Thursday, May 31, 2012

Peter Singer, Suffering, and the Problem of Evil


Should we reject the existence of God because we cannot completely understand Him? Philosopher Peter Singer argues that we should. In his debate with Dinesh D’Souza, Singer argued that if God is completely good, knowing and powerful, He wouldn’t allow suffering or evil. However, this world is filled with disease, death and suffering. Therefore – according to Singer – such a God cannot exist. However, this argument is built upon several shaky presuppositions.

  1. Pain and suffering are somehow incompatible with an all-good and powerful God.

There are many explanations for suffering. It humbles, it deepens, it sensitizes, it causes us to not take things and relationships for granted, and it even seems necessary for perpetuation of love and community. However, admittedly, we cannot explain every catastrophe, tsunami, or avalanche in terms of its divine benefits. However, we don’t have exhaustive knowledge about anything. Does this mean that we must reject the little knowledge that we do have by virtue of its incompleteness?

  1. There can’t possibly be a good and loving purpose for suffering.

This is an arrogant statement which assumes that the speaker has exhaustive knowledge of both the physical world and the God who designed it.

  1. Any bit of the “bad” cancels out the “goodness” we enjoy in life.

It seems that if we are going to approach this question honestly, we should weight all of the evidence – not just the evidence of suffering. If it is true that people vote with their feet – and it is – then the feet of most people vote that life is worth living, that it is a gift worth keeping. Few of us willingly reject this gift.

I think that we tend to take the divine harmonies of life for granted. We thirst and God has provided water; we hunger, and He has provided food; we tire, and we have been given sleep… These must also find a place in our equations.

  1. We can make absolute moral judgments about “evil” and “good” and use them to reject God. For instance, because of the existence of “evil,” an all good and powerful God can’t exist because such a God wouldn’t allow it.

If there is no unchanging God, then there is no basis for unchanging absolute moral judgments. Consequently, we lack any solid basis to even regard something as “evil” or “bad.” We cannot use God to disprove God.

  1. Our failure to completely understand the God of the Bible – and reconcile His self-revelation - means that He cannot exist.

To demonstrate the absurdity of this presupposition, let’s just apply it to science. “Failure to completely understand science and its observations means that science must be rejected.”

Science and its attempt to understand this physical world have revealed more mysteries than solutions or proofs. The very nature of the fundamentals - time, space, and matter – continues to elude us. If we are willing to accept that this physical world contains many imponderables, then we should not reject its Creator because of the imponderables. He is greater than His creation as the cause(s) is always greater than the effect.

We don’t reject science or rationality. However, we reject God for insubstantial rational reasons. Perhaps we do so for reasons of the heart.

Ken Wilbur, Albert Einstein, and World-Centrism


What is ethical? - Compassion that stops at our own household or a compassion that embraces the entirety of nature? Albert Einstein associates a self-centered and myopic compassion with an “optical illusion of …consciousness,” ethical “delusion” and “prison”:

  • A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated form the rest, a kind of optical illusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
Why should we widen “our circle of compassion?” Einstein insists that ethics restricted to “personal desires” is “delusion,” a failure to see reality as it truly is. Indeed, the concept of “delusion” suggests that there is a condition of “non-delusion,” a higher truth that trumps and transcends a narrow preoccupation with our needs and comforts. However, if this is the case, what is the basis of this higher moral reality, and how do we know that we are actually tapping into it? Perhaps instead, the highest truth is nothing more than the survival-of-the-fittest – me and my genes first! How can I be sure that this represents “delusion?”

New Age guru Ken Wilbur expresses Einstein’s ethics in terms of the stages of “moral development”:

  • As we look at infants at birth, they have not yet been socialized into the culture’s ethics and conventions. This is called the pre-conventional stage. It is also called egocentric, in that the infant’s awareness is largely self absorbed. But as young children begin to learn their culture’s rules and norms, they grow into the conventional stage of morals. This stage is also called ethnocentric, in that it centers on the child’s particular group, tribe, clan, or nation, and it therefore tends to exclude care and concern for those not of one’s group. But at the next major stage of moral development, the post-conventional stage, the individual’s identity expands once again, this time to include a care and concern for all peoples, regardless of race, color, sex, or creed, which is why this stage is also called world-centric.
Even if Wilbur is correct about the stages, why should the final stage – world-centrism – represent an ethical improvement over the former stages? The later isn’t necessarily the best, no more than senility is an improvement over adolescence. Perhaps the first two stages might contribute more positively to the evolution of the human race? If there are no universal, immutable, and authoritative moral absolutes – fixed standards of judgment – who can say that self-fixation or the survival-of-the-fittest is morally wrong?

If world-centrism represents a positive step in “moral development,” is there a rationale for this judgment? Perhaps it’s better for our families to be centered upon their immediate needs? And perhaps our purported concerns about the world are simply the reflection of our own psychological need to demonstrate our moral superiority over those of the first two stages? I can’t help thinking of world-centric communism. While expressing flowery idealistic concerns about the world did more to decimate the world than had any other philosophy.

Usually, world-centrism is erroneously defended by pragmatic appeals to its possible benefits for the entire world. Appeals are made to protecting the environment and limiting warfare, starvation and disease worldwide.

However, this argumentation secretly assumes the very thing that it is trying to prove – that “warfare, starvation and disease” are evils, which need to be eradicated or at least reduced. The argumentation fails to answer what makes these things or anything “evil.” Consequently, pragmatic argumentation is deceptive. It rejects the need for transcendent moral absolutes, while it secretly appeals to them and their condemnation of certain “evils.”

There is no way that pragmatic considerations (science, for example) by themselves can coherently call for a moral response. As the skeptic and philosopher David Hume observed, we cannot logically go from what “is” (pragmatism and science) to what “ought to be” (morality). They are separated by an impassable God-created gulf.

