A Few Comments on Marriage

As I write this, the United States Supreme Court has just legalized marriage between same-sex couples. The laws of many states were abruptly overturned and marriage rights are extended to any homosexual or gender confused person. 

Tomorrow, or the day after, the world will continue to turn, people will go to work, go out to eat, the Chicago Cubs will continue to lose, and all the other things that happened yesterday will continue. We will see the weeks go by without witnessing society ending in anarchy or a mass collapse of social structures.  Our liberal friends will continue to focus on individual rights and continue to forget to mention the common good.

The winds of modern morality and social change are perhaps because of our past sins of allowing slavery and the modern feelings of guilt and the need to reconcile past wrongs. In our culture today, discriminating against any individual is one of the worst crimes imaginable, and all instances of it must be discovered and stamped out thoroughly and completely, or so we are told. So we will have marriage of anyone who wants to marry.

Our American society, however, has a memory problem. We are so focused on today’s headlines that we do not see long-term trends. Prior to the 1960’s, most divorce laws were designed to make divorce difficult, thinking that both parents were necessary for society and children. Divorces in many instances were only allowed if one person was proved to be at fault. That, plus the social stigma that was attached to divorce, kept many marriages together even if the couple was far apart emotionally.

The day after no-fault divorce laws were passed, the world kept turning, people went to work, went out to eat, and the Cubs lost. But what have we now that we are many decades later? We have women who are convinced they can raise children just as well without a father, resulting in a large portion of our society being raised in poverty without an authority figure in the home. Children raised in such homes tend to not make a connection between long hard work and success, nor are they accustomed to authority telling them what to do. So we have riots with people refusing to obey police. We also have a major drumbeat of the liberals telling us that a major problem is “income disparity,” the gap between the poorest and richest segments of society. No one seems to notice that we could raise the income levels of roughly a quarter of the US overnight if we could get husbands to go home and spend their money and energy on the children they fathered. At one recent riot, a video became popular of a black mother slapping her teenage son and dragging him out of the rioting crowd. With 70% of black children growing up without a father in the home, odds are the father was not around, so mom has to do everything.

Years ago we dropped the public debate of what to do with “deadbeat dads,” the men who fathered children and abandoned them. We have lost the memory of that problem, too. I suppose the mothers and children are just supposed to accept their situation as normal.

I recall one receptionist that I knew. She had no husband, yet got pregnant from a man she never planned to marry. She felt no pressure to marry and stay married, and was convinced that single motherhood was adequate.  With few job skills, she has been destined to poverty and her children will never have the benefit of a father figure teaching them discipline.

So the lax divorce laws put into practice more than a generation ago have brought bitter fruit of large parts of our society being poor and jobless, yet few make the connection. Any politician suggesting that we tighten marriage laws to prevent poverty would be laughed to scorn just before he lost his job.

So while today’s acceptance of same-sex marriage will not result in the sky falling in a day, we can be sure that social consequences will come. A generation or so in the future will bring further destruction of the family, for as long as anyone can claim marriage based on the individual right, we have no logical basis for restricting anything the human heart can dream. Society will not fall apart tomorrow, but nevertheless it will eventually. The family is the social structure, and when it can be anything, society can be anything, or nothing. As the dissenting supreme court opinion brought out, we have already left the restrictions of the constitution, one we actually left years ago when the court began quoting foreign law.

On the way home today I was thinking of what might come next, how long it would take society to gradually slide into disintegration. I then heard a news reporter telling me that today three totally naked women stood on the steps of the New York Public Library and, in broad daylight, had their bodies painted. We do not have to wonder whether the tourists took more photos of the women or the statues of lions. I also walked in the local mall at lunchtime, seeing people exposing much more skin than clothes. A glance at the US Center for Disease Control website tells me that tomorrow is HIV testing day, although one wonders who will bother. The site also tells us that 2.6 million Americans got chlamydia last year, many of them teenage girls. They will likely not make the connection to the disease until they miscarry years later, or when the pelvic pain starts. They will have forgotten too.

