Evil: Part of an Exquisite Poem

July 29, 2015

C. S. Lewis coined a phrase, “Chronological snobbery”.  This phrase comes to mind when I encounter atheists who seem to think anyone who lived before the mid 1800’s was an intellectual simpleton.  They seem to think that in the past, religion went unchallenged but, finally, we modern sophisticates have discovered the intellectual big guns to shoot it to bits.

The reality is, Christians have been aware of, and engaged with, intellectual challenges to their faith since almost the very beginning.

To illustrate, I turn to Augustine, the inspiration for this post.  Augustine was a notable North African Christian who died in the year 430.  Augustine touched on the “problem of evil” in a passage that runs, in part, thus:

For God would never have created any, I do not say angel, but even man, whose future wickedness He foreknew, unless He had equally known to what uses in behalf of the good He could turn him, thus embellishing the course of the ages, as it were an exquisite poem set off with antitheses. – Augustine, City of God, Book 11, Chapter 18.


Phil Roberston: Gays and lesbians are murderous God-haters?

December 22, 2013

In an article by Josh Barro on Slate, he writes the following, referring to a 2010 video of Phil Robertson:

In one America, it’s OK to say this of gays and lesbians: “They’re full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, God-haters. They are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless. They invent ways of doing evil.” In the other America, you’re not supposed to say that.

The problem is, Phil didn’t say that of gays and lesbians.  In reality, Phil was more or less quoting from the first chapter of the book of Romans (a book of the Bible) and the “they” in that passage doesn’t refer to gays and lesbians; it refers to humanity in general.

You see, Paul, the author of the book of Romans had gospel (“good news”) to proclaim: that people could have righteousness as a gift from God, a righteousness that was entirely by faith, for “everyone who believes” (verse 16).  But, you might ask, why  do we need this righteousness from God?  Why?  Because we are not righteous ourselves and are under God’s wrath.  To make this clear, Paul shows just how unrighteous humanity is.  He says they suppressed their knowledge of God and didn’t honor God as God.  Instead of worshipping the Creator, they worshipped God’s creatures, His creations.  They practised sexual immorality.   And, “since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.  They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.  Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”

That last bit is the part Phil was quoting.  It pertains to us all.  In fact, Paul picks this up again in the third chapter, telling us we are all “under sin”, and that (quoting the Old Testament) “None is righteous, no, not one;  no one  understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good,    not even one” (verses 10-12).  This isn’t a “hey, I’m better than you all” message.  This is a “we’re all in big trouble, Jack!” message.

This doesn’t sound like very good news.  I mean, Paul’s telling us we’ve greatly offended the Creator of the Universe and he’s ready to pour out his wrath on us for it.  How’s that good news?  Well, just as a miracle cure is only good news to those who are sick, a solution to the problem of our wickedness is only good news if we first see our wickedness.  So Paul shows us that first.  Now, he shows us the solution:  “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested [made visible]… —the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation [a sacrifice] by his blood, to be received by faith”  (Chapter 3, verses 21-25).  Yes, we’ve all fallen short of God’s perfection and sinned against God, but everyone who believes, who entrusts themselves to Jesus, will be counted as being righteous like God.  Pure as the new fallen snow.  God credits us with being just as a gracious gift, a gift purchased by Jesus’ blood, a gift we receive by simply trusting that God will give it to us when all we do is hold out our empty hands.

That, folks, is the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, in a nutshell.  Phil was actually relaying the same message from God that Paul had shared centuries ago: we humans are a wicked lot.  How, then, can we escape God’s wrath on the day of judgement?  Only through faith in Jesus Christ.  Turn your back on your wicked ways and cry out to Jesus to deliver you and he surely will!


Honesty and Integrity

August 20, 2013

Dilbert for August 19, 2013:

A lot of people believe Dogbert is right, but who lives that way?  Yet, if a person believes people are just “temporary arrangements of matter, sliding toward oblivion in a cold, uncaring universe”, then aren’t they being completely irrational when they act otherwise?  And, isn’t it best to act rationally?

How would we think about human rights, if we believed this, and were rational?

How would we think about the environment, if we believed this, and were rational?

Actually, if Dogbert is right, can we even insist on the goodness of being rational?  After all, when we speak of being rational, we are saying that there are proper and improper ways for our minds to operate.  Yet, how can there be proper or improper ways for temporary arrangements of matter to behave?

Dogbert’s is a view of the world that I just cannot accept.  No rational person can, for either they are wrong and irrational or else they are right and rationality doesn’t even exist.


Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged

August 2, 2013

Speaking about homosexual priests, Pope Francis recently said, “Who am I to judge?”  I don’t believe he was at all approving of homosexual practice, but that is beside the point.  The point is the media went wild.  Headlines all over the internet echoed the Pope’s statement.  These days, tolerance and non-judgementalism are virtues.  The Pope’s statement was virtuous and apparently one that many people wanted to hear.

“Judge not, that you be not judged.”  These words of Jesus are often lifted out of context and hurled at Christians when they are making a moral argument, especially when the argument goes against the moral sentiments of the person quoting Jesus.  It is worth noting that Jesus, in the same passage, tells those with a log in their eyes to remove the log before they try to remove the speck from their brother’s eye.  He doesn’t say they shouldn’t remove the speck at all, but that they shouldn’t do it until after they have removed the log from their own eye.  And, in the same passage, he tells us not to throw our pearls to pigs or to give dogs what is holy – which of course requires judging who is a pig and who is a dog.  Again in the same passage, we are warned to watch out for false prophets, who can be recognized by their fruits, which requires us to judge the goodness of their fruits.

Jesus is really warning us against hypocrisy: ignoring our faults while proclaiming those of others.  He does, after all, explicitly call the log-in-the-eye-speck-remover a hypocrite.  The correction, however, is not no judgment, but rather self-judgment first (“then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye”).  Contrary to Jesus’ intentions, this famous saying has become a maxim against any kind of judgement.

So, let’s try this saying on as a maxim.  Also in the news recently is the story of kidnapper Ariel Castro, found guilty of holding three women captive and repeatedly raping them for years.  He was given life in prison.  I noticed comments on this story to the effect that Castro should receive like treatment in prison and that he should have been given the death penalty rather than a life sentence.  What I didn’t see anyone saying was “Who am I to judge?” or “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”  There was unconditional condemnation and judgement all around.  They simply know what Castro did was morally reprehensible and cannot help knowing it.

If you think “Judge not” is a universal maxim meaning you should never judge, try it on for size in the case of Ariel Castro.  If it suits you well in that case, you’re welcome to it.  If it doesn’t, then I encourage you to think twice before you quote it.  Are you simply giving preference to your own notion of morality? Do you have any foundation for your moral beliefs beyond mere opinion?  Are you judging those whom you label as intolerant and judgmental, in violation of your own maxim?

One thing is certain, it will do no good to quote the maxim “Judge not” to The Judge, God Himself.  Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2).  In this warning, Jesus refers to a higher Judge, a Judge of those who judge.  Elsewhere, he says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.  Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.  Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:24-29).  If you want to escape judgment, don’t say “judge not”, rather, believe!


Immoral Laws Encourage Immoral Acts

April 23, 2013

Imagine that we changed our laws so that from nine to noon shoplifting was legal. If stores stayed open during those hours, some people would probably still buy their goods, feeling it was wrong to take what wasn’t theirs. Others, however, would legally shoplift, reasoning that stores could afford some losses and no one was getting hurt. Now imagine this had been the law for thirty or forty years. Children would have learned, by law and custom, that shoplifting was okay. Their sense of its wrongness would be diminished. In time, they may recognize that the restriction on the hours for legal shoplifting was arbitrary and decide that shoplifting at any time was permissible.
Consider now Kermit Gosnell. He legally aborted infants younger than 24 gestational-weeks old. However, he is now on trial for the murder of one mother and seven babies. He is accused of killing viable infants, older than 24 weeks gestation, by cutting their spinal cords at the back of the neck after delivery. His clinic has been called a “House of Horrors” in the news. People are rightly disgusted, but should they be shocked? While the law distinguishes between killing a 23-gestational-weeks-old infant and killing a 24-gestational-weeks-old infant, should we be surprised if someone like Gosnell decides there is no essential difference and then kills both? I think not. In the end, the law is relatively arbitrary.
People don’t want to hear or think about the results of abortions, such as the severed feet, displayed in a glass jar in Gosnell’s clinic, but that is the result of abortion. About the time most women discover they are pregnant – by just 6 weeks gestation – the infant has a beating heart. Most abortions, therefore, kill something that is a good deal more than “just a blob of tissue”. The essence of what made Gosnell’s clinic a “House of Horrors” is not unsanitary conditions, or that he displayed the body parts of the infants he aborted, or that he killed some a few days or a few weeks later than the law allows.  The essence of the horror is simply abortion itself.


