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Presbyterians Approve Gay Marriage: Forward-Looking or Surrender to a Culture Gone Wild?

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 - by Michael van der Galien

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The Presbyterian Church has once again confirmed its progressive reputation:

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved redefining marriage in the church constitution Tuesday to include a “commitment between two people,” becoming the largest Protestant group to formally recognize gay marriage as Christian and allow same-sex weddings in every congregation.

Is this a sign that Presbyterians are forward-looking and profoundly modern, or are they selling out? Opinion polls show that 55 percent of Americans now support same-sex marriage. No church can survive when it ignores the wishes and ideas of the culture at large. Gay marriage is going to be legalized nationwide eventually, as the culture is moving in that direction. Might as well get on board now rather than wait and be accused of being out of touch.

On the other hand, many devoted Christians rightfully argue that the Bible clearly states that a marriage is an arrangement between a man and a woman. They’ll claim they’ve got Genesis to back them up if they believe in a literal interpretation of Christianity’s holy book:

Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. And Adam said: “This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.

What do you think? Are the Presbyterians right and should other churches follow suit, or are they selling out their religion in a desperate attempt to stay relevant in today’s society?

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image illustration via shutterstock / 

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Why I Am Non-Denominational Christian

Sunday, March 15th, 2015 - by Chris Queen

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Dear Ana Marie Cox,

Like countless others, I read your essay “Why I’m Coming Out as a Christian” with mixed emotions. At times you encouraged me, baffled me, infuriated me, but at the end, I walked away satisfied, knowing that, even though you and I may not agree on everything (or much at all, maybe?), you and I are on the same side of the ultimate decision of all: the decision to follow Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

You impressed me most with some of your elegant descriptions of faith:

In my personal life, my faith is not something I struggle with or something I take particular pride in. It is just part of who I am. [...] I try, every day, to give my will and my life over to God. I try to be like Christ. I get down on my knees and pray. [...] Here is why I believe I am a Christian: I believe I have a personal relationship with my Lord and Savior. I believe in the grace offered by the Resurrection. I believe that whatever spiritual rewards I may reap come directly from trying to live the example set by Christ. Whether or not I succeed in living up to that example is primarily between Him and me. My understanding of Christianity is that it doesn’t require me to prove my faith to anyone on this plane of existence. It is about a direct relationship with the divine and freely offered salvation.

A perfect world would greet your essay with the same fanfare it greets people who make all sorts of declarations about their personal life, but as believers in Jesus you and I both know that the world we live in is far from perfect.

Like my colleague, Jon Bishop, I thought that sharing my experiences might add to the conversation. I grew up in the church – there has never been a time in my life when my family wasn’t actively involved in church. The church we attended from the time I was a child until my 11th grade year was a Christian Church. Though they claim not to be a denomination, and there is no hierarchy like a denomination, there’s a doctrinal hegemony within much of the Christian Church, and the congregations share common educational institutions and mission organizations.

In the church where I grew up, I often heard the saying, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love.” Yet this congregation didn’t practice much unity – in fact, every three years or so a big blow-up would take place which would set the church back in many ways.

(It may be worth nothing here that such schisms dot the timeline of the Restoration Movement, which began during the Second Great Awakening in the 19th century and produced the Christian Church, as well as the more liberal Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Church of Christ (both the congregations who use musical instruments and those who don’t), and the Evangelical Christian Church in Canada. Disputes over organization. worship style, and theological liberalism have led to splits within the movement over many years.)

During one of those blow-ups at my home church when I was 16, my family along with about half a dozen other families set out to start a new congregation, one that was truly independent. We saw a need that was lacking in our community and sought to meet it by providing a casual, contemporary worship experience in a theologically conservative setting.

We maintained the loosest of ties with the Christian Church, largely because our pastors and earliest members came from that tradition, but also for the sake of camps for children and students, as well as missionaries. We’ve also kept a few of the Christian Church’s traditions – taking the Lord’s Supper every Sunday and an emphasis on baptism by immersion (though, while the Christian Church considers baptism essential to salvation, we don’t believe that baptism saves an individual – we do consider it a requirement for church membership and an important sacrament for a new believer to undertake).

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After 25 years, give or take a few months, Eastridge Community Church has refined its mission – the mission God gave us – to make disciples who love God, love people, and reach the world. We have served our community in countless ways and sent members on mission trips to Mexico, China, India, Honduras, Ethiopia, and Rwanda. We’ve become a multi-site church with a second campus in the southern area of our home county, and we sponsor churches in India.

One of the most remarkable features of our history is that, other than one change in leadership, we’ve remained largely unified with no splits (save an exodus of some members surrounding that leadership change). It’s the kind of unity that can only come from a congregation that is committed to following God above any other agenda.

How has Eastridge shaped me? It’s where I learned how to serve selflessly, where I developed many of my creative talents and leadership skills. The church has taken me to Mexico to build houses – twice. I’ve been discipled and I’ve discipled others. I love Eastridge so much that I spend six years on staff and recently came back on staff!

Without the involvement in and support from an independent, non-denominational church for a little over 25 years, I wouldn’t be the man of God that I am. I truly believe that, and I’m grateful that He’s allowed me and the rest of my family to experience these years at Eastridge.

Sincerely,

Chris Queen

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Please join the discussion with us on Twitter. The essay above is the twenty-first in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. Want to contribute? Check out the articles below, reach out, and lets brainstorm: @DaveSwindle

The essay is the third in a series of inter-faith dialogues on Sundays, see the first from Jon Bishop on March 8, “Why I Am Catholic,” and the second by Susan L.M. Goldberg published earlier today, “Why I Am Jewish.”

Volume II

  1. Frank J. Fleming on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Government? Why It Won’t Look Like Star Trek 
  2. Aaron C. Smith on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Superheroes? Why They Need To Start Killing Super-Villains
  3. Mark Ellis on February 26, 2016: What Is the Future of Gen-X Manhood? Adam Carolla Vs Chuck Palahniuk?
  4. David S. Bernstein on February 26, 2015: What is the Future of Fiction? You’ll Be Shocked Who’s Fighting the New Conservative Counter-Culture
  5. Aaron C. Smith on March 2, 2015: The House Loses: Why Season 3 of House of Cards Utterly Disappoints
  6. Michael Walsh on March 2: What the Left Doesn’t Get About Robert A. Heinlein
  7. Frank J. Fleming on March 3: 8 Frank Rules For How Not to Tweet
  8. Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 4: 7 Reasons Why Backstrom Is Perfect Counter-Culture Conservative TV
  9. Frank J. Fleming on March 5: What Is the Future of Religion?
  10. Aaron C. Smith on March 5: The Future of Religion: Why Judeo-Christian Values Are More Important Than Science
  11. Spencer Klavan on March 5: Not Religion’s Future: ISIS and the Art of Destruction
  12. Chris Queen on March 7: 5 Reasons Why Big Hero 6 Belongs Among The Pantheon Of Disney Classics
  13. Jon Bishop on March 8: Why I Am Catholic
  14. Frank J. Fleming on March 11: 6 Frank Tips For Being Funny On the Internet
  15. Becky Graebner on March 11: 5 Things I Learned In My First 6 Months As a Small Business Owner
  16. Frank J. Fleming on March 12: This Is Today’s Question: What Does It Mean To Be ‘Civilized’?
  17. Mark Ellis on March 12: The Future of Civilized Society: One World
  18. Aaron C. Smith on March 12: Why Civilization Is a Gift to Bullies
  19. David S. Bernstein on March 12: Nihilism & Feminism for Girls: Has Judd Apatow Let Lena Dunham Self-Destruct Intentionally?
  20. Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 15: Why I Am Jewish

See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:

2014 – Starting the Discussion…

January 2015 – Volume I

February 2015

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Christians: ‘Sacrifice’ Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

Sunday, March 15th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

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Catch up on this series’ previous installments: Part I: “Christianity’s Human Sacrifice Problem,” Part II: “Is Religion Illogical?” Part III: “Would Christians Object to Living Indefinitely Through Technology?,” Part IV: “Is Religion Compatible with Life on Earth?,” Part V: “Atheists Can Be Moral, Too” Part VI: “Morality Is Objective, and We Can Prove It

Given the term’s religious origins, it should be no wonder why “sacrifice” holds sacred status in our culture. Parents are lauded for the sacrifices they make on behalf of their children. Those who serve in the military, or in law enforcement, or those who risk their lives to put out fires — all are praised for the sacrifices they make for their community. We are persistently called to sacrifice in both public and private life. Policies have been sold by appealing to “what you can do for your country.”

