Friday, June 30, 2006

Geroge Washington: Apostate?

Hat tip to Sunday School Thoughts for George Washington the Apostate?


Repenting of the Reformation?

This is reality television! In the UK that is ...

Nuns have got us on the run

Read this whole thing. In full ...

Two reality TV programmes show just how admiring our culture has become of monasticism. What would Martin Luther make of it all?

The Convent is the most interesting and provocative bit of religious broadcasting I have seen for years, much better than its male precedent, The Monastery - mainly because women are more emotionally open than men (if that's not too sexist).

For the uninitiated, it is a reality show in which four more-or-less secularly minded women spend 40 days in a convent, receiving plenty of religious instruction, and painfully introspecting. (The final episode is next week.)

Its tone is far from neutral. The women do not come to the convent as mere observers of an alien way of life: they come as seekers after wisdom. They have the chance to discover the spiritual enlightenment the nuns enjoy. Their reservations about this form of religion are presented as issues that they must try to work through on the way to inner peace.

The reverential tone is fuelled by the palpable goodness of the nuns, who come across as warm, wise and calm. In the first episode, one of the visitors, Angela, is moved to tears: "They're all so good, and I'm so bad." In a later episode she expresses her religious doubts, adding: "But you can't get away from the fact that they all have this light in them." This is the core pathos of the series: the confused sense that maybe life could be different - entirely full of calm, quiet love.

It reminds me of the conclusion to Larkin's poem Faith Healing, which relates the orgasmic sense of release felt by women at the hands of a charismatic preacher who gives them a sensation of divine love:

... In everyone there sleeps
A sense of life lived according to love
... That nothing cures.

The entire series is a television version of that poem, but without Larkin's detached scepticism.

The constant question that drives the series along is whether the women will dare to acknowledge their need for God. Of course, this is the nuns' perspective. But the narrator often echoes it, speaking in a ticking-off tone about the participants' resistance to the regime. This is held to be "resistance" in the psychotherapeutic sense: hiding from the truth about oneself. It is simply taken for granted that openness to the monastic way of life will bring spiritual enlightenment.

At one point three of the women ask to be excused from the full round of worship, as rising at 5am is getting them down. Debbie, the fourth, "finds the strength" to accept the rules, says the narrator. To question the total wisdom of the nuns is to be a selfish coward. It is not reported that anyone finds the strength to question or defy the nuns' rules.

Fortunately one of the women, Victoria, voices liberal misgivings. At a discussion she expresses the opinion that organised religion is authoritarian and responsible for division and violence. She wonders why the divine must be so closely tied to a particular, rigid way of life, and challenges the church's treatment of homosexuals and women. One of the nuns answers that the institutional church is less important than the people who make it up, and that in reality all the people of God have various different opinions on moral questions.

This won't do. Victoria is right to point out that the seeming moral goodness of the nuns is not the whole story. They belong to a powerful institution and are answerable for its policies. Being gentle and kind does not excuse one from political responsibility. The great deficiency of the series is to sideline such questions; to forget that the personal is political. Why should any religious believer, even a sweet, middle-aged nun, be exempt from hard questions about the social and political consequences of her institutional allegiance?

The programme steers away from these questions. It wants to establish a polarity between the saintly nuns and the muddled, selfish secularists. For that gives rise to a simple drama: dare the worldly women submit to the power of holiness? Or will they try to hide from the truth of spirituality?

Both The Monastery and The Convent take it for granted that Roman Catholic monks and nuns are the essential Christians: the hard-core believers, the spiritual elite. No real consideration is given to the idea that monasticism might be a strange misunderstanding of Christianity, an eccentric activity that ought to have died out in the Middle Ages, a reactionary and legalistic corruption of the gospel.

In other words, there is no Protestant perspective. Or rather, there is no effective Protestant perspective. For in The Convent, as in The Monastery, one of the participants is an evangelical Christian. Perhaps this is in the interest of ecumenical balance. The evangelical in The Monastery was a rather aggressive Ulsterman who kept arguing with a fellow participant; in The Convent she is a bubbly Sloane called Iona, hot from the Alpha course no doubt. Of course, she does not think to represent the concerns once voiced by Martin Luther: she seems to agree that fully authentic Christianity resides here.

I see these programmes as landmarks in Britain's religious culture. Monasticism has not received such good press since the Reformation. This reflects the dramatic demise of the liberal Protestantism that used to be central to our national identity. For centuries it was assumed that British Protestant culture was a more modern and a more authentic form of Christianity than any other. Monasticism was widely seen as epitomising Roman Catholicism's failure to adapt to modernity, its political backwardness, and contempt for freedom.

Today the average British Christian is either Catholic or lost in admiration for that church. We have effectively repented of the Reformation.


Has Noah's Ark Been Found?

I tend to be fairly cynical about "discoveries" like this. In my view, God wants us to approach him in faith, not because in our flesh we have found him out. Besides, that looks like a rock to me, but what do I know from gopher wood?
All that said, this is interesting.

Has Noah's Ark Been Found?

In full ...

A team of Texas archaeologists believe they may have located the remains of Noah's Ark in Iran's Elburz mountain range.

"I can't imagine what it could be if it is not the Ark," said Arch Bonnema of the Bible Archaeology Search and Exploration (B.A.S.E) Institute, a Christian archeology organization dedicated to looking for biblical artifacts.

Bonnema and the other B.A.S.E. Institute members hiked for seven hours in the mountains northwest of Tehran, climbing 13,000 feet before making the apparent discovery.

"We got up to this object, nestled in the side of a hill," said Robert Cornuke, a member of the B.A.S.E. Institute. "We found something that has my heart skipping a beat."

At first, they didn't dare to hope it was the biblical boat.

"It wasn't impressive at first," Cornuke said. "Certainly didn't think it to be Noah's Ark. But when we got close, we were amazed. It looked similar to wood."

In addition, some B.A.SE. members say, their discovery didn't look very distinctive.

"It looked like the deck of any boat today," Bonnema said.

Long Search for the Ark

The Bible places the Ark in the mountains of Ararat, a mountain range theologians believe spans hundreds of miles, which the team says is consistent with their find in Iran.

The Bible also describes the Ark's dimensions as being 300 cubits by 50 cubits -- about the size of a small aircraft carrier. The B.A.S.E. Institute's discovery is similar in size and scale.

"It is provocative to think that this could be the lost ark of Noah," Cornuke said

Throughout history, people have been searching for the Ark to help prove God's existence.

"There's this idea, if we can prove that the ark existed then we can prove that the story existed, and more importantly, we can prove that God existed," said Bruce Feiler, author of "Where God Was Born."

Previous scholars have searched for the Ark on Mount Ararat in Turkey.

"Czar Nicholas, actually, in 1916 sent two expeditions to photograph it on top of Mount Ararat," said Feiler.

One former U.S. president, Feiler said, looked for it in the mountains of Iran.

"There is a story that Jimmy Carter, on his way to visit the Shah of Iran in 1977, purposefully flew over it," he said.

As recently as March, researcher claimed to have satellite photos that proved the presence of Ark remains. The B.A.S.E institute hopes the physical evidence they've brought back from Iran will hold the answer to this enduring mystery.

"People will always be looking for it, always be skeptical, always be excited of the search," Cornuke said. "But I think we found something here that's very notable."

The B.A.S.E. Institute's samples are being examined at labs in Texas and Florida. B.A.S.E officials concede that there would be no way to conclusively prove that their finding is actually Noah's Ark.

So the hunt goes on. The biggest hurdle in identifying Noah's Ark comes down to "gopher wood." The Bible says the Ark was made of gopher wood but no one knows what it is.


Lest We Forget, Part XXIV

Persecution of Christians on the Rise

The number of persecuted Christians is on the rise worldwide, according to Professor Thomas Schirrmacher, director of the Religious Liberty Commission of the German Evangelical Alliance.

Three in four cases of severe persecution are targeted at Christians, said Schirrmacher in a lecture at a gathering of the Protestant Association of the Christian Democratic Union in Dresden.

According to Schirrmacher at least 55,000 Christians are killed each year for religious reasons. Christians in India, Indonesia and Pakistan run the highest risk of losing their lives.

Schirrmacher encouraged politicians to increase their efforts for religious freedom. They were often reluctant to address the persecution and discrimination of Christians in Islamic countries in case this may jeopardize religious dialog.

Schirrmacher is convinced that interest in religion is rising worldwide: “The Communist atheistic realm has shrunk to small countries like North Korea”. Christianity is experiencing phenomenal growth outside the Western world.

Many Chinese intellectuals, for instance, regard the Christian faith as “trendy”, said Schirrmacher. The number of worshippers in China exceeds the Sunday service attendance in Europe. Since 1970 the number of Christians has tripled in Africa and Asia and doubled in Latin America.

Because of the decreasing numbers in Europe these developments are not very noticeable on a world scale. Christianity grows annually by 1.25 percent, roughly in line with the population growth of 1.22 percent.


Christianity and the Triumph of the West

Charles Colson on Christianity and the Triumph of the West.

