Monday, December 11, 2017

"What must I do to inherit eternal life?"

"And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions" (Mark 10:17-22, ESV).

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” That is the question asked and answered in Mark 10:17-22 and its parallels in Matthew 19:16-22 and Luke 18:18-23. The core of these three passages is the same, even though there are minor variations between them. In Mark 10:17-22, someone comes to Jesus saying, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” One way this has been interpreted (e.g. by Jehovah’s Witnesses) is to understand Jesus as saying, Why are you calling me good? Only God is absolutely good and I’m not God.”

This interpretation, however, would contradict the broader context of Mark which clearly presents Jesus as saying and doing things that, in a first century Jewish context, would only be true of God. For example, Jesus is portrayed by Mark as claiming to directly forgive sins (Mark 2:2-12), to be Lord over the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28), to overturn Old Testament dietary laws (Mark 7:19) et al.

Second, if Jesus was denying his deity, it seems a little strange that he would say that the way to eternal life was to follow him. In the Old Testament, “life” came through absolute covenant allegiance to God alone, not from following any prophet.

Finally, as we shall see in the immediate context, far from denying his deity, Jesus is actually testing the man, almost as if to say, “Are you coming to me as a good teacher who can answer your question, or are you coming to me as the Good One (God) who can give you the eternal life you seek?”[1]

Jesus’ response to the question of how to gain eternal life is the same in all three passages: Keep the Commandments. The man responds saying “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” The text says, Jesus “loved him” and told him he lacked one thing. As we will soon see, Jesus was not suggesting that this man needed to do one more good deed in order to be saved. Jesus was about to test the man on his claim to have kept the Commandments. The test was to sell what he owned, giving the proceeds to the poor, and to follow Jesus.

Jesus’ instruction for the man to sell everything is puzzling because Jesus did not tell everyone else to sell all they had in order to follow him. For example, he apparently didn’t tell Mary, Martha and Lazarus to sell their home, since Jesus stayed there on his travels to Jerusalem. When a man in the Decapolis begged to follow Jesus, Jesus didn’t tell him to sell his home either, but rather to return home and tell all the good things God had done for him (Luke 8:39). Similarly, the Gospel of John records that after Jesus’ death, one of the disciples took Jesus mother to the disciple’s home (John 19:26-27). If this disciple was John, as many interpreters assume, then not even one of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples had been required to sell everything! Other examples could be cited, but the important question is, why was Jesus telling this man to sell everything when Jesus had not made that demand of others?

That answer is that Jesus was testing this man. The man had claimed to have kept all of the Commandments so Jesus tested him on the very first Commandment—“You shall have no other gods before me.” Jesus was asking the man to demonstrate that he valued Jesus (the Good One) more than he valued his possessions. The man’s response indicated that he valued his possessions more than he valued Jesus. Contrary to the man’s claim to have kept all the Commandments, he failed on the very first one!

So how, according to Jesus, does one inherit eternal life? Keep the Commandments! But doesn’t this contradict Paul’s teaching that no one is justified by “works of the Law” and that by the Law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20, 28; Galatians 2:16; 3:5, 10)? Isn’t this understanding of Jesus’ teaching the kind of “salvation by works” which Paul so strongly condemns? Many have thought so. Many critics boldly declare that Paul taught a different Gospel than Jesus. Some Evangelicals have tried to deal with the issue by relegating the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) to the “Dispensation of the Law.” In fact, a pastor once told me, “There is precious little gospel in the Gospels”). I am convinced, however, that there is no contradiction between Jesus and Paul.

First, we need to understand that when Jesus tells people to keep the Commandments, he is not thinking of a legalistic following of rules and regulations. It was precisely this kind of heartless legalism that Jesus condemned so strongly in the Pharisees. We see this, for example, in Jesus’ story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee boasted in his good deeds, while the tax collector cried out, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Jesus said it was not the Pharisee, but the tax collector who went away justified (Luke 18:9-14).

Likewise, when Paul repeatedly condemns salvation by works he was attempting to refute a misinterpretation of the Law by those who focused, not on the heart, but on a legalistic following of the rules and regulations in order to be saved. That was a misuse of the Law by which no one could be saved because no one can keep the Law perfectly.

