Why Getting So Angry Might Not Help


Angry Bee BlogWhen a honey bee gets angry, it stings.  After the sting, it dies.  Literally, the bee gives its life in defense of its anger seeking revenge.  Our anger is often like that of the bee.  It is volatile and deadly.  And, like the bee, we are able to inflict only a temporary pain to the objects of our ire, yet we are likely to kill ourselves in the process.  The anger of man (or woman) does not bring about the righteousness of God (James 1:20).

Of course, I don’t mean that we physically die, as does the bee. Rather, I mean that something about us is lost when we unleash our poisonous stingers of anger against others.  We lose a right relationship with the person for one thing.  For another thing, we lose control of our own emotions.  But, even beyond these losses, we lose something else—something far more valuable than any reward of satisfaction we get by cutting another man or woman down to size.  We lose sight of God.

You see, our anger does not establish righteousness.  No matter how angry we get, no matter how many people we bring alongside of us to share in our anger, we cannot prove by that anger that we are right.  Miriam was angry with Moses. Moses was angry with Miriam and with the people in the wilderness.  The people in the wilderness were angry with God and Moses. Yet, none of these was considered righteous by God.  All their grumblings were sin.  In fact, their anger ended up making God angry with them because of their unbelief.

Did it matter that it was the majority opinion that they had a right to be angry?  No.  God does not establish righteousness by majority opinion.  He establishes righteousness by His own righteousness.  No matter how mad we get, no matter how many hornet’s nests of anger we stir up in others, no matter the size of the crowd or the volume of the protests—we will never attain to the righteousness of God by our anger.  Indeed, as with the case of the Israelites in the wilderness, our anger may only be a clear presentation of our own unrighteousness.  It does not matter that “everyone agAnger Blogrees” with our reason for being angry.  The anger of man does not—and will not ever—bring about the righteousness of God.  We lose sight of God when we curse our spouses, our bosses, our employees, our teachers, our team mates, our roommates, our siblings, or our parents.

Because we lose sight of God, we lose sight of ourselves, too.  Perhaps the worst thing our outbursts of anger prove is that we have a very unrealistic view of ourselves before God.  If we had any idea of how deeply our own private and public sins offend God, we would not dare allow our tongues out of our mouths as weapons to be employed against others.  We would be quiet and still in the presence of God’s holiness, and we would see sufficient reason for keeping our own mouths shut, lest He become angry with us, and we perish along the way.

So, anger clearly makes us think too highly of ourselves, too lowly of others, and way too little of God.  Instead of an outburst of anger, we should work to burst outwardly with grace toward others, remembering that Christ taught us “By your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? (Matthew 7:2-3)

God simply refuses to be impressed with our anger.  He is too impressed with His Son who cleanses us from murderous thoughts and outbursts of anger (see Galatians 5).  May we be as impressed with Christ as the Father.  If that be the case, we would not exalt ourselves above others.  We would be much quieter and gentler.  And we would be more loving… and more joyful.

Can Christians Read Pagan Literature?


Should Christians read pagan literature? The question is a fair one, considering that more than one place in Scripture expects the believer to renew his mind and do everything he does to the glory of God. It’s hard to see how Buffy the Vampire Slayer might be considered mind-renewing. It may be even more difficult to place The DaVinci Code in a category anywhere close to “devotional.”

Christianity pagan literature glory GodYet I’m wondering if we might be asking the wrong question when we ask whether we can read pagan literature. The question can we—as though we really hope we get permission to do something that might be bad but we really want to do it anyway because everyone else is doing it—sets us up for a yes-or-no, up-or-down decision. But maybe the answer is not yes-or-no. Maybe there is a better question for us to ask regarding pagan literature:  How are Christians to read non-Christian literature?  There are two reasons that asking how is better than asking if we can.

First, in a very real sense, there is no way to avoid reading pagan literature, if one reads at all.  Think about the non-Christian writing that makes up our daily lives: Billboards, advertisements, newspapers, owner’s manuals, textbooks, school reading assignments, and terms of agreement (you do read those, right?).  As Paul told the Corinthians, we would have to go out of the world to avoid contact with unbelievers. There is no way to avoid some pagan literature.

