Friday, September 21, 2012

Video Message from President Harrison

Thank you, President Harrison. And, Amen!

Peace Book Club - September 2012

Our Peace Book Club met this past Tuesday evening for the first time since May to discuss the four books we tackled over the summer. We had a great discussion on each of those books, while enjoying the wonderful food and beverages prepared by my lovely wife (thanks, Lisa!), and a little Turkish Coffee Annie made for us. A few of our club members couldn't join us, but the six of us who were there had a great time.

What follows is a brief summary of our collective thoughts on the four books we discussed, as well as the rating we gave each (they are presented in the order we discussed them):

I think we spent the most time discussing this book, and rightly so. Of the four books we read this summer, this one was by far the meatiest and most substantive. It is genuine literature, reminiscent of classics like those penned by Twain. A tragic and earthy story of a young woman's attempt to figure out how to live after being abandoned by her mother and witnessing her father's death, Campbell's tale cannot help but grab readers by the heart as they follow Margo's journeys up and down the Stark River.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. I think I read the first four or five pages four or five times over a week or two before finally buckling down and continuing on. It just seemed to start pretty slow for me. But, I'm ever so glad I got past that initial hesitancy and trudged through, for it turned out to be one of the most-thought provoking tales I've digested in some time. There were many nights after reading this book that I was lost in thought for hours, pondering the tragic circumstances that lead this little girl to experience many things no little girl should ever have to endure, and how those experiences informed the choices she made and the path she trod. It's been a couple of months since I've finished the book and I'm still thinking about it!

I heartily recommend this one. It's not a book you can pick up and blaze through. It's a book that requires an investment on the reader's part; a book that gives one furiously to think about how tragic life can be in this fallen world and how those who are less fortunate are forced to find a way to deal with the cards they've been dealt; a book that gives meaning to the saying, "Lo, but by the grace of God go I"; a book that cannot help but make you a little more cautious before passing judgment upon others, not knowing what circumstances may have led to their current lot in life. If you'll make the investment, you'll be the better for it.

After a lengthy and lively discussion, our book club voted and ended up giving this book a 4.5 on our 1-5 rating scale, 5 being the best. 

Written by former secret service agent Clint Hill, this is a book containing his memoirs of the years he spent assigned to First Lady Jackie Kennedy. This book surprised me as well. I was sure I wouldn't like it, since, to be perfectly blunt and honest, I really wasn't the least bit interested in reading about the goings on of Mrs. Kennedy and company. But, I was actually intrigued to read Mr. Hill's account of those years and learned a ton not only about what life was like guarding the First Lady, but also about the many sacrifices our country's secret service agents must make in performing their duties. Not only must they be willing to take a bullet for the people they guard, but they also must endure the "bullets" of being away from their families far more than they're with them, hectic and often sleepless schedules, and relative thanklessness and anonymity, not from the people they guard, but from virtually everyone else. Can you name any of the secret service agents guarding our current President or First Lady today? See what I mean?

I think that was the general consensus among us, that we learned a lot that we would have otherwise never known by reading this book, and that's always a good thing. Plus, there are some stunning revelations Mr. Hill springs on you as you travel with him through that time. You get to see a different side of Jackie Kennedy, as Mr. Hill's intimate memoirs reveal much about her that was previously unknown. Oh, and Mr. Hill grew up a Lutheran, so that's a bonus. :)

I'm still not all that interested in the topic itself, but I did enjoy it nonetheless. So did our group. We thought it was good, not great, and so we gave it a 3.

This is the third installment in Maier's fictional series featuring Professor Jonathan Weber, the first two being A Skeleton in God's Closet and More Than a Skeleton. Like the first two, this is a fun, quick read that invokes from the reader several "What If's."

The "What If's" in this one: What if we discovered an authentic manuscript that contained the full, original ending to the Gospel of Mark. What if that same ancient manuscript also contained a Second Acts? What would those texts say? How would Christians react to such a discovery? Would these newly discovered texts be added to the canon? Which Christians would be favorable to those additions and which would reject them? And so on.

