Archive | Christian Philosophy

Tolerance Has No Clothes

Emperors-New-Clothes-2

In 1837 Hans Christian Andersen published a Danish fairy tale called The Emperor’s New Clothes (originally known as Keiserens Nye Klaeder). Here’s how the story goes (retold in my words)…

A long time ago there lived an emperor who really loved showing off his impeccable taste for great clothing. Think of him as a modern day male fashionista. Two guys approached the emperor one day saying, “Your highness, sir emperor, we notice you appreciate the nicer things of life. We just happen to be purveyors of the finest custom line of men’s clothing.”

The two men convince the fashionista emperor to create a new wardrobe from the most rare materials. Fine clothing usually comes with some unique qualifications. High quality raw denim pants, for example, can be worn for months without needing to be washed. If you wash them every week you may not be worthy taking care of such quality. So what was the qualification to the emperor? Well, the clothing is only worthy to be seen by the non-stupid. If you are a stupid person the clothing will not be visible. Only the most worthy intelligentsia can behold the beauty of the clothing.

The clothiers took his measurements and went to their studio to get started. The emperor wanted to make sure everything was legitimate. He sent two of his most trusted men to check on the progress. Neither admitted they couldn’t see the clothing. They each thought of themselves as non-stupid progressive citizens. So they told the emperor the clothing was as beautiful as promised.

The day came for the emperors new clothes to be unveiled for all to see. Correction, for all of the non-stupid to see. The emperor paraded down the street “wearing” his new high-quality fashion to the applause of everyone. Everyone, of course, was too afraid to admit they were stupid.

Finally, a small child saw the emperor and exclaimed, “But he has nothing on!” The crowd began whispering. “Do you see any clothes?” “No, do you?” Word quietly spread through the crowd until everyone in the crowd shouted that the emperor was indeed naked. The two men had duped the entire empire. Everyone, including the emperor, went along with the masses because they were afraid to be the only stupid person.

A little child was unafraid to state the obvious. The obvious had become hidden underneath apparent niceties and self-convincing behavior.

I have started to wonder if there is another type of parade going on in America today. A parade where it seems stupid people are blind to the beauty of the new clothing. I have started to wonder if the emperor in the new parade is actually naked. The emperor dancing through the streets of America and dancing through the media outlets bears the name “Tolerance.”

Are his clothes beautiful? Is he naked? Am I too stupid to see the clothes? Let’s look at just two examples consuming our non-stop news coverage.

“Tolerance” has become the Emperor with New Clothes
Exhibit #1: Donald Sterling

I was in middle school in the 1980’s when political correctness swept our country. Yes, there are many wonderful aspects to the idea. Yes, there were many things in American needing to become more politically correct. I received all the training under the direction of our school board and then received a lot more politically correct training when I worked for a Fortune 500 company. I resisted none of what I was taught, I thought it made a lot of sense.

The last few weeks in America, however, have made me uneasy. It all started with L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling making private comments to a woman about his dislike for black people. All of us, hopefully, will admit Sterling’s comments were terrible. Why would someone who has devoted so much of his life to the NBA make such an asinine statement? Racism is a wickedness within humanity.

I was a bit uneasy, however, with the backlash toward Donald Sterling. A secret recording within his own home from a lady who appears to be of at least questionable character led to severe rhetoric against Sterling. Almost no one tried to give Sterling the benefit of the doubt. No one withheld judgement until understanding his side. No one tried to see it from his perspective. No one wondered if he needed to receive additional human resources training with the hope he would come to see the error of his way. All of the previously mentioned perspectives I was clearly taught were healthy for a tolerant politically correct future.

It wouldn’t have surprised me during the backlash against Sterling if someone would have yelled, “Get a rope. Let’s string him up” (joking…kind of). The NBA then acted swiftly. Sterling must sell the team. Sterling is never allowed again to own an NBA team. The commissioner then went one step further, Sterling is not allowed to attend an NBA game for the rest of his life. The last statement is the one that made me uneasy. What if Sterling would come to be enlightened? What if he truly repented and truly apologized? Convicted felons who have served their time are allowed to go to NBA games. Sterling officially did not even commit a crime. Would he still never be allowed to buy tickets for a game even in the cheap seats?

