Monthly Archives: January 2010

Dawkins at it Again

Richard Dawkins is again venting his spleen at believers, this time in a contribution to the Washington Post, “Haiti and the hypocrisy of Christian theology”.  You can read it here.  Dr. Dawkins sees the Haitian earthquake, no matter how tragic and heartbreaking, as an opportunity to shake up theists.  I don’t know who he is trying to convince but “Darwin’s Rottweiler” is certainly not out to “…win friends and influence people.”

He mainly has his dander up at folks who are calling earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis and other disasters acts of God’s judgment.  Well, they make me angry too but I’m not ready to throw a blanket of condemnation over every believer for the sins (oops!, I mean “mistakes”) of the few.  But why am I expecting a Rottweiler to be reasonable?  However, dear reader, you may be open to some alternative thoughts.  So, I have chosen five points from his article to address.

  1. “The religious mind…restlessly seeks human meaning in the blind happenings of nature.” We do?  Wow…I didn’t know that!  To the best of my memory I don’t believe I, or any other theist of my acquaintance has sought to assign human meaning to natural disasters.  We do, however, allow such events to remind us of the brevity and vulnerability of human life.
  2. He assures us that the embarrassing Pat Robertson is the “true Christian,” and true to the Bible.  I’m not quite sure how God looks at Mr. Robertson but, of all people, Dawkins would seem to be the least qualified to judge the Christianity of anyone.  He really doesn’t like any of us and has made no secret of his disdain.  Additionally, he calls those of us who oppose Robertson and distance themselves from him, “hypocrites.”  Well, I wonder if Dr. Dawkins endorses all the statements and positions of his fellow-atheists?  What does he think of his wild-eyed atheist friends who, in the name of reason and science make outrageous statements?  Nietzsche and O’Hair come to mind.  Will the real hypocrite please stand up?
    In another place he refers to Robertson’s “hick, sub-Palinesque ignorance.”  According to the records, Robertson has a pretty good education which has not served him very well in many of his public statements.  This should prove, Doctor Dawkins, that degrees have very little to do with making sense.
  3. He says we Christians see God as “suffering on the cross” in the ruins of Port Au Prince.  Not me, Richard, or any fellow-believer I know.  Such a notion is certainly not the “centerpiece” of my theology.  It is true that Jesus, in the most supreme act of love and grace came to make atonement for the sins of mankind.  But he came for so many other reasons as well.  I have a list if anyone’s interested.
    And, by the way, how does he know our anguish is “faux?”  Could it be he has some supernatural powers he so eloquently deplores?
  4. And you gotta love this next one, “Where was God in Noah’s flood?  He was systematically drowning the entire world…as punishment for ‘sin’.  Where was God when Sodom and Gomorrah were being consumed with fire and brimstone?  He was deliberately barbecuing the citizenry…as punishment for ‘sin’.  Dear modern, enlightened, theologically sophisticated Christian, your entire religion is founded on an obsession with ‘sin’ with punishment and with atonement.” It is interesting that Mr. Dawkins cites these supposedly fictitious events perpetrated by a non-existent God upon mythical populations and cities.  Since we are referring to these “myths,” is he aware of the behavior of the people in both cases?  Is he aware of the century Noah spent seeking to persuade his fellow men, whose “…every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time,” to turn from their evil and save themselves?  Is he aware of the total depravity of Sodom and Gomorrah’s populations?  Maybe he should re-read the accounts (if he has read them at all) and tell me who was obsessed with sin.  To those aware of the whole story, his ignorant comments loudly proclaim, “I don’t know what I’m talking about.”
  5. He informs us that our “…entire theology is one long celebration of suffering: suffering as payback for ‘sin’ – or suffering as ‘atonement’ for it…” To celebrate suffering we Christians certainly seem to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to alleviate it.  The high count of Christian organizations struggling to ease the suffering of the Haitian people is no “celebration”, Richard.

I have a few suggestions for Dr. Dawkins:

  1. Try to make informed diatribes.  Your ignorance negates your reasoning.
  2. Be nice.  Arrogant, elitist intellectuals have a terrible track record of persuasion.
  3. Avoid hasty generalizations.  Lumping all religious people together so you can more easily squash them may sell books and make money but it doesn’t make sense.
  4. Avoid silly, inflammatory catch-words like “Palinesque.” and theological terms like “theodicean.”  These may reflect your elitist, intellectual self-perception but the guys in the oilfield won’t “get it.”
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Filed under Apologetics, Atheism/Theism, Culture Wars, Faith, Good & Evil, Hypocrisy, Ignorance, Infidelity, Persuasion, Scripture, Supernatural, Theism

The Christian Difference — 3

The essence of religion consists in the feeling of an absolute dependence.
Friedrich Schleiermacher

In a world where selfishness reigns and materialism prevails, Christians are different. We are different because we strive for complete dependence upon God; easy to say…hard to achieve.  One outstanding example of success is George Mueller.  In the 1830’s he began to build orphanages in the city of Bristol, England.  Mueller was a man of prayer.  He never asked for a penny for his work, depending instead upon the providence of God.  He built and supplied the orphanages without ever incurring debt.  During WWII, Bristol underwent heavy bombing attacks by the Luftwaffe.  But, instead of scattering for the safety of bomb shelters, many of the people of Bristol stood around the orphanage buildings defiantly praying for God’s protection.  George Mueller would have been proud!

