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Elgin’s Books


  • Christianity and Secularism

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  • Archive for February, 2009

    Does Your Church Want the Bible?

    Friday, February 27th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    A few Sundays ago at church, my Bible study class was about to begin when a woman came to the door and asked, “What class is this?”    I told her I was teaching about the Bible.    Her immediate response was, “Oh, no,  I don’t want that.” She instantly realized that the words had not come out as she intended, as this was not the class she was trying to fine, and it made for a somewhat amusing moment.

    While amusing, it is somewhat of a metaphor for a deeper problem in the church.  While this woman’s comments were misstatement,  for far too many Christians this is their attitude.  Not directly for sure, and if you ask them they would probably say that the Bible is important.  But however important they may think it is, their  knowledge of it is limited to what they have picked up from the pastor’s sermons.

    Some pastors inadvertently encourage these Bible-optional Christians by constantly changing the versions they cite passages from. In fact I have seen some pastors who quote from several different versions each sermon.   Whatever the benefit,  the effect is that it makes it virtually impossible to follow the pastors sermon in your own Bible.  The trend towards topical sermons,  in which the Bible becomes little more than a smorgasbord of proof texts  does not help either.    And after all the verses will be on the power point slides on in the bulletin.

    The bottom line is that fewer and fewer people see any need to bring a Bible to church.  Bible study itself is likewise down played either intentionally or unintentionally.  At a church I attended a while back the only time the pastor ever mentioned  any Bible class was to mention his own.   Except for children  and teens  for many churches  bible study is just not all that important.

    As Josh McDowell  pointed out in his book The Last Christian Generation, even with teens active in Youth Groups,   Church is often seen more as  a place for fun activities than learning about God.   Thus many of our children are like the seeds sown on stony ground “They sprouted at once because the soil wasn’t deep.  But  when the sun came up, they were scorched.  Since they did not have any roots, they dried up. ” (Mt 13:5-6)  As children and teens they spout quickly in church, but when they leave home and enter the hot sun of the world they dry up quickly.    To see this one only has to consider the stat cited by Thom Rainer of Lifeway that  “70% of 18 to 22 year olds drop out of the church. Many of them are crying for deeper biblical teaching and preaching.” 

    One of the most frustrating aspects about this is that it is so unnecessary.  It is not that we need massive changes to address the problem.  Rather what is needed a series of small changes aimed at emphasizing the importance of the word of God, the need to read it, and the need to study it. 

    This changes can be as simple as asking people who brought their bibles to open them to that passage for the sermon.   It does not mean that you have to make people who did not bring a Bible feed out of place our unwelcome,  but there is nothing wrong with encouraging people to bring a Bible to Church.

    Churches should also make it clear that that the study of God’s word is an important priority, whether this is done on Sunday morning in traditional Sunday school,  at other times at the church,  in small groups at people’s homes, or preferably all three,  people should find it easy to find and join a class.  For far too many adult Bible study is an afterthought.  Something done mainly out of tradition than any real commitment.  Simply clearly listing the classes  the subjects or age groups, and where they meet on a board should be a minimum.  But including them in the bulletin at regular intervals is a nice reminder and particularly helpful  for those new to the church, and for classes that do not meet on Sunday morning.

    These are hardly revolutionary or difficult changes.  There are of course many other things that could be done.  But sadly much of the church is not even doing this.   And it shows. 

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

    A Review of Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great – Summary

    Saturday, February 21st, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

    The following is an outline of my review of Christopher Hitchens’, “God is not Great

    Part I – Chapter One
    The definition of Atheism. Do “the faithful” commit more crimes? Are atheist dogmatic?

    Part II – Chapter One
    the “four irreducible objections to religious faith.”  Religion and sex

    Part III – Chapter One.
    Do believers claim to know everything?  “essential knowledge”

    Part IV – Chapter One
    Are we evil, or just partly rational?  What is ‘reason.’ Worldviews.  Reason and the existence of God.

    Part V – Chapter One
     The core weaknesses of atheism: rational evil.  Eugenics and Social Darwinism.

    Part VI – Chapter One
    the “Secular injunction” in Philippians 4:8  Truth, Justice, Lovely, Pure, and Virtue.

     Part VII- Chapter Two
    Why aren’t believers happy?  Christians who interfere in the lives of others? Charitable giving.

    Part VIII – Chapter Two.
    Hitchens and Dennis Prager.   Northern Ireland.

    Part IX – Chapter Three.
    Jews, Muslim and Pork.  Do prohibitions grow out of repressed desire? Being Holy.

    Part X – Chapter Four.
    Religion and Health.  Conspiracy theories. the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc or false cause.

    Part XI – Chapter Four.
    Cardinal Alfonso Lopez de Trujillo and condoms, and the politicization of science.

