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  • Archive for September, 2007

    Christian Popularity

    Friday, September 28th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    Sept 28, 2007, Wausau, Wi  As I detailed in my book Christianity and Secularism, throughout the much of the twentieth century, the rising dominance of secularism, combined with a church that was form the most part sleeping and unengaged with the culture, has had a devastating impact on the culture.  As a result the popular culture is now not only dominated by secularism, but it is also markedly anti-Christian where negative stereotypes of Christianity are the norm, and outright attacks are common, not only against Christianity  and Christians,  but even against Jesus.

    The damage this has done, was demonstrated once again in a recent study by the Barna Group, which showed “one of the most significant shifts [in American culture] is the declining reputation of Christianity, especially among young Americans.”  One of the studies more disturbing findings is that ” only 3% of 16 – to 29-year-old non-Christians express favorable views of evangelicals.”

    The study found that for many young people, even including Christians,  Christianity was viewed as judgmental, hypocritical, old-fashioned, and too involved in politics.  Not too surprisingly these are also the stereotypes that are so common in the popular culture. The study shows that, at least in the PR war, the secularist are winning.

    Combating these perceptions will be difficult because these perceptions not only reflect the steady drumbeat of anti-Christian stereotypes, but also that the broader Christians worldview that once dominate in our society even among those who were not Christian, has been replace by a secular one. 

    Take the first two items on the list, that Christians are judgmental, and hypocritical.  A major problem is that both of these terms have been radically redefined.  Being judgmental, once referred to someone who was hypercritical, picking on every little flaw or mistake.   As it is now applied to Christians, it refers those who make virtually any moral judgment at all.  In the secular world view all morals are relative.  Thus the common argument against Christians asking “who are you to judge?” 

    As for hypocritical, that once referred to someone who claimed that an action was wrong for others, but it was ok when they did it. The new secular understanding is that anyone who makes moral judgments, and yet does not live a perfect life themselves is a hypocrite.

    This is one of the tricks of secularism,  take terms that are commonly seen as negative, and redefine them so that they apply to things which secularist oppose. For both judgmental and hypocrite, the main goal is undermine (rather than defeat in open debate) Christian morality. As a result,  under the new secular understandings of these terms, of course Christians are judgmental hypocrites, so how can we defend ourselves? 

    Secularist have been very successful with these redefinitions, but they have a two huge weaknesses. First they depend on the fact that the redefinition goes unnoticed, so that the negativity of the old definition is automatically transferred to the new meanings.   Secondly these new definitions are not, and cannot be uniformly applied if the negativity is to remain. In fact, they  are applied very selectively.  Thus one ways to defend against such attacks, is to go straight to the core weakness of the secular redefinition.

    For example, when the subject of being judgmental came up in my college classes on critical thinking, I would simply point out that the term had been redefined and it was important to know whether one was using the older meaning or the newer one. More importantly I would point out that under the new definition, being judgmental is not always a bad thing, and in fact that everyone is not only judgmental in some areas, but that they should be. One example I would give is, what if someone stole something you valued, such as your IPod. Would you say that to steal was simply their personal choice and who are you to judge; or would you  be judgmental and say that they were wrong?  Put in such a light suddenly the entire class would become “judgmental.”

    Likewise for hypocrite, you can point out that there has been a change, and that either everyone is a hypocrite at which point the term become pretty much meaningless, or it is being wrongly and very selectively used.  Which way will work the best will vary from individual to individual,  and term to term, but the main goal here is to get onto a level playing field where everyone is speaking, and hearing the same thing.

    Yet this problem is much deeper than just the redefinition of some terms. For many of those outside the Church, and even for many Christians,  their view of Christianity is one shaped by the anti-Christian bigotry and falsehoods of skeptics.  For example, I have found that even among Christians the belief in thing like Columbus having to fight the ignorance of Christians who believed in a flat earth, or that most wars are caused by religion are very common, even though both completely false.  While well schooled in the negative aspects of Christian history, such as the inquisition,  most have no idea of the important and positive contributions made by Christians such as the abolition of slavery, nor the intellectual foundations Christianity provided for things like science and human rights and democracy.