So our society is in a slow decline. Same-sex marriage is but one additional cut to a still living but dying victim. What we are watching is like a slow-motion disembowelment, where we know the outcome is inevitable, but we are so accustomed to it that we have forgotten what it was like when the person was healthy. The knife has cut the memory first, for we fail to remember where we were. Society is the victim and we cannot save it. We are not even aware of the blood around us.

Again the scriptures are proven correct, and we take solace in the ancient words that scream at us from the pages of the Bible. We have no hope but in Jesus, who has the power over death, and can resurrect the soul. Jesus told us “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25)
PS: The Cubs just lost to the Cardinals, 3 – 2, even though they had twice as many hits and base runners. 

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Should We Accept Anyone’s Self-Identity as Legitimate?

Rachel Dolezal was the president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP. Her biological parents, who are both white, told the public that she was white, and she was forced to resign her position with the NAACP. The event caused a rather large hubbub in the news, as we would expect. The local city government removed her from a police oversight committee. Dolezal has been quoted as saying:

I identify as black . . . I am more black than I am white . . . That’s the accurate answer from my truth . . . [as a child] I was drawing self-portraits with the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon and the black curly hair . . . I felt a spiritual, visceral, just very instinctual connection with the ‘black is beautiful’ — just the black experience from a very young age. 

Dolezal spoke of being conditioned to ignore her identity from childhood, a situation that was “thrust upon me and narrated to me. And so I kind of felt pretty awkward with that at times.” Even Dolezal’s parents admitted that she was attracted to black people throughout her life, even though they said that she was Caucasian is “just a fact.”

The media response is interesting. Many articles have focused on Dolezal’s historic honesty, or lack thereof, as if that had any impact on whether her feelings of identity are genuine. In our current cultural climate, whether or not Dolezal has been honest has nothing to do with whether we should accept her current statements that she has always felt black. As she claimed, she may have often felt pressured to hide her identity. Have not many homosexuals felt pressured in the past to hide? Are we to deny their current statements because they used to live and talk differently? Are we to drag their name through the mud as dishonest people?

The public response is interesting. A New York Times opinion piece titled “The Delusions of Rachel Dolezal” spoke of an “elaborate scheme of deception,” “deceitful performance and tortured attempt to avoid the truth.” She was described as “pretending to be black.” A crisis manager called Dolezal a liar, and suggested she stop talking in public and apologize. One author said flatly that Dolezal “did not have the right to the identity she claimed.” The reaction went on and on.

I am immediately reminded of the gender identity issues that are thrust into the pubic eye. The latest alphabet soup of gender, nearest I can tell, is LGBTIQ, representing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Questioning. I move that we should merely shorten this to GC, for gender confused.

The entire basis for such gender confusion is personal feelings of identity. We are told by the gender confused community that a feeling is right for no more nor less that it is felt. If someone feels an attraction to another sex, or feels that they should be another gender, or feels one gender or in between, we are told it is justified and the rest of society must accept it. No matter what the genital hardware and chromosomes are in reality — feelings triumph over all, and we are not to question someone’ s self-proclaimed gender identity. The gender confused use the same reasoning as Dolezal, that they felt this way from an early age, they felt confused when society pressed a gender upon them, that the attractions were always there and therefore the gender identity can be different from the physical reality of their body.

We therefore have no logical, reasonable grounds for accepting the gender confusion and not accepting racial confusion. One author, Ryan Cooper, apparently aware of the logical contradiction, attempts to brush it away by claiming “gender is more deeply rooted in one’s own mind, while race is more forcibly imposed by the surrounding society.” But is this true? Why should it be so? Cooper offers no support for such a claim, and the logic rings hollow. If we turned to the feminist writers of the 1960’s, we would find them decrying the gender roles forced on women by society.

We therefore are discovering the bitter fruit of a few bad philosophical positions. One is that we can base our society on how each individual feels, for feelings are not based in any reality other than the sinful human mind that all of us have. A second flaw is that such feelings do not have consequences for others, as the Dolezal case clearly refutes.

A third flaw, perhaps the most fundamental, is found buried in one of Dolezal’s statements. Upon describing her feelings of racial identity, she justifies it by saying “That’s the accurate answer from my truth.” As long as we allow individual’s to have their own private basis of truth, then we will never have any grounds to make any judgments of reality. The public outcry about Dolezal is inconsistent: it accepts those who identify with gender that is contrary to fact, but rejects those who identify with race contrary to fact.

