Friday, September 12, 2014

Dateline: Disney

So my family and I are finished with day 4 of our Disney World visit. We've had a fantastic time so far, staying again at Wilderness Lodge (which we love), going to a Halloween Party, Hollywood Studios, and Magic Kingdom.

What amazes me is how many people are just miserable at Disney World. We see people who are rude to other guests, mean to their kids or the servers, or generally get angry about silly things--as though Disney made that lightning come and shut down the roller coaster just before you got on...JUST TO ANNOY YOU.

In case you were curious, I have a few thoughts of how to avoid being THAT GUY at a vacation (to Disney or elsewhere). I think if you can just remember three things, your vacation can be great as well.

All three of these, as you will see, grow out of my worldview as a Christian. So they're probably harder to explain to non-believers. Of course, non-believers probably aren't reading my blog for advice on a Disney vacation so...who cares.

1. Give grace - to everyone

If there is one single piece of advice I could give, it is that you should wake up each morning and remind yourself to give grace to everyone you meet. Because any time you cram several thousand sinful, imperfect people into a theme park you WILL have negative interactions. You're going to bump into someone. Or a ride will break down just before you get on it. Someone will accidentally cut in line. Someone will hit your Mickey ice cream bar onto your kid's princess dress that you spent hours on and keep walking. Your kids will throw a fit about something stupid. These things happen, guys.

My wife and I probably say the word "Grace" to each other ten times a day at the parks. Any time one of us is a bit frustrated over something unimportant, or someone does something which could ruin our day, we'll look at the other and simply say, "Grace." It is a good reminder that, as a Jesus-follower, we are going to forgive and forgive and forgive and forgive. Let the person stay in line ahead of you, without saying anything. Who cares? Is being one person ahead in line really worth an argument and ruining everyone's day? Isn't it better to laugh off a slight or messy clothes or a bump in the crowd than to hold a grudge--which ultimately only hurts you and those you love and came on your trip with?

And you know what? It works on many levels. Giving grace to others has several impacts. Sometimes, the others notice, and feel the warmth of undeserved forgiveness. Sometimes it changes other people's behavior. Sometimes it brightens up someone's day who wasn't even there. And sometimes, all it does is keep you from getting your day ruined.

Grace is healthy for the soul. As you received it from God, so too pass it along to those around you.

2. Remember why you're here

If you went to a theme park, you paid a bunch of money. And you battled crowds. And you waited in lines. Why? We all do it for the same reason--to have joy. Now of course, I'm not talking about the Christian virtue of joy, merely a shadow of it: but wow, what a shadow. Going on roller coasters with your son, sharing an ice cream, giggling at the Laugh Factory's corny jokes, racing lego cars in Downtown Disney, or just hanging out at the pool...these are priceless times. (And no, I get nothing from Disney for saying this!)  (But yes, Disney, if you happen to read this and WANT to give me something, I accept!)

The point is, you came here to get joy, to have some fun. And if you forget that, you can end up ruining the whole trip.

Everyone says their focus is fun...but it's not. Most of the unhappy people I see at Disney are not actually committed to having fun. Some are committed to riding as many rides as possible--and they are willing to make themselves or their kids miserable if needed, coming to the park at rope drop and staying until closure, carefully plotting every moment. Some are committed to experiencing certain rides, and if that ride is down for maintenance, then the trip is ruined. Some want to save money, so they have a plan for that (a terrible plan, because they chose to go to Disney, so you'll have better luck boiling the ocean than saving money here).

But if the focus is fun, then things change. Today our kids were exhausted, because we had a full day yesterday followed by an early breakfast. By 4 pm, they were starting to get tired. We could have pushed it...done a second Halloween party, eaten and tried to rally, etc. We could have decided that "more = better" and pushed for more rides.

Know what we did instead?

We took the boat back to the hotel. And rested. The boys watched "Dog with a Blog" or whatever was on Disney XD. The wife did some laundry. I read on my iPad and wrote this post. Why? Because our focus is FUN. And fun comes when everyone is enjoying themselves. Cramming in two extra rides and causing a tantrum does not help lead to fun.