Einstein insists that because of “delusion,” the self-centered are missing a vital piece in the puzzle. However, how does Einstein know that they are deluded? We can’t make such a judgment unless we are certain about a fixed moral reality, transcendent moral absolutes – truths that transcend my myopic needs - and an embrace of the Creator, Sustainer and Enforcer of these absolutes. Without this Creator, there can be no basis for transcendent moral absolutes – the very thing needed to declare “world-centrism” superior to “self-centrism.” Without this Creator and His moral absolutes, no one can tell me that their morality is any bit superior to my own. We are left with nothing more than molecules-in-motion.

Without this higher standard, there is no basis to judge one action as better than another. It would be like a math teacher grading math exams without answers that are absolutely correct. Trying to do so without this absolute standard would be disingenuous.

Some might try to appeal to our common moral intuitions as a basis to make such judgments. However, this just passes the buck to another insubstantial source. The question still remains:

  • Why should I trust my moral intuitions as an authoritative basis to judge, especially in view of the fact that my feelings change and are largely a reflection of my culture and upbringing? What makes them any more authoritative than the intuitions of the murderer?
Indeed, most of us feel that we are our neighbor’s keeper, but if this feeling is merely a chemical-electrical cerebral reaction, why then heed it? Is there any connection between feeling and moral truth? Not if a superior Being hasn’t designed this glorious connection!

Consequently, I am world-centric because God – the unchanging, all-wise and loving Source of all truth - is world-centric. Jesus taught that we should regard everyone as our “neighbor” and treat them accordingly. This is where the buck stops –absolutely!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Trinity and Islam: My Response to Islam



My Response to a Muslim Woman Challenging the Notion of Trinity:

Thanks you for this challenge! I think that it’s important for us to have these kinds of discussions, and so I’m glad that you are open to them.

There are many New Testament verses that prove that Jesus is God. And I should cite these because even your Koran regards the Gospels as fully the Word of God:

  • “Proclaim what is revealed to you in the Book of your Lord. None can change His words..” (The Cave 27)
  • “…and you shall find they remain unchanged…” (Jonah 64; Cattle 34, 115)
  • “Falsehood cannot reach it from before or behind.” (Revelations Well Expounded 42)
  • “After those prophets We sent forth Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming the torah already revealed, and gave him the Gospel, in which there is guidance and light, corroborating that which was revealed before it in the torah, a guide and an admonition to the righteous.” (The Table 46)
  • [Surah 3.3] He has revealed to you the Book with truth, verifying that which is before it, and He revealed the Tavrat [Torah] and the Injeel [The Gospels] aforetime, a guidance for the people, and He sent the Furqan.

·        [5.44] Surely We revealed the Taurat in which was guidance and light; with it the prophets who submitted themselves (to Allah) judged (matters) for those who were Jews, and the masters of Divine knowledge and the doctors, because they were required to guard (part) of the Book of Allah, and they were witnesses thereof; therefore fear not the people and fear Me, and do not take a small price for My communications; and whoever did not judge by what Allah revealed, those are they that are the unbelievers…[5.46] And We sent after them in their footsteps Isa, son of Marium, verifying what was before him of the Taurat and We gave him the Injeel in which was guidance and light, and verifying what was before it of Taurat and a guidance and an admonition for those who guard (against evil).

However, I will not cite the many proofs from the Gospels, because since the 11th century, your scholars have claimed that the Gospels have been changed. So let’s just look at the evidence from the Old Testament. (And the Jews certainly would not have allowed their books to have been changed to prove that Jesus is the Messiah!) I’ll list the evidences according to category:

1. DISTINCTION OF PERSONS IN THE GODHEAD
  • Genesis 19:24 Then the LORD [Yahweh] rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD [Yahweh]out of heaven;  (There is more than one “Yahweh” here!)
  • Psalm 110:1 The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. (King David had only one “Lord” or master. The Jews widely believed that the second “Lord” is a reference to the Messiah.)
  • Isaiah 44:6 Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. (Once again – two “Yahwehs}
  • Isaiah 48:16 Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord GOD, and his Spirit, hath sent me. (A portrait of three Persons as God)
  • Isaiah 63:9 In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old. (“The Angel of His Presence” redeemed Israel)
  • Hosea 1:7 But I will have mercy upon the house of Judah, and will save them by the LORD their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, by horses, nor by horsemen.
  • Zech. 2:10-11 Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion: for, lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the LORD. 11And many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto thee
  • Zech. 12:10  And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.
2. DEITY OF THE SON, THE MESSIAH JESUS:
  • Psalm 2:7 I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee…Psalm 2:12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him. (We are only to put our trust in God. Therefore, this “Son” must be God!)
  • Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (“Immanuel” means “God with us!”)
  • Isaiah 9:6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (In Hebrew culture the names described the person. Therefore this child is “The mighty God!”)
  • Jeremiah 23:5-6 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. (This Messianic child is called “Yahweh”)
  • Micah 5:2 But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. (This Messianic child always existed. He is therefore God!)
  • Proverbs 30:4 Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son's name, if thou canst tell? (God has a Son!)
3. EARTHLY PHYSICAL APPEARANCES OF GOD:
  • Yahweh appears to Abraham (Gen. 18)
  • Abraham encounters God on Mt. Moriah (Gen. 22)
  • God wrestles with Jacob (Gen. 32)
  • Moses encounters and sees God in the burning bush (Exodus 3-4)
  • Moses sees God on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 32, 34)
  • Joshua sees and worships God (Joshua 5)
If God is truly God, what is to prevent Him from appearing? What is to prevent Him from being born to a woman? If He is truly so glorious – greater than His creation – why should we insist that we must understand everything about Him? Why then should we reject the idea of Trinity, simply because it transcends our understanding? Clearly, He has revealed Himself in this manner.

