Archive for the 'Atheism' Category

16
Apr
13

Evil in Boston

The tragedy in Boston reminds me of the downside to true freedom — as a human being it cannot fully guarantee my safety.  With freedom comes risk and at times sad consequences.  As author C.S.Lewis aptly pointed out, “God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.

boston bombA world of automata – of creatures that worked like machines – would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free.  Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk. If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will – that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings – then we may take it it is worth paying.”   Today I’m praying for those victims who have suffered the tragedy of freedom.

04
Apr
13

Credibility

With the Supreme Court sharing arguments on gay marriage, it’s no secret. Traditional marriage is an issue most conservative minded Christians embrace. Yet given the current track record of those within the church community, the long held opinion on the matter holds less weight than it once did. For Christians who favor and champion the sanctity of marriage, it doesn’t help that so many in the camp are poor examples of what biblical marriage is purported to be – a lifetime union between a man and women through good times and bad “until death parts us.” Recent surveys indicate that Christians are found to be divorced at a percentage rate “statistically identical” to the rest of the culture. One might then argue, on what moral grounds do we stand as advocates to the sanctity of something we ourselves seem to violate and disregard? In many respects, we’ve lost credibility to speak into the topic. Perhaps before Christians begin lecturing others on the value God places on the union of a man and woman and casting a vision for what is right, we should take a hard honest look at our own practices and remove the plank of rebellion from our eyes and lives.usa-supreme-gay-marriage

08
Jan
13

shootings and morality

After a few weeks of grieving the tragic slaughter of innocent children, teachers and administrators in a Newton Connecticut school, I find myself finally moving on to deeper questions of morality. From the committed Christian to the nominally religious to the staunchest atheist, people readily agree on the evil nature of Adam Lanza’s violent rampage and condemn it. The event has prompted universal moral outrage. But were his actions truly evil? When asked, my answer is “yes.” Whether driven by mental illness, some unknown motivation or a combination of the two, I assert that Lanza’s killing of 27 people was an immoral and evil act. It was a violation of the biblical prohibition, “You shall not kill.”

Dec 2012 Connecticut Shooting

Dec 2012 Connecticut Shooting

In the wake of such violence and suffering, many in our culture turn to pastors, priests and moral philosophers for answers. Understandably, we all want to know “why?” As a pastor I long to offer a brilliant and comprehensive response that might make sense of all the insanity … but ultimately my attempts at explanation fall short. I just do not have sufficient answers. For some, the lack of clarity as to why such evil exists leads to frustration and a condemnation of God and religion. One gentleman confronted me demanding an explanation. My best attempt was cut short by an abrupt, “Given the evil in this world, God can’t exist.” For him, if Christianity can’t adequately answer his questions about evil then religion is false and God is a sham.

In fairness, I understand the frustration of having to live with unanswered questions. But I wonder if the same man who approached me questioned an atheist and similarly dissed them for their inability to answer the question? Interestingly, few people turn to atheism in the wake of such senseless violence and pain. And except to share their genuine sympathy and outrage, atheists are mostly silent on such matters of evil.

Unlike Christianity, atheism can offer little to ease our pain in the face of suffering. For them there is no explanation except to say it’s just the brutal reality of a meaningless existence. In the words of well known atheist Richard Dawkins, “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe has exactly those properties we should expect if there is at the bottom no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is and we dance to its music.”

As a Christian, like the atheist, when seemingly senseless acts of violence occur I cannot offer a comprehensive explanation of “why?” But for me, it’s not that there’s no answer to “why” but that in my limited human capacity I simply cannot grasp the reason. I rest in the hope that some day goodness and justice will prevail. But even here atheism fails to offer any hope for justice. According to Dawkins, there is “no evil and no good…nor any justice.”

Yet when tragic killing takes place, the outrage of everyone, including atheists, cries for justice. The same person who says, “I can’t believe in a good God who judges people” in turn protests violence and moral evil saying, “Why doesn’t God do something?” Apparently, a good God of justice and judgment is acceptable as long as his divine justice is meted out on others and not applied to their own life. However, if there is a God who is good and just then his justice must be applied equally to all in order for it to be truly good and just.