If you are focused on joy, then sometimes you will rest. Sometimes you will show up early. Sometimes you will stay late. Sometimes you will stop and just enjoy a long, leisurely lunch. Sometimes you will skip your planned FastPass or reservation because your son really wants to ride Rockin' Roller Coaster just one more time.

3. Remember, it's not about you

I run the risk of Jesus-juking here, so I'll tread carefully. But good Christians who live disciple lives come to Disney and act totally out of character. They act like things are different here "because it's my vacation," or "because I paid a lot of money to be here." Those facts do not mean that all of a sudden, your Christian faith takes a vacation. It never does, for a disciple.

Disciples can enjoy themselves. Disciples can go to Disney. But they don't leave their discipleship at the gates.

Now, I'm not suggesting that you should be here handing out tracts or having a worship service. What I am saying is that you should remember: The people around you are more important than anything you do. More important than your ride with your kids. More important than how much money you paid. More important than your place in line. More important than your vacation time.

The people all around you are the image-bearers of Almighty God, created in the image of the Eternal One, made for a purpose and designed to be your eternal brother or sister in Christ. They will live forever--either in eternal splendor or horror--and the massive conglomerate that is the Disney corporation will crumble into dust long before they do. They will live forever, as will you.

So don't forget:  life is not about you. When you turned your life over to Christ, you gave that up. You gave up the right to be your own king, and became a subject of the Holy King. You are surrounded by people who are either His subjects, or who He wants to be His subjects. Treat them with the respect they deserve. Don't leave your Christianity at the gates.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Sermon Audio: God Speaks, and God Transforms

Last month our church did a series on the doctrines of Grace Church: the core essentials we believe all Christians must accept.

I had the last sermon in the series, on the ordinances of baptism and communion, and it is here:

My earlier sermon, on how God speaks to us through Word and Nature, is here:

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

We are not dual citizens

A lot of Christians say that we are dual citizens--citizens of Earth and of the Kingdom. In fact, I heard a preacher on FamilyTalk radio say that just this morning: that it was a basically a sin that so few evangelicals vote, because we are both citizens of heaven and of Earth.

It is such a common phrase, and so widely accepted in American Christianity, that I long believed it and even said it.

But I was wrong.

I noticed one day that I never actually see that called out anywhere in Scripture. I never see a Scripture quoted when someone says that.

Instead, the Scripture actually says the exact opposite.

"[People of this world's] destiny is destruction, their god is in their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body." (Phil 3:19-21)

Paul says here that our citizenship is in heaven as opposed to those around us, and we eagerly await the One who will come and set things right. The picture is of us as foreigners in an evil land.

"Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and such godly lives among the pagans that, though they may accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us. Submit yourself for the Lord's sake to every as God's slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, and honor the emperor." (1 Pet 2:11-17)

Peter here says that we are not citizens here, but are exiles and foreigners. Despite this we should follow the laws of the land we are visiting and show proper respect to everyone, while still living as God's slaves and not as the world around us. Romans 13 and Titus 3 both argue the same: that we should submit to the leaders of our kingdom. Why do they need to say that? Because early Jews and Christians who were serious about their faith universally rejected the evil rule of the idolatrous Roman Empire, and never would have seen themselves as "co-citizens." Instead, they had to be reminded not to start riots and live in peace with their evildoing neighbors.

 "Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar's and give to God what is God's." (Luke 20:25)

When the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus into either denouncing Caesar or admitting to following Caesar, He did neither. He refused to claim citizenship with Caesar, but also refused to denounce Caesar's right to rule. Instead He said that we should pay Caesar the taxes we owe him, but give to God the allegiance which we owe Him.

Implied within this statement, I believe, is the clear message that the only reason they were under Caesar's rule to start with was their unwillingness to follow God and His Kingdom.

"We must obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29)

Not much commentary to add on that one.

The point is...we are NOT citizens of America and citizens of heaven. A man cannot serve two masters--if he tries to serve one he will end up hating the other, and vice versa. (Someone wise once said that...)

