Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hell: A Great Injustice?

The idea of God consigning human beings to eternal torment has been strongly denounced. The renowned atheist Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899) had written:

• Eternal punishment must be eternal cruelty and I do not see how any man, unless he has a brain of an idiot, or the heart of a wild beast, can believe in eternal punishment.

However, what if hell is SELF-chosen? What if many would prefer to be in a place of darkness than a place of light and truth? Clearly, many people have a strong aversion to God – the idea of a cosmic policeman or morality watchdog. Many philosophers have confessed that they prefer a world devoid of God. The atheist and author of the Brave New World, Aldous Huxley, explained his rejection of the Christian faith:

• I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning [and moral absolutes]; consequently assumed that it had none…We don’t know because we don’t want to know. It is our will that decides how and upon what subjects we shall use our intelligence. Those who detect no meaning in the world generally do so because, for one reason or another, it suits their books that the world should be meaningless. (Ends and Mean)

A meaningless world is a world that can’t point an accusing finger at us. It’s a world where we are free to create our own meaning without an overbearing God imposing His values upon us. What if this temporarily-alluring, self-created world, in which we have “eliminated” God – the light – then becomes a darkened hell. Would this make God unjust? Hardly! Perhaps hell is something we choose because we can’t stomach the alternative. Soren Kierkegaard explained that the God-alternative is very demanding:

• The truth is a snare; you cannot have it without being caught. You cannot have the truth in such a way that you catch it, but only such a way that it catches you. (The Last Years)

It is therefore no wonder that the truth is highly offensive. It not only catches us, but it also exposes us. As light exposes filth, God uncovers our true motives. And there is nothing as threatening as having our real self revealed to the light. In line with this, Jesus stated:

• This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.
(John 3:19-20)

It is the lovers-of-darkness who seem to hand down the “verdict” on themselves. Because of this, it is possible that judgment will not have to be actively imposed. The lovers-of-darkness will gladly reject the light. (I know; I too had been a lover-of-darkness!)

Although Jesus is designated as the ultimate Judge (Acts 17:31; John 5:22-27; 9:39-41), there remains some uncertainly regarding how He will judge:

• As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.
(John 12:47-48)

Evidently, Jesus will judge, but He will judge indirectly. “My words” will do the judging. But how do words judge? Perhaps, humanity will be divided by their response to His Words. The goats will gladly choose the goats, and the sheep will follow the other sheep. For some, His Words will be an utter stench, driving them away. According to the Apostle Paul:

• God…through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life…(2 Cor. 2:14-16)

Why would His revelation represent such a stench to those who reject Him? Jesus explained that “the world hates me because I testify that what it does is evil” (John 7:7). Indeed, we hate those who expose us for what we are, even when we are not fully aware of what we are doing. As light disperses darkness, truth is an offense to our many rationalizations and denials. Humility, transparency and trust in a saving God are provocations to those who have fortified themselves – however inadequately – against the charges of their conscience.

Perhaps the best example of this is found in the Garden of Eden. After the first couple sinned, they could no longer tolerate the presence of God. They hid themselves under a bush from Him and covered themselves with fig leaves. Even after giving them every chance to confess their sins, they refused and clothed themselves in half-truths and blame-shifting. And even after He pronounced upon them the consequences of their sin and rebellion – death and expulsion – there was no confession or repentance. We are left to conclude that when their God delivered His final, they were content to be finally away from His painful presence. Not once did they say, “Forgive us and give us a second chance.” Instead, they were probably relieved to be separated from this over-bearing and judgmental God. Indeed, God had condemned them, but they had first chosen this condemnation themselves. By hiding in the bushes, they demonstrated that they no longer wanted God.

Those who have rejected His Messiah are already self-condemned:

• For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.
(John 3:17-18)

According to Jesus, humankind is self-condemned already, because of their hatred of the light – a vote in favor of the darkness of self-deceit. If they hate the light in this life – and God is more “distant” here – there is no reason to suppose that they will suddenly love the light in the next life, when God’s presence will be far more imposing. This is illustrated in Jesus’ parable about the beggar Lazarus and the unrepentant rich man. Upon dying, Lazarus went to the place of the saints, while the rich man went to a place of torment. Although he begged to have his thirst quenched, he never once asked to leave the place of torment or to enter the place of joy. Instead of confessing his sins, he seemed to blame God for not having provided enough evidence of his eternal fate. In response, God assured him that he already had enough evidence (Luke 16:19-31), which lovers of darkness choose not to see.

Even in a place of torment, we tend to be too comfortable with our own ways to feel at ease under the scrutiny of a perfectly righteous and demanding God. Hell then becomes the destination of choice. It may be a place of torment, but evidently it is perceived as less tormenting than being in the presence of God.

But won’t there be people who want to go to heaven, but it will be denied to them? Firstly, the Bible gives us no hope that anyone in hell will suddenly smell the coffee and repent of their sins. It also seems that no one who truly wants to go to heaven and to enjoy the love of God will be denied. Furthermore, no one who ever humbled themselves to ask the Lord for forgiveness was ever turned away – not according to Scripture.

There is one possible verse that can be invoked in support of the idea that some will be denied entrance into heaven. Jesus provides the hypothetical situation of people who demand entry into heaven by virtue of their spiritual attainments. However, these never had any relationship with the Savior, nor did He ever have any with them. To them, He declares, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:21-23). Why then would they want to be with a God they had never known or truly pursued in this world? They were probably clueless about heaven and what it entailed. Isaiah gives us an indication of what it will be like to be in His presence:

• Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?
(Isaiah 33:14)

Only when our sin problem has been decisively addressed, do we want to come into His presence:

• When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions. Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple. You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness, O God our Savior…
(Psalm 65:3-5)

The only reason we can endure God’s “everlasting burning” is because our guilty conscience has been cleansed by our Savior.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22; 4:15)

Once our conscience is cleansed, the “everlasting burning” becomes the fires of love and intimacy.

While the idea of hell might seem unjust, we can only blame ourselves in view of a God who cries out continually,

• The Spirit and the bride [Jesus] say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.
(Rev. 22:17)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Faith Produces Deeds, and Christ Produces Them Both

The fruit of trust is good deeds. If we trust our doctor, we will take the pills he gives us. Similarly, if we trust our Savior, we will also take His obedience "pills." If we don’t trust Him, we will not obey Him. The association between trust and obey is so tight that James can confidently write, “I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:18).

Consequently, a faith that fails to produce any changes is not a Biblical faith. Therefore, if we claim to have faith, but fail to show any of the fruits of faith, we are deceiving ourselves:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says… Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:22, 27)

However, many of us have tried to live according to this prescription and have utterly failed. Instead, as “payment” for our efforts, we were left with a sense of profound guilt and shame, and also a determination to get away from this God, who we are unable to please.

For many years, I too found that being a Christian was exasperating and guilt-inducing. At first, I had been determined that I was going to successfully “look after orphans and widows,” even though that wasn’t my cup of tea. I simply committed myself to “do it,” and had long convinced myself that I could do whatever I had determined to do. However, I soon found that the harder I tried, the more difficult it became. It was like struggling against quicksand – the harder you struggle, the quicker you sink!

My confidence as a worthy Christian was quickly depleted, and I sank into a deep stupor of depression. I couldn’t even bear to read the Bible any more. It reminded me of my past failures and exposed new areas of failure. I felt judged and projected this feeling on to others, thinking that they too were judging me. Consequently, going to church felt like standing before a jury – not an outlook conducive to fellowship!

