Friday, April 20, 2012

Who Vets The "Journalists"?

Davan Maharaj
Yesterday, the L.A. Times published yet another set of pictures for no reason except to provoke and incite terrorists to violence against our troops. In short order, both Leon Panneta and our esteemed Commander-in-Chief apologized ... to the terrorists of course.

Is anyone else not just sick of this, but angered by it?

This latest round of pictures is from two years ago and shows soldiers, both American and Afghani, holding up the remains of a suicide bomber who blew himself up. No doubt, these pictures are disgusting and uncalled for. But the irony is that Muslims who will be outraged by the total lack of respect for humanity that the picture-takers display don't seem to have a problem with the greater lack of respect for humanity that the suicide bomber displayed in the cowardly act that no doubt killed innocent people.

The trail of blame for this latest release of pictures starts with whoever the moral midget was (from the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division) who offered them up to the press. Whoever he is, I can only hope that he is identified and that his career in the Army will come to an abrupt end. But his stupidity does not even compare to the moral cowardice of the man shown (above left), Davan Maharaj, an editor at the Los Angeles Times Media Group. This so-called "journalist" was asked directly by the Pentagon not to release these pictures because of the backlash it will inspire toward our troops who are already in harm's way. He did it anyway, and gave this as an explanation:
"After careful consideration, we decided that publishing a small but representative selection of the photos would fulfill our obligation to readers to report vigorously and impartially on all aspects of the American mission in Afghanistan, including the allegation that the images reflect a breakdown in unit discipline that was endangering U.S. troops."
He did it for the troops, you see.

Of course, if he was serious about his "impartiality" we would see pictures every day of the mayhem and barbarism that results when these Muslim nutjobs attack innocent civilians, obliterate children, hide in mosques, and lift the severed heads of their prisoners in reverence to allah. So where are those pictures, Davan?

This moral coward no doubt drives his BMW to work in L.A., sits in his plush little office, and accepts his Ernie Pyle Awards with a sanctimonious air of self-righteousness, while his actions endanger the very lives of the troops who defend his luxurious way of life. Some of those troops are my sons, and one of those sons may be directly experiencing the repercussions of Davan Maharaj's "impartiality" even as I write this. I wouldn't know because I haven't heard from my son in almost two weeks -- not since the second suspicious death of a Marine in his unit occurred that is currently "under investigation." The last time this happened, it was because one of his fellow Marines was shot in the back of the head by an "allied" Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier who was being trained by our Marines. Some ally.

Shockingly, Davan Maharaj didn't feel any "obligation" to show us pictures of that.

I'm not sure if I can describe the disgust -- and, yes, anger -- I feel toward this so-called "journalist" but I would like to know who is investigating him. What are his motivations? What is his background? Why does he believe his "right" to publish two year-old photographs, with no other hope for a possible outcome than to incite violence against our uniformed men and women, exceeds any consideration of the safety and value of their lives? Why would he commit what I consider to be such a treasonous act and suffer no consequences for it? Whose mouthpiece is he?

I really hope someone is trying to answer those questions.

This is further proof to me of two things: 1) That the troops who are now in greater danger because of the arrogance of Davan Maharaj (and others like him) are better, more honorable, men than he could ever hope to be, and 2) that God's forgiveness and mercy for the lost and for those who intentionally commit evil acts in this life is beyond human comprehension -- at least for someone like me.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sanctimoniality -vs- Religion

The sanctimonious "spiritualist"
Ah, yes, the Monday USA Today opinion page pays off again ... with one of the most inane commentaries it has ever offered up for derision. This installment, "Spirituality, Religion Collide," is brought to us by Diana Butler Bass, author of Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening. A title like that should catch your eye, especially if you happen to be an old fashioned rube (like me) who is out of touch with The Culture enough to actually believe that Christianity is a religion. Silly me.

Ms. Bass's "enlightened" musing stems from the story that:
Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England and the worldwide Anglican Communion, recently announced that he would step down by year's end. A few days later, the Church of England rejected a Williams-backed unity plan for global Anglicanism, a church fractured by issues of gender and sexual identity. The timing of the resignation and the defeat are probably not coincidental. These events signal Anglican's institutional failure ... The fight over gay clergy is usually framed as a left and right conflict, part of the larger saga of political division. But this narrative obscures a more significant tension in Western societies: the increasing gap between spirituality and religion, and the failure of traditional religious institutions to learn from the divide.
And what is it that "traditional religious institutions" should learn? Embrace the new spirituality!