Jesus demonstrates complete dependence upon the Father.

John 5:19 Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.
30 I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.

So, how can we who follow Christ be content to depend upon ourselves or any other human institution?  Well, that’s easy – they are tangible. But tangible does not equate with trustworthy.  As the old song reminds us:

Stand up, stand up for Jesus! Stand in His strength alone,
The arm of flesh will fail you, ye dare not trust your own;

— George Duffield, Jr. – 1858

It’s our human tendency to trust observable things.  But, God calls us to trust His intangible self.  Just like Israel, we drift back toward our idols because we can, at least, see them – touch them.

It is easy for us to get sucked up with millions of others in the pandemic of entitlement and dependence upon the money, military might, justice, democratic process and promised protection of the State.  But, as the psalmist said, “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man” (118:8).  Jeremiah says,

This is what the LORD says:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who depends on flesh for his strength
and whose heart turns away from the LORD.

On the other hand…

…blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him.
8 He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:5ff)

A culture of dependence upon material possessions, government welfare and our 401K, works until hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes, disease and catastrophe remind us that such trust is misplaced.

Psalm 37:5 Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it.

Even though my livelihood depends on the generosity of my partners, I have difficulty depending on others…including God.  I carelessly and prayerlessly make plans, start projects, set out on journeys, deal with problems and worry about the future. I think this is partly because I’m a child of the West Texas culture of independence.  At home, at school and the workplace I was taught not to depend on others but to “pull myself up by my own boot straps.”  But here’s the fundamental fallacy: no one succeeds without help and opportunities provided by others.  Alas, another flaw keeps even this proposition from being completely trustworthy – others are human.  Humans are fallible.  We forget stuff, overlook things.  We tend to be self-centered, self-interested, forgetful, insensitive, careless and foolish.  We easily disappoint each other and cannot co-exist without heavy doses of forbearance, patience, love and forgiveness.  Only one being is infallible and absolutely dependable – God.

The task for one as unfinished as I is to murder self-trust (in cold blood); wrap it in my cast-off pride, resolutely dig a hole in my self-sufficiency and bury it.  As Oswald Chambers put it, “Beware of refusing to go to the funeral of your own independence.”

In these early years of the 21st Century, the greenback of the U.S. dollar still bears the phrase, “In God we trust.”  But, in what do we trust really? Is it money, position, power, possessions, appearance?  Would you agree that these are fleeting and fragile?  Ultimately, we can only depend upon God.  We look to His promises for something to hold on to – something solid, beneficial, hopeful and wise.  It is this solid dependence upon God that sets Christians apart.  It is one of the differences we must understand, practice and allow the world to see.

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Let’s Give it Some Air!

I hope to see some form of healthcare reform soon.  When I look at our present system, it becomes obvious that it is largely greed-driven.  I have given up on the system regulating itself and now I say to the industry, “Get ready for the government to take over…you’ve been begging for it!”

The “healthcare bill” before congress, however, is a disaster in progress.  At nearly two thousand pages of lawyerspeak gobbledygook, this bill is as inaccessible to the people as Barack’s birth certificate.  Deals have been made with special interests behind closed doors.  Legislation has been pushed through like a plunger on a clogged toilet.

Everything organic eventually decomposes.  It happens two ways: aerobically (with air circulation) and anaerobically (with no circulation).  Compost is a good example.  Compost made with good air circulation smells earthy and sweet.  When something rots without access to air it stinks like overripe sewage.

There is something rotten about what the congress has done.  It reeks to high heaven!  The stench results from anaerobic secrecy and backroom deals.  This healthcare bill needs some air!  Let’s put it in a form we can understand and keep the flies of special interests from infesting it with greedy maggots.

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The Christian Difference – 2

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened. — Sir Winston Churchill

A belief in absolute truth distinguishes Christians from those outside of Christ.  This truth forms the basis of an unshakable value system.  It is our values that make us different.  We live in a time of growing pluralism and relativism.  Since truth is relative, it is reasoned, there are no absolutes…everyone simply does what they think best.  This is a recipe for disaster well described by Isaiah:

Isaiah 47:10 You have trusted in your wickedness
and have said, ‘No one sees me.’
Your wisdom and knowledge mislead you
when you say to yourself,
‘I am, and there is none besides me.’

For Christians, there are absolutes.  To quote Churchill again: “The truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end; there it is.” It is this incontrovertible truth Jesus spoke of when he said, “…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32)”  Jesus is the embodiment of truth (John 14:6).  When we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we are filled with the Spirit of truth (Romans 8:9; John 15:26).  The Psalmist was able to pray:

Psalm 26
2 Test me, O LORD, and try me,
examine my heart and my mind;
3 for your love is ever before me,
and I walk continually in your truth.

