Category Archives: Religion

“Real as Possible” Scenario

Here’s a story I can’t pass up. Christian gunmen shot up a New Jersey school and took a few hostages in retaliation for one of their daughters being expelled for public prayer. At least, that’s how the terrorism simulation played out in a New Jersey high school last month. Don’t want to rile up folks over Muslim militants. No, sir. Christians, “who don’t believe in separation of church and state,” are a hair-trigger away from all out war. It’s a wonder they don’t preach on street corners while shooting down various people groups to which Revs. Sharpton and Jackson have referred in the past (audio link).

In related news, The European Union wants to avoid using words which link terrorism with Islam. Words such as “Jihad,” “Islamist” and “fundamentalist” are disfavored now.

Setting Lewis straight

This post will probably be completely incoherent, as I’m working under a time deadline. I have a Viking Age Society meeting tonight.

Actually, I have plenty of time to write this, but you never know what will happen. I might get an attack of writer’s block and have to leave without posting. I might have a sudden toilet explosion and have to spend the evening with a plunger and towels.

Worry as globally as possible, that’s my motto. Because disasters are always so much more bearable if you’ve worried yourself sick about them in advance.

Also I’m not entirely sure I haven’t posted on this subject before. But if I did it was a long time ago, and who remembers? That’s the upside of writing ephemera.

Anyway, thinking along the lines of my post last night, I thought I’d mention one point on which I differ (I think) with C.S. Lewis.

(That sound you hear is everyone who knows me intaking breath. [Taking in breath? Performing an intake of breath? Clumsy. Clumsy whichever way you go. Replace it or let it stand? Let it stand. I’m in a hurry here.]) I’m well known to be one of those Christian English majors who have trouble telling the works of CSL apart from canonical scripture.

But Lewis says in several places (I’d look it up, but like I said I’m sweating under a deadline here. High R-factor in those deadlines) that Jesus Christ introduced no new ethical ideas. And this is a good thing, in his view (and in mine) because good and evil are universal, and have been recognized, in generally recognizable forms, throughout all cultures throughout all history.

But I think Christ did introduce one fresh, unprecedented teaching. One teaching that no one had presented before. And that was personal humility in relation to one’s neighbor.

Other religions have taught humility before God. But Christ (correct me if I’m wrong) was the first to say, “You should treat your neighbor as if you were his servant. You should do nothing to defend your personal honor.”

Remember, you read it here first.

Unless you didn’t.

Hey, I’m done! In plenty of time, too!

Now I can worry about something else. Computer crash. Traffic accident on the way to the meeting tonight. I’ll come up with something.

But the God I Know

Rusty Kelley is blogging on Jesus, “dear tiny infant baby Jesus, with golden fleece diapers…” No, he’s not being sacreligious. He concludes, “I must admit that I so easily fall into the trap of wanting a God that I can mold and shape according to my desires, and to the desires of those around me, yet when I step back and meditate on the God that I know, I praise Him for being much more than I could ever imagine or desire Him to be.”

They Called Him Rabbi is hosting a festival of ideas on the greatest man in world history, Jesus Christ. “What’s He Doing Here? Jesus in Jewish Culture” is the theme for this New York festival of writers, critics, and scholars to be held at the end of April at The Center for Jewish History.

Some of the lectures and discussions are described as “Was [Marc] Chagall a Jew for Jesus? Yes and no” and “Why have the Jews never accepted a messiah? Why is the history of messianism in Judaism a history of false messianism? Some unorthodox views of the Jewish idea of redemption.”

Enemy of God by Bernard Cornwell

Enemy of God is the book I feared I’d encounter when I originally hesitated to read Bernard Cornwell’s “Warlord Chronicles” series about King Arthur. As I mentioned in my review of the previous book, The Winter King, there is evidence in the (scanty) historical record that the original Arthur made enemies in the British church. I feared that Christianity would be made to look bad.

And that’s what happened in this volume.

Oh, Cornwell covers himself. He has a couple positively presented Christian characters, notably the warrior Galahad, but that reads to me like the standard “Some of my best friends are Jewish” denial of anti-Semitism. In this book, the Christians are the bad guys. Even worse guys than the Saxon conquerors Arthur is fighting. Arthur is tolerant of religion but doesn’t believe in much of anything himself, except his honor, and Cornwell seems to see this as the best way to live.

