Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Faith & Reason?

Richard Dawkins, in his discussion with Alistair McGrath again demonstrates his misunderstanding of the Christian idea of "faith" even while trying to clarify his position on the matter. He and other atheists I've encountered insist on their own very narrow definition of the word as, "Belief without evidence." I believe the Christian definition of faith is more properly, "Confidence or trust in a person or thing," from the Random House Dictionary of the English Language, definition 2.

The Biblical definition of faith is found in
Hebrews 11:1
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (NIV)
Faith is not mere belief; it is absolute confidence. Confidence in the God we know to be there. How do we know He is there? He has shown us. He has revealed Himself to us, and He is present with us constantly in the Person of His Holy Spirit.

At about the 4-minute mark of the video, Dawkins uses the term, "faith based on reason," another misunderstanding of Christian faith. Faith is not based on reason, but of course neither is it incompatible with it. Faith is based (to which I alluded above) on revelation. Reason, given that revelation, merely confirms it.

Now, I realize that only those who have a relationship with God can understand what I'm talking about.
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)
Someone without that relationship might claim this to be unfair or at least circular reasoning, but I'm afraid that's just the way it is.

The answer is, of course, to find that relationship yourself. It is a relationship that God has promised to all who seek it, and one that God will never deny to anyone who truly wants it.

Take Care

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Dawkins & McGrath

Between Two Worlds links to this discussion between Richard Dawkins and Alistair McGrath on things theistic and Christian. Both come off as rather civil and probably very nice people. Dawkins, in particular, seems rather a likeable chap. I almost feel I should feel badly for all my attacks on his book. However, for all his rather boyish charm, his attacks on God in general, and Christianity in particular, still involve shortsightedness (feigned and deliberate or genuine, it's hard to tell) and straw man arguments.

For instance, early in the discussion he raises the religious caricature of stoning an adulteress to death. Well, of course we needn't be infavour of stoning adulteresses or disobedient children to death to be consistent in our faith, even if these were the prescribed punishments in ancient Israel. I touched on this point in another context here.

We no longer live in the Theocracy of the Old Testament. In God's economy we live in the age of grace. In the secular economy, we live in a democracy, where our laws and the punishments for breaking them are decided by the will of the majority. As the Bible says,in its very last chapter
Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy. (Rev 22:11)
We no longer stone adulteresses, but that does not make adultery right. We are fast approaching a time in our society where adultery itself is seen as, at best, neutral (at least until it touches close to home), and its consequences, at least to the uninvolved observer, insignificant and not worthy of punishment or condemnaion at all. But that still does not make adultery right.

The majority cannot decide what is truly right and wrong; only what is acceptable or not acceptable to that society at that time. The time may come, and has indeed in the past, in certain times and in certain cultures, when murder, for instance, might be deemed by the majority as acceptable, but that can never make it right. Already we see the lives of our very young (yet unborn) deemed by many to be of diminished value, and the time will (not may) come when the same will be thought of our very old. The idea that the value of a life is based on its value to society is a concept I hear often in my discussions with atheists and skeptics, and it is gaining increasing acceptance.

I have said all that only to cover one point raised in the discussion, but there will be more. You can take that either as a threat or a promise.

Take Care

Sunday, 26 August 2007

The Strength Of Our Youth

In church today we spent some time praying for those in our congregation who were ill or struggling. As I listened to the various prayer requests, I was struck by the ones for men (in particular) who were suffering various infirmities in their advancing age. I felt the poignancy of these men who were once upright and strong, heads of their families, loving their wives, lifting their children, now seeking prayer for help in their frailty. And of course, there many of us will also be, some day in the future. And I thought this:

How fleeting is the strength of our youth. Those of us in the autumn of our lives may look back on the summer and spring, mourning the passing of our strength.

How blessed are those who have known Him all the seasons of their lives. Even for those of us who came to know Him later in life, how blessed and how wonderful has been the time we have spent as part of His family.

