Thursday, December 15, 2011

Take The Christ Out Of Christmas

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

The music starts in October now. In November my company puts out a memo reminding us that we are allowed to wear "Holiday Ties" with our uniforms beginning December 1st. The mayhem starts in earnest on Black Friday which this year (for the first time I have noticed) was expanded to include Monday and also extended into the following week for on-line orders. Awesome marketing, huh?!

Because this year has been especially troubling to me for many reasons, I dug through my file drawer and found a piece I wrote about in 1998 (before blogging was all the rage). The article was about a Cincinnati story that went national when a local atheist lawyer sued the federal government for violating the establishment of religion clause of the Constitution. Richard Ganulin was troubled about the "separation of church and state." Though this concept is nowhere to be found in the Constitution, Ganulin and his like-minded atheists were upset that Christmas has become a national holiday.

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

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


The actual goal in this case was to remove the religious nature of Christmas from our culture. Thirteen years later, I think the plaintiff's motives have been wholly met and then some. Judge Dlott justified her ruling with the spine-tingling claim that no reasonable person would see the federal holiday as an endorsement of Christianity in particular or religion in general. Did you get that? No reasonable person would see Christmas as an endorsement of Christianity. Ganulin may have lost his battle in 1998, but in 2011 his side has the war completely in hand.

Santa has crawled into the crib.

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

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

I don't want Christ to win this battle.

Christmas is about the miracle of a God so big, He chose to shrink Himself to save us. It's not about "Peace on Earth;" it's about Peace with Earthlings. It's not about us being "happy;" it's about us being treated unfairly -- we deserve wrath but we get forgiveness. Christmas is not about "the child within us;" it's about rebel that is us. Christmas is not about us being cheerful givers of gifts; it's about the God of the Universe coming to die on a splintered cross.

Christmas doesn't want Christ because a God who demands repentance isn't marketable. Christmas doesn't deserve Him ...

... and I don't want Christ in what Christmas has become.
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Friday, December 9, 2011

The Man From Pluto Goes To The Moon

Curt and those blinds he was playing with (along with the "confidence" displayed in the video) go back a long way ... back to a day many years ago when Mary was crazy enough to leave me at home alone with our three boys. As always, I was overwhelmed with trying to do what she did every day -- keep up with them. As I remember, Robby was about 5, Steve 3, and Curt 15 months or so. At one point the chaos had subsided enough that I had generated an unwarranted confidence that everything was under control. Robby and Steve were entertaining each other and Curt was quiet and therefore uncharacteristically not the object of my attention.

I had been so lured into complacency that I was actually sitting at the kitchen table reading a magazine. That's when Robby walked up next to the table and, in a detached kind of way, asked me a weird question, "Daddy, what's the most wrecked up planet?"

I gave Robby a quick glance and realized he wasn't even looking at me. He seemed lost in a thought, staring out the bay window of our eating area. I turned back to my magazine. "I don't know what you mean, Rob."

"I mean, of all the planets, which one is the most wrecked up?"

Noting that he hadn't actually changed his question at all, and buried deep in the article I was reading, I didn't even look up again. I responded with an absent dismissal. "Robby, I have no idea what you mean by 'wrecked up' but, maybe Pluto."

Robby paused for a second and said, "Oh ... then Curt must be from Pluto."

I shot a glance at Robby, wondering what in the world he was talking about. It was at that point I realized that he wasn't just looking out the window -- he was looking at the window, down near the floor. I also realized that there was background noise, and that it was metallic. I leaned forward in my chair to see what had Robby's attention and suddenly it all made sense.

Curt was sitting in front of the window and, with peanut butter and jelly-covered hands, methodically bending and twisting each slat in our brand new, custom-made, aluminum mini-blinds. Curt was a one-man wrecking crew. In Robby's mind, he had to be from Pluto.

Today, Curt is a Private First Class in the U.S. Marine Corps, an infantryman in one of the finest fighting forces in human history. Today he will board a flight to Afghanistan to fight an enemy that is hard to define, ruthless in its methods and mindset, and as elusive as the echoes of gunshots that melt into the jagged mountains that define its home. It doesn't take a planetary scientist to conjure up the images of danger that await him there. But Curt signed up for this with full knowledge of all that -- and he did so willingly. When he told us he wanted to join the Marine Corps, I asked him what would possess him to do such a thing. His answer was simple: "Our country is in a war. Somebody has to fight it. It might as well be me."

He was 17 years old.

I honestly do not comprehend the selfless courage of the young men and women who, since September 11, 2001, have willingly stepped up to defend our way of life. For those of us who served only in a time of peace, there is no way to compare that to what these brave heroes face voluntarily. I know this for sure because three of them are my sons. I do not say that only as a "proud father." I say it as an awed admirer of better men than myself. I thank God for what they do and I pray that every person in this comfortable, safe nation stands similarly in awe, with humble gratitude, for those whose service allows us to forget that they offer it. I just wish there was no need for them to do so.

Robby has been where Curt is going. When he arrived there last July, in the first message he was able to send us, he described the landscape of Afghanistan as a place that "looked like the moon."

Rob's apparent fixation with describing things using Solar System analogies hasn't changed, nor has Curt's silent dedication to the  causes he takes on.

The Man from Pluto is headed to the Moon.

Godspeed, Curt. Be safe. Be smart. Don't think you have to come home a hero ... you have been one for quite some time.

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Monday, December 5, 2011

On The Ugly Thing

I've been thinking a lot about war lately, not about the politics of the current war(s) we are involved in (don't get me started on that), but more about the whole idea of war at the point where it really matters -- the tip of the spear where those who actually fight the war have to live.

To a greater degree than any time in human history, modern technology has allowed the vast majority of our society to remain wholly disconnected from the horrors of the wars we fight. Beyond headlines on the CNN crawl at the bottom of your TV screen; beyond USA Today's three-by-three inch text box that regularly contains the names of the most recent casualties; and beyond the Wounded Warrior plea for donations that might show up in your mailbox, the wars in which we are currently engaged don't get any more play than Lindsay Lohan's latest court date. Probably less.

In some cases, even those who are directly involved in combat ... are not directly involved in combat. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in Afghanistan are flown by pilots who sit in front of a video game console at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas and drive home every night for dinner. The aviation assets that are on location in theater can bomb targets they cannot see, from tens of thousands of feet above the clouds, guided by GPS and lasers that make them lethally accurate. Even those who are more directly engaged have standoff capabilities that keep them beyond retaliation range with an unprecedented level of safety. These are all good things and I pray we make them better.

