Sunday, February 27, 2011

Gay Intimidation




Intimidation should not be tolerated by democratic society. LifeSiteNews.com, February 25, 2011, reported that,

The city of Chicago ordered its police force not to enforce the law against a mob of homosexualist activists who disrupted Mass at the Holy Name Cathedral to protest “anti-gay bigots” who support the Church’s teaching on marriage. The Gay Liberation Network staged the rally on the eve of Valentine’s Day, shouting and chanting loudly as churchgoers entered to celebrate Sunday Mass. The demonstration’s primary target was Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, who has spoken out in defense of traditional marriage between a man and a woman. Protesters had staged a similar disruption around the same time last year.

Gays believe that the church has taken a position that violates their civil and equal rights. Nevertheless, they are ready to violate the church’s rights to worship and to speak freely.

However, apart from this, do gays have a worthy cause? Do the laws restricting marriage to a heterosexual couple violate the concept of equal rights? There is no such thing as absolute equal rights. Every law discriminates against some form of behavior. Not everyone can drive. There is no absolute right. Certain criteria must be met. There is an age requirement, a driving test, sobriety must be maintained, and there are also circumstances where an individual can loose the right to drive. We even have seat-belt and cell phone laws, tax requirements and all sorts of standards that must be met before we can legally use our vehicle on the road.

Of course, this has little to do with marriage. Nevertheless, even in this intimate and very personal matter, there are laws governing sex between certain partners relative to age and familial affinity. There are laws against adultery, bigamy, and polygamy. Aren’t these laws also a violation of our “equal rights?” If so, why aren’t these also being discussed in the same context? Instead, public debate has degenerated into one-liners and personal assaults.

More specifically, there are laws that govern marriage, relative to factors of age, co-sanguinity, and legal availability. Legislation discriminates all the time. However, it doesn’t discriminate against dating or even our choice of a roommate. Consequently, a gay person can “marry” whomever they choose as long as they are willing to forego the legal sanction of an official marriage – the real issue. Ironically, the laws are now swinging in their favor, granting them many of the financial benefits of marriage, while denying them to roommates who are not sexually involved. Isn’t this to a violation of “equal rights?” Why should organism determine financial benefits? Is this equal rights?

Nevertheless, we are broadly committed to the concept of “equal rights,” a concept that is so closely associated with another concept – created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) – a concept that require us to treat everyone with dignity and respect.

But how do we treat everyone with dignity and respect? Does this concept require that we indulge everyone their whims and desires? Do we pat the heroin abuser on the back and say, “Well, you have an equal right to this if it’s your choice. After all, I have my coffee and ice cream.” No! Instead, we have to be concerned about their ultimate welfare and the welfare of society. It’s this consideration that coerces us to pass laws against driving at 100 miles an hour and drinking while driving.

Does this also pertain to gay marriage? I think so! It would be wrong to give public sanction to inherently self-destructive and socially destructive behaviors. Statistics uniformly reveal the self-destructive nature of homosexuality across a wide spectrum of considerations. For one thing, gay males live on the average of 20-24 years less than the average. This finding is coupled with elevated levels of depression, suicide and substance abuse.

If these findings are true, and we legislate in favor of seat-belts, perhaps also we should continue to legislate in favor of traditional marriage? Perhaps we need to resist the clamor for same-sex marriage until its personal and social viability can be clearly established?

However, the clamor is morphing into intimidation. Even more disturbing than the demonstration for “equal rights,” was the lack of police protection:

• While it was illegal for the protesters to disrupt a religious service, the Chicago City Council announced that police would not enforce the law in this instance - a move that NOM [National Organization for Marriage] castigated. “It’s outrageous that the city of Chicago stepped in and basically told police not to enforce a law for this one occasion,” said NOM president Brian Brown.

What does this represent? Are we enabling the Gay community to accelerate their campaign of intimidation, at the expense of reason and democratic processes? In a video made of the demonstration, one placard read, “It’s time to stop being nice to anti-gay bigots.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATtw38qqzDQ&feature=player_embedded

Although it might be appropriate for the church to fashion its own placard reading, “It’s time to stop being nice to bullies,” I’m glad that it hasn’t gone that far. Even in the midst of intimidation and sometimes violence, the church has to continue to show forth its one hope in God and to reject any means that He does not sanction. However, if the government refuses to defend our rights of free speech and assembly, this will become increasingly difficult.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Flaws of Moral Relativism



What is moral relativism (MR) and what are its consequences? Steven Novella is an MR and a neurologist at the Yale University School of Medicine. Consequently, he believes that morality,

• …is not immutable – we as a species will debate endlessly about our moral code, which will evolve as our civilization matures and gains more experience.

Morality will therefore change along with our culture and societal pressures. (All of us believe that morality is relative in some regards and must be applied according to the people and situations. However, in contrast to the MR, the moral absolutist (MA) acknowledges that there are also unchanging moral absolutes.) Because there are no higher truths hanging independently beyond us, humanity is left to choose its morals and laws:

• Therefore there is no evidence of an objective morality to the universe.

Nevertheless, Novella believes that there is a solid basis for our choices:

• As a social species we have evolved a number of moral senses. These include notions such as reciprocity – doing good to others so that they will do good to you. Reciprocity has been demonstrated even in many animal species. While reciprocity may be a cold calculation of evolution, that does not mean that each individual is making a cold calculation. We actually feel that being good to others is the right thing to do, and we feel that those who do bad deserve to be punished. We have a sense of justice.

We all agree that we are wired for morality and moral judgments, but where does this wiring come from. For Novella, the answer is “evolution”:

• …we “know instinctively” that murder is wrong because we evolved that moral sense because having such a sense is a survival advantage in a social group. Therefore there is no reason for a supernatural cause of our instinct.

Others might argue that evolution is a muddled theory, which has also been used to justify social Darwinism and rape as vehicles to pass on the “fittest” genes. In any event, instinct is not enough to justify a moral system. For one thing, we have many conflicting instincts —hating/loving, forgiving/revenging, raping/protecting. What determines which instincts to follow? Even more importantly, is there any reason to follow any of our instinct? The philosopher, David Hume, pointed out that it’s impossible to go from what “is” (our instincts) to what “ought to be” (moral judgments). It seems like there is an impassible chasm between the two worlds.

Generally, the MR makes his leap by introducing another piece into his puzzle – pragmatism, that which works and brings desirable results! Pragmatism makes the leap from our physical reality to what it ought to be, based upon our instincts and proclivities. Any MR system must gravitate to a pragmatic justification. “We don’t rape and kill because it will HURT both us and society!” Thus, murder would violate our well-being. Novella puts it this way:

• For example, we can start with the basic principle of equality – that all people should be considered to have equal rights. We can reason that without this principle there is no way to develop a moral system that works.

Novella claims that “equal rights” is not only intuitive, but it also “works.” It provides salutary returns to society. He is right; morality does work? (However, the beneficent harmony or correspondence we find between following the dictates of our conscience and what is right seems to point to divine causation.)

Nevertheless, I think that there are significant problems with the MR system, and I’ll try to detail some of them:

PRAGMATISM. Novella adds,

• There are other basic principles – such as, one of those rights that everyone has equal access to is the right not to be harmed. We all have a right to our own autonomy, to be left alone, and not be harmed by others.

Although most of us would agree that we do have certain “rights” and that Novella has identified things that should be protected as “rights,” pragmatism has no way of accounting for this concept of “rights.” Most obviously, who grants the “rights?” If it is the State that fundamentally grants them, then the State can just as easily un-grant them when it’s no longer pragmatically expedient. “
Thus, “rights” in a MR system resemble only superficially rights in a MA system, where rights are granted unalterably by God, because we are created in His image and therefore possess inestimable value (Genesis 1:26-27).

Our “rights” can not be assured by any considerations of evolution or pragmatism, which tends to be very myopic and demanding. Society has urgent needs, which have often been found to preempt more humanitarian concerns. Lenin had been asked, “What does communist morality entail.” He answered, “Whatever promotes the revolution is ‘good,’ whatever interferes with it is ‘bad.’ Consequently, millions were exterminated to secure this “utopian ideal.”

While pragmatism can serve equality and human rights, it can just as quickly stamp them out, depending upon the winds of change. We can love for pragmatic reasons; we can also kill for pragmatic reasons, or simply remain silent in the midst of genocide. Besides, pragmatism alone lacks the fiber to motivate us to stand up for human rights when there is a risk of greater costs.

ARBITRARY AND WILL CAUSE CYNICISM. Novella writes,

• The implications of a moral system with and without equality have been carefully thought out by our brightest thinkers over thousands of years, and it is the only conclusion that works.

I tend to also believe that “equality,” in most circumstances, “works” to produce results that I value. But “works” means different things to different people. Serial killer Ted Bundy stated that once he realized that morality was man-made, he was freed from all moral constraints to do what “worked” for him – raping and killing women. According to him, there are no absolute values that set us apart from pigs, which we slaughter for food.

If there isn’t an absolute qualitative difference between a pig and a human, then Bundy is faultless, and no amount of persuasion could make any difference. At this point, the relativist must forsake reason for might-makes-right or, in our case, majority-makes-right if he wants to hold the disparate elements of society together.

Besides, if there are no MAs, how can we hold anyone accountable, when accountability is merely a matter of conforming to another man’s laws? In good conscience, can the MR throw someone in jail simply for violating an arbitrary convention, which others claim “works” for them? How can this but engender resentment, cynicism and bitterness!

Even for those who believe in MR, it will be difficult to be enthusiastic about something that they know isn’t absolute and is always changing. Why sacrifice for a man-made concept of human rights if it will be different tomorrow. Rather than inspiring obedience, MR laws will incite rebellion – “Why should I obey someone else’s laws!”

Instead, we tend to become excited by those things that elevate us, that bring us in contact with something greater. However, in the world of MR, there is nothing greater. Burnout is almost inevitable. If life is just about “what works,” then it is likely that this concept will lead us to pursue our immediate needs and desires. Our persistent and demanding lower desires will eventually win out over our noble, but baseless ideals. It’s hard to resist the hamburger, unless we have sounds reasons to do so.

WHOLENESS AND CONSISTENCY. Many MRs confess to a feeling of emptiness, an alienation from themselves. Relativism seems to have set them up for this schizoid experience. While their heart (conscience, instincts) tells them that there is justice and injustice, right and wrong, and transcendent values, their relativistic mind takes them in the opposite direction.

In contrast to this, there is a great joy in knowing that we walk in the light, that what we are doing is pleasing to truth, even to God. This is a joy and a meaning that will probably elude those who do “equality” merely because it “works,” at least for now.

Likewise, pure pragmatism undermines altruism and love. According to relativism, we do what we do because it “works,” it provides certain personal benefits. The higher ideals of love, altruism and self-sacrifice are denied in a purely pragmatic world. Although they might still exist on the intuitive level, MR denies them their independent reality. Instead, they have been reduced to tools of expedience to produce what “works.”

