Monday, March 5, 2012

Is Intelligent Design Real Science?

PREACHER: Current advancements and discoveries in science suggest that the universe was after all created by an Intelligent Being.  There are competent scientists in almost every field that would agree that it takes more faith (a better word might be conjecture) to believe that there is no Creator God than to believe that there is.

SKEPTIC: When you say "discoveries in science," I assume you're talking about Intelligent Design. However, the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community is that Intelligent Design is not really science at all, but rather a pseudoscience that is nothing but an attempt to dress up traditional creationism in a "scientific" package. Its only proponents come out of the Discovery Institute, a right-wing conservative think tank. The whole idea came about after the Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that creationism couldn't be taught in public schools because it was intended to advance a particular religion and therefore violated the separation of church and state. No problem, thought creationists, we'll just repackage creationism as "science" and leave the religion part out of it, and then we'll be able to sneak it into America's classrooms. Unfortunately for them, the courts weren't quite as gullible as they had counted on, and they were shot down in Dover, Pennsylvania when they attempted to introduce ID into the Dover school system in 2005. The judge stated that ID was NOT science, and ruled that it was unconstitutional because it "cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents." D'oh! It's back to the drawing board...

PREACHER: Pardon me, but I think you are a little out of date both from the science angle and the news angle. Furthermore, such good creationist groups as Answers in Genesis are not asking that Intelligent Design or creationism be taught in the public schools. An atheist science teacher would do a bad job of it, just as Christian science teachers probably do a bad job of teaching evolution. What they are asking is that students be allowed to use critical thinking in the science class, and be able to question the erroneous assumptions that are behind so-called molecule-to-man evolution, and competent biologists who are not religious would admit the problems (that which they just assume). 

SKEPTIC: You say that creationists aren't asking for ID to be taught in public schools, but that evolution should be questioned in the science classroom. So the next step isn't to introduce the idea of a Biblical creation? Is that what you mean? You're willing to just leave it at having teachers introduce the idea that evolution could be wrong, with no reference to creationism or the idea that God (or an "intelligent designer") created the world? Forgive me if I find that hard to swallow. You want to teach creationism? Teach it in a comparative religion class, not a science class. And by the way, if a Christian can't find a way to teach evolution in a science classroom, he has no business being a science teacher.

PREACHER: Christians are indeed teaching evolution in the science classroom, but many times they tell their students that they don't need to believe it. They say that because they are not convinced that evolution is a proven fact. Shouldn’t science be about the real world that we can observe and about facts that are indisputable, that can be verified? Don’t all views about origins including the theory of evolution (since it can’t be verified) fit better in a comparative religion class? Evolution would be in the category of naturalism. I believe, and you do too, that science is about what is verifiable. Since evolution isn't occurring before our eyes, it is not verifiable by science. Whether you believe that the world came about by natural processes or by the supernatural creative work of God doesn't make you a better or worse scientist for neither are verifiable by experimental science. However, observable science suggests to me that there has to be a Creator. Everything is designed too well to have come about by natural processes.

SKEPTIC: Firstly, you're right that "evolution isn't occurring before our eyes." But it has been observed and recorded over time, and has been verified to the satisfaction of pretty much the entire scientific community around the world. Secondly, having a fundamentalist Christian science teacher telling his students that they don't need to believe in evolution would be a bit like having a history teacher telling his students that the holocaust didn't really happen. Finally, when you talk about "everything being designed too well to have come about by natural processes," you are invoking the well-worn watchmaker argument. Of course, the biggest problem with that argument is the question of "if complex organisms require a designer, then who designed the designer?

PREACHER: An eternal designer doesn’t need to be designed, He always existed. What has been observed is the genetic change in certain organisms, particularly microorganisms that change rapidly. These changes have always been a process of the loss or reshuffling of genetic information, not the attainment of new genetic information, so they are not the kind of process that leads from the simple to the complex as in molecule-to-man evolution. The assumption that at particular times in history new genetic information developed in organisms that caused them to advance is based only on conjecture. There is no way to verify that it actually happened. Evolutionists extrapolate on so-called genetic changes and figure that with a lot of time all species could have developed from the simplest kind of life form. Such an extrapolation is based on an unverifiable assumption that those genetic changes would actually produce more advanced kinds of organisms. History records for us that the opinions of much of the scientific community around the world have been wrong many times before. Add to that that many in the scientific community are professing atheists, it is not surprising that their worldview makes them jump to absurd conclusions.

SKEPTIC: Right, because if a scientist is an atheist, he naturally will jump to absurd conclusions. That's pretty insulting. The fact is that science has always represented man's best effort at finding the truth in a logical and methodical manner. When evidence is presented that science may have gotten something wrong, it is able to make a course correction - something which is virtually impossible to do when it comes to matters of faith, which rely heavily on rigid dogma.

PREACHER: You might be surprised to discover that it is the Bible that reveals a God who gave the universe order so we can understand it. It is because of the world view that is presented in the Bible that science works. It seems clear to me that neither science nor reason are aligned with atheism. How can atheists in sincerity claim that what they believe is at all scientific or reasonable? How do you know that atheism isn’t just an absolute lie?

SKEPTIC: Why do I believe in atheism? It's not a question of believing in atheism - it's a question of what makes more sense when it comes to the question of evolution versus creationism - that we have arrived at where we are today through a series of infinitesimal changes over billions of years, or that some sort of magical, supernatural being just one day a few thousand years ago commanded that everything appear and "voila" - humans, animals and all living things just suddenly appeared on the earth? Natural vs. supernatural, reality vs. myth, science vs. religion...