Help us, as the years slip by, as our bodies and our memories begin to fail us, as we look back wistfully at the stronger days of our youth, to realize that that strength was nothing; it was fleeting and temporary, compared to the everlasting strength we have in God our Father. The Psalmist prayed to his LORD, not to give him strength, but confessing that the LORD is his strength. We also need to recognize that our strength is nothing. Only in the Lord is true strength to be found.

The strength of our youth will pass, but the strength we find in the Lord is eternal. It will never end. The Lord alone is our fortress, our refuge and our strength. Let us not rely overly on our own strength, nor overly lament its passing.
1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come and see the works of the LORD,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
he burns the shields with fire.
10 "Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."
11 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Psalm 46

Take Care

Thursday, 23 August 2007

So I Guess That Settles It Then

'You can't at whim and fancy convert from one religion to another', (Malaysian)Federal Court Cheif Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim declared...
So said the chief justice in Malaysia's top civil court in the case of a Malaysian woman who converted to Christianity, changed her name, and wants the religious designation, "Islam" removed from her identity card, according to an article in The Anglican Planet. She wants to marry a fellow Christian, but can't legally do so as long as here identity card shows her to be a Muslim.
If Islam were to grant permission for Muslims to change religion at will, it would imply it has no dignity, no selfesteem,” said Wan Azhar Wan Ahmad, senior fellow at Malaysia’s Institute of Islamic Understanding. “And people may then question its completeness, truthfulness and perfection.
How's that for confidence in the ability of your faith to stand on its own against criticism?

At least Malaysia is one of the more moderate Islamic states. People trying to assert a freedom of choice in their religion face only jail or fines and death threats instead of death by stoning.

I close with a quote from the Qur'an itself:
There should be no compulsion in religion. Normal behaviour stands out clearly from error;... Surah 2:256
Don't they believe their own holy book?

Take Care

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Does It Matter How We Address God?

Dr Albert Mohler raises a couple of interesting points on his blog. Should Christians use the term, “Allah” in reference to God? Is the Muslim ‘Allah’ the same “God” as we Christians understand God to be? Let me give my thoughts.

Question number 1: should Christians pray to, “Allah” in the name of lessening conflict between Christians and Muslims? In my opinion, absolutely not! It would be the worst kind of compromise, I believe, to allow political considerations to affect our communication with our Father in Heaven, and affect it I think it would. Prayer to God can be and should be an intensely intimate thing. That intimacy would be lost if we consciously avoid our familiar form of address while substituting another in the name of political correctness. Imagine expressing your love to your husband or wife and substituting a different name. How much more then, would it be a sign of disrespect, putting God in second place to other considerations.

Secondly, is the Muslim ‘Allah’ the same “God” as we Christians understand God to be? Well, it depends. I have stated many times that I think God has given a common revelation of Himself to all people at all times throughout history and around the world. I have stated that I believe that most religions stem from this innate awareness that all humans have of His existence. I have given the opinion that these religions are attempts either to reach Him, or to avoid Him by substituting something else in His place.

So, in one sense, the God Muslims know as 'Allah' might be the same God that Christians worship. Having said that, we Christians believe, obviously, that, at a minimum, Muslims are in error in their understanding of Him. As Dr Mohler points out, the two concepts of God are completely incompatible. Christians know God as a Triune God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Qur’an denies that Allah has a son, so the Trinity, to Muslims, is blasphemy.
The Christian faith is essentially and irreducibly Trinitarian. The Bible reveals that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. Jesus is not merely a prophet; He is God in human flesh. This is precisely what Islam rejects. If Allah has no Son, he is not the Father.
But it goes even beyond that. Because in fact, Islam was a cult that came out of Christianity. So it cannot be considered merely a sincere and innocent attempt to reach out to God, at least by its founder(s). While there may be sincere Muslims who are truly trying to worship God, as they understand Him, their religion began as a distortion of the truth created (or accepted), originally, by those who should have known better. They exchanged the truth for a lie, and did it deliberately.

Having said all that, I wonder how Arab Christians refer to God. Often one will hear Muslims using the term, “God” when speaking in English. If Arab Christians use the name, “Allah” when addressing the one true God, revealed in three Persons, as all Christians know Him, then it becomes just a matter of language.
But for someone who would call himself a Christian to address God as the “Allah” of Islam – that is a concession that must mot be made.