Self-Esteem, Reality and Performance


The way we regard ourselves determines so much about our lives – our feelings about ourselves and others, how we regard and treat others, performance, and even criminality. This broadly accepted understanding had spawned the “self-esteem movement” in the 1970s for just about every social and psychological problem. However, many have departed from this previously unquestioned orthodoxy. Psychologist Roy Baumeister has extensively researched the relationship between high self-esteem and performance:

  • For three decades, I and many other psychologists viewed self-esteem as our profession’s Holy Grail: a psychological trait that would soothe most of individuals’ and society’s woes. We thought that high self-esteem would impart not only success, health, happiness, and prosperity to the people who possessed it, but also stronger marriages, higher employment, and greater educational attainment in the communities that supported it.
  • Recently, though, several close analyses of the accumulated research have shaken many psychologists’ faith in self-esteem. My colleagues and I were commissioned to conduct one of these studies by the American Psychological Society, an organization devoted to psychological research. These studies show not only that self-esteem fails to accomplish what we had hoped, but also that it can backfire and contribute to some of the very problems it was thought to thwart. Social sector organizations should therefore reconsider whether they want to dedicate their scarce resources to cultivating self-esteem. In my view, there are other traits, like self-control, that hold much more promise.
  • There are now ample data on our population showing that, if anything, Americans tend to overrate and overvalue ourselves. In plain terms, the average American thinks he’s above average. Even the categories of people about whom our society is most concerned do not show any broad deficiency in self esteem. African Americans, for example, routinely score higher on self-esteem measures than do European-Americans.
However, other psychologists have understandably pointed out that without high self-esteem – and it’s just about always strongly associated with grandiosity and self-delusion - people can become dysfunctional. Psychologist Harold Sacheim had argued that minor self-deceptions can even be profitable:

  • Through distortion, I may enhance my self-image, not because at heart I am insecure about my worth but because no matter how much I am convinced of my value, believing that I am better is pleasurable. Such self-deceptions may prove to be efficient in constructing or consolidating a solid and perhaps even “healthy” identity.
How can self-deception contribute to a “healthy identity?” Doesn’t the healthy life and advantageous decision-making depend upon having accurate data and facing it, even if it is uncomfortable? We certainly need this accurate feedback when we are driving a car. Distortion and self-deception leads to wrecks. Shouldn’t this same principle also operate in other areas of our lives?

Not necessarily, according to psychologist Shelley Taylor. However, she readily admits that “the mildly depressed  appear to have more accurate views of themselves, the world, and the future than do normal people” (Positive Illusions, 213):

  • On virtually every point on which normal people show enhanced self-regard, illusions of control, and unrealistic visions of the future, depressed people fail to show the same biases. (214)
Despite the many evidences in support of this, Taylor argues that we cannot do without our “positive illusions”:

  • Those with an exaggerated sense of their own mastery tend to have inflated views of their self-worth and likelihood of future success. It is unusual to find a person who is so overly optimistic about the future but lacking in self-esteem or mastery, beliefs that would seem to be essential to the implementation of a rewarding future. (234)
According to Taylor, self-deception and success go together. Nevertheless, she readily admits that our positive illusions all come with “inherent risks” (236).

What then is the solution to this dilemma? If we evaluate ourselves realistically, we become depressed and fearful. If instead, our self-concept is grandiose - not in harmony with reality - we will crash. However, we need to be optimistic in order to live proactively, and we need to believe in our worth if we are to venture forth into this competitive world.

Is there any solution? Not if our optimism and sense of self-worth is based upon ourselves! If it is based on self, then we are compelled to inflate self to make it worthy of self-trust and self-righteousness. This necessarily requires a flight into grandiosity and denial of anything that interferes with our grandiose self-construction. How then can we not deny all of the negative things that we see about ourselves!

However, if we derive our confidence and personal significance from an unchanging external, all-wise and all-loving source, then we can face the often painful reality about ourselves and also live proactively. And this is exactly what we have been promised in Christ:

  • But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (1 Cor. 1:26-30)
This means that it’s okay to be “weak” and “despised,” because we have Christ who now has “become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” We can live with our failures and inadequacies because Christ has become our identity, as Paul had confidently asserted:

  • I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20).
What a relief! It is therefore no longer about me but about my Lord!   



   

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Self-Esteem, Rubbish, and Road-Rage


I am a man of many weaknesses and failings, but I’ve learned to boast of them. Nevertheless, I’d love to be rid of them, but at the same time, I know that they are my faithful tutors (Gal. 3:22-24).

As an anxious, irritable, impatient, and angry male, I hate to drive in a car. Every yellow light becomes a personal challenge; every red light becomes a personal rebuke. Needless to say, I receive many “rebukes” in the course of a trip, and my response differs little from road-rage. When the traffic is backed up in front of me, every car is a mortal enemy.

I am a Bible teacher, and my reactions are a great embarrassment to me. I have been on the phone, while surrounded by such “enemies.” My reaction has often caused me to forget that I had been talking on the phone, as I lapsed into profanity. How humbling!

I wish I could say that I am making great strides against my sins. However, my humiliation is compounded as I pray to the One who can deliver me. Even with Him on the “phone,” within seconds, I lapse, convinced that I am the world’s greatest spiritual failure. I cannot “keep watch” for a minute.

Consequently, Paul’s prayer has become very real to me:

·        What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. (Romans 7:24-25)

How true! In my sinful nature (“flesh;” NASB) I am a slave to sin, while Jesus is my only hope. But isn’t there deliverance in Jesus? Wasn’t it Jesus who promised deliverance?

·        To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)

However, He also said:

·        “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)

Okay, I get the point. I know that it’s all about Jesus, and He has His own timing. But where’s my deliverance? I am tormented by my sins and failings. However, Paul was also tormented by a “messenger of Satan,” even after he walked faithfully with his Lord for many years. However, he came to understand that this torment was necessary to keep him humble:

·        To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:7-10)

I too have learned to delight in my weaknesses, convinced that I need these horrid afflictions. I even counteract the shame with transparency, boasting that He has created great strength through them. King David confessed:

·        Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word. You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees…It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. (Psalm 119:67-71)

If David needed to learn through His afflictions, perhaps we also must be afflicted. Indeed, my Lord has taught me so much through my afflictions that I am now grateful. He has opened my eyes to the great threat of self-contentment, self-trust, and self-righteousness – the things that happen to us when our Lord allows us to go our own way. He has also shown me how destructive this threesome is to the life of the church. In His wisdom, He has placed us under His law to reveal to us our moral failures and our need for Him:

·        Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. [20] Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (Romans 3:19-20)

We so desperately need to become “conscious of [our] sin.” Without this, it is inevitable that we will look down on others and exalt ourselves.  However, even worse, we will take our Lord and His glorious gift of righteousness for granted.