PREACHER: It looks to me like you don’t understand the difference between science and history.  Scientific method only deals with the present, what you can actually measure and observe now. History tells of the past through written documents, and cannot be verified by the scientific method. We must trust those documents based on the character of those who wrote them. So called, supernatural events in the past are attested by written documents. Using the scientific method to verify those events is about as absurd as using bathroom scales to measure the distance between Okinawa and Okayama. So, why did you decide to be an atheist?

SKEPTIC:You know, I remember when I was ten I asked my Sunday School teacher, "If there are all those other people in other countries who believe in a different religion, how do we know that ours is the true religion? Her answer was, "we just have to have faith!" It was a less than satisfying answer. Even as a dumb ten-year-old kid, I was smart enough to know that those people who belonged to other religions probably also claimed to have an equal amount of faith. So it became clear to me that not all religions could be true, but that all religions could certainly be, and probably were, false.

PREACHER: Your Sunday school teacher gave you a correct answer in as much as faith pleases God. And of course that faith has to be towards the right Object of worship. Faith in a lie doesn’t please God. But, I can see that her answer wasn’t sufficient for your inquisitive (not dumb) mind. I can see that even at the age of 10 you had some unverified assumptions about reality. Your statement: “I was smart enough to know that those people who belonged to other religions probably also claimed to have an equal amount of faith” is very telling! Even at that early age it sounds like you placed more credibility in the opinions of men than in the revealed Word of God. I asked the same kind of questions to my Sunday school teacher when I was that age. He gave my mind a lot more information to chew on than your teacher did. And did that make a difference!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Is Planned Parenthood Good or Evil?

SKEPTIC: So it is your position that Planned Parenthood is a racist organization? Seriously?

PREACHER: Planned Parenthood encourages minorities to have abortions, thus keeping their population down to more manageable levels, which presupposes that minorities are less evolved than the majority (white) population, and need to be treated as such. From a truly biblical persective though, all mankind is one race with equal dignity.

SKEPTIC: Planned Parenthood doesn't "encourage" anybody to get an abortion. They offer medical options to people. Where do you get this shit? Never mind...I know where you get this shit.

PREACHER: So ... one man's rational conclusions are another man's shit.

SKEPTIC:There's nothing rational about saying that Planned Parenthood "encourages" minorities to have abortions. It's a vicious smear and unless you have some actual evidence (I know that's a pretty rare commodity in rightwing world), then I think that "shit" is an accurate characterization.

PREACHER: But, isn't Planned Parenthood's position on abortion pretty clear - that it is the right of every woman to have one. Furthermore, tax dollars can be used for it even though many people object to the practice. In my mind that IS encouraging its practice. And, they work a lot with minorities.

SKEPTIC: It's not only the position of Planned Parenthood that women have a right to control their own bodies - it's the position of the majority of Americans. But saying that someone has a right to do something is a long, long way from "encouraging" someone to do something. And saying that they encourage it because they receive some tax money makes no sense at all. Like you said - it's only in YOUR mind.

PREACHER: It is not just the woman's body. There is another human being's life involved here. Aside from the fact that the polls are pretty close, since when is public opinion a gauge for morality? Isn't that tyranny of the majority? Planned Parenthood indeed does encourage abortion, just by saying that a woman has a right to control her own body, ignoring the rights of the human developing inside her. Public funding of abortion is definitely endorsing it as a necessary practice. Why do you not want to say that Planned Parenthood encourages abortion? According to your worldview, what would be wrong in encouraging abortion? Neither are other kinds of human life termination necessariy wrong, and may be even the best thing to do according to your worldview.

SKEPTIC: The major focus of Planned Parenthood is on women's health (not only reproductive health), with a major effort at providing and educating women about birth control - with the aim being to prevent unwanted pregnancies. That's why it's called PLANNED parenthood! By preventing unwanted pregnancies, they help to dramatically REDUCE the number of abortions - which would actually be the OPPOSITE of "encouraging" abortions! And by the way, abortion services make up only 3% of their services (not 90%, like a certain lying GOP senator would have you believe), and a total of ZERO tax dollars are used for abortion services. Sorry to have to bother you with facts again. 

PREACHER: I already knew the facts you gave about abortion. I recognized that Planned Parenthood is doing some good things (by biblical standards), too. 

SKEPTIC: You apparently believe that those who are pro-choice really love abortion, and think that all women should give it a try. That is why I object to the term "pro-abortion." Abortion is a gut-wrenching decision that no one should have to make. But that's not how life usually works. The difference between your position and mine is that I believe that the choice to carry to term is between the woman and her doctor, and you believe that the government should step in and force every woman to give birth, no matter the circumstances. You would have no problem sending the doctor to prison, and perhaps the woman as well. A pretty odd position to take for folks (conservatives) who believe that the government should stay out of people's lives. I'm glad you recognize the good that Planned Parenthood does, however. Does that mean you also agree that, on balance, they help to reduce the number of abortions?

PREACHER: They may certainly help to reduce the number of abortions, however as long as they say that abortion is a woman's right over her own body and ignore the rights of the unborn child I have to take issue with them. It isn't about having the government step in to punish those that do choose to get/perform abortions, it is an educational issue that so far Planned Parenthood has not addressed properly. The organization would be much more effective in reducing abortions if they taught unequivocally that abortion kills a human life. That would give the woman and her doctor much better information for making a decision about a pregnancy.

SKEPTIC: So bottom line this for me. Do you think abortion should be legal or illegal? Legal in certain circumstances or illegal no matter what? If you think it should be illegal, how severe should the penalty be for the doctor and/or the woman involved in the procedure?