So, second, asking how are we to read pagan literature makes better sense because it focuses the responsibility on the individual Christian to practice discernment, rather than pretending there is some inherent righteousness which makes the abstaining Christian superior to the Homer-reading one. Asking how means the Christian takes seriously the task of renewing his mind and doing only what can be done to the glory of God.

When it comes to asking how to read pagan literature, perhaps no Christian has explained the dynamic better than Peter Leithart. His two books—The Brightest Heaven of Invention and Heroes of the City of Man—are practically guidebooks, complete with “walk-along-beside-me-and-hold-my-hand-while-I-show-you-how-to-do-this” instructions. Leithart makes two simply profound statements beneficial for all who wrestle with this important question.

  • 1.  Leithart acknowledges that there is no imperative for Christians to read non-Christian literature. As he puts it,

Christians have no more moral duty to read and study Greek and Roman literature than ancient Israelites had a duty to study the myths of Baal and Asteroth [sic].  Nor should Christian schools or homeschoolers think that they can have a good Christian education only if the ‘classics’ are prominent in the curriculum. The goal of Christian education is to train a child to be faithful in serving God and His kingdom in a calling, and certainly this goal can be achieved by a student who never cracked the cover of a Homeric epic.

And he continues,

Given the appalling ignorance of the Bible among evangelical Christians today, mastering Scripture must be an overwhelming priority in all Christian education. If one must choose between studying Leviticus and Livy, Habakkuk or Homer, Acts or Aeschylus, the decision is, to my mind, perfectly evident, and the point holds even if the non-biblical literature were Christian.  The genealogies of 1 Chronicles 1-9 are vastly more important to study than Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, or Dickens….

And we could add Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games.  How are Christians to read pagan literature? The Christian imperative is first to understand all that Jesus has commanded. The Christian who has not yet mastered Scripture does not need to ask the question “can I read pagan literature.” Instead, he or she would need to ask, “How can I read pagan literature…when I am still so ignorant of what I claim is most important?”   The how question, in this case, answers itself.

  • 2.  Leithart explains the how question another way. “Assuming a student has a strong grounding in Scripture, there may be good reasons for taking up a study of other literature… Daniel and his three friends learned the language and literature of the Chaldeans (Dan. 1:4).”

Likewise, Paul quoted pagan poets to make theological points which called unbelievers to repentance.  Leithart offers a number of biblical examples, then concludes,

God, in short, calls us to war against the idols…. With ideas and literature, the confrontation between the Bible and paganism will be more intense, but with great care and wisdom, we can plunder even pagan literature and make it work for us. As Proverbs says, the wealth of the wicked is stored up for the righteous (Prov 13:22).

Asking the how question concerning non-Christian literature puts the perspective back on redemption. How can this literature glorify God? There is a way, but it takes hard work, wisdom, and great care. Those unwilling to engage in the difficult work of redeeming fallen literature—those wishing only the entertainment value of paganism—have not yet learned how to read pagan literature.

But I think Leithart is right, there is a way to read pagan literature to the glory of God. We just have to learn how.  How do you think Christians can read pagan literature to the glory of God?

All Truth Is Relative?


From http://hypernews.ngdc.noaa.gov

All Truth Is Relative

It sounds like a thoroughly contemporary quote by a postmodern philosopher with his feet planted firmly in mid-air. Though this idea of relativism is currently in vogue, it is not a particularly novel way of thinking. In fact, it is a very old, crude, and predictable way for humans to live.

The idea of all truth being relative is at least as old as Protagoras, the man first credited with making the claim. The claim itself is self-defeating. If all truth is relative (and thus subject to being accepted or rejected by any individual at any given time), then even the claim that all truth is relative must be a relative claim. In other words, not even the proposition “All truth is relative” endures over time because that truth would have to be a relative truth.