This broad use of the term “sacrifice” fails to distinguish between two concepts which should not be confused with each other. Most of the above examples of “sacrifice” are actually profitable transactions where something of lesser value is given up in exchange for something of greater value. Contrasted to that, appeals to sacrifice in our political discourse frequently call for transactions where something of greater value is given up in exchange for something of lesser or no value.

To highlight this distinction, let’s work through a few examples.

A parent who gives up a trip to Paris or an expensive hobby so they can afford to send their children to private school is not giving up something of greater value for something of lesser value. They have determined in their judgment that the education of their children is a higher value than the vacation or hobby. Most parents do not resent their children as unjust drains upon their happiness.

A college student who gives up a night on the town with friends so they may study for a big test has not sacrificed something of greater value. They have determined in their judgment that their academic success is a higher value than the short-term pleasure of a night out. Most graduates clutching their diploma do not wish they had spent less time studying and more time drinking.

When we consider the role of a firefighter or a soldier, the calculus gets a little more complicated. But the principle remains the same. A firefighter who runs into a burning building does not do so with the intent to die, but with the intent to save. He assumes a risk, not because he deems his life of lesser value than the lives of others, but because he values life as such and seeks a world where those in danger are rescued.

Similarly, even in a scenario where soldiers are ordered to their deaths, they follow not because they want to die, but – with apologies to Mel Gibson – because they want to live. A world where evil is fought, where rights are preserved and liberty protected, offers a higher value than a life lived in slavery to tyrants. If one dies in pursuit of a life lived on their terms, it cannot be said that they sacrificed anything. The sacrifice would be to live in chains.

Indeed, what we really mean when we say that a solider or his family “sacrificed” for our freedom is that they exhibited virtue in pursuit of liberty. It seems unlikely that any particular soldier who has been killed in action had a total stranger in mind at the time and thought, “This is for you.” Rather, we at home stand as peripheral beneficiaries of the soldier’s pursuit of self-interest. He wants to live life on his terms, not on the terms of a tyrant. He wants his family and friends back home to be safe and to live free, and is willing to act accordingly. He’s willing to die if necessary, but death is not what he’s seeking.

The distinction here is between the pursuit of self-interest and the sacrifice of it. Many of the things we term “sacrifice” are actually rational pursuits of self-interest. Even when the pursuit risks or assures death, it’s still motivated by chosen life-affirming values. By contrast, real sacrifice is selfless in the sense that it betrays one’s values for the sake of something which isn’t a value. By conflating the two, we muddy the rhetorical waters, particularly in the political discourse.

When a politician comes to you pitching a new tax or restriction and sells it as a “sacrifice” for the sake of fill-in-the-blank, they are appealing to the sense of responsibility which compels you to prioritize your interests. They say such-and-such policy is “for the children.” You think about your children and what you’d be willing to do for them. The problem is, the policy isn’t limited to what you do with your resources for your children. Nor is it an appeal to charity wherein you choose to use your resources in support of a cause you favor. It is a call to sacrifice your values for those determined by others.

Indeed, to be truly altruistic, one cannot value the cause which they support. If you value the cause, then you’re just pursuing your own interest, and the altruists won’t give you any credit. This is, in part, why private charity is derided by leftists as an inadequate response the plight of the poor. If you only give to those you deem worthy, you’re discriminating against and neglecting those who need your help the most — those whom you do not deem worthy. It’s to these that you must sacrifice.

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Why I Am Catholic

Sunday, March 8th, 2015 - by Jon Bishop

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Dear Ana Marie Cox:

Your recent essay in which you announced your Christianity quite literally blew up. Many people talked about it and were moved by it, and it didn’t matter which side of the aisle they fell on: liberals, conservatives, centrists, and political agnostics all took something away from it. I think it’s because your piece reminded us that we shouldn’t be co-opting our faith for politics — which, sadly, happens far too often.

I’d like to continue the trend you started. I’m certainly not well-known like you, but nevertheless, I’m hoping that I can at least make a small impact with this piece. Unlike you, though, I’m not “coming out.” I’m very open about my Catholic faith.

But many people might not know “why” I’m Catholic. So here it goes: I am a Catholic because it saved my life.

Dramatic? Sure. True? Absolutely.

When I was in high school, I was not religious in the slightest. I believed in a god, but he was an abstract and distant god — something like the demiurge or the great mystical watchmaker, not the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I was more deist than Catholic, even though the latter is the faith in which I was raised.

I was also miserable. I was picked on and I was moody. I’d come home depressed, and I’d wonder why people were so nasty, even though I was nice to everyone. Because of this, I fought with my parents and sister constantly.

One time, I invited people over to my house, and I set up snacks and drinks in my basement, and I waited, but the drinks grew warm and the snacks slowly started to get stale, and then when I realized no one was coming, I went back upstairs, dejected.

At a particularly dark moment, when I figured I’d damaged my relationship with my family beyond repair and assumed I would never have meaningful friendships again, I shut my eyes and went to bed, hoping that I’d wake up dead.

But then I went to college — a Catholic one. And I joined chapel choir, even though I couldn’t sing. Why? Well, I knew it would get me to Mass. I didn’t see it at the time, but I know that it was Providence starting to pull me in. So I would go to church and I’d sort of observe things on the periphery, but I didn’t fully commit. It was as if I were a child afraid to go swimming.

In the meantime, though, I began to take classes, which introduced me to the intellectual depth and richness of the faith. Before that, in CCD, I learned that Jesus loved me and that He died for my sins. Okay, cool, I always said. But what else is there? Oh, and whenever I’d hear of the saints, I always figured they were like comic book heroes.

In class, I met St. Augustine, who partied hard in his youth and became infatuated with some really stupid ideas. If you take away the partying — I didn’t do that much in high school — you had me. I really connected with the guy, and he showed me that the saints really are just normal, broken people. He later became one of my intellectual and spiritual heroes.

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Does Being Jewish Mean Going to Temple, or Going to Israel?

Sunday, March 8th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Last week I expounded upon why my husband and I have chosen not to join a synagogue. The backlash I received, oddly enough primarily from Christian readers, essentially boiled down to accusations of selfishness on my part and an unwillingness to contribute to a community. My question in response is simple: What exactly defines “community” in terms of being Jewish? A reader by the name of Larry in Tel Aviv wrote:

I agree wholeheartedly with every one of your points and you could add a few more! Such as one wouldn’t know the first thing about anti-Semitism in the world today, the nature of the threats Israel faces and related, from the rabbis and synagogue politicos. In fact you wouldn’t know anything important about anything that matters, not from synagogue, not much from Hebrew School neither (even Hebrew is largely poorly taught, with exceptions).

Which prompted me to ask myself: Do Jews in America know how to be Jewish without institutional backing?

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Based on some of the comments I received from Christian readers, it would seem that religion in America requires some kind of institutional affiliation in order to be legitimized. Whether it’s a church, temple, or yoga studio religious folks of all stripes need a facility through which to connect to one another in order to establish and reinforce their religious identity. Historically speaking, Mordecai Kaplan emulated this concept when he reconstructed the idea of synagogue as community, the physical center of Jewish life in Diaspora America. Why don’t Jews necessarily need this institutional bond today? The answer is simple: We have Israel.