PREACHER: That is a difficult question to answer. As far as government intervention is concerned, that is already happening when Planned Parenthood offers advice about abortions. So for the government to place a penalty on abortions doesn't increase government interference - it is already there. I would think that for most people, proper education about abortion is enough to deter anyone from doing it. The minority of those that insist on having the procedure done despite thorough explanation of the consequences of abortion should be penalized. But to ask me how severe the penalty should be is beyond my pay-grade, to quote our president.

SKEPTIC: What are you talking about? PP is not a government agency, and they're not intervening in anybody's life. They are providing counseling and medical services for those women who need them. By "proper education," I'm assuming you mean the biblical view of the world. But I'm still not clear on what you think legally speaking. Are you saying that all abortions should be illegal across the board, and the doctors AND women should both be penalized?

PREACHER: By "proper education" I do mean the biblical worldview, there is no other. All other views are arbitrary based on human opinions. And, my issue is with Planned Parenthood is not the government. Let the the government leaders who represent the citizens decide what is legal. I want Planned Parenthood to be clear that the life inside the mother is a separate human being with the same rights as anyone else.

SKEPTIC: "There is no other worldview" - and you wonder why folks think Christians are just a tad too arrogant sometimes? It's remarkable to me that you assert that an embryo should be considered a human being and yet you have such a lassaiz-faire attitude when it comes to actual abortion laws ("let the government leaders decide"). If you truly believe that abortion is the pre-meditated killing of a human being, then surely you must believe that the killer/doctor should be put in prison for life or maybe even given the death penaly. I mean, that's what should happen when someone kills another human being, right? And since the woman aided and abetted this "murder," clearly she should also be thrown in prison. The major thrust of the pro-life movement, obviously, is to make abortion illegal - increasingly with no exceptions. My guess is that you're afraid to say out loud that you think a 14-year-old girl who was raped by her father and gets an abortion should be put in prison. You're afraid of your own beliefs if taken to their logical conclusions.

PREACHER: Isn't submitting to an Authority a sign of humility and insisting that your opinion is right a sign of arrogance? I dare not stand as an authority over the US government that doesn't claim the Bible as its authority. Biblically speaking, yes, abortion would be taking a human life, and when done with full knowledge of the consequences would require the death penalty just as murder would. So, how many 14 year old girls really get raped by their fathers and then get pregnant? 

SKEPTIC: So if it was up to you, doctors who provide abortion services would be sentenced to death, along with their patients, I guess. And if it was up to you, people who were gay would be stoned to death, too, right? Hey, it's in the Bible! And despite your apparent belief that teenagers being raped by their fathers is not really much of a problem, "studies have found that between 11 and 20 percent of pregnancies in teenagers are a direct result of rape." (Wikipedia - Teenage Pregnancy). Oh, and by the way, you do understand that if abortion is made illegal, it won't go away, it'll just go underground, right? And we know from experience that many more women will die as a result.

PREACHER: I think that you are getting a theoretical theocracy that is in your head based on just certain Bible passages mixed up with the real situation in the US, both Christian and secular. I don't really expect the US to become subservient to Old Testament law ever. Even in the Old Testament there was a place for mercy for sinners. Victims of rape shouldn't be treated as criminals. Like I have said before: I have issues with Planned Parenthood (not the present legal system) when they tell young women that terminating their pregnancy is not also terminating the life that has developed within them. I also have an issue with them when they recommend an abortion to a young rape victim without consulting her family.

SKEPTIC: Stop trying to confuse me! So you DON'T have issues with the present legal system? So you're okay with Roe v. Wade, and do not favor repealing it? Well, great then, I applaud you!

PREACHER: Thanks for finally figuring me out. Abortion is prevented best by good education about the sanctity of life, not by laws that penalize people for making terrible mistakes.

SKEPTIC: So you think Planned Parenthood is helping to reduce the number of abortions and you don't think abortion should be illegal. It sounds to me like you're closer to a pro-choice position than a pro-life position.

PREACHER: No. Your perception of what pro-life is exist only in your head as an extreme position. Pro-choice assumes that abortion is OK. I don't think that abortion is OK. I am pro-life, but obviously not according to your definition.

SKEPTIC: Is it not generally true that a pro-life person is in favor of repealing Roe v. Wade, while a pro-choice person is against repealing it?

PREACHER: I am for repealing Roe v. Wade. However, the scenario that you paint of the consequences is not what I envision. I am thinking about the process of repealing it, not just woodenly repealing it under present circumstances. Making abortion illegal doesn't have to mean that there is no mercy for those who mistakenly choose it. Rather those that promote the lie of pro-choice need to be held accountable.

SKEPTIC: Yeah, that's what I thought - you weren't fooling me with your dancing all around the issue. We know what happens when safe abortion services are not available - there is a pre-1973 history of back-alley butchery that is a reliable indicator. Many women will die if abortion services are forced underground. Does this fact not give you pause? Would we as a nation not be better off putting our focus on doing all we can to reduce unwanted pregnancies while keeping abortion services in the hands of medical professionals? "Rare but legal" is the position of most pro-choice people. What is this dark pro-choice "lie" that we need to be held accountable for?

PREACHER: What is the message that PP gives to women? It would be nice if they are saying that abortion should be rare but legal. However, the word pro-choice conjures in my mind the right to end the life of the human in your body if you so choose. Why not just say that abortion is illegal, but on the basis of mercy towards extenuating circumstances, it is provided with the utmost caution.

SKEPTIC: So you're in favor of making abortion illegal EXCEPT in certain extenuating circumstances? Is that your final answer?

PREACHER: I think you've finally got it. Thanks for your patience.

