Thursday, August 31, 2006

Hatred And Mistrust In The Moslem Community

The Australian Prime Ministry contradicted multi-culti dogma by asserting that moslem communities in Australia must assimilate into Australian society, including notions of equal rights for women and other things that characterize Western values.

The response was that these statements "fueled hatred and mistrust" of Moslems.

Let's see, John Howard calls on immigrants to act civilized. Those are words. Even if they were lies, instead of fairly practical common sense, they are only words.

Moslems seized airplanes and flew them into buildings. Moslems routinely strap bombs to their children and send them into Israeli coffee shops and pizza parlors. Moslems use dead children as props in their manipulation of Western media coverage of the war they start.

Question: what cases more hatred and mistrust of Moslems? The words of that last paragraph, or the actions that those words describe?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Most Useless Guys In The Bible

I recently came to the conclusion that the most useless guys in the Bible were Job's friends. You may recall the story. Job is put through some serious hurt. In the midst of his misery, his friends arrive and "comfort" him.

The nature of their "comfort" is to rise to defend God, claiming that Job's misfortune is the consequence of Job's prior bad acts. They are useless for a couple reasons: 1) they are mistaken in their explanation of Job's misfortune. There is a tacit assumption underlying their remarks, God is under suspicion of wrongdoing in permitting Job's misfortune and must be defended. 2) God doesn't need their help to assert and vindicate his righteousness. As a result, the friends "comfort" consists of accusing Job of prior bad acts.

At the end of the story, God shows up and instead of vindicating Job, he discloses that there's plenty of blame to go around. It's improper to engage in theodicy. It's improper to demand of God an explanation. God is God. If God is not good, there is no Good. If God does that which hurts us that we don't understand, he doesn't owe us an explanation, we owe him the benefit of the doubt. And incidentally, Job's friends were wrong to suspect Job.

Let's suppose you're Job. It's altogether proper to lament the negative circumstances. There is a whole book of the Bible filled with Lamentations. Do that.

Let's suppose your friend is Job. How can you be something better than useless? For one thing, don't assume the negative circumstance is due to your friend's sin. If you love your friend, you owe him the benefit of the doubt. Assuming the negative circumstance is a judgement for sin indicates that you're using your doubt about your friend to think the worst of him. Don't do that. If your friend hurts, you should hurt. Compassion means sharing someone's passion, suffering alongside.

Encourage your friend. The Navy Seals are a tough, elite group. Every Navy Seal goes through training and part of that training is Hell Week. Now, let's suppose you're idling on the beach and you see your friend the Seal struggling up the beach burdened with some heavy military equipment. He's suffering, but he's suffering because he's BETTER than most of his peers. And you are idling on the beach. You can't deny your friend is suffering, but you can remind him that hard training is only for elite troops, and despite the present suffering, there will be something better on the other side of it.

Pressure makes diamonds.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Accidental Puritan

One of my fave Catholics tells the story of an explorer who went sailing in search of adventure, whereupon he landed upon an island that he found quite marvelous in its geography, climate, and the culture of its natives. After marveling for a season about this find, he came to realize this island was England. (If you've not yet read "Orthodoxy," by all means quit reading this and read that instead!)

I had something similar happen to me. I grew up with WFUR playing in the background. There was Carl McIntyre "20th Century Reformation Hour" and I learnt to roll my eyes at the appropriate times when that old demagogue was in full sail. And Kent City Public High School assigned as reading, "The Scarlet Letter" and they did the "The Crucible" as a high school play. I didn't believe Christianity at the time, and I most certainly wanted nothing to do with that kind of hatefulness. I rather enjoyed having fun, and I had absolutely no fear that "that someone , somewhere , is having fun." Had you asked me what I thought of the Puritans, I'd have rolled my eyes.

I kept this attitude when I started reading my Bible again and ended up identifying myself as a Christian again. In the intervening years, I was blessed to receive an excellent, Christian education chock full of Intervarsity Press apologetics and some world-class philosophical theology at the feet of James Grier who was teaching at Cedarville at the time. In the course of those years, I had a bunch of humanistic notions wash out of my brain. "Hmmmm, I suppose God doesn't need my permission to save me." Stuff like that.

