Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Planning For 2009

Though it may be an exercise in futility, I am going to try to be more organized and methodical about posting in 2009. Here are the four goals I have for the coming year:

I will attempt to offer semi-timely responses to the big events of the year. I say "semi-timely" because my commitment here will be to prioritize a thoughtful interpretation over just getting something out there quickly.

I will be more disciplined about addressing the claims of the (so-called) New Atheists. I say this for two reasons. First and foremost, the topics swirling around the New Atheist beehive are extremely important and relevant, especially to those who I am most passionate about reaching -- the high school and college students who are most vulnerable to their implications. Second, some have expressed a real interest and appreciation for discussing these issues.

I will do my best to make my posts shorter and spread longer treatments of the issues over several posts instead of putting up posts that are too long-winded or hard to follow.

I will try to provide a theme for the month and, as best I can, stick to it. Here is my plan for the first half of the year:
  • January: Doubt

  • February: Darwinism (This month is the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth)

  • March: Defending Life

  • April: Technology and Humanity

  • May: Technology and Humanity

  • June: The Real Jesus
That's the plan. We'll see how it goes. If you have ideas or issues that you would like to discuss, please let me know. You can contact me at: bob@truehorizon.org.

In the meantime I wish all a Happy New Year and look forward to bantering with you and seeking the Truth together in 2009.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas In Your Heart

Christmas is more than a historical holiday, the concept of Immanuel – God With Us – more than just a description of the fulfilled hopes of a Jewish nation.

Christmas encapsulates our entire faith in one short story. Christmas is a picture of the manifestation of Christ within us. It happens every day. Like the lowly surroundings of a manger in a stable, unimpressive in the eyes of the world, Christ comes to us where we exhibit the essence of humility and powerlessness, where we are poor in spirit. It is there that we possess the kingdom of heaven. It is then and there that the Messiah arrives.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Like the wonderstruck shepherds, terrified by the glory of God that enveloped them, our contact with Christ upends the world we know, transforms us and changes our fear to joy. We are irreversibly changed.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Like the wise and affluent magi, we find him when we seek him, only to learn that our earthly wealth, influence and perceptions crumble at his feet. He leaves us no choice but to worship him.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

The birth of Jesus was not a one time event. It happens every day, in every heart that yearns to receive him. Every day we make the choice to re-welcome the Christ child.

Every morning we awake to a new beginning. We meet the day with a clean slate; free to determine our attitudes and responses to the world around us; free to forgive and love one another. Every morning we are blessed by the virgin birth of our souls, newly refreshed by the Grace of God.

. . . to be made new in the attitude of your minds, and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness . . .

Our culture celebrates Christmas only once a year. Don’t fall for it. Every day is Christmas in your heart. Jesus is the Christ in Christmas. But he is more than that. He is the Christ in you.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Peace With The Bedlamites

The irony in the linguistic morphing of Bethlehem into Bedlam goes beyond the modern parallel between a British insane asylum and the month of December in an American shopping mall. We have not just got a problem with our perspective -- we have a problem with our theology.

In the songs we sing, the cards we send, and the seasonal movies we watch, we have come to see Christmas as a season of joy, of giving, of love, and of family. Nothing is wrong with any of these, of course. But we are fooling ourselves if we think that these are the heart of Christmas. Each descends from a more central fact about Christmas that is closely related to another of our favorite Christmas phrases but misunderstood just the same. Linus made it famous in the Charlie Brown Christmas. You can watch it here for old times' sake if you wish, but here is what Linus is quoting:
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is [Messiah] the Lord. "This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."
The phrase I'm talking about is right there at the end: "Peace On Earth." Do you see it? I hope not -- because it's not there.

Though it's the title of many a Christmas card and the advertising on many a holiday shopping bag, you might notice that is also not what the text actually says. It's not even what Linus says. You may also notice that the entire passage is not about our joy, or our giving, or our love, or our families -- it is focused on God himself.

It is not unusual (in fact, it is human nature) to turn things that are supposed to be about God into things about us. It is also not unusual for us to twist the meaning of things just a tad when we do so. And that's where the "Peace on Earth" thing comes in. It makes us feel good to say that Christmas is our hope for "peace on earth" but first we have to recognize that, once again, the peace is not a promise for us in our worldly relations -- God knows that hasn't proved true over the 2000 years since Jesus' birth -- instead, Biblical translators point out that ...
"The meaning seems to be, not that divine peace can be bestowed only where human good will is already present, but that at the birth of the Savior God’s peace rests on those whom he has chosen in accord with his good pleasure."
Do you see the difference?

It is not that world peace broke out on that cold winter morning in Bethlehem; it is that God came down in human covering to offer the only possible way of reconciliation between His perfect moral goodness and the bedlam that has broken out since we staged our human rebellion against Him.

We've been at war. The peace we're offered is between us and God.

The joy comes in realizing that to be true. The giving and love come in mimicking the selflessness we witnessed in the gift He gave that cost us nothing. Our families are the means by which we replicate and disseminate that love "for all the people." The difference is subtle but imperative; each of these things is impossible to celebrate fully, or practice appropriately, unless we first make peace with our Creator and Messiah.

Though I don't know that I've ever seen it used as a Christmas card, I can't imagine a better representation of what we Bedlamites have made Christmas into than the fresco on the Sistine Chapel that Michelangelo titled, "The Creation of Adam." In the most gracious act in human history, the Creator himself reached down to touch us in human form, while we appear only vaguely interested. Look at the way God is stretching His arm down to man -- and at the way the first Bedlamite halfheartedly reaches back.

May we all celebrate this Christmas with the intention of divorcing ourselves from the accuracy of Michelangelo's artful depiction of our state. May we all replace "Peace on Earth" with "Peace with God" and recognize the power in the subtle difference.

{I want to give credit to Greg Koukl who, on his 12/7/2008 STR podcast, articulated the core meaning of the Luke 2 passage cited above as I've addressed it here}

Monday, December 15, 2008

Creating Bedlam

I'm not sure why they started calling it "Black Friday" but the day after Thanksgiving has lived up to its name this year. On November 28th, a Walmart employee died when crazed shoppers burst through the doors of the Long Island store he worked in and trampled him to death in an attempt to be the first to nab the sale priced items for which they had waited in line for hours.

Within hours of that incident, two shoppers were shot dead -- not in a robbery attempt or a high speed chase with police -- but arguing during a scramble for a sale in a Toys-R-Us store in Palm Desert, California.

Happy Holidays! Welcome to the season formerly known as Christmas. How did we get here? Has our society lost its mind? It seems that with regard to the celebration of Christmas the answer is clearly, "yes." As a point of interest ...

In 1247 the sheriff of London, a man named Simon FitzMary founded a priory for the sisters and brethren of the order of the Star of Bethlehem just outside the city walls. It was used, as one of its special purposes, for the housing and entertainment of the bishop and canons of St Mary of Bethlehem, its mother church, and thereby became known as the Priory of St. Mary of Bethlehem.

By 1330, records show that the priory had become a hospital and that by 1403 some of its patients began to remain there permanently. When King Henry VIII later dissolved the Catholic monasteries in Britain, the priory was given to the city of London and, in 1547, officially sanctioned as an insane asylum which soon became infamous for the brutal ill-treatment meted out to the insane and the clamor, commotion, and pandemonium that could be heard emanating from within it. Because the local residents spoke in a dialect that didn't quite live up to the King's English, their cockney pronunciation of Bethlehem came out as "bedlam."

So, in a way that only human beings could contrive, the word we now use to describe lunacy and chaos actually has its source in the name of the city of Jesus' birth: Bethlehem.

Today's news stories simply reflect the sad link we have created for ourselves in turning the birth of Christ into a consumerist marketing frenzy. The lunatics are not only running the asylum, we created it.

A little more on that next time ...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Really Late Term Abortion

I hesitate to address this story but as I sit here watching the latest "breaking news" about the apparent finding of the remains of the missing Florida girl, Caylee Anthony, it occurs to me that intense moral outrage being expressed by members of the press (and many others) toward Caylee's mother, Casey, is not just a little hypocritical. Let me explain.

One CNN commentator (Jane? a woman I have never seen before but her name is irrelevant) reports that this case betrays an attitude that is "sadly repeated to a lesser degree all over this country every day." Her reasoning?

Casey Anthony didn't want her little girl.