Take Care

Monday, 20 August 2007

Election: Further Thoughts

I was thinking of Numbers 21, which most agree is a foreshadowing of Christ.
"The LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live."
Who would live? Anyone who looked at the snake. Now, I'm sure we can assume that not all the people looked at the snake, but those who did lived and those who didn't died. But God was not unfair in the matter. He gave everyone the opportunity and the means to live, just as He has in an eternal sense in Jesus Christ. Would the holder of the Calvinist "unconditional election" position say that God fore-ordained which specific individuals would look at the snake (and, by default, actively prevented others from looking at it)? I think that is a pretty forced position, and certainly one that would have to be "read into" the text. God invited everyone to look at the snake, and all who did, lived. Or to put it in a New Testament context, "...everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

By the way, I would appreciate any comments on this, especially dissenting ones, because if I am wrong, I need to be corrected.

Take Care

Friday, 17 August 2007

A Man (Or a Nation) Reaps What He (It) Sows.

I found this interesting, from Doug Wilson's blog.
"In the event, President Carter secretly authorized $500 million (closer to a billion in today’s money) to help create an international network that would spread Islamism in Central Asia and ‘destabilize’ the Soviet Union. The CIA called this ‘Operation Cyclone,’ and in the following years poured over $4 billion into setting up Islamic training schools in Pakistan (hence the ‘Taliban’ movement, which means ‘student’). Young fanatics were sent to training camps paid for by the U.S. taxpayer, where future members of Al-Qaeda were taught ‘sabotage skills’ (i.e. terrorism). In Pakistan they were directed by British MI6 officers and trained by the SAS" (Serge Trifkovic, The Sword of the Prophet, p. 211).

America has dug themselves into a quagmire in Iraq, one mistake following another in a series of foreign policy blunders trying to patch over previous gaffes, each one driving them deeper into the pit from which they cannot escape without complete disaster for someone, either themselves or their victims.

And now they are making noises like they want to go after Iran. Heaven help us!

Take Care

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Sometimes I Feel Like Forrest Gump.

I have already posted about my crossing paths with what might have been the rarest of all Dodge Hemi’s.

In my profile, I list one of my interests as, “comedy.” That is because, in a former life, I used to do stand-up comedy. Here is how it all began. In the early ’70’s I was writing a humour (or so I liked to think) column for the Burlington (Ontario) Gazette under the pen name, Flip Dover. My mother was, I am sure, my most faithful reader, much as she would be this blog, if she were still with us. In the winter of 1977, I believe it was, my wife and I went to Los Angeles on vacation, and we went to a comedy club on Sunset Boulevard. We sat in the front row, next to the stage. I was wearing a three piece suit but for some reason, I had just thrown a pair of sneakers on my feet. We were enjoying the show when one of the standups noticed my shoes. He did about a five minute improve routine about this guy with the “$300.00 suit and a pair of sneakers.” I don’t remember his name, but some time after that, David Letterman became quite famous for wearing sneakers with his dress suits. I like to imagine that I had something to do with starting that style, because nobody had done it before. That’s Forrest Gump moment #1.

Here’s #2: After we returned from that holiday, I figured stand up looked pretty easy, so I decided to try it for myself. I took some material from my newspaper columns and went on stage on amateur night at Yuk-Yuk’s in Toronto. I bombed, of course. But I kind of stuck with it and eventually was able to put together a passable routine. After we moved to Edmonton in 1982 I carried on with my comedy and actually did a few paying gigs. But here’s the Gump moment: one of the comedians I performed with when I was just starting at the Toronto Yuk-Yuk’s was was a young carpet salesman who had just made the jump from amateur night to main stage. His name? Howie Mandel. Needless to say, he has gone a bit further in his comedy career than I have. Another was Glen Foster, whose first appearance on Monday night amateur night was the exact same night as mine.

For a while I performed with a partner named Jim Sabzali, who has been in the news in his own right, although for nothing connected with comedy.