Arthur (not a king but a warlord, and protector of the not-yet-grown king, Mordred) made himself the most powerful man in Britain at the end of The Winter King. He wants to solidify the peace through a marriage between Princess Ceinwyn, Princess of the kingdom of Powys, and Lancelot, whom he has made king of another British kingdom. But the narrator, Derfel, spoils this plan by running off with the princess. Later Derfel gets involved in helping the druid Merlin search for the cauldron of Clyddno Eiddyn, obviously meant as the inspiration for the quest of the Holy Grail. The story of Tristan and Iseult is also incorporated (in the most horrifying version you’ll ever read).

But the real struggle in this story is with Christianity. The Christians of Britain, whipped up by the oily Bishop Sansum and his missionaries, are working themselves into a passion to convert all Britain by force before the magical year of 500 A.D., when they expect Christ to return. They are being cynically manipulated by King Lancelot, whom they adopt as their leader despite the fact that his faith is questionable. This mob enthusiasm threatens Arthur’s peace and the very existence of what remains of unconquered Britain.

Except for the exceptions referred to above, all the Christians in the book are either stupid or evil, and virtually all the priests are assumed to be either sexual predators or pederasts. Derfel and Arthur look at the Christians as an alien group that has settled in Britain, grown in numbers insidiously, and now threatens to impose its laws on everyone. Perhaps Cornwell has the Muslim presence in today’s Britain in the back of his mind.

It bothered me, but I finished it. I’ve started the third book now, and that one is less offensive.

For the rest, good story, interesting characters, exciting action. A Cornwell novel.

R.I.P. Johnny Hart

Johnny Hart, one of the great cartoonists of our time–creator of “The Wizard of Id” and “B.C.” as well as an in-your-face Christian witness–died today at his home at Endicott, NY. He was 76 years old.

I think he was probably pleased to go home on Easter Day.

“Hey! Heaven got cartoonists!”

Letter from Jerusalem

Good Friday is a time for meditations. Here’s one of mine.

I imagine one of the Lord’s disciples, getting up early one morning, after the triumphal entry, and writing a letter home from Jerusalem.

Dear Mom and Dad,

Just a note to wish you a happy Passover and to tell you what’s been going on here.

It’s been just incredible.

I didn’t know what to expect when we came to Jerusalem, but I never expected we’d be rock stars! All the people turned out in the streets to cheer the Rabbi. They waved tree branches. They laid their robes down in the street for his donkey to walk over. The children were dancing and singing. It was a party! It was incredible!

I always knew the Kingdom was coming, but I’d never really expected to see it, I guess. Everybody’s talking about the Rabbi. We’ve got the whole city on our side. It’s going to happen! Soon the Rabbi will sit on the throne. He’ll drive the Romans out. Israel will be a mighty kingdom again.

And your son will be a governor, at least.

That little farm you’ve always wanted? I’ll see that you get it. Only it’ll be a big farm. And when you come to visit me in my palace, I’ll send you home with expensive gifts.

Pretty soon now. Any day, it’s going to happen. Nothing can stop us now. We’ve got the momentum.

Ah. There goes the Rabbi. He seems to be headed for the temple.

I wonder why He’s carrying a whip?

God’s ways are not our ways. That’s one of the lessons of Good Friday. But let us remember that it’s also a lesson of Easter.

Made Like Us in Every Respect

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, [Jesus] himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:14-18 ESV)

New Music in the Familiar

Philosopher William Alston on why he believes the claims of Jesus Christ:

I’m a Christian not because I have been convinced by some impressive arguments: arguments from natural theology for the existence of God, historical arguments concerning the authenticity of the Scriptures or the reliability of the Apostles, or whatever. My coming back was less like seeing that certain premises implied a conclusion than it was like coming to hear some things in music that I hadn’t heard before, or having my eyes opened to the significance of things that are going on around me.

Why America Hates New York City

They hate it for “cheap art-world stunts,” suggests James Panero. Clicking that link will show you an article on a chocolate sculpture representing Jesus on a cross. Sure it’s blasphemous, even if you think it’s defensible under our freedom rights, but James asks the right question, “Why have I yet to see a custard Mohammed?”

I heard a variant of that question from a Christian apologist who debated the Rational Response Squad for a few hours. They are group that encouraged people to deny the Holy Spirit on tape so that they were guaranteed eternal damnation according to their misuse of Scripture. The apologist asked if they respected Allah at all, which of course they did not, and why they didn’t encourage people to rant against him or Mohammed. They said they didn’t want to suffer the backlash. “So you are attacking Christians because we’re kinder?” he replied.