SKEPTIC: Rape, incest, life of the mother? Are those cases where you think abortion should be legal?

PREACHER: Possibly.

SKEPTIC: So then you're saying that there could be some cases where a woman had been raped, was the victim of incest, or whose pregnancy endangers her life - and yet you would still deny her a legal, safe abortion. You'd make a lousy legislator - I'm pretty sure you can't vote "maybe" when passing new laws.

PREACHER: It is not a case of passing laws. It is a case of offering mercy to those who are clearly an exceptional case under the law.

SKEPTIC: Well, I beg to differ. It's all about the laws. Either abortion services will remain legal or they will go underground with devastating consequences.

PREACHER: It sounds like you really believe that the majority of the millions of abortions that are performed in the US every year are for victims of rape and incest or the woman's life is endangered by the pregnancy. You also refuse to even allude to the value and rights of the person who will be killed by the abortion. To only think of the "rights" of the mother and not of the person inside her is arbitrary and immoral.

SKEPTIC: No, I never said I thought the majority of abortions were due to those circumstances. I'm just trying to locate whatever parameters you might have regarding the legal aspect. I DO NOT believe that an embryo has the same rights as an actual person. An embryo is not a "person" - it is a potential person. I believe a woman has complete sovereignty over her body, and the government has NO RIGHT to force any woman to bring a pregnancy to term against her will.

PREACHER: So do you believe that passing through the birth canal mysteriously gives personal rights to individuals or is it that "viability of the fetus" theory that you hold to? Isn't your position on the matter relative depending on your own opinion? In certain situations wouldn't you change your opinion? Why not reconsider the so-called right to life of the extremely handicapped and the terminally ill elderly, as well? If a woman is supposed to have "sovereignty over her body" then why could she not prevent a pregnancy from happening in the first place? Your belief is absurd.

SKEPTIC: No, my belief is not absurd. I believe the government has no right to force a woman to give birth against her will. Period. End of discussion.

PREACHER: Yes, your Majesty.

SKEPTIC: Thank you. You can go now.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Where is the Book of Jesus?

SKEPTIC: How come there's no Book of Jesus in the Bible? Since Jesus is the central character in the Bible, it might have been nice if he had actually taken the time to write down a few of his thoughts himself, instead of relying on other folks to do it decades later. It certainly would have given more credibility to his words.

PREACHER: So you admit that Jesus' followers wrote his words only decades (two or three at the most) and not centuries later. There is hope for you yet!

SKEPTIC: Did I say otherwise? So how come Jesus didn't write a book?

PREACHER: He probably didn't have time to, since He was busy speaking and doing. But actually, His voice is recorded quite often. Look at all the direct quotes in the Gospels. Why do you ask such an irrelevant question?

SKEPTIC: So Jesus didn't write anything because he was too busy? He just couldn't find the time to make a contribution to the book that is the "inspired Word of God" and the cornerstone of the Christian faith? He was the Son of God, but was just really bad at time management? Really? Seriously? And you think it's irrelevant that I've raised the question? I think it's very relevant in that it creates real doubt about the historicity of Jesus. If he was a real person, why don't we have any writing from him at all - not a letter, not a note, not even a grocery list?

PREACHER: Actually He did write in the sand when the Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery to Him. My point is that there are a lot of people who haven't made a literary contribution in the past. Therefore, to infer that they didn't really exist because they didn't leave behind something written is jumping the gun to say the least. I also get amused at those who don't trust the actual Gospel accounts, but let their imagination run wild about what they think might have happened. An imaginary savior can only give an imaginary salvation.

SKEPTIC: Well, I can certainly agree with your last thought in regard to an imaginary savior. But I'm not saying the fact that he didn't write anything proves he didn't exist - I'm just saying that it creates doubt. I mean, when your father is God, you outta be able to put down a few thoughts on papyrus for the ages. If I was God, I would've just had Jesus write the whole Bible and forget about all the other pretenders. And if my son had dedicated the book to his old man, I might have even written a really nice introduction.

PREACHER: Your problem is God didn't consult you when He decided to reveal Himself through the Bible. You weren't around then. After all, by your own admission, aren't you a just a temporary existence? Why should He submit to you?

SKEPTIC: You're right. God didn't consult me and he definitely didn't submit to me - because if he did, I guess that would make ME God, and cool as that would be, I'm not sure I'm ready to handle that much responsibility. But to tell you the truth, the whole idea that the one and only God, creator of the universe - THE UNIVERSE - would decide that the best way to reveal himself to earthlings would be to have a bunch of guys write down some semi-coherent thoughts and then make a book out of those thoughts just strikes me as kinda silly. I mean, he's God, for cryin' out loud - surely he can come up with something more creative than being a cosmic publisher of a book that is certainly less than crystal clear.

PREACHER: I have thought before that you are a god-wannabe. That would make you have great significance. However, your worldview calls you just the result of random natural processes over a long period of time that only exists for a minute fraction of time, an extremely insignificant existence. The great contrast between what you want to be and actually believe about yourself strikes me as absurd. The Book is very clear about some things like who we are and who God is. God is creator and does whatever He pleases and is always good and right. We humans are created in His image: that is what gives us significance. That is why He loved us enough to sacrifice His own Son for us.

SKEPTIC: "God is creator and does whatever He pleases and is always good and right." Hey, that pretty much describes me, too (except for the creator part)! So I guess maybe I really am God! Awesome! (By the way, it would be helpful if you would use more emoticons. I have trouble sometimes knowing when you're serious and when you're putting me on.)

PREACHER: So...your words confirm my great fear that atheists suffer from megalomania. (This technically challenged image bearer of the Creator doesn't know how to post emoticons. But, thou "O Great One" surely knowest all things.)

