Archives for April 2014

Contemplating the crucifixion and resurrection

cross_2Unless these are the first words I’ve written that you’ve ever read, you probably know that I’m not particularly shy about admitting that I consider myself a Christian.

By that, I mean specifically that I believe Jesus really lived roughly two thousand years ago, and was crucified and died on a cross.

Furthermore, I believe that God raised him from the grave, and Jesus ascended into heaven, just like the Bible says.

And today is Easter Sunday, the holiest day on the Christian calendar. In my opinion, it’s not a bad idea to contemplate the resurrection on an Easter Sunday.

On the basic points concerning Christian beliefs, I believe it is safe to say that the vast majority of other people who considers themselves a Christian would agree with me about the divinity of Jesus, and that his resurrection really happened.

Where we may or may not agree is on the question of why Jesus suffered, died, and rose again. Those who, on faith, accept the Bible is literally true, and without error will assert the answer is original sin — in other words, it’s Adam and Eve’s fault for listening to Satan, and partaking from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

I will admit that I have my doubts about that particular belief, but I will explain why in a moment.

My approach to reading the Bible is rather straightforward — I assume that what I am reading is true. The problem with that approach, of course, is the content of the Bible itself. How do you reconcile when two accounts contradict each other?

There are clearly instances where the same story is told more than once, but the details changed from one version to another. In fact, one has to look no farther than the first two chapters of Genesis to find two separate accounts of the creation story.

In Genesis 2 God creates Adam and Eve, and then animals. The creation order is reversed in Genesis 1. How can both chapters literally be true and disagree with each other?

There are also “problematic” stories, like the one I have called the enigma of Abraham and Isaac. A literal interpretation of the story without proper context can lead one to ask some very uncomfortable questions about God — such as, why would God do such a thing?

Why would the Creator of life demand that Abraham sacrifice his only son? A superficial reading of the story makes God appear to be capricious and  unnecessarily cruel, which may cause the reader to develop a misunderstanding of God.

Back to the concept of original sin — what exactly are the issues I have with it?

My first problem: the perception it creates of God as being unjust, cruel, and vindictive. Would a loving and compassionate God really inflict eternal punishment on an innocent person for the crime of another? The Bible also says that there are none righteous, not a single person, and that all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God. Those I can believe, but the idea of original sin simply makes no sense to me.

Probably nothing offends our modern sense of injustice that the idea of an innocent man being executed for the crime of another person. Frankly, it would be grotesquely unfair for God to condemn me to Hell for something Adam did.

On the other hand, it isn’t difficult for me to realize that by the standards set by God and Jesus the Christ, I richly deserve hell for some of the things I’ve done. The nature of Adam does indeed live inside me — sinful things like pride, vanity, and greed. Furthermore, the capacity to lie, cheat, steal, commit adultery, and even murder exists within every human.

Our second greatest gift from God after life, is free will. Humans can choose between right and wrong, moral over immoral, and good over evil.  We can resist the temptation to do the wrong thing, if we want.

In reality, Adam has become our scapegoat, humanity’s excuse for failing to live up to God’s expectations. We deserve hell for what we do to each other, and not because of Adam.

My second problem with original sin: the story of Noah and the flood — why didn’t the flood wash it away, along with the majority of humankind?

Why wouldn’t Noah and his family have been given a clean slate on original sin at that point? Does God really hold that much of a grudge against humanity? What exactly was in that piece of fruit that condemned us all?

Third, there is the problem of all the people who lived between Adam and Jesus — how are they supposed to get into heaven? Jesus specifically said that he came to earth for the Jews. What about all the Gentiles, before the crucifixion? Did God really care less about them than he cared for the Jews?

It is true that Jesus fulfilled the Messianic prophesies of the Hebrews, but Jesus really came for the whole world, because that is what God created.

Finally, there is what I call the “parent” problem: I have a son, and I love him very much. The whole idea that the Father of Jesus would want and even demand that his only son suffer an unbearably painful death — just watching The Passion of the Christ was an ordeal in itself — but especially for a crime someone else committed, is simply unfathomable to me as a father.

In my mind, there has to be more the explanation than blaming the need for the crucifixion other than original sin. The whole idea that in order to preserve grace for mankind, Jesus had to suffer an unjust death simply doesn’t compute.

To me, requiring that Jesus suffer and die for Adam’s sin is about as rational as it would be for me to spank my grandson, because my dog peed on the carpet. I cannot believe the suffering of the Christ served an irrational purpose. I’m certain that God is infinitely more intelligent than me, and not less rational.