    Part XII – Chapter Four.
    Religion and Medicine, The fallacy of Hasty Generalization, the Black death. The germ theory of disease. 

    Part XIII – Chapter Five
    The Metaphysical claims of Religion. Atheist’s demand for proof. Religion vs. the behavioral sciences.

    Part XIV – Chapter Five
    The secularization of society.  The fallacies of appeal to the people and appeal to misplaced authority. Ockham’s razor.  Do we need God to explain the universe? probable arguments. deductive logic and inductive logic.

    Part XV – Chapter Six
    Hitchens distorted view of religion. Religion and Superstition.  Miracles, evil, and the problem of evil.

    Part XVI – Chapter Six
    Arguments from design. Paley. Hitchens argument concerning death and the universe.  Design and purpose.

    Part XVII – Chapter Six
    Specific arguments for Design.  Myths used to support evolution. evolution is unfalsifiable.

    Part XVIII – Chapter Seven
    The Old Testament.  Hitchens view of revelation. The Ten Commandments. Slavery. stoning of children for disobedience

    Part XIX – Chapter Eight
    The New Testament. “if English was good enough for Jesus…”  The flat earth.  Biblical scholarship.  Dating the New Testament.

    Part XX – Chapter Eight
    Reliability of the Gospels, Liberal Scholarship. Two major Errors of Hitchens.  The “other gospels.”  Virgin birth. Bart Ehrman.

    Note:  I skipped chapter Nine as it dealt with the Koran.

    Part XXI – Chapter Ten 
    Miracles.  Hume. The resurrection. The nature of miracles.  Freewill.  Proof and evidence.

    Part XXII – Chapter Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen    
    Chapter 10: The lost of belief.  
    Chapter 11:  The origin of religion. The Melanesian “cargo cult” Marjoe Gortner. Mormonism. Chapter 12:  The end of religion
    Chapter 13: Does religion make people better? Martin Luther King.  Abolition.   

    Part XXIII – Chapter Thirteen   
    Who is a Christian. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Hitchens refutes the majority of his  own book.

    Part XXIV – Chapter Thirteen   
    Are atheist immoral? The foundations of morality. Marriage.   

    Note:  I skipped Chapter Fourteen as it deals with eastern religions.

    Part XXV – Chapter Fifteen
    Is Religion Immoral? Presenting a false picture of the world to the innocent and the credulous. doctrine of blood sacrifice. Atonement.  Anti-Semitism. Corporate Guilt.

    Part XXVI – Chapter Fifteen
    Atonement. religious laws that are impossible to obey.

    Part XXVII – Chapter Sixteen
    Is religion child abuse. Abortion.  Evolution myths. Eugenics. Circumcision.

    Part XXVIII – Chapter Seventeen
    Atheists and the evils of the 20th century.  The definition of religion. “the totalitarian mind-set.”

    Part XXIX – Chapter Seventeen
    Hitchens attempts to link 20th century evils to religion. Christians who risked their lives to save others.  Fascism and Christianity.

    Part XXX – Chapter Seventeen
    The problem with focusing on the evil in others.  

    Part XXXI – Chapter Eighteen
    The Resistance of the Rational.  Galileo. Socrates. Gibbon. The Fall of Rome.

    Part XXXII – Chapter Nineteen
    A New Enlightenment.  Lessing. Faith and Reason. Worldviews.

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXXII

    Friday, February 20th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    In my extended review of Christopher Hitchens book “God Is Not Great,” I have finally reached the last chapter, “In Conclusion: The Need for a New Enlightenment.”  Hitchens opens the chapter with a discussion of a quote by Lessing, where he says that given the opportunity to know all truth, he would reject the offer in favor of pursuing the truth, even knowing he would remain thereby in error.  Of course this raises the question of why pursue something if obtaining it is not the goal. 

    But for Hitchens this is not a question of a choice between “All truth” and the pursuit of truth.  Hitchens equates knowing “all truth” with faith, and for him the question becomes a choice between faith and reason, faith and modernity, faith and technology, and even a choice between faith and civilization itself. 

    Of course this is a false choice.  I am religious and I certainly do not claim to know all truth.  Far from it and I spend much of my time pursuing it.  But this error goes to the heart of the atheist’s argument, and so in an odd sort of way it is fitting that Hitchens end his book with this error. 

    In reality it is not that those who are religious claim to know the truth, are dogmatic, blindly accepting certain truths, lack skepticism, or do not have a passion for inquiry.  There are certainly some who are religious who would fit this description, just as there are some who don’t believe in god for whom this would also be an accurate description.  Frankly some of the most closed minded and dogmatic people I have run into have been militant atheists.  Not all to be sure, but the simple fact is that these traits can be found amongst all groups, atheist and theist alike. 