Second, for both Jesus and Paul, the essence of the Law was to love God with all one’s being, and to love one’s neighbor (and even one’s enemy). That Jesus understood the Law this way is clear from a story in which a teacher of the Law tried to test Jesus asking “What shall I do to inherit eternal life.” When Jesus asked him what the Law said, the lawyer replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus replied, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live” (Luke, 10:27-28). In Matthew’s version, Jesus adds, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:34-40). For Jesus, the essence of the Law was to love God with every fiber of one’s being and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self.

Although Paul sums up the Law as love for neighbors in Galatians 5:14 and Romans 13:9 there can be no doubt that he assumed love for God as well. So for both Paul and Jesus, keeping the Law was at its core about loving devotion to God above all else. The twist is that Jesus taught that he and the Father are One. He taught that his followers must love him (Jesus) more than father, mother, sister, brother, son, daughter or even their own lives, i.e. to have no other gods before him (Matthew 10:37; Matthew 16:24-26; Mark 8:34-37; Luke 9:23; Luke 14:26; John 12:25).

Third, both Jesus and Paul were reflecting the teaching of the Law itself. In the Law, keeping the Commandments was always intended to spring from a heart of loving devotion toward God. Exodus 20:5 said that God shows “steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Deuteronomy 6:4-6 said, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” Deuteronomy 11:1 said, “You shall therefore love the Lord your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always. Deuteronomy 7:9 said that God “keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments.” This quote was later repeated in Daniel 9:4 and Nehemiah 1:15.

In fact, Isaiah 1 made it very clear that a covenant relationship with God was not just about keeping commandments by rote. God, though Isaiah, condemns the people of Israel, likening them to Sodom and Gomorrah (1:10), saying that he is fed up with their sacrifices, offerings, feast days and Sabbath observances—all of which were commanded in the Law! What God wanted first was their repentance—a change of heart! The Law, at its core, was intended to be about absolute loving devotion and allegiance to God. Keeping the Commandments was to be an act of obedience springing from this kind of faith.

Similarly, for both Jesus and Paul, keeping commandments was the fruit of a heart of loving devotion/allegiance to God, not a means by which one was to earn eternal life (John 15:5-8; Luke 18:9-14; Romans 1:5; 16:26; Romans 2:6-8; Ephesians 2:8-10; Acts 26:20).[2] This heart of loving devotion to the Lord results in keeping the commandments (John 14:15, 21; 23-24, 1 John 5:2-3).

Far from contradicting Jesus, Paul was teaching exactly what Jesus taught, and both were teaching what the Law had taught—the twist being that Jesus claimed to be one with the Father. So when Paul insists that we are saved by faith, he is not speaking of intellectual assent to certain doctrines. He is not talking about merely repeating a prayer to “ask Jesus into your heart” or to “receive Christ” like one would receive a gift. He’s not even talking about “trusting Christ” like one would trust a chair by sitting in it (According to Matthew 7:21-23 there are people who are trusting that Christ will accept them into heaven but will be sadly mistaken). By the word “faith”, Paul is referring to the kind of loving devotion and allegiance to the Lord (the Good One) above all else demanded by the Law of Moses and by Jesus himself. This is why Paul wrote that “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed” (1 Corinthians 16:22).

In other words, salvation in the Old Testament was by grace through a covenant devotion/allegiance to God above all else—an allegiance which resulted in keeping the Commandments. Jesus agreed, but insisted that this loving devotion or allegiance to God consisted of allegiance to him. Paul’s word for this Spirit instilled heart of loving devotion/allegiance to the Lord above all is “faith.”

Of course no one other than Jesus has ever kept the Law perfectly and no one loves the Father with the kind of absolute devotion Jesus had. But that is why God instituted the sacrifices under the Old Covenant, pointing to the One Final Sacrifice under the New Covenant. As we saw in Isaiah 1, however, even the sacrifices were of no avail if someone was just going through the motions apart from a heart of faith.

[1] According to Matthew’s Gospel Jesus asks, “Why do you ask me about what is good” but the point is the same. “Why are you asking me about what is good”—are you coming to me as a teacher who can give you an answer OR as the One who can grant you the eternal life you seek?
[2] This is also true of John the Baptist: Luke 3:8.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Real Jesus by Kristen Romey

National Geographic just published an article entitled “The Real Jesus” by Kristin Romey (National Geographic, December 2017, 40-68). Here are some random thoughts.

