These days we don’t really talk much about idols, at least not in the literal sense. We talk about American Idol and teen idols and that sort of thing, but the idols that represent serious sin go unmentioned.
Throughout the Bible, we see the evidence of the damage that idol worship does. After the Exodus, when Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the impatient Israelites made a golden calf to worship. For the people of Israel, it was just downhill from there, as idol worship and the unfaithfulness toward God that such worship represented led to a world of trouble for them, including the exile to Babylon.
In the New Testament book of Acts, Jesus’ apostles encountered idol worshipers when they went about spreading the Good News of the Messiah. These worshipers of other gods — and even some of the craftsmen who made the physical idols — stirred up all sorts of strife for the followers of the one true God.
So what relevance does idol worship have for us today? These days, the idols that Jews and Christians follow aren’t graven images per se, but followers of God do allow certain ideas, preferences, and opinions to become idols that get in the way of their relationship with Him. Many of these idols come with the best of intentions, yet they impede the ability to truly follow God.
In the following pages, through an inter-faith dialogue with one of my favorite colleagues here at PJ Lifestyle, Susan L.M. Goldberg, we’re going to look at five idols that God’s followers allow to get in the way of their relationship with Him. Hopefully naming these idols will get some Christians and Jews to think about how they may affect their own relationship with God.
11. A conscious awareness of God is intrinsic to human nature.
Tara Brach recently told the story of a four year old who was excited to have alone time with his new baby sister. When he finally got to the side of her crib, he asked her, “Tell me what heaven is like. I’m starting to forget.” If we didn’t have a conscious awareness of God, we wouldn’t be striving so hard to find Him in everything from houses of worship to fictional characters on the big screen. Don’t let atheists fool you; they might not believe in a God in the sky, but they’re worshiping something, nevertheless, whether its money, power, or simply themselves.
About a decade ago at a friend’s party I began chatting with another guest who, in the course of our conversation, informed me that he was an Orthodox Jew.
This information gave me an opening to ask my favorite question, “Why was Jesus born Jewish?”
His answer was memorable, “Jesus wasn’t Jewish,” he replied.
My jaw dropped and I was almost speechless. Initially I thought he was kidding until realizing he was not.
Then, after a short conversation volley he said, “Well, that’s your opinion.”
Years later I have never forgotten that incident because the fact (not opinion) that Jesus was born, lived and died a Jew is one of the few universally accepted Biblical “facts.”
As one who was born and raised a Jew — but since 1975 has believed that Jesus was and is the Messiah — I have made a hobby out of asking traditional Jews, “Why was Jesus born Jewish?” The reason I continue asking this question is because the answers or I should say non-answers are always so intriguing.
Here are three examples (but you will have to read to the end for the most recent and intriguing example of all.)
A fews months ago, I posed “the question” to an old friend who is a secular Jew, not religious, but very proud of his heritage. His replied, “I don’t know. I guess Jesus had to be born of some religion so it just happened to be Judaism.”
My husband loves to tell this true story he calls, “How Myra Accosted a Rabbi at a Bar Mitzvah.” A few years back we attended a Bar Mitzvah of a friend’s son. Afterwards at the reception, using my sweet, inquisitive voice I asked the Rabbi, “Why was Jesus born Jewish?” My husband describes the Rabbi’s face as looking like he had just encountered Satan. After gaining his composure the Rabbi answered, “No one has ever asked me that question,” as he quickly excused himself and dashed to the opposite side of the room.
Then there was the time I was having a heated argument with my non-religious Jewish father (now deceased) about Jesus and my conversion to Christianity. My father had great disdain for ALL religion because he strongly believed that religion was the root cause of every war in human history. During the course of our discussion I asked him, “What was the religion of Jesus?” He replied confidently, “Jesus was Catholic.”
The CW is planning to add Jane the Virgin to its fall lineup. Based on a Venezuelan telenovela of the same name, Jane the Virgin is about an intentionally virginal girl who is “accidentally artificially inseminated” by her OB-GYN:
Jane stars Gina Rodriguez (Filly Brown) as a hard-working, devout Latina who is kind of hoping her boyfriend proposes — though she’s a little worried he’ll get down on one knee so she’ll finally agree to do the deed. When a mix-up at the OB-GYN leads to that artificial insemination plot line, Jane must choose whether to keep the baby — and whether to let the handsome father into her life.
Aside from containing a number of Spanish stereotypes, including the paranoid grandmother putting the fear of God into her pre-teen daughter (“Once you lose your virginity, you can never go back!“) to a cast of overtly sexualized Latinas, the show appears to be a platform for some long overdue, serious conversation regarding abortion. However, the show sounds eerily like one of the most famously influential and revered plot lines in the West’s repertoire, leaving one to wonder how a primarily Protestant audience might handle a story that’s been a hit in a Catholic country.