    Those who believe in God can seek the truth and can learn and grow just like atheists.  As many have pointed out, including a few atheists, science had its roots in the Judeo-Christian worldview and many of the earlier greats minds of science, like Kepler, Newton, and even Galileo were Christians.  The real problem is not that we don’t search for truth or look at the evidence, but rather that theists reach different conclusions and consider other possibilities, possibilities that are prohibited in the atheist’s materialistic worldview.

    And that is the real problem.  Christians make no bones about it, we have a worldview, a framework in which we evaluate the evidence and apply reason as we strive to learn the truth.  Atheists claim that this shapes how we look at things and the conclusions that we reach; which is quite true, for that is exactly what frameworks do. 

    Where the atheists go wrong is that they also have a framework, a framework in which the only thing that exists is the material universe governed by natural law.  The atheist worldview shapes how they look at things and the conclusions they reach, just as much as the Christian worldview does for Christians.  Frankly, it probably affects them more.  While most Christians realize that they have a worldview, most atheists not only don’t, they frequently deny it.  For them, they don’t have a worldview that shapes their thinking, they just have reality, and see everything else as wrong, all the while claiming confidently not to be dogmatic, but open minded. 

    For the atheist, the existence of God, the supernatural, that we have a soul, etc., does not fit into their worldview and so for them, these things not only do not exist, they cannot exist.  While they are adept at pointing out problems in the theist worldview, any problem, lack of evidence, or evidence to the contrary for the atheist worldview, is simply ignored with the claim that “we will figure it out someday.” When it is demonstrated that the odds against the things they believe must have happened are unimaginably large, they just cling tightly to the minuscule possibility at they happened, however small.  Their worldview permits nothing else.  In fact they sometimes reply, as some have with the origin of life, that however small the odds, it must have happened because we are here. 

    While they are quick to attack religions for their irrational beliefs, often going to the point of casting this as a battle between faith and reason, their attacks are often themselves irrational, which  I have repeated pointed out, is the case with Hitchens.  The real problem in seeing this as a battle between faith and reason,  is that atheists have a distorted definition of faith, which is in reality for them, simply a belief in something that is false.  But that is not faith.  Faith is trusting something to the point of acting on it.  In the Christian worldview, you have faith in God by following his teachings, the first step being accepting Jesus as your savior. 

    Atheists have faith in their worldview just as much as Christians do in theirs.  Which worldview is right? Well I have written two books, Christianity and Secularism and Evidence for the Bible laying out my view of the evidence.  On the other hand, as I have show many times here, Hitchens arguments are based on sloppy thinking, errors and irrationalities, and thus hardly provide a firm foundation for his claims.

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

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXXI

    Friday, February 13th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    In  my extended review of  Christopher Hitchens book “God Is Not Great,” I have come to chapter 18, A Finer Tradition: The Resistance of the Rational.  The chapter struck me as a very strange chapter, for it left me with the feeling that Hitchens lives in somewhat of a fantasy world, where atheists are a small but noble underground valiantly fighting in the face of great odds against some dark and evil empire.

     Hitchens view of history is a very black and white one, where everything bad is in some way connected to religion and anything good must be the result of something other than religion.  Thus Hitchens writes, “When we read of the glories of ‘Christian” devotional painting and architecture, or ‘Islamic’ astronomy and medicine, we are talking about advances of civilization and culture.” (p. 254)

    As much as he likes, Hitchens cannot have it both ways.  He cannot have religion “at all times and in all places” subjecting non-believers to “ruthless suppression” (p. 254) on the one hand, but a completely absent force when it comes to the “advances of civilization and culture”  on the other.  People are much too complex to allow for such a nice, neat compartmentalization of their various and diverse aspects of their lives.

    A good example of this is Galileo, whom Hitchens mentions as one who “might have been unmolested  in his telescopic work if he had not been so unwise as to admit that it had cosmological implications.” (p. 255)  Hitchens contrasts this with those  did kept “their innermost thoughts from the scrutiny of the godly.” (p. 255)  Yet the story of Galileo is not so straight forward and simple as atheists like Hitchens seem to believe. 

    As Dava Sobel has written in her excellent book “Galileo’s Daughter,”  Galileo “remained a good Catholic who believed in the power of prayer and endeavored always to conform his duty as a scientist with the destiny of his soul.”  (p. 11-12)  As I point out in Evidence for the Bible “Rather than a conflict between science and religion, or even between science and Christianity, the conflict was at best a conflict with the Catholic Church”  as his works “were published and studied by protestants without conflict.” (p. 85)

    Rather than the titanic struggle between faith and reason that atheists like to claim, this was more an issue of a bureaucracy attempting to maintain its hold on power, as this occurred during the Protestant Reformation.  Even within the Catholic church Galileo had many supporters.  His primary opponents were the Aristotelian professors who were driven more by conflicts between Galileo’s discoveries  and the teachings of Aristotle than any conflict with the Bible.