As I mentioned in my last article, one of the reasons why my husband and I have elected not to join a synagogue is that we’d rather spend the money going to Israel. Some of those reasons include the reality expounded on by Larry in Tel Aviv. If you want a solid geographical, cultural, historical connection to being Jewish, you find it in Israel. If you want to understand that being Jewish is both secular and religious at the same time, you learn that in Israel. If you want to know how to establish a lasting Jewish identity, you figure it out in Israel. We were not a group of popes and monks called upon to cordon ourselves off behind incensed walls in medieval monasteries. We were and are a nation and a national identity requires more than just a religious makeup in order to thrive.

Everything is more honest in Israel. The rabbinate openly functions as a political entity and the population treats it as such. As many Jewish Israelis that don’t attend synagogue do profess faith in God. When they talk about religious freedom it has nothing to do with the Almighty and everything to do with the almighty rabbinical overlords who abusively claim heavenly authority to determine who is and isn’t Jewish, who can and can’t marry and divorce, and who should and shouldn’t serve in the military.

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Morality Is Objective, and We Can Prove It

Sunday, March 8th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Catch up on this series’ previous installments: Part I: “Christianity’s Human Sacrifice Problem,” Part II: “Is Religion Illogical?” Part III: “Would Christians Object to Living Indefinitely Through Technology?,” Part IV: “Is Religion Compatible with Life on Earth?,” Part V: “Atheists Can Be Moral, Too

What is morality anyway? You might think it goes without saying. But different people don’t always mean the same thing when they claim an act is moral or immoral.

For believers, morality tends to boil down to obeying God’s commandments. When we say this is moral and that is not, we mean it conforms with or diverges from biblical prescriptions.

With that as our view of morality, it becomes easy to see why we might claim that there can be no morality without God. We’ve set God’s commandments as our standard of value. But what if, by doing so, we’ve placed the proverbial cart before the horse? Are God’s commandants good because he said so? Or does God issue commandments because they are good?

Before we can rationally tackle such questions, we need to define our terms. In his book Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts That Support It, author Craig Biddle leads us on a path toward discovering a morality induced from the facts we perceive in creation:

To begin, note that the basic fact that makes morality such a difficult subject is the very fact that makes it a subject in the first place: free will. As human beings we have the faculty of volition, the power of choice; we choose our actions. This fact gives rise to our need of morality. Indeed, the realm of morality is the realm of choice. What makes the issue complicated is the fact that our choices are guided by our values – which are also chosen. This is why it is so difficult to get to the bottom of morality. Human values are chosen – every last one of them. Consequently, peoples’ values seem to differ in every imaginable way.

Nearly all of our chosen values are subjective. I like basketball. You like football. Which of us is right?

We tend to recognize that there is no “right” choice between such values. We may be tempted to extrapolate that there are no “right” choices at all, that all values are subjective. That’s the argument of moral relativism.

One such relativist was the philosopher David Hume, who presented an alleged unbridgeable gap between that which is and how we ought to act. This “is-ought gap” suggests that there is no way to leap from the facts of reality to a code of conduct, that there is no objective standard of value.

It turns out that Hume was wrong. There is an objective standard of value. Proving it requires no reference to God or religion. The is-ought gap was bridged in the last century by the discoveries of philosopher Ayn Rand. She wrote in her essay “The Objectivist Ethics”:

There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or non-existence – and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms. The existence of inanimate matter is unconditional, the existence of life is not: it depends on a specific course of action. Matter is indestructible. it changes form, but it cannot cease to exist. It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative: the issue of life or death. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. If an organism fails in that action, it dies; its chemical elements remain, but its life goes out of existence. It is only the concept of “Life” that makes the concept of “Value” possible.

Biddle adds in his commentary:

The reason why living things need values is: in order to live. The answer to the question “for what?”is: for life.

Life is the ultimate end served by our pursuit of values, and thus reigns as our objective standard of value. Something has value to us only to the extent that it furthers or enhances our life.

But what do we mean by “objective”? Isn’t the idea that life is the standard of value just Rand’s opinion?  Can’t you choose another standard based on your subjective tastes? Biddle answers:

No, free will do not make the issue subjective. It does mean that a person can choose not to live; but it does not mean that he can choose a standard of value other than life.

… Without life there would be no one to whom anything could be beneficial or harmful. And why do such alternatives matter one way or the other? Because of the requirements of life. They are values or non-values only in relation to the alternative of life or death – and only for the purpose of promoting one’s life. The fact that we have free will does not change any of this; it simply grants us a choice in the matter: to live or not to live – to be or not to be.

Having discovered this objective standard of value, we have our reference point for further unveiling an objective morality. From the fact of our own existence as living beings with a particular nature, we can rationally ascertain what we ought to do.

Generally speaking, we ought to work to provide for our needs. We ought to act to obtain or keep that which furthers our survival and makes us happy.

This happiness, the sort referenced by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, is not a hedonistic whim. It’s not chocolate for a diabetic. It’s not an affair for a married man. Rather, true happiness is gauged in the context of how life works and what we can reasonably expect to follow from our actions. The diabetic who eats lots of chocolate may gain short-term pleasure, but at the expense of his long-term well-being. The same can be said of the adulterer.

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Odd how this objective morality, discovered by an unrepentant atheist, starts to dimly echo the Ten Commandments. Indeed, if God exists, and if He created the universe, it follows that his moral commandments would jive with the facts of his crafted reality – that He would prescribe action in our best interest.

While Biddle, Rand, and other Objectivist thinkers reject religion on principle, believers need not reject the morality they present. On the contrary, recognizing objective morality glorifies God. Romans 1:19-20 reads:

… that which is known about God is evident within [man]; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

Paul here says, in essence, that we can induce from the world – from what is – what we ought to do.

If we entertain objective morality as believers, we are presented with a challenge to some of our doctrine. In particular, we must figure out what to do with our human sacrifice problem. If life is the standard of value, which it’s fair to say we have firmly established, then how can sacrificing life ever be moral?

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Biddle sets the context for deliberation:

Since each person is objectively a separate being with his own body, his own mind, his own life – since life is an attribute of the individual – each person’s own life is his own ultimate value. Each individual is morally an end in himself – not a means to the ends of others. Accordingly, a person has neither a moral duty to sacrifice himself for the sake of others (as religion and social subjectivism claim) nor a moral right to sacrifice others for his own sake (as personal subjectivism [or hedonism] claims). On principle, neither self-sacrifice nor sacrifice of others is moral, because, on principle, human sacrifice as such is immoral.

What then must we do with the Christian reverence for sacrifice? What do we do with Abraham’s offering of Issac? With Christ’s work on the cross? How do we categorize things like military service or working as a firefighter? How do we regard charity, parenthood, marriage, and a hundred other human interactions which are typically associated with sacrifice in a positive connotation?

That’s our subject for next week.

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Nixon Went to China, Will Pope Francis Follow?

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015 - by Pierre Comtois

The question of whether Pope Francis will finally achieve the dream of many of his predecessors to visit China moved to the forefront of international chatter recently when he declined to meet with the Dalai Lama on the occasion of that worthy’s visit to Rome last year.

Many in the media immediately assumed at the time that the Pope’s refusal to meet with the Dalai Lama was political, that he was fearful of upsetting China’s rulers who might then take it out on negotiations between Beijing and the Vatican on normalizing relations between the two bodies.

That notion has since been laid to rest by Francis himself during an in-flight press conference held aboard his plane as it left the Philippines on Jan. 19. There, Francis explained that the reason the meeting didn’t happen was due to protocol that prevented a get-together while the Dalai Lama was in town to attend another gathering.

The Pope then assured reporters that a future meeting date had been set but did not say when.

But the kerfuffle raised by the media over the apparent “snub,” has served to remind everyone about the delicate politics involved with the Church’s negotiations with the Chinese that is likely based on a fear by the country’s Communist rulers of a loosening grip on power more than a Marxist rejection of religion as an “opiate of the masses.”