SKEPTIC: Fear not, my humble servant, for I carry my burden not with sorrow, but with great joy. I grant you peace and wisdom. May you someday come to understand that there are many paths to the truth. Love, God cc: Jesus

PREACHER: long will it be till you publish your revelatory work? Do I get a free autographed copy since I helped you discover yourself?

SKEPTIC: Sure. You'll be the first to get a copy.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Repent! The End is Near!

SKEPTIC: I guess it's a good news / bad news kind of thing. The good news is that Jesus is coming back to Earth on May 21 - just a matter of weeks from now. The bad news is that apparently he's not all that happy - because he's going to destroy the world on October 21. You may have seen the news plastered on a giant billboard near you and become either alarmed or amused.

The man behind all the hoopla is Harold Camping. He has made these bold predictions based on some sort of mathematical formula based on numbers in the Bible. He and his followers at eBible Fellowship are preparing themselves for the big day in May and warning the rest of us to get our act together. The fact that Harold had previously predicted that the world would end back in 1994 doesn't faze them. Just a slight miscalculation, we are told. But  now, apparently the technology has improved to the point that we are able to pinpoint the big day exactly. In fact, Harold has even managed to figure out that The Rapture will occur on May 21 at sunset, Jerusalem time (check your newspaper for local times).

PREACHER:  The first question we need to ask ourselves is: How does Harold come up with an exact dates for the rapture and the end of the world? His calculations are probably fine if you accept his assumptions. He even in some sense seems to accept the Bible as authoritative. His problem though, lies in how he erroneously chooses to interpret and apply Scripture. One example suffices to point that out:  2 Peter 3:8 says, "With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day." From the context we can understand that the writer is pointing out that God is eternal and that His timetable is different than ours. What may seem like a long time to us isn't for Him. Harold makes the mistake of assuming that this sentence is a formula for calculating the length of history, which was never intended by the writer.  Once you do away with Harold's assumption about this verse alone, his eschatological theory falls apart. (I could go on and on about his misinterpretations and misapplications, but that would get too long for this post.)

A comment about salvation:  Harold seems to assume that only those who believe his theory about the end of the world are the "true believers", and only the "true believers" get to go up in the rapture. That being the case, his requirement for salvation now is believing in his view of the end times. Scripture is very clear that the requirement of salvation is accepting by faith that Christ died for your sins. Believing something to be true (i.e. the existence of God) cannot save you anymore than not believing it. If you have by faith accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, not having your eschatology down right won't disqualify you from attaining salvation. Harold Camping's teaching is so far off that most of the Christian community don't even take him seriously.

SKEPTIC: Well, good, we can both agree that Harold Camping is nuts. I do find it odd that he insists that if you don't buy into his prediction, you're not really a Christian. But he has also preached that everybody should stop going to church, so he clearly appears to be out of the mainstream. But here's the thing - if you, as a Christian, look at Harold and think he's deluded, then perhaps you have an idea of how the rest of the world views Christians who believe in the rapture. I mean, both you and Harold believe in the idea of the rapture - you just disagree about whether or not the precise time can be known.

The fact is, the word "rapture" appears nowhere in the Bible, and wasn't really articulated as a doctrine until the early 1700's, when Philip Doddridge and John Gill developed the idea in their New Testament commentaries. Jesus, however, did say that he would return within the lifetime of his apostles. In Matthew 24:34, he said, "Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." Whoops! Just missed it!

PREACHER: Although the word "rapture" isn't in the Bible, the event is clearly predicted both by Christ (e. i. John 14:1~3) and the apostle Paul (e. i. I Thessalonians 4:13~18) In the Old Testament such an event happened to Enoch and Elijah. Theologians and church leaders have referred to the "blessed hope of His appearing" more or less all through history. So, yes the use of the word "rapture" may have started in the early 1700's, but to say that the doctrine wasn't really articulated before then is incorrect.

Although you can make a case that the apostles expected Jesus to return during their lifetimes, the "this generation" in Matthew 24:34 could hardly refer to them. Looking back at verse 4 Jesus says that first the Gospel would be preached to the whole world before the end came. The apostles made a great effort, but they didn't begin to reach the whole world. In fact, most of the world was not reached with the Gospel until the end of the 20th century. And, even now there may be a few places that might need to hear still. Verse 32 may be of some insight. The fig tree is thought to be a symbol for Israel. Since 1948, Israel has become a nation again. So some of us Christians believe that "this generation" refers to the generation (ours) that has seen Israel become a nation again. We are the generation that "shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled."  We haven't missed it, it is very soon! 

SKEPTIC: Well, if you're going to change the definition of "this generation," I guess you can make any point you want. It's interesting, though, that even someone like C.S. Lewis called Matthew 24:34 "the most embarrassing verse in the Bible," because it had Jesus wrongly predicting his own second coming (perhaps he just forgot to mark it on his calendar). Of course, there are those Christians (preterists) who believe Jesus DID come back in the first century, just like he said he would - except he came back spiritually, not physically. They find themselves at odds with futurists, who believe Jesus is coming back in the future. To me, if you've got Christians in different camps (preterists vs. futurists, premillennialists vs. postmillennialists) debating each other, each one believing something different, it indicates that nobody really knows what the heck they're talking about. Does God enjoy watching believers fighting it out and playing these kinds of guessing games - looking at the Bible as some big puzzle? If Jesus really is coming back, couldn't God just make some sort of cosmic announcement to the universe? That way everyone could make the appropriate preparations, and we could stop playing all these parlor games.

