Amazing Gracie’s terrible ordeal

southernprose_cover_AANOIn my book Always a Next One, I shared the story of how my wife and I came to rescue Gracie, a skittish little Norwegian Elk Hound pursued by a dedicated group of animal rescue volunteers for more than a month before someone finally caught up to her.

Today, I’m going to tell you the story of an even more harrowing rescue attempt that happened only yesterday.

This is Amazing Gracie.

As this picture suggestDSC_0009s, she’s not a very big dog, perhaps slightly overweight for her size at around forty pounds.

Of course, every member of our pack is special in their own right. But Gracie has endeared herself to the point she is the only dog in the pack with more than one nickname. She’s also the baby of the pack.

Depending on the circumstances, she has been called my sunshine because she brightens my day, our little butter bean because of her somewhat rotund body, the Chupacabra because of her feigned aggression at mealtime, and she’s even been called snicker doodle, for some strange reason — by me.

I can’t begin to explain how or why those words occasionally come out of my mouth when I’m talking to Gracie, so I won’t even try. However, her whole body wiggles with joy when I say her name.

How could anyone not love a dog that looks like a little grey German Shepherd and acts like she loves them with every fiber of her being? How could I help feeling a little more protective of her than I would, say, of a ninety pound German Shepherd who would eat you if you posed a threat to me, or my family?

Compared to the mighty Ox or big, ferocious-sounding Shiloh, Gracie doesn’t appear to be even mildly intimidating. Strangers most often use the words “cute” or “adorable” to describe her.

So without further ado, this was yesterday’s big adventure…

*           *          *          *         *         *

Now it’s a very good rule of thumb, when you have more than one dog, to periodically conduct a head count to make make sure that the pack members are all present and accounted for.

But yesterday my impromptu head count of the pack came up short one dog.

Gracie was missing.

A quick check of the backyard proved fruitless. She didn’t come when I called her. I checked and double checked the house, but Gracie was nowhere to be found.

I was completely baffled as to how she could have gotten out of the yard. Both fence gates were securely closed. There weren’t any fresh holes dug under the fence where she might have escaped.

Nor could she have escaped through the house without my knowledge.

Nevertheless, Gracie was definitely gone. It was as if she had vanished from the face of the earth. And in one very literal respect, she had.

On those few, rare occasions in the past when Gracie had somehow managed to get out the yard off leash, it had always been pretty easy to figure out how she escaped– invariably, one of the two fence gates had been accidentally left open.

Yet on those rare occasions, it always proved to be relatively easy to find her.

Gracie never wanders very far from home. Her behavior in that regard has always been quite predictable.

In the past when the gate was left open, Grace simply walked around our neighborhood by herself, following the same route I take her on leash.

However this time, there were no obvious answers to the question of how Gracie could have disappeared without a trace yesterday from our backyard.

For a guy who writes detective novels and takes some pride in spending most of his waking hours trying to think like a private detective, I’m ashamed to admit that I was baffled by her disappearance, completely stumped in fact.

It was a mystery to me as I wondered how Gracie could have disappeared like she had in broad daylight — unless someone had deliberately snatched her.

My wife Lisa immediately joined me in the hunt for our missing dog, repeating my methodical search of the backyard. I decided to get in the van and circle our neighborhood to look for Gracie, even though I had no idea how she might have possibly escaped from the yard.

I rolled down the windows so she could hear me as I called to her, but only managed to back out of the driveway when I heard the most heart-wrenching sound in the world as my wife screamed in sheer panic at the top of her lungs: “Gracie…Oh MY GOD! JOHN! COME QUICK!”

Mere words cannot describe the full range of emotions I experienced as I ran for the backyard. Dread filled me with the ugly thought that I was going to be helping Lisa recover Gracie’s lifeless body.

I harbored no delusions that our story might have a happy ending at that moment in time. After all, I had searched the backyard  rather thoroughly only a few minutes before and had seen no sign of Gracie. She hadn’t made a sound as I repeatedly called her name, never barked or even whimpered loud enough for me to hear.

At that moment in time, I could think of no reason for optimism. However to my shock and amazement, Gracie didn’t appear to be seriously hurt. But she was in a terrible predicament. The torrential rainstorm overnight had gouged out a deep sinkhole in the side of a small hill in our backyard.

