Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Evidence for Jesus, Son of God: Response to Arah

Arah, thank you for explaining the Islamic view of Jesus.

Your comment—and my disagreement with how you've portrayed Jesus—serve as proof to the point that religions are not the same. What you've basically stated in your comment is this: "Holly, you and all Christians are wrong." To illustrate how different we are, consider Jesus' words from the Bible, John 14 (bold emphasis mine):

1"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4You know the way to the place where I am going."

5Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"

6Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him."

8Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us."

9Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? 10Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. 12I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

Arah, if you truly believe as you say you do, you surely recognize that the passage I've quoted from the Bible contains blasphemous comments, from the perspective of a Muslim. Jesus is saying: 1) He's deity, 2) he's one with the Father (God), and 3) he's the only way we can reach God. How could Islam characterize a man who said these words as the second greatest prophet?

Christians often refer to the Trinity using the description of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. I hope you will see that there are foundational disagreements between our two religions because Islam and Christianity are not the same thing. To be very blunt: One of us is wrong. If I'm wrong, I will incur God's wrath because I've deified someone who isn't a deity. If you're wrong, you will be eternally separated from God for not acknowledging Jesus as the Son of God.

Perhaps I will come to the end of my life and find that I'm wrong. I spent nearly a decade investigating various religions and spiritual practices, and found them all lacking until I began to really look at the life of Jesus Christ and who he claimed to be: the Son of God. I'm convinced he was telling the truth. And as I constantly find more evidence that Jesus is deity, I become more confident of my choice to follow his teachings.

You've suggested that there are man-made characterizations within Christianity (I assume you're referring to the words of the Bible). I'd ask you: Where is your proof of this, outside of the Quran, your own holy book? And what I mean is, how can you be certain that the Quran is truth, rather than the Bible, Tipitaka, Book of Mormon, Veda, Tao-te-ching, etc.?

Here is some of my evidence:

To view the paper full screen, click the button on the far right of the Scribd window.

Res research

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

No 'Secret': We Suffer for God’s Purposes

This is in response to further comments about The Secret:

There is a false and insidious concept floating around today’s church: that God wants to express his love for us by making us happy and comfortable.

Earthly happiness is not God’s goal for us. Quite the contrary: God wants us to become like Jesus. And what do we know of Jesus? His life was about suffering.

Jesus left paradise to come to earth. He left a place where all is good and right. He went to an earth that is filled with pain, sickness, and suffering. When Satan tempts Jesus in the desert, the offer is to alleviate that suffering. Jesus is hungry, as he hasn’t eaten in 40 days; Satan suggests that Jesus end that hunger (suffering) by allowing himself to have the comfort of food. But Jesus says no—God is his priority, not the ending of his suffering. Satan offers to give Jesus riches and power. Again, Jesus says no—God is his priority. He goes on to live a life of poverty, indeed homelessness. (Remember, the Son of Man doesn’t have a home or a place to lay his head.)

Satan also tells Jesus that he’s powerful, so surely he can throw himself off the cliff and he’ll be OK. I believe this is the same temptation posed by The Secret today. The law of attraction asserts that we are powerful. We instead need to continually proclaim truth: God is powerful. We are weak creatures who long for comfort so much that we make it an idol that becomes more important to us than God.

Jesus is pursued by his enemies, constantly threatened with death, and insulted at every turn. He is betrayed by his closest friends. And we all know what happens at the end of his life.

Additionally, we don’t have to guess about what it looks like to be a follower of Christ: We see what happens to his followers in the early church. Paul is repeatedly beaten, thrown in prison, and his life is threatened everywhere he goes. He is beheaded by Nero in Rome. Matthew is killed by the sword in Ethiopia. Mark is dragged by horses through the streets of Alexandria. Luke is hanged in Greece. Peter is crucified upside down. Christians worldwide continue to suffer and die for their faith today.

