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Saturday, June 27, 2015

God, Opinions and Reality

Our society has exalted the notion that each of us is entitled to our own opinion. When we Google the word opinion, it is defined as "a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge." In other words, an opinion doesn't have to be rational in nature - it can be based on a whim or a feeling. Thus, most of us believe that we have the right to be whimsical and irrational if we choose to be.

At first glance, this seems very reasonable and democratic to most of us. Many of us, however, have taken this notion and ran with it. We've extended this to mean that we are entitled to our own reality. Reality (as defined by Google) is "the world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them." In other words, we can dispense with science, history, current events and the opinions of other folks if they do not comport or agree with our opinions.

If most of our opinions are conservative, we can watch Fox News and not have to deal with the "liberal mainstream media." Likewise, if most of our opinions are liberal, we can watch MSNBC and have those opinions reinforced and validated. If we are religious, we can watch one of the numerous channels devoted to religious programming. We can also send our children to private schools where they won't be exposed to evil concepts like evolution or the acceptance of homosexuality as normal. We can refuse to read things that contradict or disparage our beliefs, and we can exclude people from our fellowship who don't agree with us. In other words, we can create our own reality - a world that exists just for us, and that shelters us from the real world that exists outside of our cocoon.

Hmmm, Didn't Jesus say: "I'm not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one?" --John 17:15 Yes, we have the right to our own opinions, but do we really have the right to our own reality?

Saturday, June 20, 2015

God, Christians and the Environment

Pope Francis' Encyclical on Climate Change (http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/06/18/read-pope-franciss-full-document-on-climate-change/) has been embraced by some folks on the Left and has been criticized by some on the Right. Richard A. Viguerie has stated: "The encyclical, “Laudato Si, On The Care Of Our Common Home” lends the weight of the Papacy’s authority to the idea of man-made global warming at a time when not only is there more and more evidence that has come forth that global warming is a natural phenomenon, but that there is increasing concern that government “solutions” are keeping people in poverty.
To me this encyclical is most troubling because it comes at a time when Catholics, indeed Christians of all denominations, are facing persecution including torture and death (including crucifixions) in virtually every Muslim majority country and China, as well as a host of moral and spiritual challenges.
While the Pope fiddles with one controversial political issue that is not at the core of spiritual matters, our spiritual culture is burning." (http://www.conservativehq.com/node/20485)Jeb Bush, a Catholic, said, “I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope." He added, "I think religion ought to be about making us better as people, less about things [that] end up getting into the political realm.”
(Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/06/jeb-bush-knocks-pope-on-climate-change-push-119084.html#ixzz3dcp9RKQ7) Steve Milloy tweeted: "Have finished the Pope's climate encyclical. Highlights tweeted. Some words that come to mind: adolescent, insipid, primitive, embarrassing." (http://www.nytimes.com/live/updates-on-pope-francis-encyclical-on-climate-change/).

The TRUTH is that the folks on the Right don't have any problem injecting their religious views into secular, constitutional and economic issues when it suits their needs. However, when a major religious leaders offers some spiritual guidance on an issue that has been recognized by poets and religionists since the dawn of time as having spiritual significance (the natural environment), they jump on him like a chicken on a June Bug!

In the past, I have written about mass extinction events and what they can tell us about the nature of God. Although many "Christians" dismiss most of the scientific evidence for these events, it really is quite overwhelming. On their website, Endangered Species International has stated: "As unbelievable as it may sound, after having read through the five mass extinctions, the sixth mass extinction is in progress, now, with animals going extinct 100 to 1,000 times (possibly even 1,000 to 10,000 times) faster than at the normal background extinction rate, which is about 10 to 25 species per year. Many researchers claim that we are in the middle of a mass extinction event faster than the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction which wiped out the dinosaurs." (http://www.endangeredspeciesinternational.org/overview.html). They go on to identify five human activities that are fueling this sixth mass extinction event: 1) "Habitat destruction including human-induced climate change," 2) "Invasive species," 3) "Pollution," 4) "Human Overpopulation," and 5) "Over-harvesting" (hunting, fishing and farming). (same source)