C.S. Lewis offers this observation…

AA Mere Christianity“It is no use either saying that if there is a God of that sort—an impersonal absolute goodness—then you do not like Him and are not going to bother about Him. For the trouble is that one part of you is on His side and really agrees with his disapproval of human greed and trickery and exploitation. You may want Him to make an exception in your own case, to let you off this one time; but you know at bottom that unless the power behind the world really and unalterably detests that sort of behaviour, then He cannot be good. On the other hand, we know that if there does exist an absolute goodness it must hate most of what we do. This is the terrible fix we are in. If the universe is not governed by an absolute goodness, then all our efforts are in the long run hopeless. But if it is, then we are making ourselves enemies to that goodness every day, and are not in the least likely to do any better tomorrow, and so our case is hopeless again. We cannot do without it, and we cannot do with it. God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies. Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again. They are still only playing with religion. Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger—according to the way you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way.”

16
Jun
12

Thinking well or not?

On trial for heresy, Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” What was his offense? He encouraged students to question the accepted beliefs of his time and culture and to think for themselves. Although sentenced to death, Socrates had the option of choosing exile or life in prison. But Socrates was convinced these alternatives would take from him the one thing that made life useful: examining the world around him, discerning its meaning and figuring out how to make it a better place.

Fortunately when it comes to examining life, we don’t have to choose between questioning it and things less appealing like exile, prison or death. Sadly, however, many of us refuse to think deeply and avoid questioning our existence and other existential questions. Why? It’s not for lack of time. Perhaps its laziness or a fear of what conclusions meaningful reflection might lead to.

So many people carry opinions about life, death, God, origin of existence, etc.  – most of which are superficial and have no basis in deep thinking.  They haven’t carefully examined the possibilities and or considered the philosophical arguments on both sides of the issues.  They simply go with the flow of popular opinion.

Dr. Daniel Kahneman is Nobel Prize winning psychologist with an expertise in behavioral economics. In his 2011 NY Times best-seller Thinking, Fast & Slow, Kahneman argues that people don’t think well. He writes, “We are normally blind about our own blindness. What psychology and behavioral economics have shown is that people don’t think very carefully. They are influenced by all sorts of superficial things in their decision-making, and they procrastinate and don’t read the small print.” If Kahneman is right, here’s my challenge – let’s not be like most people.

Fact is, those who do examine their lives, think about who they are, where they’ve been, how they got here, and where they’re going, are much happier people. No one’s life is free from pain and suffering. But those who gain some sense of their place in the universe also have a framework for interpreting and understanding how all it all fits together.

How deeply have you been thinking lately?

“No problem can withstand the assault of substantial thinking.” -Voltaire

25
May
12

Brilliant

Yes, it’s lengthy but well-worth the time and brain power required to read and reflect…

The Efficacy of Prayer

Some years ago I got up one morning intending to have my hair cut in preparation for a visit to London, and the first letter I opened made it clear I need not go to London. So I decided to put the haircut off too. But then there began the most unaccountable little nagging in my mind, almost like a voice saying, “Get it cut all the same. Go and get it cut.” In the end I could stand it no longer. I went. Now my barber at that time was a fellow Christian and a man of many troubles whom my brother and I had some times been able to help. The moment I opened his shop door he said, “Oh, I was praying you might come today.” And in fact if I had come a day or so later I should have been of no use to him.

It awed me; it awes me still. But of course one cannot rigorously prove a causal connection between the barbers prayers and my visit. It might be telepathy. It might be accident.

I have stood by the bedside of a woman whose thighbone was eaten through with cancer and who had thriving colonies of the disease in many other bones, as well. It took three people to move her in bed. The doctors predicted a few months of life; the nurses (who often know better), a few weeks. A good man: laid his hands on her and prayed. A year later the patient was walking (uphill, too, through rough woodland) and the man who took the last X-ray photos was saying, “These bones are as solid as rock. It’s miraculous.”

But once again there is no rigorous proof. Medicine, as all true doctors admit, is not an exact science. We need not invoke the supernatural to explain the falsification of its prophecies. You need not, unless you choose, believe in a causal connection between the prayers and the recovery.

