January 14, 2005

Church/State Issues

There are two church/state separation issues in the news right now, and I haven't really been talking as much about this as I should, so I want to cover them both here.

First, the prayer at the Inauguration. Michael Newdow is back in court, challenging the President and his desire to have a prayer at the inauguration. And Newdow does have a good point, if this is true:

"The government is coming out and saying, 'OK everybody, while you watch, we are a Christian nation,' " Mr. Newdow said. "It is a declaration to the nation and the world that we are a Christian nation."
We're not a Christian nation. We are a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles, in which the clear majority of citizens are Christians (or at least claim to be Christians). Our country was founded to be a refuge for people who were persecuted for their beliefs -- no matter what those beliefs are. We take pride in our stand that people should be able to practice their religious beliefs, no matter what they are.

President Bush is a Christian. What I do not understand is how being President makes George W. Bush unable to practice his faith. He's not allowed to make public references to God. He's not allowed to pray, or have a prayer said, at his inauguration. It seems that what Newdow is saying is that Christians, and other people of faith, are only allowed to practice their faith in private. No public displays, no public acknowledgement, especially if you are a government employee or politician.

If the President were trying to make this a Christian nation, I would be on the front line trying to stop him. The Christian faith is not something to be forced on anyone. I believe strongly that only God can convict someone to become a Christian, and that if God is convicting, there is no resistance to His call. When we look back in history, we see what happens when Christianity becomes an established religion -- just look at the Inquisitions in Europe, Constantine's forced baptism of his troops, the persecution of non-Puritans in New England in the 17th and 18th centuries. I believe that Christianity is true. I believe that Christ is the answer to the problems we have today. But we cannot force people to become Christians -- all that makes are pretenders.

I don't think that is the President's goal. I think that he simply wants to recognize publically his dependance on God, as have past Presidents, and I am angered that people who are supposed to be in favor of tolerance are being so intolerant on this issue.

The other issue is over the "evolution stickers" that have now been removed from Georgia biology textbooks.
This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.
I see no reference to creation in that. What is wrong with encouraging students to approach things in science with a critical mind? It seems to me that science is all about looking at things critically. If evolution is a clear scientific fact, as most opponents of the stickers believe, then it will stand up to critical scrutiny. If it can't, then it needs to be discarded and a new theory developed.

I will be the first to admit that I am not the person to debate creation/evolution. I actually never studied it in high school -- the biology teacher (an evolutionist) didn't have time to cover it because there were things she thought were more important. The two best students in the class were both creationists, so I wish we had been able to get into the subject -- it might have sparked some interesting debate. Back then, I was a serious science student -- and creationist. Now, I'm just a creationist -- a four-year degree in business doesn't leave much opportunity to keep current on the debate. (There are plenty of blogs out there that do discuss it well -- a couple of them are on my blogroll.) I think that we are being arrogant to think that we know conclusively how the earth was created, and how life began and has developed -- I don't see how science is threatened by telling students to examine it's claims critically.

I am in favor of keeping the government out of the church's business, and keeping religion out of the political arena. There should be no "religion test" to see if a candidate is suitable for office. But we should never expect people to ignore their religious beliefs when they are in office, or to stop practicing their faith.

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January 13, 2005

...and I didn't even study!!

I am nerdier than 89% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Hat tip to Scott over at The Crusty Curmudgeon.

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News Roundup

Cruising through some news stories that I've heard about today -- and commenting on them, of course!

  • 2 stories about the "James Ossuary." I tend to agree with the Observer article -- whether the ossuary is authentic or not is NOT going to change anyone's mind about the truth of Christ, or the truth claims of Christianity. Plenty of people believe that Jesus existed, and that He taught and was killed by the authorities, but they don't believe that He was the Messiah. It is reassuring to some Christians that they can point to the existence of something like this to support their faith, and we like to be able to show archaeological evidences for things that the Bible records. But we cannot rely on history or archaeology to win people to Christ -- only the faithful preaching of the Gospel and the working of the Holy Spirit can do that. Note to the Observer, though -- the jury is still out on whether the findings of the IAA were accurate. There are some indications that their findings were biased from the beginning.
  • The New York Times is reporting that religion is on the rise, but not the "fundamentalist" kind. Not surprising. I THINK they are including evangelical Christianity in their definition of "fundamentalist," and I think that the reasons people don't like evangelical Christianity are obvious. They want spirituality without responsibility. They don't want any obligation to any type of holy living. They don't want to think that God has any claim on their behavior at all. They also don't want to think about having to share their faith. They've found a type of "this works for me, go see what works for you" spirituality, and that contradicts the claims of the Bible that Christ is THE way, not A way. Biblical Christianity is an exclusivist faith, and people don't want to think that way.
  • The Dallas News (which is a great source for good religious news reporting) has an editorial that should make us thing about what we are doing when we say something like "God says" or "Jesus says." I love this statement:
    If Jesus is just a metaphor, or one of many paths to God, then speaking for him is treacherous enough. But those Christians who flatly reject that notion ought to set for themselves an even higher standard of caution.
    Because if Jesus really is the one and only true Son of God, then who would dare presume to speak for him?
    We all need to think seriously about that.
  • National Review Online has a great interview with Naomi Schaefer Riley about the potential influence of "Generation M" -- the students who are currently enrolled in religious schools. Not much comment on this one -- except to say that there is a LOT of potential out there to make a tremendous difference in our society.
  • Crosses have been banned along the parade route for the innauguration this year, and some Christians aren't happy about it. Personally, I really don't care if they are there or not, though I think there's a problem because no other religious symbols were mentioned in the memo.

