Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"He entered space and time and suffering."

Peter Kreeft from Making Sense Out of Suffering:
Jesus did three things to solve the problem of suffering. First, he came. He suffered with us. He wept. Second, in becoming man he transformed the meaning of our suffering: it is now part of his work of redemption. Our death pangs become birth pangs for heaven, not only for ourselves but also for those we love. Third, he died and rose. Dying, he paid the price for sin and opened heaven to us; rising, he transformed death from a hole into a door, from an end into a beginning.

That third thing, now - resurrection. It makes more than all the difference in the world. Many condolences begin by saying something like this: "I know nothing can bring back your dear one again, but.. ." No matter what words follow, no matter what comforting psychology follows that "but," Christianity says something to the bereaved that makes all the rest trivial, something the bereaved longs infinitely more to hear: God can and will bring back your dear one again to life. There is resurrection. [more]
Source: Suffering by Peter Kreeft

"Can we call the Lost Tomb a hoax now?"

Get Religion describes the reporting on the "Lost Tomb of Jesus." Perhaps it's time to move on.
Question: does anyone other than the good folks behind the Discovery Channel documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus believe the claims that this crypt contained the bones of Jesus Christ? I have yet to see any independent confirmation anywhere, or anyone (other than the filmmakers) expressing a single bit of confidence that any of this could be true.

Considering that everyone (other than the reporters covering the matter and the filmmakers) is saying this thing is bogus, what are we to make of the coverage? It's a legitimate story that this film is being made and makes the claims it does, but at what point does it tip over into a hoax?

A second-day story by Washington Post religion writer Alan Cooperman appropriately carries the headline "'Lost Tomb of Jesus' Claim Called a Stunt." Cooperman is a day behind the coverage, but that extra time seems to have given him a chance to write a more balanced article and find sources outside the usual suspects:
Leading archaeologists in Israel and the United States yesterday denounced the purported discovery of the tomb of Jesus as a publicity stunt.

Scorn for the Discovery Channel's claim to have found the burial place of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and - most explosively - their possible son came not just from Christian scholars but also from Jewish and secular experts who said their judgments were unaffected by any desire to uphold Christian orthodoxy.

"I'm not a Christian. I'm not a believer. I don't have a dog in this fight," said William G. Dever, who has been excavating ancient sites in Israel for 50 years and is widely considered the dean of biblical archaeology among U.S. scholars. "I just think it's a shame the way this story is being hyped and manipulated."
Source: Can we call Lost Tomb a hoax now? » GetReligion

Self esteem II

The Detroit Free Press reports on a new study of the effect of the self-esteem movement on today's generation of college students:
Today's college students are more narcissistic and self-centered than their predecessors, according to a comprehensive new study by five psychologists who worry that the trend could be harmful to personal relationships and American society. 

"We need to stop endlessly repeating 'You're special' and having children repeat that back," said the study's lead author, professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University. "Kids are self-centered enough already." ...

“Unfortunately, narcissism can also have very negative consequences for society, including the breakdown of close relationships with others,” he said.

The study asserts that narcissists “are more likely to have romantic relationships that are short-lived, at risk for infidelity, lack emotional warmth, and to exhibit game-playing, dishonesty, and over-controlling and violent behaviors.” ...

The researchers traced the phenomenon back to what they called the “self-esteem movement” that emerged in the 1980s, asserting that the effort to build self-confidence had gone too far.

As an example, Twenge cited a song commonly sung to the tune of “Frere Jacques” in preschool: “I am special, I am special. Look at me.” [more]
Source: Detroit Free Press: College students get an A in narcissism

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"A Crackling Bonfire of Truth and Clarity"

Christianity Today's reviewer recommends this book as the one to read about William Wilberforce:
The British slave trade was abolished in 1807, and the bicentennial of that epochal event is being marked by a host of books, symposia, and other commemorations, including the just-released film Amazing Grace. If you read only one book on the subject this year, make it the companion volume to the film, Eric Metaxas' Amazing Grace, which shows how William Wilberforce's evangelical Christian convictions impelled him to lead the campaign against human bondage.

Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation

An atheist website, Daylight Atheism, lists those who have submitted friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the position argued by the Freedom from Religion Foundation [FFRF] on Hein v. FFRF [see here]. Our denomination is affiliated with the Baptist Joint Committee and, consequently, we once again find ourselves in interesting company.
The FFRF does not stand alone in this case. Friend-of-the-court briefs taking their side have been filed by the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Freedom, People for the American Way, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, American Atheists, the American Humanist Association, the Center for Free Inquiry, and a diverse group of eminent legal scholars and historians. The FFRF is also being represented pro bono by the Supreme Court Advocacy Clinic of the Yale Law School, and their oral arguments before the Court will be given by Andrew Pincus, former assistant solicitor general under the Clinton administration. [emphasis added]
Source: Daylight Atheism > FFRF at the Supreme Court

Old movies

As one who has always loved movies I enjoyed this post at World Magazine. I still resist silent film and many of my younger students resisted anything that wasn't in color - or that had a plot that might make them have to keep track of anything. It is, of course, easy for a non-parent to prescribe how children should be raised - so here goes - it seems to me a very good thing to raise children to enjoy their cultural patrimony, whether music, art, literature or film. Perhaps a book like this can help with at least the latter.
For most of my life, I didn't really like old movies. Not because they were bad, or black-and-white, or not in stereo, but because I didn't know how to watch them. When you're used to the style of Goonies and Ghostbusters, it's hard to get into, say, The Grapes of Wrath or Giant. Since these older movies are on the whole more palatable for the family, though, it might pay to start early with my 9-month-old daughter, Simmons, to ensure her palette for My Fair Lady, rather than My Super Ex-Girlfriend. That's what Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr says in his book, The Best Old Movies for Families. From a review: "The younger you start, the easier it is, so here are his top five choices for toddlers: The Adventures of Robin Hood, Bringing Up Baby, Meet Me in St. Louis, Singin' in the Rain, and Stagecoach.

Source: How to make sure your daughter prefers Jimmy Stewart to Jimmy Kimmell

"God is the Gospel"

As seems to be their frequent practice, the Desiring God site makes the John Piper book God is Gospel available as a pdf. Here is their summary of the book:
"Gospel" means good news - but what makes the good news good? What is the goal of the gospel, without which it is no longer good? It is that Christ's death brings sinners to God! Were it to bring us anywhere else we would be left hopeless. But the gospel is that God gives us himself - Christ died to give us Christ -, and this self-giving is his highest mercy to us and the best news for us! The most profound, most exceedingly gracious, final and decisive good of the good news is Christ himself as the glorious image of God revealed for our endless satisfaction.