Exalting self and its complement - diminishing God - are our human default position. It’s what comes most naturally! If this is the case, we require constant reminders of our need and brokenness.

This is why I exult in my neediness. I flaunt it in front of others – whatever it takes to exalt my God, my chief delight and passion. I also think that this helps others to accept their own spiritual failures. However, this is a passion that couldn’t be, as long as I remained passionate about myself. Paul also learned to disdain self-passion:

·        But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Philip. 3:7-9)

Paul didn’t dismiss his education and his zeal for the Law. Instead, he was dismissive of any self-trust regarding these! A fruitful relationship with our Savior and a fervent embrace of His righteousness depends upon realizing that we are entirely lacking of any righteousness of our own, earned with our good deeds. Therefore, whenever this self-aggrandizing temptation arises, we must be quick to expose it for what it truly is – “rubbish.”

I pray that my Lord will deliver me from my afflictions. However, I know Him and therefore know that if He leaves me with them, He has a good purpose for this.
   



   

   



   

   

   

   

Friday, May 25, 2012

Biologos, Tim Keller, and the Weakening of the Faith



The Biologos Newsletter blandly reads:

  • In March 20–22, 2012, noted evangelical pastor Dr. Timothy Keller hosted the [Theology of Celebration] meetings at the Harvard Club in New York City…Given data that was presented at the meeting—which convincingly showed that almost half of America’s protestant pastors hold or strongly lean toward a belief in a universe less than 10,000 years old—there was a deep concern for the church not only in America, but also worldwide. This time, leading evangelical Christians left with not so much a statement as an urgent desire to bring about change. The church of the coming decades cannot divorce itself from matters about which there is scientific certainty. 
Although Biologos is devoted to selling theistic evolution to the church, there is no mention of theistic evolution, just their lamentation that “almost half of America’s protestant pastors hold or strongly lean toward a belief in a universe less than 10,000 years old.”

I must confess that I don’t know what the conference discussed. However, it is noteworthy that their statement only mentions the “10,000 years.” Usually, if the theistic evolutionist wants to make the creationist – the YEC variety – look ridiculous, they’ll say something like, “You don’t believe that do you? If you do, that means that you are rejecting all the findings of science.”

They take this tact because it’s far harder to prove Darwinism, especially when the fossil record is unwilling to comply with this ideology. However, if you can demean the YEC with the 10,000-year-bit, you weaken your opponent and make him vulnerable to the more ambitious claims of Darwinism.

Whether this position is scientifically accurate or not is one thing. However, their mission to rid the church of a belief that seems to be Biblical is another. Why is this their mission? Does YEC undermine belief in the Bible, our understanding of Biblical Theology or our determination to live the Christian life?

I don’t see how! However, it clearly undermines our standing in the eyes of our peers and the university. Perhaps this is their main concern.

Ironically, it is theistic evolution (TE) that undermines our faith in the Bible and our understanding of it.  

In order to support their claims, TEs usually maintain that the Bible isn’t a science textbook. Indeed! However, what they really mean is that the Bible doesn’t teach authoritatively about the physical/historical world, just the spiritual, and the fact that the Bible contains physical errors shouldn’t affect its spiritual truths. Of course, if they can prove this, then they have removed any possible contradiction between evolution – the physical - and the Bible, the spiritual.

However, this formulation is entirely unbiblical for many reasons:

  1. Theology rests upon history – the physical world. The theology of the Fall rests upon the theology of creation – that it was all “very good” and we screwed it up. Evolution would have it that it was a bloody survival-of-the-fittest mess from the very beginning.
Perhaps the clearest example is the Cross. We can’t have a theology of the Cross without a physical history of the Cross. Consequently, the physical and the spiritual cannot be separated as the TE suggests.

  1. If Adam’s genealogy isn’t historical and Adam isn’t historical, then the genealogy that leads to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob cannot be historical either.
  1. The New Testament often quotes the OT as historical and derives its theological lessons from the fact that God had done certain things in the context of history. For instance, Peter cites the worldwide flood to prove that God will judge (2 Peter 2, 3). However, if the flood is just a myth, as the TEs propose, then the theology based upon the “myth” must also remain dubious. If God actually didn’t judge in the past, we shouldn’t expect Him to judge in the future.
These are just a few of the problems that TEs encounter. In response, they usually claim that, “We have to be humble (and uncertain) about our interpretations.” This means “confused.” If there is joy in believing, TE has undermined it.

Denial and its Power


Our beliefs affect our actions. But our actions and our lifestyles also affect our beliefs. A prostitute named Brooke of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch is a good example of this.

Brooke admitted that about half of her clientele are married, but she explained that she was providing a vital service for them:

  • They love their wives. They just want variety - something new…assisted personal pleasure…a boast in confidence. 
When the interviewer asked her if she felt guilty about this, she responded:

  • No, simply because there is a definitive line between the emotional and the physical relationship between us.
In other words, there was no marital betrayal because Brooke’s relationship with the married men was purely physical. She admitted that she listens to them and strokes their egos but that this is entirely “superficial.”

I guess the superficiality of the contact makes it okay! Perhaps it is superficial for Brooke, but if the husband is deriving an ego-boast, it is hardly superficial for him! It would therefore seem that Brooke’s distinction between “the emotional and the physical” is not a real one. But even if there is a real distinction, then the husband can do anything he wants to do physically without this betraying his relationship with his wife, as long as there isn’t any emotional involvement. This, of course, is “good news” for the sociopath who has no emotional attachments.