I had convinced myself that I could do everything, but I was finding that I could do absolutely nothing. It was humbling, but it also opened my eyes to the words of Jesus:

"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

How true! I was beginning to see that my spiritual dysfunctionality was part of God’s design. But how could I “remain” in Him? This too seemed to be impossible for me, but I found that God loves to fix impossible situations and people:

But he [Christ] said to me [Paul], "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

Although my failures were initially a source of shame, they became the doorway to His blessings. Much time has gone by. I’ve been following my Savior for 35 years, and now my greatest joy is to do His will. This was something that I could never dream of achieving. Instead, He has invited me to partake in this great privilege.

I certainly haven’t arrived. There are many things I’d love to change about myself, but now I know where the answer is to be found. Although my Lord doesn’t respond to my pleadings according to my time schedule – and I struggle with many weaknesses and failings – I know that it’s all about His grace. If I remain weak, it’s for His glory; if He strengthens me, it’s also for His glory, and I am edified by His glory.

I still react with guilt and shame, but these painful feelings now promptly turn my awareness to His Cross. They have now become a glorious chariot repeatedly carrying me to grace, peace and gratitude. They are now joyous reminders of what He has done for me.

Christ has purposed that we can’t live the Christian life on our own. And He wouldn’t want us to try to live it without Him.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Ashamed of the Church?

If you are ashamed of the church, you have good reason to be, in light of the barrage of negative Christian images that are spewed out by the media. However, images aren’t investigations. In a peer reviewed study from Harvard University, it was found that Christians are much more successful in caring for others than atheists.
USA Today reported on this study:

• However, on the other side of the ledger, religious people are also "better neighbors" than their secular counterparts. No matter the civic activity, being more religious means being more involved. Take, for example, volunteer work. Compared with people who never attend worship services, those who attend weekly are more likely to volunteer in religious activities (no surprise there), but also for secular causes. The differences between religious and secular Americans can be dramatic. Forty percent of worship-attending Americans volunteer regularly to help the poor and elderly, compared with 15% of Americans who never attend services. Frequent-attenders are also more likely than the never-attenders to volunteer for school and youth programs (36% vs. 15%), a neighborhood or civic group (26% vs. 13%), and for health care (21% vs. 13%). The same is true for philanthropic giving; religious Americans give more money to secular causes than do secular Americans. And the list goes on, as it is true for good deeds such as helping someone find a job, donating blood, and spending time with someone who is feeling blue. Furthermore, the "religious edge" holds up for organized forms of community involvement: membership in organizations, working to solve community problems, attending local meetings, voting in local elections, and working for social or political reform. On this last point, it is not just that religious people are advocating for right-leaning causes, although many are.

These results agree with the findings of the Barna Research Group:

• They [atheists and agnostics] are less likely than active-faith Americans to be registered to vote (78% versus 89%), to volunteer to help a non-church-related non-profit (20% versus 30%), to describe themselves as "active in the community" (41% versus 68%), and to personally help or serve a homeless or poor person (41% versus 61%)… One of the outcomes of this profile - and one of the least favorable points of comparison for atheist and agnostic adults - is the paltry amount of money they donate to charitable causes. The typical no-faith American donated just $200 in 2006, which is more than seven times less than the amount contributed by the prototypical active-faith adult ($1500). Even when church-based giving is subtracted from the equation, active-faith adults donated twice as many dollars last year as did atheists and agnostics. In fact, while just 7% of active-faith adults failed to contribute any personal funds in 2006, that compares with 22% among the no-faith adults.

Many want to remake the church. However, in light of these findings, the more appropriate response would be to preserve the church.

(Thanks Brian Rose for alerting me to these studies!)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

May 21, 2011: Don’t give Away your Job or Apartment!

Here’s my response to a concerned Christian:

Although I love the idea of Jesus returning 5/21, it just won't happen at this time. Here's why:

• Matthew 24:36 "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

• Acts 1:7 He [Jesus] said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.

• Matthew 24:21-24 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now--and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'There he is!' do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect--if that were possible.

• CHRIST’S COMING FOR US IS PRECEDED BY THE TRIB: 2 Thes. 2:1-8 Concerning the (2) coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being (2) gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the (1) rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God...And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his (2) coming.


So, prepare to hang around for a bit longer, but always be prepared for His return!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Relgious Persecution: A Letter to President Obama

Dear President Obama,

Great numbers of Christians are being disproportionately persecuted around the world:

Three-quarters of religious persecution in the world…is directed at Christians…two-thirds [are among] countries…where persecution is getting worse. (Christianity Today, May 2011, 19)

• In many countries around the world, anti-Christian hostility has reached an unprecedented level. Relentless suicide bombings, false imprisonment, and violent personal attacks are now at the heart of an international community of believers that has become gripped by fear and uncertainty. In Pakistan, Iraq and Egypt, recent incidents have become so intense…In these countries, growing persecution at the hands of Islamic militants is causing a rise in civil unrest, while many Christians are simply fleeing to other regions.
(“Freedom Report,” Christian Freedom International)

For example, intimidation of the Christian minority has become so intense that there are now,

• Sixty monthly conversions in Pakistan from Christianity to Islam. Most are in response to the Country’s blasphemy law. (CT, 18)

If our support to these Muslim nations isn’t made contingent upon improvement in regards to their treatment and protection of innocent religious minorities, then we are complicit in their crimes. Please, therefore, take a strong stance in this direction.

Sincerely, Daniel Mann
(sent 5/18)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Scripture: Can We Pick-and-Choose?

If Christianity was ever “trendy,” it certainly isn’t today. Rather, many find it highly offensive. Why?

1. It criticizes many of our lifestyle choices.
2. It tells us that “ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
3. It also tells us that the only remedy is through Christ: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father EXCEPT THROUGH ME” (John 14:6).
4. To add insult to injury, Scripture adds that “all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness” (2 Thes. 2:12).

This is just too much for the person who embraces the values of the prevailing culture. Because of this, some have completely rejected Christ. Others try to retain Christ without all of His teachings. After all, if Scripture isn’t fully God-breathed, trustworthy, and authoritative, the middle-of-the-roaders have some wiggle-room to pick and choose. In support of this notion, one theologian, the late Clark Pinnock, wrote,

“Conservative evangelicals find it difficult to accept the evidence that God in his written Word has stooped to our infirmity and given us a Bible with human limitations.”

Why might we believe otherwise – that the Bible is free from human error, at least as it was originally written? For one thing, Scripture contains many safeguards against the entry of uninspired material:

If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, "Let us follow other gods" (gods you have not known) "and let us worship them," you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. (Deut. 13:1-5)

God has always been in the business of safeguarding His Word. Therefore, everything that would be regarded as His Word had to conform to prior revelation, even if counter-revelations came with a miraculous side-show. In addition to this, the prophet had to establish his divine credentials by prophesying correctly 100% of the time:

You may say to yourselves, "How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?" If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him. (Deut. 18:21-22).

This same principle has been carried over into the New Testament. It wasn’t enough that an Apostle or a Prophet had been charismatic. He had to carry with his teachings the Lord’s authenticating miracles:

“This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Hebrews 2:3-4)

Jesus stated that this principle pertained even to Him:

“Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." (John 10:37-38)

Jesus and the Apostles were also quick to demonstrate that Scripture itself attested to their teachings. In many ways they proclaimed that their teachings were and what had been written before them was Scripture and therefore fully authoritative:

• Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy NEVER HAD ITS ORIGIN IN THE WILL OF MAN, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
(2 Peter 1:20-21; 1 Peter 1:10-11).

In so many ways, the Holy Spirit is identified as the ultimate author of Scripture, and therefore, Scripture is fully God-breathed, fully the product of God and not “human limitations”:

• ALL Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
(2 Tim. 3:16-17).

It is only because Scripture is fully the product of God – and therefore totally trustworthy and authoritative – that Paul could assert that it will enable us to “be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” If Scripture included “human limitations,” then we would have to make ourselves into the ultimate authorities by trying to distinguish between human error and divine guidance. And if we have the wisdom to be the ultimate arbiter, then who needs Scripture!