Whereas my world-life view had once been a patchwork of bits that fit on Sunday, but not on Monday, or fit in Physics class but not in Old Testament class, instead I came to find a single integrated way of thinking where everything fit--even the parts that can't fit in a box. Superficially, I became a five-point Calvinist. I liked the rationalism and I found no place where my Reason overturned scripture. And I loved books, and a friend turned me onto a mail order bookstore that had the kinds of books I found most interesting. Contemporary stuff from Banner of Truth, and the old stuff, too.

The name of the bookstore was Puritan Reformed. That name bugged me to no end. I grew up in Grand Rapids, MI where the Reformed guys were all liberal or believed you were a Christian because you were Dutch, or something like that. And then there was the Puritan bit. I like to have fun to much for that to make any sense. And that Reformation thing was something that made total sense. It translated Christianity into the language of the Age of Reason. And I was fine with that. And the Puritans were the 2nd generation Reformers. Semper Reformanda and all that.

Yeah, I identify with the Reformation, and with Reason, and that made me a Puritan.

But that word, Puritan, has lots of overlays of meaning that have been added by Puritanism's enemies over the centuries. I don't buy into any of that. So, maybe I'm not a Puritan. It depends on what you're thinking when you use the term.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Antichrist

Years back I encountered some local apostates. These were people who were raised in Baptist churches like me. In fact, one had been a pastor for a while. They all had one thing in common, disbelief and a hostility to the gospel.

I have had cause to reflect upon my early religious experience and I think I have found a new lens through which to view it. Gospel is supposed to mean "good news."

Let's suppose you weren't raised in a bible believing church and you've never heard the gospel. What comes to mind when you think of "good news?" Let's see, I see the oncologist tomorrow. Good news would be that he finds no sign of cancer. Let's suppose I stop by the Quickie-Mart and pay the Michigan Voluntary Tax On The Stupid, and unlike every other time, I win a few million bucks. That's good news, too. Or someone gives you a car, tax-free.

Good news should put you in your happy place. So, why is it that the gospel doesn't put you in your happy place? I remember looking at a little book my mom left laying around that contained a plain summary of the gospel. I remember being afraid and avoiding that book. Why? From my earliest age, I associated terror and pain with this thing called the gospel.

Was this Good News business just a cruel lie? "Here, kid, have some bread. Ooops, it's a stone. Hahaha."

The thing that makes the downer of the gospel, is that it only makes sense in context. That context is like that Cancer thing. "Hey, I got a cure for cancer. Oh, by the way, you have Cancer."

The two word definition of the gospel is "repent and believe." You can't sugar-coat the need for Repentance and everybody needs to Repent. Most folks don't naturally want to Repent. Great evil occurs when someone tries to force it.

Repentance isn't rocket science: one the one hand, I try to get away with doing wrong and/or rationalize it away. On the other hand, I want to quit doing wrong and enjoy a clear conscience. Change your mind from the former to the latter, sincerely do that and you've Repented. Was that painless?

If you were raised like I was, the Repentance evokes discomfort, despite the fact that the last paragraph defining the term isn't particularly scary.

Given the fact that the visceral reaction that I felt is not rational, we've got to go beneath the surface to find an explanation.

Let's go back to that Cancer analogy. Imagine comes up to you and says, "Hey, buddy, you got Cancer. I got the cure. Want the cure?" Then the guy gives you a placebo. You still feel that gnawing ache in your gut. The sugar pill didn't do any good. And then you look at the guy, and he's got huge tumors growing out of his neck.

This is horrid, but should not be surprising. AND YOU SHOULD NOT IMMEDIATELY DISMISS THE POSSIBILITY THAT YOU ARE THAT GUY. I've spent a good part of the day contemplating several "former baptists" I've known. In the worst case, they're angry atheists collecting factoids and arguments that atheists collect. In the best case, they found the cure elsewhere. And there are a lot of hurting people who live someplace in between.