In the same way, we must follow what the Bible teaches. We are citizens of heaven, foreigners here on earth for a while. Yes we should follow the laws insofar as we are able, and yes we should seek peace. But that in no way means that you are a citizen of this earth.

I've written about the politicizing of Christianity by American politics before, and I probably will again. We American Christians tend to be Americans first, and Christians when convenient. Need proof? Think of how many white American Christians are FURIOUS about the portrayal of the police in Ferguson, compared to how many simply ignored the beheadings going on in Iraq. Why? Because the American police and soldiers are the martyrs and saints of Americanism religion, and if you get more upset about their mistreatment than the mistreatment of poor Middle Eastern Christians, then guess what? You aren't serving the right Master.

We are foreigners, not dual citizens. Never forget that. Do what the Bible tells us to do--honor your leaders and pray for them. Follow their laws as long as you are able. But don't ever start to think that their kingdom somehow is "co" God's kingdom when it comes to your citizenship.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A (Poor) Mary Apologetic

As an ex-Catholic, I often bristle at the way in which our Catholic brethren are looked down on by Protestants. Obviously I agree with our theology or I wouldn't have left the Catholic church; but I feel in general that Catholics--even those who are very sincere believers and accept everything Biblically required for salvation--are treated as cultists.

But then I read something like this. And I remember, "Oh yeah - the Mary thing. The worst part of Catholicism." And then I remember the nine-part series I started, of which I completed three parts before feeling like I was picking on them and getting distracted by a shiny object or a squirrel or something.

Maybe one day I will finish that series. Until then, let me take apart this argument in the meantime.

The link above is to a Catholic site, offering a supposedly airtight argument to prove that adoration of Mary as the Queen of Heaven is Biblical.

The priest in question sets up an imaginary dialog between a Catholic Christian (CC) and a Non-Catholic Christian (NCC).

The problem is that this is the mother of all straw-man arguments:  our poor NCC is apparently a moron incapable of properly defending his faith or having a rational argument, and that is not exactly a fair representation.

So I thought I'd add in a bit to this conversation, as "RC"--Rebooted Christian. Let's investigate the argument at that point. My part will be in red.

NCC (non Catholic Christian) – Why do y’all say that Mary is Queen of Heaven? Don’t you know that’s a pagan title? That’s the name the pagan people in the Old Testament times gave to their goddess. Just look it up in Jeremiah 44.17-25. That’s the term they used for the goddess Astarte, and you Catholics worship Astarte you just call her Mary!

CC (Catholic Christian) – Whoa! Hold on there a minute. First of all we don’t worship Astarte. For that matter we don’t worship Mary either. We worship God alone. We honor Mary, and we sure do honor her above every other creature–including the angels. We have three words to describe the different types of religious honor. Latria  is the worship given to God alone. Dulia is the honor we pay to saints and angels. Hyperdulia  or “super dulia” is the honor we give to Mary.

RC (Rebooted Christian) -- The question though is whether this is a distinction without a difference. It is fine to give a different name to it, but if it still amounts to actual worship in the end, then calling it "honor" is no different. The simple fact is that in orthodox Judaism, you do not see anything like this. You do not see honor or prayers given to the angels or to kings or to prophets; quite the opposite, in fact. During every encounter in Scripture between a man and an angel, the man falls to his face and the angel quickly tells him to arise, for the angel is not to be worshipped.

In the end, we must see if there is a practical difference versus just a naming difference. The Catholic devotions to the Trinity include: feast days of honor, prayers, communion, and the like. And they believe that God did and does continue to perform miracles. The Catholic devotions to Mary and the Saints include:  feast days of honor, prayers, statues, and the like. And they believe that Mary did and does continue to perform miracles. Indeed, the Rosary includes 10 times more prayers to Mary than to Jesus or the Triune God.

So while it is nice that the CC has such nice fancy terms, in practice there is no distinguishable difference between what they call 'worship' and what they call 'veneration'...which is why Orthodox Jews and all Protestants have always called it idolatry.