Source: God Is the Gospel :: Desiring God

Monday, February 26, 2007

He lived happily ever after...

The Discovery Channel, in its search for appropriate Lenten fare, has produced a "documentary" which, if true, would destroy the central doctrine of Christianity. Da Vinci Code redux. Captain's Quarters comments:
The finding ... purports to show that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had a son named Judah, also buried at the tomb with his own ossuary:
New scientific evidence, including DNA analysis conducted at one of the world's foremost molecular genetics laboratories, as well as studies by leading scholars, suggests a 2,000-year-old Jerusalem tomb could have once held the remains of Jesus of Nazareth and his family.

The findings also suggest that Jesus and Mary Magdalene might have produced a son named Judah.

The DNA findings, alongside statistical conclusions made about the artifacts — originally excavated in 1980 — open a potentially significant chapter in Biblical archaeological history.
... The DNA analysis...does not identify the Jesus of the ossuary as the same Jesus in the Bible. All it does is show that the bones in a tomb that the researchers speculate belonged to Mary Magdelene have no familial relation to the bones in the Jesus ossuary. That is how the archeologists assumed that the two in this crypt were married, and that the Judah ben-Jesus of the ossuary had to be their offspring. ...

... Jesus was a well-known agitator whose crucifixion creates a cult following in the eyes of the Romans and the leading Jews of the time. The basis of that cult formed around the notion that Jesus rose from the dead. If the Romans knew where his body was buried, why then did they not produce it as proof of his immutable death? In order to be placed in an ossuary, he would have to lie in the tomb for a year, decomposing to skeletal remains. During that time, the Romans could easily have produced the body - or the cult followers could have stolen it and buried it elsewhere to prevent it.

... In the first generation of Jesus, no one mentions his marriage or family. Yet his family and followers - ossuaries of Matthew and James are supposedly among the discoveries - supposedly felt it of no moment to bury him with his wife and son, despite their refusal to acknowledge a marriage. By the time his son would have died, the Gospels would already have been written and prophesied in the region and further to Greece and Rome.

And all of this evidence would have been left in the open, in a tomb in the middle of the largest city in the region, where anyone could have discovered it....
Source: Captain's Quarters

Ben Witherington on the subject.

And Darren Hewer.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Eulogies

S.M. Hutchens, reacting to a eulogy:
... The two great desires on such occasions are to say either more or less than we should, and only the well-disciplined pastor says what he ought and no more.

If I were to draw up rules for the occasion the first and greatest would be to remember that we do not know the present state much less the eternal destiny of the deceased, for we do not know men's hearts; only God does. This does not mean that those who have lived what appear as holy lives cannot be used as examples of blessedness, or praised for their virtues - since every good man is a type of the Christ whom we are called to preach - or that examples of human evil cannot be forthrightly condemned as sin that brings men to hell. What it does mean is that we may not, unless we are given special prophetic insight (all claims to which I doubt), speak as though we know things we do not, give assurances of blessedness or condolences of its opposite we are not qualified to deliver, no matter how desperately people wish to have them. The righteous need to understand at such a time that all their righteousness is as filthy rags, and be put in fear, and sinners need to understand that no life, however wicked, is beyond God's saving, and be given hope in him. When the minister, on the basis of what can be seen of a life from the outside, seems to know where the dead have gone, life is reduced to an equation in which God is no longer a factor, men have no hidden life known only to God, and at the price of some immediate but ephemeral comfort, the Source of all true and legitimate comfort has been covertly and unwittingly disposed of. [more]
Source: Mere Comments: The Great Story and the Little Fables

"Nooma"

Ben Witherington reviews Rob Bell's Nooma videos.
Nooma is the Anglicized version of the Greek word pneuma, which means spirit, breath, or wind. This word is presumably chosen for the series of short videos Rob Bell is producing signaling the fresh winds that are blowing through the church and the world in part through the Emergent Church movement. Each of these short films have one word titles like 'Rain' or 'Flame' or 'Trees' or 'Sunday', and each center on some elemental concept or idea about which Rob can give some Biblical and spiritual reflection.
The review of Nooma videos 1-5 is here, 6-10 here and 11-15 here.

Source: Ben Witherington

"The Dawkins Confusion"

At Books & Culture, Alvin Plantinga assesses the arguments in the most recent Richard Dawkins book:
Richard Dawkins is not pleased with God:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction. Jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic-cleanser; a misogynistic homophobic racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal&.
Well, no need to finish the quotation; you get the idea. Dawkins seems to have chosen God as his sworn enemy. (Let's hope for Dawkins' sake God doesn't return the compliment.) The God Delusion is an extended diatribe against religion in general and belief in God in particular; Dawkins and Daniel Dennett (whose recent Breaking the Spell is his contribution to this genre) are the touchdown twins of current academic atheism. Dawkins has written his book, he says, partly to encourage timorous atheists to come out of the closet. He and Dennett both appear to think it requires considerable courage to attack religion these days; says Dennett, "I risk a fist to the face or worse. Yet I persist." Apparently atheism has its own heroes of the faith - at any rate its own self-styled heroes. Here it's not easy to take them seriously; religion-bashing in the current Western academy is about as dangerous as endorsing the party's candidate at a Republican rally. [more]
Source: The Dawkins Confusion - Books & Culture

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The spread of religions

mapsofwar.com offers one of those animated maps in which they specialize. This one illustrates the history of the spread of religions.

An earlier such effort illustrated the history of imperial control of the Middle East.

Source: mapsofwar.com

"Antichrist"

RightWingBob posts this story about a Miami "church":
Surrounded by a mob of news cameras, a group of smiling, well-dressed church members crowded into a South Beach storefront parlor on a recent muggy evening and got matching tattoos of their prophet's symbol: 666.

Members of Growing in Grace, a controversial religious sect headquartered in Doral, said they were following the example of their leader, Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda, who has claimed to be Jesus and recently declared himself the Antichrist.

Critics have called De Jesus a cult leader who manipulates followers. Church members say he has brought them happiness and spiritual fulfillment.