But there is also a moral element to these aspects of modern warfare. How do we square the disconnect between the horror and pain of war and the ability to deliver its consequences with physical and emotional detachment? Has this made war even more barbaric than it already was? Does the future portend an easier justification for war because those who commit to engage in it are able to do so without tangible personal consequence? We need to think about these things and as we do, we need to remain cognizant of the basic reality of war that has never changed in the least. No land is conquered; no enemy is defeated; no aspect of warfare is complete until, and unless, you have boots on the ground.

And there are young men in those boots.

I am as guilty as anyone of taking this for granted so I have no delusions of speaking from some kind of moral high ground. The truth is that my own acknowledgement of this has come in an emotionally painful way -- as I watch my own sons lace those boots up and walk away to war.

The fact is that we do take their sacrifice for granted. We whine about our circumstances, forgetting that whatever we are experiencing is also being experienced by young men burdened just to walk with 80 pounds of combat gear on their backs; or sleeping, without protection from the elements, in the dirt and mud; or wondering if the next step they take will be the one that triggers some diabolically disguised IED. We bow to a consumerist culture and load our holiday shopping carts with things we don't need, while these young men want for a bar of soap. How many people walking through the mall this week do you think ever give these realities a second thought -- or even a first.

This is not meant to induce a guilt-trip on anyone. My point is simply to try to remind myself to see the reality of war through the eyes of those who are most directly impacted by it and to reflect on why they fight. Though many dismiss this aspect of the mindset, it is a real one:
War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.                                 ~ John Stuart Mill
It has become a cliche to say but I don't know how else to explain it: they go to fight for something bigger than themselves. Very few may articulate it even if challenged to do so, but it is a motivation toward honor and toward protecting a comfortable way of life, not just because it is "comfortable," but because it represents the best (even if imperfect) kind of society flawed human beings can hope to live in. It is this idealism that grounds the cause of liberty and justice even if some (me being one) disagree about how we go about trying to spread it around the world.

Sebastian Junger verifies this in his book, War:
Self-sacrifice in defense of one's community is virtually universal among humans, extolled in myths and legends all over the world, and undoubtedly ancient. No community can protect itself unless a certain portion of its youth decide they are willing to risk their lives in its defense. (242)
They fight for us.

Yes, politicians and leaders can, and do, manipulate this sentiment. And, yes, their doing so is the lowest form of demagoguery. But that doesn't change the fact that it is there. Argue about our wars we must, but there is no denying this idealistic kind of love is a part of what motivates them to put the boots on in the first place.

Once the boots are on, however, the idealism vanishes. After more than a year of being embedded with Army units in Afghanistan, Junger also goes on to identify a completely different aspect of the war -- the one that most of us will never experience or completely understand:
What the Army sociologists, with their clipboards and their questions and their endless metanalyses slowly came to understand was that courage was love. In war, neither could exist without the other, and that in a sense they were just different ways of saying the same thing ... the primary motivation in combat (other than "ending the task" which meant they could go home) was "solidarity with the group." That far outweighed self-preservation or idealism as a motivator. (239-240)
They fight for each other. It's just another form of sacrificial love.

We are afforded the luxury of living our lives in blissful ignorance of the real cost of war. We should be thankful for that. But I pray that none of us take that blissful ignorance for granted. Someone has to face the ugliness of war and it would do us all well to stop ...

...  and remember how and why they do it.
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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Time To Put Up

An internal debate among Christians
I have said many times before that I subscribe to an ancient view of the earth. I believe the Old Earth (OE) view is perfectly compatible with the words of the Bible and overwhelmingly supported by modern science. Some of my fellow Christians disagree. Their Young Earth (YE) view insists that the Bible clearly states that God created the earth in 7 consecutive 24-hour days just about 6000 years ago. While I usually do my best to avoid the divisive nastiness that often accompanies this topic, I have always tried to make two points about it:

1) The really important issue we face in our science-worshipping, Naturalistic culture is not about when God created; it is that God created. This is the point the culture denies but that both YE and OE believers can agree on.

2) There are important theological considerations to the answer we arrive at that we cannot ignore and we need to seek the truth of the matter. The OE/YE topic should be an internal debate between respectful Christians who sincerely disagree.

Well, recently someone called me to task on the second point and challenged me to debate a YE Christian about this very topic. Put up or shut up I think they call it. So I will put up.

On March 22, 2012 I will debate Tim Chaffey of Answers In Genesis at Cincinnati Christian High School. For the record, I have never been involved in a public debate about anything so this is a stretch for me. But I believe the topic is too important for our young people to understand to allow me to avoid this opportunity. Mr. Chaffey has been publicly defending the YE view for several years and has even co-authored a book (with Jason Lisle) about this topic. I am reading it now. This allows me to study Mr. Chaffey's arguments and research OE responses to them. So, in order to also stand behind my belief that these kinds of debates ought to be respectful, and in the interest of fairness, I plan to offer a series of blog posts about the various arguments I plan to make in the debate. While I am sure he won't be caught off guard or surprised by any of these, and because I haven't written a book on the subject, this is the only way I know to give Mr. Chaffey the courtesy of being able to prepare to respond to my arguments just as I am preparing to respond to his.

For those who are interested, most of the material I utilize originates with Reasons to Believe, a scientific apologetics ministry based in the Los Angeles area. Mr. Chaffey is very familiar with their work. Though the details have yet to be established, the major topics we plan to debate are:
  1. The Age of the Earth
  2. The meaning of the Hebrew word for "day" (yom) in the creation account
  3. Death before the fall of Adam & Eve
  4. The Great Flood of Noah
These are the topics I will offer blog posts about.

I invite anyone who is interested in this type of thing to check out some resources and, if you live anywhere in the Cincinnati area, try to attend the debate on March 22, 2012. I will provide details about both of these in my future posts and I will also provide Mr. Chaffey with links to each.