Paul curses these people in Galatians 1:9. I've a friend who "wrote the book" on ecumenism. She's distrustful of interfaith stuff and we're on the same page there. I had bought into her challenge to love the brother who happens to come from a different Christian tradition. But the I saw the preaching of another gospel by spiritual fifth-columnists in my own church. The double-love command requires me to give every benefit of the doubt. But I have no doubt that a different gospel was being preached.

Now, you may be wondering how my metaphor of the guy witholding the cancer cure looks in the specific case of the Baptist churches I've been in. Short answer: Finneyism. Also known as Revivalism.

Review: Wikipedia says "Revival is a work of God by his Spirit through his Word..." That's close enough for our purposes. What did Jesus say about the Spirit? Does the Spirit blow on command? To the contrary, Jesus said the Spirit is like the wind that blows from you don't know where and to you don't know. So, who you going to believe, Jesus or the revalist? Deity will be summoned to make a preacher look good in the last minutes of a sermon.

But how is a Revivalist going to keep the donations coming in? How is the preacher going to convince his deacons that he is God's annointed? If you were raised like I was the answer is in your memory banks: an emotional appeal to perform a Baptist Sacrament using every method of psychological manipulation known to man. Is this God's Spirit or is it a man-made show?

This "gospel" that does not feel like Good News and that chases people out of Baptist churches and that innoculates it hearers against the true Good News of Christ is anathematized by the Apostle Paul, but it makes money and empowers preachers.

This false gospel starts with the truth of God's Justice then distorts it into an everlasting cruelty perpetrated upon those who don't cooperate. All this is played up in the most terrifying terms and young children are exposed to this sort of abuse. When they grow up, they're only sane to want to avoid hearing it again. Instead of preaching God's law that perfectly reflects God's character, there are exhortations about obedience and pride and lust cast about in vague terms. "Here, jump through this hoop. No, jump through that hoop. Bad bad, you jumped through the wrong hoop."

There is no mention of the perfect merit of Christ perfectly performed on our behalf and imputed to us by faith alone.

Instead, there's a load of guilt followed by a call to submit. No, this doesn't advertise itself as Islam, but it walks like it and it quacks like it. And what is the action you are called upon to submit to? Is it repent and believe? Often it's something the hearer doesn't quite understand like asking deity to haunt a pump. (Have you asked Jesus into your heart?) And what exactly does it mean to "accept Jesus?"

The true gospel call is that Christ has erased guilt on the Cross and offers to take yours gratis. Claim Christ, claim Christ's righteousness as your own. Let no man steal what Christ has given you. Trust Christ and none of yourself.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Certainty and Precision

One lesson of Post-modernism is that you can't know everything with certainty. I have a friend in my writing group (with whom I share a first name) who takes that to mean you can't know anything for sure. And I disagree with that. There are some things you know for certain, but the edges can get a little fuzzy. No problem with that, really. We know that two plus two is four. And we know you can define Galois Fields of order 4 where two plus two is zero. And we know that two apples plus two bananas almost equals one fruit salad.

I have heard it said, "you can't put God in a box," and that's true. But does that mean we can know nothing of deity? I think not. I think there are some things about God that are certain and there are lots of things that get a little fuzzy. It's a mistake to insist that we know things for certain that the Bible is silent about or only obliquely touch upon.

A good example is evolution versus creation. I'm of the mind that takes whatever the Bible says as certainly true. I'm also of the opinion that most fossils are not fakes like the Piltdown Man bones. (However, you'll note that there's always a risk of being taken in by a fake fossil, given what we saw in Piltdown.) I am also of the opinion that I make mistakes and so do all humans now and then. The job of the scientist and of the theologian is to take whatever's known and try to construct a coherent logical framework that explains it. This is a matter of "interpreting" what's' known to come up with theories or theologies.

Frankly, I have become relatively annoyed with the Creationists because they tend to put too much time into proving that their interpretive constructions are better than the evolutionists constructions. Humans make mistakes, and it is unwise to take our notions of how the first 10 chapters of Genesis should be interpreted, and treat them as infallible. Genesis is infallible, not my notion of it.

Same goes for the end times. The Bible says that if a strong man knows you're coming, you won't be able to rob his house. So, when talk about the Rapture and the End Times, and we point to this or that and say, "that's it." You can bet the Enemy knows this, too. This leads me to think a lot of the Hal Lindsay stuff I read won't work out the way we think.

