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Teaching Evolutionary Science in a Christian College Context

Three professors from Christian colleges (including Jim Nichols of church-of-Christ-affiliated Abilene Christian)  discuss teaching evolutionary science to Christian undergraduates in a video at The BioLogos Forum (link):

By Their Creator

During a speech last week (link), President Obama ad-libbed a bit (departed from the prepared text of the speech) to quote the Declaration of Independence and (presumably inadvertently) omitted the words "endowed by their Creator".  Obama spoke:

We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, endowed with certain inalienable rights: life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Never mind that Obama ended the speech by saying...

God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

...many conservatives (e.g. The Weekly Standard) have pounced and questioned whether or not Obama believes that our rights come from our Creator (Nature’s God” and “the Supreme Judge of the World”, as the Declaration says).

Sadly the epidemic of Obama Derangement Syndrome is now so rampant that the White House had to release this pitiful statement today (link):

“The President is in full agreement with the Declaration of Independence.  Any suggestion to the contrary is just silly.”(Josh Earnest, Deputy White House Press Secretary)

Imagine if, during the presidency of George W. Bush, I had a habit of highlighting every time President Bush didn't get a quote or statement exactly right in one of his speeches or press conferences.  How petty would that have been?  You'd have considered such nitpicking, coming from  me at least, to be low and unseemly.  You'd have been right.

This reminds me of P.Z. Myers recent criticism of "conspiracy theories" regarding Obama's religion and politics (link):

Please, fellow godless folk, stop trying to claim Obama as one of us. He isn't. He goes to church sometimes, he has a religious history, he's happy to use Christian metaphors, he hasn't claimed to be so much as an agnostic. He's a liberal Christian who is not obsessed with religion. Take his words at face value; I find it annoying when people look for signs that he's a hidden member of our little clan. It is so conspiracy-theory...

Obama is not a socialist or a communist or a Luo tribesman. He is a centrist politician from Chicago who believes in improving peoples lives incrementally by working step by step through political compromise. He pisses off the liberal, progressive wing of the Democratic party because we want him to be bold and aggressive, and he's not, and because he's also comfortable with the military-industrial status quo. He really  annoys the wingnut right because he wants to move the country away from their dreams of a Reaganesque/Randian capitalist paradise, and he is…slowly and tentatively.

That's really all you need to know to comprehend what Obama is doing and how he works. It's sufficient to explain everything. We don't have to postulate that he's a reincarnated Mau Mau chieftain or that he's a secret communist plant. He's just a traditional middle-of-the-road politician from the Midwest.

(I knew that many of Obama's conservative critics want to believe that he is an atheist but hadn't realized that many atheists want to believe the same thing).

This also reminds me of a cartoon: link.

Remembering 9/11

Today Todd Bouldin suggested a "radical new way" to remember 9/11 that, ironically, is not new at all:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for ‘revenge is mine,’ says the Lord…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

The Apostle Paul, Romans 12

I was thinking along the same lines yesterday while reading a guest column on WaPo's On Faith site by a fellow Lipscomb graduate: "Terry Jones is not the enemy."  In the column, David French laments the fact that the public has been distracted from its focus on our "real enemy" by Terry Jones' "stupid and senseless" Qur'an-burning stunt:

Terry Jones wasn't burning Qur'ans on September 10, 2001. He wasn't burning Qur'ans when the "Blind Sheik" plotted the first World Trade Center bombing or when Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland. Our enemies don't need Terry Jones to hate us or to recruit thousands of suicide bombers and tens of thousands of jihadists. So on this week of remembrance, let's take the cameras off the crank from Florida and put them instead on the yawning gap in the New York skyline and on the soldiers who fight to make sure the enemy can never strike again.

David concludes:

The media has made Terry Jones. The media can unmake him. And they should - after all, there's a real enemy out there to challenge, to shame, and to defeat.

As I read those sentences, one of the thoughts that came to my mind was what was conspicuously missing from that list of things we should do to our enemy: love them.

I wouldn't claim that I know how to love Al-Qaeda, but I have no doubt that loving them is what Christians are called to do.  This highlights to me the difficulty of  consistently following both the way of nationalism and the way of Christ.  Frankly, I don't know how a nation can simultaneously resist evil and follow Christ's radical command to not resist an evil person or follow the example of early Christians who submitted to painful death rather than take up weapons of earthly violence to resist persecution by the Roman empire.  This is why the concept of a "Christian nation" almost seems like an oxymoron or sorts.  Even if we focus only on the actions of an individual Christian, I'm too confused about how one consistently marries citizenship in earthly kingdoms with citizenship in the heavenly one to advise anyone about what they should or shouldn't do in matters like these of national defense, responding to Al-Qaeda, etc.