My goal with all this is simple -- that we all honorably and respectfully seek the Truth.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

God Will Hunting

It is not uncommon to hear fellow Christians, as they ponder a difficult life decision, agonizing out loud about their sincere desire to “find God’s will for their life.” Their consternation is understandable, especially in an environment where “seeking God’s will” has become the standard method of decision making within the Christian culture. The process can be confusing and terrifying. After all, what if they make the wrong choice by picking the wrong place to live, the wrong job, or, most dauntingly, the wrong spouse? If they marry the wrong person that means that their spouse should have married someone else who in turn also married the wrong person – and the string of wrongly chosen spouses soon multiplies exponentially. Something must be awry in a view that allows the possibility that one wrong decision could lead to consequences of such catastrophic, ungodly proportions. How do we prevent the calamity and avoid the uncertainty? Is decision making really supposed to be this daunting?

Making decisions is hard enough. We certainly do not need to add to it the burden of evaluating our options against a false understanding of whether or not we have properly uncovered the Divine Plan. The simple fact is that any of us can assess our alignment to God’s Will with clear assurance. To understand why this is so, we need only evaluate this commonly accepted way of thinking against a biblical understanding of the nature of God’s will.

“If there really is a perfect will of God we are meant to discover, in which we will find tremendous freedom and fulfillment, why does it seem that everyone looking for God’s will is in such bondage and confusion?”                    
~ Kevin DeYoungJust Do Something

A Hidden Message

The contemporary model of Christian decision-making amounts to something like a treasure hunt. It sees God’s will as a secret blueprint that has been hidden from plain sight and can only be accessed by our imploring God to reveal it to us in doses small enough to protect us from misusing it. Through quietly whispered revelation and guidance, God assures us that we are following the right path.

Under this method, God’s “plan for our life” is a road map we must decipher by painstaking deliberation. The pressure is on the believer to uncover this plan correctly or risk straying from the course God has mapped out. Within this kind of model, our distress is understandable. The pressure to conform to the right plan is enormous because the treasure we are seeking is not just some worldly, material payoff – it is the very purpose of our life.

There are two problems with this model. The first is that it becomes an exercise in trying to see the future – a futile errand (Ecclesiastes 7:14, 8:7) for those who are not ordained prophets endowed with all the authority and responsibility that comes with that position. The second is that this decision making model is nowhere to be found in the Bible.

God’s Two Wills

God does have a Sovereign Will. It was planned before the beginning of the universe, placed in motion at the moment of creation, and it will play out the in exactly way the Creator intended. We can be sure of that. We can also be sure that we cannot know what it is ahead of time and that there is nothing we can do to change it.

This sovereign will is described in biblical passages about God’s foreknowledge, purposes, and in the concept of predestination. We can see evidence of each of these, but never by looking forward. The fact is that there is only one way to recognize God’s sovereign will – by looking backward at the amazing “coincidences” we have experienced and the ways in which our lives have worked out to bring us to where we are in the present.

There are times when we do not appreciate this aspect of God’s will. We want to know how things are going to turn out. Our motives for this desire may be good ones. We sincerely want to stay aligned with God’s purposes, avoid pain and hardship, or even want to avoid hurting others. But the fact remains that this desire, no matter how well motivated, amounts to an unwarranted preoccupation with the future.

There is second aspect of God’s will that is also crystal clear: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). This is God’s Moral Will and it is the ongoing project, not to decipher the future he has in store for us, but to conform to his likeness. Theologians refer to this process as sanctification. It is the transformation that begins with the renewing of our minds and continues to mold our will to align with “his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). It is a life which manifests the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). God’s moral will is that we reflect the character of Christ.

The Wisdom Model

Taking these two aspects of God’s will into account, the biblical model of decision-making is simple and direct. When it comes to making decisions about our lives, we must recognize that God’s sovereign purposes will always be carried out. Along the way, any life choices we consider must be consistent with God’s moral will. In other words, God’s desire is not about the specifics of where we go or what we do; it is about who we are. It is about the person we are becoming. If the decisions we make are in accordance with God’s moral standards, we are free to do whatever we want to do. Our motivation should not be to receive directions, but to develop wisdom.

This is not to deny that God can speak to anyone at any time. God is God, after all. But the biblical precedent for his doing so shows no evidence that the standard practice of his followers was to await personal messages from God after groveling for his guidance. Quite the opposite. As apologist Greg Koukl puts it, an examination of the record shows that personalized guidance in the bible is not only rare but an intrusion into the lives of those who receive it. It is most certainly not an answer they obtain after pleading and then “waiting quietly” for direction. God’s voice is supernatural and therefore unmistakable, even to an unregenerate persecutor of the church like Paul on the Road to Damascus. In short, if and when God speaks to us, there will be no doubt who is talking, or what he is trying to say.

The way in which we approach decisions about our lives need not be disconcerting or overwhelming. As long as the options we consider do not violate God’s moral boundaries, the biblical decision making model trusts the wisdom of godly believers to pursue Christ-like aspirations. Once we understand that, decision-making becomes a joyous process that we learn to pursue with confident humility. Instead of approaching difficult life decisions with fear and trembling, we do so in pursuit of a God-centered lifestyle in which we will “…be joyful always, pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for [us] in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18).


“This idea of guidance is actually a novelty among orthodox evangelicals [that] does not go back further than the last century ... It has led people to so much foolish action on the one hand, and so much foolish inaction on the other ... that it has to be seen as discredited.”
~ J. I. Packer
Hot Tub Religion

“We should spend more time trying to figure out how to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8) as a doctor or lawyer and less time worrying about whether God wants us to be a doctor or lawyer.”
~ Kevin DeYoung
Just Do Something

“We find God’s will for our lives by obeying his commandments, including his commandment to seek wisdom. For he is a good father, and he does not want his children to grow up to be fools.”
~ Phillip Cary
Good News For Anxious Christians


If this is an issue you might want to delve into further, I would suggest the following resources that I found extremely helpful (and from which I derived the ideas for this article).

Greg Koukl, Decision Making And The Will Of God
Kevin DeYoung, Just Do Something
Phillip Cary, Good News For Anxious Christians

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Pink Ties and Little White Lies

It is fashionable these days to show one's support for breast cancer research by going "pink." The NFL does it. My employer promotes it by allowing our pilots to wear pink ties with their normally dull black and white uniforms, while flight attendants get to wear pink shirts and blue jeans to work. Even some of our airplanes sport pink paint jobs for the cure. It is a great cause to seek to eradicate a horrible disease and I fully support the effort.