In full ...

When you hear the word "globalization," you probably think of Chinese factories or customer service centers in India. What you probably don't think about is Christianity. Yet globalization and Christianity are linked in ways you may never have imagined.

Globalization is about more than markets and technology. It's also about the spread across national boundaries of ideas and values - in other words, culture. While the spread and exchange of culture flow in many different directions, the ideas and values most associated with globalization are those of the West.

And this is where Christianity comes in. In his marvelous book, THE VICTORY OF REASON: HOW CHRISTIANITY LED TO FREEDOM, CAPITALISM, AND WESTERN SUCCESS, Rodney Stark writes that "Christianity created Western Civilization." Without Christianity's commitment to "reason, progress, and moral equality, today the entire world would be about where non-European societies were in, say, 1800."

This would be a world "with many astrologers and alchemists but no scientists. A world of despots, lacking universities, banks, factories, eyeglasses, chimneys, and pianos." The "modern world," to which globalization aspires, "arose only in Christian societies. Not in Islam. Not in Asia. Not in a 'secular' society - there having been none."

Needless to say, Stark's conclusions aren't popular with academics and other intellectuals and have been savaged by liberal reviewers. These folks are all-too-happy to blame Christianity for some of the darker episodes in Western history, but they're not about to give the faith credit for the Western success.

No matter. Non-westerners see the connection. For example, Chinese scholars were asked to "look into what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world." After considering possible military, economic, political and cultural explanations, they concluded that the answer lay in what the Chinese scholars saw as the "heart" of the West's pre-eminent culture: Christianity.

These non-Christian and non-western scholars had "no doubt" that "the Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and the successful transition to democratic politics."

Apparently, many of their countrymen agree. Whereas there were approximately 2 million Christians in China when Mao came to power in 1949, today there are upwards of 100 million. What's more, Christianity is especially popular among the "best-educated" and most modern Chinese.

Why? Because like people everywhere, except, ironically, in the West, they see Christianity as "intrinsic to becoming modern." For them, Christianity is an alternative to a way of life that bred misery and oppression. They understand Christianity's role in the rise of the West, even as Western elites deny the connection.

Of course, this isn't the primary reason that Christianity is "becoming globalized far more rapidly than is democracy, capitalism or modernity." That is due to the proclamation of the Gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Still, it's a powerful reminder of how Christianity transforms not only individual lives but entire societies, as well.


Thursday, June 29, 2006

Faith-Based Pregnancy Centers 'Deceptive,' Say Pro-Aborts

If Pro-Deathers are so "Pro-Choice" wouldn't they welcome any and every effort to educate people about their "product?" I guess not.

Faith-Based Pregnancy Centers 'Deceptive,' Say Pro-Aborts

A professional group of abortion providers is calling for the halt of government funding for pregnancy centers that are "misleading" and "deceptive" in their hidden religious agenda. A coalition of national pregnancy center organizations replied that the claim is fueled only by the abortion industry's "financial interests."

The National Abortion Federation (NAF) complained in its recently released report -- entitled "Crisis Pregnancy Centers: An Affront to Choice" -- that abortion centers do not receive enough taxpayer dollars and are cheated out of the funds Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) receive.


Barack Obama on Religion in the Public Square

Christianity Today's weblog has an interesting piece covering Democratic Senator Barrack Obama on Barack Obama on Religion in the Public Square.

Interesting. Quote!

Obama discusses his own struggle to integrate faith and politics. It started, he says, when Alan Keyes, his opponent in the 2004 Senate election, said, "Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama. Christ would not vote for Barack Obama because Barack Obama has behaved in a way that it is inconceivable for Christ to have behaved." Obama says he couldn't dismiss Keyes's accusation because they share the same faith. Obama said Keyes opposed his support for gay and abortion rights. Yet he lacked an adequate response.

"What would my supporters have me say? That a literalist reading of the Bible was folly? That Mr. Keyes, a Roman Catholic, should ignore the teachings of the Pope? … Mr. Keyes's implicit accusation that I was not a true Christian nagged at me, and I was also aware that my answer didn't adequately address the role my faith has in guiding my own values and beliefs."

Obama recounts his own conversion from his upbringing as a skeptic to the day he affirmed his Christian faith at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. "I felt I heard God's Spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering his truth."

Obama chides liberals for trying to cleanse the public square of religious expression, and he tells conservatives that the separation of church and state benefits religion first and that in a democratic society Christians need to appeal to universal values when arguing moral positions.

Then he recounts a moving story from a pro-life, Christian doctor who voted for Obama in the 2004 primary. The doctor was disturbed that Obama's website said he would fight "right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman's right to choose."

The doctor defended pro-life views and opposed Obama's characterization of pro-life proponents. That characterization, the doctor said, would prevent him from voting for Obama in the general election. "I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words," he said.

Obama says, "I felt a pang of shame. It is people like him who are looking for a deeper, fuller conversation about religion in this country. They may not change their positions, but they are willing to listen and learn from those who are willing to speak in reasonable terms—those who know of the central and awesome place that God holds in the lives of so many, and who refuse to treat faith as simply another political issue with which to score points."

It is better to argue how religious belief should manifest itself than whether or not it should be part of public life.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Burning Flags

”Burning the flag is a stupid and ugly act, but there is something lovely and enlightened about a regime that tolerates it in the name of freedom. And of course it has the added benefit of making it easier to spot the idiots.”

--James Taranto in The Wall Street Journal.

(Hat tip: World Magazine Blog)


Superman Returns: Science vs. Faith? No such luck.

There's been a ton of articles on "Superman as Jesus." The Wired News review of the new flick Superman Returns offers a tantalizing view of what might have been.

Superman Doesn't Soar


Lex Luther's a geek. He quotes Arthur C. Clarke ("Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," he tells his girlfriend) and gives one of his thugs a digital video camera to document his crimes. And Lex admires Prometheus, the god who gave fire -- the first killer app -- to humans.

Superman, on the other hand, is a faith-based guy. He serves a higher power. Voices in his head dictate his every move.

So, does Superman Returns give us a juicy faith-versus-science battle? No such luck.

How fantastic that would have been. The man of faith vs. the man of science. Too bad the film didn't explore this paradigm.


The Two-Heaven Doctrine

Rabbi Marc Howard Wilson on The Two-Heaven Doctrine in The State.

In full ...

As usual, a few months ago I was wedged between the preacher and the Imam in front of a high school world religions class. We were doing our best to make our respective faiths intelligible if not interesting to a bunch of somnolent juniors and seniors. The kids perked up only at the question, “Who goes to heaven?” The minister averred that only Christians do. The Imam was sure that only Muslims do. The only thing on which both agreed is that Jews don’t. I mustered the courage to say that Jews believe that all righteous people go to heaven. Surprisingly, a ripple of applause fluttered through the class.

Among mainstream Christians, I have never been taunted or derided for my Jewish unsaved-ness. But from the numerous fundamentalist pulpits, I hear my damnation flow forth like a mighty stream. Some fundamentalists even have the chutzpa to raise the issue with me face-to-face. I know their motives, but I honor their directness and explain where Judaism stands on going to heaven. I tell them that my intent is not to delegitimate Christianity, but simply maintain my own faith on a par with theirs.

I confess, though, that I get completely short-circuited by the fundamentalist who laments that he will “miss me in heaven.” Most recently, I heard this imprecation from a political candidate who also told me over breakfast that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a “womanizin’ comm-o-nist.” Atypically for me, I had the wit to respond: “Chuck, don’t worry. I’ve already seen enough of you here on Earth!”

At that point, I am so tempted to jump into a spitting match, aching to say:

“Maybe it’s you who have the entirely wrong idea of heaven. Maybe heaven isn’t a place where doctrine trumps deed. Maybe we’ve been dupes to empower you to define heaven and become its gatekeepers. Maybe the measure of who gets through the pearly gates has more to do with the content of one’s character than one’s belief in doctrine. “

Then as I calm down, I realize that I am not out to debunk the legitimacy of the Christian notion of heaven. I have simply arrived at a Two-Heaven Doctrine that declares both equally legitimate without all the rancor:

Why not consider that there are two heavens. The fundamentalist heaven is a place to which entry is gained by faith in a set of immutable beliefs, central to which is the redemptive power of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The second heaven is the realm of souls who arrived by dint of their righteous deeds. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi asserted even more succinctly that the claim to heaven is when the righteous person’s inclination to do good triumphs over his impulse to do evil. For most of us, the struggle is exhausting and unending. Will we go to heaven? Every day, every hour, is a new test. Does it require faith? Certainly. Faith in God’s word that good is to be found in acting on God’s mandate. Faith that God desires our upward climb, not our perfection.

Hence, the question is not “Are you going to heaven?” but “To which heaven are you going?” Of course, being Jewish, I have my inclinations. I yearn to encounter too many souls who are excluded from the fundamentalist heaven because of their doctrinal impurities. Some of the sages I would never meet would include Rabbi Akiba, Mother Theresa, Dr. King, Baha’u’llah, Mahatma Gandhi, Golda Meir, Dr. Albert Einstein, Maimonides, Aristotle and Pope John Paul II. Depending on the stridency of our detractors’ theology, I might even miss St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thomas Aquinas, and that would be a real shame.

