Archive for the ‘History’ category

Christianity and Society’s Ills

July 23, 2018

Heroes Square Budapest Hungary

A social media friend recently responded to a blog article I wrote, Are Christians Hypocrites, by asking whether I thought that “higher religious subscription correlated to fewer societal ills”. I think the answer is clearly, yes! (For a skeptic who agrees, see this dialogue on the podcast Unbelievable!) But I know what he was getting at. Intermixed with that “progress” in the Western world are deep grains of corruption and evil in which the Church was not only complicit, but intimately involved.

My friend is a skeptic and an atheist. He believes that the world is better off without religion. He is critical of Christianity, and let’s face it: “the Church” has created its share of societal ills!

People are often critical of Christians and Christianity with some basis in fact for its checkered past. Christians often view that history differently than non-Christians, but a candid person must admit that corruption in “the church” at different times in history is undeniable.

For skeptics, this vein of corruption running through the history of “the Church” spoils the whole thing, undermines the truth of Christianity and justifies their rejection of it and the God Christians profess. The fact that popular history focuses on that corruption, to the exclusion of all the good that Christianity has brought to the world, doesn’t negate the fact that such corruption exists.

When my friend posed his loaded question to me, I suspect that he sees a correlation between religion and societal ills, and I can’t deny it. But there is much more to the analysis. From my cursory perspective (I am no historical or ecclesiastical scholar), that corruption correlates strongly and directly with the “marriage” of church and state power. I think that Lord Acton was right: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” When the church becomes intertwined with kings and kingdoms, the influences of power, wealth and all that goes with it colors the church. The church is inevitably corrupted by it.

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CS Lewis on the “True Myth”

July 3, 2018

The Areopagus in Athens

“Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths: i.e. the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things’. Therefore it is true, not in the sense of being a ‘description’ of God (that no finite mind could take in) but in the sense of being the way in which God chooses to (or can) appear to our faculties. The ‘doctrines’ we get out of the true myth are of course less true: they are the translations into our concepts and ideas of that which God has already expressed in a language more adequate, namely the actual incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. Does this amount to a belief in Christianity? At any rate I am now certain (a) That this Christian story is to be approached, in a sense, as I approach other myths. (b) That it is the most important and full of meaning. I am also nearly certain that it really happened…”

This quotation is from CS Lewis in a letter to Arthur Greeves: from The Kilns (on his conversion to Christianity), 18 October 1931. If you have read much of what I write, you would readily notice that I quote and allude to CS Lewis often. He resonated with me in college, and he continues to resonate. He is cited by more diverse groups of people, perhaps, that any person I can think of. He had a unique way of approaching things from fresh points of view, often pulling those fresh ideas from the dusty tomes of ancient literature. His concept of myth and True Myth is one such point.

Some might consider his frequent allusions to ancient, pagan myth heretical, and some might even confuse his love of pagan myth as New Age. I find him to be extremely orthodox in unorthodox ways, and I find his creative approaches to orthodoxy to be refreshing and thought-provoking.

We don’t have to look any further than the ultra-orthodox, Paul the Apostle, to find some common ground with CS Lewis. When Paul was in Athens, some Epicureans and Stoics he debated in the marketplace, brought him to the Areopagus to address a Greek crowd. In that address, Paul referenced an altar inscribed “To An Unknown God” and quoted Aratus, a Cilcian poet (Phaenomena 5): “in him we move and live and have our being”. (Acts 17:22-28)

Paul used the quotation from Aratus that was spoken by a pantheistic poet to convey a theistic principle about God. (See Acts 17:22-28 – Quoting the Philosophers?) On the one hand, Paul connected with the people “where they were” using language and references they understood to convey something about God. In one sense, this is how CS Lewis relates the ideas of myth and True Myth.

It’s interesting to me, as well, that Paul know enough about pagan poetry to quote Aratus. In Titus 1 (v. 12), Paul quotes a Cretan philosopher, Epimenides. Again, it’s striking that Paul knew enough about pagan philosophy (presumably) that he could quote Epimenides.

What CS Lewis says about myth is that it contains some elements of truth, which shouldn’t be surprising at all, as truth is universal and should, therefore, be something that is universally recognized. The difference between myth and True Myth is that all myth ultimately is just a shadow of the True Myth. All myth conveys truth through storytelling. True Myth isn’t just another story; it is The Story. It isn’t “just” myth, but reality – “it really happened” as CS Lewis says.

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A Cosmic Wrench in Our Power Grid

June 26, 2018


The podcast, Unbelievable, with host, Justin Brierley, is becoming a favorite food for thought. I just listened to Steven Pinker vs Nick Spencer: Have science, reason & humanism replaced faith? Pinker is an atheist professor of Psychology from Harvard, and Spencer is billed as a member of “the Christian think tank, Theos”. The subject was “Pinker’s recent book ‘Enlightenment Now’, addressing his claim that science, reason and humanism are the drivers of progress in the world, not religion”.

As with most of the episodes I have listened to, this one was a very civil and respectful “debate”, really more of a dialogue, on the respective points of view. This civility and respect sets Unbelievable apart from more reactive “discussions” of controversial topics.

In this particular discussion, the focus was on Pinker’s optimistic view of humanism bolstered by science and technology echoing the familiar theme that we are progressing as a species as we free ourselves from religion with the aid of science and technology carrying us forward. Pinker minimizes the influence of religion on the enlightenment and the sudden advancement of science that accompanied it, while Spencer argued that the influence of religion is what fundamentally motivated and shaped those movements.