A way needs to be found that would allow the Chinese rulers to back away from their decades-long stand against religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular.

But politics and negotiations have never been strangers to the Catholic Church in China whose historical association with the country began with Franciscan priest John Montecorvino who arrived in 1294 during the Yuan dynasty. Five years later, he built the first church and some years after that, Catholicism became a thriving concern. In the 1600s, Jesuit missionaries arrived and, impressed with their technical and accounting expertise, emperors of the Qing dynasty named many of them to important civic positions.

In later years however, arriving Dominicans criticized the Jesuits’ approach to proselytization and complained that the Order had gone native. That internal strife tried the patience of Chinese rulers who eventually outlawed Catholicism and tried to stamp it out. A low point was reached during the Boxer Rebellion, a nativist reaction to foreign imperialism, in which Catholics were targeted for murder.

The 1900s saw a return to normalcy with the number of Catholics in China growing into the millions before the communist movement triumphed in 1949 and established the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

All religions were then considered threats to the new order and placed under control of the State Administration for Religious Affairs which moved quickly to bring the Catholic Church to heel with the creation in 1957 of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association with its state-approved bishops.

That action marked the official split between the government of China and the Vatican which continued to support an underground Catholic Church that refused to acknowledge control by the state. While not moving to overtly stamp out the underground Church, the government has done its best since diplomatic relations were severed in 1958 to make life for its faithful as difficult as possible by closing churches, not allowing new churches to be built, discriminating against believers, and jailing for long periods priests and bishops who continued to be loyal to the Pope.

Even today, Catholics continue to be imprisoned for refusing to submit with Roman Catholic bishop Cosma Shi Enxiang only the latest reminder. The 94-year-old cleric had spent the greater part of 60 years imprisoned and the last 14 in house arrest, all because of his loyalty to the underground Catholic Church. Reports have surfaced of his death recently but there has been no official word from the Chinese government.

Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Ma Daqin has been in detention since his ordination in 2012 when he resigned the Patriotic Association to join the underground Church.

Eager to relieve its followers from such oppression, the Church has been involved in diplomatic efforts to end the impasse between itself and the PRC for decades but a difference of opinion in how even to approach the table has prevented real progress.

Those sticking points have been described as the “two China” problem and the question of independence: China demands that the Church end its diplomatic relations with Taiwan before anything else can be discussed while the Church wants China to first agree to the primacy of the Pope as leader of the universal Church including the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

Such is where matters have rested for decades until there was a recent indication by the Church that it would be willing to move its embassy from Taiwan to the mainland. But even with that concession, the PRC has balked, refusing to recognize the Pope’s sole authority in the consecration of bishops.

Benedict XVI tried to walk a line between church and state when he reasserted the Church’s claims to primacy while also acknowledging the right to govern by the PRC.

But there may also be another problem: freedom of religion in particular and human rights in general which some believe must be guaranteed if any settlement with the PRC is to work. Without freedom of the press for instance, how can the Church publish its various newsletters and public communications? Without the sanctity of private property, how can it be certain its buildings are safe from seizure?

Which brings things to the present except to say that in the last ten years or so, China’s climb to a world economic power has added complications to the mix that could bode good or ill in its relations with the Catholic Church.

On one hand, the country’s newfound power has made its leaders more arrogant as their navy expands the government’s claims in the South and East China Seas even as it grows closer to the enemies of the West. Meanwhile, China has moved aggressively in Africa and Central America in its efforts to secure natural resources as well as investing heavily in enterprises around the world.

However, on the home front, prosperity has raised the expectations of an increasingly restive population tired of the state’s one child rule, unresponsive government administrators, official corruption, and lack of freedom. As a result, the government finds itself putting out brush fires of angry citizens from towns remote from the country’s prosperity to villages in the way of development to disenfranchised voters in Hong Kong.

At the same time, some reports indicate that the Communist Party itself is currently in turmoil with some kind of internal power struggle going on. And so long as that struggle continues, Vatican diplomats can’t be sure which side might be friendly to their interests putting negotiations on hold.

Events, it seems, are pulling China in different directions and the question is which will win out. Will it be more freedom or more control? Will the Party choose to put a lid on demands for more openness in order to maintain its overseas military aspirations or ease off on domestic issues where pressure is building due to rising expectations?

Amid all this, Christianity is growing quickly in China with some estimates claiming over 100 million with about 10 million of those members belonging both to the underground and Patriotic Catholic Churches.

For that reason alone, China cannot be ignored by the Vatican and in a recent interview Pope Francis insisted that his door is always open to envoys of the PRC.

The Pope’s implicit optimism may have been spurred by a January statement from Hua Chunying, a mouthpiece for the Chinese foreign ministry who said that his government was “willing to have constructive dialogue with the Vatican based on relevant principles” adding that “China is always sincere in improving ties with the Vatican, and has been making efforts to this end.”

So it might be in the interests of China, if it wants to appease a significant portion of its dissatisfied population, to walk through that door and come to a modus vivendi with the Vatican. If that happened, then Francis might indeed get his wish to be the first Pope to visit China.

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Is Religion Compatible with Life on Earth?

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

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Even if we conclude that God exists, that does not mean He is worthy of worship. Different presentations of God offer conflicting moral prescriptions, many of which defy our objective sense of right and wrong. It’s easy to understand why critics of religion, like author Craig Biddle, deem faith illogical and even evil. Examples like Islam’s Sharia law speak for themselves.

But Biddle argues that any religious prescription ultimately proves counter-productive to human happiness. From his book Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts That Support It:

To the extent a person is religious, he believes that he has a duty to self-sacrificially serve God. This duty requires him to abandon his own selfish dreams. If he sticks to his faithful convictions and abandons his dreams, he cannot be happy, because his dreams go forever unrealized. Conversely, if he hypocritically abandons his convictions and pursues his dreams, he still cannot be happy, for he is filled with moral guilt and dread of divine retribution.

Biddle offers the hypothetical example of a young girl who desires to be an accomplished ballerina, but feels compelled to serve God by becoming a nun or missionary. We might likewise consider the tithe. What could you do with the money contributed to your church? Aren’t you sacrificing whatever you could do – whatever debt you could pay, whatever provision you could acquire, whatever dream you could chase – by giving up a portion of your income to religion?

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Pastor to Oprah: Christianity ‘Moments Away’ from Embracing Gay Marriage

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Immutability stands as a defining characteristic of divine nature. A god who changes cannot be God. At least that’s been a long-standing Christian doctrine.

But at least one best-selling author and pastor believes that Christianity itself must change. The Blaze reports:

Former megachurch pastor Rob Bell told TV host Oprah Winfrey that he believes Christian churches will become even more irrelevant if they fail to embrace gay relationships and that he sees the Christian umbrella becoming more favorable of homosexuality in the very near future.

When Winfrey asked when the church will come on board with same-sex relationships, Bell, the former pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, said that he believes that the time is “close” and that “we’re just moments away from the church accepting it,” according to the Christian Post.

“I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles, and co-workers and neighbors, and they love each other and just want to go through life with someone,” Bell said on OWN’s “Super Soul Sunday.”

Two things stand out from these comments. First, Bell proceeds on the unspoken premise that cultural relevance ought to be a Christian value. Of course, if Christians want to be relevant to the culture, they should just renounce Christianity. Scripture is replete with exhortations for the believer to stand apart from the culture, to be distinct in both attitude and conduct. You’d be hard pressed to find a passage in the Bible urging Christians to be “relevant” to the world around them.

Which leads to the second standout from Bell’s comments: his cavalier dismissal of scripture. Who needs 2,000 year old letters to guide their theology? That’s so yesterday. One wonders why anyone would bother to consider themselves Christian at all if they hold so little regard for biblical authority.

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Would Christians Object to Living Indefinitely Through Technology?