Protagoras lived between 490-420 BC. He taught an early form of phenomenalism, in which “man is the measure of all things.” Basically, Protagoras believed that each person had to seek to answer his own questions about truth and, although some would arrive at better conclusions than others, still, at the end of it all no one’s decision would prove to be ultimately true or false. Decisions could only prove to be true for that individual at that time. Each person does what he thinks best in the moment of action.

As a result of Protagoras’s philosophy, the Sophists (who followed his thinking) came to a way of living that was little different from that of an animal. Indeed, after the Sophists, the Cynics came along and literally were referred to as dogs. Atisthenes was the “Downright Dog” leader and Diogenes was his “Royal Dog” associate.  Relativism led human beings to become animals of instinct and impulse. Each individual sniffing his way along life’s trail with no ultimate hope for anything true or anything eternal was the end result of ancient relativism. Basically, the ideal life was one in which each person followed his own lusts until he died.

Whether old or new, it seems to me that relativism offers little more than a bleak outlook on life. It is more akin to animal life than it is to human flourishing. The ancients over time learned a better way and moved toward a virtuous life which at least had meaning to it. May the Lord bless us with clear and sober minds to learn better the truth, the life, and the way.

Pacifism Neither Loving Nor Peaceful


 

I remember the first time I was confronted with a serious pacifist. I was in seminary, and a certain professor—who is a well-known and well-respected scholar—challenged us in class and afterward to re-think the violence of our Christian past and adopt a peaceful future. His argument was compelling.

 

I remember when challenged, he calmly and courageously proclaimed that if attacked, he would prefer for the perpetrator to

A peace symbol, originally designed by the Bri...

A peace symbol, originally designed by the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament movement (CND). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

kill him rather than to fight and risk killing the criminal. In this Christian pacifist’s mind, it would have been better for him to die and thus be present with the Lord than for an unbeliever to die and enter immediately into judgment after committing the sin of murder.  My pacifist friend made a compelling case for personal pacifism. It sounded peaceable, loving, gentle, and authentically Christian, until I had a little more time to think it through. Then it started to sound selfish and unloving.

 

The entire argument lost its luster when I thought about his wife and family.  It’s one thing to be willing to die so another can live and, possibly, be saved, but it is quite another—it is culpable cowardice—to refuse to intervene on behalf of your wife or your children.  Pacifism is not peaceable as much as it is culpable.

 

Over at JuicyEcumenism, Kevin Pavlischek has devoted several posts to discuss this particular point. He references Paul Ramsey’s argument that the Good Samaritan story requires more than “ambulatory” care. Ramsey asks what if the Samaritan walked up as the robbers were beating him, would he have been obligated to intervene, particularly if he had the means (by force) to counter the attack?

 

Matthew Hamilton, on the same blog, shares a post that takes the argument another step forward. What ought Christians to do if they are under attack from Muslims (as they are in Nigeria)? Hamilton’s response is that they are obligated to kill them and culpable if they do not. Here is a sample from the post:

 

The Christians in Nigeria face a situation not altogether dissimilar than that experienced by the Habsburgs in the 17th century. Whether they know it or not, pacifists advocating for Christians not to defend themselves are asking for the horrors of Perchtoldsdorf to be repeated. The noble piety of pacifism is easily diluted in a river of blood and human misery, and there will certainly be rivers of blood and misery if Nigerian Christian follow the example of Perchtoldsdorf.

Emblem from Perchtoldsdorf, Lower Austria, Aus...

Emblem from Perchtoldsdorf, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perchtoldsdorf, for those who may not know, is an Austrian city destroyed in 1683. Muslims laid siege to the city and demanded surrender. The city surrendered, giving the keys to the city to the Ottoman invaders. They were promised a peaceful takeover, but, once they surrendered, they were then subjected to rape, torture, murder, and a mass slaughter of the Perchtoldsdorf citizenry.

 

Hamilton expects us all to learn a lesson from Perchtoldsdorf—a city in which Christians did not fight—and Vienna—a city which did confront evil by force; the former approach led to mass slaughter of innocent, non-combatants, while the latter approach led to military casualties but kept the civilian populations of both armies safe.  Confronting evil is necessary and, often, life-saving.