"This is backing up what I truly believe," said Alvaro Albarracin, 38, who heads a film production company and joined the church more than a decade ago. He showed a bandage that covered the freshly tattooed "666" on his forearm. "It's like a brand. It's like a sign."

It's a sign most Christians would shun, because for centuries the numbers have been associated with Satan. But for the 30 or so church members who branded themselves with 666 and SSS - the initials of De Jesus' motto, "salvo siempre salvo," or "saved always saved" - it's a mark of their absolute faith in De Jesus. Church members say the symbol doesn't connect them to Satan but rather to De Jesus' claim that he has replaced Christ's teachings with a new gospel.

...De Jesus — who preaches that sin and the devil were destroyed when Jesus died on the cross and that God's chosen already have been saved — has built a massive movement around his claim to divinity. Followers call him "Daddy" and "God" and lavish him with $5,000 Rolexes and sometimes 40 percent or more of their salaries.

..."Antichrist" is the latest in a string of titles De Jesus has bestowed on himself.

In 1988, De Jesus announced he was the reincarnation of the Apostle Paul. In 1999, he dubbed himself "the Other," a spiritual superbeing who would pave the way for Christ's second coming. In 2004, he proclaimed himself to be Jesus Christ....
Source: FOXNews.com - Miami Church Brands Members With '666' Tattoos

"Pierced for Our Transgressions"

Between Two Worlds calls attention to what appears to be an important new book:
IVP-UK is set to publish a landmark work: Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution. (Clicking on the link will take you to a website for the book. You can also order it from Amazon.com/uk - it is due out in mid-March.)
The Between Two Worlds site quotes an impressive list of endorsements for the book, which is about to be published in Britain, and will eventually be available here.

Source: Between Two Worlds: Pierced for Our Transgressions

Friday, February 23, 2007

Genuine ecumenism

A Catholic priest reacts to the church sign exchange below:
I've often made the point that the most fruitful kind of dialogue between Catholics and Protestants is not really with Anglicans and Lutherans, but with Evangelicals. This clever sign swap makes my point.

The reason Catholics can connect with Evangelicals more than mainstream Protestants is that both Evangelicals and Catholics believe in a revealed religion, not a relative religion. Mainstream Protestantism basically understands the Christian faith to be a human construct that must be altered by human beings according to the intellectual and social fashions of the day. Catholicism and conservative Evangelicalism regard the faith as divinely revealed, with obedience being the human response. Catholics and Evangelicals can have some pretty heated debates, but that's because they believe passionately in a revealed religion.

In contrast, those who think Christianity is a human construct aren't even in the same arena.
[emphasis added]
Source: Standing on My Head: In These Signs Conquer

Review: Amazing Grace


Christianity Today's reviewer gives Amazing Grace three and one-half stars out of four:
Similar to Chariots of Fire and Shadowlands in tone, Amazing Grace balances faith and filmmaking in a historical drama that depicts an ordinary Christian doing extraordinary things because of his beliefs. [more]
Source: Reviews: Amazing Grace

A more critical review at the Wall Street Journal.

The film opened today. I hope to see it soon.

Contrition first?


Kansas City Catholic posts an ecumenical conversation about Ash Wednesday here.

Link to Kansas City Catholic: Lenten Fare

The signs appear to have been produced using this.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Redemption

Johnny Cash:

Ultimate optimism

When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.
Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I'll sing Thy power to save:
I'll sing Thy power to save, I'll sing Thy power to save;
Then in a nobler, sweeter song I'll sing Thy power to save.
William Cowper, There is a Fountain Filled With Blood

Mark Dever remarks on the appalling materialism of the contemporary church. Health and wealth and growth and successful programs obscure the most important truth. We live out our faith day by day - but the reason for our actions is not their temporal but their eternal significance and the hope we have to be with God in eternity.
...The western church has too often allowed Marxist/secularist critiques to rob us of the joy we should have in our confidence of final and forever fellowship with God.

And so hymns about the afterlife vanish.

In my own denomination's hymnals, hymns about the afterlife drop in number from over 100 in the late 19th century to about 15 in the latest Baptist Hymnal (1991). Remaining hymns are neutered. The Baptist hymnal (1975 & 1991) both omit the wonderful 5th stanza from Cowper's great hymn "There is a Fountain." If you have the 1956 Baptist Hymnal you can still find it. "When this poor lisping stammering tongue Lies silent in the grave, Then in a nobler, sweeter song I'll sing Thy power to Save." Our reluctance to sing about the grave in church on Sunday only reveals how much our hopes have been entrusted to this life - and we do not wish to conceive of them being lost. Our treasures have been put too much in this world.

The wonderful optimism that is Christian is all about being adopted by the Father we rejected, and being forgiven by the husband we cheated on. It is about being accepted by the Righteous Judge, and about being embraced by the Friend we betrayed. All of this is sure in Christ. About all of these matters, there is no room for pessimism.

On other more temporary issues - how the community will respond to our church - how much our various cultures will affirm freedom for Christian proclamation and practice - we have no Biblical promises....
Source: Together for the Gospel

"The nation's largest group of atheists and agnostics"

A case known as Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation is about to be argued before the Supreme Court. This has a certain particular relevance for Seventh Day Baptists because the Baptist Joint Committee seems to agree with the Freedom from Religion group's position. The Foundation is located in Madison, Wisconsin, and one of our local papers, The Capitol Times, reported on them today:
Annie Laurie Gaylor speaks with a soft voice, but her message catches attention: Keep God out of government.

Gaylor has helped transform the Freedom From Religion Foundation from obscurity into the nation's largest group of atheists and agnostics, with a fast-rising membership and increasing legal clout.

Next week, the group started by Gaylor and her mother in the 1970s to take on the religious right will fight its most high-profile battle when the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on its lawsuit against President Bush's faith-based initiative.

The court will decide whether taxpayers can sue over federal funding that the foundation believes promotes religion. It could be a major ruling for groups that fight to keep church and state separate.

... Critics say the group imposes such an extreme view of the First Amendment that religious groups can't receive tax dollars for even laudable purposes.

"They are successful in the sense that they have disrupted government funding for faith-based initiatives," said Jordan Lorence of the Alliance Defense Fund, which defends religion in the public arena. "But real people with real problems are no longer getting help because of some of their lawsuits."

The group has grown as its legal challenges mount. It claims 8,500 members in 50 states, with the most coming from California, after adding a record 400 in December.