Throughout the New Testament, we’re told that the Christian life requires suffering. We should not desire to escape from it, because God uses suffering for his higher purposes. Here are some (I’m quoting Dr. John Hutchison, chair of the Bible exposition department at Talbot School of Theology, as he summarizes this beautifully):

1) To show genuine faith and glorify God (1 Peter 1:6-7)
2) To discipline for personal sin, producing a life of righteousness and harmony with God and others (Heb. 12:7, 11)
3) To develop perseverance, character, and maturity (Rom. 5:3-5, James 1:2-4)
4) To prepare us to comfort others who go through suffering (2 Cor. 1:3-4)
5) To provide opportunities for the advance of the Gospel (Phil. 1:12)
6) To follow Christ’s example and show his glory to others (1 Peter 4:12-14)

In 2 Cor. 12, Paul speaks of having a “thorn in the flesh.” Dr. Kevin Huggins, a therapist, pastor, and educator, explains what Paul means:

“A ‘thorn in the flesh’ is any kind of suffering or affliction that attacks or weakens our capacity to live independently of God (2 Cor. 12:8-9). According to Paul, thorns in the flesh come in at least five varieties (12:10): ‘weaknesses’ (physical infirmities), ‘insults’ (relational difficulties), ‘hardships’ (natural disasters and economic difficulties), ‘persecution’ (physical violence), and ‘difficulties’ (emotional distress).”

While we’re not called to pursue suffering (to intentionally have it inflicted on us or to physically abuse ourselves), we’re not supposed to be purposely avoiding it, either. If you aren’t experiencing any suffering in your life, you need to ask yourself, “Why not?” Why are you making great efforts to avoid the thing God specifically says he’s going to use to shape you and make you more like Jesus?

Monday, November 24, 2008

More Questions on 'The Secret'

A reader sent some questions about The Secret. This has been the most discussed topic on H-n-T, so I've summarized his thoughts and responded here:

1) He suggests I don’t fully understand the concept of the law of attraction because I haven’t read The Secret; I’ve only watched the DVD.

While the book might have extended content, the DVD contains the core concepts of the law of attraction. Let me offer an illustration: The vast majority of people don't read the vehicle code in order to get a license. Instead, they read the DMV driver's handbook. The vehicle code offers extensive detail, but one doesn't need this background to understand the laws. The summary in the driver's handbook tells us the core, necessary ideas.

I was already familiar with the concept of the law of attraction, and watching the DVD confirmed that The Secret is holding up the idea that people have the power to attract good or bad things in their lives through their thinking. Some of these core ideas are in direct opposition to biblical teaching, as I outline in my blog post, “The Secret” Versus the Bible.

(Some have asserted that I don't really understand what's being said in The Secret. I'd challenge anyone to show how ideas such as "Your life will be what you create it as, and no one will stand in judgment of it, now or ever" and "You are eternal life. You are source energy. You are God manifested in human form" could possible line up with the Bible. These are quotes from the DVD.)

Many people put their faith into the law of attraction after watching The Secret DVD. I stand firm in stating that Christians need to put their faith in God, not in a misguided theory that suggests we trust in our own personal power.

2) He suggests I should look at the points of agreement between the law of attraction and Christianity. He says, “What about the ecumenism?”

Most religions have some points of agreement with Christianity. Many world religions (Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, to name a few) acknowledge Jesus Christ. This acknowledgment could be viewed as a point of agreement. However, the foundational differences between the views are much stronger than the sameness: Some view Jesus as merely an important prophet or a great teacher, but certainly not as the Son of God or the source of salvation. These views of Jesus aren't the same, and the distinctions far outweigh any small agreement.

“Ecumenism” means the promotion of unity between different Christian churches. The Secret is not a Christian concept; it has nothing to do with ecumenism. Perhaps you are referring to universalism, or some belief that all religions are equally valid. World religions are not the same. Some hold there are many gods, others say there is one God. These are contradictory statements; both can't be correct. Some hold that this one God is distant because he is above and beyond us in greatness; others hold that we can have a close, personal relationship with God. Both can't be correct.

Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). Christians hold that the only way to have a relationship with God is through Jesus. The idea that all religions are the same is untrue, and illogical.

3) He suggests that God is the one acting on behalf of the person who employs the law of attraction: We ask God for something, and he gives it to us.

God often does chose to give things to Christians when they ask him. However, this isn’t the law of attraction: The Secret says human beings personally have the power to obtain good things, and avoid bad things. God doesn't factor into The Secret equation.

Much of New Age thought focuses on the avoidance of suffering, either by not “drawing” it to oneself, or by mentally rejecting the concept (convincing oneself that pain doesn't really exist). The law of attraction is more of this teaching; it discusses how to focus on getting good stuff and to not attract bad stuff. But here’s what the Bible says about suffering:

James 1:2: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance."