Harry Reid: Right on Prostitution, Yet Wrong

December 28, 2012

Storey County (Nevada) commissioner Lance Gilman was elected this November 6 (with 62% of the vote). He is a businessman who owns, among other things, a brothel.

The AP reports:

Gilman maintains illegal prostitution is rampant across the country, and it makes more sense to legalize and regulate it. He said bordellos pay significant taxes to rural counties and the women are regularly checked by doctors. “I use the term caregivers for our industry,” Gilman said. “The public has no idea, but so many of the men we deal with are damaged or widowed or in need of kindness. The industry is so much more about providing care and human nurturing than anything else.”

Harry Reid made news in Feb 2011 when he suggested it was time to make prostitution illegal in Nevada. News reports suggest he had little to no support. His reasoning? Prostitution hurts economic development. I agree prostitution should be illegal, but Reid’s reason is poor. Ban one business because other businesses don’t want to move in next door? Liberalism tends to be willing to sacrifice individual freedom for whatever it thinks is the good of society: if brothels harm local economies, then ban brothels. At the same time, liberalism tends to refuse to prohibit actions on moral grounds, as long as the action can be portrayed as not hurting anyone.  Nevada should outlaw prostitution not because it harms economic development (though it may), and perhaps not even because it is immoral (though it is).  Nevada should outlaw prostitution because it does harm others.  Prostitution exploits the vulnerable in our society and giving it legal sanction makes such exploitation easier.

We should note that there is a grain of truth to Gilman’s claim that prostitution is about human nurturing.  He is right, I think, that prostitution is not simply about men getting sexual pleasure.  It is about what sex promises: an intimate union with another person. Love. The irony in Gilman’s argument is that while his customers’ deepest desires may indeed be for the caring touch of a woman, for some human nurturing – indeed, for love – that isn’t what he is selling!  His customers are deceived, perhaps even self-deceived. They are buying into a lie. Love cannot be purchased. The prostitutes will indiscriminately lavish their attention on any paying customer.  They are not making a commitment to the kind of intimacy that the human soul hungers for – that these men hunger for – and which finds its deepest physical expression in sexual intercourse.  She does not nurture him, helping him to flourish as a human being.  She doesn’t value him and he doesn’t value her.

Also, notice Gilman’s emphasis on the needs of men.  He claims his prostitutes are “caregivers” who “care” for men that are “damaged” or “in need of kindness”.  As I have already noted, the that claim these women truly care for those men is dubious at best, but what about the needs of these women?  What about the women who are reduced to selling themselves, to being indiscriminately intimate with any John with a few dollars in his pocket?  What about the damaged women who are in need of kindness?  Who is caring for them?  Gilman’s statement is a heinous, disgusting twisting of good and evil.

First, prostitution is not about care-giving.  It does not equally treat both parties as humans for it does not equally regard the honor, integrity, and wholeness – the human flourishing – of both parties.  Second, prostitution is an offense against women. It turns them into nothing but pleasure machines for men. It has no place in a society that respects and values women.  Third, brothel owners are enriched by taking advantage of poor and vulnerable women.  It is a classic case of the wealthy and powerful abusing the weak and poor.  Prostitution has no place in a just society.  Fourth, prostitution is a road to destruction.  It ruins families and it compromises the integrity of individuals as they deceive others to protect their secrets.  It has no place in a society that would have its citizens listen to their better natures.  Fifth, prostitution is the opposite of freedom. Women who depend on it for their income cannot easily walk away. They are no longer free to choose their sexual partners. They are not enjoying sexual freedom, as some may suppose, but rather sexual enslavement.  Prostitution has no place in a free society.

The people of Storey County, Nevada should be ashamed to have chosen such a leader, but the people of Nevada as a whole should be even more ashamed for giving legal sanction to such a demeaning, unjust, destructive, debasing, and enslaving act.


The Kiss Challenge: A Tasty Way to Grow Fatter

November 13, 2012

These days, manufacturers want to cut costs by using less packaging. It also reduces waste – also a good thing – because after all, most people don’t buy a product for its packaging. I think perhaps Hershey has reduced their packaging by using thinner tin foil for their kiss wrappers. At least, I’ve noticed the foil on their creamy milk kisses is really quite thin. The foil is so thin, in fact, that completely unfolding the foil into a reasonably smooth square is quite challenging. It seems to be a nearly impossible task. Give it a try – but I’ll warn you that you may end up unwrapping and eating many a kiss!


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