On a related subject, this past week I was annoyed by the admonitions to "Support the victims of the September 11 terrorist attack" by adding a little red 9/11 tag on the corner of your twitter avatar.  To me, that seemed like a lousy way to actually support the victims of 9/11.  I decided to google a way to help provide financial support to 9/11 victims.  I was surprised to find that I couldn't easily find such an option.  I learned that there was a fund created by Congress that provided compensation to victims that agreed not to sue the airlines.  There was also a September 11th Fund that raised and distributed > $500 million before it concluded in 2004.  I didn't find much else.  The few other organizations I found (link,link,link) seemed to be more about education and remembrance but not so much about actual support of victims.

This caused me to wonder: do the victims of 9/11 still need our support?  If so, why isn't there an easy way to do so that is more direct and more impactful than the superficial changing of a twitter avatar?


Here's Your Chance to Strike a Blow Against "Socialism"

It's not unusual to hear "small-government-conservative" Christians lamenting the steadily-increasing role of government in providing the social safety net.  "Forced charity" via taxes, they often say, pre-empts true Christian charity and fosters reliance on the government...and that this "socialism" should diminish to be replaced by private sources of funding and services.

An obvious weakness of this point of view is the lack of evidence that churches are prepared to embrace the self-sacrifice necessary to provide the level of services that would be required if the government abandoned its role in this area (e.g. Jay Guin's take).  However, after recently reading an inspiring passage from Daryl Tippens' "Pilgrim Heart," I don't want to underestimate what Christians could accomplish if they were inspired to radical self-sacrificial service.

Here is a lengthy passage from pages 55-56 of Tippens' book:

The significance of Jesus’ kind of hospitality is considerable when seen against the dark canvas of the ancient world. Life was risky and ever fraught with danger. Catastrophic plagues raged through Europe, especially in A.D. 165 and 260, killing hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions. At the height of one epidemic 5,000 people a day were dying in Rome. Two-thirds of Alexandria’s population was wiped out. Life in the Roman Empire teetered on the edge of disaster. Risking their lives by the thousands, compassionate disciples waded into this horrific maelstrom of death, ministering to the sick and dying in the name of Christ. Remarkably, they tended to dying pagans as well as to their own; and the shocked but desperate pagans took notice. According to Dionysius, the bishop of Alexandria: “Heedless of danger, [the Christians] took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy  Once the plague had passed, countless survivors owed their lives to Jesus’ followers who had nursed them. The survivors were never the same again, and the church flourished because of this exceptional hospitality to the sick.  Hospitality took new forms in the ensuing centuries. Throughout the ancient and medieval worlds Christians established “hospitals” (xenodochia, ‘guest-houses’), not institutions exclusively for the sick according to the modern sense of the term, but houses of care for people with varying needs: widows, orphans, strangers, the poor, travelers, as well as the sick. Originally “hospital” (Latin hospitalia) signified any place of reception for a guest, whether pilgrim, invalid, or needy stranger. These richly varied practices of caring for strangers can still be traced through the related English words hospital, hospice, hotel, hostel, hospitality, host, and hostess. The unbelieving world had never seen anything like this kind of nonsectarian concern, and it astonished them.  Not only did they say of the Christians, “Only look! See how they love one another!” But they must have marveled and said to themselves, “Look! See how they love us, who are not of their faith!”

A wealthy Roman matron named Fabiola, who died in 399, established the first (medical) hospital in the Western world. With one Pammachius she also established homes for the destitute and a guest-house for travelers and pilgrims visiting Rome. Congregations established ambitious missions to the poor. The church in Antioch, for example, fed three thousand destitute widows and virgins daily, in addition to caring for prisoners, the sick, the disabled, and travelers. The breadth of Christian care in the ancient world is startling and inspiring. According to Rodney Stark:

"...Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent urban problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity....And to cities faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services."

Hospitality of this kind continues today, mostly through great institutions that have either secularized the care (e.g., the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, government-funded medical centers, philanthropic foundations) or through large, complex faith-based charities (e.g., the Salvation Army, World Vision, Habitat for Humanity, etc.). One can be thankful that Christian understandings of charity have permeated international organizations and whole societies.

Back in May I read an article by Tami Luhbi on CNNMoney ("Goodbye, stimulus. Hello, state budget cuts") that warned the impact of the recession and waning stimulus on state budgets.  Some excerpts:

Think states have made deep spending cuts? You ain't seen nothing yet.

States have been struggling with huge budget gaps since 2008, but this year could be worse as federal stimulus funds wind down.

Until now, stimulus money spared governors and state lawmakers from making some of the most brutal budget cuts. But with this lifeline running out, officials are looking at making significant cutbacks to public services, particularly schools and health programs...

In all, the stimulus funds helped plug between 30% and 40% of the $291 billion in budget gaps that states have faced over the past two years, experts said. But Recovery Act money will only be sufficient to plug 20% or less of the coming fiscal year's shortfalls, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. By fiscal 2012, most of the money will be gone....