To go back to the fairy tale. Can stupid people go to an NBA game? If you can’t see the emperor’s new clothes can you not attend an NBA game? Will people need to undergo racism and perhaps homophobic evaluations before being allowed to go to an NBA game? Will people failing the test be marked for life as outsiders unable to ever attend events designed for the enjoyment of the non-stupid?
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The Intolerance of Tolerance

toleranceIn Ecclesiastes 12:12 we read, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” The more I am around the publishing world I realize the truthfulness of these words.

I read a lot. Just last night my wife, who fully supports my reading disease, asked me to put the book down and walk away. It’s my fantasy to have many uninterrupted hours of reading. Yes, it’s a disease.

Even if you have the reading disease worse than me, it is still impossible to read every worthwhile book. Just devoting yourself to reading the works of: Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Owen, Barth, Machen, Solzhenitsyn, Lewis, Chesterton, Kierkegaard, MacDonald and Bunyan would take many years. If you read the works of all those dead people you would only see the tip of the iceberg of all the dead people you should read.

While you may be devoting your time to be “well read” among the gigantic list of dead people there is, in addition, at least one book coming out every week that you really should read. I occasionally have a desire to give up. Throw my arms up in the air and simply transfer all my hard fought reading time over to Netflix. To stop reading and start binging on endless seasons of Netflix offerings. My disease, however, prevents me from giving up. I find I’m a better father, husband, friend and leader when I keep my nose consistently in good books.

Harry S. Truman is known for saying, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Why all this focus on reading? Well, in an age of non-stop book releases it is more challenging than ever to know what books to read. You can devote 8 hours a day to reading worthless books and you will never run out.

This post could become a post about how to know what to read, perhaps that post will come one day. For the time being, however, I want to direct your attention to just one book. If you didn’t notice D.A. Carson’s book The Intolerance of Tolerance when it first came out a couple years ago I want to bring it to your attention.

I think the book is a pivotal work to make sure you are aware of the massive shift that has happened in Western culture around the topic of tolerance. Here’s just one paragraph to give you a taste:

This shift from “accepting the existence of different views” to “acceptance of different views,” from recognizing other people’s right to have different beliefs or practices to accepting the differing views of other people, is subtle in form, but massive in substance. To accept that a different or opposing position exists and deserves the right to exist is one thing; to accept the position itself means that one is no longer opposing it. The new tolerance suggests that actually accepting another’s position means believing that position to be true, or at least as true as your own.

That paragraph should take your breath away. We have experienced a massive cultural shift. As Ambassador’s of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20) it is important for us to understand our culture so we can best communicate Jesus to our culture. Paul knew the currents of Athenian thought in order to share Jesus to the elites on Mars Hill.

Reading at least the first half of Carson’s book is, in my 2-cent opinion, worth the time, effort and money.

Why “I believe in logic and reason” is a Nonsense Statement

I’m exposed more than the average citizen to regular discussions and debates of ‘off limits’ subjects like religion, partly by circumstance and partly by choice, which is to say partly because I’m in classrooms every week where these topics are on the agenda and partly because I go out of my way to observe or listen when they are hashed out in larger public forums.

You are likely to hear something today that people in generations gone by would have thought strange, which is the following: In the context of disagreement about religious beliefs (like what a person believes about God, the afterlife, etc.), someone who doesn’t believe in any such things will announce his or her belief in “logic” and “reason.” This declaration of allegiance to logic and reason is typically offered with boastful superiority, as if to say, “Well as for the rest of you, you can believe this or that, but as for me, I believe in logic and reason.” The implication that is given by this simplistic credal statement is that belief in logic/reason is unique to the person making the confession of belief in it, as though it is the exclusive alternative to the other people’s beliefs. They believe x-y-z, but I believe in reason.

What Think Ye of Reason? Whose Son is He?

Nobody likes an ugly custody battle, but in the recent era of boisterous “in your face” internet debate styles, we’ve seen an attempt to co-opt the favored terms and claim them as the natural and exclusive property of the self-appointed champions of reason and logic. When you see any particular individual or group lay claim to “reason”, you should get suspicious. Anti-religious atheist groups are the most glaring culprits when it comes to this. They love to name their groups things like “The United Coalition of Reason” and grab media attention by naming their events things like “The Reason Rally.”