Somehow that sinkhole had swallowed Gracie alive. Her head appeared to be at least four feet below the surface of the earth.

Remembering that scene in retrospect, we now realize that we might never have found Gracie in time,  if Ox hadn’t found her for us. Ox stood vigil over the sinkhole until Lisa went to investigate, curious why he refused to budge from a vantage point where there was nothing to see…except, of course, Gracie, at the bottom of a very deep hole.

That ugly little sinkhole turned out to be nothing more than a narrow crevice, a mere sliver in the earth. Backyard_hole_1

But it was really deep.

In fact, it proved to be so deep that our rake almost disappeared underground when placed in the hole handle-first, as shown in the picture below. Backyard_hole_2Gracie seemed to be going into shock.

She was panting rapidly, obviously confused and afraid.

To make matters worse, Lisa became convinced that the hole kept getting deeper.

Normally I’m not one to panic, but I admit that seemed to be the most logical and appropriate reaction under the circumstances.

One of Gracie’s front paws was tangled in some tree roots, and appeared to be the only thing keeping her from slipping deeper underground. The earth all around the hole was extremely soft.

It looked as if the hole might cave worse if I even breathed on it too hard. A couple of landscaping bricks were precariously perched in loose soil, right above Gracie’s head.

Before I completely lost my composure, I dialed 9-1-1 and asked for help.

Within minutes, the Alpharetta fire department had answered my call and began to assess the situation.

One of the firemen pulled out the loose landscaping pavers from the dirt just above Gracie’s head and tossed them out of harm’s way.

I tried to grab the remaining brick but it slipped from my fingers and fell into the hole, narrowly missing Gracie’s head.

Acting on instinct, I dove on the ground near the hole in a hopeless attempt to catch the brick before it fell. I only managed to widen the hole as the shelf of dirt caved in, burying Gracie up to her neck.

Her nose, ears and eyes were about all that remained visible.

The rest of her body was almost completely covered by dirt and mud. At that point, I finally realized that I was part of the problem, not the solution.

I was convinced that my well-intentioned efforts to save Gracie were going to kill her. After doing the smart thing and calling for professional help, why hadn’t I just let the firefighters do their job?

I got out of the way so the other firefighters could assist the man at the hole just when he said, “She’s trying to climb out!”

Apparently, as Gracie wiggled around, the dirt that fell on top of her then fell under her feet, and she began inching her way up toward freedom.

She soon had scrambled and clawed to get within reach and a second firefighter reached in and grabbed Gracie by the scruff of her neck.

“I’ve got her!” the lady firefighter exclaimed.

In the blink of an eye, Gracie was running around in the yard, celebrating her moment of freedom before going inside for a desperately needed bath.

I barely had time to shake hands with the men and women who quickly and professionally saved my dog’s life before they were headed back to the station to wait for the next emergency call.

My wife and I cannot thank the Alpharetta fire department enough for their cheerful assistance in our time of most desperate need. They seemed almost as happy about the happy ending as we were.

Postscript: it took 800 pounds of concrete to fill that sinkhole. It’s really scary to think how a hole that deep and dangerous could develop so quickly, literally created overnight by the erosion caused by heavy rainfall.

A review of “Rescue Me” by Val Silver

Rescue Me: Tales of Rescuing the Dogs Who Became Our Teachers, Healers, and Always Faithful FriendsRescue Me: Tales of Rescuing the Dogs Who Became Our Teachers, Healers, and Always Faithful Friends by Val Silver

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rescue Me is a collection of tales about a subject I am personally very passionate about — animal rescue. The stories are told by multiple people, and as a result some of them are more poignant than uplifting…the authors may not speak with “one” voice, but these stories told from the heart will almost certainly touch yours.

The book is worth buying just for the story of Biscuit the “do-over” dog, that went from death row in the animal shelter to become a therapy dog. Another story that resonated with me personally were the delightful “Lollipop Can’t Hold Her Licker” that opens with an unforgettable hook line: “Oh. My. Gawd. Your dog looks just like Gene Simmons.”