NCC – Yes, but where do you find that in the Bible?
CC – Jesus points to Mary and says, “Here is your mother” and he tells us to keep the commandments and the fourth commandment is “Honor Your Father and Your Mother.”
NCC – You’re just being tricky.
CC – So you asked for Biblical support for the honor of Mary, and when I give it you’re not happy?

RC (Rebooted Christian) -- Not if that is the best you've got, no. You cannot POSSIBLY really believe what you're selling here, right?

First of all, you can't possibly believe that the fourth commandment really was a reference to Mary. Not if you want to treat the Scriptures with absolutely any seriousness.

Secondly, you cannot say that because Jesus pointed to Mary and called her His mother, that this makes her our spiritual mother as well. Let's look at Matthew 12:46-50, shall we?:  "While Jesus was talking to the crowd, His mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to Him. Someone told Him, 'Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to You.' He replied, 'Who is My mother, and who are My brothers?' Pointing to His disciples He said, 'Here are My mother and My brothers. For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.' "

Do you see that your logic actually defeats itself? Here Jesus points to all of us followers as His mother. If then His mother deserves spiritual honor due to the fourth commandment, THEN SO DO WE ALL, for in Matthew He calls us all His mother if we follow Him! So therefore, then, Mary deserves the same honor as any other follower.

Your logic literally defeats itself. If Jesus pointing to Mary and calling her Mother makes her specially deserving of veneration, then Matthew 12 makes us all deserving of exactly the same; which means veneration is equal for Mary and for the Christian down the road.

NCC – Let’s go back to Mary Queen of Heaven. I never heard of anything so crazy. Why do you imagine that this simple girl is the Queen of Heaven?
CC: Do you believe that Jesus is the King of Heaven? You sing that hymn “Crown Him with Many Crowns” don’t you? The “Lamb Upon the Throne”?
NCC – We’re not too big on those old fashioned hymns, but sure, Jesus is the King of Heaven.
CC – And Jesus talks about “his Kingdom” and “the Kingdom of God” all the time right?
NCC – I guess.
CC – And he’s the Son of David. You’re still with me?
NCC – Sure.
CC – And according to Luke 1: 32-33 Jesus inherits the throne of his father David correct?
NCC – OK. So?
CC – Well, if Jesus has inherited the throne of his Father David, and he is now the King of Heaven, you have to remember that in King David’s time, and in the understanding of the Jews the Queen of a Kingdom was not the wife of the King, but the Mother of the King. In David’s kingdom the Queen is the Queen Mother. You can find this in the Old Testament if you like. Check out I Kings 1. Bathsheba was Solomon’s mother and she reigns as the queen–not one of Solomon’s many wives.
NCC – How does that connect with Mary?
CC – It’s not that hard is it? If Jesus inherits the throne of David and is the King of Heaven, and Mary is his mother, then Mary is the Queen Mother of the restored Kingdom of David, and not that Jesus is King of Heaven that makes Mary the Queen Mother of the Heavenly kingdom.

RC - Need I point out the absurd logic of this one as well? If you are going to say that Jesus' earthly physical blood relationships equate to global, spiritual relationships and kingships, then you must take that fully to its logical end. Therefore Joseph is also the King of Heaven, as Jesus' father. Therefore James and Jude and His brothers and sisters are Princes and Princesses of Heaven. Therefore John the Baptist is a Duke or something, as His cousin.

Who knew? When we get to Heaven, apparently the peerage system comes into play.

But even if that were the case, above we have the classic bait-and-switch. The CC uses the terms for David's earthly kingdom and Heaven--the spiritual fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant--as interchangeable. So he assumes that just because David's earthly kingdom becomes Jesus' spiritual kingdom, that the traditions common to David's earthly kingdom will somehow transfer up to Jesus' spiritual kingdom. It is like he is arguing that the picture is more real than the item being painted:  David's kingdom was a type of Jesus' kingdom, not the other way around. Jesus' kingdom will not have to name His earthly mother the queen just because in David's time a king's mother would be named queen.