The way we eventually get to all those "What If's" is a fun, adventurous ride, as Maier's talent to write a good tale comes to the surface again in this one. Having said that, as we discussed this book, the same criticisms were shared by all in our club, namely that there are some parts of the book that are just too far-fetched. Professor Weber gains worldwide fame after a mistranslation of his recently released book, Jesus of Nazareth, is discovered in the Arabic version. This angers many Muslims and a fatwah is placed upon Weber, requiring him to have around the clock CIA protection. Given what we've witnessed recently in the news, it's not all that unbelievable that such a thing could happen. The far-fetched part comes when, eventually, this leads to a debate between Weber, a Christian, and a Muslim leader named Abbas al-Rashid. Such a debate, in and of itself, is not far-fetched. What is far-fetched is that such a debate would get the attention of the whole world. It wouldn't. Few would care.

Also, there are many happenings in the book that are just a little overly convenient, and other things that are just a little too predictable and seem forced. However, the overall theme of the book, coupled with the adventurous nature of the tale itself, is able to overcome those things and make it a book worth the time. I think we all agreed that A Skeleton in God's Closet is by far the best of the three books in this series, with The Constantine Codex edging out More Than a Skeleton as second-best. We gave this one a 3 on our rating scale.

I was most interested in hearing what the others thought of this one, since I can't remember when I've enjoyed reading a book so much. I was thrilled to find that the others had the same reaction. That may seem odd, since Unholy Night is a fictional tale presenting revisionist history centered upon the Biblical account of the Three Wise Men, who visit the Baby Jesus (of course, as any serious student of the Bible knows, we are not told the number of the magi who followed the star and visited Jesus, but because they offer Him three gifts, the legend of Three Wise Men developed). Actually, it's really a story centering upon just one of these Wise Men, named Balthazar. He is an infamous thief and murderer, who has become widely known throughout the Roman Empire as "The Antioch Ghost." Balthazar meets the other two Wise Men in a prison cell when he is finally captured after years of wreaking havoc and, after the three thieves manage to escape, they wind up stumbling upon the stable in Bethlehem, where they meet Joseph, Mary, and the Baby Jesus. From there, the epic adventure ensues.

It is all so totally ridiculous, and there are a plethora of things that do not even come close to matching the Biblical account, but none of that takes away from the genius of Grahame-Smith's ability to weave an adventurous tale around The Greatest Story Ever Told, while amazingly remaining respectful and avoiding blasphemy as he does it. I absolutely loved it!

We had a blast discussing this book, actually quoting out loud several of our favorite parts. What we all most enjoyed was the hilarious humor Grahame-Smith displays throughout. There are several times in the book when he sets you up for a laugh after letting you into a character's (most often, Balthazar) thinking and then springing the reality on you, which is the opposite of that thinking. To illustrate the way he does this, I'll use myself as an example:
I often find humor in books, but very rarely do I ever laugh out loud while reading. In fact, I can't remember ever doing so. And so, I'm not going to do that now. I don't care how funny I think this part of this book is, I will at most chuckle to myself, but I will definitely not laugh out loud. That's not going to happen. No way. To do so would be silly, and I'm not a silly person. No, there is no way, not a chance, not even a slight chance, that I'm going to laugh out loud.

I laughed out loud. 
Okay, so maybe that's not the best illustration, but hopefully you get the idea. And, it's true. I laughed out loud several times while reading this book. :)

Besides his engaging writing style, ability to make the reader laugh, and unbelievably imaginative story-telling, Grahame-Smith's genius also lies in turning a despicable, vile, selfish character into a genuine hero, but not in a predictable way that insults the reader's intelligence. Balthazar is a ruthless scoundrel, but even ruthless scoundrels have principles. He is a selfish man, hell-bent on revenge and self-preservation, but even selfish, self-preserving men, lustful for vengeance, have a heart. You just can't help but root for this Billy the Kid meets Indiana Jones character, even though he makes you sick at the same time.

