Here are links to the Amazon page and the book page which includes two chapters:
I am excited to announce my novella, The Life Underneath, A Story of Murder, Love, and Real Life, is now available for Kindle (paperback version will be available soon).
Here are links to the Amazon page and the book page which includes two chapters:
If it weren’t for Bill Hybels, many evangelical Protestants might have been tempted to point to the compounding tragedy of the Catholic sex scandal as proof that the church of Rome is still as corrupt as it was in Luther’s day. But Hybels’ alleged conduct (if true) shows that corruption is no respecter of denominations, nor of titles.
Apart from Protestants and Catholics, many skeptics may be tempted to take both scandals as proof that Christianity is a fraud. But to the contrary, as horrific as these stories are, they both bring the truth of Jesus’ teaching into living color: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matt. 7)
This is one of the most fundamental truths in Christianity--title, position, heritage, and even religious activity mean nothing apart from character, and character is revealed by actions. The ones who build their houses on the rock are the ones who hear his words “and put them into practice.” (Matt. 7) The son who “did what the father wanted” is the one who actually did what the father wanted, not the one who said he would do it. (Matt. 21). It is in response to Zaccheaus’ actions--giving half his possessions to the poor and compensating fourfold anyone he cheated--that Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” (Luke 19). There's also a shockingly clear delineation given in the first letter of John: “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.” (1 John 3)
Of course, this doesn't mean Christians are perfect. It means that real Christians sin unintentionally not deliberately. (It's hard to sexually harass women and molest children unintentionally). And, of course, Christians should never delude themselves into taking credit for their good behavior. If we're ever tempted to do so, we should remember a story G.K. Chesterton cites about a little boy in a windy forest. The trees are flexing and swaying and the boy asks his mother if someone could cut them down so the wind will stop. The power that moves them comes not from them but through them. Such is the case with Christians. But the key point here is that if it really is the power of Christ that moves a person, then he or she will always be moved in certain ways and not in others.
Wind makes trees move. It doesn't make them wet. If a tree is wet, the thing that's affecting it is not wind. That thing is called something else. Likewise, regardless the title someone is known by or the prestige of his institution, if he is deliberately, repeatedly abusing other people, he is not being affected by Christ. The power that's moving him goes by another name.
Being a Christian is an existential reality. If a particular trajectory of behavior doesn't follow one's Christian conversion, then that person hasn't been converted to Christ. This is why the "No True Scotsman" fallacy (see footnote)* doesn't apply to Christianity. Saying someone who fondles women or molests children is a bad Christian is like saying a woman who gets an abortion is a bad mother. By definition, the act of abortion means to not be a mother. But this is a tough concept for many in our hyper-individualized culture of self creation where everyone is free to "identify" however they like without the trivial hindrance of facts. Even if a woman did have an abortion, if she still identifies as a mother, who are we to correct her?
In church contexts, instead of the assertion, “I identify as…”, the attempt to thwart reality with words comes in the phrase, “I consider myself…” The tragic absurdity in each case is the person’s inability (or unwillingness) to understand the gap between the mental pictures we like to keep of ourselves and the reality of who we actually are. A woman in church once told me, “I’m pro-choice, but I still consider myself a Christian.” I wanted to say, “I can’t swim, and I can only run two miles without throwing up, but I still consider myself a Navy SEAL.”
The reality of our identity is defined by our behavior, and, of course, our motives. It is not affected by what “many will say.” It is not affected by our wishes, our titles, nor by our position in a church hierarchy. Nor does it change according to the fashions of our culture or our emotional inclinations. Someone who can't swim doesn't give Navy SEALs a bad name, because that person is not a Navy SEAL. Likewise, people who sexually abuse women or molest children are not followers of Christ. That’s just reality.
* The No True Scotsman Fallacy is where one argues that an exception to a group or category means that the thing or person doesn't belong in the category, and so no amount of exceptions can disprove the rule. As in, "A Scotsman doesn't do that." "But this Scotsman did do that." "Well then, he's not a true Scotsman."