All of this speculation leads me back to the “Bigger Picture” question of why Jesus had to suffer and die like he did on the cross for me to be absolved of my sins, and get into heaven. To me, it’s not really a question of “if” he did, but why he did.

Maybe it’s because I write detective novels. I’m obsessed with motive.

Jesus remains the ultimate role model that ever lived. He wasn’t a hypocrite. Jesus showed us how to be kind to each other, and how to stand up to human authority. He led by example, both with how he lived and died. If the crucifixion of Jesus truly served some purpose, what else could it possibly have been, if it was not to absolve the entire world of original sin? What about individual sin?

Now if you have read me before, you probably have figured out that I am fascinated by the evidence of corroborated veridical NDE (Near Death Experience) events.

These are incidents where people who were temporarily declared dead or known to have been in a near death state experienced either a euphoric bliss and described what they believed was heaven, or a state of abject misery they called hell.

Jesus died for my sins — I’m okay with the concept, I suppose, and live with the guilt. But I wonder, could the purpose of the resurrection have been to give us virtually irrefutable evidence that death is not like a light switch, and our soul continues to exist, even after death?

After all, Jesus wasn’t nearly dead. He was dead, for a couple of days. But then Sunday morning came, and Jesus wasn’t dead anymore.

It’s interesting to think about it, and wonder why these things happened.

 

 

Face Palm Sunday

FacepalmYesterday was Palm Sunday. The face palm moment came early.

Before church, I visited a place on Facebook called The Battlefield. The group consists of theists and atheists who are interested in (more or less) cordial debate.

I felt compelled to respond after one of my atheist friends asserted if Sir Isaac Newton were alive today, he would reject Young Earth Creationism and more than likely be an atheist, according to these statistics.

Several replies came to mind. Naturally, I responded with all of them.

First of all, such speculation is both silly and irrelevant. Newton has been dead almost 300 years. It’s impossible to say what he would be like today. And it seems rather foolish to assume modern science would be anywhere close to where it is today if Newton hadn’t lived and accomplished what he did, when he did. The issue of Young Earth Creationism is semantic, and especially for this argument. It can help divide Christians from each other, but does not separate theists from atheists, the more important point of contention in that forum.

Secondly, historically speaking, the polar opposite has been true in regard to the relationship between super-intellect and spiritual beliefs. Polymaths like Newton, da Vinci, and Emmanuel Swedenborg were if anything uber-religious people, and most certainly not atheists. Modern polymath Michael Guillen has three PhDs, and he’s a Christian. The appeal to modern authority falls flat because Newton was the authority of his time. If he were alive today, it would be reasonable to assume that Newton would still be an authority figure. More than likely, Newton wouldn’t follow the crowd. He would lead it.

And finally, to be fair to my atheist friend, I also mentioned that wasn’t the dumbest thing I’d heard when it came to “if so-and-so were alive today, he’d be an atheist…”

Richard Dawkins owned that dubious distinction, for having said that a person as intelligent as Jesus would not believe in God if he were alive today, raising the stakes beyond mere silly speculation to the truly ludicrous unfounded opinion.

It would seem much safer to assume that someone who claimed to be God would make that claim no matter when and where he lived. Jesus would never submit to human authority. If he wasn’t afraid of the cross, he certainly wouldn’t be afraid of one little guy like Richard Dawkins mocking him.

But Dawkins had a lot of curious things to say in this interview, for example:

A lot of people think we need religion in order to be moral. There are a lot of people who think that if you took religion away, people would start rushing around smashing shop windows and robbing and raping, things like that. No evidence of that whatever. I mean, absolutely none. So I think one important thing we’ve got to do is prise apart religion and morality. It’s absolute nonsense to say you need religion in order to be moral.

No one that I know of has suggested that atheists are inherently amoral. However, without the objective morality that can only come from God, the issue of whether there is consistency in morality from one atheist to another becomes painfully obvious.

Personally speaking, I’ve never had to waste any time wondering whether or not things like infanticide or adultery were immoral.

Both clearly violate the Ten Commandments, found in my primary source of objective morality, the Bible. But by the same token, Dawkins can’t say the same.

Dawkins can’t bring himself to say that infanticide is immoral. He even has the audacity to defend adultery, going as far as lambasting the humiliated wives being cheated upon for being jealous of their philandering spouses. I haven’t checked to see if his opinions on cuckolds are consistent.

And the problem isn’t just Dawkins. It’s troubling to know that his friend, atheist and physicist Lawrence Krauss, can’t bring himself to say that incest is always morally wrong.