Besides, there's a difference between Revelation and Dispensationalism. The former is infallible word of God. The latter is an interpretation thereof, a human construction, and subject to error. And no, I don't know any specifics that I can point to as erroneous. I'm saying here's a theoretical framework that will explain our surprise when a popular end-times scenario plays out unexpectedly.

Trouble is that often things are a little fuzzy, lacking a solid biblical mandate, and we forget that. We affirm those things as if they are gospel. The gospel is infallible, I'm not. I may forget that, or I may well know that things are a little fuzzy, but I don't bother to bog down the conversation with a disclaimer every other sentence.

Now, when you hear someone say something, and it seems a little fuzzy to you, but you think he's stating it as if it is gospel. You owe him the benefit of the doubt. 1) He might know something that you don't, but didn't bother to buttress his case with some factoid he thought obvious. 2) He might not know he's on thin ice. 3) He might know it's a little fuzzy, but he forgot to add a disclaimer. 4) He might know it's fuzzy, but doesn't want to open that can of worms because he wants to make another point. 5) He hasn't learned when to be intentionally ambiguous. In all these cases, you owe him the benefit of the doubt.

The Christian ethic is summarized in the double-love command. Practically, we do that when we give the other the benefit of the doubt. If you find yourself where you can't do that, run away.

When I finally learned how to get an A in philosophy, I discovered something I've found useful ever since. I found that depending upon how I worded the answer on an essay test, I could avoid or open a can of worms full of things I didn't know. There were bits I was certain about and there were bits I were fuzzy about. So, I phrased things that would cover the fuzzy bits. Ambiguity is a good thing to cultivate when you're teasing about the fuzzy bits, but if you know something for certain, you ought to be clear and unambiguous.

Friday, August 18, 2006

You're On Your Own

I think of myself as a Christian and I hope those who know me agree with that assessment. Christianity exists in tension between mercy and justice. The mercy business is for when you fail to obey God's law. And justice is how well we all measure up against God's law. I think that's fairly simple.

I go about confident in the imputed righteousness of Christ that I claim by faith alone. And I try to do what's right, as an expression of gratitude, as a matter of obligation, I figure I have to live right. Living right means obeying God's law. Nothing more or less than that: God's law. God's character is imaged in God's law and it an unconditional perpetual ethical obligation. That sounds bad but it's Good. It's the baseline against which the Good is measured. If I'm a good person, I'm obeying God's law as well as possible.

But law gets cluttered. There's the "law" of Roe v Wade that says a woman's privacy gives her the legal right to abort her unborn children. There's the "law" of my alma mater that said not to listen to the Moody Blues in the dorm and keep my hair cut length short enough it didn't touch my ears. There's the "law" of whatever my mom said about smoking and drinking. Is a pattern emerging?

Jesus condemned the Pharisees. Consider the Sermon on the Mount where he explains what God had in mind in Torah about God's moral character. Contrast with what the Pharisees did to fulfill all righteousness. It was something different. They made their own law to keep instead of God's law that they clearly could not keep. That's what damned the Pharisees, they substituted their own legal framework for that of God.

There's more. What is the purpose of God's law? It serves as a target, a benchmark that illustrates how we fail to measure up. A mirror that shows us our face is dirty. You wash your face with soap. Don't try to use a mirror, it breaks and the shards cut you up. I used to stop there in my condemnation of legalists. Now I go one step further.

You can't use the law as a basis of competition for social status. Think about a gathering of fairly upright people. The book of James condemns deferring to people on the basis of riches. Ah, but consider spirituality. How does the Evangelical acquire status and lord it over his peers? By being more holy than they are! How does he do that? Why by keeping to a stricter ethic than they do! That's what *I* do. When I utter one of those bad words you shouldn't say, I go "oops," and look around at who heard. Any Evangelicals? No, whew.

"That's a pretty cavalier attitude about sin, isn't it brother Poling?" Actually, it's the whole point of this essay. (Another Evangelical status seeking behavior is use affected language like brother or sister or beloved.)