In the end, Brooke conveniently places all of the moral responsibility on the husbands:

  • The responsibility lies on them, not me.
I was amazed how she was able to say this with complete charm and confidence, without a hint of anxiety. How sin can be made to look to so incredibly beautiful! How deceptive and powerful it can be! However, Jesus promised that He would deliver us from its blinding power:

  • To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32) 



Thursday, May 24, 2012

Our Hope in the Next Life



Some atheists charge that the belief in an afterlife detracts from our appreciation and involvement in this one. One atheist publication quoted the words of the late writer and existentialist Albert Camus to make this charge:

  • If there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life. (Pique, 2012, 12)
Does our belief in the afterlife cause us diminish the “implacable grandeur of this life?” I don’t think so. As a teenage, I took up the sport of golf until it became painfully obvious that it failed to compliment my disposition. Perhaps most of all, I enjoyed going to the driving range as opposed to driving the golf ball into a net in a cage. I liked to see where my ball was going, and how I could affect it with my swing. However, the cage failed to allow me to see beyond the net, which swallowed the ball. The little satisfaction I derived in the cage was limited to the feel of the impact of the club with the ball.

Likewise, if our lives come to their final end at death, we cannot follow the ball after the impact. It stops abruptly and with it meaning and purpose. Our expectation of finding peace and justice also comes to a sudden and meaningless end. The net puts up a hasty end to everything.

Life is also like a jigsaw puzzle. There is little satisfaction without completion, and any sense of completion is also snuffed out by the net.

Interestingly, on the same page of this issue of Pique, one atheist (Secular Humanist) wrote:

  • One problem that may arise for organizations promoting rationality [the arrogant claim of atheists] is that their supporters and patrons may lack the fervor of their counterparts in the worlds of “faith” and “religious piety.”
How illuminating! On the one hand, the atheist denies that we lack “fervor” for this life, but on the other hand, they lament that we have more fervor than they have! And their lamentation is understandable. Clarence Darrow had famously declared:

  • The purpose of man is like the purpose of a pollywog—two wiggle along as far as he can without dying; or, to hang to life until death takes him.
Such an understanding will fail to make us excited about such a grotesque life. Indeed, are not constructed to thrive on such a “purpose,” merely hanging to “life until death takes us.” This will undermine any fervor for this life. Meaning ultimately depends upon seeing where the golf ball is going.

Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, Victor Frankl, observed many who died prematurely because they had “lost faith in the future”:

  • “The prisoner who had lost faith in the future—his future—was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and become subject to mental and physical decay.”
When we’re young and have the means for an “improved” life in this world, our faith need not take us beyond the net. However, as we age and accumulate scars and losses, we need to see beyond the net. Christian philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, was looking beyond the net, when he declared that our lives require the significance-imparting bigger picture:

  • “What would be the purpose of discovering so-called objective truth?...What good would it do me to be able to explain the meaning of Christianity if it had no deeper significance for me and for my life?”
It is this view of the entire puzzle that breathes meaning and purpose into this life. Seeing the completed puzzle enabled Jesus to endure His hardships and serves as a model for us as we struggle with life’s problems:

  • Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-4)
We continue to redeem life because of “the joy set before” us. Others will snare at us, claiming that they don’t need God and His afterlife, since they are content with their lives. However, author and wealthy landowner, Leo Tolstoy, understood that this “contentment” was only temporary. It had only been temporary for him:

  • "A person could live only so long as he was drunk; but the moment he sobered up, he could not help seeing that all that was only a deception, and a stupid deception at that."
Indeed, the world is drunk and deceived. Tolstoy eventually awoke to the hope of eternal life in Christ, understanding that without this joyous expectation, life’s disappointments are soon overwhelming.

Atheist and mathematician, Bertrand Russell had also been content with his own life, and it had lasted longer than Tolstoy’s. He had even penned a book proudly entitled, Why I am not a Christian. However, some years later, Russell conceded,

  • "I wrote with passion and force because I really thought I had a gospel [creating his own meaning]. Now I am cynical about the gospel because it won’t stand the test of life." (Os Guinness, The Journey, 106)
Any “gospel” limited to this world will not stand. We are made for God’s afterlife, and the afterlife is made for us. Without it, we are destitute, as Paul confessed:

  • If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Cor. 15:19-20)
This is a hope not only for the next life, but a hope that breaths new life into this one as well.


   


   

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Biblical Slavery vs. Other Forms


When the secularist attempts to discredit the Bible, he usually invokes “biblical slavery”: “How can your God be just and loving? After all, didn’t he institute the barbaric practice of slavery!”

However, Biblical slavery had been totally different from racial, lifelong, inescapable slavery, as practiced in this country and among the Arabs – like the difference between parental spanking and child abuse. The humane nature of Biblical slavery was highlighted by the fact that Mosaic law offered slaves the option of remaining slaves instead of taking their freedom when they had the opportunity (Deut. 15:16-17). However, by New Testament times, the institution of Biblical slavery was non-existent, and therefore, slave-trading of that day was forbidden:

·        For adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers--and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine. (1 Tim. 1:10)

However, during Mosaic times, it was used instead of prison or capital punishment:

·        "A thief must certainly make restitution, but if he has nothing, he must be sold to pay for his theft.” (Exodus 22:3)

Kidnapping, to obtain slaves, as has been done in racial slavery, was forbidden:

·        If a man is caught kidnapping one of his brother Israelites and treats him as a slave or sells him, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you. (Deut. 24:7)

Slavery was preferable to prison or having your hand cut off. Although slavery was degrading, it was also a humane institution:

·        If a fellow Hebrew, a man or a woman, sells himself to you and serves you six years, in the seventh year you must let him go free. And when you release him, do not send him away empty-handed. Supply him liberally from your flock, your threshing floor and your winepress. Give to him as the Lord your God has blessed you. (Deut. 15:12-14)

The slave was also protected by the law against injury. If the master injured the slave, he was to go free:

·        If a man hits a manservant or maidservant in the eye and destroys it, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the eye. And if he knocks out the tooth of a manservant or maidservant, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the tooth. (Exodus 21:26-27)
   
Racial slaves never had such protection. Under Biblical slavery, if the family believed that the slave was worthy of his freedom, they could purchase him out of slavery:

·        He retains the right of redemption after he has sold himself. One of his relatives may redeem him: (Leviticus 25:48)

The slave or servant was to be treated almost like family:

·        Bring everything I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, and all the choice possessions you have vowed to the Lord. And there rejoice before the Lord your God, you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites from your towns, who have no allotment or inheritance of their own. (Deut. 12:11-12)

Besides this, an Israelite could only keep a slave for six years:

·        If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. (Exodus 21:2)

At this point, the secularist will protest – “Well, that only applies to the Hebrew slave.” Although this is true, a slave could always become an Israelite and partake in all of the rights extended to them.