Sunday, February 15th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

We want to live forever. We seek immortality through a variety of means, living vicariously through our children, leaving a legacy in our community, and embracing the claims of religion.

But what if we could actually live indefinitely here on Earth? What if we could elect to live for centuries or even millennia? Would we want to?

Zoltan Istvan thinks so. Reason TV’s Zach Weissmueller interviews the author of The Transhumanist Wager in the video above. They come to an interesting aside when Weissmueller inquires about cultural resistance to the idea of technological immortality. Aren’t some people actually revolted by the idea? Istvan answers:

America and many places around the world are quite religious, especially America…a poll said 83% are still declaring themselves Christian. That makes it hard to want to take death out of the equation, because a natural part of the Christian ideology is to die and to eventually reach an afterlife with God…

While Istvan may anticipate the reaction of some, the Christian faith doesn’t necessarily preclude an embrace of transhumanist technology. It depends on the particular nature of the tech. There’s nothing in mainstream Christian doctrine which would forbid something like artificial organs, for instance. And if replacing organs could extend life by decades or more, why not?

… it’s not as though wanting to live indefinitely is something that’s going to intrude and conflict with one’s religion. It’s just something that’s kind of the evolving nature of the species. And if you can get people to think like that, and not see it in conflict with their own ideologies, then I think they’re going to be more on board with saying, “Yeah, it’s good to live 150, 200 years.” And again, I’m not saying let’s live forever. I don’t think any transhumanists are saying that. I think what we want is the choice to be able to live indefinitely. That might be 10,000 years. That might only be 170 years.

The line might be drawn at technology which changes one’s nature to something non-human. When we look at something like uploading one’s consciousness to a computer, the question must be asked: would you still be “you?” Or would you be essentially committing suicide?

The notion of living indefinitely, unto itself, should actually appeal to the Christian. After all, everlasting life is the promise of Christian salvation, and lifespans greatly surpassing those common today are recorded throughout scripture. Adam lived to 930. Noah made it to 950. Enoch was “taken” before his time at the tender young age of 365. For the believer who takes scripture literally, the notion of living for centuries has precedence.

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The Roman Catholic Church: History’s First Global Organization

Sunday, February 8th, 2015 - by Pierre Comtois

Editor’s Note: Check out the previous installments in Pierre’s ongoing series exploring the big ideas in Catholic life: 

The idea of all the countries on Earth gathering under a single roof to address issues of international concern had been a dream of mankind for who knows how long before Woodrow Wilson was finally able to convince the nations of Europe to finally do it as a League of Nations.

And though nations managed to come together in the past, it was usually borne of necessity to form military alliances or negotiate treaties for peace or trade among two or more of them and rarely for any other reason than that.

But well ahead of all such limited agreements, was the Roman Catholic Church which brought together representatives from at first, every corner of Europe, and then the world. Bound together by faith, tradition, and Canon Law, members of the Church also found unity in a common language. With Latin, Church members in Italy could communicate with those in China and Uganda and Paraguay.

And as communications, and travel, between nations improved, so were senior members of the Church, its bishops and Cardinals, able to convene on a regular basis, further tightening the collegial connections and fraternal relationships among its leaders.

The Church’s worldwide reach and global character was present from the very start when Jesus Himself instructed his apostles to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Through His actions while in the world, Jesus set the example, dealing with those outside the Jewish tradition such as the Samaritan woman at the well.

Upon his conversion, St. Paul got the message and took the Gospel outside of Israel to the eastern Roman world. Following the Council of Jerusalem where Peter agreed that Gentiles did not have to strictly adhere to Mosaic law in order to be followers of Jesus, he and other apostles left for other lands, scattering over the entire Roman Empire and beyond. By 313, after a long struggle for acceptance by Rome, Christians were freed from the fear of persecution and began to send out missionaries beyond the fringes of the Empire taking the first steps in becoming a truly international organization.

Today, the Church is represented in virtually every nation on Earth, each with its own hierarchy which in turn, connects directly to the Vatican in Rome. That connection among Catholics all over the world, is further tightened by use of the internet, websites, and email.

By the 6th century, as the Church grew and was forced to organize, the College of Cardinals was created and by 1059, its role as selector of Popes firmly established. Over the centuries, the College has been occupied primarily by Western Europeans with a scattering of eastern and North African members; but as the Church’s presence in the Middle East diminished with the rise of Islam, the College assumed a definite European character.

So matters stood into the 20th century when things began to change.

Following World War II, the role of Europe in the rest of the world shrank and in its stead, new nations arose. After the Second Vatican Council, held between 1962-1965, it was decided that governance of the Church needed a more international cast to better reflect its worldwide presence. Since then, many new Cardinals have been created with members coming from every corner of the globe.

The international scope of the Church has again been confirmed with the recent announcement by Pope Francis that he would appoint 17 new Cardinals this year with most coming from South America, Asia, and Oceania.

Among those to join the College of Cardinals on Feb. 14 will be Archbishops Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel of Ethiopia; John Atcherley Dew of New Zealand; Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon of Vietnam; Charles Maung Bo of Burma; and Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovitchavanij of Thailand.

Also on the lists are Bishops Arlindo Gomes Furtado of Cape Verde and Soane Patita Paini Mafi of Tonga.

“The most evident criteria is that of universality,” said Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, confirming that the object of Francis’ choices is that of collegiality and global representation in a Church that’s expanding most quickly in the developing parts of the world.

The duties of the College of Cardinals include advising the Pope in the governance of the Church, electing his successor, and often acting as papal envoys. Some may be officers of the Roman Curia while others serve as bishops of major diocese around the world. Eligible to vote for a new Pope until age 80, the number of cardinals has traditionally been held at 120.

Anyone looking at the red garbed Cardinals on television when they gather for a papal election or conference is instantly struck by the variety in its sea of faces. Sure, most are still of European descent, but many more obviously hail from Africa, South America, and the Far East. And unlike secular global institutions, they may disagree on some policy issues but they remain united in a single overriding belief in Christ and His Church which informs all of their actions.

And so, even as other international institutions are sundered by disagreements and threaten to break down over security, social policy, economics, even climate change, the Catholic Church, after twenty centuries, continues to remain viable as the only global entity still capable of speaking with a single voice.

*****

image illustration via shutterstock / 

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Is Religion Illogical?

Sunday, February 8th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Catch up on Part I of this series: “Christianity’s Human Sacrifice Problem”

As we continue though Craig Biddle’s critique of religion found in his book Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts That Support It, we are introduced to the concept of objective morality:

“Objective” means “fact-based.” For morality to be objective, it has to be based on a standard of value derived not from feelings, but from facts.

The notion of objective morality stands in contrast to various forms of subjectvism which have dominated much of human history. Biddle lists “religious subjectivism” among “secular subjectivism” and “personal subjectivism” as three variations of the same phenomenon. In this way, he connects the rhetoric and methods of the church, the Nazis, and hedonistic criminals.

This is how an argument for God always ends. One believes because one believes – which means: because one wants to. Religion is a doctrine based not on facts, but on feelings. Thus, claims to the contrary notwithstanding, religion is a form of subjectivism.

In light of this fact, it should come as no surprise that while secular subjectivism denies some of religion’s unproved, evidence-free claims, it demands and employs the very same methods – faith, mysticism, and dogma.

For instance, according to the Nazis, Hitler’s will determined the truth…

Believers may scoff at the comparison. Yet consider the foundation upon which it is built.

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Here’s How One Small-Government Conservative Chose to Die

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 - by Kathy Shaidle

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Late in the previous century, when the Toronto Star spiked my column debunking Kwanzaa — the editor scolded me for wanting to “ruin other people’s fun” by telling the truth, which in hindsight would make for an apt if ungainly personal motto on my (non-existent) coat of arms — I sent the piece to Canada’s only conservative magazine, the (since defunct) Alberta Report.

Link Byfield, the magazine’s publisher and editor, snapped it up, and asked for more.