The question then arises, “What sort of evidence would prove the efficacy of prayer?”The thing we pray for may happen, but how can you ever know it was not going to happen anyway? Even if the thing were indisputably miraculous it would not follow that the miracle had occurred because of your prayers. The answer surely is that a compulsive empirical Proof such as we have in the sciences can never be attained.

Some things are proved by the unbroken uniformity of our experiences. The law of gravitation is established by the fact that, in our experience, all bodies without exception obey it. Now even if all the things that people prayed for happened, which they do not, this would not prove what Christians mean by the efficacy of prayer. For prayer is request. The essence of request, as distinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted. And if an infinitely wise Being listens to the requests of finite and foolish creatures, of course He will sometimes grant and sometimes refuse them. Invariable “success” in prayer would not prove the Christian doctrine at all. It would prove something much more like magic—a power in certain human beings to control, or compel, the course of nature.

There are, no doubt, passages in the New Testament which may seem at first sight to promise an invariable granting of our prayers. But that cannot be what they really mean. For in the very heart of the story we meet a glaring instance to the contrary. In Gethsemane the holiest of all petitioners prayed three times that a certain cup might pass from Him. It did not. After that the idea that prayer is recommended to us as a sort of infallible gimmick may be dismissed.

Other things are proved not simply by experience but by those artificially contrived experiences which we call experiments. Could this be done about prayer? I will pass over the objection that no Christian could take part in such a project, because he has been forbidden it: “You must not try experiments on God, your Master.” Forbidden or not, is the thing even possible?

I have seen it suggested that a team of people—the more the better—should agree to pray as hard as they knew how, over a period of six weeks, for all the patients in Hospital A and none of those in Hospital B. Then you would tot up the results and see if A had more cures and fewer deaths. And I suppose you would repeat the experiment at various times and places so as to eliminate the influence of irrelevant factors.

The trouble is that I do not see how any real prayer could go on under such conditions. “Words without thoughts never to heaven go,” says the King in Hamlet. Simply to say prayers is not to pray; otherwise a team of properly trained parrots would serve as well as men for our experiment. You cannot pray for the recovery of the sick unless the end you have in view is their recovery. But you can have no motive for desiring the recovery of all the patients in one hospital and none of those in another. You are not doing it in order that suffering should be relieved; you are doing it to find out what happens. The real purpose and the nominal purpose of your prayers are at variance. In other words, whatever your tongue and teeth and knees may do, you are not praying. The experiment demands an impossibility.

Empirical proof and disproof are, then, unobtainable. But this conclusion will seem less depressing if we remember that prayer is request and compare it with other specimens of the same thing.

We make requests of our fellow creatures as well as of God: we ask for the salt, we ask for a raise in pay, we ask a friend to feed the cat while we are on our holidays, we ask a woman to marry us. Sometimes we get what we ask for and sometimes not. But when we do, it is not nearly so easy as one might suppose to prove with scientific certainty a causal connection between the asking and the getting.

Your neighbor may be a humane person who would not have let your cat starve even if you had forgotten to make any arrangement. Your employer is never so likely to grant your request for a raise as when he is aware that you could get better money from a rival firm and is quite possibly intending to secure you a raise in any case. As for the lady who consents to marry you—are you sure she had not decided to do so already? Your proposal, you know, might have been the result, not the cause, of her decision. A certain important conversation might never have taken place unless she had intended that it should.

Thus in some measure the same doubt that hangs about the causal efficacy of our prayers to God hangs also about our prayers to man. Whatever we get we might have been going to get anyway. But only, as I say, in some measure. Our friend, boss, and wife may tell us that they acted because we asked; and we may know them so well as to feel sure, first that they are saying what they believe to be true, and secondly that they understand their own motives well enough to be right. But notice that when this happens our assurance has not been gained by the methods of science. We do not try the control experiment of refusing the raise or breaking off the engagement and then making our request again under fresh conditions. Our assurance is quite different in kind from scientific knowledge. It is born out of our personal relation to the other parties; not from knowing things about them but from knowing them.