 

I am in agreement with the JuicyEcumenism guys. A whole lot of folks seem to get things bass-ackwards when it comes to the use of force. We are supposed to be anti-war (because killing soldiers is bad) and yet pro-abortion (because killing babies in the womb is okay).  Apparently, soldiers and convicted murderers should not be killed, while killing babies is quite all right—indeed, it is now a government-given right that all must pay for under the guise of “healthcare.”

 

Sorry for the rant. I understand that our discussion is really about the unloving nature of pacifism. I just couldn’t help making the analogy complete because we get things so turned around.  Pacifism is a means for evil men to flourish. Therefore, I am not a pacifist, are you?

 

 

Are People Worth More than Plants?


Are human beings exceptional? Is there something about humans which makes them intrinsically superior to dogs or ants or even poisonous stinkweed?

If you saw my post yesterday, then you will already know the answer is, “Yes!”  Human beings are intrinsically of greater value than weeds and wildlife. Jesus once told His Human exceptionalism Image of Godfollowers, “Do not be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31).  The Bible is plain that human beings alone are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27; 9:6).

Having jettisoned the Bible and the God of whom that book speaks, many people now are not sure that humans excel plants and animals.  Just the other day, a friend told me of an incident concerning his dog. A colleague at work insisted that the dog was a part of his family. My friend held firm to the categories he uses to classify animals: Pets, Predators, and Food.  Never do animals attain the status of persons in his classic taxonomy.

Another friend of mine from back in the swampland moved to Colorado for his job, which happens to be surveying land. I asked him what the difference was between surveying in Colorado as opposed to surveying in Louisiana. His response was simple: In Louisiana, you must plan about two hours of machete work chopping away still unclassified weeds before beginning the survey work. In Colorado, not only can you not machete any living thing—including weeds, but you must also be extra careful not to damage anything growing on the land.

Now, don’t take the concept of human exceptionalism to mean that you can run roughshod over everything on the earth that isn’t human. That is not the point. The point is simply to affirm the undeniable reality that taking a machete to stinkweed is not a crime, while taking a machete to a child is heinous murder.

I am sure there are some who think this point is too simplistic and represents a straw man argument. After all, no one believes that weeds are equal to humans, right? Wrong.  Increasingly, countries like Bolivia and Ecuador, along with cities like Pittsburgh, Santa Monica, and, now, Yellow Springs, Ohio, are passing ordinances to recognize the “rights” of plants and animals.

Wesley J. Smith—a man who has done more than nearly anyone to uphold the intrinsic value of human beings—has detailed the Yellow Springs city ordinance calling for equal “rights” for nature.  As Smith points out, more than 20 cities in the U.S. have adopted similar ordinances, giving the equivalent of human rights to plants.

The aim of those passing such laws is to elevate the value of nature, but the arrow they shoot is off the mark. The result of their efforts is not to elevate nature but to denigrate humankind. Here’s a part of the Yellow Springs ordinance:

In addition, the ordinance recognizes the legally enforceable Rights of Nature to exist and flourish. Residents of the village shall possess legal standing to enforce those rights on behalf of natural communities and ecosystems.

Isn’t it interesting that it requires human beings to uphold the rights that are supposed to belong to the plants?

Islam and Abortion: Are Muslims Pro-life?


Although in Islam there are debates about the nature of Jihad and legitimacy of carrying out attacks in the name of Allah, there is not that much of a debate about whether Muslims ought to practice abortion.  The general consensus is that abortion is haram, forbidden.

The reason offered for the prohibition against abortions is that the child is already “ensouled” in the womb and has not yet done wrong.  There is disagreement about when “ensoulment” happens in the womb.  Some schoolsof Islamic thought place the date at 7 weeks into the pregnancy, while others would say that ensoulment occurs at the moment the child begins to move inside the womb (around 12 weeks or so).  Probably the majority of Muslims accept the 120-day mark because it is established in the Hadith literature (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 55, Number 549).

In that Hadith, there is a revelation concerning what we might call predestination.  According to this Hadith, an angel of Allah will enter the womb and write down up

English: A map showing laws about abortion arr...