I don't want to share any more details about the book, since I don't want to spoil too much for those who may give it a read, but, believe me, there is so much more I could share on this one. I first heard of Grahame-Smith when the film based on his book, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, came out earlier this year. I thought it sounded totally absurd and had no desire to either see the movie or read the book. But, after reading Unholy Night, I will be ordering that book, as well as his Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, soon. Consider me a huge fan; this guy can write! I'm sure his other books are as equally absurd as was this one, but I am intrigued to see how he turns that absurdity into a riveting, awesome tale, as he did with Unholy Night. As one reviewer opined, it is the "brilliant and twisted mind" of Grahame-Smith that enables him "to take a little mystery, bend a little history, and weave an epic tale." That is certainly an accurate description of what he did with Unholy Night, and I look forward to seeing how he does it in his other books.

Anyway, as I said above, we all had very similar reactions to this book and enjoyed it thoroughly. In fact, we gave this book a unanimous 5, which was the first time we have done so since our book club began. A couple of us gave Once Upon a River a 5, too, but most gave it a 4 or 4.5, so it didn't earn the privilege of getting the first 5 among us. But, Unholy Night was well deserving to earn that privilege. I give it my highest recommendation. This book brings to life the saying, "Don't judge a book by its cover." Go and get it now; you won't be disappointed!

After discussing these four books, we ended up assigning two books to be read over the next couple of months: The Root of All Evil: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel by Ray Keating and The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. Having loved reading Warrior Monk last summer, we are all eager to see what adventures await us in the life of Pastor Stephen Grant, a truly unforgettable character. But, since we're sure that most of us will get through that one fairly quickly, we assigned Follet's large tome, so that we can begin reading it as soon as we finish The Root of All Evil. We will discuss The Root of All Evil in October and The Pillars of the Earth in November.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

God Will Never Give You More Than You Can Handle?

“God Will Never Give You More Than You Can Handle”
(September 2012 Newsletter Article) 

I’m betting that most of you have heard this one before. Perhaps, you’ve even used it yourself at times. A friend or loved one is going through a time of suffering and you seek to comfort that person by saying, “God will never give you more than you can handle.”

I know I’ve heard this one many times. I’ve seen it used on Facebook and in mass emails often, and I’ve even had friends and loved ones say it to me during times of suffering. It is used with the best of intentions, and most people think that it’s a direct quote right from the Bible, or at least a paraphrase of a Biblical verse, but it is neither.

The Biblical verse this cliché is supposed to paraphrase is 1 Corinthians 10:13, where St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

To understand what St. Paul means by this, we need to look at the surrounding context. It is clear from that context that he is in the midst of rebuking the Corinthians for a) idolatry, b) sexual immorality, and c) works-righteousness (or, overconfidence in themselves). He reminds them what happened to their fathers in the faith, how they turned away from God after He had rescued them from their bondage in Egypt. God had saved them with His mighty hand and they turned away from Him so that they could indulge their own evil desires. They put God to the test and were overcome by serpents. They didn’t trust God, but grumbled against Him, and most of them perished in the wilderness, never getting to enter the Promised Land. The point St. Paul is making with the Corinthians is summed up in verse 12, the verse immediately preceding the verse quoted above, upon which the cliché in question is supposed to be based, where he says, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” And, this is followed up with the exhortation in verse 14, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” Then, St. Paul points them to an example of the idolatry into which they have fallen, moving into a lengthy discourse on their abuse of the Holy Supper.

Putting all of this together, it should be evident how the popular cliché, “God will never give you more than you can handle,” is a gross misinterpretation of the verse it is supposed to paraphrase. The whole point here is that YOU cannot handle things. It is a rebuke against those who try to handle things themselves, rather than turning to God for rescue. And, it has absolutely nothing to do with the pain and suffering we all endure in this life, whether we bring that upon ourselves or it comes from the outside, which is when the cliché in question is most often invoked. This passage is addressing those who give in to the temptation of the devil, the world, and their own sinful flesh, refuse to turn to God for rescue (“the way of escape”), and think that they’re still standing in the faith.