I was unaware of the fact that Caylee's mom tried to give her daughter to a friend at some time in the recent past. It seems that Caylee was cramping her partying lifestyle. Apparently, the case ended up before a judge who insisted that Casey keep her daughter and own up to her responsibility to care for her. Casey wasn't happy about it. So now we have a motive for the murder of Caylee.

To be fair, Casey Anthony has not been convicted of anything. She is innocent until proven guilty. I want to emphasize that my comments here have nothing to do with her guilt of innocence. All I want to do is point out the warped thinking that was exposed in the obvious implications of the CNN commentator who reported the story. To paraphrase her comments, she finds it objectionable that a judge forced Casey Anthony to keep a daughter she didn't want. She should have been allowed to get rid of her if she wanted to. In this commentator's mind, the judge's decision runs parallel to those who, by attempting to deny the "right" to abortion, would force women to keep children they don't want either.

I don't want to give the impression that this CNN commentator sympathizes with, or somehow condones this horrific crime. She doesn't. And she says so over and over again. But the implication of the comments she offered in the monologue she used to open her show was an obvious comparison of Casey Anthony's morally horrific decision and the same kind of decision that is made all over this country every day -- the decision to abort and those who would oppose it.

Why is it that Casey Anthony's selfish murder of her own offspring is reprehensible but the same decision, made for the exact same reasons, by a woman who does so while the child is in-utero, is defended as a private choice about which none of us (especially a man who can't even become pregnant) should have anything to say.

Casey Anthony has not been convicted of anything. But the sad fact is that it seems that Casey Anthony chose to administer her own version of a really late term abortion. It is a sad fact that Scott Peterson, another infamous person whose crime was a national news story, was convicted of two murders when he killed his wife and unborn child in California in 2002. In each case, the child in question could have met the same fate, for the same reasons, at the hand of an abortionist and you would never have heard of either one of them.

Somehow that just doesn't make sense.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Naturalism's Legacy

Last month Jesse Kilgore (pictured at right) walked into the woods near his New York home and killed himself. The 22-year old was attending college after a stint in the military and, according to his father, was prompted to read Richard Dawkins', The God Delusion by one of his professors. I have addressed Dawkins' book here before (and intend to do so again) but I bring this sad story up for three reasons directly related to the purpose of TrueHorizon and my invovlvement in the apologetics.

First, Jesse's dad has reportedly blamed his son's death on Dawkins, his book, and the college professor who challenged Jesse to read it. While I could never hope to understand the shock and trauma with which Jesse's dad is dealing, it seems unfair to blame the author of a book for any actions taken by someone who reads his work. So, while I can't blame Richard Dawkins for this tragedy, the story brings a relevant reality to light. College professors have an inordinate amount of influence over our children after they leave our homes. These people weild authority based on their position and their opinions carry the weight of academia behind every pronouncement they make. In this case, some reports claim that the professor in question regularly taunted Jesse or anyone else who shared his religious views. His challenge to Jesse to read The God Delusion was just a part of his personal atheistic evangelizing program.

While the fact that a professor can act like this is disgusting, the truth is that this kind of scene is far too common. Our kids need to be prepared to deal with it. It is directly attributable to The 75% Problem that CrossExamined.org is attempting to address.

Second, the fact that Jesse Kilgore was taken aback and his faith was shattered by Dawkins' book is sad -- but it was also completely avoidable. Listen to his relative's description of the impact the book had on Jesse:
"He mentioned the book he had been reading 'The God Delusion' by Richard Dawkins and how it along with the science classes he had take[n] had eroded his faith. Jesse was always great about defending his beliefs, but somehow, the professors and the book had presented him information that he found to be irrefutable. He had not talked … about it because he was afraid of how you might react. ... and that he knew most of your defenses of Christianity because he himself used them often. Maybe he had used them against his professors and had the ideas shot down.
Listen, the arguments Dawkins uses in The God Delusion are weak and, in some cases, completely juvenile. As a scientist Dawkins speaks with an air of superiority based on his credentials but even a cursory analysis of his scientific claims renders them impotent. Ironically however, Dawkins book contains very little science! Instead it is loaded with presuppositions posing as arguments and philosophical assertions that disintegrate under scrutiny. Even if we grant that Dawkins is a brilliant scientist, his lack of credentials as a philosopher are blatantly obvious in the disjointed and unconvincing "arguments" he thinks he makes. It saddens me deeply that no one was able to point these deficiencies out to Jesse Kilgore.

Finally, this story exposes the complete emptiness of naturalism. Jesse's father was of the opinion that his son was well-grounded in Christian thought, but one of Jesse's relatives paints a different picture:
"He was pretty much an atheist, with no belief in the existence of God (in any form) or an afterlife or even in the concept of right or wrong," the relative wrote. "I remember him telling me that he thought that murder wasn't wrong per se, but he would never do it because of the social consequences - that was all there was - just social consequences."
Here we see where atheism leads. Though atheists can be good, moral people, they have no way to explain the foundation of that goodness or morality. Whether they realize it or not, to act morally is to borrow from the theism they claim to reject. Sadly, not all of them are content with that fact and eventually come to realize that their worldview is vacuous in its ability to explain things like right and wrong, good and evil, pointless and meaningful. In a materialistic world where atoms banging into one another is the full explanation of reality, there cannot be things such as these. At some point the atheist either chooses to live with this dichotomy and ignore it, or is faced with the reality that his worldview renders his life meangingless.

Sadly, the consequences of the second choice can be eternally significant.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


In the "Please Tell Me This Isn't True" department, this Wall Street Journal story is downright scary and sad. The Christian match-maker, eHarmony.com has lost a lawsuit brought by a homosexual activist meant to force the service to cater to homosexuals ...
A settlement Wednesday between eHarmony Inc. and the New Jersey attorney general requires the online heterosexual dating service to also cater to homosexuals, raising questions about whether other services that target a niche clientele could be forced to expand their business models.

The settlement stemmed from a complaint, filed with the New Jersey attorney general's office by a gay match seeker in 2005, that eHarmony had violated his rights under the state's discrimination law by not offering a same-sex dating service. In 2007, the attorney general found probable cause that eHarmony had violated the state's Law Against Discrimination.

As part of the agreement, the Pasadena, Calif.-based company will develop and market Compatible Partners, a Web dating service for same-sex couples, and will allow the site's first 10,000 users to register free. EHarmony will also pay $50,000 to the attorney general's office and $5,000 to the man who first brought the case.
That was on Wednesday in New Jersey. On Thursday, in California, a second judge ruled that a class action lawsuit could proceed for the very same reason. In reaction to these announcements, Chemistry.com (another homosexual matching service) offered the following statement:
Unfortunately, those searching for non-judgmental love still won't be able to visit eHarmony to find it, and will instead be ushered off to an entirely separate site ... "It's a shame that Dr. Neil Clark Warren's (founder of eHarmony.com) sudden acceptance came at the forced hand of the legal system," said Thomas Enraght-Moony, CEO. "Since its inception, Chemistry.com has lived by the mantra of 'Come as You Are,' an open-minded philosophy that permeates the brand and encourages anyone and everyone to find that indescribable feeling of falling in love."
First, the scary part ... Why would Chemistry.com find it "unfortunate" that e-Harmony had to be forced to set up "an entirely separate site"? Because they'll have new competition? Maybe, but I don't think so. These homosexual activists are not motivated by competition or equality. Don't be fooled.

These folks are motivated by the forced imposition of their view on you and me. They will not stop until you and I have publicly accepted their moral choices as being legitimate.

As Michelle Maulkin points out:
Don't like what eHarmony sells? Go somewhere else. There are thousands upon thousands of dating sites on the Internet that cater to gays, lesbians, Jews, Muslims, Trekkies, runners, you name it. No matter. In the name of tolerance, McKinley refused to tolerate eHarmony's right to operate a lawful business that didn't give him what he wanted.
Make no mistake, these folks don't care about equal rights anymore. Their aim is to bring the full force of the law and government down on your head until you capitulate. That's what is scary.

What's sad is that eHarmony capitulated.