In that same interview with The Guardian, Dawkins also made this very interesting comment:

Science is wonderful. Science is amazing. The fact that you could understand why you exist, who could not be turned on, who could not be excited by that? Who could ever want to live in a world where you live your life, you go to work, you go to the office, whatever it is, you go to the football match, and this goes on year after year…and then you die. And you don’t have any understanding of why you were there in the first place. That’s desiccated. That’s dry. What is not dry and desiccated, is coming into the world as it were awakening in the world, an awakening in the fullest sense of seeing the universe, seeing the stars, seeing down a microscope, seeing what’s inside every single cell, seeing what’s inside the brain and marveling at this wonderful gift of life, that we have, albeit temporarily, marveling at this gift of understanding why we exist, and rejoicing in it for as long as we do exist.

Now, anyone who has actually read The God Delusion should immediately recognize the glaring contradictions between what he wrote in his book, and the language Dawkins used in the interview. In the book, he made it very clear that as the product of natural selection, there is no real reason for our existence except “to have a good lunch” — and certainly there is no one to thank for “this wonderful gift of life.”

His bolded words above describe what atheism actually robs from a person, which is their sense of purpose. The atheist has no one to thank for the good things in life, except possibly their mother, for not having an abortion.

There’s nothing wrong with science. It’s the only method that we can effectively use to examine the potential evidence of a Creator.

However, if a creator God did not exist, our own existence would also have no rational meaning or purpose…which happens to be the exact opposite of what Mr. Dawkins said.

Science is not God. It can be respected, but not worshiped.

 

Mel Maguire to appear on Sean Hannity’s radio show

Be suresean_hannity to listen to Sean Hannity’s radio show later today.

My friend Mel Maguire will be speaking with Sean today, April 8th, about her excellent commentary regarding the forced resignation of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich.

Mel represents a small but very brave minority – gay conservatives unafraid to speak against political correctness, in favor of freedom.

Be sure to listen!

It seems like Mel always has something interesting to say…

Can a Smart Person Believe in God?

guillen_michael[ Hat tip and many thanks to fellow Prince of Peace Lutheran Church member Jim Jimenez, for lending me his book.]

The title of theoretical physicist and author Michael Guillen’s book Can a Smart Person Believe in God? is actually a rhetorical question.

The author is obviously a very intelligent man as well as a professed Christian, who leaves nothing open to interpretation when he wrote: “I believe in the monotheistic God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — the God of the Book. The One who created the universe.”

Furthermore, his credibility as author of this work is beyond dispute — Dr. Guillen holds a trio of PhD’s from Cornell University, in astronomy, mathematics, and physics, respectively.

Dr. Guillen also taught physics at Harvard University for eight years, and served as the ABC News science correspondent. In other words, his academic/scientist credentials are impeccable.

He explained his motives for writing it by saying:

In fact, the main reason for writing this book is not to rebut atheism (although, inevitably, I do that) but to discredit the arrogant manner in which its proponents often present and defend it — especially these days, when being cool often means coming across as sassy and self-reliant.

Probably the best word to describe Dr. Guillen (and his book) would be balanced. 

His professional experience as a teacher, his training as a scientist, and his ability to articulate useful information in a conversational, easy-to-understand style combine to create a book that is concise and very easy to read.

He elaborated further on his reasons for writing this particular book:

That’s why I’ve written this book: first, to contribute some civility to the overall debate, and second, to rebut the argument that those who believe in God are dumber than those who do not. I hear this unseemly and unfounded prejudice voiced a lot these days, mainly from secular humanists who see themselves as smart, free-thinking realists and believers in God as dim-witted, superstitious sheep.

In addition to the measure of Intelligence Quotient, or IQ, in which so many secular intellectuals take great pride, Guillen devised a test to determine one’s Spiritual Quotient, or SQ, “a measure of our ability to perceive the subtler, nonphysical aspects of reality, to solve problems and acquire conviction spiritually.”

This book was obviously his reaction to “arrogant atheism,” which he eloquently summarized with an anecdote about the audacity of a fellow Harvard physics professor to describe Nobel Prize-winning physicist Robert Millikan as a “low-brow” because of his personal religious beliefs.

The irony is delicious: a professor whose most notable accomplishment was becoming a professor at a prestigious Ivy-League school, while teaching his physics class about Millikan’s famous oil-drop experiment, insulted the memory of the man who discovered every atom has an invisible electric charge.

Dr. Guillen stressed the importance of developing what he terms our need “to see with both eyes,” what he calls stereoscopic sight. To communicate these ideas, he coined a few new terms that easily communicated some very important concepts.

