Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015

Update: A related view from Daniel O. Conkle, professor, Indiana University Maurer School of Law

The Indiana legislature has passed the Religious Freedom Restoration act, producing the expected mass hysteria among Democrats and other anti-religious progressives. The bill is substantially the same as the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), signed into law in 1993 by that well-known conservative Republican bigot, Bill Clinton. It is worth noting that the Republic has endured and gay activism has flourished in the 21 years since the federal law was enacted.

What the law prohibits

Except as provided in subsection (b) [next paragraph], a governmental entity may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.

(b) A governmental entity may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if the governmental entity demonstrates that application of the burden to the person: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest

In short, governmental entities in Indiana are now compelled to conform to the First Amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion. Indiana courts must now apply the same legal test required in the RFRA, providing essentially the same protection at the state level.

It’s interesting – but hardly surprising – that the same people who attack state definitions of “marriage” in federal courts think states should be empowered to deny related rights guaranteed by the same federal courts.

A “disgusting” law

I was recently told by a friend that this law is “disgusting”. This got me thinking about the mindset of the law’s emotional but not especially reasonable opponents. Why is the guarantee of a cherished right – one that predated the Constitution and is embodied in it – so offensive?

From what I’ve observed in discussions with such people – including my disgusted friend – they seem to be mostly agnostics, atheists, Wiccans, or people with vague Oprah-like spiritual urges. Some have a loose association with orthodox Christianity or another religious tradition which they neither believe in nor practice. Still others identify with a religion but practice only the agreeable parts – usually the parts that don’t get in the way of sexual license or other earthly pleasures.

Whatever ones philosophical framework or world view, we all possess some sort of ethical structure based on it. That ethical structure provides motivation, justification, and evaluative criteria for the choices we make and the things we do or decline to do.

It’s obvious that opponents’ ethical structures do not include respect for the needs and motivations of people with deeply held, systematic religious belief or a moral system derived from that belief. It clearly does not include space to allow religious people to exercise their faith when to do so appears in opposition to the opinions or principles of the opponents.

They also seem to have no systematic approach to balancing compelling public needs and private rights. Or if they do, they are just biased in favor of public needs that don’t bother them personally and don’t interfere what they think are their rights.

This is nothing new, of course. This tension has existed throughout human history, sometimes worse on one side, sometimes worse on the other. The problem was well-known when the Constitution was being written. The First Amendment exists because its authors understood both the tyranny of the King and the tyranny of the majority.

In short, they saw a need to protect people like me from people like the law’s opponents.

The purpose of constitutions 

The Constitution’s writers attempted to solve the problem by differentiating between the public person – that sphere of each citizen’s life subject to the coercive force of government, and the private person – protected from that coercive force administered on behalf of an electoral majority. [This idea was originally articulated by John Schaar.] Constitutions exist for the purpose of delineating the public person, leaving the remainder – whatever it may consist of – to the control of the private person.

Indeed, one of the original objections to the Bill of Rights was that it attempted to specify parts of this remainder that must be reserved for the private person. The fear was that proponents of a powerful national government would claim that a right not specified in the Constitution was not protected and could be trampled at will. But that’s not a problem here where the free exercise of religion is specifically named in the first article of the Bill of Rights.

Our Constitution could be said to do nothing more than to establish a political system with sufficient power to preserve the nation – the sum of all the public persons – while paradoxically guarding the sovereignty and natural rights of each private person. As noted, it explicitly places the free exercise of religion in the realm of the private person. Its authors intended – and, until recently, courts have agreed – that the diminution of the private person is permissible only if it can be shown that leaving the private person intact would impose a heavy and unreasonable burden on the public (i.e., a hardship on the majority of public persons); that is the essence of this disgusting new law’s legal test.

The Constitutional crisis of the past 70 years or so has resulted from the national government’s insatiable lust to expand the public person and correspondingly shrink the private person. The Framers anticipated this force and took what steps they could to frustrate it. They were naive enough to believe that future generations would grasp the nature and purposes of the Constitution’s protections and would demand their preservation. They did not anticipate the fatal combination of voters who neither know nor value what they have been given and the collusion of well-educated cynics who see the political tide flowing their way and are prepared to toss away permanently any barriers to that temporary flow.