Not that this is entirely without precedent. In the early 1790s some radical Enlightenment-loving French revolutionaries dismantled the altars of Paris churches as a display of their contempt for the Roman Catholic clergy of their time, erecting new displays to the symbolic goddess “Reason.” Their cause was more political and social (and in their context, more dire). Today’s cavalier use of “reason” is more of a self-serving PR strategy. By claiming “reason” as my own, I imply it is on my side only and that those opposed to me are clearly unreasonable. This is why Al Gore decided that his 2008 book lashing out at Bush & all of this political opponents should be entitled The Assault on Reason. As strategies go, it’s completely self-congratulatory but probably as effective, at least, as other similar political statements we’ve often heard, such as “The difference between me and my opponent is that I am interested in the truth.

Unfortunately most of the matra-like repetition of the words logic and reason amounts to posturing and nothing else. Few people care to understand just what we are talking about when we employ these words, which in common use are mostly synonymous.  The late Dallas Willard once wrote that “Reason is a voice that all of us hear.”  Reason is nobody’s child. Nobody has sole custody. Nobody has the market cornered. Logic is inescapably embedded in all of our thinking and discourse. Everyone who has thought about it very long has realized this. Aristotle was one of the earliest to elucidate it clearly in writing. All human thinking and discourse, if it is coherent in the least bit, is employing and relying upon basic logic. The only way for any person or group to jettison reason entirely (and remain consistent in doing so) would be for that group or person to utter words totally at random or remain completely silent. For that matter he (or they) would not be able even to think in propositions without making use of reason.

This is not to say that human beings are rational in all of our deliberations and decisions. We are influenced by and subject to all sorts of other influences too. And not that even the smartest people among us don’t occasionally violate the canons of reason. We’re no more intellectually perfect than we are morally perfect. Christian theologians have long alluded to what they call the “noetic” effects of our fallen nature, meaning our imperfections and limitations are not only in the ethical domain. Our minds are flawed enough all the way around to cause us to be foolishly illogical in specific ways on certain occasions.

But these limitations apply to everyone across the board. Nobody is immune. The thought processes of the most devout believers are the same basic combinations of factors as those of the least religious. For everyone the mental life consists of a regular mixture of common sense, ignorance, insight, oversight, at times pristine logical thinking, at other times glaring errors or blind spots, biases, confusion, emotionalism, etc. Where disagreement exists between two points of view, the wrong approach is simply to hail everyone who agrees with you as reasonable and brand everyone who doesn’t as illogical. When you apply the words “illogical” and “unreasonable” to people it is generally in order to insult them . Apply the terms instead – and appropriately – to the arguments themselves if you can demonstrate why they apply.

A Little Learning is a Dangerous Thing

When you hear the casual tossing around of the words “logic” and “reason” in this usual contemporary way (i.e., claiming them for my side) you should ask some basic questions of the person using them. What does he or she take those words to mean? What is their definition? Are they the same thing? Different?  If the person is claiming that someone’s view or position is “illogical”, can he or she point to exactly where logic is being violated? Most people who speak this way don’t realize that something is not “illogical” simply because it is strange, outlandish, hard to believe, or even empirically false.

Another question I ask is, does the person (claiming to believe in “logic and reason”) suppose that the most reasonable and logically astute thinkers of history agreed with him/her? Alexander Pope’s immortal poetic line that “a little learning is a dangerous thing” tends to apply here. Pope’s advice was to “drink deep or taste not the Pierian spring.” In a similar vein, and more to the point regarding basic religious belief, the great Francis Bacon wrote, “It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion” (Of Atheism). This is why C. S. Lewis had his fictional senior demon Screwtape advise the novice demon Wormwood to keep it shallow and superficial when trying to mess with his victim’s head. “Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the church,” writes Screwtape, who adds a few lines later, “By the very act of arguing you awake the patient’s reason, and once it is awake, who can foresee the result?” (The Screwtape Letters).

The culture of the internet with its dizzying array of endless media is vastly different from the one Pope and Bacon knew, yet it demonstrates their principle well. So many people today know just enough to be “dangerous.” They suppose themselves to be so eminently reasonable and scientifically literate when in fact they are typically less knowledgeable than people were in generations past.  Note I did not say “less informed” about events in the world or having less access to information. But they’ve thought so little and in such fleeting, candy-sized media-wrapped sound bytes about the issues they are discussing that they are closer to being enemies of reason than friends.