With their unified message, the authors said all the right things that another person familiar with the needs and difficulties and a passion for animal rescue wants to hear: spay and neuter. Adopt, don’t shop. Senior dogs need homes, too. Animal rescue is a labor of love, and that love shines through in the stories in this collection.

Amazon helped decide the number of stars this book deserved — five stars meant that I loved reading it, and four meant that I only liked the book. While I found it objectionable that one author described the wonderful, baying voice of a Basset Hound as a “God-awful sound”, I must admit that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, just as not every aficionado of music appreciates Gene Simmons of KISS.

View all my reviews

The vapid nature of atheism

southernprose_cover_CAFGThere is a common misconception that most if not all scientists are atheists, and that the vast majority of atheists are brilliant thinkers.

True, there are some very smart people who call themselves atheists.

But most of these people remain willfully ignorant of any potential information that might upset their apple-cart of a worldview.

For some people, it is enough for them to simply say they don’t believe in any sort of a God. Others, namely antitheists, actually hate the concept of supernatural intelligence so much that they campaign to eradicate the idea among the general public.

Some of these antitheists constantly lurk on the internet, hoping to evangelize their lack of faith and lead some of the sheeple astray.

I cannot tell you how many times one of these antitheists have threatened to “educate” me on the alleged scientific evidence, only to demonstrate in subsequent conversation that they know even less about the science involved than me.

Most recently, one of these intrepid atheists at a Facebook forum called The Battlefield directed me to read Victor Stenger’s paper titled “A Scenario for a Natural Origin of Our Universe,” presumably to convince me that our universe did not have a supernatural origin.

Before going any further, it should be clearly stipulated that I don’t know nearly as much about physics as Dr. Stenger.

However, after reading a bit of his work, I’m fairly well convinced Dr. Stenger doesn’t really know much more about the origin of our universe than I do.

His “natural origins” paper, found in the Cornell University library, begins:

It is commonly believed that the universe could not have come about naturally. Although many authors writing at the popular and academic levels have described various scenarios for a natural origin, usually based on a vague notion of “quantum fluctuations,” even though they admit their idea is speculative and surrender to the prevailing wisdom that the origin of our universe remains unexplained.

Dr. Stenger began by conceding that the default position should be to assume the origin of the universe was a supernatural event. We were off to an excellent start, to say the least.

The paper was only nine pages long, and three of those were dedicated to footnotes. I won’t pretend that I understood the mathematical formulas and special symbols that Dr. Stenger suggested would show us how to get a universe like ours without God, but I am quite sure he failed to adequately describe the origin of this universe on those pages.

The problems in Dr. Stenger’s logic were painfully obvious, even to a person lacking a PhD in physics.

However, we should acknowledge the positives about Dr. Stenger’s paper before we mention any of the negatives. He attempts to address inflation in his model of the Big Bang rather than ignoring it, for example. Furthermore, after bravely admitting no unifying theory of quantum mechanics and general relativity exists, Dr. Stenger nevertheless tries to apply this non-existent combination theory in his attempt to create a model of the Big Bang that eliminates any need for a God.

If given the opportunity, one might reasonably ask Dr. Stenger: was the purpose of this work a legitimate and scholarly pursuit, or nothing more than a thinly veiled excuse by yet another antitheist to attack religious beliefs under the guise of a genuine effort to perform good science?

Dr. Stenger also wrote in his paper:

We have no direct observations of the event we identify as the origin of our universe, “our universe” being the one we live in but with the far greater portion that arose from the same source now out of sight beyond our horizon. This has led some to insist that, as a consequence, science can say nothing about the origin. Here they parrot the familiar creationist argument that because we didn’t observe humans evolving we can’t say anything about human evolution.

The highlighted statement exposes the blatant bias of Dr. Stenger against religious beliefs and the idea of supernatural creation as the purpose for the paper — proving that the foundation of his entire argument was built upon quicksand.

The mention of inflation in his “natural origin” paper was commendable, but what about fine-tuning, and the anthropic nature of this universe?

Alas, he seemed to have ignored it completely in his “natural origins” paper when attempting to prove the universe could exist without supernatural help.

But on a happy note, to ascertain why that particular paper failed to even mention the alleged fine-tuning of our universe that created the perfect building blocks for life, I was inspired to perform some additional research on Dr. Stenger’s work to help explain the omission.