Knowing that I might have to spend eternity with Mel Gibson, the guy who called Dr. King a “womanizin’ comm-o-nist,” the gabbling gaggle of avaricious televangelists and the preachers who condemn me to hell, let me be brief: You have your heaven, and we have ours. We are satisfied to be in ours. If you are satisfied to be in yours, God bless you. I am willing to take my chances. Perhaps one day we will all meet again, and wouldn’t that be a wonderful surprise.


One in Four say the Bible is the Literal Word of God

Of course, what we believe -- or don't believe -- about God's word has nothing to do with whether it is true or not.
Quarter of Americans say Bible is literally true.

About 25 percent of Americans believe the Bible is the literal word of God -- down 10 percentage points since 1976.

According to a Gallup survey, 28 percent of Americans believe the Bible is literally true, compared to 38 percent 30 years ago. The survey included 1,002 adults 18 or older.

Nearly half, 49 percent, said the Bible was the "inspired word of God," while 19 percent called it an "ancient book of fables." Three percent had no opinion.

The survey asked respondents if they believed the Bible was the actual word of God and should be taken word-for-word; whether it was inspired by God, but should not be taken literally; whether it is a book of fables and legends; or whether the person has no opinion of the Bible.

The research considered age, geographic region, education level, political views, and religious identity as predictors to a person's view about the Bible.

Literal belief in the Bible was highest among older Americans (36 percent), those with lowest levels of education (39 percent), Southerners (39 percent), Republicans (33 percent), and Protestants and other non-Roman Catholic Christians (37 percent). The margin of error was 3 percent.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Christianity Is the Root of All Evil

Well, so says Oxford professor Richard Dawkins.

Charles Colson rebuts in Hidebound Nonsense: Christianity and the Origins of Science.

In full ...

Earlier this year, Britain's Channel Four aired a two-part special entitled "The Root of All Evil." No, it wasn't about money, greed, or materialism. Nor was it about racism and other forms of hatred. The "root" was religion, specifically Christianity.

The special featured Oxford professor Richard Dawkins, arguably the most famous apologist for the Darwinian worldview. While Dawkins may be an expert on Darwin, it's clear that he knows little about history, especially the history of Christianity.

Besides the old saw that religion causes violence - as opposed to peaceful atheism, as practiced by Stalin and Mao-Darwinists charge Christianity with promoting superstition and ignorance. Dawkins calls faith a "process of non-thinking" where the "hidebound certainty" of believers stifles human curiosity. According to Dawkins, for science to take off at all, humanity had to escape the "little" and "pokey" view of the cosmos it inherited f rom medieval Christianity.

The only "hidebound certainty" here is the nonsense that Dawkins is spouting. The truth about Christianity and science is, in fact, exactly the opposite.

As Rodney Stark tells us in his recent outstanding book, THE VICTORY OF REASON, when Europeans first began to explore the rest of the world what surprised the most wasn't what they saw - it was "the extent of their own technological superiority."

What made the difference? Why was it that while "many civilizations," such as the Chinese, had pursued alchemy, but only in Europe did it lead to chemistry?

According to Stark, the answer ultimately lies in European Christianity. While other religions emphasized "mystery and intuition," Christianity "embraced reason and logic as the primary guides to religious truth." F rom the start, the Church Fathers "taught that reason was the supreme gift of God and the means to progressively increase understanding of Scripture and revelation."

This regard for reason wasn't limited to theology. St. Augustine wrote of the "wonderful - one might say stupefying - advances human industry has made." He attributed these to the "unspeakable boon" to our "rational nature."

This view of reason gave rise to the medieval universities of whose existence, or at least origins, Dawkins seems to be totally ignorant. As Stark puts it, "faith in the power of reason infused Western culture" in a way it did no other society. It prompted "the pursuit of science and the evolution of democratic theory and practice."

The very Middle Ages Dawkins belittles saw great scientific and technological advancements that Stark chronicles, including the desire to explore God's created world - the impulse that gave rise to Christians who were scientists producing what we now know as the scientific method. To say that these were nothing more than the Dark Ages is not only wrong - it's a lie. Unfortunately, it's a lie with legs as Britain's Channel Four demonstrated. That makes THE VICTORY OF REASON must reading for any serious Christian. It contains some of the best apologetic arguments I've come across yet.


Godless Europe, Part Deux

Or, to be more precise, Godless France.

In France, Islam and secularism spread as Christianity lapses

In France and in almost every other European country, Christianity appears to be in a free fall. Although up to 88 percent of the French identify themselves as Roman Catholic, only about 5 percent go to church on most Sundays; 60 percent say they "never" or "practically never" go.

... and ...

Little argument exists about the severity of the crisis facing the Catholic Church in France. In contrast with the vigorous (and masculine) face that French Muslims present to the world, a typical Sunday Mass almost anywhere in France will feature an elderly priest preaching to a dwindling congregation of mostly elderly women.

"Mass is boring," said Odon Vallet, a religion professor at the Sorbonne. "The ceremony isn't very beautiful; the music is bad; the sermon is uninteresting. Mass is for people who having nothing else to do on a Sunday - no sports, no hobbies, no shopping, no entertainment."

Islam, meanwhile, is France's fastest-growing religion. But this is mainly a result of immigration patterns, not conversions. Most of the 4.5 million Muslims who make up about 7 percent of the French population are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants from former French colonies in North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.

Global Islam is eager for converts. But in Europe, the situation is nuanced. According to Olivier Roy, a leading French scholar on Islam, Muslims in Europe would be happy for Christians to convert, while Christians merely want Muslims to become more secular.

... more ...

Last year, when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope and took the name Benedict, the patron saint of Europe, it was seen as a sign that he would refocus the church's energies on rebuilding the faith in Europe. The Vatican was heartened when a million young people turned out last August for World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, and heard the new pope urge them to rediscover Europe's Christian roots.

Some experts also are encouraged on Christianity's behalf if only because things can't get much worse.

"If you are the type of person who buys stocks and bonds, I'd buy Christianity," said the Sorbonne's Vallet. "The price now is very low, so I think it has to go up."

Other analysts believe Europe's future is neither Christianity nor Islam, but secularism. A pragmatic reading of the numbers suggests that not only will Christianity never regain its dominant cultural role, but also churchgoers will be forced to recast themselves as minority groups or subcultures.

"Who truly thinks that Benedict XVI is the future of Europe?" asked Roy. "Secularism is the future."


The Rise of Homofascism?

Someone once said that every revolution begins with claims of victimization. I'm not crazy about labeling everyone we disagree with as "fascist", it feels like a humanist trick, but this is a profoundly thought-provoking piece.

From Homophobia to Homofascism


For those of you familiar with my thoughts and writings on this subject you know that I am very cautious in regard to the manner in which Christians express their opposition the homosexual agenda. I have always been very careful to distinguish between the "homosexual agenda," or the political movement, and the person, made in the image of God, who is trapped in the sin of homosexuality. I never want to be perceived as a "grace-less" Christian who opposes hurting people that desperately need the love of Christ. However, we are increasingly witnessing a subtle but dangerous transition from what was once supposedly an appeal for "equal and fair" treatment to what can now only be described as the tyrannical demand of submission to the homosexual agenda.

... and ...

On April 26, students at Midway High School in Wilmington, N.C. participated in the Day of Silence that homosexual activists promote in the schools each year. They handed out flyers and remained silent for the day while the school condoned the activity. Yet the next day, when Christian activists participated in the Day of Truth, students were suspended for distributing cards that were pro-traditional morality.

Robert H. Knight of Concerned Women for America reported, "In Northbrook, Illinois, J. Matt Barber, a manager in Allstate's Corporate Security Division, wrote an article on December 17, 2004, for a conservative website that expressed his Christian views on homosexuality. Following a 'customer' complaint by the homosexual pressure group Human Rights Campaign, Barber was called to meet with two human resources officials. . . . Barber was suspended without pay and immediately escorted off company grounds. Three days later, Barber, who had worked for Allstate for five years, was fired 'for writing the article.'"

The faculty of Ohio State University voted unanimously on March 13 to find the school's head librarian guilty of sexual harassment. Scott Savage's crime? He recommended four conservative books that included anti-homosexual messages as required reading for freshmen to balance the left-wing books others were suggesting.

... more ...

And of course I am reminded of the fact that today in countries such as Canada, Sweden, and Britain; it is now against the law to criticize homosexuality in public.

... and ...

Camille Paglia, the noted author and feminist intellectual, who describes herself as a bisexual "tending toward lesbianism" offered some interesting insight into the motivations of homosexual activists in an article she wrote on, June 23, 1998:

"I have been struck, in my brief encounters over the years with a half-dozen prominent gay male activists, by the frightening coldness and deadness of their eyes. Behind their smooth, bland faces I saw the seething hatreds of Dostoevskian anarchists. Gay crusading, I concluded, was their way of handling their own bitter misanthropy, which came from other sources. I found these men more spiritually twisted than anyone I have encountered in my life."