First, I was pleased to see that the author quotes even highly skeptical scholars who acknowledge Jesus’ existence. For example, Romey quotes Duke University’s Eric Myers (who in my view qualifies as a somewhat radical skeptic), as saying, “I don’t know any mainstream scholar who doubts the historicity of Jesus” (42).

Second, not only does the article debunk those who deny Jesus’ existence, the article demonstrates that critics were wrong about Jesus being a “cosmopolitan Hellenist” (or Cynic sage) rather than an “observant Jew.” Critics were wrong in their skepticism about the existence of synagogues in first century Galilee. Critics were also wrong in their “once fashionable notion that Galileans were impious hillbillies detached from Israel’s religious center” (65). To the contrary, Romey provides numerous examples of archaeological evidence that tends to support the general reliability of the Gospels (though I’m not sure that was her intent).

Third, Romey mentions that not all scholars are convinced that Jesus was born in Bethlehem since the story is only told in Matthew and Luke, and those stories are different—e.g. “the traditional manger and shepherds in Luke; the wise men, massacre of children, and flight to Egypt in Matthew” (46). That is true, but it is a poor reason to reject the birth stories. The two accounts are not mutually exclusive. No biographer could possibly record every detail of a person’s life (and even if they could, no one would want to read it!). Biographers have to be selective. 

The Gospel writers select their material to emphasize the points they want to make (See John 20:30-31). The fact that one account leaves something out does not mean it didn’t happen. Besides, when two independent accounts differ in some respects, that only makes their agreements more significant—and both sources independently (assuming the “Two-source” synoptic theory) agree that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. There are no sources—none!—that say Jesus was born in Nazareth, which is what some critics assert.

Romey goes on to point out that “Some suspect that the Gospel writers located Jesus’ Nativity in Bethlehem to tie the Galilean peasant to the Judean city prophesied in the Old Testament as the birthplace of the Messiah” (46). Her statement is true—that is what some scholars propose. So if these scholars are correct, the writers of Matthew and Luke (or earlier Christians) made up the story about Jesus being born in Bethlehem in order to falsely say that Jesus had fulfilled this messianic prophecy. In that case, it would appear that even in the face of persecution these early Christians continued to believe and teach that Jesus was the Messiah even though they knew they had fabricated the Bethlehem story! I find this option unlikely, to say the least.

Another option is that Jesus really was born in Bethlehem where the prophet Micah says the Messiah would be born (there were, after all, babies born in Bethlehem!)—and this is one of several reasons early Christians thought Jesus was the Messiah. I think the second option better helps to explain the very early Christian belief in Jesus as Messiah.

Finally, the conclusion of the article is very disappointing:

At this moment I realize that to sincere believers, the scholar’s quest for the historical, non-supernatural Jesus is of little consequence. That quest will be endless, full of shifting theories, unanswerable questions, irreconcilable facts. But for true believers, their faith in the life, death, and Resurrection of the Son of God will be evidence enough (68).

The author hits the nail on the head when she implies that the quest for the historical Jesus has been a quest for a non-supernatural Jesus. That has often been the guiding presupposition of the entire quest! Regardless of what the evidence might be, nothing can be allowed to overturn what has been the assumption of predominantly western, white, male, academic elites regarding a non-supernatural Jesus!

Most people in the world, however, do not buy into this elitist assumption, and that fact is that there is much evidence in support of the essential reliability of the New Testament portrayal of Jesus. See, for example, Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus edited by Darrell Bock and Robert Web (931 pages); The Historical Reliability of the New Testament by Craig Blomberg and Robert Stewart (816 pages); The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright ( 817 pages) or The Resurrection of Jesus by Michael Licona (718 pages). Skeptics may counter that books like these don’t prove every detail of the Gospels to be true, but these books certainly show that, contrary to Romey, true Christianity is not just a blind leap of faith.