Members consider themselves freethinkers who form opinions based on reason, not faith. [More]

Source: The Capital Times - Freedom from Religion Foundation Gains Clout

"Narrowing the Religion Gap?"

The Left, including some on the Religious Left, have, in recent years, - the years since the "Religious Right" appeared - objected to religion and religiously-inspired values in the public square. What follows below is a saner view. Gary Rosen in the New York Times Magazine:
...Whatever their private views, most of today's big-time social conservatives speak in public as faith-based policy wonks, not as preachers of fire and brimstone. Consider James C. Dobson, the controversial founder of Focus on the Family. In a recent article titled "Two Mommies Is One Too Many," he objected to the impending parenthood of Mary Cheney and her partner. The core of his argument? What he trumpets as "more than 30 years of social-science evidence" showing that children do best with a married mother and father.

Is Dobson persuasive about the supposed evils of gay parenthood? Not to me. But the case he makes is based on an asserted set of facts - facts that are open to challenge and dependent on neither revelation nor church writ. Yes, he also avers in passing that traditional marriage is "God's design for the family and is rooted in biblical truth," and this is probably what motivates him. But is there anything wrong with so frankly religious a premise? Does it somehow disqualify his arguments?

Here is where the dogmatists of the secular left come in. Looking to fend off Bible-toting conservatives, the philosopher Richard Rorty argued more than a decade ago that in a modern democracy, faith should be a strictly private matter and has no place in public discussion. Traditional religion, he wrote, is a "conversation stopper," a source of values before which nonbelievers can be only mum. The same rigid divide informs a recent manifesto "in defense of science and secularism" signed by such academic luminaries as Daniel C. Dennett, Steven Pinker, Peter Singer and Edward O. Wilson. They urge the country's political leaders "not to permit legislation or executive action to be influenced by religious beliefs."

So categorical a rejection of faith in the public square is impossible to reconcile with our political traditions, of course. It sweeps away not just today's social conservatives but also abolitionism, women's suffrage and the civil rights movement. Dr. King without the almighty? Unthinkable. Conceding the extremism of his earlier view, Rorty himself has backtracked. Citizens should feel free to speak as believers, he now suggests, so long as they don't simply "cite authority, scriptural or otherwise."

It's a reasonable standard. After all, very few of us, whether religious or secular, can easily articulate our views about fundamental things. On questions of human dignity and human ends, we tend to sputter and assert, setting out propositions that are difficult to justify to those who don't share them. Invoking secular values like "autonomy" or "self-realization" can be just as much of a "conversation stopper" as appealing to the Bible. What we owe one another are concrete explanations, grounded in terms we might hope to share.
Source: The Way We Live Now - Narrowing the Religion Gap? - Gary Rosen - New York Times

"Thinking hard about Rudy"

Maggie Gallagher and many other social conservatives are thinking about the next Presidential election:
I've never voted for Rudy Giuliani in my life. But I'm thinking hard about it now. In both cases, I surprise myself.

....I never voted for Rudy when I lived in New York City for one simple reason: abortion. I don't look for purity in politicians, just for some small pro-life reason to vote for a guy: Medicaid funding, parental notification, partial birth abortion. Throw me the slightest lifeline, otherwise I assume he just doesn't want the vote of people like me. Rudy never did. So I never gave him my vote. And of course it doesn't help now to recall the way Rudy treated his second wife, nor do I particularly want to imagine the third Mrs. Giuliani as Laura Bush's successor.

So I could have sworn, even a few months ago, that I'd never vote for Rudy Giuliani, in spite of my deep respect for his considerable achievements as mayor. So why would I even think of changing my mind? Two things: national security, and Hillary Clinton's Supreme Court appointments.

When I ask myself, who of all the candidates in both parties do I most trust to keep me and my children safe? The answer is instantaneous, deeper than the level any particular policy debate can go: Rudy Giuliani. And when I look ahead on social issues like gay marriage, the greatest threat I see is that the Supreme Court with two or more appointments from Hillary Clinton, will decide that our Founding Fathers, in their wisdom, created a national constitutional right to whatever social liberals have decided is the latest civil rights battle.
Source: THINKING HARD ABOUT RUDY - Yahoo! News

How to avoid offending anyone

"A Politically Correct Lexicon" provided by In These Times. It would seem impossible not to offend, since the rules keep changing - and seem to be different among different members of the same group.

Link to A Politically Correct Lexicon

"The Anglicans: What happened in Tanzania"

First Things publishes an account of the recent events in the Anglican communion
"We came very close to separation," said Archbishop Gregory Venables of this weekend's meeting of global Anglican leaders, "but Biblical doctrine and behavior have been affirmed as the norms in the Anglican Church."

It could have gone the other way, and for a time it looked as if it would. But, in the end, Anglican conservatives everywhere breathed a collective sigh of relief on reading the strongly worded statement issued unanimously by the Church's thirty-eight primates, which bluntly called on the Episcopal Church - the province of the Anglican Communion in the United States - to reverse its course or face expulsion.
[read on]
Source: FIRST THINGS: The Anglicans: What Happened in Tanzania

If the United States didn't exist...

A British advertising agency has imagined a "world without America" and concludes that the world would be much worse off:
At a time of rampant anti-Americanism this ad - produced with BritainAndAmerica.com - aims to remind the world of the great economic, technological and political benefits that the US has brought to the world.
Source: 18 Doughty Street : Politics for Adults

"Sin Reality"

When we are dishonest or break faith with someone who loves us our relationship changes. Similarly, Withering Fig explains, when we sin it causes separation from God. Read the talk he gave about sin to a Young Life group.

Source: Withering Fig - Sin Reality

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday

"Remember, O man: Thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return."
Genesis 3:19

Believers who use the Christian Calendar to guide religious observance [Roman Catholics, Anglicans, many Methodists, most Lutherans and others] are beginning Lent today, Ash Wednesday. The following is an explanation of the observance:
Lent consists of the forty days before Easter. In the western Church, we skip over the Sundays when we count the days of Lent, because Sunday is always the joyful celebration of the Resurrection. Therefore, the first day of Lent in the western Church is always a Wednesday.

....ashes became a sign of remorse, repentance, and mourning. Today someone might wear a black armband to signify that they are in mourning; back then people put ashes on their foreheads.