Instead, of a fully trustworthy set of Scriptures, Pinnock claims,

“What keeps us sound in the faith will not be our strenuous rationalistic efforts to make the case for the Bible air-tight. It is the Spirit of God in mighty power moving through the church.”

According to Pinnock, the church could exercise Spirit-led group discernment to determine what is truly trustworthy. Although the Spirit can work in this manner, what happens when the group hits an impasse? One elder claims that the Spirit is leading him in one direction, while another claims another direction? Ultimately, the Spirit gave us His Scripture as the final objective authority on all such disputes.

Jesus (nor any book of Scripture) even said anything to suggest that Scripture might not be fully trustworthy. Instead, He consistently affirmed Scripture:

• I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven…
(Matthew 5:18-19)

According to Jesus, every letter and every commandment was God-given and couldn’t be altered. Everything had to be fulfilled, because it all had its origin with God. He explained this to His doubting followers on the Emmaus road:

• "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and ALL the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in ALL the Scriptures concerning himself.
(Luke 24:25-27)

If He knew that Scripture contained errors, He wouldn’t have been able to call upon “ALL the Prophets… [and] ALL the Scriptures.” Nor would He be able to assert that everything had to be fulfilled:

He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." (Luke 24:44; also John 10:35)

In contrast to this, Pinnock asserted:

“It is important to insist that the Bible is a merely human text – written, copied, translated, and interpreted by fallible people. It contains all manner of internal contradictions, moral blemishes, legend and saga, inaccuracies, and the like. It is a collection of intensely human documents and is not an authority beyond criticism or correction. To regard it as God’s written Word is an idolatrous perversion of belief which must be dethroned.”

Instead, Jesus taught that to abide in Him was to abide in His Word (John 15; 14:21-24). If we are “idolatrous,” then Jesus also was! If we are to take Jesus, we also have to take His teachings, which He commanded to be taught to all the nations (Matthew 28:19-20). Besides, He Himself submitted to Scripture. When He was tempted by the Devil in the wilderness, He consistently resorted to Scripture:

Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on EVERY word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:4)

Life and maturity are a matter of taking “every Word” as authoritative. Scripture uniformly testifies that the Spirit transforms us through the Word:

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. (1 Thes. 2:13)

Paul asserts that his writings and teachings are also Scripture, but he also asserts that it works miraculously and transformingly within those of us who believe. When we fail to take Scripture as it is intended, we loose out.

During years of enduring a thick blanket of depression and panic attacks, I found that there was only one thing that could dent these totally debilitating afflictions – the Word of God. Often, I was so afflicted that I couldn’t even read it, but at other times, a simple statement of Scripture would miraculously take on life. For instance, on one occasion, the simple assertion, “And God heard him,” burst upon me like an explosion of light. It lasted no more than a second, but it left me changed. It not only drove away my depression, but it also taught me profound truths – God was with me; I was wondrously in His hands; He knew what I was going through and in His time He would rescue me after He had accomplished His blessed purposes. Even in the midst of my pain, I was left with a growing confidence that nothing else could have provided.

The depression would return, but so would the lessons. I wonder whether we know what we are sacrificing when we prioritize our life-style choices above Him and His Word. Do we know the riches that we surrender to the passing fads of social acceptability?

My depression is largely a thing of the past, but I thank God for His severe training (Psalm 119:71). It has taught me the supremacy of His Word, and that’s what pleases Him:

You are my friends if you do what I command. (John 15:14)

Smelling a Media Rat

The mainstream media elites react with surprise when they receive feedback that the listeners no longer trust them. However, there is good reason for this:

One of Canada’s leading TV sports broadcasters fired one of its anchors Wednesday after he voiced support for true marriage on Twitter. Damian Goddard, the now-former host of “Connected” on Rogers Sportsnet, had tweeted his support of Burlington hockey agent Todd Reynolds, who created a stir this week when he criticized New York Rangers hockey star Sean Avery for shooting a TV ad backing gay “marriage.” “I completely and wholeheartedly support Todd Reynolds and his support for the traditional and TRUE meaning of marriage,” wrote Goddard on May 10th. He also voiced support for U.S. Olympic gold medalist Peter Vidmar, who resigned as chef de mission for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team after homosexual activists created a controversy over his support for true marriage.

As far as we can tell, Goddard didn’t use his job to express his belief in traditional marriage. He twittered, and that cost him his head. Nor does there does not seem to be any evidence that Goddard failed to fulfill job expectations. Sportsnet merely commented:

• “Mr. Goddard was a freelance contractor and in recent weeks it had become clear that he is not the right fit for our organization.”

What does it mean to be “the right fit?” Evidently, this goes beyond job performance. It seems to suggest that the employee has to share the same philosophy as the media – “We only want our own kind here!” This makes for a monolithic, unbalanced and biased presentation of the news. In light of this, there is no reason why the “news” should not be regarded as propaganda, just as regulated and packaged for mind-control as Communist or Nazi propaganda.

However, at least in these totalitarian regimes, it is a known fact that the media is merely a tool of the establishment. The impact of Western mainstream media is far more insidious. Many still believe that they are receiving the unvarnished truth, and are gullibly taken-in by the claims that media is trustworthy, impartial and balanced. However, when they begin to fire those who do not live, walk and breathe the party line, many have begun to smell a rat.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Who will be Left to Object?

Do we not have an obligation to speak against violence and intimidation? And if we have an obligation to speak out against victimization in far-off Myanmar, North Korea and Darfur, don’t we also have an obligation to speak out against the victimization on our own doorstep, against our own community?

Gudrun Kugler runs a Vienna-based human rights group called the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe, which monitors and reports on what some call “Christianophobia.” Professor Joseph Weiler of New York University School of Law coined the term after Rocco Buttiglione was rejected in 2004 for a high-ranking position in the European Commission for his Christian beliefs on homosexuality.

• Discrimination against Christians for their beliefs is on the rise all over the world, including in what some consider to be tolerant Europe. A few months ago a Christian couple were told they could no longer act as foster parents because they held the Christian view of homosexuality. A state electrician in the United Kingdom recently faced dismissal for showing a crucifix on the dashboard of his company van. A crowd in Belgium cheered when an archbishop was attacked with cream pies.

Kugler also sits on the Advisory Panel of the Fundamental Rights Agency’s Fundamental Rights Platform, a gathering of non-governmental organizations concerned with human rights. At their conference she suggested that,

• …holding a “kiss-in” at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was not respectful of Christians. She said anti-Christian images at homosexual parades, including mock-crucifixions, was likewise not respectful. Kugler suggested, “no one should go to prison for respectfully stating an opinion which does not advocate violence.” The human rights crowd shouted “No!” Someone responded, “People should go to prison for what they say if it is a negative comment against a vulnerable minority group…” Kugler said a staff member of the Fundamental Rights Agency nodded in agreement.
Christians have not only become subjected to intense discrimination within the “tolerant” and “non-judgmental” West, they have also become the targets of violence:

• Kugler also reported to the group how a Berlin pharmacy was vandalized for refusing to sell the sometimes-abortifacient morning after pill. The pharmacist’s windows were smashed and his pharmacy wrecked. One participant shouted, “Quite right!”

It has become “quite right” to threaten and destroy businesses when their owners have a different religion or worldview. Could this represent the beginning of the end of the democratic process and human rights of the politically incorrect? Violence happens, but it’s quite another thing when it’s institutionally sanctioned!