Ms. Bass describes Williams as a "teacher and pastor of deep spirituality" who was "caught in an impossible situation" that forced him to "struggle to be both a spiritual leader who embraces the emerging vision [of gay and lesbian persons in the church] and the leader of an institution committed to guarding the old order."

What's a guy to do?

First of all, my labeling this story as worthy of derision has absolutely nothing to do with the obligation of every Christian to love and respect homosexuals. Though we all like to point to what we consider abominable moral behavior -- conveniently defined as the moral behavior of every person but the one we see in the bathroom mirror -- the fact is that all of us violate the moral standards of a perfect God every day. Sin is sin. All of us are guilty.

Second, this is not to engage in a debate with those who attempt to make the case that the Bible does not condemn homosexual behavior. Those who do that do not take the Bible seriously and are therefore not to be taken seriously when the speak about it on this topic. It is obviously false to claim that the Bible does not condemn homosexual behavior, or even that it is neutral on the subject. Argue that point all you want. Homosexual behavior violates both natural law and the moral standards we find in God's direct revelation to us. To say otherwise is ridiculous on its face.

But loving and respecting all the everlasting creatures who are made in the image of God, and who inhabit this planet with us, is a far cry from elevating deviant immorality to a position of authority in church leadership and thereby sanctioning Biblically indefensible behavior.

The deficiency in Ms. Bass's thinking is made very clear when she says that "spirituality is an expression of bottom-up faith and does not always fit into accepted patterns of theology or practice," as if spirituality and religion are mutually exclusive categories. We hear this kind of thing all the time: Religion is bad; Spirituality is good; "Christianity is not a religion, it's a relationship;" or my favorite, "I have no use for organized religion."

So do you prefer disorganized religion?

Yes, the mindless adherence to rules, regulations, form, and the supremacy of some man-made institutional bureaucracy is not what God intended. No one disagrees with that. But saying that is a far different thing from wantonly ignoring a history and tradition of worship that leads us back to the Object of our faith -- an incarnate God who instituted a community of human beings He aims to take as His bride.

As philosopher Dallas Willard warns:
The language of "spiritual," "spirit," and "spirituality" has become increasingly common today, and it cannot be avoided. But it is often unclear in meaning, and this can be dangerous. It can lead us down paths of confusion and destruction. "Spiritual" is not automatically "good." We must be very careful with this language. Nevertheless, in the sense of "spiritual," which means only "non-physical," the hidden or inner world of the human self is indeed "spiritual."
When you start disconnecting spirituality from any grounding or foundation, it becomes subject to the whims of the "spiritualist." When you start allowing that spirituality "does not always fit into accepted patterns of theology," you mostly end up with some kind of a monument to the idolatry of the self. You end up with some group of people that mistakes their mutual agreement for truth. You end up with something like an illegitimate, warped and misguided collection of navel-gazers who find ways to justify theological travesties like the ordination of homosexuals to the leadership of God's church.

You end up with Rowan Williams and the church he has helped to emasculate.

Spirituality is not only about warm feelings of reverence and an ineffable connection with the divine. These are merely the side-effects of our rightly-placed worship in the only Person who is worthy of that worship.

And that person isn't you.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Thinking Allowed

I have been challenged recently (on several fronts -- some just internally) about the purpose and usefulness of Christian apologetics. I don't take the challenge lightly. Some who have challenged me have given me some food for thought about how I approach my Christian convictions and I take their critiques seriously. I know for a fact that I am prone to over think things and to be too quick to rely on my "head" to live out my convictions while I'm too slow to use my "hands" to serve others. No doubt about it.

But I would also challenge my hand-focused friends to consider that their works of service do not absolve them from thinking about their faith. It's the only way to make sure that our service has the proper foundation and that the Christianity we are presenting is an accurate view of the world. The whole discussion reminded me of a similar post from 5 years ago that I am re-posting here.