If you want a more thorough overview of the topic of Jesus and archaeology, I would suggest Jesus and his World; The Archaeological Evidence by Craig Evans.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Faith and allegiance

In Luke 10:25-28 a Jewish legal authority asks Jesus how to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him what the Law (of Moses) says and the man responds saying that people must Love God with all their heart, soul strength and mind; and their neighbor as themselves. Jesus told him he had answered correctly. But what does this have to do with salvation? Don’t we have to “believe” or have “faith” to be saved? Darrell Bock’s interpretation of this passage hits the nail on the head: “This answer does not defend righteousness by works. Jesus’ approval of the answer in the next verse comes because at its heart the answer is an expression of total allegiance and devotion that in other contexts could be called faith. At the heart of entering the future life is a relationship of devotion, a devotion that places God at the center of one’s spiritual life and responds to others in love” (Bock, Darrell, Luke 9:51-24:53. Grand Rapids : Baker, 1024-1025).

Monday, October 30, 2017

"Oh that wonderful cross"?

Jim and his beloved wife Jimmie worked overseas in a country known not only for its strict laws against drinking but also for its severe punishments. One day Jimmie drove out to the countryside to pick up her husband Jim, who had been camping.

Jimmie moved to the passenger side of the car to let Jim drive, unaware that Jim had been drinking—a lot!  When she realized that Jim was drunk, Jimmie pleaded with her husband to pull over and let her drive, but he refused. It wasn’t long before Jim ran a stop sign slamming broadside into a car, killing an entire family. Jim survived the collision but went into a coma.

Jimmie survived with serious but non-life threatening injuries. She knew full well what the authorities would do to her husband so she somehow managed to move him to the passenger side of the car. Then she sat in the driver’s seat. When the authorities arrived, she was arrested, charged with vehicular homicide, and in accordance with the laws of the land, was stoned to death!

Several months later when Jim woke up from his coma he discovered that his beloved wife had substituted her life for his. He was so overwhelmed by her amazing love, he sang a song that said, “Oh those wonderful stones, those wonderful stones under which my dear wife died.”

Of course this story is entirely a fictional. Who would ever sing such a horrendous song after hearing that his loved one had been stoned to death on his account?

And yet, that’s what we have done!

Isaac Watts once wrote a famous hymn that says, “When I survey the wondrous cross on which the prince of glory died…” The cross is truly “wondrous” in the sense that it is amazing, unbelievable, and astounding that God could use a terrible instrument of torture to bring about our salvation.

Unfortunately, a modern songwriter failed to distinguish the words “wondrous” from “wonderful.” This songwriter revised the Isaac Watts song about the “Wondrous Cross” by adding a chorus about that "wonderful cross.” Although song is probably about 15 years old now, it has become a kind of contemporary Christian classic and is still sung in churches.

But the cross was not wonderful! It was an awful instrument of torture! How could we possibly sing about the “wonderful cross” any more than Jim in the story would sing about the “wonderful stones” that crushed his beloved wife’s skull?

Personally, I can’t bring myself to sing those words. Instead, I change the words from “Oh that wonderful cross” to “Oh my wonderful Lord.” Next time you sing this song, please don’t praise that instrument of torture but rather change the words and praise your Lord who died upon it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

"Why Christians Don't Need to Take a Stand Against Evil" ?

I just read a blog post by someone named Jared. Jared argued that Christians need to show more love and compassion, but that by taking a stand against evil we often become "the voice of the accuser, while those who are not connected to God function as the voice of love."  

I tried to respond to Jared's post on his blog but was unable to log in so I sent the following response to him via the contact form on his blog:

Good article, Jared. Well written and thought provoking. I agree with you that we need to focus more on showing love to others—even to our enemies. I agree with you that Lady Gaga’s visit to homeless LGBT teens was commendable. I would add, however, that I suspect that all the aid Gaga and her like-minded multi-millionaire friends give to the needy does not even compare to what relatively poor Christians give through organizations like Samaritan’s Purse, WorldVision, Compassion International, Feed My Starving Children, Operation Blessing, etc. Nevertheless, we do need to do more to reach out and show the love of Christ in tangible ways to others.