The majority of those on whose shoulders Western Civilization stands would have been baffled by the attitudes of those talking such a big game about logic and reason. Had they been put in a time machine and dropped in the middle of the recent “Reason Rally” they would have thought they were in a different universe where “reason” must mean something else. What, after all, would someone like John Locke have thought of the advice of Richard Dawkins, arguably the intellectual spokesman for contemporary atheism, to the crowds at the “Reason Rally”? What would such a preeminent thinker as Locke – so massively influential in shaping British thought at the time as well as upon the American framers, a man who wrote, among so many other things, an essay actually entitled “The Reasonableness of Christianity” – what would he think upon hearing the leading voice for popular atheism urge his throngs to employ the strategy of contempt, ridicule and mockery against religious believers? So much for “logic” and “reason.”

There are atheists who do understand the meaning of reason, and they do their cause at least the favor of rising above the foolishness of throwing those words around without comprehending them. One such example is Robert Paul Wolff, a philosopher whose textbook About Philosophy is among those on my shelf. In it Wolff writes that although he identifies as an atheist, he is incapable of contempt toward those who believe otherwise. He knows too much. He has drunk deep from the spring. Depth in philosophy, to paraphrase Bacon, keeps bringing this atheist’s mind back around to the theological possibilities.  In his text Wolff praises the Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, calling the melancholy Dane “the most gifted” of all the important thinkers in our history. Wolff writes candidly that although he is an atheist, “as a lifelong philosopher, I am forced to recognize that almost every great Western thinker for whom I have profound respect thinks that I am wrong.” This, Wolff admits, often makes him “a little nervous.”

 

Faith and Reason

As old a topic as it is, the contemporary abuse of words like “logic” and “reason” begs for us to revisit the discussion of the role of reason in the realm of faith. And while we’re chastising those who wave the flag of reason like they are its sole custodians, we need to remind a certain segment of the faithful and devout that reason is not a weapon of darkness. I said above that reason is nobody’s child, and that includes Satan. Reason is not a tool of the Evil One that you should resist. The truth is that you can’t resist it anyway as was explained already. To make a case against reason you must use it.

Christians do not idolize reason, nor do we scorn it. When the Gospel of John employs “logos” in its opening line, you can be sure that the writer does not despise the voice of reason, which he no doubt recognizes as the voice of God, imperfect as we are at hearing and discerning it accurately.  All revelation presupposes rational agents – even if imperfect ones –  who can comprehend basic communication. Truth is dependent upon the most basic principles of logic. Otherwise the written word is just markings and the spoken word (“rhema”) is just noise. Show me a Christian who claims to be opposed to reason and I’ll show you someone who (a) doesn’t understand the nature of reason to begin with, and (b) is probably failing miserably to achieve the kind of wisdom and discernment toward which a disciple is supposed to strive.

Faith and reason are not cosmic foes fighting on behalf of God and Satan, respectively. That is as idiotic a parody as the parody of faith itself in which it is naive assent to patently false propositions, a la “believin’ what ain’t so”. C. S. Lewis once called faith “the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods” (Mere Christianity). It is a kind of trust that endures through the tumultuous and fickle emotional roller coaster of life. It is the “substance of things hoped for” (Heb. 11:1) where “hope” is understood in the biblical sense of being tethered to something solid but beyond your immediate vision or grasp, not mere “wishing” or escapism.

The mind is not murdering reason in order to make room for faith. Reason cannot be killed, and if it could be, any meaningful concept of faith would die with it, and no contemplation or discussion of anything would be possible from that moment on. For the opponent of faith to thump his chest and announce that he believes in logic and reason is as useless as if he said, “I believe in saying words out loud that express my views.”  My response to either one is, “Uh, .. OK. Me too. Now what is your argument?”

Role-Playing for Jesus

rolePlaying

Tim, someone is on the phone with a Bible question.

I looked up from my desk at the Credo House. My brain started to switch into this neutral position trying to be prayerfully ready for the person on the other side of the phone to take the conversation in any of a million different biblical directions.

Hello,” I said waiting for the person to respond.

Yes, I have a Bible question,” the middle-aged man responded.

Ok, well I don’t promise anything but let’s chat,” I said in a way where I was trying to lighten the atmosphere. Sometimes people call and they’re very nervous talking about God or struggling with some issue that they feel ashamed of in their life. With no nervous laughter on the other side of the phone I was interested to hear the Bible question.

In the next thirty seconds I quickly sat up totally surprised at his next few statements. This man had obviously thought through every single word once I gave him the floor. His “question” was not a question, it was a rant. It was very clear he disdained the deity of Christ. This man used a deep voice I typically reserve for my dog when he’s misbehaving. It was interesting hearing the voice directed to me, I feel sorry for my dog.