NCC – That’s far out! How can you spin all of that out of one little verse in Scripture?
CC – Let’s not go there shall we? If we start talking about spinning stuff out from one verse of Scripture you may have some explaining to do don’t you think?
NCC – OK. Point taken.

RC - Umm, no. Great straw man argument here. Look Catholics love to say this one about Protestants, that we take too much from one Scripture. But the fact is that most every Protestant doctrine can be found wholesale throughout the Bible (which is not surprising, given sola scriptura). Catholicism, on the other hand, generally gets its theology from the Catechism and goes searching for verses as proof-texts, like the one above. Hence, no context whatsoever.

I too think often NCC's misunderstand Scripture or miss context. But nowhere near as much as the CC has done in this very article. This is the perfect example of the pot calling the kettle black.

CC – Besides. The idea that Mary is the Queen of Heaven is in Scripture.
NCC – Now what kind of trick are you going to pull?
CC – Let’s open our Bibles brothers and sisters to the Book of Revelation chapter 12 and verse 1. Here we see the Mother of the Redeemer who is a sign in heaven and hey look! She’s crowned with twelve stars. The mother of Jesus in heaven with a crown? Sounds like a Queen of Heaven to me.

RC - I knew eventually we would get here because this is the only thing remotely close to an actual relevant Scripture on the topic.

But it's so convenient how Catholics forget portions of their own history when it does not suit them, isn't it? Most ancient commentators--Catholic and otherwise--interpreted the woman of Revelation 12 as the Church; indeed, Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary of the 19th century still says that if this refers to Mary it is only secondary to its main purpose of depicting the Church.

Other ancient commentators (with whom I agree, by the way) identified this as ancient Israel, due to the twelve stars around her head (the twelve tribes of Israel). This is, by the way, what the commentary of the official Catholic Bible, the New American, says.

In the Middle Ages, when Marian doctrines began to form, people began changing this to be a reference to Mary. Others saw it as a reference to Eve. But these have been very minor interpretations historically, certainly not enough to justify worshipping Mariam of Nazareth.

NCC – That’s very interesting.
CC – Do you want to become a Catholic now?

RC - Actually, reading this I remember precisely why I stopped being one.

Read more:

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tearing apart a ridiculous argument

A friend of a friend on Facebook the other day posted an article titled, "I Waited Until My Wedding Night to Lose My Virginity, and I Wish I Hadn't."

It is one of the most absurd and poorly-argued stances I've heard. One part of my just wanted to roll my eyes and say, "THIS is what happens when someone with no education writes an article," but then I realized that people were actually taking it seriously. So I thought I would just take it apart, bit by bit.

The article starts with a girl talking about taking a purity pledge at the age of 10, an age where she loves Barbies and tea parties and hated boys and didn't even have her period--an age where she was incapable of making such a commitment. I would agree with her here, and I think such church strong-arm tactics are a poor substitute for actual Biblical education. So at this point, I was okay with her article.

That's when things came off the rails a bit.

The church taught me that sex was for married people. Extramarital sex was sinful and dirty and I would go to Hell if I did it.

Nope. I call BS #1 here. No Baptist church in the world tells people that they will go to Hell for having sex; it is not a works-based theology. I find that impossible to believe. It's more likely that she assumed that but there is not a church in all of Christianity which teaches that sexual activity is an unforgivable sin.

More likely, she was told "sin leads to Hell" (which, apart from Jesus' work on the Cross, it does). And then she heard that extramarital sex was a sin (which it is), and therefore turned that in her mind to, "The church teaches sex leads to Hell."  But by that logic, the church equally teaches that cursing leads to Hell or a single lie leads to Hell.

I learned that as a girl, I had a responsibility to my future husband to remain pure for him. It was entirely possible that my future husband wouldn't remain pure for me, because he didn't have that same responsibility, according to the Bible.

Nope, BS #2. No church said that. There is not a single church doctrinal statement in the world which says that, nor a single quote of Scripture which can be used to back it up. The same standard--abstinence until marriage, fidelity until death--has always been the Christian standard for both males and females. (Though it IS true that males have, historically, broken this law more than women!)