    Similar problems plague many of Hitchens’ other examples.  Hitchens sees “the original collision between our reasoning faculties and any form of organized faith” in the trial and death of Socrates.  For Hitchens the matter is simple he was “indicted for godlessness and knew is life forfeit.” (p. 255) But like Galileo, things are not quite so simple. 

    In the decade  leading up to his trial, the democracy of Athens was twice over thrown for short periods by pupils of Socrates. When the democracy was restored for the second time in order to resort peace a general amnesty was issued; an amnesty that many must have been unhappy with given the numbers that had been killed. 

    Rather than religion as the driving force, the trial of Socrates was driven more by a mixture  of an attempt to prosecute Socrates despite the amnesty that had been granted and fear that his continuing to gather young students around him without any change in his teachings would spawn yet more attempts to overthrow the democracy of Athens.  

    Much of  Hitchens’ accounts are so vague as to be hard to judge.  For example, writing about Gibbons, and his monumental work “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” he simply says that Hume “warned him that there would be trouble , which there was.” (p. 267)  Exactly what he means by “trouble” and what kind of  trouble Gibbons faced is not stated.

    One source of the problems was the fact that Gibbons argued that Christianity was a cause of the downfall of Rome, a view that other historians have since questioned.  Frankly it is much more likely that the growth of Christianity was a result, rather than a cause of the downfall of Rome. Yet it would seem that in Hitchens’ world, while atheists are completely free to attack, criticize, and ridicule the views of theists, theists must not respond less they be seen as part of some “ruthless suppression.” 

    Again this is not to argue the opposite, that the history of Christianity is all good.  But Hitchens’ black and white approach to these questions hardly supports his claim to be on the side of the rational.

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

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXX

    Friday, February 6th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    I am continuing in my extended review of  Christopher Hitchens book “God Is Not Great,” and his defense of atheism in chapter 17.  Last time, I looked at how Hitchens deftly attempted to shift the blame for the secular evils of the twentieth century onto religion effectively arguing that Christians are to blame because they did not do enough  to prevent the evils committed by atheists.  But there is a deeper issue here, one that is a problem for all groups, theists and atheists alike.

    As I wrote earlier pointing to the evils committed by atheists, is not so much an attack against atheism per se, but rather atheist’s reasoning.   As I wrote in Christianity and Secularism, it is “to point out that any system that involves people can be directed toward evil. I am sure neither Charles Darwin nor Karl Marx intended evil to come from their works. Still, they planted the seeds for the greatest evils in history.” (pg 118)

    The key issue here is that good and bad people can be found in and out of religion.  While history has show that secular regimes have been by far the worst, that could change. Not all religions are the same. The 20th century evils could be eclipse by radical Islam if its adherents can acquire the weapons of mass destruction they are seeking.

    Nor is it impossible that in the future a radical form of Christianity could appear that could be a similar threat.  One of the surest ways to run into problems is to focus too much on the evil in other groups, while assuming your own group is somehow immune.  The danger from evil is ever present and history has clearly shown that being religious or an atheist is not an automatic safeguard.  

    This is nothing new. As Jesus pointed out in Matthew 7:3, we can see the speck in the eyes of others, while missing the beam that is in our own.  Instead of pointing to the past evils committed by others as an example of how bad the current group is, we should instead focus more on current evils and how to stop them and how to prevent evil in the future.   This is not to say that we should ignore past evils, we shouldn’t.  We should learn from them, not in an us-versus-them way, but seeking the common traits, traits that can appear in any group, so that we can avoid them.

    We should also focus more on the beam in our own eye.  One of the easiest ways to fall into evil, is to think you are immune. For Christians, this means acknowledging the great evil that has been done at times in the name of Christ.  But for atheists, it also means acknowledging the great evil done by atheists.  Neither can just blame it on the other.

    It is a simple fact that criticism from within a group will be far more effective at limiting evil than criticism from those outside, as criticism from others is often confused as an attack.  While I could be wrong, I believe that if Muslims in general were to be as outraged over those who target and kill the innocent in the name of Allah, as they have been over cartoons of Mohammad  and stories about alleged mishandling of the Koran, there would be a lot less terrorism.  Likewise, if it were not for the clear and consistent condemnation of the few who have bombed abortion clinics or murdered abortionists, not only by the majority of Christians, but by all anti-abortion groups , I believe there would have been more bombings and murders.

    One of the reasons I believe that the teachings of Christ are so important is not because it automatically makes me a better person, but because it teaches that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).   In addition it teaches that we have hope.  While we are saved by grace, that only begins a process of discipleship in which we should continually strive to be more like Jesus.

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