Where will all of this lead, and what should be done about it? Pastor Martin Niemoller had become one of the leaders of the “Confessing Church” during the Nazi insanity that had taken captive perhaps the most educated nation of the world at that time. He opposed Adolph Hitler and was consequently sent to jail in 1937 and then to a concentration camp for the remainder of the war. Later, Niemoller famously lamented,

First the Nazis went after the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not object. Then they went after the trade-unionists, but I was not a trade-unionist so I did not object. Then they came after me, and there was no one left to object.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Hot-Wired for God

We’re hot-wired for God, and it’s not just Christians who are saying this. Roger Trigg, director of the Oxford study, known as the Cognition, Religion and Theology Project, said

"We see agency. We think that something is there even if you can't see it... All this tends to build up to a religious way of thinking.”

• Studies around the world came up with similar findings, including widespread belief in some kind of afterlife and an instinctive tendency to suggest that natural phenomena happen for a purpose.

The article suggested that even the arch-atheist Richard Dawkins would readily agree with the findings. However, he’d probably respond, “Get over it!” Indeed, he’d most likely respond in this manner, but the atheist is left with a big fat problem. According to evolution, we evolve in ways that confers upon us a “survival advantage.” Translating this into other words, this means that a faith in God is a good thing – an offensive conclusion for an atheist, who is left struggling with the question, “How can the “God delusion” be a good thing?”

This is an embarrassing conundrum. Evolution wouldn’t have predicted such a thing. Instead, evolution would have predicted that pervasive delusions of religious ideas would make humankind less able to learn and to adapt to the rigors of their environment. However, in accordance with the findings, the Bible tells us very clearly that we are wired for God:

• Romans 1:18-21, 32 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened…. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Generally, the theory that has the best predictive power is the one to be preferred. Besides, if we’re hot-wired for God, maybe we should not “get over it!” Maybe it would be best to accept this felicitous human condition?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Moral Relativity, College Style

When I ask New York University students, “Do you believe in moral absolutes like ‘genocide and torturing babies are wrong?’” they melt down right before my eyes. Sometimes, they stand there speechless; at other times, they’ll contradict themselves within a single sentence. I find this very amusing, because when I ask an adolescent this very question, they have no problem answering “Yes.”

Why the difference? “Higher” education! Materialism, naturalism and moral relativity have displaced the truths that our hearts speak so persuasively. They learn that morality can only find its basis in material causes – genetics, evolution, culture, and family – and these causes are always in flux. What’s right for me today might not work for me tomorrow. Therefore, morality is strictly a product of our changing choices and material circumstances, and can’t be immutable and universal absolute truths.

Consequently, the youth are divided against themselves. While their God-wired heart tells them that there are certain things that are absolutely wrong, their minds tell them that “morality” depends upon our changing circumstances and arbitrary choices. Therefore, Hitler was no less moral than Jesus.

Moral relativism condemns us to a schizoid existence. Our heart responds in terms of absolutes, while our mind denies them. This not only becomes a source of unending internal conflict, it also immobilizes us. It is said that “evil prevails when good people do nothing.” If we aren’t united within ourselves, we will do nothing, especially if it will cost us.

I asked a moral relativist about this very problem: “How can you intervene against evil, if you don’t even believe that there is such a thing as ‘evil?’”

“I’m a good person,” he blandly asserted.

“Would you then intervene if you saw a woman being raped?” I probed.

“No! I don’t know what her karma is,” he defensively replied. Although he wasn’t explicit about it, he hinted that perhaps she might deserve to be raped. Of course, his stance isn’t exactly moral relativism, but it reflects the moral confusion that has overtaken even the most intelligent. Although there is still political activism among today’s liberal college students, there is not an adequate rationale for it. Without this rationale, it would be very surprising for them to be willing to pay a personal price for it. Meanwhile, it pays dividends if it convinces us that we’re “good” people.

Moral confusion has become enthroned on the college campus. One young wife caught her husband cheating on her. She confronted him about his disloyalty, and he responded, “Well, having this affair works for me. You can’t impose what’s ‘right’ for you on me!”

I try to reason with the college students that the only way that they can find wholeness and unity is to bring their mind into harmony with their heart to acknowledge that there are moral absolutes. However, as I continue unpacking this reasoning, they become uncomfortable. I reason that without a higher truth – one that transcends this material world – moral absolutes can find no basis. They have to be universal, true and immutable, and there is nothing in this changing world of ours that can possibly provide such a foundation for morality.

This worldly vacuum, of course, brings us to the only One who can provide a basis for moral absolutes – the very place where our students resist going. They then insist that they are quite satisfied with their lives the way they are. However, they fail to see that their choices will be their undoing:

• Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD, since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm." (Proverbs 1:29-33)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bill Maher’s Religulous

Watching Bill Maher’s Religulous was upsetting. This is because, when I see such a mockumentary, I tend to imagine myself in the position of the person who is searching for spiritual truth. From this perspective, I naturally think, “Who would want any part of the Christian faith after seeing it in the light of such scorn!” Consequently, I become very disturbed.

However, I heard a testimony today that helped me see Religulous from a divine perspective. A young lady, who wasn’t even a seeker, saw this scorn-filled movie and began to wonder what attracted people to religion. In her curiosity, she began to read the Bible to find answers to this perplexing question, and she found them in Psalm 50:7-15:

**"Hear, O my people, and I will speak,O Israel, and I will testify against you:I am God, your God.I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me. I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine.If I were hungry I would not tell you,for the world is mine, and all that is in it.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Sacrifice thank offerings to God,fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you will honor me."

These verses opened a passageway into another world, and she knew that she would never again be the same. Our God can co-opt any satanic device for his own purposes. He can take any weapon and turn it against the aggressor or transform any Religulous into a divine arrow to penetrate a hardened heart.

My angry, unbelieving heart was also penetrated. I was reminded, once again, that our God reigns, and He is not stymied by the contempt of secularism, the denial postmodernism or the sensual demands of the me-generation:

• "See, it is I who created the blacksmith who fans the coals into flame and forges a weapon fit for its work. And it is I who have created the destroyer to work havoc; no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me," declares the LORD."
(Isaiah 54:16-17)

This doesn’t mean that I’m going to recommend Religulous. That would be ridiculous. It would also be presumptuous of the Lord’s grace. While He can rescue us from a fall off a five-story building, it would be foolish to recommend that someone try jumping. However, we need not fear mockumentaries any more than we need fear rooftops.

Where Secular Therapy Leads Us

The secular approach to mental health is diametrically opposed to Scripture in many ways. Here’s a checklist of the differences, which will help us gauge whether or not we are on the right path. However, even before we know if we’re going in our chosen direction, we need to know where we are. A captain has various instruments to make these critical assessments. We too need tools and maps to make equivalent spiritual/emotional assessments. Otherwise, we are afloat at sea, going around in confusing circles.

I must apologize beforehand for my over-generalizations. It’s hard to briefly capture something as diverse as secular therapy. However, I think that these generalizations might be helpful:

FOCUS: While the secular is focused upon the needs/desires – even “pathologies” – of the consumer (the self), the Bible counsels that in all things we have to seek the things of God first:

• Matthew 6:33: But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and ALL THESE THINGS WILL BE GIVEN TO YOU AS WELL.

ANALYSIS: While the secular makes much of the “abnormalities” – the things that set us apart – Scripture places far more weight on the commonalities among humanity and the common principles that affect us all:

• Romans 3:23: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

THE ANSWER: While the secular attempts to find the answer in the self, the Bible recognizes our helplessness and sees God as the ultimate answer:

• Romans 8:31-32: If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

TRUTH: While the secular is concerned about reducing unwanted symptomology – guilt, shame, anxiety – the Bible is more concerned about thinking correctly than feeling positively (the feelings will follow as a by-product of being rightly connected):

• Psalm 51:6: Surely you [God] desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

SUFFERING AND WEAKNESS: While the secular regards these as unwanted symptomology – and this makes it difficult for us to affirm the totality of our experience – Scripture places great value upon brokenness:

• 2 Cor. 12:9-10: But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

UNWANTED FEELINGS: The secular tends to think that our painful feelings – guilt, shame, fear – should be medicated away, Scripture recognizes that there are reasons for these feelings. We can learn from them, and they can instruct us to go in the appropriate direction. They serve as both a record of our developmental influences and a roadmap for future decision-making:

• 2 Cor. 7:8-10: Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it--I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while-- yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

SELF-ESTEEM: The secular attempts to build the person up, convincing them that “you can do it!” The Bible warns against the danger of an inflated self-estimation:

• Luke 18:14: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

SELF-TRUST: While the secular seeks to inculcate self-trust, the Bible advocates for God-trust alone:

• John 15:5: “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

CAUSATION: While both sides recognize that the past is formative, Scripture places more emphasis upon our freewill choices as formative agents. Our feelings and mental habits are largely a product of our thinking and choosing. For instance, our choices to use anger and temper tantrums will imprint our future behavior patterns.