I’d been a professional writer for years, but now my career as a right-wing writer had begun.

Byfield died of cancer this week, at 63.

My fellow AB contributor Colby Cosh was and is a libertarian (some might say craggily contrarian) atheist who was nevertheless embraced right out of grad school by the unabashedly Christian so-con Byfields.

Cosh — today, like many former Report writers, a star columnist at a national publication — quickly composed an obituary of Byfield that is, not surprisingly, insightful, elegant and stringently unsentimental.

(The Byfields have a keen eye for talent, if I do say so myself…)

Another longtime colleague, Peter Stockland, attended a tribute to Byfield last September, an event arranged after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Stockland explained Link Byfield’s influence on recent Canadian history with this succinct formula, one that resembles the mnemonic verse British schoolchildren used to learn to keep their kings and queens straight.

Stockland wrote:

No Byfields, no Alberta Report. No Alberta Report, no Reform Party as it was formed. No Reform Party, no [Progressive Conservative Party] collapse. No PC collapse, no [Conservative Party] Harper government.

Some perspective for American readers:

My husband and I attended a lecture about Israel by Melanie Phillips a few years back.

Phillips, while correct on so many issues, remained convinced that Europe’s “fringe” “right-wing” populist political leaders, while anti-sharia, were also racist, anti-Semitic losers and therefore unwelcome allies in the counter-jihad.

Afterwards, my husband took her aside and explained — to her visible surprise –  that Canada’s “fringe right wing” populist Reform Party had once been condemned as backward, bigoted and doomed, too; yet one of its founders, Stephen Harper, was now the staunchly pro-Israel prime minister of Canada, having just won a second federal election.

Non-Canadians are, presumably, more familiar with our “free” “healthcare” system, as I call it.

On that topic, Mark Steyn once quoted a fictional Canadian — OK, Quebecois — character’s decision to die a principled death:

Sébastien wants his dad to go to Baltimore for treatment, but Remy roars that he’s the generation that fought passionately for socialized health care and he’s gonna stick with it even if it kills him.

“I voted for Medicare,” he declares. “I’ll accept the consequences.”

But Link Byfield was a real man, not an imaginary one.

That makes what follows all the more notable.

Stockland writes:

Yet what truly mattered to [Byfield] was having lived out, as far as possible in the midst of a train wreck, a principled reality.

I mentioned an e-mail he sent last summer explaining his choice to forgo chemotherapy because it would not save him, yet would cost taxpayers $100,000.

I said I could not imagine other Canadians who would factor such public policy considerations into their personal health care.

“But that would have been standard thinking among politically literate citizens 50 ago,” he said. “People wouldn’t even articulate it. It would just be something they would think.”

When I asked his source for thinking that way, he said: “Thou shalt not steal.”

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The Un-Popular Face of Black Activism in America

Sunday, January 25th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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“Black” has become an idol. Oddly enough we learned that lesson through the making of Selma, a film focused on the accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who boldly declared, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Director Ava DuVernay defended the rewriting of history into what amounts to a black power narrative (mythical kneeling blacks before white cops and all), stating, “This is art; this is a movie; this is a film. I’m not a historian. I’m not a documentarian.” The mainstream media jumped on the bait thrown out by the film’s star David Oyelowo, who declared that ”parallels between Selma and Ferguson are indisputable.” The fact that neither the Academy nor filmgoers fell march-step in line only acted as further proof of the conspiracy against “black and brown people” in Hollywood.

The race war fomented in the rise of the Black Power movement (the nasty “alternative” to King’s civil rights movement) continues unabated. In fact, it has opened on a new front, one that ties racial strife with national security and even international relations. Playing on strong ties to the Nation of Islam, Black Power now has its eye set on the Palestinian territories and places like Ferguson, Missouri, and the like are set to become the next battleground in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, making way for the planting of hotbeds of radical Islamic terror.

But, to tell the story of Ferguson and Florida’s black activists traveling on solidarity missions to the Palestinian territories is to exact the same kind of indecent omissions as DuVernay. There are blacks out there who support Israel and who, in fact, draw inspiration from the civil rights movement in doing so. The primary difference between these black Zionists and their Black Power counterparts: They are motivated by Jesus, not Islam.

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in 2006, Cornetta Lane an African American at Wayne State University, even went as far as expressing this support by singing Hatikvah in front of an anti-Israel protester who claimed that Israel was a racist state.When Jewish students asked at the time why she sang Hatikvah, Cornetta replied that her pastor, Glen Plummer, explained that Jews significantly helped out African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, and that Jews contributed significantly to both the NAACP and the Urban League, and were advisers to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Thus, when she saw that there was going to be an anti-Israel rally, Cornetta decided to take this step.

Much like Cornetta Lane, Chloe Valdary has drawn on her uniquely Biblical Christian upbringing and study of the civil rights movement to develop her own brand of Zionist activism. Dubbed “the Lioness of Zion,” Valdary started a pro-Israel student group on her college campus that garnered national attention, turning the college student into a speaker for a variety of Zionist organizations, including CAMERA and CUFI:

The parallels’ between the black struggle during the civil rights movement and the Jewish people today insofar as the legitimacy of Zionism is concerned is staggering. Martin Luther King Jr. [was] a Zionist but more importantly he realized that we must advance our duty when advancing the cause of human rights today. If he were alive today, he would surely be pro-Israel. This is one of the reasons why I am such a staunch Zionist.

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Valdary is not alone. Dumisani Washington, a pastor and music teacher in Northern California, has formed the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel, an organization “dedicated to strengthening the relationship between Israel and the Jewish people, and people of African descent through education and advocacy.” Raised a Christian, Washington had a strong interest in the Old Testament and Hebrew history at a young age. Growing up in the segregated south, he drew inspiration from the Exodus as well as Martin Luther King:

Dr. King was a staunch supporter of the State of Israel and a friend of the Jewish people. Many who know of his legacy know of his close relationship with Rabbi [Avraham] Joshua Heschel as well as the Jewish support for the Black civil rights struggle. Many are unaware, however, of the negative push back Dr. King got from some people. Particularly after the 1967 war in Israel, international criticism against the Jewish State began to rise.  Dr. King remained a loyal friend, and made his most powerful case for Israel almost 1 year after the Six Day War – and 10 days before his death.

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Both Valdary and Washington have raised the ire of pro-Palestinian organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), an organization that misappropriates black history and depicts black supporters of Israel as the Uncle Toms of the 21st century. Contrary to the Black Power impetus forging the Ferguson-Palestine relationship, Washington has outlined the differences between the Palestinian liberation and civil rights movements, and in an open letter to SJP, Valdary condemned the organization, writing:

You do not have the right to invoke my people’s struggle for your shoddy purposes and you do not get to feign victimhood in our name. You do not have the right to slander my people’s good name and link your cause to that of Dr. King’s. Our two causes are diametrically opposed to each other.

Americans remain blind to these modern day civil rights/Zionist activists because, contrary to the preaching of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we have been made into a color-centric society by the Black Power movement and its contemporary descendants. Race has become an idol. Black Power has created the mythical “black and brown faces” to be honored through tokens of affirmative action while sacrificing living human beings on the altar of ghetto culture because of the color of their skin. To remain blind to the idolatry of race is to remain blind to the real struggle for civil rights in America, the struggle to be viewed as a human being instead of a race-based demographic or a color-based “minority.” This is the struggle that unites rather than divides us on issues of economy, quality of life, and yes, even national security and the threat of terrorism.

Now, more than ever, we must value each other on the content of our character, lest the idolatry that comes from the obsession with skin color blind us from the true threats unfolding in our midst.

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Christianity’s Human Sacrifice Problem

Sunday, January 25th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

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Does Christianity call for human sacrifice?

When you put the question like that, the instinctive response of any given Christian would tend toward a resounding “no.” After all, human sacrifice is a barbaric act which no rational person could condone. We believers like to regard ourselves as rational.

