Archive for the ‘Culture’ category

The False Promise of Pleasure

August 12, 2018

Statue of writer and playright Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square in Dublin, Ireland.

“Meaninglessness does not come from weariness with pain. Meaningless comes from weariness with pleasure….  No one is more fed up with life than one who has exhausted pleasure. Some of the loneliest people in the world are those who have lived indulgent lives and emotionally and physically drive themselves to impotence.”

This is a quotation from Ravi Zacharias in a talk he gave titled, the Problem of Pleasure. If you listen to Ravi Zacharias much, you will note that he returns to this theme often, and he often mentions Oscar Wilde, the famous Irish poet and playwright. He was a brilliant writer and thinker who was an outspoken atheist and lived a hedonistic lifestyle. Wilde is described as “the supreme individualist”. The Picture of Dorian Gray, is described as a “novel of vice hidden beneath art” tinged with “self-conscious decadence”, while The Importance of Being Earnest, commonly believed to be his best work written at the height of his career, is more subtle and nuanced. (See Wikipedia)

We know so much of Wilde’s private life, ironically, from a much publicized court room drama played out in real life when Wilde sued the Marquess of Queensberry for libel. Queensberry was also an outspoken atheist, and Queensberry’s son, Lord Alfred Douglas, was the person who introduced Wilde to “the Victorian underground of gay prostitution”. Queensberry’s defense was to prove his statements true by hiring private investigators to uncover the “salacious details of Wilde’s private life” exploring that Victorian underground. The trial that Wilde initiated left him bankrupt as the defense proved the truth of Queenberry’s statements.

Wilde, the “colourful agent provocateur in Victorian society”, spared himself no pleasure and wasn’t shy about his lifestyle. Like Solomon, though, he retained a sort of wisdom borne of experience. Having been baptized as a child, he often used biblical imagery and characters in his writing, though his use was, perhaps, sacrilegious.  During a two year prison sentence of homosexual actions, he requested the Bible in multiple, languages, Dante’s Divine Comedy and other works with Christian themes. When he was released from prison, the Catholic Church turned down his request to spend six months at a monastery, and Wilde wept at the news.

As I sit here thinking of these things, I am also thinking of the unfolding story of a friend, a very enthusiastic and committed believer in God. He is a lover of the stage, a Shakespearean performer in his past. In that sense, he shares something in common with the playwright, Wilde. My friend is in the ICU as I write, having suffered a series of strokes that could leave him incommunicative and paralyzed. Even in his desperate physical situation, he and his family have experienced the presence of God sustaining them in faith. They exhibit a transcendent joy and peace even in the middle of the difficulties they face.

We are naturally attracted to pleasure and pull back from pain, but sometimes the pleasures we seek cause us pain. We tend to think that pleasure is good and pain is bad, if not in a moral sense, then certainly in an experiential sense. Neither one is intrinsically good or bad, in my opinion. CS Lewis says that God whispers to us in our pleasures, but He shouts to us in our pain.

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Are Christians Hypocrites?

July 14, 2018


The charge that Christians are hypocrites is an impediment for many people if you ask them about going to church or even becoming or considering themselves a Christian. According to Webster, a hypocrite is “a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion” or “a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings”. As a Christian, I take this charge seriously, and so I feel compelled to address it.

In this world of fake news, we seem to be on hyper alert to what is fake. If Christians claim to be virtuous or religious, but they act like everyone else, most people would consider them “fake”. If Christians have ascribed to certain standards of morality and conduct, but don’t live up to those standards themselves, most people would call them hypocrites.

As I survey the Christians that I know and have known in my life, I find myself having to concede that Christians are guilty as charged. In fact, I need look no further than myself to come to that conclusion. I fail in my life on a regular basis to live up the standards I believe in.

The answer is clear and obvious, Christians are hypocrites.

We are religious. It isn’t a pretense, for most of us. We try to be virtuous. That usually isn’t a pretense either, but we fail to live up to the standards we hold out. There can be no doubt of that.

Calling Christians hypocrites is like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s that easy. You literally can’t miss. But, that isn’t the end of the story. Not by a long shot. It’s only the beginning.

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Following Jesus on Immigration

July 11, 2018


“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law is transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point he has become guilty of all of it…. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:8-10, 12-13)

The immigration issues in the United States are much on everyone’s mind, if for no other reason than Donald Trump and media are making a big to do about it. Most thinking and empathetic people, however, have watched with some angst as the treatment of families and children crossing the border has brought a moral crisis to our daily awareness.

What should we do with these illegal immigrants and asylum seekers? How should we be treating them and handling the situation? As the videos, photos, stories and reports stream in day after day, we can’t help but notice what is going on and to react to it. How does a Christian respond to the immigration issues that face our country?