Compounding the problem is that many states have already slashed services and raided their rainy day funds to balance their budgets, as they are required to do. And a recent analysis by the Rockefeller Institute shows that the all-important personal income tax revenue for April is likely to decline steeply.

All this means that state officials are being forced to make some of the tough decisions they've been able to put off for the past 18 months.

Then a few weeks ago I read a NY Times article by John Leland ("Cuts in Home Care Put Elderly and Disabled at Risk") that put a face on those who are suffering from the budget shortfalls in a variety of states including this from Oregon:

As states face severe budget shortfalls, many have cut home-care services for the elderly or the disabled, programs that have been shown to save states money in the long run because they keep people out of nursing homes.

Since the start of the recession, at least 25 states and the District of Columbia have curtailed programs that include meal deliveries, housekeeping aid and assistance for family caregivers, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research organization. That threatens to reverse a long-term trend of enabling people to stay in their homes longer.

For Afton England, who lives in a trailer home here, the news came in a letter last week: Oregon, facing a $577 million deficit, was cutting home aides to more than 4,500 low-income residents, including her. Ms. England, 65, has diabetes, spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, arthritis and other health problems that prevent her from walking or standing for more than a few minutes at a time.

Through a state program, she has received 45 hours of assistance a month to help her bathe, prepare meals, clean her house and shop. The program had helped make Oregon a model for helping older and disabled people remain in their homes.

But state legislators say home care is a service the state can no longer afford. Cuts affecting an additional 10,500 people are scheduled for Oct. 1.

It's seems like the recession's impact on state budgets and the resulting cuts in services provide an opportunity for "small-government-conservative" Christians to walk the talk and take up the slack.  I'd like to see the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships coordinating with churches and other faith-based organizations to volunteer to fill the gaps in services to the vulnerable (rather than just figuring out creative ways to funnel money to faith-based organizations). "Small-government-conservative" Christians should be eager to do this kind of thing without government funding. 

What a great opportunity to minister to the sick and elderly!  Actually, I'm sure there are already organizations in existence that do just that and are currently desperate for volunteers to help out, but I'm ashamed to to say that I don't know what they are in my town.  That's something I'd like to find out.

A few months back Jay Guin published a reasonable take on this issue and concluded:

The problem is that the political parties are working hard to polarize us into pro-welfare and anti-welfare camps. And I think they both sin in so doing. The government is neither the solution nor the enemy — although it can both offer help and do great harm.

Yes, there are limits to what the nation can afford. Yes, the church should be more involved in the lives of the needy — but the government isn’t stopping us. It’s not welfare that keeps us out of the projects.

This is how I’ve got it figured. If we’re really mad about how much money is being spent on welfare, we ought to do something about it. And that means we ought to help people escape poverty — by helping with job training, by helping rebuild families, by restoring a righteous culture by teaching not only salvation but the restoration of relationships — between spouses, between parents and children, between employer and employee — to those who most need it.

But if our model of church growth is to attract white, middle class families with children by out-competing the other churches in town for families moving into town, it’ll never happen.

The Invention of Lying

200px-Invention_of_lying_ver2 A couple weeks back we watched The Invention of Lying (2009,PG-13).  From ScreenIt!:

In a world where no form of lying exists, be that fibs, flattery or even fiction, a recently fired screenwriter unexpectedly develops the ability to lie and uses that to his advantage, but must then deal with the repercussions of everyone else accepting what he says at face value. 

Gervais is one of my favorite entertainers, so I wasn't surprised when I enjoyed the film...not that it was perfect; like others (e.g. Daniel Carlson) I thought it had a great premise that started to fall a bit flat after a while.  Nevertheless, I thought it was quite interesting and enjoyable...despite its shortcomings. 

After watching it, I suspected that the film was controversial when it was released, and my suspicions were confirmed as I poked around on the interwebs a bit.

For example, from Kyle Smith (atheist and film critic for the NY Post):

The movie is a full-on attack on religion in general and Christianity in particular. It might be the most blatantly, one-sidedly atheist movie ever released by a major studio...Gervais is an atheist, which is fine, but his mean-spiritedness (even before the atheism theme enters the movie, it’s sour and misanthropic) and the film’s reduction of all religion to an episode of crowd hysteria are not going to be warmly received. Except maybe by critics.

From Michele McGinty (Christian blogger):

I have no problem watching movies written by atheists, I went to see the "Golden Compass." I have no problem watching movies that mock or excoriate Christians, I thought "The Big Kahuna" was brilliant. So, if they had been honest about the intent of the film, I might have been tempted to see it. Knowing that I'll be mocked is one thing but being duped into paying to see a movie that insults me as a gullible sap is another. It's a good thing I'm not gullible enough to go see a movie without reading a review first.