• Proverbs 1:29-32: Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD, since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them;

CULPABILITY: Secular psychotherapy tends to rationalize away bad conduct, since we are the product of deterministic forces. Scripture dignifies us by requiring that we take full responsibility for our actions.

Understanding these distinctions will help us to make better informed choices.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Homosexuality: The Costs

Why am I writing another paper that will bring all manner of charges against me - “homophobe,” “hate-monger”…? Because so many voices charge that Christ and His teachings are the problem and not the answer! I feel strongly that this charge must be contested. Instead, I want to argue that gays are trapped in a self-destructive cycle of behavior, which serves to kill them in many ways. It is my hope that they will seek the ultimate answer that is only found in the Savior who dearly loves them. I will merely cite studies, most of which I have gleaned from www.NARTH.com. (For other sources, visit www.PFOX.org and Exodus International.)

• Study published in International Journal of Epidemiology revealed 20-year-old Gay and bisexual men in a Canadian metropolis face life expectancy 8-20 years less than that of heterosexual men in same environment. Report concluded Gay and bisexual men now face life expectancy rate similar to rates experienced by all Canadian men in 1871. (“Modeling the Impact of HIV Disease on Mortality in Gay and Bisexual Men,” International Journal of Epidemiology #26, 1997.)

• A new study which analyzed tens of thousands of gay obituaries and compared them with AIDS deaths data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), has shown that the life expectancy for homosexuals is about twenty years shorter than that of the general public. The study, entitled “Gay obituaries closely track officially reported deaths from AIDS”, has been published in Psychological Reports (2005;96:693-697).

• According to Journal of Clinical Pathology, homosexuals are 3.7 times more likely to be infected with gonorrhea than heterosexuals. According to their findings, 15.2% of homosexuals suffer pharyngeal (throat) gonorrhea. (“Value of Screening for Oropharyngeal Chlamydia Trachomatis Infection,” Journal of Clinical Pathology, 1995, p. 658.)

• Centers for Disease Control reports men who have sex with men at a dramatically increased risk to contract Hepatitis B. (“Viral Hepatitis B: Frequently Asked Questions,” National Center for Infectious Diseases,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, September 29, 2000.)

• “Syphilis cases rose in 2003 for the third consecutive year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gay men made up 60% of syphilis cases, compared with 5% in 1999. HIV diagnoses increased 17% among gay and bisexual men in 29 states between 1999 and 2002.” (Todd Henneman, “Scared of Sex,” The Advocate, August 17, 2004.)

• Reporting in the American Journal of Epidemiology, Dr. Donald R. Hoover said that a 20-year-old homosexual man, by time he reaches age 55, has 50% chance of becoming infected with HIV.

• Study published in Archives of General Psychiatry, followed 1,007 individuals from birth. Revealed those classifying themselves as Gay, lesbian, or bisexual faced a significantly higher likelihood of suicide. Another study published in same publication, scientists determined that twins engaged in Gay lifestyle are 6.5 times more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual counterparts. (“Is Sexual Orientation Related to Mental Health Problems and Suicidality in Young People?” Archives of General Psychiatry #56, October 1999, pp. 876-884.)

• Study published in the December 2003 British Journal of Psychiatry, Gay men are significantly more likely to suffer from mental disorders than heterosexual men, less likely to be involved in a steady relationship with one partner, more likely to have used drugs within the preceding 30 days, far more likely to abuse their partner, and more likely to inflict harm upon themselves. Same was true for comparisons between heterosexual women and lesbians. (M. King, E. McKeown, J. Warner, A. Ramsay, K. Johnson, C. Cort, L. Wright, R. Blizard, and O. Davidson, “Mental Health and Quality of Life of Gay Men and Lesbians in England and Wales,” British Journal of Psychiatry (December 2003), pp. 183, 552-558.)

• Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology conducted national survey of 2,000 lesbian women. Results: 75% had pursued psychological counseling at one point. Eighteen percent had previously attempted suicide. (“National Lesbian Health Care Survey: Implications for Mental Health Care,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology #62, 1994, p. 239.)

• 1998 issue American Journal of Public Health reported: “a greater-than-seven-fold increase” of suicide attempts among Gay and bisexual males. (Source: “The Relationship Between Suicide Risk and Sexual Orientation: Results of a Population-Based Study,” American Journal of Public Health, 1998.)

• A new study in the United Kingdom has revealed that homosexuals are about 50% more likely to suffer from depression and engage in substance abuse than the rest of the population, reports Health24.com. After analyzing 25 earlier studies on sexual orientation and mental health, researchers, in a study published in the medical journal BMC Psychiatry, also found that the risk of suicide jumped over 200% if an individual had engaged in a homosexual lifestyle.

• Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychologists reported: “lesbian” women face higher rates of alcohol abuse. 19.4% of lesbian women engaged in “binge drinking” (compared with 11.7% of heterosexual women). 7% of lesbians considered “heavy drinkers” as opposed to only 2.7% of heterosexual women. (SOURCE: “Study: Alcohol Use More Prevalent for Lesbians,” The Washington Blade, a Gay publication, January 12, 2001, p. 21.)

• Study published by Nursing Research found lesbian women 3 times more likely to abuse alcohol and suffer addictions to other chemical substances. (“Sexually Transmitted Infections and Risk Behaviors in Women Who Have Sex with Women,” Sexually Transmitted Infections, July 2000.)

• “Among men, by far the most important risk group consisted of homosexual and bisexual men, who were more than 9 times as likely as heterosexual men to have a history of problem drinking.” (Karen Paige Erickson and Karen F. Trocki, “Sex, Alcohol, and Sexually Transmitted Diseases: A National Survey,” Family Planning Perspectives #26, December 1994.)

• Survey of 1,099 lesbians, the Journal of Social Service Research: slightly more than half of lesbians reported abuse by female lover/partner. Researchers found “the most frequently indicated forms of abuse were verbal/emotional/psychological abuse and combined physical-psychological abuse. (Gwat Yong Lie and Sabrina Gentlewarrier, “Intimate Violence in Lesbian Relationships: Discussion of Survey Findings and Practice Implications,” Journal of Social Service Research, 1991.)

• The habit of "self-harming" is 50 times more likely to occur in lesbians than in the general population of women, a Scottish study has shown. 20 per cent of lesbian and bisexual women, of a total of 500 women surveyed in Scotland had deliberately harmed themselves in the last year, compared to 0.4 per cent of the general population.

• In their book, Men Who Beat the Men Who Love Them, authors report, “The incidence of domestic violence among gay men is nearly double that in the heterosexual population.”(David Island and Patrick Letellier, Men Who Beat the Men Who Love Them: Battered Gay Men and Domestic Violence, New York: Hayworth Press, 1991, p. 14.)

• The Advocate, leading periodical within Gay community, released results of survey taken Aug 1994: 57% of Gay men have had sex with more than 30 partners. Survey also revealed 48% of homosexuals had participated in a “three-way” during previous 5-year period. (“The Advocate Sex Poll,” The Advocate, August 1994.)