Nearly every sentence toward me during this initial “question” stage began by him saying, “Now, Tim, tell me how you can possibly believe Jesus is God when…” This guy was not your average run-of-the-mill person with a Bible question. I could tell this guy had enough Greek and Church History to be dangerous. I could also tell he was working off some major talking points that I thought were a bit weak. I waited for his rant to end but I also started praying and pondering the next steps to take. Once there was a bit of silence a dialogue returned to our conversation. My first response slid out of my mouth before I knew I had said it:

Are you a Jehovah’s Witness?” I asked.

Yes, but that’s not important.

Have you called here before?” I asked.

No, I have never called here,” he responded with an impatient tone that I knew was making him frustrated that I hadn’t responded yet to his very detailed question filled with theology, Latin phrases and Church History.

Are you sure? You sound just like a guy that’s called here a couple times over the last few years.” Even though he denied ever calling I’m pretty certain he has called before and I’m even more certain that he takes pleasure in calling churches and ministries and blowing unsuspecting and unprepared Christians out of the water. It was now time to get to the “question.”

Look, I just don’t have time today to fight for the next hour. It sounds like you have your mind made up on Jesus and I’m pretty sure I do too. I think we’ll both hang up thinking we’ve each won the conversation. We are a ministry that cares deeply about truth but we have more important things to do than fight. I think we should simply not have this conversation. I don’t think it’ll be helpful for either of us,” I said.

Look, I’m not going to fight. Can’t you simply have a conversation? Are you so brainwashed that you can’t even talk about how clear it is in Scripture that Jesus is not God?” he replied.

After a couple back-and-forth statements where I was trying to hang-up and he was trying hard to get me to enter into his opening “question” I decided to engage on a very particular line of argument. We had each flexed our muscles enough to let each other know that both of us were decently fluent in the original biblical languages, Latin statements and Church History. Yet, I wanted to engage in a way that I thought would catch him off guard. This guy had clearly had many of these conversations. What could I offer that would be any different?

Ok,” I said, “I won’t hang up and I’ll try to answer your question if you will do one thing first.

What?

Tell me what my 5 best arguments are against your position.

What?
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I think it’s ok to teach Relative Truth

FoucaultOne of the easy softballs to hit out of the park in Apologetics 101 training is when two people are role playing and the statement is made, “I think truth is relative. There are no absolute truths.”

The ridiculously easy response to this statement is, “Well, you just made an absolute truth statement!” Kaboom, the foolish non-Christian is just pummeled under their own faulty logic. They made an absolute statement when they said there are no absolute statements. Wow, what an intellectual lightweight. Now, when I share Jesus with this person they will know I have just conquered their worldview so they will be ready to adopt my worldview.

The problem with this very easy Apologetic talking point is it simply doesn’t work in many situations. Many times the young apologist has only left the relativist feeling frustrated, angry and demeaned. Sometimes I think the more appropriate response is, “I think truth & morality are also relative. Foucault was a pretty good observer of humanity.”

Michel Foucault (pronounced foo-ko) may be one of the most influential 20th century thinkers you’ve never heard of. He was interested in studying the development of ideas. How and why do we know what we know? He held a chair at Collège de France with the title, “History of Systems of Thought.” He wrote several books on diverse subjects such as: psychiatry; medicine; the human sciences; prison systems; as well as the history of human sexuality.

Foucault’s observations and skepticism challenged many long-standing ideas. His first book wondered why some people are considered crazy? What if these “crazy” people lived at a different time in a completely different culture? Would they still be considered crazy?

How about, for example, John the Baptist? His clothes were nasty. He lived out in the desert eating bugs. He yelled at people to repent. They responded by letting John hold them under water. In first century Israel John was viewed as one of the greatest prophets who ever lived. Transfer John the Baptist to New York City and he’d be locked up in a mental hospital. Craziness is relative.
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Orientations, Identities, Disorders, and Future Possibilities that Might Make you Squirm a Little

DSM-IVRecently there was a stir about something in the newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association. A couple of headlines were saying that this fifth and latest version was identifying pedophilia as a “sexual orientation.” Not long after those headlines registered their requisite shock and response, the APA issued a retraction and clarification.