Lest We Forget, Part XXIII

The Chinese government is desperately trying to stop Christianity. Join me in praying that they fail.

Chinese Provincial Persecution Report Released


According to the report, in the past 12 months, at least 1,958 Chinese house church pastors and Christians in 15 provinces were arrested.

CAA says: "Many teacher and leadership training gatherings are viewed with particular hostility by the Chinese government, whose aim is to control the indoctrination of new generations of Christians. It is reported that police officers and religious affairs cadres conducting the raids mistreated and tortured congregants."


Calvin and the Law

RubeRad over at Blogorrhea has put together a really cool page that breaks out John Calvin's expositions on the Law of God. Enjoy!

Blogorrhea -- CalvinLaw


Lest We Forget, Part XXII

Uzbekistan Christians Passports and Bibles Seized

Imagine with me for a moment if you were sitting at home and minding your own business celebrating Easter with some friends of yours from church, and then out of nowhere the police barged into your home and took your bibles and other Christian materials.


"Why it's too soon to panic about an American theocracy"

Russell Cobb of Slate realizes that water is wet and the sky is blue in Cracks in the Christian Ascendancy - Why it's too soon to panic about an American theocracy.

Basically, he's disovered that conservative Christians don't agree on everything. This, frankly, is an astounding piece of investigative journalism. A, shall we say, "progressive" reporter admitting -- in print! -- that evangelical Christians don't walk around chanting in unison about worldwide domination like the Borg. In psychological terms, I think we'd call this a breakthrough.

Of course, all you have to do is spend about five minutes with actual Christians and you'll discover that there is as much good, healthy and yes, (gasp!) intellectual debate about the issues of the day as with any other group of human beings. This is news!?

The whole article seeks to coddle progressives who are worried about theocracy. Progressives are really worried about the wrong thing here. This is a common theme on the 522. In the end, Christians don't care much about man-made institutions like governments, shools and the like. We want every thought and every mind and every heart in submission to Christ, and every Christian would say "Amen!" to that.

In full ...

Last month, James Dobson, the grandfatherly radio voice of middle-American Christian conservatism, told listeners of his Focus on the Family radio show that the National Association of Evangelicals' campaign to reduce greenhouse gasses evinced "an underlying hatred for America." How dare the group imply that global warming was a more important issue than gay marriage? His fellow conservative activist Rev. Richard Cizik, a political liaison for the National Association of Evangelicals—and a self-proclaimed Reagan Republican influential in anti-abortion and anti-gay circles—was not about to turn the other cheek. Cizik fired off a nasty letter calling Dobson's accusations "outlandish." On The 700 Club, Pat Robertson joined in, denouncing the evangelical version of environmentalism—"creation care"—and demanding to know why God-fearing conservatives like Cizik were teaming up with "far-left environmentalists."

As evangelical Christians gain more political clout within the Bush administration, the ideological gaps between the factions of the Christian right are becoming more pronounced. It's not just environmentalism. Even gay marriage, that touchstone of the religious right, is a source of internecine tensions. Michael Farris, the founder of Patrick Henry College—an elite breeding ground for conservative Christians—opposed the latest constitutional amendment against gay marriage because it didn't go far enough in stripping gays of their rights. But the strains within the evangelical movement don't get much play in the secular media. For liberals, there's little difference between a Dobson, a Robertson, and a Cizik: They're all wing nuts in flyover states with bad hair and a gay obsession.

The specter of an American theocracy, the title of Kevin Phillips' broadside against the Bush administration, has obscured the signs of dissent in what can look like a Christian monolith. Michelle Goldberg, a Salon reporter and the author of Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, misses some of the signs, too, in her otherwise astute study. It's not just that she blurs the more fringe personalities, lumping together conspiracy-minded nut jobs (like theocrat Howard Phillips, who believes that "enemies of Christ in this fallen world must be conquered") with veteran conservative blowhards like William Bennett. As she describes how the Christian Right moved from the margins of acceptability to the Republican mainstream, she also overlooks generational tensions and large-scale dissatisfaction with the Bush administration among many conservative, white evangelicals (only 34 percent of whom, according to a June 6 Pew research poll, "strongly back" the president).

In her subtitle, Goldberg uses the term Christian nationalism to describe a "totalistic political ideology" that encompasses a wide variety of conservative groups—two of the most prominent being the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition. Goldberg ranges far and wide over the "parallel universe" of Christian nationalism and argues that, for all its contradictions, a central ideology motivates all the disparate groups on the Christian right. This ideology is called "Christian Reconstruction" and it traces its origins to a little-known but highly prolific thinker named R.J. Rushdoony, who died in 2001. Rushdoony, the son of Armenian immigrants, taught that the American Revolution was actually a "conservative counterrevolution" against the Enlightenment. He argued that the Constitution prohibited an establishment of religion because Christianity was already the de facto religion of individual states. Viewing the separation of church and state as a myth foisted on Christians by liberal elitists, Rushdoony made it his lifelong project to reconstruct an imagined Christian nation. It's a project whose legacy is carried on—in Goldberg's estimation—by everyone from George W. Bush to Jerry Falwell. Yet Rushdoony plays an outsized role in Kingdom Coming; even ultraconservatives like Ralph Reed have distanced themselves from Christian Reconstruction.

Still, as a label for the activist Christian right, Christian nationalism is definitely an improvement over the more common fundamentalism—a belief in biblical infallibility that often eschews politics altogether. It's a label that also helps Goldberg surmount some of the confusion surrounding evangelical, a term by now rarely used in its original sense, to denote an individual conversion experience in which a person professes Jesus as the one true lord and savior of mankind. What the term Christian nationalism misses, by implying a biblically correct position on every "values" issue, is an inherent tug of war within evangelicalism itself. Again and again throughout American history, evangelicals have retreated from the political scene, taking to heart the admonition to be "in the world, but not of the world."

It was only seven years ago that Paul Weyrich, a strategist for the Moral Majority, surveyed the state of the culture wars as the Clinton presidency ended and concluded that evangelicals should "drop out of this culture, and find places ... where we can live godly, righteous and sober lives." What ensued was a fierce debate about the future of the movement, a debate that Weyrich clearly lost. Although Goldberg doesn't give much play to this discussion, she provides a detailed picture of what happened next: Evangelicals turned their energies to building grass-roots support and an activist base. They started home-schooling their children and getting creationists elected to school boards. While the media focused on flare-ups over hot issues like abortion and gay rights, she charts this more pervasive change on the local level. The goal has been to reshape public policy under a sympathetic administration, and the result has been a "diversion of taxpayer dollars from secular social service organizations to … sectarian religious outfits [that] has been one of the most underreported stories of the Bush presidency."

The movement has indeed learned its lessons from the confrontations that marked the culture wars of the 1990s. Goldberg is alert to the subtler political, and rhetorical, strategies that have helped propel the Christian right's agenda forward. She finds one of the most telling examples of the grass-roots movement in Michael Farris' university, Patrick Henry College, which he started in 2000 to attract gifted and ambitious home-schooled kids to the conservative cause. Here recruits are trained to work within the system of electoral politics. In six short years, the school has provided interns for 22 members of Congress and had more interns in the Bush White House than any other institution. Goldberg also calls attention to the concerted effort to mask conservative theology in the guise of scientific or humanistic language. She quotes Ned Ryun, the director of an organization called "Generation Joshua" that trains college kids to make Christian nationalism palatable to the MTV generation, telling his charges to take a " 'firm, solid Biblical worldview' and [translate] it into 'terms that the other side accepts.' " It's an approach also embraced by the many faith-based organizations Goldberg profiles. For example, Leslee Unruh, "the doyenne of the chastity industry," who helped her organization, Abstinence Clearinghouse, land a $2.7 million contract with the Department of Health and Human Services in 2002, does her best to promote the cause in secular terms—never mind how strained: Her claim that postponing sex until marriage is good for promoting "simultaneous orgasms" lacks, shall we say, a scientific ring.

Goldberg sees this new strategic subtlety at work in the service of a basic intransigence that she finds alarming: You're either with Jesus, or you're with the liberals. It's certainly true that the old guard, like Dobson, often resorts to the confrontational stance not just in battles with the enemy but within the movement itself. Yet part of the reason he's compelled to draw lines in the sand within his own ranks is that there are more than a few fissures in the larger movement, which is less purely politically driven and partisan than Goldberg appreciates. In Kingdom Coming, Patrick Henry comes off as a boot camp for young culture warriors marching in lock step to a unified vision and lacking a basic grasp of critical thought. But Patrick Henry is also a perfect example of tensions within the conservative Christian fold.