When it comes to the primarily pathetic representation of Latinas on television (does Sofia Vergara have to do it all?) at least Jane the Virgin appears to lack the typical trashiness of Devious Maids.
We had the honor of attending our son’s graduation from Hillsdale College last week on a picture-perfect May day with chairs lined up in tight rows on the east lawn of the beautiful campus. In addition to the joy of watching our eldest son walk across the stage to receive his diploma, we were blessed to hear the insightful commencement address from author Eric Metaxas. In addition to sharing stories from his youth and his faith journey, Metaxas, author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, discussed at length the connection between faith, virtue, and freedom. You’ll find the video of the speech at the end of this post.
Here are ten incisive quotes from Metaxas’ address, “The Role of Faith in the Story of Liberty”:
1. Real faith is never something that can be forced by the state.
Real faith is never something that can be forced by the state. It’s something that either be encouraged and smiled upon or discouraged and frowned-upon. Or, simply crushed, as it has been in every Communist country…Religious freedom, which was at the very heart of the Founders’ vision for America, cannot be compromised without all our liberties being compromised and America as we know her being redefined into non-existence.
In an entry titled, “Christian women: feminism is not your friend” published on his popular Matt Walsh Blog in April, the conservative Christian commentator concluded that Christian “women (and men)” needed to stop identifying with feminism because the movement is essentially all about abortion.
Embracing the stereotypical liberal definition of feminism as a movement dedicated to starting and waging the War on Women, Walsh discussed the feminist fight for equality:
This is a pretty convincing indication that feminism has, at the very least, outlived its good. There is nothing surprising about that, because feminism, unlike Christianity, is a human construct. It’s an ideology. It’s a political theory. It’s a label. It is not eternal, it is not perfect (there’s the understatement of the decade), and it is not indispensable.
Feminism, like ‘liberalism,’ like ‘conservativism,’ like the Republican Party, like the Democrat Party, is a finite thing that exists and serves a certain purpose in a certain set of circumstances. When the times change, and the circumstances change, it will either die or its purpose will change.
Walsh then dug into medieval history, noting that women were given “equal standing” in certain English trade guilds in the Middle Ages, contrary to the following:
“The fact that guilds seldom permitted women to become masters did in the end relegate them to the least-skilled and certainly least-remunerative aspects of the trade”. This statement shows that the fact that women were not openly admitted to the professional guilds led to the downfall of the woman’s status as a worker during this time period. Since “[m]ale masters displayed no eagerness to train young women, and with few or no women recognized as masters, the guilds did contribute to the narrowing opportunity for women”.
Along with neglecting these facts, Walsh also did not note that neither the Christian Church, nor political leaders who identified with Christianity, demanded that equal professional or political rights be given to women (let alone non-Christians) on either side of the Atlantic.
Yesterday I volunteered at the campaign headquarters for a candidate who is running in the the Republican primary for the 14th congressional district seat in Ohio. State Rep. Matt Lynch is challenging Congressman Dave Joyce, who replaced Steve LaTourette (of Mainstreet PAC fame). Lynch’s campaign has an uphill battle against incumbent Joyce, who is being heavily funded by LaTourette’s SuperPAC (more than $80,000 to date). In fact, Lynch only decided to run against Joyce when LaTourette’s daughter, Sarah LaTourette, filed to run against Lynch for his seat in the Ohio House, ending the Ohio Republican Party’s de facto ban on challenging incumbents. (Yes, these Mainstreet folks really are working that hard to eliminate conservatives).
I had never met Lynch but showed up at his campaign headquarters today after seeing a plea on Facebook for help to get a huge mailing out. I decided to help with the campaign after listening to the Plain Dealer editorial board’s interviews with Joyce and Lynch. A devout Christian and running on a platform of “Faith, Family, and Freedom,” Lynch sounds less like the preachy moral majority candidates of the past and more like Mark Levin with a bit of a religious bent. Dave Joyce sounds like President Obama with a Republican bent. I enjoyed spending time with an enthusiastic group of volunteers who were committed to the conservative movement.
At lunchtime Rep. Lynch showed up with pizza and asked one of the volunteers if he would bless the food. The man recited a quick prayer he had memorized. Lynch held up his hand and said he would like the opportunity to pray for all of the volunteers. It was clear that he is a man who is no stranger to prayer. He prayed naturally and from the heart. After we all said, “Amen,” a man in a uniform (who had stopped by on his way to work) put his arm around Lynch and said he would like to pray for him. So we all prayed again. Lynch was obviously touched by the gesture.