THE FLATTENING OF LIFE. In the world of MR, there is no room for the higher ideals of truth, honestly, courage, dignity, or even character if it is just a matter of what “works.” Our ideals can take us no further than changing considerations of human welfare. What then can be our purpose in life? What can bestow upon us dignity? The pursuit of what “works?” And for how long will it work if it is bereft of the depth that truth imparts? Novella writes,

• We will also face new challenges and our moral code will have to adapt to those challenges. Such a system is not absolute, but it works and it’s the best we have.

Will it work? Will MR provide the glue to keep society functioning without overly oppressive means? William Golding, the author of “Lord of the Flies,” is understandably skeptical:

• Before the second world war I believed in the perfectibility of social man…but after the war I did not because I was unable to. I had discovered what one man could do to another…I must say that anyone who had moved through those years without understanding that man produces evil as a bee produces honey, must have been blind or wrong in the head.

If MR is truly about what “works,” then its most logical recourse is to God.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Choice is Yours: A Multi-verse or an Intelligent Designer




Does science tell us anything about the origin of the universe – whether it was designed (ID, supernaturalism) or not-designed (naturalism)? I think it does. Dinesh D’Souza writes,

• As John Barrow and Frank Tipler point out in their authoritative book “The Anthropic Cosmological Principle,” our universe operates according to a whole set of specific numeric values, and our existence in the universe depends on those values being precisely what they are. (“Life After Death: The Evidence,” 83. All of the following quotes are taken from this book.)

Atheist and physicist Steven Weinberg adds, “Life as we know it would be impossible if any one of several physical quantities had slightly different values.” How unlikely is it this? Weinberg asserts that in reference to only one of the physical forces, the cosmological constant, it has to be calibrated “to about 120 decimal places.”

Another physicist and atheist, Steven Hawking, cites the necessary specificity of the rate of expansion of the universe:

• If the rate of expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, the universe would have recollasped before it ever reached its present size.”

There doesn’t seem to be any disagreement that the universe is just incredibly fine-tuned for life, and that the chances that all of the forces would be calibrated just right for its own survival are beyond contemplation. One physicist had estimated that the chances for this calibration was just one out of ten followed by a hundred zeroes!

Doesn’t this cry out for an intelligent design explanation? Not according to atheist Richard Dawkins. Although he concedes that this universe is incredibly fine-tuned, he writes,

• It doesn’t have to mean that the universe was deliberately made in order that we should exist. It need mean only that we are here, and we could not be in a universe that lacked the capacity of producing us.

Indeed, we are here, but our presence and even contemplation of the universe has little to do with the question of fine-tuning. Consequently, physicists like Leonard Susskind have described the fine-tuning phenomena as a “huge embarrassment” and “hated by most physicists,” protesting that “real science requires explanations that do not involve supernatural agents.”

Understandably, physicists have been under great pressure to come up with a naturalistic explanation. Cosmologist Bernard Carr presents the leading, or perhaps the only one:

• If there is only one universe, you might have to have a fine-tuner. If you don’t want God, you better have a multiverse.

The “multiverse” explanation reasons that if there is an infinite number of universes, at least one of them would come fully equipped with all the essentials for life. However, there are many problems with this desperate hypothesis:

1. There is no physical evidence for even a second universe! (Once he dismisses the need for physical evidence, on the basis of what then can the atheist deny the existence of God?)

2. There is no mechanism to account for an infinite generation of universes or even the immutability of the constants.

3. Many suggest that the concept of an actual infinity is logically incoherent. Therefore, the naturalistic hypothesis needs to be scaled down.

4. If there are multiple universes, what keeps them from colliding and their various physical laws from adversely interacting?

5. This hypothesis also seems to invalidate the claims of the naturalist. About the multiverse, Carl Sagan stated, “There may be different laws of nature…in those universes.” If this is the case, the atheist (naturalist) has then relinquished any basis to deny the reality of a spiritual world.

What requires less faith – to believe in the multiverse or to believe in a Designer? Besides, a Designer can explain a host of other phenomena that the multiverse can’t – the origins and maintenance of the laws of physics, DNA, the cell and life, moral absolutes, freewill, and consciousness.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Moral Relativism: An Invitation to Chaos




Is morality solely the result of cultural influences? According to CUNY philosopher and moral relativist Jesse Prinz, it is just that! We are socially conditioned to experience certain emotions and that’s it:

• An argument for relativism must also show that there is no basis for morality beyond the emotions with which we have been conditioned.

Prinz therefore argues against objective morality (moral absolutes) based upon a divine morality-Giver. In other words, genocide and torturing babies isn’t absolutely wrong! He presents several arguments:

• Morals vary dramatically…If morality were objective, shouldn’t we see greater consensus?

• The problem with divine commands as a cure for relativism is that there is no consensus among believers about what God or the gods want us to do. Even when there are holy scriptures containing lists of divine commands, there are disagreements about interpretation…No defense of objectivism [moral absolutes] has swayed doubter.

• With morals, unlike science, there is no well-recognized standard that can be used to test, confirm, or correct when disagreements arise.

All of Prinz’ challenges focus on a secondary issue – consensus regarding what moral judgments are objective and absolute, the identification of the absolutes. However important this issue might be, consensus says nothing about whether moral absolutes exist, but merely the difficulty in identifying them. Similarly, we might have difficulty identifying a rapist, but this difficulty says little about his existence. We can’t conclude that because we’re having trouble finding him that he doesn’t exist!

Furthermore, the problem of consensus is equally problematic for moral relativism. No two relativists seem to be in complete agreement about which morals or laws are the most expedient.

Prinz also seems to exaggerate the degree of non-consensus, even by his own admission:

• Many people have overlapping moral values, and one can settle debates by appeal to moral common ground.

Evidently, his system requires a lot of “common ground,” but where does it come from? While Prinz doesn’t venture a guess, neuro-physiology and psychology have conclusively demonstrated that we are wired for moral-judgments. In fact, these judgments appear at distinct ages as the child’s neural network comes into play.

Consequently, although people might verbally disagree about which morals they regard as absolute, their common wiring proclaims something very different. For instance, although Prinz is a moral relativist, if someone pushes in line in front of him, he might say, “You have no right to do that,” assuming that they both operate according to the same objective rules. And if someone takes his wallet, he will go to the police to demand justice! Although, for a relativist, “justice” is no more than a set of arbitrary, but mutually accepted rules, he will protest that he has been victimized, if the police fail to respond to his charges. If the policeman counters, “well, this is just a matter of the survival-of-the-fittest, and your robber proved fitter than you,” Prinz will be enraged! C.S. Lewis wisely wrote that such a man,

• …is appealing to some kind of standard of behavior which he expects the other man to know about. And the other man very seldom replies, “To hell with your standard.” Nearly always he tries to make out that what he has been doing does not really go against the standard, or that if it does there is some special excuse.” (“Mere Christianity”)

Lewis claims that this type of reaction is equally true for the absolutist as well as the relativist:

• Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promises to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining, “It’s not fair.”

For this same reason, when the relativist is criticized, he doesn’t say, “Who cares about your relativistic, arbitrary standards.” Instead, he tries to justify himself:

• If we do not believe in decent behavior, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently? The truth is we believe in decency so much—we feel the Rule of Law pressing on us so—that we cannot bear to face the fact that we are breaking it, and consequently we try to shift the responsibility.

We live in deep denial (Matthew 7:1-5; Proverbs 21:2). It’s therefore difficult to come to a verbal moral consensus, but this doesn’t mean that there isn’t consensus on a deeper, less apparent level.

Prinz concludes his article with an attempt to demonstrate the adequacy of moral relativism, denying that it means that “anything goes.” Applying a Darwinian survival-of the-fittest explanation, he retorts that “Values that are completely self-destructive can’t last.” However, this seems to mean that “anything goes” until it kills you. It also seems to deny that there is any basis for moral persuasion or for raising ones children morally, apart from warning them that certain moral behaviors will hurt them.

However, Prinz does claim that there is a basis to criticize and resist the Hitlers of this world:

• Relativism does not entail that we should tolerate murderous tyranny. When someone threatens us or our way of life, we are strongly motivated to protect ourselves.

Yes, we are! While it is true that our self-interested emotions kick in when a Hitler wants to exterminate us, these same self-interested motivations may also prevent us from helping our neighbor who is threatened, especially if it might entail catching a Nazi bullet to the head. If self-interest and other pragmatic concerns are all that govern morality, there is no reason to behave against my immediate self-interest, even if it requires me to do immoral acts.

Prinz then tries to answer the charge, “Relativism doesn’t allow for moral progress” [I guess like civil rights.] He answers,

• Moral values do not become more true. [But aren’t certain laws more just than others?] But they can become better by other criteria. For example, some sets of values are more consistent and more conducive to social stability.

Indeed, certain laws are “more conducive to social stability.” However, why should we be concerned about social stability? Why should Prinz? If you are a relativist who enjoys things falling apart, then there’s nothing wrong with chaos. To make some sense out of his moral system, Prinz has covertly imported the moral absolute of “social stability.” However, if this is the ultimate moral absolute, all forms of injustice will flourish. It is easy to argue that social stability will satisfy the majority or solidify the position of the royalty, and naturally, we want our royalty to be strong to resist invaders!

Prinz concludes, “once we see that there is no single true morality, we lose one incentive for trying to impose our values on others.” Perhaps, but why is this a good thing?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Another Mess for The Church of Scientology




After being a member of The Church of Scientology for 34 years, the screenwriter of “Million Dollar Baby,” Paul Haggis, blew the whistle. He now acknowledges, “I was in a cult for 34 years.” According to a New Yorker feature article, Haggis has made a number of allegations against Scientology including:

• Members who tried to flee “re-education camps” were tracked down and “subjected to further punishment.

• David Miscavige, the church’s leader, was prone to violent outbursts, and senior executives physically abused members, former Scientologists said. Miscavige is also accused of living large on church money.

• Members were forced to stay in trailers called “The Hole” to perform “group confessions all day and all night. (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/02/14/110214fa_fact_wright)

You might wonder why the various cults, when their misconduct is exposed, don’t merely confess, “Well, we might have done some things wrong, but we’ll investigate and make the appropriate corrections.” (After all, this works for the politicians!) In the case of Scientology, this maneuver becomes very difficult or perhaps impossible. It has forgotten the lessons from Humility 101, or perhaps never learned them. Their problem is that they have built a high and glorious tower for themselves, from which they now are unable to descend.

According to Scientology orthodoxy, their big-shots have transcended humanity, with all of its weaknesses, to become an,

• “Operating Thetan…one who can handle things without having to use a body or physical means.” An editorial in a 1959 issue of the Scientology magazine Ability notes that “neither Lord Buddha nor Jesus Christ were O.T.s, according to the evidence. They were just a shade above Clear.”