Watching this unfold I was reminded again how seemingly confusing is the use of terminology by this group, especially when it comes to key words like “orientation,” “identity” and “disorder.” A first principle of critical thinking is the clear and precise use of important terms. Failure to define these words with clarity and consistency in this case includes an ominous potential to carry our society down a moral and logical river that runs straight into a sewage pond. To see what I mean, consider more carefully the definition and use of each of these strategic words.

Orientation

The APA & similar organizations describe “sexual orientation” as persistent attraction to those of a particular type or group. The attraction is of a sexual (in some cases they add “emotional” or “romantic”) nature. Sometimes you see, along with “attraction,” other words such as “tendency,” “proclivity,” “interest” & “preference.” So in essence a person’s sexual orientation, according to this characterization, amounts to his or her feelings of attraction toward a given group.

Usually the emphasis of the ‘group’ to which a person is attracted is along the lines of gender (i.e., attracted to males, females, or both), but there is nothing in the definition to prevent other things besides gender from defining the parameters of the group. There is no reason given, for example, why such an orientation would not instead have to do with age (e.g., attraction to the elderly or to children), body type (e.g., attraction to the obese or to “little people”), or something else.

Clearly a person who does experience one of these peculiar kinds of sexual attraction (or interest or preference) based on something other than gender would have a legitimate case for his or her attraction being an “orientation” by the definition commonly used. So the description of pedophilia as an “orientation,” for all of the reaction it evoked, would nevertheless, by the reasoning of the APA, be perfectly sensible. I don’t see any argument they could make against that application of the word as it has been loosely defined.

Identity

Now a safe bet for why many people were so uncomfortable with notion that pedophilic attraction could be an “orientation” is that there is another (seemingly added on) aspect of “orientation” that is often mentioned when the term is being discussed and explained. This aspect is basically a sense of one’s identity being in some way tied to the sexual attraction one feels toward the given group. Like the feelings of attraction themselves, this sense of personal identity is entirely 1st person  and subjective. I have the specific orientation if I say that I do, and thus it is part of my identity if I say that it is.

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Changing Our Thinking About Same-Sex Marriage

same-sex

I don’t expect to contribute anything substantial to this issue. Haven’t we already seen this thing from every possible angle? I am not saying that people need to silence themselves, sit back, and let the chips fall where they may. I am saying it is hard to imagine that someone is going to bring some new powerhouse argument which changes the tide. I don’t expect this to be any different. But I do expect it to get me in trouble with both sides.

Let me be clear: I do not recognize gay marriage. Whether the government does or does not, does not affect me.

I will attempt to defend the thesis that the government should NOT make homosexual marriage illegal (not that this is precisely the issue). Actually, I am convinced that the government should stay out of the marriage business altogether.

(As I delve into this issue, please understand that what I propose is not necessarily a possibility. We are likely way past this point. Therefore, I am not suggesting any action steps at this juncture.)

Government is Not Involved in What Defines a Church

When we started “Reclaiming the Mind Ministries” (the parent ministry of Credo House Ministries), we had to go through a rigorous process of getting approved for our 501(c)(3) tax-deductible status (translation: where people can get a tax writeoff for money or items they donate to us). I think we had to wait a full year until our government-certified approval letter came. Our attorney who filed all the paperwork informed me (in jest) that if we just became a church, we would not have to worry about this. Why? Because churches are automatically approved for tax exemption. Why? Because what hath Jerusalem to do with Washington? In other words (and listen carefully), the government cannot define what a church is. So if you say you are a church, then you’re a church! (at least from the government’s standpoint). The government is not in the church-defining business, and am I glad about that!

This should be easy for any American to understand (should being the key word). This is especially the case when we talk about American Protestants. We don’t like people in our business. We take a lot of chances in the name of freedom. We know the risks, but they are worth it to us. As Protestants, we have a long tradition of independence from any sort of institutionalized governing authority. We don’t trust them. We tried that and it did not work. In fact, it suppressed a lot of stuff that was pretty important. Therefore, we don’t want any religious institution or governmental authority telling us what a church is.

Too early in my argument? Okay, then join me on an imaginary journey:

Imagine that for the past two hundred years of American history, the government has had a slight hand in defining a church. Let’s say that for all of US history, the government said that in order to be recognized as a church (and get the tax benefits) the church must 1) hold to the doctrine of the Trinity, 2) believe in the inspiration of Scripture, and 3) baptize people. Continue Reading →

Would President Obama Bomb the Canaanites?