Last Saturday, around 35,000 people filled Rice-Eccles Stadium at The University of Utah for the LoveLoud Festival led by Dan Reynolds from Imagine Dragons. Among Reynolds' goals for the festival was raising one million dollars for LGBT youth suicide prevention. The need for this raises some very telling statistics.
First, no matter what someone believes about the morality of homosexual behavior, suicide is an awful thing which every decent person should hope to see eradicated, and it is especially tragic among teenagers.
With that being said, LGBT activists and sympathizers are facing a real conundrum in light of current suicide statistics. The rate of suicide among LGBT youth is significantly higher than that of non LGBT kids (though I suspect a similar disproportion is true of adult populations as well), and this hasn't changed in forty years. In other words, despite the rainbow tsunami that has swept the collective moral conscience of the West over the past half-century, people with homosexual tendencies are apparently still experiencing as much internal conflict as when the vast majority of people in the culture believed their behavior to be as perverse as incest or open marriage. This leaves some activists scratching their heads. Listen, for example, to the comments of Dr. Ann Haas, senior consultant for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, about a CDC report showing LGBT youth to be disproportionately prone to suicide:
[The CDC report] "paints a picture of marginalization in every aspect of LGB high school students' lives. It's a question of being marginalized, really, both in terms of young people's inner sense of who they are and how they're treated by others. There's a psychological and emotional component that we see when looking at suicide among all other groups, and it's even more prevalent here."
Setting aside for the moment that psychological and emotional problems are the only components (and thus not “components”) in suicide, Dr. Haas' words in the article betray some consternation. Though she tries, she can’t really blame the psychological dissonance in LGBT people on the oppressive religious culture when the culture is neither religious nor oppressive, and she admits this:
"For a while, [researchers] thought that the cultural climate improved and LGBT people weren't facing the same overt limitations and discrimination. We'd expect to see this sort of disturbing trend [of suicide] decline. It's striking that it hasn't—it seems just as likely to occur today as it did in the 1970s, from what we can tell—but we can't be totally sure at the moment."
If improvement in the cultural climate means acceptance of homosexuality, there’s not a lot of room left for improvement. The Supreme Court of The United States has ruled that same-sex marriages are legitimate in the eyes of the law. To celebrate this, the sitting U.S. President had The White House illuminated with rainbow lights. We now have a designated “pride month.” Rainbow flags and equality stickers are everywhere. In the majority of social circles in the Western world, few things will evoke more sympathy, more applause, more adamant affirmation, than coming out as gay. Athletes, actresses, musicians, whole sports franchises and corporations are falling over themselves to make sure everyone knows gay is okay!
And yet, the CDC tells us that the rate of suicide attempts among LGBT students in 2015 was five times higher than that of straight students.
Of course, many will try to get more mileage out of the bullying explanation, especially when it can be blamed on religious motives. This is evident in a CNN article from last year:
"What's driving [troubled LGBT teens to suicide]…is that not all teens live in a supportive culture, even with the advances in same-sex marriage, inclusive anti-bullying programs and non-discrimination protection. Many evangelical Christians, for instance, still preach that LGBTQ kids are going to hell.”
Well, there aren’t many evangelical Christians in my neighborhood, but I did count 4 rainbow flags within a ten-block walk from my house last week, and culturally speaking, I don’t live anywhere near San Francisco. The religious bullying explanation has always been based on a false premise, but in the midst of the current surge of gay affirmation, it now comes across as whiny straw-grasping.
Maybe, instead, the reason why people of all ages who have no restraint against their sexual urges are still so deeply conflicted in the midst of such an affirming culture is that way down deep in that place where conscience is still impervious to culture, they know—even against such a tidal wave of activism—that they're behaving in a way that violates their essence as human beings.
No one can develop into a morally strong person until he or she realizes that we have a corrupt, animal nature. If our natural urges and desires are not restrained, directed, and opposed by our will to do right, then we have lost our ability to do right or wrong. In that case, we're just animals doing what animals do. My neighbors have two dogs. A couple of weeks ago they were being true to their sexual orientation by having sex on the front porch in front of all who happened to be walking by. I wouldn't expect the dogs to be ashamed of themselves for this, but people are supposed to operate by a different standard.