Personally, I believe that the Pope's encyclical is right on target. It is consistent with the statement in Genesis that God is the ultimate source/Creator of ALL life on this planet, and that ALL of it was very good. (Genesis 1) It is also consistent with the statement in that same book that says that mankind was expected to "tend and watch over" God's garden. (Genesis 2, NLT) David talked at length about how the natural world demonstrated God's greatness (Psalms), and Paul told the Romans that the natural world demonstrates God's "eternal power and divine nature." (Romans 1, NLT)

So what did the Pope say that was so controversial and upsetting about human environmental policy? Notice this excerpt from his encyclical:
"The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home. Here I want to recognize, encourage and thank all those striving in countless ways to guarantee the protection of the home which we share. Particular appreciation is owed to those who tirelessly seek to resolve the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of the world's poorest. Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded.
I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation that includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all."
(http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/06/18/read-pope-franciss-full-document-on-climate-change/)

Doesn't sound unreasonable, anti-God or anti-progress to me! What do you think?



Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Faith or Evidence?

I have commented in previous posts on this blog about the fact that many folks within both the Scientific and Christian communities see faith and evidence as concepts that stand in irreconcilable opposition to each other. Christians often define faith as a belief in God or something related to God that does not require any evidence or tangible proof. Likewise, Scientists often insist that any views/beliefs/opinions that are not derived from direct observation of evidence are basically worthless and should be discarded. Thus, the implication from both sides is that the two notions are incompatible with each other and mutually exclusive (each thing makes the other thing impossible : not able to be true at the same time or to exist together --Merriam-Webster). Is this perception of both sides accurate? Should faith be immune to (or divorced from) evidence?

The more traditional Christian view of faith was articulated by some of the great theologians of the religion's earliest days. Saint Augustine said, "Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe." Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/topics/topic_faith.html#3jr5MOh2df7jtcbT.99 Thomas Aquinas said, "To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/topics/topic_faith.html#3jr5MOh2df7jtcbT.99

However, another approach to the subject of faith is possible for Christians. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "“All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.” http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/faith This statement on faith implies that evidence is an integral part of faith. Can that be right?

The Blue Letter Bible says that the Greek word translated into English as faith 239 times in the New Testament suggests a "conviction of the truth of anything, belief" http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/Lexicon/Lexicon.cfm?strongs=G4102&t=KJV This is the same word that is used in what is probably Scripture's most celebrated discourse on the subject of faith: the eleventh chapter of the anonymous Epistle to the Hebrews.

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen...Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear." (Hebrews 11:1-3, KJV) The Greek word translated into English as "evidence" denotes "a proof, that by which a thing is proved or tested." http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/Lexicon/Lexicon.cfm?strongs=G1650&t=KJV Isn't that interesting? Sounds somewhat more scientific than the traditional view doesn't it?

In reality, doesn't Scripture teach us that faith is supported by evidence? Didn't the Apostle Paul write to the Romans that those who were engaged in suppressing the truth could not use their lack of faith in God as an excuse for their behavior? He wrote: "They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature." (Romans 1:19-20, NLT) In other words, the world around them provided evidence of the existence of God and "His" character. Didn't James also state that faith is demonstrated by the evidence of how a person conducts him/herself in life? (James 2:14-26) Didn't the Roman centurion say that his faith in Jesus Christ's ability to heal his servant was based on the evidence of his own experience as a commander of troops? (Matthew 8:5-9) And what was Christ's response? "Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no not in Israel!" (Matthew 8:10) In other words, Christ saw this as the epitome of faith.

Maybe it's time for us to reconsider our respective aversions to faith and evidence? Maybe faith doesn't have to be blind and ignorant? Maybe faith doesn't have to be an alien concept to the halls of science? Many folks on both sides of the aisle have reconciled these concepts - It is possible for those who are willing to abandon the false dilemma that has existed in the minds of many for centuries.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Does God Like False Testimony?