While “Clears” are those practitioners who have progressed beyond their “reactive minds” – neuroses and various physical problems – the O.T. has transcended all limitations. This being the case, it becomes difficult for the O.T. to admit mistakes and failures without also sacrificing everything that they had so enthusiastically and dogmatically promoted, including their own job.

In contrast to this, the Christian derives his sense of significance from the realization that he isn’t significant in himself, but his significance is all about his associations, One in particular (Gal. 2:20).

This gives us great freedom – freedom to fail, to be wrong, to not have to defend ourselves and to even be regarded as an “idiot.” This is because it’s no longer about us, but about the One who loves us eternally.

Before I knew Him, I always had to be right. Consequently, my wife and I could never resolve our disagreements. Only exhaustion would stop the fight, but the enmity remained. However, knowing Christ and His love, which transcends all understanding (Eph. 3:16-20), I now have the liberty to be transparent, even to fail.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Relgious Persecution: A Letter to President Obama

Dear President Obama,

On 2/15/11, LifeSiteNews reported:

• The mass murder of Christians during religious services in political hot-spot countries, including the murder of 58 Iraqi Catholics in Baghdad in October and 23 Coptic Christians in Egypt in December, have caught international headlines; but Aid to the Church in Need estimates that as many as 170,000 Christians are killed out of hatred for their beliefs around the world each year, largely in Muslim dominated countries.

While I respect your desire to bring democracy to the Middle East, it will be like building on sand if criminality, murder, and hypocritical double standards are not addressed. Meanwhile, U.S. engineered “democracies” are allowing and even supporting discriminatory and criminal laws. In Afghanistan, Sayed Mossa, a convert to Christianity, has suffered imprisonment, torture, and “sexual abuse” because of his conversion from Islam. Another Christian, Shoab Assadullah, was arrested for giving a New Testament. “Apostasy is a crime punished by death under Islamic Law” (World (2/2611).

However, Islamic Law forbids many things inimical to Western interests – religious equality, criticism of Islam, equal rights for women – and will inevitably establish governments where Islamic Law is enthroned to the detriment of its religious minorities and weaker members.

If the U.S. continues to erect and support such “democracies,” especially when knowing beforehand the criminality that will result, we are complicit in their crimes.

If we are a country governed by moral principles, these abuses must be challenged, not enabled.

Thanks for your consideration,

Daniel and Anita Mann

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lacking in Holiness?




Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14; Matthew 5:20)


This verse is deeply troubling! How holy must we be in order to “see the Lord?” How can I know that I am good enough to make-the-grade? Reading further, we find that not “seeing the Lord” is equated with falling “short of His grace!” (Heb. 12:15). Could it be that God rejects us because we fail to maintain a certain standard of holiness? This is what it seems to be saying.

To make matters even worse, we find that many verses echo this same requirement. For instance, David writes,

• “Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!”
(Psalm 32:11)

Although this verse looks innocent enough, David suggests that it is only the “righteous,” the “upright in heart,” who have a basis to hope and rejoice in God! Well, how about the rest of us who vainly struggle to be righteous, but perceive that we are unable to make the cutoff point?

I too had struggled to be righteous, but it was becoming increasingly obvious to me that I could not ever be good enough, no matter how hard I tried. Therefore, I secretly resented God. I wanted Him, but I had no confidence that He wanted me. At other times, I reassured myself that He would accept me, but only reluctantly. However, most of the time, I despaired of ever being worthy enough for God, and consequently I wanted to die.

Lacking this faith in myself, I turned desperately to the only other possible source of hope – the Scriptural assurances of a distant and demanding God – and found it. One theologian had written, “What often seems to be God’s ‘no,’ often turns out to be a ‘yes.’” Scripture affirms this!

Evidently, David considered himself among the “righteous,” among those who had a basis to “Rejoice in the LORD” (PSALM 32:11). However, at the beginning of Psalm 32, we see an entirely different picture:

• “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer”
(Psalm 32:3-4).

David had been anything but “righteous” and “upright in heart.” He had been harboring sin, which was bringing upon him the disciplinary hand of God. Tradition assigns this Psalm to the time when the prophet Nathan revealed to David his sins of adultery, murder and his refusal to confess these sins. What made the difference for David? How did he come to the assurance of his righteousness and uprightness before God in the midst of his duplicity?

“Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’-- and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:5).

Even though David’s deeds didn’t earn him the designation of “righteous,” he knew that, what he couldn’t achieve, God could achieve for him:

• “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit”
(Psalm 32:1-2).

Skeptic and iconoclast that I am by nature, it took years before I could grow in confidence of my “blessedness.” It was just too easy, too good to be true – that God’s forgiveness alone translated into “righteousness” and “blessedness,” beyond imagination. However, over time, other Scriptures began to fall in line for me. My Savior opened my eyes to see that my perception of my lack of “holiness,” about which I had been fretting, played an important role. Brokenness must precede wholeness; humbling must have its work before the healing. It was only through tear-filled eyes that I was enabled to see the rainbow. I slowly began to understand that the gift of forgiveness also included an imputation of His holiness.

Yes, without holiness we are lost (Hebrews 12:14). However, it isn’t primarily a matter of our attaining to a certain standard of holiness, but rather, my Savior sanctifying Himself to fulfill those standards for us (John 17:17-19).

The Book of Hebrews uses Esau as an example of this “holiness” to which we must attain. Esau was a “profane person” (Heb. 12:16). He had sold his birthright to Jacob for a mere bowl of soup. This was a profane act, because the birthright embodied the promise of God’s covenant, about which Esau seemingly couldn’t care less. This fact didn’t make him any less deserving than his brother Jacob, who had deceived his father in order to steal the birthright of the firstborn. However, Esau never confessed his sin of disregarding God:

“Afterward, as you know, when he [Esau] wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind [“repentance” NKJV], though he sought the blessing with tears” (Hebrews 12:17).

Although Esau wanted the blessing, he had little interest in the blessing-Giver, at least not enough to ever confess his sin and to resolve to change. Esau’s problem wasn’t sin or the inability to live up to a certain level of holiness. Instead, his problem was a refusal to admit his sinfulness and his need of forgiveness. For him, his brother Jacob was the real culprit, and he therefore planned to kill him.

“Without holiness no one will see the Lord”
(Heb. 12:14) is true, but it doesn’t represent a closed door. Nor is it the last word! Instead, it beckons us to knock a little harder, to cry louder until we see that it’s all about grace, the gift of His righteousness and His worthiness. Scripture is hard, but it’s not needlessly hard. It brings us to desperation, but it does it for mercy’s sake. It informs us of the brutal truth that we are under a curse if we fail to fulfill all the requirements of the law (Deut. 27:26; Gal. 3:10), but then it shepherds the broken-hearted to an unfailing hope. It crushes us so under the weight of condemnation and our failures, so that it might heal us and bring us to a place of liberty (Gal. 3:22-24; Rom 3:19-20; 11:32)!

This doesn’t mean that the call to holiness is just about trusting in the gift of God. It must start there, but it then beckons us to walk, even to run. We are called upon to take what we have been given and, in utter gratefulness, and to pass it on.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Response to President Obama's Education Proposal

Dear President Obama,

While your suggestions to improve education are reasonable, I fear that they fail to address the more fundamental problems within our failing education institutions.

I had been a substitute teacher within the NYC Public School system. I visited many classrooms and met with many teachers who were barely able to make it through their work-day. The first rule-of-thumb for both teachers and students is survival. Our schools are no longer environments conducive to learning, but combat zones where learning has become a rare luxury. This problem has to be addressed before we throw more good money after bad.

The simple addition of more police has only addressed the most grievous crimes – physical assaults and possession of weapons. Often, I had observed police merely occupying their post, waiting for criminal activity to occur, while bullying, belittling and disruptive behavior continue unchecked. Instead, the school and teachers themselves must have adequate sanctions to address threatening and anti-social behavior.

However, this is not enough! Without an adequate rationale for the use of additional sanctions, this exercise of discipline will not arise any higher than “might makes right,” something that will breed cynicism.

Instead, it has to begin with public debate over our value systems. Is morality merely something that works for us, at least in most circumstances? Is it merely a matter of relativism, or are their objective moral absolutes that must not be violated, like treating others with respect, or respecting elders and those in authority? Unless we understand that these values are founded in an immutable, omniscient, and omnipotent God, they will always be subject to compromise whenever our values interfere with our immediate pleasures, like bullying or being the class-clown. These types of questions might be politically incorrect, but I think they are morally and pragmatically necessary. It is a moribund and myopic society that will refuse to entertain them.
Please consider opening such a dialogue!

Sincerely,

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Necessary Characteristics of Moral Absolutes




An atheist protested that we don’t need God to be good. Specifically, we don’t need God to have unchanging, universal, moral absolutes. He claims that there are other possible causes that might account for moral absolutes (“objective morals”), like genocide is wrong:

• For example, moral properties might supervene on natural objects, or alternatively, moral value might be an emergent property. Both of those positions are, as far as I can tell, live options, neither of them requires God, both result in objective morals (independent of what we think), and they're not exhaustive of non-theistic moral realism(s) (Ideal Observer Theory would be another, for example).

If you don’t understand, don’t worry about it; I don’t either, at least not completely. However, it is clear that he would like to find a way that morality can simply arise naturally from the physical world, like life emerging naturally from the muck.

This is not only unlikely; it’s impossible. There are certain requirements that the “muck” explanation can’t possibly fulfill. Let me just try to list a few:

1. TRANSCENDENT: Moral absolutes must be higher than any other standard and must take precedent over all of our personal convictions that fail to conform to the absolute standard. Secular Humanism fails here because, when there is a disagreement, there isn’t a higher standard to which to appeal. When the husband informs his wife that he is justified in having an affair, and she says he isn’t, there is no higher standard which can mediate between them. Polytheism is no better, if there is no supreme truth-giving Being.

2. IMMUTABLE/ETERNAL: If morality is changing, then there’s nothing absolute about it. We can’t even speak about moral truth without immutability. Here today; gone tomorrow! Consequently, “majority rules” can’t account for moral absolutes. In the world of molecules-in-motion, there seems to be no other way to account for immutable truth but to invoke a Transcendent God. Objects change. Therefore, if moral absolutes depend upon physical objects, it too will be changing.

3. OMNIPRESENT: The absolutes must be universal. Genocide must be wrong in the Sahara as well as in outer space. If the same standards don’t apply everywhere, then if I want to do something heinous, I’ll just go to the place where it’s allowed. To insist that matter has universal properties is merely to disguise the real issue – What gives matter its universal properties amidst all of the change?

4. OMNISCIENT/TRUTHFUL: If the moral absolute isn’t completely truthful and accurate, then there’s no reason to follow it. I might as well simply follow my own inclinations. Also. if my wisdom is greater than that of God, then there is no reason to follow God. Clearly, moral truths cannot adhere to unintelligent objects. Further, we can’t derive moral absolutes (what ought to be) from what is (the facts of the physical world).