After a search of the internet, I discovered this paper about fine tuning also written by Dr. Stenger. In this second paper, he significantly downplays the idea of a fine-tuned universe by describing the six cosmological factors identified by Sir Martin Rees as merely anthropic coincidences.

Is Dr. Stenger’s real objective to better understand and hopefully explain the origin of our universe — one of the greatest mysteries of all time — or simply an excuse to sweep all for evidence of God under the rug? He wrote in his “natural origins” paper,

No claim will be made that the model I will describe is actually how our universe came about. The model contains no proof of uniqueness. The purpose of this essay is simply to show explicitly that at least one scenario exists for a perfectly natural, non-miraculous origin of our universe based on our best scientific knowledge. In other words, science has at least one viable explanation for the wholly natural origin of our universe, thus refuting any claim that a supernatural creation was required.

Question: if the mathematical model in question does not describe how our specific universe came to exist, then what good is the model?

Does it merely predict a hypothetical universe that wouldn’t collapse immediately after the Big Bang, or to describe the actual universe in which we live? And why did Dr. Stenger ignore the problem of fine-tuning?

Fellow physicist/atheist Chris Impey used a clever analogy to describe fine-tuning as follows:

Apart from hydrogen, everything else is just a trace element. Just how rare? Suppose a deck of cards represented randomly selected atoms in the universe. In one deck of cards, the aces would be helium atoms and the other forty-eight would be hydrogen atoms. You’d need thirty decks of cards before you’d expect to find one carbon atom. In the thirty decks of cards, there’d be a couple of oxygen atoms, too, but all the other cards would be hydrogen or helium. You’d need to search three hundred decks to find a single iron atom…How do we know what the universe is made of? Astronomers use remote sensing by spectroscopy to measure the composition of star stuff. Each element has a unique set of sharp spectral features that acts like a fingerprint, so by identifying that fingerprint in starlight, astronomers can measure contributions of different elements.

Dr. Impey seems to think the “fine-tuned” nature of our universe makes it a rather uniquely special place. He didn’t give God the credit in his book The Living Cosmos either, however.

Dr. Stenger conversely asserts that “[w]e cannot assume that life would have been impossible in our universe had the physical laws been any different.”

What does that even mean? What other sort of intelligent life does Dr. Stenger propose may exist in an untuned universe?

He means silicon-based life forms, of course…the stuff from which we manufacture computer chips.

Perhaps Dr. Stenger has taken The Terminator movies a little too seriously.

In his book The Big Bang: the Origin of the Universe, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Dr. Simon Singh wrote the following about the alleged fine-tuned nature of the universe in which we live:

Similarly, it seems to defy the odds that the six numbers that characterize the universe have very special values that allow life to flourish. So do we ignore this and count ourselves extremely lucky, or do we look for special meaning in our extraordinarily good fortune? According to the extreme version of the anthropic principle, the fine-tuning of the universe which has allowed for life to evolve is indicative of a tuner. In other words, the anthropic principle can be interpreted as evidence for the existence of a God. However, an alternative view is that our universe is part of a multiverse…there could be many other separate and isolated universes, each defined by its own set of six numbers.

As much as I loathe the word “consensus” in relation to science, Dr. Stenger seems to be in that relatively small minority of physicists who argue against the idea that the Big Bang created a universe perfectly suited for us, sometimes called a “Goldilocks” universe because it’s allegedly just right for life.

A significant problem in the paper was that Stenger presupposed the existence of a universe prior to ours, and it “tunneled through the unphysical region around t = 0 to become our universe.”

As atheists often like to ask the question: if God created the universe then who created God? Well, what created this parent universe from which ours emerged?

Grudgingly Dr. Stenger conceded about fine-tuning that “I do not dispute that life as we know it [emphasis original] would not exist if any one of the several of the constants of physics were slightly different. Additionally, I cannot prove that some other form of life is feasible with another set of constants.”

Question: why would Dr. Stenger assume these values of physics were actually constants, and not variables? He even went so far to write, “varying the constants that go into our familiar equations would give us many universes that do not look a bit like ours.”