I’ll get right to the point. I think President Obama would have bombed the Canaanites way before God annihilated them. Why am I even bringing up this hypothetical situation? Are statements like this even helpful for us today in our walk with God? For those questions I need to back up a little bit.

obamaI sat at the Credo House, in Heretics Corner, having a very important conversation. A young man who had been a strong believer the last time we met had grown shaky in many of his beliefs. This guy, whom I’ll call Jake, grew up in a very liberal part of the country and was born to liberal parents. His parents are intellectual people who view Christianity to be the opium of the masses.

Jake, slowly but surely, had been worn down by many conversations with atheist family members. Jake and I sat down to discuss many aspects of Christianity he was struggling to believe. After more than an hour and a half of great conversation he finally dropped the bomb. He said, “Alright, this is it, here’s the big one. My family and friends bring this up all the time and I’ve never heard a convincing response. Why is God so unjust in the Old Testament? How can God be loving when he does things like kill the Canaanites?

It’s a wonderful moment in any serious conversation to get to the real heart of an issue. Jake and I had been discussing issues in the periphery and now we were in the center of what was really bothering him. How does an intellectually honest Christian live with a God who called for the annihilation of the Canaanites? I know some of you reading this will think there is no such thing as an intellectually honest Christian, but please humor me for a bit while I talk nonsense.

Whenever we move into the issue of some of God’s actions in the Old Testament I typically have an image pop into my head. For some strange reason I go back to Thanksgiving. I’ll never forget the Thanksgiving many years ago when I finally was able to move from the little kids table to the adult table. At least at my house growing up we had a big table reserved for just the kids at Thanksgiving. We had another big table for all the grownups. Some cultures have elaborate ceremonies marking the passage from childhood to adulthood. The great ceremony, for me at least, was moving from the kids to the adult table.

I was so excited to move from the little kids table but it did have a distinct drawback. The conversations at the adult table were all about adult topics. If I wanted to sit at the adult table I needed to be willing to have an adult conversation. If you’re willing to criticize God for His actions in the Old Testament, you need to be willing to have adult level conversations.

If you are not willing to have an adult level conversation about God, please do not continue reading this post. Additionally, if you are under the age of 18, please stop reading this post. I’m going to get into some topics I want your parents to preview before you read. Seriously, stop reading if you have a weak stomach or are young.

Okay, I’m assuming everyone reading right now is consciously sitting at the adult table ready for an adult conversation. Here we go.

Before jumping directly into dealing with the Canaanites, let’s take a step back from that particular time and place and observe our world.

Let’s not pretend we live in a white-washed world. We live in a world where terms like Holocaust; Rwandan Genocide; and Darfur, Sudan have meaning. These atrocities were not committed by precocious little kids stealing candy from their sisters. These events were horrific. If my 6 year-old son asks me what happened during World War II, I can only provide a sugar-coated answer. I can only use simple words like good guys fought bad guys. I must hold back my more detailed adult knowledge.

Just last week I heard about an evil causing me to take a few shallow breathes. The details of this dreadful evil are difficult to even swallow at the adult table. Several men in New Delhi, India boarded a public transit bus and started gang raping a young girl. After raping her repeatedly they eventually rammed a metal rod up into her body which brutally ended her life. Four men were arrested and tried as adults. Some additional boys involved in the rape were so young they couldn’t be tried as adults.

Now, New Delhi is known as the rape capitol of India. Rape is common there and the men are usually given the benefit of the doubt. It is quite possible these men could have received a slap on the wrist. How could they get less than the full wrath of India?

I could probably make a case that none of these men would have done this terrible crime on their own. They were overcome by a mob mentality. The power of the group took over and each person lost their head. Yes, these young men should definitely be sentenced to prison but since they experienced a mob mentality there should be some leniency, perhaps.

Based on the knowledge the Indian society gained regarding the details of the crime, however, the young men were sentenced last week to death by hanging. The collective response throughout India was a recognition that justice had been served. When we put God on the stand and try him for being unjust, we need to remember there are terrible deeds happening in 2013 requiring extreme justice.

Let’s start going back in time a few thousand years and analyze the morality of the Ancient Near East. You may have heard of Baal worship. Baal is frequently symbolized in the form of a bull. Why? Because the people recognized the large testicles of bulls. Why did this matter? Well, people who worshiped Baal were many times looking for it to rain. In an agricultural society rain is of utmost importance. Baal worshipers thought they could force the hand of their god and make it rain.
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