On the other hand, we will have to agree to disagree on Christians as the “voice of the accuser.” If I really thought that it was wrong to “Take a stand against evil” I would have to take a stand against the prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul. Jesus fully affirmed what we Christians call the Old Testament (Mt 5:17-20), and the Old Testament prophets powerfully took a stand against the evils of their society. For example, Isaiah calls the people of Judah “offspring of evildoers,” a “sinful nation” who are “laden with iniquity” (Isa 1:4). Jeremiah condemns those who have killed the “innocent poor” (Jer 2:34) and “…have defiled the land with your prostitution and wickedness” (Jer 3:2). Hosea writes that the land was full of “swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery…”(Hos 4:1-2). Ezekiel condemns the people of Jerusalem for immorality, bribery, unjust gain and extortion (Ezek 22:9-12). Zephaniah condemns Jerusalem as a city of rebellious, defiled oppressors (Zeph 3:1). Joel attacks the drunkenness of his society and calls them to repentance (Joel 1:5). Micah pronounces woe on those who oppress others and “devise wickedness and work evil on their beds” (Micah 2:1-2). Malachi tells the people that God will “come to you for judgment” and “will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice…”(Mal 3:5). These quotes barely scrape the surface of the prophets’ stand against evil.

That stand against evil continues in the New Testament when John the Baptist comes preaching baptism for repentance saying, “…You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt 3:7-8). He then warned of fiery judgment for those who do not repent (Matt 3:12). According to Luke, John the Baptist tells people to share what they have with those who don’t have. He tells tax collectors not to collect more than what is required, and he tells soldiers not to use extortion or false accusations (Lk 3:11-14). John was preaching to people from all over Judea and his preaching included a stand against evil.

Jesus also took a stand against evil. In fact, the very first words Matthew and Mark record Jesus saying at the beginning of his public ministry is a call to repentance (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15)! It is a call to get one’s heart right with God and it applies to everyone. Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus did not just publically criticize religious leaders—he criticized his whole society calling them an adulterous and sinful generation” (Mk 8:38), a “faithless and perverse generation” (Mk 9:19/Mt 17:17//Lk 9:41) and an “evil generation” (Lk 11:29//Mt:12:39; 16:4).

In John’s gospel Jesus proclaims that it is the world, not just religious leaders, that hates him because he testifies “that what it does is evil” (John 7:7; 15:18, cf. 17:14). More specifically, Jesus publicly calls out sins of hatefulness, adultery, easy divorce, judgmentalism, and evil-doing (cf. Matthew 5-7). He made clear to his disciples that such sins as “sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly” began in the heart (Mark 7:21-23). When Mark begins discussion of Jesus’ ministry with his public call to repentance, these sins were undoubtedly among those he had in mind.

Then right after the resurrection, Peter preaches to an enormous crowd in Jerusalem. His message is not a warm, fuzzy, feel-good sermon designed to win friends and influence people. He says, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:38). Peter then calls them to repentance! The result is that many got saved and they “gave to anyone as he had need” (Acts 2:44).

Similarly, when Stephen preaches, he does not announce God’s understanding and tolerance, or a new social program by the newly formed church. Stephen calls them“…stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears!” (Acts 7:51). He tells them they have always resisted the Holy Spirit and that they have not obeyed the Law (Acts 7:51-53).

When Paul preaches in Lystra, he does not talk about their culture’s great religions—he confronts their idolatrous culture publicly, saying, “We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God…” (Acts 14:15).  When Paul was on trial before King Agrippa, he pretty much summarized his whole ministry starting with his conversion on the way to Damascus saying, “First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached the they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20). Proclaiming Jesus without calling people to repent and turn from their sins is not really proclaiming Jesus at all!

Jared, you are absolutely right that “we never hear of them protesting or boycotting,” but then again, they didn’t live in a democratic society with freedom of speech, and that makes a huge difference. When I was in Russia, one of the believers told me that they have absolutely no say in their government—all they can do is try to be faithful to God regardless of what the country throws at them. That is not unlike the plight of first century Christians. We in the United States, on the other hand, are fortunate enough to live in a nation where “we the people” have a say in the future direction of our country. I reject the notion that because we are Christians we should just shut up, sit on the sidelines, and let secularists determine the direction of the country our children will inherit. I’m quite sure our founding fathers (and mothers) would have rejected such a notion. As I understand Jesus’ affirmation of the prophets and his command to be salt in the world, I suspect he may have rejected it too. We have the privilege of calling out our society’s evils and attempting to affect change—especially though calls to repentance, but also by influencing voters.