So why make such an important assumption? To call something a constant in the world of mathematics is to assume it can have no other value but the one assigned.

In other words, Dr. Stenger assumes in his version of the laws of physics that the universe had no choice but spontaneously come into being from absolutely nothing.

About the alleged preexisting universe that supposedly created ours, Dr. Stenger wrote, “Nothing in our knowledge of physics and cosmology requires the non-existence of that universe, so it would be a violation of Occam’s razor to exclude it.”

To be crystal clear about this point, Dr. Stenger has asserted that our universe could come from another universe,  or from absolutely nothing — basically it could come from anywhere but God.

And actually, the anthropic universe problem is much worse than Dr. Stenger’s work suggests. In his paper on fine-tuning of the universe, Dr. Stenger acknowledged that fellow scientist Fred Hoyle once made a successful prediction using the anthropic principle about the excited state of the carbon 12 atom.

The irony was that even though Dr. Hoyle proved the anthropic principle applied to our universe, he rejected the Big Bang theory itself in favor of a steady state, eternal universe, because he also wanted to use science to defend his atheistic beliefs.

Hoyle even coined the term “the Big Bang” to mock the idea the universe had an origin to express his contempt for the idea. Hoyle said the Big Bang argument was pseudoscience, nothing but an excuse to introduce a creator into the creative processes responsible for this universe.

Because of his strong belief that a created universe would require a supernatural intellect to create it, Hoyle stubbornly refused to accept the evidence of the Big Bang as evidence.

Conversely, Dr. Stenger tried to minimize the issue of fine-tuning by declaring the universe deterministic, claiming that something appeared simply because it had no choice, according to the laws of physics.

But according to the chemistry necessary for the origin of life, the only reason we can assume that life is even possible is only because we can observe that life exists. Even if you magnanimously suggest the universe created itself, an equally unlikely event, the origin of life, is next to be considered.

A majority of the experts in physics and chemistry agree the origins of the universe and life were extraordinarily unlikely events. In fact, the only reason we can assume abiogenesis is even theoretically possible is the fact that we are part of the evidence.

The argument is not about creation versus evolution, free will versus determinism, or God versus science.

The events identified by “science” had to happen, or else we wouldn’t be here.

The only question to really ponder is why it happened — did a supernatural God orchestrate this universe, or might we exist only because of extraordinary good luck?

Fred Hoyle was brilliant, but his stubborn blindness to the copious evidence for God introduced problems that influenced his work and sort of made him a laughing stock among the other physicists of his day — not because he became a theist, but because he refused to consider the possibility of a deity even after being been left with no alternative because of the Big Bang. For various reasons, other men were awarded a Nobel Prize that Fred Hoyle earned and richly deserved.

Hoyle could have been mentioned in the same sentence with Newton, Einstein, and Swedenborg, if only his stubborn refusal to even consider the possible existence of a supernatural God hadn’t blinded him to his own errors in logic.

But because I’m not a close-minded freethinker, I read Dr. Stenger’s papers, hoping I might learn something new. I’m not afraid of new ideas that might challenge my preconceived idea that life cannot exist without God.

Unfortunately, the only thing I actually learned was how desperate atheists like Dr. Stenger and Fred Hoyle can become, and the lengths they will go through to protect their own worldview.

When I told my atheist acquaintance who recommended Dr. Stenger’s paper that I wanted a couple of days to research and think about things before I provided any feedback, he replied that he didn’t care to know my thoughts.

The goal of this exercise was always to indoctrinate me into his way of thinking. This person has assumed he can learn nothing from a conversation with me.

He merely wanted to shake my conviction that this universe will never be adequately explained by scientists such as Victor Stenger or Fred Hoyle, not as long as they insist on taking the creator out of this simple equation for creation:

Life = Big Bang + abiogenesis + speciation + natural selection

In the mind of this atheist acquaintance with constipated thoughts, Dr. Stenger has a PhD, which makes him the equivalent of a god.

He completely failed to recognize the fact that Dr. Stenger’s work simply reflects his presupposition of atheism, and is basically useless as a result.

It seems that atheists do not really make great scientists, if only because they are certain of too many things that aren’t really true.