I lost my virginity on my wedding night, with my husband...Sex hurt. I knew it would. Everyone told me it would be uncomfortable the first time. What they didn't tell me is that I would be back in the bathroom afterward, crying quietly for reasons I did not yet comprehend.

Because that certainly only occurred because you waited until marriage, right? No one has EVER felt shame upon losing their virginity before marriage, right?

I hated sex. Sometimes I cried myself to sleep because I wanted to like it, because it wasn't fair. I had done everything right. I took the pledge and stayed true to it. Where was the blessed marriage I was promised?

1. No where in the Bible does it promise that if you follow God's laws you will have a great sex life.

2. By this logic ("do everything right = great sex life"), you inherently imply that those who can't have a great sex life (due to injury or disability or erectile dysfunction or sexual abuse) have somehow done something wrong.

3. Again, waiting until marriage did not cause this. There is no reason to believe that she wouldn't have had the same reaction had she slept around at 16.

Waiting didn't give me a happily ever after. Instead, it controlled my identity for over a decade, landed me in therapy, and left me a stranger in my own skin. I was so completely ashamed of my body and my sexuality that it made having sex a demoralizing experience.

1.  Again, waiting until marriage doesn't cause this. I know lots of people who waited until marriage. I'm one. My wife is one.  Nothing about waiting until marriage requires this kind of neurosis.

2.  No Christian theology would ever say that "avoiding sin X" should control your identity or shape your worldview. We are a people who believe most of what we do is sin, and we are forgiven only by Him. We remain virgins not because this is our identity, but because HE is our identity. Our identity is shaped by Jesus and what He did for us; things like virginity are natural outpourings.

3. Obviously there is a serious amount of self-shame going on here, which again has nothing to do with choosing to abstain from doing something.

This is essentially the author saying, "I am anorexic because someone told me dieting was good." There is a deeper problem here which is either totally unrelated to virginity, or was made worse by her pursuit of virginity. But the underlying issues were there, regardless.

I don't go to church anymore, nor am I religious. As I started to heal, I realized that I couldn't figure out how to be both religious and sexual at the same time. I chose sex.

Obviously she's never read Song of Solomon. Songs 5:14 has Solomon's wife refer to him by saying, "His body is like polished ivory decorated with lapis lazuli." OK, that sounds nice, right? Nothing sexual there, she religiously loves her husband's body like a set of jewels.

But what does it say in the Hebrew? Well the word used for "body" here actually refers to the "belly" or "womb" of a person; the word for "polished ivory" actually means an elephant's tusk. The words lapis lazuli are usually used to refer to sapphires and their beauty.

In other words, the Bible has Solomon's wife saying that his "womb area" is "like an elephant's tusk" and is beautiful. There is no other way to say it: the Bible records a woman enjoying her husband's endowment. And encourages this.

You cannot read the Scriptures honestly and not conclude that (a) God created sex, (b) sex is meant to be enjoyable, and (c) there is no need for shame in it.

HOWEVER, that does not mean that sex should be had at the drop of a hat. Like anything, it is enjoyable only within its appropriately designed boundaries. We love to swim, but if we tried to live by swimming like the fish, we would die: it is a good feeling and nothing wrong, but only if done in the appropriate way. The same is true of sex, food, entertainment--anything. Things must be done properly if they are to be enjoyed fully.

But it is ridiculous to say "I couldn't figure out how to be both religious and sexual at the same time." If that is true, the problem is with the individual, not religion.

And IF that were true...then she is saying here essentially:  "Christianity may be true, but for me its Christianity or sex. I choose sex."  If Christianity is true, then you just made the craziest decision ever.

You would think at this point, any reader would say to themselves, "Wait a minute, though. Nearly everyone I know who IS religious has sex! In fact, studies show that they have on average the happiest sex lives. So maybe this is a problem with an individual and not with religion."