All that said, and at the risk of making myself the bad guy by throwing cold water on the cause, I believe it is imperative that those who choose to support the cause are aware of the full story behind breast cancer's most notable and public opponent -- the Susan G. Komen Foundation. This is an organization that does great work but, as my colleague at the Life Training Institute, Jay Watts, has put it, it has become more supportive of a narrative its friends follow about the world than the cause it is meant to champion.

My beef with Susan G. Komen is that, by its own admission:
"Annually, Komen Affiliates fund programs that provide breast health education and breast screenings for hundreds of thousands of low-income, uninsured, or medically under-served women via nearly 2,000 local organizations, including 19 Planned Parenthood programs."
Since this admission is buried deep in the Komen website and very difficult to find, I can save you the trouble. You can read Komen's full statement about this issue here: (Planned Parenthood Letter). Interestingly, in the place where this letter is found you can also read another letter from a north Texas pro-lifer who also supports Komen. In his letter, Norman Roberts assures us that:
As Christians, we have special obligations toward the less well-off. Those obligations would include doing what we reasonably can to see that these women get the needed mammograms. We could and should advocate that Komen affiliates make grants to groups untainted by abortion. We could donate to alternate groups directly, but there is a logical trap here. No matter how we fund these programs, in theory it frees objectionable groups of the burden and allows them to use other money for immoral purposes. The alternative is to force women to apply for needed services through groups we find unacceptable or not get the services at all. The grants in question represent a tiny fraction of the funds Komen raises, all of which, as best I can determine, go to an unequivocally noble cause.
He also makes the claim that the funds allocated by Komen to Planned Parenthood are audited carefully to ensure that they are only used for breast cancer screenings etc. I have no reason to doubt this. But it does not take much of an imagination to see that Planned Parenthood's ability to fund abortion "services" is enhanced by income they receive from foundations like Komen, even if those funds are designated for another purpose.

Both Roberts and Komen justify the foundation's support of Planned Parenthood by allowing the noble narrative of "caring for the poor" to trump the mission Komen claims to pursue because the questionable programs are only "a tiny fraction" of the immoral work that Planned Parenthood does. This is the most tragic and egregious aspect of this story -- Komen and its donors downplay their support of Planned Parenthood even as Planned Parenthood continues to promote both abortion and abortifacient oral contraceptives (OC) that increase the risk of breast cancer to women who use them. Research confirms the fact that:
women who start OCs before age 18 multiply their risk of TNBC by 3.7 times and recent users of OCs within the last one to five years multiply their risk by 4.2 times. TNBC is an aggressive form of breast cancer associated with high mortality. 
"Although the study was published nine months ago," observed Karen Malec, president of the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer," the NCI, the American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and other cancer fundraising businesses have made no efforts to reduce breast cancer rates by issuing nationwide warnings to women." (Source: Medical News Today story, "Researcher Finally Admits Abortion Raises Breast Cancer Risk In Study That Fingers Oral Contraceptives As A Probable Cause Of Breast Cancer")
Subsidizing a "tiny fraction" of a moral evil still constitutes a moral evil. Caring for and assisting poor women with the means to protect and prevent breast cancer does not entail providing that subsidy. Please continue to "go pink." Please, please, please, by all means, donate your time, talents and finances to support the fight against breast cancer. But, until it makes the choice to end its connection with Planned Parenthood, offer that support to any source except the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Answering The Same Sex "Marriage" Question

If you want to hear the questions same-sex "marriage" proponents are asking ... and also get a clinic in how to respond to each of them, I suggest the Stand To Reason podcast of October 3, 2011 (available by clicking on the date in preceding link)

Greg Koukl's discussion with a caller on this issue begins at 2:15:45 and continues to 2:33:02. It is an especially clear and concise response. In this exchange, Greg does not address the biblical or moral aspects of the question -- there are other places to obtain that kind of information. He only speaks to the secular, legal case against same-sex "marriage." I think it is something anyone who is serious about being able to discuss the issue should hear. Check it out if you're interested.
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Monday, October 10, 2011

Biblical Glass Houses?

Monday is religious opinion day in today's USA Today "Forum" section. Though there are occasionally some fair, thoughtful articles here, this weekly column is usually my go-to source for blogging material -- and usually not because the column in question is fair to Christianity. Today is one of those days.

Tom Krattenmaker's ("a Portland-based writer specializing in religion and public life") piece is titled, "Holy Texts As Unholy Weapons," and its tagline warns us that "Whether it's the Bible or the Quran, believers must police acts of good and evil" -- the point being that the books associated with the two incompatible (editor's note) religions are really not all that different. "Let's face it," says Krattenmaker, "Whether it's Christians or Muslims, stone-throwers ought to realize that their own houses are glass." Both the Bible and the Quran have an equal culpability for condoning and justifying the violence and gruesomeness they contain. Being good pluralists, we should realize this and never engage in the:
too-common practice ... of plucking certain passages from the Quran (while ignoring the many peace-preaching verses) and marshaling them as "proof" that Islam is inherently violent.
Well, I am not one whose innocence allows me to throw stones. But I also reject the idea that Krattenmaker's admonition leaves me stranded in a glass house. I have written a little on this topic before (here and here), so I just want to respond with two points.

First, there is no doubt that the biblical passages that record God's command to wipe the Amalekites and Amorites off the face of the earth are emotionally difficult to defend. When the Israelites are told to destroy every man, woman, and child of some tribe, it is hard to square with our view of a loving God we honor and serve. But there are a few things to note here:
  • The utter evil that infused these cultures is hard to imagine. These were people who sacrificed small children by burning them alive. They had been given multiple chances to change their ways and warnings about what would befall them if they didn't. The sacrificial and sexually-charged societies (to include the practice of bestiality) they represented had infused these practices into many generations of inhabitants and there was every indication that their ways of thinking had infected the mindset of the entire society.
  • God also allowed his own people, the Israelites, to be decimated when they took up these same  practices of the abhorrently evil cultures that surrounded them.
  • The language that is used is obviously hyperbole. How do I know this? As Paul Copan points out in his recent book, Is God a Moral Monster?, the same people who were supposed to be obliterated in these relentless attacks continue to crop up later in biblical history! The simple fact is that these instructions were not carried out to the extent the language suggests they were.
We rightfully cringe at the command to obliterate an entire community of people, and I do not in any way diminish our responsibility to explain these difficult biblical passages. Nor do I relish having to do so myself. But the simple fact is that the loving, bearded, white-robed God we want to imagine as a our cosmic grandfather is also the Creator of the universe. He not only brought all reality into existence and can therefore do with it as He pleases, but his perfection demands that justice be done for those who rebel against Him. Justice is a scary concept when you are on the deserving end. And justice is not fairness. In fact, those who are pardoned of their rebellion against God get precisely what they do not deserve. If anyone is being treated unfairly in these stories, it is those who are spared from God's justice.