It was such a natural, spontaneous moment. It wasn’t scripted, but everyone seemed to know what to do and it wasn’t a bit awkward. And yet, as I consider the current environment in this country with religion (and in particular, Christianity) under attack, it was in some ways a remarkable moment. Here was an elected official taking time from the heat of the campaign trail to seek God. No “Freedom from Religion” bigots could stop that prayer and certainly, no government official could censor it or demand that it be religiously “neutral” (as if such a thing were even possible).
While we’ve always had one form or another of a civil religion in America, the true heart and soul of our country has always been individuals and groups praying quietly in their homes, churches, and other meeting places. James 5:16 says that “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” God takes no pleasure in coerced prayers or prayers led by those who are not his true followers. In Proverbs 15 King Solomon writes, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him. The way of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but he loves him who pursues righteousness.”
We don’t need to demand prayer in schools or in city council meetings — or even in Congress — to find God’s favor. Indeed, in this modern era of “Coexist” it’s likely that such prayers would be offensive to God and would make things worse. We simply need men and women, boys and girls — and elected officials — who are committed to praying and honoring God in their private lives. Such a commitment to private prayer and faith will naturally flow out of the homes and into the public square and in doing so, will positively influence public policy as Americans are drawn closer to God.
Most East European governments concealed their road to Communism by posting innocuous nameplates at the door, such as People’s Republic or Popular Republic.
Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa
“People’s Republic” is such a chummy term. In fact, Marxism in general, with all it’s “redistribution of wealth” sounds so compassionate, at least to a Western, Judeo-Christianized mind. A Chinese mind familiar with Mao’s Great Leap Forward, for instance, may have a different take on the benevolent-sounding idea of a “People’s Republic” given the facts:
“State retribution for tiny thefts, such as stealing a potato, even by a child, would include being tied up and thrown into a pond; parents were forced to bury their children alive or were doused in excrement and urine, others were set alight, or had a nose or ear cut off. One record shows how a man was branded with hot metal. People were forced to work naked in the middle of winter; 80 per cent of all the villagers in one region of a quarter of a million Chinese were banned from the official canteen because they were too old or ill to be effective workers, so were deliberately starved to death.”
Mao couldn’t lie his way past a free press in the West. Nor could Khruschev, as Pacepa explains,
The 1963 missile crisis generated by socialist Cuba gave the socialist mask of Marxism a dirty name in the West, and few Marxists wanted to be openly associated with socialism anymore.
But, socialism is still hot. China is still The People’s Republic and “we’re all socialists now,” right? The last installment ended with the question: How have intellectual Wizards manipulated Marxism to acculturate the American mind leftward? Pacepa answers:
[Marxists] therefore began hiding their Marxism under a new cover called “economic determinism,” …a theory of survival rooted in Marx’s Manifesto (another theory of survival), but it pretends that the economic organization of a society, not the socialist class war and the socialist redistribution of wealth, determines the nature of all other aspects of its life.
When economic determinism lost credibility because of the devastating economic crisis in Greece, our Democratic Party began replacing it with “progressivism,” which has become the latest cover name for Marxism. …Today’s Progressive Movement was born in New York’s Zuccotti Park. It was first known as the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, which advocated the abolition of “capitalist America.”
Marxists in the West successfully propagate progressivism under the guise of “social justice“ that demands the redistribution of wealth to the less fortunate. Ironically, most people of the Judeo-Christian West accept this Marxist notion out of the goodness of their hearts. However, putting faith in the Marxist lie that human beings don’t have a heart (and therefore are incapable of compassionate decision making) requires handing over all financial power to the Marxist Wizards who proceed to dole out your funds as they see fit.
This speaks to the heart of the question, but how have the Marxist Wizards rendered us so seemingly brainless?
Marcia Clemmitt, a social policy researcher and former high school teacher, recently published an extensive report on homeschooling at CQ Researcher. In “Homeschooling: Do Parents Give Their Children a Good Education?“ Clemmitt discusses the research of Jennifer Lois, a sociology professor at the University of Western Washington, in Bellingham, and author of the 2012 book Home Is Where the School Is, who described some of the differences between those who homeschool for religious reasons and those who do it for more “pragmatic” reasons, such as safety or educational benefits.
Jennifer Lois said that although homeschooling parents generally acknowledge that “there’s potential for a lot of conflict and emotional button-pushing” between home-schooling parents and their children, she notes that “conservative Christian and other home-schooling mothers generally describe such problems quite differently.”
Lois said that “non-evangelical” mothers are more likely to remark that “we’re not meant to be together all the time; we’re not well matched for that.” In her study of homeschoolers, Lois discovered that these mothers were more likely to spend only a few years homeschooling their children and they were also more likely to complain about the children’s fathers not contributing enough to the homeschooling effort.
Clemmitt explained that women who homeschool for religious reasons are more likely to stick it out for the long haul. “By contrast, most evangelical Christian women whom Lois studied made very long-term home-schooling commitments, often lasting from preschool through high school,” Clemmitt said.