To all those atheists who want to convince us using Gervais' tactics, I say: ridiculing Christianity by treating us like we're gullible dupes who would believe anything we're told isn't a way to demonstrate that Christianity is false. Our faith is reasonable and we know it even though atheists have convinced themselves it is not. Ridicule doesn't work because we're used to it.The Roman soldiers and the Jews mocked Jesus when he was flogged and crucified. And Paul warned us that the intellectuals of the world consider us foolish...

Why was the film so offensive to some?  It depicts Gervais' character making up God and the afterlife to comfort his dying mother.  When others hear about the "lies" that he tells, it snowballs.  To quench their thirst for knowledge about God, he proclaims a list of ten revelations (the film only reveals 8 of them):

  • Number 1: There is a man in the sky who controls everything
  • Number 2: When you die, you don’t disappear into an eternity of nothingness. Instead, you go to a really great place.
  • Number 3: In that place, everyone will get a mansion.
  • Number 4: When you die, all the people you love will be there.
  • Number 5: When you die, there will be free ice cream for everyone, all day and all night, whatever flavors you can think of.
  • Number 6: If you do bad things, you won’t get to go to this great place when you die (You get three chances).
  • Number 9: The man in the sky who controls everything decides if you go to the good place or the bad place. He also decides who lives and who dies.
  • Number 10: Even if the man in the sky does bad things to you, he makes up for it with an eternity of good stuff after you die.

These revelations prompt reactions like these from Gervais' character's audience:

  • “That guy’s evil!”
  • “That guy’s a coward!”
  • “He’s kind of a good guy, but he’s also kind of a prick, too.”
  • “I say f@#! the man in the sky!”

As I read some of the press about the film, I was struck by how different my reaction was compared to what I was reading.  I understand why some Christians might feel offended (threatened?) by this caricature their Christian belief, but my inclination wasn't to be offended. 

For one, I found it interesting as a glimpse of what faith looks like to an atheist.  That's worth knowing on a purely intellectual level as well as being quite helpful for the sake of having a fruitful conversation with an atheist (as opposed to talking at one).  Secondly, although Gervais' lies are certainly a caricature (an over-simplified exaggeration) of the Christian faith, they strike me as highlighting intellectual dilemma's that many Christians struggle with and, in some ways, aren't really that far removed from some of the things I and others believe.  Looking at those revelations listed above I think: "When you put it that way (and I can understand why Gervais, from his perspective, would put it that way), it does seem kind of like something unbelievable or made-up."  It's not exactly unusual for me to have similar thoughts as I read scripture.  I think that faith is worth a examination...taking a close look at what I believe...subjecting it to the criticisms of people like Gervais and seeing how well it stands up.  This stuff is too important to leave unexamined while taking an artificially smooth life's-journey in autopilot mode. 

That is, I seem to take a film like this as opportunity to understand Gervais perspective and to better understand mine, not an opportunity to take offense.

This reminded me of Kevin DeYoung's question from earlier this year (written in the aftermath of Brit Hume's controversial comments about Tiger Wood's Buddhist faith vs. Christianity); DeYoung asked: Why Are We So Offended All the Time?  Some excerpts:

Offendedness is just about the last shared moral currency in our country. And, I’m sorry, but it’s really annoying. We don’t discuss ideas or debate arguments, we try to figure out who is most offended...Why is everyone in such a hurry to be hurt?  For starters, being hurt is easier than being right. To prove you’re offended you just have to rustle up moral indignation and tell the world about it. To prove you’re right you actually have to make arguments and use logic and marshal evidence....As Christians, we worship a victimized Lord. We should expect to suffer and should have particular compassion on those who hurt emotionally and physically. But we do not resemble the Suffering Servant when we take pains to show off our suffering. I’m not thinking of the Brit Hume ordeal now. I’m just thinking in general how we are tempted to gain the culture’s approval by playing the culture’s offense-taking game. If a law is broken or a legitimate right taken away, let us protest with passion. But if we are misunderstood or even reviled let’s not go after short-lived and half-hearted affirmation by announcing our offendedness for the world to hear. Every time we try to make hay out of misplaced calumnies, we hasten the demise of Christianity in the public square. As offendedness becomes the barometer of acceptable discourse, we can expect further marginalization of Christian beliefs. So buck up brothers and sisters. Most often in this country, we are not victims because of our faith. There are just as many people, it seems to me, standing to Brit Hume’s defense as they are pillorying him. Let every Tom, Dick, and Harry in the world be crushed to (phony) emotional pieces when their ideas are scrutinized. We can chart a different course and trust that our beliefs can handle Keith Olberman’s disapproval. We have no reason to be anxious, every reason to be joyful, and fewer reasons than we think to be offended.


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