Anyway, my point is NOT that we should immediately walk next door and tell our neighbor what a sinner he or she is. I’m NOT saying we should stand up on a desk at work and preach against office sins. And all this certainly doesn’t mean we should self-righteously look down our noses at others as if we ourselves are not worthy of God’s judgment! But it does mean that proclaiming Christ is not JUST about showing love and compassion (as important as that is). People cannot be saved unless they are confronted with the seriousness and horribleness of their own sin, respond in genuine heart-felt repentance and turn in loving devotion to Jesus as the only one who can save them from the penalty of their rebellion. If ALL we preach is love and compassion, we are not preaching Jesus. I suspect you would agree with this.

So, Jared, you make some very good points in your article but I don’t think it tells the whole story. And without the rest of the story, it may give fuel to some of your professing Christian readers who really just seek to avoid being hated by the world at all costs (but see John 12:25; 15:18, 19; 17:14; 1 John 3:13) and seem to imagine God to be an all-tolerant, non-judgmental, cosmic Santa Claus who accepts our sin and exists to makes us healthy, wealthy and prosperous. Such a god is merely an idol, a figment of self-centered imagination.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Mind and matter

I just finished reading Mind & Cosmos; Why the materialist New-Darwinian conception of nature is almost certainly false, by Thomas Nagel who is a world-class philosopher. I need to preface my remarks by saying that my field is not philosophy. That, combined with the fact that I read the book rather quickly (which is not usually the best way to read philosophy) means that my understanding of the book may be quite limited and even wrong at points.
Nevertheless, as I understand it, Nagel argues that it is virtually impossible for mind, consciousness, reasoning and values to emerge spontaneously from matter in a Neo-Darwinian system. Consistent with his atheism, Nagel rejects theism and intelligent design but, in my opinion, without adequate reason (other than the fact that he just doesn’t like it).

If I understand Nagel correctly, his very tentative solution seems to be that purpose is somehow just built into the fabric of the universe. Nagel’s reasoning seems to be:

1) It is pretty much impossible that mind could evolve from matter under a Neo-Darwinian system [I agree]

2) Theism is not worth serious consideration [Nagel mentioned but did not seriously engage with arguments for intelligent design other than to agree that proponents have raised serious questions about the origin of life under a Neo-Darwinian system].

3) The only alternative seems to be the idea that purpose is built into the very fabric of the universe [but if it is impossible for matter to spontaneously evolve into consciousness and mind, how is it possible—without a Designer—that dead matter is somehow endued with purpose from the start?]

Deep, thought provoking read from an honest, non-militant atheist perspective.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

An open letter to Democrats and other progressives on the 2016 election

Lately it seems that Democrats have been blaming everyone but George W. Bush for losing the election—Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, James Comey, Huma Abedin, purveyors of fake news, Russian hackers, the media, and even the Electoral College system. As a conservative Evangelical Christian I’d like to suggest one more reason Hillary lost this election, and make a proposal about how Democrats might do better next time.

I think I speak for most conservative Evangelicals when I say that we were appalled when we saw a few Evangelical leaders unconditionally promoting Donald Trump. Evangelicals who had so strongly insisted that character matters when it came to Bill Clinton were now unapologetically promoting a man whose morality was even worse than Clinton’s! Not only that, but Trump’s whole personality was deeply troubling. Here was a man who made very personal and often cruel attacks on everyone who crossed his path, and would seemingly sue just about anyone who got in his way! These are very disturbing traits for a man who seemed to think he could run America like a CEO runs a company! Many of us were (still are) concerned that he is a megalomaniac who has the potential trampling people’s rights with a pen and a phone like someone else who comes to mind.

So the fact of the matter is that many of us Evangelicals almost threw up in our mouth when we voted for Donald Trump! Why would conservative evangelicals vote for someone who was so thoroughly repugnant to our values?

There are numerous reasons, of course (many residing in Hillary Clinton herself), but among the most significant was the fact that we believed that the Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, were waging war on our freedom. Hear me out—There are millions of us “deplorables” and unless you at least try to understand our position you have little hope of ever getting our vote!