Mosaic Law was inclusive. God commanded Abraham that even those he bought as slaves were to be circumcised, thereby erasing any possible class or racial distinction within his “household”:

  • “This is my covenant with you [Abraham] and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner--those who are not your offspring.” (Genesis 17:10-12)

Israel was to be a model of inclusiveness. All could and should come; all were to be under the covenant of God, and none were ever turned away:

·        “Any slave you have bought may eat of [the Passover] after you have circumcised him, but a temporary resident and a hired worker may not eat of it…An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the LORD'S Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat of it. The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you." (Exodus 12:44-49)

Even the slave could choose circumcision and receive full inclusion as an Israelite. It had been God’s intention that Israel would be the model of inclusion, and circumcision was the ticket in. Race, education, national origin would present no obstacle. Instead, God’s intention was that all would be under the same law.

There was no indication of any racial superiority in any of Israel’s legislation. Instead, Israel was always reminded that they had been slaves so that they would be gracious to their slaves and that a single egalitarian set of laws would suffice for all – whether Jewish or not. Israel was also to be a model society for the surrounding nations:

·        “See, I [Moses] have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” (Deut. 4:5-8)

Predictably, secularism now wants to claim the mantle of the “protector of human rights.” This certainly wasn’t the case under secular communism and hasn’t been the case historically.  “Secularism does not liberate,” according to Indian scholar Vishal Mangalwadi. He quotes historian Rodney Stark to support his claim:

  • A virtual Who’s Who of “Enlightenment” figures fully accepted slavery…It was not philosophers or secular intellectuals who assembled the moral indictment of slavery, but the very people they held in such contempt: men and women having intense Christian faith, who opposed slavery because it was sin…The larger point is that abolitionists, whether popes or evangelists, spoke almost exclusively in the language of Christian faith…Although many Southern clergy [in America] proposed theological defenses of slavery, pro-slavery rhetoric was overwhelmingly secular – references were made to “liberty” and “states’ rights,” not to “sin” or “salvation.” (The Book that made your World, 114)
There were compelling reasons why “Biblical Theology abolished slavery.” Unbiblical slavery was simply unbiblical, as Mangalwadi affirms:

  • [Christians] considered slavery to be sinful. Slavery means toil, and the Bible said toil was a consequence of sin. God loved sinners enough to send his son to take their sin upon Himself. The curse of sin was nailed upon the cross. (114)

Genocide in Sudan: A Letter to the President


Dear Mr. President,

The Sudanese of the Nuba Mountains are the victims of another genocide by Omar al-Bashir.

Recently, Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s Purse, accompanied by two reporters, visited Sudan and South Sudan where Samaritan’s Purse has been actively involved in humanitarian relief. He writes:

  • President Bashir seems bent on war. I saw the brutality of Bashir’s regime firsthand when we slipped over the border into the Nuba Mountains of Sudan. The Nuba people are facing extermination as their own government pounds them with Antonov bombers, tanks, and ground forces. Entire villages are being destroyed, and nearly everywhere you turn there are hastily dug graves. The government of Sudan has barred relief workers and journalists from entering Nuba…Why are these people being targeted for annihilation? Simply because they are black, and the Arab government wants to take their land.
These people and those of South Sudan aren’t insurgents. They aren’t supported by a terroristic organization like the Syrian insurgents. Meanwhile, the West has been considering intervening in Syria to impose a “no-fly zone.”

Why then is the West turning a blind eye to these victims who are facing daily extermination?

Please bring this horrible genocide to light and intervene decisively to stop the carnage!

Sincerely, Daniel Mann

(Please contact:

White House
Phone 202-456-1414

U.S. Senate: www.senate.gov

U.S. House of Representatives: www.house.gov

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Masturbation, Planned-Parenthood and Pornography


One youth complained about his masturbation problem:

  • I want to stop masterbating as it is hampering my studies. after masterbating i am feeling that an explosion occurs in my head, due to this i cant get myself in study. i feel like my brain like its a hollow thing. i am masterbating from at least from 2003 or 2004, presently i am 19 year old and will appear for my high school graduation exam in upcoming may-june.
However, healthcaremagic.com assured him that masturbation was perfectly normal and even healthful. This is generally the judgment of themedical community:

  • There is nothing about masturbation that is physically bad for you. There are some religions or parts of some religions which look down upon it, but most thinking individuals realize that is just a scare tactic to gain control over others.
I guess that those of us who have some hesitation about masturbation are not “thinking individuals.” How dismissive and condescending! In fact some of the claims for masturbation seem unbelievably exaggerated. The Medicalgeek claims that, “Masturbation can increase self-knowledge”:

  • Sex educators don’t call masturbation the cornerstone of sexual health for nothing. Masturbation is the first, safest, and best way to get to know how your sexual body works. You can learn what turns you on and what doesn’t. You can learn how to give yourself sexual pleasure in a hurry, or when you’ve got nothing but time. As an educational tool, masturbation is better than any textbook, video or website you’ll ever read. 

  • A Florida Planned Parenthood affiliate has taken the opportunity of “National Masturbation Month” to highlight the national organization’s promotion of masturbation as part of a “a common and safe kind of sex play” with “many health benefits.” On Friday, Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida tweeted, “Happy Masturbation Month! We’ve got lots of info on masturbation here,” providing a link to Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s page on masturbation.
However, let me do a little nay-saying. I don’t think that there are any surveys regarding the relationship between masturbation and subsequent sexual satisfaction/dysfunction. This is a very critical element in this discussion. It is also relevant in the question of pornography consumption. Pornography might not cause the viewer disease, but its negative affects on real-life marital sexuality are well-documented.

Perhaps less well-known is the fact that early sexual experience exercises a powerful imprinting. Remember the ducklings who bond – that’s imprinting - to the first person they see after birth? They become bonded to that person as “mom,” and follow him around wherever.