But more than anything, this clearly shows the real reason:  she is not religious. She is a "none", who was raised in the church but never actually embraced what it taught. Her faith was not hers, but her parents'. As a result, she bowed to her parent's demands regarding virginity not because of her belief, but because of her desire for their love.

I'm now thoroughly convinced that the entire concept of virginity is used to control female sexuality.

If my eyes rolled any harder, I'd get a headache.

First, I love when someone makes some outrageously bold worldview claim with not a single argument behind it. She just says, "I believe X" and then moves on, with no feeling of a desire to demonstrate it.

Second, virginity in the Christian sense is about learning to control your own desires, protecting yourself from unwanted pregnancy and disease, and--most of all--to grow into One with your partner because you two learn everything together as you age, from sex to parenting to old age.

Third, this statement actually makes no logical sense. You are BORN a virgin...does that mean that nature wants to control female sexuality? Virginity is not a CONCEPT which can be used to control something; it is a binary state. This is like saying, "The sky being blue is a concept to keep the color red down!" It is nonsense, in the trueist meaning of the word.

In short - this article is absurd. I wish I could get my time back reading it and then writing about it. But the sad truth is that I hear similar arguments in youth groups from time to time.

I blame the education system--we no longer teach people how to THINK. There are no philosophy classes any more. We teach them how to memorize and regurgitate facts. And they never learn to actually think through anything.

And thus, you get drivel like this:  a woman who (sadly) got sex really mixed up in her mind; tied to wrongly to theology as she understood it (rather than as it was written); and then when something went wrong used it to justify abandoning her parents' faith. It is an argument from emotion, not from logic.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Legislating morality

The other day, I skimmed an absolutely absurd article in an Arkansas magazine. (I was REALLY bored at the doctor or wherever we were.) This article was arguing whether we should allow clubs to stay open until 5 am, or close at 2 am. Really it was a masterful work of logical fallacies, but was such a boring topic I can't recall almost any of it, and it's not relevant to us here.

One thing did stick with me, though. One of their reasons to not close the clubs early was, "You shouldn't legislate morality."

This is of course a typical libertarian drumbeat. Liberals will say it whenever someone wants to outlaw gay marriage or drug use; conservatives will say it whenever someone wants to use taxes to redistribute wealth or ban smoking or force people to eat healthier. In all cases, the argument basically goes like this:  "Laws should be secular in nature and not influenced by a person's internal morality. That is for their personal lives, but the laws should completely avoid morality statements."

And that sounds really good--until you think about it for five or six seconds.

Because by definition, the Law is a set of nationally-agreed upon moral standards which we all agree to live by in return for being citizens of the land. EVERY law is legalized morality.

Murder. Theft. Rape. Perjury. Discrimination in hiring or firing. Fraud. Embezzlement. Littering.

Every law you can think of is our nation, collectively, deciding what is morally wrong and legislating against it.

Morality is simply defined as a body of beliefs that some group (culture, religion, whatever) uses to define "good" from "bad" behavior.

Law is defined as a set of rules for a governing body to define how its members will behave--in other words, what is "legal" from "illegal" behavior.

There is no difference between these two definitions on a practical level, and ultimately every law ends up being justified by someone saying, "It's wrong because _____, and therefore we made it illegal."

Let's say that you stripped out of our legal code everything put in there due to morality. You know what you'd have left? A list of duties of the governing officials and (some of) the tax code. That's it. It would be basically anarchy.

So if you want to argue against someone's proposed legislation, do it based on that law's merits: not based on some tired and silly argument.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Different Take on the Ferguson, MO Shooting

I don't need to tell anyone about Ferguson, Missouri and the unfortunate situation going on there--the shooting of 18-year old Michael Brown, the protests, and the backlash all across the Interwebs on both sides of the aisle.

There has been some very thoughtful commentary written, by those who support both sides. And there has been A LOT of hateful, un-thoughtful commentary written, again by those on both sides.

I have a different take.

My take:  we all agree.

No, seriously. All sides agree.