We saw our freedom threatened in two areas in particular. First, was the issue of abortion. Many Evangelicals view abortion as nothing less than murder. This is not just political rhetoric. This is honestly what we believe (the fact that human life begins at conception is supported by science). So it’s bad enough that our country legally permits that which from our perspective is practically a holocaust, but when Democrats began trying to legally force Christian-owned organizations to pay for abortion coverage, it crossed a line. It is one thing for a government to engage in immoral practices we oppose—Evangelicals are not personally accountable for that. But many Christians believed that being forced to pay for insurance packages enabling their workers to obtain abortions would make them personally accountable to God for a practice they honestly believe to be murder. Forcing people of faith to support issues which they believe to be in violation of God’s law is tyranny. This country was founded by people who fled such tyranny!

Second, was the issue of gay rights. What began as a movement that urged tolerance has become one of the most intolerant movements in country! Christian bakers, florists, psychologists, and others are being run out of business (and have even had their lives threatened) by gay rights advocates. Contrary to the way Evangelicals are often portrayed, we do not hate gay people! In fact, these Christian business owners were happy to serve gay customers—they just could not support the institution of gay marriage.

For example, Christian bakers were happy to bake cakes or cookies for gay customers, but they honestly believed (rightly or wrongly) that baking a wedding cake for a gay wedding constituted providing support for an institution that violated God’s laws.

There were, of course, plenty of other bakers who would have loved to have the gay customers’ business but that wasn’t good enough. Gay rights advocates chose to intimidate, threaten and use government regulations in an attempt to force these Christians out of business. Even some gay people were scandalized by the intolerance exhibited toward these Christians. Would Democrats want the government to force a gay baker to provide baked goods for an anti-gay rally? Of course not! In most other cases, Democrats recognize that forced speech is not free speech.

It is very important to understand, however, that this is not just about government forcing someone to do something they don’t want to do. For example, when I lived in Arizona, the state government required us to get the emissions checked on our cars every year. I hated that hassle, but it didn’t violate my convictions so I complied. It is an entirely different matter when governments try to force people of faith to do things they sincerely believe to violate God’s laws. Christians who are serious about their faith simply can’t comply. “We must obey God rather than man,” St. Peter is quoted as saying.  Forcing people to violate deeply held religious convictions is not freedom—it is tyranny.

So when the Democrat Party and Hillary Clinton aggressively supported both of these attacks on Christians—and would have certainly appointed justices to the Supreme Court who would ensure compliance—what choice did we have? We could have sat this election out, but that would have ensured a Clinton victory and the continued erosion of our liberty. In our view it was better to take our chances with Trump who might possibly threaten our freedom in the future, than to vote for Hillary who was already threatening our freedom today.

So how could Hillary have won the election? Imagine if Hillary had said:
·        "I am absolutely committed to fight for abortion rights—but in America we also uphold religious liberty. We will not force people of faith to violate their religious convictions. We will not go after doctors or nurses who, because of sincere religious conviction, cannot perform or assist in abortions and we will not force Christian-owned businesses like Hobby Lobby or Christian book publishers to pay for abortion coverage. But apart from such rare religious exemptions, we will fight vigorously to uphold abortion rights."

·         Second, "I will relentlessly fight for gay rights including gay marriage—but in America we uphold freedom of speech. While we will insist that all businesses must serve all customers regardless of race or gender, we will not force people of faith to support the institution of gay marriage. And we will not force Christian churches, charities, missions, schools or colleges to hire or enroll anyone who refuses to comply with their religious behavior codes. But apart from these relatively few religious exceptions, I will be a staunch defender of gay rights and gay marriage."

If the Democrats in general and Hillary in particular had campaigned on this I am absolutely convinced that Hillary would have won the election hands down. That is because many, many Evangelicals were on the fence in this election due to their strong distaste for Donald Trump. It wouldn’t have taken much to swing their vote to Hillary. In fact, there are many Evangelicals who would like to vote Democrat because they (naively, in my view) see Democrats as caring more for the poor. Personally, I was about as strongly opposed to Hillary as one could legally get, and yet, my distaste for Trump was so strong that if Hillary had only been tolerant in these two areas, even I may have voted for her!

Intolerance was one of the factors that cost Democrats this election. If Democrats would practice the tolerance they preach, they just might win next time.