Second, conduct a thought experiment for a minute by considering the teachings of Jesus. Which of those teachings would lead one to believe that following Him entailed engaging in the violent behavior that Islamists perpetuate every day? The answer of course is, "None."

What Krattenmaker conveniently leaves out of his admonition against "proof-texting" the Quran, is the doctrine of abrogation that the Quran explicitly spells out. As I've said before:
This Islamic doctrine claims states that those parts of the Quran written after 622 AD (when Muhammad returned to Medina) overrule earlier verses. When you read these passages you find that it is the later passages that contain the commands to:
  • "fight and slay the unbelievers wherever you find them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem of war" (Surah 9, verse 5) or ... 
  • "Fight those who do not believe in Allah nor the Last Day, nor So, nor hold that forbidden which has been forbidden by Allah and His Apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of truth (Islam), even if they are of the 40 people of the Book, until they pay the jizya (Islamic tax) with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued."
These passages are not "proof-texts" that are used to ignore the peaceful passages we find in the Quran; they are passages that the Quran itself says have been abrogated by Muhammed's newer, more violent, teachings.

Yes there are gruesome passages in the Bible. But these are descriptive passages that tell us the story of what happened in history. Conversely, the violence of the Quran is prescriptive of the remedies Muhammed passed down for his followers to carry out on the infidels that defied his teachings. One has to betray the teachings of Jesus to engage in violence. But when Muslims engage in violence, they are simply following Muhammed's prescription for the perpetuation of Islam.

One doesn't have to live in a glass house to see the difference.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Who's Being Unreasonable?

"It's the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense, and can't see things as they are."
G.K. Chesterton's character, Father Brown

A favorite charge leveled at religious believers by those who denounce their belief system is that they are ignorant, gullible, irrational and, on Richard Dawkins' view, "deluded." As comedian Bill Maher puts it, "You can't be a rational person six days of the week and put on a suit and make rational decisions and go to work and, on one day of the week, go to a building and think you're drinking the blood of a 2,000-year-old space god." To go along with the discussion of doubt, I dug up a recent Wall Street Journal article that touches on this topic. Titled, "What Americans Really Believe," the piece reports on ...
a comprehensive new study released by Baylor University [in September, which] shows that traditional Christian religion greatly decreases belief in everything from the efficacy of palm readers to the usefulness of astrology. It also shows that the irreligious and the members of more liberal Protestant denominations, far from being resistant to superstition, tend to be much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians.
Hmmm. It is interesting to me that folks like Maher and Dawkins want to base their knowledge of the world solely on rationalism which they equate with scientific (as opposed to scientific, philosophical and theological) arguments. In that light, they are content to lob insulting assertions about the intellectual vacuousness of religious folks. But the research offered here by the WSJ is based on research studies done by ... scientists. So, instead of just lobbing insults, I propose that we look at the actual data.

The Gallup Organization recently polled Americans about questions like: Do dreams foretell the future? Did ancient advanced civilizations such as Atlantis exist? Can places be haunted? Is it possible to communicate with the dead? Will creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster someday be discovered by science?
  • 31% of people who never worship expressed strong belief in these things.
  • Only 8% of people who attend a house of worship more than once a week did.
And here's a favorite of mine: "While increased church attendance and membership in a conservative denomination has a powerful negative effect on paranormal beliefs, higher education doesn't. Two years ago two professors published another study in Skeptical Inquirer showing that ...":
  • Less than one-quarter of college freshmen surveyed expressed a general belief in such superstitions as ghosts, psychic healing, haunted houses, demonic possession, clairvoyance and witches
  • The figure jumped to 31% of college seniors and 34% of graduate students.
In summary then, religious and more educated people are less likely to hold to what Maher and Dawkins might call "irrational" beliefs. This data is in direct opposition to the claims they make. In fact, Maher himself ...
... is a fervent advocate of pseudoscience ... Mr. Maher told David Letterman -- a quintuple bypass survivor -- to stop taking the pills that his doctor had prescribed for him. He proudly stated that he didn't accept Western medicine. On his HBO show in 2005, Mr. Maher said: "I don't believe in vaccination. . . . Another theory that I think is flawed, that we go by is the Louis Pasteur [germ] theory." He has told CNN's Larry King that he won't take aspirin because he believes it is lethal and that he doesn't even believe the Salk vaccine eradicated polio.
I also find it interesting that some of the most influential people in our culture are the Hollywood elites who personally and professionally (through their artistic work) mock religious people for their archaic anti-rationalism. These are the anointed few who, regardless of their education or background, are regularly called on to: lecture us about our duty to all kinds of justice issues; testify before Congress about scientific and cultural issues because they may have made a movie about them; and find increasingly inventive ways to wedge their agenda into media meant to influence us to think the way they do. At the same time, one of their most popular belief systems (I hesitate to use the term religion) is Scientology, the brain-child of science fiction writer, L. Ron Hubbard.
Hubbard proposes that emotional duress in an individual's life is caused by an accumulation of unpleasant memories and traumatic incidents, some of which predated the life of the human. In Scientology, he further stated that spirits (or "thetans") have existed for tens of trillions of years (several orders of magnitude greater than the scientifically accepted estimate of the age of the universe). During that time, Hubbard says that thetans have been exposed to a vast number of traumatic incidents and have made a great many decisions that influence their present state. According to Hubbard, thetans were conditioned by extraterrestrial dictatorships such as Helatrobus in an attempt to brainwash and control the population ... Among these advanced teachings is the story of Xenu (sometimes Xemu), introduced as an alien ruler of the "Galactic Confederacy." According to this story, 75 million years ago Xenu brought billions of people to Earth in spacecraft resembling Douglas DC-8 airliners, stacked them around volcanoes and detonated hydrogen bombs in the volcanoes. The thetans then clustered together, stuck to the bodies of the living, and continue to do this today.
This is just a short summary of the beliefs of Scientology, a "religion" brought to us by and for the enlightened elite who make a game of mocking traditional faith. Without going into any more detail, I find it amazing that those who believe nonsense like this could look down their collective noses at anyone who holds to Christianity.