5. OMNIPOTENT: We can’t violate moral laws without consequence. Call it the “law of Karma” or “you reap what you sow,” without built-in consequences, there is not adequate reason to follow moral absolutes, especially when they interfere with our immediate welfare.

6. BEAUTY/ELEGANCE: Following moral laws is pleasing. If there isn’t a beauty in doing the laws, then I won’t be drawn to do them. As we grow closer to God and begin to see things as He does, we experience a delight, an aesthetic beauty in following His absolutes (Psalm 1).

7. IMMANENT/PERSONAL: If the laws are impersonal or are no more than the law of gravity, there is no reason that we shouldn’t find a way around them. Perhaps there are other impersonal laws by which we can skirt around the dictates of gravity. If there is nothing wrong about flying in a plane or inventing an anti-gravity device – and there isn’t – perhaps there are also circumstances by which we can bypass the moral absolutes that forbid torturing babies? If the laws aren’t personal, then there’s no reason to not violate them. Morality therefore must be ultimately personal.

All of these properties are necessary pre-conditions for moral absolutes. If they are simply properties of physical objects, there is nothing to stop us from throwing them into the fire as we would a well-seasoned log. Instead, it’s interesting to note that the very characteristics that are necessary in order to have moral absolutes are the same characteristics that are inherent in our God. Perhaps there are inseparable!

A New Religion: Virulent, Monopolistic, and even State Supported




Many Christians are in favor of extending all forms of equal rights to homosexuals even though they continue to believe that homosexuality is a sin. However, they fail to see that there is far more involved that just the granting of equal rights. Rather, it involves the replacement of their faith with another, the truth with untruth. However, this new faith of radical egalitarianism is more than just another religion among the many that are already flourishing. If it was merely another religion, there wouldn’t be a big problem. We could merely “live and let live.” However, this new religion is imperialistic and intolerant of differences. It will not tolerate any competition or even criticism. Even worse, it’s State supported! Let me use the example of the repeal of DADT. OneNewsNow.com reports:

• A conservative military watchdog says thousands of service members will be forced to remain in the military even though they oppose the new law that allows homosexuals to serve openly.

Why would they even want to leave? Are they indeed homophobic? Can they not tolerate the sight of gays in the military? Far more is at stake! Soldiers will be required to undergo “indoctrination”:

• Recently a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard was reportedly granted a transfer from a command to a staff position so he would not have to order his troops to submit to homosexual sensitivity indoctrination.

However, the option of a transfer seems to be the exception from the rule, and implementation is on the fast-track:

• The military services [will be given] about three months to indoctrinate their personnel on the new law that will inject open homosexuality into the military with zero tolerance of those who object.

It is not simply that military personnel will have to submit to reeducation; it also seems likely that the Chaplains and other personnel will also be forbidden to even raise objections against homosexuality.

In September, a group of 66 retired military chaplains wrote of their concerns and opposition to repeal in a letter to President Barack Obama and defense secretary Robert Gates:

• “[T]he proposed ‘non-discrimination’ law may effectively ban chaplains from expressing their religious beliefs on homosexual behavior. The affects of this ban would be felt keenly within a chaplain’s religious duties, but it would extend outside the pulpit, too. Since chaplains are tasked with teaching classes in moral leadership and ethics both on armed forces bases and at branch schools, such censorship would prevent them from providing the full moral instruction their faith background gives them.”


Upon the repeal of DADT, Concerned Women for American wrote,

• "Instead of answering questions about the rights of homosexuals in this country, rescinding DADT only serves to further muddy the waters. Will Christian chaplains be forced out of the military if they don't accept the repeal?”


This is not alarmist rhetoric one chaplain has already informed me that if chaplains want to retain their jobs in the military, they will now have to refrain from any mention of homosexual practice as a sin; nor will they be able to do anything that might indicate their disapproval.

This represents a massive seismic shift in the morals that have governed the USA and a gross violation of the separation of church and state. This new religion of “tolerance” has revealed itself intolerant of everything that doesn’t fall in line with its dictates, coercing the church into silence. The New Federal Hate Crimes legislation has similarly criminalized any speech that might be construed to lead to a hate crime. Sadly, before its passage, Congress voted down an amendment exempting religious speech from criminalization. Already, pastors are making adjustments in their preaching.

Ironically, DADT was deemed “unconstitutional,” but the new religion of “tolerance” finds nothing unconstitutional about the abrogation of our 1st amendment rights. This not only represents an abrogation of our rights of freedom of speech and of religion, it is also the last area where military personnel should to be silenced. Any innovations require careful observation and modification in view of the problems that will necessarily arise. In this case, questions will inevitably arise about intimate same-sex relations, sexual advances, jealousies and their impact on group solidarity and functionality. However, these very questions will no longer be tolerated. Even now, raising such questions brings sudden charges of “homophobia.” It may soon even bring jail.

We are being blasted by a mega-tsunami. Some say that we have already lost the culture-wars, and so we shouldn’t aggravate the opposition any further. However, our Scriptural mandate takes us in a different direction – to “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3). And we need not be discouraged, for our Lord has assured us:

• "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
(John 16:33)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Fruits of “Christian” Evolution




If we start with the wrong presuppositions, we’ll end up with the
wrong conclusions. Similarly, when we start to button our shirt with the
wrong button, all subsequent buttons will be out of place. If the basis of
our thinking is wrong, then our cognitive edifice will also be out-of-joint.

This is precisely what happens when we start with Darwin. Many Christian evolutionists claim that the Bible isn’t a science or history textbook. While we can’t trust what it says about the physical world, we can trust its teachings about the spiritual world. Karl Giberson, a science professor at a Christian school, claims that “science does indeed trump religious truth about the natural world.”

Sounds harmless enough? After all, the Bible isn’t concerned with amino acids and meteors, but with Christ and His salvation, isn’t it? Well, there are several problems with placement of this particular button. As creationist Bruce Malone has stated, “If we can’t trust what the Bible teaches about the physical world--something we can examine and test--how can we trust it about the spiritual?” Malone is clearly correct. Such a distinction and dismissal of the Bible’s teaching about the physical world casts doubt on what it teaches about the spiritual.

Besides, the Bible doesn’t make a distinction between the physical and the spiritual. Instead, the clear position found in scripture is that the physical and the spiritual are inseparable. For example, the spiritual/theological teaching of the Crucifixion depends on the physical/historical event of the Crucifixion. And the same holds true with so many other doctrines. What God has physically/historically accomplished becomes spiritual doctrine.

In order that we might understand even more fully the false dichotomy between the physical and the spiritual, let’s take a look at what Jesus said about divorce. Jesus argued that divorce isn’t an option because of the physical/historical reality of God’s work. He took the two--Adam and Eve--and made them one (Matthew 19:4-6; Genesis 2:24). Jesus reasoned that God’s historical actions are normative, and we have no right to undermine with divorce the oneness that He both intended and created.

When we conclude that science knows better than the Bible in certain areas, we surrender the notion that it is without error and fully worthy of our trust (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Matthew 4:4; 5:16-19). It then follows that, if the Bible isn’t supremely authoritative, then something else is. For the Christian evolutionist, the present scientific and cultural consensus has become the highest authority.

Consequently, when we allow the ideas inherent in the theory of evolution to remake our understanding of the physical world, we also allow it to reformat our understanding of the spiritual. Giberson started buttoning his shirt at the wrong hole by believing that evolution was right in physical matters, and now each button is out of place. It is now apparent that he has allowed evolution to dictate spiritual matters as well. He now concedes:

• “In The God Delusion [evolutionist and New Atheist Richard] Dawkins eloquently skewers the tyrannical anthropomorphic deity of the Old Testament—the God that supposedly commanded the Jews to go on genocidal rampages and who occasionally went on his own rampages, flooding the planet or raining fire and brimstone on wicked cities. But who believes in this deity any more, besides those same fundamentalists who think the earth is 10,000 years old? Modern theology has moved past this view of God.”
http://biologos.org/blog/exposing-the-straw-men-of-new-atheism-part-five/

The God of the Bible is apparently no longer Giberson’s god. The only thing left for us to learn from him, it seems, concerns the absolutely devastating consequences of starting with the wrong button.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Revive Us! Change Us!




Here’s one thing I’ve never heard a Christian say: “The church isn’t in need of revival.” I think that we’re all troubled by the state of the church, even the state of our own lives! At least, we should be! But from where does revival come?

It doesn’t come from us and our strenuous efforts. Joshua had lamented that Israel didn’t have what it took: "You are not able to serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:19). Moses had expressed a similar lament:

• “But to this day the LORD has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear.”
(Deut. 29:4)

However, he assured Israel that,

• “The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.”
(Deut. 30:6)

Even now, under the New Covenant, we are still utterly dependent upon God. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church that he had to first learn to despair of his own abilities before he could learn to trust only in God’s (2 Cor. 1:8-9; 3:5). This lesson is especially true when it’s a matter of changing hearts. If we can’t add an inch to our heights, then how are we to change what is invisible and contained within! This should alert us to the fact that prayer to our omnipotent God is the most appropriate exercise.

In fact, it’s a blessing to know that we can’t handle our lives. A vast, unstoppable army was invading Judea. King Jehoshaphat knew that Judea couldn’t withstand such an army. He therefore humbled himself before his God, praying:

• “For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you."
(2 Chron. 20:12)

It wasn’t just the King’s eyes that were upon the Lord. “All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the LORD” (2 Chron. 20:13). Their only hope was in their God, but it was well-placed. A prophet then announced:

• “This is what the LORD says to you: 'Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's.’”
(2 Chron. 20:15)

Israel was instructed to merely observe His deliverance. They didn’t have to lift a finger. However, they did humble themselves before their God (2 Chron. 20:3). Any request for God’s deliverance must be accompanied by the knowledge of our own inability to deliver ourselves and the acknowledgement that we aren’t entitled to anything from Him. This acknowledgement includes a confession of our sins, every last one, of which we are aware!

I don’t think that revival will come until we are desperate for it, so much so, that it becomes foremost in our lives. Nor will it come until we confess all of our sins. King David gave us a good illustration of what personal revival looks like. He held back nothing from his confession list, even confessing that he had been a sinner from the get-go, exactly what our posture must be before God:

• “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts...You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
(Psalm 51:6, 16-17)

“Truth in the inner parts” is a matter of facing and confessing who we are and what we’re really about. This is what revival requires – complete transparency and brokenness before our Redeemer, and a recognition that it’s all about Him!