I understand that it was a business decision for eHarmony to cave to this homosexual shakedown. It was going to cost them a lot of money to continue to fight this out in court. And, quite frankly, winning in court is a dubious prospect these days where these kinds of issues are concerned. But, in my opinion, the stakes involved warranted a sacrificial fight. It is not just that eHarmony agreed to setup a separate website and payout money. There is more, much more, to the settlement:
-- eHarmony, Inc. will post photos of same-sex couples in the "Diversity" section of its website as successful relationships are created using the company's same-sex matching service. In addition, eHarmony, Inc. will include photos of same-sex couples, as well as individual same-sex users, in advertising materials used to promote its same-sex matching services;

-- eHarmony, Inc. will revise anti-discrimination statements placed on company websites, in company handbooks and other company publications to make plain that it does not discriminate on the basis of "sexual orientation";

-- the company has committed to advertising and public relations/ marketing dedicated to its same-sex matching service, and will retain a media consultant experienced in promoting the "fair, accurate and inclusive" representation of gay and lesbian people in the media to determine the most effective way of reaching the gay and lesbian communities.
In other words, their agreement amounts to condoning wholesale acceptance of the homosexual agenda. Neil Clark Warren is an outspoken Evangelical Christian whose website targets the Christian community. For that reason alone eHarmony should have kept up the fight. And make no mistake, it is a fight.

This is not to condone mistreatment of homosexuals. Far from it. We are commanded to demonstrate love and kindness toward all human beings, regardless of their moral choices. Indeed we are called to be more forgiving, and less judgmental, of those who are not believers. But that doesn't mean we cannot judge what is right and wrong.

As I said, the homosexual activists mentioned here are not out for equal treatment. As Michelle Maulkin points out above, they already have that. They can list themselves on any homosexual-friendly internet matchmaker site they wish. But that's not good enough for them. They want to force all such organizations -- most especially those that overtly represent the Christian faith -- to bow to their demands. This is no different than in California, where homosexuals can enter into "domestic partnerships" and gain all the rights of married couples. That isn't good enough. They tried to force the issue and demand that the the institution of marriage, which has existed for thousands of years in every culture around the world, be completely redefined to include same-sex couples. When the voters approved Proposition 8, thereby upholding society's definition of marriage and denying them that label, the homosexuals rioted in the streets.

Obviously, this is not the final battle that will be fought in this component of the culture war. But it is a bad precedent to set. This is not about the Bible's view on homosexuality. That is not debatable (though many try to debate it). This is about what has made societies viable and healthy for thousands of years of human history. This is about overturning what makes societies work by redefining the building block of those societies -- the nuclear family. Make no mistake, it is most definitely not about equal rights. It is about the imposition of special recognition for those who deny the way the world is meant to work.

This week a small skirmish in a larger battle was lost. We need to stay awake and listen for the next attack. The enemies of the natural order are chipping away at the foundation of what it means to be human -- and we are lending them the chisel.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Speaking of The Gospels

To follow up on my last post, a friend sent me a link to a great synopsis of the issues surrounding the oral tradition I mentioned. It is actually one in a series of 15 articles regarding the "Historical Reliability of the Gospels." If you have any interest in these things, or if you have been asked about them and couldn't find an answer, I would suggest this as a great starting point. From here you can sift through the other related articles

Enjoy ...

The Gospel Traditions: Melt In Your Mouth?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Archeology Verifies The Bible (Again)

I try to highlight new finds that support the claims of the Bible whenever I run across them. [By the way, many thanks to those of you who have forwarded me articles etc. that serve that purpose. I greatly appreciate it] But honestly, especially when you consider scientific evidence that is consistent with the Biblical worldview, it is almost impossible to keep up with them.

The best place to keep informed of the scientific data is at Reasons To Believe's website. Hugh Ross, Fuz Rana, Jeff Zweerink, Dave Rogstad, and Ken Samples (the RTB Scholar team), or one of their invited guests, update this site every day with new scientific evidence. Yes, that's right, I said every day. They call this feature Today's New Reason To Believe (TNRTB) and, quite frankly, I am appalled that I haven't ever mentioned it on here before. If you've got a lot of time on your hands, they have an archive of past articles that you can check out or search for topics that may specifically interest you. You can link to the archive HERE.

That said, I wanted to offer a couple of other stories that are not scientifically related. The first concerns an archaeological find in south Jerusalem.
An Israeli archaeologist has discovered what he believes is the oldest known Hebrew inscription on a 3,000-year-old pottery shard -- a find that suggests Biblical accounts of the ancient Israelite kingdom of David could have been based on written texts ... He said the relic is strong evidence that the ancient Israelites were literate and could chronicle events centuries before the Bible was written. This could suggest that some of the Bible's accounts were based on written records as well as oral traditions -- adding credence to arguments that the Biblical account of history is more than myth.
Another take on this same story is HERE.
archaeologists digging in Israel at the site where David is believed to have slain Goliath have unearthed evidence that may give credence to the biblical story.
This one is interesting because many maintain that the Biblical history we have now is nothing more than fairy tales that were passed down via the "telephone game" and are therefore unreliable. Not so.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"Talk Is Cheap"

Sam DillardSomeone once said that "what you are speaks so loudly I can't hear what you say." I have always heard that line issued in the pejorative about someone who talks a good game but is possessed of a failed character. It isn't often that we run into someone whose character works the other way. Sam Dillard is just such a person. He was not a man of many words. He didn't try to impress anyone with his knowledge or status. But his character spoke volumes. He just tried to walk the walk. And he was awfully good at walking.

In 1977 Sam Dillard walked out of Evangel University and onto the playing fields of Cincinnati Christian High School where he, without any previous soccer experience, became the soccer coach. Thirty-one years later, Sam won yet another award for his coaching prowess in the the Miami Valley Conference. "True to form, he accepts that award in front of all these league peers of his, and instead of talking about himself or his season, the only thing he talked about was God," [CCS Superintendent] Dan Bragg said. "He was all about administering and discipling kids. Soccer was just something he did. He wanted to make sure kids grew up with character and discipline and became better people for being part of his program."

That is an understatement.

You could often see Sam Dillard's lips moving when he did the "Sammy Shuffle" around the soccer field. But Sam wasn't talking to himself. He was praying.

You could often see Sam Dillard speechless after a big game -- speechless because he couldn't make himself talk through the flood of emotion he was experiencing. Sam wasn't sad for having lost, and he wasn't elated for having won, he was speechless for being so honored as to serve Christ through the medium of sports -- for making young men good athletes but, more importantly, good men.

You could often hear Sam Dillard giving motivational speeches to his teams. But he wasn't motivating them toward athletic honors or achievement -- he was motivating them to put Christ at the center of everything they did. If they did that, he told them, they would win the game of life. Sports was just an add-on.

You can read about those he touched here but let me summarize: Three of my sons played soccer for this man and none of them will ever forget the impact he made on their lives. They don't call me "sir," but they did call Sam that, and that is just fine with me. I can't think of anyone else for whom I would be more honored to yield that respect. Sam Dillard inspired young men to do more than they ever imagined, to impact their world in all the ways that really matter, and to go out and turn that world upside down. If anyone could motivate them to do that, it was Sam.

This year, the Varsity Soccer team had practice shirts made up that said, "Talk is cheap." It's not an original saying of course, but the story behind having that saying put on their shirts came from Sam's interpretation of Proverbs 14:23:

All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.

Sam worked his teams hard for only one reason: He wanted them to earn the respect and riches of a life that reflects the character of Christ. There is only one right way to do that and it doesn't come by just talking about it. It comes through a life well lived -- a life like Sam Dillard's.

Rest in Peace, Sir.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

This Is What We're Up Against

"I think I feel more sorry for the dogs ..."

"I can't vote for someone who hunts."

These are two quotes I've heard recently that I simply cannot get out of my head. When we say that we are engaged in a battle of ideas, I can't imagine anything that could demonstrate how the average person thinks than these. I will explain them below but please hear me before I do. One of these quotes comes as a response to an issue that is near and dear to my heart and that I have commented on recently. The other has a political element to it and comes from someone with whom I completely disagree politically. But please understand that I couldn't care less about my charitable priorities with the first, or my political differences with the second.

All I want to point out is the thinking behind the quotes ... what brought these folks to say the words they said. Maybe I'm warped, or maybe I'm the one who doesn't understand the way things are, but I have to say that I cannot comprehend how someone's mind could utter thoughts like these. Here goes ...

"I think I feel more sorry for the dogs ..."