Most people have heard some version of a fairytale where a human is turned into a frog and is then disgusted at himself for eating flies and indulging in other disgusting froggy behavior. We are all frogs in that sense. We all have animal urges that can lead us to do disgusting things if we do not control them. The process of controlling is the process of moral development, and we cannot grow to be morally strong without it. This struggle against our corrupt animal nature is what it means to be human. A virtuous life is a life in which the moral human will controls and appropriates the animal urges. This is why there is a fundamental difference between people and animals, and why one of the worst insults one person can give to another is to say that someone is behaving "like an animal." As G.K. Chesterton said, "If you wanted to dissuade a man from drinking his tenth whisky you would slap him on the back and say, 'Be a man.' No one who wished to dissuade a crocodile from eating his tenth explorer would slap it on the back and say, 'Be a crocodile.'”
The message LGBT youth (and everyone else) need to hear is, “I know you have bad sexual urges. Most people do in one way or another. That doesn’t mean you’re any worse or better than anyone else. It means you’re a human being. I care about you, and I want you to learn self-control so that you can grow into a well-adjusted, morally upright adult and help others do the same.”
If, instead, adults tell them to indulge their corrupt animal urges and that those urges should be the basis of their identity, then those youth are being encouraged to live more like frogs or dogs by adults who are living more like crocodiles.
The first picture below is of Utah Lake at sunset taken from the west slope of Big Baldy. The second was taken from a field at sunset in Sanpete County, UT, and the third next to a flooded field in Tremonton, UT. See further thoughts below.
Beauty is a revealing thing. It reveals the fact that, what ever else the world is, it's not random. Random is a word that often gets combined with other words that contradict it, like the word "system" for example.
A lot of people claim that the world as we know it came about randomly, meaning there was no one who intended the world to exist. They say all the universe just came about in the same way a certain pattern of dust collects on a book shelf. They then try to use the same explanation for the stunningly sophisticated systems that fill our world: Our ecosystem, solar system, nervous system, digestive system, reproductive system, etc. These are all supposed to be random systems, but a "random system" is the same kind of phrase as a square circle. It cannot be both. A system is an intentionally ordered grouping of multiple parts which works to carry out a particular purpose. There can be no such thing as a random system that is intended to work in a certain order for a particular purpose, because random means that which is without intent, order, and purpose.
The same is true of beauty. We cannot coherently talk about "random beauty." There is an inescapable chain of logic that can't be broken without falling into nonsense. When we say something is beautiful that means the thing is important. To say something is important is to say the thing is meaningful. To say it is meaningful is to say that it exists for a purpose. But again, "random" necessarily means the absence of importance, meaning, and purpose. These three are to beauty what squares are to a cube. We cannot talk intelligibly about cubes while denying the existence of squares.
In light of this week’s story on the Irish referendum, one of the things I find simultaneously intriguing and disturbing is the passion of the activists who fought for the change. Even if one lacks conviction about the importance of protecting the unborn, the curious question is how the pro-choice campaign can evoke such zeal?
The philosophical debate of abortion hinges on the question of when the life which grows in a woman’s womb actually becomes a child and thus acquires human rights. Even if someone rejects the idea proposed by the American founding fathers that people don't “acquire” rights but are “endowed by their Creator” with inalienable rights, it is an irrefutable fact that no one has the ability to discern when the magic moment occurs in the womb when fetal flesh becomes a human being. So, In the most plain, unembellished language, the right to an abortion is the right of a woman to make a gamble by which she either kills her own child as it grows in her womb or kills a lump of flesh which will soon be her child.