The same principle applies to both personal and national revival. This nation had been conceived on the principle that “all men are created equal.” We hailed this truth but refused to live by it, making ourselves hypocrites. Even the one who had coined this famous phrase, our third president Thomas Jefferson, had failed to release his slaves, those with whom he shared this equality. On numerous occasions, he had been confronted with his hypocrisy, once in 1791 by a free black leader in Maryland, Benjamin Banneker:

“How pitiable it is to reflect that although you were so fully convinced of the benevolence of the Father of mankind, and of his equal and impartial distribution of these rights and privileges, which he hath conferred upon them, that you should at the same time counteract his mercies, in detaining by fraud and violence so numerous a part of my brethren, under groaning captivity and cruel oppression.”

Sadly, in the absence of true repentance, it required a bloody war to relieve this nation of its hypocrisy. We too cannot give sanction to any hypocrisy or refuge to any lie:

• “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”
(Proverbs 28:13)

We are in need of His mercy, a mercy that turns wrongs into rights, the bad into good. But it requires that we humble ourselves – something we find quite unpleasant and unnatural. The atheist and writer, Aldous Huxley, had stated as much, “Rolling in the muck is not the best way to get clean.” However, this is God’s way, and it yields great blessing, even revival!

The famous Augustine of Hippo wisely reflected: “We make a ladder out of our vices if we trample those same vices underfoot.” By trampling and them standing on them, we stand higher than we had before. I don’t think we will have revival until we “roll in the muck” so that we can then stand upon it.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

An Open Letter to President Barack Obama


Dear President Obama,

We Christians are very concerned about efforts to promote Islamic democracy, while failing to address the root causes of discrimination and oppression of religious minorities in Islamic nations. “That in many regions of the world, Christians are today ‘the most oppressed and tormented minority’ is a matter of fact.”

Ironically, the present Egyptian uprising has released a new wave of terror on the Church. According to FOX news:

The uprising has led to new attacks on Egyptian Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population. A church in Rafah, near the border with Gaza, was hit with a firebomb, but the church was empty and no one was injured. Two days later, not far from Cairo, 11 members of two Christian families were killed in a brutal attack in which four others were wounded. That attack, which has not been widely reported in the mainstream media, apparently took place because of the lax security situation at the time…The New Year began with a bombing at a Coptic church in Alexandria that left 23 dead. While the Copts and other Christians may not have gotten the protection they needed under Mubarak, the situation will almost certainly be worse if the Muslim Brotherhood takes control of the country.

“The Muslim Brotherhood has a long-term commitment to establishing an Islamic state under sharia rule in Egypt,” Nina Shea, Director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, told FoxNews.Com. “The Copts and other Christians should be worried. They would be reduced to dhimmi status – denied the right to celebrate Christmas and weddings or otherwise publicly display their faith.” Shea said “Christians would be defined by the state to be a dangerous fifth column,” and she predicts there would be a mass exodus of Christians, similar to the one in Iraq. Given the size of the Christian population in Egypt, Shea noted that “this would be tantamount to the end of religious diversity and pluralism in the Middle East and would inevitably lead to a deepening of Islamic radicalization.”

If persecution isn’t blatant in other Muslim nations, inevitably religious minorities are reduced to dependency and vulnerability under sharia law (Surah 47:4; 9:5; 9:29; 9:38-39). If true peace and democracy is to flourish, these disparities and double-standards (33:57; 3:27; 4:89; 5:54) must be addressed. Failing to do so will lead to no more than a deceptive “peace” and a cover for continued persecution.

"Iranian state television said Wednesday that leaders of the country's Christian minority have been arrested and accused of spreading a hard-line version of their faith…A website of Iran's political opposition [The Sahamnews.org] reported that 60 Christians have been arrested since Christmas, including a priest taken into custody on Friday."

If real democratic harmony is to be promoted, these offenses along with their root causes must be addressed. The Washington Times claims that,

In incidents of terrorism foreign and domestic - such as the Fort Hood massacre, underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad - the Islamist reasons for the attacks remain officially unstated. The White House, of course, knows the root cause of the threat; it simply refuses to admit it. Anti-Christian violence is swelling in Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria and Pakistan, among other places, but the White House dares not say why.

Denying the root issues will not promote democracy and the protection of religious minorities. We therefore urge that you, President Obama, speak clearly and forcefully against Islamic violence and discrimination against its religious minorities and to assert our unwillingness to tolerate any of it.

Thank you for your time and consideration,
Concerned Christians

Certainty isn’t Unrealistic or even Optional, but it might be Elusive




My response to a postmodern Christian who doubts that we can have certainty:

Well, if you are certain that we can’t have certainty, allow me to be certain about various aspects of our faith. For instance, it is historically certain that Jesus died on the cross. Lee Strobel wrote, “Both Gerd Ludemann, who is an atheistic NT critic, and Bart Ehrman, who is an agnostic, call the crucifixion an indisputable fact.” And for good reason! There are just too many incontestable historical accounts verifying this fact.

In fact, so much of the Bible narrative depends on certainty. Moses doubted that Israel would believe that God had sent him back to Egypt to get them out. Therefore, God equipped him with miraculous signs – a staff transformed into a snake, a healthy hand transformed into a leprous hand, water into blood – so that Israel could be certain that God was with them (Exodus 4:1-9). He didn’t tell Moses, “Just tell them to believe!”

In contrast to this, Daniel Taylor, “The Myth of Certainty,” writes,

“They are also wrong, however, who claim that reason and evidence prove the existence of God. God is not reducible to proof and only our weakness makes us wish it were so.” (70)

Clearly, this is not a Biblical position. It was the “evidence” of Jesus resurrection that turned the Apostles back to faith (Acts 1:3; 2:22), that restored Thomas’ faith (John 20:27-28), and reassured the wavering John the Baptist (Matthew 11). Nor is this assertion even logical. Taylor reasons that reason can’t be used to prove God. He is certain that we can’t have certainty!

Besides, how can Taylor prove that “God is not reducible to proof?” Is he saying that God can’t prove His own existence? Does he realize that he is putting the almighty God in a book from which He cannot emerge?

We desperately need certainty. We need assurance to come boldly before our God (Hebrews 10:22). We need to know that certain things are wrong, like murder, genocide, and joining the Klu Klux Klan. We have to be able to make decisions, not just stopping at red lights and driving when the light turns green. We need to make moral decisions and give moral lessons. We need to oppose the liar and the rapist. This requires certainty.

For many of my 34 years of following Christ, I had been psychologically shriveling up without the certainty of Christ’s love for me! Without this certainty, I was overwhelmed by my sins and failures. I lacked the strength to take my eyes off myself and my failures and to place them on my only source of hope – God! Certainty didn’t come quickly or easily, but it did come in God’s time!

Even logically, we can’t doubt that we can have certainty. When someone says, “You can’t be certain about these things!” I merely reply, “Are you certain that I can’t be certain?” If he claims that he is certain about uncertainty, then he contradicts himself. If instead he is not certain about his claim, then he has to be more tentative about his dismissal of certainty.

Some preach against the possibility of certainty or assurance because if we don’t believe that it is possible, then we won’t grieve too much if we lack it. Although their intentions might be good, they oppose God, who wants us to strive for certainty and assurance:

• “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.”
(2 Peter 1:10-11)

How do we “make certain” these things? First of all, we need to recognize that it’s a gift (1 John 4:13; Psalm 84:11; Eph. 2:10), but He grants this gift synergistically, in conjunction with our obedience. Peter mentions diligence, but diligence in regards to what? In regards to what he mentioned previously - “self-control,” “perseverance” and “godliness!”

We can be assured of our salvation in several ways – “by keeping His commandments” (1 John 2:3; 4:16-18), most specifically by loving the brethren. While our good deeds don’t save us, they can certainly reassure us. But ultimately, it’s our faith that provides the victory (1 John 5:4). If we truly trust in Him, we’ll endeavor to do what He tells us to do.

We also have to learn how to Biblically reassure our hearts, because our unredeemed feelings can preach a message of condemnation to us (1 John 3:18-20). Some of us have over-sensitive consciences. Although we struggle to walk in a way pleasing to our Lord, we always seem to fail. We need to reassure ourselves that He not only forgives and cleanses us when we confess our sins (1 John 1:9), but that He is able to make the weakest of us “stand” (Romans 14:4).

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Trauma and Pain: Do They Add or Detract from Life?




The overflowing abundance of trauma and suffering is often cited as an argument against God. But perhaps suffering is a good thing? In “One Nation under Therapy,” Sally Satel and Christina Hoff Sommers affirm this proposition:

• In their book, “Posttraumatic Growth: Positive Changes in the Aftermath of Crisis,” Tedeschi and Calhoun bring together scores of studies that complement their own findings that about two-thirds of trauma survivors can point to ways they have benefited from their struggle to cope with the ways a traumatic experience once shattered their lives. Similarly, Rudolf Moos, a psychologist at Stanford University, has found that more than half of all people who experience crises report some benefit from them: ‘For many people life crises are the catalysts…lead[ing] to greater self-reliance, better relationships with family and friends, new problem-solving skills.’ (214)

If they are right, then we have to rethink questions like, “What is the ‘good life’ and the goal of counseling?” Is life about the relief from painful symptomology? If so, then we should regard crisis as nothing more than a curse. This seems to be the prevailing attitude within the psychotherapeutic community, where the goals of self-fulfillment and self-actualization – those things that are immediately self-enhancing – seem to go unquestioned. Maslow did more to set these values in stone than anyone else:

• To flourish, he said, human beings must first satisfy their basic physical needs for food, water, shelter, and safety. As soon as these basic needs are met, a new set emerges: “belonging needs” and “esteem needs.” Maslow classified self-esteem as an essential human need and he called for institutions where the “core of the person is fundamentally accepted, loved, and respected by others and by himself.” Individuals who felt safe, loved, and confident, his theory went, could then move on to a higher state of creative or ethical being that Maslow called “self-actualization”…Maslow was convinced that neurotic behavior and anti-social emotions (rage, jealousy, fear) have their origin in the frustrated needs (physical and emotional) of early life. “If this essential core of the person is denied or suppressed, he gets sick.” What we call “evil” or “immoral” behavior is caused by the frustration of healthy desires. (61-62)

In other words, life is about self-fulfillment and not deprivation. However, we find that deprivation deepens character and enriches life. Interestingly,

• Maslow acknowledged that his conclusions were not based on conventional social science…[According to] Edward Hoffman, Maslow’s biographer, “Maslow felt sure that he was intuitively correct and that new research methods would eventually validate his ideas.” (62)

Indeed, we all want validation, approval, and respect, but are they good for us in the long run? Maslow’s certainty reflects a problem deeply embedded in today’s counseling industry – the assumption that what feels good in the short run is also good in the long run, and that what the client desires from the counseling relationship will actually benefit them.

Western culture has become notoriously myopic and addicted to what feels good. The idea of self-fulfillment has been elevated above Mount Sinai, where it reigns as the supreme arbiter of life’s quality. If it doesn’t feel good, then it isn’t good! However, what we have exalted can’t reach down to comfort us in our need. If life is about self-fulfillment, then we just burden ourselves with one more requirement and feel like an utter failure when we find ourselves unfulfilled and castigate ourselves accordingly.