    Such errors and falsehoods can be correct, but to do so we must know the truth, and as Peter said, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do so with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15).

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

    Mother Teresa's Letters

    Friday, September 21st, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    Sept 21, 2007, Wausau, Wi  Recently published letters of Mother Teresa revealed that, though her public life was one marked by service to God,  privately she had struggled with doubt. For many, this might seem like a contradiction, or even a sinful lack of faith, but I do not see any conflict at all.

    As a young Christian, I struggled with trying to understand what faith was.  When I would hear pastors preached on the subject, I was often left even more confused. I was frequently told that faith was an otherworldly gift of God which was the basis not only for our salvation, but for our daily walk with God. Faith and doubt were often portrayed as opposites; you either had one or the other. This common view was why so many were the puzzled at Mother Teresa’s letters.

    While such views of faith seemed to satisfy, and even encourage, those around me, they left me still wondering; exactly what is this otherworldly gift? How did I know I had it? When doubts arose, was that a sign of sin? I seemed to have a lot of questions, but not many answers.

    Like many of my more troubling questions, the ultimate answer came, not by seeking out “better teachers” but by spending time with God, thought prayer and the study of His word.

    The key for me came with the realization that, even though they are related, and in fact are often used synonymously, faith and belief are not the same thing.  After all, the demons believe in God, but are not saved. (James 2:19)  It is not our belief in God, Jesus Christ, or even his death burial and resurrection to cleanse us from our sins that saves us.  It is our faith in these that saves us. In fact, simply believing is what James refers to as a “dead faith.” (James 2:17)

    But while an important realization, this was still only telling me what Faith was not, in this case, that it was not belief. It still did not tell me what it was. The answer was to be found in Hebrews Chapter 11, the chapter on faith.  I had heard many sermons on this, but most focused on the first verse where faith is defined as “being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.” 

    Taken out of context, this would seem to link faith and belief, but rest of the chapter is a listing of examples of the faithful having faith. These examples flesh out the meaning of the faith and show us not only exactly what it is, but how we can have it.

    Take the example of Noah, “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family.” (Heb 11:7)  Note the key focus of this example of faith, is not that Noah believed without a doubt that the flood would come but that he built the Ark.  In fact almost all the examples in this chapter follow the literally formula of by faith, someone did something.   Throughout the chapter the focus is what they did, not on what they thought.

    This is faith.  It is the confidence, or trust, we have in our beliefs that leads us to act upon them. The core of faith is not belief, it is trust.  We may intellectually believe that God exists, or even that he sent his Son to die for us on the cross as a payment for our sins, but we have faith when we trust in this enough to change the way we live our lives.  If we really have faith, we will serve God, for as James says, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17)

    To be clear this is not salvation base on works.  Works do not result in salvation. Faith results in salvation, and a true saving faith will have an effect on how we live. How could to be otherwise?  Can someone really trust in God and really trust what he says, and yet not let it affecting anything they do?  Can someone really trust in Christ’s crucifixion as a payment for their sins without any impact in their life? I do not think it is possible.

    When faith is understood in the context of trust that leads to action, instead of belief, one can easily see that there is no contradiction in the way that Mother Teresa led her life, even though she struggled with doubt.  In fact, her doubts only further testify to her faith.  It is easy to have faith in things about which you are certain.  Those who have flown many times may not give getting on a plane a second thought. Having faith that the plane will not crash is easy. But for those with doubts, to have the faith to get on the plane can be a struggle.   So it is a testimony to Mother Teresa’s faith, that despite her doubts, she still had the faith to lead a life of service.