You can find biblical examples of this in 2 Samuel 13:19, Esther 4:1-3, Job 42:6, and Jeremiah 6:26. During Lent, ancient Christians mourned their sins and repented of them, so it was appropriate for them to show their sincerity by having ashes on their foreheads. The custom has persisted in the church as secular society has changed around us.

It is most appropriate on Ash Wednesday, when we begin a period of sober reflection, self-examination, and spiritual redirection.
Whether or not the Calendar guides our own practice [and it was certainly not designed with the Sabbath in mind], the period leading to Good Friday is an appropriate time to engage in sober reflection about God's grace in Christ, our unworthiness, and a renewal of our commitment to holy living.

Source: Why ashes on Ash Wednesday?

Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that Thou hast made,
and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent;
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts,
that we, worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may obtain of Thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
The Book of Common Prayer
, 1559

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Marriage or celibacy

Ben Witherington has a couple of posts responding to the ministry of Rob Bell - about whom he has many positive things to say. But he is also critical of some things, among them the way Bell handles the issue of homosexuality:
... Rob...makes an argument from silence which is in fact misleading. The argument is this - "Jesus never said anything about homosexuality." This is not quite true. Jesus took all sorts of sexual sin very seriously, even adultery of the heart, as Rob admits, and so it is no surprise then that we find Jesus telling his disciples in Mt. 19 that they have only two legitimate options: 1) marital fidelity (with marriage being defined as a relationship between one man and one woman joined together by God which leads to a one flesh union), or 2) being a eunuch for the sake of the Kingdom.

The term 'eunuch' here whether taken literally (as in a castrated person who is incapable of normal sexual intercourse), or simply morally (as in a person who never engages in sexual intercourse, remaining celibate in singleness, though he or she is capable of such an act), makes very evident that for single persons, any single persons, celibacy in singleness is the standard Jesus holds up for the unmarried.

Nor, in view of the way Jesus talks about marriage in the context with the discussion of the original Genesis story about the creation order - the creation of woman for man (and their interdependency), could one ever imagine Jesus redefining marriage to include same-sex sexual partners. Jesus is not silent on such matters at all - fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness are his standards, and indeed they are standards by which Jesus himself lived when we are thinking about the celibacy in singleness issue. He is likely talking about himself when he speaks of persons who have chosen to be eunuchs for the Kingdom. Chastity was considered a great virtue in that honor and shame culture.

Rob then raises the issue of hypocrisy. Of course he is right that all sexual sin should be taken equally seriously, and in view of the abysmal record of heterosexual Evangelical Christians when it comes to issues of marital faithfulness he is right that one should not single out homosexual sin for special attention and ignore the seriousness of heterosexual sin. True enough - but the proper response to such a situation is be an equal opportunity critiquer of all such sexual sin, while honestly admitting one's own failures and shortcomings.

Rob then raises the point that the Bible says nothing about sexual orientation. This is true, but irrelevant. It says plenty about sexual behavior, including same sex sexual activity between consenting adults in Romans 1, 1 Cor. 6 and Gal. 5, to mention three texts. It is simply not true that the Bible is just opposed to pederasty or male prostitution, though certainly both of those forms of same-sex sexual expression are prohibited. The terms used in 1 Cor. 6 refer to males who play the role of 'malakoi' or the soft or effeminate role, and those that play the aggressive more male role called 'arsenokoites' - which literal means a male who copulates with another male (and the word certainly does not imply copulation only with under-aged males). On all of this Rob really needs to read Rob Gagnon's definitive work The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Abingdon).

Of course it is true that we all are sinners who fall short of the glory of God, so there is no basis for finger pointing on such issues, and everyone must in all humility deal with their own sins rather than focusing on other people's sins. A Christian approach must be that everyone is welcome to come to Christ and come into the church as they are without pre-conditions. But no one is welcome to stay as they are - no one. They all must change, repent of their sins as needed, and strive to live in newness of life whether gay or straight. ....
Source: Ben Witherington: Rob Bell Hits Lexington and a Packed-Out House

Anglicans and Episcopalians

Ben Witherington reports on news from the Anglican Conclave:
In what can only be called a stunning rebuke of the American Episcopal Church, it was given eight months to ban the blessing of same sex unions or face a reduced and censured role in the world's third largest Christian denomination - the Anglican Communion. [more]
From the New York Times: Anglicans Rebuke US Branch on Same-Sex Unions

Source: Ben Witherington

"What Would Wilberforce Do?"

Christianity Today uses Wilberforce's example to comment on the political involvement of Evangelicals today:
American evangelicals continue to fret over their political engagement - with good reason. Our core commitments focus on church, family, and evangelization, while the political process often produces polarization and nastiness that can drown out the fundamental message of salvation in Jesus.

Yet we have no doubt that moral crises call not only for conversions, but also for legal restraints to evil. So we engage politically, not primarily because we want to form a voting bloc, but because we know that if we ignore politics, we imperil the wellbeing of millions of people.

The February bicentennial of the British parliament's vote to abolish the slave trade has drawn attention to evangelical pioneers in political engagement. The new film Amazing Grace is introducing millions of moviegoers to the story of William Wilberforce and the remarkable campaign to ban the slave trade. ...

Wilberforce should not just be honored, but also his example heeded. What lessons do he and his circle have for us?
[more]
Source: What Would Wilberforce Do? | Christianity Today

"Yet You are there"

A personal and profound reflection on death and life everlasting at Mere Comments.

Link to Mere Comments: Yet You are There

Monday, February 19, 2007

"The New Baptist Covenant" again

General Conference executive Rob Appel reports on developments around the proposed "New Baptist Covenant" [see earlier postings here and here]. He is approaching it very cautiously:
On January 12th, I posted an article from the Baptist Press about the meeting that many Baptist leaders had with each other and with former Presidents Carter and Clinton. Many have read this and my article in the February Sabbath Recorder and decided that I am in favor of all that is written and pressing forward on the issues. Nothing could be further from reality. ....
And from a letter he wrote to the organizers:
...I cannot and will not recommend to the SDBs that we go forward until we have all the facts around this possible celebration in a more concrete structure and design. I agree that this is a unique opportunity and would feel better about making a decision now about going forward if Presidents Carter and Clinton were not affiliated with the cause at this time. Their connection simply conveys the wrong message to those looking at this for the first time. It is not a political event, so why have the political ties?
Source: SDB Exec

Presidents

On the day when we honor the contributions of Presidents Washington and Lincoln*, it may be appropriate to remind ourselves that Christian orthodoxy is not a prerequisite for good public service. But it is also true that these greatest of our presidents believed firmly in Providence.