However, Jesus taught that life is more, far more than self-actualization:

• "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?...But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
(Matthew 6:25, 33)

We need not to be concerned about our needs, because our Lord is concerned about them. Instead, life is about truth and our service to the truth. Ironically, we ultimately become optimally fulfilled as we serve Him:

• Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.
(Psalm 1:1-3)

The true way of self-fulfillment is the way of God. Lifting ourselves up is the way down, while humbling ourselves before God is the way up (Luke 18:14).

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A LETTER TO A ZEN BUDDHIST




Thanks for your patient response. You opened yourself up more than I had expected you to do, and I really appreciate and respect that. However, I want to take a critical look at what you’ve written. I fear that it might be painful, so please accept my apologies beforehand.

We both embrace the idea of a “willingness to take the world as it is.” As such, we believe that the world embodies truths that we can learn through science and in other ways! This is why I have a problem with you statement:

“Reality is illusion and here science will back up buddhist claims, if everything on earth is in constant change then reality is an illusion.”

Instead, the very fact that everything isn’t in constant change allows for science. If everything was always changing, there would be no science and science would be able to say NOTHING about the world. Even to say that “everything on earth is in constant change” is self-contradictory. Your statement is in constant change and therefore invalid. Further, if “reality is an illusion,” then everything you’re saying is illusory, and I am left to wonder why you are even making statements.

Consequently, you say about life, “we don't attach to it.” We Christians also believe that there is a higher reality and so we approach life somewhat tentatively, but we do attach to it. We are taught to value people, relationships, family, commitments, love and even work. We are required to stand up for the victims and to visit those in need. Yes, I realize that Buddhism is also a very ethical system, but the teachings that the world is illusory and that we shouldn’t attach to it undermines these ethical commitments and responsibilities.

You choose “metaphysical uncertainty.” I’ve tried to argue that life requires us to search and to arrive at some degree of certainty. We need certainty to navigate life, make decisions, stand against injustice and victimization, to open our mouths, to love others and to know the right way to do it. We also need certainty in order to find cognitive rest, peace and assurance. In this regard, I fear that the Buddhist practice of mindfulness represents a purposeful and misguided dissociation from reality, a denial of life and the things that are important about it, and an unwillingness to deal meaningfully with our problems, sins and faults.

I pray that you might reconsider some of your conclusions and set your heart on pursuing truth.

An Islamic Democracy




There has been much talk about Egypt becoming a democracy, but we have certain false assumptions about what an Egyptian democracy might look like. While it is true that 59% of Egyptians want a “democracy,” A Pew Survey by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, released Dec. 10, 2010, might help us understand the form that it might take:

• 95% of Egyptians regard it as “good” that Islam plays a “large role” in politics.

• 49% have a “favorable” view of the terrorist organization Hamas.

• “At least three-quarters of Muslims in Egypt (85%), Nigeria (82%) and Jordan (76%) consider Islamic influence over political life to be a positive thing for their country.”

• “At least three-quarters of Muslims in Egypt and Pakistan say they would favor making each of the following the law in their countries: stoning people who commit adultery, whippings and cutting off of hands for crimes like theft and robbery and the death penalty for those who leave the Muslim religion.”
• “Among Muslims who see a struggle between modernizers and Islamic fundamentalists, majorities in Lebanon (84%), Turkey (74%), Pakistan (61%) and Indonesia (54%) side with those who want to modernize their countries; a plurality of Jordanian Muslims who say there is a struggle in their country also side with the modernizers (48%). In Egypt and Nigeria, however, most Muslims who see a struggle in their countries say they identify with Islamic fundamentalists (59% and 58%, respectively).”

• “A narrower majority (54%) of Muslims in Egypt also support making gender segregation the law in their country.”

• “About eight-in-ten Muslims in Egypt and Pakistan (82% each) endorse the stoning of people who commit adultery.”

• “Muslims in Pakistan and Egypt are also the most supportive of whippings and cutting off of hands for crimes like theft and robbery; 82% in Pakistan and 77% in Egypt favor making this type of punishment the law in their countries.”

• “When asked about the death penalty for those who leave the Muslim religion, at least three-quarters of Muslims in Jordan (86%), Egypt (84%) and Pakistan (76%) say they would favor making it the law.”

Although this survey didn’t address this issue, any criticism of Islam or Mohammed also carries a death penalty. Freedom of religion and of speech have little part in an Islamic “democracy,” where non-Muslims are relegated to second-class “citizens.” Where then would democracy play a role? Perhaps in voting for the candidate, but they better be Muslims!

Hosni Mubarack might be a dictator, but is he any more dictatorial than an Islamic "democracy" would be?

ADDENDUM ON ISLAMIC DEMOCRACY: In the Jan. 2011 “Freedom Report,” Christian Freedom International reports,

• Bangladesh is one of the last remaining democracies in the Muslim world. Ironically, it is also a nation that is experiencing a growing hostility towards Christianity, like many other Muslim dominated countries. The rise of Islamic extremism within its society has contributed to the mistreatment and abuse of Christians that has sadly become all too commonplace. Although sharia law is not the official law of the land, it is still used as a tool of persecution against Christians, who make up less than one percent of the country’s population. Christian females are especially at risk in Bangladesh, as incidents of rape, kidnapping and forced marriages to Muslim men are frequently reported from the Christian community.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Planned Parenthood and the Its Disregard for Law and Morality




We have to admire the determination of Planned Parenthood (PP) to provide abortions, in almost any circumstances, even to aid a sex-trafficker! In an undercover sting, an investigator posing as a pimp managing 14-15 year old girls, some of whom were reportedly sex-trafficked to the USA, asked Planned Parenthood for abortion services. According to LifeSiteNews, Feb. 3, 2011:

• The footage, released Tuesday by the pro-life media organization Live Action, showed a manager at a New Jersey Planned Parenthood advising an actor posing as a pimp how to make his illegal sex ring look “as legit as possible,” while obtaining STI testing, contraception, and abortions for his underage victims.


PP even counseled the pimp how they could circumvent the parental notification law. In response to this and other such disclosures,

• U.S. Congressman Mike Pence, who introduced a bill to strip Planned Parenthood’s funding this month, said that the potential criminal activity on display in the video was yet more evidence of the need to defund the organization, which receives over $300 million a year in federal funding. “The recent release of an undercover video exposing duplicity and potential criminality by an employee of Planned Parenthood is an outrage,” he said. “Every American should be shocked that an employee of the largest recipient of federal funds under Title X has been recorded aiding and abetting underage sex trafficking.”

• Steven Wagner, the president of the Renewal Forum and a former director in the human trafficking program for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, called Live Action’s video “profoundly disturbing.” “To provide abortions or contraception to a child who is being sexually exploited is to sustain that exploitation – just the same as the adult who pays for sex with a child sustains the exploitation,” he said. “It is incomprehensible that a health care provider is so eager to abet a trafficker, and for a national organization which receives public funds to support in this way our national epidemic of child sexual exploitation is vile.”



This is not simply the problem of one PP employee. It seems to be endemic to the entire organization.

Just days after an explosive undercover video showed a Planned Parenthood manager in New Jersey coaching a purported pimp and his prostitute how to cover up their child sex trafficking operation, the pro-life media organization Live Action has released full footage from a Richmond, VA Planned Parenthood abortion center showing the clinic agreeing to help the pimp get secret abortions and cheap birth control for his trafficked girls.

The PP employee assured the pimp,

“If someone’s a minor and they don’t want their parents to know - parent’s insurance - so an abortion would show up. You fill out paperwork and we kinda help you set it up and we have a confidential hotline that will call you at whatever number you give us and handle the whole thing. So, for someone who’s a minor, that’s a really good thing. We do ‘em like once or twice a month here.”

PP isn’t daunted in aiding and abetting sex-trafficking, the kidnapping and destruction of girls from other countries. If they are truly concerned about the welfare of women, they would expose this abomination. Instead, PP has demonstrated an eagerness to facilitate this horror.

The philosophy of death, which is synonymous with the very essence of PP, seems to take precedence over every other moral and legal consideration. It is therefore fitting that the legal system that they have so flagrantly violated should violate and de-fund PP.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Hypocrisy in the Highest Places




Despite its protestations that it is open and tolerant, Western Secularism has become utterly repressive. Our universities are a good barometer of this. Increasingly,

• Students and free-speech advocates wrangle with school administrators over academic freedom every semester as students defend their rights to form student clubs, pass out literature, and even send religious emails that might offend someone…The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education surveyed 390 colleges and universities and found that two-thirds have policies that “seriously infringe” on students’ free speech rights.
(WORLD, Feb. 12, 2011, 54).

This is both tragic and ironic. The university is supposed to champion truth and free inquiry and speech like doctors champion health and courts champion justice. When the university devotes itself to the suppression of free speech, it’s like a doctor secretly administering poison.

Viewpoint discrimination is also flourishing within the university like weeds in an untended field. The example of the rejection of the highly qualified Martin Gaskell is illuminating:

• A University of Kentucky faculty member warned her colleagues in an email she sent about a potential employee: “Clearly this man is complex and likely fascinating to talk with—but potentially evangelical.” Astronomer Martin Gaskell, the man in question, sued the University of Kentucky for choosing not to hire him because of his Christian beliefs. In a rare outcome, the university settled the case for $125,000.”
(56)

This outcome was “rare” because it’s generally difficult to obtain hard evidence for religious discrimination. However, in this case, the evidence was copious:

• In one email, Gaskell’s lone defender protested that Gaskell’s qualifications far outweighed his competitors’: “The real reason we will not offer him this job is because of his religious beliefs.”
(56)

This is very revealing of the university culture. The disdain of evangelicals is so entrenched and accepted that there was only one “defender,” despite the illegality of what the university faculty was doing. And it’s not just a matter of the bigotry of one school. The problem is ubiquitous:

• Internal e-mails and other documents obtained under the Iowa Open Records Act completely contradict public claims by Iowa State University (ISU) that the denial of tenure to astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez was unrelated to his support for the theory of intelligent design. According to these documents: Dr. Gonzalez was subjected to a secret campaign of vilification and ridicule by colleagues in the Department of Physics and Astronomy who explicitly wanted to get rid of him because of his pro-intelligent design views, not his scholarship. Dr. Gonzalez’s work and views on intelligent design were repeatedly attacked during department tenure deliberations. Dr. Gonzalez’s colleagues secretly plotted to evade the law by suppressing evidence that could be used against them in court to supply proof of a hostile work environment…In voting to reject tenure for Dr. Gonzalez, members of the Department of Physics and Astronomy all but ignored recommendations made by the majority of their own outside scientific reviewers, who thought Gonzalez clearly deserved tenure.