Women who view homeschooling as an integral part of their faith also view the inevitable family conflicts differently than their non-religious counterparts. “Evangelical mothers tended to describe conflicts less as problems and more as opportunities ‘to figure out ways to make their relationships with their children grow,”’ Lois says. Evangelical moms viewed the conflicts as opportunities for relationship building.
No word on how the dads view these issues (at least not in this study).
Last week here at PJ Lifestyle, we saw a lively debate over the difference between altruism and giving out of love — particularly in a Judeo-Christian context. My colleagues Walter Hudson and Susan L. M. Goldberg eloquently shared their thoughts on the nature of altruism in a series of compelling posts:
April 8: Altruism In Religion’s Free Market
April 9: Love And Altruism Prove Opposite
Walter, Susan, our editor David Swindle, and I continued the discussion on Facebook, which morphed into a bigger exploration of faith and religion. At one point, Susan brought up the notion we often hear from secularists that “God doesn’t want us to be happy.” I replied:
I don’t think God wants us to be happy, either. He wants us to be filled with joy. Happiness is temporal and circumstantial, while joy is sustained.
There’s a clear difference between happiness and joy. Circumstances and relationships determine our happiness. An ice cream cone can make you happy. A great comedy can make you happy. An upbeat song (even that ubiquitous Pharrell Williams tune) can make you happy. But happiness is transitory and momentary — and ultimately external. Psychologist Sandra A. Brown writes (particularly in the context of relationships):
Happiness is external. It’s based on situations, events, people, places, things, and thoughts. Happiness is connected to your hope for a relationship or your hope for a future with someone….
Happiness is future oriented and it puts all its eggs in someone else’s basket. It is dependent on outside situations, people, or events to align with your expectations so that the end result is your happiness.
And happiness can disappear as quickly as it comes. The same people who make us happy one moment can hurt us or let us down the next. That great meal you ate can give you unbearable heartburn. You can grow tired of the songs, films, and shows you once loved. A storm can ruin that perfect trip to the beach. The happiness we seek can often disappear without warning.
On Saturday I made what my Polish family calls “yellow.” It’s a sweet egg custard concoction that I remember my grandmother making every Easter when we visited. She always prepared the “yellow” the day before Easter and it would hang overnight, suspended between two kitchen chairs, wrapped in a cheesecloth, dripping excess moisture so the cheesy blob of yellow would be firm for Easter dinner the next day (the consistency of the finished product is somewhere between that of pudding and cream cheese).
No one in my family even likes “yellow.” I’m not sure why I made it — probably out of a sense of tradition and also for the feeling of accomplishment I get from creating something that required a bit of effort. Perhaps for the sense of accomplishment that comes from doing my part to contribute to my family’s Easter dinner.
When I was making the “yellow” that no one will likely even eat on Sunday, I was thinking about how we try to do that with God. Sometimes, we do things out of a sense of tradition. We “inherit” a faith from our parents and continue to perform the traditions out of either a sense of duty or a desire to honor our family’s heritage.
Other times, we approach God with something in our hands — confident that we have accomplished something that will please Him. If we work hard enough and put enough effort into our faith (or our good works), God will appreciate our effort and approve of us.
As I was stirring the custard on the stove (for a full 40 minutes!) I thought about my own propensity for doing both of those things — both my reliance on faith traditions and my smug assurance that my “doing” is what makes me right before God.
Pilot Episode, Scarecrow & Mrs. King (1983)
I dig spy movies. TV shows, too. Most kids growing up in the last decade before the fall of the Berlin Wall have fond memories of their first TV heroine being Jem or She-Ra. Mine was Amanda King. At 8 years old I wanted to partner up with an ultra-cool spy like Scarecrow (code named as a member of the Oz Network - as in Wizard of) and take down the Evil Empire in our midst. So, of course, when my editor Dave Swindle approached me with the opportunity to partner up with KGB defector Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa for a little intelligence gathering, how could I refuse?
Pacepa’s latest book, Disinformation reads like a Russian epic. The chronicle of facts detailing the Soviet disinformation campaign that disarmed American intellectual, political and academic circles over the course of the 20th century should be a must-read in any conservative’s common core. Having relied on it heavily for my PJ Lifestyle series on the Intellectual Love Affair with Marxism, I finished the book wanting to understand exactly where America is at on the road to socialism, and if the facts fit, why so many conservative outlets hesitated to give Pacepa’s book the time of day. So, I began my interview with 15 questions; a few weeks later Pacepa sent me a 12 page reply to the first question on the list. Tolstoy would’ve been proud. ”I’m out of touch with this generation… you speak their language,” he commented rather poetically. He also gave me an assignment: to decode his knowledge into what the Dude would call “the parlance of our times.”