God will never give you more than you can handle? Nonsense! You cannot handle temptation on your own. You cannot endure the pain and suffering living in this sinful world brings on your own. You cannot handle God’s Law on your own. You cannot remain standing steadfast in the faith on your own. Left on your own, you will most definitely fall. Left on your own, you will follow in the footsteps of the grumbling and idolatrous Israelites who were overcome by serpents in the wilderness. Left on your own, God’s Holy Law will devour you whole. Left on your own, you will fall from grace, lose faith, and have the Holy Spirit depart from you.

Here’s the other reason this popular cliché is so wrongheaded: It suggests that God is the one GIVING you the temptation or the pain and suffering you’re enduring. But, we’re told in Scripture that “God tempts no one” (James 1:13ff.). God is not the author of evil. God is not the source of the pain and suffering you endure in this sinful world. That evil, those temptations, the pain and suffering with which you are afflicted, come from the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh, NOT from God. It is true that God allows us to experience these things in this life. It is true that God tests and disciplines us at times, just as an earthly father does for his children. It is true that God works all things together (even the temptations, pain, and suffering we endure) for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). He is the God who uses what is meant for evil for good. Joseph’s brothers had an evil intent when they sold him into slavery, but God used what they meant for evil to accomplish their salvation. And, of course, the greatest example of this is the Crucifixion of His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The Jewish religious authorities meant that for evil, but God used it to accomplish the greatest good ever known in the world. So, yes, God allows us to be tempted and to endure times of pain and suffering in this life, but it is not true that He gives us these things, as if He is their source and wants to toughen us up so that we can learn how to handle them on our own, which is what the cliché really means. On the contrary, God allows these things to happen in our lives so that we would turn to Him for rescue.

God will never give you more than you can handle? Wrong! You cannot handle things on your own. If you could, God would not have had to send His Son to live and die in your place. If we want to make this cliché Scriptural and true, we would have to say something like, “God will never allow you to suffer more than He can handle.” Now, that is most certainly true, as certain and true as is the fact that you will be tempted and will endure much pain and suffering in this life. But, God will never forsake you. He will always provide the “way of escape,” and the “way of escape” is just another way of saying, “Jesus.” For, Jesus is your way of escape. Jesus is your refuge. Jesus is your rescue. He lived the perfect life you cannot live. He resisted and overcame all the temptations common to man, the temptations to which you have often fallen prey. He endured all the pain and suffering the devil, the world, and sinners could throw at Him and never wavered an inch in faith through it all, as you often do when pain and suffering come upon you. You cannot handle these things on your own, but Jesus has handled them perfectly for you. He is your way of escape. He is your mighty fortress. He is your strength. Flee from yourselves and to Jesus. That’s the whole point St. Paul is making in this oft misunderstood passage.

Do you see, then, why telling people that God will never give them more than they can handle is wrong in so many ways? As I said above, I know that people have the best of intentions when they use this cliché, but good intentions aside, it is a tragically flawed way of trying to get God into the equation somehow. Would that we never uttered this cliché again, but instead pointed our friends and loved ones, who are enduring times of temptation, pain, or suffering, to the One who can handle it all for them, to the One who has already handled it all for them, and who remains available to them to handle whatever the devil, this sinful world, and their own sinful flesh throw their way, even Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. The best advice you can give to such a friend is to direct them to go to where Jesus is for them, namely to the Divine Service in His Holy Church, where He is Truly Present to absolve them of their sins, feed them upon the sweet honey of His Word, cleanse them with the very Body and Blood He gave and shed for them, and bestow His eternal peace upon them as they depart back into the wilderness of this sinful world, where they will inevitably continue to be harassed by its temptations, pain, and suffering.

In this vale of tears, this valley of the shadow of death, you will be confronted with much that you cannot handle, my friends. But, know this: Jesus has handled it all in your place. Flee to Him in times of temptation, pain, and suffering. He will never fail you. He can handle it. He desires that you come to Him, you who are weary and heavy-laden, that He might give you peace. In Him, you have the sure and certain promise that there is coming a Day when you will be tempted no more and never again experience the pain and suffering, trials and tribulations, of living in this sinful world. You will live and reign with Him in the eternal kingdom that has been prepared for you. And, as St. Paul assures you, “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).

Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Messer

Saturday, September 8, 2012

What Happened To Our Referees?

Remember the fact-checking frenzy that was all over the media last week regarding the speech delivered by Rep. Paul Ryan? Every major news outlet was all over it. You couldn't turn on the television or radio, or open a newspaper, without hearing or reading about how Mr. Ryan's speech contained several distortions of the truth, misleading statements, and outright lies.

And, it did. Sorry, Republican faithful. It did. Mr. Ryan's speech was filled with falsehoods. In fact, I'm quite sure he and the Romney/Ryan campaign gurus were well aware of that fact, and they proceeded with the less-than-truthful speech anyway. They are trying to win an election, and winning an election in America these days is far more important than speaking the truth. Winning an election is about carefully selected talking points meant to scratch itching ears that will hopefully lead to votes, the truth be damned. It's about doing whatever needs to be done and saying whatever needs to be said to convince people that your opponent is a villain and you are just what our country needs. Mr. Ryan is a politician. He is playing the game, the goal of which is to win. He cannot be sidetracked by something as insignificant as the truth. It's a game, folks, and it's played by both sides. We all know it. So do the politicians who seek our votes.

So, Mr. Ryan lied. He did. Let's just be honest and admit it. He lied like many of the Obama television ads that have run to date have been proven to be outright lies. He lied like Mitt Romney lied, who lied like President Clinton, Vice President Biden, and President Obama lied at their convention. None of them are even trying to convince you with the truth; they're all simply trying to persuade you to vote for them and will tell you what they think you want to hear, which is determined by their respective think-tanks, in order to accomplish that goal. Lying and deceiving is just a part of the process. You do whatever it takes to win. The truth really has nothing at all to do with it.

The truth is that American politics has become nothing more than a sport. The politicians are the players who play the game; their campaign managers are the head coaches, who consult with their many assistant coaches (political strategists, communications experts, etc.) and develop a game-plan; Fox News is the cheerleading squad for the Republicans, MSNBC for the Democrats; we are the fans. The game is played and we root for our teams. But, where are the referees?

The refs have traditionally been the media, but those days have long since passed us by. It used to be that the networks and major newspapers around our country would report the news and stick to the facts. They used to take pride in leaving their personal biases aside, being careful not to skew their reporting in a way that would reveal their personal endorsements of various political candidates. No, they never did this perfectly (bias would come through here and there), but at least they used to try. Not anymore. We don't get news these days; we get commentary. We don't get facts; we get spin and talking points, and not just from the obvious suspects on Fox and MSNBC, but even from the networks and other supposed-to-be unbiased news outlets.

Case in point: How much did you hear yesterday from the mass media about Sandra Fluke's speech, which she delivered Thursday night, and which you can watch in the video above? Where was the fact-checking frenzy on that one? Ryan stretched the truth and delivered some falsehoods in his speech last week and the media went nuts - and, rightly so! But, where were they yesterday to correct the litany of lies told by Ms. Fluke?

One may argue that this is an unfair comparison, since Ms. Fluke is just a Democrat supporter, while Mr. Ryan is the Republican Vice Presidential candidate.I would buy that, except for the fact that the lies told by Ms. Fluke during her speech are the same lies that have been repeated ad nauseum by the Democrats over the last several months, and the media has done nothing to correct them.

Those lies began earlier this year when the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing and heard from witnesses who believed that the HHS mandate requiring all insurance companies, even those run by religious institutions, to cover contraception, abortifacients, and sterilizations violated their religious freedom. The lying began that very day, as Nancy Pelosi and many other Democrats went before the cameras and falsely claimed that a) the hearing was about contraception, b) no women were allowed on the panel, and c) Ms. Sandra Fluke was shut out by the Republicans. Perhaps you remember all the headlines that appeared the following day: "Where Are the Women?"; "All-Male Birth Control Panel"; "Women Barred from All-Male Panel," etc. Heck, even Saturday Night Live got in the act later that week, doing a sketch that followed the lies told by the Democrats and repeated everywhere in the media.