Hypocrisy has become so blatant that it no longer causes shame. What looks good from the outside is filled with rot, reminding us of the words of our Lord:

• "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”
(Matthew 23:25-26)

What’s the answer? Expose the hypocrisy: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephes. 5:11-13).

Proof of the Bible: The Psychological Evidence

If the teachings of the Bible address and satisfy our psychological needs like a window fits or satisfies its window-frame, we should conclude that they were designed to fit together. Furthermore, if we find that the Bible fits our psychological needs in ways that might not be immediately apparent – in ways that transcend the wisdom of our culture – we might conclude that the Bible is the product of a superior wisdom.

The article below, published by the Christian Research Journal several years ago, addresses the relationship between depression and the Bible.

In many ways, the Bible embodies evidence that it’s the product of a superior Intelligence. This can be demonstrated by examining its wisdom regarding human psychology, especially as we compare it to the secular solutions for psychological-emotional problems.


THANKFULFNESS AND DEPRESSION
Thankfulness is great for body and soul and even for depression. According to Lauren Aaronson:

Feeling thankful and expressing that thanks makes you happier and heartier… Just jot down things that make you thankful…Call it corny, but gratitude just may be the glue that holds society together.


In other words, "Just do it!" Although helpful, thankfulness, without God and an assurance of heaven, can be irrational and delusional. Just consider someone who is terminally ill, has lost family and friends, and has nothing tangible to look forward to but death! Besides being insensitive, advising her to be thankful is asking her to be irrational. Although, thankfulness might work emotionally, it requires the client to lobotomize her mind and to deny the most significant aspects of her life.

In addition to this, there remains the awkward question: “Thankful to whom?” Indeed, thankfulness makes sound psychological sense, but Aaronson avoids this obvious question. It’s like throwing a party without inviting the host—not a very thankful thing at that!

Thankfulness demands that we open our eyes and acknowledge that there must be a hidden subject who should be acknowledged. This all comes very naturally and comfortably for the Christian, who needs not make believe that the Host doesn’t exist. In fact, the Host is the lynchpin who ties it all neatly together, making sense out of thankless situations. Asaph, the Psalmist, writes, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26, NIV). Besides, practicing Biblical thankfulness doesn’t require the depressed to deny the painful realities of their lives.

HOPE AND DEPRESSION
Depressed people need hope more than anything else. They have been fighting a foe that is greater than they and have despaired of their own efforts. Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl, had observed many struggle and finally acquiesce to the verdict of the death camps. In Man’s Search for Meaning, he writes:

The prisoner who had lost his faith in the future—his future—was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and become subject to mental and physical decay.

Frankl understood that the best elixir for despair was hope. The Bible concurs: “A man's spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” (Proverbs 18:14, NIV). But how does one obtain hope? In The Noonday Demon, termed by one reviewer as “the definitive book on depression,” Andrew Solomon, himself a long-time sufferer, writes,

Since depression is highly demotivating, it takes a certain survivor impulse to keep going through the depression, not to cave into it. A sense of humor is the best indicator that you will recover; it is often the best indicator that people will love you. Sustain that and you have hope.

A sense of humor is a great gift. Some have a natural endowment of it, while others have to learn it. However, it’s more than a skill; it’s also a vision of life. It can laugh at itself and one’s foibles, because they are foibles when compared to eternity (Rom. 8:18-19), and not the actual substance of life. Solomon understands the difficulty of laughter in the context of his reality:

Of course it can be hard to sustain a sense of humor during an experience that is really not so funny. It is urgently necessary to do so…Whatever time is eaten by a depression is gone forever. The minutes that are ticking by as you experience the illness are minutes that you will not know again. No matter how bad you feel you have to do everything you can to keep living, even if all you can do for the moment is breathe. Wait it out and occupy the time of waiting as fully as you can. That’s my big piece of advice to depressed people.

Do better, try harder! That’s not very hopeful—especially not for those who really need hope. Indeed, we must often wait, but we also need to know that, when we are at our weakest and lowest, we are actually at our highest (2 Cor. 12:9-10)! We need the assurance that even in the midst of depression, our dear Lord is drawn to us in our pain (Isa. 57:15; 66:1-2; Psalm 34:17-18), is suffering along with us (Heb. 4:15; Isa. 63:7-11), and is working even our defeats and failures towards a blessed and eternal conclusion (Rom. 8:28; Phil. 1:6; John 6:37-40)!

Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, writes 15 years later about his journey from Zen Buddhism to Christianity. He had repeatedly observed that his Christian clients would improve, no matter how serious their psychiatric condition. He concludes,

The quickest way to change your attitude toward pain is to accept the fact that everything that happens to us has been designed for our spiritual growth…We cannot lose once we realize that everything that happens to us has been designed to teach us holiness…We are guaranteed winners!


If our hope is in ourselves rather than in our omnipotent and all-loving God, we have no guarantees except death and decay. Solomon also appreciates the power of faith:

Frankly, I think that the best treatment for depression is belief, which is in itself far more essential than what you believe in. If you really truly believe that you can relieve your depression by standing on your head and spitting nickels for an hour every afternoon, it is likely that this incommodious activity will do you tremendous good.

Indeed, it is a well-demonstrated fact that the placebo effect is powerful. If we believe in something, anything, it will make a difference, at least for the short-run. However, unless a faith accords with reality (our experiences and observations) and is nurtured by compelling evidences, it will subside and so too its positive influences.

God has not left His suffering people destitute of compelling reasons-to-hope. He has not been slack in providing authenticating miracles (Mat. 11:5-6; John 5:31-36; 10:37; 20:25-31; Acts 1:3; Heb. 2:4) and fulfilled prophecy (Luke 24:25-27, 44-45; John 14:28-29; 16:1-4, 32-33; Acts 17:2-4; 18:4; 28:23) to reassure our fretful minds.

The alternative to a trust in God is a trust in self. Such a trust is constantly under the attack by our experiences that indict this notion. We’re not worthy of self-trust, and consequently, it can only be maintained through a most repressive form of denial. Nevertheless, we yearn to trust, but trust can only flourish when finally married to its intended Husband.

AUTHENTICITY, SELF-ACCEPTANCE AND DEPRESSION
We have to be authentic and at peace with the true self, but this is difficult. When we lack authenticity and transparency, we are in disharmony and conflict, obsessively trying to maintain an image, a lie. Karen Wright writes:

Authenticity is correlated with many aspects of psychological well-being, including vitality, self-esteem, and coping skills. Acting in accordance with one’s core self—a trait called self-determination—is ranked by some experts as one of the three basic psychological needs.

Here are some of Wright’s suggestions to achieve authenticity: read novels, meditate, cultivate solitude, and play hard. These suggest that all we need to do is to spend some quality time with ourselves. She also maintains that we should “be willing to lose” and cites Thomas Moore’s rationale:

Feelings of inauthenticity are heightened by a lack of a philosophy that allows failure to be part of life. If you’re leading a full life, you are going to fail some every day.

Moore is correct. Failure is a part of life, and we need to learn to graciously accept it rather than to inauthentically deny our failures. However, finding that supportive philosophy is not easy. Secularism can’t provide it. If you believe that you only go around once, then failure assumes monumental importance. Thus, secularism puts an even greater burden to succeed in our limited time upon our shoulders. If we fail to achieve, well then, we’ve just failed again. No mercy for those who stumble!

Buddhism is more compassionate and accepting of failure, but at a great price. It diminishes the significance of failure because failure is illusion, but so too is the rest of life! Life in this temporal world of illusion must be transcended through enlightenment. However, “enlightenment” is a matter of “recognizing” that everything we’ve valued (friends, family, vocation, beauty…) is also illusion. Buddhism therefore represents a denial of not just failure but everything. It’s like cutting off the head because of a toothache.

Authenticity and self-acceptance are rare commodities. Psychologist Shelley E. Taylor sums up the clinical evidence:

People are positively biased in their assessments of themselves and of their ability to control what goes on around them, as well as in their views of the future. The widespread existence of these biases and the ease with which they can be documented suggests that they are normal.

Ironically, mainstream secular counseling panders to our insatiable appetite for even more “positive” illusions through building self-esteem—something diametrically opposed to authenticity and self-acceptance—a refusal to accept the truth about ourselves.

We need to be converted from self-esteem to self-acceptance. God sends trials to reveal to us our true character and need and wean us from self-trust (2 Cor. 1:8-9; 4:7-18; 12:9-10; 1 Pet. 1:6-7; Eccl. 3:18). However, it is only through the promises of His unchanging love and forgiveness that we can tolerate such a revelation. Accordingly, Elyse M. Fitzpatrick, director of Women Helping Women Ministries, writes,

The counter-intuitive truth that the depressed person needs to hear isn’t “you’re really a wonderful person,” but rather, “you’re more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe”…Bathing our soul in the Gospel message will powerfully transform…It’s true that I’m more sinful and flawed than I ever dared believe, and that truth frees me from the delusion that I’ll ever be able to approve of myself; but I’m also more loved and welcomed than I ever dared hope, and that truth comforts and encourages me when my heart condemns me and my darling desires are all withheld. It assures me that although I struggle with accepting myself, the Holy King has declared me righteous.

It’s only through God’s acceptance that we can begin to accept the painful truth about ourselves and to live authentically. Ironically, there is great freedom in this. If we can learn to rejoice in the pit, then enjoying the mountaintop isn’t problematic. If we can accept the unflattering portrait of ourselves, we can cease the obsessive and strenuous occupation of trying to prove ourselves. If we can accept ourselves, then the opinions of others loose their bite. Criticism will no longer constitute a treat because it can tell us no new dirt about ourselves.

Self-acceptance is a pre-condition for authenticity. Modernity’s answer is self-esteem, but it turns out to be the antithesis—the refusal to accept ourselves as we truly are.

EUDAIMONIA AND DEPRESSION
Mental health professionals recognize that living in accordance with our moral convictions is an important factor for mental health. Accordingly, Karen Wright wrote,

Eudaimonia refers to a state of well-being and full functioning that derives from a sense of living in accordance with one’s deeply held values.

This is so obvious. Even atheists perceive this and are intent upon living moral lives. However, they ascribe their moral programming to evolution. For example, Richard Dawkins writes:

Natural selection, in ancestral times when we lived in small stable bands like baboons, programmed into our brains altruistic urges, alongside sexual urges, hunger urges, xenophobic urges and so on.


Consequently, altruism has nothing to do with truth or a right and wrong, but chance processes. Why then follow these altruistic urges? Appealing to our genetic programming isn’t adequate. Should we be “xenophobic” (fearful of strangers) merely because we had been “programmed” with this reaction? Of course not! Why then be altruistic? For the atheist, the only possible answer is pragmatic. Altruistic behavior works; it benefits the doer with good feelings. It’s solely a matter of cost/benefit analysis.