• Study published in Washington Blade (a Gay newspaper): “The median number of lifetime male sexual partners was significantly greater for women who have sex with women than controls.” Study suggested lesbians or bisexual women average 12 male sexual partners during respective lifetimes, while average heterosexual woman will have “only” six male sexual partners. Research severely impairs claim that people cannot help but be Gay. In fact, lesbians are more heterosexual than heterosexuals. (“Sexually Transmitted Infections and Risk Behaviors in Women Who Have Sex with Women,” Sexually Transmitted Infections, July 2000.)

Some argue that when committed gay relationships fully accepted and social normalized, promiscuity will become greatly reduced.

• July 2000, Vermont legalizes same-sex civil unions. 3 yrs later, U of Vermont conducted poll of state’s Gay men. When asked whether sex outside marriage was immoral, only 34% of these, who claimed to be in committed relationships, found anything wrong with extramarital sex. (Amy Fagan, “Study Finds Gay Unions Brief,” The Washington Times, July 11, 2003.)

• 2003-2004 Gay/Lesbian Consumer Online Census surveyed lifestyles of 7,862 Gays. Of those involved in a “current relationship,” only 15% describe current relationship as having lasted 12 yrs or longer, with only 5% lasting over 20 yrs. (“Largest Gay Study Examines 2004 Relationships,” GayWire Latest Breaking Releases, http://www.glcensus.org.)

• Canadian study of Gay men who had been in committed relationships lasting more than a year found only 25% as being monogamous. Study author Barry Adam: “Gay culture allows men to explore different…forms of relationships besides the monogamy coveted by heterosexuals.” (Ryan Lee, “Gay Couples Likely to Try Non-monogamy, Study Shows,” Washington Blade, a Gay publication, August 22, 2003.)

• One study called conducted by a gay couple (a psychiatrist & psychologist) found of 156 couples studied only seven had maintained sexual fidelity. Of the hundred couples who had been together for more then five years, none had maintained fidelity. The authors concluded “The expectation for outside sexual activity was the rule for male couples and the exception for heterosexuals.” (“The Gay Couple. Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth”)

• Christian ministries ARE enormously successful in helping people abandon the Gay lifestyle. Exodus International, an interdenominational organization, has 135 ministries in 17 different countries. This ministry reports, “Real change is indeed possible. Studies suggesting change rates in the range of 30-50% [of those inquiring about change] are not unusual.” (Exodus International, “What’s your ’success rate’ in changing gays into straights?”, 2004.)

• Robert Spitzer, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, conducted study based on interviews with 143 men and 57 women who abandoned Gay lifestyle. Each of these, through religious involvement or psychiatric counseling, was able to successfully abandon the Gay lifestyle. Dr. Spitzer, largely responsible for having homosexuality removed from American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental disorders, now believes a person’s perceived sexual orientation is clinically treatable. (“From Gay to Straight? Study: Sexual Orientation Can Be Changed,” ABC News, May 9, 2001.)

• In 2000, scientists conducted similar study of more than 5,000 sets of identical twins in Australia. In overwhelming majority of instances when one of twins was considered homosexual, corresponding “identical” twin was heterosexual. (“Origin of Homosexuality Unresolved Despite Study,” The Washington Times, November 28, 2004.)

Is the church condemning gays to a loveless life of celibacy? Joseph Nicolosi conduced a study, 882 dissatisfied homosexual people, of whom 726 had received therapy from a professional therapist or pastoral counselor:

Over 67% of the participants indicated they were exclusively or almost exclusively homosexual at one time in their lives, while only 12.8% of them perceived themselves in this manner at the time of the survey. Significantly, 45.4% of the exclusively homosexual participants reported having made major changes in their orientation. On the other hand, 35.1% of the participants were unsuccessful in making significant changes. Those participants who were successful reported statistically significant reductions in the frequency of their homosexual thoughts and fantasies. They also reported significant improvements in other important areas of their lives---particularly, their psychological, interpersonal, and spiritual well-being.

It is argued that since gays aren’t hurting anyone but themselves, they have the right to embrace this lifestyle. However, gay adoption would argue otherwise:

Walter Schumm (2010), professor at Kansas State University, reviewed not only a larger body of the relevant gay parenting literature and provided statistical analysis, but also examined ethnographic (cultural) data regarding homosexuality as well as 26 research studies on gay parenting that provided data germane to the question of the intergenerational transfer of sexual orientation.

• Schumm’s analyses of the popular gay parenting literature found that between 16% and 57% of children of gay and lesbian parents adopted non-heterosexual identities. Schumm noted that daughters of lesbian mothers were most likely to report non-heterosexual identities, with frequencies of 33% to 57%. This finding appears consistent with the growing literature on the fluidity of same-sex attractions among females.

• Summarizing the findings of his investigation of the past LGB parenting research, Schumm reported that 20.3% of children with LGB parents were non-heterosexual in identity or behavior compared with 4.3% of children with heterosexual parents. This divergence increased to 28.0% when the age of the children was restricted to over 17.

• ...a longitudinal study of lesbian couples reported that 17-year-old daughters of these couples (all planned and conceived via donor insemination) were more likely to engage in same-sex behavior and to identify as bisexual than a comparison group of 17-year-old daughters obtained through a representative sample (Gartrell, Bos, & Goldberg, in press).

• HazteOir, together with the Spanish Forum for the Family and the Institute for Family Policy, has published an in-depth report on the effects that being raised by same-sex parents has on a child…Among children raised by same-sex couples, the report notes a significant increase in low self-esteem, stress, confusion regarding sexual identity, an increase in mental illness, drug use, promiscuity, STD’s, and homosexual behaviour, amongst others. Furthermore, the report shows that statistics have brought to light the fact that same-sex relationships betray a much higher instance of separation and break-up than heterosexual relationships, increasing the likelihood that the child will experience familial instability. The Spanish Association of Pediatrics firmly backs up the findings of the report, stating that a “family nucleus with two fathers or two mothers is clearly dangerous for the child”.

Gay sources admit all of these problems and more.

Here are a set of stats provided by Gens Hellquist, the executive director of the Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition, regarding the status of gays in Canada:

• Life expectancy of gay/bisexual men in Canada is 20 years less than the average; that is 55 years.
• GLB people commit suicide at rates from 2 to 13.9 times more often than average.
• GLB people have smoking rates 1.3 to 3 times higher than average.
• GLB people have rates of alcoholism 1.4 to 7 times higher than average.
• GLB people have rates of illicit drug use 1.6 to 19 times higher than average.
• GLB people show rates of depression 1.8 to 3 times higher than average.
• Gay and bisexual men (MSM) comprise 76.1% of AIDS cases.
• Gay and bisexual men (MSM) comprise 54% of new HIV infections each year.
• If one uses Statistics Canada figure of 1.7% of GLB becoming infected, that is 26 times higher than average.
• GLB people are at a higher risk for anal cancers.

Even where gays have formed an extensive and supportive culture, the suicide rate remains high, suggesting that it is more than just a product of stigmatization:

A study [conducted by Univ. of Calif, San Francisco] claims that the rate of suicide attempts among homosexuals is three times higher than that of normal males: 12 percent compared to 3 or 4 percent—and that those killing themselves are getting younger.

In the Netherlands, arguably the most gay-friendly nation, statistics aren’t significantly different from those found elsewhere. For instance, in one study, it was found that the,

• average Gay union lasts 1-1/2 years, and Gay participants average 8 additional partners outside these relationships (each year). (Amy Fagan, “Study Finds Gay Unions Brief,” The Washington Times, July 11, 2003.)