The Constitution has great value, both to the religious and the non-religious, and even to the militantly anti-religious. It created a remarkable country, a nation that despite its flaws and errors has been a beacon of freedom to the entire world for most of its existence. But the light is fading, being slowly snuffed out by the ignorance, pragmatism, and selfishness of its citizens and by the cancerous growth of the government they have chosen to have rule them

A Christian’s temptation

Naturally, there is a part of me that would like to see an orthodox Christian President, Congress, and Supreme Court running the national government with all its newly-acquired power, running it as passionately and ruthlessly as those who usurped that power do now. There is a part of me that would enjoy the squealing of people suddenly feeling the unfamiliar weight of the over-bearing government they had created. There is a part of me that would smirk while they appealed to a Constitution they had rendered impotent, hoping that it could now somehow restore the lost private person and relieve the pain of being the public person the government suddenly requires them to be.

But that part of me is the very part that Jesus wants to root out and destroy. The vengeance of such a government – and the schadenfreude of a Christian who reveled in it – would destroy the best of what he wants of his disciples, not the worst. Jesus ran no government, coerced no one, levied no taxes, sought no earthly kingdom. All he did was die for everyone who would accept his authority over all earthly powers – including themselves.

In the long run, Christians don’t require political protections, including this law. Christianity flourishes where it is most ruthlessly oppressed, whether in ancient Rome or modern China. It offers freedom that no government can guarantee, no matter how liberal (in the classic sense) or well-intended it may have been.

No, the value of this law is not that it may occasionally protect Christians who choose obedience to their consciences. The value is that protects a fundamental right that ultimately profits every citizen.

Yes, it offends me that opponents of this law often endorse – and practice – political and social bullying of Christians and other people of faith. It occasionally surprises me that the bullies can be so lacking in self-awareness that they can’t see the hypocrisy of demanding tolerance while refusing to extend it. But what offends me most is our society’s willingness to abandon its heritage and leave its children to the whim of whatever party comes to power or to the boundless ambition of the next charismatic leader who promises to singlehandedly “transform America”.

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California colors

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

I follow the Real Science blog. The pseudonymous author, “Steven Goddard”, is skeptical, abrasive, iconoclastic, environmentally savvy, and thinks like the engineer he is. A couple of recent posts got me thinking about a state I lived in for a while and most recently visited last year.

I’ve long had mixed feelings about California. It is both a place of astonishing natural beauty and a monument to the hubris of its residents. Messing with Mother Nature has been a way of life for Californians for a hundred years. They seem to honestly believe that there is no feature of the natural world they can’t overcome with enough other peoples’ money, technology, and willful blindness. But at what cost?

Condors and the early days of the Sierra Club aside, California has long been a center of environmental destruction in the U.S. Most of the state is semi-arid, a region where droughts and wildfires have always been common. Yet recent droughts (severe but far from record-breaking) have been trotted out in support of the global warming hoax.

It’s silly to look at the myth of global warming to find the ongoing effects of human activity on the environment. Just look at what humans have done – and continue to do – to transform California into the "golden state". And for all this destruction, they pride themselves on being "green".

Well, yes; gold and green are the colors of money.

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Prayer request: Islamic butchers of ISIS

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

I received this prayer request this morning; I’ve redacted names lest anyone be placed in even greater danger.

Prayer Request from [redacted] missionaries who are in the areas that are being attacked by ISIS are asking to be showered in prayer. ISIS has taken over the town they are in today. He said ISIS is systematically going house to house to all the Christians and asking the children to denounce Jesus. He said so far not one child has. And so far all have consequently been killed. But not the parents. The UN has withdrawn and the missionaries are on their own. They are determined to stick it out for the sake of the families – even if it means their own deaths. They are very afraid, have no idea how to even begin ministering to these families who have had seen their children martyred. Yet he says he knows God has called them for some reason to be His voice and hands at this place at this time. Even so, they are begging for prayers for courage to live out their vocation in such dire circumstances. And like the children, accept martyrdom if they are called to do so.  These brave parents instilled such a fervent faith in their children that they chose martyrdom. Please surround them in their loss with your prayers for hope and perseverance.