Two of my most recent posts revolved around our recent family trip to Monterrey, Mexico with Back-2-Back Ministries (here and here). On our last work day down there, we went to a place the Back-2-Back staff call Rio 3. Rio 3 is a neighborhood (for lack of a better word) situated near a mostly dry river bed. In reality it amounts to a refugee camp inhabited by those the government cannot support and wants out of the city. These people are allowed to "squat" in this area on land that was previously used as a landfill. The place is a garbage dump ... and it smells like one. Mangy, diseased dogs with their ribs plainly in sight roamed slowly around the streets. The "homes" of these poor people are made mostly of the trash and scraps of things they can cobble together into some form of shelter. There are plywood, cardboard and corrugated steel shacks. They have bricks and cinder blocks (and in one case we saw, a toilet) sitting on the roof -- if they have a roof -- to hold it down. There is no way to sufficiently describe the filth and poverty of this place.

The church we worked in there was like a light to moths for the people who lived in Rio 3. Children and their mothers (notably, not a single man showed up) came running for a Sunday afternoon celebration. They sang, ate and received school supplies that most of us would never give a second thought -- and thanked us as if we had given them bars of gold. They were so thankful, and seemingly so content, living in a place that was so disgusting, it was hard to believe what we were seeing. So, without boring you with all the details, the entire scene brought many of us to tears.

On the way home a few of us floated the idea of organizing some sort of fundraising project to help provide service equipment that would go to help serve these kids and the others from the orphanages Back-2-Back supports. Then, a week or so ago, my wife approached a professional who we thought might be able to assist us with that project (I am purposefully being vague about the details so as not to identify the person or the "service" I am referring to here). When Mary told the story of these kids, the first quote above was the response she got: "I think I feel more sorry for the dogs ..."

"I can't vote for someone who hunts."

This one I owe to a recent radio podcast with Greg Koukl of Stand To Reason (you can go here to listen for yourself -- the relevant discussion is near the middle of the first hour of the 10/27/2008 show). In summary, Greg relates the story of a woman who overheard the conversation he and his wife were having about the Presidential election and Barack Obama's position on the abortion issue -- that he was the only Illinois Senator who voted against a measure that would have protected the life of a baby who survived an abortion attempt. President-elect Obama thought the baby deserved no such protection. A woman heard this and said that she was voting for Obama:

Greg: "Really? What accomplishments of Senator Obama do you think qualify him to be the most powerful man in the world?"

Woman: "Well, I never thought of it that way."

Greg: "Are you pro-life?" (he asked this because this was the topic she had overheard that drew her into the conversation)

Woman: (pause) ... "Yes."

Greg: "Do you realize what his record is on the issue?"

Woman: "I can't vote for someone who hunts."

Now, forget the politics, the qualification issue and the candidate involved. It doesn't matter who it is. Just look at the thinking methodology. Who is the woman referring to when she utters the quote in question?

Since she has claimed to be voting for Obama, she must be referring to his opposition. John McCain may or may not hunt, I have no idea. It wouldn't surprise me if he did. But who is notable for her hunting proclivities? Sarah Palin, of course -- the Republican Vice Presidential candidate. The upshot is that this supposed pro-lifer is voting for a presidential candidate who is so extremely pro-abortion he defends and supports literal infanticide. Yet she is voting for him because the vice presidential candidate of the other party likes to hunt wild animals.

I really don't know how to approach those who think like these people. How do you use rational arguments to engage in a discussion of any issue with people whose minds are rigged this way? And make no mistake, there are millions of them.The enormity of the problem discourages me sometimes.

Please don't miss my point. I am not so arrogant as to think that anyone who disagrees with me is just plain moronic. That is not the point at all. What is so discouraging to me is the way people think about what I consider some of the most basic and important issues of our, or any, time: the dignity and value of human life. Why is it worth protecting? Why should we value it at all? We can never agree on the answers to such questions if we don't even know how to go about considering them.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Crossing Borders: Considering What The Other Hand Is Doing

I want to offer an insight that my friend Jim Betscher shared with us during our recent trip to Monterrey, Mexico. Jim is an incredible guy. After visiting the Back-2-Back Ministry several times with his daughter, he was so moved by the enormity of the mission there, and so enamored with the staff and kids there, that he sold his house and moved to Monterrey to work full time. Jim has been there for over 2 years now and cannot stop himself from telling anyone who will listen how much he loves what he does.

During one of our conversations, Jim made what I thought was a stunningly astute observation about how differently the Mexican and American churches approach the plight of the poor.

First, the missionary workers in Mexico have observed that it is like pulling teeth to solicit aid from the local churches in Monterrey. The church there (in general) seems blissfully unaware of this. Either that or they are unwilling to get involved with the poor that are so obviously living among them. It is not like they are hard to see. They are everywhere. And maybe that is the problem. There are so many poor, living in such atrocious conditions, that the enormity of the problem may seem overwhelming. It is easier to just pretend it doesn't exist.

At the same time, those in the American church spend incredible resources to not only give financially to the causes of the poor in Mexico, but to travel there and get personally involved in the work themselves. Jim is amazed by the contrast. The Mexican church is unconcerned or uninvolved (as is the Mexican government, but that's another story), while the American church pours countless resources into the effort.

But, if you are an American, don't pat yourself on the back too quickly.

Jim's second observation, after having witnessed what goes on with these orphan kids for several years now, is his amazement at how the Mexican believers are completely reliant on God for everything they have and do. These are people who sometimes wake up to an empty cupboard or go to bed without any possessions but the clothes on their backs. Yet they never seem to complain. They are completely convinced that "God will provide," and He does -- repeatedly. Sometimes the provision simply comes through the compassionate service of those who support Back-2-Back, but other times the provision is nothing less than miraculous. Jim and others can tell stories that will give you chills. And they can tell you those stories over and over again.

Meanwhile, in the American church, relying on God seems to be a novel, if not disappearing idea. We are so self-sufficient, so bountifully showered with material possessions, that we forget from whom those blessings flow. And I don't mean to speak too generally because I most assuredly count myself among those who reflect this attitude. We regularly throw away food and other essential items that anyone in the Mexican communities we visited would count as blessed abundance.

So while it is commendable that we Americans are known to be so generous an example for helping others around the world, we could also use some work in remembering how blessed we really are to able to do so.

Just something for all of us to consider ...

And while you're at it, I would encourage anyone who reads this to consider helping Jim and the Back-2-Back Ministry do what they do so well. You can do so HERE!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Esperanza del Mañana

For someone who spends an awful lot (too much?) of my time thinking, reading, writing and teaching about worldview issues, I certainly was surprised and shocked when confronted with the tangible reality that my own worldview has been woefully inadequate and incomplete. My wife and three of our kids just returned from a five day trip to Monterrey, Mexico with Back 2 Back Ministries and I am still left a little speechless by it all. (You can read the story of this ministry in Beth Guckenberger's new book: "Reckless Faith")

We met with, played with, served, and did construction at three different locations with some of the most destitute people on Earth. These are orphan kids whose entire day consists of wondering where their next meal will come from; kids who have been wounded emotionally and physically in some of the worst ways imaginable. Yet they want nothing more than a piggyback ride, or a hug from people they have never laid eyes on before. They want to sing worship songs and play soccer or baseball with my boys. They simply want to know that someone cares that they exist.

We watched as their eyes lit up because they were given a backpack with a notebook and some pencils in it so that they wouldn't be the only kid in school without one. We watched as a 6 year-old folded his school clothes and put them in a bin labeled with his size, so that the other kids his size could share them. We watched as little Brian spent the afternoon chasing a chicken around his mostly dirt yard, catching and petting its squirming body, then letting it go so the whole game could begin again -- each chase ending with the same exclamation, "Yo tengo, Yo tengo!" ("I have it, I have it"). We watched, when it was time to leave, as little Brian repeated another phrase -- "Por qué te vas?" ("Why are you leaving?")

I could go on and on but frankly, my descriptions cannot begin to convey the intensity of the experiences we had over the last 4 days. The pain and misery of these kids is overwhelming. But still they smile. Most actually seem content with their physical situation. The only thing these orphans seem to lack is hope. They have been devastated by the fact that they don't have a family to love them and help heal their emotional wounds. As a result, three teens attempted suicide the week before we got there.