I was tempted to insert quote bubbles next to the jubilant young women in the pictures that say, “Human or Not? We Decide!” or “Kill According to Conscience!” or “Vote ‘Yes.’ Free Sex from Responsibility!” But aside from my own moral conviction, the defense of the abortion gamble as a righteous cause is just perplexing. If a woman believes she should be allowed to make the gamble because she doesn't believe she is morally accountable to a Divine authority and thinks that all of life boils down to minimizing obstacles to physical survival and sensual pleasure, I would expect her to be adamant and consistent, but not passionate—more like an empty-hearted businessman insistent on destroying a nature preserve for real estate development than a moral crusader campaigning for human rights. (The premise of pro-choice activism is that unborn babies aren’t worthy of human rights!)
But the right to gamble on killing that which is a baby or soon-to-be baby has all the characteristics of a zealous campaign for justice: shouting protesters, picket signs, demonization of opponents, etc. The part that’s hard on the brain is that the movement is often framed as a fight against oppression, as if to say, “Those heartless, iron-fisted traditionalists aren’t gonna tell me I can’t kill my baby! No body’s going to punish me with parenthood just because I had sex!” Up until this point in history, the ones who kill babies and fight those who want to save them have been thought of as oppressors. How is this no longer the case?
With all this in mind, I suspect Lewis’ characterization in Miracles of naturalist philosophers who insist that we are only bodies without souls is also true of pro-choice activists. He says they try to deny humanity by making us out to be nothing more than highly intelligent animals but all the while remain human in their passionate protests (animal picket lines and sit-ins are pretty rare). Having a sense of justice and morality is fundamental to what it means to be a human being. The problem of the human condition, however, is that the unjust, animal nature is also a fundamental part of being human, and the two sides are at war. Pro-choice activists, along with most on the ideological left, want to work out a way for both sides of their nature to win.
They want to gratify both their unjust carnal appetites and their sense of justice. They reject Plato’s idea that a just life is achieved by ruling and restraining the appetites with reason and morality. But because they can’t fully divorce themselves from a concern for justice, they try to put justice and appetite on the same side and then cast those who propose moral restraint of the appetites as “oppressors” to be fought in the name of justice. They are much like a married man caught with a prostitute while his wife suffers from a long-term illness. Instead of contrition and humility, he expresses indignation for those who would make him feel guilty for having his “needs” met. Those who are rightly the targets of just indignation become indignant themselves in order to deflect guilt and avoid repentance. At first, indignation is used as an illegitimate fortress. Then defending the fortress becomes a just cause in itself, so that the very people who reject the personal, moral demands of justice assume the role of justice warriors. As R.R. Reno says, “They insist upon a political correctness that rejects moral correctness." The result is the absurdity of a moral crusade against morality.
Steven Pinker is a highly renowned philosopher and professor of psychology at Harvard. I won’t list all his credentials here, but they are vast and impressive, and they reflect his scholarly wisdom just as much as Donald Trump’s success reflects the humble, self-effacing manner which has made him such a winsome bi-partisan favorite.
In this interview with Hugh Hewitt, Pinker explains two points from his recent book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. His arguments illustrate the magical power of prestige. Titles before and letters after a person’s name can give an air of profundity to arguments that would lose a high school debate contest. The quote from the book emphasized in the interview is this: “Few sophisticated people today profess a belief in heaven and hell, the literal truth of the Bible, or a God who flouts the laws of physics.” So in Pinker’s view, Oxford professor, Alister McGrath, who holds Ph.Ds in molecular biology and theology, John Polkinghorne, Cambridge professor of mathematical physics turned Anglican priest, and Francis Collins, former head of The Human Genome Project, are all unsophisticated.
Pinker obviously uses “unsophisticated” simply to mean people who don’t agree with him. The irony is, of course, that throwing out a blanket insult to erudite people simply because they don’t agree with the premises of your argument is exactly what unsophisticated people do. This is a common tactic among facile-but-confident teenagers.
He also shows a lack of sophistication in referring to the “literal truth of the Bible,” which is the same as referring to the literal truth of the library. It is a nonsense statement unless one clarifies what section in the library or what book in the Bible is to be understood literally. Like a great many atheist intellectuals, Pinker has made a name for himself ridiculing something he doesn’t understand.