For example, Intellectual Cyclops are your typical atheist, in other words, people who rely only on IQ to see the world.

At the other end of the spectrum are Spiritual Cyclops, people who consider their own intellect a stumbling block in seeking God, relying strictly on a literal interpretation of the Bible, and blind faith.

According to Guillen, the Ideal Person has stereoscopic faith, striking a perfect balance between intellect and spirituality.

At the polar opposite end of the spectrum are the “blind”, people who are neither intelligent or spiritual.

Dr. Guillen gives atheists an extremely gentle rebuke, suggesting the ideal person should substitute any potential hard feelings for atheists with compassion for these reasons…

Pity the brilliant attorney with an underdeveloped SQ, for example, whose beautiful young wife is killed in a car accident, leaving him alone to raise their infant son and agonize over the seeming cruelty and capriciousness of life. Pity the brilliant but low-SQ biologist who spends her whole life studying the human retina yet has nothing to credit for its spectacular design except the supposedly fortuitous machinations of a mindless, purposeless universe. And pity the brilliant but low-SQ doctor who has no one and nothing to thank in the face of a spontaneous cure that defies all medical explanation.

So, can a smart person believe in God?

Absolutely!

Pornographic advertising for Orbit chewing gum

sarah_silvermanAccording to what I learned in my business classes in college, the purpose of advertising is to help a company market a product to customers, whether repeat or potential.

Some ads are designed to make a lasting impression to improve brand awareness, reminding the customer of their historic shopping preferences. Other ads are intended to simply increase sales.

The question is, what is the purpose of the new advertising campaign for Orbit chewing gum?

The William Wrigley, Jr. company has dominated the chewing gum business for more than 100 years.

Their most popular U.S. products include Altoids breath mints, Skittles and Starburst candies, Lifesavers, as well as Juicy Fruit, DoubleMint, Spearmint, and Big Red gums.

Orbit gum is yet another Wrigley brand of gum, one with a very interesting history. During World War II, every pack of Juicy Fruit, Spearmint, and other well known Wrigley brands manufactured were exported to U.S. troops fighting overseas.

The brand was discontinued in 1946, after the war had ended and the other brands returned to the American market.

In 1976, Orbit was revived as a product, introduced as a sugar-free gum sold in a few European countries. In 2001, the brand was brought back to American markets with the “Dirty Mouth” ad campaign. The first commercials featured a blonde spokeswoman and typically suggested that the reason a person needed to chew Orbit gum was to clean their mouth after they had used bad language.

They were pretty silly ads, but mostly harmless.

The one starring Snoop Dogg was actually pretty funny, especially the included “disclaimer” stating the commercial was a dramatization and that chewing Orbit gum really won’t get you into Heaven.

As if that was something we needed to be told. But now I wonder if continuing to chew Orbit gum should doom me to Hell…

The commercials gradually became more risqué over time, including this one making light of adultery by suggesting we should chew Orbit gum “for a good, clean feeling no matter what.”

Wrigley recently hired “adult” comedienne Sarah Silverman to be their new spokesperson for Orbit gum. The new ads featuring Ms. Silverman might best be described as soft porn, with the unsubtle message now being sent to customers that Orbit should be chewed after oral sex. The only way the message could have been made any more obvious would have been replacing Ms. Silverman with Monica Lewinsky. The commercials feature Silverman and a coffee cup engaging in conversation that is very sexually suggestive.

Look, I’m not a prude. But this campaign raises several issues about the intent of the William Wrigley, Jr. Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Mars, Incorporated.

First, there is the strong sexual innuendo of the commercials themselves and the message being conveyed. There is also the choice of spokesperson to consider.

Now Sarah Silverman can be pretty funny, if her “breakup video” with Matt Damon for talk show host Jimmy Kimmel was any indication. But late night television is where her brand of humor seems most appropriate for airing.

Her standup routine can also be quite offensive, her judgment often appears questionable — she definitely crossed a line when she used an actor who pretending to be a ultra-liberal, sacrilegious version of Jesus Christ to promote her personal views on “women’s reproductive rights,” meaning abortion.

Nor was that the first time Ms. Silverman has mocked or used Christianity for personal gain. Her 2005 comedy special was titled “Jesus is Magic.”

Obviously, Ms. Silverman isn’t the least bit afraid to risk offending certain groups of people with her comedy. The question is, should gum commercials be sexually provocative and edgy? Should a company employ should a controversial spokesperson to reach a mass audience?

However, Wrigley is free to hire whomever they choose to represent their product. They are also entitled to waste good money to make tasteless advertising.