And that is the real mission of Back-2-Back -- offering hope to replace the hoplessness you cannot see. Yes, they smile and laugh when you show them love, but each little instance of happiness is a frighteningly small deposit in a bankrupt psyche that has been created within them as a result of being abandoned.

On a wall in the meeting room where our days began and ended was a large mural titled, "Esperanza del Mañana" -- "Hope for Tomorrow." Though I have no delusions about the tiny impact our little family trip may have had on them, I can only pray that it is part of a much larger deposit into those accounts that many more will give. I would encourage anyone who reads this to consider being one more depositor.

I have often heard people say that a mission trip like this "changed their lives" and, to be honest, I have wondered about the sincerity with which I have heard it said by people who really seem no different on the outside. I have been cynical about the claims of those who have gone to serve, and ignorant about the severity of the suffering that goes on with those who need to be served.

Shame on me.

As our plane left the runway in Monterrey yesterday morning, I gazed out the window through a steady rain. I realized that the kids I had been singing with the afternoon before, then lay in a muddy shanty trying to sleep and I was brought to tears by the thought. I don’t know that anyone will be stunned at the sudden, radical transformation they will see in me. But I can tell you this: My four days in Monterrey will never allow me to look at our world the same way again.

If my life has been changed, it is only because I have been given a tangible realization of how blessed I am and how negligent I have been about the plight of those who suffer daily in this world.

If my life has been changed, it is because I can no longer claim ignorance about that fact. I no longer have an excuse. I am obligated to do something to affect my little sphere of influence in some way that offers hope for tomorrow to those who have no idea that such a thing is possible.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Beyond Frustrating

In the final installment on this topic I want to quickly address the logical end to which the relativistic morality I've been discussing leads.

Most who claim such a view are seriously confused in their ability to follow these arguments through and realize their faults. They are either parroting someone they've heard or read, or they have never really tried to consider their view in depth.

Another common tendency of people who think like this to get very angry and offended if they believe you are saying they can't be moral. I don't blame them for getting upset if they think we are saying they "can't be moral." I actually believe that atheists can be just as moral as any theist could ever be -- maybe more so, I don't know. The problem is that they cannot defend the "oughtness" of their morality based on their own view. Their view doesn't allow for such a thing. So when they do claim to know objective truth or morality, they are actually stealing from the theistic worldview they claim to reject!

So, to reiterate from the first post, I am not saying they can't be moral. I am saying they can't ground their morality. And that leads to some pretty scary stuff. Some of these folks are not confused. These are the ones that go beyond frustrating to scary and sad. Because they do realize that calling things wrong or immoral under their worldview is incoherent, they will go to great lengths to refuse to do so. What happens when you push them to that end is pretty extreme.

In this case I contended that that we don’t need a written standard to know certain things are wrong -- things like murder, slavery or torturing babies for fun. The truth is that only a sociopath would require an explanation for the immorality of these actions — or someone who is just deliberately trying to be belligerent. Here's what I got back:
SLAVERY: How have you determined slavery wrong? I’ll keep repeating myself. WRONG FOR WHO!? In what way wrong? To what degree wrong? WHY WRONG!?

BABIES: Where does the bible say that torturing babies is wrong? Why is it wrong?

MURDER: What is murder? Is capital punishment murder? Why not? It is premeditated ‘retribution’. Is that murder? Is all killing murder? Clearly you would say No. Is all murder wrong? Well, you’re going to have to describe every instance. If a suicide bomber is shot by a sniper saving the lives of 100s, is the sniper a murderer? What if I accidentally kill someone? What if I aimed to shoot a person with a gun, missed and the bullet went into barn, caused the animals to stampede, trample and kill the person I was trying to shoot in the first place? Is that murder? It was an accident and completely not my intention ... What makes it malicious? What is innocent human life? I thought we’re all guilty of sin. None of us are innocent, so what are you talking about?
There you have it. It is my contention, in saying that objective truth and morality are really "out there" as part of the fabric of the universe, that you don’t need a Bible or me to explain to you why these things are wrong or true. Notice that the writer keeps insisting that I am basing these things on the Bible. I am not. I am saying that even those who have never even seen, let alone read, the Bible would know that these things are wrong. They are inescapable.

Yet he insists that I must defend the idea that slavery, torturing babies for fun and murder are wrong. Anyone who really believed that such a thing requires explanation would be a sociopath -- someone who has no moral conscience -- someone who really did not know right from wrong.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think the commenter is really a sociopath. I think he knows full well that to admit these things are objectively wrong is to undermine his entire view of the world. None of us would go down easy on such a challenge. I only hope he considers the consequences of holding to it.

And I think he does. Why? Because this was his final response:
So I’m a sociopath for asking you to explain yourself? Very nice Bob. As they say, put up, or shut up. Put up some evidence as to absolute objective morality standards.
This response tells me that his indignant response to the suggestion that he is a sociopath is an admission that there are objective standards of right and wrong he thinks I have violated. He thinks I'm wrong to call him such a thing and he wants evidence to support my claim.

Never mind that I have just spent several days offering evidence. The fact that he claims to want to base his view on actual evidence is encouraging. The fact that he still recognizes objective reality (even if he claims not to) is too.

One can only hope.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Of Amish Recluses and iPods

Last time I used the analogy in the title (above) to try to illustrate what it like talking to atheists about morality. I said it is frustrating to no end. So now I'm going to prove it. If you feel the need to pull your own hair out, go for it. I do it all the time.


Below are some comments (names removed) by atheists I have conversed with online at different times and places. I will give their unedited comments so you can see for yourself how these folks think and, most importantly, the logical conclusions to which their worldview takes them.
we are getting to the reality of ethics/morals… RELATIVITY. Something that is bad or ‘evil’ for one being, can be good for another. “Who determines what is evil?” Beings themselves ... My point is that we are talking about choice. Evil doesn’t exist in and of itself. It is not some cloud-like gas floating out in the universe. Evil is determined by the individual being. What hurts mankind must be 'evil,' in terms of mankind ...
First, "Relativity" is a physics term referring to Einstein’s General or Special theories. "Relativism" is quite a different thing. I don’t say this to be condescending but many people believe these are synonymous and that we are therefore free to say "everything’s relative!" Nothing could be further from the truth.The scientific concept of light’s velocity being constant regardless of the frame of reference from which it is measured has no similarity to the philosophical claim made here: That moral questions are only decided by "being’s themselves." That claim is a relativistic claim and all claims to relativism are self-defeating and incoherent. In saying this we would have no way to differentiate the morality of another person’s actions. We would have no right to judge Hitler's actions as being "wrong" or, as this commenter claimed prior to this, no framework by which she could label God as a "malevolent monster." Both God and Hitler just do what they do because, "Something that is bad or 'evil' for one being, can be good for another." The commenter wants to define his own morality and is quite adamant about the fact that is his prerogative to do so ...
Naturally, I think you’re wrong. You keep trying to establish “oughtness” as the basis of all things, as though the universe could not operate without it…and yet it does, every single day. “Should” is an opinion; “ought to” is an opinion. The only thing that is objective are the facts; everything else is an opinion. Morality is a personal choice; whatever source we take it from is no more objective than any person or circumstance we apply it to.

I didn’t say morals don’t exist. I said they are relative. I can make any moral judgment I please. There is no absolute moral standard for relative beings. As I said earlier, I have moral/ethical beliefs.

I don’t believe in objective “morality,” so I don’t adhere to the “shoulda woulda coulda” rationale. However, if I were to qualify a set of guidelines by which I prefer to adhere as “morality,” then I would say that I construct those guidelines based on what is most effective towards reaching my personal goals, which primarily consists of the happiness of myself and others.

These are from different folks but carry the same message -- one that deserves comment. The view they hold is completely self-defeating in this sense: They claim that morality and truth are relative to the individual or group who chooses to adhere to them. That being the case, their truth and morality would hold no more weight than my truth and morality. Neither of us could claim to be right or wrong under their standard of establishing truth or morality. Yet, in the same breath, they say things like "I think you are wrong."

Now, there is nothing wrong (no pun intended) with saying that on my view. But on their view it is completely incoherent because on their view no one can claim to know whether anyone's claim to know the truth is valid. Their statements about these things defy the very claims of their own worldview!

I try to approach this problem by asking a simple question: "Do you think I am wrong to say relativism is false?" If they say I am wrong to say that, they are admitting to an absolute truth claim about the proposition. If they say I am not wrong, they are admitting that relativism is false. Either way, relativism ends up being false.