I bring all this up for a very important reason: Nobody believes in nothing.

It seems that we humans have some kind of innate propensity to believe in something outside ourselves that serves to validate and give meaning to our existence. If not the commonly recognized religions that have been around since humankind came on the scene, we will gravitate to something bizarre or even dangerous. It is hard to justify this human characteristic outside of some kind of theistic/deistic reality. I don't see any way to explain it within a naturalistic worldview.

I suppose one could appeal to some kind of Darwinian explanation that serves to promote the will to survive, but I don't see how. A belief in abstract concepts like: other-than-physical reality; life after death; the need to rectify our moral failings; or even the need to "better ourselves," do not square with a purely deterministic, mechanical world.

Instead, it seems more "rational" to comprehend and seek a better form of reality that draws us its way because there actually is one. I can't fully explain this human characteristic otherwise. I don't think this view is irrational at all, especially if it also serves to explain the metaphysical aspects of rationality we all seem to understand innately. Or, to quote one who put it better than I ever could:

"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."
~ C. S. Lewis

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Reasoned Pro-Life Apologetics Meets Raving Atheist

I think it is unfortunate that many well-meaning pro-lifers defend their position by leading with the Bible. They attempt to ground their view in the authority of the Bible and expect their opponents to respect that authority because it is the Word of God. While I share their high view of Scripture and its unarguable support for all things pro-life, there are a couple tactical problems with this approach. For one, the Bible doesn't have much to say about the particulars of abortion itself. Though this "silence" in no way equals consent, it becomes difficult to make the case when you are left having to defend what opponents might call "tangential" evidence that the Bible finds the act of abortion deplorable. You end up in a debate about biblical inerrancy, or the proper translation of some specific word, or the cultural context of a passage -- instead of defending the plain facts about the unborn's value as a full-fledged member of the human family.

Secondly, and for more tactically important reasons, most of those who would justify abortion couldn't really care less what the Bible says about anything anyway. They dismiss your argument with the wave of a hand and avoid even engaging it because they categorize your position as just another religious claim that has no bearing on reality.

For these reasons it is tactically advisable to first ask the question -- "What is the unborn?" -- and then offer scientific, philosophical and moral reasoning to answer it. That is what we do at LTI and that is why we do it.

But beyond the obvious obligation we have as thinking human beings to clarify the status, and defend the value, of innocent, unborn human life, engaging in the pro-life project is also a way to make the case for the truth of Christianity in general. It stands to reason that if the scientific, philosophical, and moral arguments we offer in defense of the humanity of the unborn also happen to align exactly with the biblical notion of what it means to be a human being made "in the image of God," then the Bible might also have something to say about other things of importance.

This is a point Scott Klusendorf makes repeatedly but it was recently driven home in a very concrete way by, of all people, a hard core atheist in the most recent issue of Salvo magazine. A secular skeptic, law school professor, renowned blogger, and mocker of deluded "Godiots," the "Raving Atheist" attended a blogger party where he serendipitously sat next to a Catholic blogger named Benjamin. As the "Raving Atheist" explains:
At one point the conversation turned to abortion, and I asked Benjamin's opinion of the practice. I was stunned. Here was a kind, affable, and cogently reasonable human being who nonetheless believed that abortion was murder. To the limited extent I had previously considered the issue, I believed abortion to be completely acceptable, the mere disposal of a lump of cells, perhaps akin to clipping fingernails.
This unsettling exchange spurred me to further investigate the issue on Benjamin's blog. I noticed that pro-choice Christians did not employ scientific or rational arguments but relied on a confused set of "spiritual" platitudes. More significantly, the pro-choice atheistic blogosphere also fell short in its analysis of abortion. The supposedly "reality-based" community either dismissed abortion as a "religious issue" or paradoxically claimed that pro-life principles were contrary to religious doctrine. Having formerly equated atheism with reason, I was slowly growing uncertain of the value of godlessness in the search for truth.
Though the "Raving Atheist" continued to rave, there was now a stone in his God-rejecting shoe, placed there by a reasoned defense of the pro-life view. He couldn't disconnect himself from it and later admitted that the "selfless dedication [of pro-life advocates] to their cause moved [him] deeply." Later, he met a woman named Ashli whose work in pregnancy care drew him to further consider the pro-life position. Soon thereafter, the "Raving Atheist" became, in part, a pro-life blogsite ...
[This] stirred an angry mutiny among my readers. But I had become convinced that the secular world had it wrong on the very foundational issue of life ... The tangible expression of pro-life work was life itself. It was becoming clear to me that people who lived out their Christian faith were happier and better people as a result ... In June 2006 I saw [a] woman's sonogram ripen into a baby. In honor of Ashli's efforts, I vowed that the birth of the child would be the death of atheism on my blog. Late that month I announced that I would no longer mock God on my site.
And the rest, as they say, is history. The hard-core atheist became open to considering theism because of his encounters with reasoned pro-life thought. Today he is a Christian theist.

To be sure, there were other factors that contributed to the "Raving Atheist's" conversion but the simple fact remains that it was the cogency of the Case For Life and the concrete reality of the injustice of abortion that led him to doubt his atheism and consider a worldview that offered a better explanation for the world as we know and experience it.

For those who are interested in an eclectic approach to a defense of the Christian worldview that is far from the usual dry, stodgy material most people associate with topics like philosophy and Christian apologetics, I would highly recommend at least checking out an issue of Salvo -- a magazine produced by The Fellowship of St. James, which also publishes Touchstone. For what it's worth, I subscribe to both magazines and read every issue cover-to-cover. Salvo is targeted for a younger, more culturally connected audience. It is very well-written and often very, very clever.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

More Clarity, Less Labeling

Emerging ... Emergent ... Religious Right ... Postmodern ... Post-Christian ... Social Justice ... Universalism ... Community ... Missional ...

Labels are easy to put on people and "movements" but my experience has been that most of us who stick the labels on things (and, yes, I have been guilty of doing just that) may not understand exactly what the labels mean. To attach labels to people or ideas without intimate knowledge of the people or their ideas is to engage in sloganeering -- bumper sticker argumentation -- that doesn't get anyone anywhere. Seriously, has anyone ever changed your mind -- or have you ever changed anyone else's mind -- about anything by trading slogans or by failing to listen before you speak.