And so, because these lies were never corrected by the media, Ms. Fluke felt perfectly comfortable taking the stage a couple of nights ago to bring these lies back to the surface. She began her speech by saying,
"Some of you may remember that earlier this year, Republicans shut me out of a hearing on contraception. In fact, on that panel, they didn’t hear from a single woman, even though they were debating an issue that affects nearly every woman." 
Here, let me do some fact-checking, since the media is not interested in doing so:

Fact-check #1 - The Republicans did not shut Ms. Fluke out of that hearing in February. In fact, the Democrats did not submit her name until well after the deadline had passed to submit potential witnesses. In fact, the Democrats did not submit any names until after the deadline had passed. They did this on purpose. It was strategy. They knew that if they waited until the last minute, until after the deadline had passed, the Republicans would probably deny their witnesses and they could moan about it to the media. Also, while they did not allow Ms. Fluke to testify at the hearing, since a) her name had not been submitted on time and b) she wanted to testify about contraception and had no qualifications to testify about religious freedom, the Republicans did post a lengthy video on this House Committee's website of Ms. Fluke delivering a speech about contraception. Finally, the Republicans did allow another Democratic witness to testify, who was going to testify about religious freedom, even though his name was submitted late as well, but, wonder of wonders, he was a no show.

Fact-check #2 - Ms. Fluke claims that she was shut out of a hearing on contraception. In fact, the hearing was not on contraception; it was on freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. Amazingly, the media never even attempted to correct that, as the headlines noted above show. They still haven't. So, Ms. Fluke can comfortably repeat this lie, knowing that it will not only not be corrected, but will actually be happily repeated by the media.

Fact-check #3 - Ms. Fluke says, "In fact, on that panel, they didn't hear from a single woman, even though they were debating an issue that affects nearly every woman." One wonders if Ms. Fluke understands what the word fact means, since, in actual fact, there were two women who testified at the hearing, Dr. Allison Garrett and Laura Champion, both of whom hold prominent positions at their respective Christian universities. But, again, the media never really did anything to correct this blatant falsehood. They still haven't, not in any meaningful way. And again, the debate that day was not over contraception, but over an issue that affects all Americans, not just "nearly every woman," namely, religious freedom.

Later in her speech, Ms. Fluke said that if Romney and Ryan were elected, "It would be an America in which you have a new vice president who co-sponsored a bill that would allow pregnant women to die preventable deaths in our emergency rooms."

Fact-check #4 - Ms. Fluke is parroting the lie told in December of last year by Nancy Pelosi, who, in referring to the Protect Life Act, which was co-sponsored by Ryan, said that Republicans would be voting "to say that women can die on the floor." That was a bold-faced lie told back then, but, again, the media did nothing to correct it. And so, Ms. Fluke can repeat it without flinching an eye-lash. In fact, if you read that bill, you will see that it does make exceptions in the cases of rape, incest, and the life of the mother. So, um, no, the bill in question does not seek to allow pregnant women to die preventable deaths in our emergency rooms. How absurd!

Oh, and while I'm mentioning absurdities, why can't Ms. Fluke and her ilk speak the truth about the choice they want women to retain? They keep saying that women should have the right to choose what they do with their own bodies. I wholeheartedly agree. Who wouldn't agree with that? But, that's NOT what they mean, and they know that. What they mean is that they want women to retain the right to choose to kill the body of a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT HUMAN BEING growing in their womb. Just say that. Just say what you really mean. Just say that you want to be able to make the choice to kill your babies. That's what you want. Let's call that Fact-check #5 - A woman's right to choose is NOT the choice to do what they want with their own bodies, but, in fact, the choice to kill a completely different body.