One missionary was able to talk to her brother briefly by phone. She didn’t say it, but I believe she believes it will be their last conversation. Pray for her too. She said he just kept asking her to help him know what to do and do it. She told him to tell the families we ARE praying for them and they are not alone or forgotten — no matter what.  Please keep them all in your prayers.
This came this morning… [source redacted] "We lost the city of Queragosh (Qaraqosh). It fell to ISIS and they are beheading children systematically. … ISIS has pushed back Peshmerga (Kurdish forces) and is within 10 minutes of [redacted]. Thousands more fled into the city of Erbil last night. The UN evacuated its staff in Erbil. Our team is unmoved and will stay. Prayer cover needed!" Please pray sincerely for the deliverance of the people of Northern Iraq from the terrible advancement of ISIS and its extreme Islamic goals for mass conversion or death for Christians across this region.

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Why I don’t hate Jesus’ religion

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

I started to write a response to the video “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” shortly after it appeared, but never got around to posting it. The video turned up on my Facebook timeline this morning, so I guess it’s still getting views. That being the case, I decided to freshen up the post and belatedly publish my thoughts. My comments are based on a transcript since I grew up reading, not watching videos.

This video – the work of a man named Jeff Bethke – has had more than 27 million views on YouTube. As a Christian (that is, an adherent of the Christian religion), I find his love of Jesus admirable. Beyond that, I’m not quite sure what he’s trying to say. I know I don’t understand the title of his video. Maybe it was just meant to be catchy – a title that might send a video viral and get a lot of attention. It worked.

A catchy title is one thing, but I don’t understand the content either. To be clear, I know who Jesus is and why Jeff might love him. It’s the hatred of religion, including, apparently, the Christian religion, that I can’t quite fathom. Perhaps a starting point would be to define what it is that he hates. Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd Edition (in my and many others’ opinions the best paper dictionary) gives us a good working definition:

The service and adoration of God or a god as expressed in forms of worship, in obedience to divine commands, esp. as found in accepted sacred writings or as declared by recognized teachers and in pursuit of a way of life regarded as incumbent on true believers.

If Jeff has made up his own definition of religion to rail against, then there’s no point in responding. But I assume he understands the word to mean something like the definition above.

I’d like to answer some of the questions Jeff asks and challenge a couple of his claims.

Jeff: What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion?

Grumpy: I’d ask you where you got the notion that Jesus came to abolish “the service and adoration of God” and “obedience to divine commands … in pursuit of a way of life regarded as incumbent on true believers.” My Bible says Jesus came to encourage those things, not abolish them.

Jeff: What if I told you voting Republican really wasn’t his mission?

Grumpy: I’d wonder if maybe you were under the mistaken impression that voting Democrat (or Green or Whig, or some other party) was his mission.

Jeff: What if I told you “Republican” doesn’t automatically mean “Christian”?

Grumpy: I’d remind you that "Democrat", "minister", "poet", "wife", “student”, and "cowboy" don’t automatically mean “Christian” either; then I’d ask why you’re obsessed with Republicans.

Jeff: And just because you call some people “blind” doesn’t automatically give you vision?

Grumpy: Neither does it mean the blind have vision. I assume you’re talking about spiritual blindness. Are you promoting blindness? Or discouraging the recognition of it in either ourselves or others? The Bible doesn’t encourage spiritual blindness and it doesn’t direct us to either ignore or affirm spiritual blindness.

Jeff: I mean, if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars?

Grumpy: Jeff, you have fallen for a secular myth; the reality is that religion has played only a minor role in starting wars. If you think about it, religion can’t really do anything. Only people – sometimes acting as they believe their religion directs them [see definition above] – can do things like start wars. If that’s what you mean, I’d ask you, if religion is so bad, why did adherents of the Christian religion abolish the slave trade in England? Why did Christian religious organizations establish countless medical missions in Africa? Why are they so quick to respond with help in places like Haiti or Japan or the Gulf Coast or Joplin, Missouri, or Indonesia?