Note that this says whenever you face trials (as opposed to if you face trials). We will face hardship and suffering. And this is a good thing:

Romans 5:3-4: “… we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Suffering builds character. God uses suffering to sanctify us (to make us more like Jesus).

If we solely focus on only having good things in our lives, and we are striving to ever avoid pain, we are missing out on opportunities to build character and become more spiritually mature. Jesus suffered. If we want to become more Christ-like, we have to experience suffering, too.

In summary, if you believe every good and perfect gift comes from God, and that you can ask God for good things, you are making a request that is based on biblical truth.

However, if you believe those things, you aren’t practicing the law of attraction. The former says: “I’m thankful for the blessings God chooses to give me: I know God is good and strong. I'm grateful for what he does for me.” The law of attraction says: “I have control of these blessings; I can get them for myself.” They simply aren’t the same ideas.

Thank you for offering these questions and your thoughts, Hiram. I can't argue with your experience of seeing good things in your life come about due to your study of the law of attraction. But I would ask you: As a Christian, do you think studying the law of attraction will bring you closer to God? Is getting good stuff really the ultimate goal you want to seek?

You have the best instruction in the world in the Bible. Through God's True Word, we learn about God's character and his plan for our lives.

Who’s Got an Important Job?

Over the weekend, I attended a get-together with some high school friends. I hadn’t seen these folks in 17 years, so I’d wondered whether we’d be able to carry on a conversation—and, if so, what on earth would we talk about?

As we began sharing about the second half of our lives, several of my old schoolmates told of their paper-pushing, report-filing, 9-to-5 jobs. I asked for more detail, and one replied, “You know, it’s just a normal job.” Thing is, I haven’t recently experienced what a “normal” job is like, since I haven’t had one since 2004. And I miss it. One classmate mentioned the free beverages in his office, which took me right back to my last full-time job, where I was thrilled that I could make mint cocoa every day because my office had both cocoa packets and peppermint tea bags. I miss the daily interactions with co-workers, going out to lunch, and the shared joy of finishing a project.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the writing that I do. I just have a different experience—of getting up, drinking a glass of water (no coffee cart to grab from), walking from my kitchen into our home office, and often wishing I had a co-worker with whom to bounce around ideas. Instead, I email my stories to my editors in Chicago, hoping they don’t hate them, and wait for their emailed reply. And sometimes I “phone a friend,” asking their opinion on my work. “Normal” simply isn’t my normal.

I thought my friends’ jobs were a lot more fascinating than the tone in their voices suggested. They are doing work that is deeply meaningful to individuals, the country, and the world. Their work helps others receive medical care, make financial decisions, and access entertainment. Some of them figure out solutions to problems so others don’t have to worry about that stuff.

Some years ago, a friend who worked as an office assistant told me she felt her job was unimportant. “I’m just a secretary,” she’d said. And I replied, “Isn’t every working person a secretary?” In essence, everyone is working for someone else: Some people work for a supervisor, some for clients, some for shareholders. This might sound like I’m saying, “All jobs are relatively unimportant”—but my meaning is the furthest from this. Rather, I mean that all jobs are equally structurally important. If any part of the structure is missing, regardless of what type of part it is, the structure is incomplete.

This is the concept of the body of Christ. There are days that I feel like the pinky toe in the body. I’ve heard that a person could lose their toe and still be able to walk and function just fine. But function isn’t the point. The body was designed a particular way, which includes 10 toes. If one toe is gone—even if one toenail is missing—the body isn’t complete.

I once accidentally dropped something heavy on my foot, which caused bruising under the nail. I remember how I’d worried that my toenail might fall off. I didn’t want to be missing a nail on one toe, because I recognized this would cause me to feel incomplete. (Well, I’d feel it was ugly-looking to be toenail-less!) My mind recognized that even the smallest piece is needed for completeness. I love these verses from 1 Corinthians 12: “… there should be no division in the body … its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (v. 25-26).

On those days when I feel like I’m the pinky toenail, I hope I’ll also remember that I’m a valuable part of the body's structure. I hope I’ll learn to always regard every person as necessary for the body of Christ to be complete.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Is Prop. 8 About Rights?

Is this an issue of rights?