Spencer agreed with much that Pinker says about the progress of modern man, though he disagrees that science has shaped the moral advances we have experienced. He says that the value of the individual and sanctity of human rights is at heart a religious concept. He even points out that Pinker has to resort to the religious term, sacred, to describe these concepts as some evidence of the religious influence.

I have long toyed with the notion that we are not as advanced, morally, as we think ourselves. The 20th Century was the bloodiest of all centuries. Characteristic of the 20th Century was the genocidal bloodshed and cruelty of the atheist regimes under Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot and others. Some would add Hitler to the hit list of atheist genocidal despots, but that point is often argued, with religionists foisting Hitler on the atheists, and the atheists pushing him back on the religionists.

Hitler is somewhat of an enigma, generating an almost religious following marked by a personality that modeled a religion-like fervor. Pinker and Spencer debated whether Hitler was influenced by Darwinism, with Pinker countering that Hitler despised Darwin.

Though the truth of Hitler’s motivations my remain a mystery, and despite the unprecedented genocides perpetuated in the 20th Century, Spencer agreed with Pinker that we have progressed morally into the 21st Century. We generally exhibit a higher morality, however you slice it, (at least in the western world) in modern times than ever before, and this higher morality tracks scientific and technological progress.

As the two men carried on the conversation about the relative influences of religion and scientific and technological advancement on that progress, some thoughts occurred to me that I hadn’t considered before. I would agree with Spencer that religion (principally Judeo-Christian principles in the west) has largely carried us to this place where, ironically, we are finding no more need of God.

This perspective, also, flows from those same Judeo-Christian roots that holds out human pride as the principal problem (sin) of humankind. Having achieved a degree of independence and comfort through the advancement of technology, we believe “can do this” on our own (to paraphrase the testosterone influenced enthusiasm of my former teenage boys).

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What the Studies Say on Immigration and Crime

June 23, 2018


Much of the positioning and politicking about immigration focuses on crime and fears that immigration brings crime into the country. Donald Trump famously said of Mexican immigrants, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” (Remarks from the speech by Donald Trump when announced his run for the Republican nomination for president at Trump Tower Atrium in Manhattan on June 16, 2015)

Crime is obviously a very big societal concern, and one we shouldn’t take lightly. Most Americans are in agreement on that point. Protecting law abiding citizens from criminal behaviors is a top priority, one that often justifies using a significant percentage of local tax dollars in support of law enforcement. If immigration increases crime in our communities, tightening up the immigration laws makes sense from the standpoint of protecting citizens from crime. But does it?

Does immigration increase the crime rate in our communities? Are immigrants more likely to commit crimes than citizens?

I wasn’t at all sure what the studies show so I set out to determine for myself the answer to the questions. These are important questions because our immigration policies should be informed by the facts. As Christians, especially, we should be guided by truth.

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Archaeology that Supports the New Testament Record

April 8, 2018

Depositphotos Image ID: 139260410 Copyright: vblinov
Kidron Valley and the Mount of Olives

This is the second in a two-part blog series inspired by an interview with archaeologist, Dr. Craig Evans. The first article was general in nature, focusing on people in the biblical record who are confirmed by archaeological finds, and noting that modern archaeology continues to affirm the historical reliability of the Bible. In this piece, we focus on the New Testament, which is Dr. Evans’s specialty.

Significantly, when asked whether he is aware of any archaeological finds that contradict the Gospels, Dr. Evans responded, “Where it relates to the Gospels – the Gospels talk certain people, certain places and certain events – and everywhere archaeology has any relevance that touches on it in any way, the archaeology supports what the Gospels say.” Thus, the theme continues: that modern archaeology, far from casting a shadow of doubt on the bible, shines light on it, illuminating the biblical accounts with archaeological discoveries.

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Of Monuments, Saints Stephen and God, Our King Forever

January 8, 2018

Heroes Square Budapest, Hungary

I recently returned from a trip to Budapest Hungary. Traveling to foreign lands and meeting foreign people expands our horizons and opens us up to new perspectives, and sometimes helps us to understand ourselves better.

I didn’t know much of Hungary before we left, not nearly as much as I know now. We had the intimate advantage of a guided tour by our own daughter who is living there now. She regaled us with some of the rich history that is proudly displayed throughout the sprawling city.

Budapest is a City full of strong, stately buildings and monuments to its past, good and bad.  We have our own monuments to the past that are no less stately, though many centuries more recent, but viewing the unfamiliar Hungarian monuments got me thinking.

Why do we do this? Why do we erect such proud monuments to our past?

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Reformation and Renewal

October 31, 2017

depositphotos Image ID: 10694365 Copyright: rumifaz

Since some of us are celebrating the Reformation today. I don’t really care about Halloween, so I figure I should say something about the Reformation.

You might call me a reformed Catholic. I grew up in the Catholic Church. When I encountered Jesus Christ, the living Son of God, who shed His glory to become a man, walked in obedience to His own purposes, died on the cross for our sins, and rose again from the dead, my life changed.

When I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I left the Catholic Church for greener pastures and still waters. I have been involved with and visited many churches since then, and I am still looking for greener pastures and still waters. Along the way, I have learned that Catholics haven’t cornered the market on rigid structures and white-washed tombs.

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