Didn't God command Moses on Mount Sinai: You must not testify falsely against your neighbor? (Exodus 20:16)

The lead article in the latest edition of The International News, makes clear that Pastor Bill Watson has decided to launch a campaign against homosexuality. The article, “Required Immediately: A Spiritual Conditioning Plan,” could justly be characterized as a diatribe against homosexuals. In the piece, Mr. Watson uses several fallacies to justify his homophobic rants and ensure that CGI Christians don’t succumb to what he refers to as a “secular malignancy.” He skillfully employs false analogy, guilt by association and an appeal to fear and pity to make his case against homosexuality (and by inference, homosexuals).

The following quotes are representative of the tenor of the language and methodology used in the piece:

“Our nation is currently sick and in jeopardy, as was the nation of Israel before it was devastated, conquered, and exiled into captivity from its homeland by the ancient Assyrians. It’s obvious by the historical legacy of Israel, nations that have adopted the God of Israel as their guiding source of morality, judgment, and liberty have been held accountable for their abandonment of those statutes, judgments, and laws.”

So, because the United States is moving in the direction of greater protections for the rights of Gay people and tolerance for their existence within society, our current situation is analogous to that of an ancient agrarian kingdom that failed to meet the standards of the covenant which God had established with them?

“Undoubtedly, for some of us, it’s quite disturbing to see some of these changes and effects now beginning to affect our lifestyles. Even our language has been mandated, in some cases by legislation, to be more sensitive and accepting toward those circumstances and conditions that were at one time considered wrong, or illegal, but now are acceptable and something to embrace. Political correctness is growing exponentially, causing those not in agreement with these progressive changes to be viewed as narrow-minded, discriminatory, bigoted, or just simply mean-spirited and irrational.”

Those poor, mistreated and persecuted Christians – Folks are calling them bigots and accusing them of being narrow-minded and mean-spirited. They’ve even made it unacceptable to refer to those abominations as “fags” and “sissies.” What will these evil folks come up with next?

“Make no mistake: This is taking its toll on many Christian people who find themselves faced with contesting these ‘progressive changes.’ And don’t think for a minute the Christian way of life and belief system isn’t under attack outside of the cultural wars in the West – because it is! Anything resembling Christianity is being assaulted in many areas of the world today. Whether you look to the Middle East, Southeast Asia, or Africa – so-called Christianity – the name of Jesus Christ – is viewed as a ‘danger, or threat’ to the homeland cultures of these areas, primarily due to the perceived peril (which is not a peril at all) it poses for Communist regimes and those radical Muslims aggressively executing jihad on many traditional Christians throughout the world. Literally thousands every day are being kidnapped, tortured, raped, or killed in extremely gruesome ways!”

So the “campaign” for greater tolerance, civil rights and the fairer treatment of Gay people is an attack on Christianity? Moreover, this movement is somehow analogous to “radical Muslims” and the “jihad” which they are perpetrating against Christians overseas? Is Mr. Watson suggesting that Gay militants are about to start beheading Christians on the streets of America?

Even if one believes that homosexuality is abominable, does the end justify the means? Is it ok to employ fallacies to discredit homosexuality because one believes it to be wrong? Doesn't that amount to false testimony? Moreover, if you can't discredit something/someone with truth and honesty, maybe you shouldn't be trying to discredit it/him/her?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Does God Want Women Preaching Sermons?

Bob Thiel posted an article yesterday entitled "Should women preach?" http://www.cogwriter.com/news/doctrine/should-women-preach/ To make a long story short, he answers that question with a "NO!" Thiel claims that I Corinthians 14:34 ("Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. If they have any questions, they should ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings.") should be understood to forbid women from preaching in church. He goes on to quote I Timothy 2:11-12 "Women should learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women teach men or have authority over them."