Because I try my best to adhere to the principle of being "tolerant of people, but intolerant of (bad) ideas," I will not identify the author of the following. I only quote said author to make a point about the self-defeating consequences of anti-intellectualism in the church. Check out this excerpt (sorry it is so long) from a book which contains a chapter entitled, "Confused Mind":
Reasoning Leads to Confusion
...O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves? ... Matthew 16:8 (KJV) 
A large percentage of God's people are admittedly confused. Why? As we have seen, one reason is wondering. Another is reasoning. The dictionary partially defines the word reason in the noun form as an "underlying fact or motive that provides logical sense for a premise or occurrence" and in the verb form as "to use the faculty of reason: think logically."
A simple way to say it is, reasoning occurs when a person tries to figure out the "why" behind something. Reasoning causes the mind to revolve around and around a situation, issue or event attempting to understand all its intricate component parts. We are reasoning when we dissect a statement or teaching to see if it is logical, and disregard it if it is not. 
Satan frequently steals the will of God from us due to reasoning ... What God leads a person to do does not always make logical sense to his mind. His spirit may affirm it and his mind may reject it ... 
Don't Reason in the Mind, Just Obey the Spirit 
... the realization of how easily we can be led by our heads and allow reasoning to keep us out of God's will provoked in me a "reverential" fear of reasoning.
Let me point out that this author "has been teaching the Word of God since 1976 and in ministry since 1980." This author is the prolific writer of "more than 70 inspirational books" and has "released thousands of audio teachings as well as a complete video library." This author can be heard on national radio broadcasts, seen on national TV programs almost every day, and travels nationwide speaking and doing teaching conferences. This author has influenced a whole lot of people. I don't want to disparage the writer. I'm sure the writer has helped many people and is motivated to do so for all the right reasons. But, in this specific case, this person is just plain wrong. The teaching offered here is deeply flawed and destructive to any Christ-follower who adheres to it. Unfortunately, many new and vulnerable minds do just that.

Where do I even begin with this one?

First, the Bible verse quoted in the section heading (shown above: Matthew 16:8) is taken completely out of context. In keeping with the precept that you should be leery of anyone using a single Bible verse to prove their point (for a great discussion of this precaution go here: "Never Read a Bible Verse"), I would challenge you to look up the actual passage from which this quote was lifted. When you do, you will find it in the middle of a chapter devoted to the story of Jesus' continuing confrontations with the religious leaders who felt his ministry threatened them and their base of power.

Having just performed a miraculous feeding of four thousand seekers from a few scraps of fish and bread, Jesus tells his disciples to "be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees." The disciples, who having once again forgotten to bring bread with them (they are obviously slow learners -- like me), attribute Jesus' warning as being in reference to their failure in that regard. Exasperated when he overhears their discussion, Jesus utters the lifted quote. But let's look at the entire passage:
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, "You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don't you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don't understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees." Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Does this passage in any way attribute confusion to the use of reason? Absolutely not! In fact, it does just the opposite. Jesus is admonishing his disciples to remember what has actually occurred, then think through what he said. Three times he challenges their understanding of his words. Finally, after thinking it through, they realize what he meant them to guard against -- the fallacious teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The entire story is an exhortation to examine the evidence, think carefully about His words, and from that deduce that actual meaning of what Jesus said.

In the words of the Christian philosopher Augustine, and completely contrary to the so-called insight of the author I quote above, this is a textbook example of "faith seeking understanding."

Secondthe writer implies that wondering and reasoning are anti-Biblical.

This has absolutely no basis in Scripture. Would Cornelius, a "God-fearer," ever have been compelled to ask for Peter's intervention had he not been inquisitive about the vision he reported in Acts 10:3-4? Would Peter ever have recognized his commission to reach the Gentiles without his own vision (Acts 10:9-21)? This passage reports that Peter "was wondering about the meaning of the vision" as Cornelius' couriers approached his home. Why would God encourage Isaiah (Isaiah 1:18) to "let us reason together"? Why would Paul challenge those (1 Thessalonians 5:21) who questioned his teachings to "test everything. Hold on to what is good"? These are not tangential comments. They are at the heart of the Biblical worldview.

Try to think of a character in either testament who is not given evidence and reasons for believing in and trusting God. I can't think of any. I do, however, know that we are called to engage the world in a certain way ...
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of Godand we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5
We are engaged in a battle of ideas. The Christian worldview is the most robustly evidenced-based, intellectually defensible, reality-coherent worldview that exists. Our call is to know, live, and defend that worldview. We do so because, in our humanity, we recognize that without a God who created and sustains the world, we are doomed to a meaningless existence. Though we may not know immediately why that is, we know that something is wrong. We wonder why that is. We seek answers. We pursue God with the mind he gave us. And though we will never know Him exhaustively in this life, we can reason our way to His truths and trust His answers because they are always aligned with the way the world He created really is.

Thirdthe writer implies that logic and clear thinking are destructive and contrary to "the will of God." 