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, 1865
In a review of Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President by Allen Guelzo, Richard Ostling wrote:
The religious aspect of the tale, in a nutshell: Lincoln was unable to believe, but was never comfortable in his unbelief. Youthful skepticism gave way to deeper respect for religion. And during the devastation of the Civil War, Lincoln's self-made theology reshaped American history. The key to Lincoln's belief system was a roughhewn version of predestination that he absorbed from his parents' churches.

In Kentucky, Lincoln's parents were devoted to the hard-shell Primitive Baptists; later in his boyhood in Indiana, his father and stepmother joined the slightly more moderate Separate Baptists. Both were rigidly Calvinistic. Young Abe had little interest in his parents' churches. And while living in New Salem, Ill., in 1834, he wrote a "little Book on Infidelity" that contemporaries said attacked the divinity of Jesus and the special inspiration of the Bible. Then 25, he considered submitting it for publication but friends persuaded him to burn it.

That was fortunate, since Lincoln was just launching a political career. ...

Lincoln had many chats with the Springfield pastor, James Smith, who recounted that unlike most skeptics, Lincoln was "a constant reader of the Bible?' That was obvious in ... the magisterial Second Inaugural Address ("let us judge not that we be not judged").

Smith said Lincoln believed some form of providence was at work in the universe, but was unable to believe in a personal God or in Jesus as his savior. That amounted to Unitarianism, but Lincoln had no interest in that liberal denomination....

Early in the Civil War, with the North's effort sputtering, Lincoln came to believe that defeat was inevitable if the war was being waged only to save the Union, not for a higher moral cause.

At a crucial cabinet meeting after the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, Lincoln astounded his colleagues by saying he had made a vow to himself and - he added after a pause - "to my Maker": If God allowed the North to repel Lee's Confederate invasion, it would then be Lincoln's duty to abolish slavery....

When the Emancipation Proclamation was issued the following January, Lincoln added this conclusion, at the prompting of Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase: "Upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God?"

When Mary Lincoln, the daughter of Kentucky slave-owners, questioned the president about abolition, he looked heavenward, son Robert recalled. "I am under orders," Lincoln told his wife, "I cannot do otherwise"
Source: Richard N. Ostling book review as republished at Lincoln's Religion

President Washington had a more conventional relationship with Christianity. He was an active member of an Anglican parish, and a firm believer that God moves in history.

"The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger — The General hopes and trusts, that every officer and man will endeavour so to live, and act, as becomes a Christian Soldier defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country." George Washington, 1776


I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the Field, and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristicks of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation. George Washington, 1783
Michael and Jana Novak, authors of Washington's God, write today:
In public as in private, Washington did not address an impersonal, non-intervening god. Neither did he think of God as a promoter of violence. His prayers expect God to be deeply involved in the fate of nations and especially in the cause of liberty. Though Americans and British worshiped the same God, Washington believed that God favored his nation over that of the British because the American cause was liberty.

This belief led him, just two days before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, to issue this order to his troops: "The fate of unborn Millions will now depend, under God, on the Courage and Conduct of this army. … Let us therefore rely upon the goodness of the Cause, and the aid of the supreme Being, in whose hands Victory is, to animate and encourage us to great and noble Actions." ...

In his private letters and public statements as commander in chief and president, Washington seldom missed an opportunity to give praise to Providence and to beg God to continue favoring this nation. In his farewell address, Washington considered his legacy to our young nation and wrote these words:

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man ought to respect and to cherish them."
Source: USAToday - What Washington saw in God

*Although apparently this is not, officially, "Presidents Day." It is, rather, the legal holiday observing Washington's birthday.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Insulin or ice cream?

At the Why Faith? site, Darren Hewer asks [and answers] this question:
Shouldn’t Christians just leave people alone, letting others believe what they want? After all, if all religions are basically the same, or at least are fulfilling to those that follow them, why try to get people to change their beliefs? [more]
Source: Why Faith?: Aren't there many different religious 'paths' to God?

Demotivators from despair.com

Via Between Two Worlds [there are more there - and, of course, at despair.com]:

Link to Between Two Worlds: Demotivators from Despair.com

"Let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage"

Micheal Flaherty, President of Walden Media, the company that has thus far produced The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Because of Winn Dixie, Charlotte's Webb, and others, and is about to release Amazing Grace, spoke recently at Hillsdale College. He described the purpose of his company - an excerpt:
While it is virtually impossible for us to determine if our efforts have made any kind of dent in the decline in reading, there is overwhelming evidence that we have exponentially increased the book sales of the books we have adapted into feature films. The Narnia books saw an increase in sales that was several multiples. In fact, because of the increased focus on C. S. Lewis, sales of his other books increased by several multiples as well.

In February we release two films. Our first, Bridge to Terabithia, follows our traditional model of a film based on a popular book - in this case Katherine Paterson's Newbery Award Winner. And the following week we are releasing Amazing Grace, a film based on a great man - William Wilberforce - and a great event - the abolition of the slave trade in Great Britain.

After a powerful conversion experience, William Wilberforce dedicated himself to what he called his two great objectives - the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of society. In pursuing the first, he was challenging a mindset that had existed for centuries. Wilberforce recognized that if he wanted to change the law, he needed to change peoples' hearts and minds. And he also knew that none of this was possible until his own heart experienced a radical transformation.

Wilberforce's childhood preacher, John Newton, experienced an even more dramatic conversion than Wilberforce. In a graceless world, absent of God's mercy, Newton should have rotted in the bowels of a slave ship or been tossed in the sea. Yet God, in his providence, saved this wretch and gave him something he didn't deserve, a prominent role in the story of freedom. And Newton went on to pen one of the most redemptive songs in human history - "Amazing Grace." ...

After decades of defeat, through faith and perseverance, Wilberforce and his friends of the Clapham Sect accomplished what everybody thought was impossible. But their story did not end there. It was said of Wilberforce that good causes stuck to him like pins. Over his lifetime, he launched more than 65 social initiatives, including the first animal welfare society, the first Bible Society and the first National Gallery of Art. He also helped reform penal laws and child welfare laws.