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January 11, 2005

Google Standings

I'm a bit bored, and suffering a bit from writer's block, so I decided to check some of my stats. Here are some of the searches that have landed people here, and how high I rank on Google for that search:

  • You Might Be a Baptist If ... : I'm #1 right now.
  • "In the event of rapture this car will be unmanned : I'm #3!
  • This Week in Church History: #7
  • Study of Mark: #9
  • View from the Pew: #1, though I wonder what else people are looking for when they search for this -- there are a bunch of old Catholic pages with this on them. Bet they're surprised!
  • Michael Moore atheist: Yahoo has me at #14. Google doesn't list me at all. Go figure.
  • secular holiday: Yahoo at #6, Google doesn't have me in the top 100.
  • leperous colonies: I'm #1 on Yahoo, and on Google as well, thanks to this post. Not sure I'm going to write home to Mom about that one!

Think that's enough for now. Back to working on the new template (which you'll be able to see at this site when it's ready).

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Study of Mark -- Mark 6:53-56

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.
(Mark 6:53-56 ESV)

Conclusion to the chapter, illustrating the rise in Jesus' popularity. This is pretty important to what comes next -- the Pharisees begin to take an active interest in Him, and His disciples. Their influence is being threatened -- they want to make sure that this new guy conforms to their view of the Law, so that they aren't threatened more.

The first six chapters of Mark detail the good that Jesus did throughout the land. He healed people, he ministered to people, he taught them about the Kingdom that was to come. I think it's important that we notice the order that these events are told in Mark -- He ministers while He is teaching. People come to Hm to be ministered to physically, and He does that, but He also is ministering to them spiritually, and is teaching them. He's also teaching the disciples. He knows that no matter what He teaches them, it will not make any sense until after His death and resurrection. He is simply trying to prepare everyone for the message of the Gospel.

We can learn a LOT from this. First, we can learn to minister to people -- meet their needs where they are. It's almost become a cliche, but it's true -- people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. We tend to forget this. I think some of the greatest outreach opportunities that we have are lost because we don't meet people's needs. We focus primarilly on the spiritual need -- which IS the most important, ultimately, but it's not the most important TO THEM. Meet physical needs, show people that you care about them -- and all the while, preach the Word to them, letting them know that God cares about them.

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January 10, 2005

Christian Carnival News!

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are political (or otherwise) in nature from a Christian point of view. Secondly please send only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival. Then, do the following:

Send your entry to

Please put "Christian Carnival Entry" in the subject line

Provide the following:

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Deadline is 9pm Tuesday EST


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January 08, 2005

This Week in Church History

January 3, 1560.

The death of Peder Palladius.

"Who?" you ask? Good question; Palladius isn't the best-known reformer, after all. He never gained the notoriety of Luther or Calvin, or even Zwingli. But the reform he brought to Denmark was just as important as their work.

Palladius was a student himself when the Reformation started, and was heavilly influenced by the writings of Phillip Melanchthon, travelling to Wittenberg to study under the great reformer. He devoted his life to Reformed teachings, and to service of the Church.

Denmark was split by civil war because of the influence of Protestantism. Catholic citizens refused to be ruled by a Protestant King (understandibly, since their nation could suffer interdiction, when Sacraments were witheld from the citizens by the Church), and revolted. Christian III defeated the Catholic forces and became the first Protestant King of Denmark. Christian proved to be a rather tolerant king, one of the few Protestant monarchs who didn't actively persecute the Catholics in his kingdom.

Palladius completed his studies in 1537 and was appointed to the highest church office in Denmark by the king. He proved to be not only a devoted bishop but also a porlific teacher and writer. He never forced conversion on anyone, but taught with love -- letting the Holy Spirit do the work of conversion.

The Reformation was a time of great turmoil in Europe; wars were regularly fought between Protestant and Catholic forces, both claiming to be the true faith. The example of Palladius (and the other reformers <-- requires Acrobat) in Denmark show that the Holy Spirit will work when we allow Him to, and that (contrary to popular belief) not all religion requires violence in it's service.

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January 06, 2005

Generosity and the US

I admit, I was a bit offended and irritated when I hear the UN call us stingy. After all, they're staying here rent-free, on a prime piece of New York real estate. And we DO send money to relief efforts -- we tend to do it through various charities and religious groups, but we do it.

I read Kristof today (piewview; blogger42 to log in) -- I missed the last two of his pieces because I was on the road, and it looks like I'd have LOVED the December 22 piece -- and I am once again placed in the difficult position of agreeing with him. We are great at responding to disasters, but we're lousy most of the rest of the time. We focus on ourselves and what's going on here, rather than being globally minded.