In May, five of the school's 16 faculty members left the school over a debate about how to read non-Christian texts. Farris, the school's founder, publicly rebuked a rhetoric professor for not mentioning the Bible in a lecture about St. Augustine last fall. Other professors—many of them evangelicals themselves—complained of "arbitrary limitations" on what they could say in class. As the debate heated up in March, two professors wrote in the school newspaper: "When we examine the works of any author, professed Christian or otherwise, the proper question is not 'Is this man a Christian?' but 'is this true?' " They resigned a day later. Dissent is also growing in the faith-based world. David Kuo, a former deputy director of faith-based programs in the White House, expressed frustration with the Bush administration in a June 2005 column on Beliefnet, a clearinghouse for views on American religion. By Kuo's calculation, Bush had delivered only a fraction—$500 million—of the $6.8 billion he promised for faith-based organizations in June 2001. For Kuo, it became clear that the White House wasn't really interested in "poor people stuff." As long as such controversy surfaces on the Christian right, it may be theocracy-fearing liberals whose views are unduly apocalyptic.


Saturday, June 24, 2006

Truth should be more important than unity

Interesting take on the Episcopal Church from across the pond (the UK) in Truth should be more important than unity.


In many ways, the United States is a study in contrasts. It is full of clashing colours and jangling messages. Socially and politically, it is very divided. The "neocons" have clear views on everything from Iraq to abortion, and the "progressives" have the opposite - but also equally clear - opinions on such matters. We would expect, then, to find these divisions reflected in broadly-based organisations such as the Churches and we would not be wrong. All of the so-called "mainline" Churches have this fault-line running through them.

Why, then, should I have been shocked on entering the Greater Columbus Convention Centre in Ohio, where the General Convention of the Episcopal Church (the Anglican Church in the USA) was being held? Should I not have expected tension, difference and debate? There was, first of all, culture shock. It felt to me like a trendy exhibition put together by some ultra-politically-correct organisation, with all the favourite causes of the fashionable prominent. There was, however, a more profound reason for feeling uncomfortable: it became plain quite quickly that this was not a conflict merely of styles, attitudes or even opinions but of two quite different views of religion.

One tendency that was informing the culture of the convention, in a major way, was to do with the diffuse religiosity of the present-day West. Such religiosity, in my view, has much in common with New Age ideas, vague as these often are, such as nature mysticism, or a sense of oneness with the world around, and pantheism, the belief that everything is divine: God is identified with Mother Nature and also with our own souls. Jesus then becomes just a special example of a god-self. Such a world-view is likely to be optimistic, inclusive and non-judgmental. It regards the world and the people in it as more or less as God intended them to be. Such people should be accepted as they are and, if they wish to be, fully included in the life of the Church without further question.

... and ...

People need not just acceptance and inclusion but conversion and transformation. The work of the Spirit is not formless, vague and without direction, as some "progressives" would have us believe. It is, rather, that of witnessing to Christ, making plain the words and works of Jesus to us and glorifying both Christ and the Father who sent him. The Spirit is continually forming us so that we attain to the fullness of life in Christ.


"Scientists playing God? We should rejoice"

At least the author of Scientists playing God? We should rejoice, Minette Marrin is honest.

In full ...

What a piece of work is a man!” as Hamlet says. “How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! . . . In apprehension how like a god!” Usually I think rather less enthusiastically than that about humankind, but sometimes I am reminded of the nobility of man and of woman and it is often by scientists.

Last week British scientists announced a revolutionary screening process for inherited diseases in embryos. It will be quicker and more accurate than the existing method and it will detect thousands more genetic defects than previously possible.

About 200 heritable conditions can be detected by pre-implantation diagnosis in IVF treatment so that only healthy embryos are implanted in the mother or frozen; the new technique — pre-implantation genetic haplotyping — will be able to detect nearly 6,000 diseases and conditions. As one of the British pioneers said, this changes everything. One could almost call it godlike.

What it means is that thousands of parents who are at known risk of passing on terrible disabilities and diseases will now be able to have only healthy babies. This is the best news I have heard for years.

Those who don’t know about it can perhaps hardly imagine the drawn out suffering of Huntington’s disease or Duchenne muscular dystrophy or Prader-Willi syndrome or Fragile X, both for the people affected and for their families, until death puts an end to it.

Nature is astonishingly cruel. Science, by contrast, has the power of mercy. One can only be dazzled by the inventiveness and compassion of the scientists involved in this screening breakthrough — “in action”, as Hamlet said, “how like an angel!” Admittedly genetic screening means that embryos carrying disabilities and diseases will be discarded. It is a stretch, however, to use the word destroyed, or even killed, as the test is done on embryos that are only three days old. And what is appealing about this early screening is that it offers the hope that, in the foreseeable future, abortion and late abortion will be less frequently used in dealing with serious defects and disabilities.

It will be easier and better in every way to get rid of a tiny collection of cells. This is indeed playing God, as all the usual campaigners were quick to point out last week. But what on earth is wrong with humans playing God? I am all for it, especially as God doesn’t seem to be doing it. Besides, whatever we may think about playing God and defying nature, we are doing it already and even though we don’t necessarily recognise it, we approve of it.

For instance, there are many people who in the course of nature would die before they were old enough to have children. They might suffer from inherited heart defects or blood disorders that would kill them if they did not get transplants or dialysis. They might have disabilities that would kill them as newborn babies, without intervention. If properly treated these people may well live to be able to have children and some of those children will be at risk of inheriting the same problems and, in their turn, may pass them down the generations.

Eugenicists might think, and used to say publicly, that this is bad for the gene pool. Yet hardly anybody, I imagine, believes that such people should be denied treatment. It now seems absurd and cruel to suggest that people with heritable problems should not risk having children. It’s hard to imagine the intellectual climate in which Marie Stopes could oppose her son marrying a girl with the heritable defect of short sight.

It is surely the point of modern medicine to relieve suffering and restore people to as full a life as possible. If one wanted to risk sounding unfeeling and darkly Darwinist (and I don’t), one could argue that rescuing such people from extinction is also rescuing their disability from extinction — a godlike activity, surely.

Such is the miraculous power of human invention that even this problem is on the way to being solved — by the screening tests announced last week. One way of playing God has now been balanced by another, even more ingenious, human invention. That is the way of science. It mystifies me that so many people oppose it.

There will always be absolutists, who claim the right to life for even the most infinitesimal scrap of tissue. But there are others who oppose screening on what seem to me to be even more irrational grounds.

Simone Aspis of the British Council of Disabled People said last week that she was opposed in principle to such screening on the grounds that it sent the signal that being born disabled was a bad thing. The mind reels. Over the years I have got used to the disability lobby talking in this spirit, so it no longer seems as absurd as once it did, but surely it must be obvious that it would be far better for a person not to have a disability than to have one.

It would be far better to be able to walk, or hear or see than not to. It would be far better not to have a miserable fate like Huntington’s or Fragile X. In a culture where many normal girls are obsessed to the point of illness with their minor imperfections, it is surely better not to have major impairments. In that sense, being born with a disability is obviously a bad thing.

For some reason the disability lobby seems to be in denial about this, perhaps because it’s in the grip of a logical muddle. Apsis made a typical expression of it when she wondered whether the intention of the screening was to remove disabled people. It sent a message, she said, particularly to young people with disabilities, that their lives were worth less than everyone else’s. This seems to me to confuse a disability with a person with a disability. (This is a confusion that people with disabilities normally resent, understandably.)

To say that a disability is undesirable in itself is not to say that a person with that disability is undesirable in herself, or her life worth less than someone else’s. The disability is not the person. It is to say that her life would be better without that disability. And saying it assumes that a person with a life and a history here in the world, with family and friends, is not the same as a minuscule collection of defective cells on a petri dish. One is dispensable, the other most certainly is not.

What a piece of work is a man and partly, now, it is the work of godlike humankind.

Does our pride know no end? I know the answer to that question. All I can do is quote the Almighty ... "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?"


"Christians should not run from trouble"

A great story in Christianity Today of faith in action and under seige in Congo ... what can the American church do to help these dear brothers and sisters?

Hope in the Heart of Darkness


With 3.9 million dead and 40,000 raped, Christians work for renewal and healing in Congo's killing fields.

Joseph Lusi, a Glasgow-trained, Congolese orthopedic surgeon who's built like George Foreman and as articulate as Muhammad Ali, habitually starts his day with prayer. But the morning of October 30, 1996, was different. He was dodging bullets and sheltering from incoming mortar shells.

At dawn, rebels had launched a stealth attack on Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) near Rwanda. The fighters had filtered through the border overnight. By daybreak, they were drilling the town with machine gun fire and pounding it with explosives.

Lusi was then director of a Baptist mission hospital, which was located near a military base. The hospital was engulfed in fierce fighting. Staff and able-bodied patients scampered. So did Lusi. A bathroom looked safe. He locked himself in.

The bbc knows no manners. A British journalist called Lusi's satellite phone. The surgeon became a live radio broadcaster, narrating what he saw and heard to a worldwide audience. While on he was on the air, a bomb exploded in the hospital compound.

"I will go and see," Lusi said.


In London, Lusi's sister-in-law was tuned in when he went incommunicado. Alarmed by the steady silence, she called Lusi's wife, Gwendolyn, then in Nairobi.