In any event, for the last 2000 years, people have predicted the end of the world, but we still seem to be hanging on - even though each generation of Christians has managed to see "signs" of the return of Christ in the news - the latest example of such hysteria being the dead birds and dead fish that have been cropping up in various places. Christians, of course, look to the Book of Revelations as their blueprint for the end of the world. But is it really realistic to believe that Revelations lays out an actual scenario of the end times - or does it make more sense to look at it as an elaborate revenge fantasy written at a time when Christians were being severely persecuted by the Romans? When you read about "a woman sitting on a beast with seven heads and ten horns drinking the blood of the saints," that should be your first clue that what you're reading is science-fiction. L. Ron Hubbard couldn't have done a better job.

PREACHER: So, you are intrigued that Christians keep believing in the rapture/the second coming of Christ. I am not surprised. You probably also wonder why we keep believing in the Biblical account of creation, Noah's flood, the tower of Babel, all the miraculous events that occurred as Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, the virgin birth, and the resurrection of Christ. We believe these things because they are recorded in an account that is much more trustworthy than the opinions of elite secularists. 

SKEPTIC: Well, firstly, thank you for acknowledging that secularists are elite. We'll try to remain humble, however. And yes, I do kind of wonder how anyone can take the Old Testament stories literally, when it's been pretty clearly shown that they are the stuff of mythology. 

PREACHER:  Your secularist bias is showing. If anything is pretty clear, it would be that the Old Testament stories are true history. Secularism has trouble with events recorded in the Old Testament simply because the unproven assumptions of secularism say those events could have never happened.

SKEPTIC: But to get back to our friends who insist that the rapture is coming on May 21 - I hope they have enough integrity to issue some sort of apology on their website on May 22 for getting people all excited and freaking them out. But I'm guessing they won't - they'll probably just say they miscalculated - again! 
PREACHER:  It would be nice if they apologized, but people don't like to admit it when they are wrong.  Secularists should apologize too for making grandiose statements like, "it's been clearly shown" when they really have no way of knowing. I won't hold my breath for that, though. Of course the apology should really be directed towards their Creator. And, someday that will be what they have to do.

SKEPTIC: Okay, allow me to apologize for all secularists everywhere for saying, "It's been clearly shown." What I should have said is, "No viable archaeological evidence has ever been dug up to prove that O.T. stories like Moses actually occurred in history. Furthermore, most Biblical scholars accept the O.T. stories as legend and mythology." I hope that clears things up.

PREACHER: Apology accepted. Actually, it is quite amazing how much of Old Testament history is verified by archaeological evidence. Furthermore, those Biblical scholars who think that the O. T. stories are legend and mythology, accept the unproven assumptions of secularism without question.

Monday, December 27, 2010

"Don't Ask Don't Tell" is Dead!

SKEPTIC: America took a giant leap forward in civil rights when the congress voted in favor of and the president signed into law the repeal of the oppressive "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for the military. No longer will gay Americans who put their lives on the line be forced to live a lie. Of course, true to form, leaders on the religious right then proceeded to throw a collective hissy fit, warning that this change will lead to the demise of America and claiming that now "we are no better than Sodom and Gomorrah."

PREACHER: Since when is the expression of your sexual attraction and the right to serve in the military a civil right? Are you so sure that the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy is oppressive?  Weren't those with alternate sexual attractions already allowed in the military as long as they had kept their sexual feelings private? Is one really forced to live a lie when he is required to not publically reveal his sexual attractions?  I don't think so.

SKEPTIC: Thousands of highly qualified gays in the military were booted out, not because they told everyone they were gay, but because they were outed by others. Some, however, publicly proclaimed their sexual identity in order to challenge the DADT policy - something which to me is a mark of courage on their part. So yes, I'm sure that DADT was oppressive. I certainly didn't see anyone kicked out of the military because they were busted for being straight.

PREACHER: There would be some for whom sexual attractions have become their primary identity, therefore more important than defending our country. Really, should such a person be trusted with that kind of task? Who are these thousands of highly qualified gays? It seems when we say "gay" that you and I aren't even talking about the same group of people.

SKEPTIC: So your point is that gays can't be trusted to be good soldiers because they're more concerned about their sexuality than about defending the country? Seriously? That's where you're coming from? These are highly skilled young men and women who voluntarily joined the military and are willing to die in order to defend your freedom. They are honorable and in many cases highly decorated soldiers who have earned the respect of their brothers-and-sisters-in-arms. When you question their commitment and ability based solely on the fact that they're gay, you totally disrespect their service to America. Apparently you're willing to support our troops - but only if they're straight.

PREACHER: I am willing to support them even if they are gay as long as they keep their sexuality to themselves while they serve. What they do on leave is their own business. I don't really see that repealing the policy improves anything. Indeed, there are a number of officers in the military that are considering resigning over this. My son who is in the military says that almost no one he knows likes the idea of repealing the policy. Not only are they wary of a Sodom and Gomorrah situation, they really believe that people who insist that they have a right to a lot of sex in their favorite color whenever they get the drive, would be detrimental to the effectiveness of the armed forces. One would also wonder if someone who requires sex in his favorite color on a regular basis, and would value that more than protecting his country would even want to join the armed forces in the first place.

Unfortunately for the secularists, a large number of those who are patriotic enough to join the armed services are also of the religious right persuasion. Secularists are very good at posing themselves as some sort of moral authority, trying to tell other people what is right even when they espouse moral relativism. Very hypocritical! The religious right rejects secularists as their moral authority.