Our early sexual experiences perform the same function. If we are introduced to ejaculation through masturbation, that becomes our central, defining moment and focus. Masturbation seems to psychologically fixate us on ourselves. (Don’t ask me for any studies!) Many have reported that because of this fixation, they were never able to enjoy their wives as they had wanted. Masturbation remained the main attraction.

Similarly, one woman had been introduced to intercourse through her older brother. Even after he was married, brother and sister remained inseparable, even sexually, thereby destroying the marriage.

Perhaps the warnings against masturbation are more than “just a scare tactic to gain control over others,” as wikianswers.com smugly alleges?

Sin, Technology, and the Well-Being of Society


Necessity is the mother of invention but so too is theology. Let me try to explain in a round-about way. At an Ethical Culture Society discussion group, the leader asked us all to give our prognosis regarding the West – whether it will be able to overcome its various civilization-threatening problems. While we all saw serious signs of wear-and-tear, most of the respondents were surprisingly confident about the West’s prospects. My response was the most negative:

  • I think we have lost our way back home. We are not asking the right questions and are therefore miles away from the right answers.
I tried to explain that our economic and environmental crises were underpinned by a moral crisis. I mentioned one businessman who was packing it all up. He explained:

  • It’s hard to get your money anymore. You have to take them to court, but who has the time, and they all know it!
On one level, the problem is very simple. However, Indian Christian convert and scholar, Vishal Mangalwadi, takes the analysis of the problem a lot deeper in his The Book that Made your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization. For one thing, he claims that in our secular, post-Christian era “condemns technology as a dehumanizing force,” instead of personal, indwelling evil, which corrupts our use of technology and enslaves others in various ways to satisfy our appetites. According to Mangalwadi, the philosophers of the ancient world also failed to see the sin problem:

  • Rodney Stark explains that most of the ancient philosophers supported slavery because they had “no concept of sin to put teeth in their judgments and no revelation from which to begin” critiquing slavery. Stark continues:
  • “Although it has been fashionable to deny it, antislavery doctrines began to appear in Christian theology soon after the decline of Rome and were accompanied by the eventual disappearance of slavery in all but the fringes of Christian Europe.” (101)
The West reproached the sin of slavery – not technology - and thrived. Instead of demonizing technology, Mangalwadi relates how it was esteemed by the Christian West:

  • Technology was…meaningful. Its purpose was to use human creativity for the glory of God and for the service of the weak. The absence of that worldview prevented Indian monks from developing technology. (105)
While technological advance is consistent with Christian theology – creation is good, orderly, and knowable and we were given the mandate to manage it – Hindu theology was not so:

  • Our monks did not develop technical aids to improve their eyesight. They took pride in closing even perfectly good eyes in meditation. (108)
If this material world is illusory, then work and technological advancement are counter-productive:

  • It is virtually impossible to find a Brahmin guru in traditional India who resembles the apostle Paul – a rabbi who made tents for a living. Brahmins said that manual work was the duty of lower castes, a result of bad karma from their previous births. Mahatma Gandhi was the first Indian leader who used a spinning wheel to try to import the Pauline work ethic into India: “No work, no food.” (109)
Their mis-identification of the problem - along with a disdain for hard work - kept India backward for centuries. Although Gandhi believed in hard work, he disdained technology:

  • Gandhi’s idea that technology was evil and that a simple, natural life was morally superior came from British idealists like John Ruskin. Sensitive people like him had become critical of England’s Industrial Revolution because of the exploitation, oppression, and other evils associated with its “dark satanic mills.” Mahatma Gandhi brought this opposition to technology to India. (111)
However, it was technology - and theology that inspired it - that had saved the West. Mangalwadi gives several examples:

  • The peasants’ humble wheeled plow generated the economic strength that helped save Europe from colonization by Islam. During the Middle Ages, Islamic forces were able to invade Europe almost at will. Muslims conquered southern Spain and Portugal and invaded France in the eighth century. In the ninth century, they conquered Sicily and invaded Italy, sacking Ostia and Rome in 846. By 1237, they had begun to conquer Russia. Constantinople was captured in 1453, and the battles of 1526 in Hungary and 1529 in Vienna suggested that it was merely a matter of time before the mullahs, caliphs, and sheikhs would rule cities like Rome, Vienna, and Florence. Equipped with a coulter, a horizontal share, and a moldboard, Europe’s new plow increased productivity by tilling rich, heavy, and badly drained river-bottom soil…The net result was the gradual elimination of starvation, the improved health of the people, and a strengthening of the economic foundations of the West relative to Islam. (101-102)
The Book of Proverbs claims that “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). A pre-occupation with sin and its evil power exalted the West. Proverbs adds that wisdom comes easily to the righteous. Could sin and our denial of it be the real problem of the West’s decline? Mangalwadi provides an illuminating example from his own country. In 1631, the monsoon failed to come. Consequently, there was a great famine. A British traveler relates the devastation he saw:

  • From Surat to this place all the highway was stowed with dead people, our noses never free from the stink of them…women were seen to roast their children…a man or a woman no sooner dead but they were cut in pieces to be eaten. (112)
Mangalwadi reasons, “My people did not starve because they were stupid, lazy, or unproductive.” Instead, immorality killed them! They were taxed 80% of their produce. This left them with little and nothing to store for an emergency. The only way for the people to have any money was to “join their exploiters.”

Our problems will not be solved by merely passing a few more laws or hiring more regulators. Instead, the problem is lodged deeply within each of us, and until we realize this, we are simply the “blind leading the blind.” How then can we find the fire-escape?

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Irrationality of the God-Belief


While the militant atheist believes that faith in God is irrational, many studies seem to indicate that such a faith is highly adaptive. For instance:

  • A National Opinion Research Center survey of Americans conducted between 1972 and 2008…found that the percentage of people reporting that they were “very happy” range from 26 percent among those never attending religious services to 48 percent for those who go more than weekly (Scientific America Mind, May/June 2012, 61)
These findings reflect the norm. A 2009 survey of more than 350,000 Americans concluded:

  • Did religion make them happier, as previous studies had shown? Absolutely, according to the data – but they were still worse off than their contented residents of more affluent states where religion mattered less. (62)
The fact that many serious Christians come from very troubled backgrounds makes these findings even more profound! Now add to this the findings that committed Christians – as measured by their church attendance – also show marked health advantages. And so how can a belief system deemed to be irrational be so strongly associated with adaptive advantages?