And this is why it is so frustrating. The reasoning they have to resort to defend themselves is maddeningly circular. You can go on and on like this until you are ready to scream. But scream you cannot. If you get angry, you lose. If you get them angry, you lose. Unfortunately, I have lost far too often in both ways.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Materialist Morality

It is my experience that speaking to atheists about morality is like speaking to an Amish recluse about an iPod. If you can imagine how completely frustrating and fruitless such a discussion would be, multiply it by about 1000 and you will get close. I will share some specific details from such a discussion on my next post, but for now I just want to attempt to point out why it is so difficult an endeavor. Sam Harris gives a hint in his Letter To A Christian Nation:

Assertion: {p. 8}
Questions of morality are questions about happiness and suffering. This is why you and I do not have moral obligations toward rocks. To the degree that our actions can affect the experience of other creatures positively or negatively, questions of morality apply.
Response: Notice the premise of Harris' argument -- that morality is about happiness and suffering. If that doesn't quite sound right to you it's because your mind does not think in anywhere near the same kinds modes as an atheist like Sam Harris. The reasons for this are philosophical. Sam Harris doesn't believe in the objective reality of things like you do. That is a loaded concept but it is foundational to the atheistic perspective. In a nutshell, atheism does not allow for the objective reality of truth or morality. Atheism denies that the truth or rightness or goodness of something exists independently of whether or not we believe in it. This is called the "grounding question" by philosophers who try to determine where things like "good" and "right" come from.

Notice that asking if there is such a thing as "good" in and of itself is a different question than asking how we know what is "good." This issue it crucial to the discussion. Atheists like Harris are content to accept morality as a product of either individual choices (in the most radical form), or cultural consensus (which is more commonly accepted). Because of their belief in a purely mechanistic universe where physically observable matter and energy are the only things that can be real, atheists are relegated to see morality as something that different parties agree to observe through their common evolutionary mission to survive.

OK, let's grant (I don't, but play along for a minute) them that evolutionary forces, operating over eons to promote survival, have led us to see some things as helpful to that mission. These things are called "good." Things that are detrimental to survival are then labeled "bad." We know good and bad by consensus. Evolution has taught us what they are. But notice that even if this explanation tells us how we know good/bad or right/wrong, it cannot tell us what constitutes actual goodness.

How we know things is called epistemology. What things are is called ontology. Epistemology and ontology are two very different things. As an example, consider the force of gravity. Ontologically, gravity is the impersonal force of attraction that exists between material objects in the universe. But our epistemological understanding about gravity comes from scientific observation and experimentation. The ways we know about gravity are very different from what gravity actually is. But notice that our belief or understanding about gravity has absolutely no impact on whether gravity actually exists. If you stop believing in gravity, you won't float off into the stratosphere, nor will you be able to step off tall buildings without consequence. Gravity is built into the fabric of the universe -- and moral realists believe that morality is no different.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Turek - Hitchens Debate: You Be The Judge

Got 90 minutes?

If so, I invite you to watch the following debate (or at least some part of it) between Dr. Frank Turek (of CrossExamined fame) and Christopher Hitchens (of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything fame). Because I am biased, I will offer no comment of my own ... for a little while anyway. I invite you to listen and evaluate the debate for yourself:

  1. Who makes the more compelling case in their opening remarks?
  2. Who answers the others' questions more completely?
  3. What points do you think were strong/weak and why?

Please feel free to watch and post comments here about the debate. I will be glad to do my best to answer -- or expose my incapability at answering -- any comments you might have.

Enjoy ... Click Here to begin ::

Turek vs. Hitchens Debate: Does God Exist? from Andrew on Vimeo.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Don't Think, Just Send Money

If you think the so-called "new atheists" pose a problem for thinking Christians, I contend that a more difficult problem may exist within Christianity itself. I say that because the insidious nature of the problem has rendered it either invisible or unrecognizable to far too many of us. As proof, I offer two glimpses into the philosophy of one man who represents our faith. The first was uttered during the annual Fall "Praise-a-thon" on TBN:
The apologists - I'm telling you they could make falling off a stool difficult. You'd have to go to college to learn how to fall off a stool if you were an apologist ... So, I'm not impressed with the apologist any longer. And I may as well get it out - I used to be one! And God forgive me, and I promise not to ever do it again.
The second (which describes the actions of the exact same man who said this) shows where just such an attitude can lead:
[He] turned to the pastor in the white suit, sitting in the audience and asks innocently, “Do I have a few more moments?” Well, not surprisingly, the pastor agreed. It’s a good thing, because as it turns out, [he] had a whole new doctrinal revelation to tell us about: the doctrine of reverse entrapment. If you’ve never heard of that before, that’s because God just showed it to him right there. Reverse entrapment is when you put a gift to [him] on a credit card and outsmart the lenders who are trying to get rich off your debt. When you put a gift on a credit card, I quote, “something happens in the spirit world.” Here he tells everyone how to have a credit card breakthrough. Turns out [he] has a way for you to get rid of your mortgage debt. All you have to do is to give him a gift the size of your house payment and God will see that your mortgage gets paid off right away. If you don’t have a house, $500 will do nicely for future debt. [He] assured us that it worked for him.
It doesn't take much imagination to see why this individual might not appreciate apologetics or the idea of thinking about how one's faith relates to the real world. Those who might do such a thing would pose a serious threat to his income stream.

This is nothing new. We have always had charlatans among us. But I believe the mindset at work here is one that is more prevalent than we might imagine in the pews (or chairs) of our churches and that it threatens the Christian faith for more practical reasons. Too many of us, when asked why we believe in God, or why we trust in the reliability of the Bible, will respond that we "just have faith." And I am not throwing stones here -- I used to say the same thing. But my point is that such a response is not good enough, not just for worldly reasons, but for Biblical ones.

From the world's point of view, and as evidenced by the writings of the "new atheists," thinking people and faithful people represent mutually exclusive categories. Richard Dawkins is well known for asserting that religion is nothing but wishful thinking engaged in by weak people who accept their religion blindly. If you accept his premise, there is no reason to even consider the claims of Chrisianity. They just don't matter. They are no better than anyone else's claim to believe in "The Flying Spaghetti Monster" (for some weird reason this is a favorite character among the atheist blogs and websites I have encountered) or leprechauns that hide under your bed. For that reason, any compulsion we might have toward evangelism is thwarted before it begins.

Sure, the evangelistic endeavor could attempt to appeal to felt needs, or guilt, or awe, but if these can't be grounded in a reality that corresponds to the way the world actually is, our attempts at each of these falls on deaf, or ambivalent, ears. Practically then, apologetics allows reason to get us an audience with those who demand it. If that means we have to "go to college to learn how to fall off a stool," so be it. Some people need to get pushed off the worldly stool they've been sitting on.

Biblically, as someone once said, God doesn't give us brownie points for being stupid. A little harsh maybe but the point is well taken. Jesus told us to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength." It is notable that Jesus didn't make this line up on the spot. He is quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 ... sort of. The Deuteronomy passage actually only includes heart, soul and strength. Jesus added "mind" for some reason. Is that significant? Think about it (no pun intended), the addition doesn't prove anything but it makes you wonder why he felt the need to modify the Old Testament Scriptures for his more modern audience. Maybe he was anticipating the mindset we are dealing with today.

This example does not stand alone. Peter told us to "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." Paul told us to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

Apologetics in other words, is not optional ... especially when you are dealing with folks whose "new doctrinal revelations" are really self-serving tools to line their own pockets. We ignore apologetics at our own peril. Apologetics can save us from looking silly. Apologetics honors the commands and character of the God we believe in. And if apologetics doesn't appeal to the charlatans in our midst, maybe that is further confirmation that we need it more than ever.

{*picture from: www.democracycellproject.net}

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Separation of Reason and State

Remember all the bluster about the "separation of church and state" that we are subjected to in the hysteria surrounding: the teaching of Intelligent Design; the mission to keep prayer and (God forbid!) the Bible out of the public schools; the rigid denial of allowing religious views to inform the abortion debate or (God forbid!) have a role in overturning Roe-v-Wade; and on and on and on ...