Since 1999, same-sex couples have been able to register for a domestic partnership under California law. Though rights were limited in scope back then, these have been expanded over the years so that today, a domestic partnership offers the same rights and responsibilities as a marriage within California.

From the California family code (current California law) regarding domestic partnerships:

297.5. (a) Registered domestic partners shall have the same rights, protections, and benefits, and shall be subject to the same responsibilities, obligations, and duties under law, whether they derive from statutes, administrative regulations, court rules, government policies, common law, or any other provisions or sources of law, as are granted to and imposed upon spouses.

(f) Registered domestic partners shall have the same rights regarding nondiscrimination as those provided to spouses.

(These are two portions of the law that offer summary statements; click the link above to read the full text of the law.)

If Proposition 8 becomes law, it would not affect California law on domestic partnership—same-sex couples could continue registering and receiving the same rights in California as married opposite-sex couples.

Do “marriage” and “domestic partnerships” confer the same rights?

Within California, both confer the same rights. However, these rights are not “portable” because states create their own state’s laws, not federal ones. Thus, same-sex couples can’t register for a domestic partnership in California and retain those rights and responsibilities if they move to another state, unless that other state passes legislation to acknowledge these unions.

The same is true for same-sex marriages. Individual states decide whether they will recognize same-sex marriages. So as far as portability goes, it doesn’t matter what designation a same-sex couple receives (marriage or domestic partnership)—other states may or may not recognize the union. Same-sex marriages are currently recognized in Connecticut, Massachusetts, California and New York; New Hampshire and New Jersey recognize these as civil unions.

The U.S. federal government and its agencies do not recognize same-sex marriages, per the Defense of Marriage Act (enacted 1996).

If rights aren’t at stake, then what’s this issue about?

This is a primarily a dispute over the right to use the word “marriage.” From a publication of the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) website: “Civil unions are unfamiliar; people don’t understand them or know how to treat them … . Marriage is the ultimate expression of love and commitment; people understand and respect it.”

Why is any compromise needed? Why not just designate both as “married”?

For a variety of reasons, many Americans, including Californians, think the word “marriage” should be only defined as between a man and a woman.

In 2000, Proposition 22 was adopted in California, with 61 percent of voters supporting it. The following was added to the California Family Code (308.5):

Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

A series of legal challenges and counter-challenges has taken place over the past four years. In May 2008, the California Supreme Court struck down Proposition 22, effectively allowing same-sex couples to marry. In June 2008, Proposition 8, titled “Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry,” qualified for the November ballot, receiving close to twice the amount of petition signatures required for a measure to qualify.

Same-sex couples have been able—and are still able— to register for domestic partnerships. If Proposition 8 becomes law, it would not affect California law on domestic partnership—same-sex couples could continue registering and receiving the same rights in California as married opposite-sex couples.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Prop. 8: Thoughts from Joe and Response from Holly

Thoughts from my friend Joe:

Dear Holly,

I admire the honesty of your post; I agree that the only real argument against gay marriage is faith-based. No phony data about the unsustainability of families anchored by gay couples or such makes this a refreshingly honest view.

However, your musings generally undermine the strength of your argument... you say you must vote to make your state better recognize the authority of God, but point out cases where just such a position would be not only a cause of "sadness" but in fact, extensive state-sponsored bloodshed. Yes the Bible does actually proscribe death for adultery. Are you in favor of a proposition banning all promiscuity? Wouldn't that be superior? It would be the proposition to end 'em all... and most people, too.

And no, we don't have to wonder how many people would go missing from the pews if that sentence were enforced... good social science data puts the rate of pre-marital sex (between to-be-marrieds) at about 96%- this has been normative behavior for over 40 years. So, if we conservatively estimate the 4% of abstainers to ALL be churchgoers, and about 30% of folks visit church regularly, then about 85% of those pews would still go empty- more, if you more-reasonably assume churchgoers behave about like everybody else.

If you're going to enforce God's law selectively, then the only reason to target gays (~4% of the population, ironically the same # of folks who abstain til the wedding day) is because they are a convenient target, or because it doesn't affect you. You may feel "sad" about your vote, but I bet you feel better that you did what God said. But that was too easy. How about making the 10 Commandments law? Close all stores on the Sabbath, fine people who are attracted to people other than their own spouse (remember- it's not just the activity- even 'coveting' is banned)... I could go on forever. Strict interpretation of the Bible is no way to run a democracy, especially one that establishes no State religion and is in fact, highly pluralistic.