But the most ridiculous point in the interview is when he pontificates about religions evolving to be better by ceasing to believe in miracles and no longer appealing to the Bible to justify what’s right and wrong. He even magnanimously says he’s all for religion “mobilizing people’s moral sentiment to make the world better.” One of the reasons why it’s so hard to take people like this seriously is that they so consistently undermine their own philosophy.
Pinker is a materialist. This means he believes that all reality is reducible to matter. In this view, the natural elements are all that exist; there can be no supernatural. What he and others like him choose not to see is that materialism (aka “naturalism”) necessarily eliminates the concept of “better,” just as it eliminates the concept of morality. “Better” means the thing that’s getting better is conforming more and more to an ideal standard—a standard by which the thing that’s getting better is measured. But the act of measuring cannot take place unless the standard of measurement is a separate thing from what's being measured. If all there is is matter, matter cannot measure itself against or in reference to anything else. A ruler can’t be used to measure a piece of paper if paper is all there is. The materialist wants to measure human beings, which he believes to be 100% matter, against some immaterial ideal, which he claims cannot exist.
When thought out, Pinker’s argument goes something like this: There is no reality that doesn’t consist entirely of material elements. Matter, in all its various forms and combinations, is all there is. Also, it is very encouraging to see the complex form of matter known as “humanity” getting better, which means humanity is conforming to an ideal. Of course, an ideal is an idea or a conviction which, by definition, cannot be reduced to material elements (chemicals and atoms can’t be good or bad, noble or nasty), so it is impossible that there could exist anything apart from the material world which could tell us whether that world is getting better or worse. But nonetheless we are very encouraged by the mobilization of people’s moral sentiment which is making the world better.
His thought has all the cogency of the approach to mathematics demonstrated by Ma and Pa Kettle in this video.
But in the minds of many people, the same slapstick nonsense somehow becomes profound when it’s uttered by a Distinguished Professor of Psychology from Harvard University.
Last year I posted a piece called “The Christmas Mirror” which says the way people celebrate Christmas is a reflection of their character. It also occurred to me that, just as the attitude a person has in celebrating Christmas is a mirror, it’s also a lens which determines not only how we view Christmas but how we see everything else.
There are, of course, more than two kinds of attitudes seen in people at Christmas, but there are two in particular that almost everyone is familiar with, which I’ll call the joyful dreamer and the sober cynic. The joyful dreamer is not one who exudes superficial cheer, whose passion for Christmas goes little farther than Southern Living and Black Friday. Rather, this is the person who looses sleep before Thanksgiving obsessing over the perfect gift for those she loves most and how much she can give without going broke to those who need most. She loves get-togethers with people for no other reason than the love of getting together with people. The joyful dreamer bounces through the Christmas season with an inarticulate sense that the spirit of peace on earth and goodwill toward men is the scent of eternal flowers yet unseen but already blooming in fields we’ll be running through before long. For her, Christmas is really about loving people and making sure they know it because, after all, that’s what life is really about.
On the other hand, the sober cynic is not just a person who gripes about the commercialization of Christmas or one who complains about the hectic pace (such complaints are often well justified), but rather one who sees Christmas as a series of transactions, who attends parties and gives gifts mainly as a means of building credit, as in “I made my appearance,” or “Hopefully they'll remember who passed out gift cards at the office when it’s time to schedule my vacation." The sober cynic knows that everybody’s out for something, so Christmas is a business of give-and-take which allows one to receive some luxuries while also giving to prevent anyone else from having an advantage over him, however subtle it may be. This is what Christmas is really about because, after all, this is what the world is really like.
The big question is which one is right? As it turns out, both are right in their own way, and yet one is wrong in the worst way. In the New Testament, the term “world” doesn’t just mean a planet but rather a whole system of values and behavioral tendencies. “World” in the biblical sense is not a planet but the culture of people on the planet. It is a way or an order by which people live. The cynic is right when he says “That’s just the way the world works,” or “That’s what the world is really like,” but he fails to see the all-important distinction between what he calls the “real world” and what is real life. He doesn’t realize these are two very different things.