And, when it comes to the whole contraception thing, quit trying to hide the truth behind emotional appeals to medical necessities. You know full well that religious institutions do not prevent contraceptive coverage for medical necessities. Even those pesky Roman Catholics will make exceptions when such is the case. But, that's a moot point, since what you really want is to be able to have promiscuous sex without the worry of getting pregnant. What you also want is to be able to pop a pill to abort children you didn't want to conceive. And, you want all of that to be paid for by those who do not wish to support your promiscuity and your killing, because such behavior violates their consciences and religious tenets. It's funny, you want those whose consciences and religious tenets do not support your sexual immorality to stay out of your bedrooms and not bother you about your sexual choices, but, at the same time, you want those same people to pay for what you do in your bedrooms. Amazing. 

I could go on, but you get the point. The politicians and their pundits continue their lies and the referees only call fouls on one team. No, it's worse than that. Not only do the referees only call fouls on one team, but they actually repeat and publicize the lies of the other team, giving the impression that those lies are true. And, as any sports fan knows, there's nothing worse than some home-town refs. But, that's exactly what we have with our media today. Mr. Ryan gets butchered; Ms. Fluke gets praised. Pretty sad, that. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Upon What Authority . . .

. . . do you base your beliefs? That is the question. It's always the question.

So, you're in a debate with a proud atheist, who thinks you are an ignorant fool for believing in what he deems to be a fairy tale, concocted by ignorant, superstitious humans long ago as some sort of psychological or sociological coping mechanism. You quickly recognize the old, worn-out talking points and soundbites he's throwing at you (the Bible is full of contradictions and can't be trusted because it has been translated and copied so many times, etc.; there were many other religions before Christianity came along; why do you eat shellfish and why don't you stone your women for wearing clothing with different fabrics?; if God exists, why is he powerless to stop the many evils and catastrophes that happen in the world?; science has proven that the evolutionary theory is no theory, but fact; the books of your Bible were arbitrarily decided upon by Constantine in the fourth century; there has been more blood shed because of religion than all other causes; we can't even be sure whether this Jesus you believe in even existed; and so forth), and the temptation is to argue with this proud atheist point for point. Don't! To do so would be nothing more than an exercise in futility. It doesn't matter that he's just plain ignorant about many of the things he's simply parroting, having heard them from others. It doesn't matter that he has no clue how to interpret the Bible or what Christianity is. It doesn't matter that he hasn't spent an ounce of time studying textual criticism, the Biblical manuscript evidence, or the historical basis for Christianity. To try to engage him point for point will just further confirm his belief that you are just another in a long line of superstitious humans intent on defending your fairy tale. Ask me how I know.

So, what should you do? Ask him upon what authority he bases his beliefs. You will probably be told that he doesn't have beliefs, but sticks with the facts. Good! This gives opportunity to rephrase the question: Upon what authority do you arrive at your facts? The two most common responses you will hear are 1) Science and 2) Common Sense (human reason, rational thought). If the response is science, ask him which scientific resources he uses as his authority to arrive at his facts. Most often, the proud atheist will stumble here, since most of them haven't really done anything resembling any kind of study or research into any of the supposed facts they readily cite, but are in the happy habit of just aping what they've heard others saying or what they've read on popular atheist websites, and so forth. But, maybe just maybe, he'll provide you with some resources. Good! Ask him which of these resources makes the claim to have proven macroevolution as fact. Remember, he is a proud atheist, who thinks that he doesn't have beliefs, but relies on facts. Ask him to show you those facts. Since he cannot do that, you'll most likely get hit with more soundbites and popular rhetoric. But, hold his feet to the fire. You want facts. You want to know upon what authority those facts are based. Eventually, if you resist the temptation to argue, but continue to press him for the authoritative basis of the supposed facts he so readily cites, he will have to admit that his authority is not so authoritative and his facts not so factual, after all. Either that, or he will call you some names and walk away in disgust. Either way, you will have given this proud atheist much to ponder, which should be your only goal. You will have forced him to actually think about the authority upon which he bases his beliefs facts, which, after all the smoke from the rhetoric fades away, whether he tells you science or common sense initially, is himself. He believes what he believes. He is his own god. He is his own authority.