I have never, in my entire life, heard anyone disagree with any of the following statements:
  1. A person should never be attacked, harassed, or killed simply because of the color of their skin.
  2. Police brutality and use of excessive force is never acceptable.
  3. An officer attacked by a criminal may unfortunately have to defend himself, and when it is justifiable, that is acceptable.

We all agree on all three of those statements.

The problem isn't that we disagree philosophically or morally on any of the situations:  the problem in the Ferguson case--as in so many others--is that none of us actually know enough details to know which of the three scenarios above is true.

Police shootings of minorities are like the following Venn diagram:

You see, there are actually seven zones in this Venn diagram:

  1. Police are brutal to innocent people, regardless of race.  We all agree - this is wrong and should be punished.
  2. Police are brutal to criminals, regardless of race. We all agree - police brutality is wrong, regardless of whether the other person is a criminal. Both the criminal and the policeman should be punished.
  3. Criminal activity is wrong, and should be punished regardless of race.
  4. Police brutality toward a criminal because of their race is wrong. The criminal should be punished for their crimes, and the policeman for the brutality and racism.
  5. Police brutality of innocent people due to racism is wrong. Only the policeman should be punished.
  6. Arresting criminals due to racism is wrong, even if they are arrested without brutality. However, the criminal still should pay for his crimes.
  7. Arresting innocents due to their race is wrong, even if done without brutality. The person should be freed, and the policeman punished.

Everyone I know actually agrees with every one of those statements.

So why do we have the issues with the Trayvon Martin case, and the Michael Brown case?

Because the issue is that we despite all knowing that we have incomplete information, love to choose which zone we think applies. Some people who have NO CLUE what is really going on, have assumed that this is a situation of zone 3, and the policeman did nothing wrong. Some people who have NO CLUE what is really going on, have assumed the opposite--that this is either zone 4 or 5, and that the policeman should be punished.

But the reality is that virtually nobody involved knows which was the situation. The policeman knows. Michael Brown's friend might know. That's it. Everyone else is speculating, to a greater or lesser degree.

That is the real issue which is causing the divisions: people based on whatever source/logic/prejudice they have, are deciding which zone they thought applied. I did. You are. Your neighbor is.

Then in kicks confirmation bias, and you all of a sudden find it OBVIOUS that your choice was correct. If only other people would be objective and look at the evidence you are seeing, they would agree!

The Christian Response

Let's all agree that this is a horrible situation. One of seven scenarios occurred on that Venn Diagram. And no one reading this article has any clue which one is correct. So as Christians, let us follow our Lord's command and not judge (Matt 7:1). Don't judge the cop for reacting to a scenario that you didn't see--you might be judging him wrongly. And alternately, don't judge Michael Brown for a scenario that you didn't see--you might be judging him wrongly. Jesus says that the way you judge others is how you will be judged: do any of you really feel you have enough information to play God, and judge this situation with complete objectivity? I know I don't. (And if you say, "Yes, I do," then you are really wrong and need a dose of humility!)

So let me propose a Christian response.

  • Let's pray to the Lord that justice will be done in Ferguson.
  • Let's pray to the Lord for peace to reign in the city and the nation.
  • Let's pray to the Lord that anyone who has acted wrongly will be repentant, and forgiven.
  • Let's pray to the Lord that those who mourn will be comforted.
  • Let's pray to the Lord that those who live in fear will be protected.
  • Let's pray to the Lord that the Church will band together to heal a hurting community.
  • Let's pray to the Lord that, above all, His will be done.

What if--just what if??--THIS was the Christian response. What if both publicly and privately we prayed for the above, instead of judgmentalism and jumping to conclusions on one side or the other?

What if we stopped expecting a secular society run by sinful men to act saintly, and instead gathered around all of those who are hurt--both the officer and the family of Michael Brown--and offered a shoulder to cry on?

What if we earnestly sought peace more than evidence that our initial opinion was right?

What if we as a Church decided to try to actively work together in our communities to break down barriers between the races, so that future situations do not dissolve into this?

What if--like Jesus--we were able to actually love ALL people through this very difficult time, instead of choosing which ones we will love?