April 18, 2014
There is one theme that pervades the discussion on gay marriage: “this debate is the same as the debate we had on skin color in the 1960s.” Memes fly around the internet comparing the two fights. One recently on my newsfeed showed a picture of an interracial couple from the 1950s and a gay couple from today side by side with a statement “both illegal marriages.” When Arizona tried to pass its “religious freedom bill” that would allow the religious to refuse service in some situations to homosexuals, the response was clear: ‘this is the new Jim Crowe’. As a result, Jan Brewer vetoed the bill (probably fearing looking like the new George Wallace).
But the comparison is a bad one. The two causes should not be compared. They are nothing alike. To compare them is not only confusing but insulting to anyone who hates racial discrimination.
The comparison is wrong for one reason: Behavior is not skin color.
People often point to the idea that homosexual desire is innate. If it is innate, they argue, it is like skin color (something we cannot change) and therefore worthy of the same sort of civil protections. But is this true? A moment’s reflection shows the error of this thought. We are all born with a wide variety of innate impulses and desires (sexual and otherwise). Some of our innate desires and impulses are good and some are not. We all judge our desires and make decisions on when, how, and whether to act on them. These innate impulses are not behaviors. The fact that we have an innate desire/impulse in no way means that acting on that desire (behavior) must be accepted, licensed by the state, or endorsed by the public.
This concept is manifestly true based on the fact that we all regularly do not act on a whole host of our innate desires. We don’t because doing so would often be often be socially unacceptable (and sometimes illegal depending on which desire in which context). Only some behaviors are socially acceptable (depending on the culture, legal code, and situation). We all filter our innate desires and choose which behaviors are good and which are bad.
We cannot automatically assume that because a desire is innate the corresponding behavior must be accepted by all…..that is almost never true. Desire is not behavior. Behavior is not innate.
Very few behaviors are established as civil rights in our country and I have a hard time seeing why this one sexual behavior should be classified alongside skin color.
The current debates (i.e. gay marriage, sodomy laws, and conscience laws and etc) are all about behavior. No one is discussing thought control. The innate desires are not being restricted – no, there are questions about behaviors. And such discussions are appropriate and good. There is nothing hateful when we determine to reject certain behaviors as bad (we all do that every day). In fact, behaviors must be evaluated, judged as ethical or not, and rejected (or embraced) as part of living in a civil society.
There is fundamental difference between skin color and behavior. It seems obvious but our society continues to confuse the two. It is time this confusion ended.
December 21, 2013
People love to make the case that Christmas is a pagan holiday that Christians adopted and Christianized. The primary piece of evidence is that the date is December 25 (a day that falls right in the middle of the Winter Solstice celebrations so important to paganism). Others point out that Christ’s actual birthday is either unknown or probably in the spring.
“In the first chapter of Luke, we read that the angel Gabriel told Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth would conceive John the Baptist while Zechariah was performing his priestly duties on the Day of Atonement, also known as Yom Kippur. That feast always falls in either late September or early October.
Luke also tells us that, after Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive Jesus, she went in haste to visit Elizabeth, and that Elizabeth was in the sixth month of her pregnancy. If Elizabeth conceived in late September, and Mary visited her in her sixth month, that means Mary conceived Jesus and visited Elizabeth in late March. If Mary conceived Jesus in late March, that places his birth in late December.”
In the end there is nothing that requires us to know the exact date. There is nothing wrong with picking a day and celebrating his birth then. But I found this interesting.
December 20, 2013
CNN religion writer John Blake wrote this piece marking the 50th anniversary of the death of famed Christian author C.S. Lewis. It would be a generally positive article but Blake seems to give the impression that Lewis was terribly inconsistent in his Christian faith and engaged in wildly inappropriate sexual jokes at parties (asking people to spank him) and lived with a woman outside of wedlock in a strange (and possibly sexual) relationship.
Reading the reactions to this story, I saw more than a few people quote this article with smug satisfaction supposing that it confirmed that yet another Christian is a creepy hypocrite. But there is a major part of the story that is not made clear in Blake’s article: both the salacious revelations (the inappropriate jokes and the alleged premarital sex) were BEFORE HE CONVERTED TO CHRISTIANITY. Yes, the “shocking” revelation here is that Lewis did not adhere to Christian ethics before he was a Christian.
But that should not be shocking to anyone. The Apostle Paul participated in murder before converting. Saint Augustine was notoriously immoral before converting. And countless other heroes of the faith were not exactly ‘saints’ before becoming saints.
Of course no one is perfect after coming to faith either. In fact, even the most famous saints in history had areas of inconsistency and sin. But Lewis had nothing in his life known to us that would cause us to call him a hypocrite. His only known vices after converting were that he drank beer and he smoked tobacco……and neither of these things are sins if done in moderation.
For further reading, here is an article from a C.S. Lewis biographer who explains all of this better than I can.
November 1, 2013
At the heart of the Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul said that if Christ is not raised than our faith is empty and Christians should be pitied. How can we know that the resurrection is true? The below will lay out some very brief arguments. Books could be written on each point where I have only included a few sentences but I think they will at least introduce the arguments. So here are six arguments (among many) for the resurrection:
1) Gospels are Eyewitness Accounts: The gospels combined with the epistles of Paul are based on eyewitness accounts. This case is made by Bauckham a scholar at St Andrew’s (other scholars such as Wright and Witherington have done similar work). Bauckham argues that the gospels include specific names of minor characters (pointers to people who may have been influential and important in the early church). He notes the use of names that were extremely consistent with what we know about first century Palestine (something a later more removed author would find difficult). He notes the way that oral tradition in oral societies typically did a good job of preserving stories and sorting out truth from falsehood (unlike our modern conceptions that if it is not written down immediately it will be lost). And then he goes on to note many other details and peculiarities of the four gospels that would only make sense if they were largely based on eyewitnesses. Read more here.