Atheist, humanist, and author of the Humanist Manifesto II, Paul Kurtz affirms that pragmatism is the “only” possible justification for morality:

How are these principles [of equality, freedom, etc.] to be justified? They are not derived from a divine or natural law nor do they have a special metaphysical [beyond the material world] status. They are rules offered to govern how we shall behave. They can be justified only by reference to their results.

However, pragmatism isn’t adequate. Sometimes it isn’t pragmatic to be moral. Hiding Jews from the Nazis wouldn’t pass the cost/benefit analysis. The price of a bullet in the head of the entire family is just too high! Therefore, non-theists can not live in harmony with both their rationale and the law of God written upon their conscience (Rom. 2:14-15). Either they hide Jews and violate their pragmatic rationale or they don’t hide Jews and violate their conscience. Heart and mind (pragmatism) are divided and in conflict. In either case, their mental well-being will suffer, because they are unable to live “in accordance with one’s deeply held values.”

More fundamentally, the one who denies God and therefore denies the moral absolutes of the conscience will fail to derive the benefits of eudaimonia. There is little satisfaction in living in accordance with the dictates of the conscience if we understand it to be no more than a tyrannical electro-chemical reaction that demands us to make sacrifices that go against our desires and then punishes us with guilt feelings. In other words, just take a conscience-numbing drug!

In contrast, for the Christian, the conscience and the Word (heart and mind) represent the will of God, the source of all truth, joy, peace and love. We have every reason to regard it as a tremendous privilege to follow Him. Understandably, living according to His truth is a delight (Psalm 1:1-3; John 4:34).

MEANING, PURPOSE AND DEPRESSION
We are psychologically constituted to seek to understand our place in the world and to comprehend our purpose and meaning within it. The Jewish philosopher and theologian, Abraham Heschel, asserted this very thing:

It’s not enough for me to be able to say ‘I am’; I want to know who I am and in relation to whom I live. It is not enough for me to ask questions; I want to know how to answer the one question that seems to encompass everything I face: What am I here for?

However, not any understanding will do the trick. We have to understand that we’re more than just an accident, a mere product of nature and nurture. The maverick psychologist, James Hillman, concurs:

We dull our lives by the way we conceive then…By accepting the idea that I am the effect of…hereditary and social forces, I reduce myself to a result. The more my life is accounted for by what already occurred in my chromosomes, by what my parents did or didn’t do, and by my early years now long past, the more my biography is the story of a victim. I am living a plot written by my genetic code, ancestral heredity, traumatic occasions, parental unconsciousness, societal accidents.

If we fail to see ourselves as part of a higher narrative, there is a great danger of falling into depression. When we recognize that our lives have meaning, we can endure the trials and frustrations. Even the atheist and Christian-despiser Frederick Nietzsche wrote that “He who has a ‘why’ to live for can bear almost any ‘how!’”

But from where does this “why” or rationale come? Not from secular materialism, which denies all spiritual realities! In this regard, Psychologist Arthur Deikman writes:

Human beings need meaning. Without it they suffer…Western Psychotherapy is hard put to meet human beings’ need for meaning, for it attempts to understand clinical phenomena in a framework based on scientific materialism in which meaning is arbitrary and purpose nonexistent.

This leaves us with one possibility—a self-created existential meaning. The brilliant atheist mathematician, Bertrand Russell was confident he could do this very thing. In Why I am Not a Christian, he wrote of cherishing “the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little day; disdaining the coward terrors of the slave of fate [of the rest of mankind], to worship at the shrines that his own hands have built; undismayed by the empire of chance.”

However, a self-constructed meaning is not sufficient. To suggest that one can merely dream up his own purpose is like telling him that instead of getting married he can merely dream up his own wife and kids for company. Instead, we need to know that we are somehow connected to Someone greater. Russell’s self-created meaning failed to hold back the “coward terrors.” Later he wrote, “I wrote with passion and force because I really thought I had a gospel. Now I am cynical about the gospel because it won’t stand the test of life.”

Instead, we were made to participate in a glorious drama (Jer. 29:11), and only acting on this exalted stage can ennoble and truly fortify us against depression (2 Cor. 5:20-21).

GUILT, SHAME AND DEPRESSION
Depression often results from the unresolved crippling feelings of guilt, shame and inadequacy. John Bradshaw warns about the depressing effect of these feelings, especially shame, which he defines as,

The internalized feeling of being flawed and defective as a human being…shame, which should be a healthy signal of limits, becomes an overwhelming state of being, an identity if you will. Once toxically shamed, a person loses contact with his authentic self. What follows is a chronic mourning for the lost self.

Bradshaw then explains how shame, the “master emotion,” begins to tragically numb the rest of the emotions through denial, repression, and dissociation. Where did this life-controlling shame come from? According to Bradshaw, it is a product of not being loved unconditionally. If this is the problem, then the answer is matter of providing unconditional love. One way this is achieved, according to Bradshaw, is through loving affirmations:

Repeated positive messages are emotional nutrients…Here are the loving words you can say to your inner infant:

“Welcome to the world, I’ve been waiting for you. I’m glad you are here. I’ve prepared a special place for you to live. I like you just the way you are. I will not leave you, no matter what...”

There are several problems with Bradshaw’s approach:

1. Bradshaw unjustifiably assumes that toxic shame is the result of a lack of love. Indeed, love might decrease our sensitivity to guilt, but this doesn’t mean that an increased sensitivity is pathological. Instead, it might have a beneficial effect. Likewise, it is better to live with our uncomfortable inhibitions, than to go “wilding” with friends, whose association decreases these inhibitions. Guilt and shame demand self-examination. If we have transgressed, the appropriate action is confession and repentance (1 John 1:8-9) and not soothing self-talk! If sin is the problem, then Bradshaw’s suggestion is merely a professional form of denial.

2. It’s not believable. If positive affirmations are going to work, they must be believed, but they should only be believed if they are in harmony with reality! However, it’s hard to take seriously Bradshaw’s proposed affirmations: “I’ve prepared a special place for you to live. I like you just the way you are...”

3. Believing something silly can only provide minimal and temporary relief.

On the other hand, if Bradshaw’s affirmations can work to alleviate depression, how much more God’s affirmations! If it helps me to assure myself that “I will not leave you,” how much more God’s assurance that He will never leave me (Rom 8:38-39; Heb. 13:5)! If I am reassured by, “I like you just the way you are,” I will find God’s promise, that He loves me with a love that surpasses anything I can understand, even more reassuring (Eph 3:17-20)! I may be able to forgive myself, but God’s forgiveness (Heb. 8:12) will penetrate so much more intimately and persuasively and will eventually secure self-forgiveness.

Bradshaw’s self-affirmations are to God’s affirmations as masturbation is to true relationship--a substitute for the real thing. Even worse, self-affirmations must be believed if they are to have any impact. However, Bradshaw promotes these affirmations apart from any consideration of their truth-content. The mind and reality are thus compromised for the sake of emotional relief. If we stoop to unreality, we will pay a hefty price further down the road.

In contrast to this, the Bible doesn’t admonish us to believe that Christ died for our sins simply because we’ll derive a sense of relief, but primarily because it is true, as many reliable witnesses have attested. God’s solution never requires us to compromise our intellectual integrity or reality.

MORAL LIVING, BLESSING AND DEPRESSION
Lastly, moral living translates into blessing (John 13:17) for all, including those who are depressed. In her introduction to Against Therapy, Dorothy Rowe writes,

David Small, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Nottingham University, head of Clinical Psychological services at Nottingham University, and once a practicing psychotherapist, has proposed an alternative to therapy in his book Taking Care. He wrote, ‘Psychological distress occurs for reasons which make it incurable by therapy but which are certainly not beyond the powers of human beings to influence. We suffer pain because we do damage to each other, and we shall continue to suffer pain as long as we continue to do damage. The way to alleviate and mitigate distresses is for us to take care of the world and the other people in it, not to treat them.

The relationship between obedience and blessing is no more clearly observed than in the context of marriage, where we find that we best meet our own needs when we best address the needs of our spouse (Eph. 5:28; 1 Peter 3:7).

In this regard, it is interesting to see how the leading names in marriage counseling are counseling couples according to the very principles found in Scripture! Whereas psychotherapists had been jumping on the communication-techniques bandwagon as the means to address marital conflict, now they are returning to the concepts of love and respect. John M. Gottman, professor of psychology and cofounder of The Gottman Institute writes,

The typical conflict-resolution advice won’t help. Instead, you need to understand the bottom-line difference that is causing the conflict between you—and learn how to live with it by honoring and respecting each other.

Gottman claims that a year after the average couple graduates from a standard course of conflict resolution training, only 18% retain any benefit from it (10). This represents far smaller percentage than those marriages which spontaneously improve. Marriage guru, Harville Hendrix, similarly writes,

Feel more loving toward each other simply by engaging in more loving behaviors…The husbands and wives are to grant each other a certain number of these caring behaviors a day, no matter how they feel about each other.

The type of “other-centeredness” that Gottman and Hendrix advocate can certainly jump-start a languishing relationship. However, in the long run, more is needed. Loving you mate can be hard work! Besides, if we’re just giving in order to get, the getting will eventually dry up along with the giving. In fact, there may be long periods when we’re not going to see the payoff! This is why it requires quite an effort, driven by deeply held convictions, to keep it going. Our focus must rest upon our spouse’s needs. But how do we do this when our own needs go unmet?

Larry Crabb explains that this “humanistic foundation” sets us up for failure by placing the emphasis upon meeting our own needs. Instead, if we are going to continue to act lovingly towards our mate, we need a true other-centeredness based upon the conviction that it’s right to do so even if we aren’t getting what we want from the relationship. And we will not be able to continue with this type of sacrifice unless we are assured that God is taking care of us, providing seed to the sower (2 Cor. 8:10).

If giving and going to the marriage counselor is only about getting results, then it isn’t truly giving and it probably won’t bare results over the long-haul. Instead, our mate will perceive our behavior as manipulation—giving to get what we want—a thinly concealed business transaction: “I’m giving to you so that I’ll receive my payments.”

What happens to the guy who brings his wife flowers whenever he wants sex? Eventually, she sees through his manipulation and resents the flowers, which are supposed to be signs of true romance and intimacy, but are no more than payment for services rendered by a body.

What can lift the couple out of self-serving “altruism?” The conviction that their mission is far loftier than the immediate fulfillment of their needs—that they are ambassadors (2 Cor. 2:15; 5:20) of the God of all truth, wisdom, healing, and love and that they belong to Him (1 Cor. 6:19-20)! Consequently, they are no longer the helpless depressive but a servant of Glory (Gal. 2:20).

There are many other psychological needs (forgiveness, humility, contentment, accomplishment, validation, joy, beauty...) we can survey in order to demonstrate how our Lord and His wisdom best address those needs. In contrast, there are numerous counterfeits. Curiously, they provide some relief in the short-run, but as with all drugs, there are hidden costs.