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Southern Baptist Leadership is Touting Citizenship in the Kingdom of God

July 10, 2018

I feel like I have been a broken record lately, coming back to the same themes, but I think they are important for such a time as this. I am finding that I am not alone. Just this weekend, David Platt, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, said:

“We have not gathered today, even on July 4th week, to celebrate our U.S. citizenship. That’s not what the church does because that’s not who the church is. The church doesn’t unite around an earthly citizenship. The church unites around a heavenly citizenship.”

“We have more in common with a Syrian Christian sitting next to us than an American atheist. Far more in common forever. Which is why when we gather as a church, we put aside national, even political differences.”

I strongly believe he is right. Following is an article with more details:

The head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, David Platt, recently stated that churches in the United States are supposed to focus on Jesus Christ and not nationalism. Preaching at the Virginia-based McLean Bible Church on the Sunday before Independence Day, Platt focused his sermon on the issues of “God and government” and […]

via David Platt Says Churches Shouldn’t Promote National Pride; Jesus Is King, Not Obama or Trump — BCNN1 WP

The Gospel and Dialogue with Our Culture

June 24, 2018


I spend a fair amount of time on social media. Too much probably, but I see it as a way to connect with family, friends, the community and the world. As a Christian, it is a place where I can be salt and light, if indeed I am led by the Holy Spirit and exhibit the heart and mind of God. That is my aim. I am sure I fail at times.

In the process of spending time on social media, I come across many Christians. Many of friends are Christians, and many of their friends are Christians, so my feeds naturally reflect that fact. I also have many friends who are not “religious” (“nones” no doubt). Many of them don’t consider themselves Christian, and some of them are atheists. I embrace the diversity.

In my reading of the Gospels, I get the distinct impression that Jesus did too. He was  Jew, born into a Jewish family and grew up in the Temple, learning the Scriptures and engaging in the community of God-believers. When God became flesh, he came to His own, and we are told His own (many of them) didn’t receive Him. (John 1:11) “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13)

Jesus didn’t just “stick to his own”. He was open and inviting to anyone and everyone. In the process, He was even accused by “his own” of fraternizing with people His own community saw as “them”. Jesus easily crossed the barriers that separate people into “us” and “them”. The Samaritan woman at the well was taken aback that Jesus, a Jew, would even talk to her, a Samaritan and a sinful one that (likely living on the fringe of her own culture).

Jesus was open and welcoming to all who engaged Him. Roman Centurions, Samaritan, tax collectors, Pharisees, unclean and adulterous women. He treated everyone with love and compassion. He addressed people where they were. Though He almost inevitably challenged the people who came to Him with the truth of God and the Gospel, He did it with tender love and compassion. The only times we really see Him getting angry was with the religious leaders.

I have a point in saying these things, and it has to do with social media and the way Christians interact with “the world”.

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Separating Caesar from the Church

June 21, 2018


Everyone has a hierarchy of values. Whatever is at the top of your hierarchy of values is your God, says Jordan Peterson. Although he hesitates to call himself a Christian, he has a good understanding of the Bible and its positive impact on society and people, individually. This particular statement rings with the purity of truth.

Jordan Peterson has been much in the news and was recently interviewed on the Unbelievable? podcast with Justin Brierley. The topic was: Do we need God to make sense of life? The atheist psychologist, Susan Blackmore, was his counterpart. The podcast (linked above) is worth a listen.

Jordan Peterson also claimed in the course of the discussion that the first pronouncement of the ideal of the separation of church and state came from Jesus when he said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)

Modern Christians (many of them) seem to think that the separation of the church and state is a bad thing. A common assumption seems to be that the “wall of separation” between the church and state is a way for politicians to keep Christians out of politics and to keep politics from being influenced by Christians. What do you think?

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Judging the Old Testament God with New Testament Morality

May 29, 2018


I am a fan of Perry Marshall, the author of Evolution 2.0, and a champion of the integration of science and faith. I don’t necessarily agree with him on his conclusions about evolution, but (frankly) that is only because I am not a science guy. I don’t disagree with him either. Perry Marshall, Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe, Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute, and Francis Collins and BioLogos all present reasoned and evidence-based views on science and faith, as do others, and they don’t all agree.

Such is the character of being finitely human. We see in part. We know in part. We just don’t have the kind of perspective to be able to get our arms around the big picture to any degree of mathematical certainty. I enjoy reading them all, and I even listen to and read the atheists and agnostics from time to time.

One of the main objections to “the God of the Bible” is on the basis of morality, not of science. Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein both shared difficulty understanding a God who could/would allow so much pain and suffering in the world. If God is all-loving and all-powerful, what gives? So the thinking goes.

The recent post by Perry Marshall, Isn’t a Deist God a Little Less Troublesome?, deals with this issue. In the article, Perry responds to a someone who rejected Christianity on these moral grounds, but who could not get past the evidence that life could not have just happened the way it exists in the universe with such order without some Help.

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