Like Jay Carney, I have an affinity for the Soviet spectrum. Unlike Jay Carney, the goal of my interest is to avoid becoming a citizen of the next socialist empire to tear apart the globe. So, in the interest of achieving that goal, I seek out primary sources who can give me real information on the warning signs that appear within a culture whose political and popular leadership are driving them dangerously close to the brink of socialism with the goal of autocracy in mind.
The prophet said, “Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.” God has designed a path; we choose to walk down it and eventually realize what we’ve been preparing for all along. My path began in front of a TV and wound up here, in front of a screen that connects millions today with seemingly ancient truths. I invite you now to walk this yellow brick road with me as we study Pacepa’s seeds of truth and, perhaps, get a chance to plant a few of our own so that we can all find the rest we so desperately need.
Editor’s Note: “Part 1: The Mask of Marxism” is scheduled for Monday at 8:00 PST.
The much-anticipated movie ‘Heaven is for Real’ is set to open in movie theaters on Wednesday. The book tells the story of Colton Burpo, a little boy who claimed he visited heaven during a near-death experience.
“Heaven tourism” books have proliferated Christian best-seller lists in recent years, but are the accounts authentic, fictional, based on hallucinations, or something else? Moreover, do they comport with the Bible’s descriptions of heaven and the afterlife?
Pastor and author David Platt says no.
He describes ’Heaven is for Real’ as “A fanciful account of a four-year-old boy who talks about how he went to heaven and got a halo and wings, but he didn’t like them because they were too small. He claims that he sat on Jesus’ lap while angels sang to him,” Platt said. “He even met the Holy Spirit, whom he describes as ‘kind of blue.’
Platt said that “There is money to be made in peddling fiction about the afterlife as non-fiction in the Christian publishing world today” and “The whole premise behind every single one of these books is contrary to everything God’s word says about heaven,” including their “relentless self-focus.”
According to Platt, “Scripture definitely says that people do not go to heaven and come back. ‘Who has ascended to heaven and come down?’ (Proverbs 30:4). Answer: ‘No one has ascended into heaven except he who has descended from heaven — the Son of Man’” (John 3:13).
“Four biblical authors had visions about heaven and wrote about what they saw: Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul and John,” Platt said. “All of them were prophetic visions, not near-death experiences. Not one person raised from dead in the Old Testament or the New Testament ever wrote down what he or she experienced in heaven, including Lazarus, who had a lot of time in a grave — four days.”
But all of the biblical authors agree perfectly: “Their visions are all fixated on the glory of God which defines heaven and illuminates everything there. They are overwhelmed, chagrined, petrified, and put to silence by the sheer majesty of God’s holiness.” Platt said that notably missing from all the biblical accounts are “the frivolous features and juvenile attractions that seem to dominate every account of heaven currently on the bestseller list.”
He said we need to “minimize the thoughts of man and magnify, trust — let’s bank our lives and our understanding of the future on — the truth of God.” He said that rather than relying on traditions, we should depend on the word of God. “There’s too much at stake in our lives and others’ lives for that.”
Megachurch pastor, televangelist and author John Hagee has warned of a “world-shaking event that will happen between April 2014 and October 2015.” He believes that the series of lunar eclipses that will occur between now and then are predictive of major catastrophic historical events. The first “blood moon” will make its appearance on April 15. “There’s a sense in the world that things are changing and God is trying to communicate with us in a supernatural way,” Hagee told CBN earlier this year. “I believe that in these next two years we’re going to see something dramatic happen in the Middle East involving Israel that will change the course of history in the Middle East and impact the whole world,” he predicted.
That’s a rather unsettling prediction, one that is causing a lot of buzz among Christians and non-Christians alike.
What is a blood moon and should you be worried? Here are some facts:
David Swindle has entered the ongoing discussion on altruism, religion and politics here at PJLifestyle. In doing so, he’s issued a number of great questions I’ve been wrestling with over the past few weeks. Jumping back in, I’d like to address them one by one, beginning with:
Walter, Susan, Lisa, and anyone else who’d like to join the discussion: am I going too far when I say that for a good number of people “Conservatism” is a form of idolatry?
No. I’ve had a hard, sad reminder of that through some of the commentary I’ve received on a number of articles in the past few weeks. There are some wonderful, insightful people out there who I’d love to have dinner with some day. And then there’s the passionate base who has time to issue verbose rants: Contradict popular line and you can “F-off”. You know this segment of the population; they are the reason stereotypes exist. But, they also prove the point that there are people out there who worship Conservatism above all else. Ironically, they’re as abusively passionate as those “liberals” they are taught to hate.