Many gays have also sounded the alarm:

Simon Fanshawe is a writer and broadcaster who created the documentary "The Trouble With Gay Men" after becoming increasingly alarmed at the shallowness and destructiveness of the "gay lifestyle." The film, made for BBC 3 television, questions the emotional and psychological immaturity, narcissism, nihilism and self-destructive tendencies of many in the homosexual community. Fanshawe says he wants homosexual men to "grow up" and get beyond their state of "extended adolescence."

• "Extreme vanity" he says, has been "sewn into gay culture." It "is now so mainstream in the gay community that otherwise intelligent young men are happy to be treated as sex objects on a demeaning meat rack."

• Gay men, he says, are so "hardwired" towards finding casual sexual encounters, some going as far as plastic implants to enhance their appearance, that finding genuine intimacy is "practically impossible."

• "Vast amounts of our leisure time are organised around sex, straight or gay. But what gay men have done is organise our identity around sex. And that is corrosive. And to make things worse, promiscuity has become the norm."

Love requires us to unmask these dangers. If there was no hope, I wouldn’t bother to reproduce these depressing stats. However, there is:

• "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
(Matthew 11:28-30)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Trashing Evangelicals

My wife just forwarded me a CNN article – “Why I Believe in God” – by LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com. Initially, my heart leapt for joy to see that CNN would publish something that would provide positive evidences for God. However, the extent of Granderson’s “evidence” was a chance encounter with his pastor, Rob Bell, and his peculiar claim that faith doesn’t require any more confirmation than this:

One of the biggest problems with religion in general, and evangelical Christianity in particular, is the claim of having definitive answers about an infinite being. But true faith does not require us to have all of the answers. Faith, as it relates to spirituality, isn't knowing something others don't know – we call that a secret – but rather belief in something that can't be empirically proven or disproven.

However, the Biblical faith is not opposed to “knowing” and certainty. Here’s just a small sample of verses that affirm the centrality of knowing:

• John 17:26 - I have made you KNOWN to them, and will continue to make you KNOWN in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them."

• 1 John 5:20 - We KNOW also that the Son of God has come and has given us UNDERSTANDING, so that we may know him who is true.

• 2 Tim. 3:15 - you have KNOWN the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

• John 8:31-32 - To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will KNOW THE TRUTH, AND THE TRUTH will set you free."

Why would Granderson make such an insupportable statement? Because it’s culturally supportable! Granderson’s “faith” doesn’t threaten anyone. It lacks the backbone to say, “I have the truth” or “You are committing adultery, and that’s wrong.” It’s a “faith” you can take into any elite social gathering, where you’ll receive nods of approval. It doesn’t compete with or negate anyone else’s worldview or lifestyle by claiming that it can be “empirically proven” or that it’s “true.” Instead, if your claim is “Well, it works for me,” no one will find fault. It’s like saying, “I enjoy a martini in the evening.”

However, the Christian faith not only engages the heart but also the mind. It makes claims upon all of our faculties and decisions, as it should. It’s even rationally imperialistic, claiming that it is supported by proofs:

• Acts 1:3 - After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing PROOFS that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

Ironically, Granderson has his own thinly veiled “definitive answers,” but they are so thoroughly accepted in his circles that they can barely be detected:

In other words, to truly be a person of faith one must accept the fact there is no tangible evidence there is a God. If such evidence existed, we wouldn't need faith. And on the flip side, atheists cannot prove without a shadow of a doubt there is no God.

Sounds like a “definitive answer” to me! However, his assertion is gladly given a green-light among our religiously pluralistic elites, especially when contrasted with the hated Evangelicals. Granderson predictably erects the usual Evangelical straw-man, one who would send the deserving Gandhi to hell:

Gandhi, of course, was a Hindu, and Christians…are to believe that anyone, no matter how much good they might've done on Earth, are hell-bound if they are not Christians. To some, a pastor openly questioning an essential part of Christianity is career suicide.

Granderson doesn’t bother to explain that, according to the Bible, no one can earn their way into heaven. This knowledge deflates our natural tendency towards boasting. However, presenting Evangelicalism (Christianity) its proper light would just be too nuanced and might even provoke some intelligent conversation and even respect. Instead, it has more media-appeal to paint Evangelicals as judgmental morons, governed by fear and ignorance. Granderson quotes Rob Bell in this regard:

Lots of people have voiced a concern, expressed a doubt or raised a question, only to be told by their family, church, friends or tribe: “We don't discuss those things here.”

In other words, Evangelicals are fearful, guilt-ridden are repressed buffoons. Instead, we are committed to truth and evidences, and generally welcome a good discussion. Oddly, this is the very claim that Granderson makes about his own faith:

I believe the discussion itself is divine.

There is something highly inconsistent about his assertion. Discussion is valuable in the role that it plays in leading to learning and growth. Discussion challenges and provokes us to think deeper and to question our original assumptions. However, Granderson claims that his faith excludes learning, knowledge, propositional statements and an evidential foundation:

To admit doubt removes the arrogance of certainty prevalent in so many evangelical Christians and atheists alike and replaces it with the humility – and even peace – that comes with not knowing the answers. I do not find the mystery to represent the absence of God but rather his presence.

This is assertion masking as “doubt!” Faith to Granderson is “mystery,” not knowledge and truth. Consequently, God didn’t give us a mind to seek truth but a mind that should be asleep, at least in regards to religious matters. After all, if the mind comes up with some answers, well that’s “the arrogance of certainty,” the antithesis of humility. Evidently, humility then becomes an assertion of knowing nothing, a “peace[ful],” bland ignorance.

How then can discussion be “divine?” Should we not be on our guard lest we come to some truth through it and fall prey to “the arrogance of certainty?” Granderson has his own areas of certainty:

If we could figure God out, he wouldn't be that impressive.

Actually, this statement is correct. However, he once again misrepresents Evangelicals, suggesting that we claim that we can figure God out. Instead, we claim that broad middle ground between complete ignorance and knowing God exhaustively. However, misrepresenting Evangelicals will get your articles into print:

• And if the promise of heaven, or the threat of hell, is the only reason to seek his face, I can see why some Christians find questioning the existence of either to be problematic.

Instead, we acknowledge that God likes honest questions (James 1:5-8) and an honest search (Deut. 4:29). We’re not afraid to use our minds and are willing to go where the truth might lead.

Granderson and his pastor Rob Bell misrepresent the Biblical faith. I wish instead that they would engage our argumentation instead of constructing negative stereotypes – like we’re only Christians because of “the promise of heaven, or the threat of hell.” I’ve tried many times to challenge these stereotypes, but they are highly resistant to reason. Perhaps, it’s just become too much fun to trash Evangelicals.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Teen Suicide and Social Support

It is a well-established fact that gay teens are far more likely to commit suicide than there heterosexual counterparts. However, it has often been claimed that the problem isn’t the gay lifestyle but social disapproval. In a new study published in the journal Pediatrics online on April 18,

It found that teens in “unsupportive” social environments were 20 percent more at risk of attempting suicide than those in “supportive” environments.

Although the “20 percent” might seem to argue in favor having more “supportive environments,” it must be understood in the larger context of the rest of the findings:

Teens who self-identify as homosexual are five times more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to attempt suicide, according to a study released last week…The study gathered self-report data from nearly 32,000 grade 11 students in Oregon. The findings also revealed that 21.5 percent of the gay teens surveyed reported suicidal tendencies, while only 4.2 percent of straight teens did the same.

Of course, “supportive environments” pay dividends to everyone, but let’s make some very rough calculations. If “Teens who self-identify as homosexual are five times more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to attempt suicide,” then a 20 percent improvement would mean that this group is still four times more likely to attempt suicide. Why is it that “supportive environments” fail to make more of a difference if the main problem behind gay suicide is stigmatization?

Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council concludes:

“The most effective way of reducing teen suicide attempts is not to create a ‘positive social environment’ for the affirmation of homosexuality. Instead, it would be to discourage teens from self-identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.”