The cynic could say truthfully of the joyful dreamer that she’s out of touch with the real world, but the world he’s talking about is a distorted, diseased, and fleeting world (or way). The dreamer, on the other hand, is in touch with real life. This distinction is made clear when Jesus talks about “the bread of God” which "comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” And the life He gives is lively. It’s vigorous and vital, solid and substantial. In other words, it’s real. Christmas is precisely the point at which God comes to infuse the world of the worldly wise cynic with real life.
With this in mind, Christmas is a lens through which a Christian secret is seen. The sober cynic is a horrible misnomer because cynicism leads to the opposite of sobriety. In contrast, the more the inspiration of Christmas leads the joyful dreamer to acts of love through giving, the more clearly she sees what life really is; the more in tune the cynic becomes with the “real world,” the less he sees real life. The joyful dreamer understands from experience the truth in the words of the priest to the doubting woman in Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov:
“...nothing [about the existence of God] can be proved, although one can become convinced.”
“How ? By what?”
“By acts of love. Try to love your neighbors, love them actively and unceasingly. And as you learn to love them more and more, you will be more and more convinced of the existence of God and of the immortality of your soul. And if you achieve complete self-abnegation in your love for your fellow man, you will certainly gain faith, and there will be no room in your soul for any doubt whatsoever.”
Christmas reveals the secret: Love opens eyes; cynicism blinds.
Merry Christmas. I hope you give so that you can see.
A group of friends and I recently read and discussed (most of) the book UnChristian: What A New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…And Why It Matters, by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons.
It strikes me as a work whose message can be exhaustively summed up in something like the following paragraph:
People who aren’t Christians usually see Christians in a negative light calling us names like “antigay,” “antichoice,” and “hypocritical,” and this problem is exacerbated by those who claim to be Christian and yet intentionally do things they know are opposite of what Jesus taught. To add to this, it makes us sad that people outside the Church don’t like us, and if we are more compassionate and refrain from calling things like homosexual behavior and abortion si…Ahh, if we refrain from saying bad things about these, people will like us more.
One of the most obvious problems with the book is that the authors seem to be oblivious to the fact that the very essence of Christ and of Christians is to have a polarizing effect on other people: "For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life.” (2 Cor. 2:15-16) One of the chief evidences that we are preaching and living the gospel is that some will love us and some will hate us. Moral and theological truth always polarizes. If all we get is a benign nod from our hipster neighbors something is probably wrong.
Of course hypocrisy is a huge problem among Christians. And of course we should lament the negative impression made by those with a superficial and self-serving faith. But every honest adult knows that no group should be defined by its worst examples; all Muslims are not terrorists. All cops are not racists. And all Christians are not the country music kind who do shots on the tailgate on Saturday night and go to church with Mama on Sunday to make thangs right.
In any case, maybe the most inadvertently valuable thing about the book is that it puts in clear light what I fear has become a defining characteristic of American evangelical Christianity: sappy sentimentalism. Sentimentality is all about feelings, and for many, so is Christianity. As Todd Brenneman says in Homespun Gospel, “Too often scholars have paid attention to the mind of evangelicalism, not recognizing that most evangelicals have abandoned the life of the mind in favor of a religious life of emotion.”
If you doubt this, consider the following excerpt from UnChristian where the author sympathetically quotes from a young woman’s account of an awkward conversation about abortion with some Christian ladies at a Bible study:
“We were talking about sex, intimacy, and pregnancy, stuff like that. I told them about a friend of mine who was considering an abortion. I told them her entire situation, a twenty-year-old, boyfriend left her. She’s feeling really alone. I made some comment about really empathizing with my friend, that I could understand that abortion might make sense. I guess that shocked them. I know the women there are pro-life and all—I don’t know what I am, pro-life or pro-choice or just myself. But the conversation shifted at that point in a really weird way. Instead of having a dialogue, I was put on the defensive. They were nice enough about it, but the ladies just kept talking at me, trying to fix my attitude about abortion.”