Sure they are. It was Jesus’ divine kindness, his focus on the kingdom not of this earth, that turned the crowd who shouted, “Hosanna,” for him on Sunday to shouting “Crucify him,” on Friday. So what do we do with this as Christians? Do we sigh and return to our petty concerns, our consumer needs, our entertainments? Or do we fight back?

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10 :3-6 ESV).

There May Be a Lutheran Near You

I see that Lars has noticed this discussion, but I’ll spare him from linking to it. Luther at the Movies notes, “There are as many Lutherans in the United States today as there are Swedes in Sweden—9,000,000;” so why aren’t they more visible in the public square? Rev. McCain of Cyberbrethren says:

The very things that Lutheranism have that make it stand out in the crowded “marketplace” of American denominationalism are the very things that so many non-Lutherans find attractive, while cradle Lutherans sometimes seem determined to minimize or ignore them! What are we so embarassed about? The incessant self-loathing and self-depricating attitudes we display toward the treasure of doctrine and practice that is historic, Biblical and faithful Lutheranism is truly distressing to observe.

Dr. Veith explains that Lutherans still have an immigrant mindset, “grateful for this country, but they really didn’t think of it as ‘theirs’ in the same sense that those who were here before them could.”

Honestly, this discussion makes me curious about Lutheran distinctives. I need to look them up. Should I go somewhere other than the Book of Concord?

It is all about us, isn’t it?

Our postmodern world is pulling each individual into a vacuum of self-centeredness, whispering, ‘It’s all about you.’ It’s all about your own pleasure, peace, prosperity, and comfort. It’s all about what you think. It’s all about your own self-actualization, your individual pursuit. It reminds me of the first lie that mankind heard in the garden: ‘You will be like God!’ It is all about us, isn’t it? –Del Tacket,

Quoted on Your Writers

I remember a writer, whom I didn’t know then and now can’t remember, saying his biggest hurtle in telling a good story was taking himself out of focus. He wasn’t meant to be the main character of every story.

Smoking or non-smoking?

In my ongoing effort to demonstrate my spiritual superiority and make most of you feel guilty, I’m going to talk about my morning devotional.

(I was pretty guilty about it myself, by the way, until recently. I finally found a way to make my devotions fairly regular. I spend fifteen minutes with the Bible during my first coffee break each day at work. This isn’t a live option for lots of people, I understand, but since I’m the boss, and I can’t leave the office during that time period anyway, it works for me.)

I was in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 this morning. I was using the ESV at work, but I don’t have a copy here at home, so I’ll transcribe verses 11-15 from the NIV:

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through flames.

Occasionally I’ve heard the question asked, “Will Christians go through the Last Judgment?” It seems to me the answer is right here. Christians will be judged, but only in terms of rewards, not punishment.

Paul imagines—or perhaps he once observed—a man going through the ruins of his house after it has burned down. The man sifts through the ashes, recognizing charred scraps of clothing or sticks of furniture, ruined forever.

But in the cinders he touches something heavy and solid. He lifts it up. It’s his savings—a bag of coins. The bag itself has burned up, but the money comes up all together in a lump, because it’s gold and silver. It’s melted together, but it’s all there, and just as valuable as it was before the fire. Because gold and silver are invulnerable to flames.

That’s how it will be at the Last Judgment, Paul is saying. It won’t be like the Muslim Last Judgment. Muslims believe that everyone—Muslim and infidel—will stand before the same court. There will be a balance scale there. On one side of the balance, all the person’s good deeds will be placed. On the other side all his sins will go. If the good is heavier than the bad, the person goes to Paradise. If the evil weighs more, he goes to Hell. Thus no Muslim is ever entirely sure of salvation (unless he’s a martyr, of course).

I suspect a lot of people who think they’re Christians are actually Muslims, at least in this doctrine.

But Paul says that as long as you stand on the Foundation—that is, Jesus Christ—you can’t be condemned in the Judgment. Your deeds, though—all the stuff you bring with you from your life—your achievements and piety—all that will go through the fire. When the fire has had its way, you’ll see (and I’ll see) how much of that was gold, how much was kindling.

A comforting thought, and a troubling one, all at once.

I should practice sleeping out of doors, I think.