Today we desperately need more leaders like William Wilberforce and the Kings and Queens of Narnia who will fight to make good laws, keep the peace, save good trees from being cut down, and encourage ordinary people who want to live and let live.
Good stories, well-told, with all of the most sophisticated production values ensuring that more people are apt to see them - this is what Christians and cultural conservatives have long wanted. May Walden Media prosper.

The Narnia series will continue, I hope, right up to The Last Battle. Another book Walden should consider is Watership Down. And then a really good version of Treasure Island, and Kidnapped, and ....

Another appreciation of Walden Media can be found here.

Source: Imprimis Archive - Hillsdale College

Friday, February 16, 2007

"Ministry denied access to public square"

Some have wondered who, apart from the Baptist Joint Committee, will defend the "free exercise" of religion. A pastor sends me a news item about a situation involving another group:
Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) has filed a lawsuit on behalf of "Care and Share," a Newark, New Jersey-based Christian ministry, against the village of South Orange. The village is being sued over allegedly refusing to allow the faith-based group use of a public square that is available to non-religious community groups, public and private.

According to the plaintiff's attorney, Alliance Defense Fund's Demetrios Stratis, Care and Share wanted to hold a public event at the square that included skits, puppet shows and live music, but the request was denied. An e-mail message, reportedly from a government administrative assistant, confirmed last June that religious groups would not be approved. Stratis says South Orange officials allegedly denied the Christian group access because only private or public non-religious groups were allowed....
Source: Ministry denied access to public square (OneNewsNow.com)

"Friends of God"

At First Things, Michael Linton reviews the HBO documentary "Friends of God." He thinks it is something Evangelicals need to see, and that what we see should motivate some serious reflection. Excerpts from the review:
Although incomplete, it’s a fair picture. Pelosi simply drives around with her camcorder and asks us questions, letting us speak for ourselves. And the portrait she assembles is put together kindly and without malice. I think her documentary is a gift. We all need to see it. It’s a gift from the Lord.

But it’s a deeply painful gift. Here’s a scene that appears fairly early in the film. Pelosi has been interviewing Ted Haggard at his church in Colorado Springs. After some initial conversations and views of worship, Pelosi includes this scene shot in the church parking lot. Haggard is with two other men, both apparently in their late twenties. Pelosi is off-camera.
Haggard (to Pelosi): You know, all the surveys say that Evangelicals have the best sex life of any other group.
Pelosi: Oh, come on.
Haggard: Oh yeah.
Pelosi: No way.
Haggard: Oh yeah. Well, let’s just find out. (turning to Man #1) How often do you have sex with your wife?
Man #1: Every day, twice a day.
Haggard: OK, twice a day sometimes. ’K. (turning to Man #2) How about you?
Man #2: Every day.
Haggard: OK. Every day. (to Man #2) Let’s say, out of one hundred times when you have sex, what percentage does she climax?
Man #2: Every one.
Haggard: Every one. (turning to Man #1) How about you?
Man #1: Definitely, yeah, every one.
Pelosi: These guys, who would have thought these are a bunch of studs? Look at ’em.
Man #1: That’s right.
Pelosi: Look at that. We got to join this church. There’s a lot of love in this place!
Haggard: There’s a lot of love in this place. And you don’t think that these babies just come out of nowhere do you? (Haggard smiles broadly and laughs)
.... For us to watch it in any context is disquieting. Watching it knowing what we now know about Haggard’s adultery is heart wrenching. What was he thinking? What were they thinking?

Of course, Haggard wasn’t thinking. He was feeling. And he was feeling great. And so were the guys with him. And that’s the problem. We, “us,” the Evangelicals with the capital E, have become thoughtless, sensualistic braggarts. For some time, we’ve been accused of being simply thoughtless–an unfair charge (Jonathan Edwards was an evangelical after all) but a charge with some truth to it. But what doctrinal rigor we might have had has been progressively smothered by sensuality draped with arrogant irresponsibility. We don’t think; we feel. If it feels right, it’s the Lord’s working, and if it’s the Lord’s working, we can be proud of it. Pelosi lays it all out for us to see. ....

... The possibility that it might be deeply indecent for a Christian minister ever to ask a man to reveal the most intimate nature of his relationship with his wife in front of anyone else–let alone in front of a camera–is apparently not within his ken. And the idea that these men should protect their wives’ privacy and refuse to answer isn’t in their ken either. ... It feels so great. It’s all for the Lord. High fives, everybody. ....

.... I want to go back to the hymn Pelosi begins her documentary with, sung (and swayed to) by worshippers at Joel Osteens’ Lakewood Church. Here are the lyrics:

Who am I that You are mindful of me
That You hear me when I call
Is it true that You are thinking of me
How You love me, it’s amazing.


I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
He calls me friend.

[repeated]

God Almighty,
Lord of Glory,
You have called me friend.

[repeated]

He calls me friend.
[repeated, a lot]
It’s a scene familiar to any Evangelical. ...The tune is infectious, the words few and easily memorized, and the message upbeat; you feel great singing it. And it’s kinda scriptural.

Kinda. James 3:23b quotes Jehoshaphat’s plea for the Lord’s intervention (2 Chron. 20:7), where the king calls the people of Israel “the descendants of Abraham thy friend.” In his high priestly prayer, Jesus calls his disciples “friends,” but his salutation is conditional: “You are my friends if you do what I command you,” and it’s delivered within the context of the Lord’s preparation for his crucifixion; friendship requires obedience and sacrifice (John 15:14).

But the king’s startling honorific for Abraham is for the patriarch alone. The title was peculiar to him and based upon his obedience. Jesus’ invitation to friendship is open to all, but it, too, is based on obedience and, in the context of John, obedience even until death. The scriptural formula appears to be obedience, suffering, then friendship. And that pattern has been an important teaching Evangelicals have shared with other Christians (look at all those “cross” hymns we used to sing). But there’s not a hint of that pattern in this song. Instead, there’s the suggestion that friendship with God is our right simply by being human. By only referencing the scriptural pattern in part, the song distorts it in whole. And, at least in Evangelical circles, distorting the Bible is supposed to be a big problem.

But while the song distorts the Bible, it’s true to the way we tend to live. I am a friend of God. I am a friend of God. I am. I am. I am.