Remember also that this hysteria is invariably brought to us by those on the political left who are: champions of women's rights, defenders of political correctness, and proponents of a secular culture that abhors any attempt to legislate morality in any way.

Remember all that? Well, check this out ...

In Britain, one of the most politically-correct, left-wing societies on planet Earth:
Islamic law has been officially adopted ... with sharia courts given powers to rule on Muslim civil cases. The government has quietly sanctioned the powers for sharia judges to rule on cases ranging from divorce and financial disputes to those involving domestic violence.
The folly of this move is almost beyond comprehension -- especially in a society that prides itself on championing the issues mentioned above. For the record, here are some of the views that may come into play in "Muslim civil cases" considered under Sharia Law:
  • Many interpretations of Islamic law hold that women may not have prominent jobs, and thus are forbidden from working in the government. This has been a mainstream view in many Muslim nations in the last century, despite the example of Muhammad's wife Aisha, who both took part in politics and was a major authority on hadith.

  • A woman's inheritance is different from a man's, both in quantity and attached obligations. For instance, a daughter's inheritance is half that of her brothers, Sharia law requires family members females or males to support each others as needed.

  • In instances of rape some interpretations of Sharia law require for an allegation to be validated, victims must have four witnesses to the crime or else the victims risk being charged with fornication or adultery making a rejected allegation a potential death sentence for the victim

  • Homosexual activity is illicit under sharia, however the prescribed penalties differ from one school of jurisprudence to another. For example some countries allow the death penalty for sodomy though not for other homosexual activities.

  • Sharia does not allow freedom of speech on such matters as criticism of Muhammad and that such criticism is considered blasphemy against Muhammad ... There is no dispute that anyone who curses Allah is killed and that his curse demands that he be categorized as an unbeliever ... The judgment against those who harm Allah and His Prophet is more severe -- the death penalty.
That's enough, I think. You get the point.

It is ironic that the most precious allies of the political left who adopted this policy are those who will suffer the most under its imposition. For that reason it is astounding that this has been allowed in Great Britain. The ideology that brought this to fruition has been led by its own demands to come face-to-face with the logical conclusions of that ideology. The consequences will be dire for a free, democratic society. We can only hope that an eventual realization of that fact will show, to those who are willing to be shown, that ideas have consequences ... and that the consequences they will eventually be forced to endure are the result of some very, very bad ideas.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Into Africa: The Future of Anglicanism

Can you still call something "Anglican" if the English have abandoned it? Can you still call something "Christian" if it has abandoned Christianity? A couple of recent articles, by Travis Kavulla in National Review and here compel me to wonder about the Church of England and where it may be headed.

Touted as both a Reformed and Catholic denomination, the Anglican church has a long history as the "Mother Church" that became the religion of the British Empire and spread all over the world. Today it is the third largest Christian denomination (behind Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy) and counts 77 million people in its ranks. Interestingly, it bills itself as a "worldwide, unified communion" of churches -- but nothing could be further from the truth.

In England, Anglicanism is officially the state religion where the British government still has a hand in appointing bishops. And, as you can probably imagine, when a politically-correct government meets a miscreant religious bureaucracy, there isn't much theological independence or orthodoxy allowed. Because the Anglican church is a worldwide church, this serves only to institutionalize a worldwide theological menagerie of nonsense that starts at the top.

The church is headed up by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the chief bishop and principle leader of the Church of England. And there the nonsense begins. Williams, among other things, can't understand the tendency among Christians to consider homosexuality unBiblical. On his view:
" ... a church that accepts the legitimacy of contraception, the absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely either on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous biblical texts, or on a problematic and nonscriptural theory about natural complementarity, applied narrowly and crudely to physical differentiation without regard to psychological structures."
Williams has also argued that theology should have a place in the debate about the nature of civil law. That sounds good. But in February, 2008 Williams suggested that this meant that England should adopt a "parallel jurisdiction" of the civil law for Muslims. Being the official spokesman for the official church of England, and carrying all the moral authority that goes with that position, the British government recently (September 14, 2008) took Williams up on his suggestion and, "quietly (key word) sanctioned the powers for sharia judges to rule on cases ranging from divorce and financial disputes to those involving domestic violence."

As if that weren't enough, the same day Williams decided it was high time we all apologized to Charles Darwin for doubting him all these years. Said Williams:
"Charles Darwin, 200 years from your birth [in 1809], the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still ..."
No, this is not an excerpt from a Monty Python skit.

Meanwhile, over in the American branch of the church, things are no better. The U.S. Episcopal Church (TEC) has shrunk by 10% in the last five years. This is a church that is a poster child for the tendency of a "seeker sensitive" mindset becoming a seeker-centered cave-in to the culture. Morality dies a not-so-slow death when affirmation and self-esteem comprise the cornerstone of your "theology." As one critic of the TEC, Reverend David Short, puts it, TEC is a church where you can "... come as you are, stay as you are, and we'll have a big party celebrating who you are."

This sounds like a far cry from the Biblical call to discipleship and transformation of the heart based on the universal human condition of rebellion against a holy God. The proof is in the pudding:
The TEC is one of the few churches that can boast a bishop who openly disbelieves the divinity of Jesus Christ and woman priest who is also, she says, a Muslim.
Uh huh.

This is also the church that produced Gene Robinson, bishop of New Hampshire. Mr. Robinson is a gay, divorced, openly partnered man -- and serves with the blessing of, you guessed it, Rowan Williams.

So one might wonder if there are any actual promoters of orthodoxy in the Anglican Church.

Yes, there are.

Some 200 congregations have left the American TEC due largely to the Bishop Gene Robinson issue. Fighting tooth and nail, the TEC has done everything in its power to stop the exodus (it's a Biblical word that might not ring a bell with the geniuses in Canterbury) from the American church. This has included changing signature cards on the rebel churches' bank accounts to stop their ability "to make payroll or pay utility bills" or taking out $2 million lines of credit for the sole (this sounds like a Biblical word but it's something completely different) purpose of suing the breakaway churches. It is ironic that one of the congregations being sued in this manner is the former parish of George Washington.

Despite all these ethical efforts on the part of TEC, there is no stopping the flight to orthodoxy. More than 1200 Anglicans, including more than 300 bishops from Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe and American attended a June conference in Jerusalem to organize the separation from the Episcopal Church in alliance with the African branches of the worldwide church.

Funny how things work out. Africa was once the destination to which missionaries from England brought the gospel. As one of the leaders of the African church, Benjamin Nzimbi, Archbishop of Kenya, put it:
When I think about the missionaries coming to Kenya, and the pains they went through -- many died, they faced all sorts of challenges, all the while remaining faithful to the Gospel, I cannot think of anything else but to remain in this faith.
"Remaining faithful to the Gospel" -- Now there's a quaint thought. Maybe Archbishop Nzimbi can use that as a recruiting slogan for the missionaries he sends out to the soon-to-be-deceased, secular bureaucracy formerly known as the Church of England.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Audacity Of Nope

I have a policy to not delve into politics here except when it is unavoidable due to the moral dimension that some political issue brings to the table. In cases like that, I can't help myself. One of those cases is Barack Obama's stance on abortion. A quick summary of my view:

When it comes to the abortion issue, Barack Obama is a moral coward.

That ought to be succinct enough. I don't say things like that lightly so let me explain why I'm saying it now. I'll start with Obama's response to Rick Warren at his recent appearance at Saddleback Church in southern California. Here's the exchange:
WARREN: ... Now, let’s deal with abortion; 40 million abortions since Roe v. Wade. As a pastor, I have to deal with this all of the time, all of the pain and all of the conflicts. I know this is a very complex issue. Forty million abortions, at what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?

OBAMA: Well, you know, I think that whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade.
What pay grade is he talking about? His current, and lifetime appointed, pay grade as a human being or his potential pay grade as President of the United States of America? I can do no better than my friend Jay at addressing the "pay grade" issue (here) so I won't. But this is nothing but a spineless diversion from the actual topic in question. Obama knows that if a fetus is a person (i.e. life begins at conception) he cannot defend his pro-abortion view. So instead of confronting that moral question, he punts. Let me just say that his answer to that question was all I needed to come to my "moral coward" assessment. But there is more that I have learned since that has only strengthened my confidence in that assessment.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Back From A Little C.I.A. Work

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you are probably wondering if I've been hiding under a rock someplace for the last month or so.

Well ... sort of.