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

     

    A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part VI

    Friday, September 14th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    Sept 14, 2007, Wausau, Wi  Last time in my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” I showed the superficiality of Dawkins’ view of God.   From there, Dawkins begins a discussion of the Founding Father, trying to claim that, “contrary to [The American right’s’] view, the fact that the United States was not founded as a Christian nation was early stated in the terms of the Treaty of Tripoli, drafted in 1796 under George Washington and signed by John Adams in 1797.” (pg 40)

    Once again, the simplicity of Dawkins’ approach leads him into error.  United States is not a Christian nation in the sense that government has established Christianity as the official religion of the United States; which is basically what the Treaty of Tripoli says for it clearly refers to “The Government of the United States.”

    The problem for Dawkins’ is that there is a difference between the government and the nation as a whole. A country is more than just its government.  This is true of all nations, and is particularly true of the United States where even within the government there is a difference between the federal and the states.  Nothing shows this clearer than at the very time Dawkins claims that the Treaty of Tripoli showed that the United States was not a Christian nation, many of the states still had established religions, all of which were Christian.

    Dawkins goes on to claim that, “the genie of religious fanaticism is rampant in present-day America, and the founding fathers would have been horrified…  the founders most certainly were secularists who believe in keeping religion out of politics, and that is enough to place them firmly on the side of those who object, for example, to ostentatious displays in the Ten Commandments in government-owned public places.” (pg 41-2)

    Dawkins’ view is common among secularists, but it conflicts with the actual history.  In fact, as I detail in my book, Christianity and Secularism, the phase  “Separation of Church and State” which is the defining phrase for secularists is not only absent from the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, it did not even enter into Constitutional law until 1947, when it was inserted by the Supreme Court.

    While secularist do mention it very often, the very first clause of the First Amendment reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” Perhaps the only thing that secularist mention even less, would be the second clause, “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The founding father thought that religion was important enough to make this the very first part of the First Amendment.

    Dawkins’ view is even further called into question by the fact that Congress, the day after approving the First Amendment passed a resolution calling for a national day of prayer and thanksgiving.  If the founding fathers were so intent on getting religion out of politics as Dawkins’ claims, how could the very same people who approved the First Amendment the very next day pass such a resolution?  The simple fact is that if Dawkins’ view of their goals were correct, they couldn’t have.

    Rather than being horrified by rampant religious fanaticism as Dawkins’ claims, the British historian Paul Johnson has a much more actuate view when he pointed out that the current dominance of secularism “would have astonished and angered the founding father.” (see Christianity and Secularism, pg 19)

     While it is true the founding fathers did not want an established religion, it was because they saw religion as extremely important, so important that it needed to be the very first thing protected in the Bill of Rights. 

    The founding fathers believed in checks and balances.  The reason they saw religion as so important, is that it was the one thing strong enough to check the growth of government.  They did not fear religion, what they feared was that one group would gain power and use its position to dominate and suppress opposing points of view. In short, that a single view of religion would become a tool of government and used to suppress differing religious views.

    The founding fathers’ view of religion dominated until the middle part of the 20th century.  By then secularism’s distain for religion had grown to the point that religion came to be seen, not as something so important it needed to be protected from government, but something so dangerous that government  it need to be protected from it.

    Thus, starting with the 1947 Everson v. Board of Education ruling, the Supreme Court has effectively rewritten the constitution, allowing the court to reshape American society.  What we have now is what the founding fathers’ feared most, that one religious view, in this case secularism, has gained power and has used that power to reinterpret the First Amendment, and is using the new interpretation to dominate and suppress all competing religious views.

    Thus in the name of freedom, prayer in public schools was prohibited. In the name of freedom, Bible reading in public schools was prohibited.  In the name of freedom, prayer at graduations was prohibited, even if voluntary and done by students.   In the name of freedom, the Ten Commandments were banned from public schools.  In the name of freedom, Christians are routinely told that their values and beliefs are illegitimate in the political process because they are “religious.”  Thus on many issues such as abortion or definition of marriage or family, secularists say you are free to have whatever views you want, just as long as you keep them to yourselves, as only their views can be represented and promoted by government.  That is hardly view of freedom and democracy the founding fathers wanted.

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.  