We're like this in a LOT of different ways, too. While Canadians are lamenting the potential loss of the entire NHL season this year, the subject has been missing from US papers. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess. I was in Pensacola, Florida over Christmas -- there are still a lot of people who are homeless there, and a lot of devestation and damage still hasn't been fixed. Don't hear much about it, though, do you? I'd expect that the Orlando area is still trying to recover from the 'canes that hit them as well.

We have a very short attention span. We saw in this election that the average American cannot focus on much more than a soundbite at a time. I saw it when I taught -- kids were shocked that I expected them to remember something I taught a week ago. We pay attention only to what's new and different, and ignore or forget about things that aren't. Part of the blame is simply cultural -- we live in a society that is always in motion, always fast. We buy more powerful microwaves because we don't want to wait 4 minutes for our popcorn. We want our internet fast, so we pay mor money for faster services, better wireless connections.

My real concern is that in a few more months, when the relief efforts in Asia aren't front-page news, and when the recovery and rebuilding can actually begin, when our help is needed, we'll have forgotten all about the tsunami. We'll be on to the next big thing, and our money will go elsewhere. In another week or so, people will start complaining about the extensive coverage that the tsunami is getting -- "Can't they tell us about something else? There are other things going on in the world." And the people there will still be right in the middle of it, and they'll be forgotten.

I hope I'm wrong. I hope that we will keep these people in our prayers, and keep their needs in mind. I hope that the generosity will continue, and our attention spans will be lengthened so we are not so easilly distracted.

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January 05, 2005

Tsunami Relief

I'm not going to go into the "why" about the tsunami. I've been hearing "Why does God do this??" all week long, and I keep telling people "Who are we to be so arrogant to think that God owes us an explanation? Who are we to think that we can understand everything about God?" And those answers aren't satisfactory at all to most people.

I'm leaving the philosophical answers to the philosophers for once. I'm trying to help with the practical stuff. There is a link on the left margin to my tsunami relief page. It's set up through Justgiving.com (which I wish I had known about back in December -- I'd have used them rather than my Amazon thing!), and wil track your donations for you -- and you get the tax deduction, too. My goal right now is about $500 -- which is ambitious for a blog with the traffic this one has, but I figured I'd aim high.

So head over there to donate, and show the world that we care.

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January 04, 2005

Faith and Reason addendum

I wanted to make sure everyone saw this, so I created a new post rather than editing the one below.

If you are interested in this subject, you HAVE to read this at The Evangelical Outpost. Do it now. Outstanding post that I wish I had written.

That's all.

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Faith and Reason 3: Augustine

In Part 2, we talked about Tertullian, and his contention that faith and philosophy don't mix. This is a position that has been used and abused by Christians down through the ages, and we looked at what Tertullian might have meant.

Now, I want to take a look at another early theologian and philosopher, Augustine. Augustine wanted a faith that was consistant with reason, and he went in a LOT of directions to try and find one. He started off in Manicheanism, an early dualistic belief that taught two conflicting gods -- one good and one evil. In the ancient world, this religion held quite a bit of prestige, and Augustine was reluctant to abandon it completely. Finally, he realized that he couldn't ignore his doubts about this belief system, and embraced skepticism. He quickly saw some of the problems with this system, especially after reading neo-Platonist writings, and so he became a neo-Platonist for a time. Finally, through the influence fo Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, Augustine embraced Christianity. (The Catholic Encyclopedia has a good, short biography of Augustine here).

Augustine didn't see any conflict between faith and reason. Faith and trust are synonynmous to Augustine, and it's clear that there is a LOT of knoweldge that we have based on our trust of some other source. I know that the capital of England is London, and I know that London Bridge is there, but I've never been to Enlgand. I have to have faith in my sources of information on England to have any idea what England is like. Augustine defined faith, then, as knowledge that is gained without our own personal experience.

Reason, then, is knowledge that is gained through our experience. If I know that something is hot because I touch it, or because I see the steam from it, that is reason. If I know something is hot because I see someone else burn themselves on it, it's faith.

Faith and reason are like the two blades on a pair of scissors. Our knowledge comes from the interaction of both faith and reason, just as scissors cut something by using both blades. Faith is not something that only involves religious belief -- it is integral to any system of knowledge. Augustine expressed it this way: Credo ut intelligam -- I believe that I may understand.

I tend to be Augustinian. I don't think that faith means setting reason aside -- I think that faith and reason must be paired together to gain any real understanding of the world around us. We exercise faith all the time; religious faith is simply one aspect of the faith that we all have in facts that we have not experienced. We cannot experience everything that we know -- history is a perfect example of this -- so we have to exercise faith that our sources are correct.

But how can we be sure that even our reason is reliable? People are imperfect, after all. How can we rely on our reason to be accurate? How can we be sure that the reason of those we trust is accurate? Augustine had an answer for that, as well, which has been called his illumination theorywhich I'll discuss in the next installment of this series.

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