Our assurance—if we reach an assurance—that God always hears and sometimes grants our prayers, and that apparent grantings are not merely fortuitous, can only come in the same sort of way. There can be no question of tabulating successes and failures and trying to decide whether the successes are too numerous to be accounted for by chance. Those who best know a man best know whether, when he did what they asked, he did it because they asked. I think those who best know God will best know whether He sent me to the barbers shop because the barber prayed.

For up till now we have been tackling the whole question in the wrong way and on the wrong level. The very question “Does prayer work?” puts us in the wrong frame of mind from the outset. “Work”: as if it were magic, or a machine—something that functions automatically. Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person. Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine. In it God shows Himself to us. That He answers prayers is a corollary—not necessarily the most important one—from that revelation. What He does is learned from what He is.

Petitionary prayer is, nonetheless, both allowed and commanded to us: “Give us our daily bread.” And no doubt it raises a theoretical problem. Can we believe that God ever really modifies His action in response to the suggestions of men? For infinite wisdom does not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness needs no urging to do it. But neither does God need any of those things that are done by finite agents, whether living or inanimate. He could, if He chose, repair our bodies miraculously without food; or give us food without the aid of farmers, bakers, and butchers; or knowledge without the aid of learned men; or convert the heathen without missionaries. Instead, He allows soils and weather and animals and the muscles, minds, and wills of men to co-operate in the execution of His will. “God,” said Pascal, “instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality.” But not only prayer; whenever we act at all He lends us that dignity. It is not really stranger, nor less strange, that my prayers should affect the course of events than that my other actions should do so. They have not advised or changed God’s mind—that is, His over-all purpose. But that purpose will be realized indifferent ways according to the actions, including the prayers, of His creatures.

For He seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye. He allows us to neglect what He would have us do, or to fail. Perhaps we do not fully realize the problem, so to call it, of enabling finite free wills to co-exist with Omnipotence. It seems to involve at every moment almost a sort of divine abdication. We are not mere recipients or spectators. We are either privileged to share in the game or compelled to collaborate in the work, “to wield our little tridents.” Is this amazing process simply Creation going on before our eyes? This is how (no light matter) God makes something—indeed, makes gods—out of nothing.

So at least it seems to me. But what I have offered can be, at the very best, only a mental model or symbol. All that we say on such subjects must be merely analogical and parabolic. The reality is doubtless not comprehensible by our faculties. But we can at any rate try to expel bad analogies and bad parables. Prayer is not a machine. It is not magic. It is not advice offered to God. Our act, when we pray, must not, any more than all our other acts, be separated from the continuous act of God Himself, in which alone all finite causes operate.

It would be even worse to think of those who get what they pray for as a sort of court favorites, people who have influence with the throne. The refused prayer of Christ in Gethsemane is answer enough to that. And I dare not leave out the hard saying which I once heard from an experienced Christian: “I have seen many striking answers to prayer and more than one that I thought miraculous. But they usually come at the beginning: before conversion, or soon after it. As the Christian life proceeds, they tend to be rarer. The refusals, too, are not only more frequent; they become more unmistakable, more emphatic.”

Does God then forsake just those who serve Him best? Well, He who served Him best of all said, near His tortured death, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” When God becomes man, that Man, of all others, is least comforted by God, at His greatest need. There is a mystery here which, even if I had the power, I might not have the courage to explore. Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle.

24
Mar
12

Please relax Bill

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and those opinions should be respected.  But, I’ve got to say, and maybe it’s just me but I find it sadly if not pathetically ironic how people like Bill Maher can stand up in public and belittle Christians and hatefully berate them for trying to “force” their beliefs on others while he himself attempts to “force” his beliefs or lack thereof on anyone who will listen to his empty droning.

If Maher was as rational as he purports himself to be, he would recognize that for someone to argue “it’s wrong for a person to try and persuade others of their belief” is at that very moment violating his own argument. But it seems Maher allows his seething anger to overwhelm his self-acclaimed intellect. Which begs the question – why is this guy so enraged all the time? Sure – it’s a funny shtick when it is actually a shtick. But once Maher gets on the topic of religion, especially Christianity, the shtick seems to end as he verges on apoplexy. For someone who hates religion and deems it foolish, he spends a lot of time, energy and money making television shows and movies about it. Who then is the fool?