Gwendolyn immediately hit the road. In three days, she found herself stuck at the DRC border. Locals slipped into war-ravaged Goma to scout for her husband.

An indelible image is stamped on her mind: She saw Lusi in a blood-bathed white doctor's gown walking across the border toward her. He had been fixing limbs all weekend—possibly the only surgeon on duty in the city.

How had he survived? When the fighting got ferocious, he and a remnant staff of five hid in the ceiling. The slender ones, who could slide into the roof, had planned to pull Lusi up. But he was too heavy. So the staff jumped down, placed a stool on top of a table, and pushed him through. Gwendolyn chuckles when telling the story.

"Christians should not run from trouble," says Lusi, now director of HEAL Africa, an indigenous ministry that operates a 156-bed hospital, trains medical professionals, and offers HIV-prevention services and holistic AIDS care.

"We should be where God wants us to be."

... and ...

Word spreads quickly in Nyabiondo. Local pastors hear that Christianity Today is talking to indigenous church leaders. Nineteen show up.

An impromptu group interview takes place in a classroom. The pastors file in with their weather-beaten, threadbare clothing and string-strapped footwear. Churches are tiny, they report. The biggest congregation meets in the only church building left standing and draws 100 people. It used to have 800 members. Other churches used to have an average of 500 people. Now they are content with 50 or less.

Why this drop in numbers? Many people are dead, they say. Others hide out in the vast surrounding rain forests. Some have lost faith.

"It hurts," says pastor Epafra Muhindu. "They tell us their problems. There is nothing we can do. We are suffering just like they are."

Lack of facilities is another concern. Except for the one building near the school, all other churches have been bombed or burned to the ground. Church services are held in haphazardly built grass-roofed huts. When it rains, people are drenched. So many choose not to go to church.

Music is another lack that is sorely felt. "Congolese love music," explains pastor Levi Nyamanda. "But all our music instruments were looted."

The most basic supplies are lacking. Not one of the 19 pastors in attendance has a complete Bible. Ten have tattered portions. They borrow Scriptures from each other or from church members.

And financial support? The question triggers a chuckle. Due to deep poverty, local giving peaks at US$10 per month. So how do they survive? More laughter.

"Faith," asserts one pastor. Others nod.

Faith is also what keeps these ministers here. On September 8, 1998, pastor Kitsa Lukoo was walking home at 7 p.m. with a few dozen companions. Suddenly, they were surrounded by armed militia, and gunfire erupted. A dead body fell on Lukoo, forcing him to the ground. Blood from the corpse splashed on him. He feigned death until the killers were gone. The next morning, 68 bodies were found. "I was the only survivor," Lukoo says.

Listening to this story, a World Vision staffer bursts into tears, crying out, "Jesus—this is too hard for me." A long silence follows. "Come, let us pray," pastor Nyamanda finally says.

Nyamanda reminds his fellow pastors of God's goodness even in the darkest hour. Remember December 19, 2004. Nyabiondo was surrounded. "They wanted to kill everybody." Then God intervened. A strong fog covered the whole area, allowing residents to escape safely into the hills.

That was not all. People did not starve. "We ate roots, fruits, even caterpillars, and became healthy." There was no outbreak of disease, no snakebites, and no attacks from wild animals. "God took care of his people."


Friday, June 23, 2006

Killing in the Name of ... Part XI

Supreme Court Will Consider Second Abortion Case


The U.S. Supreme Court said on Monday it will hear a second case involving the constitutionality of partial-birth abortion when its next term begins.

Not only will the court hear a Nebraska case in the fall, it also will consider a case out of California.

"The Supreme Court took a significant step today that clearly puts the issue of partial-birth abortion front-and-center," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which is representing members of Congress in the Nebraska case already before the high court.

"By taking a second case involving the constitutionality of the national ban on partial-birth abortion, the Supreme Court puts the spotlight on one of the most horrific medical procedures in existence today. The high court not only will determine whether Congress acted appropriately in enacting the ban, but the high court also has a critical opportunity to bring to an end -- once and for all -- the barbaric practice of partial-birth abortion," Sekulow said.

... and ...

Congress passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban in 2003, but Planned Parenthood promptly challenged the law in California, Nebraska and New York, where federal courts struck it down.

Partial birth abortion describes a late-term procedure in which a baby's skull is punctured or crushed before the baby is fully delivered.

All sides agree that Justice Samuel Alito will be a key vote in the case.

In 2000, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to strike down a state law banning partial birth abortion because it lacked a health exception for the mother. The swing vote was that of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has now been replaced by Alito.


Run! Proselytizing Little Girls!

I'm not sure whether to explode in laughter or bust out crying. What a trend we have in Jesus ... first there was ...

Wearing 'purity rings' is banned at girls' school

Then ...

Schoolgirl Utters Profanity During Valedictorian Speech -- The J Word!

Now, "progressives" are protecting us from other teen and pre-teen girls who are getting all evangelical and what not. Seriously, pagans, what is it that you are really afraid of here?

Schools May Answer in Court for Censoring Students' Christian Messages

A Christian attorney says a Colorado high school was wrong to withhold a valedictorian's diploma because her commencement speech encouraged people to learn about Jesus Christ.

Erica Corder, an 18-year-old graduating senior at Lewis-Palmer High School in Monument, used her commencement speech to speak about the death and resurrection of Christ and to urge listeners to learn more about his sacrifice. After the valedictory address, however, school officials told Corder she would not receive her diploma until she wrote an e-mail to the school community's students and parents, apologizing for her comments.

Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Florida-based Liberty Counsel, believes the school acted inappropriately. "Frankly, schools have no right to withhold a diploma," he argues. "That diploma is earned. It's just like if you already worked at your job, and you get paid after the fact; what you do on vacation or off work does not have any bearing on whether you're going to get paid."

Corder's case has a number of "very disturbing components," Staver says, "because after she gave her speech, she was threatened that her diploma would be withheld unless she wrote an e-mail apologizing to the seniors in her class." But Corder had already "earned" her diploma, he insists, and as the valedictorian, "she was entitled to the diploma, and the school should not have forced her to give this apologizing e-mail."

The pro-family attorney feels this has been one of the most egregious incidences of abuse of power by school officials at graduation that he has ever encountered. Until this situation in Colorado, he notes, "I've never seen a case where a diploma is withheld because someone gave a religious message. I believe that was obviously illegal to do that."

In fact, Staver believes it was unconstitutional for the school to censor the Christian valedictorian's message. The Liberty Counsel spokesman has sent a letter to school district officials on Corder's behalf, informing them that, under the Constitution of the United States, she has the right to share her faith. He says even though Corder agreed to write parents and fellow graduates an apology letter, a lawsuit against the school is still warranted.

New Jersey Second Grader Barred From Singing "Awesome God"

Meanwhile, in another case of apparent school censorship, a judge will decide whether a New Jersey elementary school violated a student's free speech rights when it barred her from singing a Christian song at a school talent show. The Frenchtown School District described the lyrics of the second-grader's selected music -- the Rich Mullins anthem "Awesome God" -- as too violent and graphic for the elementary school presentation.

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Olivia Turton. ADF attorney Demetrios Stratis says, contrary to the school's claims, allowing Olivia to sing the song would not have violated the First Amendment. In fact, he asserts, "It's preposterous. It really, really is, to think that an eight-year-old, a second grader, is singing songs or lyrics that are violent and that in some way violate the establishment clause."

Stratis feels the school's defense is particularly ludicrous in light of some of the acts the school did not choose to censor. He says far more questionable performances were allowed at the talent show. For instance, he notes, "Someone was dancing to Shakira, I think," referring to the Colombian Latin pop performer known as much for her provocative dance style as for her at times suggestive lyrics.

Also, someone in the talent show performed a song by the rock band Bon Jovi, and someone else acted out "a scene from MacBeth regarding witches," the ADF lawyer recalls. With all the things that were allowed in show, Stratis contends it is beyond the pale for the Frenchtown School District officials "to suggest that the song 'Awesome God' is violent" and, he adds, "it just goes to show you the 'logic' behind them refusing to let Olivia sing her song."

Both sides in the case have filed motions for summary judgment. Judge Stanley Chesler will receive the papers on July 3 and will then decide whether to issue a ruling or have the case go to trial.


Whither Frodo and Jesus?

From Christianity Today ...

Whither Frodo and Jesus?


Last week, the American Film Institute posted its list of the 100 Most Inspiring Films of All Time. It's a good list, especially with It's a Wonderful Life and To Kill a Mockingbird occupying the top two spots. Rocky, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Breaking Away are all in the top 10. Very nice.

But like all such lists, it's certainly open to criticism. My first gripe is specific enough: Where in the world is The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King? If that's not one of the 100 Most Inspiring Films of All Time, then I'll be a hobbit's uncle. If Gandalf doesn't inspire, then who does?

At first I thought the omission was because the film isn't "American." It was primarily made in New Zealand by a Kiwi director (Peter Jackson), and the AFI criteria state that qualifying films must have "significant creative and/or production elements from the United States." But then I checked the list of 300 nominees from which the AFI culled its winners, and the first LOTR film, The Fellowship of the Ring, is a nominee (though it didn't make the top 100).