For more about what happens when we base decisions on feelings, see here. 

(PS: The NAACP’s website says their hiring practices do not discriminate based on race.)

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Why Does God Not Punish All Disobedience?

This is another in a series of questions that have been posed by skeptics, atheists, and critics.

Question: In the Bible, God strikes down some people but does not do so today. For example, He struck down the tower of Babel. However, there are plenty of other religious objects larger than a tower that have not been struck down. Were not these other peoples’ reaching toward heaven? Why would God not strike them down also?

Answer: Actually, in the story of the tower at Babel in Genesis 11:1-9, God never destroys the tower, but He does scatter the people and confuse the languages. The passage implies they had not yet finished building, since in v.8 “they ceased building the city.” But of course this is not the point of the passage nor the question. However, it does show a common mistake that is used by critics, namely that the point of the passage seems to be ignored and a lesser issue is elevated in importance.

A key point in the story is found in v.4, where the people pridefully say “Let us build ourselves . . .” and “let us make a name for ourselves . . .” This was apparently a time where the people’s pride got in the way of their focus on God, so God scattered them. The point was not so much the tower nor the city, but the fact that they built it as a monument to themselves. God did to them exactly what they were pridefully determined to prevent, their scattering across the earth (v.4).

This is not the only time that God punishes disobedience. In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira lied to the church and God struck them dead. In 1 Corinthians 11:30 some were sick and dying for taking the Lord’s supper in a flippant manner. So the essence of the question above might be: Why would God punish some, as in these examples, yet ignore many today that are doing the same things? After all, people in the church lie today like Ananias but are not killed, surely some take the Lord’s supper unworthily but are not sick, and many pagan efforts were done over the centuries but were not punished like the people at Babel. Why?

First, as we have said before, this is another “why?” question that may not have an answer. As finite humans, we do not even know why we do things ourselves, so why would we know why God does things?

Second, a question like this is another example of a paradox that critics put God into. If He is consistent and punishes all people equally, He is blamed for not showing mercy. If He were to ignore sin and not punish it at all, He would be accused of not being a righteous God who is worthy of worship. If He shows mercy and longsuffering, as these examples show, He is accused of being inconsistent.

Third, even if we do not know why God would punish some sin and not others, such situations do not prove anything against God or the Bible. Is this supposed to show that God does not exist or the Bible untrue? Surely the critic does not believe such conclusions follow logically. The most we could reasonably conclude is that we do not know why God would punish some sin and not others. A more likely conclusion is that God is loving and merciful in most cases, but the critic does not mention these positive aspects.

Fourth, there is a logical conclusion. Such instances as the tower of Babel and Ananias and Sapphira happened near transition points in God’s dispensational plans, and God may have been trying to emphasize a point to the people at the time: Follow My commands and follow Me.  When Ananias was the first to introduce sin into the newly formed church, God emphasized to them that the church should be kept pure and holy.

Fifth, just because God does not immediately punish sin does not mean He will not do it eventually. We do not know everything God has in store for the future or the afterlife, but we can be sure that He will right every wrong and be fair and just.

Lastly, as sinful people, we do not understand God’s holiness and mercy. He has every right to punish all sin immediately, but He lovingly gives people a second chance. God has every right to punish pride and disobedience at Babel and today. He lovingly does not.  Rather, He gives us the examples of others’ disobedience, and gives us a second chance, so that we can know the importance of following a loving God.

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When We Evaluate Zen Buddhism by it’s Own Standards

The book The Three Pillars of Zen (by Phillip Kapleau, ed., 1965) includes a series of explanations and teachings by a series of master teachers of Buddhism. One of them, Yasutani, starts out in his first lecture by telling us the following:

We need therefore to return to our original perfection, to see through the false image of ourselves as incomplete and sinful, and to wake up to our inherent purity and wholeness.
.    .    .
How can we bring the moon of truth to illumine fully our life and personality? We need first to purify the water, to calm the surging waves by halting the winds of discursive thought. In other words, we must empty our minds of what the Kegon sutra calls the “conceptual thought of man.” Most people place a high value on abstract thought, but Buddhism has clearly demonstrated that discriminative thinking lies at the root of delusion. I once heard someone say: “Thought is the sickness of the human mind.” From the Buddhist point of view, this is quite true. . . So long as human beings remain slaves to their intellect, fettered and controlled by it, they can well be called sick. (p.28, 29)