Maybe some religions promote war while others promote peace. Maybe some religions spread through murder and conquest while others spread through martyrdom and sacrifice.

Jeff: Why does it build huge churches but fails to feed the poor?

Grumpy: Another good question and here’s yet another – why does it sometimes build modest buildings or none at all and feed the poor, the homeless, the displaced, and the refugee? Why do you think it’s a zero-sum game? Don’t you believe God’s resources are sufficient to build dedicated houses of worship that express his grandeur and feed the poor?

Jeff: Tells single moms God doesn’t love them if they’ve ever had a divorce?

Grumpy: Or welcome them and their children and provide help, support, and encouragement? Do you honestly mean to say that you’ve never seen anyone who embraces the Christian religion do these things? If you haven’t, you need to get out more.

Jeff: But in the Old Testament God actually calls religious people “whores”. Religion might preach grace, but another thing they practice.

Grumpy: You’ve discovered hypocrites. Congratulations. You’ve doubtless found them in churches. You’ll find them on street corners and all over the internet; you’ll find them on YouTube. You’ll even find them among the most ardent lovers and followers of Jesus.

Jeff: Now back to the point: One thing is vital to mention, how Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrums. See, one’s the work of God, but one’s a man-made invention

Grumpy: A “man-made invention”? Jesus selected and taught the apostles. He picked his own theologian (Saul), renamed him Paul, personally trained him, sent him out to plant churches, and inspired him to write letters explaining the Christian religion to them. Paul wrote about both doctrine (grace, salvation, the sacraments, and much more) and such practicalities as accountability, church governance, and the qualifications of elders and deacons. I don’t understand why Jesus thought those were good things if religion is a bad thing. When he ascended into Heaven, Jesus left behind an organization complete with a mission statement. At least that’s what my Bible says.

Jeff, you say you love the Church. But you hate the structure that Jesus left behind to preserve, guide, and grow it. You exhibit a trendy cynicism about “organized religion” that seems to arise from an inability to separate the structure from the jars of clay Jesus entrusted it to.

Jeff: See this was me, too, but no one seemed to be on to me, actin’ like church kid while addicted to pornography. See, on Sunday I’d go to church, but Saturday gettin’ faded, actin’ as if I was simply created to just have sex and get wasted. See, I spent my whole life buildin’ this façade of neatness.

Grumpy: This seems to be an indictment of your own hypocrisy – passing as a “church kid” while denying in your life everything the Church stands for – not the religion of Jesus Christ. Do you actually hold that religion responsible for your sins? Still, it couldn’t have been a complete failure – that religion introduced you to Jesus.

A final note: I doubt this video did anything to reform those parts of the Church that need reforming, but it may have misled some Christians into believing that the Church is Jesus’ enemy. I’m pretty sure Satan enjoys the idea that the religion Jesus created – the service and adoration of God as expressed in forms of worship, in obedience to divine commands, esp. as found in the Bible – should be scorned by his followers. And the video seems to have launched a career in social media and YouTube consulting for Jeff. I was going to read some of his blog posts, but they turned out to be videos too.

Posted in Christianity, Culture, Personal | 2 Comments »

What do educated evangelicals know?

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

Chuck Queen is the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky and author of Being a Progressive Christian (is not) for Dummies (nor for know-it-alls): An Evolution of Faith. He posted an opinion piece entitled “It’s time for evangelicals to come out for evolution” on the ABPnews/Herald (Baptist news) web site. He decries the fact that “76 percent of evangelicals doubt that life on Earth, including human beings, evolved through a process of natural selection” and thinks it’s time for evangelicals to get with Darwin’s program. And it’s up to the educated ones to take the lead in transforming the great unwashed masses of presumably uneducated evangelicals:

Educated evangelicals know that the creation stories were never intended to be history lessons or science reports, because the Bible is not a history or science book.

Educated evangelicals also know:

• That evangelical Christians need not fear or deny the enormous amount of scientific data supporting evolution.