SKEPTIC: First of all, I don't believe that you'll see a significant number of officers resigning in protest. If any of them do resign - fine - the fewer homophobes in the military, the better. Second of all, I don't know what "sex in your favorite color" even means, but apparently you believe that gay soldiers are just a bunch of sex-crazed perverts who run around molesting every guy they can get their hands on. If that's your contention, then you need to provide some evidence of that. But you won't, because you can't. It's ridiculous and insulting. If any sort of sexual offense does occur, then that person should face the consequences - whether they're gay or straight.

And nobody's "posing themselves as some sort of moral authority." DADT was repealed because it was the right - the moral - thing to do. President Obama got it exactly right when he spoke these words when signing the repeal:

"We are not a nation that says, 'Don't ask, don't tell.' We are a nation that says, 'Out of many, we are one.' We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot. We are a nation that believes that all men and women are created equal. Those are the ideals that generations have fought for. Those are the ideals that we upheld today."

PREACHER: As soon as someone states that something is the right - moral - thing to do they are posing themselves as a moral authority. For the record, the religious right doesn't recognize president Obama as our moral authority either. And, in this next year as Congress will have become a more conservative body, they will probably reverse the decision made by this lame duck Congress. It is not about just repealing or keeping "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". It is a clash between two divergent worldviews that is much bigger than just a policy that the military has.

"Sex in your favorite color" is a phrase that I am using for illicit sex which includes gay sex. So, you really believe that there are very honorable and qualified gays (meaning those who are regularly sexually active; those who choose to abstain are not a problem)that should serve in the armed forces. Let them state their case!

SKEPTIC: Well, they have stated their case, and their case has been validated by both the military and the American public, who have indicated in polls and surveys that they are overwhelmingly in favor of this change.

I get that you want to divide the gay community into two camps - the good gays
(those who don't have sex), and the bad gays (those who are sexually active). Do you then want to base policy on this distinction? Do you want to have sex police in the military whose job it is to find out if soldiers are having sex and with whom? This doesn't strike me as a very realistic (or legal) approach to making policy.

As to your contention that the new congress will repeal the repeal - if that's what you want to hang your last hope on, please feel free to dream on. But it ain't gonna happen, because history goes forward, not backward. Gays won't ever again have to be afraid that their sexual preference will get them kicked out of the military, just as blacks will never again be segregated, and women will always have the right to vote. Welcome to the 21st century. Time marches on!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The War on Muslims

SKEPTIC: It's election season in America, so of course it's time for the GOP to drag out a new boogieman to scare up some votes. This season it appears to be the Muslims' turn to play the villain - which of course doesn't mean that Republicans won't find time to scare white folks about blacks, gays, immigrants, atheists, or those damn socialist-communist-fascist-liberals as well.

PREACHER: Predictions are that liberals are going to lose big in the next election. The reasons are not the scare tactics of the GOP so much as a lot of good folks are just tired of the incompetence of secular liberalism. Secularists have the audacity to claim that theirs is a neutral position in the competition between worldviews. However, theirs is only another worldview among several that are vying for the allegiance of the population. Right now secularists are twisting themselves in knots to not be Islamophobic, and in so doing become Christophobic. 

SKEPTIC: The latest non-story from the right has to do with the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" - a perfectly accurate description of the proposed project, except for the "ground zero" and the "mosque" parts. An "Islamic Community Center located near ground zero" is what we're talking about - and it's the latest evidence of a particularly virulent strain of Islamophobia that seems to be sweeping the nation. Opponents are trying to close down the project before it ever gets off the ground.

PREACHER: I would not deny the Muslims in this nation the right to build a place of worship. However, building it so close to 9/11 ground zero isn't a very good idea. To build a mosque right near the place where Muslim extremists committed one of the worst hate crimes in recent history is bound to incite bad feelings from the rest of the population. For the sake of tolerance it was a really foolish thing to do. To not offend is a responsibility that Muslims, gays, liberals, and blacks, need to take seriously, too. I would never want to say that they are less capable of that responsibility than the rest of us.

SKEPTIC: So I guess religious freedom in America doesn't apply to Muslims - is that the deal? Sure, they're free to build their little mosques - as long as the location doesn't offend anybody. Is that how it works? By taking the position that it's offensive to build this community center a couple of blocks from ground zero, you're implying that the entire Islamic religion was responsible for 9/11. FOX News has even proclaimed that the project is going to be a "Terrorist Command Center!" But hey, let me know if al Qaeda wants to put up a building in New York City and I'll jump aboard the bandwagon to shut it down.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Islamophobia is breaking out all over. Proposed mosques in other parts of the US are also being opposed by people who truly believe that all Muslims are terrorists - and that our president is some sort of "secret Muslim" out to destroy the country from within.   

PREACHER:  Statistics clearly show that 1 in 5 Americans think that Mr. Obama is a Muslim. A lot more are just not sure what he really is, even though he claims to be a Christian. 

SKEPTIC: There is a hardcore 20% of Americans who, shall we say, are not all that bright (I'm trying to be polite). They're the same 20% that clung to the idea that George Bush was a great president until the day he got booted out of the White House. They probably also believe that the earth is flat and the moon is made of green cheese.

PREACHER: You were trying real hard to be polite, weren't you! That hardcore 20% would probably have a few things to say about your level of intelligence, too. Better to be not so bright and have a few facts not straight, than have your great intellect entangled in inexcusable foolishness.

But in regard to Mr. Obama, hasn't he gone out of his way to reach out to Muslims and Muslim nations? In a speech, didn't he basically give a government endorsement of the mosque at ground zero? Wasn't that an infringement on the principle of "separation of church and state?" Or does that rule only apply to Christian churches?