Sunday, I offered the provocative theological claim that Altruism Has No Place in Christianity. I referenced the biblical teaching of pastor and theologian John Piper, who advances a notion of Christian hedonism summed up in the declaration that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
My colleague Susan L.M. Goldberg approached my claim with reservations. She concluded:
The question of whether or not altruism holds a place in religious life is dependent upon how one defines the structure of their faith: as a business arrangement or a personal relationship. The argument Walter poses is a good one in terms of the welfare state in America. I agree with him that socialist policies should not be promoted as altruistic acts of a benevolent big government. As far as altruism goes in relation to faith, I also agree that God prepares an individual for His purpose in their life and rewards them for their faith. I do, however, question Walter’s contextualizing our personal relationship with God into a business transaction. Before we hasten to view our personal faith in that light, we should bear in mind that the failure of the welfare state was preceded by the transformation of our houses of worship into social halls dedicated to fulfilling our own very non-altruistic needs.
Susan makes a distinction which I reject. Whether business or personal in nature, all relationships prove transactional. Certainly it is possible for people to act altruistically in their relationships. But altruism proves the exception to the transactional rule, and undermines the relational bond.
In my previous piece, I cited the example of a husband buying a bouquet of his wife’s favorite flower with money he would rather spend on something else. That’s altruism, doing something for someone else at the expense of your values. Not only would the husband harbor bitterness from his sacrifice. If his wife learned how he felt about the purchase, she would despise him for it. Why?
We have heard it said that “it’s the thought that counts” when gifts are given. What thought are we referring to? In the case of a bouquet bought for a wife, the thought might be, “I love you and want you to have this symbol of my affection far more than I want the money and time it took to acquire it.” In other words, the wife wants the husband to feel satisfied by her enjoyment of the flowers he bought. It’s transactional. Everyone is better off.
The same applies in our personal relationship to God. 2 Corinthians 9:7 reads:
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
If God wanted altruistic worshipers, He would not care whether they were reluctant or not.
Christian giving promotes life and health. Altruism promotes starvation and death. Altruism redistributes. Christian giving transacts. Christ’s own words assure us of greater blessing in giving than receiving. Christian giving leaves us better off, not worse. Altruism therefore proves atheistic, as Piper declares. We will never give more to others than God will give to us.
Walter’s basic conclusion is capitalist in nature: A Christian should be rewarded in kind (or over and above) for giving of their money, their time, or their talent. On the face of it, his argument makes sense, especially in light of congregational membership. My Christian friends often complain about the concept of “tithing,” a Torah teaching that is grossly abused by the religious establishment. Far too often, “tithing” translates into religious leadership putting pressure on church members to “donate” up to 10% of their annual income to their church. Synagogue membership, on the other hand, is rather simple: The same flat fee is charged to everyone on a yearly basis. No weekly passing of plates, no feeling ashamed; most synagogues have provision to assist members who may not be able to meet the annual sum. Programming fees are charged for additional events, like holiday services and Hebrew school. This model best fits Walter’s description of being rewarded in kind for monies given.
In the era where religious establishments have become places to fulfill business networking and social needs, it makes sense that you’d pay a fee for the religious service as you would any other mode through which these things would be accomplished. You pay for drinks at bars, JDate and Christian Mingle memberships, and head hunters; someone’s got to pay the electric bill so the lights are on when you’re shaking hands. The only question is, where is God in all of this? If the Bible is right, and we were put on earth to walk with Him in a personal relationship, what is He getting for His services rendered? That is, besides a corrupt priesthood on both sides of the aisle, pressuring congregants for cash and willing to let God take the back seat to a business deal?
“It is better to give than to receive.” How often have we heard that? The motto of the altruist, this would-be-proverb exhorts us to act for others at our expense. Among the vast culture of Christendom, altruism has been adopted as a tenant of the faith by many if not most believers. Churchgoers are encouraged to give sacrificially, which generally gets interpreted as giving until it hurts.
Yet careful examination of scripture suggests that altruism has no place in the Christian life. Consider this from pastor and theologian John Piper:
After my message to the Liberty University student body [in September of 2013], a perceptive student asked this clarifying question: So you don’t believe that altruistic acts are possible or desirable?
I asked for his definition of altruism so that I could answer what he was really asking. He said, “Doing a good deed for others with no view to any reward.” I answered: that’s right, whether or not it’s possible, I don’t think it’s desirable, because it’s not what the Bible teaches us to do; and it’s not what people experience as genuine love. Because it isn’t genuine love.
What does Piper mean by that? Consider that the phrase “it is better to give than to receive” does not actually appear in scripture. Instead, Acts 20:35 reads:
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
More blessed for who? The Contemporary English Version translates it this way. “More blessings come from giving than from receiving.” The New Life Version among others translates it another way. “We are more happy when we give than when we receive.” Christ, according to Paul, tells us we are better off helping the weak than being among the weak who require help.