I value dialogue over rhetorical grenade tossing as much as anyone, but it’s hard to engage in mild-mannered dialogue when a baby’s life is at stake. As for the disproportionate concern for feelings, does it trouble anyone else that the woman’s concern for her friend's lonely feelings eclipses her concern for the baby who’s in danger of being killed? The woman in the story goes on to explain that she too had an abortion in the past—a point which is supposed to make the ladies’ judgmentalism all the more egregious. The implicit idea is that the emotions she dealt with through the abortion are more worthy of our attention and our sympathy than the baby who was killed. This misses the fact that if we or the person we’re talking with committed some horrible sin in the past, that doesn’t make the sin any less horrible.
Forgiveness is available to all no matter what we’ve done. But forgiveness for sin and sympathy for the feelings that lead us to sin are two different things. The guilt felt by a woman who has had an abortion should lead her to immense gratitude for the grace of God that makes her as if she had not sinned. The guilt should not lead her to believe that the sin was something too complex or ambiguous to warrant any conclusions, as if contemplating the morality of abortion-on-demand is akin to considering the pros and cons of some convoluted economic theory.
In a separate passage, the author recounts a conversation with another young lady who laments the negative feelings evoked by the tension between her love for a friend who’s announced that he’s gay and biblical teaching on homosexual behavior: "My best friend for the last eight years just told me that he is gay. I was shocked and really pretty upset about it. I know what the Bible says, but I also know what I feel about this guy. I have a hard time looking down on him for being gay. But I don’t know what to think."
The tension between the moral teachings in the Bible and our feelings about our and others’ struggle to live up to them is something all Christians should feel, but when our feelings about a particular sin (or about loved ones who practice the sin) come into conflict with what we know is taught in the Bible, there should be no question as to which is a more legitimate authority.
I’m curious how those who are so aghast that Christians have strong moral convictions about sexuality and the preciousness of unborn babies would react if some other, not-so-fashionable sin was put in place of the other two—as in, "I made some comment about really empathizing with my friend who was thinking about stabbing her premature daughter to death in the NICU, that I could understand that getting rid of her might make sense. I guess that shocked them. I know the women I was speaking with are pro-life and all—but the conversation shifted at that point in a really weird way.” Or, “I know what the Bible says about incest, but I also know what I feel about my friend and his sister-wife. I have a hard time looking down on him for being in an incestuous relationship. I don’t know what to think.”
The problem is that for many people, important moral issues aren’t about thinking at all but only about feeling. This makes sense of why there is such a dramatic difference in the emotional response to killing an unborn baby versus killing a premature baby in the NICU. There is no moral difference in the two acts, but the simple visual and audible experience of the baby in the NICU evokes emotions that don’t often come when we think about an unseen baby in a womb.
Moral reality is to our feelings what a mountain is to snow. Though they are often together, there is no question which is more solid.
The fact that pastor-turned-atheist, Dan Barker, isn't the most eloquent public speaker doesn’t mean he’s not wise. Rather, it’s the content of his speech that reveals this. I recently watched his contribution to a debate at the Oxford Union on the question of whether or not God exists. (See Peter Hitchens’ response). Among a number of other arguments, Barker says belief in Jesus is qualitatively the same as the belief in Thor held by Scandinavians centuries ago, and just as is the case with Thor and all the other man-made, mythological gods, the God of the Bible will eventually wind up on the “scrap heap of history.”
Comparing Norse or Greek or other mythological gods with The God of the Bible is like comparing Tom from Tom and Jerry with a prowling lion in the Serengeti. (It should be noted that an overly-sheltered person who has been duped in to believing that all cats are like Tom will have quite the awakening on his first safari.)
One of the most obvious differences between Thor and Jesus is that no one ever claimed to have walked with Thor as he traveled from Oslo to Stockholm. There are no eyewitness accounts of Thor walking on the water in a particular Norwegian fjord. No one can name the mayor of Helsinki when Thor was arrested for smashing part of the city with his hammer.