The atheists with whom I’ve dialogued generally do not dispute these findings. Instead, with a dismissive shake of the head, they respond that irrational beliefs can be comforting and stress-reducing.

I wonder? I had a friend whom I used to envy. He genuinely, but erroneously, believed that all the women found him sexually attractive. He didn’t experience the angst that most of us experience, wondering whether he was liked. Instead, he was sure of it! However, this anxiety-eliminating trait brought him many problems in the long run. Whenever a woman would turn him down, he was convinced that she was just playing “hard to get.” This irrational belief sent him to jail on at least two occasions for “harassment.”

There is always a price for irrationality. It rubs against the fabric of reality, precluding an optimal adjustment. If our Christian faith is truly irrational, as the militant atheists insist, we should expect to find greater levels of maladjustment than has been found in atheistic (communist) societies.

Instead, it seems that wherever the Christian faith has trod, there have been positive outcomes. Former editor of the Sunday Telegraph, Dominic Lawson, in a review in the Sunday Times of Niall Ferguson's new book, Civilisation: The West and the Rest, carries a quote from a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in which he tries to account for the success of the West:

  • “We have realised that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.”
About what other “irrational” beliefs can this be said?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Matrix, “Bad Guys” and the Creation of a Utopia


Utopian visions of a better world entail a distinction between the “good guys” and the “bad guys.” If you get rid of the “bad guys,” you’ll only have the “good guys” left, and then you’ll be able to build your utopian world. For the eugenicist, it was a matter of getting rid of the inferior human specimens. For the National Socialists, it was a matter of either getting rid of the non-Aryans or at least enslaving them. For the Communists, getting rid of the rich vermin – the selfish bourgeoisie – would usher in the workman’s paradise.

William Deresiewicz, an essayist writing for The New York Times, seems to line up with the latter group. For him, the “bad guys” are the Wall Street capitalists– the contemptible “1 percent”:

  • A 2010 study found that 4 percent of a sample of corporate managers met a clinical threshold for being labeled psychopaths, compared with 1 percent for the population at large. 
Why are these corporate managers four times as likely to be “psychopaths” than the general population? Deresiewicz believes that they have been perverted by an inherently evil capitalistic system:

  • To expect morality in the market is to commit a category error. Capitalist values are antithetical to Christian ones…Capitalist values are also antithetical to democratic ones. Like Christian ethics, the principles of republican government require us to consider the interests of others. Capitalism, which entails the single-minded pursuit of profit, would have us believe that it’s every man for himself.
It seems that his logic is pushing him to conclude that if we change the economic basis of the system, we won’t have so many evil, psychopathic people. He also suggests that the psychopathy is far more prevalent than their four percent suggests. It also widely manifests as contempt of the poor:

  • The lie [of the rich] goes on. The poor are lazy, stupid and evil. The rich are brilliant, courageous and good. They shower their beneficence upon the rest of us.
However, it is Deresiewicz who is engaging in negative stereotyping. While he claims that the rich have designated the poor as the “bad guys,” Deresiewicz is doing the same thing. However, in his case, it is the rich who are the “bad guys.” To make his case, he references a study that has determined that “upper-class” people are more unethical than others:

  • Seven studies using experimental and naturalistic methods reveal that upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals. In studies 1 and 2, upper-class individuals were more likely to break the law while driving, relative to lower-class individuals. In follow-up laboratory studies, upper-class individuals were more likely to exhibit unethical decision-making tendencies (study 3), take valued goods from others (study 4), lie in a negotiation (study 5), cheat to increase their chances of winning a prize (study 6), and endorse unethical behavior at work (study 7) than were lower-class individuals. Mediator and moderator data demonstrated that upper-class individuals’ unethical tendencies are accounted for, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed.
These observations are nothing new. It has long been noted that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” However, power comes in many forms – economic power, political power, influential power (think media elites, celebrities, and university professors), or success. It seems that when people reach the top of their field, social constraints are weakened. Concern about the opinions of others is neutralized by success and adulation. After all, we have arrived, and this proves that we are superior people, above the standards of the common man!

I think that it was the unlikely Henry Kissinger who stated that power was the greatest aphrodisiac. Power weakens the conscience and intoxicates the head. It is not just a matter of the financial escapades of the powerful and successful. It is also their sexual and moral misconduct.

Wall Street doesn’t have a monopoly on power and immorality. Power can seriously corrupt any who touch it. However, Deresiewicz mistakenly interprets the results of the studies solely in terms of the rich. Consequently, they – the capitalists - are his “bad guys!”

Instead, we are all “bad guys,” and until we realize this, we will continue to divide the world into the “good” and the “bad,” demonizing those who are different than us.

In Jesus’ day, the religious leadership regarded the uneducated – they didn’t know the law – as the “bad guys.” However, according to Jesus, we are all “bad guys” who hate the truth, especially the truth about ourselves:

  • “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." (John 3:19-21)
We will not come to this self-knowledge on our own. It’s just too painful. Instead, it is easier to blame the other guy. After all, it is his fault! Consequently, whenever we divide the world into the “good guys” and the “bad,” we are always among the “good.” How convenient and also illuminating!

We are so self deceived, that we have no business judging others. Consequently, Jesus counseled:

  • “How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.” (Matthew 7:4-5)
How does a blind man enable himself to see? First, we have to recognize that we are blind – that our lives consist of a self-imposed matrix of a multitude of intertwined lies – lies which we have come to depend upon as much as we do our pleasures. However, we will not be able to perceive the matrix without pain to shatter its lens and the Lord to provide a new lens. Jesus puts it this way:

  • "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30
His “rest” and healing depend upon recognizing that we too are the “bad guy” and trusting Him for His forgiveness and deliverance.