I have to apologize for my anemic posting rate but I do have an explanation. In June I began to prepare for a couple of reading/study intensive months that were to follow. I spent most of the month of July and early August in Atlanta training to fly a new airplane (The Boeing 737-800 NG). While living in an airport hotel and getting abused in a flight simulator day after day is a luxury few get to experience, trust me, you're not missing anything.

More importantly, during the same time and for a couple of weeks after, I continued to prepare for an apologetics training program that I am really excited about. Twenty-nine of us descended on Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, NC for 3 days of training in both the knowledge and presentation of the case for Christianity. We were invited by Dr. Frank Turek, to attend the CrossExamined Instructor Academy (CIA), a program based on his book, I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist. Dr. Turek has turned the material in this book into a presentation/ seminar he gives on college campuses for one reason -- 75% of kids who are brought up in the church leave the faith after they leave home.

The reason they leave is that they are inundated by the secular-atheist tilted faculty that dominates most college campuses these days. They hear the arguments these folks give and they are woefully unprepared to deal with them. In short, our kids know that they believe but they don't know why they believe. This is a problem that must be addressed and, to his credit, Frank Turek knows he can not do it alone. His goal is to assemble a nationwide team to help. I am trying to engage myself and to become a part of that team.

I think Christianity is worth thinking about. I believe in the Vision of TrueHorizon and I intend to make it a reality. My hope is to become an active part of the The CrossExamined Solution. If you know of a church, school or group that may be interested in a guest speaker who can address these types of issues, please let me know. Better yet, please recommend me or, if you prefer, Frank Turek, to come make the case.

It's good to be back but we have a lot of work ahead of us.

We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God ... (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Dawkins' Incomprehensible God (2)

It's been a crazy few weeks so I am drastically behind my "desired" posting schedule, but I did want to follow up on my last one with regard to Richard Dawkins' view of God. Though I touched on the point that Dawkins' seems woefully unaware of the amount of complexity cosmologists have discovered in makeup of the universe, the second point is more profound. Before I begin, I just want to re-offer the exchange (between Dawkins and Francis Collins) that prompted the whole thing.

In discussing the improbability that there is a Creator who could be responsible for the grand design we find, here are the comments that jumped out at me (and were expertly addressed by Robert Hart in the March issue of Touchstone):
DAWKINS: There could be something incredibly grand and incomprehensible and beyond our present understanding.

COLLINS: That's God.

DAWKINS: Yes. But it could be any of a billion Gods. It could be God of the Martians or of the inhabitants of Alpha Centauri. The chance of its being a particular God, Yahweh, the God of Jesus, is vanishingly small -- at the least, the onus is on you to demonstrate why you think that's the case ... we were talking about the origins of the universe and the physical constants, I provided what I thought were cogent arguments against a supernatural intelligent designer. But it does seem to me to be a worthy idea. Refutable -- but nevertheless grand and big enough to be worthy of respect. I don't see the Olympian gods or Jesus coming down and dying on the Cross as worthy of that grandeur. They strike me as parochial. If there is a God, it's going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed.
To this, Robert Hart asks, "How is this an argument against the Christian faith?" Good question. In fact, as Hart suggested in the subtitle to his piece, this guys sounds more like St. Augustine than the leading atheist critic of Christianity in the contemporary world! A couple of observations:

1) "The chance of its being a particular God, Yahweh, the God of Jesus, is vanishingly small -- at the least, the onus is on you to demonstrate why you think that's the case."

Fair enough, Mr. Dawkins. But contrary to the straw-man defenders of a thought-free faith you like to repeatedly argue against, there are some who are doing exactly that. While I disagree about the "vanishingly small" chance that such a God exists, many have provided evidence-based support for the idea that is perfectly consistent with the God described in the Bible. You have dismissed that evidence either because your presuppositions won't allow you to consider it, or because you don't like its implications. Whichever of these you base your dismissal of theism on, it rings hollow when you suggest no one has offered it.

2) "I don't see the Olympian gods or Jesus coming down and dying on the Cross as worthy of that grandeur."

Of course you don't! The Olympian gods are nothing but anthropomorphic myths that the educated of Athens never believed in. There is no evidence for their existence and the stories about them sound like the tales in a children's book. Agreed.

But the evidence that Jesus came down and died on the cross is in no way similar.

We have historical documents, inscriptions and archaeological finds that have confirmed much of what the New Testament says. We have, in those documents, stories that could easily have been refuted by opponents of the apostles, and embarrassing details that no self-respecting myth-maker would include if he/she were "making up" a religion. Finally, we have the writers of those stories going to their deaths in defense of the notion that those facts were not only verifiable through witnesses, but true and therefore worthy of martyrdom.

No, Mr. Dawkins, this is not the kind of pie-in-the-sky god you want to argue against. It is not the kind of god you want to show himself in the way you think he should. Instead, we have historical, scientific and philosophical evidence for an infinite God who made himself finite, suffered the cruelties of this world, and died for a a cause that defines the whole reason for our existence. No, it wasn't what you would expect.

And, as Robert Hart notes, that was exactly the point.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Dawkins' Incomprehensible God (1)

On August 1, Francis Collins stepped down as the head of the Human Genome Project, a position in which he has served since 1993. Collins is a proud Christian who, even though he supports the Darwinian idea of common descent, has been a strong voice in the debate about the relationship between faith and science. We owe him a debt of gratitude, not just for his incredible leadership in the quest to decipher DNA, but for his defense of the Christian worldview as being intellectually viable in a culture that has been led to believe that science has rendered it impotent.

The end of Collins' tenure reminded me of a recent article in Touchstone magazine that I read recently. The piece referred to an interview with Collins and Richard Dawkins that was published in Time magazine in November, 2006. That interview contained an exchange between the two that I think is worthy of comment. While considering the beginning of the universe and the possibility that a supernatural creator could have been responsible for it, we get the following:
DAWKINS: ... We are profoundly ignorant of these matters. We need to work on them. But to suddenly say the answer is God--it's that that seems to me to close off the discussion.

TIME: Could the answer be God?

DAWKINS: There could be something incredibly grand and incomprehensible and beyond our present understanding.

COLLINS: That's God.

DAWKINS: Yes. But it could be any of a billion Gods. It could be God of the Martians or of the inhabitants of Alpha Centauri. The chance of its being a particular God, Yahweh, the God of Jesus, is vanishingly small--at the least, the onus is on you to demonstrate why you think that's the case ... we were talking about the origins of the universe and the physical constants, I provided what I thought were cogent arguments against a supernatural intelligent designer. But it does seem to me to be a worthy idea. Refutable--but nevertheless grand and big enough to be worthy of respect. I don't see the Olympian gods or Jesus coming down and dying on the Cross as worthy of that grandeur. They strike me as parochial. If there is a God, it's going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed.
Today I want to address one simple point. My next post will cover Dawkins' assertion in general. The simple point is this ...

Dawkins goes on, from the above quote, to dismiss the idea that the improbability of 6 physical constants (gravity being one, not sure of the other five he admits to) of the universe being "tweeked" exactly right for life to be possible is not very convincing to him. Apparently both Dawkins -- and Collins, who never corrected him on it -- are unaware that in 1961 there were two of these constants in play. By the 1970s, scientists had identified the six to which Dawkins appears to refer. The list (provided by Reasons To Believe's, Hugh Ross) below shows how the number of design features in the universe has grown over the years ...

In 1995 there were 41 design features identified.

In 2000 there were 128 design features identified.

In 2002 there were 202 d
esign features identified.

In 2004 there were 322 design features identified.

In 2006 there were 676 design features identified.

That's right, as of two years ago astronomer Hugh Ross has identified 676! While improbability does not constitute an airtight argument, at some point such astronomical improbabilities would seem to approach an impossibility. In this case, Ross has calculated the probability at one chance in 10 to the 556th power -- that's a one, with 556 zeros after it -- that the constants the define our universe would be just the way they are or life would not exist anywhere.

By way of comparison, there are estimated to be 10 the the 80th power atoms in the entire known universe. Mathematicians consider on chance in 10 to the 50th power to constitute and impossibility.

Dawkins would undoubtedly reply that no matter how improbable something is, that improbability does not mean it couldn't happen. Fair enough. You be the judge of whose view is more reasonable.

More on Dawkins' comment next time ...