Neither have I.

Secondly, attaching labels to people or "movements" is dangerous because we may be labeling things using different terms. It is unwise -- and unfair -- to hold someone accountable to an idea they don't believe in simply because you have labeled them with your definition of that that idea.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

There will be more (much more, I suspect) to follow on this subject but I want to connect two parallel issues that have just converged for me where this is concerned. These are two issues that, until I sought clarification about them, I did not even realize were related.

The first is about a person -- a guy whom I have respected even if I haven't really known him personally -- who had a great, positive influence on my oldest son when he was in high school. His name is Chris Marshall and he was a Bible teacher and pastor at my son's school. He started a home church many years ago that my son attended for Bible study and to share a sense of community with his classmates. For reasons that I never fully understood (and still don't) this whole "home church" idea, and Chris Marshall himself, became a source of controversy. Some ideas Chris was espousing were seen as unorthodox, if not downright heretical. Chris was labeled a "postmodernist" and thereby took on all the baggage and assumptions that go with that label. He wrote a blog at the time that many of his "labelers" took exception to. Even Chris has since admitted that he probably crossed some boundaries on his blog and that he could have handled some things differently, but to be honest, those issues are not my concern.

There is way more to the story but the bottom line is that the high school and Chris came to a mutual agreement that it was time for him to go. He moved on and has continued in ministry. He kept writing his blog and I began reading it periodically. Chris seemed a bit more "liberal" in his worldview than I was -- a bit unorthodox in his views of church and the way we live out our Christianity -- but I never read anything that made me cringe. In fact, I never read anything that I even found to be the least bit objectionable. Chris just seemed to have a point of view I had never heard or considered before. Yet, the label Chris lived with remained even as the whole story never made sense to me. Recently, his name started resurfacing in places I didn't expect to see it. And, because I still respected and appreciated the impact Chris had on my son, I decided to resort to a radical way of trying to resolve these conundrums in my own mind.

I went and talked to Chris Marshall.

Crazy, I know.

Our conversation was enlightening and enjoyable. I was fascinated by much of what Chris had to say. I heard more background on his story, and have since learned even more (read Chris's background story at his blog here: The Wild Goose). I even learned things from Chris about my own son's heart for others that I had never really known. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Chris and I probably agree on more things than we disagree on. I found that he had some unique ways of approaching how we "do church," and about how we share our faith. It would be silly to say that some miraculous new friendship was born that morning, and I can only speak for myself, but I came away from our conversation feeling like I had been missing out on a relationship with someone from whom I had much to learn.

Which brings me to my second point.

Christian apologetics -- defending the truth of Christianity -- has been a passion of mine for many years now. If I read a book, it's theme is usually apologetics-related. And I read lots of books. I have had limited success teaching and talking to small (and a few large) groups of people about apologetic topics like: origins of the universe and life, biology, biochemistry, intelligent design, pro-life issues, miracles, morality, the reliability of the Bible, or relativism. I have gone to training seminars to better myself, not only in my level of knowledge about these topics, but in how to present the information. I have even had some published articles on these topics in some highly reputable outlets for such discussions.

Tangible positive results from my efforts? Not so much.

My attempts to address these issues with young men and women are motivated by what I consider to be a scary statistic -- that 75% of them walk away from the faith once they leave home -- and I want to do my part to address that statistic. I want to help them be able "to give a reason for the hope that they have." But lecturing them or showing them a powerpoint slide show is not cutting it with a vast majority of these young folks. I have felt like a complete failure at times or at least felt like I was unable to connect for some lasting impact. Overall, I began to question my methods and whether or not I am even gifted enough at doing apologetics to consider my efforts worthwhile.

I've been looking for a new way to make the case. A new way to make these philosophical and sometimes nuanced discussions relevant. A new way to help people who are really seeking answers find the applicable information, remember it, and apply it to their lives. I even began writing a book proposal for an idea I've had to connect the truth claims and foundational issues of Christianity with the ways we live our lives in the real world. I do this because I think it's too important to just keep doing the same thing while expecting a better result, but never getting it. The thing is that I don't seem to see many other apologists making inroads in these areas either. It's frustrating.

That's when I talked to Chris Marshall. And then I read the second installment in his latest blog post about some awakenings he has had lately (You can read that here: The Wild Goose, Pt. 2) about what has been labeled the "Emergent Church" and some of its leaders. What I found is that Chris Marshall shares my heart for seekers and my passion for honoring the heart of the Christian faith. Not only so, but Chris has found a way to do exactly what I have thought needs to be done -- a way to reach what seems like a "whatever" culture with the Truth of our mutual faith (more on both of these topics later in another post).

We may have arrived at our point of connection from wildly differing paths and points of view. We may completely disagree on some specific issues. I honestly don't have a clue. But what I know is that Chris Marshall and I are on a shared mission. Maybe we will complement one another's efforts in that mission. Maybe we'll continue down parallel paths. But in the end, we are headed toward the same goal because we share a commitment to the same Savior.

I have a lot to learn from Chris Marshall. And I never would have known that if I had just accepted the labels. We don't need labels. We need clarity so that we can find commonality.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Civil Discourse on Abortion

If you are interested in how to make the case for protecting unborn human life, I suggest you take the time to watch this debate between my friend, Scott Klusendorf, President of the Life Training Institute and the former President of the ACLU, Nadine Strossen.

Very informative and exemplary about how such a discussion can, and should, take place.

Abortion Debate at Westmont College from Randy Alcorn on Vimeo.

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Friday, July 8, 2011

Who's Helpless Now?

I will never forget the day we put our infant son on the carpet in front of our family room fireplace just a few weeks after we brought him home from the Naval Hospital at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, NC. He struggled to lift his head. His body wiggled and his legs kicked, but he didn't move an inch. I was the invincible Marine attack pilot but watching him there literally drove me to tears. I was overwhelmed -- just like I was for every one of my 5 boys when they were infants -- by his utter helplessness.

He could not do anything for himself. I was overcome by the realization that his survival was totally dependent on the care Mary and I would give him. He literally couldn't live without us. As a new dad, the enormity of that responsibility was crushing. It took my breath away. I wanted to leave the room ... but I couldn't leave him alone.

Today that little infant is a 6' 1", 23 year-old, Infantry/Ranger qualified, 2nd Lieutenant in the Army's 4th Brigade, 101st Airborne 'Screamin Eagles' Division (please don't tell him, but I think he might be able to beat me up). More importantly, this is the day that young man is leaving for Afghanistan -- for FOB Sharana in the eastern province of Paktika on the Pakistan border.