That presents a far more precise application than the vague notion that “it’s better to give than to receive.” From an earthly perspective, giving requires abundance above and beyond our requirements for survival. We must have before we can give, and we must get before we can have. From a heavenly perspective, helping the weak in the name of Christ proves an act of obedient worship which draws us deeper into joyful relationship with Him. There’s nothing altruistic about that. You cannot lose upon securing an infinite value.
Rod Dreher at The American Conservative has a thoughtful analysis of the state of Christianity in the United States as we plunge forward into our brave, new cultural revolution. He explains that historically, the Christian views of sex and marriage were good for the culture and improved the lives of slaves and women:
It is nearly impossible for contemporary Americans to grasp why sex was a central concern of early Christianity. Sarah Ruden, the Yale-trained classics translator, explains the culture into which Christianity appeared in her 2010 book Paul Among The People. Ruden contends that it’s profoundly ignorant to think of the Apostle Paul as a dour proto-Puritan descending upon happy-go-lucky pagan hippies, ordering them to stop having fun.
In fact, Paul’s teachings on sexual purity and marriage were adopted as liberating in the pornographic, sexually exploitive Greco-Roman culture of the time—exploitive especially of slaves and women, whose value to pagan males lay chiefly in their ability to produce children and provide sexual pleasure. Christianity, as articulated by Paul, worked a cultural revolution, restraining and channeling male eros, elevating the status of both women and of the human body, and infusing marriage—and marital sexuality—with love.
Dreher discusses the theories of 1960s sociologist Philip Rieff who said that cultures are defined by what they forbid. They impose moral demands in order to serve communal purposes. Rieff — an unbeliever — wrote that the sexual revolution signaled the imminent demise of Christianity as a “culturally determinative force” in the West.
Rieff, Dreher says, explained that “renouncing the sexual autonomy and sensuality of pagan culture was at the core of Christian culture—a culture that, crucially, did not merely renounce but redirected the erotic instinct.” He said that the West’s rapid “re-paganizing around sensuality and sexual liberation” was a sign of the end of Christianity. According to Dreher,
In the 20th century, casting off restrictive Christian ideals about sexuality became increasingly identified with health. By the 1960s, the conviction that sexual expression was healthy and good—the more of it, the better—and that sexual desire was intrinsic to one’s personal identity culminated in the sexual revolution, the animating spirit of which held that freedom and authenticity were to be found not in sexual withholding (the Christian view) but in sexual expression and assertion. That is how the modern American claims his freedom.
In contrast, Denny Burk argues in his book, What is the Meaning of Sex?, the purposes of sex according to the Bible are consummation of marriage, procreation, the expression of love, and pleasure. But even those ends are subordinate to the “ultimate end of glorifying God.” Burk says that,
“The four subordinate ends are not discreet goods but are inseparably related to one another in the covenant of marriage, which itself exists for the glory of God. The morality of any given action, therefore, must be measured by its conformity to these ends.”
Dreher says that gay marriage is the final triumph of the 1960s Sexual Revolution and the “dethroning of Christianity.” He rightly points out that gay marriage stands in opposition to a core concept of Christian anthropology. “In classical Christian teaching,” says Dreher, ”the divinely sanctioned union of male and female is an icon of the relationship of Christ to His church and ultimately of God to His creation.” He says that Christians lost the debate about gay marriage long before most people imagined that we could go down that road, in part, because Americans had devalued the cosmological meaning of sex and marriage in the post-’60s Sexual Revolution.
Clearly, our culture has floated quite a distance downstream from the goal of “glorifying God” in all areas of life, including sex and marriage. Today’s accepted cultural norms elevate the glory of man over the glory of God.
“The question Western Christians face now is whether or not they are going to lose Christianity altogether in this new dispensation,” says Dreher. He adds that “If the faith does not recover, the historical autopsy will conclude that gay marriage was not a cause but a symptom, the sign that revealed the patient’s terminal condition.”
Darren Aronofsky’s take on the classic tale of Noah is the Jewish guy’s Bible movie. The narrative, which does remain true to the textual account of Genesis, is crafted in the style akin to a scholarly drash. In another lifetime you might imagine this story to have been generated by a minyan of Talmud scholars poring over the story in their classes. Perhaps that is why the Christian audience has reacted so poorly to the film; it is not, in the words of Walter Hudson, told “from a Christian theological standpoint.” The audience is treated to a wrestling, not recounting, of the text for two very good reasons: A four-chapter story would make for a very short film and Aronofsky, for however religious he may or may not be at the moment, is most definitely 100% a Jew.