Yet, a cursory examination of popular Christian doctrine suggests that human sacrifice – to one degree or another – stands as a central tenet of the faith. In his book Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It, author Craig Biddle cites “religionists” – including many prominent Christian theologians – to demonstrate that religion calls upon man to sacrifice his own interests to “an alleged God.”

As a Christian, I find Biddle’s observations compelling. Having considered them within the broader context of Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy for several years, I have come to question the manner in which Christian teachers present the topic of sacrifice. Increasingly, I have come under the conviction that Christendom has interpreted sacrifice incorrectly. In my view, it is because Christendom has misinterpreted sacrifice that critics like Biddle are able to present Christianity as force for evil rather than good.

With this introductory essay, I invite you to join me in an ongoing exploration of Christian doctrine and the challenges brought against it. My objective, as we proceed week after week, will be to correct what I have come to regard as a doctrinal error causing tremendous confusion within the church and posing a stumbling block for seekers and believers alike. To be clear, my claim is not that God’s Word is wrong, but that our reading of it has been. I hope to demonstrate that my altered view of sacrifice is the view actually taught within scripture.

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What Are the Biggest Controversies In Catholicism Today?

Sunday, January 18th, 2015 - by Pierre Comtois

Controversy hasn’t been unknown to the Catholic Church.

Almost from the very beginning tensions and rifts divided factions at the Council of Jerusalem as described in Acts of the Apostles where Paul met with Peter and others to make the case for allowing gentiles to join the newly forming Christian movement without the need for conforming to purely Jewish religious practices such as circumcision.

Over the centuries other fault lines appeared including theological battles with Donatists and Gnostics, the formation of the Bible, and the great schism between East and West.

Corrupted during the era of the Borgia Popes, the Church was roiled in dissatisfaction on the part of many of its members, eventually leading to the Reformation and Counter-Reformation.

All that is to be understood. After all, the Church itself may be the mystical Body of Christ, but its individual parts, represented in its members, are human and thus open to disagreement, vulnerable not only to sin but all the ego-based weaknesses of mankind making for power struggles, be they earthly or spiritual.

But since the years of missionary expansion when Europe was colonizing the world, controversies and jealousies arose between various religious orders, few issues before the modern era have risen to the level of true controversy and a period of intellectual calm settled over the Church.

Thus, a remarkable collegiality pervaded from the defeat of Napoleonism through most of the twentieth century. In later decades, some controversy about letting priests marry and allowing women into the priesthood attracted media attention but never amounted to much among the faithful themselves. Instead, the greatest potential for destabilization in the later years of the twentieth century was the spread of liberation theology in Latin America. But when the movement was suppressed the Church under John Paul II once again entered a period of tranquility.

Since the ascension of Pope Francis, however, new controversies have bubbled to the surface. More “insider baseball” than anything that would concern those outside the faith, they include a recent decision by Francis not to meet with the Dalai Lama upon that worthy’s visit to Rome. Some have guessed the snub was due to ongoing negotiations with China aimed at normalizing relations between that country and the Church.

Another possible fissure is talk of a division between European bishops and those of Africa over the Church’s position on a range of social issues including those of divorce and remarriage. The more easygoing bishops from a post-Christian Europe could be headed for a clash with the more traditional-minded African bishops who have fewer empty pews. Here, Francis seems to be siding with the outsiders having just named a passel of new cardinals, most of whom come from the same backgrounds as their African brethren.

Efforts by past Popes such as Benedict XVI to reunite with schismatic wings of the Church who went their own way following the changes wrought by Vatican II have appeared to falter under Francis, who has seemed indifferent to matters of concern to them including allowance of the old form Latin Mass dear to traditionalists’ hearts.

That said, the Church has not been without challenges on the macro level as well.

Late in the nineteenth century, a new secularism borne of science and expanding human knowledge gained strength at the expense of traditional Christian teachings. At first, challenges of fact such as evolution and the origin of the universe seemed threatening but soon proved compatible with the Church’s teachings. Far more formidable would be new philosophical and social movements such as Communism and then fascism which proved attractive to Europe’s desperate underclasses. They were eventually defeated but from their ashes arose an even more sinister force: that of political correctness, a conglomeration of radical positions covering everything from feminism to conservationism all made to appear benign under a cloak of humanitarianism stripped of religious context.

This sugar coating of seeming humanitarianism has fooled many about the altruistic nature of the movement, much of which comes under the umbrella of “social justice.” In a remarkably short time, once infected with the PC germ, even the most venerable of institutions with hundreds of years of historical experience will jettison it all in favor of the new radicalism. As of this writing, only the Catholic Church has held out against the PC movement, positioning itself to repeat its service of preserving Western civilization through a new dark age. But now, with Pope Francis, the comforting knowledge that sanity might prevail in some part of the world has been, for some, cast in doubt.

Displaying evidence that he has at least been partially captured by the PC movement, Francis is invoking controversy either where none existed before or that had been thought settled. His comment early in his pontificate about “who am I to judge” when asked about homosexuality alarmed many as well as given hope to a “homophile” movement that promotes chastity and opposes same-sex marriage but embraces homosexuality as a gift from God — a position that was hinted at when notes from a recent synod were released prematurely.

Francis has also shown solidarity with political correctness by showing an intemperate willingness to cross the line from spiritual affairs to those of politics by supporting the Church’s stand on illegal immigration, global warming, and income inequality– all aspects of the Church’s social teaching to be sure but also of the social justice movement that invokes the ghost of the old liberation theology of the 1970s.

Whether any of these internal controversies manage to break out into discussion in the wider world depends on Pope Francis. But aided and abetted by a press corps eager to nudge the Church (as the last institution holding out against the PC steamroller) in the right direction, the pontiff could very well succumb to the promise of praise and adulation from that quarter. Human nature being what it is, the Church could very well be entering a new era of internal tumult and debate.

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What Christians Should and Should Not Judge

Sunday, January 18th, 2015 - by Paul Cooper

Judge Not

Christians often live in one extreme or the other on hot-button topics. One example would be judging. Christians have long been known and labeled as “judgmental.” So today, most evangelical Christians are so afraid of that label that they refuse to judge anything. Matthew 7:1, which says to “judge not lest ye be judged,” is the most well-known verse among even the most non-church going person out there.

But our fear of being judgmental has led us to a warped view of judging. There are definitely ways in which we should not judge, but you may be surprised to know there are times where Christians actually should judge. How do we know when to do it and when not? Let’s let the Bible guide us on that. 

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Newsweek Throws the First Stone

Sunday, January 18th, 2015 - by Chris Queen

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In the Gospel of John, we read a story where a group of Jewish Torah teachers and Pharisees (members of a legalistic sect of Judaism) bring to Jesus a woman whom they caught in adultery, asking Him what punishment He thinks the woman deserves. Masterfully — as He always did — Jesus answers the scholars with a simple, yet profound statement:  “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7, NIV).

Recently, Newsweek featured a cover article on the Bible in which author Kurt Eichenwald — not a Biblical scholar but a business writer with a clear agenda — lets forth on how Christians misinterpret the Bible. In his piece, Eichenwald throws the first stone, not even pretending to mask an agenda against conservative Biblical scholarship:

They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country’s salvation.

They are God’s frauds, cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch. They are joined by religious rationalizers—fundamentalists who, unable to find Scripture supporting their biases and beliefs, twist phrases and modify translations to prove they are honoring the Bible’s words.

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How Can It Be That I Wept for Pharaoh at the End of Exodus: Gods and Kings?

Friday, January 2nd, 2015 - by Scott Ott

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When you watch the great Exodus story, the hero is usually the guy who leads his people out of slavery in Egypt by the mighty hand of God. Pharaoh is the antagonistic oppressor who refuses to grant liberty to the slaves.

So, how can it be that at the end of the new movie Exodus: Gods and Kings I wept for Pharaoh, and felt virtually nothing for Moses or “his people”?