    A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part V

    Friday, September 7th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    Sept 7, 2007, Wausau, Wi  So far, in my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” I have showed how Dawkins’ arguments in the first chapter of his book concerning religion in general and Christianity in particular are seriously flawed. In chapter two Dawkins turns to the more specific question of God. 

    He starts the chapter with what can at best be characterized as a stereotypical rant, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all the fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, and unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniac, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

    The main justification that Dawkins’ gives for this statement is that Winston Churchill’s son, Randolph, came to a similar conclusion when he read the Old Testament for the first time while in the army. 

    As a result, his views were not based on any serious in depth understanding of the text.  No attempt was made to put any of the books into an historical context.  No attempt was made to put the books into any cultural context.  There was simply a superficial reading.

    Dawkins goes on to write that, “It is unfair to attack such an easy target.” The reason it is so easy is that what Dawkins has done here is to create a strawman view of god that he can then easily knock down, not an accurate depiction of God based on any scholarly analysis of the text.

    Dawkins goes on from this to state his alternative to god, “any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution.” His alternative is a little confusing because it seems to be, not an alternative to god, but a reason why a god could not exist.  But even as a reason why a god could not exist, it still does not make very much sense because it is based on the premise that a god would be a part of the universe and therefore that would need to evolve.  But a god who created the universe could not be part of the created universe without falling into the absurdity of self creation.

    From there Dawkins goes on to expand the view of religion that sees progress from “primitive tribal animisms, and, through Polytheisms such as those of the Greeks, Romans and Norsemen, to monotheisms such as Judaism and its derivatives, Christianity and Islam.” (pg 32) While this seems like a nice neat theory that fits Dawkins bias to see evolution everywhere, as I discuss in my book, Evidence for the Bible, if anything the opposite is true.  Monotheism seems to devolve into polytheism, and the tendency would seem to be to create more gods, not fewer. Even in modern times, as Western civilization as moved away from Christianity, God has been replaced by many other things, wealth, fame, country, science, nature. Now even in science there are those pushing the concept of Gaia or mother earth.

    While Dawkins purports to discuss polytheism at this point, instead, he quickly switches to ridiculing the Trinity.  That his discussion of the Trinity occurs in the section on polytheism shows once again the superficiality with which Dawkins approach religion.  After quoting a passage from St. Gregory, Dawkins takes one of his characteristic swipes at religion, saying “his words convey a characteristically obscurantist flavor of theology, which – unlike science or most other branches of human scholarship – has not moved on in 18 centuries.”

    The first problem with this is that there was nothing particularly obscure in St. Gregory’s discussion of the Trinity.  That Dawkins finds it obscured is simply more evidence of his superficiality.  Anyone, reading a technical discussion in a field of study where they are not familiar with the key issues, problems, or terminology, is likely to find that discussion obscure.

    Dawkins’ claim that theology has not “moved on in 18 centuries” is equally as false.  Sure the basic doctrines such as God, Jesus Christ, and salvation, have not changed.  But why should they?  If scientists 18 centuries from now still believe in gravity will that be a reason to reject science because it is not moved on?  On the other hand, to say there has been no development in theology in the last 18 centuries is simply false. 

    In fact, just in the last hundred years there’s been tremendous development in our understanding of the Bible, as our understanding of Biblical languages, archaeology, and history have improved.  Granted, these have not challenged the foundations of our faith, and in fact if anything, have strengthened them, has they have demonstrated the reliability of the Bible, and have refuted most of the arguments put forth by critics such as Dawkins, which is perhaps why Dawkins ignores these developments.

    Dawkins’ closes the section on polytheism by attempting to forestall the criticism that the god Dawkins is attacking is not the God that Christians believe in.  His response is that all notions of god are silly and that he is “attacking god, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented.”

    While this is a bold and sweeping claim, it does not match the actual arguments in the book.  It would be like claiming you are refuting all of science, when all of your argument relate to alchemy.  Likewise Dawkins’ arguments fall short.

     This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

    Part I     Part II     Part III    Part IV