So, evidently, the LOTR films were eligible after all—but The Return of the King didn't even make the list of nominees. So, the AFI doesn't even count it as one of the three hundred most inspiring films in history!

How could they have missed it?


CS Lewis letter tells tales of Narnia

Very nice.

CS Lewis letter tells tales of Narnia


When a little girl wrote to CS Lewis asking him for an explanation of the Chronicles of Narnia, she never expected to get a reply.

But the letter Anne Jenkins from Hertfordshire received when she was just 10-years-old is to be displayed in Queen's University's new CS Lewis Reading Room.

Anne wrote to the Belfast born author in 1961 after being intrigued by a particular passage in The Silver Chair.

Recalling that time, Anne said she was fascinated by the books and the mystical world of Narnia.

"I just used to scrutinise them quite carefully and it was a little bit at the end of The Silver Chair, that I just didn't understand what he was saying," she said.

"It was where the dead king Caspian is brought back to life by Aslan the lion's blood and Eustace says 'hasn't he died' and the lion says 'yes he has died, most people have you know, even I have, there are very few people who haven't'.


Learn the Bible's real lessons

Um ... ok. Is there really anybody -- apart from very liberal Christians and the mainstream media -- who doubts that homosexuality is a sin? I'm really befuddled as to how the Bible could be clearer on this issue.

And yet ... articles like Learn the Bible's real lessons by Rosemary Hawkins keep encouraging us to, well, learn the Bible's real lessons as if standing up for the law of a Holy God is somehow against the Bible. No offense to Ms. Hawkins, but this article really exemplifies the standard (and simplistic) arguments against the Law of God. To be clear, I mean no disrespect to Ms. Hawkins, it is only her ideas I seek to demolish. My prayer for her is that she would return to the faith of her Savior.

In full, with my responses ...

I wish to compliment Stephen Williams on his well written commentary ("Gay rights erode nation's moral foundation," June 6) even though I take a completely different view.

Our moral foundation has eroded, all right, not because of homosexuals, but because easy access to recreational drugs, corruption, uncontrolled violence and sexual promiscuity (mostly heterosexual) have become rampant in our nation. One would think from Williams' essay that our country would be moral if not for the gay community.

There is some merit in this argument. Certainly there are many other sins in this nation (and all nations) than homosexuality. However, just because other sin exists doesn't make homosexuality righteous. My kids try a similar logic. When I talk to my son about something disobedient he has done he is almost always incredibly eager to inform me of some malicious act his sister has undertaken. It may be accurate (and usually is) but it doesn't make what he did right. This is fairly basic, right? Just because someone else is sinning doesn't make my sin ok? Why do I always see this childish logic in the arguments of atheists and agnostics?

His idea that every child needs a father is commendable, except it withers in the face of reality. Due to accidents, disease and wars, children have been raised without fathers for millennia. We are all the progeny of those conditions.

But I know where he's coming from, especially since he uses the Bible -- selectively, I might add -- to prove his thesis against same sex unions. I too, was once influenced by the same rigid intellectual impotency of the biblical literalist.

"Rigid intellectual impotency"? To paraphrase, "people who think the Bible is wihtout error are dumb and I used to be one of them until I wised up." You know, I remember when people who abandoned the faith were called apostates. I think we should return to that practice, if only for accuracy's sake.

Eventually, though, I noticed inconsistencies, not only in Scripture itself, but in the many interpretations of biblical verses and began to question their origin.

If the Bible is God's inerrant word, why would he have given conflicting messages?

Like what?

And why would he command, "Thou shalt not kill" and later tell the Israelites to smite every man, woman and child in the land of Canaan? Those are just a few of the discrepancies that bothered me.

"Just a few ..." Excuse me, that's only one "discrepency" and it is very easy to understand, should one choose to do so. Of course, even the most basic research reveals that the modern translations render the Sixth Commandment as "You shall not murder," that is, to take a life unlawfully. A post from addresses the case of the Israelites better than I could ...

Reformation Theology: Why Were the Israelites Ordered to Kill the Inhabitants of Canaan?

"Considering that God takes lives every day, since all human beings die, the command obviously does not apply to God Himself. Death, we must remember, is God's just judgment against sin and the penalty exacted for Adam's disobedience in the garden. We all must undergo death sooner or later, so whether the inhabitants of Canaan died "naturally" then or a few years later is one and the same and really makes little difference. Specifically God was judging the Canaanites at that time, the Scripture says, for their gross idolatry, divination, witchcraft, sorcery, and mediums, i.e. those who call up the dead. In fact God says these "detestable practices" are the very reason they were driven out, as the following text in Deuteronomy affirms:

"When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. 10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in [a] the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you . 13 You must be blameless before the LORD your God." (Deut 18:9-13)" "

And so, God chose to render his judgement (death) through his chosen people (the Jews). He has every right to do that since it is He, and only He, who gave them that life to begin with. Just because you don't like it doesn't mean it's not true. Again, we are all under this judgement and only faith in the Lord Jesus Christ can redeem us from the punishment.

But I soon learned that the answers always favored the viewpoint of the particular teacher I was listening to. Simple reasoning, archeological and biological facts, and recorded history were ignored.

She's kidding right. She must be, because she gives no examples of how scripture differs with "simple reasoning, archeological and biological facts, and recorded history". Let's take these one by one.

"Simple reasoning" and, for that matter, complex reasoning demands that we believe in God. The very fact that Ms. Hawkins has a moral compass to be bruised by the so-called inconsistencies in Scripture prove that our Creator is a moral being. He gave us a conscience (which, by the way, also testifies internally to his nature). It is laughable to think that any moral code sprang from chaos and nothingness simply because it helped societies work, which is what unbelievers claim.

Next! "Archaelogical facts." The Bible is replete with archaelogical claims, many of which are proven by arcaelogical discoveries. Without specifics, it is difficult to know to what Ms. Hawkins is referring to, but archaelogogy is no fried of the atheist.

As for "biological facts", which of these mitigate against God? The complexity and beauty of all of creation, but especially those made in God's image, are loud and profound proofs for a loving Creator.

"Recorded history" is much like archaelogy. God is a God of history. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob ... the God of Israel ... the God who delivered his people from the furnace of slavery in Egypt ... He's always making historical claims about Himself. Which of these has been proven untrue?

So, despite the Scriptures Williams quoted to prove his point, has he ever wondered why the Ten Commandants say nothing about homosexuality?

I don't know Mr. Williams, but I'm willing to bet that he's never wondered why the Ten Commandments don't mention homosexuality because it is entirely beside the point. First, Exodus 20:14 ("You shall not commit adultery.") pretty much covers all sexual immorality outside of a God-ordained marriage between a man and a woman. The Ten Commandments also don't mention pedophilia, necrophilia or bestiality, are these right because they are not called out by name? What about sex with lawn gnomes? Or beach balls? Or farm equipment? These must be ok because God neglected to mention them?!? Is this really the line of reasoning we're taking here?

And why even Jesus didn't seem to be bothered by it?

Huh?!? Jesus said: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." The whole point of Jesus' ministry was to remove the curse of the Law from us.

Unless it was accidentally left out, there is no record of him admonishing his disciples to refrain from homosexual love.

Wha?!?! You mean other than when he said:

"For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."


"If you would enter life, keep the commandments."


"You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”

Also, the Lord Jesus Christ -- as part of the Holy Trinity -- INVENTED God's law and it's absurd to say He is somehow silent on any part of it.

Again, the Lord Jesus came to Earth, died and was resurrected because of sin. Sin is a want of conformity to God's law (which includes harsh admonitions against homosexuality). Failure to fulfill the whole law brings judgement. We will be judged with Christ or without Him. We are all in the same boat ... heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals, asexuals, trisexuals (they'll try anything) ... we are all sinners in the hands of an angry God.

That seemed to be the New Testament writer Paul's idea, though he didn't even know Jesus.

Who knew such a short sentence could contain so much error? Bravo! First, the admonitions against homosexuality go all the way back to creation and are reitterated throughout the Old and New Testaments. You have to be blind (or purposely dense) to miss them. Second, Paul was called into the ministry by Christ on the road to Damascus. To say he didn't know Christ is incorrect.

And I wouldn't set too much store on the Old Testament's rules -- it approved of slavery, adultery, murder and incest whenever it served someone's purpose. The Bible, if taken literally, can be a dangerous instrument -- just as the Quran can.

Again, I'm struggling to be gentle here (it's hard to tell, I know), because what Ms. Hawkins is espousing is exactly what most unbelievers espouse, but this is a whopper! First, she says "I wouldn't set too much store on the Old Testament's rules." Well, that's her problem right there. She denies the law of God and seeks to establish her own. That is the core of our rebellious nature of man and the crux of our problem with God.