Of course, were a proud atheist to read what I've written here, he would scream and moan about how off base I am, but, after all that screaming and moaning subsides, the only thing he is really left with is that he believes what he believes. He can no more prove his supposed facts than you can prove the existence of God. He may never admit that, but it is an irrefutable fact, nonetheless. The difference between you and him is not a matter of one of you being able to prove the other wrong; rather, it is simply a matter of the authority upon which each of you bases your beliefs. Your authority is the revealed Word of God in Holy Scripture; his authority is himself. It's really that simple.

A few months back, I ran into a college science professor on a friend's Facebook thread. According to him, I was a superstitious moron because I don't accept the theory of evolution as fact. He thought that meant that I had never studied evolution and had no clue what I was talking about. The temptation was severe to correct that impression by informing him that I have spent countless hours over many years studying evolution (I even have three of the most popular modern college texts on the subject sitting on my bookshelf that I have been reading when time permits), but I resisted that temptation. I simply asked him to point me to the authoritative resource that proves macroevolution as fact. In short fashion, he responded by sending me two different links to 20-page abstracts he had written for his own dissertation on how paired fins evolved over time to form appendages, and so forth, which was supposedly proof for macroevolution. I read both of these abstracts from beginning to end, having to rely on Google to look up several scientific terms along the way. What I found fascinating was that the conclusions in each of these abstracts made it vividly clear that everything proposed was hypothetical theory. Both conclusions admitted that much of the evidence needed to prove the theory is non-existent. So, by the author's own admission, which was in black-and-white for all to read, the whole paper was nothing more than his best guess, which relied upon the presumptions of a series of other best guesses. It was like saying that D is true, if C follows B and B follows A, but we have no evidence that either C, B, or A even exists. It was really quite remarkable, but not surprising, since, at the end of the day, all that such scientists have are presumptions and guesses - having read my share of scientific journals and evolution text books, that is always the case.

Anyway, after carefully reading both of these abstracts, I responded to this science professor by noting what he himself said in the conclusions of both, telling him that he did nothing more than prove my point, which was simply that he couldn't prove macroevolution as fact; that the theory of evolution remains a theory, not fact. He could not do anything to refute my response. He was caught by his own words. He revealed himself and his guesses and theories, which were based on the guesses and theories of others like him, to be the authority upon which he based his beliefs, which were indeed beliefs, not facts. But, rather than receiving an intelligent response, I was called more names and told how ignorant I was. That's fine. I don't mind being called names or being told how ignorant I am by someone who is so delusional that he cannot even accept his own words quoted back at him. But, what scares me is that this dude is teaching kids at the college level that his best guesses and theories are facts, when he himself knows better.

So, what's my point in all this? It's simple: Stop trying to prove you're right when debating proud atheists. Instead, put the onus on them to prove they're right. Ask them upon what authority they base their supposed facts. If you can get them to answer that question honestly, you win, NOT because you have proven your beliefs to be superior than theirs, but simply because you have led them to discover for themselves that their facts are no facts at all, but beliefs, and that the authority upon which those beliefs are held is themselves. You have science on your side in these debates, for science simply does not prove what they think it does, despite all the popular propaganda to the contrary (my favorite little bit of popular propaganda is the saying, "Evolution is a theory like gravity is a theory" - cute, but, um, not so much). So, dig beneath the soundbites and propaganda. Get to the authority. Uncover the real facts by getting them to expose their supposed facts as the beliefs they are. This is a much better approach than going into a defensive posture, as tempting as that may be. Besides, there may be time for that later. Once it is an established fact that both sides are dealing in the realm of beliefs, perhaps a discussion can ensue about those beliefs, and the authority upon which those beliefs are held. Or, maybe not. Maybe you'll be called names and your opponent will leave in disgust. So be it. At least you can say that you tried. And, whether or not the proud atheist will ever admit it, you will have given him much to ponder, because, try as he might, he will not be able to find the resource that proves his beliefs to be facts, since no such resource exists. That little nugget of truth simply has to give one furiously to think, which is really all you can hope to accomplish, at least initially.