2) Resurrection is Surprising but Consistent with 1st Century Jewish Theology: The resurrection of Christ was both a natural outworking of Israeli theology. First century Jews had been longing for God to act in history and when that happened many (but not all) expected a general resurrection of the dead. But no one was hoping for a single person to be resurrected. These facts undermine the idea that the resurrection was made up. It was not the sort of thing that people would have made up.
3) The Gospels are Good Testimony: The gospel narratives are convincing testimonies because:
a) They are different in details but the same in substance (indicating they are based on different eyewitness testimonies describing the same events).
b) In all four accounts, women are listed as the first witnesses to the resurrection. No one would make this up because in those days women were not considered reliable witnesses.
4) Martyrdom of the Witnesses: The early Christians would have access to what really happened (either by being personally witnesses to the events or by knowing someone who was) and yet they died willingly for their testimony. Why would they do this? People die for various faiths all the time (there are Muslim martyrs, Buddhist martyrs and etc) but these martyrs are dying for something they believe to be true not something they know is false. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, there are a group of people that died for something they know is false.
5) Resurrection Tradition Must Be Very Early: Early Christianity was amazingly uniform in its eschatology. Judaism had a mainstream view of the general resurrection of believers on the last day but this was one view among many and even those who held it had spectrum of beliefs. But the early Christian church was uniform in its belief in the general resurrection and even the specifics of what the resurrection would look like (that the resurrected would have transformed but corporeal immortal bodies). Given the fast rate of growth of Christianity in the early days and the expansion throughout the kingdom, this uniformity points to an early understanding of what happened to Christ – the resurrection narrative could not have been added after the religion spread or there would be many ideas instead of one throughout the church.
6) Jews Had a Way of Continuing Movements When Leaders Died: There were plenty of first century Jewish revolutionaries (would-be messiahs) who died on crosses in the first century. The followers would either disband or choose a brother or son of the messiah as a substitute. Jesus had a brother (James) who was a leader in the church. It is highly improbable that James would not accept leadership but would instead die for claiming that his brother was resurrected.
No one of these arguments is overwhelming but when you start to add them all together, I think that the case starts to become very strong. I think that when we look at what happened in the first century, I think even the greatest skeptic would have to at least say that something similar to the gospel accounts happened on Easter.
October 25, 2013
I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened. – Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
September 27, 2013
Let’s say that you are on your death bed and you are fairly sure that either Christianity is right or atheism. Your not sure which. Which should you choose? A philosopher from the 17th century named Blaise Pascal proposed we look at this decision like a wager. Since his time, this has been known by the creative name….. Pascal’s Wager. Here is an explanation.
A good way to measure financial investment is to multiply the odds of various decisions by the potential rewards. So say you have stock A that has a 50% chance of making $100 and stock B that has a 70% chance of making $70. Which do you invest in? The answer that MBAs like me would give you is to multiply each scenario out and see which had more value. For stock A that would be $100*.5 = $50 in value. For stock B that would be $70*.7=$49 in value. So I would recommend investing in stock A.
Well, if you are really decided between two choices, Christianity and Atheism and you are somewhere in the middle on which is right (say you are 30% sure that Christianity is right and 70% sure that atheism is right). Well let’s evaluate the results in each scenario:
If it turns out atheism is right the atheist gets blackness and nothingness at death. And the Christian gets blackness and nothingness at death.
So the net investment is a wash (or if you want to throw in the fun of this life that you may get from shagging guilt free there is that but even polls of happiness in this life are a bit of a wash between atheists and Christians). Let’s assign a number for blackness and nothingness on a happiness scale ranking 1-100. I would say nothing is smack dab in the middle (neither happy nor sad). Let’s say 50.
If it turns out that Christianity is right the results are infinite happiness for the Christian and eternal weeping for the atheist. This is clearly the benefit for the Christian. So on the happiness scale the atheist gets a 1 and the Christian gets 100.
So let’s evaluate which is a better wager.
The results for the person who is 70% sure that atheism is right and 30% sure that Christianty is right go like this depending on their choice:
If they choose atheism and are right they get 50 happiness points. If they choose atheism the best result they could get is 50 happiness points. And there is a 70% chance that they could get that. The value of the atheist investment is 50 minus a 30% chance of Christianity being right (or 100 happiness points times 0.3) so the value of that investment is 50-30 = 20.
If they choose Christianity the worst case scenario is 50. But then we can add to that that the chance that Christianity is right. 30% times 100 happiness points. That makes the value of the Christian investment 80%.
So, clearly, it would make sense to choose Christianity if you were approximately 70/30 split between the two on which is right.
In fact, (when you do the math) you will find it makes no difference what percent sure you are (90/10, 95/5 etc) unless you are 100% sure it always makes more sense to be a Christian.
This only wold be truly a valid measure on the death bed (taking this life out of the factoring). But if you accept the studies that show that Christians are more happy in this life, then it makes even more sense to be Christian.
You could even throw in some factor for another religion being right (say a 5% chance that Islam is right). You could do that calculation and unless the Islam percentage surpassed Chrsitianity. it would still make sense to be a Christian. If you are more sure that Islam is right than Christianity though you should become a Muslim. Say you are 70/20/10 atheism/Christianity/Islam you should be a Christian but if it went to 70/10/20 you should be a Muslim.
I would argue (as a Christian) that a wonderful thing happens when you enter a relationship with God. You become 100% sure. When you walk with God and know God the odds melt away. I am 100% sure that Christianity is right. I have zero doubt.
March 12, 2013