The evil of rape

southernprose_cover_CAFGRape is not about sexual gratification — it is an act of reprehensible violence intended to degrade and humiliate a woman. I could never nor want to defend the act of rape in any way, shape, or form. It’s simply deplorable behavior.

Furthermore, I want to hear nothing said about “legitimate rape” or any other such nonsense intended to diminish the gravity of the crime. Blaming the victim is a despicable tactic all too frequently employed by unscrupulous defense attorneys more interested in winning than in seeing justice served.

Survivors of rape are already forced to live with memories of the violence and the feelings of helplessness, rage, and humiliation for the rest of their lives. If the woman happens to become pregnant as the result of being raped, an additional unfair burden is placed on her shoulders.

At that point, the innocent victim faces a truly horrible choice — what does she do with the baby? She became pregnant through no fault of her own — but how can she keep that baby, if she cannot love it?

Does she have that child aborted? Should she have the baby, and put it up for adoption?

No woman should ever be forced into the position of having to make such a difficult decision through no fault of her own. And I can’t judge her decision from where I stand. Because of rape and incest, I could never in good conscience bring myself to support a universal ban on abortion, no matter how evil and barbaric I think most abortions are.

Men who rape women are cowards. If murder is the worst thing one human being can do to another, rape would have to be a pretty close second.

I have no problem with a convicted rapist being sentenced to death or castration for his insidious crime. Or both, for that matter.

Okay, by now I think I’ve made my point. It should be painfully obvious about how I personally feel about the crime of rape or what should be done with a rapist.

However, I must now ask the reader a serious question: why is rape wrong? How do we know it is wrong? Is it because I said so? Is it because rape is forbidden by law? What makes rape a criminal offense?

Personally, I happen to think there’s a lot more to the answer of how we know rape is inherently wrong than simply because it’s illegal.

When acts of adultery, murder, rape, or incest are reported in the news, the word most frequently associated in my mind with any of those acts is evil.

And we all believe that rape and murder are evil, criminal behavior,  whether we want to admit it or not. Rape is surely one of the worst things one human being could do to another. We are “hard-wired” to know rape is wrong because we were created with that knowledge.

Therefore, when someone asks a remarkably stupid question like “Did God create rape?” rather than giving an equally inane answer, one could see this as an opportunity for a “teachable moment.”

Please allow me to dispense with the ridiculous notion that “God” might have created rape.

God created human beings, endowing us all with the gift of free will that allows us to choose between doing good and evil. Otherwise we would be tantamount to slaves, with no choice but to worship our creator God.

In truth, rape was devised by mankind as another in a long list of acts of depravity, yet one more way for one person to inflict harm on others to make them miserable.

Now I don’t mean to pick on Ms. Burris of Blue Nation Review for misunderstanding the point that Mr. Isaacs seemed to be attempting to make about evolution theory.

Isaacs was merely trying to say if evolution theory really have caused all life to exist without any assistance from a supernatural Creator, then there is no rational explanation for objective morality. In a world absent the objective morality that can only come from God, there is no reason for anyone to assume behavior such as rape or incest would automatically be considered improper.

Furthermore, if evolution really happens without God, it would only be natural that our genes should be selfish. Spreading our DNA indiscriminately through the gene pool should be the perfectly acceptable, reasonable thing to do.

That’s what “survival of the fittest” really means.

The honest atheist who accepts evolution theory as the explanation for their existence may naturally conclude that their life has no true meaning or purpose. We would exist simply to live, breed, and die.

In an atheist world, morality is subjective and therefore must be arbitrary, varying from person to person.

By refusing to acknowledge the existence of objective morality, an evangelist for atheism like Lawrence Krauss, while cleverly disguised as a physicist, can claim with a straight face that he really isn’t sure incest should be declared to be always wrong under every conceivable circumstance.

To be fair, Dr. Krauss isn’t the only atheist academic who gets confused about the source of the “ingrained taboo” of such abhorrent behavior.

Richard Dawkins has also gotten himself into hot water more than once in the past by making comments that trivialized rape and sexual assault.

I recognize that objective morality can only come from the God that created me. Because I really believe that, I have no problem saying that rape and incest are always wrong.

Period.

Exclamation point, even.

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.