After all the heart-warming West Point parades; after all the Army-Navy Game grief that has been exchanged; after all the academics that seemed so much like any other college; after all the military training he's undergone while we watched in knowing denial of its purpose -- today it all becomes real. Today my son gladly accepts the duty he committed himself to 5 years ago -- the duty to protect a way of life that I too often take for granted.

The wheel of history continues to turn but today that wheel seems upside down. Today my son feels invincible ... and I am the helpless one.

Godspeed, Rob.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Tale Of Two Caseys

I wrote about this issue in December 2008 but it seems appropriate to bring it up again in light of the recent media hysteria surrounding a jury verdict some may have heard about. Though the verdict has outraged numerous members of our society, the cognitive dissonance accompanying the case hasn't changed one bit. So, I offer a hypothetical comparison of what we might expect to be the public reaction by many of the same people to two different "Casey Tales":

Tale One

Cayley Anthony
A two year-old little girl, incapable of surviving on her own, disappears. Her rotting remains are found months later in the woods near her home. An investigation reveals that the little girl was either abducted, deliberately disposed of, or so badly neglected that she died a tortuous death at the hand of a demented killer who many suspect may be her own mother, Casey.

When the little girl disappeared, Casey did not even report her daughter missing for more than a month. She was known to party heartily and regularly and showed no sign of regret or fear for her missing daughter until someone else made an issue of it. Casey is tried for murder.

The trial is showcased in the national media as the most recent iteration of the "Trial of the Century." Casey is eventually found not-guilty and will most probably get rich off the story through some kind of book/movie deal. The talking heads who have kept the story on the front news burner for 3 years keep talking about it incessantly even afterward.

The public is outraged.

Tale Two

Baby Doe
A distinct, whole, living human being, incapable of surviving on her own, spends her days doing exactly what she was designed to do -- develop within her mother's womb. She differs only in size, level of development, location, and some level of dependency from her counterpart in Tale One. Her mother, Casey, makes an appointment with a local doctor to have the little girl violently removed for personal reasons that have nothing to do with her own health. The little girl's remains are put in a plastic bio-hazard bag and disposed of by a "health care professional."

There is no investigation of the event. In fact, Casey's right to choose to eliminate her daughter is lauded and protected by the Supreme Court as a privacy issue.

After the little girl disappears, Casey's life doesn't skip a beat. She is known to party heartily and regularly and shows no sign of regret for having ended her daughter's life. Casey is not tried for murder. There are no grounds for such a trial.

In general, the public doesn't know anything about it. Those who do, mostly couldn't care less.

If Necessary?

~ St. Francis of Assisi
St. Francis of Assisi is credited with the famous saying at right. You can see it repeated everywhere and it sounds pretty cool. It is used by plenty of well-meaning Christians to emphasize that our actions speak louder than our words. It even seems to imply that talking the talk may be detrimental to the cause. "Keep your mouth shut," the quip seems to tell us, "unless you are forced to speak."

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

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

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

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

I submit that we can't.

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 16, 2011

"George Orwell Called, He Wants His Fiction Back"

[Before I start, I have to give proper credit to David M. Case -- a person whom I do not know and will probably never meet -- for the title of this post. I stole it from a Facebook comment he made because it was so apropos regarding the topic of this post.]

"The thought police would get him just the same. He had committed -- would have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper -- the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it. Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you."
~ George Orwell, 1984

Frank Turek is a first class public speaker, debater, radio host, and author. He is one of the most gifted communicators you will ever meet. I have attended his CrossExamined Instructor Academy apologetic training seminar and plan to return if I can. I consider him to be a friend. So it was hard for me to believe it when I read a story about him this afternoon. If you care at all about religious freedom, follow this link -- The Cisco Kid -- to read an open letter to the President of Cisco Systems and then think about whether or not our religious liberties are under siege in this country. If you doubt that the homosexual agenda is out to silence dissent and squash the freedom of those who disagree with it, you will have to read no further than this article to cast those doubts aside.

I have a few questions for John Chambers (the President of Cisco Systems, who fired Frank Turek):
  1. What is your stance regarding same-sex marriage? Does it disqualify you from heading your own company?
  2. How many Cisco employees share the same (private) views as Frank Turek? Are you going to hunt all of them down and fire them too?
  3. Why are you so spineless as to cave to the groundless demands of a single person who takes "offense" at the views of someone who has never shared those views with the "offended" one?
  4. Has your company been so successful because it only allows everyone to think the same way?
  5. Would you have fired Frank Turek if he had written a book that defended same-sex marriage?
Frank Turek fulfilled a contract with Cisco and did so in exemplary fashion. This was even admitted by the homosexual whiner whom he "offended." Frank never voiced his personal opinion about homosexuality. He never did anything to demonstrate his view of homosexuality. Frank Turek's crime was that he had the audacity to think the "wrong" kind of thoughts about the homosexual agenda. What he did was write a book that the complainer found when he Googled Turek's name after class one day. No doubt, this is the book he found: Correct, NOT Politically Correct To quote from it ...
"... the tide of political correctness has risen so much that it is now conservatives who need to be requesting tolerance (and most of us are not doing anything wrong!). Homosexual activists have a double standard. They want us to endorse their ideas, but they will not tolerate even hearing ours." (p. 90)
Dr. Turek's words could not have been more prescient. Unfortunately, they foretold a consequence that he would suffer himself because he considered it. But Frank has some other relevant thoughts about the "tolerance" issue that I think bear repeating ...
"The truth is we are called to go beyond tolerance to love. Tolerance is too weak. Tolerance says, "Hold your nose and put up with them." Love says, "Reach out and help them." Love does not allow us to be indifferent to acts that destroy other people, and it certainly doesn't allow us to endorse such acts." (p. 89)
Amen, Frank.

Frank Turek was fired from a company that didn't deserve him, by a president who lacked his courage and commitment, because of a whiner who has no concept of what real tolerance looks like. In other words, Frank Turek was treated unjustly because he stands for justice. For that reason, he should wear this incident as a badge of honor and never back down from telling the truth. Being the Jersey boy he is, I would never expect anything less.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Taqiyya?

We need to wake up.

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

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

And that is just the way our enemy likes it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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