The Tetragrammatron, the Name of God, made into a mantra, applied to us. I am. I am. The blasphemy is an accident of thoughtlessness, but, like the Freudian slip, it reveals to us an aspect of our character. I love how I feel about God. I love the great sex I have because of God. I love the power I yield in God’s name. I adore “the me” that God made. I am . . . ....
Source: First Things: Friends of God

Self esteem

Albert Mohler comments on and quotes at length from a New York Magazine article titled "How not to Talk to Your Kids." It seems that the absurdities of the self-esteem movement are at last becoming apparent even to some of its one-time advocates.

It is important to offer praise, the researchers conclude, but only for the right thing:
“Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control,” she explains. “They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”

In follow-up interviews, Dweck discovered that those who think that innate intelligence is the key to success begin to discount the importance of effort. I am smart, the kids’ reasoning goes; I don’t need to put out effort. Expending effort becomes stigmatized—it’s public proof that you can’t cut it on your natural gifts.
Source: New York Magazine: How Not to Talk to Your Kids

"A new kind of Calvinism"

"People who get nostalgic about childhood were obviously never children." Calvin

A review, at Books & Culture, of The Complete Calvin and Hobbes:
... It's the work of ten years, once at a peak circulation of 2,400 newspapers, 3,160 strips in all, first collected in 17 books with 30 million copies already in print, now assembled in a 22-and-a-half pound, three-volume set running to 1,440 pages. Every strip -from the beginning in November 1985 to the last day of 1995 - plus every cover from the individual collections, as well as the bonus material in the treasury collections, finds its place here. ...
It is rather expensive and I probably won't get it, but it looks great. Calvin and Hobbes are indispensable.

Source: A New Kind of Calvinism - Books & Culture

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Bruce Metzger, 1914-2007

Ben Witherington appreciates Bruce Metzger, dead at 93.
He was a great man, one of the giants in the land of New Testament scholarship. But most importantly, he was a profoundly orthodox Christian man, and I have no doubt he is hearing even now the heavenly benediction, "Well done, good and faithful servant; inherit the kingdom." If the measure of a man is seen in the lives he has touched for good and for God, then Bruce Metzger was one of the great saints of the last century. May God raise up such giants once more and show us the way forward.

Source: Revisiting a Non-Standard Scholar | Christianity Today

William Wilberforce

Ben Witherington likes Amazing Grace:

Sometimes the Media gets it exactly right. In this case I am referring to Walden Media and Bristol Films. The former of these two names will be known to all movie buffs as the folks who gave us the first episode of the Chronicles of Narnia on film. Well Walden Media, while not a Christian company, is committed to quality films, including films that may well have a Christian message. Such a film is Amazing Grace. [more]

Source: Ben Witherington: "Amazing Grace" - The Story of William Wilberforce

Monday, February 12, 2007

"Happy Darwin Day!"

David Klinghoffer at the The Weekly Standard reminds us of one of the more unsavory legacies of the Darwinists:
....[S]et aside the scientific legacy for a moment to consider the less frequently discussed question of Darwin's moral heritage. This year happens to mark another anniversary as well: a tragic one, strongly linked to Darwinian theory.

As of 2007, it is exactly a century since the key turning point in the Darwin-inspired American eugenic movement. In 1907, the state of Indiana achieved the distinction of becoming the world's first government entity to enforce sterilization of institutionalized "idiots," "imbeciles," and other individuals deemed genetically "unfit." The idea caught on.

With Washington and California following in 1909, some 30 states eventually passed similar compulsory sterilization laws by the early 1930s. California was the leader in the field, accounting for half of the coercive sterilizations in the years leading up to World War II. By 1958 some 60,000 American citizens had been sterilized against their will. Only the horrors of Nazism succeeded in casting a pall over America's romance with eugenics, when it became widely known that German doctors were following the lead of their California colleagues and sterilizing undesirables.

"Eugenics" is a word coined by Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton in 1865. It means a stance favoring the betterment of mankind by rational breeding of offspring. That goal is to be achieved by encouraging stronger, "superior" specimens of humanity to multiply while discouraging their weaker, "defective" counterparts from doing so.

That eugenics traced its origins to Darwin was no secret. .... In his Origin of Species in 1859, Darwin described the "one general law, leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely, multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die."

His more specific thoughts on human society were saved for his other major work, the Descent of Man (1871):
With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment . . . Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man.
Darwin himself opposed discriminating against the weak and helpless, but his disciples were less principled. The major ethical impact of the Darwinian idea has been to undercut what contemporary Princeton bio-ethicist Peter Singer decries as the "Hebrew view" of a purposefully-designed humanity, crowned by the solemn and central theme: "And God said, Let us make man in our image."....
Source: Happy Darwin Day!

Does God exist?

Peter Kreeft has a fine site that includes some of his apologetics. The following is a good starting point for an argument for the existence of God:
Before we answer this question, we must distinguish five questions that are often confused.
  • First, there is the question of whether something exists or not. A thing can exist whether we know it or not.
  • Second, there is the question of whether we know it exists. (To answer this question affirmatively is to presuppose that the first question is answered affirmatively, of course; though a thing can exist without our knowing it, we cannot know it exists unless it exists.)
  • Third, there is the question of whether we have a reason for our knowledge. We can know some things without being able to lead others to that knowledge by reasons. Many Christians think God's existence is like that.
  • Fourth, there is the question of whether this reason, if it exists, amounts to a proof. Most reasons do not. Most of the reasons we give for what we believe amount to probabilities, not proofs. For instance, the building you sit in may collapse in one minute, but the reliability of the contractor and the construction materials is a good reason for thinking that very improbable.
  • Fifth, if there is a proof, is it a scientific proof, a proof by the scientific method, i.e., by experiment, observation, and measurement? Philosophical proofs can be good proofs, but they do not have to be scientific proofs.
I believe we can answer yes to the first four of these questions about the existence of God but not to the fifth. God exists, we can know that, we can give reasons, and those reasons amount to proof, but not scientific proof, except in an unusually broad sense....
Source: Can You Prove God Exists? by Peter Kreeft

Hell


In Christianity Today, R. Todd Mangum describes some common Christian views of Hell and concludes:
Studying the views of theologians throughout history can give us insight into how God's loving reconciliation may be consummated along with his righteous judgment. But in the end, we are simply called to trust - to put our faith in the goodness of God, knowing that he will do what is right and that he will not acquit the unrepentant guilty. [the rest]

Source: Three Models of Hell | Christianity Today