What stance should love require us to take? It seems irresponsible to encourage teens to proactively explore their not-yet-formed sexuality. Until it can be proved that there isn’t something inherently self-destructive about the gay lifestyle, encouraging this type of exploration hands our teens a ticket to suicide. Two thousand years earlier, the Apostle Paul warned against sexual experimentation:

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Cor. 6:18-20)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Role of Proof and Evidence in Christianity

Faith is often separated from the reasons-for-faith and is left without support. Here’s one example: “The Bible is about proclamation and not proof.” Similarly, we hear, “Nobody comes to the faith through argumentation, but rather, the work of the Spirit.”

Indeed, salvation is the work of the Spirit, but He uses various human means like preaching, friendship and reason. Sadly, dismissing reason and argumentation is common in many churches, although justification for this is lacking. However, some voices are raising the alarm. Troy Anderson writes about the positive impact of Lee Strobel and other apologists:

Although Strobel and others are appealing to the intellect, people are responding with their hearts. Strobel says the recent [atheistic] aggression against the faith has provided a great opportunity to present Christ to non-Christians. Strobel is convinced apologetics helps bring people to God. He notes that more than 700 made professions of faith during his last book and speaking tour. Many people have a spiritual sticking point—a tough question about the faith. And once they find an answer, Strobel says, it often turns out to be the last barrier between them and God.

The Apostle Paul would have agreed. His tools-of-the-trade included reason, persuasion, and evidences to win people to Christ (Acts 17:2-4; 18:4; 28:23). If we want to win the ear of educated people, we have to be able to speak in a language that is meaningful to them—evidences and proofs. Christianity has to seem at least somewhat credible before they will give it a hearing. In the same issue of Christianity Today, apologist and debater, William Lane Craig, reasons:

• It is the broader task of Christian apologetics…to help create and sustain a cultural milieu in which the gospel can be heard as an intellectually viable option for thinking men and women. It thereby gives people the intellectual permission to believe when their hearts are moved.

Argumentation and evidences are not just for the unbeliever; they are also for the believer and serve to strengthen our entire life in Christ. Jesus counseled His followers to not believe in Him without corroborating evidences:

If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid. You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth….I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. (John 5:31-37)

Jesus was simply following the Old Testament requirement that everything had to be established by at least two witnesses (Deut. 19:15) or evidences. This does not suggest that His Word is insufficient (John 8:14-18; Gen. 1) or that its saving power is limited (John 6:63; 3:16). Instead, Jesus was highlighting our vulnerability to deception and our resulting need for corroboration (1 John 4:1; 1 Thess. 5:21) and warned that, without confirmation, we are liable to mistake something fleshly for the witness-of-the-Spirit (Mat. 7:15-16).

There is nothing illegitimate or contrary to faith about seeking proof. The Bereans were commended because they didn’t just believe Paul’s word but sought confirmation (Acts 17:11). Indeed, the entire Bible is about evidence and proof. God held Israel accountable because they had all the evidence in the world, and yet rebelled. Therefore, Moses concluded that Israel was without excuse:

Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by miraculous signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other (Deut. 4:34-35).

Knowing God wasn’t simply a matter of intuition and feeling; it was based on hard evidence. God had been angry with Israel, not because they couldn’t muster up enough courage to take a leap into the darkness of belief, but because they had every reason to believe and still refused:

He did miracles in the sight of their fathers in the land of Egypt, in the region of Zoan. He divided the sea and led them through; he made the water stand firm like a wall. He guided them with the cloud by day and with light from the fire all night…But they continued to sin against him, rebelling in the desert against the Most High…When the LORD heard them, he was very angry…for they did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance (Psalm 78:12-17, 21-22).

Israel was guilty because they knew better. They had proof, but they rejected it, refusing to believe. Trusting God was never a matter of gritting one’s teeth and forcing belief, but a willingness to acknowledge and honor the God who was so manifestly present. Likewise, unbelief is not the product of a lack of ability, but a lack of willingness. When Israel rebelled against God at Kadesh Barnea and wanted to return to Egypt (Num. 14:4), it wasn’t because God hadn’t given them enough reasons to support their faith:

Then the LORD said to Moses: "How long will these people reject Me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them (Numbers 14:11)?

Jesus just as generously provided reasons-to-believe. He allowed Lazarus to die in order to show off “God’s glory” (John 11:4) by raising him from the dead. He performed many miracles so that the observers would believe. Even His resurrection provided “many convincing proofs” (Acts 1:3; Mark 16:20) to His then faithless, deserting disciples. The very existence of the Church rests upon proofs and assurances that Christ lives. He also prophesied so that His disciples would believe once those things came to pass (John 14:28-29).

In contrast to this, a respected theologian wrote,

God is simply not an empirical hypothesis which can be checked out by the scientific method. As Stephen Jay Gould and others have insisted, the natural sciences are not capable of adjudicating negatively or positively on the God-question.

• Any worldview—atheist, Islamic, Jewish, Christian or whatever—ultimately depends on assumptions that cannot be proved. Every house is built on foundations, and the foundations of worldviews are not ultimately capable of being proved in every respect. Everyone who believes anything significant or worthwhile about the meaning of life does so as a matter of faith. We’re all in the same boat.

Ironically, these denials of Christianity’s proof-claims lack proof themselves. Never once did McGrath provide any rationale for his dogmatic claims. Instead, proof is essential to our life in Christ and is also available. Even John the Baptist, the pre-Cross strong-man, required evidential confirmation. As he languished in prison prior to his martyrdom, he sent his disciples out to Jesus to ascertain if Jesus was truly the Messiah. He needed reassurance, and Jesus provided it:

• Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor
(Matthew 11:4-5).

Note that Jesus didn’t respond, “the foundations of worldviews are not ultimately capable of being proved in every respect. Everyone who believes anything significant or worthwhile about the meaning of life does so as a matter of faith” as did McGrath. Nor did He say, “Tell John to just believe!” Instead, He provided evidences. True faith isn’t a plunge into the darkness, but a step out into the light of reasons-to-believe.

I don’t want to devalue the ordained, yet painful struggles of faith. However, I want to encourage the believer that there is a solid rational foundation upon which to rest our faith. Consequently, we need not divorce our minds from a life of faith to find solace. We need not fear that the conclusions of honest rational seeking will undermine our childlike faith before our Savior. Heart and mind must be united if we are going to live transparently, authentically, and non-defensively. It is when our minds aren’t prepared with reasons for our hope (1 Peter 3:15) that we become defensive and must live in the shadows. Even if we ourselves don’t see miracles, the eye-witness accounts themselves constitute weighty evidence, according to John 20:30-31.

The world tells the Christian that (s)he has no right to try to convert others and that it’s the height of arrogance to suggest that our experiences with the Divine are any more valid than theirs. And they are correct! If we lack objective evidences and proofs and nevertheless attempt to say that we’re right and they’re wrong, we are worse than arrogant. We are insensitive and dismissive of the lives, experiences and commitments of others.

If we can’t make provable claims about our faith, then Joseph Hough, the former president of Union Theological Seminary is right in saying,

Religion is something that we human beings put together in our effort to give some cultural form to our faith. Religion, our rituals, our music, even our theology, is a human attempt to express what we have experienced…Therefore we want to be careful about claiming that one religious form is the only one that is authentic or real.

Hough expects his readers to believe that we are limited to our subjective religious experiences without any provable facts. If this is so, then he’s right, and we shouldn’t claim that ours is the real thing.

Evangelism only makes sense if we can say that Christ has not only changed me—for people of other religions also make this claim—but also that “Christ is truth, and here are the reasons to support our claim!”

We have been called on to love God with all of our heart, soul and mind (Mat. 22:37). We can’t fulfill this command if we’re lazy and dismiss evidences as irrelevant.