Notice that both of these passages were authored by the Apostle Paul - a man who has never been accused of misogyny or chauvinism! By the way, in his second letter to Timothy, Paul strongly implies that the young man was taught the Christian faith by his grandmother and mother (II Timothy 1:5). Moreover, the evidence of Paul's own ministry contradicts these statements. Notice that Paul worked with both Priscilla and Aquila during his missionary work in Corinth and Ephesus (Acts 18). In the book of Acts we read that "When Priscilla and Aquila heard him (Apollos) preaching boldly in the synagogue, they took him aside and explained the way of God even more accurately." (Acts 18:20)

In his letter to the saints at Rome, Paul wrote: "I commend to you our sister Pheobe, who is a deacon in the church in Cenchrea. Welcome her in the Lord as one who is worthy of honor among God's people." (Romans 16:1-2) He goes on to say: "Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in the ministry of Christ Jesus...Also give my greetings to the church that meets in their home." (Romans 16:3-5) Sounds to me like Pheobe and Priscilla had prominent roles in the early church - am I missing something?

In the Genesis account of creation, we read: "So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." (Genesis 1:27) Sure sounds to me like both men and women were created in God's image - that both sexes reflect the Divine persona equally. And, if that's the case, then why should we settle for only hearing from half of the team that reflects God's image? How can one hope to get an accurate picture of God by only ever hearing from the male side of the equation? Doesn't make much sense does it?

Think about it for a moment. My first introduction to things spiritual was sitting beside my grandmother in her rocking chair while she read the Bible to me as a small child. Did your mother ever talk to you about God? Do women ever teach Sunday/Sabbath school classes? Have you ever heard a woman participate in a church Bible study? Are women capable of preaching? Have you ever heard one preach? Have any women ever written books and articles of a religious nature?

Yes, the Old Testament is paternalistic and focused largely on male leadership. However, I can think of some important exceptions to this rule. Do you remember Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Ruth, Naomi and Esther? All of these women were placed in prominent positions by God to lead/protect "His" people or to help further "His" overall plans in some way.

When one considers the entirety of the testimony contained in the Bible, doesn't it seem just a bit absurd to exclude one half of humanity from the pulpit of our churches? Do we really believe that God intended for them to be silent because of two brief statements made by Paul? If the male voice is the only one which is needed to shepherd the flock, why didn't God just make women mute? I think Bob Thiel and his associates have it wrong. I think that the weight of the evidence points to a God who wants full female participation within the Christian Church. What do you think?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

God must be pleased with Evan Young

Democracy Now has posted a video and transcript of their coverage of the Twin Peaks Charter Academy valedictorian story (http://www.democracynow.org/2015/6/1/exclusive_gay_high_school_student_delivers). Evan Young, the young man in question, turns out to be a very nice young man that could not be characterized as an obnoxious or militant gay rights advocate by anyone with an ounce of fairness or objectivity. When told that the only possibility of influencing school officials would be to bring public pressure to bear on them, Evan reportedly said: "I have mixed feelings about making the story public. I don’t want to seem like I’m bitter and trying to exact some revenge, because I’m not. I wouldn’t do something like that. I only think we should do something if it is absolutely clear that, number one, this will improve my school in the long run; number two, this will lead to increased acceptance for the LGBT community; and number three, to ensure that my situation doesn’t happen again." Sounds like his heart is in the right place to me.

Moreover, the actual address (which he was allowed to deliver at an event sponsored by the group Out Boulder) was maybe ten minutes in length and was whimsical and traditional. Evan delivered the customary thanks to fellow students and teachers and sounded very "normal" in his distaste for homework and taking notes. When he finally addressed the subject of his sexual orientation (the supposedly offensive part of the speech), his remarks were mild and tolerant. He stated: "And that’s my biggest secret of all: I’m gay. I understand this might be offensive to some people, but it’s who I am. And whether you’ve always suspected this, or this is a total shock to you, now you know. When I was writing this speech, I was endlessly debating with myself whether I should reveal this, on account of how divisive an issue this is and how gay people tend to be stereotyped, and I thought that, if I did, I should repeatedly apologize and beg you guys not to think any differently of me. But then I realized: I don’t have to. I shouldn’t have to. If there’s one thing I learned at this school, it’s that we can still be friends even if we profoundly disagree with each other. And sure: There’s only like 30 of us, so it’s not like we had much of a choice, but at times, it took a serious effort to put up with one another."

Sounds like Evan hit all of the right notes to me. I can't imagine God being displeased with anything that Evan Young said or did on this occasion. Can you?