A number of others I performed with went on to limited comedy careers and several of them used to appear on a 1980's TV program called "Evening at the Improv."

I wonder how many others have had these, "brushes with fame", so to speak. I suppose everyone has some kind of story to tell.

Take Care

Sunday, 12 August 2007

A Classic Dawkinism

On page 266 of his book, "The God Delusion," Dawkins makes the following statement:
"It is a commonplace that good historians don't judge statements from past times by the standards of their own."
Well, excuse me, but I must call balderstuff on this one.

As someone else I once heard put it, "Anachronism is the historian's worst enemy." But pretty much Dawkins entire book consists of his applying his own current standards to historic Christianity. And he is not even impartial at that. Liberal and "progressive" thinkers are excused for their racist or sexist positions of the past, while religion's "wrongs" are soundly criticized.

Dawkins seems to be speaking out of both sides of his mouth, or, as my friend Tonto used to say, "with forked tongue."

Take Care

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Dawkins Quotes Nicholas Humphrey – The God Delusion

Beginning of page 325, Dawkins quotes, “My colleague… Nicholas Humphrey…” as saying, “Free speech is too precious a freedom to be meddled with,” but then going on to say there should be one exception.
“…moral and religious education… where parents are allowed to determine for their children what counts as truth and falsehood, right and wrong.
…we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe… in the literal truth of the Bible… than we should allow them to knock their children’s teeth out or lock them in a dungeon.”
I have not included the entire quote, but the whole thing is a splendid example of the type of absolutist, dogmatic and narrow-minded thinking of which they would accuse Christians.

Dawkins then also quotes Humphreys, with shocked indignation, in connection with a young Inca girl who was apparently a ritual sacrifice 500 years ago. “By Humphrey’s account…” he says, "a documentary film about this young ‘ice maiden’ was shown on American television. Viewers were invited

To marvel at the spiritual commitment of the Inca priests and to share with the girl on her last journey her pride and excitement at having been selected for the signal honour of being sacrificed. The message of the … programme was in effect that the practice of human sacrifice was in its own way a glorious cultural invention – another jewel in the crown of multiculturalism...

There is no source given, no naming of this supposed documentary. The whole quote is just a headshaker. Common sense dictates that the only people who would hold such a view might be the Incas themselves, and as far as I know there are no 500-year-old documentaries. Perhaps Dawkins thought his readers would assume it was so bizarre it had to be true – no one would have made up such an outlandish piece of fiction. But I for one would like him to produce the name of this documentary so the reader could examine it and judge for himself.

Then Dawkins announces, “Humphrey is scandalized and so am I.” Well, my question to him is, "Why?" He seems oblivious to the fact that the only one with any moral authority greater than Dawkins himself to proclaim murder (or ritual sacrifice, which is the same thing) to be wrong is… well, God. Does Dawkins think such a sacrifice was wrong because he himself says so? Does he get to set the standard of outrage? Or because society, which after all is no more than a collection of evolved carbon-based clumps of matter no better or worse than himself, says so? And if society, why is our present-day society any better to declare right and wrong than the ancient Incas, who as a society, obviously approved of such shennanigans? That's just either cultural or chronological arrogance.

But in fact and in history, it was the God of the Bible who said, “You shall not commit murder.” It was the God of the Old Testament who forbade His people to give their children to Molech when societies next door were creating mass graves of tiny skeletons offered to this evil monster-god. It was Jahweh alone who condemned those who burned their children in the fire as sacrifices to Adrammelech and Anammelech.

And the same God would have condemned the Inca's sacrifices to their own false gods.