I just hope you'll think about why you want to enforce this 'one' of God's many banned activities, and not others.

-J. Spagna


And my response:

Hi Joe,

Thanks for the thought-out response. Makes me think they actually taught us a thing or two about being thinking people at CMC.

First, I need to call you out on your correlation of random statistics, i.e. the one between gays as approximately 4 percent of the population and those who abstain until marriage being about 4 percent. I'm curious: Why'd you pair these up? Why even mention them together?

I’m not disputing your estimates, just the way you used them. If about 4 percent of the population eats tofu cheese, you can’t necessarily cross-reference or correlate that 4 percent with the 4 percent who are gay.

I can only guess why you mentioned this ironic (as you called it) correlation, but I’m sure there are some folks who say to themselves, “Hmm, about 4 percent of truly ‘moral’ folks are judging the 4 percent who make up the gay community as ‘immoral’” … and the wacky, irrelevant comparisons go from there. But my point here is that the gay marriage discussion isn’t—or at least, shouldn’t be—about the church weighing its own “morality” against that of others.

From a biblical perspective, churchgoers themselves don’t have a moral leg to stand on. To use some well-known church language, Christians commit sins just like those who aren’t Christians do. So church folk aren’t the standard; a completely holy God should be the standard. My mention of the death penalty, as prescribed in the Torah, was to further emphasize and illustrate that Christians cannot use their own personal authority in discussing morality.

On legislating biblical morality: This would never be something I’d seek because the United States isn’t a theocracy. The Old Testament shows the history of how the Israelites made a covenant (binding contract) with God: They agreed to obey God’s laws in exchange for God’s blessings. Christians commit to follow the biblical morality of the New Covenant (essentially, the teachings of Jesus Christ)—they enter into an agreement. (This is not to say that Christians hold up their end of the deal, but, as I’ve said, the morality of Christians isn’t the point.) So all of biblical “law” applies only to those who enter into these contracts.

Now, you might ask, if biblical law applies only to those who enter into these contracts, why does the Christian care about voting to eliminate same-sex marriage? For starters, I’ll go back to the idea that every law is the imposition of someone’s value. At present in America, the majority seems to value defining marriage as between a man and a woman. (We’ll see if that’s true in California in a few days.) The minority, in my estimation, is holding up the value of the rights of the individual. That’s a good value, but I don’t think it’s the best one.

Still, if Prop. 8 fails, I’ll be bound to accept the outcome because I’ve also entered into a contract, so to speak, as an American citizen. I get to express my opinion and vote, and in exchange, I agree to abide by America’s laws that are created by the opinion of the majority. In this democracy, my Bible-influenced opinion is equally valid and equally weighted with the opinions of others who’ve been influenced by other things.

You wrote, “I just hope you'll think about why you want to enforce this 'one' of God's many banned activities, and not others.” Yes, of course, I have. There are reasons the Christians church is so vocal about homosexuality and abortion in particular. One major reason: Biblical history shows that God destroys nations when they become too disgusting for him to stand anymore. There’s a reason God offered the Israelites the land of Canaan as their “Promised Land.” Sources outside of the Bible show that the Canaanites were highly promiscuous, incorporating orgies as part of the worship of their gods. There were male and female temple prostitutes—everybody was having sex with everybody. Rape was common, as was sex with children and animals. Children—babies and toddlers up to age 4—were sacrificed as part of idol worship. You could say that Canaan was a very pluralistic society.

You’ve probably heard the argument about the “domino effect” of legalizing gay marriage. I’d note that after Canada made gay marriage legal, they began researching another issue: Should polygamy be legalized?

And then what’s next?

America isn’t Canaan yet. My vote is about trying to not infuriate God for as long as possible because I love my country, too.

I’ve presented an essentially biblical/spiritual argument here, which I recognize will sound absolutely foolish to folks who don’t believe in God. (If one doesn’t believe in God, it’s extremely difficult to accept the idea of a higher morality that goes beyond human morality. Thus, their argument becomes, “Christians think they are morally superior.”) It also won’t resonate with some who do believe in God; they will come to other conclusions. I'd love to hear how folks have reached their own position.

Joe, I do hope you can see I’ve taken considerable time to think this through, as any responsible CMCer should when it comes to their vote.