Perhaps I should start by saying that it’s actually an entertaining movie with epic battle and chase scenes, convincing special effects and fine acting.

That said, my lovely bride reviewed it (perhaps damned it) in three words: “Better than Noah.”

Christian Bale does deliver a more nuanced and dynamic Moses than Russell Crowe’s ark-maker. It would be difficult to do otherwise.

I’m glad I saw the film, though, as usual, I’m hampered by my knowledge of the underlying historical account. I’ll confess, with pleasure, that Exodus takes fewer liberties with the Biblical text than Noah did. My faint praise will not show up in ads for the movie.

Cleaving closer to the Biblical text is not just better for Bible-believers like me, but for all audience members. The actual Biblical account is more compelling and believable than what most screenwriters can imagine. The Bible itself simply makes for a better movie, because it’s honest about both God and man, enhancing empathy and heightening dramatic tension. The mystery to me is why an adaptive screenwriter or director would squander such excellent source material and supplant it with inferior variations.

Exodus director Ridley Scott seems committed to letting the audience wonder who the villain is — often suggesting, through the mouth of Moses, that it may be God himself. It certainly isn’t Pharaoh Ramses — the loving father, gentle husband, and protective brother to Moses.

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Judeo-Christian Angels And the Power of Pagan Art

Friday, December 26th, 2014 - by David P. Goldman

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Joseph Bottum is my favorite among Christian writers; I read him religiously, as it were, for a decade before we met, and before he asked me to join the masthead of the monthly magazine First Things in 2009. The fact that he is a close friend, therefore, has nothing to do with my admiration for his work; I have several close friends who write badly, and admire any number of writers whom I abhor as human beings. His Christmas meditation “Angels I Have Heard on High” was a holiday delicacy to be savored. Jody has heard angel voices singing, “high in the wind, across a western meadow frozen stiff and covered with the fallen snow.” I  wish him many more such blessed encounters.

Jody is now writing Christmas carols, and we’ve been corresponding about the form, from an aesthetic vantage point, to be sure. The great poet of Spain’s Golden Age, Lope de Vega, wrote a marvelous song in which the Virgin Mary responds to the glory of angels ruffling the palm trees by asking them to hold onto the branches and quiet down; her child, she explains, is already exhausted by the world’s suffering and needs to rest. The juxtaposition of maternal ordinariness and supernatural splendor is a successful poetic conceit. Christian poets work wonders with angelic encounters, and Lope’s famous Christmas meditation is sublime. One really must read it in the original: with its Romance meter (comparable to our ballad meter) and unrhymed alliteration, the poem bestrides the divide between sublime and secular in technique as well as content.

By pure coincidence, the conversation around the Shabbat table last week at Hong Kong’s modest Israeli synagogue, Shuva Israel, centered on angels as well. Jews sing “Peace onto you, ministering angels” before Friday night dinner, on the basis of an ancient homilectic that two angels accompany a Jew home from synagogue on the eve of Shabbat:

Peace upon you, ministering angels, messengers of the Most High,

of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.

Come in peace, messengers of peace, messengers of the Most High, of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.

Bless me with peace, messengers of peace, messengers of the Most High,

of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.

May your departure be in peace, messengers of peace, messengers of the Most High, of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.

Note that the appearance of the angels is a scheduled weekly occurrence, to be welcomed, but nothing to get excited about. The odd thing, though, is that the angels are asked to leave. One hears many explanations for this, but I like best the one proposed by the Chafetz Chaim, the leader of observant Jewry in Eastern Europe during the interwar years, and recounted last Friday by a young Israeli rabbi. When the high priest entered the Temple’s Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, he went in alone–not even an angel dared accompany him into this most holy place. The recreation of the Temple in the Shabbat table of a Jewish home is so holy that even the holy angels cannot abide there; after they have done their job of accompanying us home from synagogue they are politely asked to go away.

The Holy of Holies in Judaism is found in the most ordinary things of life once they have been dedicated to the Holy One, blessed be he. The Shekhinah (the Indwelling of God) resides on the Shabbat table, and in marital relations between husband and wife. Such things surpass the holiness even of angels.

The holiness of the sanctified ordinary, to be sure, doesn’t always make for compelling poetry; as a latecomer to Jewish observance I tend to sniff at the poetic merits of the classic songs sung around the Shabbat table, although some of them, drawn from the Psalms, are hauntingly beautiful.

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Christmas: He Laid Down His Right

Thursday, December 25th, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

Christianity is an absurd death cult. That was the expressed belief of the late Christopher Hitchens, one among the so-called “new atheists” who engaged in an aggressive sort of anti-evangelism. Hitchens once sketched his view of the incarnation thus:

In order to be Christian, you have to believe that for 98,000 years our species suffered and died… [enduring] famine, struggle, viciousness, war, suffering, misery, all of that for 98,000 years – heaven watches it with complete indifference – and then 2,000 years ago [God] thinks that’s enough of that, it’s time to intervene. The best way to do this would be by condemning someone to a human sacrifice somewhere in the less literate part of the Middle East…

Hitchens’ presentation of Christianity highlights one of the greatest challenges to Christian apologetics. Increasingly, a dichotomy has been offered between reason and faith. Ayn Rand defined the two concepts as opposites, and the co-relation of religion and atrocity has been increasingly cited as evidence that faith literally kills.

This Christmas Day, I offer a preview of an ongoing project to begin here at PJ Lifestyle in the new year. Working through books on the topics of reason, individual rights, and the Christian worldview, we will explore how we might reconcile our human perception with divine revelation.

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The Vital Lesson American Protestants Should Learn From the German Evangelical Church

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014 - by David P. Goldman
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Baden-Baden has been a spa town since Roman times, drawing tourists for its therapeutic waters, and more recently for a festival hall that features prominent classical artists. It also has a Faberge museum, which seems appropriate at this time of year: Christmas in Germany is like a brightly decorated eggshell with no egg inside. The forms of the holiday are merrily observed, but not the faith. To declare one’s belief in a personal God counts for proof of mental defect here as well as in most parts of Europe, especially among educated people. Nonetheless there is more faith left in Germany’s Protestant establishment than among America’s mainline Protestant churches, and it’s something for a visiting Jew to rejoice about here at Christmas time.

The Presbyterian Church USA, the flagship church of America’s fading Protestant mainline, voted to boycott the State of Israel earlier this year, and nearly voted to prohibit the use of the word “Israel” in its prayers. The new Marcionism of the mainline churches justifies its aid and comfort to Israel’s enemies by rejecting a link between the living Jewish people and the God of Abraham. By contrast, Pope John Paul II of blessed memory and Benedict XVI both emphasized that God’s covenant with the Jewish people never was revoked.

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Talking With A Rabbi About My Conversion!

Sunday, December 21st, 2014 - by Andrew Klavan
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I loved doing this interview with Rabbi Ari Abramowitz at the Voice of Israel. Rabbi-like, he skipped past the shallow stuff and asked the big questions: about my feelings toward Israel, my conversion from Judaism to Christianity and about my conversion from leftism to liberalism, also known as conservatism. If you’re interested in real talk about real stuff, too rare in American media, it’s worth listening to. You can hear it here.

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Cross-posted From Klavan on the Culture, image illustration via shutterstock /  

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Where to Find Jesus in Oxford, England

Sunday, December 21st, 2014 - by Spencer Klavan

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Since starting my master’s at Oxford this fall, I’ve been looking for a church. A new life in a new country meant I needed a Christian community to remind me who I am. I found one just in time for Christmas. Here’s what I learned on the way.

There are a lot of churches in Oxford. Honestly, you can’t walk down the block without tripping over a church. They tend to be Anglican. But after visiting various services, I started noticing two general kinds of atmosphere — two distinct styles of worship. Now, I’m a layman to my core. I have no business evaluating doctrines or denominations. This is just what I saw. 

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