this numbness to pain and suffering must be attached to some kind of ideological cause that can lead to a terrorist mindset. History has proven that such an ideological call is, almost without exception, appealing to the highly educated among us. Though the uneducated masses may carry the banner of some such cause, it is the highly educated who lead it. Add these two traits together and ...
Solzhenitsyn pointed out in a different context, it is ideology that allows people to commit the most terrible acts in the belief that they are bringing about a better world.
This is not to pick on doctors (after all, some of my best friends are doctors). The tendencies at play here exist in every human heart. But because they have demonstrated a unique, and highly public, proclivity for perpetuating evil acts, doctors offer us a unique example of the promise and danger inherent in the apologetic project.

Our ability to argue for the superiority of the Christian worldview lies in how successful we are at appealing to the ideological passion of society's leaders. Paul knew this. Though many of us have a picture of Paul wandering the desert preaching the Good News to John and Jane Doe, the Bible tells a different story. Paul went into the synagogues, sought out the cultural leaders, argued toe-to-toe with the elite philosophers on Mars Hill, and won each of them to the cause of Christ. Only then did the crowds get with the program.

Paul's success teaches us that ideas have consequences and that those who combine intellectual acumen with passionately held beliefs can be the most successful -- or the most dangerous -- people on earth. Paul spent some time in each of those camps.

It follows that we who claim to be apologists for the Christian worldview are morally and eternally obliged to determine the truth in the ideas we espouse and their ability to cohere with the way the world was designed to work. A failure to do so creates people, like the doctors listed above, who are dangerous to all that is good, and beautiful, and true. Success in the endeavor creates movements that are dangerous to the self-centered notion that man is the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong. That is a sickness for which no human doctor could ever offer a cure.