On reading this, my first thought went back to a brief encounter I once had in a bookstore. I walked upon a store clerk speaking to a customer. The clerk explained that he was very familiar with Christianity, and that Jesus taught essentially the same things as Buddhism. Part of me wanted to butt in and explain that he really did not know what he was talking about, and part of my just sighed in frustration, not knowing where to start when someone was so seriously mistaken. In the end the introvert in me won, and I walked away without saying anything, frustrated that there were people in the world who thought such things.

The quote above begins with telling us that it is false that we are sinful. By contrast, the Bible tells us repeatedly that all are sinners and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Jesus forgave sin, but He never taught that it did not exist. He instead told sinners to “go and sin no more.” If we want to know Jesus’ reaction to sin, read Matthew chapter 23. Deep down all people know that they commit sin, for we have an inherent moral law which acts upon our hearts. The contrast between the essential teachings of Christ and Buddhism could not be more clear.

The Buddhist teacher then tells us that we should “halt the winds of discursive thought” and “discriminative thinking lies at the root of delusion” and “thought is the sickness of the human mind.” These statements and the ideas behind them are central teachings of Zen Buddhism, at least in the form presented by Yasutani.

While we may need more calm in our lives, the statements above are clearly false. When we measure them, even by their own yardstick, they are found wanting.

It strikes me quite odd that Kapleau gives us his book, which is a 350-page discourse that tells us we should not listen to discourses. It asks us to think about Zen to get well, even though thinking allegedly makes us sick. We are asked to discriminate between Zen and non-Zen, even though discriminatory thinking is a delusion. If, as this book tells us, it is bad for us to discriminate between ideas, and we should empty our minds of thought, why should I read Kapleau’s book which is full of ideas and thoughts? By Zen’s own standard, Kapleau’s book is leading me to delusion by teaching me how Zen works. Further, if we have “inherent purity and wholeness” then how is it that our thinking is sick and we are in need of Zen?

If a Zen master gives us an answer to these questions, he would again be explaining things in a way that we should discriminate true from false. But the book just told us we should not discriminate between thoughts. Such is merely the beginning of the nonsense in this book on Zen Buddhism.

But Kapleau and Yasutani are partially correct. They tell us that our minds are fettered and sick, which is true. They are incorrect on what do do about it, though. The Bible tells us that God’s word can “renew our minds” (Romans 12:2). It tells us that we should actively think about things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and worthy of praise (Philemon 4:8). Only in God’s word, the Bible, will we find the answer to our sick minds.

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Who Is More Reasonable In Religious Discussions?

The book True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism responds to the claims of modern atheists who are fond of trying to take the rational high ground in the discussion of religion.

Tom Gilson is the editor of True Reason and also the author of a chapter in the book that reviews a 2011 debate between Christian William Lane Craig and atheist Sam Harris. Gilson summarizes the arguments of both Craig and Harris while not trying to prove whether Craig was correct or not. Gilson lists six major points of logical argument that Craig presented in the debate, then spends the rest of the chapter explaining Harris’ positions, with the goal of showing which man was reasonable.

Gilson states “What rational, logical, reasoned arguments did Harris use to respond? One struggles to find any reasoned answer at all. He paid Craig’s deadliest arguments no attention whatsoever.” (p.65, emphasis in original)  Gilson goes point by point through Harris’ presentation, then points out:

Granted that Harris thinks religion is wrong, bad, and evil. Granted that he thinks his conclusion is the only rational one. What we want to know is, what makes his conclusion more rational than Craig’s? A tirade is no answer. Ignoring logical arguments that undermine your position is also no answer. Arguing fallaciously is no answer. . . Craig made a point of employing rational argumentation in his speeches. We haven’t asked here whether his reasoning was sound or not. Neither did Harris–he ignored every one of Craig’s arguments . . . (p.71, italics in original)

Such a response seems to have become a pattern. In his book The Moral Landscape, Harris spends an entire book asserting that morals have a material cause. The glaring weakness is that nowhere in the book does he explain how he can derive human well-being from pure matter. Harris spends a great deal of energy asserting that human well-being is a moral good, but no energy explaining how we can get morals from matter. Even assuming the morality of human well-being is itself is a weakness, since moral questions are designed to determine whether morals exist at all, not assume from the outset that they exist. But even if we accept his assumption that human well-being is morally good, he spends no ink telling us exactly how morals are grounded in world that only contains matter and energy. (For more on the weaknesses of The Moral Landscape, see here.)