• That the story of evolution and the biblical story are not mutually exclusive.

• That a healthy faith welcomes and is informed by science.

As an educated evangelical myself, I thought to challenge Pastor Queen’s assumptions about what we know. I preserved our dialog and present it here. (Notes: My last comment was not published before all comments disappeared from the page. I have inserted a link and added a little formatting that was not possible in the original online conversation.)

Grumpy: "Educated evangelicals" also know that Darwinian evolution is a theory that has some explanatory power but is unable to explain some phenomena, such as the Cambrian Explosion. And educated evangelicals know that no form of neo-Darwinism (natural selection operating on random mutations) has ever been observed in nature or demonstrated in the laboratory. Educated evangelicals also know that such evolutionary staples as junk DNA have been debunked by ENCODE and other studies. And educated evangelicals know that evidence for evolution is so shaky that its promoters have had to come up with such outright propaganda as staged photographs of peppered moths and Haeckel’s phony drawings of embryos. Finally, educated evangelicals know that there is no settled science and that claims that there is are made by people whose livelihoods, philosophical views, tenure, or government grants require propagating the myth that evolution is, to use your word, "truth". Yes, definitely a truth that evangelicals should "come out for".

Pastor Queen: I know . . . I shouldn’t have used the term "educated evangelicals" because it sounds condescending. Sorry about that. Should have used the phrase "evangelical university and seminary professors." I stand by my claim that if the truth were told many, if not most, evangelical university and seminary professors hold to some form of evolution. All of us see God engaged in the process. Exactly how is the great mystery of divine oversight and creaturely freedom. And I stand by my claim that they know that the Genesis stories as "religious myths" contain much truth, though the truth is not factual or historical.

G: Thanks for the reply and the clarification. IMHO, it all depends on what you do with the first five words in the Bible. They aren’t "In the beginning, God engaged …". They are "In the beginning, God created …. " If those five words aren’t a "myth", then God created. He didn’t "engage in the process"; he was the process. If the first five words contain any falsehood, then there’s no reason to accept the rest of them. Ultimately we’re left with what the extra-Biblical sources confirm about the historical Jesus – he was a moral teacher who did some parlor tricks (essentially what the Jesus Seminar would have us believe). In similar fashion, you seem to be suggesting that we limit our understanding of God’s role in the creation of all things to what can be confirmed by extra-Biblical sources masquerading as science.

Let me state unequivocally that I’m no fan of "creation science"; it’s nothing more or less than the flip side of "evolution science". They both start from an a priori assumption (a statement of faith, if you will) and conform their results to that assumption. The former assumes a literal interpretation of Genesis while the latter assumes philosophical naturalism. Neither assertion can be confirmed by science and so both subvert the open-ended inductive reasoning that is at the heart of real science. More than one neo-Darwinist has claimed that his/her explanation must be correct because "evolution is true". That is pure religious dogma, not science. It is the logical equivalent to Ken Ham saying his explanation must be correct because "the Bible, literally interpreted, is true".

On a final note, I just retired from teaching in the Purdue University School of Technology. I am indeed an educated evangelical who is not fooled by the propaganda flowing from the multi-billion-dollar evolution industry.

PQ: Surprised that you take such an either/or, binary view of the Genesis story. You well know life doesn’t work that way. We shouldn’t expect God to.

G: Life/death; sheep/goats; good/evil; obedience/sin; banquet/darkness; wheat/tares; wide way/narrow way; these seem pretty binary to me. No, I don’t expect God to work like his creation does. If you take "created" to mean "engaged in the process" in Genesis, you might as well take Jesus "died" to mean Jesus "fainted". Acceptance of random mutation/natural selection (which is what evolutionists mean by "evolution") is a way point on that slippery slope.

Concluding thoughts

My problem with Pastor Queen’s enthusiastic support of evolution (as explained today – the explanation shifts to accommodate observed reality; see e.g.horizontal gene transfer”) is the words “random” and “natural”. “Random mutation” is mutation that is accidental and undirected – meaning it could not possibly have been directed by God. “Natural selection” is selection that occurs through a purely naturalistic process (e.g. “survival of the fittest”) – meaning God could not possibly have supernaturally intervened to produce a species he desired. The “theistic evolution” Pastor Queen espouses is logical nonsense, an oxymoron.