I firmly believe in freedom of speech. That goes for the Wrigley company and Mars corporation as well as the individual consumer.

If soft porn is the direction in which Wrigley wishes to take this product, that is their prerogative. It’s a shame that a product with such a historic past would be taken in such a sordid direction.

But I also believe in freedom of choice as a two-way street. We don’t have to buy a product just because Wrigley wants to sell it. Customers offended by these Orbit commercials with Sarah Silverman should communicate their displeasure to the manufacturers, but the best response would be chewing a different brand of gum.

Nothing could possibly influence an advertising campaign more than negative results, meaning decreased sales. Money talks.

 

Questioning Darwin

Darwin_hopeThis month HBO is airing a program that it promotes as a documentary, called Questioning Darwin

Somewhat predictably, the program paints the picture that Ken Ham and his museum for Young Earth Creationism should be considered the only viable and true alternative philosophy to Darwinism,  completely ignoring brilliant thinkers such as John Lennox, Francis Collins, Connor Cunningham, Stephen C. Meyer and Frank Turek, as well as competing ideas such as Intelligent Design and Old Earth Creationism.

The documentary dredges up the old, tired creationism versus evolution debate once more, reinforcing many of the known, misleading stereotypes and repeating the same mistaken assumptions that have pretty much been hashed to death already.

The narrator begins by claiming that Christians who insist the Bible must be accepted as the literal Word of God are creationists who consider Darwin the antichrist. This was news to me.

Based on my limited knowledge mostly gleaned from biographies of his personal life, I was sort of under the impression that Darwin was sort of a spoiled, petulant rich guy who married his cousin and never really had to work for a living.

Curiously, the documentary  described creationism as a growing branch of Christianity, as if “Creationist” was comparable to Baptist, Lutheran, and Catholic.

On the whole, the documentary depicted creationists as stubborn, ignorant and silly deniers of science, while the scientists were portrayed as calm, soft-spoken, rational people. There simply wasn’t an option offered that didn’t fit those two somewhat predictable caricatures, which don’t accurately reflect reality.

For example, Pastor Tim Schofield of Christ Community Church said that God knows “the number of hairs on my head” — which he’d shaved completely bald, making it easy even for me to determine the number of hairs on his head at that moment in time was zero.

In one brief, particularly cringe-inducing clip from an interview, Pastor Peter LaRuffa of Grace Fellowship Church said:

If somewhere in the Bible, I were to find a passage that said two plus two equaled five, I wouldn’t question what I’m reading in the Bible. I would believe it, accept it as true, and then try my best to work it out and understand it.

My initial reaction was probably similar to what I imagine a majority of atheists did after seeing the same clip — a face-palm. Really? I thought to myself.

Even with a subject as simple and basic as first grade math, you wouldn’t even question whether or not the Bible was accurate if it included a claim that you knew couldn’t possibly be true?

But then I stopped to consider Pastor LaRuffa’s comment a while longer, eventually coming to see things from a completely different perspective.

I now think I might know what he meant — after remembering how for years I assumed that the story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his only son, Isaac, had to be allegorical. There was once a time that the story of Abraham and Isaac made absolutely no sense to me.

The problem was one that I dubbed the enigma of Abraham and Isaac, and bothered me for a long time.

Remember that prior to the near sacrifice, only a few chapters earlier in Genesis God had promised Abraham He would build an entire nation from Abraham’s offspring.

Suddenly in Genesis 22, God then somewhat arbitrarily commands Abraham to offer his son as a human sacrifice, a practice deemed “detestable” in other parts of the Bible, when performed by the followers of Baal.

My mind also failed to comprehend the fact that Abraham hadn’t even questioned the order to kill his only son. The Bible appeared to offer no explanation for what obviously seemed to be God’s capricious and grotesquely unjust cruelty.

Of course, a cruel, violent, and pernicious God did not reconcile very well in my mind with the image embodied by Jesus the Christ, revealed in the New Testament, so eventually I decided the story couldn’t literally be true.

While studying Genesis 21 one day, a new thought struck me that allowed both the story to be literally true, and that God was consistent when Abraham hadn’t been.

In my opinion, the key to solving the enigma is found in the preceding chapter, involving Abraham, a Philistine named Abimelech, and a treaty about a well at Beersheba.

So, much like Pastor LaRuffa seemed to be saying, my default decision is always to assume that whatever I’m reading in the Bible is true.

Still not too sure about that whole 2 + 2 equals 5 thing, though.

Just seemed like an unfortunate choice of words, and a really bad analogy.