Our atheist friends seem to have a lot of salty rhetoric that appeals to the taste buds of those predisposed to their position. Like Harris, they repeatedly claim that they are the reasonable ones, but offer no substance to show that this is so. What many atheists, including Sam Harris, seem to fail to realize is that merely asserting that you are rational does not prove that you are, even if you fill a book with the repeated assertions.  In many of these discussions, it is the Christians who stand on the reasonable ground.

For more on the reasonableness of Christians and the irrationality of atheists, I recommend the book True Reason by editors Gilson and Weitnauer.

Posted in Apologetics, Atheism | 1 Comment

Do Scholarly Skeptics Agree About Early Evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection?

Gary Habermas is the world’s leading scholar on the resurrection of Jesus. This is not an exaggeration, for his research and publications are impeccable. He has researched every publication on the resurrection, ancient and modern.

In the presentation below, Habermas maintains that even using the sources that critics and skeptics accept, we can trace the reports for Jesus’ resurrection back to within 6 months to three years of the event. As he says in the video below, we do not have to depend on the memory of eyewitness accounts from many years later, even though the eyewitnesses are good enough.

In the New Testament, we have early writings, going back to less than a few seasons after Jesus actually rose from the dead.

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Literary Critics Examine the New Testament

The facts presented in the New Testament have a large amount of corroboration from sources outside the Bible (see here, and here, and here). The typical objections to these facts is claiming the Bible to be historical fiction and dismissing miracles outright. To see the fallacy of these typical objections, see here and here.

Let us turn to how the style of writing is evaluated……not by laymen, but by literary scholars. I know of two who were atheists who were teaching literature at the university level, then became Christian when they turned their eye toward the Bible.

Dr. C. S. Lewis was a professor of literature at Oxford and Cambridge. He said the following:

 All I am in private life is a literary critic and historian, that’s my job. And I am prepared to say on that basis if anyone thinks the Gospels are either legend or novels, then that person is simply showing his incompetence as a literary critic. I’ve read a great many novels and I know a fair amount about the legends that grew up among early people, and I know perfectly well the Gospels are not that kind of stuff. (Christian Reflections, 209)

Dr. Holly Ordway was also an atheist with a PhD in literature, teaching at the university level,  who then became a Christian partly by reading Christian literary works:

 I read through the Gospel narratives again, trying to take in what they said. I had to admit that–even apart from everything else I had learned–I recognized that they were fact, not story. I’d been steeped in folklore, fantasy, legend, and myth ever since I was a child, and I had studied these literary genres as an adult; I knew their cadences, their flavor, their rhythm. None of these stylistic fingerprints appeared in the New Testament books that I was reading. In Paul’s letters, I heard the strong, clear voice of a distinctive personality speaking of what he knew to be true. The Gospels had the ineffable texture of history, with all the odd clarity of detail that comes when the author is recounting something so huge that even as he tells it, he doesn’t see all the implications. (Not God’s Type, 117)

 So when we examine the historical narratives of the New Testament, we have not only external, factual corroboration of the minute details, we also have testimony of expert witnesses that tell us the accounts do not exhibit the style of fictional writing.  As with anything historical, we cannot prove the New Testament narratives the same way we solve a math problem. Instead we look at the evidence and determine what is reasonable. The New Testament accounts show all the signs of being exactly what they claim: eyewitness accounts of actual historical events.

Lewis and Ordway demonstrate that when educated people look at the evidence with reason in mind, the conclusion is in favor of the truth of the scriptures. We would all do well to read the Bible with these facts in mind.

Posted in Apologetics, Bible | 4 Comments