Aronofsky’s Noah remains, first and foremost, a story of redemption as it was interpreted thousands of years ago when paired with Haftarah portions in Isaiah (42-43 and 54-55) for the weekly Torah reading. Like the patriarch Jacob, Noah wrestles with God: the battle is a question of original sin and free will. Redemption, Aronofsky illustrates, is a choice entered into by covenant with God. It is not simply a no-strings-attached gift granted to perfectly bad people by a perfectly good looking guy who tests well with focus groups.
Contrary to most Bible epics, a faceless, voiceless God communicates His redemptive plan to Noah through the Biblically prophetic device of a metaphoric dream. “You must trust that He speaks to you in a way you understand,” Noah’s grandfather Methuselah advises. Reminiscent of the Tanakh prophecy “your old men will see visions, your young men will dream dreams,” Aronofsky engages Noah with his aged, wise grandfather, who advises him of Enoch’s prophecy that God would, one day, annihilate the world by fire.
…no one who doesn’t already believe in God will go see Son of God. And many who do believe in God and who do go see it are, like me, plopping down $14 or $15 purely from a sense of solidarity with the well-intentioned creators of such projects. There are other, better “Jesus movies.” A dramatic reading of some of the more risqué and exciting parts of the Bible by the likes of Morgan Freeman would interest me more than sitting through Son of God again.
And while neither option likely interests your secular, non-religious co-worker, neighbor, or relative, all of them will go see something like Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. This is why I, as a Christian, am infinitely more excited about Noah than any other “faith-based” film in a long time – regardless of the theology or worldview found in it. I can actually talk to my non-Christian friends about it because they will actually pay U.S. currency (or BitCoin) to go see it.
…what I am suggesting is that while we work to inspire and equip new generations of artists who share our values to boldly venture into the pop-culture fray, we must not miss opportunities to introduce our worldview into the cultural conversation. … Art has the power to transcend and speak to the soul. But it must be able to meet people on their level before pointing them upward.
Upon first read I knew Moeller went out on a limb with his commentary, precisely because what he says is the truth. And truth doesn’t always gel with religious dogma; I’m a Jew, I should know. One advantage I do have over my Christian brothers when it comes to faith is that my Jewish culture encourages — and is built on — wrestling with God’s word. These matches stray far from the polite scenarios common to gentile Christian faith. However, they have resulted in a similarity between us, in that they have developed and sustained a religious culture that reveres commentary as much as the actual Word of God.
I had no intention of seeing Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, a film releasing wider this weekend “inspired by the [biblical] story of Noah.” Though initial glimpses excited me, revelations regarding Aronofsky’s stark deviations from the biblical narrative blunted my interest. Word on the street was that Aronofsky sought to recast Noah in an environmentalist mold and completely abandon key biblical themes.
Thursday night, I found myself out and about with a couple of hours to kill and decided to catch an early screening. As it turns out, everything you’ve heard about the heresy in Noah proves true. Here are 7 ways Aronofsky’s Noah upends the Bible (major spoilers):
7. Return of the Ents
Yeah, you read that right. Ents, the giant walking trees from The Lord of the Rings. What, you don’t remember those in the Bible?
Okay, these aren’t ents precisely. They are “Watchers,” fallen angels who rebelled against “the creator” (God makes no appearance in the film) by descending to Earth to help mankind. They lumber about in clumsy stone bodies as punishment for their disobedience.
Last week, alternative media mogul Glenn Beck announced that he was going to focus on “taking back” American culture through the power of nostalgia:
In the future, Glenn Beck’s focus is going to be more on influencing culture and less on politics and news. After all, news is only “what the culture allows,” he said in a recent interview with National Review’s Eliana Johnson.
…“Beck is nostalgic for an America of decades past, and his cultural projects will aim to resurrect and revive it,” Johnson writes. “It’s an America where duty trumped desire and Americans were bound together by a sort of civic religion created by that sense of duty. ‘I want to impact the culture in the way that people see good again,’ [Glenn] says.”
Beck’s goal is admirable, to a fault. The period he seeks to resurrect was one in which concepts like “good” and “duty” were defined by a Biblical religion, not a civic one. Any history student will tell you that Marx had his own take on the American Revolution; you can show someone Frank Capra movies until you’re blue in the face and they’re still going to see Mr. Smith as the ultimate community organizer if that’s their moral outlook.
As Amy Kenyon notes, there are pitfalls to what passes for nostalgia these days:
…the historical meanings and usages associated with nostalgia were finally mangled beyond recognition until its chief purpose became the performance of sentimentalism, the parceling out of discount memory via television, advertising, heritage theme parks, and souvenir markets, all aspects of what we might call the “nostalgia industry.” As such, nostalgia became kitsch, trivial and reactionary: hardly the stuff of a meaningful engagement with the past or the workings of memory.
Simply put: Glenn Beck needs to do more than embrace the facade of America, circa 1940. Beck needs to dig deeper, to America’s Biblical heritage, to understand what re-taking the culture truly means.