Abortion Laws Around the World (Wikipedia)

on the child all of his destiny—including how long he will live and whether he will end up in Paradise or in Hell.  Thus, Muslims conclude that after this point, the life is fixed and must not be ended.

Prior to the 120 day mark, Muslims argue that there are a couple of extreme cases which may require an abortion.  On the one hand, if the mother’s life is in serious danger, then the child must be aborted because the mother is already functioning and fulfilling duties for the family.  Thus, if one or the other must die, then the child must die, not the mother.  Note that this provision is not the same as that which has prevailed in the U.S. since Doe v. Bolton enshrined a very broad definition of abortion with regard to the health of the mother.  Under Doe, a mother can procure an abortion based on the stress that pregnancy causes.  This is not the case with the Islamic exception for the safety of the mother.

The other extreme case in which abortion may be allowed is the case of severe fetal deformity.  Muslims are not unanimous in considering fetal deformity a justifiable cause of abortion.  However, many Muslim scholars argue for the legitimacy of abortion if the child in the womb is severely deformed.  In this case, again, the 120 day rule remains in effect.  And, the fetal defect must be diagnosed by two Muslim doctors before proceeding with the abortion.

Again, few will quote the Quran in favor of abortion because abortion deals with human beings who have not yet committed any injustice against Allah.  Surah 5:32—though it does not directly speak to abortion—does guide Muslim thinking in the matter.  In that Surah of the Quran, Muslims are taught “that anyone who murders any person who had not committed murder or horrendous crimes, it shall be as if he murdered all the people.”  In other words, killing an innocent in the womb would be to the Muslim mind the equivalent of killing off a part of humankind.

Though Surah 5:25-35 is about justifiable killing for those guilty of murder or “horrendous crimes,” it speaks to the nature of the entity in the womb—namely, that it is human.  Indeed, it is considered a form of innocent human life and, thus, deserves to be protected.  Some Muslims will quote Surah 17:31 as a further—and stronger—argument against abortion:

Kill not your children for fear of want: We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you. Verily the killing of them is a great sin.

Granted, this verse appears to speak of children already born, but it is often recited in defense of forbidding abortions. Clearly, the text is teaching the mother (or parents) not to be anxious about providing for their children. Whatever temptation they might feel toward getting rid of their children as a result of poverty, they must put that temptation out of mind.  Killing children is a great sin because children have not yet resisted Allah or committed murder or any other horrendous crime.

This verse, then, along with the Hadith quoted above and Surah 5:25-35, make it plain that the general disposition of Islam is to oppose abortion.  As Muslim scholar Abul Fadl Mohsin Ebrahim concludes regarding Surah 5:32,[1]

“From this verse it is evident that every human being has the right to be born, the right to be, and the right to live as long as Allah… permits. No one may be deprived of life except for a legitimate crime…. The fetus is regarded by all schools of Islamic law has having the right to life, as indicated by the fact that the death sentence on a pregnant woman can be carried out only after she has given birth.”

[1] Abul Fadl Mohsin Ebrahim. Abortion, Birth Control and Surrogate Parenting: An Islamic Perspective. n.p.: American Trust Publications, 1989.

Dasani Immorality


You won’t believe this, but it is true.  You can read this article for yourself from the London Telegraph.  Drinking bottled water is immoral.  Bottled water is immoral because it has the same destructive impact on the environment as driving a car for a mile or so.

More astonishing than this lunacy is the audacity of the government official who argues that we must band together to stygmatize Dasani, Aquafina, and Perrier.  He has in mind a moral rally similar to the one the government enacted against smoking.

The real scare here is that morality is defined by the government and popular opinion.  No doubt, these government do-gooders are glad to have left behind the archaic Christian puritanism of days gone by, but they are all too happy to impose a much more restrictive and arbitrary morality of their own making.  Instead of stygmatizing homosexuality and adultery (those now being fashionable) these gov-do-gooders are ready to stygmatize–if not criminalize–Dasani.  I think I’d rather have an infinite God of wisdom and love and justice define morality than a moronic mass of government gurus.