To say this is to say that the Apostle Paul's entire life mission was contrary to the will of God. Take a look at Paul's missionary journeys. In nearly every town he visited, the first thing he did was approach the cultural and/or religious leaders (in most cases the Jewish leadership) and "reason with them from the Scriptures." In Romans 12, we are told to be "transformed by the renewing of [our] minds." This, Paul tells us, is our "spiritual act of worship." The word "spiritual" here is the Greek logikos which is (quite ironically) translated: "agreeable to reason, following reason, reasonable, logical."

The only way to defend the notion that clear, logical thinking is contrary to the will of God is to be caught up in the contemporary notion that faith and spiritual issues have been relegated to solitary confinement as "matters of the heart." Banished there, faith is left to flounder as a feelings-based inclination that is personal, private, and beyond the reach of intellectual discernment. But the "heart" in a Biblical sense is much more than that. It is the core of our being; the place where our will resides and our choices are made. For that reason, the fashionable trend of separating the heart from the mind is not only unbiblical, but dangerous. It leads to vacuous pronouncements like these (from the same writer, in the same book) ...
I once asked the Lord why so many people are confused and He said to me, "Tell them to stop trying to figure everything out, and they will stop being confused." I have found it to be absolutely true. Reasoning and confusion go together.

... There is a big difference in head knowledge and revelation knowledge ... I don't know about you, but I want God to reveal things to me in such a way that I know in my spirit that what has been revealed to my mind is correct. I don't want to reason, to figure and to be logical, rotating my mind around and around and issue until I am worn out and confused. I want to experience the peace of mind and heart that come from trusting in God, not in my own human insight and understanding.
Here you notice a couple of things. The author claims direct, personal communication with God. Claiming this personal, two-way chat line serves to not only further entrench the idea that faith is a private matter, it also becomes a convenient asset in making the claim irrefutable. Who would dare question such a thing?! Any skepticism automatically renders the questioner a bad guy while simultaneously absolving the claimant of any requirement to defend themselves.

But, for the sake of argument, let's say the author is being absolutely truthful -- God has spoken audibly. Why then, would the hearer need to resort to "knowing things in the spirit" or "experiencing peace of mind and heart?" Neither of these is required if one actually hears the voice of God audibly. This leads to a follow-on objection ...

Fourth, the author's use of the slogan "Just Obey in the Spirit," is one of many similar (and all-too-familiar in Christian circles) exhortations that contains no actual meaning.

Like other phrases I could name, this one has become part of a kind of Christian-speak that is thrown around but that no one outside the church (or inside it, for that matter) can define. It is an empty slogan.

Humor me for a second and think about it ... how does one "obey in the Spirit" without engaging the mind? I welcome comments from those who can explain to me just how that is done.

This is not just a trivial objection to the author's view. It is a dangerous precedent to set. If "obeying in the Spirit" requires nothing but an inner, peaceful feeling, it can be used to justify any belief, thought, or action. There is no way to critique such a thing ... unless one uses reason and logic to do so. But that, we are told, is not allowed. Do you see how adhering to such a view is not only self-serving, but can be disastrous for those who hold to these ideas?

Being that I have listed the problems I find with this kind of teaching in logical order, and made a reasoned case why I believe it to be not only wrong but destructive, I'm sure that some would point out that my thinking is exactly the kind of thing the author is talking about. I am a living, breathing incarnation of the flaws the author is addressing. But in making that accusation, my critics, like the author they defend, actually help me make the fifth and final point I would like to address.

Fifth, the author has written a book meant to make a logically persuasive case for the point of view being defended.

It always amazes me when folks write books meant to convince us all that there is no such thing as truth (so is their book true or not?); or that there is no such thing as an unbiased point of view (except theirs, of course); or that no one's "story" is any more authoritative than anyone else's (this is the strong-postmodern case for relativism); or, as in this case, that we shouldn't be using logic and reason. The idea that reason and logic are bad is dashed on the rocks of the very premise for which the author wrote the book. For that matter, it is the only reason anyone writes any book in the first place. They want to convince you that what they are saying is true by logically and persuasively arguing their case!

I do not critique the author quoted here lightly. I used to subscribe to some of the ideas myself. But once one sees the fallacies and dangers in this type of thinking, it is hard to ignore it and look the other way. This type of mindset is destructive to the church. It makes us look foolish to the world and it needs to be stopped. Not because we are capitulating to the ways of the world, but because we are defying the faculty of reason God gave us when He created us in His image.