But perhaps the most consequential difference which those like Mr. Barker make great efforts to miss is that Thor had no power to change the hearts of people, and thus no power to shape what matters in human culture. No one ever sold all their possessions to start an orphanage after being enamored with the love of Thor. No one has risked their lives in places where Thor is hated to tell others of his life-giving power. Thor has not inspired anyone to give of themselves in sacrifice for the least of these. There have been no universities established for the development of the mind and the glory of Thor.
It would be good for Mr. Barker to pause and imagine a world void of every orphanage, hospital, charity, and university established by people with specifically Christian convictions. We can be confident it would be a world neither he nor any of his atheist friends would want to live in.
With piercing irony, the last point in his speech is that the greatest evidence that God doesn’t exist is the suffering and unanswered prayers that take place in a children’s hospital. Of all the hospitals across the western world where sick and suffering children and their families are cared for (and often healed), how many have names like “Saint Jude” or “Baptist” or “Good Samaritan” or “Mercy”? There are no Saint Thor’s Hospitals.
Many hearts are heavy and many minds are strained with perplexity in the wake of the heinous crime in Las Vegas last Sunday when Stephen Paddock indiscriminately shot and killed tens of people attending an outdoor concert.
Of course, the question gnawing at everyone impacted by the crime is that of motive. It is a confounding scenario; a wealthy, 64-year-old man who, according to his brother, had no strong religious or political convictions, stockpiles an arsenal of firearms and meticulously plans an attack on a random group of people in the audience of an event which has basically no political, moral, or religious significance. What could have motivated him to do this?
The most common and most likely answer is that he was insane. Probably he had some kind of psychotic break and was delusional. A history of diagnosed mental illness would go along way in giving credence to this theory. On the other hand, an absence of any history of psychosis, along with a void of religious and political zeal, should lead us to consider another less likely but nonetheless plausible possibility. Perhaps he was demon possessed?
I realize that to most sophisticated, modern westerners, insanity and demon possession are synonymous, since one would have to be insane to believe in demons. But this view is based on unexamined assumptions held in place by the nebulous-but-iron-fisted authority of the status quo. It is a view that can only be held by a willful blindness toward the evidence.
Richard Gallagher is a highly credentialed, board-certified psychiatrist and a professor of clinical psychiatry at New York Medical College. Last year, in an article for The Washington Post, Gallagher explained his role as one who is often called upon by spiritual leaders to distinguish between mental disorders and demon possessions. He confirms what most clear-headed people know—that the vast majority of those who claim to be afflicted by demons are not. But in light of the evidence, he is also aware that, "Despite varying interpretations, multiple depictions of the same phenomena in astonishingly consistent ways offer cumulative evidence of their credibility.” He goes on to explain, "As a psychoanalyst, a blanket rejection of the possibility of demonic attacks seems less logical, and often wishful in nature, than a careful appraisal of the facts. As I see it, the evidence for possession is like the evidence for George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware. In both cases, written historical accounts with numerous sound witnesses testify to their accuracy.” (For one example of such evidence, read this article from The Indianapolis Star. Also, The Rite, starring Anthony Hopkins is much to the point as it is based on well-documented real life events).
Gallagher is also taken aback by, "doctrinaire materialists who are often oddly vitriolic in their opposition to all things spiritual.” When it comes claims about the reality of demonic forces, the vitriol can be explained by the realization that if there is a devil then there must be a God, and God is the greatest threat to our libido and our bank account.
In any case, the problem with scientific opposition to the supernatural is that it is so unscientific. There is a whole body of evidence supposedly scientific people simply refuse to consider. Eye rolling at the suggestion of the supernatural is the adult version of plugging one’s ears and chanting “La la la...I can’t hear you!”
With this in mind, it's important to remember that evil is most destructive when its existence is unacknowledged. The doctrinaire materialists Gallagher speaks of bring to mind a story I once heard about a deaf man who lived in a war zone. He wound up getting shot because he was oblivious to the battle that raged all around him.
Mike Mitchell holds a Ph. D. in philosophy and religion and is a husband and father of five.