Because He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Take Care

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Chesterton on the Decline of a Civilization

There comes an hour in the afternoon when the child is tired of 'pretending'; when he is weary of being a robber or a Red Indian. It is then that he torments the cat. There comes a time in the routine of an ordered civilization when the man is tired at playing at mythology and pretending that a tree is a maiden or that the moon made love to a man. The effect of this staleness is the same everywhere; it is seen in all drug-taking and dram-drinking and every form of the tendency to increase the dose. Men seek stranger sins or more startling obscenities as stimulants to their jaded sense. They seek after mad oriental religions for the same reason. They try to stab their nerves to life, if it were with the knives of the priests of Baal. They are walking in their sleep and try to wake themselves up with nightmares. (FromThe Everlasting Man)

In the front yard of our former home we had three tall blue spruce trees. They were beautiful and we had landscaped a little path beneath them so that one could be in our front yard in suburbia and have the feeling of being in the woods. These trees produced lots of cones, which added a nice landscaping touch as we piled them under the trees beside the path. But then a tree expert brought us back to reality when he told us that this excessive production of cones was a sign the trees were nearing the end of their lives.

I thought of these trees as I read this quote of G K Chesterton. He was writing of the civilizations of Greece and Rome, but I wondered if it might also apply to our own. Is a civilization driven to excesses a sign of a civilization in decay?

I remember hearing Ted Bundy in an interview saying that his downward spiral into sexual perversion and sadistic mass murder began with relatively mild pornography, ala Playboy magazine.

People with addictive personalities find that they must stretch the limits further and further. They need more and stronger drugs, more unrestrained or kinkier sex or more and stronger drinks. Tim Challies posts an interesting and somewhat related link here

Whether an individual, or a society, which is really nothing more than a collection of individuals, the case seems to be the same. There is an envelope that it seems must always be pushed. In fact, the nature of man not only demands, but ensures that the edge of this envelope will be pushed. And as a society ages, it begins to decay. The rot may not be immediately obvious, because it starts from within.

My daughter is a dance teacher (and a Christian) and it saddens her to see the limits that are being tested in modern dance. Even “tweens”, young girls between 8 and 12 are doing suggestive dance moves in various festivals and competitions.

There is a reality show on TV called “So You Think You Can Dance”, that we watch mainly because we have been involved in the dance world with our children for so long. But dance has changed since my children were young. It is now becoming more and more overtly and blatantly sexual. Feigned sexual actions are practically de rigeur. They elicit loud screams of approval from the audience (mostly young girls) and are commended and even applauded by the panel of judges.

But this, is it not, is merely a sign of what is happening in society at large. Sex has become ordinary and normalized. More and more young people engage in casual sexual activity as just another activity and then move on to the next partner. People “move in” together, perhaps hoping for love and permanence in a relationship, but more often than not, are disappointed and painfully break up.

An article in the Edmonton Journal this morning touches on this very same subject. Women’s rights became, “girl power” and ended up as, “Girls Gone Wild”, swept along in some kind of unwitting wave that has brought women full circle back to being “sexual objects.” The fact that many young women are now willing, even aggressive sexual objects does not change the reality of the thing.

I realize that this post is more a collection of random thoughts than a consistently stated thesis, but I can't help but wonder; could it be that the barbarians are even now approaching the gates of the city.

Take Care

Thursday, 2 August 2007

No One Knows the Day or the Hour

Al Mohler quotes from Jonathon Edwards' famous sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God".
It is no security... ...for one moment, that there are no visible means of death at hand. It is no security to a natural man, that he is now in health, and that he does not see which way he should now immediately go out of the world by any accident, and that there is no visible danger in any respect in his circumstances. The manifold and continual experience of the world in all ages, shows this is no evidence, that a man is not on the very brink of eternity, and that the next step will not be into another world. The unseen, unthought-of ways and means of persons going suddenly out of the world are innumerable and inconceivable. Unconverted men walk over the pit of hell on a rotten covering, and there are innumerable places in this covering so weak that they will not bear their weight, and these places are not seen. The arrows of death fly unseen at noon-day; the sharpest sight cannot discern them.
It would have been a day just like any other day; a routine drive for many across that bridge. How quickly things can change. Things we trust, buildings, bridges, even relationships, can let us down in a moment. Death came suddenly and unexpectedly for some on that bridge, but death comes inevitably for us all. We live but for a moment in the shadow of eternity. The longest and most fulfilling life on this earth is but a whisper of a breeze in the grand scheme of things.

May God comfort those who mourn.

Take Care