Ultimately, Pastor Queen is advocating a worldview that is commonly known, not as Christianity (theism), but as atheism. This seems a strange enterprise for a Christian pastor. Perhaps, as he composed the perfect title for his piece, he carefully considered the meaning of the phrase “to come out”. But to come out of the closet of philosophical naturalism – as Pastor Queen seems to have done – one must be in the closet to begin with. I doubt that most “educated evangelicals” are in that particular closet. Progressive “Christians”, yes, but not evangelicals, educated or otherwise.

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Mandela: The whole man

Friday, December 6th, 2013

Nelson Mandela deservedly received much of the credit for ridding South Africa of the scourge of Apartheid.  Yet, on the night of his death, I am reminded of the “Masterpiece Theater” series based on R. F. Delderfield’s novel about an English boys’ school, To Serve Them All My Days.  When Alcock, the widely despised headmaster of the Bamfylde School, dies, the masters who suffered under his authoritarian regime gather in the day room to prepare for a respectful farewell.  All, that is, except his bitterest foe, the crusty science master (dare I say curmudgeon?), Carter.  When asked if he wouldn’t join the others, he replied that he would not indulge in “a sentimental regard for the dead simply because they are dead.”

I don’t think we honor a complex, determined, pragmatic realist like Nelson Mandela by indulging ourselves in sentimentality that ignores all but the warm, cuddly parts.  Tonight, the endless tributes are paying homage to half a man.  Let us acknowledge – even if we can’t praise – the whole man.

Mandela was sympathetic to Communists within and without South Africa; he especially admired Fidel Castro.  He led the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe, (the “Spear of the Nation”), the terrorist arm of the African National Congress in South Africa.  He often expressed solidarity with the Libyan sponsor of terrorism, Muammar Gadhafi, who was responsible for the bombing of Pan Am flight 113 over Lockerbie, Scotland.  He was an admirer of the author of Palestinian terrorism, Yasser Arafat, who introduced such innovations as armed assaults on Israeli school children.

I admire Mandela’s single-minded pursuit of racial justice and equality in South Africa.  That nation, and the world, are better places because of his determined efforts.  But I cannot ignore the end-justifies-the-means mentality that he endorsed, that has resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians at the hands of the Umkhonto we Sizwe and like-minded terror organizations all around the world.  Mandela did great good.  Along the way, he did great evil.

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Church and civil marriage no longer mix

Monday, July 1st, 2013

The Supreme Court, in Justice Kennedy’s muddle-headed way, has negated democratic means of defining “marriage”.  One (presumably unintended) consequence of his tortured reasoning is that churches professing orthodox Christianity will have to end their entanglement with secular government and get out of the civil "marriage" business altogether.  Getting “married” will become a little more complicated.

If you want a Christian marriage free of civil baggage, you will go to a church.  If you want a non-binding civil contract (also called a “marriage”) with some financial and legal advantages, you will go to the courthouse.  If you want both, you will have to go to both.

Make no mistake – churches will be sued if they decline to provide non-binding civil contracts for some couples and not for others.  A federal judiciary increasingly hostile to religious expression under the First Amendment will find for the complainants.  The answer for churches that hold to an orthodox Christian view of marriage is to simply not provide civil contracts for anyone.

This result may be ultimately benefit the Church in two ways.  First, it will get civil government out of the celebration of a Biblical covenant.  Second, it may compel some local churches to give serious consideration to their denominational affiliation.

Liberal denominations are likely to require that local churches continue to provide civil contracts.  A church that cannot in good conscience conform to that requirement may have no option but to leave the denomination.  And, in rare instances, a conservative denomination may insist that local churches refrain from the issuance of civil contracts, with a more liberal local church being similarly conflicted.

I suspect that liberal denominations will experience more shrinkage than conservative ones.

Posted in Christianity, Culture | 5 Comments »