God’s WORD is truth (John 17:17) and available to all men:

Isaiah 45
19 I have not spoken in secret,
from somewhere in a land of darkness;
I have not said to Jacob’s descendants,
‘Seek me in vain.’
I, the LORD, speak the truth;
I declare what is right.

But mere assent is not enough.  We must consciously apply truth if we expect to influence our culture and call our fellow-humans back to trust in God.

Zechariah 8:16 These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts;

As someone has said, “Unless your heart, your soul, and your whole being are behind every decision you make, the words from your mouth will be empty, and each action will be meaningless. Truth and confidence are the roots of happiness.”

It is significant that Jesus constantly prefaced his teachings with the phrase, “I tell you the truth…” To follow Jesus, then, means to proclaim and live the truth in ways which allow it to be observed in our works and applied in our values.  It means to “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist…(Ephesians 6:14)”

The Christian difference depends upon the answers to these questions: What are we doing with the truth of God?  When questions of morality arise, will we take a stand?  When we see injustice, will we remain silent?  When lies are set forth as truth will we expose them?

We are surrounded by a swamp of pluralism and the muck of relativism.  It is time for disciples of Christ to extricate ourselves from this chaotic cultural morass that sucks at our feet and stand boldly on the solid ground of truth.

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The Christian Difference – 1

True democracies began and continue to be guided by a consensus of the will of its people.  That is the definition of democracy.  What the people think and believe becomes the basis for what is done.  Every day, however, Christianity becomes less of a factor in forming the consensus of thought in Western societies.  Western culture has slipped its moral moorings and begun to drift on the ocean of relativity, where there is no absolute truth.

Hosea 4
6 my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.
“Because you have rejected knowledge,
I also reject you as my priests;
because you have ignored the law of your God,
I also will ignore your children.

In reality, we have given up without a fight.  We have been slow and weak in our response to evil.  We have laid down and let Satan run over us.  It is reminiscent of Neville Chamberlain signing the Munich Pact with Hitler in 1938 at great and tragic cost.  Winston Churchill’s comments on that pact are apropos.

The people should know that we have sustained a defeat without a war…they should know that we have passed an awful milestone in our history…and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies: ‘Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting.’  And do not suppose this is the end.  This is only the beginning of the reckoning.  This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless, by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigor, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden times.”

If you change but a few words, Churchill’s statement applies to the status of Christianity today.  We too have sustained a defeat without a war.  We too have passed an awful milestone in our history.  The followers of Christ have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.  And, I fear that the reckoning has only begun…a bitter cup proffered to us by those controlled by Satan.  The only answer is REVIVAL…a recovery of moral health and martial vigor that causes us to arise again and take our stand for the Lord Jesus Christ.  Isaiah prophesied (so applicable today):

Isaiah 59
13 rebellion and treachery against the LORD,
turning our backs on our God,
fomenting oppression and revolt,
uttering lies our hearts have conceived.
14 So justice is driven back,
and righteousness stands at a distance;
truth has stumbled in the streets,
honesty cannot enter.
15 Truth is nowhere to be found,
and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.
The LORD looked and was displeased
that there was no justice.

Edward Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire said that five attributes marked Rome at its end.

  1. A growing love of show and luxury (affluence)
  2. A widening gap between the very rich and the very poor
  3. An obsession with sex
  4. Freakishness in the arts masquerading as originality and creativity
  5. An increased desire to live off the state

Sound familiar?  You’ll have to agree that, as a culture, we are traveling down the long, but well-worn road to Rome.

Francis Schaeffer, in his book, How Should We Then Live? (1976. Fleming H. Revell Company) wrote, “As the more Christian-dominated consensus weakened, the majority of people adopted two impoverished values: personal peace and affluence.” He further explained,

Personal peace means just to be left alone, not to be troubled by the troubles of other people, whether across the world or across the city – to live one’s life with minimal possibilities of being personally disturbed.  Personal peace means wanting to have my personal life pattern undisturbed in my lifetime, regardless of what the result will be in the lifetimes of my children and grandchildren.  Affluence means an overwhelming and ever-increasing prosperity – a life made up of things, things, and more things – a success judged by an ever-higher level of material abundance (p. 205).

What Schaeffer calls “personal peace” I call isolationism.  How well do we know our neighbors?  How much are we willing to become involved in their problems and troubles?  How uncomfortable are we willing to become on the behalf of others?  When it comes to possessions, when will we have enough?  Will it be the best of everything in ever increasing quantities?  In these two areas, it is easy to get swept up in the culture in which we live.  I’ve been sucked-in and most likely so have you.

But we are Christians. To say that will become increasingly unpopular and provocative.  To be a Christian in this culture means that we will become more and more different from our neighbors.  But what differences?  What will people see…what should they discern as they observe our Christian lifestyle?  In subsequent articles, I want to call us back to a few things that distinguish us from those in the world.  And, if they don’t, they should!  These are characteristics that we must not relinquish, but must embrace with an ever increasing vigor, commitment and sense of purpose.  Stay tuned.


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