SKEPTIC: Yes, Obama has "gone out of his way to reach out to Muslims and Muslim nations." It's called "getting along with the rest of the world." Apparently conservatives don't like that concept - they'd rather be at war with the rest of the world. In fact, I think another war between Christians and Muslims is just what many Christians are itching to see happen. And he didn't endorse the project per se - he endorsed the idea of religious freedom and non-discrimination in America, which by the way, has nothing to do with the separation of church and state. But you seem to be dancing around what you really think. Are you saying that these things are evidence that Obama is - or might secretly be - a Muslim?

PREACHER:  I would commend Obama on his efforts to get along with the rest of the world. However, so far, his gestures of good will towards Islamic nations such as Turkey and Iran have not been taken very seriously. The problem is that secularists (and Mr. Obama) fantasize about a world where humans get rid of their differences and live together harmoniously all on their own. Such a world has never existed, doesn't exist now, and never will. Now, Christians and Moslems believe that God (Allah) will someday intervene and bring in an age of peace, but secularists have no such hope.

SKEPTIC: Well, I'll tell you what - secularists would have a lot more hope for an age of peace if the world's religions didn't insist on having perpetual wars. But I really don't understand how you can take a position against religious freedom in America. If you deny it to Muslims, Christians may be the next group to be discriminated against.

PREACHER: This isn't a question of religious freedom, but of tactics used by opposing worldviews. I believe that Mr. Obama is trying to be religiously neutral. Though he tries, he really cannot be neutral. I see him vacillating back and forth. Both Christianity and Islam are evangelistic faiths. They want to increase their followers. By their very nature they bump into each other. Secularism is just another worldview that is vying for influence. 

So the question is not about religious freedom, but is "which one of these opposing worldviews do we want to have as the dominant worldview in our society?" That choice is made by the people and not the government or some self-appointed elite. I don't want Islam to be the dominant worldview in our society. Where it is dominant, freedom of religion and speech don't exist. Punishment for crimes are extremely harsh. Women are treated like animals and you should be concerned that there is no tolerance of sexual deviation. (Just think! The free sex lifestyle you as a secularist love would have to be terminated.)  I don't want secularism to be the dominant worldview either. It has no moral authority, and therefore has no basis for calling anything right or wrong. It is a recipe for moral and legal chaos. I think I will stick with Christianity, thank you.  Christianity is broad enough that it doesn't force its views on others. And I think that the majority of the population in America would agree with me.

SKEPTIC: Okay, I get it now. You don't want Islam or secularists to be the "dominant worldview in our society." So I guess the way to do that is to shut them down and deny them their rights at every opportunity. Apparently, for Christians, religious freedom is a swell concept, as long as we're talking about Christians being on the receiving end of it. Everybody else is clearly out of luck. And for the record, my "free sex lifestyle" has ended. I'm strictly pay-as-you-go now.

PREACHER: You should realize that historically, societies where Islam or secularism have been the starting base and the dominant worldview, religious freedom doesn't exist.  

SKEPTIC: Clearly what's happening in America is that the War on Terror is rapidly morphing into a War on Muslims. It's a vicious and dangerous turn of events, and plays right into the hands of the terrorists, who can go out and proclaim to their potential recruits, "You see, Americans really do hate all Muslims. You must join us in our cause!"

One very clear indication of this morphing is the incident in New York City recently when a taxi driver was stabbed after telling the attacker, a young man named Michael Enright, that he was Muslim. Anti-Muslim violence and attitudes are escalating at a dangerous rate.

PREACHER: Michael Enright is not your typical fundamentalist conservative that would be incited to violence from the Islamophobic influences that he got at his church or from the conservative media. He was a sophisticated honors college student, well-studied in post-modernism, that did volunteer work in Afghanistan with Intersections International, an organization committed to breaking down walls of fear and prejudice. His actions seem quite definitely out of character from what you would expect. 

Why did he do what he did even after being involved in an organization that stands for peace and tolerance? Could it be that during his time in Afghanistan, working alongside the US military, that he developed a deep hatred for Muslims as he saw the carnage there? Add to that the fact that he was apparantly intoxicated when he committed the crime. Wasn't he just living out his version of the moral relativism that he had been taught in secular schools? Do whatever comes naturally and label it OK after the event (except this was definitely not OK). Isn't he just an example of moral relativism gone amuck? 

SKEPTIC: No, he's an example of anti-Muslim hysteria gone amuck. You know, I thought we were fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq to help Muslims to have a better life. How are we supposed to win hearts and minds in those countries when they see the blatant anti-Muslim feelings on display by a large segment of the American people?

PREACHER: Then the Muslims certainly have their public relations work cut out for them. Why aren't they demonstrating to us how nice they are? Why aren't the Mullahs preaching peace in the mosques instead of incitement? Why is the whole country of Saudi Arabia off limits for Christian mission work? Why don't oil rich Moslem countries take care of their own people better? It is traditionally Christian countries (United States, Canada, ...) not Moslem countries that are sending most of the aid to the victims of floods in Pakistan. Like that poor taxi driver there are many Muslims who are decent people who want to get along with Christians and Jews.  However, the message that I get from their world- renowned religious leaders is the United States is the big Satan and Israel is the little Satan. And Allah commands that both be converted to Islam or destroyed. 

I also find it very intriguing that so many secularists are making such a big fuss over trying not to be Islamophobic. Why not also be careful about not being Christophobic.  Become a bridge between the two religious groups instead of criticizing what you don't understand.

SKEPTIC: Well, I'll tell you what. You Christians go ahead and fight it out with all those other religions that you hate so much. We secularists will watch from the bleachers and pick up the pieces when you all are done - if there's anything left to pick up.