(I don't think saying those vulgarities and rude words are violations of the 3rd commandment. That's the command not to say the NAME in a useless fashion. Consider how people say, "Oh my God!" or "God, no!" That's what I think the 3rd commandment prohibits.)

I figure that God helps people keep HIS law and use HIS law to become more like HIM. I used to get all bugged at the sins I'd pray about and get absolutely no traction on overcoming. And I was quite insistent about how God was't keeping his promises about improving me. But then I started asking myself, are these God's laws or are they Baptist laws? I looked through the Bible and I didn't find anything on the subject. But I saw all kinds of real things God commanded that I didn't keep and that didn't bother me.

When you try to keep God's law, by faith God provides grace to live out Christ's righteousness at that point. When you follow any other rule set, you're on your own.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Will The West Lose?

It's pretty clear that either there is some big-time denial of reality among the "reality-based" community, OR there's a radically different paradigm in play among our brothers on the Left.

When I was a lad, the Cold War pitted Capitalist West against the Communist East. It was more than a disagreement about politics and economic systems. With exceptions such as Checkoslovakia's "Communism With A Human Face," we saw a more humanistic West and a more statist East. A side aspect in all this was the relentless Atheism of the Communists versus the freedom of religion, or more accurately, indifference toward religion of the Capitalists.

Overlapping the end of the Cold War was the beginnings of our current world conflict. Carter let the Iranian mullahs get away with acts of war against our embassy. Reagan pulled troops out of Lebanon after a Hezbolla car bomb flattened a barracks and killed a couple hundred Marines. Bush Sr. sent troops to Mogadishu to deliver pizza. And Clinton cut and ran after the "Blackhawk down" firefight. Add to this the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan. And a half-dozen major acts of terrorism against the US in the 1990s. This non-response convinced some Moslems with lots of petrodollars that the West was cowardly and corrupt--too soft to respond to a renewed efforts to establish the Califate (that hit the cosmic Pause Button sometime around 9/12/1683 at the gates of Vienna).

Now, let's suppose the Left is not as totally inept and boneheaded as they're acting. What we on the Right call "Islamofascism" may well be regarded by the Left as a mere "nuisance." Though this makes no sense to me, I'm going to try.

Let's think like a Lefty for a moment. First, we're grumpy because the "New Soviet Man" business didn't work out and that human nature isn't as malleable as we'd hoped. Second, despite the failure of worldwide Communism, we're convinced that Rationalism is more ultimate than Religion. The godless Atheism is kept under cover, but the Lefty sees all the evils of the world stemming from the backward followers of ancient myths. To the Lefty, there's little difference between the Fundamentalist Christian protesting the abortion clinic and the Fundamentalist Moslem blowing up the Israeli coffee shop. (No doubt, said Christian would be blowing up the abortion clinic if he could get his hands on some explosives.) They're both crime problems.

Suppose the Lefty thinks this business of Religion is just a phase an immature humanity just has to grow out of. When the rest of humanity catches up in its Evolution to the enlightened ubermench level of the Lefty, religion will decline as fast as the membership rolls of the Episcopal church. Suppose that the Lefty thinks that ultimately, the Islamist and snake-handling rednecks will be as extinct as the dodo bird.

Then QED. There's no need to start WW3 to defeat evil in the Islamist who straps bombs to his kids and sends them off to school. (That whole idea of good and evil is just so passe.) Simply appease the savages while they enslave or murder their neighbors, secure in the knowledge that we don't live in those countries, or in those immigrant ghettos of our cities. We'll just patiently wait for their children to evolve out of their pesky alliegence to Islam.

Conversely, suppose (like me) you're not so evolved nor enlightened. Suppose you know smart people who adhere to all sorts of odd ideas including religious ones. In this case, you won't just pat the savages on the heads secure in the knowledge that they'll "evolve out of" their murderous doctrines. It was the Conservative, Edmund Burke, who said that all that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

This is why I can't take the cut-and-run Democrats seriously. I fear the next time the US has a president as feckless as Israel's Ehud Olmert (or most of those mentioned in the third paragraph of this essay.