As for the Bible approving "slavery, adultery, murder and incest whenever it served someone's purpose." Pheh. Christianity blew up slavery from within. The entire notion that each person -- regardless of to what station they were born - has inherrant value is from God, after all we are made in His image. Paul -- who takes a lot of crap from everyone -- exhorted slaves and slave owners to remember to treat each other as Christ would. Masters have a master in heaven, and all that sort of thing. Pagan societies have no claim to this kind of morality. As for adultery, murder and incest, please show me where these are in any way approved by God in Scripture. This is an inane argument.

I sincerely hope that, in his home-school lessons, Williams will be taught the true history of Christianity -- how it grew from the backs of work-worn, illiterate people who desperately needed a redeemer. That some of them accepted a peaceful, compassionate teacher, called Jesus, as the one who would save them from the abuse of tyranny. And that, by the usual excited exaggerations and embellishments of word of mouth telling and their own superstitions, the new cult of Christianity was formed.

Yawn. Same old post-modern, atheistic whoo-ha. The Lord Jesus was divine -- God in human form. He came, not to delivery anyone from any Earth-bound tyrant but to deliver all who would believe in Him from death and Hell.

I hope he will read which of the various disciples' writings were decided to be authentic many years after Christ's death, and how they were gathered together to form the Bible, as we know it today, by the emerging Catholic Church. Read about Constantine.

Atheists are always telling us to go off and learn something. Like we're morons. Constantine? You mean the Keanu Reeves movie? Anywho ... this is a bigger load of caca than the previous sentence.

Most of all, and this is coming from a grandmother of home-schooled grandchildren, if Williams is sincere in his effort to morally improve our country, instead of interfering with the private lives of peaceful loving people, I hope he makes it his cause to eliminate hate and prejudice toward those who are different -- for any reason -- from the majority. The very essence of Jesus' teaching -- which is the basis for Christianity, isn't it? -- was love and compassion.

Ok, the Lord Jesus came to make nice people nicer. Certainly the Lord spoke of love and compassion, but he also spoke about humbling oneself before the law of God. They go together. What Ms. Hawkins, and really all unbelievers, would prefer is for God to rubber-stamp however we choose to live as long as we "love" each other. That's not the Gospel. Often, love must address sin in way the vexes the sinner. Christ didn't run from that, and neither should we.


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Why Do Heathens Make the Best Christian Films?

Throught provoking piece! While we're at it, why can't Christians make a decent rock and roll record?!?!

Why Do Heathens Make the Best Christian Films?, by Thom Parham


Places in the Heart is a film about Edna Spalding (Sally Field), a young woman who tries to save her farm from foreclosure after her husband dies. During the course of the film, Edna assembles a surrogate family around her, consisting of Moze, a black sharecropper (Danny Glover); Mr. Will, a blind boarder (John Malkovich); and her precocious children, Frank and Possum (Yankon Hatten and Gennie James). Near the end of the movie, the Klu Klux Klan runs Moze out of town. In the final scene, the townspeople gather at church, where a stirring rendition of "Blessed Assurance" is followed by a reading of 1 Corinthians 13:1-8:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not love, I am become as a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy and all knowledge but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor and have not love, it profit me nothing. Love is patient, kind. Love is not jealous or boastful. Love never ends.

The choir then sings "I Come to the Garden Alone" as the communion elements are passed. Philandering husband (Ed Harris) is the first to partake, followed by his forgiving wife (Lindsay Crouse) and their daughter. The camera pans across various congregants, including an evil banker (Lane Smith) who tried to foreclose on Edna's farm, and band members from a previous night's shindig. Then, oddly, the camera continues to pan, revealing a couple who died trying to escape from a tornado, some of the Klansmen, and Moze. Panning past Mr. Will, Possum, Frank, and Edna, the camera finally rests on Edna's late husband, Royce (Ray Baker), and Wylie (DeVoreaux White), the black youth who accidentally shot him and was in turn lynched.

At this point, we realize there's much more going on in Places in the Heart than what's on the surface. The film is a metaphor for the kingdom of God, and the final scene tells us that God's grace is available to all who accept it—white or black, young or old, good or evil, living or dead.

Secular filmmakers tend to observe life more objectively than Christians. They see the world the way it really is, warts and all.
Writer/director Robert Benton is not an evangelical Christian. Yet, his film incorporates "Christian themes" with more subtlety, artistry, and depth than the majority of films being made by professed Christians. It is not the only one. In fact, most films that successfully incorporate religious themes are made by nonreligious people.

Here are some of the better films with Christian messages or themes from the past few decades:

Chariots of Fire (1981)
Tender Mercies (1983)
Places in the Heart (1984)
Hoosiers (1986)
The Mission (1986)
Grand Canyon (1992)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Dead Man Walking (1996)
The Apostle (1998)
The Prince of Egypt (1998)
The Iron Giant (1999)
Magnolia (2000)
Signs (2002)
Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie (2002)
About Schmidt (2002)
Changing Lanes (2002)
In America (2002)
Bruce Almighty (2003)
The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003)
The Passion of the Christ (2004)

All of these films were critically acclaimed and/or box office hits. But with the exception of Jonah, Bruce Almighty, and The Passion, none were made by Christian filmmakers. Christians, however, did make these films:

Gospa (1995)
Entertaining Angels (1996)
The Omega Code (1999)
The Joyriders (1999)
Left Behind.. The Movie (2000)
Carman: The Champion (2001)
Megiddo: The Omega Code 2 (2001)
Mercy Streets (2001)
To End All Wars (2001)
Hometown Legend (2002)
Joshua (2002)
Left Behind II:' Tribulation Force (2002)
Luther (2003)
Finding Home (2003)
Therese (2004)

Overall, these films are unwatchable. There are only a handful of good scenes among them. None had success with critics or at the box office. (What does it say about Christian filmmakers that one of their best-received movies features computer-generated vegetables who sing and dance?)

If Christians want to make successful films that incorporate their worldview, why not learn from those who are already doing it-non-Christians. So let's ask: why are the best Christian films being made by secular filmmakers?

... and ...

All of the films on my first list were produced for the main-stream market. They opened in either wide theatrical release (over two thousand theaters) or, in the case of the smaller films, an "art house" release of around one thousand theaters. The films on my second list were produced for the "Christian market." A few were released into about three to four hundred theaters. Most went straight to video or got a "vanity" release in two or three theaters.

The idea that Christians will go see films targeted at them has not been borne out by the marketplace. Christians, it turns out, see the same films as everyone else.

... more ...

"If you want to send a message, try' Western Union," said Frank Capra, a Christian who made hugely popular mainstream films. Film excels at metaphor—forging a connection between dissimilar objects or themes. It doesn't fare as well with text messaging. Show, don't tell, is the rule of cinema. Christians, however, can't seem to resist the prospect of using film as a high-tech flannel board. The result is more akin to propaganda than art, and propaganda has a nasty habit of hardening hearts.

Though Places in the Heart is a metaphor for the kingdom of heaven, nowhere is this notion communicated overtly. It is suggested through the film's system of metaphors and reinforced by its enigmatic ending. This is yet another reason non-Christians make the best Christian films: they understand that cinema is an art form of symbol and metaphor.

Jesus began many of his parables with the phrase, "The kingdom of God is like ..." (He used this construct twelve times in the Gospel of Matthew alone.) In the book All the Parables of the Bible, Herbert Lockyer explains, "Because of His infinity, God had to condescend to those things with which man was familiar in order to convey the sublime revelation of His will." Jesus's parables allowed his audience to understand heavenly principles in earthly terms. He would even respond to questions with parables—instead of stating the answer outright, he would allow his audience to make the connections themselves. Jesus also knew that the things of heaven are too large to be fully grasped by the human mind. They are mysteries, in the classic sense of the word, and can only be hinted at through symbols and metaphors.

Christian filmmakers seem to dislike mystery. Rather than using Jesus's construct, "The kingdom of God is like ... ," their films often proclaim, "The kingdom of God is." Nothing is left to the imagination. Audiences are not allowed to make their own connections; they are told what to think. In his book True Believers Don't Ask Why, John Fischer characterizes this attitude as: "Jesus is the answer; therefore nothing can be left unanswered." This approach, no matter how sincere, rings false to audiences and leaves them feeling manipulated. That's why movies like Left Behind, which try to convince audiences of the truth, instead leave them tittering. Anthony Breznican of the Associated Press described it as "a weak proselytizing device masquerading as a movie." The National Review's Rod Dreher called it the "Gospel According to Ned Flanders." As long as people of faith are more concerned with messages than metaphors, they are doomed to make bad films.

... and ...

From Places in the Heart to The Apostle to Dead Man Walking, secular filmmakers have continually shamed us by treating Christian themes and subject matter with grace and depth, while our filmmakers have been too busy making apocalyptic schlock to notice. If we, as a community, can embrace and learn from what non-Christians are doing with the art form, then perhaps our next generation of filmmakers will be different. They will have to learn to make films for the mainstream, to embrace metaphor and eschew propaganda, and to be more objective observers—to wrestle with tough questions and to portray sin as it really is. If they do not, we will continue to be scandalized by the fact that heathens make the best Christian films.