Perhaps his anger rests with the unavoidable fact that atheism limits itself to a surface reading of things and continues to lose the public debate on God. For surely if atheism was winning, such Maheric vitriol would be unnecessary. Instead the opposite is true. Even Michael Shermer, president of the Skeptics Society admits not only is God not dead as Nietzche proclaimed, but he has never been more alive.

For atheists like Maher, religion is a threat. The only way to deal with and neutralize its influence is by attempting to deconstruct its intellectual foundations. But again, not a lot of people are actually listening. Besides, if the world is simply the meaningless result of an ambiguous big bang and the random collision of coalescing matter then what Maher thinks is equally as meaningless.

Frankly, Maher’s own anger betrays his belief system. As Richard Dawkins often emphasizes, atheism just sees a meaningless world, devoid of purpose. The claim is nothing is responsible for everything. If true, how can one be so angry at anything or nothing? Anger assumes something or someone is responsible for something and a violation of that responsibility has occurred. Some standard has been breached. Yet, if everything comes from nothing, nothing is responsible for anything. There are no standards and there are no responsibilities. In short, Maher needs to relax because none of it matters anyway if all is indeed meaningless.

Fortunately for Bill Maher, historically speaking, atheism has always found its strength in being considered plausible in contexts where religious belief is considered too powerful. With the growing number of Americans believing in God perhaps Maher has some reason to hope in atheism’s future – which would then paradoxically place atheism’s potential success in the hands of believers? Wow, nothing more would send Bill on a caustic vulgar rampage than that realization.

13
Mar
12

Questions

One thing I like about TED is they address fascinating issues and take on big questions. Most recently they started a series, Questions No One Knows The Answers to

While I would challenge the assertion that all such questions have no answers – I’m glad TED is asking these types of questions.

Whenever I hear people say, “God and religion is not that important to me. I don’t want to really think about it or try and figure it all out. I’m content to live day to day, try to find some meaning in life and just be happy.”  To a degree I get why people say such things. Primarily it’s because thinking takes energy and a lot of people are lazy. Ignorance is bliss as the old adage goes. But here’s the thing — at best it’s naïve and at worst intellectually dishonest to say, “I’m not going to think about God or my existence or any other religious type stuff” because everyone has to think about it at some point or another. It’s both an intellectual and pragmatic issue one simply cannot avoid.

Every day the debate rages all around us on the question of how did we all get here, where did we come from and does my life mean anything? How does one answer that? It is legitimate to consider – are we the result of an ambiguous Big Bang whereby the universe exploded into being [at an absolutely perfect rate] and everything that exists is simply a random accident with humans on this planet being nothing more than a highly evolved biological consequence of chance process? i.e., we have no meaning? Or do all we see, know and experience start with a creator God? Although even a big bang needs an agent of cause.

That aside, ultimately what it comes down to is quite simply really — our existence is either an act of intelligent and intentional creation or an unbelievable and unexplainable fluke of coalescing matter exploding out of the darkness of nothingness. Either we are an accident without meaning or we are beings of complex design and purpose. At one point we each have to decide which we believe.

French mathematician, physicist and philosopher Blaise Pascal argued how as human beings we cannot live with any true sense or judgment unless we decide whether there is a God and an afterlife or whether our lives are freak accidents. He suggested some people abhor such questions. They despise religion because the fear it’s true. In his classic work, Pensees, Pascal proposes, “There are three types of people; those who have found God and serve him; those who have not found God and seek him, and those who live not seeking, or finding him. The first are rational and happy; the second unhappy and rational, and the third foolish and unhappy.” In which group are we?

Perhaps the Apostle John offered the clue as to where all answers originate when he wrote, “This is the message we received from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”




re: the random-ness

Husband. Father. Senior Pastor of Parkview Community Church in Glen Ellyn, IL.

Ok...so you've located the place where I put down my random thoughts. The key word here is random: music, sports, art, food, books, news, spiritual musings, weird stories, etc. I'm especially interested in how everyday experiences of life intersect with the ancient stories of Scripture. Thanks for reading.
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"No problem can withstand the assault of substantial thinking." Voltaire

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